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Sunday, November 28, 2010

we made it

Just a quick note to let you all know that we made it all the way down
the Baja coast. Right now we're just off Cabo San Lucas on our way to
Los Frailes. Had to slow the boat down so we didn't get there in the
dark. Should arrive about 7 AM. Then we will be truly cruising the
Sea of Cortez. Lots to blog about but have to wait until we're
anchored at Los Frailes.

Watch for some new stuff tomorrow.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

11/21/2010 - I thought we were leaving today

By now you should all be pretty used to our standard operating procedure. We pick a day to leave a port and then stay at least one day longer and up to as much as a week longer. Why should it be any different just because we're in Mexico? After all, in Mexico "mañana" doesn't mean "tomorrow", it means "not today". I suspect I may have even more Mexican blood in me than I had previously thought.

I realized last night that I hadn't even plotted a course for the next leg of our trip yet, much less checked the engine oil and topped off the transmission oil. I'm sure that doesn't sound like much to do, but it takes longer than you think. I could have gotten it all done in time to leave about 1430 but you know how I hate to be rushed. So, instead, we're spending one more day here at the Baja Naval marina. It was actually sunny and warm for a little while this morning but it didn't take too long for that to go away. Looking at Passageweather.com, it looks like things will start shaping up nicely tomorrow. Northwest winds of 10-15 knots, northwest swell of 2-4 feet, and no rain through Thanksgiving at least. Can't beat a deal like that unless they could also promise air temps in the low 80s but I guess that might be asking too much. So, with everything done now, we can get up when we feel like it, pay for the extra day, have some breakfast, and head out. Probably be on our way before noon.

As to the next leg: As I've said, we're getting anxious to get down to where it's not cold. We also would like to experience a longer passage than the normal one to one-and-a-half days that we usually do. And, by going further than our fuel supply would allow us to motor, we want to force ourselves to sail and have enough time to figure out the niceties of the windvane. So, for all of those reasons, we are now planning our longest passage yet. From Ensenada, BCN to Los Frailes, BCS. The route I've plotted is 761 nautical miles. At an average speed of 5 knots (probably unlikely), it would take us 6-1/2 days. At 4.5 knots (more likely), it would take 7 days. At the even more easily counted-on average speed of 4 knots, 8 days. And, if we're really dragging tail and can only average 3 knots, 10-1/2 days. So, once we leave, don't expect to hear anything from us for at least a week and probably closer to a week and a half. The weather looks perfect for a passage like this and it should just get better every day.

Los Frailes, in case you don't know, is located on the Sea of Cortez side of the tip of Baja.

It's just an anchorage although I think I read about a palapa bar on the beach or up the trail or something. It'll be a good place to rest up and catch some rays before we head further up to La Paz. We plan to stay aways offshore on the trip south. A guy we met in Avalon who has made the non-stop trip almost 2 dozen times, says that, about 20-25 miles off, the winds are very steady and predictable and the swell is too. None of that "bouncing off the land" influence. This will hopefully also keep us out of most of the heavy fishing areas, but who knows? We will be dragging our own fishing line behind us in hopes of catching some dinner along the way.

I'm going to try to write blog entries as we go along (although I won't be able to post them) so that the finished product is a reflection of the actual trip rather than what I remember or choose to remember about the trip.

Wish us luck and talk to y'all in a week or two. Oh, and have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

11/20/2010 - Another fine día en Ensenada

It wasn't the prettiest day we've ever seen but we still had a very nice time here today. Last night I was afraid I was going to have to make a trip back to the Telcel store because my Banda Ancha card kept disconnecting by itself last night. But, when I tried it this morning, it worked just fine. Must have been a Telcel issue. So, I didn't have to sweat getting to the store while they were still open and then trying to get my problem across when the person I would be speaking to and I did not share fluency in a common language. Whew!

After breakfast, we headed out to run some errands, none of which actually needed to be run but, what the heck, a guy's got to have some sort of goal I suppose.

But first, a quick flash back to yesterday's post. On our journey today we walked through the fish market again but this time I got a photo:

This is one of about 6 similar booths side-by-side. The main reason we went was to find out the name of the second fish I bought. The one we want to make tacos out of. Turns out that it's a cazón. So, when we got back to the boat, I googled cazón and found out that it's a small shark, like a dogfish.

Looks tasty.

So, back to today:
We headed up the main drag to hit one of the two tackle stores so we could load up on a little bit of fishing stuff. Just some extra line (a LOT of extra line as it turns out), some hooks and a few lures. We're happily picking stuff out, amazed at the low prices. However, once he rang everything up, it turned out that the posted prices were dollars, not pesos! Ack! No wonder things seemed so cheap. Turned out to be a wee bit more than we were thinking but, we needed the stuff and either get it now or get it later, so we bit down hard on the bullet and paid up. Catching a fish or two on our way down the coast next week would certainly help make the purchase easier to swallow.

Next we headed to the Soriana supermercado to get a couple more items. One of the things we wanted to get was some Tang. Yep, the astronaut drink. We have read that Tang in Mexico is a whole different beast than Tang in the US. One thing's for sure, they sure do have a lot more flavors. We'll let you know how it turns out.

Next stop was a bank so we could hit the ATM and replenish some of what the tackle shop depleted. We were pretty sure where it was from having hit it the other day but we were wrong. While we were never exactly lost, we also had no idea where the bank or the Calimax supermercado (another planned stop) was in relation to where we were. However, even as a blind pig eventually finds a truffle, so we eventually stumbled on the bank and, subsequently, the Calimax.

Our next stop was one that I DID know the location of, having stumbled on it yesterday: Hussong's Cantina:

Established in 1892, Hussong's is an Ensenada landmark and tradition. First I ever heard of it was back in 1973 when my roommate and high school pal, Ned wore a Hussong's T-shirt. He told me about some spring breaks in Ensenada when he was in college. Paul, on s/v Jeorgia, said that Hussong's has Mexican liquor license number 2. That's pretty cool. It was very funky and comfortable inside. We had a couple rounds trying to wait out the rain. I drank Tecate and Lulu had a couple of micheladas. Interesting note for you beerheads: for Mexican beers, Hussongs carried only Tecate, Dos Equis, Bohemia, and Sol. Not a Pacifico or Corona to be found. By the end of our third round, the rain had let up enough that we figured we wouldn't get too wet when we went back to Calimax to get some cheese for making pizza while we're underway next week.

We finally got back to the boat about 2:00. At 4:30 we have a date with the neighbors on m/v Elena for drinks and conversation and then, at 7:30 or whenever after that we finish up on Elena, our friends Byron and Jessica have invited us over to their boat, s/v Sterling, for dinner. Aren't we just the gadabouts?

Our plans are to head out tomorrow sometime between mid-morning and early afternoon. We currently are planning on doing the whole west coast of Baja in one long run. The winds and weather look favorable and we're getting antsy to get to La Paz. Yes, we'll miss some of the nice small anchorages along the west coast, but the weather is cooling and we just want to get there. We're also looking to get a little experience on a longer run than we've been doing. Be nice to have enough time to get into a groove.

So, once we leave here, unless we manage to get cell service somewhere (unlikely as we'll be 20-25 miles out), you won't hear from us for maybe a week and a half. Maybe a little longer.

BTW, today was a fiesta day. To quote Squidoo.com:

"Aniversario de la Revolución commemorates the Mexican Revolution which started on November 20, 1910 when Francisco I. Madero planned an uprising against dictator Porfirio Díaz's 34-year-long iron rule. Although November 20 is the official day, the uprising started on different days in different parts of the country."

It was celebrated here by a parade and probably other stuff as well.

And speaking of fiesta days, it would be REALLY easy to forget this is the Christmas season. When we were in Soriana, they played the occasional carol and had a few trees for sale out front. Once in awhile we'd see something in a shop window that would remind us. Otherwise, nothing. It's a nice refreshing change from the commercialization that we're used to. Maybe it'll change in December but I hope not.

Friday, November 19, 2010

11/19/2010 - Ensenada

So far we're totally enjoying our stay here in Ensenada although it was a bit on the cool side this afternoon and is continuing to chill down this evening. They're predicting rain tomorrow.

Lulu spent this morning making baguettes, her cranberry/orange bread (which she just calls "the food"), and spaghetti sauce, as well as cooking up the meat she is going to use when she makes up a big batch of Vegetable Noodles for our trip south. Meanwhile, armed with my trusty calculator for making conversions, I ambled on up to the Soriana Super supermercado to get some more produce and cream cheese. Yesterday we stopped at a smaller supermercado called Calimax. In both places we were amazed at the prices, especially on produce. I'd convert the peso price to dollars and Lulu would remark that that was a pretty good price. Then I'd say, "no wait, I still have to divide by 2.2 because that's the price per kilo." When she found out the equivalent price per pound, she could hardly contain herself. So we bought about US$30 worth of groceries for a little over US$16.

Today, as I wandered through the town, I wanted to take some pictures. But, since I was back on the streets where the locals are instead of on tourist row, I felt like taking pictures was too much like treating these people like they were in a zoo and I didn't want to do that. Shots of buildings might have been okay except that there are so many people that it's impossible to get a shot of a building without a bunch of people in the photo as well. I did manage to get a shot of the main drag just outside the marina:

A block up from this street is the tourist row. It's several blocks long and is loaded with very touristy souvenir stands, bars and restaurants. Go just one block further and you're in Mexico. This is where the locals shop and eat. There are dozens and dozens of little open-air eating places. Fish tacos that cost $12 (that's pesos unless I indicate otherwise) each on tourist row are available here for as little as $7. For us gringos, that's about US96¢ vs. US56¢. Both are great deals but the latter is clearly better. There are so many stands I want to try but lots of them are really crowded. Probably a good reason for that. There's a restaurant that calls itself El Birriaria (I think) that supposedly sells the best birria (spicy goat stew) in town. We had birria in La Paz and I'm going to have to try it here.

I stopped by a big fish market on the way back to the boat. It was really hard to try to decide what, among the tons of different fish available, to get. I settled on a kilo (mas o menos) of marlin ahumado (smoked marlin) at $80/kilo (about US$2.91 a pound) so lulu could mix it with cream cheese and green onions to make her famous spread to go on the baguettes. I also got a kilo of some other fish whose name is escaping me at the moment. A beautiful boneless fillet for $40/kilo which you can probably figure out is less than US$1.50/lb. We'll cook it up tomorrow and make our own tacos pescados.

When Lulu was done cooking we went out for some lunch. Across from the fish market are a bunch of tiny little restaurants. They all serve pretty much the same thing so it's just a crap shoot as to which one you choose. Or, more accurately, which one chooses you as the waitresses are outside beckoning passersby in with various sweet deals. We picked one that offered us 3 fish tacos for US$2. What the heck, we went in and sat ourselves down. I checked to make sure they served cerveza too since I didn't see it listed anywhere. One thing I really like about Mexico is that they aim to please. I asked about cerveza and she assured me that they did have beer. For all I know she went next door and got it from them. Hey, US merchants, remember customer service? This is how it works. Anyway, we ordered 3 fish tacos and a Tecate each. The tacos are very basic: a couple pieces of battered, deep-fried fish on two corn tortillas. Period. But, at the table there is shredded cabbage and bowls of pico de gallo, and at least 4 different salsas, some cream stuff that's sort of like sour cream, a bowl of limes, and a huge array of bottles of hot sauces. Dress 'em how you like 'em.

The tacos were delicous but I had my eye on something else afterwards. All the seafood places around here serve various caldos which are stews or soups. They offered caldo de pescado (fish soup), caldo de camarones (shrimp soup) and caldo de 7 mares (soup of the seven seas). I really like fish soups and chowders and have been wanting to try these caldos. They're kind of expensive. They run about $100 (~US$8.00) but what the hey, it was a chilly afternoon and we decided to go for it. We each ordered up a bowl of the 7 mares version. Took them awhile to put it together but eventually she came out with a big steaming bowl each. The broth was a simple fish stock with some added spiciness. Swimming in the stock were mussels, octopus, a couple different kinds of fish chunks, squares of squid, shrimp and a half a crab. A warmer full of hot corn tortillas accompanied the caldo. It was DELICIOUS and worth every peso. We were stuffed when we finally pushed ourselves away from the table and waddled back to the boat. It being kind of cool, we spent the rest of the day vegging out.

As I said yesterday, the Baja Naval marina and boatyard is really nice. The boatyard is the cleanest I've ever seen.

Most cruisers who are heading down the west coast of Mexico have heard of Baja Naval. It's spoken well of on most of the discussion boards. Given that, I was amazed to see how small the marina itself actually was. It's just two docks with slips for maybe 45 or 50 boats. That's teeny by the standards of most marinas we've stayed at or seen.

Just outside the facility is the famous huge flag of Ensenada:

There is no way to really convey the size of this thing without seeing it in person. It is HUGE! And I don't know what kind of cloth it's made of but, big as it is, it catches the slightest breeze. Sometimes, the breeze is so light that the flag moves around like it's in slow motion. It is one of the coolest looking things I've ever seen. You could just stare at it for hours like you would a campfire

Tomororow is supposed to be rainy so we may just stay aboard. We have a date with the folks on the boat next door to get together on their boat for drinks and a visit about 4:30. They used to own a Westsail 32 but have since moved on to a trawler. Said they mostly just live on it in La Paz during the inter so they decided to opt for more space than you get on a sailboat. Other than that, I'll probably plot our course south as well as a couple optional courses just in case we decide to change our minds about how we want to proceed.

Planning on leaving Sunday morning sometime.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

11/18/2010 - Dana Point to Ensenada, MX

We backed out of our slip at the Dana Point Marina at about 10:00 AM on Tuesday morning (11/16). Docking and undocking are always the most stressful parts of any journey for us so I'm happy to report that this one was totally anticlimactic, just the way we like 'em. Motored over to the fuel dock where we topped off the tank, filled two jerry jugs, filled the outboard gas can and one of the generator gas cans.

Pulled away from the fuel dock at 11:00 AM and headed out into calm seas and a nice sunny sky. Since we had no intention of stopping in San Diego, I plotted our course to take us well away from its entrance so we'd avoid the traffic and the possibility of running into warships playing games. The course took us on the outside of Las Islas Coronados off the far north coast of Baja. Going outside the islands added 6 nautical miles to our trip but the peace of mind was well worth it.

I know that I said that we intended to sail as much of this leg as possible, and damn the consequences. Well, I wimped out. We had almost NO wind and what little we had was always within 5 degrees one side or the other of our bow. We might have been able to sail a little but, the light winds combined with their direction would have added days to our trip. Maybe next time.

We raised the main about noon to steady the boat and maybe provide a little bit of lift. The seas were almost dead flat. There was a very slight swell, maybe a foot or so, spaced very widely. The sky was completely clear and sunny. There was a little haze around the horizon but that was about it. The air temperature was 65 degrees.

By 1:30, the air temperature was up to 67. It was still mostly clear but I could see we were approaching a large cloud bank. But for now, the sun felt really good beating down on my neck while I read Moby Dick and Lulu napped. Other than the sound of the engine, which I don't begrudge at all, it was an almost perfect day for cruising along the coast in a boat. I was loving life.

By 2:00, the sky had gotten mostly cloudy and the temp was back down to 65. Still no wind to speak of. However by 3:00 we were completely clouded over and the temp was down to 64. And now we had a slight breeze although it was hitting us from dead ahead. The trip continued pretty much along these lines. No great stories but that just means we had it easy.

Sidebar: We both decided to use Bonine (meclizine) to guard against mal de mer this trip. Lulu, because it worked for her previously and me because I didn't want to waste an expensive scopolamine patch (good for 3 days) on an overnight trip. It worked great but does cause a little drowsiness at first.

By 6:00 it was completely dark and the sky was completely clouded over. Air temp was down to 63 and I was chilly enough to put on long johns and my foul weather jacket. At one point I was sitting on a couple of cushions on the bridge deck with my feet inside the cabin resting on the companionway ladder. I had the sliding hatch pulled so that it was like a table in front of me to rest my book on. Thus sheltered from the apparent wind by the dodger, I could read by headlamp and still look up occasionally to check that everything was OK. As I sat there reading, listening to the drone of the engine, I confess that I occasionally nodded off for a few minutes at a time. One time, when I woke up I looked forward and something didn't look right. There were lights across the southern horizon that really shouldn't have been there. I glanced at the GPS and saw immediately what the problem was. The GPS was OFF! And the autopilot was in STANDBY. That means that one or the other of us must have turned a light on that caused the 12 volt system to shut down (remember that gremlin?). It must have been off only instantaneously because neither one of us noticed any blackouts. But it was off long enough to shut off the GPS and reboot the autopilot. The GPS wouldn't really matter since all it's doing is providing us with information. But the autopilot no longer had a course to steer and just went to STANDBY mode with the tiller locked in whatever was its last position. This eventually caused the boat to turn 90 degrees to port and we were headed for land! Now, this isn't as dire as it seems in spite of the last exclamation mark. I mean, we were 15 miles from land. That's 3 hours if we're doing really good. But it's easy to see how boats run aground when depending on electronic gizmos. I detached the autopilot, got us back on course and hooked it back up again. Crisis averted. Since the 12V problem still seems to exist, albeit in a much milder form than before and MUCH less frequently*, I think I may just put the GPS and Autopilot on a circuit that has, so far, been unaffected. The diesel heater, which sees only occasional use, is on it's own circuit although it doesn't really draw enough of a load to warrant it. It's also on a separate breaker panel than the one that has the gremlin. I think I'll add the GPS and autopilot to this breaker.

(* this is only the second time we've had a shutdown since I did all the cleaning up of the ground system, and both times were essentially instantaneous.)

At 10:50 PM, we crossed the border and entered Mexican territorial waters. Because there's a jog in the line, this actually happens a few miles north of the California/Mexico land border. But by the time that Lulu woke up we were south of even that line. As planned, we raised the Mexican courtesy flag on our starboard spreader and toasted our arrival with an ice-cold cerveza. Sad to report that it wasn't Pacifico but rather just a Natural Light. But it was beer.

During the night we traded watches at approximately 3-hour intervals although I never did manage to stay down for my full 3 hours. The night was chilly but not too chilly. At one point it pretty much cleared up, revealing a bunch of stars. However, before long, it clouded back up. The big saving grace of the night watches were the dolphins. From the time we crossed the border we had been surrounded by them. Sometime only a couple, sometimes dozens. They'd swim alongside the boat underwater and you could follow them by their phosphorescence. They looked like white dolphins because of the phosphorescence. Sometimes 3 or 4 or more would jump in unison alongside the boat. Who knows what drives them? Then they'd disappear for a few minutes only to startle the crap out of me when they would jump up right alongside a few minutes later. What a treat.

The dolphins were gone by the time it got light. However, with the coast shrouded in fog, there was very little to see. Seas were still calm, as they had been all night, and there was still not much wind. At one point, we could have probably sailed slowly as what little wind we had was coming from our port beam. But at that point we were so close to Ensenada that it seemed foolish to slow down just so we could say we sailed part of the trip.

We entered Bahia de Todos Santos at about 11:00 AM. About noon I started trying to raise the Baja Naval Marina on VHF channel 77. Apparently they couldn't hear me. I tried again about 1/2 later and again about 1/2 hour after that. At one point I heard another boat call them. I couldn't hear the Baja Naval side of the conversation, however, so I waited. As we neared the breakwater at the Ensenada harbor entrance, I tried again. Still no luck. Tried with both the handheld and the main VHF but just couldn't raise anyone. One problem was that my VHFs go down to low power (1W) automatically on channel 77 but still that should have been enough once in the harbor. We finally were approaching the BN docks and still trying in vain to get hold of someone. Normally we would just pick an empty spot, tie up and go check in and then move if we had to. But this time, the marina was small and it was unclear which slips, if any, might be vacant. We were just starting to make another pass-by when a fellow from the adjacent Marina Ensenada waved us over. Not knowing what else to do, we pulled in (another uneventful docking, although we had lots of help on the docks). This place was a little seedy looking but everyone was really nice and they said the cost was the same as at Baja Naval. However, the lady that needed to check us in wasn't there. So a guy who worked there called her and said she'd be here pretty soon. The swell at this marina was amazing. The boat would lurch around at the dock like crazy. You wanted to be sure to have good dock lines and know how to tie up.

We got things on the boat in order and the lady still hadn't shown up. It was about 2:00 by this time. I talked to the guy who worked there and told him we needed to go to town and check into the country. He said that would be fine. We could check in to the marina when we returned. We also asked about bathrooms (none), showers (none), and internet access (none). Hmm.

We followed another cruiser's directions and headed to the central office that houses Immigration, Customs, and the Port Captain. And also conveniently houses a branch of Banjercito Bank so you can pay the various charges. The place was empty when we arrived. After standing there looking lost, a gentleman directed us to Immigración where we hit our first snag. First, the agent just sort of looked at us like he didn't have a clue what it was we wanted. Finally, though, he relented and asked for our crew list. Well, I had spent a lot of time getting all my papers together, filled out, copied and ready. Problem was, since the crew list form I used was in Spanish, I had not filled it in quite right. Seems I had it right for checking out of Ensenada but not for checking in. Not a big problem. I had blanks forms. I filled one in right and went to get copies made. There's a tiny little office conveniently located right outside the door that makes copies for around 25¢ (US) each. Got my copies and returned to Immigration. There was also a small matter of the fact that the form I used was not one he was familiar with. This could have been a problem but he decided to let it slide with the caveat that the Port Captain may not accept it and I'd have to start over. It was never clear just how one went about obtaining a copy of the correct form.

So, we pay our money and then head to the Port Captain's window only to find that they only work until 2:30 even though the rest of the offices are open until 5:00. Oh well, back to the boat.

When we arrived back at the boat, having not yet checked in to the marina, we found ourselves locked out. Fortunately there were some guys on the dock who let us in. We started giving the place a closer look. No bathrooms was a pretty big hurdle to overcome unless the place was REALLY cheap. The lady still hadn't shown so I asked the other guy how much it would cost to stay. He showed me a paper that said it'd be $35/day. WITH NO BATHROOMS? WITH NO SHOWERS? WITH NO WIFI? I don't think so. We told him we were going to walk over to Baja Naval next door and check their prices. He said "no problem" and we went on our way.

The Baja Naval facilities were really nice and they said they'd only charge us $26.50/day. And they have bathrooms. And they have showers (non-coin showers at that!). And they have free wifi. And they even have a phone that you can call the States for free from. It's a voice over IP connection like Skype or Vonage which is why it's free. And, Rojelio, one of the managers (I guess), helps you get all your paperwork in order for checking into the country. And Arturo comes right to your boat to pick up your empty jerry jugs, refills them with diesel, and returns them to your boat. Or, if you need more, they'll arrange for a boat to come by and fill your tank. All in all, a superb marina. Not sure how Marina Ensenada, right next door, gets away with charging $30/night with no services when this is available.

So, we scurried back to the boat. The gate to the dock was closed again and we couldn't see anyone to open the door for us. But Lulu, being Lulu, climbed out on the dock and edged her way around the wooden barrier so she'd be on the other side where she could open the door and let me in. We untied our lines, backed out w/o incident and went over and tied up next door, also w/o incident. Now we're all safe and sound and snug in our slip. We know people on 2 of the boast that are already here. S/V Sterling with Byron and Jessica aboard, we first ran into at Avila Beach (Port San Luis). We also shared the marina at Santa Barbara with them although I don't think they knew we were there. The other boat, Dorial with Pat & Sean aboard, we met at the Marlin Club in Avalon on Catalina Island.

Sorry there aren't any photos but I just plumb forgot to take any. Maybe mañana.

11/18/2010 - Connectivity

I'm sending this from my new Banda Ancha (boradband) card that I
bought at the Telcel store. Should have internet capability wherever
we can get a cell signal in Mexico from here on out. Right now, we're
off to eat some tacos pescados y tacos mairscos. Might even drink a
cerveza or two. Also have to find the insurance guy to get Mexican
insurance for our boat. Our Allstate policy is only good up to 100
nautical miles of the US border. We have about 45 to go.

We're all checked into the country and legal. I'll write a blog
tonight about our trip down and today's activities. Until then...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

11/17/2010 - Mexico, at last!

Entered Mexican territorial waters last night about 10:50 PM. We
hoisted the courtesy flag (even though you're supposed to wait until
after you've cleared in) and drank a beer to celebrate. Arrived
Ensenada about 1:30 thus afternoon. They said to expect light,
variable winds. Well, they were light alright, like to the point of
being non-existent. But the only variation I saw in them was that,
whichever way we turned, they were still on the nose. As you may have
surmised, we motored (motorsailed, actually) again. Crappage!

I'll send more tomorrow when I get wifi on the boat. Today I have to
sit in an office at the marina (designed for the purpose, but
still...) and do my internetting from there.

I promise, more details tomorrow after we get checked into the country.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

11/14/2010 - compost

Warning: the following blog is about our Airhead composting toilet and contains thinly veiled references to poop. If you are squeamish, please feel free to do something else while the grown-ups talk. I don't expect this subject to be of interest to everyone. Maybe some of you would like to review our very first trip instead.

Okay, the rest of you must be either very smart people who happen to be interested in just about everything or you're either a cruising sailor or a hope-to-be-soon cruising sailor who is contemplating purchasing a composting toilet. I have to preface this by saying that our experience with the Airhead is hardly exhaustive. For much more complete info, go to Eric & Sherrel's FAQ page and look at item #2 (that was just a coincidence so stop giggling).

The Airhead is set up so that there are two flow streams. The liquid portion is diverted to what is essentially a bucket with a cap while the, um, er, heavier items are diverted to the composting bucket situated handily right below the depositor. Toilet paper used during simple drying up procedures are deposited in a wastebasket but toilet paper used during the grosser clean-up jobs are deposited right along with the "night soil" (there's a euphemism I love) just like in a real toilet. I've read that many captains on boats with traditional heads do not allow toilet paper into the toilet. It has to be deposited in a wastebasket. To this I can only say "Eeeeeuw!" Granted, we use 1-ply and try to keep clean-up restricted to 3 runs of 3 sheets each followed by a 2-sheet wipe up of the bowl if needed. And, I'd probably be singing a different tune if I had a conventional head and it got plugged with too much toilet paper as they are frequently known to do. Fortunately, we don't have to deal with that.

Obviously the liquid portion of the toilet is a no-brainer. Pee until the bucket fills up, swap the full bucket with an empty one (you did buy a extra bucket didn't you?), and then dump the full one whenever and wherever is convenient and legal.

The composter is the part that requires a little bit of a learning curve. At least it did for us.

Before initial use, some sort of organic material is added to the bucket to help dry out the poo as well as add some of the humus and such that is needed to make what you have a bucket of compost rather than just a bucket of merde. The manufacturer originally used and recommended peat moss but by the time we got ours, he was using coconut fiber. The instructions call for soaking the fiber and then squeezing it out before putting it in the bucket. We did that the first time and it didn't turn out well. So this time we just added dry, fluffed-up coconut fiber. We also added more than they called for. The idea is that, once you've "done your business" you will turn the agitator handle 1/2 turn to allow the coconut fiber to cover the deposit. Well, when we used the amount the manufacturer suggested, the agitator couldn't even reach it. The poop, now stuck to the agitator just spun happily around above the fiber. Now we add enough so that the agitator can pick a little up from the very start.

So, we're on our second go-round with the composter. And I have to say, I think we figured it out. We dumped it tonight as it was getting pretty full and this was a convenient place to do it. I'm sure we could have gotten another week or two out of it but why bother if it's convenient now and may not be later.

We certainly don't use the composter every day as we are often in marinas or other places where shore facilities are available and convenient. We try to use shore facilities whenever possible. That said, tonight's load was made up of occasional uses while underway, four or five days while anchored at Port San Luis (daily use), a week while anchored at Angel Island (daily use), and occasional use while moored at Avalon Harbor for two weeks (probably 5 or 6 days' use). While that's not an incredible amount, like I said, I'm sure we could have gone another week or two before it had to be dumped.

One of the things I always wondered/worried about was: "What about the last deposit? If you dump the bucket the next day, it's hardly had time to compost."

True. And that might make dumping it kind of yucky although it would still be coated in coconut fiber and mixed with actual working compost. But still. I would have no qualms about tossing it, double-bagged, into a dumpster at that point. However, the way we've decided to handle it is pretty much how we handled it this time. When it looks like things are getting close to being ready to dump, we'll try to arrange to be somewhere where shore facilities are convenient for a week or so. Then we'll allow at least a week between the last deposit and the time that the batch is "harvested". That gives it some cooking time and lowers the yuck factor.

We kind of put off dumping the bucket tonight because our last experience was somewhat less than pleasant. However, tonight it wasn't even a little yucky. The contents were mostly a uniform dark brown and looked pretty much like damp bark dust. Well, except for the occasional piece of paper which breaks down a little slower. The odor was just like a working compost bin at home: kind of earthy. Not something you'd want to sit next to for a long time but it sure didn't smell like poop and wasn't at all unpleasant. Sure smelled better than the holding tank odor so prevalent on many boats and RVs.

There was a little bit of humus in the corners after dumping and we left it as seed for the next batch. Added some fluffed-up coconut fiber and we're good to go for another three or four weeks of daily use.

Okay, I'm done. You can call the others back in now. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask. I'll be happy to do my best to answer them.

11/15/2010 - An extra day in DP

We ended up staying an extra day in Dana Point. Last night before we went to bed I read about something called Anexo 1. According to Charlie's Charts, this form is to be filled out and stamped by the customs officer where you first check into Mexico. The Anexo is a list of things on your boat like the engine, GPS, generator, computers, etc. Basically anything of value that you may later need to import parts for. Inclusion on the Anexo is supposed to allow you to import these parts without paying duty.

So I woke up this morning fretting about the fact that I hadn't completed an Anexo 1. I also still had to stow the dinghy and all it's seats, transom, etc. since Lulu decided to wash the whole shebang yesterday afternoon and it got dark before I had a chance to re-stow everything. And, Lulu wanted to try to get a load of laundry done. So, not liking to rush a departure, I decided another day in port was in order. We'd have ample time to get everything done and be able to leave tomorrow (Tuesday) in a more leisurely fashion.

I scoured the internet trying to find a blank copy of Anexo 1 only to find that "Anexo" simply means something along the lines of Addenda or Appendix. There are lots of forms out there called Anexo 1. I searched the message boards but came up blank. Finally, I somehow ascertained that all of the information required on the "Anexo 1" gets entered on the TIP (Temporary Importation Permit) anyway, so the Anexo is probably superfluous if it even exists anymore.

I spent the next several hours compiling a list of all of the stuff I thought would apply and getting the serial numbers of these items. Besides using the list for importation documentation, this will be good info to have in case we ever get robbed. It's also just nice to have all the serial and model numbers located in one easy-to-find place.

After I got done making my list, we walked to the UPS store to make copies of the list, copies of the boat's crew list (both of us), and copies of our credit card, debit card, and drivers' licenses. Then to Rite-Aid to get something to carry all my documentation ashore in. Finally, we stopped at Ralph's for a couple of items, not the least of which was some potato chips and this really good Roasted Red Pepper/ Asiago cheese dip that Ralph's carries and we first had in Santa Barbara (it's over at the deli counter in case you're looking).

Once we got back to the boat I stowed the dinghy. Then we walked over to see the Spirit of Dana Point (which we first saw in Santa Barbara):

And the Pilgrim, a replica of the ship that Richard Henry Dana (Dana Point, get it?) served on and later wrote about in "Two Years Before The Mast".

Both of these ships are a short walk from where we're tied up and we'd feel pretty foolish if we left without getting a look at them.

Now we're hunkering in for the evening knowing that pretty much everything that can be done ahead of time has been done so we can get underway tomorrow without feeling rushed.

So, don't look to hear from us until Wednesday at the absolute earliest. Winds look to be light and variable so may be a day or two later than that.

PS: Oh, and I finally decided it was time to read "Moby Dick" which I started this morning. Loving it so far.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

11/14/2010 - Hasta luego, amigos

My internet access runs out at about 9:00 tonight so this is the last you'll hear from me until we reach Ensenada.

Check-out time here at Dana Point is noon so we'll be gone by then but probably not a whole lot before. I've plotted a route that takes us in a pretty straight line from here to San Diego, although we have no plans to stop there. From there, we'll go between the mainland and Las Islas de Los Coronados to Ensenada. The trip is only about 115 nautical miles. At an average speed of 4.5 knots, that would take us 25.6 hours if we can travel in a straight line. The winds look favorable for following the rhumb line so it's mostly a question of boat speed. If we can only average 3 knots, it'll take us 38 hours. So we could be there as early as noon on Tuesday or it could take us until Wednesday or Thursday, who knows? We're all provisioned, the water tank is full, and the batteries are topped off.

But, starting tomorrow, we are no longer on a schedule. We're going to sail, dammit! If it takes 3 days to make a one-day passage, so be it. We'll just have to learn to sail better.

So, don't hold your breath waiting for the next blog entry. Once we get to Ensenada, I'll get a Banda Ancha card from Telcel that will give me internet access via cell towers. Also, you can erase our phone numbers because, once we get to Mexico, out TracFone's won't work anymore. We'll get some pay-as-you-go Mexican cell phones but we may have to break down and Skype to be able to make affordable calls. We'll see.

So, until later...

(Oh! I can't believe it! We're almost to Mexico. Northern Mexico, yes, but Mexico nevertheless. I'm so excited!)

11/14/2010 - Self-steering

I've mentioned windvanes and autopilots a few times over the past few weeks. A comment in yesterday's blog reminded me that not everyone who reads this is a sailor and so, may not know the difference or understand how each works. So, although they're both explained in much more detail on various websites, here's my sort of quick and dirty explanation.


There are numerous brands and models and they differ in how they work somewhat but the overall concept is the same: keep the boat steering a course relative to the wind direction. If the wind direction changes, so does the course you're sailing. Obviously, these will only work right in places where the wind direction stays pretty steady for long periods of time.

We have a Cape Horn windvane, built by hand in Quebec, Canada. A very detailed explanation of how windvanes in general work, and how the Cape Horn was developed can be found here. And here is a photo of an installation similar to ours. I'm using this photo instead of the photos I have of the vane on Siempre Sabado simply because my photos all the show the blade in the "up" (storage) position.

The wooden piece hanging down into the water is the blade. The blue thing up on top is the vane. The vane is oriented so that the wind hits it on its edge, presenting the least amount of resistance. With the vane in this position, the blade hangs down parallel to the centerline of the boat. If the boat wanders off-course, the wind will hit the vane from the side, causing it to tip either right or left. This movement is transferred to the blade, causing it to tip (not turn) so that it's no longer aligned with the center line of the boat. When the blade tips, it pulls a line that is attached to the tiller which causes the main rudder to turn and bring the boat back to the point where the blade is straight down again and the vane is straight up and the boat is once again on course.

The best feature of a wind vane is that it requires absolutely no electricity to operate.


Again, there are various models but they all work on the same basic principles. They usually contain some sort of electronic compass. On our Autohelm, instead of setting the compass course on the windvane, you instead steer the course you want and, once on course, attach the autopilot to the tiller and hit AUTO. The autopilot then reads whatever heading it's on and adjusts the tiller by pushing or pulling it to maintain that course.

The above photo shows how our Autohelm is mounted. There's a small stainless steel pin on the tiller that the moveable push/pull rod attaches to.

The downside of an autopilot is that it requires electricity to operate. When we're motoring, that's fine since the alternator on the engine is pumping out the amps. But, when sailing, an autopilot can be a pretty big drain on the batteries. It also takes a fair amount of strength to keep the boat on course as we can attest to from the times we've had to hand-steer.

However, there's another option which is sort of a hybrid. We haven't rigged it up yet but plan to soon. In the hybrid model, you use the autopilot in place of the vane on the windvane. This allows you to steer a compass course and, since the blade on the windvane is doing all the heavy work of moving the tiller, the autopilot doesn't have to work very hard. This saves on the amount of amps drawn. And, the autopilot should last longer since there is less wear and tear on the moving parts.

Windvane advantages:
-No electricity required
-Steers a course constant to the wind, therefore, no sail adjustments needed.

-Can be kind of fussy to learn to use.

Autopilot advantages:
-Steers a compass course.
-Extremely simple to set up and use.

-Uses precious electricity.
-If they break, can be difficult-to-impossible to fix

There you have it, in a nutshell.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

11/13/2010 - Cruisin' in The OC

We used Adele's car to run provisioning errands today. Our first planned stop was at Minney's in Costa Mesa (or maybe it's Newport Beach). So we headed up the PCH through Laguna Beach, Corona Del Mar and Newport Beach. It was a beautiful drive. The weather was bright, sunny and in the 70s. The Southern Californians were all good-looking, tan, and fit. All the cars were shiny-clean and new. Lots of convertibles, Ferraris, Jags, etc. I know that I was looking through rose-colored glasses but this is how it all appeared to me. Lulu, too. By the time we returned to Dana Point later in the afternoon, after driving among these folks all day, a little of the shine had worn off.

Minney's is a must-visit place for any sailors who get even close to Newport Beach. When we were down in San Diego on Friday, one of the guys at Downwind Marine told us that we really needed to go to Minney's. he was right.

This place was absolutely stuffed with marine surplus items. They have acres of sails and vow to never charge more then $1500 for even the newest, largest, most exotic sail in their inventory. Of course, most of the used sails are much cheaper than that. As we were wandering through looking at all the boat candy, all I could think was that Newport Beach sailors have it WAY too easy. With a resource like this a guy could save thousands of dollars.

One of the things I've been wanting is an extra autopilot. An autopilot is like an extra crew member as we found out during the first leg of our trip south when ours wasn't working. Granted, we have the windvane but I have yet to really master that device and besides, the autopilot works so much better when we're motoring. We have an older model Raymarine Autohelm 800. I wanted to get either an Autohelm 800 or 1000 of about the same vintage since it would plug right into the existing socket. I had very little hope of ever finding one. Figured that I'd probably have to find some other brand/model and install a separate electrical socket in parallel.

So, I'm perusing the shelves. I've been through the entire downstairs and almost the whole upstairs when I look up on an upper shelf. There, tangled up in a bunch of cables, wires, and other electronic devices are 2 tiller-mount autopilots. The first one I picked up was a Navico brand. The electrical connection actually looked like it would match up with my existing socket. Amazing! Looking closer, there were a few signs of tough use: a trim pot with a boogered-up adjusting slot and some spots that had been goobered up with silicone. But still, at $125, probably not a bad deal. Brand new units go for about $700. I hung on to the Navico while I extracted the other unit from the tangle. Damn! It's an older model Raymarine Autohelm 800, just like the one I already have! Can't be, but it is. And it doesn't look any the worse for wear than the one on the boat. I check the tag and it says "$95 As-Is".


"As-is"? Now what does that mean exactly? I carried it downstairs and talked to the folks at the counter. I told them that I know what "as-is" means but did they know if the unit even worked? They said that they don't test the stuff that comes in. They offered to let me take it back to the boat and, if it didn't work and I returned it today, they'd give me my money back. That wasn't going to work as we were in a borrowed car and still had lots more thing to do than we had time to do them without an extra round trip between Dana Point and Newport. Then, the guy told me which wire was positive and which was negative. "And by the way, there's a battery upstairs." I asked if that meant that I could test it. "I'm not saying that. I'm just saying that there's a battery upstairs." Is there any wire? "I don't know, all I know is that there's a battery upstairs." Well, you don't have to hit me with a 2x4 ( a 2x2, maybe). I went up stairs, fished through a few boxes to find some wire, bared the ends, connected them to the battery and then held the connections to the autopilot while I had Lulu press buttons. And, guess what. IT WORKED!!! Hot-diggity-damn! We now have a spare autopilot, an exact replica of our existing autopilot. And we saved enough money to make the purchase of new line for sheets and a mainsail halyard much less painful, even though we also got good deals on them.

After a stop at West Marine for some new zincs, we headed to Ralph's for groceries. It's been awhile since we've done a big shopping trip and we were really appreciative of Adele's car. We got some prescriptions filled and made a bunch of copies of all of our important papers for use while checking into Mexico. Then we returned the car to Adele.

It was greta to visit with Adele and Vince yesterday and again this morning and this evening. They've really made our stay in Dana Point enjoyable and totally painless.

And to make our stay even nicer, when we got back to the boat this evening we got a real nice e-mail from some folks here in the marina who saw our boat when they went out for a daysail today and then happened across our blog later this evening. Pretty cool.

Tomorrow we'll spend our time getting ready to head out again. That includes installing some of the stuff we've purchased the last 2 days as well as general clean-up and stowing.

But that's tomorrow.

11/13/2010 - Readers from afar

I'm loving the ClustrMap I installed on this page. If you haven't clicked it to zoom in, here's whre the page visitors have come from just since I installed the map on Nov. 6:

Current Country Totals
From 6 Nov 2010 to 13 Nov 2010

United States (US)388
Australia (AU)11
Mexico (MX)6
Canada (CA)3
Finland (FI)2
Spain (ES)2
United Kingdom (GB)1
Singapore (SG)1
Slovakia (SK)1
Italy (IT)1
South Africa (ZA)1

I continue to be amazed with how the internet doesn't so much "shrink" the planet as it "opens" it. Truly amazing.

And let me just add that I am humbled by how many folks are reading this blog and from how far afield you all are. Pretty cool for a blog that started out as just a way to keep fiends and family informed of our whereabouts and doings w/o having to write a whole bunch of e-mails every day or so. So, again, thank you all. Here's to you:


Friday, November 12, 2010

11/12/2010 - Avalon to Dana Point, CA

We got a late start leaving Avalon yesterday. We had planned to take it easy and head out sometime mid-morning, maybe 10:00 at the latest. We should have been tipped off that something was up when we went ashore to use the facilities about 8:30 or so. We tied up to the dinghy dock on the basin side of the Green Pier only to find that the ramp that connected the dock with the pier had been hoisted into the UP position. We couldn't get to the pier from the dock. So, we motored over to the other side where the ramp was still down. Took care of our business and headed back to the boat.

I had noticed the "Small Craft Warning" flags flying but they've been flying for several days and it didn't seem all that rough. However, today the NOAA weather page also had Small Craft Warnings posted. Well, the ride back to the boat was just on the edge of what I want to do in the dinghy, given a choice. The water was getting pretty riled up. But we got back aboard safe and sound.

But then things started getting crazy. There were big swells coming in and the water was hitting the seawall and shooting way up, even getting the roof of one of the seafood restaurants wet at one point. The photos don't do it justice:

We were pitching up and down like we were out at sea. Even took some water over the foredeck a couple of times.

It was way too windy and rolly to even attempt to pull the dinghy aboard and disassemble it. So we just sat and waited. The prediction was that things were supposed to calm down around noon. While we waited we saw one sailboat come into the harbor and have a hell of a time getting secured to a mooring ball. Lulu was down below working on croissant dough and was getting a bit green around the gills. We both decided to take some Bonine (meclazine) to ward off seasickness both now as well as during our crossing, which at this point we were still hoping we'd be able to make.

Finally, around noon, things did start to calm down. We got the dinghy aboard and stowed, the engine warmed up and finally managed to slip our moorings at about 1:00 PM.

The rest of the trip was a non-event. We started out motoring and were only doing maybe 4.5 knots. We raised the sails and, on a beam reach we were also able to do about 4-4.5 knots. At this rate, the GPS was telling us we'd reach Dana Point about 11:00 PM. That was kind of late so we kicked on the engine and sailed with the engine helping out at low RPMs. doing this we were able to make an extra knot or so. Now our estimated time of arrival dropped closer to 9:00. After an hour or so, the wind dropped enough that we lost the knot we had made by turning the engine on so we dropped the sails, increased the RPMs to 2500 and continued on at about 4.5-5.0 knots the rest of the way. The wind came back up an hour or so later but soon dropped off again.

However, this lack of wind did not translate to a lack of sea motion. All that earlier wind had stirred up a bunch of 2-3 foot wind waves on top of the 1-2 foot swell. Nothing earth-shaking but not particularly comfortable either. As we neared Dana Point about 7:00, the seas settled down and we had a very pleasant 2 hours. Well, I slept for an hour of it but that was pleasant, too. While certainly not summery, the weather was still fairly warm (at least to us). We were tied up at the guest dock at 9:00 PM. The docking was blessedly smooth and uneventful.

Today we hooked up with Adele and Vince who drove us to San Diego to get our Mexican fishing licenses. The also took us over to Downwind Marine where we managed to get a bunch of stuff that was on our list, and several things that weren't. What a great store. Smaller than I expected but a very friendly, knowledgeable staff. And they had most of the stuff we were seeking.

We took a scenic drive back to Adele's in San Clemente. They showed us a bunch of the beach towns whose names you remember from surfing songs and episodes of "The OC" followed by dinner at Adele's. Then, Adele gave us the keys to her car to use for our errands tomorrow. Pretty nice, huh?

Just before we left to go to San Diego, I saw a familiar-looking boat dropping anchor just outside the west marina entrance. Pulled out the binoculars and, sure enough, it was s/v Odessa.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

11/11/2010 - Dana Point

We arrived safely at Dana Point Marina after getting a late start from
Avalon. I'll share all the details later. Right now we need food and

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

11/10/2010 - Just ambling along

My normal walking pace is pretty fast. I pick 'em up and put 'em down like I thought I actually had someplace to go. But, now that my knee is on the mend, I'm trying to take it slow and easy to avoid a relapse. I can walk just about anywhere as long as I take it slow and easy. Not always that easy for me but I'm learning.

Today we took a nice long amble. After talking with Mike & Nita about their trip to the Pebbly Beach area, we decided we really needed to go as well. The only challenging thing about the walk is that it goes up over Mt. Ida. But even that isn't all that big of a challenge. We walked through some residential areas behind downtown Avalon and then started climbing. We eventually got up to where we had some nice views of Avalon from a different perspective.

We continued climbing and, before we turned the corner leaving Avalon behind, we got this view.

Over on the left side, the highest structure you see is the bell tower. This thing is right above our mooring. It sounds every 15 minutes. Fortunately they don't let the gong ring during the night. I'm not sure what time it shuts down (although it's 7:05 now and I don't remember hearing it recently) but it seems like it doesn't start back up until around 8:00 AM. So, every 15 minutes we get a time signal. These aren't the actual notes it plays but they should help you visualize the tune. It's very familiar:
At quarter after: A-B-C-D
At half past: A-B-C-D pause D-C-A-B
At quarter 'til: A-B-C-D pause D-C-A-B pause A-B-C-D
On the hour: A-B-C-D pause D-C-A-B repeat. Followed by a gong for each hour.
Now this isn't all that bad EXCEPT... The D note (or whatever it really is) is just the slightest bit flat. I'm kind of getting used to it but it drives Lulu nuts.

Anyway, the other thing in this picture is the point of land you can see sticking out behind the one with the condos (just behind the Casino*). The camp at Toyon Bay that our friends Kelly & Travis took us to (you read about it a few days ago) is located just about where the land in the background meets the land in the foreground in the photo. The trip from Avalon to there was about 10 minutes by boat. Would've been about a half hour by car.

After we rounded the bend and left Avalon behind, the world changed a bit. There were no houses or anything else at first as we started down the slope towards Pebbly Beach.

A little sidebar: We've seen a lot of prickly pear cactus while we've been here. They almost all have ripe fruit on them. Well, having never tried one before, Lulu decided that she really should and now seemed like a good time. I've had prickly pear and wasn't too impressed. It was one of the various off-the-wall things my Dad was always bringing home from the store. That's probably where I get my penchant for not wanting to order the same thing off the menu every time. We'd all have hamburgers, he'd have the pork tenderloin sandwich. We'd all have Cokes, he'd have a Martinelli's Sparkling Cider. Like that. Any way, I had no desire to eat a prickly pear because, as I remembered them, they were sort of bland, too sweet, and messy. Lulu concurred with those findings plus she had one more. Unlike the domesticated store-bought pears, the wild ones are PRICKLY! So, not only are her lips and fingers bright, bright red, but she's got all these little clusters of stickers in her fingers, on her face, and inside her mouth. And, of course, she was all sticky. She wasn't real happy with herself as she tried to get all the little buggers unstuck. It'll probably be a long time (like forever) before she attempts to eat a prickly pear again.

Okay, back to our amble...

As we got closer to sea level, we started to see quite the little enclave. It didn't look anything like Avalon, though.

This is where the work of running the island happens. The blue tanks in the back are diesel tanks. The diesel is used to run the 3 giant generators that supply the island's electricity which are also located down there. There's also a building supply store (this is NOT Home Depot, however), and a boatyard.

There's a deslination plant for making drinking water. There was even something that looked suspiciously like company housing.

Reminded me of the Eloi and Morloks from H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine" although I doubt that the folks at Pebbly Beach actually raise the Avaloners for food.

And just to make sure you know you're not in Avalon anymore:

Now don't think I'm poking fun or trying to belittle anything about the island. I'm not. We love it here. When we saw the quonset huts we both decided that we'd like living in that little neighborhood. It's just easy to forget that a fantasy town like Avalon (or Disneyland) still needs someone to generate the power, filter the drinking water, clean up the sewage, collect the garbage (they have the cutest little 3/4 size garbage trucks here)(oh yeah, and in Santa Barbara, the garbage trucks were shiny, like they were brand new and had just been detailed), store and supply the 2x4s and bags of cement to build the cute little houses, part out the rigs that are no longer repairable, etc. Once we've seen the shiny stuff, we both like to see this side of the coin.

There's one other thing on this part of the island that makes it worthwhile: The Buffalo Nickel Restaurant. On a tip from Mike and Nita, we had lunch there. In case you're keeping score, Lulu had a patty melt and fries and I had a buffalo torta and potato salad (see, there's Dad's influence again). They were great. The restaurant's business is suffering a little because the road from the ferry terminal out to Pebbly Beach along the water is closed to pedestrians, golf carts, etc. The only rigs that can traverse it are fully-enclosed steel vehicles. Why? Well, some geologist decided that the rocky slopes were unstable and rocks might come down and kill someone. Now, this has never happened, but apparently you can't be too careful. The road is privately owned by the Catalina Island Company and they are apparently afraid of the liability (GAWD! I HATE that word!) in case someone gets bonked. So everyone not in a regular vehicle has to make the long, winding, and much more dangerous trek along the road that we walked. Needless to say, few tourists make the trek. The islanders have to because the island's only gas station is over here. And, it closes at 3:30. Could this be any more inconvenient? Anyway, as a move to help bolster their business, the Buffalo Nickel runs a shuttle van back and forth between downtown and their establishment. Very nice as it saved us a really long amble back to town. Hopefully the City of Avalon, the State of California, the County of Los Angeles, and the Catalina Island Company will get their collective sh*t together and fix the problem. Believe me, the "dangerous" hillside looked like lots of hillsides you and I have seen over the years. They don't usually close the adjacent roads. They just find a way to contain the rocks, like wire mesh or something. It's not that tough.

We enjoyed our amble and thought you might be interested as well. There's Avalon on one side, there's the wild lands on the other, and, in between, there are the Morloks. And they are us.

* The Casino is not and never has been a gambling hall. In this case the word Casino apparently comes from an Italian word and means something more along the lines of a "gathering place".

11/10/2010 - The chill is gone

Okay, maybe not completely gone, but I was able to spend at least a few hours in shorts and t-shirt again today. Of course, once you got out of the sun, it cooled down right away.

We walked to the Sand Trap for breakfast today just because we hadn't been there yet. Best $4.99 breakfast we ever ate. Of course, if we cooked it on the boat it'd be closer to $0.99 but that's a given. Once in awhile you just have to treat yourself and contribute to the local economy.

Afterwards, we loaded up the laundry and went in to use one of the 2 laundromats in town. This one is in this little shopping plaza and is pretty darn nice for a laundromat. Unfortunately, the sun never reached the interior of the plaza so sitting outside while the clothes were being washed got a little chilly after awhile. But, the sun warmed us back up on our walk back to the dinghy dock.

Today was cruise ship day. It's our understanding that Carnival lands a ship here on Tuesday and Thursday during the summer and on Tuesday only during the off-season. This is the second time we've seen one and you ought to see how the town fills up when one of those big boogers drops their anchor.

Played with the solar panels today. A fellow sailor was bending my ear last night about the importance of getting the panels situated as close to 90 degrees to the sun as possible. At this time of year, that means they're almost vertical. I've been just letting mine sit flat (horizontal) but today I tried to align them with the sun better. It really paid off. The amps-in jumped from about 1.8 (21.6 watts) to 8.1 (97.2 watts). Since the panels are 80 watts each and one of them had the shadow of the boom across it, that's not too shabby. Kept me from running the generator today as I had planned to do. I need to improve my mounts so that the panels will be able to be adjusted easier but that shouldn't be any big deal. Hardest part will be finding the right hardware.

We've decided to head to Dana Point on Thursday instead of San Diego. Besides getting all our various chores done, we'll get to visit our friend Adele. Matter of fact, she and her friend Vince are going to cart us down to San Diego (by car) on Friday so we can get our Mexican fishing licenses. We'll owe them lunch for that one for sure. We're looking forward to what should be a pretty easy trip across the channel.

Tonight we went to the movies. The main reason was to get a look at the inside of the Casino, or at least the theater part. It was pretty amazing. Very ornate, very well restored (or is it preserved?). The movie, Mega Mind, was so-so. We kind of have a built-in prejudice against animated features so it had that to overcome. It was sort of cute but not really to our taste. But the popcorn was REALLY good. And REALLY buttery.

Before the movie, we had our friends Mike and Nita (s/v Odessa) over for dinner. Got to show them the difference between life on a 40' boat (theirs) and a 28' boat (ours). Just like when we had dinner on their boat a few days ago, we once again had a pleasant time comparing notes and picking each other's brains. They'll be taking off tomorrow for Newport (California, not Oregon). They're planning to hit Dana Point after that so we may run into them again before we meet up in Mexico sometime.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

11/9/2010 - About those pageviews

If you don't see a number under the "pageviews" heading below the map on the right side of your screen, click on the title of the latest blog (in this case: "About those pageviews"). When the page refreshes, you should see the current count.

And how about that map? Who knew I was being read in Finland, Sri Lanka, and Australia?

Monday, November 8, 2010

11/9/2010 Getting chilly

It's cooling down here in Avalon although it's supposed to be back up to the 70s in the next couple days. We'll be heading out on Thursday (Veteran's Day) and it's predicted to be in the low 70s with moderate winds from the north and northeast. It'd be perfect for a run to San Diego but we may not head there. I've been leery about San Diego for a long time. Although tons of cruisers go through there, it's always seemed to me, from my reading, to be a large, complicated, busy, heavily-regulated place to be. However, there are lots of things available like marine chandleries and places to get pre-Mexico paperwork taken care of.

However, we have a friend (from Willow Glen High School, class of '69), Adele, who lives within 4 miles of the Dana Point marina. Dana Point is about as close as you can get to Catalina. It'd only be about a 5 hour sail across the channel instead of a 15-18 hour trip to SD. There is a West Marine store near the marina as well as hardware stores and grocery stores. Additionally, Adele has offered the use of her car. So, today I need to sit down and make a list of all the reasons we thought we needed to go to San Diego and figure out whether or not we can take care of everything on the list in Dana Point instead. The marina in DP will take reservations but the cost is about 3X what we would have to pay in SD if, and I stress the if) we can get space at the Police Dock which is on a first-come-first-served basis. However, we'd be able to skip the (possibly imagined) stress of SD.

If we do go to DP, wen we leave there we'll sail straight to Ensenada to check in to Mexico and reprovision (grocery shop). This is a trip of around 140 nautical miles so it would take us the better part of 2 days.

So, not sure what we're doing yet but I should have it figured out by tomorrow.

We're just about to head to the Sand Trap for breakfast (spuds, eggs, meat, toast: $4.99).

We had planned to go to the movies last night. The movie currently playing is Mega Minds which we hadn't really planned on watching but Mike and Nita on s/v Odessa highly recommended it. It's also a reasonably inexpensive way to see some of the inside of the Casino without paying $19/person for a tour. At least we'd get to see the lobby and the theater. And get a movie to boot. But, by the time we returned to the boat after a shore excursion, we were pretty chilled. We finally decided that another outing didn't sound like fun. As the wind and waves built through the evening, we were even gladder we had chosen to stay home. Maybe tonight although tomorrow night is more likely, looking at the weather predictions.

Today's big exotic outing? A trip to the laundromat. Hope I remember to take my camera.

10/8/2010 - What did we do yesterday?

Sorry about no blog last night. I was just way too sleepy. We spent the evening having dinner with some new friends on s/v Odessa, their Tashiba 40. Mike and Nita are from Seattle and we met them through our mutual friends Bob & Sherry on s/v Ponderosa. We had a very nice visit comparing notes (they are also headed to Mexico) on equipment, tactics, plans, backgrounds, etc. Afterwards, like a couple of yoyos, we returned to the boat and watched our shows (currently: Mad Men, Deadwood, and Twentysixmiles). We were both nodding through Deadwood but rallied for Twentysixmiles. But after that, it was straight to bed.

So, other than dinner on Odessa, what did we do yesterday?

Well, after breakfast we dinghied to the Pleasure Pier (aka "The Green Pier") to use the shoreside facilities. Then, as it wasn't raining yet and my knee was feeling some better, we took a walk out to the ferry dock. As I was setting the pace, "amble" would probably be a more accurate description than "walk". While watching Twentysixmiles, which was filmed at Avalon, we've seen a few places that we weren't completely familiar with. And, since Avalon is very small it's easy to ferret out these places. The ferry dock was one. We continued walking past the ferry dock to Lover's Cove. It's a nature preserve or something like that where no swimming, diving, boating, etc. is allowed. From the road the water was very clear and it was easy to see the ubiquitous Garibaldies, mostly because they're so bright.

Afterwards, we walked to the other end of the bay and a little beyond. On the show they often showed people sitting at a beachside bar that we hadn't seen before. So, we walked past the Casino to the Descanso Beach Club and found the bar as well as a pretty cool little enclave. On the way, as we were walking along the path to the casino, I just had to take photos of some of the tile scenes embedded in the wall along the walkway.

Also took a few photos of some amazing tile work on the Casino itself:

This town is absolutely lousy with artistic tile work.

All this walking around observing stuff made me want to go back to the boat and watch the video we bought about Catalina ("Hollywood's Magical Island") just in case it led us to explore other facets of Avalon. So, it being a fairly dreary day, anyway, that's exactly what we did. The video was pretty fascinating and told us lots of stuff we didn't know. Like the fact that the theater in the Casino was the first theater anywhere that was built specifically to show "talkies" and consequently, many of them premiered here.

After the video, it was still dreary out so I suggested we ("we" being Lulu) pop some corn and watch a movie. Maybe the sun would be out when it was over. So we watched The Great Santini since we'd both recently read the book. By the time it was over, the sun was indeed out. We gathered our stuff and started ashore to take showers which is when Mike from Odessa caught up with us and invited us to dinner.

And that was pretty much our day.

Today I have a list of chores (none very daunting) that I've been putting off. It's time to do them so I don't wait until the last minute and they become more onerous than they really are. We're planning on heading out on Thursday sometime. We're paid up through Thursday night but checkout time is 9 AM. If we left then, it would put us in San Diego at Oh-Dark-Thirty. If we leave on Thursday we can leave whenever we want and plan our trip to arrive in SD in the daylight.

You can check the webcam occasionally on Thursday to see if we've left yet. Zoom in on "Beach" and look for us in the lower right hand corner just to starboard of the shore boat (the one with a yellow top).

Sunday, November 7, 2010

11/6/2010 - Just another day in paradise

Today was interesting. First off, we took the dinghy ashore to use the facilities. But, when we got to the Pleasure Pier, there was no dinghy dock. Didn't we just go through this on November 1st? Where the heck are we supposed to tie up now? There was a Harbor Patrol boat cruising around so we asked him. He said that the docks had been moved so that they wouldn't interfere with the swimming portion of the triathlon that was taking place this morning. He said they were moving the docks back into place e'en as we spake. So we just motored around for 5 minutes or so until there was a place to tie up to.

The beach was absolutely covered with triathlon athletes. I mean covered! Who knew so many folks would turn out? And, by the time we noticed them at 8:30 or so, they had already been at it for awhile since the swimming portion was apparently already over.

It was supposed to rain this afternoon (30% chance) but we got nary a drop. And I just now peeked outside (it's 11:30 PM) and the sky is completely clear. Dodged a bullet. It was a skosh on the cool side this afternoon. I actually had to change from shorts to long pants.

We spent the late afternoon and evening with a fellow ex-Silvertonian. Kelly Hatteberg was one of Cody's friends growing up. She was often at our house or Cody at her's. Consequently, we've known her since she was a little girl. Turns out that she works right here on the island. She works for Guided Discoveries as a teacher. Her educational background is marine biology (I think) so she's well-suited to the job. Her assignment is at the Toyon Bay campus.

Kelly and her boyfriend, Travis came to pick us up in one of the company boats and then took us back to Toyon Bay for a tour.

What a great gig these "kids" have. Travis works at the more rustic Fox Landing Campus . All in all, it looks like a pretty sweet set-up and we're so happy to see Kelly doing well and actually getting to use what she went to school for. Not that common these days.

After the tour, we took them out for dinner at the Sand Trap. You know, dollar tacos. That's me; the last of the big spenders. Then we gave them a tour of our boat before they headed back up the island. It was interesting talking to them and getting a little insight into the facets of island life that we tourists never see or know about. Here's one little tip from them: do not get bit by a rattlesnake on Catalina. Apparently the venom is more concentrated and the antivenin that's normally administered for rattlesnake bites has little or no affect. Good chance you're going to die if bit. Watch where you're walking.

Lulu re-coverd a cushion at the nav station today but I didn't get much of anything done. Don't plan to tomorrow either. And, with the time change tonight, I have an extra hour to get nothing done tomorrow. Life is good.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

11/6/2010 - new features

On the right side of this blog page (if you get this via e-mail, you won't see these features unless you go to the actual blog page.). The map will star showing where our readers are coming from. It only updates daily so there won't be anything there until tomorrow. When it is updated, red dots will appear where our readers are from. If you click on the magnifying glass, you'll get lots more detailed information. Unfortunately, the monitoring starts now rather than back when I first started the blog but hopefully some of our long-time readers from places like Sri Lanka (yep!) will still be checking in so their dots will show up. You'll be amazed at how far away readers come from.

The other feature, right below the map, is a page-hit counter. This one came from google so it's been counting since, if not the very first posting, at least very early on.

If you want a map for your blog or webpage, go to http://clustrmaps.com/index.htm .
If you want a counter and you're on blogspot, just go to the design page, Google has just added the counter. The Clustermap also includes a counter but it's re-zeroed every year (or more often if that's what you want).

Friday, November 5, 2010

11/5/2010 - Sometimes I have to pinch myself

This evening I was sitting up on deck looking around. Every so often it dawns on me that we're really doing this! I'm sitting there looking at a schooner moored next to us, a swordfishing boat moored ahead and to our left and a water taxi on our port side. Avalon was all lit up like the tourist fantasy that it is. There was a soft breeze wafting through the mooring field. Dinghies were buzzing around taking boaters ashore or bringing them back home. And we're part of it! We're actually living the dream we've nurtured for so long. The reality isn't always exactly like the dream, though. I don't think either of us ever dreamed about the crappy seas we encountered further north. There's also more work involved than I expected although, if I'd stopped to think about it for 5 seconds I'd have realized that you have to get your groceries somehow. And those groceries have to get from the store to the boat somehow and, if you don't have a car, well....

But that's all part of it. My biggest fear was that we would retire and spend the rest of our lives doing the same thing we'd done all the years we were working, minus the work of course. But we're not. What we're doing is completely different than our previous life. Not necessarily better (although it is), just different. And that was and is the point. After dreaming about it, reading about it, and anticipating it for so long, it's just sometimes hard to realize that, although we haven't reached Mexico yet, we are, nevertheless, cruising.

And I'm really happy that we get to share it with all of you and also happy that so many of you have said how much you enjoy following along. That really means a lot.

So hang in there. We'll be leaving Avalon in a week or so and then it's off to San Diego and then finally, MEXICO!

11/5/2010 - It's been a really nice day

Since I'm still nursing my knee, we didn't do much today. But we had a really nice time doing it. Before breakfast this morning, we took the dinghy ashore for showers. Felt really good to get clean and finally get the salt water rinsed out of my hair. We returned to the boat and had breakfast. Lulu had raisin bran and I had an egg/cheese/jalapeño quesadilla. What can I say? I have more imagination than Lulu.

Awhile after breakfast we motored ashore again. My knee was feeling pretty good as long as I was careful to amble rather than walk fast. We ambled up and down the main drag for awhile, stopping in at shops we normally avoid.

At one such shop we bought 2 DVDs. One was "Twenty Six Miles", a probably-never-aired series starring John Schneider (Dukes of Hazard, Smallville). The DVD had six episodes which is probably all that were ever made.

We also bought "Hollywood's Magical Island: Catalina"

Which looks like it should be pretty interesting.

After we got our fill f souvenir shops, we went to the Catherine Hotel for a bucket of beer.

It was a much nicer day than we had expected. It actually got warm enough on the patio at the Catherine that Lulu opted to move into the shade. And that's something!

Later on, we walked out to the Sandtrap fro more beer and those delicious $1 tacos.

I tried to trade one of my City of Silverton T-shirts for a Sandtrap T-shirt but didn't have any luck. That's OK, I'll try again.

Eventually, full of tacos and beer, we ambled back to the dinghy and then back to the boat. Of course, on the way we had to stop by Von's and get a bag of my new favorites: Fiery Habanero flavored Doritos.

Just the thing to go along with "Twentysix Miles", "Mad Men", and "Deadwood" tonight.