Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On our way to Hawaii

Latitude:  20.41.2 N
Longitude:  105.7.9 W

We left Paradise Village Marina in Puerto Vallarta this morning at approximately 9am local time (CMT).  I've convinced myself we are going on a very long day sail!  Hawaii, here we come!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Provisioning and Preparing for our Offshore Passage

On Sunday, April 10, we moved off the anchorage in La Cruz and returned to the marina at Paradise Village. We were sorry to leave La Cruz, but not unhappy about leaving the rolly/rocky anchorage.

A quiet afternoon anchorage at La Cruz!

This young cruiser took advantage of the strong winds to perform acrobatics!

We wanted to be closer to the city, and closer to shopping, but also because we had been told it is easier to clear out of Mexico from here. A bonus, of course, was the ability to enjoy this fabulous resort with its four swimming pools and Bengal tigers once more! Additionally, Paradise Village has purified water at the dock – a real bonus anytime in the cruising community, but even more so to those of us about to leave on a long passage. To know we have fresh tasting and healthy water aboard makes all the difference in the world.

Goodbye La Cruz

Sunday afternoon we went into a frenzy of boat cleaning. We even went so far as to pull out all the anchor chain, lay it out on the dock, wash it down and scrub out the locker. Yuck! By the end of the day we were almost crawling to the swimming pool for a refreshing swim and then over to the Yacht Club for a Jacuzzi. Unfortunately the heat had been turned off and we had to make do with chilly swirls instead. Oh well. The first real shower in a week was fantastic!

Soon as we could get around in the morning, we headed into Puerto Vallarta to visit with Gary and Susan who were living in a condo at the old harbor.

A beautiful, warm condo overlooking the Puerto Vallarta harbour

When they had come sailing with us a couple weeks ago we had decided to get together to visit and enjoy a night on the town.

Gary and Susan aboard Ka'sala

Additionally, they had offered to take us around to the shops in their van, so we could do our offshore provisioning. This time we were smart enough to catch a bus from the market at Paradise Village that said “directo” and within minutes we were whisked into town. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that the bus would only drop us off a couple kilometers past our destination, so we endured a bit of a hot tramp back to the Puerto Vallarta marina.

Needless to say we had a wonderful time. Susan and I even did a little shopping.

Cruise ships in the haze of Puerto Vallarta

That evening we took a taxi to Barcelona – a Spanish tapas restaurant in the city – and consumed one of the best meals I have had in Mexico to date. The location is amazing – high up a hill and four flours up it had a commanding view of the harbor and the nightly sunsets.

Barcelona is on the top floor of the centre building

The view - the cathedral is in the centre - Nuevo Vallarta in the background across the bay

The service was beyond impeccable (and that isn’t easy to do in a tapas restaurant where there are multiple courses of tiny little dishes!). The food divine – from a fresh tasting potato salad “amuse bouche” to several seafood, meat and vegetable creations prepared imaginatively and served on beautiful dishes. We indulged in the Chef’s selection so we enjoyed each tapa as a surprise, sipping delicious sangria while we waited. It was truly a feast and very, very reasonable in price. All the while we were entertained by the sunset, the darkening light, twinkling city lights and, to top it all off, a fireworks display from in the harbor.

 If I had the chance, I’d go back in a heartbeat!

Next morning, after a fabulous breakfast prepared by Susan, we headed off to Costco and Walmart to do the promised provisioning. This operation wasn’t just about showing up at the store, moving a cart through the aisles, putting your money down and heading home. No. This day was the accumulation of an incredible amount of careful research and planning. Here’s the challenge: You are going on a 21 – 30 day passage across an ocean (no stops and no shops!) on a 34 foot sailboat with limited storage space. There are two of you and neither of you have ever been at sea this long. You don’t know what you will need, or be able, to prepare, want, or be able, to eat. You know, for sure, you can expect to be pitched around by rolly seas when you prepare meals. You have a flat bottomed wok, a 2 litre pot with a lid, a flat grill, a glass pie plate, two casserole dishes, a cookie sheet and a pizza pan. Your fridge has the capacity of a medium-sized Coleman cooler and you have no freezer. The only electrical appliance you have is a coffee grinder. The boat holds 500 litres of fresh water which you will need to conserve. No matter how healthy you eat, if you don’t have fresh water, it’s a moot point. What would you do? (I know, I know, but jumping ship just isn’t an option!)

Here’s what I did.

1. I read everything I could get my hands on about the subject. I’ve referred to some of these books (such as Lin Pardey, Hal Roth and Linda Dashew) in previous blog entries, but I have also scoured the net for sailing blogs and references to people who have prepared for longer passages.

2. I made lists of everything Doug and I like to eat for meals and snacks.

3. I made countless forays into grocery stores, tiendas, and mercados, as well as paying close attention to street vendors and weekly farmers’ markets. I looked for the things we like to eat and paid close attention to longevity and quality. (This has been a challenge as most produce down here is ready to eat when it goes to market – not everyone has refrigeration and many Mexicans shop daily. Also, many products we might easily acquire at home are specialty items here, so you forage to find where they are available – like Cheese Whiz)

4. I looked in my cookbooks. From cruising cooks guides to Company’s Coming Muffins and More, the internet, and the Joy of Cooking.

5. I talked to other local cruisers. Where did they shop? What did they make? What would they do in my position?

6. Based on the reading, the list of foods we eat, talking to other cruisers and what is available in Mexico, I then made more lists. These were entitled: “Dry”, “Canned”, “Bottled”, “Sundry” and “Fresh”. I wrote down all the things I would need to create meals and snacks from these ingredients.

7. I went shopping for the dried, canned, bottled and sundries first.

8. I organized all these items in a graduated format based on my available storage. Grab and go stuff like granola bars, nuts and dried fruit go near the companionway. Condiments are in the locker by the stove. Canned goods are under one of the settees and organized into sections: meat, fruit, vegetables and extra condiments. Dried things such as extra flour and tortillas go behind the settee. Supplies I will need on a day to day basis go in a locker close to the galley and the extras are circulated through that locker from the bilges and other nooks and crannies. Wine is in its own locker and beer and fruit juices are in the bilge.

9. Next I will shop for the fresh provisions, but I will wait until the day before we leave to ensure the freshest quality. This is a real challenge because the idea is to choose produce in graduated levels of ripeness that has had limited handling so it will last as long as possible. Where do you get this kind of food when you are not familiar with the local markets? You must choose produce that you like and has some kind of longevity. You have to think about how you will store it when all you have a small fridge. Don’t forget. The boat will be pitching and rolling for most of the passage, so in order to avoid bruising and rotting you need to find aerated places that are dry and can accommodate motion. This is why we see nets hanging from the ceilings of sailboats – I have them now too. That’s also why I have plastic egg cartons. (If eggs haven’t been refrigerated they will last at least a month). Vegetables such as potatoes, onions, jicama and cabbage will last the whole journey. Other vegetables, such as peppers, avocados and tomatoes, can be stretched along if bought in graduated stages of ripeness. Fruits such as apples, oranges and limes will keep a long time if not bruised. Lettuce and celery are best refrigerated. Cheese, milk, yoghurt and cold meat must be kept in the fridge.
Two loads on the dock

Organizing dry provisions - note the net bag for fresh produce at the top

Thank you, Susan and Gary, for making our life a whole lot easier!

Fresh provisions added at the last moment.  These plastic bins were given to us by the local Soriana and worked wonderfully in the forepeak.

Once this trip is over, I will know better what worked and what didn’t. I have to believe Lin Pardey when she says the more you do, the easier it gets.

Other preparations have included cleaning, polishing and checking our Monitor Wind Vane and AutoHelm. We will rely heavily on these self-steering devices.

Checking the Monitor

We will use the Monitor when we are sailing (which will hopefully be most of the trip) as it doesn’t use any electricity. It’s worked very well for us so far and offshore cruisers who have them, swear by them. Our Autohelm runs on electricity and we use it when we are motoring.

Doug has checked and rigged our storm sail to the mast. Our mast has a secondary track which allows this sail to be at the ready without having to remove the mainsail. We had no need for this sail on our way to Mexico and hope we won’t need it on the passage to Hawaii as well.

Storm sail bagged and attached to the mast

 Doug has upgraded the prevention lines for the main, by adding another boom vale closer to the centre and shackles at the bottom of the forward lower shroud chainplate. This improvement should improve the stress on the boom and eliminate chafing.

Doug has also rigged the Jordan Series Drogue. It is attached with a bridle to the transom of the boat and the drogue, itself, is folded carefully in a canvas bag stretched across the aft seat of the cockpit.

 The drogue was made for us in Campbell River and is quite different from a traditional sea anchor. Like any sea anchor, it is designed to be deployed in heavy seas to slow the boat down to the point that the waves pass under the boat, which stops the boat running up and down the waves. However, the Jordan Drogue is a series of little parachutes that run out a heavy line, as opposed to one big chute at the end of a line.

The idea is the series drogue will diversify the force created by the boat as it moves down the wave, as opposed to a giant tug when it reaches the end of the tether.

We met an interesting couple in San Diego who claimed they had used their Jordan Drogues on many occasions to their great satisfaction. (What made the couple interesting was that they were married and sailed around the world together, but on different boats – yes – different boats!) Silas Crosby has employed theirs, with great success, on their South Sea passage between Easter Island and Valdivia. Like the storm sail, we hope we don’t find ourselves in conditions where we will need to use it.

Drogue bridle attachment on port side - the hose cover is to help prevent chafe

We do not have an encapsulated lifeboat. Instead, we have adapted our dinghy for abandon ship. It will be lashed upside down to the foredeck and lashed inside and underneath will be a ditch bag containing the survival gear we will need if we end up (God forbid) having to leave Ka’sala. In fact, the only way we would do this is if she were sinking. There are many, many accounts of people who have abandoned their boat in terrible conditions only to discover the boat had made it through the storm. A very good example is what occurred in the tragic 1979 Fastnet Race when sailors who abandoned ship perished and their boat survived.

We’ve been following Passage Weather (passageweather.com) and have decided that we will leave on Tuesday, April 19. All going well we will spend the first week in 10 – 15 knots of wind before hitting the trade winds which will take us all the way to Hawaii. Once we get underway you can follow our passage on Yotreps :

http://www.pangolin.co.nz/yotreps/reporter_list.php and look for VE7KSL

or go to the Pacific Seafarers’ Net:

http://www.pangolin.co.nz/yotreps/pacseanet.php and go to the bottom of that page. You’ll see a prompt that says: Enter here the call sign of any Roll Call boat you wish to track: put VE7KSL in the box and press submit. That will take you directly to the Yotreps map.

(I give a detailed explanation on how to do this in my previous blog entry).

Finally, yesterday morning we had our hull scrubbed and the propeller cleaned and polished by a local diver.  No growth found, so we'll have a smooth bottom and sleek propeller to speed us on our way. 
I will post one last blog entry before we depart on Tuesday.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Getting Ready to Cruise to Hawaii

For the last few days we have been swinging on anchor at La Cruz. The week before, we were in the marina, taking advantage of being on the dock to prime Ka’sala for her offshore passage. Doug has been going over the boat with a fine tooth comb. The engine, with new seals and tune up, is ready. The deep cycle batteries have been replaced and we are more than thrilled with the results. We fixed the whisker pole. Doug has been up the mast several times to make sure all the fittings are sound and the instruments functional. He’s been all over the rig and it’s also ready to go. He’s checked out the hull and there is no untoward growth (though we will give it a last scrub just before we leave).

We have been through all the lockers and storage areas inside Ka’sala, cleaned, tidied and organized. We’ve created room for the provisions to come and hung nets for produce. We’ve been on the internet reading about Hawaii, the expected weather and sea conditions en route. We’ve looked at charts and Doug has created a working copy for me to plot our route as we are underway. I’ve been reading blogs and books of people who have completed the journey with a specific eye to provisioning. We’ve met a handful of others who will be heading to Hawaii around the same time as us. (Most recently two Dutch boats heading to Alaska via Hawaii – one of which who will winter their boat in Comox! – a small world!)

Talagoa ,with Waldy and Rhia aboard, will be wintering in Comox after her Hawaii/Alaska adventure

I’ve been to the doctor to get a couple courses of antibiotics for our medical kit and will soon compliment it with painkillers as well. All going well, we won’t need to use these medications, but there are no pharmacies at sea!

On the anchor we have been able to work with the HAM radio to see how our communications will work. Doug went over the entire antenna system, replacing a fuse, cleaning and adjusting. We discovered the Canadian flag we fly on the back stay interferes with our signal, so we have removed it. For the last three nights we have been listening in to the Pacific Puddle Jump Net (PPJ) and the Pacific Seafarers’ Net. (PSN) We have been able to hear net control, relays and boats reporting all over the Pacific – even Jan, on Nerieda, on her way from the Falklands to Cape Town in the South Atlantic. We’ve been thrilled to communicate with Steve, aboard Silas Crosby, on his way from Easter Island to Chile. Doug has helped relay for the PPJ net each night.

While we listen in, I use my practice chart to plot their positions.

We are very pleased to hear and be heard all over the Pacific because this will become our lifeline once we are underway.

One thing we will not have at sea is the capacity to email or be on the internet. The only way we can communicate will be by the SSB. I won’t be able to blog while underway and, unless you have an SSB, you won’t be able to contact us until we arrive in Hawaii. However, there is a way you can keep track of our progress. The Pacific Seafarers’ Net works in conjunction with YOTREPS to track boats underway, file weather reports and provide a variety of supports. We have registered with both and, once we start our journey, we will be in HAM radio contact with the PSN every 24 hours weather and atmospheric conditions permitting. They chart our information, post it on their website, and pass it on to YOTREPS who post it graphically on their website. To get this information, follow these steps:

Go to: http://www.pacsea.org/ This URL is the PSN homepage. Look to the column on the left and the link entitled: “Current Roll Call”. Click on that. There you will get a list of boats which are currently at sea and their current details. (latitude, longitude, speed, wind, swell, etc.) You won’t find us there yet, but once underway we are identified by our HAM call sign: VE7KSL.

If you want to see the graphic representation of our journey on YOTREPS, go to:

http://www.pangolin.co.nz/yotreps/reporter_list.php  This is a list of boats registered with YOTREPS. Scroll down until you come to our HAM call sign: VE7KSL and beside it our boat name. Click on the “track” button and you will be forwarded to a Google Map which will show our position. You can use the keys at the upper left of the map to zoom in and out and move around.

If you decide to follow us, I recommend you read: http://www.pacsea.org/misdata.html which outlines the reasons why we might have missed a check in. Also, the Frequently Asked Questions on the YOTREPS site gives more information on how the system works: http://www.pangolin.co.nz/yotreps/faq.php.

Although I will not be able to blog while we are en route, I will be keeping a log on my computer which I will post once we get to Hawaii. We will start looking for a weather window to leave Banderas Bay around April 15. The trip is approximately 2800 nautical miles and will take us 21 to 30 days, depending on wind and waves. We hope to catch a northerly flow to push us offshore and out of the influence of coastal waters into the trade winds which will push us from the EastNorthEast to Hawaii. We hope to follow the rhumb line and stay around 19 degrees North latitude on a course of approximately 270 degrees West. Of course, each day we will have to accommodate the wind – we can’t sail directly into it and sailing close to it is very uncomfortable. We will, undoubtedly, be adapting to the conditions we find ourselves in. There is also a current in our favour so, even if we become becalmed, we have a very good chance of continuing in the correct direction.

On Sunday, April 10, we will move off the anchorage in La Cruz over to Paradise Village. It is easier for us to do our Mexican clearances from there and to provision. Luckily for us, Susan and Gary have offered to help us with their van and will take us where we need to get stores and fresh produce. Paradise Village has excellent, purified water, so we want to make sure our tanks are full before we leave. (We hold 500 litres). Being on the dock will also make it easier to do last minute jobs.

I will make sure I post just before we leave so you can follow us on YOTREPS and the PSN. In the meantime, although I am looking forward to the adventure, I am also nervous of the unknown. I’m working on myself psychologically to focus on the positive and keep an open mind. (Mummy!)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Guadalajara: March 25 - 28

Mariachi Bands. Mexican Hat Dance. Nope! Guadalajara is a working town and gringo-style tourism is well on the back burner. However, each day we saw thousands of people on the streets going about their business.

If you can imagine a regular Mexican town with cathedral, plaza, and market, with cobbled streets radiating out from the core, that is what the historic centre of Guadalajara looks like, except on a gigantic scale.



Some of the architecture is incredibly illustrious and others, just plain concrete.  We read that, in the early 20th century, town planners tore down streets of old houses to widen roads and create plazas.  This causes a curious effect when walking down an avenue with 18/19th century houses on one side and modern buildings on the other.
                                               Classical on one side, concrete on the other

 Beside the centro historico area is the business centre of town, with modern office buildings.  The area extends out in a five point circle, with major roads connecting the outlying towns which have since been absorbed by the expanding central core.
Guadalajara is a huge manufacturing area and is known as the “silicon valley” of Mexico. There are factories and plants lining the outskirts, the city is full of working people and the whole place hums with activity. There are exceptions. Near the central area is the University. We recognized an international presence in this area as we saw people of different nationalities enjoying Starbuck’s coffee and eating in diverse cafes. We noticed several consulates in the area and the streets were leafy, relatively quiet and laid back.

In the south east part of the city is Tlaquapaque.

            Street leading to the church at Tlaquapaque

                                                                 Plaza at Tlaquapaque

 This area is an artisans’ colony and a pedestrian walkway winds itself through the area fronted by galleries and shops selling incredible works of art from painting, pottery and sculptures to blown glass, silver and wood carvings. You could enjoy a cappuccino at a marble table under huge, elaborate paintings of Greek gods or Mexican village scenes.

Bronze figures of Hidalgo and other Mexican revolutionaries follow
the tourist up the pedestrian walkways

The transportation system is incredible and the city was designed with pedestrians in mind. We took a “first class” bus from Bucerias to Guadalajara. It cost approximately $45.00 return and was the most luxurious and comfortable bus I have ever been on.

It definitely rivaled first class on international airlines! We floated through spectacular scenery on twisty roads in air conditioned comfort. The only annoyance was the back-to-back movies (dubbed in Spanish and often violent) that blared all the way there and back. (If you take one of these buses, I highly recommend you bring your IPod to block out the noise!)

Four and a half hours later, we were dropped off at a bus terminal at Zapopan where we walked about 10 steps and boarded another comfortable bus, paid 6 pesos (about 50 cents), and rode for half an hour, all the way to the very centre of Guadalajara.

                                                                Zapopan Bus Terminal

                                          Comfortable Red Line bus into the centre of the city

Although this bus was not air conditioned, it was comfortable and fast. We walked about 6 blocks to our hotel, the San Francisco Plaza, and were happily ensconced in our room 20 minutes later.
San Francisco Plaza Hotel, Guadalajara

We discovered that all the local buses cost 6 pesos. They come and go every 10 minutes or so, to all parts of the city. Most people use them and the traffic is kept to a minimum. A taxi is an inexpensive alternative.  We took one from one part of the city to the other for the equivalent of $3.00.

                                                             Guadalajara traffic

On Sundays, the leafy main street is closed for bicycle traffic only! I haven't seen this since Ottawa.

                                                                     Cycling on Avenue Juarez

                                               Then again, there were some cool rides!

Additionally, the centre of the city is riddled with pedestrian walkways and interconnected plazas making walking a dream. Many of these walkways are appointed with statues and sculptures celebrating the city's  past. We saw statues of conquistadors, city fathers, priests, poets, writers and the pope, among others.

                                A series of naughty little boys at the apex of a pedestrian walkway

         Illustrious statue - the bank of lights in the background illuminate nightly concerts in the square

There were many fountains cooling the passages and many benches for weary walkers to take a break from the crowds.

There were cafes, street vendors, wandering musicians (no mariachi though!), clowns, mimes, and fortune tellers.
                                                                      Tropical fruit seller

                                                     Clowns getting ready to amuse the crowd

Creepy fortune teller.  He stands as still as a statue with a Darth Vader-like golden mask on his face..  You put money in his hand and he fires up in a mechanical fashion, shaking a gold paper covered box. With a flourish he removes the lid and you choose your fortune on a piece of paper.  I tried to read what it might say over the shoulder of this lady in the white pants - to no avail - it was in Spanish (du-uh!)

There were beggars, women trying to keep track of their many children, caballeros passing the time of day, transvestites and ladies of the night. (sorry, no pictures!) Like all cities, Guadalajara is a kaleidoscope of colour and sound.

I expected Guadalajara to be a lot like Durango. I was very mistaken. I found Durango to be sophisticated and urbane, clean and cultured. Guadalajara seemed to be rough and tumble, a little grubbier and hands on. Although there were many more exquisite buildings in Guadalajara, they didn’t seem to be celebrated in quite the same way. Many of them needed a good power washing or sand blasting. However, what was similar was both cities seemed very European to me – not North American at all. At one point over the weekend, I could have sworn I was in Paris!
 Another interesting juxtaposition outside the market - the Virgin of Guadalupe, advertisements, market, newsagent and classical buildings.  Sometimes it was hard to focus!

We had heard that Guadalajara was not a safe place to be. We were careful to watch the neighbourhoods we were walking in and stayed in lighted areas at night, but at no time did we feel unsafe or see anything worrisome. People were friendly and helpful. I took the bus, alone, to Tlaqaepaque and one of the male passengers showed me where to get off and another took me to the pedestrian walkway. A teenager helped me to figure out how to get back to the centre of the city. We were treated courteously and respectfully.

As I mentioned, we stayed at the San Francisco Plaza Hotel. This was one of several colonial-style hotels in the centre of the city. There were more modern ones where I’m sure people on business stayed, but we were keen for more Mexican “flavor”. After doing research on the Net, I booked the room through Expedia for three nights at a total cost of $115.00! Even in all our motorcycle travel, staying at Mom & Pop style motels, have we ever been able to get such good value. The 2 story hotel had 3 interior courtyards surrounded by the rooms.
                                    Looking down from our room to one of the interior courtyards

                  Corridor leading to open-roof courtyard - our room is on the immediate right

                                                          Interior courtyard with open roof

Each room had a grand wooden door and, if you had a second floor room, had balconies overlooking the courtyard or street.
                                               Balconies overlooking internal courtyard

Athough this wasn't our room, it is very much like it

We had an interior room and we looked over two courtyards. The room was gigantic with a king size bed, but a very tiny bathroom with shower. It was rustically elegant, though it was dark and the air a little close. There was no fan and, although there was an air conditioner, it cost extra to use it.

Each morning we had a delightful buffet breakfast in one of the hotel’s courtyards

The service was friendly and efficient, the food wonderful. We could have scrambled eggs, pancakes, yoghurt and fruit with home-made granola, or we could sample some Mexican breakfasts like grilled cactus, or tortillas soaked in tomato sauce and cheese. Fresh squeezed juice and adequate coffee rounded it out and the whole thing cost about $7. What a bargain!

                                               Our room was on the upper floor looking down

During the day we wandered the many pedestrian walkways and spent time in the 3 block 3 story Mercado (which sold everything under the sun – to the extent that I couldn’t buy a single thing!).

                                                  One corridor on the inside of the market

Trying to find a hat - dazed and confused
Another narrow corridor - this market made Hong Kong look small!

We went to the Regional museum and followed the history of the area from prehistoric times to the present.

                                  Courtyard of the Regional museum - another gorgeous building

We viewed local artisan's work at the Art Institute near the university area.

We went to several streetmarkets

 Site of the cultural street market in Aqua Azul Park - note the gorgeous purple flowered jacaranda trees

and found an Indian restaurant in the University area where we enjoyed Tandoori chicken for the first time since Berkley (yum!).


We found another restaurant – La Fonda de San Miguel – in the historical centro – in an ancient building that was a convent off and on for four hundred years!
 The story goes that the convent was established in 1610 and over the next 400 years the nuns were displaced by revolutionaries and the military on at least 5 different occasions for varying lengths of time.  Some pretty gruesome things are rumoured to have happened to these nuns - the least of which was bricking them up in the walls.  Stories of crying behind walls, singing in the courtyard, figures on the staircase abound.  Indeed, the place is a little creepy.  The dining area is gorgeous, but the gallery looking down is difficult to discern and when we went up after dinner to explore there was a cold look of darkness and neglect.  All that said, the dinner was delicious, the service excellent and the bill inexpensive.

I took this picture in the day when we made our reservation.  At night, only the stars and candlelight from the tables illuminate the place.
Our table, looking toward the bar

The three days whirled past and we were pretty tired when we boarded the bus for our return. We were back on the boat in La Cruz by 4pm in the afternoon and hit the hay early. Mexico is an intriguing place – so diverse – so much to see. I hope to come back to this wonderful country again someday to explore it further.