DREAMCATCHER VOYAGE
Journal 8       -    Hasta La Vista Mexico
    Late March 2004

    Hasta La Vista, Mexico!
    FROM BANDERAS BAY,  

    Lat 20deg 45’    Long 105deg 30'

    This comes to you from Punta Mita, Banderas Bay …… a little lifestyle shock for
    us….. we finally prised DreamCatcher off the dock a week ago, in search of our
    sea legs, and went sailing.  This is our “dress rehearsal” for the South Pacific
    passage, which will hopefully start around the end of March.   Our return from our
    travels  pitched us into boat life again, transitioning our daily lives from land folks
    to sea folks, getting back to the  rhythm of living the life of boat people….  But
    there was something missing – we were still tied to the dock!  So, after a couple
    of weeks of boat chores and ongoing business, we returned to the sea.  This,
    whilst a significant logistics push-up for us, is really no big deal…. we have
    journeyed a whole 15 miles from our slip !  But, its been great to be back “out
    there” and on the hook, instead of shoe-horned into a noisy marina with so many
    distractions.   We’ve spent the past week re-familiarising ourselves with the boat,
    our emergency processes, drills and puting ourselves through the paces of living
    aboard.  Our dinghy engine seized itself to the stern rail, which initially was a
    frustrating disappointment, but it has served to confine us to the 46 feet which will
    be our home for the month-long crossing to the Marquesas, and subsequently is
    good conditioning.   Nothing a hack saw blade won’t fix in due course.  We’ve
    anchored in different places each night, Punta Mita and La Crux ,being our
    favourites.  

    La Crux is a funky, dusty, friendly township on the northern side of the Bay, where
    several of the “Puddle Jumpers” have congregated…. There’s a couple of dozen
    boats in the anchorage, in daily VHF radio contact with each other and we’ve
    spent some pleasant and useful time in their company.    Life, wittingly or
    otherwise, generally separates people into two groups: those who “get it” and
    those who don’t.  Philo gets it.  Philo is a sailor who’s boat is in Fiji and who runs
    a bar in La Crux, Banderas Bay....it is totally focused on passing cruisers,
    complete with wireless internet, (yes, in this funky, dusty village), spa pool, CNN
    news, clean $35 rooms for sailors, pool tables, cold beer and hot, live music…..
    we celebrated St. Patricks Day there – now that’s something: celebrating St.
    Paddy’s Day in Mexico !  what next ?  Cinco De Mayo in Ireland? ! There are
    others in the Puerta Vallarta area, who have had similar opportunities to create
    prospering and useful businesses, but who have wasted those opportunities
    through lack of understanding of what cruisers (read, customers) really want, or
    who have simply spent too much time in the rum, er, sun.

    Punta Mita is inside the northern corner of Banderas Bay, which itself resembles
    a back-to-front “C”. ….it’s the first place we stopped  in early December on our
    arrival in the Puerta Vallarta area, and we’ve returned several times this week –
    from a cruisers perspective, it has to be one of the easiest anchorages on the
    planet: clearly visible,  wide, shallow, clean, and quite pretty.  Surprisingly, it’s not
    used much, and as I write, we only have 6 neighbours, when there’s room for 50
    boats here.  We arrived  a few nights ago, near midnight, from an interesting
    episode at the south end of the Bay, about 20 miles from here. We’d heard about
    the tiny village of Yelapa, only accessible by sea,  snuggled around a small beach
    at the at the bottom of towering tropical hills……  Yelapa has a reputation as a
    “difficult” anchorage, being very deep up to the beach with a rolling swell: Good,
    we said…. This will be appropriate practice for the Marquesas whose islands
    rise in a similar fashion, steeply from of the sea.  When we ventured into that
    deeply sculptured indent, we were elated at the scene… it was enchanting: tiny,
    pretty palm-thatched houses and palapas dotted among the banana and coconut
    palms all nested in elevated, tropical misty environs.  We circled the anchorage a
    couple of times in very deep water….we were literally one boat length from the
    beach and still 197 feet deep!...eventually found the “sweet spot” of 25’ depth
    (which we later realized was a mere 30 ft in diameter) and dropped the
    anchor……  the place was just lovely.  We were positioned stern-to the white
    sandy beach and we poured ourselves a cocktail to celebrate this find and
    marvel at the fact that we were the only boat there.   That should have been our
    first clue.  At sundown, the breeze started to shift from on-shore to off-shore, and
    as we started to turn 90 degrees to the incoming swell, the rolling effect was quite
    violent….additionally, we started to become uncomfortably close to one of the
    moored pangas (high-prowed  local wooden fishing boats), and  made a
    unanimous snap decision……”we’re outta here !!!”….. it was pitch black by the
    time we made our getaway, and we will probably forever regret “Paradise Lost”
    …… hopefully we’ll get back there by panga, without the anchoring anxiety!  We
    motored across Banderas Bay to the north end at Punta Mita, dropped the hook
    and had a bowl of beans with a rum chaser at midnight!

    Banderas Bay is a superb piece of ocean and a wonderful sailing ground.  It is
    thick with fish and other sea life, and twice this week, we sailed close to a large
    whale while cruising around.   There are frequent “fish-fests” when schools of
    small fish swim close to the surface, attracting hundreds of feeding, screeching,
    seabirds.  The fish schools gather under the boat’s hull at anchor to escape the
    preying eyes of pelicans, gulls and frigate birds.    There are big, colourful fish
    everywhere you look – it’s quite surprising (and positive) there are no
    commercial fishing efforts here, only the few local fishermen in pangas with their
    small nets.  On anchoring in La Cruz several days ago we were fascinated by a
    welcoming school of small stingrays - probably 3 dozen or so – who gently
    flapped alongside the boat in a ballet-style display : just lovely.  Nights are filled
    with sounds of “splish-splash”….  fish jumping out of the water during some sort
    of  nocturnal chase.  

    Now, back at the marina, the MEXORC has been in progress: a significant
    sailing event attracting several dozen racing yachts from Mexico and the US….
    There have been some pretty serious boats here: the Magnitude 80, just
    launched out of San Diego, was slipped in front of us but had to be canted over
    30 degrees, as the water was too shallow at the docks for her 12 ft keel …. It
    looked odd seeing a boat “heeled over” whilst tied up!  The sleds brought with
    them the usual army of bicep-endowed rock-stars and their assorted bikini-clad
    followers (“dock spiders”), which changed the scenery and dynamics of the
    marina quite significantly for the week…. In addition, one big, bad Dennis Connor
    was in OUR slip!  Ie, the one we had vacated to go sailing for a week…., so on re-
    entering the marina and finding Stars and Stripes as our next-door neighbour:
    one couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hoist the Boxing Kangaroo!   We had
    several positive “good on ya’s!!” from the racers surrounding us on the docks and
    were the local heroes till Stars and Stripes left the day after.   

    Life is still very busy as cruisers-in-waiting…. We are putting in 12 hour days,
    starting with the Amigo weather net then the local cruisers VHF radio net at 0830
    (could be described as a cross between the 6 o’clock news and your favourite
    soap opera), and working through on projects, ongoing maintenance and jobs in
    general… we might take a half hour lunch break and buy a local banana-leaf
    tomale or chile relleno  from the lovely old Mexican lady on the docks, but,
    generally, it’s busy, hard and often frustrating work.  The cruisers cha-cha, we call
    it: one step forward, two steps back!  This week, for instance, in re-packing the
    lazarette (large below-deck storage locker) we discovered a tiny split in the
    propane gas hose…..  a serious matter….. thus started the business of locating
    replacement parts….long story spared.  On replacing the items we further found
    a potential split in the large exhaust hose of the engine (again, no small matter),
    probably created through pressure of a shifting load when we were heeled over
    or bouncing about during the Sea of Cortez crossing.   Including the detective
    and foot work, re-design and negotiations with local suppliers and tradesmen,
    this has added two full days to our passage prep schedule: of course, boat jobs
    only come in half day units – nothing, particularly in a foreign country, takes less
    time.   But, essentially, we’re OK with that – better to find these problems at the
    dock than mid ocean……and, we have been looking for them: we have eye-
    balled the boat critically from top to bottom to seek out any flaws and
    weaknesses.   Best tended to here in the marina with willing hands and suppliers
    to help.

    Further note on the propane hose:  parts & fittings were not available here,
    despite Henry’s sorties into all the hardware, pipe, tool & die, connexione, back
    street places. So we ordered one custom made from Downwind Marine in San
    Diego… they sent it via DHL, wrong fittings.  We asked them to send another,
    they did, correct fittings.  Meanwhile, DHL are making out like bandits with
    outrageous fees (letters have been sent!). Upon installing the hose, the brass
    fittings on the connection meter cracked, so Henry is back out there in machine
    shop land, trying to get them made in Mexico…if we are not successful by tonight
    (Mar 30) then it will be a plane trip back to the US.  This has been high on the
    frustration meter, just days before we are due to depart, not to mention being
    without a stove for over a week.

    The build up to the Pacific crossing has been interesting so far….. clearly there
    have been our own preparations: a multi page list of “things to do”, our own
    emotions….. mostly suppressed by busy-ness but sometimes surfacing as
    anticipation and anxiety…..we’ve been talking about this for so long, and yikes!  
    now it’s NEXT WEEK !!!!!  We’ve also linked up with the  Puddle Jumpers group
    – about 48 boats leaving from Puerta Vallarta and other Mexican ports, between
    mid March and the end of April, all headed for the Marquesas and  beyond.  An
    eclectic group, some of whom are just not our kind of people.  Interestingly we’ve
    found our cruising buddies with some of the single handers (one who worked for
    HP for 14 years) and the smaller boats.  We’re chart sharing and socializing with
    one boat in particular and there are hopes for an equatorial raft-up party.  The
    reality of that happening because of different boat speeds and courses, is
    unlikely, but, if we are within range of a fellow cruiser, we might just “hang out” for
    a few hours and make it happen.

    A practical positive of these Puddle Jumpers gatherings is that a Single Side
    Band (SSB) radio net has been established.  This is a daily roll-call including
    position, weather and other communication elements.  We’ve been calling in
    from the marina, just to get into the habit, and it’s been increasingly interesting as
    each day goes by as another one or two boats launch out of Banderas Bay into
    the great blue yonder…. We listen for their progress eagerly and were chagrined
    to find that one of the first boats out lost its rudder completely on the third day and
    has had to be towed back 500 miles by the Mexican Navy.  We hope that story
    eventually has a happy ending.   Our exit will be governed by the right weather
    conditions.  We are personally in touch with Don on Summer Passage, a highly
    regarded US West Coast and Mexico weather guru, and we will also be
    contracting professional weather forecasters and routers (Commander Weather
    Systems): the same group that forecast for the Baja Ha Ha and who forecast the
    Whitbread/Vendee Round the Globe and Around Alone races.  Because
    DreamCatcher  is a heavy boat, we need to ensure the North East Trade winds
    are well established so that we don’t sit out there and flap around in a windless
    sea: we beleive that might happen to several boats that left within the past 24
    hours – the winds are turning light for the next 4 days.  We have a 2,704 mile
    journey ahead of us, with about 1,000 miles worth of available fuel for motoring,
    so it’s imperative we plan our engine time.  We’ll save it for motoring across the
    ITCZ/Doldrums (a predictable but nasty piece of real estate between 3 and 7
    degrees north of the equator) and punching through (or around) weather systems
    we want to get out of, including multi-day calms.

    So, we’re asking for your collective karma: 15- 20 knots of wind each day, please
    !
    Hopefully, we’ll have a hassle-free passage with landfall in Hiva Oa (one of the 5
    islands of the Marquesas group) towards the end of April.   I reckon the 4 week
    crossing will give me sufficient  time to become fluent enough in French so I can
    competently insult the buggers on behalf of all Australians for the nuclear
    bombing party they held in Mururoa Atoll in 1969 and 1996.

    We’re taking on provisions for 3-4 months and extra fuel and water.  Our plans
    are to cruise in the Marquesas and the Tuamotos (of which Mururoa is a part,
    and still off limits) for 2-3 months, at which point we’ll passage to Tahiti – the half
    way point in our voyage to Brisbane – to complete French paperwork and re-
    group.  We have a new set of clothes on board for Tahiti, too, figuring that our
    current wardrobe will be worn, torn and faded (there’s nothing like sailing for
    ruining your clothes!) or we’ll just be plain sick of them.  A new set of threads for
    Moorea and Bora Bora will be appropriate as we become part of society again
    for a short while, compared to the relative isolation of the two prior island groups.  
    Given that we’ve taken the trouble to acquire one year visas for French
    Polynesia, it’s likely we’ll have the Marquesas/Tuamotos somewhat to ourselves
    as most of the US cruisers (few of whom acquired any visas) will have to hurry
    through in their allotted 30 days.  We will of course share the anchorages with the
    European cruising boats who will have emerged from Panama and the
    Galapagos by that time.  We’re looking forward to it immensely.  

    It would not be appropriate to leave Mexico without saying something about it
    and the Mexican people.  Of the latter, we have found them friendly, warm and
    helpful.  We interface with them daily in buses, shops, restaurants but mostly as
    boat workers and contractors…we’ve had many small jobs done here, all by
    locals, who are competent, responsive, creative and reasonable in their pricing,
    quick with a smile and a helpful hand.  On Mexico itself….an interesting country
    with quite a spectacular (and violent) history… actively working it’s way out of the
    third-world category, there are definite signs of prosperity mixed with scenarios
    and behaviours of the “have-not’s”.  We have never felt threatened nor frightened
    here, but have new friends in the town who have been burgled 3 times in a
    month.  We’ve learned that pedestrians have no rights, that NAFTA (North
    American Free Trade Agreement) doesn’t exist and is purely a PR scam on the
    part of the US Government  (and we have the customs bills to prove it!!) and that
    Mexicans love food, music and dancing.  They’re a people who like to have fun,
    enjoy their cities and live closely within the family structure…..(most of the boat
    contractors are someone’s brother-in-law or cousin!)

    It has been a pleasure being here.    Hasta La Vista, Mexico.   

    Next Stop: the Marquesas, South Pacific.


    COMMUNICATIONS:
    Between  early April and early May we will not be checking our Yahoo land-based
    email accounts.  So, please hold your photos and attachments as our mail-boxes
    will overflow and Yahoo may cut us off.

    We have a satellite phone on board for high priority and emergency
    communication, and of course, the standard ship-board emergency/distress
    tools (EPIRB etc).


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