‘Hamsters afloat in cyberspace

Sixteen years ago while cruising in Mexico, Kendra & I imagined a cruise with our (then non-existent) children. A combination of factors has fallen into place which is allowing us to make it happen this winter. The kids, Lev age 11 and Gail age 9, will be pulled out of school for their 3 month radical sabbatical starting December 17th. We will be delivering a 42′ long sailing catamaran from Brunswick, GA to San Francisco, CA.

Kendra & the kids will be crewing with me on the Central American route along the Western Caribbean and through the Panama Canal. When Kendra’s time is up in mid-March, be it the west side of Panama, Costa Rica, or possibly even Southern Mexico, they will catch a flight home. After the family departs, I will take on a crew to sail the final leg, non-stop, to California via the offshore “Clipper Route.” I expect to be back by the end of April.

We are all VERY excited and extremely thankful that the school and Kendra’s work are supportive of our plans. Communications will be limited for much of the trip but will be doing blog posts along the way whenever we have connectivity to keep friends & family informed about our location & stories of our adventures.  

Cruising Mexico aboard "Marta" in 1998

Cruising Mexico aboard “Marta” in 1998

Kendra at helm in Mexico aboard "Marta" in 1998
Kendra at helm in Mexico aboard “Marta” in 1998

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The Adventure Comes to an End

After 2733 miles and many many boat issues we have run out of time….Grace will remain in Cabo San Lucas and we will go home to our jobs & families.  This was a very difficult decision to make but after we departed Cabo yesterday for our final final jump to Southern California, the problems continued.

First our jib sail blew out with a 7′ tear from the clew.  We pulled it down and started doing a repair, but with the materials aboard I decided that the repair would probably not be strong enough to rely on for the rest of the passage.  The passage to San Diego is either an offshore sailing trip or a horrible motor up the coast bashing into the wind & waves.  The trip up the coast is commonly known as the Baja Bash.  Grace does not have a huge fuel capacity, 50 gallons in the tanks and we have 40 gallons of jerry jugs to add to it.  Running on one engine we could have made it up to the half way point, Turtle Bay for fuel, but probably averaging only 4-4.5 knots, too slow for our schedule.  Running on 2 engines we could have gone faster (5-5.5 knots) but would probably not have enough fuel to make it with the predicted winds.  We then decided to turn around and call it quits.  After the sail blew out, but  just before we turned around there was a high moment…A pod of Pilot Whales!  I have not seen them since my first trip down the coast back in 1996 aboard my 26′ sloop NANA.  Funny thing too, we saw them in pretty much the same spot I saw them back on that first trip.

On the way back I also found several welds that appear to be failing where the boom connects to the mast.  Between safety of my crew, the boat and our jobs I feel good about the decision to leave the boat here but feel terrible that we didn’t complete the trip for Jim & Kay the owners of GRACE.  Jim is being very understanding and says not to let it get me down, which helps me feel better about the decision.  That said, I am not used to having incomplete commitments.  The knots in my neck and my throbbing head are physical signs of stress I have been under…sometimes I wish I was a drinker to help me unwind.

On the up side…I can’t wait to get home to my family!  After 3 months of amazing family time & adventure to 1.5 months of barely any communication it will be wonderful catching up with them.

Underway….again

Today we departed Mexico again…hopefully for the last time.  This time it was bittersweet because we have one less crew.  Anne decided yesterday to exit the expedition and head back to the states.  We will miss her, but certainly understand her decision and appreciate how long she did stick it out with all the challenges and delays we have faced in this trip.

Mike was pretty close to doing the same. Lucky for me, a call to his boss at San Juan Safaris and reassurance that his job is secure until we get to Southern California helped him make the decision to stick it out a bit longer.

You may be thinking “Southern California???  I thought you were going to San Francisco.”  Yes, our final destination has changed.  And we do not have time to get Grace all the way home.  We will get her as far north as we can, but it probably won’t be North of Los Angeles.  With a bit of wind we hope to get to California around 4/29, with perfect winds we might get there early the 28th.

A Miracle!

We found the parts!  After we install them and refuel we will head for California again.

Bad luck continues….

If you have looked at our track since we departed Manzanillo you may have thought…”it doesn’t look like they are headed offshore”   Well…we are not offshore.   We just arrived in Puerto Vallarta to try to repair a rigging part that failed in calm conditions for no apparent reason.  Hopefully we can find a replacement part today (4/20).  If we can’t, hard decisions are going to need to be made.  We will post an update later today.

inReach message from Todd Shuster

Adios Mexico! Next stop California! Wish us favorable winds.
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Life in a Perpetual Math Problem

Destination is X nautical miles away.
Grace is traveling at Y knots.
We want to arrive in port in Z hours.

AND

The wind is blowing at A knots, from angle B.
We are burning fuel at a rate of F. (Note: F varies with engine RPMs) We have G gallons of fuel remaining.

Should we motor, sail, or motor-sail?

We are living in an ever-changing math problem, though it’s not a problem that would ever appear on a standardized test because there’s a “human factor” that is subjective and difficult to quantify. Because 6.5 knots was used to calculate our planned travel time, 6.5 knots is a magical speed, one that sticks in our heads as the ideal rate of travel. Faster is exciting. Slower is trying, unless we’re working to arrive somewhere after sunrise. Sailing always is more fun than motoring.

(Random aside- Thinking of all of these variables brings to mind my high school graphing calculator. Why an old calculator instead of the more powerful data management/statistics software I have used since? I don’t know. Maybe because I made my TI-84 extra special by painting its case with sparkly green nail polish while avoiding my math assignments. My parents were absolutely right in questioning how much homework I was doing behind my closed bedroom door.)

Right now, we are coastal cruising. Or more accurately, we are doing a coastal delivery. If we were cruising, we may have spent another day at the Chiapas Marina, enjoying the low-key onda (Spanish for “wave,” though “vibe” is a better slang translation). It was a cruiser’s marina. No multi-million dollar yachts. Lots of overly tanned folks who have decided that adventuring on the sea is a necessary part of life. If we were cruising, we may have spent more time in Huatulco, instead of our two-hour fuel and fruit stop. Huatulco is a tourist town, but it is targeted at Mexican tourists, not gringos. The nearby beaches are a sparkling white, though not deserted; as Mike hoped each time we rounded a new corner. Next, we will be stopping in Acapulco to top off our fuel tanks. I’m pretty sure that if we were cruising, and not on a delivery, we still wouldn’t stop and linger. Cruise ship ports are often too crowded and too touristy.

While I think we all expected to be offshore by now, coastal travel continues to have its advantages. Ripe avocados, jicama, honey mangos, fresh tortillas, Abuelita hot chocolate, and regular opportunities to fill our fuel tanks come to mind. Along the coast, we continue to punch into headwinds, motoring more than sailing. At this moment, however, we’re sailing slowly in a 10 knot breeze. Oh wait! Todd just fired up an engine. Looks like we’ll be motor sailing for the next while. We’re in the midst of our math problem- too fast and we’ll arrive to Acapulco in the middle of the night, too slow and, well, we all start to get antsy. After Acapulco, it’s two days to Manzanillo (traveling at six knots), and then all of the above may become just memories as we head offshore*.

*We’ll head offshore if Poseidon agrees with our plan and gifts us with neither too much nor too little wind. I can’t believe I neglected to mention Poseidon. According to sailors’ superstition, Poseidon has the power to whomp any or all of the variables I laid out above. We respect Poseidon, even if we simply call him “high and low pressure systems, prevailing winds, gales, doldrums, fetch, waves, and swell.”

Makin’ Tracks

Finally feeling like we are making some tracks. Our passage to Puerto Chiapas (formerly Puerto Madero) was uneventful though we made it with only 3 gallons of diesel in reserve. A bit of a nail biter at the end.

solo dolphin   IMG_1433   Turtle

On arrival the marina manager guided us into the brand new marina. It is beautiful and just opened this spring. Once we tied up I saw the marina manager walking down the dock and he looked familiar. It turns out he was the marina manager in Huatulco last time I travelled up this coast. A great guy and very helpful. We waited over an hour for the port captain and Navy for our boat inspection. We finally decided to go get some dinner at the restaurant. After a while another cruiser came up to us and said the port captain, navy and a dog were waiting at the boat for inspection…at 8pm. I jumped up from the dinner table and went to take care of business. They were friendly and the process was easy, no problems. I got back to a cold dinner but it was still yummy.

Today we completed the check-in process with a trip to 2 port captain offices and the airport for customs to stamp our passports. At the airport Jay, Anne & Mike hopped in a collectivo, the white vans that serve as public transportation. Their destination…Wal-Mart across the street from Home Depot and Sam’s Club. Ack! Big box stores are taking over the world. They re-provisioned and now we are just waiting for our exit inspection and buying fuel before we head to Huatulco for another fuel stop.

The 270 mile passage to Huatulco crosses the notorious Gulf of Tehuantepec. Notorious for insane winds out of the Northeast and creating gigantic scary waves in the process. Luckily at this time of year those winds are less & less likely. The weather prediction is for calm conditions for our crossing. I expect it will be mostly motorsailing & motoring again. Once we top off fuel in Huatulco we will be ready to head offshore. We will continue up the coast waiting for favorable winds to take us offshore for the big jump to San Francisco unless we luck out allowing us to head offshore from Huatulco.

Devil Costumes – February, Panama

We only knew about the costumes in Portobelo’s museum because one of our cruising guides recommended asking to be taken upstairs.    The museum has a fantastic exhibit of the Spanish colonial period but there was no mention of the costumes which is crazy since they are amazing.  These are not locally made but artist from all around Central America spend countless hours creating devil costumes, below are some of them which were donated to the museum.

2013-02-20 masks (12) 2013-02-20 masks (5) 2013-02-20 masks (4)   Read More…

inReach message from Todd Shuster

Dolphin for over 1 hour with a short break for a swim. Seeing turtles every 90 sec. Mix of sail and motoring Engines doing great.
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Night Watch Sailing

“We are going TOO FAST!”

My still dozing brain cries as I stumble up the stairs to the salon. It’s 10:00 pm. An hour and a half before I am on watch. The wind has shifted. We were quartering into the waves when I went down to my berth, but now the seas are following us. I take a peak into the cockpit where Mike is gazing at the sails with a headlamp. I collapse onto the salon couch, weary but unable to sleep. The autopilot wheezes as it struggles to keep Grace on our heading. She just wants to dance with the wind and waves.

“Mike is a captain. Mike knows what he is doing,” I repeat to myself. My soothing mantra. I’m not actually worried about that very moment, but I am nervous because this will be the first time I’ll have conditions during my night watch. Soon, Mike calls Todd and together they drop the mainsail, adjust the jib, and fire up the port engine to charge the battery bank. I finally drift off to sleep.

I wake and check my watch. 11:20 pm. Perfect. Ten minutes before my watch. Just enough time to make a cup of “no es caf” (Nescafinstant coffee with plenty of powdered milk and sugar- it’s not my beloved Americano with half and half, but it seems like the perfect night watch hot drink). I grab a couple of cookies and join Mike in the cockpit.

Mike tells me that he’s feeling pretty wired, and doesn’t plan on going to sleep just yet. He settles into the salon couch, listening to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. My mind at ease because I have skilled back up, I find my way to the front of the cockpit. I sit next to the mast, my feet on the cockpit step, and my back to the windward starboard, the jib flying to port. My mind wanders.

It’s a cloudless night, but a haze blurs the stars. The nearest land is over twenty nautical miles to our east, so the sky arches fully to the horizon, “Like a like a like an inverted soup bowl,” I think. Not the best simile, because the sky is more domed than that. Finally, I settle on, “The stars arch overhead like the lid to a blended frozen coffee, one with whipped cream.” Still not a great simile, but clearly fancy, overpriced coffee drinks are on my mind. I see a falling star and make a wish.

The water is dark, and it is difficult to see the waves. I think this is what gave me the initial feeling of careening out of control. Wave agitated phytoplankton give off bioluminescent pops of light like cameras in an Olympic stadium. But it’s not as bright at the opening ceremonies. Choose an unpopular event. It’s like that. Grace’s hulls slice through the water, sometimes lit, sometimes dark. It feels like we are gliding above the water.

We are flying. A 15-20 knot (true) wind pushes us along on a broad reach. The wind gusts occasionally to 25 knots. We’re averaging 8 knots, with regular bursts of speed up to 10 knots. For three seconds, we surfed down the face of a wave at 12.4 knots.

We left the marina is Costa Rica twelve hours ago. The port engine has been running smoothly for over three and a half hours. 25 days into this adventure, I finally feel like we’re really underway.

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