Last week's clouds and thunderstorms made us think that with the coming of summer the good sailing was over but recent days have shown us that even in June the Banderas Bay thermals can still occur given a clear sky and a bright sun. In those conditions the bay continues to be great for sailing.
Sunday was one of those days, and when the breeze started to fill at noon we decided we'd go out. It was a snap decision. No planning, no discussion, just go.
I guess we just can't get enough sailing because just the day before we had competed in the "Downwind Umbrella" race, part of the marina's Summer Sailstice festival, not in Wings but in Mike's old yellow snark, which we borrowed and sailed to a clear victory. We had a new umbrella (from Walmart), color coded shirts, and hell, we even practiced the day before, so maybe we should have won, but it was Judy's faultless steering and the boat itself which gave us the victory; the snark has a centerboard and a rudder, and when the race turned into a reach the kayaks and dingys just slid off to leeward. Judy held us high and we glided to the finish line first.
video footage-rick flucke
Downwind Umbrella Race Video
It was all part of the grand Summer 'Sailstice' festivity put on the marina and organized by Katrina and by Mike Danielson of PV Sailing. Oh, it was fun! Paddle board racing, giant paddle board racing, live music, Thai food cart for those who feel Mexican isn't hot enough, prizes galore, musical chairs competition, and the headline event, the downwind umbrella race for any dingy, kayak, or other craft powered by an umbrella or other homemade wind capturing device. Wally, from the yacht Stella Blue, sewed a square sail out of women's underwear and rigged it on his kayak, which looked cumbersome to me with all of its top/bottom hamper and rigging and sure enough, he and Antoinette, his crew, broached spectacularly right after the start. They got the wipe-out prize.
But we got a prize for first place, Judy got second place prize for her speed and agility in musical chairs, and we ate Thai food and drank beer and had a good time. Thank you Marina Riviera Nayarit and Mike and Katrina.
Sunday was spectacular. Clear and hot, totally blue sky, beautiful blue ocean with white caps showing, and a great breeze in the high teens. The conditions were stunning. There is nowhere as beautiful for sailing as Banderas Bay on a nice day. We set sail and sheeted in on starboard and sailed upwind along the north shore. We held a big lift all the way up to Punta de Mita. After a pass through the anchorage there we turned downwind and set the spinnaker, executed a perfect jibe, and reached for home. The wind built to the low twenties and with the pole on the headstay and a long swell we were charging. The high speed for the day was 9.25 knots and I made Judy nervous by steering with one hand while taking photos with the other. But it was alright and when we got back to La Cruz we'd covered 27 miles. A good day's sailing!
Well, they say life is a reach and then you have to do a take-down. "No problem," I said. We turned downwind and put the sail in the lee of the main and dropped it on the foredeck. It went perfectly until I took the halyard off and then a wind gust blew the whole sail over the side into the water. We had to turn upwind to slow the boat and pull it back on board, and of course besides being soaking wet there is a pretty good hole in it. Dang! Well, I have a few sewing projects on the list already, I'll add that one.
Oh, then the engine overheated. Whew, another item on the project list.
So that's the report from La Cruz, despite everything, it was great.
It’s getting hotter here in La Cruz but we’re doing fine; we’ve lived in hotter places. Like everyone who has chosen to stay here during the summer we spend a lot of time sheltering from the heat.
Mornings and evenings are cooler however, and cloudy days are also good, and we do what we need to do outside, even on the hot days. Normally, however, we hang out where there is an air-conditioner, in Wings’ cabin, for instance.
We also know that sailing will be rare for us this summer because it is really a lot of work in this heat, but we’ll go out occasionally despite the heat if it is a perfect day and we know we’ll like it when we do.
Some days I grab the Nikon around sunset and venture out. That’s when the light gets good for photography. I am often surprised at how many people are out at that time. During the day it is a ghost town around here but in the evenings you find Mexican chicas jogging along the Malacon with their pony tails flying and Mexican families playing in the surf over at the beach. There are always the boys playing soccer. The locals know how to cope with the heat. To that extent, I guess we do too.
Meanwhile we have hurricanes to think about. This is hurricane season and they have already started brewing. Blanco went by already, and Andreas before that, and both missed us. The local experts say that the hurricanes always miss us in Banderas Bay, but Carlos, the next one, seems to be curving right towards us. People are preparing. We are watching closely. So this season will be interesting I guess.
Click here for more photos, including the projected track for Carlos!
It was another one of those wonderful sailing afternoons in Bandaras Bay which we see on most clear days: light breeze out of the west starting about 11:00 AM, building to around 20 knots by mid-afternoon, then shifting to the NW and tapering off before dark. We've started to hear from people who live here year 'round that the wind changes in the summer. The afternoon thermal winds we see every day will go away when the rainy season starts.
This could be one of the last great sailing days of the year.
So we grabbed a couple of neighbors, Leslie and Ian from the yacht Fandango, and we just went out and set sail. We sailed to windward for a couple of hours, did a couple of tacks. Then turned back and set the chute. The sailing was excellent.
We sat on deck and had some cold drinks and talked about life and sailing and whatever else came up.
Three wonderful hours on the water; pretty simple.
OK, we dropped the spinnaker into the water on the takedown, and had trouble with the jib takedown too, but nothing major (I guess we need more practice).
When we got to the dock the cold beers came out and we all sat around in the afterglow of a good sail.
Strangely, it might seem, one of the most satisfying times for me other than the eight knot broad reach we had coming home under spinnaker was the clean up. The two hours we spend putting the boat away after we get back are part of the deal, a good part from my way of thinking.
Ian and Leslie wanted to help and offered repeatedly, but Judy I and like to keep this part for ourselves. It is a ritual for us; we do it do it slowly, together, just plugging away at our own pace, coiling sheets, folding sails, and generally tidying up. It is a ritual which we've done together for many years and we wouldn't miss it for anything. Besides, we didn't invite Ian and Leslie on board to put them to work. So we declined their offers, tipped up the last of our beers, and got up to tackle the job.
By the time all the lines were hanging on their hooks below, and the sails were folded and in the forepeak and I had finished hosing off the boat the air conditioner was purring and the cool cabin was inviting. I looked over the boat with its white deck glistening and clean in the late afternoon light and I felt a joyous exhaustion. I knew that I'd done something which was important today, and that included the clean up as well as the sailing. It felt really good.
We also got another chance at the kiteboarders at the Fiesta Del Viento in Bucerias. It was a big deal, well over 100 boards out for the Long Distance Race. We shot the start but there was no way for us to keep up with them and see the finish, even with our dingy going flat out.
The cruisers sail away one by one, off towards the South Pacific or north into the Sea of Cortez. By May the anchorage at La Cruz has largely emptied out and the marina has a surplus of available slips.
It’s quiet in the town as well, more so since the week-long festival that wasn’t really a festival ended last Sunday. The festival activity, what there was, was mostly at nighttime. During the day you could walk the streets among the idle carnival rides and closed street stalls and the dogs sleeping in the shade barely looked up when you stepped over them.
The Kite Surfing contest in Bucerias was one; Eighty kiters, mostly from elsewhere in Mexico, were coming for closed course racing and free style competition. I thought I would photograph the event and I arranged a ride on the committee boat but somehow we got our wires crossed and he never came to pick me up. So Judy and I thought we’d shoot it from the beach but the sailors went the other way and we didn’t see much from the beach either. And anyhow, the traffic disruptions due to the police actions taking place over the holiday reduced the turnout.
When we came back through La Cruz on the way home there was a crowd just breaking up. Apparently some big show had happened in the square and we just missed it. Our neighbors told us there were horse shows, beauty contests, and beautiful folk dancing, happening right when we were over at the beach waiting for the kite surfers who mostly didn’t show.
So the expected photo opps were pretty much a bust for us this time, but next year…then we’ll know exactly what to do.
Several events were planned in La Cruz for Earth Day 2015 and we tried to participate in all of them. We had a busy day.
To start off with, we joined the La Cruz Birders for a bird watch hike around the area. It was our first bird watch hike but the group were experts and they had done the same route on Earth Day previously and they were really interested to see the state of wild birds in our community this year. We sighted over 50 species compared to 35 from last year. Sadly, it was felt that the construction for the new highway just outside of town has driven many birds out of their natural habitat and into the urban area, accounting for the increase, and probably many of them were stressed by the displacement. I have to say that I found the photography challenging, but I got a few shots and we enjoyed the walk.
By 9:30 we had shifted over to the beach for the annual beach clean-up. Some two dozen members of the cruising community hit the beaches armed with large garbage sacks, scouring the shorelines for any inorganic matter. The interesting result was that very little trash was found. La Cruz’s beaches are pretty clean.
In the afternoon we turned Wings into a garbage scow as we set sail in the Bay with several other boats to pick up floating trash. We took a contingent of kids but even with their keen eyesight and a competitive urge to get more junk than any of the other boats, again, we found very little.
Apparently the problem of garbage, primarily plastic, which plagues the world’s ocean and which we have seen firsthand, doesn’t start in Bandaras Bay. That evening I reminded the group of cruisers who collected around the bonfire on the beach to reflect on the day’s activities about how lucky we were to live in a such a beautiful place and as cruisers, many of us whom will soon depart for the far corners of the globe in our boats, we can and should spread the word about caring for our oceans to other places, and that we might hope someday, through our efforts and the efforts of others, to find all of the world’s oceans as clean as Bandaras Bay.
After picking up what trash we could find the young crew on Wings turned to the sheets and we got on the wind and had a boisterous sail back up to Punta Blanca before we turned downwind and headed for the barn, not getting home until 6:00PM. One maneuver we tried, successfully it seems, was to drop all of our sails at once when we arrived at the entrance to the marina. As we neared the marina I assigned all of my young crew to positions on the halyards and decks and told them we would sail at full speed in perfect trim until I gave the word, then we would turn up into the wind and quickly drop the main and jib together, in a demonstration of seamanship that would impress their friends on the other boats.
Judy pointed out later that in 28 some years we have never before tried that maneuver and she wondered why I would subject our young crew to such an experiment, a question to which I had no answer, but everyone did their part and I’d say we looked rather smart doing it.
Anyhow we ended Earth Day at the bonfire on the beach where everyone told of the day’s adventures and we all agreed that Earth Day 2015, was good.
With a solid “chunk” the car door closed and we started the engine. We had to go to Texas on an immigration run so we were back in the Chrysler and off on an 11 day trip, first to Texas, then Florida, then back to Texas, and finally, back to La Cruz. Texas? Why Texas? Well, we had to get back to the US to apply for Mexican residency and Texas is the closest border. But anyhow, why then, Florida? That hardly seems on the way.
Once we got to McAllen Texas we found out we had to wait five days for interview appointments. OK, what do you do in McAllen Texas for five days? Go to Florida. After all, we were already half way there and Judy’s sisters live in Florida. So off we went eastward at a mad pace, and arrived in Pensacola a day and a half later.
Maybe I should explain the “mad pace”. Pretty much the same as when we travel by boat, when I get on the road I want to cover some ground. I drive fast and we don’t stop. We drove for as many as eleven hours a day and we pushed hard. Speed limits are advisory. The point is: how fast can I go without getting a ticket or killing us? (Pretty fast, Judy less so). Stops for gas and lunches are short. It helps when the roads are straight and traffic is light, which it was for most of this trip. And we did cover ground: on this trip we covered about 3800 miles in roughly six days of driving. There were a few hours stuck in traffic in some of the cities (mostly in Texas) and on the Pacific side of Mexico, some curvy roads which slowed us considerably. Oh, there was a day of really heavy torrential rains in Louisiana and Mississippi and a couple of times traffic stopped completely in that rain.
Still, it was fast, and fun and the visit in Pensacola was very nice and we loved being with family for a few days; sisters and hubbies doing fine and kids growing up, but we had appointments back in Texas, so we hopped back in the car and sped off again. This time we were westbound, and it took a day and a half to get back to McAllen, rain and all, where we got our applications submitted and approved. Then we were back into the car one more time and we sped off again at another mad pace and arrived back in La Cruz in another day and a half.
The only problem with this kind of travel is that we don’t get to act like tourists. We miss some of the nice historic cities and other vistas we could see if we slowed down or made little detours. If you can’t see it from the highway, we don’t see it. Sometimes we’ll stop for photos, but on this trip we didn't stop much, not even to take photographs. Lots of time the weather wasn’t conducive for photos, and on some of the most scenic highways there weren’t many places to pull over, but mostly it was my need for speed; I just wanted to keep going. So I can live with that I guess, but there is not too much to show for all this driving (except the much needed resident permits).
I will mention that we did see some spectacular sights, such as the new Mazatlan to Durango highway and the city of Monterrey situated in a valley surrounded rugged mountains, and lots of desert. And we did get some shots one evening in Guadalajara.
wingssail images-fredrick roswold Guadalajara
Next time we'll take it easy and stop to smell the roses.
We just went out for an afternoon sail in the stunning Bandaras Bay and we had over 20 knots of breeze and flat water. Perfect conditions. It went well.
This was our first sail since the regatta, and our first sail by ourselves since December. No crew today, just Fred & Judy.
We headed out through the anchorage, turned into the wind and set the number 4 jib and the Dacron main . We went up wind for an hour. We made a couple of tacks. We adjusted the sheets and halyards and marked the settings. We hit 7.15 upwind in 24 knots, and sailed high as we did it.
We drank a beer, then changed to tequila. The combination of good wind, warm Mexico air, and flat water, to say nothing of the tequila, was just right.
The sun got low on the horizon and we turned back towards home and put on the auto pilot.
Judy said, "Watch the wind for the northerly shift, don't want an accidental jibe with the autopilot on."
We're starting to know the bay.
We saw a boat set with racing sails luffing into the wind and dropping their sails on deck and then go into the marina ahead of us, and we saw another, setting a big genoa, come charging out, heading downwind toward Vallarta with a bone in their teeth. There is some sailing on this bay.
We returned to the slip, as we often have before, wind-burned and flushed, and with maybe a bit too much tequila in our belly, and with what seems like acres of sail dumped all over the deck; we have chaos onboard, but we're happy.
La Cruz is a popular departure point for the "Puddle Jump", the Pacific Crossing, and there has been a bit of radio chatter lately from boats announcing their departure and from well wishers giving one last wave goodbye over the radio. The community of boats here preparing to cross the Pacific is small and many of the crews have drawn close. Now they must set out alone, or watch their friends do the same.
Other boats are heading north, to La Paz and Mazatlan, and others, a few, are heading south to the Panama Canal. The marina is clearing out. Every day people are waving goodbye.
Some of these partings are sad and all are filled with emotion, as ship's departures always have been; you can hear it in the voices on the radio and see it in the last hugs on the dock.
I would be lying if I said that I am not yearning to join them. There is excitement in joining the others, in setting out across the unknown. For this year's puddle jump crowd it is the culmination of all their dreams and preparations and they have the anticipation and, I am sure, the fears, that come with this undertaking. For those setting out this year I have a warm feeling and I wish them well.
I know this trip will be a major life event for them.
As it was for us in 1998.
But this year Wings sits still in her berth.
My yearning to join them doesn't last long. We had a good crossing back in 1998 and many adventures and breathtaking landfalls in the Pacific that year. We remember them all fondly. But I know the reality of a Pacific passage and a Pacific cruise; it is a long haul and a lot of work. Of course you have to do it once, and it was wonderful when we did it all those years ago, but once is enough and we have no real desire to sail across that ocean again.
We are happy to remain behind, but still... a little sad.
Two and a half months of preparation, hard work, training, and competition in minor races were the lead-up to this moment. It was the first rounding of the top mark in the last race of the Bandaras Bay Regatta.
The water was as blue as India ink, the sun as bright as the high desert, the bobbing yellow windward mark was flashing by as the spinnaker was going up. When that sail filled the boat surged ahead and we went flying straight downwind in the fresh breeze. The wind was right, the course was perfect for us, and the crew was hot. The next few minutes made the whole two and a half months of preparation and hard work worth it: In 200 yards we passed one boat and were reeling in the next. The leader, Olas Lindas, looked closer. At the bottom mark we were in second place and closing on first. No we didn't go on to win, we were still minutes behind Olas at the finish, but it was the closest we'd come the whole regatta and it felt good.
It was really nice to have a good day; we'd had some tough sailing in the first two races, hard sailing, and while we were always in the hunt, we finished well down both days. The starts were fine, and each time we came off the line leading, but we never could hold off Olas on the beat. A bad habit of overstanding the windward mark let another boat, Bright Star, by twice. There were some other mistakes and when the courses, with the long reaches which didn't suit us, were thrown into the mix, we struggled.
But this, THIS! Now this was sailing and this is what we came for. When the race was over we were exuberant.
Now we have finished the Bandaras Bay Regatta, the focus of our campaign this year, and the racing in Puerto Vallarta is essentially over for the season. We put a lot into it, hard work, some money, and a lot of wear and tear on the boat and sails. But the effort was worth it in many ways besides a good finish in one last race: We refreshed our racing skills, picked up some local knowledge which we can use next year, and we had some wonderful times with our new crew. And most importantly, we were in the arena, as Teddy Roosevelt said, which is something. And in the end, you get out of something exactly what you put into it, and we put in a lot.
So, we shift gears once again. Spring is here, and Summer is soon to follow. We won't be racing, but, once we take a breath to recover from this season of competition, we have work to do. We have boat projects to do, Mexican immigration to deal with, and a summer's heat to adjust to. Next year, if we do this again, we'll have to refresh the crew, repair the tired old sails, and make the effort all over again.
Most places we've been have had fish markets where the catches of the local fishermen are sold. Wherever there is ocean there are fishermen, and there are fish, and you find the fish in the markets.
But mostly there aren't many fish. There are lots of fishermen, everywhere, but the seas are fished out pretty much world-wide. In Asia, for instance, so few fish are caught that the fish markets are just a wet table in the public market between the veggies and the fresh chickens. Not much, not big, and not looking too wholesome. The Caribbean is about the same; not much in the way of fish or fish markets.
So we were really surprised at the fish markets in Mexico, and La Cruz in particular.
The La Cruz fish market is big, clean, and filled with fresh fish and low prices. The stall pictured above is one of six. We love it.
Not only can you get whole fish, fillets, steaks and all sorts of shellfish, but it is really cheap.
We like Yellow-fin Tuna or Mahi Mahi, and a couple of big streaks from either variety, about a pound of cleaned fish, costs around $8-$10.
What also surprised us were the huge sizes of fish being landed here. For example check out this tub of Yellow-Fin. The tub is two feet tall and six feet long, so you can see the tuna are about 4-5 feet long, and they are as big around as a basketball. The fisherman said the one underneath (you can just see his tail), was twice as big. He said if I want tuna, just call him.
This isn't the only good fish market we've found; Gizo, in the Solomon Islands is pretty good, and also the market in Kota Kinabalu, in Borneo.
But the fish market at La Cruz is the best we've seen.
We have some low key racing here in La Cruz on Wednesday nights. Usually only a few boats come out and the marks are often just GPS waypoints but we use these races as practice, and the sailing has been fun, even challenging sometimes.
Take last Wednesday for example:
We had very little breeze at the start, not much at all, but we had the whole crew move to the leeward rail to keep the boat heeled over and we could move and we started well, on starboard, at the pin end. We covered Gypsy, our main competition, and we were leading after the start. It was light, but we were moving well.
Ahead, inshore, we could see a convergent zone which constituted a big hole to sail through, and we saw more wind outside. Which way to go? The boats in the class ahead went out, but we felt that inshore would offer some tide relief, so we stayed in, even though the wind was pretty flat there. Our main completion on this day was Gypsy, a very well sailed older Colombia 52, which in these conditions, was plenty fast. They started with us, and were now just behind, and we watched them closely. If they went out we'd have to tack out to cover.
So here we were, 1/3 of the way to the weather mark, the boats outside had breeze but bad tide and weren't moving all that much, and we were struggling in light wind, but Gypsy, behind us, stayed in too, confirming our choice. There was some tension aboard as we watched the situation develop.
There was breeze ahead and we could see the whitecaps, but would they come to us first, or the boats outside? Finally, abeam Point Blanca we broke into the new breeze and Wings heeled over. Now this was sailing! The boats outside were fighting the tide and weren't moving, but we were. All of a sudden we were leading the race. I called for the crew to hike the boat, and everyone moved to the high side. Eddie, our foreword hand, started getting the kite hooked up.
Next came our big foul up. These races don't always have a windward mark to sail round, just a GPS waypoint, and we have been having a problem getting right exactly to the mark on the GPS. Tonight was no exception. We sailed right past it before the navigation team decided we had missed the turn. Gypsy, behind us, turned exactly at the mark and now they were already headed home.
We spun around, set the kite, and headed after them, but 200ft is a lot of ground to make up. They were ahead and moving.
Then there was the convergent zone which we had to sail back through. Gypsy dropped their kite and sailed through under genoa, and we tried to make up the lost ground by keeping the spinnaker up. It didn't work. They moved through the dead spot and then just picked up their skirts and left us. Every time I looked at them they were farther ahead. We dropped our kite too, but it was too late.
So... we finished second. Not great, but a good practice.
What did we learn?
Good navigation is essential.
When you are behind, don't go for flyers.
We made it out of the slip and there was some extra vibration but when we tried to motor up the coast to find some breeze everything got smooth and the boat just wouldn't go.
Like the wheels were slipping on ice.
I dove in and looked for the ice. No ice but also no propeller.
It seems that the propeller blades took off on their own. They left without us.
Well it was race day and who needs a propeller in a sailboat race so we went sailing without it and won the race.
Then we sailed all the way into the slip which got the marina all a twitter (sorry, not really, but they sure noticed it when we sailed in.)
Our other propeller went to the shop the next morning for some quick refurbishment and a few days later we hauled out to put it on. (Ray and his brother towed us there with his dingy, Barry helped me install it.)
It's been a month since we arrived in Puerto Vallarta. This has been a month of transition for us. We've transitioned from cruisers to liveaboards. We've found a permanent marina berth in La Cruz Huanacaxtle, a delightful, laid back, Mexican town near Puerto Vallarta, which we love. We've moved a lot of cruising equipment off the boat. We've got our car here, which we planned all along. We're making friends, and we've started local sailing. There is a low key racing program and we've lined a crew and have already done two races. We didn't win, but we have time to get better.
So we plan to live here, on Wings, do local sailing, and not do any more long distance cruising.
Pretty major change for us after 18 years of cruising.
I don't know what kind of interesting stories we'll be able to write about this new life, but we'll try.
Two people: Fred & Judy , drawn to each other and yet somehow drawn also to the sea, and both intrigued by the idea of living aboard.
I saw her, blond and asymmetrical, beautiful, boarding another’s boat and I followed her and wooed her, or she wooed me. That was 1985 and we fell in love and we thought that to buy a boat and make a life together on the water was only natural.
So we did.
The boat was WINGS.
For the next ten years we lived on Wings in Seattle, had jobs in the city, sailed every chance we got, and 40-50 times a year, went racing. It was great.
Then we left Seattle and began our cruising life. We voyaged across the world, across the seven seas, to faraway places, and made them our own.
Wings was our home, and is still, and we lived wherever the sea met the land and people welcomed us, as they did everywhere.
For twenty-five years we’ve lived this life, and more to come, we hope.
Join us now, and sail the seas.
Fred Roswold & Judy Jensen, SV Wings, Caribbean