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Vol 1 Iss 6: What dreams are made of
February 6, 2022 | Ensenado de los Muertos, Baja California Sur, Mexico | 23º59’23”N 109º49’45” W | Winds: N 12 kts | Weather: 73ºF S
I lived by 2 rules when I was a Rotary Youth Exchange Student and later Ambassadorial Scholar:
Accept every invitation extended to me.
Try not to embarrass myself or my hosts.
I mastered the first rule. I’ve been to French operas about brothels in Mississippi, cricket matches, Afrikaans karaoke bars, heavy metal concerts, boxing fight nights, East German-style parking garage dance parties, horse races, road trips across the African wild, and more birthday parties for strangers than I can count. Disciplined following of this rule has led to me some incredible life experiences I would never have sought out on my own.
The second rule…well, as you’ll read…I’m still learning.
We escaped the pandemonium of Cabo San Lucas and have found quiet refuge 45 miles north in Bahía Los Frailles. We’d hoped to snorkel upon arrival but the wind and seas force us to hike instead. We hike the mile scramble up Cerro Los Frailles, crawling over cacti and following the cairns placed every 20 or so feet. From the top, we can see Ana María safely anchored with the 3 boats of similar size and the 1 superyacht sailboat. On the other side, we can see Cabo Pulmo reef quite clearly. We scramble back down the hill, planning tomorrow’s snorkel excursion.
We are putting the kayak in the water to paddle to Ana María when a man on a paddle board lands on the beach and 2 golden doodles jump off and run towards me. These pups clearly haven’t been on land for a couple of days. They’re energetic and friendly so we exchange pleasantries with the owner, Dan. We find out we’re both from Seattle, as are his friends, David & Janeth, arriving on the second paddle board.
“Do you guys have plans for dinner?” asks Dan.
We look at each other, both thinking of the strict meal plan carefully arranged to avoid expiration dates. We also think of the Lin & Larry Pardey’s rule: “There are a lot of weird people out there…we never accept an invitation first off. We always plan for the next day - that usually weeds out the flakes.”
But in the end, Andrés Jacobo responds, “Not firm ones, no.”
“Why don’t you come have dinner on our boat? Three of the other cruisers are already coming.”
“Uhh, okay. Um. What can we bring?”
“Oh nothing. I’ll just tell them we’re having 5 extras for dinner…that plus the 8 of us, that’s only 13.”
(The next day we would joke Andrés Jacobo’s response should have been, “Oh okay. I’ll just tell my chef there will be 2 fewer for dinner. Katherine, there will be 2 fewer for dinner onboard tonight.” Hahah!)
Instead he says, “Ok, what time?”
“How about 5?”
“Sure. Which boat are you?”
“The blue one.”
That’s how we know he is gracious. He could have easily said, “The only superyacht in here, you doofus.” Instead he describes the color rather than the audacious size.
We paddle back, my mind racing to come up with a hostess gift. What exactly do you bring to a host on a superyacht when you yourself live on a tiny boat, with bare minimum provisions, no bottles of wine, 6 miles from the closest remote village, with only 3 hours’ notice?
“It may also help to know that, however hard the start, the rest of the passage will be quite pleasant.” Jimmy Cornell describing the sail south from the Pacific Northwest to Mexico and beyond in his book World Cruising Routes.
“…however hard the start…”
Really, Jimmy? “However hard” like “break-your-knee-cap” hard?
Sailing through the “Roaring 40’s” of Washington, Oregon, and No Cal, we feel like someone took us to the top peaks to teach us how to ski on double black diamonds. We’ve come down the mountain, look around us, and realize everyone else is skiing the blue runs.
“…the rest of the passage will be quite pleasant.”
The sail from San Quintin to Cabo was quite pleasant indeed. No - pleasant doesn’t capture it.
We sailed 600 miles down the Baja Coast with 15 kts of wind and 3 ft seas behind us.
On night watches, instead of enduring hour after hour, instead of distracting ourselves with audiobooks and music, we relished in the glorious sight of the stars, the sound of the wind gently filling the sails and the water lapping against the waterline, the rocking of the hull as Ana María rode smoothly over the waves.
It is the first time I’ve understood the phrase, “A powerboat will get you to your destination. On a sailboat, you’re already there.”
This is the kind of sail that acts as a Siren Call, beckoning sailors to leave safe harbor and sail out to the open ocean.
This is the sail dreams are made of.
It’s humpback whale season in the Sea of Cortez and we see the migratory whales nearly everyday. If sailing through the pod of whales off the coast of Oregon was like sailing through a natural ballet, sailing through pods of humpback whales is like sailing through a Monster Truck Rally. The whales burst without warning from the surface and crash back, creating a massive water crater. They want us to see the full force of their might.
In Bahía Los Frailles, they are more docile, surfacing quietly 10 ft from Ana María. They frolic in the bay all night long. We are awoken throughout the night by the sound of their forlorn calls coming through the hull.
Sailing “Wing-on-Wing”: Using a whisker pole to pull the foresail (normally the jib or spinnaker) to the windward side of the boat, leaving the mainsail on the leeward side. This sail configuration is aptly named because it truly looks like we have 2 wings, one on either side of the mast, as we sail smoothly down wind.
Hal, our South African rigger, recommended we refit the whisker pole already on the boat. We finally followed his advice while in Los Angeles, replacing the hoisting line and topping lift, adding a foreguy and afterguy. With this setup, the aluminum pole can be hoisted up and down the mast, becoming a second boom. When deployed the whisker pole securely holds the foresail out to the side of the boat.
Wing-on-Wing has been a game changer! When the whisker pole holds the foresail out on the windward side, the mainsail no longer blankets it from the wind so we sail faster with more power. Wing-on-wing allows us to sail at a deeper angle when sailing downwind: 150º off the wind, instead of only 110º. This means we sail more directly to our destination, make fewer jibes and fewer sail changes. From San Quintin to Cabo, we averaged 2 sail changes per day instead of 5 or 6.
By the time we make it back to Ana María I have an idea for a hostess gift. We have the ingredients to make some Gingerbread muffins I’d been wanting to try. They have little sugar and lots of ginger so they are good passage-making snacks. Dan had told us they would leave after dinner for Puerto Vallarta so the muffins could be a nice homemade treat.
I bake the muffins, hurting a bit at the sacrifice of the precious muffin tin liners, then taste a muffin to ensure they’re edible. Not too bad!
We shower and thank our lucky stars we have clothes that might be acceptable: I wear a navy dress, with a skort so I don’t flash anyone while getting out of the kayak, made of quick dry fabric so any salt water splashes from the kayak ride will dry before dinner starts. Andrés Jacobo wears the only collared shirt he owns - the aquamarine fishing shirt Dad found on a $10 rack at Ace Hardware, realized he’d never seen his son-in-law wear anything like it, and yet bought it anyways because he couldn’t pass up the deal. Andrés Jacobo hasn’t worn it yet so it’s still nicely creased. I deem us presentable and we load into the kayak for the quick jaunt over to the superyacht.
We step aboard Kaori, we learn it’s called, and into the middle of white-haired yachties (as Hal calls them) all wearing khakis and various versions of navy Helly Hansen sweaters. There’s Dan and his wife Cheryl, Kaori’s owners. Dave and Janeth whom we’d met at the beach. Dean and Barbara from the other Pacific Seacraft. And finally, mild mannered, even keeled, recently retired plumber Fred. I hand Dan the still-warm-from-the-oven gingerbread muffins which he accepts graciously. We’re offered drinks (we accept a precious LaCroix) and a tour of the 125 ft Kaori.
We start the tour on what Dan called the Fly Bridge, where he prefers to control all the sails. He told us about the hassle of getting the hydraulic controls worked on as they were protected by some crazy Intellectual Property rights. Next we head down to the main dining room, the helms seat (with enough controls to fly a 737), the library that’d make Gatsby jealous (though we could see at least some of the first editions had been read), past the galley were 3 crew were working quickly to get a meal for 5 extra people onto the table, around the 3 staterooms and office, through the crew’s quarters, past the fridge, pantry and 2 washer/dryer sets, and into the engine room.
The engine room is three times as large as our entire boat. Looking at the room with all of the systems, we recognize almost everything having installed it all ourselves. The only difference is now it looks like we were playing with toy models of a boat, whereas this stuff looks like it came from giants. Dan is in the maritime industry which we learn is in an entirely different league from the marine industry we know. He is proud to show us all of the cool features like the stabilizers he installed - the only installation of stabilizers on a boat of this size (or so he claimed).
It feels like we were all back touring the mega yachts at the Seattle Boat Show, except we don’t have to feign a remote ability to purchase the boat, and our Captain doesn’t have to pretend to dutifully explain all the available features to a bunch of ruffians with holes in their socks. He boasts and we marvel. We marvel at the complexity, marvel at the meter showing 3,200 gal left in one of his diesel tanks (our tank fits 27 gallons total), marvel at the varnished teak throughout, marvel at how meticulously the boat is kept.
On our way back to the hors d’oeuvres, we meet Captain Rob and the other 3 crew members. Captain Rob told us of his start on a 75 ft schooner without engines back in Boston. He prefers sailing the closely knit bays on the East Coast to the wide expanse of dangerous remote coasts of Washington, Oregon, and Northern California.
We’d all had an active days so we dove right into the salmon mushroom canapés and cheese puffs. We picked up enough to stave off the rumbling of stomachs, not so much as to be rude. Sarah, the young lady with a slightly exotic accent (from New Zealand perhaps?) offered to take my empty plate when I obnoxiously exclaimed, “Oh no! We hiked that hill right there. I’m still starving.” As soon as it comes out of my mouth, I. Am. Mortified. So much for not being rude….
Keeping us fed for a 12-day then 19-day stint without access to a grocery store.
We all learned in 2020 what a luxury it is to swing by a grocery store if you forgot something, ran out of milk, or had a hankerin’ for grilled burgers. So our first challenge was to fully provision (aka stocking up on food) for the 12-day sail from Ensenada to Cabo then a second round of provisioning for the 15-turned-19-day stay in remote anchorages from Cabo to La Paz.
Our second challenge: we have no freezer and our refrigerator is only 3 cubic ft. It is likely smaller than the YETI cooler you have in your garage for those weekend camping trips.
And finally, it is always a challenge to grocery shop in a foreign country in a foreign language. Brands are different. Products are different. Labels take 3 minutes to decipher. Store layout is different. Customs are different.
The first time I went grocery shopping in Hamburg, Germany, I spent an hour trying to find the 10 basic items I needed to survive the first week in my new apartment. My Rosetta Stone courses had taught me “coffee” but not “ground” or “whole bean.” Finally satisfied with the items in my basket, I put all of them on the conveyor belt and started to re-bag them in my reusable shopping bag as I watched the cashier ring them up. I handed him my credit card and received a very stern “Keine Kredit Karten!” in return. No credit cards? My mind reeled. I didn’t have enough cash to cover it. I had opened my DeutscheBank account the day before so it would be a couple of days before I received my debit card in the mail. There was nothing else to do but shrug my shoulders, whisper ‘sorry’, and leave all of those carefully selected items at the bagging station.
I cried as I walked back to my new home. About halfway back to the apartment on Dillstraße, I realized my bag was heavier than it should be. I looked inside and was aghast to see a box of laundry detergent. Somehow in the cultural chaos back at the store, I had accidentally walked out with the laundry detergent in hand.
I had never stolen anything in life. Five days in a new country and I was already a thief.
Confident Rosetta Stone had not armed me with the phrases to explain to the cashier why I was back, I could imagine the thought bubbles over his head, “This idiot American thinks you bring items TO the grocery story.” I carried the box home, bawling the rest of the way.
As overwhelming as provisioning was, at least this time in Mexico, I didn’t steal anything and I didn’t cry.
If provisioning was 3/4s challenging, it was 1/4 FASCINATING. For years, Mom has taught Consumer Behavior courses to university students. When it came time to take her 3 children (ages 11, 13, and 15) overseas for the first time, she taught us others’ customs and behaviors are not weird or strange but interesting. So, here are some interesting observations from our first foray into the Mexican Supercado:
Everyone’s temperature is taken as we enter the store.
A gigantic barrel of bulk pinto beans stood guard at the corner of each produce aisle.
There wasn’t a frozen food aisle - simply some small coolers for ice cream like you would see in a convenience store. We had read refrigeration and freezers are not as common on the peninsula.
The eggs are not refrigerated.
For whatever reason, the only beer for sale was Bud Light.
The large jars of Nutella are locked away in the hard liquor cabinets.
There are aisles and aisles of pan dulce that looked and smelled delicious.
We didn’t see anything organic but there are labels on packages indicating ‘Excess Sodium. Excess calories. Excess saturated fat.’ Turns out when you’re provisioning for several weeks, you end up buying items with all 3 labels. :-(
We looked and looked but there wasn’t a can of diced tomatoes anywhere to be found.
The meat counter is still manned by a butcher.
No date of any kind was stamped on the chicken packages.
We gave the customary tip to the bagging lady at the till.
We’ve enjoyed world-class snorkeling since we rounded Cabo San Lucas. Los Frailles is only 3 miles from the 5,000-year-old Pulmo Reef which is the only hard coral reef in the Sea of Cortez. They estimate 200 species of fish, marine invertebrates, and mammals live off the reef. We saw fields of coral. Every few feet we saw schools of fish, loner fish hiding in the rocks, neon fish, polka dotted fish, tiny fish. Moorish Idol, king angelfish, damselfish, parrotfish. It felt like we were swimming through a real life Dr. Suess book: 1 fish, 200 fish, red striped fish, blue spotted fish. Andrés Jacobo was lucky enough to swim with a Tortuga Golfina. Pretty incredible!
We are all seated in the outdoor dining area, comfortable with the heaters and blankets. Sarah brings out beautiful plates, marked with a cursive Kaori, full of roasted pork tenderloin, steamed green beans, and sautéed cauliflower, garnished with fresh rosemary sprigs. The food is delicious, the conversation between the mariners even more delightful.
I once read an essay by Nora Ephron on how to be a good guest at a dinner party. “A good guest always brings a good story to share, an interesting topic for the table to discuss and a good question for each person to answer.” We regale them with the tale of breaking the leg off of Cape Mendocino. We trade accounts of freeing fouled props. We swap stories of how we all met. We describe our interactions with the humpback whales the day before. We talk of fast boats with nice lines, sail configurations, lessons we’ve learned so far. We each share a location still on our cruising bucket list.
The chef comes out of the kitchen to receive our compliments and shares her own stories of working as a food editor for Martha Stewart in the early years of her fame. She brings with her dessert: homemade blueberry pie with freshly whipped cream. Sublime!
She explains she is not giving our hostess a piece of pie because, due to medical conditions, she has to closely watch her sugar intake.
And it is here where I once again show my true uncouth colors.
When making the homemade gingerbread muffins, I remarked to Andrés Jacobo, “These have almost zero sugar in them.” I recalled that fact when the chef made the sugar comment.
“OH! The gingerbread muffins I brought have very little sugar.”
As the words leave my mouth, I simultaneously have a very embarrassing realization that everyone else already understood: We are on a yacht with a full-time Martha-Stewart-surviving chef. The ones most likely to eat the muffins I carefully baked are the golden doodle puppies currently lounging in the laps of their owners.
I very nearly slap my own mouth shut. How embarrassing a revelation!
Luckily everyone at the table seems to be genuinely warm people and the awkward moment doesn’t last long.
We get up from the table, exchange information and promises to keep in touch, shake hands, share hugs, wish everyone fair winds and following seas. Our hosts hold our line as we climb back into our dinghy. As we wave goodnight, I hear one woman exclaim to the others, “How cute is it they came in their KAYAK!!?!”
We paddle towards Ana María’s illuminated anchor light. We’ve only been back at the boat 10 or so minutes when we see Captain Rob turn on Kaori’s running lights, pull up her anchor, and sail towards Puerto Vallarta.
The next morning, our cruising neighbors, Dean and Fred, pull their dinghy up alongside our boat to ask about the trailhead to the top of Cerro Los Frailles. I give them directions and wish them a good hike when Fred turns to me.
“Last night was….” He started, searching for adequate words. “Last night … that was really something, wasn’t it?”
“Really something indeed, Fred.”
We will enjoy civilization for a week in La Paz before leaving to spend 3-ish weeks anchored off-the-grid in the Isla Espíritu Santo National Marine Park.
Fair winds and following seas,
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