Regular readers may well be wondering what has become of the Two Captains in the two months since our inland trip to Colonial Mexico in January (See Update and photos in Logbook Update #104). That trip, our last hurrah with long-time cruising partners Dennis and Lisa of Lady Galadriel in many ways marked the end of our "tourist " time in Mexico. Instead we turned our attention to the South Pacific: to obtaining our visas for French Polynesia and to the long list of projects, large and small, that lurked on the ocean-passage To-Do List. Some of the latter have been accumulating since before Panama three years ago. Hells bells, some had been on the list since St. Thomas!
The visa question is one bandied back and forth among cruisers every season: to get a visa before your leave or wait til arrival in the islands. Since the most common visa issued in advance is for 90 days which is the same you can allegedly get upon arrival, many cruisers don't bother with the complicated application process beforehand. However with political relations between America and France the way they have been, or for other reasons we don't know, there were reports last year of cruisers arriving in Polynesia and receiving no more than 30 days! It is a long way to go and a big spread of islands to see in just thirty days.
The next hitch is, of course, how and where to obtain it. The application and requirements are easily found on the Internet. Fulfilling the requirements long distance and getting them submitted to an embassy were a little more challenging. Among the more usual requirements of passport and proof of economic solvency (both of which we'd needed for our Mexican FM3 resident visas) were also the requirement of a police report and proof of medical insurance valid in France. Most, if not all of the cruisers we will be crossing with from Mexico are from the West Coast, so most of them simply flew home to Los Angeles and San Francisco and went to the French embassies there. Much farther from our home base we decided to apply to the embassy in Mexico city by way of the French consulate in Mazatlan. Having just gotten new health insurance we thought that this requirement would be a snap, only to discover our new policy only provided coverage for 30 days out of the country! Yikes. Less an issue if you get a nasty disease and can fly back, but what if you got hit by a bus! Fortunately my old friend Mike of the megayacht Double Have (see Update and photos in Logbook #103) came through with the insurance company (ironically based in Indianapolis!)that had been so good to him during his health crisis a few years back. Completely oriented to Americans outside of the US (they handle many missionaries!), IM Global (see www.imglobal.com) came through with excellent new policies at a lower rate plus the letters we needed for the application -- in English and in French, no less -- in less than two weeks! Meanwhile, we managed to pry copies of our (nonexistent) police reports from the St. Thomas Police Department thanks to our good friend Judy in St. Thomas and our mail service there.
Since our friends from Panama Kathy and Bob of Briana had urged us to take a whole year in Polynesia (they took two), we had HOPED to receive a one-year visa. Apparently they can't issue year-long visas from the embassy Mexico City and indeed we have only heard of one boat crew managing to get one. Unfortunately, the process of determining that ended up taking three weeks instead of the one we'd been told (or the same day service many got in California.). On the other hand we didn't have to fly anywhere. Instead we stayed in the marina in Mazatlan and slugged away at the boat project list.
At the risk of scooping Don's Engine Room page (which does seem to be a little behind!?!), I'll just mention the three bigger projects on the boat that got tackled. The first was "storm covers" for our large salon windows. The purpose is to protect the glass from any hard wave impacts. We had dawdled on this project since Trinidad, where we had seen several boats with big ugly installations. Also we wanted a design that wouldn't snag the body as you pass by on the side-decks. Don has been mulling over the details for various plans for years. Working with our machinist friend Riccardo (of Isla Marina) Don came up with small rectangular mounts of nyloacero ( the same material used in the Panama canal to slide the huge ships along the walls) and clear acrylic panels shaped to match the window frames. We are quite pleased with the result.
The second big project was the installation of ratlines. In old time nautical days, ratlines were the rope rungs ascending the mast shrouds that the sailors would swarm up for sail changes. South Pacific-bound cruisers add them as a means of scrambling up to a higher viewpoint for picking out out a path through the patch coral reefs of island lagoons. Some people still use rope rungs which are lighter and more traditional-looking, but for Tackless II's wide spread and larger-scale captains we opted for wood bars. It was definitely a two-captain operation getting these bars measured and mounted. Painted to match our caprails (and to protect the wood), they came out looking very handsome.
Lastly, we stumbled on the opportunity to buy second-hand a towing generator. The towing generator is one of those icons of cruising that like mechanical steering vanes seem anachronistic to modern coastal cruisers. But when you get out to sea, on long passages where energy must be conserved, both items live on. Tackless II inherited an Aries Wind Vane from Whisper and we have used it successfully on our multi-day trips instead of our power hungry Autohelm autopilot. The towing generator was something new for us. Contrary to the picture the name conjures of some kind of motor actually towed behind the boat, the towing generator actually mounts to the stern and what's dragged behind is a propeller on a shaft on a long piece of line. Like an outboard in reverse, passage through the water makes the propeller turn, which in turn winds up the line, the force of which is transferred to the motor which spins and produces amps. Not many mind you, but at four knots we should get at least 4 amps, and should we make six knots we could make as much as twelve. Compared to the output of our seven solar panels, this is piddling until you consider that the towing generator can make amps AT NIGHT or on cloudy days! With Tackless's air-cooled refrigeration units (all of which will be packed to the gills for the passage) our 12-volt demand can use all the help it can get. So Don spent quite a bit of time getting this unit checked out and installed.
When our visas finally came in in late February, we found ourselves with almost no time left enjoy our plan for a farewell cruise to the anchorages between Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. Meetings among the so-called Puddlejump Fleet (boats bound for the South Pacific) had already started in Puerto Vallarta PLUS daughter Tiffany and her husband Derek were scheduled to arrive for a bon-voyage visit in just three weeks.
We burst out of Mazatlan Wednesday the 18th of February, and after a lunch stop at Stone Island just south of Mazatlan's main harbor, we made a night passage to Isla Isabela, the one stop were were totally unwilling to skip. Along the way, we found ourselves sailing with Ginny and Gord of Ascension a Beneteau 37 from Victoria, Canada. We arrived at Isabela about an hour after daybreak in thick fog. Although we had Ascension on our radar a mere 3/4 of a mile away we could see not a trace. This was a new experience for the Two Captains, and somewhat challenging as Isabela is actually about a mile and a half south of its charted position. However by watching the radar closely and peering intently through the fog we not only found the anchorage but were both watching when a huge humpback whale rose up up up out of the water a mere hundred yards in front of the boat!!!!! It was the most thrilling whale moment we had ever had! And it was just the first! The humpbacks and their calves were everywhere around the island during our entire stay leaping and spouting on the horizon.
Aside from making some very good new friends, our time with Ginny and Gord on Isabela had the hidden benefit of saving me from writing another thousand words about our return trip here (See our Logbook Update #070 from two years ago), because they also have an excellent website filled with Ginny's fine photographs (I was a bust with my new Nikon as I inadvertently left out the chip!). Please go to www.ascensionatsea.com and find their entry on Isabela. The pictures of the frigates, the pelicans, the gulls and especially the nesting boobies are not to be missed!
Since Ginny and Gord are also going to the South Pacific, we all four felt the press to leave Isabela before we were ready in order to catch the Monday morning Puddlejump meeting at Paradise Village. So Saturday evening we weighed anchor for a night passage to Banderas Bay and after an overnight in La Cruz slipped into our slip at Paradise Village with minutes to spare. We are glad we made the effort as the day's agenda was a seminar on rigs and downwind sailing by the local North Sail's guy, Mike Danielson. This presentation was excellent. Clear and detailed in spite of the racer's jargon that sprinkled it. It was also good business, as nearly everyone there had Mike to their boat in the weeks following to check out their rig and sails.
Paradise Village was as beautiful, no, even more beautiful than it was on our first visit. By chance in virtually the same slip we were in two years ago (see Logbook Update #068) , the huge dirt lot in front of us was now filled with a beautifully landscaped condo development (where units were going for an average of $700,000!) The Vallarta Yacht Club facility which then had been under construction, was now fully functional with a pool and hot tub especially for the marina folk, even though we still had access to the pools, beaches and facilites of the resort. If marina life is your kind of thing, it doesn't get any better than Paradise Village. Even if it ISN'T your kind of thing, it is hard to resist. We found ourselves joining the yacht club, convincing ourselves it will pay back in reciprocal privileges as we cruise around the world, but quite possibility we made it up already in the savings on food, drink, Internet access (with wireless service on my new laptop) and phone access to the States.
If we thought we'd worked hard on the To Do List in Mazatlan we really felt the crunch as the clock ticked...not just toward departure time but toward Tiffany and Derek's visit. We had pledged to them and ourselves that there'd be no boat work during their short stay. We even busted our butts to clean everything out of the forepeak (the guest cabin) and the guest shower space we haven't seen empty for years. Of course it was an illusion, as all the stuff was stashed in dock boxes and our neighbors boat, but the illusion was good for all of us. Tiffany and Derek spent a fast four nights with us....way, way, waaay too short, but we spent it in quality time, walking the Paradise property (which is a huge realm), truly relaxing together on the beach, and enjoying family dinners together at the intimate restaurants nearby.
I'd be lying if I remotely let you believe that it has been all work. There has been plenty of socialization both in Mazatlan and in Puerto Vallarta where we had around us dozens and dozen of friends that we have made cruising here. So many good-byes to these good people, and so many hellos as we forge new friendships with others heading across the Pacific. It was a real shock the other day to have to turn in our FM3 visas as part of checking out of the country. We have been in Mexico a full two years, and we have loved nearly every moment of it, and we have felt like belongers. I think there is no doubt we will return here at some point.
At this moment we sit anchored at Punta de Mita, the anchorage at the northern tip of Banderas Bay. All the projects on the list are ticked off, the dinghy is deflated and tied down, the fridges and lockers are packed with foodstuffs not just for our 3000 mile voyage but for the whole upcoming cruising season, and we are officially checked out of Mexico. All we are waiting for is wind. The half of the group that left a week or two ago are well on the way. The half that is still here, Tackless II among them, have a big "hole" in the wind lying just offshore. So we will wait here, rediscovering the motion of the ocean in this rolly anchorage, twiddling our thumbs and winding down from the great push to get to this point. Actually, we are happy as clams.
The wind will fill in. Possibly in three days. Possibly it may take as long as a week. It is weather and THAT is in the hands of our friend Mother Nature. As soon as we are under way we will post short pieces every few days that will get posted to an open Update entry on our website. You can track our progress if you like both by clicking on the "button" on our home page that says "Where are the Two Captains Now? or by using the following link to the Yotreps reporting service which will include weather and sea data as well.
Remember "wp2ail" is our ham call sign and is our identifier in the Yotreps system. Yotreps has some fun software you can download and play with to keep a plot of our track or to plot all the other boats around us. Honestly I haven't totally got this figured out myself yet, but if you want to play with it you can go to www.pangolin.co.nz and follow the links for Yotreps.