Sunday, February 05, 2006

Dispatch #8 Hell and Heaven

January 28 – February 3, 2006
Sometimes the first day of a passage can really suck. We remembered that in the past few days when we finally left La Paz. Thankfully, usually there are rewards at the end of a passage to make up for that first day. It had been five weeks in town other than our blissful 1 week island getaway and 3 weeks at a marina and we were soft, we admit it.

We left La Paz on a beautiful day and motored up the entrance channel and out to the Sea of Cortez over the first 3-4 hours. Betsy had taken her seasickness medicine first thing to ward off any problems in that arena and we had the boat stowed (as best we remembered how) and lots of food including at least 3 pre-cooked dinners to warm up as we expected 3 nights at sea in the Sea, crossing the 400 or so miles between La Paz and Puerto Vallarta. The day was gorgeous and we picked up a headwind on the way up to the corner which became a broad reach as we expected when we turned the corner—life was good. We had all our sails up, the sun was shining and we gloried to be alive and on a sailboat.

As the winds rose from 10-15, then 15-20, and eventually higher, the water heaped up in a commensurate way and our misery increased, also in a commensurate way. For some reason the seasickness medicine took 24 hours to really take hold (note carefully for future reference). Our anti-gravitational muscles were slack having had little to do over the previous month besides hold us upright, nothing like the marathon of trying to stay upright on a pitching sailboat. Muscles we never knew we had became stiff. Climbing up and down the companionway was like rock climbing. The noise was incredible—rushing water, creaking woodwork down below, clanging deck hardware, wailing wind all leading to some pretty fractured sleep that first night. We take 3 hour shifts, not exactly in military precision, but, more or less (mas o menos per the recent Spanish class). We realized we were irritable—was it the constant motion (absolutely anything you put down may slide to disaster at a moments notice, doing anything even going to the bathroom—nay especially that—is at least twice the work—you fall against furniture on the boat regularly as you try to fill a water glass and hang on or look at a chart and hang on)? Was it the sleep deprivation? Was it the seasickness medicine? We assume all of the above played a part. Finally there are the long hours of “doing nothing”. That is, it’s too hard to read and hang on, writing in the journal or log book is done but it’s not pretty, making meals is either an exercise in fighting nausea (if you’re Betsy) or an exercise of just hanging on. Did we mention that hanging on becomes the main activity? We look at each other and ask, “How did we ever think we could cross an ocean doing this for up to a month?!?!”

Then, as always happens, somewhere toward the end of day 2, the adjustment has taken place and, even though the winds are now in the mid-20’s, all is well on the good ship Qayaq, thank heavens. The stars at night are glorious—we have seen the Southern Cross for the first time this passage! We are traveling by sail and the motor is now a distant memory. Dolphins play around the boat at night leaving phosphorescent trails in their wake. One night we enjoyed their company for over a half hour and were amazed by the bright trail they make. They seem to have so much fun and they make our night a lot more fun too. The air felt finally somewhat warm even at night and we sailed barefoot for the first time all night. For those of you in the know, we hit 7.8 knots surfing off a wave—a real high water mark for this old gal (boat). Whales blow regularly and breech and flip their tails high as they dive or tail slap. This is the romance of it all. Sign us up.

We had hoped to visit Isla Isabela toward the end of the passage. For better or worse, no matter how we calculated our travel time, it always seemed that we would arrive at the island at night and that is not usually a safe arrival time. As “luck” would have it, the wind died on our 3rd night out so we ghosted along slowly, choosing not to start the engine and pick up the pace since dallying would get us to the island at dawn. Just before first light we started the engine and motored the last 10 miles to the island.

We were greeted by a stunning place—the island is an old volcano caldera at one end. On the east side where we anchored are 2 stunning rock pinnacles a hundred feet high. Thousands of birds wheel in the air around the island. We saw whales blow and dive as we approached and had our own dolphin greeting party with a dozen or so frolicking around the boat for at least 20 minutes on our final approach to the island. Wow. Apparently this island caught the attention of Jacques Cousteau who did a show about it many years ago. We understand why.

The side we were on had beautiful reef around it teeming with tropical fish. Betsy basically went from anchoring to snorkeling in a straight line. Later in the day we went to shore and walked in awe along the shore where blue footed boobies are nesting every 10 feet almost. Richard was in heaven spending the day surrounded by boobies. Actually, it’s kind of amusing because the researchers have the nests numbered on wooden stakes and the birds dutifully go to their appropriate nests. We imagined the returning booby couple from last year as she inquires, “So what number are we this year dear?” He replies, “351, just like last year.” She pouts, “I thought we had talked about moving a bit further from the center of town. You know those researchers are by at all hours in that central location.” He grunts*, “Well, it was kind of a last minute deal you know and we were lucky to get that place…” and so on. Up above in the trees are frigate birds occasionally showing their big red throat sacks to impress the girls. The pelicans provide the shore side amusement. Richard almost walked onto an iguana type lizard on the rocks. The shore was littered with broken off coral and some nice shells. As Betsy stooped to examine the best shell specimens, they would suddenly “hunker down” and she realized that virtually every beautiful shell contained a hermit crab. Those crabs had the best taste in “real estate” we’ve run into, but they put a definite crimp in our shell collecting style as we don’t steal their homes for our pleasure.

*(oops, marine biologist correction here, he whistles and she grunts and that’s one of the ways you can tell the sex or so we were told by one of the researchers)

The only sad part of the day was that Richard’s picture card or some aspect of the digital picture process didn’t work so all the meticulously taken photos were not there when we returned to the boat, not the one with the booby chicks (why does that sound so nasty somehow?) peeking out from under their mother in the nest, not the blue feet against gray rock, the iguana looking like the dinosaurs of old, not the stunning pinnacle rocks, nada as we say in Mexico. Well, you get the picture (or not).

So we are well and happy and heading to Puerto Vallarta (PV as it’s often called) to rendezvous with Betsy’s parents. We might write more often now that we are bloggers. Then again, we might not.