Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Dispatch 5 San Diego

November 4 to November 22, 2005
San Diego is the cruisers’ West Coast mecca. All “roads” seem to converge here. Hundreds of boaters head south to cruise in Mexico or beyond and San Diego is an inviting last stop in the US, 7 miles from the Mexican border and replete with all manner of marine services. It is simple to get one’s Mexican fishing license and tourist visa here. It is also a wonderful city to visit as a tourist in general although I would guess most of the cruisers don’t take time to sightsee as they prepare their boats for travel outside the US.

While we traveled down the coast, we saw many boats at anchorage or met boaters who were also heading south. This started in Neah Bay and continued down the coast as a trickle, but as we approached San Diego, the trickle became a flood. While at Catalina island, 3 of the 4 boats who waited together in Neah Bay were congregated along with another Seattle boat. We also saw two of our Canadian boater friends there. All of us were waiting to arrive in San Diego after something called the Baja Ha Ha had left. The Ha Ha is a boat regatta in which over a hundred boats travel together from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas located at the tip of Baja peninsula, a trip of about 1000 miles, stopping together at 2 bays along the way to break up the trip. At least as many boats decide not to travel in the company of 140 of their closest boating buddies and wait until the Ha Ha takes off. Ironically, especially this year, it would appear that more than that number are traveling south after the regatta. We assumed that San Diego would be much less crowded from a boating point of view once the Ha Ha left. Much to our surprise (and everyone else’s) space was tight because of all the rest of us.

We entered San Diego at Mission Bay, just north of San Diego harbor. This is a boating recreation and park area and was beautiful and quiet. We enjoyed a calm anchorage (with about 4 other cruising boats) and an opportunity to visit with Betsy’s niece who is a freshman at UCSD and Betsy’s mother who flew out to visit. During Mom’s stay, we stayed in a marina to facilitate visitors getting on and off the boat. We enjoyed the world famous San Diego Zoo, and some museums in Balboa Park which is a truly phenomenal park. We had some spectacular meals together and enjoyed ourselves a lot. Jessica, Betsy’s niece, was tremendous, being a generous tour guide and a good companion on our outings.

Once Mom left, we quickly drove to San Diego harbor where we expected to anchor or stay at the public dock and work feverishly on projects. Imagine our surprise when we arrived at 4 PM, an hour before dark, and were told that we had to anchor a little over an hour away (by boat) near a community named Coronado. Well, we had just spent 4 nights in the “boonies” and were ready to be at the marine mecca, but it was not to be. San Diego, despite the predictable onslaught of boaters in the fall, has not worked out a centralized location where they can accommodate us. Instead, they regulate their anchorages closely, most are limited to 72 hours, one is limited to weekends and the public dock is limited to 10 days. Many of us did the anchorage shuffle.

Our time at Coronado was interesting. Each night, a group of Navy Seals (the human kind, not another species of marine mammal) from the local training base did night dives in the vicinity of our boat including under the boats. They use rebreather equipment so there are no bubbles (unlike traditional scuba dive gear), but, so the instructors could keep track of them, they all were attached to floats that had green glow sticks on them. It was eerie to be surrounded by these Martian glow sticks moving independently through the water around the boats. Because of all the military facilities here, the San Diego harbor is full of activity from Naval warships, helicopters, Coast Guard, cruise ships, etc. It is a busy and noisy place.

We were able to walk into the town of Coronado and mail off our VHF radio back to the manufacturer because the speaker blew and it was still under warranty (6 months old!) On the way to “town” we passed the community center which was a stunning facility and Betsy went back later that day for a delightful swim in their 50 meter pool.

After 72 hours at that anchorage, we drove the boat the hour back to the area near all the marine stores and stayed at the weekend anchorage for the next 4 days (holiday weekend). From there it was an easy dinghy ride to the San Diego Yacht Club where we got a guest pass to use their facilities (showers, sauna, hot tub—yup, we’re roughing it), park our dinghy and walk to the stores.

We felt like Dorothy in Oz entering Downwind Marine, a long heard about store that caters to cruisers and sells or can order basically anything you need. The employees there are all former cruisers and one cannot purchase something and leave without hearing at least one cruising story associated with the purchase. They sponsor seminars, host Wednesday AM coffee and donuts with a cruising speaker, give cruising advice, have a booklet they have produced with all the information a cruiser needs to head to Mexico and they will receive, hold and forward mail for boats in transit. While we have been here Downwind Marine hosted the post-Ha Ha barbecue providing burgers and hot dogs for a potluck barbecue on the beach for all the cruisers in town.

Part of the fun of being here is to see all the boats we have seen along the way and to finally meet the crew and compare notes. At least half the boats are busy with repairs, others are doing upgrades or just purchasing spares and supplies, but everyone seems to spend several days here on boat projects. Literally every boat project can be done here from metal machine work to rigging to sails to upholstery, you name it. Cruisers share information (like which bus gets you to the Mexican Consulate, or Home Depot) will share the cost of a diver to look at their boats and, when someone rents a car, they often shuttle several others to Costco, for instance, to provision. Downwind Marine used to have a truck you could sign up for to do errands but that, alas, is gone. Finally, everyone shares boat ideas which unfortunately ends up costing more money to buy parts, etc. We just got an idea from another cruiser with the same boat we have that involves using a bicycle front fork for a short tiller to use with the autopilot. We located a used bicycle shop (and café—called the Bicycle Café—about the funkiest store we’d ever seen), borrowed a freely offered car from a guy on the dock here and drove there to be given 2 forks for free to try for our project. So not all ideas turn out to be expensive.

We are like all the others. We waited for our muffler and it finally arrived (and it was “just right” Goldilocks) and is now installed. Our radio returned from the manufacturer and was repaired. We have added more diesel fuel jugs to our boat and have built a rack to carry them on more securely. We got a solar panel and a portable generator (so we can charge the batteries even if the engine doesn’t work or we don’t want to run it.) We got our visas and fishing license, Mexican insurance, a variety of equipment for the boat that we had been discussing during our travels, got haircuts (his/hers, $9 each, not bad) and will do mega laundry just before we leave. We went to Costco and got the essential high volume things for us (chocolate and some other stuff) and our $2 wine at Trader Joe’s.

Everywhere we go the people have been pleasant and helpful and usually know right off the bat we are cruisers (it’s that neon sign thing). Of course, it helps that the climate is beautiful. We had a couple days of gray and rain, but other than that, we have enjoyed beautiful sunshine each day with highs in the 60’s to 70’s but with cool evenings in the 50’s mostly. Whew, and we hope to get to Mexico for Thanksgiving. We have to admit, there are worse places to hang out and do boat projects, so we are content.

Betsy has had 2 sort of medical things happen. One of the guys who works in the one of the marine stores recognized her as his doctor when he was in Seattle (small world). One morning another boater came over with an eye problem and said, “I heard you have some medical knowledge” and asked for advice which was gladly given. She’s not told of her profession to many, but word must travel fast, just like the bus route to the consulate.

Finally, as must be obvious from the congregation of so many who share a hobby, there’s a vital social scene. We’ve met many people, have dined together or just chatted on the dock forever. Boating is a very small world and seems to be filled with the most generous people. New acquaintances extend themselves beyond belief. Connections and shared acquaintances crop up in the most unexpected gatherings. San Diego has been a rich place for us socially while our wallets get lighter by the day.

Hope you are all well and have fun plans for the holidays. For those of you in Seattle, please ski a lot this winter for me (Betsy) since I’ll be missing out on what sounds like a fabulous ski season!