TBT: Tales From the Crypt in Cruising Helmsman Magazine

Don’t believe it is bad luck to leave port on a Friday? Well, six years ago we tested the theory when we departed from Isla Coco’s and sailed to the Galapagos Islands. The passage was one of our worst!

If you’re near a news stand Down Under you can trip down memory lane with us and read all about our (mis)adventures in the March issue of Cruising Helmsman Magazine.

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Throwback Thursday; Mexico Family Beach Day

I started writing Letters from Kate as a weekly newsletter to family and friends in 2008 when we bought the boat. They went out as emails and when I got organized appeared on a page of the website. In 2014 I changed format and started using a more modern blog platform to share our “Letters”, thus removing the newsletter page from the website. I thought I would share some of our past adventures with you in a Throwback Thursday series. I hope you enjoy! H

It is a warm Sunday morning in Acapulco. Downtown, across the bay from the anchorage, a beautiful beach lined with high rises and fancy hotels is tempting me. It looks like paradise from here, a strip of gleaming white sand and perfect blue ocean under a clear sky. But I know, close up, it is dotted with scantily clad, bright pink tourists being hounded and harassed by an endless parade of ladies selling sarongs, shell jewellery and hammocks, most of which still proudly bear a Made in China sticker.

I know this because we stopped there yesterday for a quick look and before we even found a spot to sit the hawkers found us. Most of them were polite enough but there was one persistent lady, hanging around, wearing us down until I purchased something. I thought buying a small trinket would get me off the hook but no sooner had the transaction finished did the other ladies descend, like vultures to a carcass, hoping to pick the rest of the dineros from my pockets. I turn back into the cockpit where Steve has his nose in a book.

“‘You can bank on the beaches being Speedo-to-Speedo, with rental chairs, umbrellas, vendors, sun-soakers, jet-skies and parasailers dominating the view. But that’s Acapulco.’” He reads aloud from the Lonely Planet.

“That’s not Acapulco, that’s tourist Acapulco, there has to be somewhere else to go. I am not spending my Sunday in Zona Dorado, the Golden Zone.” I make finger quotes in the air “Been there, done that and I have the crappy little knick-knack to prove it.”

“Southwest of here there are the local beaches that are ‘…well worth a visit for their old-time feel. During Sunday afternoons they’re a spectacle of family fun, the shallow water chaotic with splashing children…and paddling vendors selling trinkets’. Now, that”, he snaps the book closed with a smile, “sounds like our kinda place.”

I can’t help wonder if the beach will be the same, colourful and local and laid back, the guidebook is ten years out of date. But always up for an adventure we decided to head out anyway. I pack a small bag with my camera, a sarong and a notebook, put my bathing suit on under my clothes and we head out to the highway to flag down a local bus heading out of the city.

The bus is an old school bus, like the yellow ones we road as children. Tarted up with custom paint jobs, flashing lights, various garlands and stuffed animals dangling from the ceiling and cover the dash boards. The rows of seats are still in the original positions, providing lots of room for the short legs of kids but forcing us to sit with our knees jammed against the rock hard and sticky vinyl. The driver rounds corners at break neck speeds sending the riders swaying to and fro in unison. The grab bars and hand holds are a patchwork of paint, worn smooth by the touch of a decade of passengers. The music blasts so loud that it is impossible to hold a conversation without shouting. But, no one seems to mind and we have gotten used to it.

The bus stops frequently, where ever someone stands in the shade on the side of the road and signals with an almost imperceptible wave. It fills up quickly; mothers corralling preschoolers while carrying babies on their hips, men wearing jeans and cowboy boots and giant belt buckles maneuvering already inflated beach toys down the aisles and grandmothers for whom young men always give up their seats.

We have no map and don’t know where exactly we are going so when the bus all but empties at the end of dirt road we get off too. All traces of doubt about being in the right place are erased when I step out of the bus. The air is filled with music and excitement and carries on it the laughter of children and the aroma of fresh tortillas and hot oil. We can hear the pound of surf in the background and see the glimmer of blue through the trees but there is so much going on around us that I am in no rush to leave the street.

“It looks like it’s gonna be a hot one, better get ourselves a cool refreshing beverage or two.” Steve says with a smile. “Let’s check out the tienda over there.”

We cross the street and head towards a nearby corner store. Out front are two large tubs overflowing with ice, speckled with coloured bottle caps that are arranged in careful rows. After a quick inspection I tell my order to the attendant, “Siese Mondelo, por favour,” and watch as he quickly digs out a half a dozen bottles, stands them up in plastic bag, adds a few scoops of ice and a handful of fresh cut limes. We have matching grins as he hands me my instant esky of beer and motions that I should pay the cashier.

“These guys know how to do it!” says Steve, “I’m gonna check the other tienda, I don’t see my flavour here, meet you by the beach in a couple minutes,” he gives me a quick peck on the cheek and wanders off.

Inside, when I join the line of male customers carrying identical packages, several stern faces turn in my direction. I am dressed modestly but stand a head taller than most of the natives and still pale with a tan so I am use to attracting the odd look or two. Then I realize I am the only woman in the dark little store. I nervously I lift my bag of beer into sight and smile. Instantly I am met with bright eyes and nods of agreement; it is a good day for a cold beer on the beach.

At the shore the blue umbrellas and white lawn chairs are laid out in rows; three deep and packed so tightly their plastic arms rub together. It is well before noon but few of the chairs are empty. With our arms full we quickly find ducking and weaving through the sea of umbrellas impossible so we take off our shoes and carefully wade through the children splashing and laughing at the water’s edge. Holding our bags aloft so they don’t get wet we make our way down the length of the beach before spotting two empty chairs and an umbrella. Our presence garners more than a few stares as we are the only gringos on the beach.

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We unpack and get settled in; draping the chairs with sarongs so we don’t stick to them and pushing the legs into the sand until they no longer wobble. The beach is a constant blur of movement- new arrivals settling into chairs, families in the water together, kids running through the crowd, food vendors maneuvering their way through the rows of umbrellas, men paddling boats precariously heaped with souvenirs. But there is an ease about things. Soon the looks of surprise about us being there are replaced with smiles and nods of recognition. Everyone is here for the same thing; a nice relaxing afternoon at the beach.

There is an endless parade of food to participate in; a stout old lady with a tray of hot fried tostadas balanced on her head, a man with a frosty glass case full of sweets and a young girl who sells delicately carved cucumber, mango and watermelon slices stuck on sticks sprinkled in chili and drizzled with lime. In the air is the tinkle of bells as the ice cream man pushes his wheel borrow-shaped cart through the sand. A skinny, frail old man with a button down shirt and well-worn straw hat has a tray around his neck and a folding stand in his hand. He meticulously sets up shop in front of each umbrella selling small cups of hardboiled quail eggs with chili sauce and bowls of salty little fried fish garnished with peanuts. We try one of everything, washing it all down with cold beer, filling our afternoon and our stomachs.

When I think I can eat no more a waft of fresh cooked doughnuts tickles my nose, and a crowd of children mob the man carrying the colourful tray. I cannot resist the idea of eating a hot doughnut sprinkled with sugar while in my bathing suit; I wander over to join the fray. One decadent bite and I am transported to White’s Lake beach as a child, the gritty sugar matching the sensation of sand between my toes.

The jostle of kids, now finished their doughnuts and pushing to all fit under an umbrella, brings me back to Mexico. They disappear into the shade to untangle their kite string. The kite is made from sticks and garbage bags and a length of twine wrapped around an empty pop bottle. All I can see is a flurry of hands and feet as they collectively work to straighten out the mess of knots, then they run down the beach between the rows of chairs as they launch their little kite into the breeze. Their giggles and cheer linger after they run away. I smile at the simpler days of childhood, pop the last bite of doughnut in my mouth, lick the last bits of sugar and grease from my fingers and resume my seat next to Steve, leaning over to give him a kiss.

“Umm,” he says, “doughnut tastes good,”

“Perfect,” I reply, “What a great idea. I love days like this.”

“Me too,” he says as he pries the caps off of two more beer, and hands one to me. “To a new tradition, to many more Mexican Family Beach Days!”

Love,

H&S

Throwback Thursday; In the Beginning

I started writing Letters from Kate as a weekly newsletter to family and friends in 2008 when we bought the boat. They went out as emails and when I got organized appeared on a page of the website. In 2014 I changed format and started using a more modern blog platform to share our “Letters”, thus removing the newsletter page from the website. I thought I would share some of our past adventures with you in a Throwback Thursday series. I hope you enjoy! H

I dash up the stairs, across the cockpit of our little boat and lean out over the side just in time. My recently eaten peanut butter sandwich comes up in a violent convulsion of abdominal muscles, each new heave making a prefect splash in the calm water before floating into our wake in oddly recognizable chunks. A wave of relief washes over me, as if I have dispatched some of the worry that has been clinging to me since we left the dock in San Diego at 3am this morning.

I stay hanging out over the cool stainless steel railing watching my reflection in the glassy sea. I look pale, despite being bathed in the warm afternoon light that is reaching across the sky behind me. My eyes look shadowed with worry.

“Are you alright, Honey?” Steve asks from behind the wheel. I give him a thumbs up as I wretch one final time.

Perching on the big primary winch staring into the distance I try to find the faint line of the horizon where the sky stops and the sea begins, wanting to focus on something other than the sharp tang of acid that is coating my mouth. I’ve been seasick before, I know all about that kind of queasiness but this smacks of something different. There is a nervous aftertaste and a hint of insecurity.

Steve shifts uncomfortably, trying to relieve the pressure on his right leg. He won’t say so but I know his leg must be throbbing and his foot swollen. After getting around for weeks without crutches and more recently without his plastic walking boot he decided he was fit for sea. I’m not so sure. He couldn’t stand the thought of delaying our departure any longer; we were already 5 months behind schedule. I knew there would be no arguing with him, he could be as rigid as the 30cm of titanium holding his tibia together. All I could do was hope I was ready to take up the slack.

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Throwback Thursday; Quiero Que Me Quieras

I started writing Letters from Kate as a weekly newsletter to family and friends in 2008 when we bought the boat. They went out as emails and when I got organized appeared on a page of the website. In 2014 I changed format and started using a more modern blog platform to share our “Letters”, thus removing the newsletter page from the website. I thought I would share some of our past adventures with you in a Throwback Thursday series. I hope you enjoy! H

It becomes a sort of ritual for us while we are in Mexico, spending the late afternoons at the zocalo, the old town square. We are drawn to these places, the everyday spots where life happens. Even in the busy-ness of Acapulco we sit in the zolaco almost every afternoon with our beers hidden in flimsy plastic bags, each absorbed in our own daydreams and thoughts.

We watch a woman making giant soap bubbles with her special plastic wand and a tub of water and dish soap. Her rainbowed orbs of imagination float effortlessly across the square, tempting children who doddle over with their parents following close behind. We watch men in suits and patent loafers getting shoe-shines. They sit perched in stone chairs built into the walls of fountains and flower beds, reading the paper with their shirt sleeves turned up and their collars unbuttoned. We watch a troop of street performers cajole and tease passers-by until there is enough of a crowd to start the act.

Between our evening sundowners and watching the word go by I dig out our guidebook. It is almost ten years out of date but still full of useful tips, and we don’t mind the adventure that it sometimes causes. I leaf through its worn pages to the section about the city and find the listing for restaurants around the zolcalo.

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Throwback Thursday; Provisioning for the Zombie Apocalypse

When we left San Diego our destination was all points south and west. We had given ourselves a time line of about 18 months to reach Australia (we obviously didn’t quite make it as it is almost 8 years later and we’ve yet to touch Aussie waters) and knew our jump off point into the South Pacific would probably be Panama, but other than that we were leaving things open.

It had originally been our plan to depart in November but an accident that resulted in Steve breaking his leg meant we didn’t push off the dock until February. This gave me ample opportunity to obsess about things, especially all things food related; what would we find outside the USA? What should we buy now? How long will things last? What new exciting food stuffs would we encounter? Is the meat going to be any good? How much will things cost?

Although I had experience with provisioning (that’s boat talk for grocery shopping) for a long trip before, I had never sailed the Pacific so I had no idea what to expect. So I did what almost every rookie sailor does but few will admit. I provisioned like the zombie apocalypse was coming. Continue reading

Throwback Thursday: Power Struggle Part 1

I started writing Letters from Kate as a weekly newsletter to family and friends in 2008 when we bought the boat. They went out as emails and when I got organized appeared on a page of the website. Last year I changed format and started using a more modern blog platform to share our “Letters”, thus removing the newsletter page from the website. I thought I would start sharing some of our past adventures with you in a Throwback Thursday series. This is a two part storie, I hope you enjoy! H

Steve is sporting a fresh haircut and a clean shave to impress the immigration officials.  I can hardly keep my eyes off him in the back of the taxi on the way to the airport in David. It’s the first time in two years he hasn’t had a beard, he looks just like the day we met. 

“I am starting to feel like an animal in the zoo, Honey.”

“Sorry.  I won’t be seeing you for a while, just trying to etch your new face into my memory.” I can’t help reaching up to touch his smooth cheek.

“It’s only for a few weeks. You’ll be fine, you know the boat,” he squeezes my hand in his lap. “I topped up the cooling water and oil in the engine but you’ll have to check them once a week, the battery water too. Top up anything that looks low.”

“Right, check…engine…fluids…” I jot in my note book.

“When you run the engine to charge the batteries you only have to give it a little throttle, no need to floor it, check the display, charging at 40amps is what you want to see.”

“Like always.” I assure him, but add a note to my ever growing list anyway.

“Like always,” he smiles at me. “The water here is too dirty to run the water maker so when you go to town on a water run you have to go at a slack or incoming tide, you won’t make it otherwise. And stay to the right, there is less current on the edges of the river and you won’t get caught in eddies.”

“I know, just like we practiced, on the right.”

“Just like we practiced. And, if you need anything, if you’re in trouble, call Jim on channel 16, he knows to keep an eye out for you.” He pauses and turns to me, “But, you’ll be fine Honey. I trust you.”

I swallow my worry and stare out the window. 

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Throwback Thursday: In the beginning

I started writing Letters from Kate as a weekly newsletter to family and friends in 2008 when we bought the boat. They went out as emails and when I got organized appeared on a page of the website. Last year I changed format and started using a more modern blog platform to share our “Letters”, thus removing the newsletter page from the website. I thought I would start sharing some of our past adventures with you in a Throwback Thursday series. I hope you enjoy! H

I dash up the stairs, across the cockpit of our little boat and lean out over the side just in time. My recently eaten peanut butter sandwich comes up in a violent convulsion of abdominal muscles, each new heave making a prefect splash in the calm water before floating into our wake in oddly recognizable chunks. A wave of relief washes over me, as if I have dispatched some of the worry that has been clinging to me since we left the dock in San Diego at 3am this morning.

I stay hanging out over the cool stainless steel railing watching my reflection in the glassy sea. I look pale, despite being bathed in the warm afternoon light that is reaching across the sky behind me. My eyes look shadowed with worry.

“Are you alright, Honey?” Steve asks from behind the wheel. I give him a thumbs up as I wretch one final time.
Perching on the big primary winch staring into the distance I try to find the faint line of the horizon where the sky stops and the sea begins, wanting to focus on something other than the sharp tang of acid that is coating my mouth. I’ve been seasick before, I know all about that kind of queasiness but this smacks of something different. There is a nervous aftertaste and a hint of insecurity.
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Throwback Thrusday; Landfall

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Pacific Crossing

LANDFALL

On the 21st morning of our passage I wake long before the alarm goes off for my 0600 watch. The early morning air is warm so I dress lightly in a short sleeve top and yoga pants then step out into the cockpit to check our position. Steve and I share a quick good morning snuggle behind the binnacle, silently enjoying the dawn light before doing our usual change of watch rundown of heading, speed, weather and interesting observations.

Our last night at sea was calm and as the full moon disappears into a beautiful peach sunrise we watch the light creep slowly across the sky revealing the outline of Hiva Oa, our first destination in the Marquesas. Three weeks of staring at waves, clouds and the wind, if that’s possible, make the island appear large and menacing before us. It heaves steeply out of the ocean, alone and sharp against the horizon, its tallest peaks mired in puffball clouds that seemed snagged on the rock itself.

There is an excitement on board, a sense of pride that we’ve almost completed what, to me once seemed an impossible passage. For months I wondered how we could possibly sail 3000NM, non-stop and all alone, across one of the largest stretches of uninterrupted ocean on the planet, the Pacific Ocean. When we first bought Kate, our 41’ sloop, three years ago, even considering our departure brought a litany of what if’s to mind. What if we were caught in a storm, what if we had a catastrophic mechanical failure, what if we had to abandon ship, what if there was an accident and one of us was badly injured, what if it was Steve. Would I have the skills to sail single-handed? Would I have the fortitude to carry on? The list of questions and scenarios were so overwhelming that some days all I could do was dismiss them, saving them for a time when I felt confident and strong. By the time we left Ilsa Isobela in the Galapagos I knew that this trip would be like every other, not 3000NM today but the next four hours that I am on watch and responsible to keep us on course and out of danger. A series of small event strung together by time, the grains of sand that cumulatively make a beach.
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Throwback Thursday; How to Survive the Swine Flu and other Pork Related Advice

I started writing Letters from Kate as a weekly newsletter to family and friends in 2008 when we bought the boat. They went out as emails and when I got organized appeared on a page of the website. Last year I changed format and started using a more modern blog platform to share our “Letters”, thus removing the newsletter page from the website. I thought I would start sharing some of our past adventures with you in a Throwback Thursday series. I hope you enjoy! H

How to Survive the Swine Flu and other Pork Related Advice

It’s not that we didn’t notice the people on the bus wearing masks, it’s just that it didn’t seem that strange to us. We’d both lived in places where wearing a dust mask in the city is the only defense against the legions of two stroke motorbikes that belch out exhaust so thick it leaves a film on the buildings and a sooty puddle in you Kleenex at night. We weren’t on the Baja anymore, that remote paradise of clean air and friendly faces, that world within a world where locals go to vacation. We were on the mainland now, in the big city of Puerto Vallarta (or PV as it is affectionately known). No one stopped to notice us, no one cared about just another couple of tourist. If you’re crazy enough to wear a dust mask and even gloves on public transport than it is no surprise that you cast a suspicious glare in your neighbours direction.

We’d been blissfully out of touch for only ten days, but ten days in today’s world can feel like a life time for some people. For us it was the norm, no internet or HF radio on board. We carry a satellite phone for emergency use and the occasional call home to give a position update or check on family, but no daily connection with the world outside our physical experience. So when we couldn’t find a WIFI signal to steal the very moment we arrived in Puerto Vallarta it was no big deal. The world hadn’t crumbled into chaos while we were out enjoying ourselves, it would survive another 24hours without us logging on. Besides, we had engine problems and in our world that always takes top priority.
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