Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Cheer

Merry Christmas to all and be careful out there.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas in La Paz


We'll be spending Christmas in La Paz after going to Puerto Escondido for Thanksgiving. We spent 2 weeks in November out in the islands leaving the dock for the first time in nearly six months. It was great to get out and start using the boat as it was meant to be used rather than as a dock queen in the marina. The boat takes on a different personality while out cruising. In the marina it's a comfortable home with all of the luxuries of a waterfront condo. Out cruising it becomes a ship that keeps us safe and secure while cruising. Out on the water we focus on keeping the boat safe, monitoring the weather and planning passages. It's a more interesting life on the water, more stimulating and challenging than living at the dock. We've been living in La Paz since July and we're anxious to get moving again although our current plan is to stay here until May.

Christmas day Linda is going to cook a turkey breast and apple pie (yum!) and  Jim and Diane off the trawler Adirondack are going to join us for dinner. We first met Jim and Diane July 2007 at Meyers Chuck north of Ketchikan Alaska nearly 3500 miles from here. It is a small world.

Thanksgiving Trip

Thanksgiving trip to the islands.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Green Hills of Baja

We drove south on Highway 1 last week and were surprised how green the country side was. We have driven this road a few times in the last 3 years when going to the airport in Cabo and the area was always brown, like you would expect a desert to be, but a little rain over the summer has made the area bloom with plant life. Viewing Baja from the water it looks barren but if you go inland into the hills after a little rain, it’s rich with plant life. You can hardly see the cactus through all the shrubs and bushes. It is amazing how a desert can be transformed by a little rain.

Hills near San Antonio

Hills near San Antonio

Green Baja 2

Hills near San Bartolo

At the end of the drive we stopped in los Barriles at the Las Palmas resort and had a wonderful lunch, highly recommended.

On the return leg we drove out to Ensenada de los Muertos, Cove of the Dead. We have anchored in this bay many times but had never seen if from land before. Developers have renamed this area los SueƱos, Dreams, in order to have a more attractive name for the area. We like the older name better, it has a more adventurous ring to it but we can understand how it may discourage time-share sales.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mexican Nautical Charts – this is getting fun

We’ve always been interested in nautical charts and in particular, electronic charts. When we first came to Mexico we had Maptech charts on the PC running Coastal Explorer (CE) and C-Map charts on Furuno. Both are based on surveys done around 1890. That’s right, over a hundred years old. Here’s an example of these charts in CE -

Raster Chart

If you click on the image to enlarge it, you can see that our waypoints where we anchored are up on land with this chart and there is a dreadful lack of detail.

Fortunately the Mexican Navy has been doing a new survey since 2005, using borrowed US equipment they say, and have published new vector charts that while not up to the standards of US NOAA charts, are a substantial improvement over the older charts. Here’s the same area using the new vector charts -

Vector Chart

At least the land is in the right spot. Now we can add a third type of chart to the collection, charts from Google Earth satellite images. I’ve started playing with a program ChartAid that makes it very easy to capture images from Google Earth and geo-reference them so that chart plotting software like CE knows where to place them. Here’s the same spot with the addition of the photo chart -

Photo Chart 2

These Google Earth photo’s are not perfect, they don’t show depth for example, but outside of the US, Canada, and Europe they might be a great improvement over existing charts. They certainly enhance areas in Mexico. Will we rely exclusively on photo charts? No, but they are another tool, along with existing charts and guide books, that we can use to stay out of trouble.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Living in La Paz

We’re still on our boat but we’ve settled into Marina de La Paz and plan on staying here for awhile, which means at the present we have no plans to leave. We’re no good at making plans let alone following them so we didn’t sign any long term lease, we just told the owner that we’d like to stay for maybe a year to which he said ‘OK’.

We brought the car down to La Paz after our little trip up to the States in July. We flew up to Boise and then Seattle, saw lots of family, and then drove a u-haul truck packed with all our stuff from storage from Anacortes to Tucson. Now days we have few reasons to call Anacortes “home” other than it’s our legal residence in the States, so we decided to move our stuff to Tucson to be closer to us as we travel around Mexico. Linda’s son lives in Tucson and we go up enjoy his hospitality often so that’s a good place to store our stuff.

After the move to Tucson we drove our ‘93 Jeep Grand Cherokee down Baja to La Paz. We made the trip in 3 days with no problems but there are some spots where the road is narrow, the fall off is steep and the trucks are wide and you just hope everyone moves in the right directions at the right time so that everyone comes out the other side unharmed. It’s fun having a car in La Paz, we’re getting out and seeing areas that we never did before and grocery shopping is so much easier with a car.

When we left Tucson, the Jeep had a slow oil leak from the back of the transmissions and estimates to fix it were around $1200+. When we got to La Paz the leak had gone from slow to a noticeable puddle every night so we found a local ‘shade tree’ mechanic recommended by people in the marina. 3 days latter he had replaced the rear transmission seal, installed new motor mounts, replaced the bearings in the rear differential, and put on new rear brakes. Total cost, with parts - $425. After a month everything is still working and there’s no more puddles of oil so it  looks like he did a good job. There was one small issue, he seemed to have loosened a fitting on the Air Conditioner causing the A/C gas to leak out. He denied he did it so we took the car to another ‘shade tree’ shop where they do A/C work and they recharged the system for $35. Kind of a hassle but no big deal.



This is Lupe, the mechanic who did the major work on our car in his shop next to his house.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Where to spend the summer - decisions, decisions...

During the hurricane summer season in the tropics you need to find a secure place to keep your boat or move the boat outside of the hurricane area. Our first summer in Mexico we went to San Carlos up in the Sea of Cortes and we swore we would never return. It was very hot and humid and the town closes down in the summer because everyone leaves. The only positive thing that can be said about it is it's only 6 hours from Tucson where Linda's son lives. To give you an idea of the heat in San Carlos, we would drive to Tucson in the summer to cool off. Tucson is hot but dry, San Carlos hot and humid.

Last summer we took the boat up to Ensenada just south of the California boarder. It was a 900 NM trip but the marina was clean and cheap and it was only 4 hours to downtown San Diego. It was cold, we had to wear long pants and shoes for the first time since we've been in Mexico. But it was 900 NM up the Baja outside and took us 300 gallons of fuel each way, no trivial expense now days.

So this year we thought we would stay in Mazatlan. We like Mazatlan, the marina is nice and not very expensive and they don't get many hurricanes. The downside is that they're having some drug violence and it's not only hot and humid but they have tropical rain showers and lightening every day and with the rain comes bugs. Lots and lots of bugs, the big flying type of cockroaches. One person described Maz in the summer as a 'swamp land'. Not an appealing image.

That brings us to La Paz. Beautiful city, nice marinas, hot but not too humid but they do get the occasional hurricane and the marinas don't give summer discounts like marinas in other Mexican cities. There are three main marinas in La Paz and the one we prefer is Marina de La Paz, which is also the least expensive of the three. Is it worth it to us to spend the extra $2000 to stay in La Paz vs Mazatlan for the 5 summer months?

Other summer expenses will include a $1350 extra insurance premium for named storm coverage in the hurricane zone, which includes both Maz and La Paz, and electricity which can run a few hundred dollars a month when using the A/C.

After some soul searching we decided to stay in Marina de La Paz. Mazatlan just had too many negatives with the violence and that 'swamp' thing. We spoke with the owners at Marina de La Paz and were reassured about their procedures in case a hurricane came their way so that's where we'll stay. The extra money for the better quality of life seemed like a good deal.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Blogging Again

We got tired of writing simple travel logs, today we are here, yesterday with did this, blah, blah, we're going to try something different and write about interesting subjects that we come across while floating around. Most of the time it will be related to boats and cruising, sometimes not. We'll see how it goes.

So this is a recap of what we've been doing on the boat for the last few months -

While in Maz we decided not to travel south on the mainland and rather returned to Baja to meet up with some people we met in Ensenada that have boat like ours. We met them in Agua Verde and then went to Puerto Escondido with them. After 4 days they had some issues with their refrigeration, became disillusioned with Mexico and decided to cut their trip short and return to La Paz and then go north to their home port of Portland, OR. After they left we stayed in Baja and lazily worked our way back to La Paz over the next 4 weeks where we were to meet Linda's brother and wife who were coming down from Minnesota for 10 days.

We stayed in Marina Palmira in La Paz for the first time and played the tour guides for 10 days traveling around La Paz and southern Baja in a rented car. It was good to see Jeff and his wife and we hope they had a good time here.

When they left we had to decide where to spend the summer. We had thought we would return to Mazatlan and had made reservations there but we did have some second thoughts about it. Maz has had some drug related violence recently and during the summer it has rain as well has high heat and humidity turning the place into what one person described as a 'summer swamp land'. Not an appealing image.

more to come...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The good life in Mazatlan.

The good life continues in Mazatlan. We've added a location map to the top of the blog that will have our current (and past) locations as we travel around. Thanks to Eric & Sherrel at for the code snips.

We use a Dell mini desktop computer for our navigation computer and purchased a mini-keyboard to use with it 3 years ago when we upgraded Discovery's electronics. Well the keyboard has started to cause 'wild mouse' syndrome on the computer where the mouse just mysteriously starts randomly moving and clicking. Not good when you're using the navigation software and the mouse closes the nav software and opens file manager, 5 times over. Smacking the keyboard with your hand seemed to solve the problem for awhile but that didn't seem like a good long term solution so we went looking for a new keyboard. At Office Depot we found what we thought was the perfect keyboard. It's a flexible type that's water proof, not too big, and cheap (around $12 USD). So we bought it. When we got it back on the boat and took a closer look at it we thought we should have taken a closer look at the store before we bought it. It has some strange characters and no Home, End, Page Up or Down, or Delete keys. And other oddities like the keys marked + and - don't really enter those characters but the keys above them do. Other than that it's great and we're going to keep it. Anyhow if we tried to take it back I'm not sure how to explain to the clerk in the store that we didn't notice all the strange and missing keys before we bought it. It works fine for the nav software, although a Home key would be nice to center on the boat on the chart but there's a way of doing that with the mouse which has now stopped it's random movements and clicking. Click on the pic to see a larger image of the keyboard.

We bought fuel in Maz today. We have 4 fuel tanks on Discovery and we only run off of one tank and only put fuel in that tank that has been cleaned (polished) by running through a fuel filter to remove particles and water. When we fuel up we keep the new fuel isolated until it can be polished then it is moved to tanks that may have fuel in them to balance the boat out. That is what is causing the list (listo in Spanish) in the pic below. We bought fuel in the morning and polished the fuel in one tank for 6 hours before it was shifted to a tank on the other side of the boat to level things out.

We discovered a site for those that like reading boat blogs. It's Take a look, it even has our site on it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Groundhog Day

Happy Groundhog Day. We hope everyone had a safe and happy celebration and we're sorry we're a couple of days late but Mexico does not honor Groundhog day so we missed it.

We arrived in Mazatlan after a long, 38 hour passage from Topo. Because of the weather we decided to leave Topo in the late afternoon and travel 2 nights and a day arriving in Maz at 7 AM. 38 hours over 2 nights and a day seems so much longer than done over 2 days and a night but sometimes you just have to go when the weather says to go. Right now the weather is saying, very loudly, to stay put. It's blowing 50-60 kts in the northern Sea of Cortez and 20-30 kts in the southern portion with seas over 10'. Here in Maz we're having winds of 25-30 kts and it's cold, overnight temps are in the low 40's with highs in the upper 60's.

Today we had to put on long pants for the first time since we left Ensenada. Everywhere in Mexico has been cold and windy this winter, ok not has much as up north, and we are looking forward to Spring.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


We visited Topolobampo in late January crossing from the south end of Isla San Jose on Baja, an easy 95 NM passage. Topo is located inside a large bay that is mostly less than 10' deep although there is a dredged channel leading up to the town that is used by large ferries and cargo ships. When we first arrived we anchored just inside the bay behind the barrier island at the way point in Captn Rains' Mexico Boating guide. The next day we traveled up the channel and into the yacht basin and docked at Palmira Marina. We went to Topo and Palmira Marina based on a write up by Pat Rains on her web site and we were looking forward to staying at a new marina facility similar to Palmira's marina in La Paz. What we found was disappointing.

The marina is still under construction although the first stage of docks are done and mostly occupied by sport fishing boats. The marina is continuing to install more pilings and docks. The shore side facilities are still under construction. The restaurant is not open, the parking area is still dirt, there is only one uni-sex shower, and no laundry. There is a small tienda at the marina office selling basic food supplies (bread, soft drinks, candy, etc.) and some boat supplies that cost at least twice what they sell for in the US. The staff does not speak English and they would not answer the VHF radio although they were pleasant in person.

The town of Topo is very impoverished, dirty and lacks basic shops other than one medium sized grocery and a few small tiendas and Modelorama. We did not find a hardware store and only one restaurant which is located at an hotel and opens at 5 PM. All the streets are dirty and lined with trash. We saw a dead rat on the side of the road. The locals are not the friendly and quick to smile people that we are used to meeting in Mexico. They seem to be downtrodden by the poverty. Even the residence of Turtle Bay which is one of most impoverished towns we have visited are more friendly than the people of Topo. We would not recommend this town to other cruisers although the anchorage inside the barrier island is a good place to stop for a nights rest if needed.

Here's an overview of what we found in Topo -

30 & 50 amp power on docks – the 50 amp plug on our dock was broken
Water on dock NOT potable – storage tanks are bad
WiFi only near office, not on docks
No laundry
One unisex shower
No restaurant – might (!) open in a month
Slow expansion of docks – working on some pilings – still 50 slips mostly taken by sport fishers and permanent yachts
No one in the office speaks any English, but Eduardo on the dock speaks a little
They do not answer VHF radio hails
Very small tienda in office
Inexpensive moorage
You must walk across the main road into/out of town to get to town - this road is 100 yards from marina with MANY large trucks and train all day and night
There is a smallish grocery store in town but they only take pesos
One restaurant in town – it was closed the day we walked by
Buoys marked on charts for estuary entrance are WRONG, but there are buoys

Out of La Paz

We finally broke the grip that La Paz had on us and escaped to the islands. It's easy to settle into life in La Paz, the great restaurants, interesting shops, nice people, and new friends but after a month we were eager to get back on the water.

The search for the ultimate fish taco continues. We found an excellent contender at Lucy's right next to Lopez Marine, highly recommended.

After provisioning (a fancy word for buying everything in the grocery store) we had a good weather window and headed out.

First stop was only 18 miles away, San Gabriel bay on isla Espiritu Santos. This is a large bay opened to weather from the west or south but the forecast was for calm winds so we took a chance and set the anchor and except for an afternoon breeze we were rewarded with a pleasant stay. One surprise was Frigatebirds mating on the south end of the bay on an outcrop of rocks left by a long abandoned pearl farm. The male Frigatebirds has an orange throat patch that becomes bright red when inflated in courtship display. There were hundreds of Frigatebirds with dozens of males displaying their red throat at any one time. We took our dinghy near the birds but not too close as to disturb them. Click on picture below to see detail.

While in La Paz we applied for international health insurance that was recommended by other cruisers. The first hurdle to over come is that we needed to both get physical exams so we called an excellent doctor in La Paz that we had both seen before for minor issues, Dr. Touchman or Dr T as he is know in the cruiser community. We both passed our exams with no problems so we sent them off and waited. After we left La Paz we received via SailMail a form that we needed to sign and return but we didn't have internet connection where we were and we couldn't download the attached form with SailMail so we needed to go back toward La Paz until we were close enough to get a cell signal and connect to the internet. We spent a day cruising south for 2 hours, watching the bars on the cell phone until we could connect to the internet and then downloaded email, printed and signed the form, scanned the signed copy and emailed it back and then found a location to anchor for the night. All in a days work for people cruising on a boat. Cruising has many challenges that city bound people just can't appreciate and we wouldn't change lives with anyone.