Entering San Francisco's Golden Gate is probably one of the most iconic and visually beautifulapproaches a mariner can hope for. I've been blessed to call the San Francisco Bay my home stompinggrounds for the past 14 years and, without a doubt, sailing here will definitely improve your skill-set.
I learned to sail in Mission Bay, San Diego; you were in heaven if you saw 15 knots of wind. SFwinds can pass 30 knots daily during the summer months and a strong current may have you travelingin reverse during the rare lulls. My learning curve was steep and costly, both in broken boat parts andthe inevitable strain it put on my marriage. She stuck it out for the first few seasons, but my initialinexperience to adapt to these variable maelstroms brought a heightened level of diss ease,well...maybe sheer panic is a better description. Her visits to the boat decreased as mine increased.Eventually, I learned how to harness this incredible force mother nature was throwing my way and feltwretched for subjecting my wife to those early, novice experiences
.Last month, I was helping bring a large yacht from LA to SF. We were limping in the gate dueto some mechanical issues and I had time to reflect on just how many times this portion of the Pacifichad handed me my ass. Here are a few.
There is a horseshoe shaped, shallow bank that stands sentry to the mouth of the Golden Gate. Itextends about 5 miles out to sea. It's not uncommon to be standing on Ocean Beach and see huge,rolling waves 2 miles of the shore – it's really beautiful to look at...from THE BEACH! There are timeswhen you don't have to pay it any mind (but I always do), then there are times when the swell and thetide can make it a real mess. The funny part is how it changes with the current. NOAA radio broadcaststhe max ebb and low tide for this region and woe to the mariner who doesn't know when that is.
There are three channels that are recommended for crossing the SF Bar: Deep Water (markedand the only option for freighters and other large vessels), North Channel and South Channel (notmarked, vaguely noted on charts, and not to be attempted when you see waves breaking on the bar). Ilike to think of it like a rambunctious cat being petted; A certain area and she'll lay on her back andpurr, but you cross some arbitrary, imaginary line and walk away with a bloody stump where your armused to be.
Tom, a new-ish sailor had a 22 foot Catalina with a retractable keel.
Read more: Mishaps at the Golden Gate
The Monkey Blog
The first time I had an overnight, out of 'bay-dy' experience was on Portugal Princess. I had recentlyhauled her out and added extra scuppers so any water would drain out quicker if I were pooped (yes,this is the same boat I was on when I got pooped in the previous story... isn't foresight a beautifulthing). Naturally, I did all of those other fun, toxic things like grind out blisters and paint the bottomwith anti-fouling paint (prevents the growth of algae on the bottom of the hull, but probably encouragesa worse type of growth in your lungs if you don't wear a respirator while applying it). I also replaced allof the standing rigging; Portugal Princess was good to go!
Read more: More Mishaps at the Golden Gate
I've spent a lot of time discussing the adventures of Ms. Monkey and myself. I'm now going to break stride and talk about OTHER cruisers...
Most cruisers are older couples that are enjoying their retirement in a much more rewarding way than the bulk of society; choosing adventure over stagnation. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but most of them can 'out-party' me. The first thing they always tell us, is that they wish they had done this at our age. To which I respond, "I hope my body will tolerate that volume of rum when I'm YOUR age!".
These people are giving and wonderful. If you have any bizarre mechanical problem, they are the people to hail on the VHF; they ALWAYS have the answer and, if they don't, they will never sleep again until they have a valid and poignant solution. I used to feel guilty about setting them about my tasks until I read in 'Scientific America' that older people REALLY don't need much sleep! Far better that they're keeping us afloat and safe rather than playing solitaire 'till 4am.
You also see some younger cruisers that found a screamin' deal on a fixer-upper boat. Many of these folk are single-handers that will have friends or family hop off and on as crew. The reason they're single handing is usually due to the cramped quarters. It sounds romantic to be out on a boat, but significant others / potential significant others find the 24 / 7 quality time in a space slightly larger than a bathtub a little...much. (That I've been able to keep Ms. Monkey in our tub this long is a testament to just how entertaining I really am.)
Read more: Love Thy Neighbor
Ms Monkey is back on land and there are a million reasons why I miss her. One that I CAN mention is her prowess in the very cramped, very UN-user-friendly galley. (Ms. Monkey note: an Easy Bake Oven would be an improvement!!)Six months studying in Italy and other locations has resulted in a broad swath of regional fare from; Italian, Persian, Filipino and Indian dishes.
[Ms. Monkey: Studying? Playing there for 8 months does not do my Italian fare justice, I grew up with Grandpa Bortolussi Italian chef, and Cuban grandma neighbor upstairs for a few years! And of course Mamma Mia with the Mexi and Italiano cuisine! To name a few influences and teachers! Mamma is a goddess in la cucina!]
She has honed her skills over these past two seasons (at cooking, yes, but, more-so, being able to cook on Epiphany) and it's pretty cool how she can create so much using so little. I think a sailing cookbook is in the works.(Ms. M. It is a challenge and I'm up for it! It's tricky and I'm now quite the Mcguiver in la cucina!!)
Watching Ms. Monkey walk through a grocery store is like watching a catholic visit the Vatican. The reverence she displays to every product is as awe-inspiring, as it is time consuming. I really wish they had benches by the produce section cause she can easily spend half an hour there alone. When I know we're going to provision, I black out my date-book for the rest of that day and just write "gone to church".
Read more: Ruts for Lunch? - what to eat when refrigeration can be...complicated
Well I'll tell you! We've all read Mr. Monkey write about Sea Snakes, Croc's , Sharks and unidentified floating objects! And I agree creepy scarey but nothing prepared me for the fright-sight I had in C.R. while anchored in some port beach cove.[Mr. Monkey - She means Puerto Angel, Mexico.] With pleanty of other boats and pangas around and the beach not too far off in the distance.
I'm down below preparing another of my signature boat brunches for my Capt'n, while he's up on deck man handling the dingy or something, probably all tanned skin glistening in the sun, hair flowing in the wind with his pipe dangling out of his mouth. Looking just AWFUL I'm sure (wink wink). No matter how good or bad... there is one thing we cannot deny 'Homeboy is WHITE', gringo that is... southern fried and tongue tied! Due to the next events about to unfold. I hear splashing and a females voice, giggles then more splashing... then the gringos nervous voice says, "excuse me?" Odd, so I come up to see whats up! Well it was the dare-ee-air of this Schifosa Putana Piranha. Flittering and frolicking about in the water ALL too close to MY boat and Man Capt'n. She's wearing only the bottom half of this itsy-bitsy teeny-tiny G-string!!! [Mr. Monkey - She seemed like a nice enough girl and fairly athletic swimming all the way out to Epiphany]
Read more: Schifosa Putana Piranhas-The Scariest Thing I've Seen Swimming In These Waters
[preface: I read first mate Molly's blog on this crossing while 1/4 of the way through writing this one and I fully agree that it's hard to write about this, it's hard to put the scenario into words. Since I've returned and cruisers have been asking what happened, I hear the words coming out of my mouth, but they sound befuddled and not very helpful. The intensity of the moments required extreme focus and immediate reaction to crisis, furthermore, I was always on the bow, near our neighbor's very loud engine, and not privy to all that was taking place in the cockpit. I defer to her records of times and events and want to point out that our crossing was unusual and has panicked far too many cruisers preparing to do the same crossing. I will post a link to her blog at the end of this blog (we don't want to ruin a good story, do we?).]
Day 2 - 0650 I'm in a hammock on the bow of the sailboat "Knee Deep". The anchorage is calm, we are in a fresh water lake 85 feet above sea level. I just woke up and would love nothing more than to jump in the water and take a bath but the crocodiles are in the back of my mind. Our transit pilot told us yesterday that any crocodile found in Panama is brought to this lake and released. I'll wash my hair later.
Sometime today, we'll be descending from our "Lake in the Sky" back to sea level through a series of locks. This sea will be Caribbean. I sure hope it goes better than yesterday...
Read more: Close call with the Lock-Mess-Monster
One of the more frightening experiences for a boating enthusiast is returning to their vessel to discover that it's no longer there. Many people have had the experience of walking out to a parking lot and finding that their car is no longer where it should be. You naturally look around and assume you've forgotten where you actually left it. Then the cold sinking feeling starts settling in your stomach while you begin retracing past steps in your mind, "I remember looking at that curb with the Gummie Bear wrapper stuck to it and reminding myself to back up rather than drive forward when I get back in the car...and buy some Gummie Bears". Eventually you relent to the alternatives of either being towed or the car was stolen. [There is a third alternative that happened to Ms. Monkey, but I better get permission before posting it. It's pretty funny, but "hell hath no fury..." ]
I've broken anchor 5 times and yesterday's could have turned out pretty bad.
Read more: Slip Sliding Away
We're sitting on the boat catching up on computer stuff. I want to emphasize the word "sitting"; not "balancing", "bracing" nor "gripping for dear life". We have use of both hands, our abdomen muscles are not constricted from fighting the pitch and roll of punishing waves, heightened by blustery wind. I can open a package using both hands if I felt inclined to do so. This wasn't a luxury we could accomplish a day ago.
Read more: Bad Point
We're in Panama now. I woke up to a very brightly colored sea snake near the boat; think I'll pass on the morning swim.
Checking out of Costa Rica was very touch and go. I can't thank Katie and Tim from Land Sea Services of Golfito enough for their help with the process (more on Land Sea in our next blog). Immigration was no problem and the officer was beyond helpful, customs was an issue. While waiting in line, I noticed that our zarpe (the boat papers necessary for travel) had expired. This was confusing as our passports still showed us having 3 weeks of our 90 day visa left. Most zarpes are for 90 days as well but, for some reason, ours had lapsed 11 days prior. This meant that Ms. Monkey was legal, I was legal, but Epiphany was a fugitive from the law.
Read more: The Floating Fugative
'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the boat, not an item was working...except the new bilge pump float.
The laundry was hung on the life-lines with care. I was cleaning so Ms. Monkey won't rip out her hair.
She returns to me on a holiday flight. A disheveled boat would be an unwelcome site.
Then up from the hull there arose such a clamor; It sounded like elves with a 3 ton jackhammer!
On engine, on light-bulbs, on water-pump and head! Now solar and batteries I KNOW you ain't dead!
By tomorrow I better make all of this right. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
Yesterday was 'errand day'. While all of my dearest loved-one's back in the states are running holiday errands such as presents and food for holiday feasts, I'm buying float switches for the bilge and new skegs for the surfboard (the last skeg was ripped away by a tightening jib sheet).
I rowed to shore around 8:30 to catch the 9am bus for Jaco. I'm the only person on the bus, but as we wind our way along a serpentine path, seats fill, people stand and cans of sardines laugh at our confined space from the markets we pass. Infants ride for free I assume, and this is probably why every female over the age of 15 has one. They are also convenient for getting a seat as chivalrous men vacate theirs.
It takes 45 minutes to travel these 7 miles and no back-road was left uncharted. I finally arrive, run my errands, provision and return to the spot where the bus dropped me off. In San Francisco, buses operate in a circuitous fashion, but I was quickly about to learn that the linear mode is favored in Jaco.
I board the bus (same driver) and pay the 200 colones to return to Herraduro. He gladly accepts my money drives 1 block and tells me I have to get off. WTF...Doesn't this bus go to Herraduro!? "Si, in 3 hours." I'm more than a little confused since buses stop in Herraduro every hour, but, what can I do. Naturally, I ask for my money back, but he feels he's earned it after driving me 200 feet down the road. I realise that the equivalent in dollars would be about 40 cents and don't push the issue; but receive gratification in pointing out to the driver what portion of the human anatomy he takes after.
1) Raising the anchor is like sex: it's not a sprint that leaves you exhausted and panting, knees wobbling while you try to make your way to the helm. You need to pace yourself, use slow deliberate strokes and, when the swell is right, pull out.
2) The rocks / boats are further away than you think: I can't say that I've mastered this yet, but I'm getting better; mainly because my dinghy motor is currently on strike. The row to shore has been ruthless at times. It's important to drop the hook at the LAST moment; someplace on that fine line between "Crap... let's just stay on the boat tonight and row ashore tomorrow at 3am so you can be there by lunch." and, "Crap,,, I guess we don't need the dinghy, we can walk to lunch."
3) Temporary fixes fix temporarily: There are times when too much is going on to "Do it right - right away." This is why God invented tomorrow. Tomorrow always comes, and that half-assed repair will remind you of your abbreviated attention to it. If your 1 hour project actually requires 1 day, I guarantee you that those extra 23 hours (and possibly more) are on their way.
4) The boat is always right: I sometimes need to remind Ms. Monkey that "The CAPTAIN is ALWAYS right!" The look I usually get sends shivers down my spine because I know she sleeps with a machete close at hand. The truth is that no 2 boats are the same. I've tried to make Epiphany perform by textbook standards, but she could give a shit. Season 1 involved trying to force these standards on her, Season 2 has become more of a "Meeting of MY mind" (to HER will). Things are much happier between us now.
5) Gas is expensive: Even more so down here than in the states. I'll be DAMNED if I'm going to waste good beer money on petroleum. I used to have a "5-knot" rule...If I'm not doing 5 knots under sail, the engine comes on. That turned into a more realistic "4-knot" rule, but, when you burn a gallon an hour, and gas is $6 per gallon,,,you do the math!! I now have a "Getting there tomorrow is fine" rule. I've got no problem drifting along at 2 knots without the engine. Like,,, Do I have a power-meeting in Puntarenas tomorrow?? NO.
While exploring the hidden lair of 'Spankasoreass', a huge monster that lives on a deserted island next to my current anchorage, excitement was taking place on my buddy-boat 'Knee Deep". In tow with most of Knee-Deep's crew (Ben and his two boys), we did a perimeter search to locate the monster's passageway. No Luck. All we could find was the wooden pyre he uses to BBQ stray children and one of his enormous molars (which may have looked like a large piece of white coral to an untrained eye). We were wrapping up our investigation when Ben's youngest said he may have heard his mom on the VHF radio (Knee-Deep's 4th crew member, Molly). We were heading back to our boats anyway, so we didn't verify whether a call had been made or not.
I paddled to my boat and noticed Molly sitting in the cockpit. This is common, she was probably reading and soaking up some sun. The rest of Knee-Deep's crew arrived to their boat, conversation ensued, but nobody was going inside. It turns out that a stow-away had joined their ranks and made himself known while the rest of us were on our Spankasoreass mission. The bat had flown 4 inches from Molly's head.
Read more: Boat Boarded By Bat
Shit or get off the pot... Pot committed...Here goes nothing... What do these phrases have in common? abandonment of alternative.
I left Playa Panama in fair breeze and light swell, skipped El Coco, and anchored in Bahia Guacamaya shortly after noon. Guacamaya is boasted in all the guide books as, " A beautiful anchorage which provides protection in all winds." A+ for snorkeling and diving, a haven from the howling Papagayos.
The breaking swell just past my stern was not lost on me. Low tide plus a 10 foot tidal variance should soon make short work of THAT! After a late lunch and the crashing waves lingering in the background, I decide to pull anchor and tuck in tighter to the northern cove. With Ms. Monkey on the engine, this would have been no big deal; single handing my way between the reefs to my east and west is a larger challenge.
Read more: Shit or Get Off the Pot
Ahhh...the joys of checking into a new country. We took the Resort shuttle to the tiny, funky town of El Coco yesterday. Once a quaint fishing village, it is now a blender full of: semi-stodgy boaters, tatted surfers and ex-pats the world over (hit the puree button for one interesting concoction).
We were pretty excited since we would finally be here legally and not have to worry about "La Migra" sending us back to our squalled hovels in the financially ravaged country of our roots. We entered the Port Captain's office with all of our paperwork in order; wide eyed with awe at the grandeur of such a palatial shack (please God, let that ceiling hold while we finish this process...amen).
Read more: La Migra
How wonderful to finally be under way again! I feel like we've been set free. I loved El Salvador , meeting la familia and making new friends; Some we'll never forget and will most likely see again. One in particular is a family friend and, in the Latin community, considered family by the honor of being a Compadre (God father), Jeraldo aka Jerry, aka Don Jeraldo. He was an inspiration and a huge source of entertainment. He is a fishing enthusiast to put it mildly and owns a large tract of land in the estuary of Bahia Del Sol. You may have seen photos of the turtle refuge and read the blog where Michael and other boaters accompanied Cheme, Jeraldos right hand man to the estuary project to release baby turtles.
Jeraldo arrived at the Bahia the night before we set sail with two blocks of ice and a box of beautiful veggies from his prized garden. He then took one of our fishing rods, dialed it out and donated a few lures. He joined us on our exodus from the Bahia for a couple of hours, a nice sail and a little fishing with the new kit he put together for Capt'n Hook. We actually hooked a nice size Mackerel within minutes of dropping the new and improved line/lure combo. He was also a huge influence and inspiration for our newly purchased Hooka and all its gear and flavored tobacco for Epiphany. My new reward to self once arriving safely to the next port. We were extremely grateful and oddly amused with our treasured gifts!
I'm sure it meant nothing to Jeraldo to bring us ICE...not the bling (diamond)kind... the melting kind, which at this time is valued more than the bling to us! To anyone who has sailed like this or had to pull into a port and try to provision without a vehicle or refrigerator / freezer understands and can appreciate THE ICE!!!
Well, the first blonde moment was with the ice:
Read more: Free at Last
Our passage from Santa Elena to the south end of Bahia Papagayo was a bit of a wild ride, but blessedly incident free. The wind and seas started picking up around the cape (don't they always though; nature loves to remind you who's boss once reefs, rocks and rips are in the neighborhood). The guide books claim that wind speeds can double in that area and it should not be traversed when a Papagayo is blowing. My first question is, "Exactly how strong of a wind before it's actually a Papagayo?"
We left our anchorage under 18 knots of breeze and decided to cut inside the cape between the mainland and Bat Islands (this approach keeps the seas down and is supposed to protect from the northeast winds). The seas went down but the winds didn't give a shit about our "landmass haven". Winds were blowing 30 plus and Epiphany required all of my attention as we threaded the needle between the reefs of world famous surf spot Ollie's Point and the exposed rock 1/2 a mile beyond it's break. After that, we were able to run with a double reef and things quieted down. We raced to make our anchorage by sunset. We didn't quite make it, but it was still light enough to spot the unlit boats prior to night's blackness settling in.
Read more: Papagayo Pandamonium
Miss Monkey will be arriving in a week. We'll be pulling anchor and heading south with some fellow cruisers. "Will the boat be ready by then?" Funny you should ask, because I'm wondering the same thing. I've been dutifully checking off items on my "to do" list: solar panels are mounted and did pretty well in a recent squall, the head is fixed and the engine's water pump has been overhauled. But, the question still lingers, and the reason for that is a weird idiosyncrasy that I've noticed in boats I've owned. You know how the FDA tests drugs before releasing them for public consumption? Though their reasons may not always be pure of heart, one real reason is to monitor side effects. A boat MUST be a living creature for, each time I prescribe a remedy, a new and often more profound ailment appears.
Read more: Is there a Doctor in the Marina?
Looking back on my blogs, I've noticed that they focus on the hardships of cruising and may come across as pessimistic. I'd like to take a moment and point out that 90% of my days are bliss (especially when Epiphany is underway) and there is no place I'd rather be than here; gliding along swells with waves lapping at the hull, dolphins escorting me to my next unexplored destination.
I've read some blogs that only point to the romantic aspects of this sometimes extreme sport. Just how many picturesque images of perfect sunsets or lone boats anchored in tropical coves is a person expected to stomach? Especially if you're not there. I would want to reach through my computer monitor and strangle the perpetrator!
I'm feeling better having cleared the air on this point. Here's a picture of a perfect sunset:
If you recall D and my last attempt to visit the turtle sanctuary (you should view it here if you don't know what I'm talking about), this attempt nearly ended in similar fashion; due to the same Suzuki Samurai. Last time it was the clutch, this time the Drive Train.
I'm suddenly feeling very low, thinking I would never reach this turtle utopia; it was just not meant to happen. Calls were made and new modes of transport secured. Could it be that we would actually arrive this time!!
After a 5 mile jaunt through the the interior of the island via truck, an amazingly fertile land with very narrow dirt roads that you share with horses, swine, and humans, we hit the beach and soon thereafter, the sanctuary.
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