Mar 21, 2016

A Strange River Runs Through It

Hate is a lack of imagination
Graham Greene


Our first Mazatlán sunset.  Divine
The majestic Pinacate Mountain, a famous landmark north of Puerto Peñasco is finally in our 'rearview mirror'. Its dark silhouette ghosted behind us for most of our first day's sail to our destination.

Mazatlán is 650 miles away should you get there in a straight line which is never the case in sailing. The longest sail we have done on Déjàlà was 93.5 hours long, this one ended up taking nearly twice that: 170 hours and 756 miles (you guessed it 100miles longer than the rhumb line).

As we leave our Mexican 'home base' of the last 2 years, we learn a few interesting things:
  • Shrimp boats that are now made of steel used to be made from local (yes I said local) wood until less than 50 years ago! Today, you couldn't find a tree big enough to make a paddle! The town used to boast many fine woodworkers. They have been replaced by welders.
  • The main hill in the Old Port part of town is called Whale Hill. Before it was dug out for its rocks to make a protective wall surrounding the harbor, fishermen and their families lived in its many caves. Now much flatter, it is full of commerce, condos, and residences.
  • The original name of Puerto Peñasco was actually Rocky Point. It was first named in English....
I think there must be a Murphy's law when leaving places... We seem to nearly always meet new folks, learn new things, share interesting stories just a day or two before our departure. Wondering if it has to do with letting go of any expectations since we are on the way out. Thank you Lulu, Steve, Larry, Anne, and Kevin for making our last few days even more interesting. 

Our view at the stern for 7 days
Sailing the PPJ (Pacific Puddle Jump ocean crossing) must have helped my nerves. Usually I don't sleep well for the last three nights prior to departure; fretting, worrying, pacing, over thinking... But not this time, I am calm and at peace. 

Reading about friends' experience who got back sailing after nearly two years off made us wonder how it would be for us. They are great sailors and storytellers and we trust their judgment. Would waves, winds, currents, choice of anchoring location appear larger or more difficult to read or handle from lack of practice? Or would we adjust as quickly as getting back on a bike? 

Thankfully it was the latter, probably for 3 reasons. 1) We had already sailed the area so we didn't have to research and adapt to a new environment. 2) Although as crew on another sailboat, we had become Shellbacks, crossing nearly 3,000 miles of ocean from Mexico to French Polynesia in 21 days. 3) We didn't previously have a bad experience to overcome on the way back into the water. A 'mere' 750 miles doesn't seem so daunting after sailing one of the longest routes over water in the world. Even Nikki adjusted quite rapidly even though she wasn't with us during the PPJ. 

Sailing south again through the beautiful Sea of Cortez we remember the times when sailing what is called here "The Northern Crossing" between Santa Rosalia and San Carlos, about 70-80 miles and the "Southern Crossing" between Cabo San Lucas and Mazatlán, about200-250 miles were trips we thought were huge undertakings. Now they feel more like day or weekend sails. Aren't we just all grown up! 

A beautiful 80 foot sailboat was docked next to us also preparing to sail the length of the Sea of Cortez, heading south. We tell them we are excited to finally have winds after waiting a couple of weeks for the right 'window'. The skipper looks at us with a bit of disbelief and says that Tuesday is too early to leave, that we should wait until Thursday when the winds and waves have flattened/died out. I guess I naively assumed the size of the boat and the money invested in it meant they would 'sail' it. Reading between the lines, they were going to motor this sailboat all the way. Smooth motoring! My faith was reinstated when, upon arrival, we docked next to two octogenarians who are still sailing!!! 

We didn't encounter more than 25 knots of wind with waves no more than 6 feet. We had a beautiful although physically demanding sail (spinnaker, 1st and 2nd reefs, main alone, partial jib, etc.) from doldrums to 25 knots in the space of minutes, as well as strong currents and counter currents, helping or slowing our progress, reminding us who really has control here! Thankfully we have broader knowledge on how to handle what we encounter. 

Our bodies are adjusting better than expected. We are less tired than usual even though we are a tad older, slower and weaker... Possibly less stress inducing worries from having gained experience, trusting what each other brings to the various tasks, covering for each other. Between the two of us we seem to remember most steps correctly. Oh, and Nikki is helping with her kisses and cuddles. The only 'new' things to adapt to is the sound of a propeller in the water when we are moving and sailing with solar panels on the dodger. At times, we have to take into account how much the sails are shadowing them and possibly change the angle of sail for better sun exposure.  

Upon our many goodbyes to the kind folks of Puerto Peñasco, one question kept popping up that surprised me. They didn't ask about how to sail, water needs, night shifts, lack of sleep, electric boating, etc. No, their major concern was about our food supplies. Even though this sail, for us with an older design 35 foot sailboat, could take anywhere from 6 to 10 days, they worried about us going hungry. Are we going to fish? Are we going to stop for groceries? I have to put this question in context as it pertains to the average Mexican who, for the majority only shops for today's meals, not having the money or storage capacity for more. They cannot comprehend how we can buy and store that much food for our trip. Also that Mexicans LOVE to eat! 

For those interested at a peak into what we eat aboard, here's as ample (at the end of this blog) of commonly made dishes, nearly everything made by either one of us, although Mike is the main cook at anchor or dock, I cook underway. We generally don't drink while sailing, enjoying our nightly red wine even more upon arrival. The best is that we keep adding to our repertoire as we discover new foods from the places we visit. We eat VERY well... 

Interesting to be in so much water trying to grasp that this is a very arid and unforgiving desert area. Salt water needing too much energy to become usable to plants, animals, or humans even though a few have adapted to salt water and live at the very edge of that zone. 

We are reading about people (mostly Seri and Papago natives in SW US and northern Mexico) who have learned to live and thrive with the rhythms of the desert. Plant when it rains or floods, protect from harsh sun, go higher or lower depending on season, plant right type of adapted specimen, only depending and using surface water, not what is stored underground, necessitating the use of machinery to extricate and depleting water tables. How in one generation for example the O'Odam Indians in Arizona and Mexico have gone from being desert savvy to depending on well water at a very high cultural, financial, and environmental cost. We, industrialized societies, are depleting this limited resource at a very fast pace and the people, plants, or animals who didn't create the problem in the first place, still doing subsistence farming/living, end up paying the high price anyway. 

A few things that stood out for me while reading this book Killing the Hidden Waters by Charles Bowden, 1977, were: 
  • The area where the Papago Indians lived was so dry and unforgiving that even the very hardy Jesuits didn't stay around! 
  • Rite of passage for the young Indians was to wade into the Sea of Cortez up to their chins. These people never see that much water in their lives and suddenly are asked to submerge(trust) their whole body in it (unknown). Indians made trips to that area to gather salt. 
  • A Mexican farmer takes 1100+ hours to produce one acre of corn by hand. With machines, industrialized countries take only 22 hours and have better yields but at what cost? The Mexican way of cultivating is calorie/energy positive (or they would starve to death) while the industrialized way is not. In the industrialized countries we borrow on the future (fuel, pesticides, herbicides, transportation, tractors) and it costs a lot of energy, most of which is non-renewable. 
  • Indians had to put poles around their grass/branch homes to keep stock from eating them. 
  • Indians would steal law books because they preferred their type of paper to roll a smoke. 
Interesting to think about while floating in this huge sea in our tiny electric boat. 

Back to this trip, we saw the usual culprits: whales (even one with a white dorsal fin), dolphins, squids, turtles, shark, flying fish, seabirds, shooting stars, beautiful sunsets, etc. But we missed the green flash at sunset, something we have often seen at the beginning of other long trips.  

From shore near Punta Colorado, an old time sailor calls out to us via radio, he had seen us through his binoculars: "Sailing vessel heading south near this area, sailing vessel heading south with sails up, please come back." Turns out Robert is an old salt who has lived and sailed this area for 20 years. He was surprised to see sailors nearby, stating that very few ever come by anymore. There was a lot of chagrin and awe in his voice. Sad that the old days are gone, awed that we were heading very far south. Under good sailing conditions, we too were very surprised that we only saw one sailboat miserably going the other way, against strong winds... One sailboat in 750miles of prime (if you are going with the flow, not against it) sailing conditions.

Cleaning the spinnaker after a night of sailing with it
As for the title of this blog... On our second night of sailing with a new moon making the night pitch dark, we suddenly spot a huge meandering wall of something very bright rapidly coming at us. I freak out thinking it is a very shallow sand bar and that we will hit bottom. Mike instantly realizes it is bio-luminescence. At first he thought the movements of a whale below the surface created this beautiful veil of densely woven sparkling lights behind its own path but it was just too large and too compact to come from just one animal's movements. 

We think, although we cannot confirm it that various currents converged in this area and help concentrate bio-luminescence creating the effect of a huge blueish-white river floating through darkness. This sudden flash of phosphorescence was freely serpenting through the Sea. What a sight I am thankful to have seen now that my heart started beating again. The night revealed its true splendor and we were there to witness it. (If you've seen the movie The Life of Pi you get an idea how fantastic this can look in an animated way).

Example of bio-luminescence from web, nothing as big as what we saw
From the web, usually seen along beach

From the movie The Life of Pi
A few days after our safe arrival, we hear that a boat heading into the Sea of Cortez was hit by a whale and sunk 35 miles outside the San Carlos. The skipper is safe. Another reminder of the uncertainties of life...


Menu items:
  • Fresh granola and fruit salad with yogurt
  • Banana muffins with either dates, chocolate chips, or walnuts
  • Sourdough bread for sandwiches or toasts
  • Polenta, corn, peppers, olive and cheese soufflé
  • Lentil, vegetable and sausage stew
  • Lamb with apricots, wine and orange sauce reduction
  • Meatloaf with vegetables
  • Fresh salsas - red or green
  • Hummus - plain, cilantro, sun dried tomatoes, etc.
  • Smoked pork chops with braised zucchinis
  • Coleslaw with yogurt based dressings
  • Dirty rice with vegetables
  • Bean chilis
  • Many types of meals with bought tortillas - burritos, vampiros, synchronisadas, etc.
  • Any types of eggs for breakfast
  • Rolled oats or steel cut oats
  • Cookies: peanut butter, chocolate and orange, molasses, spicy currants with coconut and walnuts
  • Tapioca pudding
  • Biscottis (even special ones for the dog)
  • Each and every day fresh fruits and veggies
  • Sprouts for salads with homemade dressings
  • Our new favorite salad of jicama, cucumber and mango with lime and chili powder...

1 comment:

  1. Glad to see that you two are doing so well! Tell Mike his friends from the slope said hi! We look forward to seeing your updates.
    ~Braden

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