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MIGRATIONS #5

TRANSITIONS

5th October 2006 -- 9th March 2007


6 March 2007
17 21.4 N   101 20.5W
90 miles North of Acapulco
8 miles off the coast

Evolution. Movement. Modification. Conversion. Change. Passage. Transformation. Leap. Progression. Vicissitude.

Transition.

Not only is my computer’s thesaurus useful, but very wise as well. The list couldn’t be more appropriate as I attempt to describe the past 8 months.

8 months?! It’s been that long since I last wrote? Ayyyy, terrible correspondent me.

Well, I’ll try to cover all that time as we make our 3-day, 350 mile passage from Zihuatanejo, Guerrero to Huatulco, Oaxaca.

And what a great place, and perfect time, to be talking about transitions as this passage is a huge transition for me. Last time I cruised Mexico, Zihuatanejo was the farthest south I traveled. Now, as we sail smoothly along at 6 knots in a perfect 10-12 knot breeze, each mile is new territory. New latitudes, new anchorages, new countries, new life.

 

CRUISING to LAND-LIFE
Last time I wrote was 4th August 2006. I was leaving Migration in La Paz to head back to Long Beach. Well, a children’s book writers conference, a board meeting, several weeks of consulting work back at my old job, lots of shopping for boat parts, scores of long distance phone calls to Alene in Ohio, a great deal of musing about the future, wonderful visits with family and friends, holidays observed, a birthday celebrated – all that packed into exactly two months.

Add to that the sensory overload of land-life. I stopped listening to NPR News. I didn’t read the paper or watch TV. It was just too much. It’s clear that the world has many troubles. And, of course, we should try to right the wrongs. But being told every few moments via newspapers, periodicals, radio and television how awful the world is doesn’t help. It just makes me feel bad and helpless and useless. There are few events so important they need to be blared out every minute. I can do with a news update every few weeks (or months). It’s surprising how little changes.

 

SOLO to DUO
What was all that “great deal of musing about the future” I mentioned above? Well, Alene and I had used our summer in the Sea of Cortez as a trial period to see whether we were going to stay together. To do so would require some changes in life plans. But it was clear after being together for all those months, and now being apart, that we needed to be with each other. So that’s a done deal. Here we are, now…. together. There’s no one I’d rather be sailing with.

 

SEA to LAND
Back to the cruising life. Sort of. On 4th October I headed back to Migration. While I was gone she had weathered Hurricane John which slammed La Paz on the 2nd of September. Luckily we had prepared her well for the possibility of a hurricane. With her sails and running rigging removed, extra fenders and eight stout lines holding her to her dock, she came through just fine. It was a nerve-wracking night I had up in California as I woke every few hours to check the storm’s track on the Internet.

 
Why you shouldn't check the Internet when your boat is near a hurricane...
Migration is pretty much under the "5 AM Sat" dot.

The most important thing I had to do now was get Migration hauled out at the boatyard. We couldn’t get sailing until we finished repairing the wing deck (which we had put off since last April). I thought we could get hauled out, do the work and be back in the water in 4 weeks. Well, this was a boat we were talking about… and we were in Mexico. Well, a man can dream, anyway.

Alene flew in on 12th October. Migration was still at the dock. She was there for nearly another week as each day we heard the mantra “Manana…”. But, finally, the yard hauled us and work began.

 
Migration heads for land.

Since we were going to be doing so much epoxying, we decided to stay off the boat – a small token to the preservation of our brain cells. In Zihautanejo in 2001, I’d met a neat couple who ran a 105-foot private sailboat. Since then they’d moved ashore and opened a B&B in La Paz. Casa Buena was a great place for us to stay. Milt & SuSu (and their daughter, Michelle) were wonderful friends to us. Milt is an excellent carpenter and helped with some of the more difficult repairs. Along with bed and breakfast our rent included many fine times sitting in the common palapa kitchen, chatting with SuSu, trading jokes with Milton, and playing with the dogs, cats and rabbit who were also part of the household. Alene was able to get her cat-fix from Dot the black cat, nearly every night.


SuSu is happy. Michelle's not so sure.


Milton at work.


Cracker the Dog... not at work.

 

OLD to NEW
Migration is a great boat. But she is an old boat. She was built in 1969 in Japan. Her construction is fiberglass over plywood. The wood is in good shape. The fiberglass is in good shape. Unfortunately, due to the 38 year old polyster resin she’s made of, the bond between the two is… well, mostly gone. So we peeled back the old glass, sanded, faired, fiberglassed, epoxied, faired, sanded, filled, sanded, epoxied, taped, filled, sanded… something like that.


Stripping off the old glass.


One side stripped of glass. Bow to Stern.


We had piles of old glass to throw away.


Under the glass we found Japanese writing
from when she was built in Japan in 1969.


Lots of sanding.


Preparing a piece of fiberglass cloth.


Once it was stuck, we quickly rolled on more
epoxy and smoothed it out.


Fairing compound all over.


After more sanding, she's ready for primer
and paint.


Beautiful!

 

It was many days of hard and exhausting work. Standing on barrels and looking up most of the time – we were working underneath the wing decks. At least it was in the shade! We had two helpers from the yard. Alene was the Princess Resina, measuring, mixing, stirring, and delivering the quantities we needed exactly when we needed them. And, of course, keeping everything clean and neat (she’s good at that).

 
Notice the correct wrist angle when stirring epoxy.
She's a pro!

There were surprises: Some wood had gotten wet and rotted. Old wounds that previous owners had repaired poorly. Work I had hired out when I first bought Migration that was sub-, sub-, sub-standard.

 
Problems under the aft port bunk from a
poorly done repair I hired out in 1991.


More problems on the outside of that same
old repair.


Some rotted wood needed to be removed
and replaced. This is where the wing deck
problem started.

 

And the usual boatyard chores. Cleaning and lubricating the prop, painting the bottom, thru-hull maintenance. We installed a new knotmeter/depthsounder. And a garbage disposal!


Hard at work.


The garbage disposal. It's a hole cut in the wing
deck (which we had just refiberglassed) right behind
the sink in the galley. You can remove a hatch and
drop vegetable trimmings into the sea. Very convenient.


You can also watch people snorkeling under
the boat.

 

Last summer in the Sea of Cortez we had an unfriendly meeting with an uncharted pinncle rock at Isla Salsipuedes (which translates to Island “Leave If You Can”). It caused some minor damage to the bottom of the keel. I’d been wanting to remove the plastic shoe and reglass the bottom of the keel for years so this was our chance. Unfortunately that project turned into reglassing the entire keel. What fun!


Keel without glass.

The interesting part about this huge project was how much I actually enjoyed life – even with the unpleasant surprises. Going through it all with Alene made it easier. And as we left the boatyard each day discussing what flavor of paleta (popsicle) we’d get on our way back to Casa Buena, I had little of the boatyard malaise and misery so common to my previous years with Migration.


Happy... or is it just the epoxy fumes...?


Not to say we weren't tired at the end of the day.

 

So the weeks passed. Some evenings we took time to go out to dinner with friends. Or to the air-conditioned Cinepolis for a movie (Don’t see Babel in Mexico unless you really want to work on your Spanish). La Paz is a great town. It has some tourist business but it is still very much a part of Mexico. The people are laid-back and friendly. Much different than the horrible Cabo San Lucas at the tip of the Baja. La Paz is also a hub of cruiser activity and many boats and friends we had spent time with during the summer were coming and going. Luckily, some of those friends were driving down from California. Jim & Chris on La Ballona brought hundreds of pounds of materials down for us. Roy & Marlene (s/v Jelly Bean) and Anita & Ron (s/v Liberty Call II) rounded out our supply crew.

Cruisers are just amazing people. We are part of a true community in the sense that everyone feels a kinship because of the life we lead. Therefore, most cruisers are always quick to lend a hand, loan a tool, share materials. Drive boxes of supplies down the Baja! As one example of how great the people are, George of s/v Southern Belle came over to the boatyard because “he had nothing else to do” and spent the day fiberglassing Migration. We’d only just met two days before. How cool is that?


George: I did all that fiberglassing!
Bruce: He wanted to help so much, I couldn't say no.

 

WORK to PLAY
We had planned on being in the water in time to sail to Puerto Vallarta for Thanksgiving with our friends David & Kim on Maluhia, and to meet my parents and my brother, sister-in-law and nephew who would be vacationing there the week after. With the added work of fiberglassing the keel, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen. So we booked plane tickets and took a 5 day holiday away from the boatyard.

Unfortunately, my father wasn’t feeling well enough to travel so Mom & Dad didn’t make it. But our time with Doug, Pseu and Sam was great fun. We spent a lot of time at the beach playing in the waves, and in the pool. And, of course, climbing stairs and riding escalators – Sam’s favorite pastime.

Back in La Paz we moved back aboard Migration and started working hard on the last few tasks.

 

LIFE to DEATH
I believe that where there is heartbreak, there is often a path to happiness. Where there is adversity, I can find learning. Where there is confusion, there can be reason.

Our boat work wasn’t just delayed because of surprise projects; there were aggravating delays with the boatyard, four days lost when a hurricane threatened, rain and wind which impeded painting. I’d tried to do everything right. Plan it out. Make agreements with the yard. Keep to as much of a schedule as possible. But it seemed like it was for naught. My frustration mounted.

In the end, how glad I was for the delays. If the boat had been finished and launched earlier, we might have been thousands of miles away. We might have been far out at sea. But we weren’t. We were someplace fairly close to California where we could easily leave the boat unattended.

The symptoms which kept Dad from vacationing in Puerto Vallarta turned serious enough to put him in the hospital. Alene and I rented a car on December 9th and drove the 1,000 miles up the Baja to Long Beach. The melanoma that had been removed from Dad’s skin over the past few years had spread to his organs. How grateful we were to be able to spend time with him and be some help to Mom. Two weeks after we arrived, Dad passed away. Mom, my brothers Doug and Charles, and I were with him.

What an amazing man he was. And a father that was inspiring and loving. I was proud to be his son. And proud to be a part of his memorial service. We created a web site for family and friends who couldn’t be there. If you'd like to know more about Dad, you can visit the site here: www.brucebalan.com/bob

 



 

Alene and I stayed in Long Beach a while longer to help Mom. Then we stuffed our tiny VW Pointer with loads of boat parts and Trader Joe’s foods, and headed back down the Baja. It’s a very beautiful drive. If you ever have a chance, do it.


The Baja has really short cactus, or really tall people.

 

SUMMER to WINTER
Back in La Paz, we worked hard to finish up the last of our tasks on Migration. Life was different in the boatyard now. It was cold! We no longer craved icy paletas at the end of our work day. Instead we bought warm freshly fried churros from the street vendors. We slept with a duvet and wore jackets in the evening. A big change from the 90-100 degree days when we first arrived back in October.

 

LAND to SEA
We finished our work. Now we needed the boatyard to finish its work and launch us. But, the manana mantra prevailed. All the workers were sent to clean the smokestacks of the local power plant. They’d be back tomorrow. But which tomorrow?

Patience is a good thing in Mexican boatyards.


Look at that shiny prop... and smile.

 


Removing the blue tape... it means you are almost done!

 


Finished!

 


Ready for launch.

 

Finally, the day arrived. All of a sudden, within a few hours on January 24th, we were back in the water. Migration floated again and as we slept at anchor in a small cove that evening, we floated happily as well.

 

STATIONARY to MOVEMENT
We didn’t wait a single day. The next morning we raised anchor and headed out of Bahia de La Paz. Ecstatic to be underway, we waved goodbye to a fantastic town that we will both miss.

A day’s sail to Bahia de Los Muertos, a few days to rest up and then we left on the 320 mile passage across the Sea of Cortez to the mainland. I’d crossed four times already and I’ve been pretty lucky with every one. The fifth crossing was one of the best. Perfect winds almost the whole way.


Sailing in the Baja in winter. Brrrr-y.

A highlight of this passage was our fishing. We caught four yellow-fin tuna. There is nothing like ahi sashimi 5 minutes after it’s been pulled in on the line. We ate well.


Soon to be sashimi, the bottom one looks a bit surprised by this turn of fate.

The ahi were not our only catches. On the morning after our first night at sea, we found 8 squid on deck. They were small but still I fried them up. Tasty, but lots of work as I tried to clean them like big squid. The following morning we found 40 squid! In fact we found squids 41, 42, and 43 hiding in the cockpit cushions two weeks later! (Actually, our friends on s/v Amorita were visiting with their beagle puppy, Cee-Oh, and the puppy gets credit for the discovery.)


Mmmm... yummy!

 

We arrived at Punta de Mita at the head of Banderas bay on January 29th. A few days there, a day and a night anchored at La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, and then we moved into Marina Nuevo Vallarta where we tied between two pilings. Here we were able to spend lots of time with our close friends Kim and David on Maluhia, as well as many other cruiser friends.


Sunrise as we approach Banderas Bay.

 

Of course we had a lot to do. Many projects that had been ignored while we worked in the boatyard. We needed to give the boat a good scrubby as she still had boatyard stains, dust, and rust on her new decks. We had a new autopilot to install, engine maintenance to perform, new instruments to wire, and both our outboards were giving us trouble. But we could break up the work with trips by dinghy over to Paradise Village resort to use the pool and go down the great crocodile waterslide.


When you defrost the fridge, you get to make a snowman with the ice!

 

Our outboards were stuck in manana-land. We finally gave up, collected them – unrepaired – and headed south.

Passing around Cabo Corrientes – notorious for high winds – was a motorboat ride. Calm seas, no wind. We just had to keep a close eye out so as to not run over the scores of sea turtles floating in the area.

We spent a week in the Tenacatita-Barra de Navidad area. A very poignant time as this was where Alene and I met 14 months previously. This was where we swam with dolphins on our first day sailing together. This was where (hankies out, please), we fell in love.

Here we also had to say goodbye to some of our best cruising friends who were heading north back to the Sea of Cortez. But for us, the South beckoned.


A seahorse hanging on our anchor chain in Tenacatita. The first one I've seen outside of an aquarium.

 

A 210 mile 2-night passage brought us to Zihuatanejo. A nice sail punctuated by a brief visit by a whale in the middle of one of my night watches. It’s a really cool thing when they surface so close… after the heart stops racing from the surprise.

Zihuatanejo is one of my favorite places in Mexico. A beautiful town with a casual ambiance and a beautiful bay. The public mercado is a blast. Narrow aisles with all the sights and sounds of a typical Mexican market. Fresh vegetables next to fresh tortillas next to Spongebob Squarepants mylar balloons next to pig heads (real ones). It also meets one of our most important criteria. No, not good holding ground in the anchorage – though that is crucial.
 

They have great paletas.

 


Migration anchored in Zihuatanejo


 

And that, – hardly in a nutshell but quite edited (really!) – brings us to today: the 9th of March.

The sun just rose off the starboard bow. The sky is clear except for a line of low clouds to the East, one of which looks exactly like a seahorse. We’re sailing along at 2.5 knots, but have a surprising favorable current of almost 3 knots. Which adds up to a respectable pace of 5 ½ knots.

It’s 7AM and the temperature is 80ºF. The water is a deep warm blue. Its temperature is 85.

A frigate bird flies past, a little higher than the mast; its forked tail looking very prehistoric. A few moments ago a boobie bird skimmed the waves just behind the boat. The fishing lines trail lazily. Nothing caught on this passage.

Two miles to port, the Sierra Madres come down to meet the sea. In the morning haze their layers look like purple cutouts above the brown low hills of the coastline. 11 miles ahead is Huatulco. Alene is off-watch, asleep below. I’m typing quickly, trying to finish this before the sun rises high enough to wash out the computer screen.

Fitfully sleeping for a few hours last night, I thought – or dreamed – of Dad. I’d always assumed it was my Mom’s idea when she said to my brother Doug and I, when we were both 13, “Why don’t you learn to sail this summer?” I asked her about it recently and she told me, no, it was Dad’s idea.

Doug and I had answered “Sure, why not?” It never would have occurred to me to sail. But that suggestion has shaped my life’s journey probably more than any other. Obviously it has led me to this serene spot, out on the sea, off the coast of Mexico.
Where I am very happy.
 

Thanks, Dad.

 

 

Peace,

and Be Good,

BB

 


Where we've been since August 2006 (departing La Paz January 2007)
1,183 nautical miles traveled this period.
5,008 nautical miles traveled since departing Long Beach, June 2005

   

 

This site was last updated 01/31/12