Ask and ye shall receive. Today I saw the most incredible animal (well, technically a fish), I’ve ever seen in person, save for elephants. And nearly as big.
As we pulled up to the village of Bahia de los Angeles, our intended pit stop for the morning to stock up on some fresh produce and a little time on the local wifi, we saw a panga with people swimming just off it. I ask Stu what was in the water, and he said ‘Someone’s head…wait, no, I think it is a whale shark’. Never more than an arm’s reach away, I pulled the binoculars to my face and saw a rounded dorsal fin poking out of the water. I said, ‘No, that can’t be a whale shark, it has a dorsal fin’. See, with this incredible beast I’ve been so obsessed to catch sight of, I hadn’t even clocked the fact it had a dorsal fin. A second look through the binoculars and I realized there were the tell-tale spots on the dorsal fin. A whale shark! A real whale shark, in-person! I started jumping up and down on the spot, absolutely elated we were seeing one, even if it was several hundred meters away.
After dropping our anchor and lowering the dinghy into the water, we nipped into the beach so I could scour the local tienda for some fresh fruit and veggies. After a decent stock-up, we returned to the dinghy, and as we were departing the beach, noticed we could see the same dorsal fin not far from our boat. Stu and I consulted each other with a glance, knowing we didn’t want to harass the beautiful fish, but longing for a closer look. We decided to go closer toward the whale shark, then cut the motor and see if we were able to drift closer.
Not only did we drift closer, but she (for some reason, I feel every whale shark must be a she) turned toward us and did several passes right next to the dinghy. As she passed, she literally took my breath away. Even the kids, who usually have something they’re making endless noise about, were holding their breath and watching in awe as the easily 15 foot long fish wound its way past the boat. It is pretty surreal to see something large enough to easily flip the small boat we were sitting in just saunter by, the essence of a gentle beast.
I had my phone out and ready to take photos and videos, and then flip flopped back and forth between wanting to record it, and just wanting to watch and take her in. I honestly don’t remember when I hit record, and when I didn’t, but I do know that my memory feels like I didn’t watch nearly enough, and my photos folder on my phone tells me I don’t have enough recorded memories of her for my liking. I find that a perpetual struggle as we witness this incredible countryside, ocean and all its wildlife – I want to just watch and absorb, but I also revel in the photos and videos after the fact, and always wish I had taken more. It really does make the ‘perfect shot’ less special when you can take endless amounts, and delete those you don’t like with ease; it doesn’t feel that long ago that I had to wait until I returned from four months in Kenya to develop the 25 rolls of film I’d shot while there, not knowing what had worked and what hadn’t. Oh, and it was 21 years ago I returned, so it was a little longer than memory serves.
We spent the better part of the day anchored off the beach there, watching one, then two, then three whale sharks swim around, seemingly unaware of the regular brigade of pangas coming by with people to watch them. I noted to Stu that I can see why they were called whale sharks, what with their incredible size, and the sight of their dorsal and tail fin zig zagging through the water at the surface as they swim. I admit that from the corner of my eye I would have assumed Jaws was on his way for a taste.
We’re planning to hang around Bahia de los Angeles until we don’t want to anymore, so fingers crossed this won’t be our only encounter with these magnificent beasts!
As we approached the bay of Ballandra on Isla Carmen, I was increasingly nervous as I counted 3, then 4, then 5, then 6 other boats anchored inside the small cove. But, as we’ve learned almost every time we’ve anchored, everything seems way closer when we’re on the boat then when we have perspective off the boat. We were able to find plenty of room in the end, and anchored in about 15 feet of clear water with loads of fish swimming around beneath the boat. As we arrived we could see everyone gathered on SV Catspaw, with Rick working a fishing rod over the side. We quickly donned our sunscreen, the girl’s sunsuits, and our sun hats (leaving the boat is always a production!), dropped in the paddle boards and paddled over to check out what was going on.
Turns out, Rick had found a special spot for trigger fish, and had already caught 4 or 5. We see trigger fish everywhere here, zipping around with their dorsal and pectoral fins wriggling back and forth in opposite directions. It was decided that Rick and Cynthia were going to be making fish and chips for everyone that night, and that some of us needed to learn how to properly clean a trigger fish. So, Cynthia gathered Cheryl (Wahina Toa), Sarah (Mapache) and I on the side deck to show us, which is entertaining in-itself considering Sarah and I (and the rest of Skookum V) are primarily plant-based. But, always open to learning new things and thankful for Catspaw’s infinite generosity, we dove in.
We spent a good part of the afternoon hanging around and on Catspaw as the fish were caught and cleaned, alternating between the deck, the dinghies and our paddle boards. As the girls had been growing increasingly comfortable with the water, Stu suggested to Lily that she try jumping off the dinghy she was sitting in. Before we knew it, she’d jumped in and then immediately started swimming away from the boat. We asked her where she was going and she replied ‘To go get Marshall’, and just kept swimming. Marshall is her Paw Patrol figurine. Which was on our boat. About 200 metres away. Thankfully, our buddy Rob (fondly referred to now as ‘Uncle Rob) quickly swam after her to coax her back to the boat, which wasn’t that tricky after she was stung by a little jelly fish (all good, it’s happened to all of us and totally fine).
That night we had a feast of fried fish and jicama fries…we all rolled into bed with full bellies that evening. A little tequila and mescal may have been imbibed as well. In fact, we pretty much spent the whole time in Ballandra eating, as the next evening was a huge Middle Eastern feast as well. Needless to say, our waistlines have not benefitted from this special social time.
Earlier this year, before we hit the warmer weather, we had been warned that bees can be a little bit of an issue in the Sea. Basically, as the weather warms up, and any semblance of natural fresh water evaporates, the bees are starved for fresh drinking water. Needless to say, sailboats tend to have fresh water available to them, between rinsing off salty bodies on the back deck, dish water, drinking water and those boats who have the fortune of a fresh water rinse for the anchor. While we were at Ballandra, we had our initiation into the arrival of bees, late afternoon when the day was its hottest. We were supposed to be hosting everyone for happy hour, but the bees decided they would take over our cockpit first. Fortunately, we were able to quickly close up the boat, and once the bees determined there was no fresh water available to them, they moved on, and happy hour could commence.
With its clear, warm water, Ballandra (this time around) was a favourite. Some of us did a little snorkeling of the reef inside the bay, and all told we saw dolphins, many different fish, a lobster and octopuses (Catspaw saw the octopuses, we saw the lobster). Several evenings were spent, post feasting, on our trampoline watching the sunset and looking for shooting stars.
We awoke the morning of our intended departure from Puerto Escondido to a message from our friends on SV Alegria asking us if it was windy where we were. Mike and Katie on Alegria, and Dave and Marla on SV Cavu were both anchored in an anchorage about 7 nautical miles south of us called Candeleros. It turned out they’d had an incredibly rolly night in the anchorage with sustained winds over 30 knots for about 18 hours, gusting up into the 40s. The seas were choppy around them, causing damage to a neighbour’s jib that accidentally unfurled and flipping a dingy unexpectedly. In the meantime, this is what it looked like where we were:
We were surprised to hear of the conditions, and admittedly a little hesitant to head out in that direction if it was going to mean another rolly non-sleep. But, itching to catch back up with our friends who we’d not seen since February 1st, we decided to do it anyway. But, before doing so, a few final chores:
Getting in some last-minute internet for research, emails etc.
Filling the water tanks, which involves unearthing the hose from the forward lazarette, hauling it along the boat to the dock, connecting it and watching as it fills so we don’t overfill one of the tanks
Getting rid of our last garbage up at the top of the dock
Topping up our dinghy fuel (taking jerry cans up the dock to be fueled at the fuel dock)
Saying goodbye to our dock friends
Most importantly, buying an ice cream to enjoy on the way out
Once we’d covered all those items, we took off from the dock. Stu and I have been taking every time we land at the dock, and every departure, to practice our dock-related skills. This time we were departing with a wind that was blowing us back on the dock, and we wanted to try a slightly different technique where we re-rigged the dock line at the bow so I could release it while on the boat after having let off the stern line, instead of our usual technique where I release the bow, then the spring line (at the middle of the boat), and then we pivot out on the stern line, and I release it last as I step on the boat. Our new technique worked, and it was nice to have another practice under our belts.
The rocky and rolly seas our friends had slept through the prior night were evident as we left the protection of the marina and headed out. We played around with the sails a little bit. There is a funny passage between a few islets as we turn toward the anchorage, and it really played with our sails the last time we passed through, so we just decided to save ourselves the hassle and motored most of the way.
The anchorage we were headed to is called Candeleros Chico, and is noted in the cruising guide as quite small, without much room for more than one boat, but our friends assured us it was great and proving way more protected than where they’d been the prior night. We were a little suspicious as we rounded the corner and saw it from outside in the passage, as it didn’t look protected at all, but it really turned out that it different once we were inside. We nearly missed our opportunity to anchor here as we approached, as a small fishing power boat arrived at full speed and passed us entering the anchorage, looking to drop its hook right where we intended. Thankfully, they were very generous and asked if we were with the other boat already anchored (which we were) and elected to leave so we could have the spot.
An awesome reunion with SV Alegria was had, and we were really spoiled by Mike and Katie (and their buddy Chris who was joining them for the week) sharing their self-caught yellowfin tuna with us. Sashimi and rolls were quickly made, and devoured! While we have continued our plant-based ways most of the time while we’ve been here, we’re not inclined to turn down a treat and opportunity like this.
We are so thankful to our friends on SV Alegria for sharing this beautiful anchorage with us, as it has quickly become a favourite. Situated facing north-east, it isn’t an anchorage that would really have been possible before this time of the year when the winds switch from prevailing northerlies to more prevailing westerlies and southerlies. We were tucked inside a little ‘hook’ of rock that rises about 5 or 6 stories, and offered great protection from the north. On the other side of us was a small window out into the Sea, which empties to a shallow passage at low tide, with lots to see from the paddle board. A variety of cactus cover the surrounding hills, and, as pointed out by Mike on Alegria, the bigger mountains in the distance that form part of the Sierra de Gigante range look like the mountains of Cambodia near Ankor Wat, temple-like in their appearance.
The water at Candeleros Chico was clearer than we’d seen since leaving La Paz, and we could see straight to the bottom in the 15 foot depth we were anchored in.
Close at hand in Candeleros Chico is the reality of the fishing industry that surrounds us in the Sea of Cortez. Littering the beach on one side is what Stu dubbed the ‘fish graveyard’, where we can see the heads and tails of mobula rays who were likely bi-catch in the fishermans nets. While mobulas aren’t traditionally caught on purpose, they’re commonly caught unintentionally in the fisherman’s nets. It isn’t entirely uncommon for the mobula’s ‘wings’ to be sliced off, and sometimes hole-punched to be sold as scallops (so beware when ordering scallops in this part of Mexico – if they’re too perfect a circle, they’re likely not a real scallop). As the wind shifted several times while we were there, we ended up downwind of the rotting carcuses from time to time, which was a tough reminder of those dead rays.
We had a lovely time catching up with Mike and Katie, daydreaming of future adventures and sharing sailing tails. I was able to join them and Chris for a hike over to another bay south of the anchorage, where we saw many different cacti in bloom, crabs scurrying over rocks by the water and a small dolphin show in the neighbouring bay. This is the first time I’ve seen the dolphins as active as they were, jumping clear out of the water and flipping around as if they’d been trained to do so. It is impossible not to whoop and holler when witnessing this display of what I can only imagine is pure joy!
We had planned to leave for Puerto Escondido with Catspaw and Mapache, but the weather had shifted a bit, and we were facing some northerly wind with some decent swells. Having already bashed our way through something like this at an earlier date, we decided to stay put for a few extra days, and wait out a break in the weather. Unfortunately, both Catspaw and Mapache had reasons they needed to be on wifi in short order, and the wifi available for a fee from the small tienda in Agua Verde wasn’t quite strong enough to meet their needs, so they made their way north through the waves. This was actually a really good reminder that even when we ‘buddy boat’, we still need to review each situation and make our own, independent decisions that reflect our own circumstances, needs and comfort levels. It is easy to be caught up in what everyone else is doing, or to want to stick together, when maybe it isn’t necessary. In this case, putting ourselves, the girls and the boat through a day of bouncing along the waves, when we had no real reason to do so, was worth taking into consideration. It did allow us an extra day to take the girls over the hill next to us for a little walk in the arroyo.
So, a few days after our friends departed, we pulled anchored and followed. It was a calm passage, without much wind, so we were able to play with our sails a bit, and pull the spinnaker out once again.
We radioed ahead as we approached Puerto Escondido to check in with the marina and confirm they had a spot for us. There are two options when staying in the incredibly sheltered spot that is PE, either tied to a mooring ball (a floating ball that is already anchored into the sea floor), or on the dock. While it is considerably less expensive to be on the mooring ball, there are a few advantages for us being tied to the dock. First, we’re able to access a high-speed Ethernet cable, so Stu can get work done at all hours of the day without having to leave the boat every time to access the Wifi on shore. Being tied to the dock means a very easy a frequent walk to the pool at PE, which is a huge help as the girls always go a little nutty when we’re at the dock, without regular trips to the beach, and we have to have our heads on a swivel at all times with the various dangers that arise.
Returning to the dock at PE felt a little like coming home to a familiar place, as all the staff at the marina recognized us and welcomed us, and took the time to stop and see how we were doing and say hi to the girls. We also ran into several people we’d met previously, which made for some fun catch-ups as well.
Our first night there, our friends on Catspaw, Mapache and Wahina Toa joined us at the restaurant at the top of the dock called La Brisa for a tasty meal that none of us had to cook! Getting to share our respective tales of the day’s sail while sitting around a table (instead of crowding around someone’s cockpit) felt quite civilized – and the margaritas weren’t half bad either.
It was a short stop in PE this time, but still enough time for some re-provisioning (grocery shopping), socializing, for some catch up on the morning radio ‘net’, and for Stu to dismantle the old watermaker and start installing the new one. Radio nets have been a regular part of the cruising life for decades. They take place either over VHF radio or single side band (SSB) radio (for those people who have HAM radio licenses). A cruiser in the area acts as the ‘net controller’ and leads an ‘on-the-air’ gathering through a radio call, and there is generally a pattern to the discussion:
They’ll ask if anyone has any medical or other emergencies, and then whether anyone heard anyone else with medical or other emergencies to pass on
There is sometimes a general ‘check in’, where everyone on the net introduces themselves, their boat name and sometimes a note about where they are or the conditions where they are
Someone will give a weather report for the area and a report on the local tides
There is often a call for ‘local assistance’ so anyone who needs help with something in the area can ask and those participating can answer (such as, ‘where can I get a COVID test before flying to ___’, or ‘hey, I need someone to do a repair on this sail, who should I talk to’ etc.
Here in Mexico, one is not permitted to sell anything without a proper Mexican business license, so there is always a part of the net dedicated to ‘swaps and trades for coconuts’ (basically, no one is supposed to advertise anything for sale, whether it be parts or services, but the reality is they get in touch after the morning’s net and talk dollars and cents under the radar)
Truth be told, the useful information we can get from a radio net is relatively minimal, and it is often a place for the salty dog sailors to chat about nothing in particular. The radio nets are becoming less frequent as everyone has cell phones or satellite connections, with more frequent access to cell service and social media, so they’re finding ways to connect directly for information. While more convenient, I personally find it sad to see this but of nostalgia that was so particular to the boating world dying off. I distinctly remember getting up in the morning while out on a sailing trip with my Dad, waking to the smell of coffee percolating over a propane stove, and the sound of the morning’s radio net telling us what the day’s weather would be, and all the other tidbits of information. Plus, it is always entertaining to find out what you can get for some ‘coconuts’ (the best so far being an inversion table – you know, that thing you strap your ankles into and turn upside down? Who has room for THAT on a boat?!)
Having offloaded our old watermaker to another boat who were short on funds but clearly stocked with technical knowledge (the old watermaker had some work that needed to be done to it), we had a quick visit with our buddies on Red Rover, topped up our water tanks, filled up the dinghy gas tank and prepared to head out to meet up with our friends from the boat yard in Puerto Penasco, SV Alegria and SV Cavu.
I have lived my life for the last 15 years with the week starting on Monday. I have asked Stu no less than 3 times in the last two days, ‘What day is it?’, as I’m completely discombobulated not living my life via the work week. It is going to take some getting used to, but I suspect it’s going to feel a tad glorious!
So, here we sit in Astilleros Cabrales, the boat yard in Puerto Penasco, Mexico, five days after making our middle of the night departure from Pemberton. Oddly enough, this 40ft by 20ft boat already feels quite a bit like home, as the girls settle in, monkeying around everything. We’re anxious to ‘splash’ and get the boat in the water, but know there are several more hurdles to cross before we can do so.
We’ve gone through almost every locker on the boat (pardon the boat terminology):
(2 under each of the 3 berths (or beds),
3 in each of the cabins (or rooms),
2 in the middle of ‘our’ side of the boat,
the 1 in front of our head (toilet)
2 above the chart table,
the 1 where the propane is stored,
the 1 under the helm (read ‘steering wheel’),
the 6 in the galley (kitchen),
the 1 lazarette (locker) at the stern (back), and
the 2 large ones toward the bow (front).
We have 3 left, under the settee (couch) in the salon (main living area), and then we’ve at least gone through the main storage compartments, unearthing what is there, determining what we need and deciding what we don’t. In some ways, it’s a full continuation of what we’ve spent the better part of the last six months doing. If anyone needs someone to sort, purge or organize their living space…please look elsewhere, I’ve retired.
Thereafter we’ll be doing a more extensive provision (buying groceries and supplies); continuing to test the various systems on board; awaiting delivery of several things we’ve ordered and generally getting to know the boat better.
Our voyage to Puerto Penasco was relatively uneventful, thankfully. We found ourselves in the plushest of plush sprinter vans for the quiet drive from Pemberton to YVR, thanks to the awesome service of our pal, Mike Manale and Limobook. Ellie excitedly babbled the entire drive down, over the moon about her upcoming airplane. Lily slept, save for a few awake moments where she, in typical Lily fashion, asked for food. The Vancouver International Airport was all but a ghost town, and our first flight to Calgary more than half-empty. Calgary to Phoenix was smooth, and the girls were incredible travellers the entire way.
The real adventure started after we successfully collected all our luggage (four large duffel bags and three large bins, plus backpacks and car seats) from the carrousel in Phoenix and were met by what was supposed to be a large transit van (pre-arranged by Stu before we had left). Instead we were met by a Toyota Carola, to which the driver simply looked at our two luggage carts, shook his head and immediately called his boss. Ever the gracious Mexicans, they promised they’d immediately send a more appropriate ride, telling us to keep our eyes out for a four-door Nissan Frontier pick-up. Within the hour, attempt #2 arrives, in the form of Toyota RAV4. I was doubtful, but lo and behold, everything fit in, including the car seats and all of us. We had a quiet drive to the border, as we all fell asleep for the majority of the three hours.
We were uncertain what would happen as we pulled up to Trump’s infamous ‘wall’ backlit by a typical stunning Baja sunset. In a matter of seconds, our driver drove through, and before we knew it, we were across the line, without even opening our passports, let alone speaking with anyone. However, the moment we pulled through, the car popped a tire simultaneously with Lily waking up with some dangerous sounding farts. As we pulled into the shuttle office, the flat tire was confirmed, as was the disaster in Lily’s pants (newly toilet trained, and doing SO well until then). So, while Stu transported all the luggage into a different minivan, I ventured into a rustic Mexican toilet to clean Lily up and calm her poor cries.
From there it was another 90 minutes to the boat yard, and before we knew it we were driving up right below her bow, looking at her from below, and unloading our worldly possessions on board. We had arrived, ready to start this next chapter of our lives.
We are just under 23 hours away from our plane taxi-ing away from YVR, with almost all our worldly possessions tucked inside its luggage compartment – next destination: Skookum V (yes, we’ve landed on a name, more on that later).
As I sit here in the early hours of our last day in Canada, I want to post a poem Stu shared with me as a gift which, typical of John O’Donohue, encapsulates so many of my feelings of why we’re going and what I’m seeking:
For A New Beginning – John O’Donohue
In out-of-the-way places of the heart, Where your thoughts never think to wander, This beginning has been quietly forming, Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire, Feeling the emptiness growing inside you, Noticing how you willed yourself on, Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety And the gray promises that sameness whispered, Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent, Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled, And out you stepped onto new ground, Your eyes young again with energy and dream, A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear You can trust the promise of this opening; Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure; Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk; Soon you will home in a new rhythm, For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
As I look back at the nearly six months since we made this life-altering decision, I am feeling, as the kids these days say, ‘all the feels’. We have had our engines on full-steam for nearly half a year, renovating a home, sorting, purging, selling, giving away and organizing everything we own, selling a home, buying a boat, wrapping up a 15-year law practice, moving in with friends, selling two cars, and don’t forget Stu’s whirlwind trip to Mexico to ensure the boat was the right one for us. All during a global pandemic.
Now here we sit, on the precipice of this adventure, and I’m thoroughly excited and terrified at the same time. I’m also completely gutted at not getting to say the goodbyes we would like. Missing hugs and close contact with so many we love. But, (aside from the pending international travel), we’re doing what we can to do our part in keeping everyone safe and healthy, and part of that means forfeiting ‘adios’ with so many people.
As we prepare our bags and bins one more time, do last-minute piles of laundry, and generally freak out about all the things we’re sure we didn’t get done (but can’t quite remember), we want to extend some pretty major thank yous into the universe.
Thank you for all the privilege we have, for living in a time, place and country that permitted us to build a safe and prosperous life, that is now facilitating us making some very different decisions.
Thank you to our families, who love and support us, no matter the hair-brained choices we make. Special thanks to my brother and sister for taking on some of the ‘stuff’ storage, allowing us to keep family mementos somewhere safe.
A special Thank You to my parents who, while no longer with us, planted the seed for these adventures when I was a child; introducing me to sailing and travel, and giving me my first copy of Robin Lee Graham’s book, Dove.
Thank you to Kennedy Justinen, our intrepid nanny from August to November, without whom we could never accomplished all the things we needed to do to get our house ready and sold. We could put our heads down and work hard knowing our girls were in safe and steady hands, and happy to be with their ‘Ken-Na-Dee’. We are proud of you, Kenno, as you continue to strive for and seek out your big goals…and your berth is waiting for you to join us on the boat!
Thank you to our amazing friends, Nate and Christina, for their timely purchase of a house with enough space to house us once our own home sold. But, more importantly, thank you for all the laughter; epic plant-based meals; tolerance of our not-quite-potty-trained youngest; cocktails, wine and beer; kitchen dance parties; potato chips; sourdough schooling; childcare; bestie baths; and of course, for making your home a home for us! We are going to miss you so much!
Thank you to our Whistler neighbours and friends, Sarah, Andrew and baby Aslo for being there. For morning hellos as you walked Phoenix. For ‘Furch’ and pancake breakfasts. For ALL the help in our endless renos! For Aslo cuddles, and Lily giggles and that time you looked after our girls for 4 days and it turned into 7! We couldn’t have dreamed up better people to live across the street from, and it’s been our joy to watch your family grow before our very eyes.
Thank you to my partners and colleagues, who have graciously supported my departure/retirement, despite the fact it has added to the workload of many, and required several to step into new roles. Special thanks to Pamela and Chad, who are bearing the brunt of much of it, and who I am proud to have been able to introduce my clients to.
Thank you to Behan and Jamie Gifford of SV Totem for their coaching and guidance, getting us to this point is such short order.
Thank you to Ken, for selling us his little sailing home to care for going forward. We know how hard a decision this was for you, and we look forward to continuing her journeys.
Thank you to all our friends, near and far, at various places around the world, for supporting and encouraging us with your words, messages, notes and posts! We made sure to buy a boat with a third cabin for the express purpose of having space for you all to visit! Our floating home is yours (once travel is doable again), and we really can’t wait to host you!