The Vilisar Times

The life and times of Ronald and Kathleen and our voyages aboard S/V Vilisar, a 34.5-foot wooden Wm-Atkin-designed sailing cutter launched in Victoria, BC, Canada, in 1974. Since we moved aboard in 2001 Vilisar has been to Alaska, British Columbia, California, Mexico, The Galapagos and mainland Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Isla San Cristobal, The Galapagos, Ecuador, Friday, April 21, 2006

Vilisar lies to her anchor in thirty feet of Wreck Bay’s crystal-clear water in the middle of a small flotilla of international, mainly European, cruising boats, as well as local fishing smacks. Our view over the bow is to the Galapagos Islands’ administrative capital and second-largest settlement, Baquerizo Moreno. Astern we look out to the stretch of sea to the northeast across which we arrived from Acapulco, Mexico. Sea lions dash and splash playfully all around us, and make occasional boarding attempts, one already successful. We (Kathleen, Andrew and Ronald) are weary after days and nights of continuous watchkeeping, after some occasionally worrisome moments. But we are safe and we are “here”.

Seventeen days earlier, after working all morning on 02 April 2006 to rig the vessel for an offshore passage (i.e. essentially changing her from a caravan to a seagoing vessel), after a brief row to shore in the morning for last-minute supplies and, as it turned out, an unexpected visit to the Capitania de Puerto (we had to make excuses why we had not reported in to him when we arrived), all of us keyed up, we finally haul in the anchor and motor northward and to windward out of Bahia de Marquez near Acapulco approximately mid-afternoon of 02 April. Rounding the point, we hoist our staysail and our BRD (Big Red Drifter), turn Vilisar on her new heading of 140º (mag.), and switch off the engine. The GPS reports coolly that we have 1,218 Nm to go to reach the GPS-waypoint off San Cristobal harbour. As we turn our backs on Acapulco and head now nearly southeast, the winds are brisk and we are making a breezy 4.5 knots with the Cap Horn windvane steering at the helm. The sun is hot. With the engine off now we enjoy the quiet. We start to relax.

We set two-hour watches and complete whatever storing and readying is still necessary both below (food, gear, sails, clothing, books, charts, etc.) and on deck (anchors and chains, fenders, dinghy spars, life jackets, GPS, compasses, etc.). We have promised ourselves to keep a fishing line out at all times. Three minutes after putting the lure into the water we have an 8-10-pound, silvery-striped Bonito flopping around on the bridge, the dark red blood from this tuna staining the bridge and running under the caprail. Everyone regards this as a terrific omen. It also obviates a discussion about what we were going to have for dinner.

The sun goes down in a golden glow and it is dark by 1930. Full of rice and fish à la Chinoise, we begin the trip with round-the-clock, two-hour watches beginning at 1800 that night. Our experience is that three-hours night watches are interminable, but two-hour gigs go by fairly quickly. With two-hour watches, you get four hours of good, deep sleep before you are roused again. At the beginning we are all out of sorts and “overnighted”. After a few days, however, we have settled into our new routine. The only change is when, somewhere along the way, we agree to start the watches on odd-hours since one crewman was getting three daylight watches (sunrise and sunset).

The nice afternoon wind is basically an onshore sea breeze. It lasts until roughly dark and then drops off. Sometime late at night a land breeze might pick up, and we might get a few knots of speed. But these alternating land-and-sea breezes are only felt along the coast, and are determined by the heating up of the land mass during the day and cooling off at night. Our SE route takes us at a slow tangent away from the Mexican coast, which runs here nearly east: we feel these winds for a few days and then no more. We are in the Horse Latitudes, famous for the lack of wind. Old sailing vessels started slaughtering the horses and other animals on board to conserve water. We are determined to sail as much of the route as possible and want to arrive in The Galapagos with full fuel tanks. We are patient and wait.

On Monday a booby lands on our bowsprit and hitches a ride for several days, leaving only once to forage, one assumes, and returns later. He refuses to share his perch with his fellow boobies, but he lets Andrew approach him to within touching distance. The bird shows no fear at all.

For two days we are also closely followed by a brown and white Pacific ray, whose wing span is easily three meters tip to tip. These wing-tips are frequently out of the water. His two eyes are out on stalks in advance of his head. From his stern he trails a long whip-like tail. His size and bizarre shape would make one anxious. But we know these large rays to be docile plankton-eaters. One theory aboard the Vilisar is that he has fallen in love with Vilisar. Another other theory is that the motion of the water flowing over the vessel’s hull is brushing off the thick layer of sea lice; the “Ray” is getting his dinner delivered. Attached to one of is wings is a foot-long fish of a pure and translucent white like a Chinese exotic goldfish, as well as a small brown fish attached farther back. I guess these are parasite fish, but we could not identify them from our books.

The ray tails us very closely. Once, to our surprise, he suddenly dashes off in a big flurry of seawater. Could it be that the tab of the windvane steering bopped him on his eye-snouts? He is soon back on station, however, though now he keeps a slightly greater distance. After two days he is gone.

When the wind is light, we run using only our red drifter, and on some rather windless days even put up the awning over the mainsail boom to give us protection in the cockpit from the tropical sunlight. Andrew is quite red after a few days, and we are all suffering from a loss of fluids and salts. We start taking daily doses of vitamins as well as electrolyte powders mixed into a Kool-Aid type drink. The electrolytes are composed of sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium, and make all the difference of one’s ability to function in the intense heat. Without them, your concentration, your mental acuity and even your eye-hand coordination suffers. You become listless, grumpy, and unable even to tie simple and well-known knots.

Our 1,200-mile voyage takes us through four weather zones. The windless “Horse Latitudes” are at the beginning; we are frequently becalmed, and our daily average speed is only about 2 knots. Later we encounter either the NE Trade Winds or the funnelling effects of the local Gulf of Tehuantepec gales. These latter are caused by a high pressure over the Gulf of Mexico and a low pressure on the Mexican Pacific coast. The winds are intensified as they come through the Tehuantepec gap from east to west, blasting passing ships with sudden gale-force winds from the east. These winds can be felt several hundred miles out to sea so maybe that’s what we were feeling. For a few days, anyway, we are making fantastic time of over one hundred nautical miles a day. Then we hit the ITCZ, the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone (aka “The Doldrums”) where we encounter the first rain we have experienced since Ensenada (south of San Diego and our first stop in Mexico) in February of last year. The Doldrums, always on the north side of the Equator and moving north as the northern summer advances, are currently lying between roughly ??º N and ??º N. The skies are full of huge puffy clouds, most of them beautiful to see after so many months of clear and cloudless blue skies. but some of them are black at the bottom with a curtain of dark rain at the bottom and lightening flashes top and bottom. By steering around these localized “line squalls” with their associated lightening and thunder, we also avoid getting a solid fresh-water shower-bath. All we can manage is a little spit and polish. Exiting this band of unsettled, humid and squally weather, we encounter, unfortunately, southeasterly winds and they stay right on the nose for the rest of our voyage to the Galapagos except for a day or so of unpleasantly stormy weather two where the wind in fact backs around to the east and blows up a bit. The result is overcast skies, very lumpy seas and occasionally waves big enough to slop over the caprail and onto the side deck or across the bridge. Once, at least, a wave rose up to port one night, curled over towards the helmsman, and totally inundated the cockpit with sea water. The generously-sized scuppers cleared the water away in seconds, of course, but the remainder of the night watch had to be endured in wet clothing.

Waves and winds always seem much bigger at night. As our voyage progresses we have the benefit of a waxing moon and finally nights of full or nearly full moons. On the nights with full moons we can hardly see the stars or planets to steer by. But it is bright enough that we can read the compass by moonlight. When the moon is not in the sky we have the same friendly stars and planets in the same skies every night for sixteen nights: half right and half high ahead of us is the Southern Cross; half left and rather low in the sky behind us the Big Dipper and the Polar Star; half right behind us and nearly directly overhead Orion’s Belt. These constellations also play a role in one worrying situation that arose as we are well advanced along our rhumb line.

Andrew notices one day that the GPS-compass is not in conformity with the magnetic binnacle compass. They disagree by about 45º or 50º. Had we been heading for a continent we might not fret. But we are trying to hit scattered islands in the South Pacific Ocean some 1,200 miles away. Even a small deviation might become meaningful across that distance. It would probably not be helpful to bypass the archipelago since the next stop would be Antarctica.

We compare the main GPS with our backup GPS: they agree with each other. We bring our small cabin compass on deck: it agrees with the cockpit compass but not the two GPS’s, i.e. the compasses agree with each other, and the GPS’s agree with each other, but GPS’s do not agree with compasses. Even eliminating the variation between magnetic and true (around here about 10º) does not get rid of the riddle. We scratch our heads for hours trying to figure out why the GPS and the compass will not agree. We speculate at first that World War III has been declared in our absence: the U.S. military, which runs the GPS satellites, have fudged the system as was actually done during the Gulf War in the early 1990’s (It has not been done since as the whole world now relies so heavily on GPS. But one never knows!) Then Kathleen wonders if the GPS might be proposing a more efficient “great-circle” route. But we cannot really get our minds around this.

In the end we follow the stars. The magnetic compasses agree with those constellations by which each of us as helmsman have been steering each night. We decide simply to follow the compass at roughly 140º (magnetic) and continue using the same stars every night for orientation. The anomaly crops up about one-third of the way through the voyage. After about two-thirds of the distance it disappears again and the GPS and the compass match again. Our apprehension disappears too.

We put up with weak following winds in the first portion of the trip but rely on our sails. Besides our pride as mariners, we could not in all honesty carry enough fuel to motor over 1,200 Nm. But in the windless ITCZ we start motor-sailing while we tell ourselves that we will go back to sailing once through. Encountering southeasterlies on the other side, however, makes us realize that we are either going to have to continue to motor, or we are going to beat directly to windward for days and days. We think if we “drive” the boat at moderate speeds we should be able to get maximum fuel efficiency and, if the winds do not shift, we could make it to San Cristobal under power.

Of course, we might simply sit and wait for better winds no matter how long that takes. We have plenty of food on board even after the fresh produce has been consumed, and even if we never catch anther fish (we never do after the first day). But would we have enough water? Kathleen has planned for about three gallons of consumption per day, or a gallon a person. In fact we use slightly less on the voyage thanks to our strict discipline. We carry about 60 U.S. gallons in two tanks under the settees in the main cabin, and we carry four extra 5-gallon jerry cans of drinking water lashed on deck to the cabin on either side of the mast. We filled up in Acapulco before leaving with agua purificada, i.e. bottled drinking water. At sea, all our dishwashing or other cleaning and bathing needs is done with warm, clean sea water (we generally strip off and take a bucket shower at least once a day); the fresh water is reserved for drinking (including hot drinks, Kool-aid-type flavoured drinks and just plain water). Tinned beer is extra. In fact, we arrive with water still in the tanks and the jerry jugs untouched. We also have four beers and most of a bottle of vodka left over.

Since we had sailed the first part of the voyage albeit very slowly, we were sure once we hit the Doldrums that we could motor the rest of the way if we needed to. But with the winds on the nose, would we have enough fuel? It is not just the headwinds that slow you down; with them come waves and each time Vilisar puts her head into an approaching wave she is slowed down. We never take a wave over the bow since Vilisar is wonderful about forcing the water way out to the sides. After hitting the southeasterlies south of the ITCZ, we are uncertain about our fuel reserves. One day we measure the tanks with our metal yardstick (we don’t have a fuel gauge), and find that our rate of consumption is actually less than expected. But, if we have to plough into waves and point the boat straight into the wind, our progress will be much slowed and the fuel still might not last. Everyone goes into overtime-prayer mode asking, if not for more helpful winds, at least for calmer seas. Eventually we get the latter and our speed and our rate of fuel consumption improve.

We have only one real heart-stopper on the trip. Still a day out from the first of the Galapagos Islands (Pinta), the engine suddenly starts missing. Put into neutral it recovers its rpm’s. But, as soon as it is put into gear, it falters again and threatens to die. In fact, it does finally die, and we are left drifting in weak winds and relatively calm seas. Contrary to what I have thought until then, the two fuel tanks on either side of the engine are not actually connected. Or more precisely, although connected, the engine draws fuel equally from each tank while in operation. We carry four 5-gallon jerry jugs of diesel fuel on deck and another ten gallons emergency reserve in the lazarette hold. Andrew and I pour the first four jugs of fuel into the port tank, which at that moment is less prone to saltwater slop and spray at that moment than the starboard deck. I assume that the fuel levels itself out down below between the two tanks. As it turns out, this is not the case, and the starboard tank later gets so low that the engine is sucking air. Definitely not a good thing for a diesel engine: if you run out of fuel you have to bleed the engine to get it running again; not something you really want to be doing as you roll around at sea.

An added complication is that our electrical panel shows our batteries are very low. This is incomprehensible since we have been running the engine and therefore the alternator for days. The batteries should be right up. Now we worry if we will have enough juice to get the heavy diesel started again. We decide to give the solar panels enough time during the day to charge the batteries up as far as possible. When we start up, we will also turn over the engine with the cylinders de-compressed until the flywheel has got some momentum. That ought to take much less power. For the moment we sail again and it is wonderful to have the noise gone. We sail slowly because the winds are very light. Although we are not within VHF-radio range of San Cristobal, with the winds from the SE, we cannot steer directly to the harbour. We might have to get a tow in or simple hang about for days waiting for the winds to change and hoping that the strong currents through the archipelago will not sweep us too far away.

Now here is another complication. On one of the boisterous nights at sea we blew our old mainsail! We were shortening sail in a blow and suddenly a huge tear opened up from the second reefing cringle forward and down. Andrew wrestled the sail down and lashed it to the boom. Later we dragged the storm tri-sail up from the forecastle and hoisted it. We have never had to use it up until now; I am glad that I did actually try it out experimentally while we were still in Long Beach marina. The tri-sail is run up the mast and the leach is tied to the boom or to a winch near the stern. It has a quite small surface, is cut very flat and is built tough to withstand storms. We sailed for the better part of a day coming into San Cristobal with the jib-, stay- and storm tri-sail and made reasonable progress until we could see San Cristobal Island in the distance and Baquierizo Moreno, the main town, slightly upwind of us. At this point we rolled the dice: the engine started. We motor-sail the last five miles.

So we arrive after seventeen days at sea with fuel and water (and beer) left, our mainsail ripped to shreds and, a foot-long tear in our red drifter and some fraying on the leach of the staysail. Our list of small and big work projects after this voyage, Vilisar’s longest to date, is fairly long. Beside the sail repairs we need to get a better grip on our electricals, our batteries. Vilisar’s topsides are brown with slime along the waterline as we come to anchor among the twenty-odd, mainly European cruising boats at San Cristobal. Vilisar’s hull, at least, is quite clean when we arrive after all the movement of water across for the past two and one-half weeks: that’s the way ablative paints work. They don’t work nearly as well when the boat is just sitting at anchor.

We managed our food, water and fuel well and realise we can make somewhat longer trips even without a watermaker. We were not great at catching fish along the way: after the Bonito near Acapulco, we did once hook a fabulous, three-foot mahi mahi (dorado) a few days short of San Cristobal. But the hook ripped out of its mouth as we were hauling him aboard and we never caught another fish.

It was especially great to have Andrew as crew on board. He jumps to help and even goes way out on the bowsprit to bring in sail while Vilisar pitches up and down in big waves. Just having a second person to help with sail changes and a third person to spread the load of watchkeeping made the voyage more enjoyable. Because the trip has taken a bit longer than expected, Andrew will now fly to Guayaquil from the Galapagos, and therefore will not be crewing with us as we had hoped. He has to get back to register at college again and to work a few weeks at his summer job. We’ll definitely miss him. This was the first time he has been back on the boat in over two years and the first time he has been alone on Vilisar with us.

Arriving in San Cristobal we find that the agent here who is supposed to have organised our cruising permit has only blank stares for us. But he sits right down and gets started. Most cruising boats are only making a stop for a few days or few weeks in the Galapagos on their way to French Polynesia (The Marquesas). Galapagos is on the “Coconut Milk Run” from the Panama Canal (Europeans or east-coast Americans) or Costa Rica (for west-coast Norteamericanos). We are unusual since we are planning to go from here to mainland Ecuador where we want to spend six months. Kathleen will be leading two-week workshops in four Ecuadorian cities including Quito and Riobamba for the Association of Ecuadorian Choirs. They will cover our domestic travel costs and lodge us with Ecuadorian families. This should be a great opportunity to see the country and improve out Spanish whilst making friends through music. And, if the concept works well, we might be able to use the same approach in other countries we visit as we circumnavigate. The agent is working on these permisos as well. All these things were supposed to be completed before we arrived and, in fact, we emailed him all the data and the application forms two months ago from Mexico. But the agent is fairly nonplussed: “I will submit on 03 May. Come back on 05 May and I shall have the cruising and visiting permits ready. Meanwhile look around. Of course, with such a complicated application my tip will be very big!”

After a couple of days of resting, visiting the vegetable markets, spending hours notifying family and friends that we have arrived safely and catching up on our emails we finally started serious sightseeing. There are sea lions in Hülle and Fülle right here in the harbour and there are even big green tortoises swimming around the boat. But yesterday (22 April) we take a tour with some other cruisers from Norway (including two little twin girls aged about six years who are circumnavigating with their parents) to the breeding station at the other end of this island and see about a dozen of the giant tortoises. We also visit a rainwater lake in the dormant cone of the largest volcano on the island. At about 700 metres altitude the place is semi-socked-in. But we can see the frigate birds circling around over the freshwater. We then drive to a rocky and lava-strewn beach to visit marine iguanas, ugly so-and-so’s that blend in with the black lava stones until you get too close and then spit at you. We all have lunch together at the tour leader’s house where his wife had prepared us a great lunch of fresh wahoo fish.

The town here has grown rapidly over the last decade in response to the government’s decision to encourage more tourism (much to the dismay of those who want to keep the Galapagos an isolated wilderness). Baquerizo Moreno definitely looks less run down than most Mexican towns and cities. But it is also newer and less crowded. Other cruisers tell us that it looks pretty good by comparison with the Ecuadorian mainland too. The people look smaller than in Mexico and with more indigenous blood. Everyone is friendly and helpful but definitely without the natural Mexican ebullience. It is of course much less cosmopolitan here than Mexico despite the steady stream of visiting small tour and cruising boats.

We are enjoying meeting other Europeans. Although there are now three, when we arrive there is only one US boat at anchor (S/V Altair out of Seattle with Paul and Suzette aboard: they are on the last legs of a six-year cruise and are headed back to Seattle via the Marquesas, Hawaii and perhaps SE Alaska). No other Canadians. There is a Russian catamaran, a German monohull (Monika and Felix aboard S/V Makani, Friedrichshafen), a South African sloop (S/V with and Jamie) and a whole slew of Norwegian, Danish and Finnish boats.

We meet the other cruisers in the little town. It is a little difficult to meet your cruising neighbours here at anchor since nobody launches a dinghy. The harbour is full of sea lions which will happily jump into your dink if it is left tied up to you boat or to the dock. In fact, I was lying on the starboard settee on the first day and looked up through the skylight to see the head and shoulders of a female sea lion that had just leaped aboard. She departed when I went on deck. The local fishing smacks use barbed wired to keep the mammals off: they are cute to watch in the water but they can make a big mess on your boat. If they jump into a light dinghy they can easily break the oars or do other physical damage as well. To discourage further visits I tied plastic bags and old rags to the lifelines. It seems to have discouraged them. But you can see the imps trying to get on the other boats all around us. And they can really spring high out of the water!) Instead of rowing ashore, everyone here uses water taxis to get ashore; they cost only fifty cents per person anyway. Things are even cheaper here than in Mexico.

I have received some translating work and the promise of more, so will focus on that to make a little cash reserve to help pay for the children’s flights to Ecuador as well as haulout and repairs to the boat when we get to Salinas or Bahia de Caráquez on the mainland. And, of course, at some point we are going to need new sails: these have come a long way. Repaired, they might get us to mainland Ecuador. But I don’t think they will take us on a longer voyage again, to Central America next winter, perhaps, or across the South Pacific to New Zealand next spring. But something will work out.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Vilisar arrives safely in The Galapagos
Wreck Bay, San Cristobal Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador

We arrived yesterday here at Wreck Bay in the Galapagos after a 17-day voyage (our longest offshore passage to date) from Acapulco, Mexico. After two and one-half weeks of standing watch we are glad to be on land, get a cold beer and some meat, fresh fruits and veggies. The trip had one or two "interesting" events but was never really dangerous. The biggest problem was too little wind or, alternatively, winds directly on the nose ("noserlies"). Son Andrew, now 19, crewed with us; after visiting in the archipeligo he will fly home on 09 May to go back to college in Hattiesburg, MS, where he is studing Psych & Phil. We have so enjoyed having him aboard for the first time in over two years.

We are the only Canadian vessel of the twenty or so in the harbour at anchor: lots of Europeans and one US sailboat from Seattle. Much more cosmopolitan down here compared to Baja California or the Mexican "Riviera", a US/Canadian playround. We had lunch on shore today, for example, with a German couple who are on the way to French Polynesia and beyond. That was fun. A lot of Scandinavians, seafaring nations like Norway, Denmark and Finland.

The agent who was supposed to have our cruising permiso ready when we arrived of course had never heard of us. So he told us just to enjoy ourselves meanwhile in the islands, and he would apply to Quito for the permit saying we shall be arriving on 05May. We shall go around to report our arrival to the authorities here in the islands whne the permiso arrives. Now that's my kind of bureaucracy! Andrew leaves on 09 May so it will have to work out or, the way I see it, Andrew might be leaving before he even gets here. My visa had expired before I finally left the USA, and it expired again before we left Mexico. Now it has expired in Ecuador before I have even arrived. Once a wetback, always a wetback! I bet we could have come here, never checked in and left without notifying anybody.

We have some work to do on the boat after the voyage (like repair a shot-out mainsail, check electricals and deal with some chafing problems). But we are here and safe and sound. I shall blog more about the trip later.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Wednesday, 29 March 2006

Below there are articles about our stay in Acapulco. But by the time you read this blog S/V Vilisar will likely already have started on her 1,300 mile offshore voyage to the Galapagos Archipelago that lies right on the Equator. Kathleen, Andrew and I, plan to leave this weekend sometime and we estimate the trip will take two or maybe three weeks of offshore sailing. Traversing the Doldrums (the ITCZ or the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone) is a slow business and most sailboats simply motor through. Although we topped up our fuel tanks yesterday here in Bahia de Marquéz near Acapulco, we intend to try to sail the whole way if we can. Anyway, at even just moderate motoring speeds we probably have a cruising range under power of only 600 miles.

After a few weeks in the Archipelago de Colón, as it is officially called, we shall sail eastwards along the Equator to the Ecuadorian mainland. While the trip south and east from Acapulco to the islands is iffy enough given the weak winds, it could be that the 600 mile trip to the mainland might require sailing to windward for at least a week or ten days in the SE trades and again the Equatorial current. We shall see. I cannot get a clear reading on this second stage. Some guides say we should have good winds at that time of year (i.e. the SE Tradewinds will be on our starboard beam and the Peru or Humbolt Current will not impact us) while others say we shall likely have to motor the whole way with the winds and currents on the nose. Hmmm! We shall see. First we have to get to the Galapagos.

We have been preparing Vilisar for this voyage, our longest passage to date (we did a week-long passage from British Columbia to San Francisco and another of the roughly the same length down the Pacific Coast of Baja California). Andrew and I have cleaned the bottom and the propeller of the slime and marine growth that collects while we are at anchor. I have checked the rigging and topped the oil in the Lister air-cooled diesel engine. Kathleen has been re-organising the stowage so we have the emergency sails and other gear readily available and stowing provisions so they will keep well and be reachable. Andrew has been doing odd-jobs around the boat. He and I will rig a floating line from the bow that will rub along the waterline for 30 minutes each day to keep gooseneck barnacles from forming, we hope. But Vilisar is already quite well prepared because she is a stout ship and built for just this sort of voyage. The one job I need to complete is the writing of the Float Plan. It will be emailed to Kathleen’s sister in Los Angeles. If for whatever emergency reasons we set off the 406 MHz EPIRB device, the Coast Guard centre in Maryland that monitors these signals will call Vickere for the F.laot Plan. Sure hope we never have to do that.

We shall blog if we can when we get to The Galapagos.

Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico, Sunday, 19 March 2006

We have approached Acapulco with some amount of trepidation: we have heard that it is cruiser-unfriendly and expensive. Our ordeal of trying to anchor in the inner harbour and then finally having to take one of Angel’s mooring buoys confirms our worst fears. Now we shall have to pay for the mooring buoy AND pay to go ashore at “La Marina” ($8 and $5 per day respectively). Not much unless you consider the state of our finances or compare it with the cost of a slip at the Club de Yate, the old-line and reportedly stuff Acapulco Yacht Club. Just landing your dinghy there costs $30 per day.

We are tired, irritable and a, curiously, little depressed after our uneventful overnight motorsail down from Pampanoa. Every overnight voyage involving watch-standing is like the first morning of a camping trip: you have still not settled into any routine; your tent has leaked in the night; your bed was hard; and you ask yourself as you stand beside the breakfast campfire with smoke blowing into your eyes while you drink your first cup of strong, sweet tea – you ask yourself, “Why in the name of everything I hold dear did I ever consent to go camping!” We are used to this now. We recognise the symptoms. So we don’t rush to get ashore. We nap during the first day and get to bed early the first night. When daylight of the next morning arrives everything looks much more cheery.

This second morning is the day that Kathleen’s mother and sister arrive at the airport so we are eager to find out how to get to the airport. We talk to Al on S/V Morova a couple of times before saying farewell: he is leaving from Acapulco today for Costa Rica and then the Galapagos Islands. We also meet Victor on S/V Procrastinate out of San Francisco. Nomen est omen, he has been hanging around Acapulco for several months before heading south. Partly he is getting some stainless-steel work done but partly he is just procrastinating, he tells us laughing at himself. Vic is a fountain of information about the town, and gives us instructions about getting most of the way to the airport without actually taking a cab. He also tells us the real price for a cab back to the marina when our guests arrive and warns us to negotiate; the cabbies will ask for twice the going rate.

We set out on a Costera bus that runs all along the waterfront right round the bay, up over a mountainous pass and down the other side with a view to the right over Bahia de Marquéz and ahead to the hundreds of miles of beaches running south-southeast, the new town of hotels and condominiums and, in the distance, the airport runways. Unfortunately, the local busses do not run all the way out to the airport, he tells us (we find out later that this is not actually true), and we have to get off in the village of Marquéz. After spirited negotiations we pile into a cab in the street that runs behind the wall-to-wall beach palapas. Fifteen minutes later we are inside the terminal. Vickere arrives first after her red-eye flight from Los Angeles via Dallas and Kathleen, Senior, arrives an hour later from Baltimore. Another round of negotiations with a cabby and we are headed back to the Old Town. Like all Acapulco cabbies and nearly all Acapulco bus drivers, Juan drives like we are in the Rally Montecarlo.

Our general plan is to spend a couple of days in Acapulco to see the sights and then head over to anchor off the beach in Bahia de Marquéz so we can swim. That is also where we shall stay until Andrew arrives in two weeks. We are just as close to provisioning stores there and we are also halfway to the airport too. You don’t have to pay to anchor either.

In the end our visiting firemen decide that some sightseeing is enough, but as soon it threatens to turn into work they would just as soon take a pass and do nothing. So we take our leisurely morning coffee aboard Vilisar, and go ashore to look around in town. First we go to the big Mercado Centrale. Instead of a single covered market as we have experienced elsewhere, however, we find that Acapulco’s market is street after street after street of stalls. Our rough plan is to pick up a few supplies, have lunch and then head for the Mercado Artesenia, the souvenir market.

The Mexican mercados have lots of Taquererias (taco stands) as well as other counter-restaurants that serve more elaborate stews, soups, etc. They are usually very inexpensive, the tortillas are made right in front of your eyes and the food is cooked by the lady serving you. Often, in fact, there might be several generations of the same family working there or just hanging out.

In a darkened passage between rows of stalls, we come upon one restaurant where a lady of about 60, the grandmother perhaps, is sitting in a plastic lawn chair in the aisle next to a red plastic tub half full of water. In it sits a plump baby of about six months or less. It’s her bath-time. Behind the nearby counter is a young man who is salting down several trigger fish to make a bacalao-like dish, his mother (I assume) who is cooking and serving the customers, and his aunt (I assume) making corn tortillas by hand for our meal. The tortillas that come with your stew, are still piping hot and much thicker than the machine-pressed tortillas from a bakery. Those latter are as thin as paper and taste roughly the same. These are delicious. The mother of the baby is also around and breast-feeds baby after she comes out of her bath. Baby’s mum appears to be about 16 years of age. I think we have four generations of women at this counter-restaurant. But this is not at all unusual. The workplace here is the family hangout.

We pick out things on spec from pots. I am fairly experimental and point at one saucepan of gravy. I ask what it is but do not understand the answer in Spanish. It is dished up with rice and frijoles. Basically, it seems to be bundles of flowering cilantro with a bit of ground red meat all swimming in a very spicy, red gravy. When I ask what it is after I start eating, the lady says in English, “Mule!’ This rather dampens my appetite, I must say, but I finish it off. I think eating bunches of cilantro flowers has turned me into a burro. Kathleen, Jnr, chooses shrimp cakes that are very dark and so spicy that she cannot get them down. Despite not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings, she leaves it on the plate. Our farewells are noisy and involve the whole family. Only baby stares at us poe-faced

By the time we leave I have taken everyone’s photo, thy are all (except baby) nodding and talking and laughing and looking at the digital photos, and we have been temporarily adopted by this market family. Visiting a Mexican market is so different from your average shopping drudge to the huge and impersonal supermarket back home where you never talk to anyone until you get to the checkout and then you exchange only a few grunts. “How are ya today?” “Fine. You?” Yepp! Good. You want paper or plastic bags? Do ya have a discount card?”

Our shopping tour takes us to some fruit stalls and then we spend an hour or so wandering around in the heat and the crowded noisy side streets trying to find our way to the Mercado Artesenia. The day is advanced now and the sun is beating down. I suspect the temperature must be around 90º F. We walk around the market district, and ask directions of uniformed bus line officials (they say we should take a taxi!) The guidebook is no great help. Neither are passers-by who give us totally confident directions that we are either not following accurately or are completely useless anyway. They never seem to agree with each other anyway. Eventually we take a bus back to the Zócolo (central plaza) where a man named Feliz picks us up, and offers to guide us to the mercado we want. His sister-in-law holds a stall there. Feliz is a grandfather at fifty-one. Thirty years ago he worked for three years in the logging industry of Pennsylvania. This is incredible since he is quite petite. He is charming and speaks excellent English. He helps us the whole afternoon for a tip as we separate.

By the time we leave him it is dark. While the ladies go to a restaurant, I dally at an internet café. Over dinner near the Zócolo we watch folklore dancers and wannabee pop-singers on a stage. The costumed dancers are cute; the singers are excruciatingly bad. Singing out of key is both a technical problem for Mexican singers (they pitch too chesty and slide up and down the scale). But it is also a cultural thing. It’s the style. Everyone has had enough for the day, and we decide we don’t care if we see the cliff divers.

After a slow start the next morning we slip our mooring buoy and move off under headsails and under the awning. Around the bay, around Punta Bruja (Witch Point), into Bahia de Marquéz, sail down to the beach at the far end and find an anchorage. It’s a holiday weekend (Constitution Day and Benito Jaurez’ birthday). The beaches are packed – and I mean packed - and the waters are full of sea-do’s, water-ski boats and towed bananas. Vilisar is being buffeted constantly and rolls around a lot. But there is not much one can do about it. Mexican boat drivers seem to enjoy using anchored sailboats as a slalom course.

After drinking gin & tonics and playing canasta all afternoon, just we row ashore before dark to find something to eat (and more tonic for our Ginebra [gin]). We are unsuccessful at the second task but we do find an acceptable though not outstanding meal at a palapa. We watch the tail end of the sunset and enjoy the balmy breeze we while eat our fish dinners. Back out at the boat I smoke a cigar and read on deck while the ladies get ready for bed and talk for an hour or so in the main cabin.

Bahia de Marquéz, Guerrero, Mexico, Wednesday, 29 March 2006

Making hay while the sun shines

Back aboard Vilisar after Kathleen’s mother and sister return to their worlds so far away in Los Angeles and Baltimore, our financial pinch swims back up to the top of our consciousness. We take the bus ashore and head into Acapulco by bus to pick up supplies and visit an internet café (there isn’t one in Marquéz). The bus ride up over the mountain pass and down into the bacy of Acapulco is spectacular, at least. And the ride costs only 8 pessos (for 10 pesos, we find out later, you can jump in a collective, a regular taxi that runs standard routes and picks up and lets down passengers on the way. Two things occur in Acapulco that restore our picture of the city and help out the pocketbook.

We are waiting for the return bus to Marquéz at a bus stop on the COstera. A man comes up and begins to engage us in conversation. “Hi! How are things? Having a good time in Acapulcop?” In other words, a Vaquero for time-share presentations. We know the lingo now and, anyway, he is wearing a shirt with the name of a holiday resort chain. WE have each other cased real fast. We are now “playing the game”, as it’s called in the trade. He gets a commission for bringing sheep to the shearing. In return we get come financial incentives as well as some gifts. Normally these guys work for only one marketing team. But of course, “playing the game” for them means finding a a lamb willing to visit a lot of presentations. He has his buddies amongst the other touts and they can cut a deal. Our job is to set our price. We very quickly get ot $ 150 for the pair of us. He will pick us up the next morning an d his buddy will pick us up two morningns later. One day after that the first guy (I shall leave their names out of this) will take us to his second presentation. Eadh one should bring us $ 150.

And the first one really does. The hotel actually pays us so we don’t have to chase after the tout. Our confidence increase, we go to the next two only to find that we have to chase after our money. No luck. But in the end we wind up with one hundred and fifty bucks, some Tequilla, two t-shirts and a bundle of irritation about being scammed again. It has cut into my time for working on the boat before Andrew gets here and before we leave for the Galapagos.

The second manna-blitz comes via the internet. I happen to be on line when a translating agency in New York City is looking for someone to take on a largish job. I get the nod that should be worth about $ 1,500! I spend five or six days aboard Vilisar with a little office set up under the awning in the cockpit and grind out the work. It’s from a legal practice in German and I actually know some of the guys by name. In fact, one of them now has his office in the same street where I had my office as general manager of Frankfurt Consult so many years ago now. Small world! I find also that I can get intermittent wi-fi-internet access right from the boat. That really saves time.

If the agency pays me promptly, we can afford to buy the airline tickets for Antoania nd Wiliam to Ecuador. And we can refuel and reprovision for the trip.

Andrew’s arrival

Yesterday, 28 March, Kathleen heads out to the airport and picks up Andrew. So happy to see him again! And glad he will be crewing with us to Ecuador! Although he crewed with us to Alaska in 2002 and was aboard in 2003 as we sailed British-Columbia waters, now nineteen, he has not been aboard Vilisar since he was sixteen. He always had summer jobs back home. He has turned into a young man.

He was carrying a small backpack with his few essentials and a huge heavy army duffle bag with all the stuff we asked him to bring with him: a digital-camera chip-reader; oil filters for the engine; cruising guides and books on the Galapagos and Ecuador that Kathleen had ordered on line while she was in Germany. He also brought me some cargo pants, crunchy peanut butter and a few other important items. He also comes with his personal update of what’s going on in his life. In return we try to introduce him to Canasta. After one round he collapses into bed. They just don’t make them that rugged any more!
He and Kathleen headed into Acapulco by bus today for him to look around and, of course, to leave me alone to finish my job. I am writing this while I wait for them to get back so Kathleen can proofread my work.

Fuel and water

Tomorrow we will take delivery of diesel fuel and agua purificado. On the first day that we rowed ashore we met Armundio, He is a fisherman with a little terrace restaurant right at the top of the concrete dock. I asked him if there is any other fuel dock than the Club de Yate in Acapulco: sailboats have to make an appointment fro refuelling since they take up space that big power yachts could use to spend money on diesel fuel. Amundio said he could ferry jugs of diesel out to us in his panga and water as well. We are all set up to do this tomorrow, Thursday. He says we should be at the dock at 0700, i.e. before the wind picks up. He has some 50-litre plastic jugs and we can hoist them onto the deck and siphon the fuel into the tanks. We are used to pouring jugged water into the water tanks. We will hire him and his boat for Pesos 100, the water will be the local price of Pesos 16 (no deposit on the jugs) and Pemex diesel costs currently about Pesos 5 per Litro. We will bunker about 300 litres.

Andrew and I were at the dock as agreed with Armundio at 0700 yesterday. I thought his friend was going to bring a pickup down for us to get diesel form the Pemx station out at the main highway. He showed up with an old VW “Beatle”. Nothing daunted we stow three 50-litre plastic jugs on the rear seat. One of them had no lid and looks pretty old; I am sceptical and speak to him about it. “Oh. no! They’re fine!” Pepe exclaims. I stay silent. The other two look all right. We finally find a screw top and off we zip in best Mexican racing car-driving style. In his youth Pepe was a bellboy at one of the big Acapulco hotels so his English is not bad and I learn a few new expressions in Spanish from him during the white-knuckle ride. AT the Pemex station, the attendant hands Pepe the hose and he reaches in and fills up the three tanks to a total of 150 litre and Pesos 805. Back w go to the doack, With a handcart we move the three jugs to the endge and Armundio brings his panga around and heaves them aboard. Out at Vilisar they are heaved up on the bridge and the fuel siphoned one jug after another inot our two tanks. The old red jub has some leaky creases near the top and makes a mess. The inside is dirty as well and I am glad I used the filter-funnel for that jug. On the sieve at the end are leaves and dirt particles that I am l=leased have not made it into the tank. Bank we go for another load.

After a second round I pay Pepe Pesos 200 for the use of his car and jugs (the price agreed by Armundio with his friend Pepe). At 0930 we see that the water truck has arrived at the dock and Armundio and the driver are loading thirteen 5-gallon bottles of agua purifacado into the panga. Armundio brings it out. The water costs a reasonable Pesos 14 a jug. WE havge agreed to pay Armundio Pesos 100 for his organisational skills, his help and his panga. Except for the dirty jug, everything has worked smoothly. Since we do not have enough cash on hand to pay for the all the fuel and water, the VW bug and Pepe and then pay Armundio, he says, “No problem. You pay me when you have dinero. No problem.” A sweet guy. Always barefoot, about fifty and, not easily ruffled or harried, always with a ready smile. One of those guys who make Mexico so pleasant to visit.

Bernard aboard S/V Honu showed up solo from Zihatanejo on Thursday after an overnight passage. He was able to sail the whole way except for the last twenty miles when he hand to motor as the wind came around from the east. He will stay a night here and then moor over in Acapulco. Then it’s off down the Mexican coast to Central America and eventually to Ecuador by the end of June. We get together in the evening for a meal together and a few beers. Unfortunately I drank too much while I was getting the stir-fry ready and had a big head this morning.

I get my big translation done and send in the invoice. This will pay for the kids’ flights to Ecuador. Too bad I cannot seem to get online by wifi here in Bahia de Marquéz any more. I’m connecting but can’t download the pages. So I had to go all the way into Acapulco by bus to find an internet café.

Today, Saturday, we have been working on Vilisar and may not go to town. Right now (1300) both Andrew and Kathleen are asleep below. I’m getting hungry. Time for a peanut butter sandwich.