March 1st – March 24th, 2020
If you asked us a year ago what we would be doing in the spring of 2020 we might have said, “We will be in social isolation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!” If you asked us if the whole world would be in social isolation we would have said, “no way, what?” We have been preparing the boat and ourselves for not seeing people or even land for weeks at a time. That’s a choice that we made and something that quite frankly we are excited about. The isolation and paranoia from COVID 19 has not been a choice for anyone and is affecting people in different ways around the world. Even though Atica is the perfect “bug out vehicle” our plans are taking a drastic turn in the wake of the Coronavirus.
Let’s go back to the beginning of March when Coronavirus in Mexico was more of a joke about how many Corona beers you drank the night before. We moved Atica into La Cruz Marina for a few intense weeks of ocean prep, boat projects and a highly anticipated visit from Elise’s family. The boat list was long but we took advantage of being tied to a dock to knock items off one by one. The list included; inspecting and repairing all sails, cleaning the water tanks and adding extra filtration, servicing the engine, sewing a new deck bag for the staysail, a wind scoop and screens for the hatches. Cleaning the anchor locker and ground tackle, inspecting and cleaning the running and standing rigging, painting the mast where the sail had chafed, sanding and varnishing the teak toe rails, replacing the seals in the watermaker, washing the boat from bow to stern and tip of the mast to keel, the list goes on… Basically Atica has never been more ready for a serious ocean crossing and also is looking pretty darn good with her wood glossy again!
In the midst of all the boat projects we did have a great time in La Cruz. The boating community is amazing and we met so many other sailors who were planning to cross the Pacific. We had cocktail night with our dock neighbors and could hear the live music from the nearby restaurants each night through the wind scoop that was keeping us cool as we lay in bed. We should mention that it is HOT here in mainland Mexico and cold showers at the end of a long work day make the marina worth every penny. We got to reconnect with Molotov Marin and got to help Morgan and Tree teach their new crew how to ‘boat life’. Juanito Chilipeno Chorizo Picante Pequno went from street dog to yachtie overnight and is fitting in just fine! We also made so many new friends including SV Sanssouci, Salpare and Sophie who were also planning on crossing the South Pacific this year. We went to some cruiser talks about weather and the pacific crossing and even got to see MV Brigitte Bardot, a crazy modern power trimaran that is part of the Sea Shepherd armada that is protecting the oceans from illegal whaling and fishing. Anyone remember the show Whale Wars?!
For Austin’s 31st birthday we cashed in the last of Elise’s Marriott Gold rewards travel points for a night in the fancy W Resort, Punta de Mita. We soaked in the 5 pools and ate a fancy dinner. The staff kept giving us free drinks and food to thank us for our ‘loyalty’ to the hotel chain. The pastry chefs even brought us a special cookie that said “Thank You Elise”. To say we felt out of place would be an understatement. The grounds were beautiful and we enjoyed ourselves, but we like to travel on our floating home. Austin upped his fishing game with his birthday present, a fancy new spear gun that was recommended by Kyle and Lori who you will remember from previous posts. Now he just needs a chance to use it!
Beyond preparing the boat for the Pacific crossing there are also mental and communication preparations that must go on. We joined the Pacific Puddle Jump which is a loosely organized rally of boats crossing the Pacific from the America’s to French Polynesia. There is no official start date or location, boats leave from the US, Mexico and Panama and the idea is to bring together a community of boats who are making the crossing. Boats check in via a sat phone email with their position and a daily update so that other boats know what is going on. The Pacific Puddle Jump also helps to share information on the ground in French Polynesia about checking in to the country. This became very critical as COVID 19 started to spread rapidly.
Even just a week ago COVID 19 was a huge deal in the States but Mexico was not in a panic and we were still dead set on the South Pacific. We went to Costco and four other Mexican grocery chains to stock Atica with over 6 months’ worth of food. Food in the South Pacific is always really expensive and with the risk of food shortages during the global pandemic, we didn’t want to take valuable resources from the isolated island communities when we could easily stock up here in Mexico. With the boat stocked and the list of boat projects down to only a few items we were starting to get more and more excited and ready to leave for our crossing. As the world started to close down our first big hit was that Elise’s family would no longer be able to fly down to Puerto Vallarta to visit and soak up the sun with us. Then came the full stop, French Polynesia announced its first case of COVID 19 and slowly started outlining their regulations for foreign yachts planning to enter the country, all we could do was wait and listen. At first it sounded like they would honor the 3 weeks’ worth of sea time it takes to get there, as quarantine and then came the announcement that no vessels would be aloud to move between islands. Essentially the thousands of islands we had dreamed about would be off limits while we sat in our first landfall. The last straw for us was when it was announced that vessels that were already checked in could stay but were not allowed to leave their boats except for food and were not even aloud to swim in the water. Vessels that were currently on their way would be required to tie their boats to a mooring in Tahiti and would immediately need to fly to their home countries. Leaving our boat unaccompanied for an unknown amount of time in an area seasonally at risk to cyclones was our biggest nightmare. We really feel for the boats that were already a few weeks out and way past the option of turning around. With the news coming out of French Polynesia the Mexican Port Captain would not release any zarpes (exit paperwork) for boats going to French Polynesia so even if we wanted to go, we could not. At this point we didn’t want to go anymore, at least not right now. We have seen pictures of locals in Tonga with signs on the beach to boaters saying they are not wanted and do not come to shore. Historically the spread of disease from European settlers to isolated communities has killed significant portions of these populations so they are justifiably afraid.
Where does that leave us now? The news, the fear and the virus are finally trickling into the town of La Cruz and from what we can tell the rest of Mexico. Cruisers seem to be moving towards one of two options: 1) put their boats away and fly/drive back home to the US or Canada or 2) plan to stay in Mexico on their boats to wait it out in the Sea of Cortez. We have had to do some deep thinking since our original plans were to cruise the South Pacific this Spring/Summer and arrive in New Zealand next October to get work visas and start making money again. With the opportunity to go to the South Pacific pushed at least a year out we would need to make money again before doing so. The Sea of Cortez is remote and beautiful and would be a great place to wait out an epidemic but there are not good or legal opportunities for us to make money. We would eventually need to return to the States to fill the cruising kitty back up. We could put the boat on the hard and fly back, but to keep the dream alive and the adventure going it is important to us to stay with the boat. Then Hawaii popped onto our radar, after all that was the cruising destination that Atica was built for way back in 1982. It ticked all the boxes: a place we could potentially work, we would still get the ocean crossing (albeit at a slightly different angle) that we have been craving and the dream of the south pacific is still in sight. If this has taught us anything it is, to not plan too far ahead when it comes to cruising, but who knows this move might even take us to one of our top cruising destinations, Alaska!
So, in less than 24 hours we had done the mental Olympics of changing one dream for another and now Atica’s plan and goal was Hawaii. Daily things pop up that remind us that the goal of New Zealand 2020 is out of our control and out of reach but we are doing our best to stay positive and motivated because we still have a big ocean crossing ahead of us. The news is changing so quickly that by the next “morning cruisers net” was all panic as someone announced that the boarder between the US and Mexico was closed and the Port Captain would not give any zarpes to leave Mexico. Yet again we felt our plans would have to change, maybe we really were stuck in Mexico?! We were crushed but wanted to keep moving and at least get out of the marina. We kept on doing the last of the boat projects until a couple approached us and said they had heard we were thinking about Hawaii and not to give up hope. They thought the information on the radio could have been incorrect and urged us to make the calls ourselves to be sure the US was closed to boats. With this new hope we headed straight to the Port Captain and asked him to grant us a zarpe to go home to the US. He said no, the US and French Polynesia are closed and I won’t give zarpes to countries you can’t get into. As we walked away, we decided to give it one more shot and called Hilo Hawaii Customs and Boarder Protection. They said that they were in normal operations and as of now would accept yachts coming into their port. We asked if we could tell this to the Mexican Port Captain and the officer laughed and said sure you can try. So, we went back into the Port Captain to tell him that the US would take us and again if he would issue our zarpe. He rolled his eyes while saying ok and started the paperwork. Step one complete, the boat inspection could happen on Monday if nothing changed during the weekend. Over the weekend the boarder closures were clarified and as of writing this the only restrictions on US ports are state sanctioned quarantine periods upon arrival, we hope that our 20 plus days at sea will be sufficient isolation. We had the weekend to think over the decision and came to the conclusion that yes, Hawaii is the right choice for us. On Monday three officials looked over the boat and granted us our zarpe to leave Mexico.
We are currently on anchor resting from the stress of changed plans and boat projects and waiting for a good weather window to cross the Pacific to Hawaii. It’s a 2,800-mile passage basically due West from La Cruz. Surprisingly its just 100 miles shorter than our planned passage to the Marquesas in French Polynesia but doesn’t have the added complexity of crossing the equator and the dreaded ITCZ. Our current calculations and estimates show the passage taking about three weeks with favorable broad reach conditions. With all the chaos going on right now in the world three weeks on the ocean is sounding pretty darn good to us! We encourage you to follow along on our tracking page to see where we are in the big blue Pacific. Until next time, Aloha!!