18. Here a Shark, There a Shark – Tuamotu Archipelago

March 22nd – May 3rd, 2021

Tikehau

After a week of cleaning, reprovisioning and a bit of exploring Pape’ete it was time to leave Tahiti and head out into the Tuamotu Archipelago. Mid-morning, we maneuvered our way out of the very tight fairway at Marina Tiana and made the necessary radio calls to pass by the airport. As we got close to the East Airport boundary we heard over the radio “SV Atica hold your station”. Staying in one place was not so simple with the current pushing us toward the end of the runway and we had to do several loops to not drift into the restricted area. After what seemed to be more than enough time for us to get across the runway and seeing no airplanes moving, we called back to the port control. We were firmly reminded to hold position and wait for the all clear. Shortly after two tiny airplanes appeared on the runway and took off. Then we were hailed on the radio and cleared to continue on through the channel. At the Papeete Pass we were again greeted by a huge pod of dolphins and there were surfers on each side of the pass entrance. We motored about an hour to the North East Point of Tahiti called Point Venus, named because it is where Captain Cook and his crew watched the planet Venus transit in front of the sun in 1767. It was the first and ultimately unsuccessful attempt by astronomer’s to accurately measure the distance between planets in our solar system. After a week in the Marina, it was time for a swim and we jumped in with snorkels and fins. The water was warm but too murky and deep to see the bottom. We swam around and under the boat and saw all the goose neck barnacles that grew on the passage, more alarming was a crack at the back of the keel in a place that we had applied a patch the last time the boat was hauled out of the water. The possibilities of needing to haul the boat out of the water in the remote South Pacific put a dark cloud over the afternoon and made the planned overnight passage to Tikehau that much more stressful. Austin got out the Splash Zone, a fishy smelling underwater epoxy, and smeared it over the patch and we agreed that more inspection and evaluation would need to be done when we arrived in Tikehau.  The seas and wind were favorable for the overnight passage and we ended up arriving close to Tikehau around 3AM and hove two to wait for daylight to enter the pass. Once inside we kept to the marked channel that wove through hundreds of bombies (clumps of coral that very in size and are often just under the surface) to get to the SW anchorage. SV Lorien and one other sailboat were already in the anchorage.

As soon as we landed on the beach it was clear we had arrived in tropical paradise.  The sand and coral beach jetted out to a deep hole of water that was fed by shallow water causing the temperature was warm. As we lay and chatted in our ‘hot tub’ with the other cruisers in the anchorage baby black tip sharks swam by. We foraged for coconuts and Austin couldn’t wipe the grin off his face while he got to work chopping them open with his machete. Most days the wind was strong and we watched Chris kite board around the anchorage and Austin even got a lesson with the kite. On a calmer day Chris and Austin took turns on the foil board being towed behind the dinghy. One morning we hopped on De Lorien, SV Lorien’s dinghy, to check out the next islet over. We found a shallow section of water that looked like a flowing river with water coming into the atoll over the reef. We walked up “stream”, put on our snorkels and let the current take us like a magic carpet ride over the bright colored coral, tropical fish and small Black Tip sharks. Another day we were snorkeling along and Elise spotted a huge red octopus with its arms waving in the current. We all swam over to get a closer look and the octopus was not scared of us at all and let us get within a few feet of it. One of the things that we noticed right away about the Tuamotus was that the sea life is not afraid of humans and you can swim right up to fish without them darting away. Austin even grabbed a small grouper by the tail. There are likely several reasons why the sea life is not very skittish but one possibly factor could be that the fear of getting ciguatera really puts a damper on the fishing in the area. Ciguatera is a toxin that is found in some of the reef fish in French Polynesia, if you eat the wrong fish the symptoms may include diarrhea, vomiting, numbness, itching, dizziness, weakness and the feeling of hot/cold reversed. With the risk being high and the freezer stocked with ahi tuna from the passage from Hawaii we decided the risk was not worth the reward. Between the high likelihood of ciguatera and the healthy shark population (competition), Austin’s spear gun would be staying on its shelf down below here in French Polynesia.

After a good few days playing in paradise, the crack by the keel could no longer be ignored. When we opened up the floor boards the small floor support at the aft end of the keel was separated by about half an inch from the hull. If we needed a reminder of how hard the passage from Hawaii was, this was it. The carbon reinforcements we had applied before leaving WA were likely too stiff and when the boat flexed in really rough seas, they had popped loose and you could fit your fingers underneath.  This was by no means good but with Austin’s skills it was fixable and something he could tackle in the water. What a relief! Austin spent several afternoons grinding and prepping surfaces to be filled and tabbed with fiberglass. A very small amount of sea water was seeping into the bilge so Austin applied another round of Splash Zone inside and out. They do say cruising is doing boat work in exotic places…

Toau – Valentine’s Bay

From Tikehau we had an uneventful two-night passage to the false pass on the North side of Toau. A woman named Valentine lives with her husband and nephew in the small bay that is formed by an opening in the reef. They maintain seven mooring balls (floats tied to big chunks of coral) and sell pearls and coconuts to the cruisers that stop by. This was the spot for our boat family reunion with Atica, Lorien and Sophie all back together. Harvey and crew Frank from SV Sophie left Hawaii a month or so before us and went first to the Marquesas Islands so we planned to try to cross paths with them somewhere in the Tuamotus. It was like we had never been apart, sunset beers, group snorkeling missions and exploring the palm forests. For Julie’s birthday we had a big group dinner aboard Lorien with an amazing sunset view. We bought a few pearls from Valentine and learned about her childhood where her grandfather kept kidnapping her as a child because he thought she looked like his deceased wife and would take her to Toau. She said one time her father came to steal her back on a small boat with a 2hp motor from an island 25 miles away! She was definitely a character and was convinced that covid was the second coming and that Catholics were the cause because they prayed to Mary (who is not god), and Mary is tired!?!

One morning one of the other boats in the anchorage who were divers organized a dinghy convoy outside the pass to the dive site called Yellow Dog. The snorkeling was excellent and we saw all kinds of colorful fish and coral. We snorkeled over a dark hole and a big shark came out of the deep to check us out. Luckily by this point we were getting more used to swimming with sharks since pretty much every time we get in the water, we see at least a few. Sharks were constantly swimming around the boat and didn’t seem very interested in us. One day Harvey decided that he wanted to see what would happen if he was to spear a fish. Just the sound of the spear gun trigger brought a dozen sharks in right away and they swam around in tight fast circles. It was evident that the sharks would be the only ones getting a fish dinner by way of a spear gun. On the far side of the bay there was a fish trap where fish could swim into a spiral shape formed by staked out netting and then would not be able to get out against the current. This was one of Valentine and her husband’s primary food sources. Unfortunately, fish were not the only things getting stuck in the trap. We saw her husband kill at least half a dozen sharks with his spear and just toss them out of the trap. Our diver friend had said he was trying to convince them to stop killing the sharks caught in the trap, but it is an imperfect world and subsistence living doesn’t always align with conservation.

We explored the motu (island) on the far side of the bay where an abandoned shack had been taken over by bright orange coconut crabs. There were piles of crabs on everything. One coconut could have over a dozen crabs on top of it and there were so many you could hear them all clambering around. We chopped into a few coconuts and got to see the life cycle from a super green nut, to brown and one that had gone to seed. One evening we all played Kubb on the beach and cooked dinner on a beach fire. It was fun to spend the days with good friends in such a beautiful setting. On the moonlit ride back in the dinghy a flying fish flew onto Elise’s lap attracted by her headlamp.

Toau- Gilligan’s Island

When it was time to move on, we all sailed around the outside of Toau to the pass that allowed us into the lagoon. We anchored for one night in the protected NE corner of the atoll and then we decided to move a few miles down, away from the crowd (five other cruising sailboats) to a small sandbar with just a few palm trees. This was definitely next level anchoring. We nosed Atica up into 12’ of water dropped the anchor and backed off into 30’ of water with our chain floated by buoys over chunks of coral. Our new anchorage had us thinking about Gilligan’s Island and all the other quintessential shipwreck/deserted island movies. We snorkeled amongst giant clams, read in a hammock between two palm trees and went fly fishing out on the reef flats. We kept saying it can’t get more perfect than this!

It was hard to say goodbye to Toau but with no more fresh food in our stores and rumors of a Wednesday supply ship full of veggies in Fakarava we pulled anchor. We had a lovely sail to the pass inside the atoll with Lorien right next to us. Harvey arrived at the pass just before us and radioed that the entrance looked rough. This happens when the current coming out of the pass (sometimes up to 5 knots) meets the opposing ocean waves and swell outside the pass. For this reason, timing your arrival and departure is very critical for each atoll. Harvey decided to get a little closer to check it out and was quickly sucked sideways into the peak of the outgoing current. As he got into the worst of the current Sophie thrashed up and down and he radioed for us not to follow his approach. The sight of Sophie jumping out of the water made all of our stomachs drop and we for sure did not want to take the same approach out of the atoll. Chris and Austin discussed treating the exit like a river rapid over the radio and we snuck out the side of the pass where the current was weaker. Austin had Atica pointing directly at the coral reef but in actuality we were moving out of the pass at an angle being pulled by the current. We encountered three messy waves but nothing compared to the wild ride that Sophie had experienced. After the excitement of exiting the pass the relaxing 20-mile sail/race to Fakarava was much appreciated.

Fakarava – North

We arrived in the town of Rotoava at the North end of Fakarava around noon and tied up to one of the public mooring balls. The anchorage was very deep so we couldn’t see the bottom which felt weird after the shallow anchorages we had been in most recently. We took the dinghy to the large concrete pier where the supply ships tie up and went to check out the provisions at the four small grocery stores that most closely resemble a mini mart gas station in the US. We picked up a few pears, cabbage, potatoes and eggs but were surprised that onions were nowhere to be found! We soon learned that the supply ship we were expecting on Wednesday was out on maintenance for the week so there was no new food deliveries to be expected. There was a ship that came in while we were in town but it carried mostly drums of fuel, building materials and odds and ends like a unwrapped mattress and a brand new 4×4 Toyota Hylux truck that were all craned off the ship. We did learn about a farm stand that happened every Friday morning and were told we needed to be there by 5am if we wanted to get anything. This was not a joke, we got there about 5:10 am and were already about 6th in line and items were flying off the table. By 5:30 there would have been only a few odd items left. We were excited to get fresh locally grown lettuce, peppers and radishes but still no onions. We spent a few afternoons at Fakarava Yacht Services where a French family has set up a cruiser services business where you can hang out on the porch to use the internet and get your laundry washed and dried. We took advantage of being in civilization and had three family meals with Chris, Julie, Harvey and Frank in town. The first was an all-fish restaurant that served mostly raw variations of tuna, grouper and parrot fish on a deck over the water with black tip sharks splashing around underneath. The second was a more modern open-air restaurant where we had a tapas style lunch and cold beers one hot afternoon.  On our final day in Rotoava we had lunch at Fakarava Grill and it quickly became everyone’s favorite, the burgers were juicy and the fries were topped with a slab of garlic butter. Eating out becomes a real treat when you are in such remote places and are mostly relying on the provisions you have onboard.

Fakarava – South

Feeling like we had fully explored the town we topped up on fuel and water at the concrete pier. The sail through the atoll to the South end of Fakarava was ideal. With smooth water and 15 knots of wind blowing over the reef, Atica scooted along on a comfortable beam reach. We even managed to miss all the rain squalls that passed over the island.  We anchored next to SV Lorien at Motu Kokakoka and SV Sophie parted ways with us and heading to the Hirifa anchorage. Our boat family reunion had come to an end for this trip but I’m sure we will all reconnect in the future and are excited to hear about Harvey’s continued journey as he heads West.

We had arranged to go scuba diving with Top Dive Fakarava the next day so we motored the few miles to the mooring balls at the South Pass anchorage. It was extremely shallow and the bottom was covered in large coral bombies. We felt extremely lucky that there were two mooring balls available as there was not many good places to anchor and it was approaching sunset when we arrived. Sharks and fish were swimming around everywhere, especially when we would empty the sink strainer after doing dishes. Austin scrubbed the bottom of the boat and became particularly acquainted with several medium size grey reef sharks, black tips and a few remoras. One of the gray reef sharks had a research tag in its fin and Austin began to call it “Dog Tag” after repeated sightings, like a neighborhood dog. Remoras are like the rats of the sea and just about as gross looking. It seems that at every anchorage we would get a few that would “attach” themselves to Atica’s hull like they do to sharks and whales waiting for any scrap to float by.

Saturday was dive day so Chris brought his gear over to Atica and we waited to be picked up by the fancy RIB (rigid inflatable boat) dive boat. The South Pass of Fakarava is a world-famous dive site due to its huge shark population and is known as “the Wall of Sharks”. Due to the dive site’s remoteness our tanks were filled with Nitrox which allows you to stay deeper with less decompression time and reduces the risk of getting the bends. On our first dive we swam up current and hung onto dead coral boulders to watch as dozens of sharks circled overhead. We saw a huge Napoleon Wrasse and a few eagle rays on the pass wall. In between dives we had snacks on the pink sand beach and the dive master went over the dive plan for our second dive. Upon entry we all made our initial descent on a sandy patch called “the ski run” just at the seaward end of the pass and then followed the ski track of sand down to 60’ where we stopped on a ledge looking down toward the middle of the pass. The water was so clear that day that you could see all the way to the bottom and across to the other side (about 100’). This is where our first “wall of sharks” swam by. Next, we continued our descent following the current and tucked ourselves into a cave at about 100’ deep. Once we were all inside this cave the bubbles from our regulators were trapped so the sharks came even closer to us. Being in the cave was an out of body experience! It was unreal! Laying on our bellies at the mouth of a cave, it looked and felt like we were watching an Imax 3-D movie. If you wanted you could have reached out to touch the sharks that “hovered”, gently gliding into the current, just outside the cave. We could see at least a hundred sharks, mostly grey reef sharks, black tips and a few white tip reef sharks who can “sit” completely still on the sandy bottom. When it was time to leave the cave the dive master moved his hands to gesture that we would be parting a path through the sharks and on to our next viewing location. At another spot the sharks were all slowly moving into the current peacefully until they heard/sensed something and they all darted off in one direction towards the surface. It was amazing to see their alertness and speed especially since it was not directed at us. The end of the dive had us gliding at “high speed” in six feet of water over colorful coral and small reef fish including Parrotfish, Butterflyfish and Angelfish.

Over the next few days, we hung out with Chris and Julie on the pink and white sand beaches. There were plenty of palm trees to hang up the hammock for days of lounging and reading. We circumnavigated a few sand islets in our floaty chairs and Austin learned a new skill of Polynesian hat making. In the afternoons we floated the pass and Chris and Austin clanked metal together to “call” the sharks up from the bottom. Within a few seconds you would start to see the sharks circling up from the bottom. Elise and Julie clung to the dinghy to have a quick exit if necessary. One evening we had a very weird and overpriced buffet dinner at the pension (hotel) in the village. The one cool thing about the experience was that the whole restaurant was over the reef and had hundreds of black tip sharks swimming in only a few feet of water. They were all trying to get their share of the fish scraps from the restaurant so they swam quick and aggressively. Among the sharks we also saw a small octopus that almost completely blended in with the rocky coral around it. Most of our time in Fakarava was sunny but we had a few days of rain where we easily filled our water tanks and then some. Squalls and heavy rain come out of nowhere in the South Pacific so we have learned that even if it looks sunny its best to close up all the hatches whenever we leave the boat.

Tahanea

From the South Pass of Fakarava we made a slow overnight sail to Tahanea two atolls over. Tahanea is a nature reserve with only one house for the caretakers. We anchored near the pass and were picked up by Chris and Julie to go ashore. What started out as a casual beach combing stroll turned into a circumnavigation of the island since all of us were too delirious to bring up turning around until we were on the opposite side of the island. The only other boat in the anchorage was an Australian couple and they invited us all to have beers on their boat that evening. The next day we washed laundry in a bucket with the extra rainwater we had collected during an overnight squall. The squall had been quite uncomfortable and the wind direction had shifted 180 degrees wrapping our anchor chain around a coral head and putting our stern toward the beach. Even worse Lorien’s chain wrapped around their centerboard. We had all had enough of this particular anchorage, so with the laundry still drying in the breeze we hoisted anchor and put up the “green” spinnaker for a five-mile joy ride to the other side of the atoll. The destination was a coral reef that was shaped like a number 7 on the chart and we quickly started calling it the “7 is Heaven” anchorage. It was heavenly with great snorkeling on the 7 and a nice island nearby to explore. We dropped the anchor in 25 feet on a steep incline and the boat settled uphill in about 10 feet of crystal-clear water that was as calm as a swimming pool. When we jumped in to check the anchor (very well set in the sand), we could stand on the sand bottom and touch Atica’s keel! It was a unique anchoring set up to say the least. That evening we made a fire on the beach with Chris and Julie and tried out a new campfire treat, cinnamon snakes! We wrapped pizza dough around a stick and cooked it over the fire, then dipped it in butter and cinnamon sugar. The closest thing you can find to a Churro in the South Pacific, delicious! 

Makemo

With a little over a month remaining on our French Polynesian visas it was time to start looking at the weather forecasts for the next big jump. We needed a solid five days of good trade winds to get to the Marquesas Islands. Makemo is positioned well to be a jumping off point and was reported to have a good grocery store for provisioning. We left the “7 is Heaven” anchorage and planned to anchor near the pass (where we had the uncomfortable night at anchor) and leave for Makemo first thing the next morning. As we were just about to drop the anchor Chris radioed us and made the suggestion that maybe we should take advantage of the favorable breeze and make it an overnight passage instead. Without much hesitation we said “sounds like a plan” and headed out the pass after Lorien. The overnight sail was pretty uneventful, despite a few squalls and the wind dying in the wee hours of the morning. Makemo has two passes and we could easily reach the closer one in a day but then it would take another half a day to transit inside the atoll to the town so we decided to stay on the outside and go through the town pass.  Before lunch we were anchored in front of Pouheva village, a full 36 hours ahead of ‘schedule’! Later we all laughed how even a year ago an overnight passage would need to be talked about, planned and anticipated, now it has become second nature and we can jump into our night routines at the drop of a hat.

We had low expectations for Makemo, just a basic provisioning stop, but turned out to be one of our favorite stops. The village had a cute authentic feel with colorful painted fences and tons of kids running around everywhere. There was a clear French influence with a large light house at the pass and very large Catholic Church. The off-kilter ratio of kids to adults made sense when we learned that Makemo is the location of a boarding school and university where families that live on the other remote Tuamotu islands send their kids for schooling. Friendly dogs roamed the streets and as we walked the roads we were constantly greeted with waves, smiles and “Ia Orana”, the local greeting. The grocery store was everything we had read and more! Luxury gas station mini mart store is probably the best description and we were thrilled! Unlike the other atolls we visited that get their supplies only from the cargo ships, the Makemo store gets fresh produce every Thursday by airplane. Our onion drought was finally over, they even had shallots! We loaded up on lettuce, tomatoes, avocados and fruit, what a treat! We had lunch one afternoon at a “Snack” (small restaurant) decorated with intricately woven palm fronds. The only thing on the menu was “steak frite” and the portions were huge, imagine a steak the size of a dinner plate atop an equally large pile of French fries. Nobody needed dinner after such a feast.

Over lunch Julie mentioned that the only thing we didn’t do in the Tuamotus was visit a pearl farm. As if by request the very next day two guys in a panga stopped by Atica and invited us to come to their pearl farm. The only directions they gave were that it was about a 20 min panga ride in this direction (pointing to the East). That afternoon we all loaded up in De Lorien and after about an hour we spotted the panga moored just off the beach and the buoys that marked the pearl farm. The owner, Tijan was a very industrious guy. His land was still at the early stages of development but his ambitions are to harvest much more than just pearls. He had several bee hives for honey and had been doing a ton of land clearing and was planting a tropical fruit orchard. On top of that he had just built a chicken coop to hold 200 chickens, who were coming by air plane from New Zealand in only a few days.

Most exciting was learning about the processes involved in culturing pearls. Tijan’s father was a pearl farmer so he learned the art and science of grafting at a young age. It starts with oysters that are 6 months to one year old depending on how big the shell is. The key is having the right size “pocket” of muscle to implant the nucleus for the pearl to be formed around. The tools are a mix of dentistry and torture implements. The nucleus is a polished sphere of oyster shell from Mississippi.  When the oyster is big enough it is forced open just enough so the “grafter” can make a small incision into the “pocket” of the oyster. He places a nucleus and a small bit of mantel flesh from another oyster whose shell is particularly beautiful into the pocket. The mantel flesh determines the color of the pearl and the size of the nucleus coincides with the size of the cultured pearl. The nucleus come in multiple different sizes and if a nice pearl comes out then the next size up nucleus is inserted and the oyster is put back in the water to produce another pearl. If the pearl is not a good color, sheen or shape then it goes into the dinner pot. We even got to try a few of the raw reject oysters. Unlike the PNW oysters we are used too, on these oysters you just eat the muscle part that looks like a scallop. By the time the first pearl comes out the oyster is about 18 months old and it takes about one full year to reach the minimum of 2 millimeters of shell thickness around the nucleus to be certified in Tahiti and sold on the international market. Even with the ability to grow multiple pearls in the same oyster the average success rate for quality pearls is about 50%. This particular farm has a license to grow 40,000 oysters in two different spots, and has to rotate through them at roughly 3,300 a month. It is quite the process, and as Tijan told us its a labor of love. There is potential to make good money but it is a lot of work when you count up all the hours. We felt so lucky to get to learn about the production of one of the major exports of French Polynesia and see firsthand how a cultured pearl is made.

Swim with sharks … check, sail through an atoll… check, harvest coconuts on white sandy beaches… check, harvest pearls… check. With our Tuamotu bucket list complete it was time to head to the Marquesas Islands. 

17. Ia Orana Tahiti

March 14th – 21st, 2021

At around 0800 on March 14th, we radioed the harbor master for permission to enter the Passe de Papeete. The protected waterway between the island of Tahiti and its barrier reef is highly regulated and you must get permission three times between the entrance and Marina Taina where we planned to stay. This seemed a bit overkill until we realized we were essentially passing through the airport runway and the harbor master is checking to make sure no planes are going to be taking off or landing while you navigate the narrow channel. Just inside the reef we saw a family in Polynesian canoes. They started getting closer to us so we slowed down the engine and waved. The father waved for us to keep going and his two daughters quickly fell in line behind our transom. They were trying to draft behind us and as we sped up the older of the girls paddled harder and harder to keep up with a big grin on her face. After a while she stopped for water and we continued on. We passed tons of boats at anchor in crystal clear blue water. Many of the boats looked in disrepair or derelict. As we approached the fuel dock at Marina Taina we were greeted by Chris and Julie of SV Lorien who arrived a few days prior. Chris jumped on board to help us back down a tight fairway and “Med Moored” to the dock. This involved tying our stern to the dock and our bow (with lines) to an anchor block in the fairway. This is a new setup for us since its not very popular in the US but seems to be a good way to get a lot of boats into a small area. After a quick chat with Chris and Julie about the passage, we all walked up to the Carrefour, the big grocery store nearby the marina. It was overwhelming to be around so many people, let alone walk on flat ground after so many days at sea, but the fresh baguette for 50 cents made it all worth it. On our first night Chris and Julie took us out for ice cold Hinano (Tahiti’s local beer) and pizza to celebrate all of our arrival in French Polynesia. It felt surreal to be with familiar friends in a place not familiar at all. French Polynesia so far seems way more French than we expected. Very few people outside of the tourism industry speak English and there are many young French people living on the sailboats or attending the University.

The Gendarme (police officer) who checked us into the county the next morning had a briefcase full of stamps and put them to use stamping each page of our entrance documentation multiple times before saying we were cleared for 90 days in French Polynesia. What a relief, we did not want to turn around and go back to Hawaii right away. The boarder of French Polynesia remains closed, especially to tourism and no flights are coming to the islands. There was a loophole that allowed us to come to French Polynesia. Essentially, we applied to the government maritime affairs or DPAM as a sailboat needing to reprovision and refuel in French Polynesia and they granted us the standard 90-day visa to do so. That policy has since changed to allow for only 4 days for the same request. We are lucky and feel very grateful that we get to be here. We had completed all the right paperwork in advance of our departure and with our “Golden” DPAM “Ticket” we were rewarded with bureaucratic normalcy.  The check-in process was extremely easy since we had prior approval before we left Hawaii and we worked with a ships agent to help process the paperwork and bridge the language barrier.

Wasting no time, we got to work giving Atica a well-deserved bath. Every surface needed to be scrubbed and washed because if it wasn’t covered in salt it was growing mold. On passage to conserve fresh water we washed all dishes in salt water, so all the pots and pans needed a vinegar scrub to remove the rust and everything else needed a good wash with fresh water. We washed our sail bag full of stinky laundry at the marina laundry mat and hung it to dry all around the boat. Chris joked that we looked like the Clampett’s with all our laundry hanging anywhere we could reach. After a long upwind passage, the list of boat tasks was pretty significant and we took advantage of being at a dock to knock them off one by one.  The list included cleaning out the lazarette and fixing the lazarette hatch seals that were letting water into the boat each time we took a wave to the cockpit. The starboard primary winch needed to be rebuilt and Austin had to take apart the steering pedestal to tighten up the wheel lock. The solar panel wiring was majorly corroded and needed to be replaced along with the plug for the autopilot. It is amazing how much damage salt water can cause in such a short amount of time! The biggest priority for boat work in Tahiti was to address the engine issues we had on passage and give the old Volkswagen some love, after all she is almost 40 years old. We wanted to replace the fuel lift pump that was no longer operational and update the fuel filter system. Time to get out google translate and head out on an adventure into the ‘big’ city of Papeete!

We walked down to the Carrefour and boarded the airconditioned bus into the city. On the way we stopped at a very rough looking auto parts store and were thrilled that our attempt at French resulted in a robust looking fuel lift pump. It wasn’t cheap ($90US) but we were thankful that we could even find one on this small island. Back on the bus we passed by the airport and got off in the city center by the cruise ship docks. We walked through the open market that was full of stalls with colorful sarongs, pearl jewelry, and fresh fruits and vegetables. It reminded us of a cross between Pike Place Market and the markets we visited in Bali. The venders were happy to see us especially as they haven’t had any tourist in months with the boarder still being closed. Everyone was extremely friendly but a few people looked confused and asked how we got here. Elise had her eyes out for the perfect pearl ring and was very excited when we found a pearl collective where she got to pick the setting and select the loose pearls to be made into jewelry while we did some errands. The pearls are graded similar to diamonds by their color, shape and surface smoothness. The lady who helped us couldn’t hold back her excitement to have a sale in these hard times. This made us feel so good that we could support the local artisans. After a morning of shopping, we went to a brewery for lunch and Austin enjoyed the l’IPA. In the afternoon we headed to the marine stores to look for fuel filters and a few other odds and ends. The stores are reminiscent of what we came to expect in Mexico and have mostly what you need but you wouldn’t expect it when you first walk in. There are things under other things, behind counters and in back rooms. You really have to ask for help if you want any chance of finding what you are looking for. Also we learned that stores have limited hours and close completely for an hour or two for lunch so you have to time you shopping accordingly.

By Saturday we had almost all the boat projects and tasks complete and we just needed a few more things from Papeete. We took the bus into town and walked the rest of the way to a different auto parts store that we were told would have the fuel filter fittings we needed. We had everyone in the store cracking up laughing when we asked for our typical engine oil that happens to be able to handle cold temperatures.  We assume the clerk said in French, “These people think it could snow in French Polynesia!” After getting the parts we headed back to the bus stop. We waited a few minutes and then a lady in a car drove up onto the sidewalk and waved us over. She only spoke French and asked where we were trying to go. We told her the marina on the other side of the town. She said it would take to long for us to wait for the bus and insisted she take us there herself. We chatted along the way and learned that her name was Meloni and she was from the Austral Islands and was spending the day with her granddaughter. We were thankful for their generosity and it did make the trip back to the boat much quicker! The rest of the day was spent filling the boat back up with fresh fruits, vegetables, baguettes and water. Austin did an oil change on the engine and we soaked in the last bit of internet.  We have enjoyed our time here in Tahiti but now we are itching to get out on anchor and explore what French Polynesia has to offer under the water!

16. Uphill All the Way – Hawaii to Tahiti

February 17th – March 14th 2021

After 25 grueling days sailing up wind we have arrived in French Polynesia. It was a challenging passage with a bit of everything; thunderous squalls, flat calm glossy seas and sustained 40+ knots of wind. We caught two yellowtail tuna, celebrated our first equator crossing and Austin cracked open a fish shaped piñata on his birthday. All the details are in our daily passage updates on the tracking map, including an engine that wouldn’t start.

Arriving in French Polynesia was an amazing feeling! We feel especially lucky because when we arrived, we found out that we were the last sailing vessel to get pre approval for a 90-day visa. As of right now vessels are only being granted 4 days to reprovision and move on.

Last year we were in La Cruz dreaming of French Polynesia and our landfall in the Marquesas. This year our intended path looks a bit different as we will be going backwards (against the wind) from the “typical” Trade-Wind route. Starting in Tahiti (The Society Islands) we will be winding our way East through the Tuamotu Archipelago and will finish in the Marquesas. Our plan is to stay as remote as possible throughout this trip in French Polynesian, much like last winter when we were in the Sea of Cortez Mexico. While we have a few days in the marina we are cleaning, fixing things and resting up before we jump over the Tuamotus. We will continue to update our tracking page but it may be a while before we get Wi-Fi again.

Squally seas towards the beginning of the passage
We were both seasick during the first few days of the passage with not much energy and had a hard time keeping food down.
This weather is no fun!
We got hit with a wave in the cockpit with so much water that it inflated Elise’s lifejacket and set off her man overboard alarm
Austin hand steering in 40+ knots of wind
Hard to beat a sunset at sea
Catching up on sleep during the day
Starting to get our sea legs after a week of windy conditions
The ocean clouds make for quite the sunsets
Austin on night watch
Playing Criblets to pass the time
Lots of time for podcasts and reading (once the weather allowed)
Goofy glasses for Neptune to celebrate our first Equator crossing. We are shellbacks now!
Celebrating Austin’s birthday at sea
Our big catch of the passage!
Filling the freezer with Yellowfin Tuna!
Motoring in flat calm seas after fixing the engine
Land Ho!
Its a good day when you wake up and can see land during the sunset!
Huts over the water on the way to the marina
Boats anchored inside the reef that protects the island if Tahiti

15. When Your Boats in the Land of Spam

April 25th, 2020 – February 15th, 2021

In this blog we will take you way back to April 2020 when we had just completed our 14-day quarantine after 23 days at sea and catch you up to the present February 2021.  It’s been a rollercoaster of a year with so many twists and turns that we never could have expected. Overall, we feel pretty lucky that we were in a position to be adaptable and make the best of the COVID-19 situation. We may not ever like spam but we are thankful that Hawaii has been a safe island home for Atica during these crazy times.  

After a few short weeks of exploring Oahu and completing a few boat projects, Austin flew off to Alaska for the fishing season. Flying from Honolulu, HI to Cordova, AK was quite a shock to the system. He had been in some form of isolation for several months and now he was thrust into the yearly migration to Alaska, for the harvest of Salmon. Even though this migration was deemed by the state of Alaska to be an essential service, traveling long distances during a pandemic was at times hard to swallow. The man who sat next to Austin on the airplane from Seattle to Anchorage was heading to Dutch Harbor, from Morocco! Providing the relationship between the sea and the consumer is very important to our friend Michael and that was one of the many reasons Austin agreed to travel so far to work on his purse seiner the F/V Bounty. Wanting to observe the rules put in place to protect the rural fishing community, Austin went straight to the boat to stay isolated until he got his negative covid test results. He then got to meet his crew mates Phillis and Colin and they set to work getting the boat ready for the fishing season. In between boat jobs he explored Cordova and met some of the local fishermen. Highlights were hikes around the area and bonfires under the midnight sun. The long days were great for getting the boat ready for fishing but it sure makes it hard to go to sleep when the sun never sets.

Once the fishing season was open the decision was made to stay out, put our heads down and fish. Purse seining is a way of fishing that involves a half a mile long by sixty ft deep net. The net is loaded on the back deck of the boat in such a way that when “pulled” by the skiff it neatly falls off. In reality the skiff is “set” in a specific position and the big boat drives away from it trying to make a quarter mile U shape in the current. As a deckhand, Austin’s job was to watch the net as it went overboard and make sure nothing got snagged (including himself), then wash the seaweed and jellyfish off the deck. Once the net is out there is about 15-20 min to get a snack and “plunge” the water to keep the fish from swimming out of the net. When the captain makes the call to close the net, the skiff and the big boat start heading towards each other. When the two boats get close enough, Phillis in the skiff gives one of the deckhands the line that is attached to the end of the net. She is handed the towing bridle so the skiff can keep the seiner out of trouble while its engines are in neutral. As the net comes back onboard the deckhands stack the net while the captain is controlling the speed the net comes in and pulls the “purse line” to sinch up the bottom of the net so the fish can’t swim out. Of course, there are many more details and nuances to the job but repetition is the name of the game and the more sets you make the more fish you catch… hopefully.

It was really hard for Austin to be away from Elise and the boat but we were able to communicate regularly and he felt good knowing she had friends there to help if she needed them. He was also super lucky to be on such a great crew. The whole crew had good attitudes, work ethic, shared the crew duties and ate great food. On off days when there was the opportunity to go ashore, they hiked and pick wild blueberries. They had a few chances to sport fish and caught plenty of rockfish and halibut. They even set prawn pots and Austin amazed the crew with prawn ceviche, a recipe he learned while in Mexico. Austin’s favorite though was the octopus that was pulled up in the prawn pot. On a few occasions they would raft up with other fishermen including Michaels wife Nelly who runs her own gillnetter and her brother Nate who has another purse seiner. It was always a feast of seafood or wild game. On one occasion Austin prepared wild sockeye and halibut sushi, and on another the group grilled octopus and venison backstraps. Overall, it was a below average year for the fishery but it was still a good time and Austin was glad that he was a part of it.

While Austin was in Alaska, Elise stayed on the boat to keep an eye on things. Being alone on a boat in a new place could have been very isolating but luckily, we had become good friends with Chris & Julie from SV Lorien and Harvey from SV Sophie. We spent lots of time together and quickly formed a boat family. First thing each morning Elise and Harvey would swim laps in the lagoon in front of the marina. Elise began studying for the captain’s license exams, and otherwise filled her days with boat projects and lots of sewing. Elise sewed her first set of “chaps” for a neighbor’s dinghy and lots of other projects that have been on our sewing list.  She explored the North Shore of Oahu and took advantage of the summer calm weather and warm water for snorkeling and spear fishing with the boat fam. At around 6PM each evening it was time to grab the beach chairs and head to the lagoon to watch the sunset with the other cruisers. The lagoons public parking lot was closed due to Covid-19 so the lagoon was almost always empty other than the occasional monk seal. One of the benefits of our boat family was the food! We all love to cook, or in Elise’s case bake, so almost every night we would eat together. Whether it was lamb burgers on homemade pretzel buns or local caught fish from Niko’s fish market, it was amazing!

For 4th of July weekend Elise took the boat out to Makua, an anchorage on the west side of Oahu, with new island friends Becca and Tate. Tate grew up in the San Juan’s and we have a mutual friend Gavin. It was the first time she had taken the boat out without Austin and everything went smoothly. The water was so clear you could see the anchor on the bottom, in 30 feet of water. After scrubbing clean the bottom of the boat, a pod of dolphins came over to inspect the work. The dolphins were very playful and zoomed in circles around us. Another weekend Tate and Becca took Elise on a tour in their panga of Kaneohe Bay on the east side of the island. It was fun to check out the caves, sandbars and we even saw a hammerhead shark. The bay is well known as a nursery for sharks but a hammerhead is a special sighting.

Towards the end of July, we got a hard reminder that Hawaii is not out of the hurricane zone when Hurricane Douglas was projected to hit Oahu. The dock was buzzing with energy as everyone prepped their boats for a possible direct hit. In Atica’s case this involved: removing the sails, solar panels and canvas, adding chafe gear to the 19 lines attaching Atica to the dock, inspecting pumps and checking to make sure the abandoned boat next to us wouldn’t put Atica at risk. On the day of the hurricane the liveaboards on the dock set up a radio group so we could all check in with each other and help out if anyone was in danger. At one point everyone put in bets for the top wind speed we would see in the marina. As the day went on Douglas’s projected path moved from directly over us to a more northerly path that just missed all of the Hawaiian Islands. In the end the top wind speed was in the low 30s and Harvey with the lowest predicted windspeed won the bet.  We were all so very relieved that Douglas turned out to be nothing but after so much preparations and excitement it was a bit of a letdown.  

As Austin’s salmon season wrapped up, the decision was made to both fly back to Washington so we could see family. Then when it was time to head back to Hawaii, we could do our quarantine together. It was nice to see family and friends that we had missed over the past year of sailing. Elise took her captains exams and completed all the paperwork for her 50-ton Masters License! We got to sail the San Juan’s on Pangaea with Mac and Wendy and meet baby Hazel who was born while we were away. We even got to see friends that we met while sailing. Remember Chili the skinny street dog that our friends Tree and Morgan adopted in La Cruz? Well now he has been fattened up and has some very impressive new tricks. Tree and Morgan left their boat in Mexico and bought a house while they were back in Washington. It was fun to spend Halloween with them at their place in the foothills of the cascade mountains.  We helped Don and Melissa finish their bunk house and sauna at the beach and took many hikes up Guemes Mountain. 

We intended to only be in Washington a few weeks but when we were offered a job doing a remodel with Don for the fall it sounded like another good way to fill the cruising kitty back up. The remodel was a big success and played on our skills of project management and construction. It was good to have some steady work and get our hands dirty; laying hardwood floors, painting, installing cabinets and all the other things that go into a remodel. We even got our cardio in as we chased the customers dog two miles down Oaks Ave during rush hour, “Gadijo!!!!” The story is too long for this blog but if you ever need a good laugh ask us about it! As the summer days faded into rain showers our lack of winter wardrobes reminded us that a huge part of us was an ocean away. It was hard to be away from our boat and the dream was so much less tangible. COVID-19 had us questioning everything and contemplating what cruising could look like in the future. We wrapped up our time in the Northwest with a trip to Lincoln City, OR with Elise’s family for Christmas. We spent hours walking the beach, collecting agates, decorating Christmas cookies and watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.

Once New Years had passed; it was time to say our goodbyes, pack up all the boat parts we had been collecting on the mainland, take our COVID-19 tests and fly back to Oahu. The first thing we noticed when we got off the airplane was the heat! Sailing to Hawaii was a slow transition but flying from blustery cold Washington to sunny Hawaii was abrupt. The heat combined with the stress of trying to figure out what to do next was visibly evident as Elise broke out in hives for days. Things got easier as we settled into the boat and back into our boat family. Elise got busy sewing up a full boat shade cover for S/V Sophie a Hallberg/Rassy 42. There was so much fabric to maneuver in the tight space on Atica that Austin had to help push and pull fabric as Elise sewed. Austin helped a neighbor with a fiberglass repair and we installed our new AIS transponder. We “remodeled” the quarter berth into a nav seat to fit a new freezer which may be one of the best additions to the boat yet! We quickly realized a new solar panel would be needed to run the freezer off grid so we added 210W to the dodger. Things were starting to feel “normal”, living in Hawaii and we settled into the idea that we would probably be in Hawaii for at least another year, but as with everything this year it seems as soon as we make a decision, everything gets flipped upside down.

French Polynesia, where we intended to sail from Mexico, has had its maritime boarders officially closed since March 2020. Since then, the French Polynesian government has been granting sailing vessels special permission to enter on a case-by-case basis. When SV Sophie and SV Lorien were granted permission, it didn’t take much convincing for us to get onboard with the idea of a visit to the country that has been the pinnacle of our sailing dreams all along. We applied for permission and we got our official entrance letter. We are completing the final preparations to set sail for Tahiti in the next few days. Our plan as of now is to sail from Hawaii to Tahiti where we will check-in at Pape’ete. This should be between 2-3 weeks at sea. We will then spend the next three months sailing “backwards” through the Tuamotu Archipelago and check out of French Polynesia in the Marquesas Islands. From the Marquesas we plan to sail back to Hawaii. There is risk that procedures and policies could change while we are at sea and we could be denied the visas to stay in French Polynesia but these are the risks we are willing to take. Since almost all of the countries west of French Polynesia are closed completely, we will either be back to Hawaii in four weeks or four months. Fingers crossed for the latter! We will be updating our predict wind page with daily updates while we are at sea so follow along on our tracking page to see what we are up to.

14. Aloha Passage – Mexico to Hawaii

March 25th – April 24th, 2020

Once cruising French Polynesia and the South Pacific was no longer viable for us this season, we went back to the drawing board. After much deliberating Hawaii was chosen as the next stop on the Turn Point Sailing adventure. We plotted 2,800-miles due West from La Cruz, Mexico to Hilo, Hawaii. This would be our first open ocean passage and would take us half way across the Pacific Ocean. With the food packed on board, tanks filled with water and fuel, Mexico checkout paperwork complete, the only thing left was a good weather window out of Mexico. Getting out of Mexico and the outflow of the Sea of Cortez is the most challenging part of route planning for this voyage. The weather patterns in the area seem to be feast or famine, meaning you either have very little wind or lots of it. It’s about 750 miles from La Cruz to where the trade winds typically fill in, so light wind wasn’t going to work. We don’t have the fuel capacity or the flexibility on a passage of this length to bob around for days in light wind right at the start. The most logical option is to wait for a Norther, strong winds coming from the North out of the Sea of Cortez, to provide the wind we needed to beat your way out of Mexico.

The next weather window we could see was leaving Banderas Bay on Friday March 27th. In an effort to not upset Poseidon by leaving on a Friday, we decided to leave La Cruz on Thursday and anchor out at Punta de Mita for the night which is on the north west corner of Banderas Bay. In Punta de Mita we connected with SV Lorien who had also received their Mexico clearance papers and were Hawaii bound. Lorien being a 51’ 25-ton aluminum boat has much different sailing and performance characteristics than Atica who is 37’ long and about 9 tons. That meant that we would likely not “see” them passed the first day of the passage but it’s comforting to have another boat within a few hundred miles to talk to and compare weather forecasts. 

The first four days were really pretty miserable. Not going to lie, we both questioned if we should quit this whole sailing thing and just go back to normal jobs and land lubber life. The seas were steep and awkward and the wind was forward of the beam. We were leaned hard over and bashing up waves only to drop off the other side. Atica felt like a bucking bronco that was running from Mexico with the spur of Coronavirus in her side. On day two we both got seasick, this is pretty rare for us, in fact it was the first time on this whole trip for Austin. Even listening to a podcast was too distracting so we took turns napping in the sea bunk or looking out at the waves all day and night. This gave us A LOT of time to think: Were we doing the right thing? What did the future of the Turn Point Sailing adventure look like? What was it going to be like when we finally got to Hawaii? What did our future look like? What did the future of the world look like?… It’s not that often that you give yourself days at a time to just think and with the extra layer of COVID19 we started to think about the things that are really important to us. We both missed family and wished we could be with them in these hard times. It weighed heavy that we have chosen self-isolation and have been preparing for it for years while so many people are having their lives turned upside down with little to no time to prepare. We have no doubt that we are doing the right thing for us and know that people all over the world have what it takes to get through this difficult time.

By day five we were used to the motion of the boat and even though we were still sailing upwind normal activities could be conducted on the boat including; cooking, reading, listening to podcasts and even a little stretching in the cockpit. The trip seamed attainable again and we remembered how much we love sailing and why we are doing this. It was surprisingly cold and the sky was dark and grey. We pulled out our sweatshirts and wool socks for the first time since leaving the US. On Day 7 we finally started to catch the trades and the wind direction shifted to aft of the beam. We let the sails out and happily flew along at over 6 knots in 10-12 knots of wind. On day 11 we picked up a hitchhiking bird named Herbert, a Brown Booby that was not afraid of people. These birds are BIG and his needle-sharp beak was pretty intimidating. He was very happy to catch a free ride and was not going anywhere despite Austin dousing him with water and touching him with the scrub brush when he went to clean up his poop. Austin chucked a few moldy limes at him and when they bounced off him, he just looked at us like ‘what was that for’ unfazed and unimpressed. We decided we would give him one free night before we brought out the Bug-A-Salt gun and luckily, he flew off the next morning and never returned. Multiple times in the beginning of the passage big schools of dolphins of various sizes came up to the boat. Big ones swam at the bow and we could hear them breathe and squeak. Another day medium size dolphins were playing a game where they would leap straight out of the water, hover in air and then belly flop back down. It was impressive how high they could get out of the water but the movement was not very graceful for dolphin standards.

One of the questions we get most often from non-sailors is if we stop moving, anchor or slow down at night in the ocean and if someone is always awake. The answer is that we are always moving and we take turns being on watch all through the night. Our average boat speed is about the speed a human can jog but since we are moving 24/7 the miles add up quickly. We have found that we are most successful doing a 3 hour on 3 hours off watch schedule from 19:00 to 07:00 each night.  When the weather is particularly rough or if we are not feeling good, we will drop it back to 2 or 2.5 hour shifts but we have found that 3 hours gives us enough time to sleep and feel refreshed enough for the next watch. We get into a rhythm and the watch usually goes something like this: The person off watch sets an alarm for 2 hours and 45 min on the phone in the pocket by our sea bunk. Our sea bunk is the port side mid ship bunk with a lee cloth that basically gives you a two-foot taco to sleep in. We sleep wedged in the U formed by the seat back, mattress and a body pillow. To block out the wind and boat noise we usually sleep with one earplug in and sometimes an eye mask during the day. The dialogue for shift change basically plays out like a script the same way every few hours no matter who’s watch it is. When the alarm goes off the person off watch yells up to the cockpit, “How’s it going up there?” The groggy reply “Barely keeping my eyes open, the wind is x…”. “Okay I’m getting up now.” The previously off watch person dawns there watch clothes and life jacket and picks out the snacks they want in the cockpit for their watch. In the companionway the switch occurs. After a hug and a kiss, “Have a good watch”, “Have a good sleep”. In the first few minutes of coming on watch it’s important to scan the horizon for lights, look at the wind speed and direction and get acquainted with the boats motion. We like to listen to podcasts or music on the phones speaker to keep us awake during the night. If the wind changes drastically and a reef is required in the sails the off-watch person is called up to help. Changes to sail trim can be done by one person but anything that requires leaving the cockpit is best to be done when both of us are awake. Even when you are off watch your ears and body are very attuned to the motion and sounds of the boat and any change in the sails or wind speed will usually wake the off-watch sleeper. During the day we have a much less structured watch schedule. We take turns cooking, cleaning and resting. Since we only get a few short chunks of sleep at night, daytime naps are crucial. Even Elise has learned the art of ‘the nap’!

Day 12 was a particularly special day as we hit 1,400 miles and half way to Hilo! We learned from Don, over the sat phone, that the most remote point in all of the oceans is 1,666 miles from land in all directions. Point Nemo is in the center of the South Pacific somewhere between Chile and New Zealand. A boat can only be roughly 300 miles further from land than we were at our half way point! The wind was the lightest of the whole trip and we made only 98 miles in 24 hours. We coasted along under our rainbow symmetrical spinnaker all day.  We ate celebratory cinnamon pecan sticky buns, listened to Reggae and had a spa day in the sun. We felt clean and full of energy and ready to take on the second half of the passage to Hawaii. For dinner we had Drifters Fish smoked salmon pasta and shared a bottle of wine. After we finished, we jettisoned the wine bottle overboard with a message inside. Fingers crossed somebody finds it!

“Are we there yet…?” The next day energy levels were low. The excitement of half way day wore off and the realization that we still had at least 10 more days at sea weighed heavy. Thankfully the wind slowly began to pick up and we made more miles each day. The boats new motion was a dramatic side to side roll as we now headed more DDW (dead downwind) with the headsail held out by the spinnaker pole. On watch you had to keep a hand or foot on something so you would not fall off the seat as we rolled down the waves. On day 16 we saw two logs in the water, which is kind of scary in the middle of the ocean because it could do a lot of damage if we hit one. It turns out we did, it wasn’t a hard hit and we didn’t even notice at the time but, once we got to Hawaii Austin saw a new scratch on the blue paint of Atica’s bow that wasn’t there before we left and must have come from the barnacle covered log that floated right by the boat. As we passed one of the logs a Mahi Mahi came out from under the log and hit the fishing lure. We were going so fast that the lure ripped out of its mouth and was launched through the air, crashing into the boom. The plastic lure cracked and we found sparkly bits of green plastic all the way on the bow, crazy forces were applied to that lure. Luckily nobody was hooked.  

Crew moral took another hit when on day 17 we heard a thudding sound from the water maker compartment. This crucial machine had sheered one of the critical bolts and could no longer be run. With only half our water capacity in the tanks we had to immediately start rationing water. The roughly 40 gallons of water would last us about 10 days under normal conditions, now washing dishes in only salt water (no fresh water rinse) and watching our water consumption was vital. To distract us from the disappointment of the watermakers demise we played a game of Phase 10 in the cockpit. In between hands Austin looked up and said “I see a schooner on the horizon”. Elise couldn’t see anything and thought he was going crazy. Sure enough, through the binoculars we could both see a two masted sailboat way off on the horizon. Austin hailed the boat on the radio and immediately heard back “Atica, I hear you, this is Golden Eagle”. We had a long conversation on channel 16 in the middle of the ocean where we found out the boat was a 42-foot ketch rigged trimaran and the owner was solo sailing to Hawaii. He said we were the first sailboat he had seen in the 33 days since he left Ecuador. He was planning to sail with his Ecuadorian wife to the South Pacific but had to change plans like so many of us this year. She stayed in Ecuador with her sick mother and he was sailing solo back to his home of Hawaii. He left before coronavirus was as widespread and so when we told him about the quarantine we faced when we arrived in Hawaii and the extent of the pandemic, he was pretty shocked. We will for sure be looking for his boat while we are in Hawaii so we can meet him in person. By day 18 we had consistent wind 15 -20 knots and Atica flew down the waves even hitting above 10 knots of boat speed. We took a reef in both the main and headsail as the swell grew bigger and more chaotic. We were wing on wing with the headsail poled out. Austin put out a third handline in a concerted effort to catch one of the pelagic fish who had so far been elusive.

Food is not only sustenance but entertainment on a long passage. At lunch you start brainstorming what to make for dinner, utilizing the dwindling fresh stores and copious pantry of dry and shelf stable foods. An effort must be made to use the most vulnerable fresh produce first and utilize canned goods to stretch the meals further. It didn’t start out that way though. For the first four days the only food we ate and could keep down was vanilla vegan protein shakes, crackers, Gatorade and when we were really feeling ambitious Top Ramen. As soon as the sea sickness subsided and we started to feel more comfortable on the passage the cravings for real food kicked in. The first real meal was French Toast with homemade sourdough nut and spice bread. Throughout the crossing we baked 6 loafs of sourdough bread, homemade sticky buns, biscuits, World Peace Cookies and chocolate chip zucchini bread.  We got creative with canned good casseroles including two batches of our go-to, canned chicken enchiladas and a new comfort food hit, a mix between chicken pot pie and shepherd’s pie. We made pesto pasta with canned artichokes and even a big batch of Indian Red Lentil Dahl with fresh ginger. Feeling really ambitious Elise made cookies and pie crust for a real chicken pot pie towards the end of the passage. After the “cookies and pie” day Austin had to rein in Elise’s baking habit, citing copious amounts of dish washing and extreme heat in the cabin. He literally said “You have to promise no more baking until we get to Hawaii!” We ate scrambled eggs and bacon or potato hash for breakfast and many days we just had toast. Some days tuna melts and Tang hit the spot. Austin learned a new skill and made corn tortillas from scratch. We ate them with a surprisingly good Mexican spiced pork that came in a shelf stable pouch. On days we were feeling less ambitious there were plenty of pasta dishes, “Churched up” Ramen and Indian pouch meals that only require heating up the pouch in a pot of boiling water and making a pot of rice. There were plenty of granola bars, cookies, trail mix, chips and crackers to keep us awake on the long night watches. Somehow we both managed to lose weight while eating all of that! Our fresh stores on our last day at sea were: ½ an onion, ¼ of a red cabbage, ½ a jicama, 2 heads of garlic, 4 sticks of butter and 53 eggs. Can you tell Austin was nervous about running out of eggs!  Over all we felt we had a really good amount of fresh food on the passage, hardly anything went to waste and we got to eat something fresh at least once a day.

One of the great things about the sailing community is that it really is a community and we all look out for each other. Salpare who was our dock neighbor in La Cruz, left about 10 days before us for French Polynesia and they were just a few days out when the news about the restrictions and closures in the South Pacific were announced. They had to make the hard decision to change course, at first they decided to return to San Diego, but after several days sailing upwind in rough conditions they decided to head west to Hawaii. They arrived in Hilo a week before our intended landfall and were sending us daily updates about Hilo. In the beginning the reports were all positive, we had to do quarantine but the officials were understanding that boats coming off the ocean were basically the safest people since they have been isolated for 20+ days. We were excited to see them again in Hilo and were confident that we could get the resources we needed even under restrictions. That all changed on day 20 of our passage. We got a message from Salpare that something had changed overnight. Radio Bay in Hilo where we were headed was no longer going to let any new boats in and getting water was going to be a challenge since quarantine was all of the sudden enforced with guards on the dock. Locals were looking for someone to blame for the virus and any non-resident traveling to Hawaii is public enemy number one. On top of this, a ban on inter-island travel by boat was put in place so we could be stuck on anchor in Hilo, (one of the rainiest places in the country) for an unknown amount of time. There are only two international ports of entry in Hawaii, Hilo on the big island and Honolulu on Oahu, so we started to look at our other option. Lorien our buddy boat since leaving Punta de Mita was already planning for Oahu and had a slip booked in Ko Olina Marina. After a combination of talking to other boats and Elise’s dad over the SAT phone we learned that Ko Olina was really our only option and luckily, they had a spot for us. So, with less than 24 hours to landfall in Hilo we altered course for Oahu adding another 2 days at sea. It was very stressful trying to send documents over the SAT phone and we needed to call our insurance company to get US coverage again before we could get into the marina. The stress of the unknown combined with a lack of sleep made the last few days very exhausting.

At sunrise on our last full day at sea we could see the dark green outline of Maui. After 22 days without sight of land it was pretty surreal. We started to see more garbage and stuff floating in the water, a sure sign we were getting closer to civilization. In the morning we got two bites on our fishing lines and were very disappointed when both fish got away. We jibed the boat and as we did, we got another bight on the handlines. Austin pulled in the line while Elise threw all the cushions and stuff from the cockpit down below. Then the other two handlines went off. We had three Mahi Mahi on at once! One broke the lure and the other got off but Austin was able to pull the first one onboard. It was the biggest Mahi we have caught and the lure was the broken one that had hit the boom more than a week before. This beautiful fish made up for dragging the lures almost all the way across the Pacific without any fish. Overnight we sailed between Moloka’i and Oahu and turned the engine on for the last few hours passing by Honolulu to Ko Olina. Just after sunrise we entered the channel and were greeted by a huge sea turtle. On the left side of the channel was the marina and behind it multiple fancy hotels that make up the Disney Ko Olina Resort and on the right was a big oil refinery. In some ways it felt like we were home again with Atica a short distance from an oil refinery. We tied up to the fuel dock and called US Customs and Boarder Patrol to get checked into the country. It felt so strange to be wearing a face mask as we talked to the officers and they outlined the rules of our quarantine. We are not allowed to leave the boat for 14 days and must have everything delivered to us. The punishment for breaking quarantine is a $5,000 fine and or 1 year in jail and we are subject to random phone calls or visits to check that we are in compliance. After getting our clearance we waited on the fuel dock for a few hours for the marina office to open so we could get our slip assignments.  Malu, one of the marina employees, was very helpful and gave us a slip near Lorien so we could talk during quarantine and helped us find a laundry service that could wash our huge 48lb sail bag full of laundry since we are not allowed to do it ourselves. On our first night on the dock, not quite land yet, we ordered pizza, poured a glass of our fancy Mexican tequila and started watching Tiger King on Netflix. It felt crazy to be lying next to each other in our “big” v-berth bed not moving.

We are now settling into our quarantine dock life. Everyone on the dock that is out of quarantine has been so helpful and has offered to pick up groceries and essentials for us. We are busy deep cleaning the boat and removing the layers of salt off everything. There is a list of boat projects to do so no excuses to be bored but even though we are getting a bit stir crazy. We do yoga on the dock next to the boat each day and it has really helped to keep us moving. Looking forward to a long walk after our 14 days is up and to be able to go to the grocery store on our own. Especially since we accidentally ordered a single lime that cost $4.99 with our online groceries! We’re not in Mexico anymore! Even with the change in food prices we are thrilled to just be here. We have also learned how lucky we are that we got a spot in this marina. It’s a little strange because there are lots of open spots but we were told the marina doesn’t usually except many boats. Maybe it has something to do with their parent company and the marina not really needing to make money, who knows. The marina is clean, safe and out of the city. We have a beautiful view of green hillsides and once we can leave the dock, the marina has a private lagoon with a white sand swimming beach. Best of all its actually cheaper than the public marina in Honolulu that multiple people have called ‘sketchy’. To say we are happy and thankful to be here is an understatement.

The future is still uncertain since no plans can or should be written in stone in times like these. We are taking the time to celebrate accomplishing the big goal of crossing an ocean and feeling proud that we sailed over 3,000 miles nonstop! All of our hard work has paid off, Atica is a strong, safe and fast ocean voyager now! The boat is now safe in Hawaii and we are back in our home country. It’s amazing how our perspective has shifted, we didn’t think that much about it until we were outside of the US during a global pandemic. We are going to settle in here and try to slowly explore Oahu, once the quarantine and stay at home orders are relaxed. Austin plans to head up to Alaska to fish with our good friend Michael for the summer and Elise is going to stay with the boat in Hawaii and look for things to keep her busy once the new normal settles in. It’s looking like Hawaii will be our home base for the next year or so, so use up those travel vouchers and come visit us in paradise! 

13. The Plans, They are a Changing

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!!

12. Headed for the Mainland- Sea of Cortez to Mainland Mexico

February 4th – 29th, 2020

Puerto Escondido & Honeymoon Cove

Our first few days in Porto Escondido were pretty windy so we only ventured from the boat for laundry and a few groceries from the marina’s tienda. The bay is set up with a bunch of moorings and they no longer allow anchoring. When we finally found an available mooring, it was half of a mile across the bay from the dinghy dock at the marina. On Thursday our good friends Michael & Nelly arrived in their van for a visit. Austin had to ferry the four of us and a bag of goodies out to Atica because our dinghy could not fit everything in one trip. That night we ate fish tacos and drank margaritas until late. Nelly mentioned she had a tooth filling fall out while they were in Mexico and wanted to get if fixed while in Loreto. The next morning, we asked on the cruisers net for a recommendation and immediately had multiple people stepping over each other on the radio to give us their dentist recommendations. Cruisers are VERY eager to help out! After the net we loaded in the van and drove into the town of Loreto. We hit the grocery store and boat supply store while Nelly had a successful visit to the dentist. We had great tacos and refreshing limonada (think limeade but better) at El Rey Del Taco and explored the downtown streets. Just before heading back to the marina we stopped at a “Tortillaria” where you could see the tortillas being pressed and put on a conveyor to be cooked. They had the best corn chips we have ever had!

In the afternoon we drove up a dirt road to hike Steinbeck’s Canyon and on the way we passed some wild horses. The path quickly turned into a “choose your own adventure” hike that took us up, over and around boulders of all sizes. We climbed and crawled around water ponds with a few small waterfalls in between. On the way back down, we were all chatting and Austin said “Spider!” right as Michael unknowingly stepped on a tarantula! After the hike we all went down to the beach where Michael and Nelly were van camping. We grilled steak and chili peppers over the fire and made tacos. On one of the rocks forming the fire pit Austin spotted a tiny scorpion the size of quarter basking in the heat from the flames. It was a little unnerving to see a tarantula and a scorpion all in the span of a few hours, a good reminder that even though the desert looks lifeless and dry there is plenty of life if you look close enough. On our dinghy ride back to the boat our minds were blown in a completely different way, the bio-luminescent algae in the bay made our dinghy look like we had under glow lights. It was even “turning” on and off when we slowed down or went faster, it was unreal!

The next day Michael and Nelly came aboard Atica for a sail around Isla Danzante and then we anchored in Honeymoon cove for the night. Michael brought down a few pole spears and we were eager to get in the water to catch dinner. Pretty much immediately one of the pole spears fell out of the dinghy and sunk to the bottom. After a few free dives it was clear the spear was too deep to find. The bad luck continued with the only spear catch of the day being a small trigger fish that was more appetizer size than it was dinner for four. Austin was determined to turn our luck around and strapped on his scuba tank and went down to try to find the spear. For 15 or so minutes we could see his bubbles coming up in a grid pattern around the boat until he finally found the spear in 50 ft of water! Michael gifted one of the pole spears to us and we named it Needle after Aria Stark’s sword in GoT. The surf reports looked good on the Pacific side of Baja so we said goodbye to our friends.

It was time to look at the calendar and decide what we wanted to do next. Originally, Loreto was going to be the furthest North we would go, but we still had about a month until we planned to be in mainland Mexico. We had received multiple recommendations about Caleta San Juanico so we made the decision to keep heading North with the idea that we would sail straight from our Northern most stop to the mainland in one big shot.

Isla Coronados

From Escondido it was a peaceful motor/sail up to Isla Coronados. We saw our first blue whale since the one we hit coming down the coast. Luckily this time it was way off in the distance. When we arrived to the anchorage it was filled with hundreds of dolphins and pelicans fishing in the crystal-clear blue water. There was nothing on our hooks that day so we ate bean and cheese quesadillas for dinner and watched the dolphins jump and play in the sunset.

Caleta San Juanico

After one night at Isla Coronados we got up early for a day sail North, along the rainbow-colored cliff lined coast to Caleta San Juanico. The bay was as beautiful as it had been described with jagged rock pinnacles, white beaches and green cactus studded hillsides. After a very fun and social few weeks cruising around the Sea of Cortez it was time to focus back in on the project list. All the stainless steel was in dire need of a rust removal and polishing. Each morning we would work on the stainless cleaning or another boat project and then had the afternoon for spear fishing or hanging out on the beach. Austin has been improving his spearing and was able to get a few good dinner fish and a lobster on the reefs around the bay. As we headed North the water temperature was dropping and even with wet suits on it was COLD!  

On the beach we visited the “cruisers shrine”, a tree on the beach where boats have carved their names in wood, rocks and shells and left trinkets to commemorate their visit. Austin carved “Atica 2020” into a sandstone rock that we left at the base of the tree. While at San Juanico we met several boats that have been sailing in the area seasonally for years. They were even from places that we knew well like, La Conner WA, Victoria BC and Bend OR. We played a few pretty competitive rounds of bocce ball on the beach and went to a cruisers bon fire with all the boats from the bay. Austin joked that he didn’t know how you could be a cruiser if you didn’t like fish. The potluck beach fire included fried snapper, foil pouch yellow tail, pan seared grouper and smoked salmon that cruisers from Alaska had brought down with them. Everyone was thrilled that we brought brownies to the party, not another type of fish!

After a week in San Juanico we packed the boat for a four to five-day sail to the mainland. Just as we were putting the last few items away, we saw on the horizon a familiar green sailboat with a red dinghy strapped to the side. It was Kyle, Lori and Kyla the friends we met and speared fish with in Agua Verde over two weeks before! We buzzed over to say hi and quickly our sailing plans were overshadowed by the opportunity for Austin to go spearing in the company of such knowledgeable people one more time.  The next day Elise volunteered to hang out on Fiona with baby Kyla while Kyle, Lori and Austin dove on the reef at Los Mercenarios, the southern entrance to the bay. Kyle speared a huge 23lb Cabrilla (grouper) at 76 ft deep. The fish was bigger than the baby, by a lot!

Punta Perico

With the fridge full of fish, we headed south in calm seas and little wind. A few hours in, the steady 10 – 15 knots we had seen on our original weather forecast had not filled in and we were still motoring. We downloaded weather again and it looked like it was going to be a lot of motoring before we would get any wind and when we did it would be strong wind. We wouldn’t be able to motor the full way with our fuel capacity so we made the hard decision to head back down the Sea of Cortez, Baja side before making our crossing. This would require a shorter weather window and we could leave with full fuel tanks. Looking back, it sounds like a no brainer decision but at the time it felt like a step in the wrong direction after mentally and physically prepping for a straight shot passage to palm trees and warm water! After seeing whales flipping on the horizon we pulled into the peaceful anchorage of Punta Perico on Isla Carmen. After a cocktail we climbed into bed together, a very different experience from the night watches we were expecting when we left that morning.

Punta San Telmo

From Isla Carman it was another full day motor to Punta San Telmo, one anchorage above Los Gatos where we spent Elise’s birthday on the trip North. After letting the anchor go, we jumped off the boat for a sailor’s shower. The anchorage was really rolly, but the bio-luminescence in the water looked like a starry sky and made up for some of the discomfort.   

Ensenada Grande

At first light we pulled the anchor to keep heading South. Mid-morning, we heard and saw a big splash off the bow. A few minutes later another. The splash was caused by huge manta rays with wingspans as big a human coming out of the water and either slapping back down or doing flips in the air. It happened over and over and we even had some come up close to the boat. There is nothing like seeing a manta ray gliding through the water!

The wind picked up in the acceleration zone of Canal de San Jose just like it had on our trip up, but this time the wind was coming from behind us! We enjoyed a few good hours of wing on wing sailing with the spinnaker pole. Shortly after passing Isla San Francisco three false orcas came cruising right up to the boat. At first, we thought they were orcas based on the size, but their heads and fin shape were different than what we are used to from back home in Washington. Our last stop on the way back to La Paz was Ensenada Grande on Isla Partida. We anchored in the furthest South lobe of the anchorage and the water was so clear you could see the bottom and turtles and fish swimming around under the boat. Elise had a dream there was a boat playing party music nearby and then woke up to find that it wasn’t a dream. A boat had come into the bay at 2300 and played dance club music until 0200. A sign we were getting closer to civilization again…

La Paz

We stopped for fuel on the way into La Paz and tied up next to Steve Jobs and Steven Spielberg’s super yachts. As we headed down the channel into La Paz the Malecon looked different. The bayside pathway was full of carnival tents and amusement park rides. We had arrived back in La Paz just in time for Carnival! We anchored next to Wild Rye and Indy and they all came over for cervezas and to catch up in the cockpit of Atica. Later we headed into town for showers and burgers, that we had been craving for weeks.

The next day we did laundry, stocked back up on fresh food and then went to watch the Carnival parade with Hillary and Liam. It was so cool to see the celebration and culture of the whole event. There were elaborate beaded Aztec costumes, creepy KKK looking clowns, huge kitchen stores set up on the street under tents and music of all kinds. Our favorite activity was the blanket auction. A stage was loaded with super fuzzy printed blankets and a guy on the stage would make sets of blankets and pillows, auction them off and then throw them to his assistant who would catch the stack midair with a string, tie it up and hand it to the person who made the winning bid! We indulged with churros, a huge grilled pork stick and 20-peso cervezas. The city was alive and we felt lucky for the experience.

The next day we planned to head out but the Port Captain closed the port for inclement weather and no boats were allowed to leave. We took advantage of another day in town and ran some more errands. That night we had Wild Rye and Alegria, a boat we met on Instagram, over for sunset drinks. The next morning on the cruisers net it was announced that the port was open for the morning but was likely going to be closed by the afternoon. We decided to take advantage of the opening and start South so we could make it to La Cruz for some Puddle Jump activities scheduled for the beginning of March. Wild Rye had heard on the net that a friend of theirs had mail in the La Paz marina but had already crossed over to La Cruz. Liam gave us the envelope to take with us and we were surprised to read the return label: “Island View Elementary, Anacortes WA”. It turns out we were delivering a package of letters from a little boys second grade class back in Anacortes. Hillary and Liam came over to say goodbye and good luck as we would not be setting off across the Pacific from the same place. Wild Rye plans to leave for the Pacific crossing from La Paz and we plan to leave from La Cruz so the next time we will see them is on the other side of the ocean.  The goodbyes get harder and harder as we make such good friends along our journey, at least this one was “see you on the other side, in French Polynesia!”

Passage to the Mainland

We left La Paz bound for Isla Isabella with waves lapping on the shoal that forms the channel out of La Paz. The sea state was uncomfortable as we bashed upwind out of La Paz bay. Before long Elise felt the most sea sick she has ever felt on the boat. Likely a combination of short steep waves and maybe a glass of wine too many the night before. Even being sick she was still able to bake bread as Austin hand steered us out Lorenzo channel. Once we turned South the swell was longer, the wind picked up and Elise started to feel better. All night we had 15 to 25 knots of wind and with only a reefed jib, we sailed along at a good pace. Day 2 we were both sleepy and groggy, getting used to passage making and night watches. Over the night a small squid and a flying fish landed on the decks and started to stink as they dried in the sun. We had good wind pushing us along towards our destination at about 6 knots. By early morning day 3 the wind and seas had died down and we turned on the motor so we could make it to Isla Isabella before sunset. We had read descriptions of Isla Isabella as the “Galapagos of Mexico” and we were so excited to stop there on our way to the mainland. By 1600 we could see thousands of birds swirling over the colorful island in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, we were not the only people who thought Isla Isabella would be an awesome spot to stop. When we got to the anchorage it was already full of cruising boats and we couldn’t find a spot we felt was safe enough for Atica amongst the reefs and rocks that line the small bay. This island was the most extreme indicator of the inaccuracy of Mexican charts that we had been warned about. Our chart plotter was 2 miles off from Isla Isabella’s true location! Sadly, we put Isla Isabella behind us and kept heading south as the sun set for one more night passage on our way to La Cruz. With no wind we motored and hand steered until 0100 when we were able to drift along under sail in a light breeze until sunrise. At sunrise we could see the entrance to Banderas Bay, our last big stop in Mexico. A few hours later we were anchored in La Cruz amongst other boats that were clearly set up for ocean passages. The morning net was buzzing with chatter about the Pacific crossing. The energy was good and we felt ready for the next month full of preparations, before our biggest passage yet, the South Pacific!

11. Exploring Upwind – Sea of Cortez

January 14th – February 3rd, 2020

Puerto Ballena

On a sunny and warm January afternoon we pulled anchor in Puerto Balandra and motored the short distance over to Puerto Ballena on Isla Espiritu Santo. Puerto Ballena consists of three lobe shaped anchorages and when we let the anchor go in the northern most lobe, we were the only boat around. The hillsides were steep and colorful and we found it amazing how different the landscape is from one island to the next in the Sea of Cortez. A few minutes after we arrived a panga pulled up along side Atica with three park rangers onboard. They were extremely friendly and encouraged us to explore and enjoy their island after they viewed our one-year park passes that we luckily had just purchased in La Paz. After lunch we both dove in the water to scrub the bottom and came out covered with tiny shrimp creatures, yuck. A few hours later Wild Rye dropped the hook to our starboard and a catamaran pulled up into the shallows. Not minutes after their anchor was secure the older French couple on the cat were on deck sunbathing in the nude. At sunset Polaris anchored to our port. The bay was filling up with familiar faces and we were glad for the company. Hillary, Liam and Scott from Wild Rye came over for rummy hot chocolates and board games the first night and we spend the next day onboard Polaris hanging out in the sun and eating tamales for lunch. In the afternoon we decided to motor the 6nm north to Caleta Partida along with Polaris to secure a good spot in the anchorage for the upcoming blow.

Celeta Partida

Celeta Partida is a unique and protected bay formed by an extinct volcanic crater. It lies between Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida. On our first day the winds were still calm and we took Litha through the cut between the two islands and past a well taken care of and colorful fisherman’s camp. We had some questionable pork tacos for lunch before hitching a ride in Polaris’ large inflatable dinghy to go check out the sea caves through the shoal cut and around the corner. The east side of Espirtu Santo was very different, huge colorful windswept cliffs with large caves and arroyos’ (valleys) plummeting into the sea. Tourista (food poisoning) hit Elise as we were heading back from the caves and she quickly rushed to the head as soon as the dinghy pulled up to Atica. Over the next few days the winds picked up and we laid low in the boat. Elise nursed a sensitive stomach with a diet consisting primarily of gold fish crackers and electrolyte water while we consumed books and movies. When the winds were not blowing the scenery outside was beautiful and we enjoyed seeing the heads of turtles popping up around the boat throughout the day. We took the dinghy into the shallow beach on Isla Partida for a walk. The beach consisted primarily of clay and made the shallow water milky like the hot springs in Iceland. On our last evening in Celeta Partida we went over to Toketee for a tour and nachos on their amazing yacht. Dar, Dianne and Kim spent 8 years doing a total refit of their 58’ Skookum ketch. The boat was originally a fishing boat but now is a beautiful yacht with all the modern amenities. We happily enjoyed their onboard ice maker and generous hospitality.  

Isla San Francisco

On Sunday the 19th of January we decided to head North while there was still wind to sail in. We sailed off the anchor and put out the fishing lines just outside of the cove. With Wild Rye sailing out behind us, an unofficial race had begun! Less than an hour in the handlines started jumping and Austin pulled in a Mahi Mahi, while Atica healed over sailing up wind. The wind and swell picked up so we reefed the main and shortened the jib. We made shorter tacks up the channel while Wild Rye took a long tack way out until we could no longer see them on the horizon. We have this race in the bag we thought. As we bashed into the swell, we saw a large, black and white shape in the face of the next wave. Elise exclaimed, “Is that an orca?!” On closer look Austin identified the unfamiliar shape as a huge Manta ray with its arms wide out surfing down the wave and going right under the boat. What an amazing sight, we couldn’t believe it! The wind became fickle as we got closer to Isla San Francisco and the outline of Wild Rye grew bigger and bigger on the horizon. Later at the unofficial after race gathering, they told us, they thought they had us beat until the wind died just south of the island. It ended up being pretty much a tie as we anchored in the large circular bay of Isla San Francisco shortly before Rye.

The next day we rowed Litha to shore and walked along the shell beach. Hillary and Scott joined us and we started out on a hike over the salt pond. Scott identified a prickly pear cactus stating that you can eat the tender fruit that grows on them, so Austin got out his knife and we cut a few off. Elise got prickles all over her hands but the worst casualty was Scott getting prickles in his mouth. It was definitely not worth the effort of pealing these small, salty, seed filled, cucumber tasting fruits. It may be a good option if you were stranded in the desert but we have plenty of food on our yacht. From the salt pond we scrambled up a steep slope for a view of the east side of the island and made our own trail down the slope full of cactus. At the bottom we found a real trail and hiked the length of Isla San Francisco’s southern arm. The trail was narrow and steep but the views were worth it for sure. From the top we could see Toketee and Polaris come into the anchorage. After the hike we gathered on the transom of Toketee to go for a snorkeling/spearing mission on the south reef. No fish were speared but we made the plan to try again the next day with a more favorable tide. The next day with better visibility from the outgoing tide, we went to the west reef, where we both speared our first fish. They were small but delicious as fish and chips for lunch.

San Evaristo

With good wind we decided to have another sailing day up to San Evaristo. This time with Wild Rye and Toketee. We were flying in 15-20 knots of wind with very little swell. Elise hand steered and Austin pulled in a big skipjack tuna. With no fish in the fridge we decided to give it a try and kept the less than desirable catch. When Austin killed the fish, blood went everywhere including Elise’s leg that was braced against the leeward seat back with the heal of the boat. The boat was healing so much that when Austin poured a bucket of seawater into the cockpit it wouldn’t drain off the seats and just left a pool of bright red bloody water. As we pulled into the anchorage and into protected waters the boat came back upright and bloody water sloshed all over Elise’s feet. It was a memorable entrance after an exhilarating day sail. The bay in San Evaristo was tight and there were clouds in the sky so we just stayed one night. Austin boiled and then cooked the skipjack which made the meat only barely tolerable.

Puerto Los Gatos

From Evaristo we sailed up the channel between Isla San Jose and mainland Baja. This area is a known wind acceleration zone and we had gusts into the high 20s as we sailed upwind. After a morning of tacking back and forth across the channel we were half way to Los Gatos and the wind died back to nothing but the swell continued to increase. We turned on the engine and motored in the swell the rest of the way. The entrance to Los Gatos is framed by three reefs and we slowly navigated our way into the small bay. The swell was coming into the anchorage and the boat rolled back and forth. The crew of a catamaran that was already anchored in the bay stopped by the boat to invite us over for sundowners and we mentioned we were thinking about putting out the stern anchor. He said, “do it! It was rolly in here last night, even in my catamaran.” With the stern anchor deployed we were able to face Atica’s bow into the swell and the boat felt much better. We rowed over to the cat at sunset for cocktails. Ken & Trish shared interesting stories of their past and current sailing adventures, between them they own a fleet of four boats scattered around the US, Mexico and Canada.

By the next morning the swell had died down considerably and Toketee took the catamarans spot in the anchorage. We went to shore with Liam and Scott and met a nice Canadian overland camper named Wayne and his dog. Los Gatos is extremely remote and he told us about the rough “road” that he took to get out to the beach. We climbed up the undulating pillow like rock formations to the fisherman’s cross on top of the hill. The view was spectacular. We were taking about how remote the location is when a National Geographic Cruise Ship anchored in the entrance to the bay. They quickly offloaded pallets of kayaks and boat loads of “Eco-Tourists” onto the beach. In the evening they had a headlamp-lit dinner on the beach. The ship and all its accessories were gone before the morning.

January 25th was Elise’s birthday and we made plans with Toketee, Wild Rye and our new camper friend Wayne for a beach party to celebrate. We started the morning with yoga and a walk on the beach. Austin prepped pizza toppings while Elise and Hillary swam to shore and laid in the sun. By mid-afternoon we all gathered on the beach to make pizzas on the BBQ and snacked on fresh mahi mahi ceviche that Dar caught on the way to Los Gatos. Wayne gave Elise a birthday gift of a big bag of bread yeast that he had mistook for coffee grounds in a Baja grocery store. In the evening we made a fire on the beach with fragrant mesquite wood and ate chocolate cake right from the pan.  This was not the typical winter birthday!

Our last day in Gatos was full of relaxing. After a lazy morning Austin went spear fishing on the reef with the boys and Elise did yoga on the boat. In the evening we all headed over to Toketee to play poker and had a fish fry with the halibut that Liam speared that day. Diane made Elise another birthday cake with delicious cherry frosting and the mere mention of ice cream to go with made the crews of Wild Rye and Atica light up. The next day we headed up to Agua Verde. Apart from an hour of good sailing there was no wind and we motored. Hillary called on the radio to say that they saw some Minke whales but all we saw on the way was turtles.

Agua Verde

When we entered the bay of Agua Verde an “Uncruise” cruise ship was anchored in the bay along with its menagerie of shuttle boats and kayakers. We rolled our eyes at each other; we were not stoked to see another cruise ship in a quiet and remote anchorage. Thankfully they, like all cruise ships, only spend one day at each place and sometime in the middle of the night they depart for the next location. Monday is cruise ship day in Agua Verde and the rest of the week it’s a peaceful little community of villagers, campers and cruisers who all make a long trek to visit. Agua Verde now ranks high on our favorite destinations list because of its natural beauty and the amazing people we got to share the bay with.

We sat wrapped in towels after cockpit showers as a large group of Uncruise kayakers paddled by. Just then we heard a thud of a kayak and then a friendly voice from the transom yelled up, “I’m Donna, I came to invite you over for happy hour on Windsong”. “When?” we replied. “As soon as you can get there.” We quickly got dressed and rowed Litha over to Windsong, one of the few powerboats we have shared an anchorage with in the Sea of Cortez. Donna & Dennis are farmers from Canada and are some of the friendliest and jolliest people we have met. They quickly became the surrogate “boat parents” of the anchorage to the group of “young boats” as they called us. A green boat named Fiona really moved the scales of youth as its crew included Kyla the sweetest nine-month-old baby.

One day we took Litha across the bay and we went into the village for groceries and internet. The village was tiny and spread out over many winding dirt roads. In the middle a sign stated the towns stats: 3 stores, 2 churches, 5 schools, 1 park, 2 restaurants and 1 “hospital”. The “big” store was surprisingly well stocked with solar panels on the roof to power the 3 inside freezers and satellite internet. Outside ice boxes were filled with fresh fruit and vegetables. After stocking up on food we headed for the beach restaurant for tacos served by Maria, a friendly older woman who didn’t speak any English. After a delicious lunch we loaded our groceries into the dinghy to head back to the boat. The swell had increased and the steep beach did not make the take off easy, 13 eggs were the casualties of Litha jumping off and slamming down in the waves. We took note that the better way of getting into town was to walk along the tidepools at low tide or take the 4×4 only road into the village from the protected beach.

The next day Donna agreed to be our guide on a hike to the ancient cave with hand prints. It was about 6k from our anchorage and pretty hard to find without the help of someone who had been there before. Liam, Hillary & Scott came along too and the six of us hiked up the donkey trail, down to the cemetery and through a palm jungle to the long north facing beach. We were not expecting Baja to be so green and definitely didn’t think we would be walking through a palm tree grove. From the long beach we hiked through a cactus forest and up a steep rocky trail to the cave. The cave was pretty impressive and had what appeared to be separate rooms with sleeping rocks along the edges. At the mouth of the cave the rock face was white washed and marked with red hand prints. We were all curious as to the caves original purpose and the story behind the hand prints.

The major highlight of Agua Verde was spearfishing. Kyle and Lori are professional Free Divers and both hold multiple world records for the largest speared fish of different species. We all benefitted with a daily supply of fresh fish that Kyle or Lori speared. One day Donna, Hillary and Elise babysat their baby Kyla while the rest of the group went out to the reef to go spearfishing. It was pretty windy and the conditions were not ideal for diving, but Austin got some good pointers and got to observe the art of hunting fish with a spear. Dennis joked that as soon as the boys returned from spear fishing, he would warn them that there were lots of fertile woman in the bay from playing with a baby all day.

On our last day in the bay Kyle came over and invited us to go out spearing with Lori. He had injured himself from staying down at 60’ for too long to spear a 22lb grouper so he would stay on the boat with the baby. We quickly packed up our gear and headed out on their boat Fiona to go to the reef. Kyle let us borrow pro spear guns and Austin got to try out his 4-foot-long carbon fins. Kyle handed Elise a big gun and said, “this should work for you, but you won’t be able to reload it since it is set up for commercial diving.” He was right, the bands were so tight even Austin had to work to load it. Like any adventure sport, the gear makes so much of a difference and we were in for a treat to try out these powerful tools. As soon as Elise jumped in the water, she saw two black and white spotted rays glide underneath her and then we both saw a turtle zoom bye. Austin speared a trigger fish and Elise took a shot and missed another. On the way back to the boat to get the gun reloaded Elise was stalked by a large yellow tail and rays zoomed below her. At the next stop Kyle warned us that we might be swimming with seals at this spot, but turns out that was the least of our worries. Elise stocked and speared a big trigger fish and then swam back to the boat for a rest. Shortly after Lori speared a Cabrea (Leopard Grouper) and climbed back on board. Austin was still in the water when we looked over the transom and a big tiger shark, probably 10 feet long swam between Austin and the boat. Kyle and Lori were surprised because they thought that all the tiger sharks in the sea had been hunted, Austin wanted back on the boat a.s.a.p. With everyone safely back onboard we headed to the last stop. Austin and Lori got back in the water and Austin speared a good size parrot fish who’s rainbow scales sparkled in the sun. When we got back to the anchorage Kyle said “Pick up your fish, we got to get a good picture! Austin hold yours up higher, yours looks too small next to your wife’s big one!” After a successful spear fishing mission, we invited Kyle, Lori and Kyla over to Atica for a fish fry and fresh apple cake.

With the fridge stuffed full of fish it was time to make our last hop north to Puerto Escondido. The Uncruise boat was back in Agua Verde so we knew we had spent a full week in the amazing anchorage of Agua Verde. We motored for an hour before a westerly wind built and with just the headsail, we were cruising at over 6 knots. We sailed in gusty wind by an island shaped like an elephant and through a narrow channel. Puerto Escondido is the “Hidden Port” since you can’t see the large bay from the outside. A small buoy lined channel with 12’ of depth leads into a large basin surrounded by steep mountains. The bay is fully regulated and the price to anchor is the same as it is to take one of the many mooring balls that fill the bay. Since this is one of the best hurricane holes in the Sea of Cortez it’s a popular anchorage to wait out weather and visit the town of Loreto. We grabbed a mooring and headed into the fancy marina for a rare cruising treat, a hot shower!

10. La La La Paz – Muertos, Lobos, La Paz, Balandra

January 2nd – January 13th, 2020

After two weeks in beautiful Los Frailes it was time to pull anchor and head North towards La Paz. Serendipity also wanted to check out Bahia Los Muertos and its illusive high-speed internet so they lifted anchor from Los Frailes at the same time. The motor was uneventful other than a few sea turtles, Mahi Mahi and whale sightings. Unfortunately, no fish were caught aboard Atica but Serendipity was able to catch two Mahi Mahi on the 45-mile passage. When we let the anchor go in Muertos at 1600 the wind was still coming from the South, not the preferred direction for the anchorage, but luckily it died down and we fell right to sleep before 2000.

Over breakfast the next morning we saw a big humpback whale show its tale and swim between Atica and Serendipity. After the whale show concluded we took the dinghy to shore for a walk on the beach. The unique beach had large sections of swish cheese looking rock formations with shells and coral imbedded in the rock. Throughout the beach were tons of sea shells and bits of coral. It seemed as if cars constantly drove up and down the beach, despite a large sign that read turtle sanctuary “No Driving on the Beach”. At dinner time we headed over to Serendipity for Emily’s delicious beer battered Mahi Mahi and a canned side dish Elise whipped up with our dwindling food stores. Like a staged performance the whale came back through the bay at sunset. The next morning Emily and David came over to the boat to get some sourdough starter and say goodbye since they planned to sail back to Los Frailes that morning. As we were chatting, a baby and mama whale came into the bay and headed straight for Atica. We got an up-close view as the baby played at the surface as mama dove deeper. They came within ten feet of the boat and for a second we thought we might have our second whale collision, this time while at anchor. Our last day in Muertos was spent relaxing on the boat, taking in the cactus studded hillsides, baking bread and waiting out the wind before continuing on towards La Paz.

We pulled anchor at 0700 to keep heading North towards La Paz. We started sailing as we approached Isla Cerralvo and tacked up wind through the channel. We caught our first skipjack tuna just inside the channel and its meat was so dark that it was almost black. I think we will be throwing those back in the future. Shortly after Elise pulled in a Mahi Mahi and just as she pulled it out of the water it freed itself from the hook, bummer! Luckily a few hours later we got another bite and this time Elise was able to bring onboard a good size Mahi Mahi. The sea state was uncomfortable bashing upwind, it seems we have gotten used to sailing down wind. As we got closer to the Baja mainland, the seas were short and steep, the motor or sails alone struggled to power through the chop. With the jib partially out and engine running we were only able to eek out 3 knots it the direction we were trying to go. This was especially frustrating as it was getting later and later into the afternoon and our ETA for anchoring was going to be in the dark. The sky was a bright red fire for sunset as we sailed through the San Lorenzo Channel. The wind was still above 10 knots from the North so the best anchorage appeared to be Caleta Lobos about 12 miles from La Paz. As we entered this small cove, among multiple boats at anchor, some with lights some completely dark. We used the radar to find a good place to drop the hook. As soon as the anchor was secure three large pelicans came swimming straight at Atica’s transom. The scene was quite eerie as they slowly swam closer through the darkness, probably looking to see if we were going to clean fish. It had been a long and aggravating day of sailing and we were both hungry, cranky and ready for bed.

It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep can do. We awoke refreshed to the sound of sea birds on the nearby rocky island that forms the beautiful turquoise bay.  We turned on the vhf radio at 0800 to listen into our first La Paz Cruisers Net. Every morning on VHF channel 22 the Club Cruceros (Cruising Club) broadcasts a cruisers net to keep the local and transient boats in the loop of the goings on in La Paz. It’s a great resource and also good entertainment over morning coffee. It almost seems like senior citizen summer camp complete with announcements for boccie ball, bake sales and morning yoga classes taught by the radio handle Yoga Bear. The net categories include, emergency broadcasts, ups and downs (tides), weather, currency update, comings and goings (boats announce their arrival and departures from La Paz), club announcements, general announcements, boats looking for crew/crew looking for boats and swaps/trades. We have seen as short as 20 min to as long as an hour when a medical emergency had the radio chatter going for over 20 min with people trying to organize giving blood for a cruiser in the hospital who badly needed it. We learned that in Mexico if you need blood, for a surgery or even for an emergency, you have to get it donated for you specifically and this can be a challenge if you don’t have a community to help provide this. After the net and showers in the cockpit we were ready to head the final 12 miles into civilization, La Paz. We sailed for a few hours and stopped for fuel before motoring into the long dredged channel into La Paz. At the fuel dock the two friendly attendants drug an oil spill boom around the boat, an extra precautionary step we have never experienced before.

La Paz is a Mexican sailing Mecca and is filled with cruising boats from all around the world. As we pulled into the anchorage, we saw the most sailboats on anchor we have ever seen before in one place. Hundreds of sailboats are strategically anchored around the inlets sandbars and even more sailboats fill the six marinas along the waterfront. The anchorage in La Paz is very tidally influenced and all the boats switch direction on anchor multiple times a day. They move at different rates depending on their size and shape above and below the water. The phenomenon is so notable, they call it the “La Paz Waltz”. Atica joined in the dance and each morning the cockpit would face the sunrise and every evening we had a perfect sunset view.  The check in procedures for La Paz are to be done in Spanish over the vhf radio. Austin called the port captain and we are pretty sure we got ourselves checked in, but Spanish over the radio is a challenge to say the least. As we looked around the anchorage and marinas we saw many familiar boats we have met along the way, including the sailboats; Wild Rye, Polaris, Indy, Toketee, Decorum, Kira, Eos and the crazy French and Canadian single handed pair of boats that everyone has a story about but we have still yet to meet in person.

On our first full day in La Paz we took the dinghy into the Marina De La Paz dinghy dock and walked to the farmers market. We found an awesome vegetable stand that had all the fresh veggies we had been running low on after being away from civilization. In the afternoon Elise did tons of laundry while Austin ferried fresh drinking water in jerry jugs back to the boat. The next day we had our first real showers in a month and took an Uber to Walmart to stock up again on food and provisions. The ship stores and liquor cabinet were full again for a long stretch in remote anchorages in the Sea of Cortez. We met Karla and James of SV Polaris for lunch and margaritas and a walk on the Malecon. After lunch we packed away all our provisions on the boat and Liam and Hillary of SV Wild Rye came over to Atica for a Mahi Mahi pasta dinner. The next day Dar of SV Toketee gave us suggestions for engine supply stores and we went around town getting supplies to do an oil change, get fuel for the dinghy and of course tacos! In four months of cruising we have used only 2 gallons of gas for our outboard engine, not bad little Litha!

On the cruisers net each morning we heard the updates about the next big weather event to hit La Paz. Strong North winds on top of the spring tide would make the anchorage in La Paz tricky. Net control urged everyone to double check their anchor and make sure they were in the spot they wanted to be in. We were happy with our location and decided to wait out the weather on the boat at anchor. By 1000 Friday the wind was in the 20’s and we saw gusts up to 30 knots. All the boats were facing different directions and moving around quite a bit on anchor. Usually on anchor a boats’ bow faces into the wind but since the currents in the La Paz anchorage are so strong the majority of the boats in the anchorage were stern to the wind until the afternoon tide change each day. A few times Atica would catch the wind and tack around on the anchor “sailing” into the wind and then drift back on the anchor. Once Atica was making 1.8 knots of speed while on anchor, crazy! The dancing boats and radio chatter were endless entertainment as we hunkered down on the boat. We managed to change the oil, clean rust off a small portion of the stainless steel and service one winch but the motion of the boat made it difficult to concentrate making both of us intermittently queasy. In total we were stuck on the boat for two days so we closed the blinds and watched Game of Thrones and movies to pass the time.

By Saturday night the wind was dying down and the cabin fever was setting in. We radioed Wild Rye and they invited us to dinghy over for dinner. They have a friend visiting for a month and they also invited the captain of Darwind over as well. It was cozy and fun, the six of us around the table playing cards and drinking cervezas. Darwind, a 28’ bright pink sailboat, is owned by Richard, a 19-year-old solo sailor from Alaska. We had a good laugh and a “cheers” because all three boats, Atica, Wild Rye and Darwind were all purchased for exactly $10,000 and we are all planning to cross the Pacific this year!

Our last day on anchor in La Paz, we did one final provisioning run with friends Karla and James, sharing an Uber back to the marina after loading up on fresh produce and beer. Elise took advantage of power outlets in the laundry mat to work on the next step of the drogue project and a final load of laundry while Austin ran more water jugs back and forth to the boat. The last ride back to the boat was just after dark and Austin was using a headlamp to help navigate through the waves and anchored boats, just before getting to the boat we went through a school of fish who started jumping in all directions. One even hit Austin right in the forehead, presumably attracted to the light. The next morning, we tidied up the boat washed all of our produce and put away the laundry. When it came time to check out with the port captain Austin typed a script into Google Translate and practiced a few times. While listening to the radio we had noticed as people call the Port Captain on channel 16, he would ask them to change to channel 14 sometimes saying catorce “fourteen” and others saying uno, cuatro “one, four” seemingly depending on how good their accent was. So, when Austin got a catorce from the port captain it made him feel pretty good. The conversation with the Port Captain went quite smooth, he asked how many people where onboard and Austin understood and answered. Elise noticed that the Port Captain chuckled a little as Austin was reciting his script and wondered what for. Thanks to Google Translate the word Austin used for anchorage actually had a double meaning. Only by looking it up in our Spanish dictionary did we learn “fondeadero” not only meant anchorage but also “rich as in money” or “funded” and so probably not the typical noun heard on the radio as boats left the “anclado” anchorage.

After pulling the anchor we motored out the channel and waved farewell to La Paz, we had fun being in a city but we much prefer to be out in remote places on anchor. As we came to the end of the channel Austin decided to put out the fishing lures for the afternoon motor to Bahia Balandra, not 15 minutes after putting the hooks out there was a fish on! Austin was in the middle of tying a couple of small bells onto the handline reels to help alert us when a fish was on the line. No need this time, he pulled in a good-sized Mahi Mahi that was aggressively swimming towards the boat almost overtaking us. When we got the anchor down at our destination, Austin made up some ceviche for later and cooked up fish tacos for lunch. As we sat in the cockpit, we saw a sea turtle surface just a few meters from the boat and decided to go for a snorkel. We swam over to a rocky outcropping and saw a turtle and sea lion swim by us. It was a mostly peaceful afternoon until a big charter yacht pulled up and anchored in front of us with a live Mariachi band onboard. Shortly after a sailboat came into the bay and anchored way too close, which annoyed us. Luckily, they only wanted to check out the bays’ famous mushroom rock and left shortly before sunset, leaving a perfect place for Wild Rye to drop the hook. That night we had Liam and his guest Scott over to the boat to help us eat the Mahi Mahi and looked over charts of the South Pacific. Our far away dream is not so far away anymore!

9. Mahi Mahi Christmas – Los Frailes

December 19th, 2019 – January 1st, 2020

In the early afternoon we left Cabo San Lucas as a crew of three, bound for Los Frailes. Don had brought us the replacement water pump and it was now installed. We were ready to get back on anchor and in a more remote location. Just outside of Cabo we saw a whale come fully out of the water several times about 100 meters from the boat. The whale sightings continued all day. Every thirty minutes or so one of us would spot another one come fully out of the water, some close to the boat and some off in the distance. As the sun was setting, we still had about 20 miles to go. We turned the corner into the Sea of Cortez and the swell grew as we headed North. A few miles from Los Frailes the motor started squeaking, we pushed on and made a note to check it out later. Approaching the anchorage, we saw the familiar lights of Molotov Marin, a welcome sight as always.

In the morning we awoke to the sound of splashing belly flops outside the boat. The sound was coming from Eagle Rays jumping all around the boat, some even doing flips in the air. It was a scene straight out of Blue Planet! We walked the beach while Austin fished from shore. The only catch was a long and skinny trumpet fish, no good for eating. We donned our snorkel gear in the afternoon and were amazed by the amount of fish and the clarity of the water. The reef that extends from Cabo Pulmo to Bahia Los Frailes is a National Park and the only living hard coral reef in the Sea of Cortez. It felt truly tropical, like we were back in Bali, in fact the northern extent of the Tropic of Cancer at 23o 27’ N is only a few miles away. We even saw a green Moray Eel and huge schools of colorful fish. In the evening we had pizza aboard Molotov Marin and Don got a taste of what cruising life is about. On the dark dinghy ride back to the boat the water was boiling with a huge school of fish that looked like tiny tuna. Later we learned they are called Green Jacks and multiple times we thought someone was knocking when the little fish were flopping against the hull.

When we checked the engine, we learned that our engine issues were not done yet. The water pump pulley had become loose on its shaft which caused it to slip. This was likely the root cause of the water pump failing in the first place. It was now able to wobble back in forth a considerable amount, not good for the new pump. We tried to MacGyver the pulley, wrapping beer can shims around the shaft to make a snug fit again. Weighing our options for what to do next we determined that sailing downwind back to Cabo would be best and would also allow us to easily get Don back to the airport. After two beautiful days at Los Frailes we lifted anchor and headed back to Cabo San Lucas. It was three days until Christmas and we set the ambitious goal of returning to Los Frailes to celebrate with Morgan & Tree.

It was a pleasant downwind sail around the cape. Just as Austin was making lunch, we got the first bite on the handlines. There was a huge flash of green and yellow before the line went limp. It must have been a huge Mahi Mahi and it took our lure with it. Not minutes later we had a hit on the other hand line. It was a fighter and Don and Austin took turns reeling in the big Mahi Mahi. Austin was happy to switch up the lunch menu with the addition of this fish! With the fridge full of filleted fish, it was going to be a Mahi Mahi Christmas for sure. Even more motivation to make a quick turnaround of the engine repair and get back to Los Frailes so we could share the bounty of the sea. Six miles out from Cabo San Lucas the wind died and luckily the beer can shim held while we limped into the anchorage under motor. We dropped the hook as the sun set over the arches of Cabo and pirate ships decked out in Christmas lights cruised by. The anchorage was rolly but margaritas and fresh fish tacos made the night much more enjoyable.

In the morning we all loaded into the dinghy for a long, wet and wild ride into the Cabo San Lucas Marina. The armada of fishing charter boats coupled with the cruise ship tenders made us feel like a tiny frog trying to cross the interstate. Once safely inside the harbor we tied to the dinghy dock and immediately started on the quest for a new pulley. First, we went to Cabo Boat Works and the man said, “Oh no not here, go to Mario’s Marine”, and pointed us in the direction of the chandlery. Mario at Mario’s Marine didn’t have the part either and we asked him if he knew anyone who could fix the pulley we had. He said there was a machine shop a few blocks over. We asked for the name, “it’s not marked” he said. “They call him Louise, just go past the tire place and look in the open doors for him”. We followed the directions and when we got to the roll up door, we saw a gringo working on a Baja dune buggy. Austin said “Hola” and the response was “whats up?” Austin showed him the pulley and he called Louise over to take a look. Louise, the Mexican owner, spoke perfect English and right away the two hatched a plan to fix the part. “When do you need it, I’m guessing today?” said Louise with a laugh. We said “si muchos gracias”, especially since it was the day before Christmas Eve. A few hours later we got the call that the part was ready and were thrilled with the $30 charge for the fix.

We said goodbye to Don with cervezas and guacamole at one of the places we liked during our first stop in Cabo. The waiter remembered us and gave us some good pointers about fishing and cooking the different types of fish in the area. We spent the remainder of our day taking advantage of civilization by doing laundry, stocking up on tequila and a few last-minute provisions. As we motored out of the marina in the dinghy all the tourists were awestruck seeing us in our tiny boat and all the local guides winked and waved their hands in the hang loose sign. One other boat was anchored out in Cabo with us and we introduced ourselves when we went by in the dinghy. They were also bound for Los Frailes and we agreed we would meet up there. The boat was so hot from being locked up all day we opened all the hatches and quickly jumped overboard for a swim. The water was the clearest and warmest so far on our trip so we took advantage and scrubbed the bottom as jet skis zoomed by in all directions.

On Christmas Eve morning, with the engine put back together and running smoothly, we pulled the anchor and followed our previous path around to Los Frailes. Again, we saw dozens of whales, this time they were all just rolling in the water and showing us their tails. We joked that the other day must have been a jumping party and today all the whales were in a different mood. One big whale came up in our stern wake. Austin said, “Stay back whales! Why do they like our boat so much? Maybe they can’t see us with our bright blue bottom paint?” Ten miles out of Los Frailes we saw another big whale breach way too close to the boat. Shortly after three more whales surfaced all at the same time, they swam around in a tight circle, nose to tail with each other. These whales were busy feeding and didn’t seem to notice as we motored passed. At 1500 we dropped the hook next to Molotov Marin, we had made it back for Christmas, a Navidad miracle!

Atica turned into a bakery Christmas morning. We made blueberry scones for breakfast and focaccia bread to go with Christmas dinner. Elise also baked up Austin’s favorite ginger snap cookies and made the King family tradition, rum balls. We opened our stockings in the cockpit and went for a Christmas snorkel on the reef. In the evening Molotov Marin and Decorum, the boat we met in Cabo a few days before, came over to Atica for a Mahi Mahi feast. It wasn’t a traditional Christmas by any means and we certainly missed family but it was a holiday that we will always remember. We ended our first Christmas on the boat snuggled in the V-berth watching a Christmas special on the laptop.

The day after Christmas we looked onshore and could see that all the fence posts around the turtle hatchery were topped with vultures. We took it upon ourselves to babysit the unhatched turtle nests and read books on a blanket under the palapa. From the beach we could see a whale come through the anchorage and passed between Atica and Decorum. Later that day Morgan & Tree said they saw one baby turtle had hatched and the next day we saw the turtle biologist digging up one of the nests. It was windy and we watched through binoculars as she carried a bucket to the beach and then stood watching the shoreline. After watching for almost an hour we decided to brave the waves and head into shore, after all how often do you get to see baby sea turtles! When we got to the beach 5 of the 20-25 tiny sea turtles she had released were still on the beach. The turtles had been crawling around by the water’s edge and the ones that hadn’t made it through the wave break were getting tired. After confirming Elise didn’t have sunscreen on her hands the biologist asked her to help carry the last few stragglers into the water. Elise opened her hands and the biologist placed a tiny sea turtle in them and she carried it out past the breaking surf. The little guy wiggled all its flippers and swam around for the first time, doing several circles before heading out to sea. It was magical, a once in a lifetime experience.

We joined Morgan and Tree on the reef one morning for an epic snorkel. The tide was going out and the water was very clear. A massive school of thousands of Pacific Mackerel swam by. As we dove down, they would part around us.  It was exciting to see a vibrant healthy reef with such a variety of sea life. Tons of urchins covered sections of the sea floor and brightly colored parrot fish bit coral heads all around. The water was warmer than the air that day so as soon as we were done snorkeling, we zoomed back to the boat to warm up.

We spent almost two weeks total in Los Frailes, swimming from the boat, fishing, kayaking and watching rays jump acrobatically out of the water all around the boat. From our bed at night we could here whales talking to each other underwater. The amount of nature in this bay was unbelievable. On the beach one day we met an expat from Port Angeles, WA who was a caretaker for a nearby estate and a fly-fishing guide. He gave us pointers and local fishing knowledge as well as helped us identify some of the local reef fish we had seen. On the eve of New Year’s Eve, we got a new neighbor to the anchorage. A Kelly Peterson 44 named Serendipity crewed by David and Emily from Hawaii. We had been researching Kelly Peterson 44’s online for quite some time because it is the yacht design closest to Atica, just 7 feet longer. Later we got to take a tour of Serendipity. The interior of Atica’s “big sister” ship was not too different from the companionway forward, looking back was the big difference. Where Atica has a quarter birth, Serendipity had a duck through passage that opens up to a large aft cabin and a second head.

On New Year’s Eve we went for a kayak out around the point and Austin brought his fishing pole along to troll. We were stopped by a snorkel tour panga and were told we were not allowed to fish by the reef. We swam from the boat and took showers in the sunny cockpit. By evening it was time to party and David & Emily of Serendipity and Morgan & Tree of Molotov Marin came over to Atica. Even though we are one of the shorter boats, we have a good layout to host a large group. We had a potluck feast of Mahi Mahi, fried rice, veggie meatballs, fresh bread and plenty of cocktails. We played a game of Code Names before heading out into the cockpit to light off expired flares. David lit off a flare gun, Tree dropped a SOLAS flare to the bottom and we could see it glowing below the boat for a few minutes. Austin tried to light one of our 30+ year old expired rocket flares, but it was a dud. After the flares David & Emily headed back to Serendipity and we started a game of Machi Koro with Morgan & Tree. At midnight the ships bell chimed for the New Year and we toasted to 2020. With a midnight snack of “boat take and bake pizza” (Morgan brought a homemade pizza over to Atica for baking) we played games until 0130.

We woke up late New Year’s Day to grey skies. Elise did yoga on the bow while Austin took the dinghy on a fishing trip to the not protected side of the bay. By midday the weather had changed for the worse. The sky grew darker and the swell began wrapping around the point into the anchorage. Rain dumped all around as the boat rocked back and forth on anchor in the new swell. We were planning to finally leave Los Frailes the next day and this made the decision that much more final. Our day wasn’t a complete loss though, at 1700 we dinghied over to Serendipity for cocktails and nachos in the cockpit as thunder boomed around us. We said our “see you laters” to Morgan & Tree as they are heading South while we are heading North. Since meeting them in Brookings Oregon, it has been so fun to sporadically see them throughout California and cruise with them over the past month in Baja.

2019 has been a whirlwind to say the least. We completed the refit of Atica, celebrated our 5-year wedding anniversary, quit our jobs and sailed off on our adventure. Since leaving our home port of Anacortes Washington 4 months ago, we have anchored in 3 countries, crossed 27os’ of latitude, spent 7 consecutive days at sea and reached our first major cruising goal of arriving in the Sea of Cortez. 2020 we are ready for you!