Thursday, 20 December 2012

newly salted - the interview


Before we set out on our sea voyage, we read everything we could get our hands on that related to cruising. One of our favourite websites was called “Interview with a Cruiser Project”. This website is the brainchild of Livia Gilstrap. It documents the experiences of long-term offshore cruisers in order to provide insight for dreamers and would-be cruisers. As an offshoot of this, Livia also created “Newly Salted”. This site showcases interviews with voyagers who have been cruising for two years or less. When Livia approached us and asked if we’d participate, we thought it would be fun to reflect on what we've learned so far. (The following is the interview that was published on Newly Salted.)

Canucks abroad
We are Rick and Kyra, our homeport is Victoria, BC, Canada. Our floating home is the sailing vessel Nyon. A Lapworth 36, Nyon is a 54 year old wooden sailboat that we refitted over a period of 4 years. (Admittedly we are still in the process of refitting her, but she is a solid bluewater boat.) We have been cruising full-time for 15 months. In September 2011, we sailed  from Canada, down the west coast of the United States, and into Mexico. We have been cruising in Mexico since November 2011. We are now in the Sea of Cortez. It is our hope to continue cruising for as long as it is possible (and fun), stopping to replenish the cruising kitty when need be. There are still countless places we would like to explore, including the South Pacific. You can follow our adventures on our blog. Feel free to contact us with any questions or comments.

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?
Kyra: The funny thing is, people told us a lot of things. We had some great resources: Friends who’d cruised extensively, like-minded individuals who encouraged us to go simply and go now. They would mention certain discomforts or challenges they’d come across, and I would nod. I realize now that I did not always grasp what they meant, or did not see how affected by certain things I would be until I actually experienced them for myself. For example, our friend Barb talked about the boat’s motion when you’re offshore, and how it can still be exhausting and frustrating even in not-so-terrible conditions. I grimaced, but was thinking “Really, how bad can it be, unless we're in a storm!” It can be bad, let me tell you. I’m ashamed to admit that I have had temper tantrums after running into the same table corner 5 times in 20 minutes of rolly seas. This is a roundabout way of saying, we were told plenty, we just needed to have our own experiences.
Rick:  It won't be the experience you expect it to be. Some things that you think will be hard, will be manageable.  Some things that you think will be easy, will drive you crazy. Things you hadn't really thought about will become the things you most look forward to. 

At anchor in the Sea of Cortez
Of the changes, choices and compromises you had to make along the way, which were you happiest and most satisfied about, which do you wish you had chosen otherwise and why?
Kyra: We started cruising abroad without a watermaker – for our first year in Mexico, we lugged “garrafons” of water to the boat. Sometimes it was a real hassle; often it was just another boat job. Through a series of events, we had the opportunity to buy a second-hand watermaker which Rick installed at anchor while we were in the northern half of the Sea of Cortez. It still feels like a luxury to be able to make water at will. It has allowed us to go farther afield, and be away from “civilization” for longer periods of time. While cruising is more than doable without one, we are very happy to have a watermaker now. (Of course, we had to compromise stowage, which is limited at best on Nyon, that’s an ongoing challenge, made just a little harder with a watermaker. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.)
Rick: In our pre-cruising life, we questioned a lot of the default choices made by peers, family, and our cutlure in general. We tried to make choices that were right for us. Sometimes our choices were outlandish, and sometimes they were common; but either way, we tried to make our choices consciously. We are happiest with the choices that took us off the usual path, or kept us in a great anchorage, after other boats had moved on.

Is there something you wish you had bought or installed before starting out?
Kyra: I would like to have an SSB radio – especially for when we cross to the South Pacific – I can see how only having an SSB receiver and maybe a SAT phone would be more isolating. And I like the idea of being able to use Sailmail to let our loved ones know we’re okay when we are “out there”. The debate on that one continues aboard Nyon.  Also, it would have been nice to be better prepared for the amount of snorkeling and fishing we are now doing – however, this has not stopped us from pursuing our new passions.
Rick: Coming from cold water sailing grounds, we underestimated the amount of time we would spend, and  number of things we would do in the water. We should have had more, and better snorkeling gear, including spares. We took up spearfishing, with a pole-spear, and hook and line fishing. We could have brought more of the basic fishing gear with us. A lot of the gear available in Mexico is very expensive, for the elite sport fishing business. Then there are toys like kayaks, boogie boards, surf boards, kite-boarding outfits, etc.  If we had the money, and space, we would have it all. 

As you started cruising, what transitions did you find the most difficult?
Kyra: I think what I found hardest was not having my close friends nearby, we have been fortunate in that they’ve come to visit us while we’ve been cruising in Mexico, but it’s not the same as weekly coffee, art dates and gab sessions. Having said that, we are lucky to have met some great folks while cruising (whom we are sure to develop steadfast friendships with); but friendships take time to grow and deepen, so at times I have struggled with the loneliness that comes with a transient life.
Rick: It was challenging to be alone together all of the time. We are both social people, but when we initially started traveling, we had few opportunities to get to know people. We would sometimes go weeks without anything more than superficial conversations with strangers. Many of the boats we connected with, sailed off in different directions. We were probably about 8 months in, before we started connecting with boats that had similar cruising plans. We really miss our close circle of friends. 

Nyon doing what she does best
Photo courtesy of  Tom (SV Eagle)
What mistakes did you make as you started cruising?
Kyra: Oh, I know we’ve made lots of mistakes – when you’re new at something like voyaging, you’re bound to. What’s important is learning from those mistakes. More specifically, I mindlessly assumed that once I was out there, I would take to the lifestyle just like that. I realize now that it takes time to develop a variety of skills when you are actually voyaging, and they don’t necessarily come naturally or quickly. Another big lesson we had to learn was to limit the number of things on our to-do list in a day. You’ll hear or read over and over again how long it takes to get anything done. Grocery shopping can be a half day to a whole day trek, etc. We have learned to limit what we expect to get done in a day, which means we have a better chance to get that ”feeling of accomplishment” instead of coming up short, and being exhausted and grumpy at the end of the day.
Rick: We spent our first 2 months cruising doing a lot of passagemaking. We were under-weigh for an average of over 50 hours per week. We were moving along at a rate where we didn't feel like we could really enjoy each place we stopped. The cruising was exciting, but it felt a lot more like work than an escape. This is what we had prepared for; our boat in motion all of the time. Once we slowed down, we began to realize that cruising is really about enjoying the place you are in. We spend almost all of our time at anchor, only moving along when we really want to. Our focus and expectations had been very passage-centric. We weren't mentally prepared, or as outfitted as we would have liked, for enjoying ourselves at anchor.

What do you find the most exciting about your cruising life?
Kyra: Voyaging on a sailboat is not boring and that’s exciting! There is no room for monotony. Some days I’m restless or frustrated, but I’m never bored. I love discovering new passions, developing my skills as a sailor, observing the wildlife, being at one with nature, pushing my comfort zone to new levels, and learning about a different culture.
Rick: A good sail is still pretty great. There is nothing like reaching in a fifteen knot breeze with your destination appearing over the horizon. Fishing has become a lot of fun. I never really did much fishing back home, so my enjoyment of fishing has come as a bit of a surprise. I particularly like spearfishing. Seeing all of the different fish in the reefs is great, and there is something thrilling in the hunt, especially if it is successful.

What is something about the cruising culture you like and what is something you dislike?
Kyra:) One thing we'd heard and read, was how helpful the cruising community is. Complete strangers will offer assistance in all kinds of amazing ways. In our experience, we found this to be absolutely true. We have witnessed an inherent generosity of spirit  time and again within this community. This is two-fold, however, cruisers can also be very opinionated and pushy with how you should tackle a problem or issue - and that can be exhausting and frustrating at times, especially when we disagree. This also brings up the herd mentality that sometimes takes over the cruising community. There can be some bullying if you choose the "wake less traveled" - I think you need to be comfortable with your plans and choices, whether or not the next two boats agree with you - it is important to build trust in yourself and your boat. We have also found that we are often the youngest ones around. And we are not that young: 40 and 43 years old respectively. We don’t usually care how old people are, if we click with them, we click. Some of our favourite cruisers are our parents’ age – but sometimes it is also nice to hang out with people our own age or younger. You connect on a different level.
Rick: The cruising community has the village mentality of helpfulness and inclusion, that has disappeared from our home land-based culture. Boats are not only willing, but also able to help each other out with emergencies, and minor troubles. The more boats there are in a particular area, the more political the community becomes. I don't like the politics that are part of the bigger ports. The resources in the bigger ports draw us in, but the petty politics make the more remote anchorages even more attractive.

What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you didn't find to be true?
Kyra: Me personally – I heard people say it can be boring. I don’t find cruising boring. Sure there are times I feel restless, but bored? Never. I’m pretty good at keeping myself busy and am getting better at sitting still, and staring out at the sea.
Rick: We heard that the people you meet along the way become instant close friends. The reality is that we have a lot in common with fellow cruisers, but we make friends, and develop depth in friendships in the same way we did before we left. 

What is the key to make the cruising life enjoyable?
Kyra: Attitude. It’s all about attitude. I’m not saying I always have the right attitude, but it certainly helps me cope with unexpected challenges more constructively when I manage to have a positive attitude. Also, being open to what is, (instead of pining for what-should-be), has allowed us to appreciate this incredible adventure all the more.
Rick: Life is still life, while you are out in paradise. You leave behind a lot of the responsibilities and baggage that is common with a shore-bound life. However, you get used to what is normal. One sunny day, after  another sunny day, with beautiful sunsets, and warm waters become your everyday experience, you realize that your enjoyment of life isn't dependent on your lifestyle. Don't wait to enjoy life, until you are anchored off a tropical island sipping rum and coconut water out of a fresh green coconut. Learn to enjoy life now, and then take that enjoyment cruising. 

How would you recommend that someone prepares to cruise?
Kyra: Go sailing, in all kinds of weather conditions. Learn to work on boat projects at anchor. Seriously, get off the dock as often as possible, even if you have to motor to get to an anchorage. It’s important to experience a variety of conditions – you will find you need to adjust things such as: Where you stow certain items, what you require for comfort, etc. This was especially true for us, as we mostly anchor out. In 2012, we stayed at a dock for a total of 4 nights. Living aboard, (at least for a little while), ahead of time is not a bad idea either – There is enough to adapt to as it is, once you begin to cruise full-time. We lived aboard for 4 year in the PNW prior to going cruising, we figured out how to give each other space in a diminutive living arrangement, as well as how to move around each other as we go about our daily activities. Finally, I also spent a lot of time reading a variety of cruising blogs – it’s inspiring, informative, and fun! 
Rick: Go sailing. Go frequently. Get out for as long as you can. The only way to figure how you want to set up your boat, is to use it. Use it in all kinds of conditions. Live on your boat. The only way to figure out how you want to set up your boat is to spend time on it. Get used to day to day living aboard. Make sure your berth is comfortable. Learn how to make the most of the stowage you have available. Every crew has different goals, a different cruising style, a different boat. What is a good decision for one crew, is not necessarily right for another. Consider the advice you get, try it on in your head and see if it seems to fit. You and your boat will never be ready, so cast off the dock lines and get ready along the way. 

Sunday, 16 December 2012

swimming with the fishes

There are plenty of fish in the Sea of Cortez. We had a great snorkel when we were anchored off Isla San Francisco - the waters were teeming with all kinds of fish. We were there for six days, but most of our time was spent doing boat jobs - it was time to be productive. We like to reward ourselves when we are particularly fruitful. Wouldn't you say this was a great reward?

Rick, in his element

A barber fish giving me the cold shoulder

A huge school of  yellowtail surgeonfish went by

A meeting of species: A blue and gold snapper
mixing it up with a school of spottail grunts, and the tail end of a goatfish

A juvenile giant damselfish - the light spots actually sparkle

Fish Highway: Goatfish merging with greybar grunts


Friday, 14 December 2012

out of the darkness, and into the boat

Moths get a bad rap. Butterflies get all the love, it's not fair. When people think of moths, they think drab; everyone thinks butterflies are beautiful.

Many sailors shudder when they talk about some of the uninvited nocturnal visitors that sometimes fly aboard in the Sea of Cortez. And it's not just at night: Once, while on a hike, I got excited thinking I saw a hummingbird hovering around a flowering bush - I'm always on the lookout, my mother-in-law loves hummingbirds. I was trying to take a photo when Rick pointed out that it was a GIANT bug, not a bird. (Upon further research, there is such a thing as a hummingbird moth!)

Call me weird, but I think moths are beautiful. They can be big, yes. But they are also lovely. Don't you think?

A moth, resting on my arm

This post is dedicated to my niece Chloé, who loves all creatures: Big, small, and even slimy.

another one thousand

We had some good wind too!


As we were sailing south to Isla San Francisco, we saw our trip meter reach 5000 nautical miles. We just like to note that. It's a lot of water under our keel in 14 months. Certainly not as big a leap as our "Puddle Jumper"* friends, but it's a way to notice how far we've come!





Cheers!

* Puddle Jumpers are what the cruising community affectionately call those sailors who sail from the Americas to the South Pacific - it's the longest passage there is.

Monday, 10 December 2012

where our feet take us

Up and over - another stop, another walk

They promised us a great walk in Agua Verde. They talked about a cemetery, a beach, and cave paintings. We didn’t need much convincing.

Agua Verde had changed since our last visit. While still a laid-back village, the hazy heat of summer had been replaced with the energy that comes with milder, more comfortable air temperatures. We anchored in the northern bay, a short row to the beach. We could only see a hint of the town from this nook, and that was okay – this time around, we were more interested in following our friends Derrick and Trisha over the hill.

Crooked cemetary
There was a lot to see along the way. After the first hill, we stopped by a cemetery – noticing more wooden crosses than headstones. While a simple rock wall surrounded the small number of graves, it obviously hadn’t kept the water from rushing through during the post-hurricane Paul downpour. Everything was a little askew.

Hermit Crab going his way
When we continued on, we began to see more and more palm trees. I had never walked in a palm tree forest until that day. It was surprising to see their trunks twisting and curving around each other as they reached for the sun.

Eventually, we made it to the beach. There, we came across hermit crabs of all sizes – every beautiful shell Trisha picked up seemed to be home to one. They know good real estate, those crabs.

As we walked along the shoreline, we both noted that Derrick and Trisha have fine-tuned their beachcombing skill to an art; that was obvious. Multiple odd findings were admired or tossed. Derrick added a trolling lure to his collection and made a creepy new friend.


Seriously, his new buddy is creepy
We like HER a lot more!


As we neared the path inland, we left the two of them looking for treasures on the shore and hiked up to the caves. The scenery was vastly different there – tall grasses were interspersed with soft sand patches, and pretty field flowers shared the landscape with Tim Burton-esque trees. The buzzing of insects filled our ears and hundreds of grasshoppers shot in all directions each time we took a step.


View from the caves

On the way back down
Feeling "Tigger" happy!





















Small and blurry, but
it's a bat!
Once in the caves, we tried to imagine people living here. The bats didn’t seem thrilled by our visit; we tried not to be too intrusive as we explored nooks and crannies and admired the view. This was a fun walk - well worth it. For a bit of history check out Diane's interesting information on the area.

Ancient handprints?












Directions:
Palm trees, palm trees everywhere!
Head for the narrow sand isthmus at the north of the bay; beach your dinghy out of the way of the pangas. Make your way to the base of the rocky hill on the left, you’ll see a trail that you can follow up and over – as you walk down the other side, you’ll eventually see a cemetery to your left.

Continue a little to the right on a sandy path, and ultimately you’ll find yourself in a palm tree “forest” – a path has been cleared, follow it toward the Sea. (When we were there, water came fairly far inland to our left – the joys of an autumn hike.) 



When you arrive at the beach, turn left and walk along the shore for about two miles.


As you near the end of the beach, look up toward the mountainside ahead, you’ll see two “eyes” – those are the caves.


Look for a sandy opening with a gnarly tree on the left (this can be a little confusing), there you will turn perpendicular to the beach and head inland about ¾ of a mile.



Aim for the base of an obvious ridge that inclines to the right, toward the “eyes”.




Heading toward the ridge
When we were there, there were grassy fields with shrubbery and trees scattered about. At the base of this ridge, you’ll find a rocky trail that will lead you to the caves on your right. Mind your footing on the steep side as you go up.  You’ll arrive at the caves fairly quickly; the climb is shorter than it appears. Between the two cave openings, you’ll see the cave paintings – ancient handprints (we're told) on the rocky wall. The view is fabulous from up there, and there are bats in the cave.

We loved all of it. 

Saturday, 8 December 2012

little bay, little bay we like you


Candeleros Chico is just that. Chico, small. And quaint. We loved it. Normally, we would not choose a north facing anchorage in the winter season, since the prevailing winds come from the northwest. The forecast, however, promised westerly winds. We decided to take a chance. (It neglected to specify strong westerlies, but we’ll come to that.)

This quiet spot was a relief after the busy-ness of Puerto Escondido. We snorkeled, we showered in the cockpit, and we drank hot tea and read our books. The radio was silent. There were no dinghies whizzing by. All we heard was the buzz of crickets and the chatter of seagulls. Beck and Duane, a pair of friendly kayakers from Canada shared the bay with us later that day.

Other than a visit by rambunctious coyotes early in the evening, it looked like we were all going to enjoy a quiet night. But it wasn’t to be. At around 0130, the wind began to whistle in the rigging. Luckily there was no fetch, the wind was coming from the land, but the noise definitely kept us awake. We started an anchor watch when we saw gusts nearing the 30 knot range.

At 0530, the wind disappeared. It was as if someone had simply turned off a switch. Bleary-eyed, we trudged back to bed and tried to catch up on our sleep. 

To soon, we headed south to Agua Verde - hooking a dorado along the way. We had fun catching up with SV Interabang, while sharing some pretty divine dorado sashimi with them.


Red Fan Coral

Bigger than my hand

This Christmas Tree Worm is for Bjarne and Barb - Look!
It's blue, and now I know what it's called!

He thinks he's camouflaged...

Thursday, 29 November 2012

now we're really up the creek



Looking out toward the Sea of Cortez
As the crow flies, it wasn't very far. We did have to walk through swarms of mosquitoes at first. We then had to scale unseemly boulders to get past the first pretty waterfall.

Walking down the dirt road toward the canyon
I'm talking about the Tabor Canyon hike near Puerto Escondido. (This canyon is also referred to as the Steinbeck Canyon.) We set out from the marina one sunny morning, accompanied by our friends Trisha and Derrick (SV Interabang). To get to the canyon, you must first walk about a mile down the road to Highway 1. Cross the highway, and follow a dirt road for about a half a mile. (To the left of the dirt road, next to the highway, you will notice a power station.) This is where the mosquitoes begin feasting on you. A good repellent is a must! (It was particularly true in our case, because of the somewhat recent rainfall due to hurricane Paul.) Eventually, the dirt road meets a river bed, and you follow the river bed. At one point, Trisha and I began to hear water rushing underfoot. We stared down at the dry riverbed in amazement. We both laughed nervously, as we began to walk a little more quickly. Eventually we saw evidence of water. And the rocks grew larger. The canyon walls rose high, and we oohed and aahed our way in.

The first waterfall
We reached the first waterfall and pondered how to get over it to continue our hike. At that point, our buddies decided to call it quits, and head back to Puerto Escondido. Rick and I scrambled up the boulders next to the waterfall. Thank goodness, someone had set up a rope partway up. As we reached the top, we looked ahead, we could see the riverbed meandering up between towering cliffs, ringed with palm trees and green shrubs. The landscape was striking.




Rick climbing past the first waterfall

Nature in its Mexican glory
As we negotiated the rocky terrain, the hike just kept getting better, water rushed by us, butterflies teemed around us, and the sun was shining. The river was already beginning to dry up when we were there – we noted areas that had only recently dried out. Yet, there was still plenty of water, including waterfalls and shallow pools. We hiked to a lovely multi-layered waterfall, with a nice pool at the bottom. We had read somewhere that you had to go through a crevasse to continue on – we couldn’t find it, and after much climbing and crawling, we wondered if some of the boulders had blocked the passage during the intense rainfall. (The rock we had to get past was some 30 feet high.) While Rick found a tricky way to get by, he suggested we hang out there for a while and then head back, which is what we did. We both braved the chilly waters, albeit briefly, and enjoyed lunch to the sound of water spilling over smooth rocks, before making our way back to the Sea.

Another view of the Sea


This looked more striking in real-life, the
boulder on the right-hand side rose up about
30 feet.

Rick, cooling off his toes

Tired muscles, a couple scrapes, and only a few mosquito bites later, we arrived back at  the highway. A pair of friendly young Mexicans offered us a ride , and we gladly accepted. 

This hike was one for the books. We highly recommend it.

Happy hikers
Tabor Canyon: A magical place

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

embracing my inner voyager

A different kind of nature from the PNW

What is it like to leave everything behind? I could give you a stock answer. It’s freeing. It is an occasion to start fresh. It is a chance to try new things. Certainly, it includes some of the above, but it is more complex than that.

On the practical side, we left an art studio, a marine services business, our loving families, and a tight-knit group of friends, (most of who have come to see us in Mexico). The closest I have ever come to have roots anywhere, is Victoria. Yet, in all the years I lived there, I never could shake the desire to travel to parts unknown.

Growing up, other than family visits to France and the rare road trip, my exposure to traveling came in the form of narratives from visiting missionaries. My catholic parents befriended missionaries who would entertain us children with stories about their lives abroad. Descriptions of the tropical heat and unbelievably giant bugs, a tale about pigs holding court in a church, and anecdotes about cultural misunderstandings, sparked my initial thirst for adventure.

At the age of 8, my teacher asked us to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up. I drew myself as a missionary. When my parents asked me why, I clearly remember saying: “So that I can travel around the world and learn to speak other languages.” At the time, it was the only way I knew how to justify exploring this planet we call Earth. I personally find it funny that it had nothing to do with any kind of religious conviction. As an adult, I don't believe in imposing religious beliefs on anyone. But, to this day, I have always connected with my early desire for inter-cultural exchanges. I simply endeavour to observe, respect, and learn.

Sailing in the northern Sea of
Cortez
I like to think of voyaging as welcoming the unknown. I’m not just giving things up or leaving things behind; I’m opening myself up to receiving. Of course, sometimes I wish I could be back in Victoria with my posse, enjoying “boat nights”, working on some crazy art project, or going on midnight bike rides. Yes, I miss the holidays, when we reveled in the chaotic and messy joys of family and stuffed ourselves with food and stories. I miss hikes and jam sessions with my long-time friends on Quadra Island. I miss the Moss Street market. I miss my studio. I miss coffee shops and art galleries. I miss the beauty of Canada’s west coast.

While I hold all that dear, I am also embracing new people, different adventures, varying landscapes, and telling and hearing new stories. I am challenged here. I am discovering different facets of myself I had not previously known. In the year I have been away, I have mourned, celebrated, and struggled. I have surprised myself, and disappointed myself. From afar, I have let go of some relationships, while finding renewed intimacy in others. At times, I have felt terribly lonely, yet I have also known indescribable joy. Not bad, for just over one year of voyaging.

So how does it feel to leave everything behind? The question should be how it feels to live a life of passion and adventure. It’s messy, it’s fulfilling, it’s complicated.

And sometimes, it feels just right.

Sun rises, night falls. Sometimes the sky calls. Is there a song there? And do I belong there? I’ve never been there, but I know the way. – Gonzo, “The Muppet Movie”

Sunday, 25 November 2012

indulging in the visuals

Just another smattering of photos from Isla Danzante.

Aiming for the top

Bright colours make my day

Beautiful waters...

Yes, cacti are alive and well

Partway up the hill  (Nyon is in the background)
This one drew my attention

Sitting on top of the world, err, the hill - and feeling happy

Tiny Nyon down below

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