Leaving the Customs Dock
Sat 6 Dec 2003 14:40 US/Pacific
Position: 32° 41.341' N 117° 13.880' W -- Customs dock, San Diego; 474.1 miles since Alameda, California

Cast off from the customs dock, San Diego.


Proudly flying the Red Ensign
Sat 6 Dec 2003 18:11 US/Pacific
Position: 32° 29.662' N 117° 12.746' W; 485.9 miles since Alameda, California

We're off! At long last, we cast off and left San Diego; at 2.40 this afternoon, proudly flying the Red Ensign. We headed south and a little offshore, and entered Mexican waters at 5:37, under sail.

The last few days have been frenzied, of course; I was hoping to get on-line and send some photos out before we left, but never got a chance. Still, we have food for a long trip, and everything's stowed away (which took 2 days or so).

The weather when we left was cool and pretty foggy; the radar saw some use. We left the San Diego Bay in the company of a US Navy missile cruiser, and its usual escort of security boats; but pretty soon we were all alone. Until we were passed by a cruise ship, that is.


Motoring along

It's pitch dark now (sun set at 4:30 or so), and we're motoring, since the wind has died. We're hoping to not do much of that, but we'd like to get into quieter and warmer waters before relaxing too much. We're approaching the Coronado islands, just south of San Diego, and after that we'll be cruising around 50-100 miles off the coast, depending on the wind.

Our plan is to simply head south as far as we can get; how far that is will depend on the weather. There are lots of ports and anchorages to duck into if things get rough, but all being well, we hope to make at least La Paz, maybe farther.


Dolphins under the bowsprit
Sun 7 Dec 2003 18:23 US/Pacific
Position: 30° 20.188' N 117° 10.916' W; 615.7 miles since Alameda, California

Well, we motored last night and all of this morning in zero wind, all the while heading south, which took us farther offshore. We finally got the wind a few hours ago, and we're rocketing south at 5.5 - 6 knots, which is great -- nice to get rid of the engine noise. (And save fuel.)

Had a visit from dolphins today -- a few of them came to play around the boat, and two swam along under the bowsprit for a while, side by side. The water was so clear I got pictures of them on the water, swimming along.

There's a bright, near-full moon out, so it's great sailing conditions, although still not too warm -- we're still in foulies. Still, it's getting noticeably warmer. Hopefully shorts and T-shirts soon...

Mon 8 Dec 2003 18:13 US/Pacific
Position: 28° 27.158' N 116° 57.838' W; 733.5 miles since Alameda, California

Beautiful full Moon tonight; the overcast has broken up at last, so we've left the drizzle and fog behind, hopefully. We've had strong wind all day, so we're currently running downwind under just the double-reefed mainsail. It's pretty rolly, but otherwise nice sailing.

We're now 262 miles out of San Diego, and about 100 miles offshore, having just passed between Guadalupe and the mainland. We're turning to follow the coast about 50 miles offshore, which should keep us away from the shipping lanes.

In fact, we haven't seen any ships all day -- or birds, dolphins, etc. Also, it's still pretty chilly, but hopefully it should warm up soon.

Tue 9 Dec 2003 17:44 US/Pacific
Position: 27° 04.472' N 115° 37.625' W; 843.4 miles since Alameda, California

Another great day's sailing -- we did a spot of motoring last night in light wind, then set the mainsail and genoa this morning, and we've been barrelling along downwind all day, having a great time, with no sound but the water rushing past the hull and the wind in the rigging.

We're still about 50 miles offshore off of Turtle Bay, which is one of the big cruiser stops; and now 370 miles away from San Diego, which means we're setting a pretty respectable pace, given that the wind has been patchy. There's been no traffic at all except for one ship last night about 10:00 pm, and no wildlife, unfortunately, but the sky is clear and the weather a little warmer -- still not shorts-and- T-shirt, but I had no jacket on all day.

Had a nice sunset tonight at 5:00, and then a spectacular moonrise at 5:45; the Moon was huge and deep orange. Right now we're cooking potatoes and serving them up on a chart of the Mexican coast (the chart table is also the kitchen counter). We're keeping watch by radar and sticking our heads up at least every 10 minutes, but it's really quiet out there -- the shipping lanes are well inshore.

Wed 10 Dec 2003 18:01 US/Pacific
Position: 25° 28.051' N 114° 27.346' W; 961.6 miles since Alameda, California

80 miles offshore, 2/3 of the way down the Baja peninsula and 490 miles out of San Diego. Wind is good, and skies clear -- great sailing! The moon is rising later now, so it's totally dark outside right now -- really amazingly dark, the only light we're showing is the little tri-colour at the top of the mast, so at deck level it's pitch dark and lots of stars.

We're making great progress, and sailing smoothly (if a little rolly).

Fri 12 Dec 2003 01:02 US/Pacific
Position: 23° 52.568' N 112° 37.401' W; 1102.0 miles since Alameda, California

It's 1 a.m. local time, and we're still cruising along in a nice wind; right now with just the reefed mainsail. It's beautifully clear and getting warm -- it's 70F right now -- but rather rolly.

Haven't seen a ship for over a day now; we're obviously clear of the shipping lanes. However, we've been joining in some of the shortwave radio nets for cruisers, so we're in touch with other people sailing down the coast; so it's not too lonely.

We're 632 miles out of San Diego, and 55 miles off Bahia Magdalena (Mag Bay) in southern Baja. We have to keep offshore here because there are some nasty shoals quite a way off from land.

Rachel made a big pot of soup today, which was a huge adventure. The stove is gimballed, but it was hitting its end stops, which with a nearly- full pot of hot soup on top is quite a hazard, even if it is clamped in place. Still, it got done without mishap, and tasted great.

Fri 12 Dec 2003 07:58 US/Pacific
Position: 23° 26.274' N 112° 11.813' W; 1137.6 miles since Alameda, California

The Tropic of Cancer: we entered the tropics as we crossed the Tropic of Cancer southbound.


Sunset
Fri 12 Dec 2003 16:30 US/Pacific
Position: 22° 59.410' N 111° 40.576' W; 1177.6 miles since Alameda, California

We're in the tropics at last! We crossed the Tropic of Cancer today, heading south -- into the tropics. A big event, as we hope to be in the tropics for several months.

Today has been windy and wavy; we've spent the day under reefed mainsail, surfing down the faces of huge swells. We've been making good speeds, although we lose some between gusts; but at peak we've been doing 7-8 knots, and up to 8.7 while surfing on a wave. That may not sound like much, but it's a lot for us!

Given how the boat is rolling right now -- ie. wildly -- we're keeping one eye on safety. In fact, since we left San Diego, we've been using tethers at any time someone is on watch alone, so that person is attached to the boat at all times -- we actually attach to jacklines, which run the length of the boat, so we can be tethered on and still move fore and aft to tend the sails etc.

Hopefully, this lot will calm down a little tomorrow; we'll be checking the weatherfax as usual tonight.

Soup for dinner tonight...

Sat 13 Dec 2003 18:19 US/Pacific
Position: 21° 57.268' N 110° 15.601' W; 1280.4 miles since Alameda, California

Well, at 2:40 today, we completed one week at sea, and it's still going great!

Last night we were treated to some phosphorescence in the water for the first time since the first night -- not the bright glow we saw in San Diego, but bright green sparkles which were kicked into life by our bow wave.


The windvane steering the boat

Last night we struggled with an awkward wind dead astern coupled with a nasty lumpy swell, but this morning it turned into a beautiful, strong beam (side-on) wind which sent us hurtling down the coast under reefed sails. Unfortunately, the wind then started fading, which saw us go through just about every combination of sails we carry (actually, every combination apart from the storm sails) as we struggled to keep going. At 2:00 p.m. we finally gave up and started motoring.

At 7:00 a.m. I glimpsed the mountains of Cabo San Lucas in the haze on the horizon -- our first sight of land since San Diego. right now we're 802 miles out of San Diego, and some 60 miles southwest of Cabo Falso -- meaning we've passed the Baja peninsula and are heading for the big jump over to the mainland, some 340 miles to Tenecatita. Passing Baja is great -- we had about 5 places in Baja lined up to stop at if we felt the need, but we're into the rhythm and feeling like making some miles. Tenecatita (or thereabouts) is the next potential stop, and there are plenty more after that -- right down to El Salvador.

So now we're in the lee of Baja, and motoring on hoping to find some wind when we come out from behind it. One boat on the shortwave net tonight reported good wind nearer the mainland, so hopefully it's not just wishful thinking. We'll see...

Amazing stars out tonight -- Venus is so bright it's going down in a deep red Venus-set.

Sun 14 Dec 2003 18:11 US/Pacific
Position: 20° 59.099' N 108° 48.790' W; 1381.1 miles since Alameda, California

Last night's motoring strategy paid off; we had decided to stop motoring after 8 p.m., to save fuel, and we did this, then sat adrift on a reasonably calm sea stargazing in the beautiful warm air. After about an hour of this, the wind started filling in, so we set the genoa and started sailing.

The stargazing was great; loads of stars were out last night, and there were dozens of shooting stars.


The Sun rising under the genoa

The wind steadily built through the night, and by 6:00 a.m. I was wrestling the genoa down and getting the jib and staysail up -- that operation took an hour and a half. Doing anything on a wildly pitching foredeck takes a lot of time. Right now, we have a reef in, and we're having a fast, rolly downwind ride.

The weather is noticeably warmer; in fact, the wind is very dry, and it may be coming off the desert up north. Once or twice we thought we could smell ashes. The water is also warm, as I found out when waves were hitting me on the foredeck.

We're now 916 miles out of San Diego. We're close to our farthest point from land as we cross from Baja to the mainland; 128 miles from Cabo and the Tres Marias islands. We'll be steering well clear of the latter; they're a prison colony, and apparently they shoot at boats that get too close.


Streamers in the cockpit
Mon 15 Dec 2003 17:33 US/Pacific
Position: 20° 00.553' N 107° 34.047' W; 1475.8 miles since Alameda, California

We had a little party in the cockpit today -- at 14:54 today, we hit 1,000 miles out from San Diego nonstop! Rachel (fantastic organiser that she is) had party streamers, squeakers, and a little present for me. Very nice!

Last night was a boisterous downwind run under working sail; Rachel saw some fantastic phosphorescence, but it had vanished by the time I got on watch. The windvane self-steering gear broke during the night; one of the control lines chafed through. Luckily (well, actually, due to good planning), we have not one but two electric autopilots on board as backups, so we weren't reduced to the tedium of hand steering. I fixed the windvane once it was light this morning; just a case of re-rigging the line.

Today, the wind lightened quite a bit, and we set the genoa after motoring through a calm spot. Now the wind is rising a bit, so we're making a reasonable speed. Today was very relaxing, though, specially as the sea is close to flat; Rachel baked bread and a cake, we rigged the sunshade over the cockpit, I started teaching Rachel celestial navigation; and all the time we were doing this, the boat was calmly sailing herself towards Panama!


Sunset

Unfortunately, the baking didn't work out; Rachel was using an odd recipe from a sailing book, and we ended up with lumps of hot cement. The fish did well today.

Right now, we're 1010 miles from San Diego, and approaching the end of the big gulf we've been crossing; just 110 miles from Cabo Corrientes, and 230 miles south of the tip of Baja. It's unnervingly dark outside -- totally dark. As soon as you step outside you can't see anything -- not even any part of the boat. At least the stars are out!

Starting to see some sparkles in the wake...

Tue 16 Dec 2003 20:17 US/Pacific
Position: 18° 47.795' N 105° 41.552' W; 1606.7 miles since Alameda, California

The weather is getting hotter, but here's a funny thing: we (at 19 degrees north) are farther from the Sun's current latitude (about 23 degrees south) than Inverness (57 degrees north) is when the Sun is at its midsummer latitude (23 degrees north). Hmmm....

Being 50 miles offshore, we can't see land, so we might as well be in mid-ocean. And for all the traffic we've seen, we could be -- there's been hardly another vessel in sight for days. Just when we were commenting on that this evening, a huge freighter passed within a mile or so to starboard, and gave us our first sign of human life outside the boat for days.

The shortwave, though, is one useful lifeline to the rest of the world. Every night, we check in to the Southbound net, along with about 30-40 other boats, all in Mexican waters. People exchange news and gossip, and keep track of boats (like us) which are under way. Through the net, we've learned that there are actually several boats traveling the same route as us, albeit separated by several days. So it's not so lonely after all. I'm sire we'll have company all the way through the canal. And, of course, there's email!

Last night we ran with the genoa until 03:40, when the wind got too strong, so we took it down and set the working jib. Since then, we've been sailing with the working sails, which is nice, because the change to the genoa is a bunch of work. In fact, with the sea almost flat, it's been another smooth, relaxing day of sailing.

At 09:00, we had Cabo Corrientes abeam, which means we finally finished crossing the mouth of the Sea of Cortez, and we're once more paralleling the coast.


Passenger on the mast

We are now 1142 nautical miles from San Diego, and 55 miles off from Tenecatita on the Mexican mainland. We're continuing southeast, keeping about 50 miles offshore, and watching the weather. The Gulf of Tehuantepec at the southern end of Mexico is the big upcoming hazard; it is prone to gales coming through gaps in the mountains from the Gulf of Mexico on the Atlantic side. If the weather's bad, we'll probably pull into Huatulco, at the north side of the gulf, to wait for a weather window (and meet loads of other cruisers doing the same). Huatulco is 618 miles from here; after that, it's 524 miles to the highly-recommended Barillas marina in El Salvador, which is a great spot to rest, resupply, and get on the Internet; so we're over half way to El Salvador.

After that, it's 834 miles to the Panama canal....

We picked up a passenger this afternoon -- a biggish, cormorant-like bird, but brown with a white belly, perched on top of the mast for a couple of hours. I guess he was resting, but keeping his balance up there looked like a lot of work. Just an hour ago, after dark, a school of dolphins came along to frolic around the boat -- actually, I think they were fishing. With the deck lights on, we could just make them out -- about a dozen of them -- cutting back and forth under the boat.

Wed 17 Dec 2003 19:10 US/Pacific
Position: 18° 07.906' N 104° 45.694' W; 1676.1 miles since Alameda, California

After all the good runs we had, I suppose it's about time for some awkward winds. Sure enough, we've been struggling with calms for the last day. Last night at 9:30 we doused all the sails and drifted for a while; but the swells make the boat roll so much when we're lying ahull that it's very uncomfortable. We got a little wind and sailed from midnight to 7:00, then we were becalmed again. We motored for a couple of hours, drifted some more, and finally got some wind at 3:17 p.m. Yuck!

Finally, we were moving, and had a small celebration: smoked oysters, olive spread, spicy crackers, and chilled mandarins (one bonus of motoring is that the fridge gets run).

We eventually had enough wind to set the spinnaker wing-and-wing with the mainsail, so we're now sailing along with an impressive spread of canvas in front of us. Not making any speed records, but at least we're moving.

We've had a few more dolphin visits, but nothing we could take pictures of, unfortunately. The weather is jolly hot: almost 90 in the calms today, and it doesn't cool much at night.

We're now 1210 miles from San Diego, and 50 miles offshore from a little south of Manzanillo. We're actually sailing over 4000 metres of water; strange to think that the warm, tempting turquoise water all around is 2 and a half miles deep!

Thu 18 Dec 2003 19:40 US/Pacific
Position: 17° 29.787' N 103° 49.018' W; 1745.4 miles since Alameda, California

Last night's wing-and-wing sail lasted for quite a while, but the wind gradually died all night, until at 10 a.m. today we were becalmed again; and that pretty much set the theme for the day. We actually sailed -- slowly -- from 2-5 p.m., but since then, we've been totally becalmed. It's now 8 p.m., and we're 67 miles farther down the road than we were this time last night. That puts us 1278 miles from San Diego, and we're still about 50 miles offshore.

We're starting to think about a port we could put into to refuel (and re- water) before Huatulco; maybe Acapulco. We'd still like to make Huatulco, but if the wind doesn't come back, it's going to be very annoying sitting in the swell during the calms, and it would be nicer to motor -- being in motion cuts the rolling down a lot. Plus it's really hot sitting still; moving creates a nice cool breeze. (It was 88 degrees today.) So we'll see.

We had one bonus last night -- electric dolphins! When we were actually moving, 4 or 5 dolphins came along and played around the boat for hours. We couldn't actually see them, except that they were outlined in bright green, sparkly phosphorescence. They swam in huge loops, back and forth across the bow, as if to show how much faster than us they could go, and leaving these long, loopy trails of green sparkles behind them.

Fri 19 Dec 2003 20:38 US/Pacific
Position: 17° 17.531' N 103° 03.688' W; 1805.7 miles since Alameda, California

Another frustrating day of calms -- our last day's run (noon-noon) was 43 miles, and the next one may be less. We just sat and drifted most of the night, since it's more comfortable to drift at night (to save fuel) and save the motoring for the daytime. At 4 this morning, we had another spot of light wind, that lasted until 11 a.m. After that, we motored for a few hours, drifted for a while, sailed a little at about 1.3 knots, and now we're back to drifting. Oh well... the wind has to come back soon.

One bonus is that on the net today, after we said we were thinking of stopping at Huatulco, someone contacted us to let us know that there's a new marina there, with easier check-in facilties; that will be handy. I hope we can save our fuel -- and get enough wind -- to make it there.

A wierd thing happened this morning -- we suddenly realised that there were 2 pangas (the ubiquitous Mexican open motorboats) nearby; and that one of them was heading right for us. This made us a little nervous, what with all the stories of piracy, but these 2 guys motored up very courteously and asked for directions for Manzanillo! They were loaded with fishing gear (not to mention the big expensive motors), so they didn't really look too despicable. One problem, though, was that they spoke no English (of course we don't speak Spanish), but we managed to tell them that they were 60 miles offshore, and to head north. Get a GPS, guys!

Anyway, we're about 50 miles offshore, and 1335 miles travel from San Diego, but since some of those miles involved tacking back-and-forth on the spot, that's about where we were yesterday!

Sat 20 Dec 2003 23:04 US/Pacific
Position: 17° 08.810' N 102° 15.261' W; 1861.3 miles since Alameda, California

Another day of maddening calms... even when the wind does come up, it's angle is such that we can't sail the course we would want to. So, not much progress today. We've covered 1389 miles since San Diego, and we're 35 miles offshore from Zihuatanejo.

One thing we did today was fire up the watermaker to top up the water tanks -- that worked well, and we did it while the engine was running, so it didn't drain the batteries. So water shouldn't be a problem.

Sun 21 Dec 2003 13:27 Mexico/BajaSur
Position: 16° 54.000' N 101° 29.778' W; 1908.0 miles since Alameda, California

Changed to timezone GMT-7.

Sun 21 Dec 2003 18:57 Mexico/BajaSur
Position: 16° 46.800' N 101° 10.312' W; 1928.0 miles since Alameda, California

Today it looked like we might be getting out of the calms. We drifted along under spinnaker at about 2 knots all night; but at 5:30 a.m., the wind came up, and we set the mainsail and genoa. We had a good, moderately fast, fun sail that lasted for 6 hours, but then it was back to motoring through a calm. We finally cut the motor at 5 p.m., having used 2 gallons of diesel, and with 11 left -- we've found that keeping the speed down makes a huge difference to our mileage.

Now we're back to the spinnaker, and making under 2 knots -- again!


Dolphin blowing by the boat

On the bright side, we had a dolphin visit today -- about 10-15 dolphins came along and circled lazily around the boat for 10 minutes or so. We managed to get some good pictures.

We belatedly realised that we should have put our clocks forward, so we're now on GMT - 7. Actually, we should probably be on GMT - 6 by now, but our guide book didn't explain Mexico's rules very well.

So, we've now sailed 1373 miles from San Diego, and we're 30 miles offshore off Punta de Papanoa. We have 320 miles to go to Huatulco, which is where we're still heading. That's 3 good days sailing, if only we could get them...

Note on sail names (for those who may be interested):

Mainsail
Large sail that sets between the mast and boom.
Staysail
Small sail whose leading edge attaches to the inner forestay (a wire that goes from 3/4 way up the mast to the bow).
Jib
A larger sail whose leading edge attaches to the headstay (a wire that goes from the top of the mast to the end of the bowsprit).
Working sails
The main sail, staysail and jib, all in use together (for a cutter- rigged boat, such as Moonrise).
Genoa
A very large, light jib that attaches to the headstay, and is typically used in light winds, in conjunction with the mainsail only (no staysail).
Spinnaker
A huge, baggy sail, for use when going downwind in light wind.
Storm jib
A tiny, very heavy jib that attaches to the inner forestay for heavy weather.
Storm trysail
A tiny, very heavy sail that replaces the mainsail, although it attaches to the mast only.
Reef
A set of attachment points provided partway up a sail to allow it to be set shorter, with the bottom section rolled up, for heavier weather. Our mainsail has 2 reefs -- ie. it can be set full, shortened a little, or shortened a lot.

Mon 22 Dec 2003 13:45 Mexico/General
Position: 16° 35.551' N 100° 28.461' W; 1970.4 miles since Alameda, California

Changed to timezone GMT-6.

Mon 22 Dec 2003 20:05 Mexico/General
Position: 16° 24.779' N 100° 13.487' W; 1988.9 miles since Alameda, California

Some wind at last -- not exactly a gale, and we're not exactly speeding, but we sailed for the entire day, for the first time in 6 days. The genoa went up at half past midnight, and the mainsail at 3 a.m., and we've been making 2-4 knots since. So it's not rapid progress, but it feels much better to be moving.

We changed timezones again -- we're now on GMT - 6 hours, which is in line with southern Mexico, and all the way to Panama. We should really have done this sooner, but then it doesn't really matter a whole lot out here -- until we reach port.

We've been thinking about where we'll be spending Christmas -- which is hard to do in itself, since it couldn't seem less like Christmas out here! We had thought we might be past Mexico for Christmas, but it's looking like we'll be in international waters. It'll be fun to be celebrating afloat -- and we'll be thinking of all the folks back home in colder climes.

Thinking quite enviously, I might add -- it's getting really hot here! It's in the high 80s in the daytime, and drops to 82 at night.

We've sailed 1517 miles since San Diego, and we're currently 30 miles off Acapulco. (Sounds nice, but apparently not a good stop for cruisers.) It's 260 miles to Huatulco. And we're still hoping for more wind!

Tue 23 Dec 2003 19:36 Mexico/General
Position: 16° 06.358' N 99° 37.272' W; 2032.5 miles since Alameda, California

Looks like the calms are still with us. We sailed a little last night, then had 4 hours of sitting adrift hoping for wind. When it finally came, it was still light -- we sailed most of the day under spinnaker, and slowly, with 2 hours of motoring thrown in for good measure. Still, sailing always beats sitting adrift.


Another free ride

We had more phosphorescence today -- but this time blue, which I've never heard of before! It looked like loads of bright blue glowing flecks in the water, and they were really bright -- they must have been, since the Sun was rising at the time!

Had another windvane failure -- one of the wires that supports a hanging pulley broke, due to corrosion. I managed to rig a replacement pretty easily with a scrap of rope; we'll do something better in port.

So with all this slow progress, we're not as far along as we would like. Still, we've covered 1560 miles since San Diego, and we're 40 miles offshore, south of Acapulco. We're sailing over the Middle America Trench, so there's over 3 miles of water under the keel. And we're almost half way to Panama...

Note on self-steering (For anyone who's interested)...

In the popular landlubber's image of sailing, steering is a major high point; heroically gripping the wheel / tiller while skillfully guiding the boat down majestic waves, and all that.


Dolphin-watching on the bowsprit

In reality, hand-steering is fun for about 5 minutes, then gets really tedious. Not to mention that it absolutely confines you to the helm. So not only is one crewmember permanently tied up steering, but the other is continually fetching / stowing their sunglasses, getting them a drink, getting their hat, fetching / applying sunscreen, etc., etc.

Sailing long distances is therefore made bearable -- and indeed fun -- by self-steering systems. These aren't anything terribly clever; they just keep the boat on a straight line, allowing the person on watch to spend 95% of their time relaxing, getting their own sunscreen, etc.; and the off-watch person is completely free.

There are two types of self-steering system. The electric systems contain a built-in electronic compass; when you engage the autopilot, it simply memorises the current heading, and thereafter makes whatever steering changes are required to stay on that heading. The advantage is that these systems are simple and precise; but they're also noisy, and use electricity.

The windvane system has a small wind vane on a rotatable turret; you set the wind vane edge-on to the wind, and then if the boat goes off course, the wind vane gets blown to one side, and operates a mechanism that pulls the tiller to get back on course. These systems are slightly less precise than the electronic ones, but very reliable (given that things like broken wires can easily be fixed at sea), and noiseless and don't drain your batteries.

Moonrise has both types of system; we use the electric when the motor is running, and the windvane under sail.

Wed 24 Dec 2003 19:02 Mexico/General
Position: 15° 49.670' N 98° 53.814' W; 2085.0 miles since Alameda, California

Merry Christmas from Moonrise! (Actually, right now, it's Christmas Eve on Moonrise, but Christmas Day in the U.K.) Best wishes for the season from both of us here. We'll be celebrating Christmas day offshore, but don't worry, we have presents, cards, decorations, and even Christmas lights! (We can run them for an hour or two off the batteries, using the inverter.) Shame we forgot the Christmas pudding -- although 15 gallons of rock-hard ice cream would go down well right now.


Bird standing on a turtle

Our biggest Christmas wish is: wind! Actually, although we had yet another frustrating day of calms, it just got windy half an hour ago, and we're sailing again. Not fast, at least by the standard of our first days out, but we're moving.

Today has been one of our quietest days out, in terms of outside contacts. Yesterday a passing freighter bound for Portland from Djibouti called us on the VHF for a lengthy social chat, which was very nice. (We also got the first mate to confirm that our radar reflector is making a nice big blip on their display, which she said it was.) But today, no ships, and even the dolphins, which usually stop by to play around the boat for a while, have been quiet. (While typing this a ship popped up on radar, 6 miles off, which is the first one for a while.)

We've now sailed 1611 miles from San Diego. It's 177 miles to Huatulco, which is 2-3 days at current rates. It's then 524 miles to El Salvador, and 834 miles from there to Panama -- this means that we're over half-way to Panama, with 1535 miles to go. We're 30 miles off Punta Maldonado, which is some way south of Acapulco. And we're fantasizing about ice-cold drinks and strong winds! And showers!


Christmas at sea
Thu 25 Dec 2003 15:41 Mexico/General
Position: 15° 32.678' N 97° 44.862' W; 2155.8 miles since Alameda, California

Well, Merry Christmas again! (Since it is now Christmas on Moonrise.) We have had our Christmas wish granted, at least for most of the day -- a pretty good wind came up at 5 a.m., which saw us sailing at around 5 knots. Unfortunately, it seems to be calming down again now (5 p.m.), but at least we're noticeably nearer our objective -- 107 miles from Huatulco, having sailed 1682 miles from San Diego. Right now, we're off Punta Galera, running due east to approach Huatulco.

We had a great (if somewhat minimal) Christmas celebration on board -- Santa came, and left presents on the bagged-up spinnaker in the cockpit, which was decorated for the occasion. Lunch was potatoes -- traditional and sweet -- and dinner might be pasta or something like it. (The only fresh stuff we have left is onions and garlic -- we had bad luck with our vegetables on board, and a lot of them went by the board.)


Opening pressies

We washed down lunch with a chloroquine tablet each -- anti-malaria pills. These are taken once a week, starting a week before entering a malaria-risk area. We're not exactly sure where the danger starts, but "rural" parts of southwest Mexico are affected, as well as El Salvador. So we reckon it's best to be safe.

It's been a quiet day, but last night -- just after our last report -- we were visited by about 15 dolphins which spend half an hour or so swimming loops under the bow of the boat as we sailed along. We couldn't see them in the pitch dark, but they lit up the phosphorescence in the water as they swam, so we could see green glowing trails looping and curling through the water. We could even see the dolphins themselves outlined in phosphorescence as they swam under the bowsprit. So we're hoping they'll come back tonight -- by which time we'll be ready to toast them with a nice bottle of tawny port.

Fri 26 Dec 2003 19:28 Mexico/General
Position: 15° 26.642' N 96° 46.351' W; 2214.6 miles since Alameda, California

Today has got to have been the most uneventful day on our trip; basically, nothing whatsoever has happened. No ships, dolphins, storms, sight of land, and pretty much, no wind. We managed to sail for 2 1/2 hours last night, then 5 1/2 hours this morning, and 2 this afternoon -- pretty much all crawling along in front of a breath of wind. For most of the day it has been dead calm; we used up about all the fuel we dare to use at sea to motor 3 hours.

So, not much progress. We've now covered 1736 miles from San Diego, and are now less than 47 miles from Huatulco -- just a pleasant day sail in more windy conditions. We're 20 miles offshore, approaching Puerto Angel, and heading east at almost measurable speeds.

One event last night -- while trying to set the genoa, the sheet suddenly tightened in a featherweight gust of wind, and flicked up in front of my face. It didn't touch me, and if it had it wouldn't have disturbed so much as a beard hair -- but it did manage to flick both my headlamp and glasses (only pair) off my face and into the sea. Oh well, I'm sure there are cheap opticians in Panama; meantime, my eyesight is good enough that it's not a real problem. Actually, I do have a pair of prescription sunglasses, as soon as I glue the leg back on.

The other spectacle last night was yet another marine light display -- for most of the night, little bursts of green light were appearing at random all around the boat, like fireworks going off in the water. Presumably some fish or something uses flashes of light to communicate -- these flashes are clearly visible as 3-foot circles in the water. Whatever they are, it looks like they're back tonight.

Sat 27 Dec 2003 20:27 Mexico/General
Position: 15° 34.015' N 95° 55.939' W; 2273.8 miles since Alameda, California

Decisions, decisions... well, we finally made it to the vicinity of Huatulco, despite yet another light-wind day. At least we sailed most of the day, but we had to tack back and forth this morning because the wind was coming from exactly where we wanted to go.

Just after midnight, we could actually hear music coming all the way from the shore, and by 5 a.m. we could smell the desert on the wind. At 8:23 we could see cliffs, coastal hills, and mountains through the binoculars -- our first really clear sight of land since San Diego.

There's obviously more wildlife closer to shore -- we saw a sea snake for the first time, and several turtles, each about 2 feet across.

So right now we're hanging around offshore -- we don't want to head into a strange harbour after dark -- and considering a promising weather window that has opened up in the Gulf of Tehuantepec, right after Huatulco. If we head across now, we should have nice sailing weather all the way -- then we'd have to press on to El Salvador with the fuel we have on board. On the other hand, this would avoid the (considerable) hassle of checking in and out of Mexico, and two days lost time in the process.

But if we stop in Huatulco, we'd be setting off into Tehuantepec with a full fuel tank, which could be useful; but maybe we would lose the weather window.

So we're going to check in with another radio net tomorrow morning, one that provides local weather info, and see what they have to say.


Our first view of Huatulco
Sun 28 Dec 2003 19:29 Mexico/General
Position: 15° 45.060' N 96° 07.797' W -- Santa Cruz Bay, Huatulco; 2309.2 miles since Alameda, California

So we decided, after much -- much -- deliberation, to head into Huatulco. And here we are! We've anchored in Bahia Huatulco, which is just at the west corner of the Gulf of Tehuantepec. We've sailed 1829 miles from San Diego; for comparison, our planned route was 1720 miles, so 109 miles were lost to tacking into headwinds, and loitering around last night while we waited for light to enter the harbour. I'm very glad we did, by the way; with a narrow entrance flanked by reefs, it would have been impossible at night.

Basically, we'll be much more comfortable on the next leg if we have fuel -- we can run the fridge, use the electrics pretty freely, make water, and motor through calms. The snag is that we have to check in and out of Mexico just to buy 40 gallons of fuel -- and that could easily take most of the day, and about $150. Then we can get our diesel, and leave. Now you see why we were seriously considering carrying on. But the good news is that our weather window should be open for a while, according to this morning's radio net. More on Mexico's appalling treatment of sailing tourists tomorrow.


Tourists in Huatulco

Bahia Huatulco is written up pretty well in our guide books, which describe a sheltered natural harbour, containing several beaches, with some nice snorkelling -- a nice, isolated little slice of paradise. It was a real shock, therefore, to motor in this morning and discover the bay absolutely full of jetskis, pleasure boats, speedboats, fishing boats, etc., and the beaches as packed as Bournemouth on August Bank Holiday. We retired to a neighbouring anchorage for most of the day to consider our options, and finally decided there weren't any; so this evening, we came back here, and dropped the anchor just an hour ago (about 7 p.m. local time). It's completely quiet now, and hopefully, tomorrow being Monday, it'll stay that way.


Santa Cruz, in Huatulco

We're stuck into the back of the bay, up against the cliffs on the west side, and just down from the main public beach. Although both our cruising guides show plenty of room here, we're rather cramped due to a huge pier for cruise ships which has apparently been built in the last year or two. But it is very sheltered here; in fact, Moonrise is eerily still after 22 days at sea.

We can both sleep tonight, all night -- what luxury! Just as well; we have a busy day tomorrow. We'll keep you posted...

Mon 29 Dec 2003 18:54 Mexico/General
Position: 15° 45.060' N 96° 07.797' W -- Santa Cruz Bay, Huatulco; 2309.2 miles since Alameda, California

We're now officially in Mexico for the first time -- and it took all day. Yes, the bureaucracy here is pretty awful.


Paperwork to check in and out

Rachel had to stay on the boat -- only the captain is allowed to go ashore before we're checked in -- and I did the paperwork run-around. First, is the Port Captain's office, which took an hour and a half. I had to present my port clearance from San Diego, vessel registration, crew list (6 copies), and both our passports. Then on to the immigration and customs.

One reason we stopped here is that our guidebook shows the customs and immigration being next door to the port captain's office; this turned out to be completely untrue -- I had to take an expensive taxi to the airport to visit customs and immigration there. Finding them was a hassle, since the airport is only about 1/3 built, despite which it seems to be operating fully, but eventually it was all done. Finally, back to the port captain's for some more stamps, and we're in.

Payment was a shock. I'd asked the port captain if I could pay in U.S. dollars, and he said no problem. When the amount was added up, it came to $477! Ouch! So I said "four hundred and seventy-seven?" "Yes." "In dollars?" "Yes." So I started considering alternative plans -- like going back to the boat and just upping anchor. When he was ready to take my cash, I said "Is it really four hundred and seventy-seven dollars?" "Oh no, pesos! But you can pay in dollars." So it came to $47.70 (the in-shop rate is 10 to 1). Not so bad! Apparently the $ sign means pesos in Mexico.

So now we have visas, agricultural and health clearance, and an international port clearance, since I checked in and out in one operation. This means we have to leave within 48 hours. If you check in and out separately -- ie. if you're staying more than 2 days -- you have to go through the entire process twice, including paying twice. Also, it's generally routine here to have the army come aboard, in numbers, and with guns, to "inspect" the boat; which, from what I've heard, means more paperwork but on board. This didn't happen to us, however, which I guess is because we're not staying.

So the final bill was $47, plus $21 per visa, plus $40 (ouch!) in cabs; total $129. I suppose this isn't too bad for checking in and out of a country -- most countries are like that for boats -- but the stupid thing about Mexico is that you have to do all this at each port you visit. This is one reason we haven't been harbour-hopping our way down here (the other being that we'd really like to make the canal soon).

The good side of all this hassle is that the captain (not the crew, unfortunately) gets to see something of the people and country we're visiting. And my impression of the Mexicans matches everything I'd heard -- really really nice, friendly, and very conscientious. The port captain, for example, not only made sure I understood exactly what I had to do next, but phoned ahead to both customs and immigration to clear the way for me. The officials at the airport walked me from desk to desk. Even the taxi drivers, and just people on the street, all seem to be looking out for you.

The place itself is, unfortunately, something of a tourist trap, for Mexican tourists, with just a few US citizens and Europeans. But still, it seems like a nice area, with a lot of development going on -- like the horrible cruise ship pier that was jammed into the harbour.

Language isn't much of a problem. Very few people speak English, and I can say "Gracias" basically, but the main thing is that people are very happy to make the effort to help, specially if you start with a smiley "Buenos dias". So it all works out, even at immigration when they were quizzing me about some details without the benefit of any useful shared words.

So I would certainly recommend Mexico as a destination; just don't take your car -- parking seems to be by the crunch and shove method. There's a strong campaign against bribery in Mexico right now, and I'd say it looks to be working; my treatment by all the officials here was purely professional and courteous. The offices and officials are all very like what you would see in the USA, just with fewer PCs and more typewriters (remember them?).

All the shops seem to take US dollars, at the 10 for 1 rate -- the official rate is nearer 11.20 pesos for 1 dollar. Still, this is a real convenience, since we came here with no currency. This was for 2 reasons -- first, we didn't know whether we would be stopping in Mexico, or for how long; second, it's nearly impossible to get foreign money in the USA. Going into a bank and asking for pesos is like going into a bank and asking for a big jar of pickled armadillo tongues.

We tried (and failed) to change some cash at the bank here in Santa Cruz (the town we're in front of, at the head of Bahia de Huatulco). The friendly chap there asked where we were from, and I said Scotland. At which point he commended me on my accent, and launched into a scathing critique of US English. Rachel strategically kept quiet! So maybe it pays to be traveling under the red ensign.

So our plans now -- the weather window is not looking so good, with tomorrow being pretty windy out in the gulf. So we'll "leave" Huatulco Wednesday morning, then drop the anchor in some nice little cove, and wait for it to calm down; actually, we may be able to start out as early as Wednesday night, otherwise Thursday. Tomorrow we'll be getting in fuel and water, and some groceries, ice, and snacks -- lots of snacks!

Last night Rachel made our courtesy flag for El Salvador -- when you visit a country, you fly its flag as a courtesy (one that some countries insist on) as long as you're there (in addition to your ensign, of course). We bought a bunch of courtesy flags, but we plan to make some of the simpler ones -- and El Salvador is really easy. The finished product looks great, and is made of remnants of spinnaker cloth we picked up cheap at a sail loft in San Diego. So we're looking forward to the next stop.

Tue 30 Dec 2003 20:42 Mexico/General
Position: 15° 45.060' N 96° 07.797' W -- Santa Cruz Bay, Huatulco; 2309.2 miles since Alameda, California

As planned, today was the day for filling up with fuel and water -- and that was it for the day!

Well, we did start by moving the boat all of a quarter of a mile to a more sheltered anchorage. Then we set about fuelling. There are basically no facilities here for boats, so to get fuel, we had to dinghy ashore with empty jerry cans, take a taxi to the nearest petrol station, fill up, then take a taxi back, and dinghy back to the boat. The dinghy was pretty weighed down with 20 gallons of diesel and two people, but it coped. Luckily we weren't totally empty so we only needed two trips. And it helped having the loan of two cans from Libre, an American boat anchored next to us here.

Even so, that took all morning and into the afternoon, albeit I made a trip to the bank in between. Getting the fuel from the cans into the tank was a disgusting, messy hassle. It should be easy enough, but we have Californian jerry cans with these insane "spill-proof" nozzles, which can't be used without spilling two-thirds of the fuel. (It's not just us -- everyone says that these cans make you spill huge amounts of fuel.) So we ended up having to siphon from the cans to the tank, which still created a huge mess.

The rest of the afternoon was spent doing water. The procedure here was to dinghy over to the harbour, back up to a tire hanging from the wall, then I climbed up the tire onto the dock. Rachel then rowed over to the tap, where I dropped the hose to her so she could fill the cans. Then back to the tire so I could climb down to the dinghy and then row back to the boat. Then hoist the cans out of the dinghy onto deck, and then siphon water from there to the tank. All of this is happening in and around the "darsena", the little enclosed harbour in the middle of town. This means running the gauntlet of pangas screaming in and out at top speed, throwing up huge wakes which nearly swamp our little 7 foot dinghy. This needed 4 trips -- yuck. The one compensation was the glorious sunset on our second-last trip back.

And that was it for the day -- except Rachel did a load of laundry in a bucket, while I was fetching diesel. As she was doing it, being swarmed all the time by obnoxious jet skis, a huge cruise ship pulled in, coming disconcertingly close to us, even though it was going to the other side of the pier. This left Rachel feeling rather rustic, beating out her laundry with huge, glamorous penthouse-suite panorama windows gliding by practically overhead. (It left just a couple of hours ago.)

Our other anchorage mate, by the way, is New Venture, a converted fishing trawler registered in Douglas, Isle of Man. We actually saw them anchored near us in San Diego, during the wildfires there. The people there are really nice; they're headed to Panama too, so we'll probably see them again.

Tomorrow, we're planning to pick up some groceries, and then pull out to a better anchorage; then leave tomorrow night or Thursday. It can't be too soon; it's not too great here, what with pangas, giant tour catamarans, and jet skis screaming past within feet of us all day long. And the disco, which seems to go until 4 a.m., is too awful to be believed.

Wed 31 Dec 2003 22:08 Mexico/General
Position: 15° 45.060' N 96° 07.797' W -- Santa Cruz Bay, Huatulco; 2309.2 miles since Alameda, California

The plan this morning was to pick up a few last-minute groceries, move the boat, and then get ready to leave tonight or tomorrow.

Well, basically, we're on the plan, if not the schedule. The little trip for groceries ended up taking forever, as we bumbled around Crucecita (the main town near here, still pretty small) somehow without managing to find the main square. Still, we explored the mercada, which had a fascinating range of fruits and vegetables, some of which we were prepared to believe were edible by gringos; and then the supermarket, which had all the staples like crisps, cans of pop, powdered fizzy drink mix, and chocolate biscuits that keep us going through all the night watches. A major score was finding the ice plant where you can buy ice in huge blocks; we stuff the fridge with this, so we don't drain the batteries running it all the time.

Having done all that, we rowed all our purchases back to the boat, with some difficulty as the dinghy was completely stuffed with 4 huge blocks of ice as well as many bags of provisions; then set about stowing it all. One precaution we take is to de-label all cans, and remove all cardboard from everything, as it can contain cockroach eggs.

This done, we decided to row back over to the beach to spend our last pesos on a few more cans of pop. We got a little carried away, however, and ended up having to buy our load of stuff with dollars; since we only had $10 bills, we ended up with more pesos than we started with. So, we re- entered the store and did another round of peso-spending, successful this time. Let's just say that ice cream was involved.

By the time we got this lot back to the boat and had drinks with ice (a major luxury that), it was 4:30 p.m. We decided to row over to New Venture, the British converted 65' trawler, and visited the folks there for a while. They've done a fantastic job converting the boat to a liveaboard, and the amount of space they have inside is amazing (to us sailboat types). They even have a freezer chest! Thanks to which we'll soon be enjoying British Columbia salmon (caught by them in BC) in Mexico or El Salvador.

It turns out that the couple who own the boat -- Bill and Susan -- previously owned Caribbean kites, the company that sold Peter Powell- style kites in the US. They retired, bought the boat (that was about to be scrapped), refurbished her, and now they're sailing to Jamaica, via the canal. We were able to give them a copy of a nice picture we took of their boat in San Diego, lit up by the setting sun under a black smoky sky during the wildfires.

Nice boat, but I wouldn't want their fuel bill -- with 1,800 gallons of tanks, they're spending $3400 for a fill-up, which gives them a 2,000-mile range. (We used 45 gallons over nearly the same distance.)

Now it's an hour and a half to 2004, and we're settling down for the night, still in the same anchorage -- the others are reported to be very rolly right now. So have a good Hogmanay, and we'll be back in the new year!

Thu 1 Jan 2004 18:52 Mexico/General
Position: 15° 45.060' N 96° 07.797' W -- Santa Cruz Bay, Huatulco; 2309.2 miles since Alameda, California

Happy New Year from Moonrise in Mexico!

OK, it's 2 Jan in GMT-land, but it's still 1 Jan here. I had pretty much decided we would be seeing in the new year at sea, but the weather window we're aiming for keeps moving!

The gulf of Tehuantepec is quite a barrier for boats going south. With good weather, it can be no problem, but when the wind blows, it really blows. There's a gap in the central American mountains inland from the Gulf, so that strong winds in the Gulf of Mexico blow right through, funnelled by the mountains, and can be 50-60 knots -- very strong indeed -- by the time they reach the Pacific. Unfortunately, January is about the worst time for the bad winds!

There are two main tactics for avoiding a rough ride. First, obviously, wait for calm winds. If the right weather systems are in place over Texas and the Gulf of Mexico, you can be pretty much guaranteed 4 or 5 days of light winds -- or even calms. That's when you dash across, and Huatulco, right on the corner of the gulf, is a prime place for people to wait.

The other tactic that is universally recommended is to hug the beach; ie. sail very close to land, like a hundred yards or so. That way, even if the big winds hit, you're sailing in flat water, since the waves won't have had time to build up; and the wind alone isn't so bad. The really windy part of the gulf isn't much more than 100 miles, following the beach, so a decent weather window should see us across.

We were planning to go tonight, but, as I said, the window keeps moving. The winds were originally supposed to be lightening up by Thursday, then Friday, now Saturday. This morning, a new boat pulled into the anchorage; Cherie, a British-registered boat whose crew were born in South Africa, except for the son, Bevan, who was born on board! They've been cruising since '92, and have been through the Panama canal three times; now they're heading south to Costa Rica.

Anyway, they called us up tonight, as we were preparing to get underway, and shared the latest weather information with us. It turns out they left San Diego on December 1, just 5 days before us, and tried the same plan -- to bypass Mexico and head south. But they had two attempts to cross the gulf, both of which failed; in the latest attempt, they got knocked down and lost the spray cloths on their starboard side, then came back to refuel. They were trying the straight-across route, not holding to the beach; but they told us that next time, they'll stick close to shore, which should alleviate or remove the danger of a knockdown (big waves are much more of a problem than wind).

Their other news was that they had just -- literally right before calling us -- got a new weather update, which said that the winds are still up; so we have decided to postpone. Probably both Cherie and Moonrise -- and maybe New Venture -- will leave tomorrow (Friday) evening, and head out along the beach. This is now looking like a safe bet, although we are, of course, following updates to the weather. (All three boats have weatherfax.)

So that's our news, pretty much. We spent the day preparing Moonrise for sea, so she's ready to go at the drop of a hat. Tonight we'll be having the Canadian salmon from New Venture, and relaxing for the evening. And tomorrow, hopefully, we'll be on the move again. Meantime, there are three boats anchored in this corner of Mexico, all flying the Red Ensign!

BTW, we didn't see in the new year with much energy; my eyes were almost jammed shut by then! I've been taking the 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. watch at sea, so I'm now used to going to bed by 8 p.m. Puts a bit of a damper on late-night celebrations!