Turkeys and triumphs

We woke surrounded by boats in the anchorage at Isla San Francsico- most of them  big, luxury yachts with busy, crisply-uniformed crews, shuttling fancy owners and their guests back and forth to the beach or out to the rocks to snorkel.

It was blowing pretty good, so the kids and I hung around and read and I pondered how on earth I would wedge this giant frozen Turkey into my oven once it had finally thawed. 
I forgot to purchase a disposable baking pan, so, this added yet another, another dimension to my culinary challenge. They should really do IRON CHEF-AHOY! If they want some real cooking wizardry. All my on board kitchen stuff is made small to accommodate my tiny cooking and storage areas. The Dutch oven was out-unless I wanted to start with Turkey Soup-instead of end with it-so either I would have to debone the thing or sail out of the National Park islands and dig a hole in the sand and cook it over coals. Thanksgiving was still five days away and the park extends for another 100 miles or ...I made plans to de-bone and then truss into a roulade. I made this exact same thing last Thanksgiving ( we were sailing the Channel Islands of of Santa Barbara, California) but I had it professionally deboned by a butcher at Wholefoods ( oh, the indulgence, those halcyon days!) before heading out. The 'New Me" does not go in for such luxuries as over- stocked culinary dens of inequity, I wrangle my food from the sea and prowl the tiendas ( well, the truth is, I had in fact gotten this lovely turkey from a swish market in La Paz and only my feeble Spanish prevented me from asking the more-than-capable butcher there to do the same thing...). Instead, I will rely on Jon's newly acquired fish-gutting skills to help me with the bird-surgery.

Jon, meanwhile (as I muddled over my Turkey business) went for a hunt and came back with a fat fish for dinner-we haven't had an empty freezer since he got his new gun. 
Big plug for the excellent, Riffe Euro Gun 90. I understand its a bugger to load underwater and there are plans for Jon to weld a "stop" to the body to make that easier but  other than that, it's a deadly gun for our size of prey. 
If there are fish big enough for four to eat, we get one...or two.

It is our daily ritual to watch the sunrise while grinding coffee and waiting to do our morning check-in on Amigo net-Jon is one of the weekly net managers, calling out the weather and listening for emergency traffic and taking the list of boat call-signs and names and check-ins.  We're pretty familiar with the fleet here now and many of them know us, if not in person, at least through Jon. It's amusing to recognize seasonal folks returning to the sea after summer months spent at home and hear all the new boats coming down for the first time. Many of the cruisers in this part of the world come down with a flotilla called the Baja Haha. They leave from San Diego every year on Halloween and make the passage down the outside. Two hundred boats came down  this year. After a shindig in Cabo San Lucas, they break up and either hit mainland or cruise the sea of Cortez. Some will make the Pacific puddle jump in April. We actually had signed up for the HAHA last year but couldn't do it, as Jon was still working-we lost our 300 dollar entry fee but gained the experience of coming down by ourselves when no one else was. Maybe this one simple twist of fate set the tone for us, because, now, although we really enjoy meeting other cruisers, we also love being on our own and going against the crowd. If you wanted, you could spend years down here in Mexico and only ever hang out with people from your same Marina in California.  We are opting for something different. Lucky us ( and since Manta has kind of adopted us ), we are going to try and see a whole lot of places most people don't go.

We were starting to wonder about where Manta might actually be-they don't have a phone so you can only reach them by VHF if your within 10 miles...and we were WAY further than that. We had communicated through email but now we were both out of regular internet range.
(In electrical-interference-infested La Paz we couldn't hear anyone on the SSB, so one of the other cruisers had to relay to Manta that we were heading North. We have also been doing the same thing with our dear friends on Eyoni who's spare parts we've been carrying and playing 'hot potato' with for months-handing them off to other boats we think might see them sooner than us and then getting them back again as we double back on our tracks! Now that we are headed North we hope to find Eyoni again and deliver their well travelled parts and have a big, fat, happy reunion).
One of the adventures of cruising is this treasure hunt, inspired by limited communications. You can drop out or check in, you can lose or find friends, you can expect to see one another in a week and meet up months or years later-and it's all cool. All expected, in this weird and wonderful world.

Now that I was blissfully sipping a coffee and watching a beautiful sunrise 40 miles outside of the city, I hoped to get better reception. It wasn't Jon's day on Amigo net and he was having a bit if a snooze-in. I turned up the SSB and listened to the cruiser's check-in.

At last call... I head a familiar voice calling traffic to Pura Vida.

"Go ahead with your traffic" said the net controller.

"Hey there, Dive Team Pura Vida! This is Manta..."
It was good to hear Terry's voice again. It's the kind of voice that makes you smile.

Jon lept out of bed and grabbed the mic before I even had a chance to pick up.
"Hey there boss-how are you?" 
Jon was doing his best to sound alert but he looked hilarious. 
He had just woken up, his face crumpled from a deep sleep and his crazy, blond, salt-encrusted hair was molded into a freestanding fiberglass sculpture-sitting on top if his head.
The kids and I giggled.

"Well..where are you guys? asked Terry.

Jon told him where we were then yawned and mumbled something about the Northers( North winds) forecasted and said we thought we might hang out for the day.

"Put Hunter on the line" said Terry.

"Hi Terry..." said Hunter, grinning from ear to ear. 
She loves Terry.

"Hey there, Killer. Can you do me a favor?"


"Kick your dad in the butt!"

(Kai laughed and  snorted up his cereal milk)

Hunter pointed at Jon and nodded.

"Tell him to get up here! The wind's laid down to nothing at all and I got an engine just waiting to be put on a certain compressor."

Somewhere in the background we thought we heard Dawn Marie telling Terry to let us do whatever the hell we were gonna do- but Terry had other ideas.

Hunter smirked,
"You heard that... right Daddy?"

Jon laughed and stumbled into the engine room to check the fluids on Ol' Perkie.

"Fire her up!" he called...

and just like that, we were underway.

We know from the last time around with Manta, that Terry's ideas are good ideas. If he says go-it's probably a good time to go- and he was right.

We cruised up a notoriously finicky channel with no swell and no wind. It wasn't the predicted weather at all. It was perfect and gentle and flat. No wind to sail on, but seeing as most of the wind these days is coming from the opposite way that we want to go- we'll take no wind over a bunch on the nose.

At one point, Kai looked over board;

"The water looks disgusting..."

This was weird because the water never looks disgusting here, it's always pristine. 

I glanced over and it was true. 
It was murky and slimy and gelatinous.

"it's solid Jellyfish!" yipped Hunter.

On closer inspection, we discovered a nearly solid mass under us- made up, not solely of Jellyfish but innumerable small organisms and copepods. 
Small, simple marine invertebrates that make up a major piece of the pie when counting the biodiversity of our planet.
There were literally MILES of them and all different species mixed in. True enough, some were Jellyfish, the small, stingy-kind found everywhere in the Sea here but the vast majority were other things. I hate to say "things" but without internet or a micro-marine biology book they are hard to identify. I did  some amature research on copepods once, so I could point some of those out among the buckets of salt water we dredged and hauled up on deck during our eight hour journey.

We brought out the ship's microscope and tried our hand at macrophotography and ran little tests with eye droppers and food coloring to see if we could get them to ingest the color and then take pictures of their primitive digestive tracts.

I can't begin to tell you how cool it was. 

Like being invited to another planet for the afternoon. 

We even tried music tests. Playing everything from Yo-Yo ma to Tom Petty to Gregorian chants to our little guests swimming around in sterilized jam jars- we wanted to see if they acted differentialy when exposed to new stimulus. 

You know what...?
They do. 

They look at you, they swim around, they interact with music and light and temperature and if you didn't already have an inkling, that there may be, perhaps, infinite definitions to the word "sentient"- you would be forever changed by our little buckets of sea water. 
You would not see it as a mass of slimy and stingy nuisances-you would see the face of God peering back at you and pointing her finger and laughing.

We were happy to approach the bay of San Marrte. 
That perfect and beautiful bay, we had left for no reason, when our troubles began. 

Now we were, coming back, five thousand dollars lighter but with a new attitude-and a new autopilot and air compressor. 
Never mind that we have a compressor and NO dive tanks or regulators. If we did not put the" cart before the horse" on a regular basis, we wouldn't even be on this adventure.

Dive to 100 feet! Buy a compressor! Then some tanks! Then, maybe...we'll get certified.

We are an insurance salesperson's nightmare. 
We refuse to be put off by fears fabricated by the greedy and the scared. 
We take responsibility for ourselves.

Bold assertions...
It's really, Jon. 

It's Jon's fault. His big brain likes being switched on and adventure turns the crank.

Me, I'm kinda of a chicken-shit, actually, only my Scottish ancestry (pride and unflinching stubbornness ), doesn't allow me to act on it.
Jon will tell you he's not a dare devil-which is true he's not a risk taker in the crazy-nutcase kind of way -but he's got a fairly healthy dose of self-reliance in his DNA .  
He's just rigged that way. 

I worry myself sick (constantly) but I know Jon is as awake at night too, going through the mental checklists and if he feels confident-it helps me make the plunge.

We recheck our rig and our gear all the time. We lecture the kids on safety and make them read the manuals, too...

But honestly, if we waited for permission, the bank account, the degree, the new engine-we never would do any of this stuff.

Adventure is  made up of equal parst fun, ass-busting preparation and mental attitude. 
You will be scared, you will lie awake and worry about "what if'...
Then, when the time comes, you trust you have done everything you could and you let go.

I spotted something from the deck.

"There's a whale in the anchorage!".

I was standing on the stantions of the bowsprit, watching for the light color marking the reefs that lie outside the anchorage. Of course, we have them on our charts but it's a good idea to keep an eye out-we learned that the hard way.
There was no whale in sight but there a tell-tale- a cloud of water vapor, hanging in the air, like a trail behind a shooting star,  it's a small sign from the universe, that something magical is happening near you and you should pay closer attention.

Then, I saw another blow- a real blow and a fluke slapping the water, it was a small fluke...a mother and a calf, or maybe a juvenile. 

And...there was a pod of about fifty porpoise playing with them.

We entered the deserted cove, with this unbelievable display happening around us. I felt bad for interrupting them. I imagined the mother and calf scratching themselves on the sandy bottom of the shallow cove and watching the porpoises play around them.
We motored in slowly, and found our spot, tucked behind the protection of the bluffs and three off lying reefs as the whales circled back and checked us out.
We ogled from the decks and sang our whale songs but they were unimpressed with our crooning and made their way back  to deeper water and disappeared.

Ahhh...this was more like it. 

This is what we wanted, why we opted to stay in the Sea of Cortez for a little longer.

Five minutes after we dropped the hook, Manta came around the corner.

We had a happy reunion with Manta.

The next morning, Terry came over and Jon and he got down to the business of refitting the electric engine on our compressor with Terry's gas one. 

We don't have an inverter- we can't make enough electricity to power the giant compressor-so gas is a must when your on a sailboat like ours. 

There was much to do and watch and learn from Terry as Jon was walked through how to essentially rebuild one and make it all happen. 

Terry and Dawn had been busy sussing out spare parts that we might need to put it together and by noon it was looking pretty good.

"What's that island, over there like?" I pointed across the sound.

Terry was messing around with something on the throttle.

"That's Santa Catalina...there's some cool spots to dive over there..Wanna see a whale graveyard?"

You don't have to ask that question twice.

Manta weighed anchor and we followed them across a sloppy sea to Santa Catalina. 

This island was already known to us through Kai and his long-time snake obsession- it is the only place in the world where rattle-less-rattle snakes live.

Sneaky, venomous snakes.

We saw them in the reptile house, at the SanDiego Zoo back before we left the States.

"Cool" said Kai. 

"Can we go there when we get to Baja?"

"Totally" I said. 
Never in my wildest dreams intending to actually go there.

Well...as I write this, I am anchored not fifty yards away from that island and Hunter and Dawn are, at this very moment,  on it's shores gathering sand (kitty-litter) for Manta's boat-kitty, Tigger.

I am not at all worried ( honestly). There are no more capable hands to lead an eight year old into the bush of an island teaming with deadly snakes- than Dawn.

She is experienced and kind and wise and infinitely knowledgeable about all the flora and fauna out here and she adores and treats Hunter( and the rest of us) as family.

The daring girls returned ,in half an hour with Hunter proudly displaying a perfectly intact shark jaw-all five rows of teeth included- and two new Hermit crabs-found on the beautiful beach.
For those of you that keep track of such things...Hermey is still AWOL -our new guests moved into his old bucket.

Hunter named them, Lisa and Frank.

The anchorage on Catalina was incredible, with a spectacular rock formation that looks exactly like a huge, resting elephant.
The entire island was empty, except for Pura Vida and Manta.
Our cruising charts have no way-points for Catalina and with it's reputation for deadly snakes, it's not on the average cruiser's itinerary. 

This is whats so fun about doing this with Manta, we get to go to really cool places, that we might not have seen otherwise.

Terry and Jon worked on the compressor until sundown and got it going. 

It wasn't exactly easy but luckily, Terry's the kind of person who knows how to make air filters out of cut up mexican sponges-so they managed to  Macguyver'd it into a smoothly running machine.

We were pumping air. 
Filling tanks!

A new chapter in our adventures has begun...

Terry and Dawn lent us their spare tanks and regulators- so that whole "cart before the horse" thing, has kinda worked out for us... again.

The next day, it was beginning to blow but not so much that we couldn't take the dinks out for a dive.

We skirted around the island through a building swell and hunkered down next to some steep-to cliffs, weatherworn with sea caves and striated with granite and copper streaks.

Diving down-pretty shallow for us these days (forty feet) Terry lead us to the skeleton of a long dead whale-judging from its size and the fluke bones, probably a Grey whale. 

Kai swam around, picking up vertebrae and rib bones but his goal of finding a "finger bone" eluded him. In lieu of something more manageable, Hunter (who was snorkeling and free diving above us with Dawn) insisted on bringing home a massive hunk of vertebrae -which now takes up a considerable chunk of our foredeck. 
We will probably toss it later, to make room for whatever she brings home from diving or beach combing today.

The Northers blew in earnest last night-thirty knots sustained- but we were cosy on our boat and anchored well in sand and protected from the fetch and were just turning into our warm bunks when we heard a knock on our hull. 

Outside, in the pitch dark and moonless night, we found two very windblown Panga fisherman holding onto our gunwales.

 "Buenas Noches..." 
Then they asked us if we knew the weather forecast.

"muchas biento",  said Jon.

It was gonna howl like this for days-the seas outside the sweet little anchorage were rolling with massive white "Buffalos".

The Mexicans nodded and said they would sleep here for the night. 

"Aqui? On La Playa?" asked Jon, in Spanglish. 

The Mexican's shook their heads.

'No, Muchas Serpentes!" they answered, shaking their heads with VERY serious faces.

Instead, they would anchor off the beach and sleep in the bottom of their tiny, open boat, exposed to the elements, in the howling darkness, amongst bloody chunks of cut-up fish bait -rather than be molested by poisonous snakes looking for a warm body to snuggle.

...Can't say that I blame them.

Hunter went below and fetched the men her favorite ( and last) unopened box of chocolate cookies. 

We told them we wished we had cigarettes or beer or something better suited to brave fisherman than a little girl's treat but it was given with such sweetness, that they seemed genuinely touched.

The next morning, at daybreak, Terry and Dawn delivered them a pot of hot coffee and a bag of cookies. By the time everyone on Pura Vida was waking up, the Pangas( another had come in the night) were gone.

They would make the thirty mile trip back to their tiny fishing village, on no sleep, no dinner, through 25 knot winds and a 10 foot swell...

We will never balk at the price of fish in a market or a restaurant again-at least not in Mexico.

The next day was grey and cold- the Pineapple express-a high current of warm wet air from the outer Pacific -was sweeping the Baja and bringing unseasonable cloud cover and chill.

Makes for cozy days on a boat-but eager beavers that we are-we just had to dive.

Terry took us to a cove he had not explored before- the weather may have been nasty above the waves but beneath, the world was a deep sapphire blue, set off by stunningly white sands.

We cruised through a maze of boulders and within five minutes I lost count of the amount of Morays I saw.

We swam through the current and the surge, into vertical cliffs and crevices and were rewarded with a lobster buffet in an underwater canyon.

Everywhere we looked, long, spiny tentacles poked from hiding holes.

We had to nudge aside plenty of Morays, territorially guarding the holes they share with their spiny friends-but as soon as you tail the lobster, the Moray will happily turn and eat whats left of his roommate.

Kai has gotten deadly with his sling and goes after "bugs" now like he's been doing it forever. Jon prowls around looking for fish to shoot and Terry usually finds about ten things to tease me  about or scare me with.

Me, I just love being down there. 
I don't hunt. I just look around.
Fish are amazing and full of individual personalities.
You can spend an hour and watch the fish and how they relate to each other and check out the little stuff; tiny gobbies and colorful Blennies, they astound and amaze you and they can make you laugh.
Fish can be funny.
Who knew?
And... you feel like a new person when you surface. 

Diving is so new to us but every time we finish one , we just can't wait to go the next day.

And now we can...which is just, so... cool.

Manta lent us a ton of their gear.
It's strapped all over our decks now. 
Tanks and regulators, heavyweight wetsuits...
Pura Vida looks like a proper dive boat now.
Another dream, come true.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow.

I was just looking through the photos today and realized just how far, literally and figuratively, our little tribe has come in a year.

The pictures I took last Thanksgiving show the kids hanging off the bow, dressed in foul weather gear (and life jackets!) watching their dad anchor our boat for the first time anywhere other than Catalina.

It was our novice circumnavigation of Santa Cruz Island-we had it all to ourselves in the off season- and it was the beginning of something very significant in our lives.

It makes me wonder where we will be next year on this day...
And if I will ever perfect making the world's most compact turkey

Toothless Babushka

Bikini bread making-for turkey stuffing!

Deboning big bird

Dive boat

Something about getting a 'Bug" in a cave....

Beings of light

Snapper for one!

Hunter and her fairy godparents

Future dive guide Kai

Our little Mermaid


Make that... WHALES

Manta and the Elephant

Boat biology

Dive teams Manta and PV

School before scuba-always a good incentive!


Hunter teasing Terry or Terry teasing Hunter-one or the other!

San Marte

Potluck spread for Turkey day on PV

Queen of the VHF

Compressor construction

Penmanship lessons!


Hunter finds her own 'little house" on the Baja!


  1. Old Iniquity, the inequitable cheeseballNovember 24, 2012 at 7:26 PM

    I am struck dumbwordless by the beauty of the blog and the photos. It is even possible to discern that the toothless babuschka is also a 'being of light'. Oh yes, and 'dens of inequity' is a phrase to cherish! I love you.

  2. Oh My! Fantastic!!!! What a Thanksgiving! Fire up those Go Pro's and get some underwater shots!Sending you lots and lots of love! Happy T'day.xoxo Gramma S

  3. Hi, it's Rhiannon.
    Hunter, it sounds like you are having a very good time and Hermi will never be lonely.

    And oh ya! that is a very nice house!