Les Perles & sailing to Mexico

This blog is a bit like a ships log. I took notes daily and copied and pasted them here.

The day before we head out, John an d I spot a sloth up in the trees. Seems fitting since I have been craning my neck for weeks trying to see one. They are shy.

March 18, 2020

A big sigh of relief as we heard stories tumbling in from friends who had taken off just weeks and days before us.  Our friends on a cat named Sea Bear, Nick and Lauri who we met in the Canary Islands and reunited with in Panama, had sailed to the Galapagos only to be turned away. With 4 on board, they had provisioned for a 900 mile passage, not the extra 2000 miles to the Marquesas.  So sail on they did, catching fish and rationing food wisely.  Upon arrival at the Marquesas they were told to stay on their boat.  One person per week allowed ashore for food and suppies.  No swimming off the boat, no paddleboarding, no nada.  Lock down in paradise. I can jump ahead now and say that they are happily cruising again but it was pretty messed up for several months. Meanwhile NZ is still in lock down. NO VISITORS IN HURRICANE SEASON!?! Where will all the boas go?

Meanwhile we are entering our first days off the continent, happily exploring and making decisions of which islands to visit and for how long.

The water is warm, there are very few boats, and we are hoping no one has the virus so we can continue north towards Mexico then San Diego. It’s not a bad place to quarantine! Meanwhile all are loading up on Vitamin C.

At Isla Contadora there is cell service – it might be our last communication before taking off so everyone is on their phones. The Latest news is the Canal is not closed yet, but travel to and from Panama will stop on 3/22. 

All our neighbors are heading West – a single handed female named Dee on SV Auntie comes over to chat and tell us about the anchorage. Super friendly, she is finishing her circumnavigation in FP.   As the reality that we are not going west sinks in; we try and grapple with it.   

3/19

News flash: the canal is not allowing anyone to arrive that has not already been onboard – line handlers etc.  This will severely limit who can go through.  And Shelter Bay Marina, the staging marina for all going west is not allowing any workers on sight.  Things are shutting down fast.  Maybe being forced to sail north isn’t so bad.  Costa Rica is now closed but Mexico still open. Ay yay yay

Checked out the Code Zero on our way to the submarine that’s on a beach off Isla San Telmo,

and saw a huge lumbering (sleeping?) sperm whale our starboard side. As we pass it, it wakes up and starts to follow us. Possibly curious. Glad we didn’t get too close. Moby Dick is based on a true story! Then pilot whales pass us as we chase down a Nautitech 40 with a German couple onboard. We anchor close to them near a river off of a gorgeous beach on the south side of Isla Del Rey. With an hour before sunset we hop in the dinghy, stop by to chat with S/V SYBO and head to the river.  It’s low tide and we take stunning photos with the light reflecting on the sand. 

3/20

Tried to go up the river in El Raton but the waves at the mouth were looking dicey.  Had to turn around and punch it while a wave broke over us. We don’t have time for accidents.  Let’s go sailing!

The guide book talks about a sweet fishing village where you can purchase fresh fish on the beach or from the boats. As we approach the area we notice a couple of boats rafted up and head to wards them. A small panga comes over and we choose 3 large red snappers.

No sooner had we negotiated the price $30, than they were called back to the other ship. Hands were sprayed with disinfectant and they waved us away.  2 armed men on the beach were watching and had sent our another panga to call off the deal. It was confusing to watch but then it all made sense. They are indigenous peoples and the government was protecting them from us, foreigners who may carry the disease.  I got a little sad, and it looked like the fishermen were sad too. It felt like the world was shutting down. “Oh the times they are a changin…”

Heading out and true to form for this challenge, the wind is 6 knots on the nose.  It could be worse.  At least it’s light and not stormy. This is dry season so no rain unlike wet season when it rains too much and there’s lightening.  We could have waited for a better window and favorable conditions, but a sense of urgency was starting to rest on us. What if Mexico closes?

Saw dolphins on the end of the last island we passed in Les Perles.  That lifts my spirits a bit.  Nothing like a little nature to bring reality into check.  We are healthy, we are free!

Later a Sperm whale came at us to visit, literally right up to us so I revved up the engine to pull away. Then a Marlin frolicked behind us, jumping at least 10 times! Finally the wind wasn’t against us and we sailed 10 knots for several hours.

Cooked a veggie lunch – sweet potatoes and broccoli/cabbage mash with cheddar.  Our first vegetarian meal.  The veggies will run out in about a week, but not the potatoes and onions. 

For dinner lasagna with eggplant and potatoes, some ground beef.  Trying to conserve the meat.

We got cell service from Panama so everyone checked their e mails and called loved ones.

Just learned the Panama Posse coordinator advised anyone who had not left for the Pacific to stay on the mainland.  Cook Islands and Tonga closed. Too much uncertainty and they don’t want foreigners.  Our friends from Zan and Tourtelle are more than half way and will be stuck on one island indefinitely.  No island hopping.  Wonder how the 90 day Visa limit will work?  For them it doesn’t matter as they are British. For us it would be tricky.  We made the right decision but it doesn’t make it easier. Friends John and Simon are realizing they are with us for the long haul. Mexico is stopping non essential travel tomorrow night.  We got an email saying they received our reservation at Chiapas but do not know if that will still be available when we arrive.  I’d call this essential but will they? 

Wind lightened overnight.

Saw dolphins in the phosphorescence! The Red Tide illuminates them and it is surreal! Watching them swim, weaving and dancing around our hulls is a a sight I’ll carry with me forever.

A note comes in from our friend Carin on Serenity. We left her in the San Blas Islands last month. Evidently while she went to town for some medical procedure, they shut down the islands. No one allowed in. Her boat is there and she has to find someone to sneak her in. While she was gone, the guy she left to watch her boat ate most of her food and wine while hosting dinner parties. He split and the local boys helped themselves to her kayaks and the rest of the booze. When I asked her if anyone was helping her out she said she was being treated like she was a leper because she had been in town. Only one person was OK with being in contact with her, a nice French male cruiser. Proving once again the French are fearless on the water.

3/21

Had the 6Am watch and saw the sun rise. Always nice to witness.  Winds light, 1 engine on.

Made bisquits with sausages and scrambles eggs.  Making bread later. With 2 cans of propane we are fine.  Today is the last day SDYC will do take away.  But they also said they will still keep Opening Day which is mid April.  Optimistic! 

Maybe grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch? (See how this works? It’s all about wind and food!)

09:45 Caught our first tuna after breakfast.  We had just switched to a cedar plug, Gary Weisman’s survival kit. Thinking the lure that sinks and swims a lot may have been scaring them off because we’ve seen tuna all morning with no luck until the switch. Dolphins came to play on the bow between bites.

It’s a smallish Tunny, dark meat, so best for ceviche. Should have thrown it back.

The wind picks up so we can sail fast towards Isla Vicaron, and the anchor is down before sunset.  There’s a swell and I worry that in the night, when the wind changes, we might be stern to the beach with waves breaking over us.  (Didn’t happen)

We enjoy a swim in warmer water than LP, and then cocktails while I make sushi to order.  Fresh nutty bread with olive oil dip is the appetizer. 

Dominos to finish the eve and we all crash happily to the sound of waves crashing on the beach.  

Sun 3/22

At sunrise we are turned around into the new wind direction, 80, and the waves are smaller but now and then a set has us going up and down.  The anchor set in 7 meters and now we are in 3.5.

But the wind is approx 15 knots and we can sail! No exploring this island which quite frankly should not be considered one the prettiest on the planet (according to the cruising guide it is).

There are howler monkeys, turtles, and Palm trees however so that kinda cool.

Eric calls for Stella (our spinnaker) and a full main.

He drives even though he’s off watch and is really happy, especially after checking our boards for damage from the logs we hit at full speed 2 days ago.

Wind picks up and goes forward so we douse the Stella and deploy the Gordo (fat reacher).  Smoking along at 8-10 knots.  The current has been against us since we turned the bottom corner of Panama.  John warns us it will be an upwind bash going home along the Baha.  

That’s so far away right now I can’t think about it.  Tonight we will enter Cost Rican waters.  We have our quarantine flag up so if anyone approaches we will start coughing. That is the new plan to keep anyone away.

The ships going to and from Panama are in a shipping lane to our port side.  We stay closer to shore but off far enough to catch wind and sail less miles. 

Around 4PM with barely any wind and port engine on, we landed a 58’ Mahi Mahi!  It was Simon’s turn to reel one in.  This was the longest fish we’ve ever caught on El Gato and Eric did an excellent job of gaffing him. I drove the boat to keep the fish behind us or make it easier to reel in, John helped Eric by tying a line around his tail, and we were all excited because this meant a fish dinner, or probably 4 dinners.  It’s sad to watch the fish change colors as it dies.  It starts out vibrant turquoise and emerald green mix and starts to fade even before it’s on the boat.  By the time we had him cut he was mostly blue flecks over grey.  

For dinner it was rice and beans, pineapple salsa, panko crusted Mahi, and Giradelhi brownies.  

A quiet night of watches.

3/23

We got cell service at 3AM to download emails and check on line.  I posted our fish photos on FB.  Some folks following us are happy to see what we are up to while they sit at home working, home schooling, or watching Netflix.  We can’t imagine what it must be like back home and are grateful to be out here in fresh air.  The real question for us is will Mexico accept us, and when will the boys fly home.  Eric and I would like to continue cruising the coast making wise choices on weather windows without a deadline. 

John would like to be home by April 20th, JPL is shut down but he runs out of sick days by then.  Simon has a kid in high school and would like to be a good parent and share the responsibilities.  We figure if we can land in Chiapas and check in, refuel and reprovision, then we will continue up to Barre de la Navidad which is less industrial.  Time will tell.  Meanwhile the emails from the PPJ were so plentiful that our iridiumGo box was too full and would time out.  I finally had to delete all the mail and may never know what folks wrote.  But the InReach is great.  I updated it to unlimited.  The texts must be less than 160 characters including spaces but it’s better than waiting for IG to download.  IR is instant and it rings so I know when someone has communicated.  Nothing like a good back up system that turns out better than the original.  IG is priceless for weather routing though and it is working flawlessly with PredictWind.  

Its hot and calm and we are just off Costa Rica.  

The latest news from the PPJ is that yachts cannot clear in, but they can stay.  Perhaps that will help with the visa time limitations. Only one person can go to shore, only 2 dinghies at the dock at a time, and they can only go for food or repairs. Still no swimming allowed.

Sounds awful. Feeling sorry for the boats that went. 

Caught a small Mackerel and let it go.

We have been sailing in the afternoon thermal breeze that only ECMWF has forecast correctly.

Speed over ground, SOG is around 6 knots with 10 knots true wind speed.  Current is always against us and probably will be the whole way north.

John checking in with his family. Or is he looking at stock options?

 Weird day for Boobies…. Caught a Boobie who chased our lure. Twice!  Dragged it though the water, it came off when we slowed down and then it went to eat our lure again, got caught, got off. Then at sunset 2 Bobbies landed on our mast, flat top main, squaking.  We tried to shoo them away so they don’t hurt our wind wands.  Took photos. 

Tonight another green flash like last night, and then more dolphins playing off the bows. A light show that is magical!

Wind on the nose, very light.  Slow going.

And then the wind picks up as we get close to a point. We call these Pt Loma puffs.  One reef and the Flacko and we are scooting along nicely dodging ships and land. Winds lay back down and we shake the reef.  

3/24 Tuesday Another gorgeous day with blue skies and flat seas.

Everyone feels rested and relaxed. 

For lunch we have mahi mahi fish tacos and then the boys take a swim.  It’s really calm now. As we get closer to shore in CR we have cell service and I communicate with friends on Baja Fog in Barre de la Navidad.  They inform me that Mex is soon closing up and cruisers, once checked in, will not be allowed to move around.  This has my head spinning. Would Chiapaps be better than Barre to be stuck?  Neither idea is appealing, and while Eric sleeps the boys and I discuss options.  They are all in for sailing all the way home. Now we really need to conserve fuel.  And while it was supposed to be windy here it is in fact light with the swells building from the right where the shore is.  Are these left over or is there something coming? So far the predictions have been mostly wrong.  Nothing about thermal winds which everyday we’ve had later in the day.  Could be leftover or could be something big coming.  Might be a long night because it’s super uncomfortable.  If one were prone to seasickness they would be stuck on the side barfing.  Its even hard to walk. The waves are steep and close together and on the side. Yuk.

Saw another green flash.

Simon has offered to cook tonight and I’ve given him the ingredients for fish curry.  It was the worst night to cook considering the awful sea state and I am grateful to take a break.

Everyone says they are good eating less and thank goodness because we have already run out of most veggies.  Still some onions, potatoes and carrots left, one mango, 4 limes, 2 oranges, 2 apples, 2 lemons, 6 juicy red tomatoes, one voluptuous watermelon, frozen broccoli and spinach.  Hoping we can go in for fuel and provision and depart again quickly on Chiapas.  John will call ahead and question them when we are close.  If we stay 12 miles out we are in international waters and they can’t make us check in or stay.

Our quarantine flag is flying. 

Saw a basking shark today from the bow.  It was only a few feet away! Tons of dolphins and turtles.  Love how much sea life there is down here! 

I’ve been up since 5am but can’t sleep on my off watch.  Too many decisions and weird weather. Gotta keep moving and groovin’!

Crazy night of side waves, wind picked up but not going to head up at night into a shipping channel to raise the main.  It was slamming so much earlier we took it down.  A ship named AAL Genoa has been changing course, us too with the Flacko up and heading down 10 degrees.  Keeping a good eye on them.  Otherwise we should be able to avoid any ships. He seems to be turning towards San Sebastian. CPA less than a mile.  Prefer 2!

3/26 Wednesday

Raised the main at 6AM and hoisted TIGGER!  Eric says it took him longer than usual to get him out of the bow locker because Stella was sitting on his face.  LOL The wind went forward and decreased to 9 knots and we sheeted the spin in for a tighter reach.  Full Main. Then BAM!

Around 8:30 the active spin sheet broke at the knot.  Eric woke up to help me and John retrieve it.

The lazy sheet got caught around the leeward daggerboard. We got the landing pole AKA boat hook and retrieved the end of it but tied it up for now.  Too windy even backing down to get it unstuck from the board. 
Wind back up to 22 kts and sailing with full main and Flacko.

Apple mango pancakes for brekkie.  

Hitting 22 kts TWS at 10AM and surfing small waves from the stb qtr.

There is a wind window in this gulf that will eventually close.  So getting the best of it and loving it for now!  

Wind eventually died and we motor sailed, then motored.

It was still a bit lumpy but relatively calm and no wind so we stopped, Eric jumped in, I looked for sharks and had a line to toss him, and he cleared the board within a minute.  Had to swim under the board which was all the way down.  Happy that was so easy.

3rd green flash night in a row.

Funniest thing tonight:  John looked out for traffic at dinner (pizza) and said there is a boggie off the port bow.  Eric looked – it was the moon setting! So Eric says CPA (closest point of approach) – 2 million miles!

 In actuality Simon was right – it’s 234,000 miles away. We had to Google it to make sure. 

We haven’t seen it at all because it sets so early so it’s just a fingernail.  Had a good giggle.

3/26

Pretty calm day – not much wind so lots of motoring, especially after hearing from Betsy that we can indeed check into Chiapas without risk of being stuck there.  The boys made the decision to fly home while they still can.  They were willing to stay with us for the duration but the truth is we would like to slow down and cruise home.  There is no hurry to get back to a country in quarantine.  And once we refuel and reprovision we should have plenty to keep us going for another month or so.  Plus now we know of places we can stop on the way to get more fuel even if we can’t go to shore.  We have new jerry cans bought in Panama on our last day there. Just in case.  As the safety officer I’m always trying to prepare for worst case scenarios.  That way they don’t happen but if they do, we are not caught unprepared.

The highlight of the day was seeing wildlife.  Saw numerous turtles lounging and never scurrying to get away from the boat.  Even had 2 go between the bows.  One had a Boobbie on his back! 

And the marlin that jumped close to the boat?  That was spectacular! The dolphins continue to frolic off our bows but I still can’t get enough of them at night when they look like topedoes all lit up leaving squiggly trails.  The movie Life of Pi shows a whale scene where the whale is all lit up at night and one can imagine that this happens and how insane that would be to experience firsthand!  I challenge IMax to capture THAT on film!  

We continued to put main up and down, roll our jibs and genoas in and out as wind allowed or didn’t.  THE ENGINES HAVE NEVER BEEN USED THIS HARD OR THIS LONG.

We have a goal to get to Chiapas in the daylight.

3/27

Up since 2AM we finally get close enough to shore to get cell service.  We all hop on our phones when we awake to check in with the world back home.

I hear from friends we met in Lanzarote before crossing the Atlantic back in 2015!  Friends with Mexican cruising knowledge are fast to send us tips and advice on where to go, where not to go.  I’m so absorbed I can’t sleep on my off watch and am up until 11.  Pass out a couple hours, then make homemade bread, then grill cheese prociutto sandwiches.  

The crew devours them as we discuss our news from home.  

We will arrive before dark. The wind has finally cooperated but the current is still 2 knots on the bow.  We’ve been fighting that for over 24 hours.  The wind has been mostly on the nose too. Hence the iron genny’s.

We can feel the end of this chapter closing soon.  It will be different without the crew, it’s been special sharing this adventure with them and they’ve been a great help. They would not leave if we felt we needed them.  But Eric and I have done a lot of miles on our own and somehow sailing off of Mexico feels like we are super close to home.  But it’s still almost 2000 miles to San Diego!

We will take our time. If we can.  So many uncertainties.  Just found out our son in Madagascar was sent home to USA by the US Embassy.  He teaches school over there.  And of course the other 4 kids in the USA are in lockdown.  One is a principle for experiential learning at a group of charter schools in SF and is doing virtual learning with students.

2 are in San Diego working from home and kid #5 just had her wedding last month.  The timing was good and early enough that no one shared the virus thank goodness considering it was in snow country, close quarters for everyone, and some came from NY.  Chelsea cancelled he flight to the wedding. In hindsight we think she had Covid. If she hadn’t gotten the symptoms until she had already arrived at the wedding, who knows how many people would have suffered or even died. Dodged that bullet by a couple of days. Whew. 

We are sailing up the coast and sometimes very close to the beach. As safety officer I get nervous.  As renegade sailor who likes to go fast and also look at waves, Eric likes to go closer.  The compromise is when the swell lifts us up 4’ we tack.  Or if there is a sand bar (barre) ahead.

Both engines are blazing and we should arrive at sunset.

It’s amazing after 1000 miles how the landing can work out so close to dark.  

I’m ready with hand sanitizer for the immigration officers.  Have tidied up the boat and will cook mahi for last supper.  Tonight we will drink alcohol for the first time in over a week. John claims it’s the longest he’s ever gone without. LOL No one here is an alcoholic but when we are sailors and it’s our culture and release to drink spirits, you wonder sometimes.  The good thing is no one missed a drop and it’s easy to go without when you’re at sea.  Eric and I never drink offshore.  Seems like a bad idea.  Even when it’s calm out.  We wear life vests at night no matter what the conditions are.  Good habits that are easy to implement on others.

But tonight? Tonight we are gonna party a little bit!

Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua,

El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico – all in 9 days?!?

As we coast along this beach we see lots of palapas. Beach houses!  The sand is not white or yellow, rather volcanic looking so not as pretty as the Caribbean. Lots of palm trees though.

We didn’t get close to shore for most of the trip up.

Entered before sunset!  Huge swells. Close hauled up the coast.  Eric pushing it.

Upon arrival, 2 guys, Ronny and Polo take our lines.

Then the Harbor Master and the Navy show up with full Covid gear including masks and gloves!

Chiapas marina!

Before sunset, Ronny, Polo, then the Harbor master and Navy with the German Shepard.

All very chill and cool. Everyone smiling, polite, and careful.

We meet Miquel who was nicknamed El Pato as a kid, and then El gato! Are you kidding me?

We booked a tour with him after Eric cleared us in which took hours and hours.  

Simon, John and I went to the Mayan ruins,

a house where ladies made delicious tamales, Bought 4, then onto a house where a lady makes artisanal chocolate. And tortillas!  Finished up with hot chocolate. Bought a Mexican shirt, some chocolate and she gave me a fan as a gift.  

The boys booked tickets out of the wrong airport. Oops! Miguel takes them to the correct airport which is empty, and then takes me to Sam’s club letting me borrow his card. No one inside has a mask on except me and El Gato. I also wear gloves. When I try to buy 2 cartons of eggs I am told only one per family. They are starting to get it.

Now that Eric and I are on our own, and understand that Mexico is open for us to cruise north, we can take a breath and plan. We will sail north slowly, choosing our ports based on how many miles in a day can we go and still anchor and sleep at night. Our first trip will be crossing the Tehuanatepec which is famous for gnarly winds and sea states. The window is soon, and we are ready to head over to Huatulco!

The disappointment of not sailing west is slowly melting away. There are new adventures waiting for us. And discovering Mexico one port east a time seems like a really cool alternative. We just need to stay safe and healthy.

Uno Dos Tres, here we go!

Next blog will be about the Pacific Coast of Mexico.

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