Welcome to Costa Rica!

Costa Rica. Finally. The idea of this trip came to me months prior to us actually showing up, starting with the Saltbreaker crew and I exchanging several emails. Alex was finally able to nail down, with apparent little to no confidence, that they might be in Costa Rica around March. This was good enough for me, and with Michael now on board to leave Chicago for this adventure as well, we booked our flights and immediately took on a kind of blank stare which we maintained until the day we left. Deep in thought, we contemplated what the upcoming trip would be like. How badly would we get sunburnt? What will we see? Will we be attacked by monkeys? Will we befriend possibly the greatest dog ever to live? Where, exactly, are we going to meet the Kleemans? (Dave was on a land adventure and did not join us) Should we, just maybe, have even the loosest of plans beyond flying into San Jose?
As it turns out, we did very little planning beyond buying tickets. About 48 hours before we left we were able to nail down a town to meet the Kleemans in: Tamarindo. I was able to find a taxi service last minute to drive us the 4 hours to the town from the airport. This particular taxi service, however, insisted on us giving them a real destination. The town of Tamarindo was not specific enough, apparently. So I quickly consulted the interweb, picked a hotel (The Zullymar) and set that as our destination. With a quick email to the Kleemans with further instructions to meet us there at 10:00 p.m. we were off to O’hare.
16 hours later Michael and I arrived in Tamarindo. We actually made it a little early, lucky that the Costa Rican roads were not overrun with cattle or 39 car pile ups that are without question quite common. Since we were so early and slightly travel weary, we decided to have a few beers in a bar on the beach. Not a bad way to start our vacation. After the beers it was still early, but we headed to the hotel to see if the Kleemans left a message or were also perhaps early. Now, for anyone who has met the Kleemans for even a minute this next part will come as no surprise. We asked the clerk if anyone had left any messages. The clerk said there were 2 very tall Americans in the hotel not long ago. They said they were meeting 2 friends and wanted to leave a message. Michael and I were relieved to hear this and asked the clerk what the message was. “No message” was the response. Of course not. No problem, we will come back and meet them at 10. Except the hotel is closed by then. Perfect.
So Michael and I wandered around. It turns out finding 2 people who are over 6’ tall in a small town in Costa Rica is much easier than we thought. Within 10 minutes we found our friends and were eating dinner on the beach. After dinner we decided to take the dinghy and get the bags to the boat and maybe have a few duty-free cocktails. Both Kleemans disappeared to the bathroom and returned with swimsuits. We asked if we should do the same and our response was a shrug. If Michael and I had any sense at all we would have immediately changed, but we were tired and anxious to get to the boat. And this is where we lost all confidence in the Kleemans’ boating skills. I should state first, as a little back-up, that the last time I was on a boat with both Kleemans at the same time (accompanied with several other friends on their first J-boat in San Francisco back in 2007 or so) the trip ended with an armed escort back to the slip courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard and field sobriety tests. So my confidence level was not extremely high to begin with. On this particular dinghy ride, somewhere between the 4th and 5th 4’ wave breaking immediately on top of us, I lost all remaining confidence and started to seriously second guess my decision to spend 2 weeks on board Saltbreaker. Actually, I believe the exact moment I lost my confidence was when, slowed down by my soaking wet clothes, I had to desperately (but successfully) grab for my bag that was being washed away by the current out of the swamped dinghy.
Finally on board Saltbreaker, after spreading out my clothes to dry and being greeted by an odor that made me immediately suspicious of the head, we set about starting a sort of tradition that we relived nearly every night for the next 2 weeks: we drank a bottle of rum and ate peanuts. And I will state with total confidence, despite the somewhat dubious start to this trip, that anyone who is even remotely considering meeting up with the Kleemans needs to do so. What followed was probably the best 2 weeks I have ever spent, full of countless unforgettable moments with my friends. And I will always be grateful and in debt to the crew of the Saltbreaker for so generously welcoming us into their home.
This is the first of a few posts that I will make about our 150 mile, 2 week trip down the western coast of Costa Rica. For the next post, I think I will relate, among other things, the story of the slightly suspect Coco and the unforgettable Potato Chip, whose loyalty and friendship I will not soon forget.

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Hanging out in Gigante

Gigante is the kind of place I could end up hanging around for a while. It’s beautiful, for one: a crescent of beach curves around a bay, with a rickety dirt path leading to a longer, windswept beach known for its surf. It was also the first place we came to land after four days of wind-tossed sailing. The creature comforts immediately made themselves known: cold beer! Flushing toilets! SALAD!

You may be wondering about the last one. But I am a professed and vocal lover of green vegetables. Really, almost all green vegetables. And while a week isn’t so long, I found that my diet was seriously lacking in the leafy greens in the week I had spent with Saltbreaker. And here, at Camino del Gigante, was a menu listing not one but two salads comprised of “mixed greens grown in volcanic soil.” One of them included goat cheese! And almonds! My eyes widening in delight, I tried to contain my animal urges as the massive pile of glorious green was set down at our table.

What’s more, Gigante manages to walk the fine line between being noticeably gringo-ed out (read: lots of English speaking/primarily American tourists) but still authentic and off-the-beaten-track feeling. It may be because it’s a surfer destination, meaning the tourists are decidedly more laid back than your average American traveler. Or, maybe it’s because the vast majority of travelers we met happened to hail from Northern California — the cafe-bar-hostel we found ourselves spending an inordinate amount of time had an enormous Republic of California flag hanging from the outdoor shade made of tarps.

Yes, Gigante was a place I felt right at home. I could see sleeping in a hammock on the beach for days on end. Maybe I’d even learn how to surf and join the crowds of cute, tanned girls carrying boards back from a morning in the ocean around noon (my total lack of arm strength being only a slight hindrance to excelling at an activity that requires a kind of ridiculous amount of paddling). At the very least, I was doing very well lying on the beach while Nick and Alex worked on their surfing skills, even getting up sometimes. Plus, there was an open air restaurant down the beach that served plump, glistening lobster tails – made smokey thanks to a hint of char from the grill, and costing about $8 for six. If that’s not a reason to stick around, what is?

Or… maybe I didn’t fit in so well. As we sat at our “regular” table at Camino del Gigante (it doesn’t take long for the people at the bar to remember you when your 4-day tab is listed under “Sailboaters”), our waiter/bartender came over to take our orders and chat. He was, no surprise, from Northern California, right near Santa Cruz. He was spending his off-season traveling around Central America and surfing; he was hanging out in Gigante for a few weeks, working as an interim bartender in the meantime.

“Off-season… what do you do back in California?” I asked.

“I’m a farmer,” he says.

“Oh! What do you grow?” I asked blithely, sounding about as naive as I must have looked.

He gave me a look. Nick and Alex gave me a look. I blushed, looking down as he walked away to get our cold Victoria Maestros.

“Well, it’s California,” I said, in a weak attempt at self redemption. “They grow everything in California!”

I mean, he could have had an avocado farm. How cool would that have been?

So, maybe I’m a little too square to live in Gigante full time. Thankfully, the Saltbreaker crew didn’t seem to mind — or perhaps they liked keeping me around for entertainment value. Gigante was where I demonstrated my mad skills at dinghy boarding: the lovely crescent beach made for a somewhat challenging landing. If we (okay, Nick, Alex, and Dave Green) didn’t time it exactly right, we’d get soaked by a wave, on the way into land or back to the boat.

Boarding from the boat, I did just fine. But boarding from the beach required a running-jumping combination that proved to be a bit much for my natural gracefulness. Run and jump I did, landing in the dinghy elbow? shoulder first? with the boys managing to get in, start the motor, and laugh at me simultaneously.

“I like your style,” Dave Green said. “Head first! That’s the way to do it.” I half glared, half laughed, as we were all drenched by a well-timed swell.

Still, my blunders in Gigante aside, I found myself sitting on one of the sun-faded couches, toes in the sand, reading a book while Alex napped, quite certain that I could really get used to this.

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Being Boarded

This blog will be a lot more interesting if you take a second to get a shared sense of what its like to sail/motor into 45 kt head winds.

Start by consolidating the entirety of your belongings into your bedroom, you might want to strap everything down. Now take the room, tilt it 30 degrees and give it a good shake. Every once and a while pick the entire room up a foot or so, then drop it. While you’re doing this turn a hose on and let it run down a wall into the corner of the room (don’t worry the shaking should get everything wet for you) and every once and a while go ahead and spray it around the room, being sure to get yourself nice and wet as well (oh, and make sure the water is good and salty).

After a few hours of this, open the door and get a mental image of the enormity of the mess you’ve created. Three days into our (planned) two day trip down the Nicaraguan coast we were looking at a pretty similar mess. We’d been battling Papagayo winds* for the last three days, and were getting pretty tired. With only 12 miles to go to our destination of Pie del Gigante we were anxious to push on … but perhaps more anxious for a nap, so nap we did, intending to continue the last few hours at the first sign of lightening winds.

Suddenly, the sound of an approaching boat managed to drag me out of sleep, and before even realizing it, two men in blue camouflage were jumping aboard asking for our paperwork. They took a quick look around (seemingly un-phased by the wet cushions and clothing strewn about the cabin attempting to dry) and began checking to ensure we were properly documented (we were).

Satisfied, they did a quick head count; Me, Lauren, Dave Green, Nick. Then turned to me and, trying to make sure we didn’t have any stowaways, asked “Just two guys and two girls on board?”.

I hesitated. Which of the three of us had they assumed was a girl? Regardless there was an obvious best answer: “Yes”.

“We’ll need to do a quick inspection”

“No problem, sorry about the mess. Strong winds.”

So far during every other “inspection” the designated inspector is more interested in making his boss think he did an inspection than actually carrying one out. Several have even explicitly told me that was the case while taking a quick glance around, starting some small talk, accepting a drink offer, slamming it like its their job, and voila inspection finished. During this one however, they actually started digging.

“Whats this?” they ask Nick.

“Its called a melodica, a miniture keyboard for kids.”

“What about this?”

“A tambourine”

“Also, for kids?”

“Yeah I guess.”

“What about this?”

This time he hit jackpot: the bag he picked up happened to be one of our dry bags loaded with prescription drugs.

“That’s our emergency medicine.” Dave Green was already digging through our files to pull out the actual prescriptions, which almost certainly was their next request.

He reached into the bag and pulled one of the prescriptions out. “Whats this for?”

Nick reads the tube, “Ummm … diaper rash.” (how do you explain that in spanish?)

Somehow satisfied by the explanation he ignores the rest of the meds and after flagging down the next fisherman for a ride back to shore they’re gone, leaving us to soak in what just happened. In particular, which one of us looks like a girl? And of all the prescription bottles why did he pull out a tube of diaper rash lotion?

Regardless, we had passed our inspection, and it was time to nap.

* We had been expecting these winds before hitting central america. They start as the Caribbean trades which, when they line up just right, funnel through the lowlands around Lake Nicaragua and accelerate to uncomfortable speeds (in our case up to 45kts), forcing boats to stay a little closer to shore than you they may normally prefer.

Other boats we’ve talked to have made it swiftly down the Nicaraguan coast never seeing anything over 20kts (lucky). We did not have such luck, and what was planned to be a leisurely two day trip down the Nicaraguan coast, turned out to be a strenuous four day battle with Papagayos.

Thankfully the majority of our time sailing isn’t like this (I would say 3%), and I think the description makes it sounds more miserable than it is!

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What’s 12 Hours to Four and a Half Months?

“Chinandega! Chinandega! Chinandega!”

The woman with the caramel colored skin and unnaturally tawny hair was yelling the destination of the minibus with a vigor I couldn’t help but admire as I stood in the center of the dusty market, chickens scratching at the ground by my feet and my backpack pressing into shoulders. Dazed and sleepless, I’d arrived at the Mercado Israel Lewites  moments before, after a 3:45 am wake up call, a cab ride through empty Brooklyn streets, a flight to Miami, another flight to Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, and a taxi ride through the city, passing horse drawn carts hugging the road’s meridian. I handed the driver a $20 bill while attempting to explain that I was looking for the microbus to Chinandega (which involved saying “microbus” and “Chinandega” in my best attempt at a Spanish accent and smiling). A flurry of Spanish, a wave of the hand and he was off, leaving me standing on the packed dirt road, succumbing to the midday heat.

That’s when I heard her high-pitched, slightly nasally cry. Balancing a plastic bag filled with ice and small pouches of water on her head, revealing gold capped teeth, it was all I could do not to hug this kind woman for screaming out my exact destination so clearly. I shuffled over, handed a stern looking driver $3, and climbed in, surrendering my pack to a man scrambling up the side of the van to strap luggage down with bungee cords. I leaned my head against the window, smiling at the long lashed, long legged little boy nestled half on his mother, half on me, as he drifted off to sleep for the 2 hour ride to the northern city of Chinandega. I was the only gringo in sight. Leaning against the sun-warmed window pane, I tried my best to avoid the temptation to follow the little boy’s example, instead watching the rolling yellow hills of arid northern Nicaragua slide past, “Final Countdown” playing on the radio.

After months of anticipation (read: starting the day they left San Francisco), I was making my way through Nicaragua to meet up with the boys of Saltbreaker, who would (hopefully) be arriving the next day after their longest passage to date. Our meeting point was Marina Puesta del Sol, a marina-resort hybrid on the northern coast of the country. My oversized camping backpack was half filled with essential supplies rushed to my apartment courtesy of Amazon.com: a manual for mechanical ship repairs, a book on clamming, a mariachi CD.

I had my apprehensions. Sure, I was excited to the point that I’d had trouble falling asleep for the days leading up to my departure, but I was going to be the first longish-term female passenger on their voyage. Maybe I’d interfere with their dude dynamic. Maybe I’d go crazy living in such close quarters with three (likely) smelly boys. And then, of course, there were the concerns they’d never understand. As girls go, I can be pretty low maintenance. I can go with the flow. But I have long hair. Hair I like to blow dry, and more importantly, to wash. Not to mention the (gulp) bathroom situation. And just how bad would they smell!?

Here’s the thing: none of it mattered. Perhaps it was because the perks of hanging with the Saltbreaker crew far outweigh small things like hygiene — the fresh fish, the sunsets, the near constant access to ocean swims. Or maybe it was the quality of the company, and the awesomeness of their adventure, that can make even a city-minded girl like me just fine with having her hair in a salt-slicked pony tail for almost three weeks straight.

And okay, for boat-bound guys, no one smelled that bad.

Even before, I think I knew deep down that this would be the case. At any rate, as I sat in my second taxi of the day for the final leg of my trip, bumping over an unpaved dirt road as my cab driver blasted “Baby” by Justin Bieber and “Ring My Bell,” it occurred to me that, if the current soundtrack was any indication, it was going to be a great trip.

Marina Puesta del Sol, our designated meeting place, seemed strange from the moment I arrived. Lack of sleep and 12 hours of travel may have contributed to such a first impression, but the feeling stuck and was confirmed by Saltbreaker upon their arrival (to be fair, it took me 12 hours to get from New York to Puesta; it took the boys 4 ½ months from San Francisco).  A near-empty, decently nice hotel, it is situated on the lip of an estuary and immediately next to the town of Asseradores.

A gate manned by a couple of bored looking guards separates the Marina/restort comlex from the town, a jumbled collection of lean-tos walled with corrugated tin and black plastic garbage bags. Pigs nap in the dirt outside, and you can find restaurants run out of peoples’ kitchens serving up generous plates of rice, beans, meat, and fried plantains (plus cold Tona beers) for shockingly few cordobas. Inside the walls, the beer is twice as expensive and the rooms are air conditioned. Still, they do have an infinity pool that looks directly onto a small collection of slips, half filled with boats of varying sizes. It certainly would be easy to find Saltbreaker once they arrived.

I’d tried to imagine what it would be like to meet up with friends arriving by boat — would I spot their sails from a distance and greet them as they motored in? Would I jump in the water and begin swimming from excitement? Like most things one pictures, the reality was a touch less dramatic. After a morning by the pool, I was wandering off in search of lunch when I spotted a mast in the marina I was pretty sure hadn’t been there an hour before. I walked towards the dock, trying not to get my hopes up. Then I heard the unmistakable sound of Alex’s laugh — was he really here, or was it carrying from El Salvador? I heard it again and saw his head towering over a Nicaraguan marina worker. Yup, they’d made it.

I did my best not to run considering he was talking to someone who looked decently important, but couldn’t prevent myself from jumping and hugging him all at once. Nick and Dave Green were close behind, all three of them the same as when they left, if seriously tanned.

“God, you’re so DARK,” was maybe the second thing I said, following an excited “HI!”
Nick laughed. “You’re so…. PALE.”

Guess my morning by the pool hadn’t worked.

“You know, it is winter in some places,” I told them huffily.

They looked confused. “Seriously?”

4 ½ months at sea or not, some things never change.

While it took a few weeks for me to reach an acceptable darkness level, I adjusted to life on Saltbreaker fast. Considering our first trip down the coast would last for four days instead of two, this was a good thing. As we made our way to a spot recommended by a pair of surfers we’d met in Asseradores, Saltbreaker was hit with some of the strongest winds they had experienced on their trip thus far.

Fortunately for them, they had a hardy seawoman of a guest with ample amounts of sailing experience (read: none) on board. Well, I am quite good at staying out of the way, at least. After waking up at sunrise for our first ten-hour leg, ten miles short of our intended destination (the boys smartly responded to a radio call promising us a comfortable anchorage and cocktails), we huddled inside the cabin, soaking wet and to my surprise, shivering. Who knew you could be cold in Central America?

Here, I learned a couple of important truths. 1. Considering how tired I was after doing lots of work staying out of the way, the three people who had actually been sailing must be EXHAUSTED. 2. Would I rather be taking a shower or drinking an Irish coffee right now?

No question — Irish coffee.

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Tehuantepec and Our Longest Passage Yet.

If you’d been listening to channel 19a in the Gulf of Tehuantepec earlier this week, you may have overhead a conversation that went something like this:

“Artillery blast hits BRAVO 9.”

“Nothing there … HOTEL 7?”

At which point you’d probably be thinking to yourself, “Mexican naval practice?”.

But the next line would give it away. “PBCHCHCHCHCHCH, damn you just sunk my battleship!”. It was, in fact, Ustupu (good friends we’ve been buddy boating with) and us in the middle of a heated game of Battleship. Which as we found out, is infinitely more fun to play over VHF.

The fact that we were playing games says a lot about our Tehuantepec crossing: In terms of weather, it was very uneventful which, given the gulf’s reputation for hurricane force winds which regularly sink ships, means we must have picked a good window.

A window that, say, allowed us to sit and enjoy a couple episodes of Dexter in the cockpit each night (finished season 5), or, allowed us to engage in some intense Sundown Duels with Ustupu (Trivial Pursuit, Rap Battle?), or, allowed us to bring in an 80lb, 7’6″ sailfish, all while relaxing on one of the most comfortable and calm passages we’ve been on.

Splitting our days up in to chunks of “3 on 6 off” has helped make this, our longest passage yet, speed by. With 3 of us on board, our personal schedule rotates by 3 hours each day, making no two days quite the same. One day you’re on shift for sunrise, the next you’re in charge of dinner, and the day after that you’re on night watch; a time when, if you’re lucky, the the boat is accompanied by a pod of glowing green dolphins as they agitate and ignite the phosphorescent algae around them.

The past five days have been nothing but open water. We’ve already passed through as many countries as our previous four months at sea. Blazing past Guatemala and El Salvador in 24 hours each, after taking months to make our way through the US and Mexico has definitely been surreal. One more day left and we land in Nicaragua.


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Leaving Mexico (in five short acts)

When leaving a country by plane, I hardly even remember the exit visa process. Its painless. Hand your passport to a drowsy looking official who stares blankly at you, flips to an empty page and bids you farewell. Clearing Mexico by boat involved five acts.

Act 1 — From The Boat To The Office.

This act began with a dry bag. In the bag: a pair of dry pants, the classiest shirt I have on board (the one with the fewest stains), passports, boat registration and entry visas. Next step, dive off the boat and swim to shore (who needs a dinghy when the water is warm?). Find a nice inconspicuous alley to change out of my swimsuit into my finest attire. Hope the inevitable wet spots on my pants (the dry bag leaks a bit) disappear before making it to the port captain.

Act 2 — I’ll Trade You This Paper For Another Piece Of Paper.

Get in line at the port captain’s office (only a few small wet patches left). Receive an invoice for the cost of the exit visa. Walk the invoice across town to the nearest open bank. Wait in line. Exchange the invoice for a bank specific invoice. Wait in line. Realize the thin layer of sand over everything (money, wallet, shoes, pants) isn’t helping any efforts at professionalism. Pay the total and exchange the paid invoice for a proof of payment. Return to the port captain with proof of payment. Wait. Get a port captain specific proof of payment. Act 2 complete. Beer break.

Act 3 — Oops.

Taxi to the airport to meet with immigration and customs. Wait. Watch as the immigration officials try to figure out how to issue an exit visa (seems we chose a port that only cleared 10 boats last year). Discover that despite what you were told upon entry you should have actually applied for temporary import of the boat. Oops. Long discussion with customs. I’m catching 75% of what their saying, but its not looking good. Seems we may need to do some land travel, 5 hours to Salina Cruz to pay a (rather small) fee then return with proof of payment after which we’re clear to leave … then sail right passed Salina Cruz.

Act 4 (day two) — Prepare To Be Boarded.

Customs, Immigration and Port Captain come aboard. Cross my fingers and hope they don’t ask about the import permit. Almost the first thing out of the customs agents mouth: “Tienes tu importacion temporal?”. Chingada. Hope a few ice cold drinks with smooth things over. Still not looking great. Try a new tactic; explain that if we don’t leave soon we’ll face imminent danger due to heavy winds in the Tehuantepec (mostly true). Maybe that helped a bit? Hire a boat to shore where they can make some phone calls. All the officials laugh as we explain we typically get to and from the boat by swimming. Head to an after hours congregation of officials in the port captains office. Wait as customs and the port captain have a little pow-wow. Fill out some papers. Everything gets stamped.

“Now what?” we ask, expecting that we probably have to make the stop in Salina Cruz to pay.

“Now you forget my name”, says the customs official. “If anyone asks, you never talked to me and have never heard of Puerto Escondido. You’re clear to go”

Gracias Unnamed Customs Agent who may or may not work in Puerto Escondido!

Act 5 — Hide

After getting all the stamps we felt obligated to leave … but the Tehuantepec is blowing strong as we speak. Instead we piled a few extra friends in the boat (our friends Jorge, Wendi and Nate whom Nique and I meet in Korea happen to live in Puerto. Hanging out with them the past few days is worthy of its own blog post) and head down to Puerto Angel, the next port down.

And now, we wait (and sort of hide). Looks like there’ll be a good window to cross the Gulf starting late on the 20th.

Next stop: Nicaragua.

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Old Haunts, New Year’s.

You wake up. 7:00AM. Wait for the sun to rise. Dive in the water. You snorkel in the place you first learned how. Back to the boat. You turn on the motor. Head to Zihuatanejo. Whales. Humpbacks. You pop it in neutral. Tail slaps. You turn around. Tandem dorsal slaps. You get out your camera. Broach. Happy New Year’s.

You anchor in Zihuatanejo. Dinghy to Ustupu. Dan, Sylvie, Jeff. You blow out candles on your belated b-day/timely New Years cinnamon bun cake. Rum and cokes. You swim to shore. Walk to town. Lobster dinner. Pina coladas (with free aluminum shavings!). Happy New Year’s.

You walk to the square. Countdown starts. Tiny fireworks. The locals want a photo. You turn around. Fire dancers. Head to a bar. Start dancing. Everyone clears out (and not in the good way). Back to the table. Singer starts her act…his act? Tranny Bar. Happy New Year’s.

You walk out of a restaurant. Your mouth on fire. Habenero. You head home. Road dead ends. Rocky beachfront. You decide to hike it. An hour passes. It’s impossible. Back to the deadend. Back to the road. Back to the beach.  Sea turtle, burying her eggs.  Swim to the boat. You fall into bed. 7:00AM. Wait for the sun to rise. Happy New Year’s.

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Navidad in Navidad

Once again it’s been proven to me that it’s not the places, it’s the people.

We arrived in Barra Navidad on Christmas Eve morning, after a day and a half of motoring. When we motor it feels like we’re in a submarine, or some old tug or something. The diesel is all. The engine’s so loud and so hot that it’s just omnipotent when it’s running. You can’t escape it anywhere on the boat. The radio is turned louder, conversations are amped up to low yells, and after a while the expression, “I can’t hear myself think”, starts to be about the most complicated thought in your head.

The 36 hour motor though, was absolutely worth it. We were motoring because we had a date. Ustupu, a 31 foot sailboat we befriended during the Ha Ha, was waiting for us at anchor. Dan and Sylvie, a couple from Vancouver, have been out for about a month longer than us, and have a pretty similar trip plan to us. We decided to meet up for an interboat secret santa on Christmas. But that was still a day away.

When we arrived we said hi to Dan and Sylvie, anchored, and took a short nap before blowing up the dinghy and planning to grab lunch ashore with Ustupu. We didn’t make it past the fuel dock before a couple on a small fishing boat started offering us champagne and asked us to join them for a day of wakeboarding.  How could we refuse?

‘Wakeboarding’ was absolutely amazing, though I have to say they must have a different idea of the sport in Mexico. Our hosts, Alex from Mexico and Martine from Croatia, dropped our dinghies back at our boats, and took us on a lagoon cruise. They surprised us again and again with their generousity, from the free champagne to an amazing grilled fish and banana lunch (picked up at a local restaurant and eaten on the beached fishing boat), to Alex lending us his phone to call our parents, and on and on from there. We never even saw a wakeboard.

Alex took us back to his place and we swam in his hottub, drank amazing wine, grilled steaks for dinner, and baked brownies. We also learned about Sylvie’s unbridled love for inflatable pool crocodiles.

Once again it’s been proven to me that it’s not the places, it’s the people.
Christmas day was spent recovering, and Christmas night we had our third great meal since arriving, aboard Ustupu. We traded gifts (hammock, portable battleship, machete, you know, the usual), and spent a relaxing evening with Ustupu.

Dan and Sylvie left the next morning for Zihuatanejo, where we planned to meet up with them for New Year’s Eve, and Nick, Alex, and I stayed for a couple more days in Navidad.

On the 27th I went off to a great french coffee shop in town to write, and ended up running into some great local girls who invited us all out dinner. They spoke great English and it was a blast sitting down to talk about Mexico with some locals our age. They’d come down to Navidad on a spur of the moment road trip. Super gregarious and kind. We sat in a local surfer bar, threw back some beers, and traded stories. Just another amazing time that appeared out of nowhere.

Couldn’t ask for a better Christmas.

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New years toast

During our two weeks together, (it started with Nick’s birthday and evolved) a small toast for celebratory events was developed. Here is a revised version for my dear friends on the Saltbreaker for 2012:

May the winds carry you swiftly and safely, while the sun shines on your shoulders (and legs)

Let the sea’s feed you it’s delicious fruits, without asking for the same in return.

Please keep problems on the boat from arising (i.e. parts breaking) faster, than you can fix them!

Hopefully each port will provide new experiences, opportunities, acquaintances, cheap bayuns of Pacifico, culinary ingredients, fast internet, fishing equipment and spare parts, (hold on … let me catch my breath) without burdening you with stolen outboard motors, cockroaches or no-seems.

With all these heartfelt wishes, I raise a bottle of Pacifico to the crew of the Saltbreaker and the majestic vessel they call home.




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Pirate Attacks and Boobies

As we drew closer to the island, it became clear that the black haze hovering over Isla Isabel wasn’t smoke or clouds, but an insanely dense flock of frigate birds. A few minutes later, Linus spotted a spout in the distance, and Alex began to lose his cool as two 20 foot whales surfaced just 100 feet off our bow. Alex is constantly afraid an Ahabian encounter will send Saltbreaker down to the depths. We pulled unscathed into the collapsed and flooded caldera of a dormant volcano on the southern coast and dropped the hook, having sailed 90 miles anchor-to-anchor from Mazatlan. This is when the pirate attacks began.

Due to their awkward feet, frigate birds have the ridiculous inability to take off from a horizontal surface. For a seabird that travels thousands of miles, this means they can’t even land in the water to rest, being forced to stay aloft for weeks at a time till they find something to perch on. If that’s not crazy enough, it turns out that frigate birds feed almost exclusively on fish; they cruise inches above the forbidden sea surface dipping their beaks in the water every so often to scoop up surface bait. When they can’t pull enough fish out of the ocean themselves, they resort to theft. In a desperate struggle for food, frigates will attack any bird with a recent meal in it’s stomach, nipping at their feet and forcing them to regurgitate their catch out of fright (we would learn later that scaring birds till they puke is actually pretty easy to do). The frigate birds get a free lunch, and for their poor morals, are also known as “pirate birds”. We watched as a thousand sky pirates stole whatever they could in an epic battle above the boat.



The entire island of Isla Isabel is a bird sanctuary, and the largest breeding ground for frigate birds in Mexico. Dinghying to shore, we found easily 10 times as many birds resting in trees on the island as there were in the sky, bringing a conservative estimate of the frigate population up to 10,000. The frigates took up every available branch, as long as it was more than a couple feet off the ground so they could take off again. Trying to attract a mate, the males sat with inflated red gullets, drumming them with their beaks in a bizarre show of manliness. In the middle of a clearing, we found one frigate sitting still on the flat ground. Having lost a potentially fatal game of “hot lava”, he seemed to have accepted the fact that he may never fly again.

Little Drummer Bird

Little Drummer Bird

Hiking up a peak on the island, we walked right into the blue footed booby nesting ground. These guys were littered everywhere. Funnily enough they nest in pairs. It turns out boobies prefer to make their nests at the narrowest part of the trail directly between the cliff edge and fields of impassable brush. Whispering apologies, we inched around the nests, making several boobies vomit in the process, only to find hundreds of pairs boobies blocking the way ahead.


A Nice Pair

These guys know their feet are something special. When looking for a mate, they’ll lift up one brilliantly blue foot and flap it around a bit to show off before switching to the next foot, hopping around like that till they’re either accepted or rejected based on the blueness of their feet. The population on Isla Isabel seemed to be split 50-50 in their love or fear of humans. Like so many other things in life, I either made them want to dance or vomit.

Dancin' Feet

Dancin' Feet

We stayed two nights at Isabel, leaving in part to get Linus to the mainland to catch a flight back home, and in part to prevent Saltbreaker and her crew from taking on the off-white hue of bird shit which covered nearly every leaf and horizontal surface of the island.

Long hot showers were welcomed upon arrival in San Blas.

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