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12. Apr, 2011

Baja Cruising aboard the Taks

Baja Cruising aboard the Taks

Been almost a month since the last blog post… we’re back! After crossing Mexico we joined maties Sara & Stof aboard their s/v Takalani in west coast town of Puerto Vallarta. Plans changed slightly and epic Galapagos crossing was changed to a more mellow crossing to Baja Peninsula where the last couple weeks have been spent exploring a small part of the beautiful Sea of Cortez.

Major change in scenery from the jungles of Guatemala to the ‘karoo by die see’ desert landscape of the Baja Mexico coast. This is the stereotypical mexico where you expect a pistol-wielding bandido to jump out from behind a cactus! Unfortunately we met no bandidos but instead were faced with a more terrifying sight of captain Stof in his ‘thread-bare’ mankini!

The deep clear blue Sea of Cortez ocean is really dramatic against the mountanous desert landscape. The barren landscape is in contrast to the amazing sealife below the surface. We encountered everything from flying manta rays, schools of dolphins to breaching whales and strange fish of the deep!

We found some great anchorages around Isla Sancti Spiritus and days were spent spearfishing, hiking, braaing and playing epic games of Scrabble and Black B**ch fueled by some delicous Mexican beer! Big muchos gracias go out to the Hillrats for a great time aboard the Taks. Follow their adventures across the pacific here…

And for dad… the Takalani is a great cruising boat, very solidly built. Crossing from Puerto Vallarta was long as we had to beat straight into the wind and ended up taking almost four days. From then on the winds were very variable with some days very light (managed to get the spinnaker up once) and couple of sails with decent stronger winds (one night sail we were flying at a good 7-8knots!) Our last day on the water was beautiful and we cruised along at a steady 4-5 knots into the town of La Paz, the finishing point of our sailing adventure!

19. Mar, 2011

Sailing into the ‘sea’ of green…

Sailing into the ‘sea’ of green…

Phew… its been a blogging while, so lots to catch up on! Apart from the drama’s mentioned before we spent a wonderful few days in the beautiful and remote Sapodilla Islands far south in Belize. This area is a marine reserve and the southern end of the Belizean barrier reef, the second longest barrier reef in the world.

We were the only boat anchored off tiny islands surrounded by crystal clear waters and stunning snorkeling all around. It is an amazing feeling to be able to jump off the back of the boat and snorkel incredible reefs all around. Whenever we arrived and anchored at a new islands, we were greeted by huge majestic Spotted Eagle Rays ‘flying by’. (interested in what the anchor would bring up). They allowed us to swim with them and admire them. Its quite funny when you try and follow them, they dart off, but as soon as you turn around and pretend not to be interested (which is difficult – they are stunning!) they swim/fly along with you.

It was quite a surreal feeling as we set sail on our last voyage in Pako (our little home for the last few months) to the Rio Dulce River in Guatemala, the last stop and storage place for the boat for remainder of year.

We arrived in Livingston, the entrance to the Rio Dulce (Sweet River) early in the morning to check into Guatemala. Rio Dulce is an incredible deep river that you can sail up for over 20 miles, the only problem being an incredibly shallow river mouth bank (about 6ft) that you need to get over to get into the river. Luckily we entered with the right tide and was a beautiful drama free entry!

After all the check in formalities (and handing over of lots of money) we were ready to head up the river.

This river trip is breathtakingly beautiful. It starts in a gorge with huge cliffs covered in jungle, emerald green water, tropical birds and monkeys…such a huge contrast from the starkness of the remote Sapodilla islands.

We made our way very slowly up the river trying to take it all in. We stopped halfway in a small marina in the jungle. Rio Dulce/Livingston area is a strange place, incredibly beautiful, very remote and ….a place where people can disappear… It has no road access and it seems to be the place where dropouts, people ‘staying away’ from their countries (for various reasons!) hang out for years. We met drug-runners, Polish New York taxi drivers and very salty sea dogs with tales of surviving hurricanes to name a few!

We explored the river in kayaks, a wonderful experience to get a feel for life on the river. Small children paddled past in tiny dugouts in their school uniforms on their way to school (so sweet!)…

The big Pako pack up felt like a huge challenge in the sweltering heat on the river. In a display of ‘closure’ to the Pako adventure the cockroaches seemed to be making a reappearance much to our horror!  We turned the boat upside down, inside out cleaning and sorting out all our stuff.

We managed to handover all our excess food to a big orphanage (Casa Guatemala) on the river.

We thought we might feel relieved to arrive in Guatemala and leave Pako safely after all the boat hassles, but we were really sad to say goodbye…the end of Pako days, maybe we will see her again someday!

05. Mar, 2011

Never a dull moment!

Never a dull moment!

We are currently in Belize and leave soon for our last hop over to Guatemala where we will head up the Rio Dulce river and where, with mixed feelings, we will bid farewell to Pako. As if in anticipation Pako has thrown us a few curved balls over the last couple weeks to keep us on our toes! There are four words we have used OFTEN on this trip at the end of the day (generally with a stiff drink in hand)…. ‘never a dull moment!’

Two recent ‘never a dull moments’ are worth a mention. The first was as we were weaving our way down the shallow waters of Belize, we were approaching a narrow cut between two islands which required us to turn on the engine to motor through. Unfortunately after a few splutters our engine died and refused to come back to life. Without an engine, and approaching a narrow shallow cut we were only left with one option as the winds were not in our favour to get through the main channel. We had to sail through a narrow gap on the opposite side with a charted depth of 0.5ft less than our 5.5ft draft!

Luckily the tides were in our favour but even so the depth gauge dropped to 5ft and the alarm was going mad as we skimmed our way through, leaving a muddy wake behind us… Next challenge was getting into a harbour with no engine but luckily we sailed to the harbour entrance and finally some friendly staff came to our rescue and offered us a tow in! Not a moment too soon as we were getting blown very close to some nasty rocks ashore.

Then about a week later with a repaired engine we ventured off to the beautiful Sapodilla Islands in the south of Belize. As we are approaching our anchorage we managed to hook a nice fish, but not surprisingly drama was to follow. As we pulled in the fish, in a last frantic attempt to save its life, it flapped madly and managed to get the large lure hook straight through my finger! We now had a flapping fish and my finger attached to the lure, and Nicky had to use her vice grip to pin the fish down to avoid my finger getting ripped open. We finally managed to remove the hook from the lure, but then with no pliers on board strong enough to cut the hook bard off we were forced to sail another hour to a nearby island (with a small settlement) with the hook still firmly embedded through my finger.

After some desperate radioing by Nicky we were met by one of the locals as we anchored and they whisked me to land on their boat for ‘surgery’. The operating theatre was a chair under a coconut tree and the procedure involved some solid bolt cutters and lots of sympathetic bystanders! Never felt such relief in my life!

I was then given a lift back to the boat where Nicky was still heroically battling to lay a second anchor on her own as we were dragging anchor and getting dangerously close to a shallow reef. It was hard not to burst out laughing at this stage as Nicky was frantically paddling little Pakotini with anchor in tow, trying to reach Pako. Aah man… never a dull moment for true!

23. Feb, 2011

Mexican Reflections

Mexican Reflections

We are a little behind in our updates, so writing this from a marina in Belize where our boat is being fixed after our engine failed yesterday…more on the drama to follow..:)

We spend a week sailing down the Mexican coastline. Some updates on our time in Mexico…

Arriving in Mexico (at the little island, Isla Mujeres) after cruising in Cuba was like arriving in another world. Lots of boats, people and…SHOPS!! We hadn’t seen shops in a while and wandered around the isles of the grocery store aimlessly just gazing at all the products and admiring all the choice available.

Security eventually started to follow us around as we took photos and did excited jigs of joy to find a variety of food again:)!

Jig of Joy Video

Thanks to a very kind aussie (thanks Storme if you read this!) we stayed in a BEAUTIFUL marina for a very good rate. Clean toilets (that flushed!), clean and la la la la HOT showers….was like a dream come true. We reveled in the small luxuries for a few days. Little Pako with all the big boy fishing boats was quite a funny sight.

Isla Mujeres is a lovely island off the crazy big city of Cancun. We had a wonderful time exploring the small island on our bikes, enjoying the beautiful beaches and crystal blue waters, eating some delicious Mexican food (such a variety, we were overwhelmed!) and of course celebrating with some Don Julio tequila!

We set off down the coastline stopping at some lovely ports along the way

We based ourselves at Puerto Aventuras for a few days to hide from a big storm and took the opportunity to do some land based travel.

The Yucatan Peninsula is a playground of adventure spots from Mayan ruins to hundred of cenotes (deep water filled sinkholes…check out this link if you are interested and incredible underground river systems and cave formations. Its amazing to go through the jungle to find a hole in the ground and a fresh underwater cave system. We dived in an area called one of the cenotes which was a magical, outerspacey kind of feeling. You enter into the jungle in your scuba gear, make your way down a dark tunnel into a cave with crystal clear water. It is the most incredible feeling diving in these caves with magnificent stalagmite and stalactite formations. You feel like you are flying as you can maneuver your way around the formations (beautiful!).

We hired a car and went to see the Mayan ruins at Tulum and Coba. What an interesting and sophisticated civilization so many thousands of years ago and still so much to be uncovered and learnt. At Coba there were a number of mounds which still be need be uncovered…more Mayan temples? …exciting!

13. Feb, 2011

Farewell Cuba

Farewell Cuba

We spent our last few magical day island hopping to the Western most point in Cuba. We had good steady winds and calm seas for lovely sailing days and tucked away into gorgeous bays along the way. We spent many happy days exploring the islands on land and  under the water.

We met some friendly and interesting people along the way. The fisherman were very happy to trade some beers for lobster and fish so once again we ate like kings!

We met two rangers on a strange monkey sanctuary island, Cayo Cantilles. Why strange…monkeys are not indigenous to Cuba and this is the only island where they are found (they were delivered to this island in the 80s and now have two permanent rangers on the island to feed them). The rangers were thrilled to have some company, took us on a nature trail and shared some lovely fish and coconut milk (with rum of course) with us… but no sightings of the elusive monkeys.

As we moved further west the sea life got more and more abundant and the waters clearer and clearer. We anchored in a spectacular marine reserve, Punta Frances just off Isla Juvendud which was strangely deserted. We had the whole beautiful bay to ourselves!

After a lovely few days on the Western point of Cuba we very sadly bid farewell to Cuba and headed off on our longest passage yet across the Yucatan channel to Mexico. All the water from the Caribbean is squeezed northwards through the relatively small gap between Cuba and Mexico with currents measured at speeds of 7knots!

To give you some perspective…Pako can just go 7 knots with full sails and a steady breeze so we would get nowhere going against the current. With some skilled chart work we decided on a route south to avoid the current but in the end the dreaded Yucatan current amounted to very little (maybe 2 knots) so our crossing was unnecessarily long!

But all went really well, it was a beautiful sail with good winds and a warm starry night. It was a good feeling to see the coast of Mexico and we felt a huge sense of accomplishment that we have made it this far in our trip! We were greeted with calm seas and lots of huge green and leather-back turtles popping up their heads near the boat. Hola Mexico:))

19. Nov, 2010

Crossing the Gulf Stream and arriving in the Bahamas!

Crossing the Gulf Stream and arriving in the Bahamas!

We did it!! Our first big crossing in little yacht Pako.

We didn’t really know what to expect as we had reports of the Gulf Stream being a tiger or pussy cat depending on the conditions, we hoped the tiger didn’t raise its head for our crossing. But we had been following the weather and waiting and waiting for the right winds and Tuesday 3am in the morning seemed right. It was quite eery coming out of the Biscayne channel in the dark and shining a flashlight to find the channel markers. I was the torch shiner and A was the skipper. I have to be honest I had feelings of excitement and complete terror and was very happy when the sun finally came up and we could see our surroundings:)

The crossing was relatively smooth sailing, beautiful to be out on the open ocean with nothing in sight but water all around. But of course there had to be some drama in the day….and it all happened at once. A was trawling a fishing line out the back of the boat and suddenly we heard zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….what followed was a flurry of excitement and panic. Adrian was bringing in a huge beautiful Mahi-Mahi (Dolphin fish), I was steering and trying to take photos and then the main sheet shackle broke and detached from the boom… Fish, blood, crazy maniac swinging boom, lots of shouting…trying desperately to find the right bits to fix the boom, wind howling and trying to steer into the wind. NOT FUN (but we did have fresh fish for dinner:))

When land was in sight and the sea started to change to the most magnificent colour, all worries of the day disappeared as we took in the magic of the Bahamas water…blue blue blue….sea and sky melting into one, I can’t even begin to describe the beauty!

We spent a night in the gorgeous little town of Bimini and experienced the Caribbean vibe. It felt good to be in this slower pace of life, where there are no worries.

A day and night of sailing on the beautiful calm Bahamian waters and we have arrived in Nassau to do our last stock up before we really do go off the charts….

16. Nov, 2010

The Sea Trials

The Sea Trials

So the Pako sailing machine has been put through the paces over the last week as we gingerly ventured into the open ocean on our first proper sail from Palm Beach to Miami, down the east coat of the US. Seas and winds were fairly heavy but downwind so we rolled along at a mellow pace.

Nice change of scenery from the murky swamps and gators inland, to the tropical waters, flying fish and dolphins!

The biggest challenge was coming in and out of the large ports of Fort Lauderdale & Miami, as we got dwarfed by gyronormously large cruise ships, US navy gun ships and the moerse megayachts. Wee little Pako held her own but the crew needed a very stiff drink at the end of the day, nerves properly wrecked! We may return alcoholics at this rate

We have been hanging out in Miami for a couple days waiting for favorable conditions for the gulf stream crossing to Bahamas. Tomorrow looks like the day so its an early 3am start… on that note, time to get some rest, adios for now!

09. Nov, 2010

Setting off across Florida

Setting off across Florida

Well, the last week has been ‘challenging’ to say the least! Due to unforeseen circumstances we were not able to spend any time with Pako’s owner George, so have had to figure out the boat and all its quirks on our own.  Diesel engine service… check, plumbing & water system… check, working of the head…check, battery/electrics…. ummh, not quite check! Still fighting with a faulty windlass (anchor) but more or less figured all else out.

So yesterday was the maiden voyage from La Belle heading east across Lake Okeechobee to Indian town, on our way to the Atlantic. Beautiful waterways (although alligator infested so no swimming!), and some locks to negotiate on way. The Okeechobee waterway connects the gulf coast with the Atlantic but has to deal with about 20ft inland elevation so there are a series of locks.

Carefully studied the charts but apparently you also need to read the fine print! We managed to take a channel that was not maintained since 1967 so needless to say there were some heart stopping moments when our depth gauge alarm was freaking out and we very nearly ran aground!

But we made it, with only a slightly bruised confidence!

14. Sep, 2010

Sail to Langebaan

Sail to Langebaan

We did an awesome ‘training’ sail to Langebaan over the weekend with Sara and Stof on Ballyhoo 2.  Left Cape Town at 6pm with a stiff SE blowing but unfortunately it didn’t last! By the early hours of the morning the wind had died and we were forced to ‘fire up the donk’ and motorsail the last 20 miles to Langebaan. Was a great night sail though with no moon, starry skies and amazing phosphorescence illuminating our trail. Highlight was a pair of dolphins illuminated by the phosphorescence surfing our bow wave, magic!

Leaving Cape Town - nice downwind sail

After arriving in Langebaan at 6am, after 12 hours on the water it was time for much needed sleep! It took a icy swim to finally wake us from the slumber state in order to make the trip back to Cape Town

Post-12hr sail slumber time!

The sail home started with some great wind which unfortunately abandoned us and only returned as we entered Cape Town in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Problem with the return trip is you can see table mountain as you leave Langebaan and looks tantalisingly close but once again the return trip took close to 12 hours!

Cape Town in the distance!

A great weekend of sailing though and awesome to be out on the water with regular visits from dolphins, seals and the whales in the distance… good times!

Example A: Good sailing gear

Example B: Bad sailing gear - 2 pairs jean pant does not keep out cold!