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Catch up on the INNcredible Sea Lodge whereabouts – Part 1

Close encounter near Mag Bay 11/13

Close encounter near Mag Bay 11/13

Bless me readers for I have forgotten thee, although temporarily, living life to its fullest -Yes, on the INNcredible Sea Lodge. With my last blog entry over three months ago, one would think the INNcredible Sea Lodge lay idle, green sea moss and barnacles finding a foothold all over the hulls; but oh how contrare. With the America’s Cup over and a wonderful warm sunny month of October on San Francisco Bay, I and the INNcredible readied for another journey, one of 1500 nautical miles down the challenging west coast of the Californias all the way to the famous Land’s End and around and into a bizarre juxtaposition of desert sands, volcanic flows, jagged peaks smashing into the azure waters of the Sea of Cortez.

A day’s ride in a jumbo jet turns into a month on the open seas on a sailboat to reach the starting point, La Paz – capital city of Baja California Sur. Actually if this was a race and the finish was La Paz, the INNcredible Sea Lodge with captain and first mate could push and with weather permitting reach the finish in 10 days or so. But we would be no richer for the experience. We would not have seen the beauty close up, the life that’s lived in different fishing harbors and seaside villages and the people. The people you meet along the way, sometimes a motley looking crew for the days and nights out on the sea, but each with a story. A story that can go back as far as you’ll let them take you. People who have arrived at the same place at the same time in floating machines of varying sizes and certainly varying capabilities have as many reasons for doing so as each has a name. Most happy reasons, but not all and surprisingly some sailors don’t know where they’re going next. Sure they have dreams and many possibilities but no schedules to keep and no absolute goals to reach; I for one have never experienced such a notion however.

So to reach my destination starting points, I muster together a minimal crew of three and make the journey an exploration of its own – a time to share that will engrave an indelible memory of adventure, challenge, and discovery both of places we see and time we spend alone, alone on the open sea. That time alone is so precious it scares the shit out of many landlubbers but for those that embrace that black night alone on the black sea barreling along under sail or motor when somehow your eyes see more than you ever imagined in a canvas of black followed by the anticipation of returning light and the surety that a new day is here, you’ll never forget that experience. The rest with eyes wide open during another day will forever be appreciated at new levels.

And although the ocean and its winds and waves are most often kind we did take our licks a few times on this journey. After an overnight in Princeton Harbor (Half Moon Bay) we set off to enjoy building winds propelling us so beautifully that we opted to skip a stop at Capitola and sail through the night and next day all the way to Morro Bay. That turned into a night to remember with reefed sails out and winds playing with 30 knots, alone, not another boat anywhere, until on our screen showed up a Navy ship coming straight ahead toward an eventual head-on in this big wide ocean with only the two of us. Around 4am I hailed the ‘War Admiral’ and told of our inability to alter course much under sail and these conditions. The Navy captain took note and obliged to change his ship’s course and give us plenty of room. Thank God for a little bit of electronics to make light of where there isn’t any for it happened again with a 75 foot fishing boat in the dark of the same night and I reached a wide-awake captain who also obliged to let us through without the need to alter our limited course. Rounding the Rock into Morro Bay, me and weary crew caught a good night’s sleep.

And as if to give us a break, for we were pounded in August coming up around the fabled Point Conception, this time we enjoyed near lake like conditions all the way into protected channel between the islands and Santa Barbara. Fast forwarding down the coast after a stopover in Marina Del Rey for planned warranty repairs and a night in San Diego harbor we cleared into Mexico in Ensenada. I prepared myself with copies of every possible paper needed and online registration for Mexico’s TIP and insurance and clearing in went smoothly. So many other stories don’t have such happy times with Mexican formalities.

I hadn’t been to Ensenada since 1973 with Diana in my old ’53 Jimmie ¾ ton Pick-Up and boy has the town changed – Hussongs is still there but is lost amongst the modern storefronts hawking Viagra and pills that thank god I don’t need.

A note to sailors: all the way down from SF until Turtle Bay, dodging sea kelp saved us from disaster many times. And although we were 3-5 miles offshore, breakaway islands of kelp floated about. When under sail we had less concern because I have folding propellers; but when motoring kelp could wrap up in such a twist as to shudder the motor into submission. Knowing that, we kept a constant eye out and luckily avoided any mishaps sometimes by steering around but most times simply by slipping into neutral until we watched the kelp flow out from under our hulls.

Pictures say a thousand words so I will load some up into our gallery for your enjoyment. Please note that the Blog submission will have the current date submitted but for this and the next entry or two I’ll be catching up on our INNcredible travels

 
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Bottoms Up in Napa Valley

 

Bottoms Up in Napa Valley

Bottoms Up in Napa Valley

Bottoms Up in Napa Valley

When your boat is 26 feet wide (46 feet long) there are very few places along the Pacific Coast that can haul it out for repairs like the semi-annual renewal of its bottom paint. Ventura Boat Yard is one and I was headed there until the call came to sail the INNcredible Sea Lodge up to SF Bay for the America’s Cup this summer. I was sure and assured there were boat yards in SF Bay that could handle the haul out.

The Beneteau Group (maker of the Lagoon catamarans) sponsorship of Oracle included providing a handful of their wide range of boats to Oracle during the races to host Oracle’s VIPs on the day of each race for ‘in the water’ viewing. My INNcredible Sea Lodge was the one and only catamaran on display – a Lagoon 450. When the America’s Cup was over with the spectacular comeback by Oracle, it was time for me to enjoy SF Bay’s greatest month of the year – October on the Bay. The weather has been exceptional and many of our friends and extended family have enjoyed a sailabout on SF Bay over the past few weeks.

Every day the conditions were different, every day our course unique, every day the weather was beautiful, everyone was relaxed and happy and every day memories were made to last a lifetime.

But behind the scenes I had things to get done on the boat to get ready for its next INNcredible journey south 1500 miles to the Sea of Cortez. So when it was time to schedule the haul out, all the assurities that there were boatyards in SF Bay that could do it drifted away with four phone calls. My only possibility lay six hours north up the Napa River – Napa Valley Marina. Their technique was unique too.

Getting there was going to be an adventure and since I had to arrive at high tide, which was 1330 on Monday, we pushed off at 0700 from the Brick Yard Cove Marina in Point Richmond (our temporary home in the Bay). Heading north with a cold low marine layer looming overhead our first obstacle was the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. I knew we had to fit under that span with our 70+ foot high mast reaching high out of the water; but, as we approached the elusion was so strong that we may not that I brought the INNcredible to a halt and inched forward underneath this behemoth of steel just to make sure a most catastrophic disaster didn’t occur. Imagine the mast slamming into the bridge overhead. In an instant of tweaking back until something had to give – the mast breaking off at the top, the shrouds snapping sending the whole mast in a freefall down, the potentially lethal impact of mast meeting topside and the chain of events that would unfold. That’s why my heart was in my stomach and I played the overly concerned mother and stopped this 25 ton vessel from its 6 knots of momentum before ducking under that bridge.

Everyone on board breathed a sigh of relief (not knowing that the most challenging was yet to come) and we all enjoyed a leisurely ride through San Pablo Bay on way to Vallejo. And except for the occasional wake of the high-speed ferries the ride was smooth and a healthy breakfast of fresh garden veggies and eggs was prepared and enjoyed underway.

With the Carquines Bridge to our right it was time to turn left up the mouth of the Napa River. Its width was generous at this point as we motored alongside Mare Island Naval Yard. Next obstacle was the Mare Island Bridge, which is the only way in and out of Mare Island so it’s always down. I called ahead to the bridge operator to inform him of our coming and asking for instructions. After quite a long chat filled with history, both of the bridge and his own life, we had a plan that I would follow. He said the tower lifts the bridge in 6 minutes so I could keep my speed as I approach and he’ll have it open on time. The bridge opened to 92 feet so there would be no problem.

However as we approached, nothing was happening. I began to slow a little despite the instructions. The bridge started lifting up the two towers but ever so slowly, so I began to slow more. Putting both engines in reverse I had to come to a stop right in front because the bridge wasn’t up high enough yet. There were swirling eddies about, pushing and pulling the INNcredible as they wished. I went into forward but cutting to the right and doing a complete circle to keep from slamming into the bridge and maintaining control. Coming out of the circle and forwarding slowly to go under, the bridge looked dangerously low, way more than the perception we got from the first mega bridge. I inched forward asking for everyone’s opinion of ‘Is it high enough?’. We made it.

About a half mile up the river I get a phone call. The bridge operator wanted to share what happened. The bridge lifting mechanism defaults to 73 feet. He hardly ever has to lift it higher. And to do so takes resetting the controls and then a slow ascent beyond. He’s riding in a windowed box atop the bridge section so his depth of perception is a lot like mind but in reverse – not very good. He saw I might not get under at 73 feet so frantically powered the bridge up to 85 feet. Both relieved we chatted a bit and he told me he wouldn’t be on duty next Saturday when I’ll be passing under again. So I said I’ll tell the other operator I’m 80 feet tall just to make sure. He did part with a soothing note that the train bridge a ways up river is always in the up position and has been for two years, there’s no operator there but no worries. Great.

But next was the rigid arced span of the HWY 37 bridge which looked tight but had to be tall enough after all we can’t possibly be the tallest boat that comes this way. The river looks wide but the depth is only suitable in a winding narrow channel occasionally marked but I just had to watch my depth gauge like a hawk and keep myself in the deepest water 12-20 feet. Approaching this bridge with a little more confidence, that confidence dwindled as we neared. Yes I came to a crawl, a near stop again, it’s just too darn deceiving looking up at a 65 foot mast going under an unforgiving steel structure. We made it.

A new challenge laid ahead – High Voltage Power Lines. Two towers, one on each water’s edge held the lines up high but sagged in the middle. The water was way too shallow near the shores and it left only a narrow unmarked channel of adequate depth right in the middle. The middle is where the sag hangs the lowest. I don’t need to bore you with the whatifs our aluminum mast touched, or should I say crashed into, these high voltage lines. Nowhere on the charts do they say how high or how low these lines hang. But they must be high enough. Right? It’s like playing chicken motoring at 5.5 knots toward these obstacles. Would speed make a difference, if we did hit? Call me chicken, I slowed again and inched underneath. All concurred it looked closer than the Mare Island Bridge. But we made it.

Winding now up the river which has dramatically narrowed leaving just a small channel meandering through these narrows to follow by watching one’s depth gauge, there are occasional markers occasionally. Looking out over the marsh lands way out there, stand two towers, but just two towers. No cross piece, no bridge up and spanning these two towers. What does that mean? Maybe that’s not the bridge, the bridge that is always up, the one that no operator remains on duty, maybe we go straight at this fork and not to the right. But at green marker 13 it becomes obvious that we go right, right headed for that bridge which is down.

Past an enclave of houses on the left bank, who front yard lawns are tall rushes with wood docks protruding through to the river’s edge, the downed bridge lay ahead. I call my only number, the marina. What’s up with the bridge that’s always up? There’s a train approaching. So it is still an active train bridge. The voice at the marina says she will do some calling to find out if there’s an operator on duty to raise it after the train crosses. We approach the bridge as we watch the train slowly cross. We do donuts twirling around slowly down stream of the bridge patiently awaiting its rising. Sure enough the bridge rises up, up but not all the way up. I think the operator is part of this game of chicken. So we head forward and stall inching our way under until its clear we can make it. Done, we made it, well almost.

The Marina’s entrance we were warned is shrouded on both sides by shallow shoals. Both sides? The entrance is only 40 feet wide and the water is 8 foot deep at high tide. So I stay dead center going through, luckily I only draw 4.5 feet of water and the bottom looks muddy, soft that is just in case.

The method of hauling out the big boats here is old fashion but ingenious. No overhead lift but a set of tracks fitted with a variety of frames attached to cables that once fitted underneath the boat can winch the boat out of the water. Our wide catamaran is a challenge and got the attention of the most experienced workers, even one of the owners jumped into his chest high waders to walk into the cold water to precisely support the boat. An effort of 6 men working like they’ve done this before spent a careful hour measuring, planning and setting the underpinning for a successful lift.

Power-washed, sanded, multiple coats of biocide rich paint (totally environmentally approved) and the INNcredible Sea Lodge will be back in the water Friday ready to head back to the Bay.

That means I get to go through that maze of obstacle again. And I’ll probably be just as careful, after all she’s my baby.

 
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Onward to the Americas Cup

Leaving Marina Del Rey at 0700 in the fog, after a hectic day of preparation was a relief from some minor disappointments like no radar, toilet troubles and soon to be discovered – my reef lines had been dismantled to name the worst. My frustration grew with the fact that these items were on my punch list handed over upon my arrival from the INNcredible Journey 10 weeks ago and were claimed to be fixed. But once out beyond the breakwater back in the open sea my senses began taking in the sights, sounds and rhthymns of my second home – the INNcredible Sea Lodge.

Encased in dense fog, we motored westward toward our first destination enjoying a bubble of visibility that ebbed and flowed from as little as 50 feet to a half mile in radius. My crew of two, David and Harry settled in to the fact that it was okay that we couldn’t see the coast or anything else unless it entered our traveling bubble.

My sea friends started coming round, dolphins, sea lions, pelicans and others.

Hours into the day’s run a helicopter flying low began to approach heading east as we’re heading west and something was hanging below. Nearly overhead the helicopter banked left and its dangling cargo was plain to see – a long red missile suspended on ropes with a tiny parachute tied to its rear to keep it running straight. And wouldn’t you know as I referred to my chart, we were inside the missile firing range just off of Point Mugu.

From there we were entering the Santa Barbara Channel where we began maneuvering through the maze of oil platforms shrouded amidst the fog. As we hoped for an afternoon burn-off, just the opposite happened nearing Santa Barbara out about 3 miles. Visibility collapsed to about 50 feet and although the chart said we were almost there I couldn’t see a thing. Then miraculously a field of boats at anchor came into view and finally Stearn’s Wharf, then the sun broke through and its low afternoon position shined brightly reflecting vividly everywhere off the water. But what an instant relief to navigate  through the many boats at anchor to find a place for us. Weaving up to the front row just east of the Wharf we dropped our hook and settled in after a 70+ mile run in 9 hours.

Santa Barbara is where it all began for me as a Jersey immigrant back in the early 70s and native daughter Diana having dropped us off in Marina Del Rey was already in town to greet our arrival. Took the dinghy ashore to visit relatives and old friends. And when it was announced that we were off to eat at Casa Blanca I knew exactly where that iconic family-run Mexican joint was on lower State; I’d eaten there many times in the past. But the past is no longer and that seedy lower State Street is upscale; and, Casa Blanca is now across the Street in lavish new digs 10 times the size of the original. Don’t miss it on your own visit to SB.

After a great night’s sleep onboard, the sun burned through quickly and a gorgeous sunny day was ablaze. Straight ahead with the dinghy we beached it on East beach and went visiting more old friends.

Next stop Morro Bay but that distance was beyond a day’s sail. The last thing I want to do is to show up at an unfamiliar harbor in the dark with fog so thick you can’t see the bow of your own boat.  So arriving in the light of day at a hopeful time of little or no fog means arriving in late afternoon. To accomplish this we set sail from Santa Barbara at 1900 (aka 7PM). Immediately upon leaving sunny SB we penetrated a blanket of fog just offshore and we thought we were in for a challenging overnight sail. To our surprise about an hour out going west along the coast the sky cleared and we had the moon and stars guiding us along. The seas were a mellow roll and the wind had back down. All was good and we were making good speed.

By midnight we were nearing the edge of Point Conception. Point Conception is notorious for challenging weather. Why? Because here the warm waters of the Mexican Current meets the cold waters of the northern Pacific at a bend in the shoreline that 90 degrees. The NNW wind comes barreling down as does the NW swell and slams up against that warm Mexican current. Many a ship has been lost rounding the fabled Point Conception. But my plan was to arrive as we were at midnight and motor through the night when the conditions would be the most favorable. And the light wind that we were enjoying  up to there gave us great hope. Midnight was time to change watch and I was head down for some much needed sleep. Harry and Bill took their positions up at the helm all bundled in their foulies ready for whatever.

Falling quickly to sleep, I was abruptly woken by the change in pitch of my diesel engines next to which I sleep. The sudden higher pitch had me jumping up and immediately running up outside in my underwear to the helm station to see what the hell was going on. Sliding open the salon door the world outside was wild. Everywhere was wet, the waves were crashing on and over the bow, sea spray was flying, the wind was howling and the INNcredible was bouncing wildly up and over the oncoming waves. Our speed forward of 6 knots had been reduced to 2. Harry pushed the throttle forward for more power and the pitch of the RPM change is what startled me. Standing there, holding on, freezing and getting soaked in my underwear, I quickly evaluated the situation, said don’t bring the engines above 2400 RPMs and retreated back to my berth and under the covers to recover from the over-exposure and get back to sleep. Get back to sleep? Rocking and rolling, creaking and groaning, sudden slaps and bangs, the high pitch of the engines, one would think how can anyone sleep? You have to because in just a couple short hours I’ll be back on watch for four more hours.

0400 came way too quick and putting on our foulies David and I headed up to relieve Harry and Bill. Bill however was already lying down in the cockpit trying to survive a severe case of seasickness. Harry had weathered the heavy weather which was still in its fury and he retreated frazzled, cold and wet down to his berth to collapse from adrenalin overdose. Their forward motion during the midnight watch was about 12 miles in four hours and there was no relief in sight until we rounded Point Arguello a good 20 miles up the coast. At this rate many hours lie ahead bashing into the waves. By the time the next watch came up at 0800, the INNcredible Sea Lodge had pushed its way through the worst of it and we were going 4.5 knots – we survived the infamous Point Conception / Point Arguello and sustained its modest 25-33 knot winds and 6+ foot swells topped with 2-3 foot wind waves. Bill was hurting, Bill and Harry had shared a life experience that challenged their bravery and David and I were heading back down to our berths to catch some winks.

By early afternoon surrounded by fog we headed east with jib flying toward the famous Morro rock which we could not see. Through the breakwater, finally the rock’s base appeared and then miraculously the sun pushed through the fog and illuminated the cutest waterfront fishing harbor and tourist town – Morro Bay. Highlights include beers at Staxs (a wine bar/beer with panoramic views of the three power plant stacks so iconic for Morro Bay after the impressive Morro Rock which bathed in bright sunlight for a few hours before being blanketed again in fog. Giovanni’s seafood shop had great selection and memorable service. From there, I made seafood chowder back onboard for my crew. Bill, sadly enough, decided to leave life at sea due to his terrible bout of seasickness, returning us to the original crew of three.

Then came the much needed rest all night moored in peaceful calm waters in beautiful Morro Bay. Leisure morning was ours because to reach our next destination, Capitola, was about a 17 hour sail, another distance that cannot be covered within daylight’s hours.

What must have looked like pure lunacy was our departure past all the onlooking tourists as we motored out of the sunny wharfside only to plunge into completely dense fog before even reaching the breakwater and Morro Rock and it was almost 5PM. But overnight sailing is the only sane way to arrive safely at our next destination.

As we motored west to get far enough out away from the rugged coast before turning north we had some entertainment starting with a whale spouting right off our bow. Always an exciting event but this time with what little breeze mustered through the fog came a waft of odor – something on the order of old sour cabbage, fermenting grass with a finish of putrifaction. And we, bounding over the bounding ocean, wondered what it was and from where was it coming? Excitement returned with another spouting geyser from the resurfacing whale ahead and almost immediately thereafter the stench engulfed us – whale breath, belching whale breath full of digestive odors released from what must be the largest stomach on earth. Voicing our disgust as we anxiously waited for fresh air, we stood witness to the culprit, the whale, who seemed to be flipping us off with its classic whale’s tail in the air as it submerged to the depths. Fabulous!

The INNcredible Sea Lodge motored all night enclosed in our bubble of fog, taking positions every hour just in case our electronics went down. I like to prepare whenever line of sight due to night or fog or long distance with navigation as if we will not have the luxury of electronics just in case. All went smooth, he seas backed down to less than 6 feet with winds under 15 knots allowed us to maintain over 6 knots. Crossing Monterey Bay arriving before noon at picturesque Capitola, we were greeted and assigned to a mooring out beyond the pier. The fog , as before, mysteriously lifted just at the last minute and sunlight bathed the shores of this Mecca of a beach town. From a distance, as we were moored about 700 feet from the shore, we could see the sun-worshippers setting on the sand after all it is summer and Capitola is a gem of a beach town. We took the dinghy in and strolled around.

Catching up again with a good night’s sleep, we rose early to begin our way up the coast but took the time to catch a fish. Although we had been trolling all the way from down south, two lines out, we hadn’t caught a thing. We were sure to catch a yellow tail or at least a bonita but not a thing. So we prepared the day before and purchased some frozen sardines and shrimp at the dock so we could fish like most do up hereon top of the rock reefs. So in this early morning we motored out pass the kelp to a cluster of kayakers fishing, engines in idle, David dropped a line down then another to try our hand at bottom fishing. I stayed at the helm to assure our boat, the size of a few hundred kayaks, didn’t drift into their space. In less than ten minutes David was reeling a catch. What it was would have to wait. I left the helm to assist with gaff in hand (our net was long ago lost off the wild coast of Colombia while a guest was trying to land a fish) but David hesitated not to flop the Ling cod up on the deck. As my memory served me 22 inches is the minimum length but I yelled out to the other fishermen in their kayaks for validation. But since our boat was born, bred and provisioned in France My tape measure read in centimeters and this ling cod stretched out to 66. With quick calculations in my head that was well over 22 inches but since I’m not accustomed to making that conversion I got my Iphone, and yes I have an APP for this, to verify the conversion. So with a quick wave to our fishing neighbors we were off headed for Princeton Harbor Half Moon Bay.

The weather pattern had changed affording us a window with backing off fog and finally a view of the coast. And what a handsome coast it is from Santa Cruz past Ano Nuevo to Pigeon Point and our destination. I immediately jumped on filleting out that hefty ling cod which yielded three hungry men two mighty meals, the first of which I prepared underway – fish tacos for lunch. That giant round ball atop the cliff just north of the harbor entrance is visible many miles away to the south as we approached. Through the slot in the reefs lying outside the entrance we found our way in, the smell of the guano intensifying as the breakwater was splatter painted white. The Harbormaster assigned us to the endtie on H thanks to a commercial fishing boat being out to sea for a couple days. We just needed a good night rest anyhow and would be off at first light.

But first we needed to stretch our legs and check out the scene, quiet in the afternoon as it was, but with a nice walk we landed some local brews at Maverick’s. That place was buzzing with locals scarfing down Tuesday’s complimentary Chef Creations, so a couple beers were in order. Then back to the boat for dinner, a movie and an uninterrupted night of sleep.  I really don’t mind the four hours on, four hours off watch schedule when I know we’re making the necessary progress that only non-stop sailing can afford when the rugged coasts offers few havens along the way; but, no complaints either for a good night’s rest so often too.

The next morning, we had a plan. The plan was to hopefully arrive to a sunny moment approaching the symbolic climax of our journey, especially my journey all the way from France, under the Golden Gate Bridge. I figured our best chance for that was around 1500 hour and it coincided with a flooding tide too. But before that we had time to see if we could repeat with catching another fish. The locals had told us the salmon were running down toward the Ritz so we trolled our way down south to near that point and back again without any luck. After passing the marine sanctuary, I headed us in close to Pedro Point to do a little bottom fishing right off the rocks as close as I was comfortable. The day was becoming glorious, bright and sunny. The coastal cliffs were alive with hang gliders and a most unique view of San Francisco was ours. The towers of the Golden Gate peered over the hills far off in the distance. The water was very shallow even a mile or more off the coast. Surfers were catching waves. We watched from a distance long large ships scurried in and out under the gate. Party boats were out on this beautiful day. Sailboats of all shapes and sizes tacted to and fro. But as we neared our chance to enter under the Gate no Big ships were in sight and we could take the middle for ourselves. We shot a lot of pictures of that Golden Gate and once inside we shot a lot more of that city’s scape. Nearing Alcatraz our cameras were clicking before we settled into our sail to Point Richmond.

A perfect run from Marina Del Rey to San Francisco Bay in about eight days, with welcome delays at each of our stays was ours. Now the INNcredible Sea Lodge becomes a platform for Americas Cup’s sponser and Beneteau dealer Passage Yachts and Oracle VIPs to enjoy the races up close. So if you’re in SF keep your eye out for the INNcredible Sea Lodge.

 

Brian

 
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Reentry into Life on Land

As we neared the border of the United States (San Diego), with Navy helicopters buzzing back and forth  plus three or more Navy warships in constant maneuvers, the first signs of re-entry onto a life on land began and both Andrew and I had a lot to anticipate after a year on the high seas. But the INNcredible journey wasn’t ready to let us go, certainly not without a few more challenges. Just as we crossed into US waters our steering cable snapped and we were spinning round and drifting back toward Tijuana and Rosarita Beach. This had to look strange to the eyes in the sky from the Navy helicopters as we were trying to assess what to do. Employing the emergency tiller was our second response but not until I tried just using the two motors to guide our course back toward our homeland. Another unfamiliar obstacle were the floating islands of kelp and even though we tried dodging them with the emergency tiller it wasn’t long before kelp had entangled our starboard prop and began to shudder. I put that motor into neutral until we approached the entrance to the harbor and shallower water. Trying again the starboard prop but with no freedom from that kelp-induced shudder, I put it back into neutral and did a u-turn and headed back out of the harbor entrance and over toward the shoreline into shallow water and dropped our anchor. This sudden maneuver again must have looked strange to the eyes in the sky too especially when I put on my wetsuit, snorkel and fins and dove overboard. Overboard I discovered what I thought, a twisted ball of giant kelp which I proceeded to cut out over numerous dives holding my breath.

Adding a bit more drama to the day was the irony that as I was clearing the kelp from around the prop the incoming tide and strong onshore winds were entangling the anchor lines at the bow with heavy masses of even more kelp. So before we could even think of turning any propellers we had to free our bow of all this kelp. Free at last, we raised the anchor as fast as we could, watching more masses of kelp floating our way. Engines full ahead, Andrew on the emergency tiller and I at the helm we got back into the harbor entrance and headed for the customs dock. With all the helicopters buzzing overhead and the strange maneuvers that we had been doing we thought sure we were going to be intercepted and boarded by the Coastguard and customs even before we reached the dock.  But no, no one approached, no one boarded, no one even met us at the dock. So we unloaded all the drugs without incident (I’m just kidding but we just had expected a much tighter security). I radioed the harbormaster for instructions which included having to call on my phone several times the Customs officer and waiting about an hour at the dock until boarded for clearing. Two very cordial officers filled out their forms, checked our passports and boat papers and without any search of our boat welcomed us home. We asked for a stamp on our passports, just as a souvenir, but that’s not procedure when the USA is home.

At a long overdue full night’s sleep tied at dock, we woke to our first day in America and a very long walk on land to find a place to have breakfast – a good old American breakfast at no other than Denny’s. Andrew ordered everything on the menu and I a veggie omelet.

The re-entry process had really just began, the intensity of which was still to build itself as each new day unfolded the onslaught of chores and responsibilities. The days and months of living barefoot and free aboard the INNcredible Sea Lodge with one mission to accomplish, albeit a BIG mission, – the INNcredible Journey of over 10,000 miles near halfway around the globe was nearing its completion but first the last 102 miles. Another overnight sail, San Diego to Marina del Rey past the busiest harbor on the west coast in the dark, could have been a real challenge if both of us were required with one at the helm and one holding the emergency tiller but it wasn’t because shortly after we limped into San Diego harbor using the emergency tiller Andrew pointed out that the autopilot probably still worked. And yes it did after we removed the split steering cable out of its way. So this autopilot which we relied on all these miles guided us to our final destination.

Making better than expected time through the night we entered the breakwater at Marina Del Rey at shortly after sunrise. Our reception had to wait a while but eventually Charlie from Naos Yacht Sales (our broker from whom we ordered the boat two years before arrived in his dinghy with Champagne and a small entourage to greet us and celebrate over lunch on the INNcredible enjoying the last of our 17lb. Yellow Tail grilled on the Barbie accompanied with a curried butternut squash which made it all the way from the Canary Islands where we departed in late November for the Atlantic crossing (that butternut was incredible).  The INNcredible Journey was now complete. I thank my lucky stars, both Andrew and I are healthy and safe with few scars but a year’s worth of tall tales of life aboard the INNcredible Sea Lodge and the twenty some odd countries we visited, the wonderful people we met and both the entertainment we enjoyed and nourishment we ate from the abundant life that calls our oceans their home. With time I will post the best of so many pictures I took and eventually I create a slide/video recap to share with all. Until then Happy trails to you and keep coming back to follow what’s next for the INNcredible Sea Lodge.

 
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Doing the Bash – the Baja Bash

Left Bahia Santa Maria for a 48 hour run to Bahia Tortuga (Turtle bay) and after a rough start got the window we were waiting for (I know correct English is ‘for which we were waiting’ but that sounds so stuck up and British). Not a soul in sight the whole way but a voice on the VHF at 0430 one morning from a nearby sailboat named White Dolphin but unseen in the thick fog. That was the last we heard or seen of them. The fog was so thick and the night so dark that I couldn’t see past the edge of our boat. And yes we do have radar but it doesn’t work right now.

Just before sunset just 12 hours short of Turtle Bay we struck gold, yellow gold, when the ZZZiinnnggg took off and the pull bent farther than ever before. Andrew grab the rod but without his vest and started reeling but no little gain. While he was still fighting we got his vest on for this fighter ran deep unlike all the others who come to the surface occasionally. We never saw this one until right at the boat. I gaffed it and pulled in a big 17 lb. Yellow tail. Weather forecast held us at Bay, literally, for several days so this beauty became food for many. Andrew organized a Cruisers potluck at a wonderful local named Antonio’s place where Andrew BBQed the fish for 15 folks and that was only half of it.

Got in another shelling exploration across the bay and found unique shells and a full skull of a sea lion and more. A zoologist would have enjoyed this beach walk.

Cruisers are always looking at weather reports for winds and waves especially. But delaying and more delaying drives me crazy when based on information computer generated from info gathered from a few points scattered along the Mexican coast not like the many sources of onsite buoy date that NOAA uses. So I decided to jump the gun and leave at dusk Friday to take advantage of what was forecast to be lighter winds so we could go 55 miles to Islas San Benitos and anchor next to the Elephant seals while waiting for the big blow to go bye. The other sailboats stayed put and were going to wait until Sunday’s forecast of lighter winds. Well Friday nights winds were up to 25 knots not like they predicted but we made it to San Benitos known the less.

And we anchored right off the shore from a colony of giant Elephant seals, a hundred or more and spent the day and night there watching and listening to their groans and grunts and roars and antics. Sunday morning we were supposed to wake to calmer winds and head off toward Ensenada and ultimately San Diego 280 miles north. But the wind was howling and we were bashing forward right into it 20-25 knots and 6-8 foot seas; and we still are as I’m writing this in the dark. With both engines running steady at 2000 RPMs we’re barley able to do 4 knots bashing up and down with waves breaking and spraying over our bow. I just don’t know about these weather reports because nothing now is what they predicted and for which we waited days. Once out on the open seas we’re committed because there is no where to go but carry on the best your boat can. It’s dark now and I can’t see a thing but I doubt if anyone else is out here.

 

 
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Where Whales Come on Winter Vacation

Left Cabo behind one morning and turned northwest to start the last 1000 miles up the Baja California coast, first stop Magdalena Bay. 145 miles away, Mag Bay would be a 29 hour sail/motor so leaving at 0800 would put us in after noon the following day. Fishing poles out trolling for hours, then ZZzzzinnng the line was going out muy rapido as we scampered to grab it. Andrew got their first and started reeling in as I readied in support. ZZzzinnng!! The other rod went off and I grabbed the reel and started winding hard and fast –two fish on at one time! Two beauties – yellow tails. As Andrew was just finishing up filleting the first… ZZZZiinnnngg! This was going to be a big one. I started just hold the rod with hand on the reel making a little progress but keeping the fight at a standstill while Andrew put the vest on with the special belt and clips to get serious reeling in this one. I handed over the rod to Andrew and went for the gaff. Andrew played this fighter well and minutes later had it at the boat’s transom. It took me a couple careful tries to set the gaff and lift this pretty boy up on deck – a 42” Dorado (aka Mahi Mahi) weighing in at nearly 20 pounds. The fillets were two inches thick eight inches wide and about two feet long. We almost forgot about the yellow tails which alone was quite the catch. Oh and did I mention Andrew was in his underwear during all this so he wouldn’t get blood all over his shorts and shirt. Don’t worry I’ve got pictures. We were set for fish for the next 3-4 days.

It turns out that stash of fish came at a good time because once into Mag Bay the wind blew hard with no end in sight or weather forecast. We anchored up the bay off of the fishing camp called Man of War Cove. This Magdalena Bay is famous for its population of visiting whales, Humpbacks in particular, from November through March each year – we just miss it and wanted to take a look none the less. Before that as we entered the mouth of the bay there was a smell in the air. Neither of us could help from not commenting of the stench. I was trying to identify it because it was familiar. Then I remembered where I’d smelled it before in Florida’s Gulf coast on Sanibel Island – decomposing shellfish. Here in Mag Bay there are millions of tiny red crabs populating the water and there dead become flotsam and streak the water in long lines marching to the shore. As you look at the beaches they are red – red with rotting red crabs. One can imagine the feast these little critters are for those whales. One night there and we were gone but not too far because the strong winds never backed down.

Less than 30 miles away just on the ocean side of the enormous Mag Bay is Bahia Santa Maria offering us a nice shelter to hole up in for a couple days in hopes of the winds backing down. We were not the only sailors with the same needs and idea so there was four of us anchored at the top corner of this bay. We all met on the beach the next morning at the mouth of a canyon to go for a hike. Most took the high trial along the ridges but two of us found the canyon bottom more intriguing with all its exposed geology. But we met at the headwaters and joined them on the last ridge looking out over the Pacific.

Back on the INNcredible, a panga with local fishermen pulled up looking for AA and AAA batteries in trade for lobsters. Well just so happened my Boy Scout training prepared me with keeping a stash of batteries on board so we negotiated a deal – eight AA and three AAA plus a small bag of candy for 6 lobsters…Yahoo! Those lobsters hit the BBQ each in half to grill em, then pull the meat and set it aside while I throw all the shells into a boiling pot with onions, garlic, celery, peppers and herbs to make a base for lobster bisque. When ready, shells out, cream and diced tomatoes in plus the lobster meat and some of our Mahi Mahi to make a monster pot to feed us for several meals.

That afternoon Ken from Mariah share his surfboards with Andrew and I and we paddled in from his boat to the breakers to do a little surfing. Great fun in 1-2 foot winds perfectly shaped by the strong offshore winds kept us out there for hours. Happy Hour on Mariah made a perfect finale to a great day of exploring.

This bay has no town, no tourists and very few visiting boats but its beaches go for miles and backs up to a slough which cuts through to the sea. Because of this the beaches are littered with wonderful shells and that became the next days excursing – hours of walking the beaches, fording the slough to reach remote beaches looking and collecting great shells – love it.

 
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Infamous Cabo San Lucas, Sin City South saved by the awesome beauty of Land’s End

Leaving Los Muertos the next morning we were sure to enjoy some northerly winds to push us all the way to Cabo San Lucas, but, the wind has a way of finding us and blowing head on no matter which way were going sometimes. So motor we did all day and all night and the wind just kept getting stronger as we approached Cabo San Lucas in the dark. Our normal cruising speed of 5+ knots was reduced to 2 -3 knots with 25 – 30 knots of wind and pounding seas spraying salty mist all over pummeled us for hours doubling the time to go the last 30 miles. We made it midday even though we could see our destination at first light and dropped our anchor for a much needed rest.

But rest would have to wait, we needed to find motor oil and gear oil, filters and a special tool to evacuate the oils from the engines and sail drives. That was Saturday walking miles around the town until we accumulated the things we needed and back at the boat we flopped into bed. Sunday in Sin City South aka Cabo turned out perfect with the wind dying and the seas lying flat, the sun rose and soon the beaches were full of sun worshipers and load booming music interrupted constantly by obnoxious DJs. While that was happening on the beach, we lay at anchor a hundred yards off-shore and begin the process of changing our oils in each engine and each sail drive. A tourist on a kayak paddled over, Dan from New Mexico, a career Army officer, who said he just had to admire our Cat. Dan was about to buy a Cat, a Gemini 105, himself up in Massachusetts and sail it down to Norfolk where he’ll be stationed this summer. When complete later that afternoon we (Dan joined us after returning his kayak and swimming out to the INNcredible from the beach – folks looked on in disbelief as he swam way beyond anywhere reasonable) took the dinghy out to a special rock known for its schools of fish to do some snorkeling. The water was downright chilly, even the locals complained; it was 69 degrees in May! Those rocks at Land’s End are spectacular and I must have taken 30 shots each sun-up, sundown and in between.

Cabo is known for its nightlife of which I have zero interest no matter how old I am; but, Andrew’s interested and so we took the dinghy in. Getting beyond the ‘strip’ I walked quite a few blocks not remembering exactly where it was to the old Plaza where we found a band playing in the gazebo and locals enjoying Sunday evening. 15 years or so before Diana, Katie and Molly and I found a fun old restaurant called Mi Casa right off the Plaza. That was my mission this time as a treat for our success in changing oils. Homemade tortillas, bright colorful old Mexican décor, Margaritas of course and a good menu, the trick to getting in without a reservation is to show up before 6pm. By the time we enjoyed our meal the place was packed with a line. Just inside the front door is a maze of rooms showcasing all over its walls handicrafts, each room is themed with a different collection like those funny Dias de Los Muertos characters, crosses, hearts, stuff animals, etc, wonderful stuff but a bit pricey. And nobody uses Peso only Dollars on their price tags probably because of sticker shock – 10,000 pesos for a figurine for example instead of $806 but that’s shocking too.

Crossing the street into the old Plaza the band had stopped but a mime was performing. I tried to stand to the side inconspicuously but sure enough within a minute that mime’s eyes looked my way, eyes widened, big smile grew wider, hands go up and he points my way so everyone can see that Santa is in town. I just can’t hide not even in May.

Dan had joined us for dinner and now he wanted to show us the town as he knows it from being here for the week before. We obliged and that’s the end of this story.

 
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La Paz to Los Muertos

From the City of Peace to Ensenada de Los Muertos there’s treasure in between. La Paz, the capital of Baja California Sur, is tucked back in the shallow waters of a very large bay. We know how large this bay is because after leaving the Bahia Caldera we sailed up to the very top where rocky Isla Islotes sits loaded with lovable but noisy sea lions. This is a sea lion colony not to be missed. At least a hundred probably twice that lazily lounge over all the rocks, some packed together I want to say like sardines and then a lone bull sits atop the highest rock roaring like he’s the lion king. The cacophony of sea lion sounds has a full range from that of baby goats crying all the way to a thundering roar with lots of different pitched belches, groans and barks filling in the middle. The symphony of Seal Rock is the chaos of those hundred sea lions all proudly singing their song but with the conductor long gone. We motored round this isla several times to fully appreciate their talents.

Then with the wind forcefully blowing from the south the INNcredible Sea Lodge close-hauled one very long tack as south of west as we could pinch. Our destination La Paz was to our SW and near 20 miles away. When it was time to turn into the wind heading south the wind began to back down thankfully. And we were thoroughly entertained along the way with the endless high-flying flip-flopping of those brown rays. La Paz has grown up since I last visited 15 years ago. When we radioed marina La Paz announcing our arrival they said Sorry Senor we have no space for you but we lucked out with a brand new Marina Cortez with plenty of space. While in La Paz and right in front of the marina along the Malecon was the finish line for the Mexican 1000 – a motor car race of all kinds from Mexicali to La Paz. The next day May 1st the road was blocked again hosting the big Labor Day parade.

Cities are fine to check in once in a while especially to get supplies but the real beauty lies outside and beyond. And when we left I planned a short sail out to SE tip of land where Bahia Ballandra cuts in forming a fantastic bay with beautiful shallow water. We thought we’d find this to ourselves but the place was alive with locals during the day because it was their May 1st holiday. The most unique feature here is Mushroom Rock, a massive rock made of volcanic conglomerate whose overall shape has the curve of a mushroom complete with the undercutting forming the base holding up the much wider top. You could walk around, well almost at low tide, the rock and be under the overhang of the mushroom. Upon closer inspection there are miniature mushroom rocks and hanging dangerously rocks within the overhang because even though it took nature a long time to erode this mushroom into shape, that process continues and sightseer may get a first-hand experience someday of erosion in progress which could be their last. Extremely unique formation and lovely bay – we anchored for the night. In the morning we had the place almost to ourselves.

Next stop Ensenada de Los Muertos and although it gave us the refuge we needed from the strong wind and waves after a long full day a sailing/motoring, the place was dead, not a living soul around.

 
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Anchored in a Volcano

We made it. Crossing the Sea of Cortez in relative calm we motor/sailed over 300 nautical miles in 46 hours with the last 16 pounding straight into building swells developing from 20+ knot winds. But when we approached our destination, Ensenada de Los Muertos, the conditions did not look good. There will be no protection from wind or waves at the inlet of the Dead today. So we had to press on. But the next suitable anchorage to shelter us from this weather was another 35 miles which could be another 8 hours if conditions didn’t improve.

But during our crossing before that we were treated to a little entertainment from our visitors. Large pods of dolphins passed by, one group was the high flying Delfino Brothers who reached heights of 15 feet with their aerial acrobatics. I was scrambling for the camera but you just can’t capture those moments. Whales passed mostly in the distance but with breaches high enough and splashes big enough to notice nonetheless. One surface right next to us out about a hundred feet but only once, showed its tail then gone – deep. Two leaps from what had to be a large sail fish caught my eye in an otherwise vast endless ocean landscape. I did capture great pictures of rays and some videos of dolphins too.

Fishing was good and the bounty made us many a meal but the most memorable were my Barracuda/Mahi Mahi pineapple coconut curry and Andrew’s Bonita tacos. We stocked up on fruits, veggies and fresh tortillas in San Blas before leaving and the payoff for good planning can’t be overstated.

But now on the eastern shores of Baja California del Sur we have begun our re-entry into our long forgotten world we came from – Northern California, Fair Play to be exact. The water now has trouble reaching 80 degrees which gives Andrew trouble staying in too long. The air is warm, even hot in the day, but dry – 50% humidity instead of 70%+. The landscape has no coconut palms, no bananas, and no papayas but looks more like Arizona desert. But there is a beauty, a stark but majestic beauty, in the truncated weathered remains of massive volcanic activity. Cross-sections expose the layers of eruptions from the more violent explosive events with their mixture of everything that blew sky high and then settled back down overlain by the deeper more sustained showering of ash welding together where they lay into tufts in shades of tans. These layers repeat themselves, evidence to each catastrophic volcanic in geologic time. We sail in through a breach in what is a huge caldera (the inside whole of a volcano) that through erosion was exposed to the sea and let the ocean rush in. This was all part of the island named Isla Espiritu Santo but now the one side has technically severed itself and is called Isla Partida.

There is a wonderful feeling of shelter and peace within these high walls of this caldera. We’re protected from the swells and most directions of the strong winds. But this is a volcano and if, not likely but if, it blew its top once again we would, well, go for the ride of our lives to put it poetically. Nonetheless I look forward to an overdue full night’s sleep.

Tomorrow we sail just 5 miles up to Isla Islotes to visit the Sea Lion colony. Years ago I dove there with a dive shop out of La Paz. The experience was all about the close encounters with the sea lion pups that would swim by you one way, then another, bump into you when you least expect it, take a nip at your gear just playing around. When mother slid into the water off the rocks you watched in awe but kept your distance because like all mothers she can get a little possessive. If however the bull, the big daddy, decided to get off his fat ass and come for a swim we were instructed to swim back to the boat as fast you can.

Then from there we sail to La Paz – the peace.

 
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Bahia Banderas and beyond

Bahia Banderas

The Bay of Banners, home to famous Puerto Vallarta, is a playground for the rich, the famous and the rest of us too. As we sailed up the coast from Barre Navidad on an overnight sail, I timed our rounding of Cabo Corrientes for 4-6 am so we would experience the least amount of wind and waves. The sail all that day was in light wind and mellow seas but within 5 miles of the Cabo the wind increased to over 20 knots and stayed there until we completely rounded and were almost to Yelapa. Corientes means currents and there was not only the high winds, wind waves but current all in our face slowing us down to under 4 knots with both engines running hard. Once around the winds backed down and the dawn tried hard to reveal itself but hid behind a massive buildup of clouds. I needed the light to navigate in and around the little bay of Yelapa.

Yelapa is that remote coastal village accessible only by water which most tourists and absolutely every hippie that ever visited Puerto Vallarta has to visit.  Diana and I made our first visit back in the late 80s and again with our girls 10 years later and now over 30 years later in the INNcredible Sea Lodge. And it was still everything I dreamed it should be at anchor. We were the only boat overnight yet the little resorts and the village were bustling. Friendly local people, quaint village chipped into the steep hillside with winding walkways throughout. Only thing that has changed for the worst is the price of things.

Sailing the next day all along the Bahia’s inner coastline right in front of the old downtown and all the way out to the northern coast into Marina La Cruz, Andrew and I bused back into PV to do a walking tour of the town. We found the best street vendor tacos anywhere on the corner of Honduras and Peru. They serve only seafood tacos and tostados and we tried a bunch of them. They were to die for fantastic and made right in front of you sitting on benches looking in over the edges of the trailer. If you ever go to PV that will make your day.

Couldn’t walk more than 100 feet on the Mallecon without Andrew fondness of Tequila luring him into one the many over-priced tequila shops. This one was very informative and generous with its samples as Andrew had about 6 shots before saying whoa and I 8. I knew what I liked but $45 seems a little stiff and this was on the low end of their inventory.

The Malecon, the beautiful walkway along the beachfront is adorned with sculptures, sand castles, twirling Huichol Indians, vendors and other entertainment. As a matter of fact in the pit where a couple hundred people sit in the evening and watch this mime do his show, I told Andrew you watch when I walk up (and we were intentionally trying to come from behind on the side so as to not be seen) within a couple minutes this mime will see me and and point to me, pull his Santa hat out of his chest, hold it up and introduce me to the whole audience. So we walked up somewhat hiding and it wasn’t 30 seconds before he saw me and did exactly that. And He did that two years ago when I was last there too. We walked and walked and walked all over. Andrew got a three day tour in one evening. And then I had to get the tuckered out Andrew back on a bus for the long ride back to La Cruz.

La Cruz is a great little town of its own and our Sunday started with their farmers market with live music and lots of vendors. A walkabout as we picked up our laundry ending back on the boat with a barbeque of the fish, veggies and great bread purchased at the farmers market.

Monday morning we’re off sailing, actually sailing, leaving Bahia Banderas heading for points north like San Blas. But before we rounded Punta Mita we spotted whales. This couple must have had a whale of a time just a little out of sequence with the others in the neighborhood and are left with the bay to themselves waiting for late comer little Junior Humpback to grow up enough to head north to the motherland. But lucky for us we got to enjoy the frolicks right off the starboard side. Out rounding Punta Mita, the final point at the northern end of Bahia Banderas, we marveled at the incredible numbers of rays swimming in large groups for a couple miles as we sail through and over them. A few turtles and an occasional Giant Manta amongst them made for great pictures.

We’re headed up the mainland to San Blas and then diagonally across the Sea of Cortez to Baja. We give you an update after the crossing

 

 
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