Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Dissertation on the Dirt Life vs. the Sea Life

Huatulco, Mexico – “What a concept!” Sally said as we sat half-naked in 90-degree heat aboard the good ship Hopalong.

“The idea that you can go to sleep and not expect to have something strange happen during the night.”

We were munching on salami and tangerines for lunch as we talked about our experience last summer living on land for the longest period in the last 15 years. While it was only a relatively few months, we took on the challenge in order to sample the current flavor of what sailors sometimes call the dirt life.
Sally is leaning into the rail as Hopalong slowly
heels over to a 45 degree angle as she goes aground.

Our respite on land did indeed offer a different perspective. At night, when the wind began to howl and the rain poured down, we were snug in our bed. No longer did we have to leap from our berth, go on deck in driving rain to see if the anchor was holding and to peer into the darkness to see if other boats were dragging down on us as lightning lit up the sky and thunder shook our tiny vessel.

Then there was peril in Panama. On the eve of the Fourth of July, 2012 in the Perlas Islands, a change of wind pushed Hopalong onto a sandbar as the tide ebbed and rain fell. She lay on her side at a 45 degree angle until the incoming tide refloated her at dawn. We clung to her like a couple of forlorn rats.

Our maunderings over salami and tangerines were triggered by our farewell an hour earlier to two friends, ages 77 and 78, who set sail in their 36-foot sloop, Saucy Lady, for Zihuatanejo. We wondered whether we would be involved in the cruising life at that age, which is no longer so remote for us.

Hmm, we said to each other. Living on a boat offers unusual opportunities to learn and experience new things. Such as figuring out why your diesel auxiliary engine is not leaking its usual quart of oil every 30 hours of operation. Instead the dipstick says the engine is making its own oil and is becoming increasingly full. That was a sailing first for us last week. One that means replacement or rebuilding the faulty fuel injection pump – a new learning opportunity for David since good mechanical help is questionable here.

Then there is the challenge of simply finding a grocery store when entering a new port – not to mention actually shopping and trying to find your favorite food. We have learned to adapt to different vittles and accommodate reality.

Last summer, while staying in Prescott, Az., for six weeks, we bicycled and joined a gym for exercise. Here on Hopalong we kneel down and rise up with astonishing regularity, a function driven by having to fetch food, clothing, tools and parts from tightly packed quarters both low and high, but mostly low. We climb up and down a five-foot ladder scores of times a day while entering and leaving the boat. Sails are cranked up, and lines are hauled. Fuel and water jugs are lifted, moved and decanted. Making our bed is a 15-minute exercise in twisting and turning and squirming for Sally. There is no way she can walk around it. She has to crawl over it.

Intellectual and emotional challenges abound compared to the dirt life. The tight quarters mean you are in your mate's face almost all the time. Walking down what amounts to the main hallway in your house requires delicate maneuvering and courtesy on a boat – if you both try to do it at the same time. Living in a country with a different language and culture means honing your linguistic skills and understanding of different people. Reading is a mainstay because of the lack of the usual video and electronic inputs of the dirt life, although that has changed enormously over the last decade or so. So instead of “The Survivors” it could well be “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.”

Overall, life on the sea seems to contain both more variety and more angst than life on land. Things can and do go wrong on the sea. The possibility of death by user error or simple bad luck is always there. But our bet is that the freeways in Los Angeles are more dangerous.

Sometimes we are asked, “How long are you going to continue your dubious pursuits?” We considered that question as we nibbled our salami and tangerines and just shrugged.

(What's your choice? The sea or land? For yourself or for the deluded souls aboard Hopalong? Click on the word "comment" below to vote and don't forget to click on ad as well.)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

T-Pecker Turkey Time in Tapachula

PUERTO CHIAPAS, Mexico – Winds howled through the dreaded Gulf of Tehuantepec – some as much as 50 miles an hour or more – as a score or two of “velaristas” celebrated Thanksgiving this week on the docks at Marina Chiapas.

The winds are called Tehuantepeckers by gringo sailors in small boats, at least small in relation to the 20-foot seas or higher that are whipped up by the winds. A half dozen or so sailors are hunkered down in the marina waiting for a “weather window,” a calm period during which they can dash across the gulf. The irony is that the men and women in the sailboats will have to use their engines for the most of the way because of a lack of wind.

Nonetheless, the Thanksgiving potluck was excellent: barbecued chicken, deviled eggs, ham, mashed and other versions of potatoes, brownies, guacamole, dressing, cranberries, pasta and much, much more. Much of the grub came from stores in Tapachula, the nearest town of any size.

Tapachula is located in the heart of a farming area. No glitzy saloons like Cabo. No malecons like Puerto Vallarta. But some pretty decent Chinese food and fine barbacoa de borrego (moist barbecued lamb). The Chinese restaurants are the result of a substantial Chinese community that settled in the area more than 100 years ago. Fishing, of course, is important here. A Herdez fish cannery is about half-a-mile from the marina. Occasionally the aroma will reach us. One of the key crops in Tapachula is the mango, particularly the tasty Ataulfo. It is smaller than the big ones found in most supermarkets, but more sabroso.

Tapachula is about a 30 to 45 minute ride in the “collectivo” bus that can be flagged down on the highway in front of the marina. Collectivos are non-air conditioned, large Nissan vans. Nominally they sit 15 persons. However, many more can fit. Sally and I currently are claiming the Gringo Ride Record!!! (GRR!!!) for a collectivo passage. One day, we rode a collectivo in 90 degree heat into Tapachula. Our count was that 21 adults and four children (between the ages of about five to 10) occupied the van for most of the ride. So far, we have heard no challenges to that achievement.

The collectivo fare is 16 pesos, about $1.22 American. The cab fare from Tapachula to the marina is 150 pesos or $11.47 American.

Our fellow sailors – velaristas – come from many points. Gene and Sue on Peregrine are from Orange County in Southern California. They are headed north, completing a three-year circumnavigation. Blake and Sunny on Slow Mocean hail from the state of Washington and have come from the Carribean into the Pacific via the Panama Canal. Blake grew up in Montana. Sunny was born in Korea and grew up there and in Washington. They too are headed north. David and Briana on Tusitala missed the Thanksgiving feast when they set out for Costa Rica yesterday in their 47-foot wooden boat built by her grandfather in an avocado orchard in Fallbrook in San Diego County in the 1960s. Roy and Winona on Saucy Lady, another couple from Washington, are also headed north. Others come France, Vancouver, B. C., Aptos in California, the San Francisco Bay area, Del Mar in Southern California.

The northbound folks, including us, are watching the wind carefully. Here is a diagram of a forecast that shows what the winds look like about now. Reddish colors are nasty, nasty, nasty.

Here is a diagram of what we would like to see next week.

We hope to skedaddle north across the Tehuantepec early next week and move with dispatch up to Zihuatanejo, where we will leave the boat for a short visit back to the Old Country for the holidays.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Hopalong Returns Happily to "Romantic Old Mexico"

Welcoming committee at Marina Chiapas
Hopalong Chronicles Photo
PUERTO CHIAPAS, Mexico – Hopalong received a warm welcome late last month when she arrived back in Mexico after an absence of three years.

Not only did a black Labrador, drug-sniffing dog come aboard but there was a bevy of enthusiastic greeters waving from a nearby sailboat (see photo).

We celebrated by scarfing down orders of tacos pastor and tacos asados at Mida Rapida Carnivoros in nearby Tapachula.

Our location here at this new marina, the first one we have been in for at least three years, is close to the Mexican-Guatemalan border. Prior to our arrival, the Guatemalan Navy took the time to give us a fine sendoff as we motor-sailed north. A large “panga,” an open skiff with high-powered outboard engines, filled with seven heavily armed men drew alongside Hopalong. The gentleman in charge wanted to know our destination, etc., but seemed mainly concerned about why we weren't flying an American flag. We didn't have one, we explained. Despite some puzzlement, the sendoff party shortly sped off to the shore, some five miles or so distant.
Sally has whomped up an account of our passage north, which involved multiple, multiple night passages. The longest was from Costa Rica to here, which took xxx nights and was primarily motor-sailing. As you will read, sometimes the motor would not start when the starter button was pushed. That meant yours truly had to unload a sizable portion of the quarter berth to get at the starter solenoid. Then, using a big, fat screwdriver, I “jumped” the connection between the wire from the starter button to the battery. Sometimes, there were very exciting sparks. Here is Sally's account of our entrance just before Easter during Semana Santa(Holy Week).
We arrived Puerto Chiapas a couple of days ago after only several times where we looked at each other and said "cheated death again."
Chiapas (formerly Puerto Madero)  is the southern most port in Mexico, just miles from the Guatemalan border. Have to say it is nice to be here.
The marina has a Disneyland feel to it. Smallish, everything perfect, nicely landscaped, totally secure, people very friendly, showers the best we've ever encountered anywhere. The military is in evidence but with faces not covered(by masks). So easy to relax.
After a couple of days for crew to get some land legs, Hopalong is getting cleaned from bow to stern. Much of the boat has not seen fresh water(except for rain)  in more than 3 years!
The area here has the feel of what I imagine a small midwestern US town is like. Easter is about family vacation, some fishing, little anything religious. They grow bananas for Chiquita, have fish processing plant and a freeze drying plant for coffee. The capitol, Tapachula, is about 30 minutes away($1.50 US on minibus). They have Walmart, Home Depot , Auto Zone, etc., in a mall outside of central city.
Rebuilding of fuel injection pump will happen after Easter. It was behaving like a squirt gun. We also experienced various problems with starting the engine -eventually starting it about half the time by (David) jumping it with screw driver across wires to starter. So some wiring will be fixed and we are hoping mechanic Marvin will find place to get new seals for the pump. These problems had only suggested themselves before we rounded Punta Mala in Panama and got much worse as we motored on.
We had no wind after Pta Mala so needed fuel in Playa del Cocos Costa Rica. We nearly ran out of fuel, so decided to head directly to Marina Papagayo and fuel dock. The harbormaster said  NO, NO, NO, until after checking into CR. We told the harbormaster we did not have enough fuel to get to Playa del Cocos where you check in.  We did not actually declare an "emergency" but were insistent that we were out of fuel. .Harbormaster finally agreed to check with port captain after making us wait a hour or so. The officials came out to the marina that afternoon for no charge. They could not have been nicer. The marina harbormaster was not so kind so we moved onto Playa Panama after only getting a small amount of fuel.
Checking in and out and getting fuel  was relatively easy with help of Cholo , the fishing guide.(8880-5362, 8897-6411.) He picked David and fuel jugs up in Playa Panama the next afternoon at 2, took him around to various officials, filled our jugs loaned us some of his   too and returned David  to Hopalong is less than 4 hours. All it takes is a little money($200).
Paola is the immigration lady. She has worked there 34 years and is now the jefa.  Paola asked David to guess her age. He was horrified he might insult her. He guessed diplomatically low. She said she was 62(could you believe it?) and attributed it to drinking lots of fresh water. Miguel, the port captain, allowed David to finish the paper work slightly after hours, for only an extra $18(US). And he directed other officials to do whatever was needed, so check in and check out was done at same time. 

Final note from David: A fuel line blew out during the repair on the fuel injection pump so new ones were fabricated. All seems to be working fine right now, but we are continuing our tests.

Next up: Probably some land travels down here in deepest, southern Mexico.  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Fire in the Bay, Fire in the Bay!

The sailing vessel, Nintai, flees the fire.
Hopalong Chronicles photo
One never knows what a quiet Sunday afternoon in the Bay of Panama will bring.

Today, not far from where the pirate Morgan anchored just prior to sacking and burning Old Panama hundreds of years ago, a fire broke out in a derelict tug. 

As you can see from the photos, some sailors were anchored nearby, including the vessel Nintai, owned by Donna, a friend of ours. It was she who alerted the fleet of sailors to the fire. Shortly thereafter she dropped her mooring and moved away from the scene. She figured there was a good probability that gasoline or propane might be on board, in addition to diesel fuel,  with the likelihood of a nasty explosion. However, no blast occurred and the tug is now a blackened but floating wreck.

A land-based fire truck took some time to arrive and never could put any water on the boat. The little, red fireboat arrived later and  edged close enough to hose down the boat. 
A firetruck on shore could not 
reach the tug with water.
Hopalong Chronicles photo

The tug, Jason, has not moved from that site for at least for two years and has been up for sale for months. In the background is a large white power boat, owned by the same man who owns the tug. It too has been up for sale for months. 

The tug was fully ablaze by
 the time a fireboat arrived.
Hopalong Chronicles photo
I even played a tiny part in Nintai's escape. Her anchor windlass went kaput while she was motoring around in the bay looking for a fresh spot to locate. I went over in our dinghy, boarded the vessel while it was underway and fixed the problem.

We were anchored about a half-mile away, which was where these photos were taken with an 18x zoom lens. The half-sunk orange-ish boat is an old lifeboat that was salvaged by locals. 

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Sailors Brave the Damp of Panama

MIAMI, Fla. – The Wall Street Journal felt damp this morning at Miami International Airport.

It was a sign of the changing nature of our lives. We were en route to Panama from California when we purchased a copy of the WSJ, which explained today that Romney lost his bid for the presidency because he couldn't manage his campaign money well.

In California, even in the relatively humid San Francisco Bay Area, newspapers are crisp and crinkly, their paper dryer than here in the humid, “Sunshine State” state.

We have just concluded a two-month sojourn in the Old Country. Sally is returning with chunk of fresh, high-tech metal in her right knee. It is a replacement for her 10-year-old partial knee replacement. The partial was still serviceable, but the bone was deteriorating and painful. Thus the decision to have a full replacement done. She is quite pleased with the result and is just about ready to run the first marathon she can find.

In an interesting sidelight, Sally did not get to keep the used part, which is the normal practice for auto repairs.

We will arrive in Panama this afternoon where we plan to acclimate for a night or two at a B&B run by a former sailor. Then on to Isla Taboga about 10 miles offshore of Panama City. We will begin posthaste to install a new starter solenoid and a new mizzen sail, among many other boat parts that accompanied us on our flight from San Mateo.
Hopalong at rest at Isla Taboga. In earlier times, persons
recovering from yellow fever were sent here.
 One was the artist Paul Gaugin,

Rain may affect our efforts. November is one of wettest months of the year in Panama City, averaging 10 inches for the period, although the city is one of the drier locations in the country. Sometime in December the rain will stop suddenly and temperatures will jump. The change is signaled by what the locals call Christmas winds. 

Despite this month's moisture and the accompanying, aggressive mold that attempts to crawl over us as we sleep, we plan to diligently repair, clean and otherwise prepare Hopalong for a long passage. Ecuador is possible destination. More likely is a return to Mexico, where the food is much better than Panama. The cuisine in Panama is bland. Last summer, we were overjoyed one day during our stay in California when we found plates of yummy carnitas at the Casa Jiminez in Oakland.

While we were back in the Old Country, I was also chastized (spanked) several times for failing to keep up with my responsibilities for regular postings on the Hopalong Chronicles. So in keeping with this political year, my contribution to helping to pull the country out of its economic doldrums will be to post fresh items often on the Hopalong Chronicles. And you, dear reader, should click on the ads on this web site. Every click sends a nickel or less into the Chronicle coffers.  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

We Don't Care What They Say About Us Just as Long as They Spell Our Names Right

The strange story of Hopalong and its two inmates garnered some major attention recently in a magazine called "Your Life."

You can read the piece at the end of this item, but first we wanted to answer possible looming questions about the article. It came about last summer when we were in the Old Country. Our son-in-law, Dylan, who is executive editor of VentureBeat, received an email from a freelance writer that he has known for a number of years. She wanted to know if he could put her onto some older folks with a different lifestyle. He did, and she wound up interviewing us at Coyote Point on San Francisco Bay.

The magazine is published by USA Today. We found a copy at a Lucky supermarket. An early electronic version of the article can be found below. The piece, unfortunately, was not the cover story. The printed version corrected the spelling on the "whumpback whale" headline. Comments are welcome. You can leave them by clicking on the word "comment" at the end of this item. Happy reading.
Sailing with Hopalong

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Whereabouts of Hopalong

View from mainland, showing Perico Island and the other
two islands long ago. 
Perico Island is not much of an island anymore.

Originally the island was just off the coast of Panama City, but when Teddy's boys started to work on the canal, they dumped six-jillion cubic feet of mud, dirt and rocks into the sea, which then became a causeway linking the island with the mainland. It is one of three small islands, all very close to each other, that are part of the causeway.

As the story goes, the causeway was off limits to the locals when Americans ran the canal. But now it carries a great deal of weekend traffic as Panamians head for the water like so many Californians.

We are anchored off Perico in an area known as Las Brisas de Amador. Not much to see in Las Brisas or Perico, which is the Spanish word for parrot. Mainly restaurants and souvernir shops, largely patronized by the locals. There is an ATM, which is important to us gringos, and several ice cream shops. And there are, in fact, parrots in cages, one of which shrieks "mommy," alarming mothers for many yards around.

Given the longevity of parrots, it could well be a holdover from the days when the islands were an American military outpost guarding the southern entrance to the Panama Canal.