Archive for January, 2010

The Red Rocks of Los Gatos

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

The list of world’s reddest harbors is surely led by Los Gatos.

045 While we are no experts on this topic, we’re pretty sure it’s the reddest harbor in the land.

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The sandstone outcrops bracketing this bay stand out from the surrounding coastline like berries on a berry cactus.

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The low light hours set the rocks aflame

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and the rocks cast a red glow on the bay and everything in it.

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At dawn and dusk we sat in the quietly in cockpit with wide eyes, struck by the drama of this landscape.

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During the day we took hikes and documented the crazy range of textures ranging from vicious angular outcrops…

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To dunes at the feet of their sandstone source (or is it the other way around?).

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And our favorite… the voluptuous organic folds of red mother earth

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The local Ruby Throated Pterodactyls added a sense of pre-history

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And the visiting gringo moron with a eye for butt rocks added the final missing element to this magical place (would you leave the country in a small boat with this man?)

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25°18.26′N 110°56.74′W 30-Jan-10 14:00 MST

Bahia San Marte II

Monday, January 25th, 2010

The southerly blow had eased up by Saturday morning, so we took advantage of the lull to scoot back around the rocky corner from Agua Verde to Bahia San Marte, to get ready for the forecasted norther that was going to arrive on Sunday.

Arriving early, we stopped first to check out some nearby sea caves. 

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Unfortunately the swell had churned up the water so that the visibility in the caves was pretty much nil.  The Sally Lightfoots were glad to see us go.

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The rocks outside the caves were teeming with fish.  Fearless snapper taunted K as if they knew he was powerless to spear them.

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Our curiosity satisfied, we headed up into the bay to shelter behind the reefs and headlands.  This time we had the bay all to ourselves.

In an effort to foster a good night’s sleep in case the winds came early, K set two anchors off our primary chain: the usual Davis Talon delta anchor (aka “Triceratops”) and our Fortress danforth anchor (aka “Fortress America”).  We hooked up the snubbers and settled in for the evening. (Snubbers are lines we attach to the chain and cleat off on both sides of the bow.  They transfer the anchor loads from the wussy bow rollers and anchor windlass to the sturdier cleats.)

We took advantage of the clear water to watch the anchors embed as we set them. K snorkeled over the anchor while S powered back to dig it into the bottom. K enjoys watching his 50 pound plow digging in almost as much as he enjoyed watching 75 tonners dig in to the Aleutian volcanic sand (in spite of the difference in salary.) The similarities are striking even though the loads are not, Bint Al Khamseen sets her anchors with a couple of hundred pounds of pull, the 75 tonners needed about 1,600,000 lbs.

Right on schedule, the norther arrived early Sunday morning and the winds gusted up to the mid-20s, with a few in the lower 30s. The annoying thing is that the 1-minute winds probably averaged less than 10 knots (an excellent example of the meaninglessness of wind data without sample period.) The boat responds with constant dancing and swinging like a nervous horse on her tether.  She’s released from each gust like an arrow into the calms, shooting forward down the anchor rode and nearly overrunning the anchors before turning sideways to provide her full beam profile for the next gust. The gust hits, we spin through 130 degrees over the slack chain while the snubbers slowly pull the bow around in an ungraceful square dance. Below in the cabin we look up and watch the mountain ridges windsprinting past the companion way opening, equally fast in both directions.

So with nothing better to do we fussed with our ground tackle.  First, the snubbers were getting quite a workout so we moved them both to the port side and added another heftier one on starboard to share the load.  Then we decided it’d be a good drill to get our third anchor, the 20-kg Bruce, ready to go – just for fun.  Here are the snubbers doing their thing, and the Bruce anchor at the ready in the bow roller.

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For more kicks, we even readied some line (complete with a spiffy orange kellet) for our 25 lb danforth that lives on the stern rail.

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Satisfied that we were ready for almost anything, we got down to some hard core loafing. The words of K’s old friend Bawewee the Kenyan AB, “Big sea is bad for the work but good for the relax”.   That is, if your anchoring gear is happy.

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25°30.23′N 111°01.01′W   24-Jan-10 23:00 UTC

The Many Faces of Pyramid Rock

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Agua Verde holds the two most unusual rock islands in the the greater Agua Verde region: Roca Solitaria (a fine boat name for future reference)

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And Pyramid Rock

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We anchored next to Pyramid rock for several days and saw its many facets. During the early morning it was a place for vultures to practice their creepy cinematic scare tactics.

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In the evening it was quickly overtaken by the shadows of the high mountains surrounding the bay.

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But what Pyramid Rock missed during the early morning and late afternoon hours was occasionally restored with quality during mid-day.

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We watched Pyramid Rock for a couple of days and saw just about everything a rock islet could show us.

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25°30.93′N 111°03.85′W 18-Jan-10 14:00 MST

Agua Verde

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

The weather is the main driver of our movements.  We hunker down for ‘northers’  then scurry north during calms.  The forecast this week called for strong southerlies -  rather unusual – the result of the series of storms that have been pounding the U.S. west coast.  So we settled in to our anchorage at Agua Verde tucked in behind a hillside to our south. 

The first thing we noticed when we arrived is the variety of sea birds that take advantage of the many reefs in the bay.  We were especially excited to finally get a good look at the legendary blue feet.

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Terns, gulls, boobies, herons, and of course, pelicans; they apparently get along pretty well.

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This pelican had a belly itch, or maybe he was checking his BMI (“Its all muscle every inch of it, I’m not fat, I’m just big feathered”).

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K also took advantage of the reefs to bring home dinner.  There’s a reason fish like to hang out near rocks – after one too many hard landings, K’s pole spear was further reduced from two prongs to one (from the original three).  Still good for poking holes in fish, but not so good for retrieving them. After ventilating a couple of fish that subsequently swam away, he swore off further pole spearing until it could be repaired.

We went ashore to see the village one morning and happened upon a political rally being held at the basketball court.  With our limited Spanish we understood that Senior Marcos wanted to work for the people.  He also had his minions toss bags of goodies to the crowd from 4 loaded pickup trucks. It’s great to see that Louisiana style lagniappe is alive and well south of I-10. 

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The village seemed idyllic, with free-ranging dogs, cows, chickens, turkeys, and our favorite – goats! 

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A few special goats and young troublemakers were kept behind sticks.

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The Three Little Pigs were safe behind their windproof  walls.

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We chased some little red birds through the village all morning.

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Eventually we got a shot at one through the trees.

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All the houses in the village are small but tidy. 

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There are a couple schools, a church, a small tienda, and a lady with a chest freezer in her front yard full of produce for sale. We were able to reprovision with an emphasis on potatoes, onions and nice mild feta-like goat cheese.  We bought about 3 kilos (~7 lbs) of this cheese to offset the expected shortfall in fish.

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We found the restaurant but had no internet access to check the Yelp.com ratings, so we walked right by.  Local knowledge said, “Great tacos” but you have to wake up the old man to go find his wife/cook in the village.

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We also took some time to do boat chores.  K worked on a set of dinghy chaps to save our little “Zeitoon” from the ravages of the sun.

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S got caught up on some laundry with the awesome hand operated washing machine. 

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The boat even got a rinse; we unwittingly stumbled into the Middle Sea Drizzle Belt. It drizzled all day and all night while the hills to the north mocked us with their bright dryness. But we were not afraid nor vexed, for our salty crust was washed away.

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This is as far north as we planned to go in the Sea of Cortez.  But like Moses, we did manage to get a glimpse of what we’ll be missing.

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25°30.87′N 111°03.75′W 18-Jan-10 14:00 MST

Gulf of California Update

Monday, January 18th, 2010

We left La Paz a week ago last Wednesday and have been slowly working our way northward up the east coast of the Baja. We made a short hop the first night from La Paz to Caleta Lobos, where we met the owners and crew of ‘Firecat’, a beautiful Moorings charter catamaran, then pushed northward past Islas Espiritu Santo and Partida to gorgeous Isla San Francisco. We shared the anchorage at Isla San Francisco with several other boats, including probably all the other Caliber 40s in Mexico – ‘Hello World’ from Seattle and ‘Pamdemonium’ from British Columbia.

We went hiking on the beaches and rocky ridges during the days and had many happy hour get-togethers. The “crack was 90″ as they say in Ireland. endless great stories of waterfront misfits and imprudent mariners, but the best was a 1 day old fish story. Kevin (from ‘Pahto’) and Steve and Charlotte (from ‘Willful Simplicity’) had been hiking across a ridge 500 feet above the bay when they saw a mahi-mahi swimming in the shallows just of the beach. “I’m gonna go get it” said Kevin to the amazement of his hiking mates. He flew down the precipitous hill with the abandon of a starving man, his hoofprints reportedly 8 feet apart by the time he hit the beach. He plunged into the shallows and swept the 3 foot fish onto the beach with both arms! We’d put down $5 that this was not a well mahi, but still, the guy caught a live pelagic upper-level predator with his bare hands from the top of a mountain.

We continued northward last Sunday, stopping briefly at Punta Evaristo for a night, then on to Puerto Los Gatos where, after a nerve-wracking passage between two rocky reefs K further tested S’s nerve by picking our parking spot right up near the beach. We dropped the anchor in only 7 feet of water and had an unbeatable front-row view of the beautiful red rocks that make up the northern point of the bay. A quick hydrographic survey with K snorkeling along the 5 ft isobath while S shot him in the back of the head with the laser range finder (she rather enjoyed that part) confirmed that the grounding shallows were out of reach with 40 ft of chain down.

After a quick visit ashore we tried to leave the next morning, only to be beaten back by the waves whipped up by the 20-kt northern winds. All the boats in the anchorage watched us leave, and a half-hour later they all watched us come back in; some provided good-natured commentary, others provided the socially crippled responses one might expect of people who live alone on the ocean in ageing plastic pods that whiff of raw sewage and mildew.

We were up before the sun the next day, following the parade as every boat in Los Gatos hauled anchor and, taking advantage of the morning calm, set off for their selected harbors to sit out the forecasted norther. We had selected Bahia San Marte, only about 15 miles to the north, and made it there by late morning. ‘On Verra’ was already settled in, an interesting couple of circumnavigators. Alicia’s been a full time blue water sailor all her adult life, Alfredo the Italian was high-end lingerie corporation exec ($300 bloomers, Italian dressage horses, early retirement) who at 60 is more fit than K was at 19. We shared the anchorage for the next several days, each boat spinning like a second-hand around the clock as the nominally “northern” winds whipped over the surrounding hills from a variety of surprising directions.

We left San Marte this morning and came around the corner to Agua Verde. There’s a small fishing village on the beach nearby and scads of sea birds. We’ll go ashore tomorrow to check out the town and hopefully buy some vegetables.

Happy birthday Kathryn Ann! We love you!

25°30.87′N 111°03.75′W 18-Jan-10 01:40 UTC

Bahia San Marte

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

We tucked in to Bahia San Marte for a couple of northers during our time in the Agua Verde region. It’s a big bay but the swell free area was quite small, tucked up in the northwest corner just out of reach of the north swells wrapping around the corner.

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The bay has a bad reputation as a rolly anchorage and that makes it one of our favorite on the long list of unpopular things with bad reputations that we love. 

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As a reward for our bad judgment we shared the place with our quiet friends on On Verra. K and Alfredo took turns spear fishing on the closest reef giving the groupers a few hours in between to re-group. It was a great arrangement and provided K with an opportunity to see what he hopes to be in his sixties, a manfish on a red kayak, assuming his place in the marine food chain.

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The mountains were ideal for hiking with miles and miles of open grassland and low brush. We landed the dinghy and began to explore.

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The first stop was a hidden pocket beach at the end of a steep wash.

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Next was a hike to the nearest pass for a look north at Agua Verde bay and the imposing pinnacle islet Roca Solitaria.

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We made it back down in time for some good low light. K took pictures and S worked on her Kokopelli shadow imitation.

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Then we ate a wickedgood stove top pizza.

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25°30.28′N 111°01.06′W   13-Jan-10 23:00 UTC

Gulf of California Update

Monday, January 11th, 2010

We left La Paz a week ago last Wednesday and have been slowly working our way northward up the east coast of the Baja.  We made a short hop the first night from La Paz to Caleta Lobos, where we met the owners and crew of ‘Firecat’, a beautiful Moorings charter catamaran, then pushed northward past Islas Espiritu Santo and Partida to gorgeous Isla San Francisco. 

We shared the anchorage at Isla San Francisco with several other boats, including probably all the other Caliber 40s in Mexico – ‘Hello World’ from Seattle and ‘Pamdemonium’ from British Columbia. 

We went hiking on the beaches and rocky ridges during the days and had many happy hour get-togethers. 

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“The craic was 90" as they say in Ireland… endless great stories of waterfront misfits and imprudent mariners, but the best was a 1 day old fish story. Kevin (from ‘Pahto’) and Steve and Charlotte (from ‘Willful Simplicity’) had been hiking across a ridge 500 feet above the bay when they saw a mahi-mahi swimming in the shallows just of the beach. "I’m gonna go get it" said Kevin to the amazement of his hiking mates. He flew down the precipitous hill with the abandon of a starving man, his hoofprints reportedly 8 feet apart by the time he hit the beach. He plunged into the shallows and swept the 3 foot fish onto the beach with both arms! We’d put down $5 that this was not a well mahi, but still, the guy caught a live pelagic upper-level predator with his bare hands from the top of a mountain.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Kevin, the amazing Mountain Top Fisherman.

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K had his own excitement when he shot what he thought was a small snapper in a hole and pulled out a sweet, big, very dead Leopard Grouper instead (“It was dark in there”).

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We continued northward last Sunday, stopping briefly at Punta Evaristo for a night, then on to Puerto Los Gatos where, after a nerve-wracking passage between two rocky reefs K further tested S’s nerve by directing her to park right up near the beach. We dropped the anchor in only 7 feet of water and had an unbeatable front-row view of the beautiful red rocks that make up the northern point of the bay. 

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A quick hydrographic survey with K snorkeling along the 5 ft isobath while S shot him in the back of the head with the laser range finder (she rather enjoyed that part) confirmed that the grounding shallows were out of reach with 40 ft of chain down.

After a quick visit ashore we tried to leave the next morning, only to be beaten back by the waves whipped up by the 20-kt northern winds.  All the boats in the anchorage watched us leave, and a half-hour later they all watched us come back in; some provided good-natured commentary, others provided the socially crippled responses one might expect of people who live alone on the ocean in ageing plastic pods that whiff of raw sewage and mildew. 

We were up before the sun the next day, following the parade as every boat in Los Gatos hauled anchor and, taking advantage of the morning calm, set off for their selected harbors to sit out the forecasted norther. 

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We had selected Bahia San Marte, only about 15 miles to the north, and made it there by late morning.  ‘On Verra’ was already settled in, an interesting couple of circumnavigators… Alicia’s been a full time blue water sailor all her adult life, Alfredo the Italian was high-end lingerie corporation exec ($300 bloomers, Italian dressage horses, early retirement) who at 60 is more fit than K was at 19. We shared the anchorage for the next several days, each boat spinning like a second-hand around the clock as the nominally "northern" winds whipped over the surrounding hills from a variety of surprising directions. 

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We left San Marte this morning and came around the corner to Agua Verde.   There’s a small fishing village on the beach nearby and scads of sea birds.  We’ll go ashore tomorrow to check out the town and hopefully buy some vegetables.

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Happy birthday Kathryn Ann! We love you!

MomMeKenDerrynane2

25°30.95′N 111°03.90′W   18-Jan-10 01:40 UTC

Zen and the Art of Freediving

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

Now that our pole spear is down to a single point (the other two were lost to heavy usage), K is reduced to pondering the philosophy of the freediver instead of spending 4 hours a day in the water and falling asleep before 2000 hrs every night. A ready food supply is the prerequisite for liberal arts within primitive society and now that we are once again living off pesos and the fruit of the goats of Agua Verde, we’ve become curious, thoughtful and verbose.

Freediving has become harder the farther north we travel due to loss of visibility and a drop in water temperature. In K’s bad physiological math, a lung full of air is consumed in equal rations by:

1) Exertion in the initial dive to the bottom
2) Reaction to the cold and discomfort
3) Bottom time
4) Anxiety from inefficient technique, cold, ear clearing, depth, and bad visibility.

Add a dose of anxiety about things that go bump in the deep and anxiety soon becomes the biggest budget in a single freedive. All other variables are dealt with through gear and physics, anxiety is a variable of the mind. Conversely, a drop of adrenaline can contribute up to a 50% exceedance of the expected breathhold when something interesting or delicious is at hand.

Lately, K is using weight to counteract wetsuit buoyancy. The weight allows minimal exertion to stay down, the diver is actually negatively buoyant beyond 15 ft as the wetsuit compresses, but the gear is cumbersome and brings additional anxiety. We’ve had poor visibility near the village of Agua Verde, anxiety is higher when drifting down into the gloom, and the the bay has been choppy leading to disruption of the pre-dive focus.

We’ve been slowly sailing away from a calm warm ocean with 50 ft visibility, the ideal environment for an efficient freedive, and the work level to bring home the grouper has steadily climbed. At 40 plus years old the attraction is in the fractions of minutes spent among the rocks at the bottom of the ocean in complete comfort, as fast and agile as a manfish can be, not breathing and not caring. It could be at 10 ft or it could be at 40 ft, the goal is the same.

Other divers have different goals, as a youngster K was going to 60 ft just to see what it was like, but having sworn off the dangerous technique of hyperventilation, we operate on a one breath policy and that keeps us in the upper 30 ft. Our breathholding is half what it might be but we don’t worry about each other drowning from shallow water blackout.

Instead we clear our snorkels quietly during during ascent, blow off CO2 for extra time, and focus on gaining seconds in swimming efficiently with mental calmness. In Spanish the phrase is “Calmate”: Calm yourself. We like this phrase so much that we have a niece with the nickname “Calmate” and this has become the freediver’s prayer each time we fin quietly into the deep.

25°30.87′N 111°03.75′W 21-Jan-10 23:47 UTC

25°30.87′N 111°03.75′W 20-Jan-10 01:33 UTC

La Paz (Still)

Monday, January 4th, 2010

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We’ve been in La Paz nearly three weeks, and yet we’re still not quite ready to leave. 

I spent the first two weeks lying around with my foot up, watching movies, losing at Solitaire, and having K wait on me hand and foot (sorry Dad!).  After the first week I gave up on using the crutches while onboard and worked on perfecting my hopping technique.  Moving about the boat was like playing hopscotch and being continuously stuck on “3”.  By Christmas I felt ready for the Hopscotch Olympics.

One of the benefits of being here for so long is being able to meet new and old friends.  This is Hughbert and his dog, Emma.  We met Hughbert while doing laundry at the marina.  He offered to sell her to me for 20 pesos.  It’s a good thing I knew he was joking.

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On Christmas eve we joined in the Club Cruceros celebrations at Marina de La Paz.  There was a dessert and appetizer potluck, complete with Christmas carols lead by a band of fellow cruisers, followed by a worship service put on by Crossroads Christian Fellowship.  It was just a wee bit surreal to find ourselves in La Paz on Christmas Eve, sitting on lawn chairs at the top of a boat ramp, with a worship service going on right outside the marina office.

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Those are our talented friends Heidi and Russ of Tillicum I on either side of the tree trunk (above).  We first met them at Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, and have had the pleasure of crossing paths with them in several ports on our way to La Paz.  Heidi and Russ invited us over on Boxing Day for a delicious dinner aboard their gorgeous schooner.

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The day before, we’d spent Christmas evening with our friends from Journey: Melanie and Craig and their boys Jordy and Marcus at their condo, along with new friends  – the crew of Albatross: Kevin and Lisa, and their sons Mick and Teagan.  Melanie prepared a scrumptious full-on Christmas turkey dinner.

This past Wednesday we went over to Ciao Molina, an Italian restaurant across the street from the marina. It was open mike night, and there was a band playing composed primarily of cruisers.  We happened to meet up with Jennifer and Dean of Emily B, who were dock mates of ours ages ago on J-dock at Shilshole, Heidi and Russ, Susan and Dennis (my heroes from Two Can Play), and a bunch of other new friends.  It turns out you only need one fully functioning leg and a good band (and at least one other person to keep you company) to have fun on a dance floor.  A couple of margaritas helps too…

Our former Shilshole neighbors Christy and Jason invited us over to Hello World on new year’s eve, and we got to meet new friends Julia and Jacob of Pisces and Naomi of Renova.  We were having such a good time that I think we were all surprised to find we’d actually managed to stay awake until midnight.   We toasted the new year and watched the fireworks going off all over La Paz from Hello World’s cockpit.

I’m extremely happy to report that my leg is doing much much better, so much so that I enjoyed a full day of shopping yesterday. Christy, Jason, Julia and I shared a cab and hit the local Home Depot, Wal-Mart, and Sam’s Club (thanks Julia!) while K went off to search the local butchers for goat. 

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Later we all gathered aboard Khamseen and enjoyed the amazing feast K whipped up of goat makloobi, hummus, salad, and even a chocolate pie.

La Paz and the people here have been very good to us, but the effects of all this lounging and feasting are beginning to show on my waistline.  So with my leg nearly healed we’re starting to plan our next exit.  This will be our third time leaving; we’ll see if we can achieve escape velocity this time.

24°09.93′N 110°19.52′W 3-Jan-10 16:00 PST