What a long, strange summer it’s been…and it’s only mid-July! How are you dealing with the COVID-craziness, protests, rallies, and summer heatwaves? We hope you are staying WELL.
We are still “Sheltering in Paraiso“, hunkered down in Barra de Navidad, about 150 miles south of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We arrived here in late February, thinking we’d only stay a couple of weeks before sailing north to the Sea of Cortez for the summer. But of course, COVID-19 had other plans in store. A few days after we arrived, the Port Captains closed the ports around Mexico and no one could travel, so here we still are five months later… We are now (we think?) free to sail north. However, being the middle of Hurricane Season, we prefer to stay put, thanks just the same. The story from Port Captain to Port Captain changes by the day in the Sea of Cortez. So even if we left here, we could be denied entry once we got there. Not worth the risk. Much better to stay put in Paraiso!
This past spring and early summer we really enjoyed getting outdoors, hiking, birding, and loving nature. The flowers and flowering trees are amazing here, such a wide variety of colors and textures. And let’s not forget tree-ripened mangos and coconuts for the taking! Kirk has become quite proficient with his machete and whacking open the coconuts. One day we were looking online for the best way to open coconuts, and read about the “coconut apple”, have you ever heard of one? We hadn’t, but the very next day the coconut Kirk cracked open had a coconut apple inside it! Who knew?!
The Barra de Navidad area is apparently also a birder’s paradise and one of the top birding areas of Mexico. Heidi comes from a long line of birders on both sides of her family. Her maternal Grandpa “Oxy” was a consummate ornithologist involved with the California Audubon Society for decades. And her dad, Verne, has been an avid life-long naturalist and birder (and former National Park ranger). So it’s been really fun to bird “virtually” with him. We sent Verne a guide book of Mexican & Central American Birds, then when we’d go for our hikes and see a myriad of birds, we’d call him with our list and he could look them up in his book, to see what we’re seeing. Sadly our current camera equipment isn’t up to catching fast-fliting songbirds, so we don’t have any good photos of them ourselves.
While we were never really into birding in the states (other than the local seabirds and bald eagles we enjoyed watching), the vibrantly colored variety of birds here makes it much more fun to look at! So far we’ve seen white-faced ibis, golden-cheeked woodpeckers, orange-breasted bunting (see photo above, orange, yellow, turquoise, and lime green!), San Blas jays (imagine a neon-blue crow!), vermilion flycatchers (bright red), tropical parulas (neon green, yellow, and cobalt blue), blue grosbeaks (bright blue), varied buntings (bright purple and red), Western tanagers (bright yellow and orange), as well as lots of pelicans, one of our favorite birds.
These days, it is now much too hot for our daily hikes, and even kayaking has to be done very early in the morning or after dark, and even then it’s still pretty hot and humid. Plus, it can be buggy at those hours. And while COVID is the main thing on most people’s minds, let’s not forget that it’s Dengue Fever season in the tropics, and we really don’t want to get that either! So we try not to be outside during the “buggy hours.”
A few weeks ago we had an interesting new-to-us cruising experience. Maybe you heard about the recent big earthquake off the coast of Oaxaca? Well, for a brief 30-minutes we were under a direct Tsunami warning! A call went out on the VHF radio that Barra was in the Tsunami warning area and could be hit within the hour. We’ve honestly never had to deal with that before and didn’t have a game plan. Because our boat was having some work done on it and things were sort of torn apart, we were in no position to leave our slip within 30-minutes.
Several boats left the marina right away, and there was a lot of discussion on the VHF radio about what to do. We decided, like a few others, to grab our passports, boat papers, electronics, cash, the cats and some cat food, pack everything up and head for higher ground in the Isla de Navidad Hotel, on the hill. Heidi packed everything up in a waterproof backpack and we were just packing the cats into the cat carrier when the Tsunami Warning was called off. Phew! Dodged a bullet this time, but it made us think that we need to have a better plan in place for the future!
Did we mention it’s gotten HOT? 96° in the Shade HOT… Tropical storms form in the “Tropical Kitchen”, the ITCZ Monsoon zone of the Caribbean, Central America, and southern Mexico, making their way west, northwest, or north depending on surrounding weather patterns. To date, we’ve been graced with the spin-off of eight tropical storms, which is unusual to have so many together, so early in the season. However, other than some rain so far they have pretty much left Barra and the Sea of Cortez alone.
Fingers crossed that will continue, although the Eastern Pacific outlook isn’t great this year with NOAA predicting 11-18 named storms (this includes all Tropical Storms, 39-73 MPH winds, and Hurricanes, 74+ MPH winds), 5-10 Hurricanes, and 1-5 Major Hurricanes (Category 3 or higher.) NOAA gives the accuracy of this prediction a 70%, so of course, we never know what we’ll be dealt. Typically this area doesn’t start to see Tropical Storms or Hurricanes hit until August or September, but we check the constantly changing weather multiple times a day and we are ready to prep for a hurricane if we need to.
The biggest downside to the heat is we have not been exercising very much lately. We have all our groceries delivered, so we rarely even go into town or walk around. And it’s mostly too hot to be outside (at least for Heidi!) Kirk does trek to the laundry once a week wearing two backpacks as it’s too hot for Heidi to join him. Kirk has also braved the heat to do yoga a couple of times a week. Heidi has been opting for indoor workouts with weights, and a flash-back to Billy Blanks Tae-Bo workouts on YouTube! We have been out for a few night kayaks which have been great fun as well as great exercise. So we’re trying to kayak more often and looking for some good bioluminescence one of these nights soon.
Speaking of heat, we finally turned on our air conditioning unit for the first time in early July. Kirk spent several days tinkering with the engineering and layout of how it fits in the main hatch (like a square peg in a round hole!), getting it well insulated, and directing the airflow down into the salon so it would not get sucked right back out the AC unit. Part of his engineering was to hang a curtain between the salon and galley, keeping most of the cooler air in the main salon. We also keep the head door closed (it’s like a sauna in there, all we need is a bit of infrared light!)
After three days of his tireless work, We were able to drop the interior temperature from 89° at night down to about 81° at night… and last night it even cooled to 76°! That is running it 24/7. We’ve been a little bit nervous about our electric bill, but we got the rates from the marina office and if we’ve done our math right, it should only set us back about an extra $100+ a month to run the AC 24/7. Not too shabby, but with the AC and 5 fans running night and day, it’s very noisy in here. What? I said it’s NOISY IN HERE! LOL! Tosh does NOT like all the noise, but it doesn’t seem to bother Tikka too much.
Currently, there are about 15 cruising boats with people aboard staying here in Marina Isla de Navidad for the summer (including three “kid boats” all from Seattle!). It’s a nice community of people, most from the Pacific Northwest or Canada, a few from California, all helping each other out with boat projects, errands, etc. And we are Net Control (meaning we host the VHF Radio Net) three mornings a week on channel 22A, the Bara VHF Radio Cruisers Net.
For the non-sailors among you, most cruising communities have a local VHF Radio Net. Boats can check in each morning, ask for any project assistance, offer things to swap or trade ‘for coconuts’ (eg:” We have a kayak paddle ‘for coconuts’ if anyone is interested,” where ‘coconuts’ is a euphemism for pesos, as in most countries travelers aren’t allowed to “sell” things legally). Cruisers also organize errands and trips to town. So if one person has to go into town that day, they take orders for everyone else, helping to prevent as much exposure to COVID as possible, for example: “We’re going into town today to the following stores… if anyone needs anything from those stores, get back to us before noon with your order.”
Announcements are also made for local “services offered”, such as what band is playing at the local beach bar that night, or who’s having what type of special on their menu, etc. And there is a fun category called “Bay Watch” where people share what things they’ve seen locally in nature, like “we saw a sea turtle today” or “we saw a snake on the hiking trail, keep your eyes out.” And one of the most important features of the Cruiser’s VHF Radio Net is the daily Weather Report. Since Kirk has taken quite a few Weather courses from NOAA back in Seattle, he has a very good handle on weather forecasting and gives a detailed report three times a week.
In the new “crazy-normal” life we’re all living in now, there is also what has been dubbed the “After Net” VHF Radio Net on Channel 72A, which is all COVID-related news. This is on a separate VHF Radio Net after the main morning Net as there are some cruisers here who aren’t interested in COVID news and didn’t want to be bothered with any COVID-19 updates on the main morning Net. On the After Net, we discuss the latest news on wearing masks, potential medicines/vaccines, port closures from the Port Captains, openings/closings of beaches/pools/restaurants/hotels due to COVID numbers, and give the latest numbers of cases locally, as well as in the US and worldwide too. It’s also a space for anyone to share how they are feeling, both physically or emotionally during these strange times, as this isolation has been hard on a lot of people.
For those of you not keeping an eye on Mexico’s COVID numbers, it’s about as scary as the US these days. They are basically not testing people here unless they’ve had symptoms for at least a week, and then they have to get an OK from a doctor to be tested. So it’s estimated that the actual numbers are 10+ times the reported numbers of confirmed cases. Barra is on the border between the states of Jalisco and Colima, both of which are now in the RED Zone, with the highest numbers of cases in the country. However, within each state, they tally cases county by county, and some counties have few to no cases (see map above). Much like in the US, beaches, restaurants, and bars all opened up a few weeks ago… apparently that didn’t work so well here either! Doh! And this week the governor of Jalisco may be closing it all down again… wait and see.
Recently, there has been a cruiser’s BBQ once a week that many sailors go to. Unfortunately, from what we’ve seen, it’s sans masks, elbow to elbow around the picnic table, definitely not social distancing… We are just not game for unmasked close quarters, even outdoors. We’ve all heard about the family BBQs and birthday parties with mass spreaders… No thanks. We don’t like being hermits, but it beats the alternative.
However, we did social-distance to see the model boat regatta. Last week, 10-year-old Russel on s/v Arrow, from Seattle, made an announcement on the VHF Morning Net: “Notice of Race for a DIY Model Boat Regatta.” Race rules: all boats had to be hand-made, less than 1-meter long, and wind-powered. Race time: 1400 hours on Saturday. Everyone gathered at the small lagoon in front of the hotel to participate or watch the race.
The racecourse was a 300′ downwind run. The start line was at the west end of the small lagoon between the red nav light and the pin-end starting canon. The boats finished between the green nav light and the end of the last jetski on the beach. Boats that blew onto the beach could be swum back out to the racecourse to continue racing. Russel was declared the winner in his “Kon-Tiki” made of four 2-liter water bottle pontoons and a plastic bag for a sail. Kirk observed that Russel created the rules, his family ran the race, and he and his mom came in first and second. Hum…. no conflict of interest there? LOL! A fun time was had by all.
This past Sunday, we organized a beach cleanup to clean a stretch of beach across the lagoon from the marina that was an eyesore full of trash. With Hurricane season upon us, the next Tropical Storm or Hurricane would have tossed all that trash into the sea. No bueno! The marina donated extra-large heavy-duty garbage bags and we set out early in the morning before it got too hot. Ten cruisers from seven boats showed up to clean up. Many hands make light work! And in 90-minutes we had eight giant garbage bags full plus an empty plastic gasoline jug, and the garbage scows headed back to the marina dumpster. Kirk actually got paid ($20 pesos!) for his efforts… you never know what treasures you may find among the trash… We are grateful to all the cruisers who showed up to help!
Sadly, we’re not sure how long this beach will stay clean. Based on the stench and sight of fish guts, dead fish, and other detritus, that area appears to be where the fishermen hang out. And there’s not a lot of incentive locally to recycle or dispose of trash other than on the beach. So we may make this a monthly beach cleanup event in order to save the ocean from so much plastic. It’s heartbreaking.
We miss our friends and family and try not to think about how long it might be before we ever get back home again for a visit. We are grateful for Zoom and some fun Zoom get-togethers with family and friends. If you’d like to Zoom with us, please reach out and let us know, we’d love to see your face!
In the meantime, wash your hands, wear your masks, social distance, and stay WELL. Oh, and PLEASE do your part to help ensure EVERYONE has an opportunity to VOTE this year. Voter suppression is unconscionable and unconstitutional. Find out more here: https://www.aclu.org/news/civil-liberties/block-the-vote-voter-suppression-in-2020/. And stay SAFE.
Heidi & Kirk…
Tosh & Tikka are loving their cool AC boat and send kitty kisses too!