Dodging Hurricanes, part 2: Lightning, Blanca, and Carlos

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Like a sitting duck

A false sense of security overcame us after Hurricane Andres passed to the north.

Untroubled clouds puffed in the horizon. Light offshore wind groomed the powerful rivermouth waves. After surfing all morning, sore and sunburnt, we lounged under the village palapas and sipped coconut water.  Then in the afternoon, grey dark masses built over the distant landscape.

chacahua burraca bar

All seemed well during the mid-day break at “La Burraca Bar”

As we prepared our fish dinner aboard Aldebaran, stir frying vegetables and sauteeing the fish in soy-ginger sauce, a quiet expectation grew, like a mirror to the potential energy of the atmosphere.

The flat wetlands of Lagunas de Chacahua span towards the Cordillera Occidental, which is the dividing range between the coast and the higher valleys of Oaxaca City. The mountains brewed up the clouds seemingly from nowhere, and lightning began shooting down.

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Satellite image of the massive Lagunas de Chacahua wetland region.

Bolts zig zagged the sky in the evening after glow. They blasted down to the earth several miles inland. We counted the time between lightning and thunder: 20 seconds.  That means they were 4 miles away.

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How lightning is formed. If you hear thunder 5 seconds after lightning, it is 1 mile away. Source: Unknown.

The Mexican Bureau of Meterology had forecast : “alta actividad electrica”. As it turns out, Hurricane Andres was spitting out tropical disturbances which didn’t show up in wind maps. We may have dodged its track, but Andres was getting the last laugh.

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The Acapulco marina gave us this forecast on May 27. We decided to keep heading south, overnighting to Chacahua.

Lightning was getting closer. We counted 10 seconds until we heard thunder — meaning it was now only 2 miles away. The dark village on shore flashes in strobe-like silhouettes. Anchored with our 45 foot mast sticking out of the ocean like a lightning rod, pathetically vulnerable, we watch and wait.

Boooomm!!   4 seconds away, means lightning is less than 1 mile away. Bolts pierce the sky, horizontally, vertically. I shut off the boat’s electrical system. Who knows if that actually helps but I’ve heard it’s worth a try. Our multi-colored solar-battery Lucy lights keep us company in the stifling, dead calm heat.

“Holy smokes,” someone says. Half second. Lightning is very close. No touching metal parts I remind everyone. The distant waves blaze in brightness with the flashes. The air is breathless, charged.

Craaaack!!!  It is right over us. The bolt reverberates like a cosmic door slamming directly above, blinding brightness. Out here on the ocean, exposed and unable to respond, we feel as out of control as we ever have on the ocean. There’s simply nothing to do.

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Lightning brings out momentary boldness — then everyone hunkers down in the cabin scared as heck when it gets too close!

It continues for the longest time, blasting all around us. A general feeling of impotence pervades; which breeds calmness. Eventually we go to sleep despite the muggy heat and adrenaline.

At 3am, I felt rain drops on my face. “Hum, that’s odd,” I wonder. “I thought the hatch was closed.” The loud fans we recently installed drown out any sounds. The boat, I notice, is pitching and swaying more than usual.

I open the hatch and a gust of wind stings my face with raindrops. “Geezz…!” is all I can say. I put on foul weather gear, the adrenaline building. Sabrina stirs in bed, asks, ” whats going on?” I respond, “Squall…”

The rain saturates the pitch black, the wind howls and shakes the rigging. Our trimaran is exceptionally stable but even she is getting tossed around as the wind blows onshore 30knots, with building fetch. The nighttime red lights from my headlamp gives the storm an eerie feel.

I sweep the cockpit clean and put away the dishes. If we need the move, the less stuff than can fall and break, the better. On our chart plotter, I record a waypoint- it tells me exactly how far the boat has moved, to indicate whether the anchor might be dragging.

I consider: if the anchor does drag, the next step will be to turn on the engine, motor at a 45degree angle to our chain, and drop the second anchor, a 35lb delta, which is ready to deploy at the bow roller. If it’s still dragging, we can put the motor into forward gear to help keep us in position.

It holds firm. Our over-size 66lb bruce anchor and 200ft of chain, considered too heavy by multi-hull sailors, seems pretty adequate right now… we want it all.The rain belts down hard with stinging wind, but by 5:30am, with breaking tinges of sunrise grey, the wind backs down, and turns glassy by 8am.

chacahua lineup sab watching ry

Sabrina watches from the breakwater – she wanted no part of the “Bucking Bronco”!

What else were we to do?  We went surfing. With stiff offshore wind, which cleaned up the waves remarkably well, we went back out as if nothing had happened. Trading waves, steering around huge backwashes of the “Bucking Bronco”, as we nicknamed the wave, we blew the pent-up energy from the intense night with our aquatic exercise.

What’s happening out there, I wondered. The next weather check, as we were motoring overnight to Mazunte and picked up cel signal, was both uplifting and demoralizing.

Blanca swell and track

Uplifting.. because on the heels of Andres, another storm was building (to-be Hurricane Blanca), which was going to miss us completely because we had made the push to go south. Relief!

Demoralizing… because on the heels of Blanca was a third depression  (to-be Hurricane Carlos) was moving north straight towards Huatulco, our destination.  Bummer.

Carlos heat image schedule

Category 1 Hurricane Carlos skirting the coast of Mexico. The tropical depression originated off the coast of El Salvador and tracked north towards Huatulco before veering north west beginning of June. Source: Weather Nation.

Carlos was extremely slow moving, and we spent a few days anchored in glassy calm of Mazunte before hunkering down in Huatulco for the storm. Two days before landfall, the storm veered north-west, out towards open ocean, as most storms do in this part of the coast. Buckets of rain came down for five days, but since we were on the periphery of the storm’s path, there was minimal wind.

Carlos prediction landfall

So much for the dry season!  This El Niño wet season had just begun with a serious bang. We had simultaneously weathered our first lightning storm and squall. It motivated us to study the statistics and protection systems for lightning; which ultimately persuaded us to change our plans further south.

Given Huatulco’s clear historical record and tucked-in marina, we felt very safe. We spent 3 weeks in cozy Marina Chahue and nearby eastern points, hosting our co-op members like the Hope Family with 3 year old Tessa, the San Francisco duo of Deena and Cristina, and Seattle-lites Dan and Sam. By the end of June, we were eyeing the weather to make our transit across the infamous Gulf of Tehuantepec, enroute to Chiapas.

Dodging Hurricanes, part 1: Zihuatanejo, Andres

US history and 2015 storms

We broke two important rules of cruising… at the same time.

Rule number one: “don’t cruise during the rainy season”.

Hurricanes, rain deluges, floating logs, and intense lightning are some of the hazards that keep nearly all cruising sailboats in port during the wet season. We headed south from Santa Barbara on March 26, and hurricane season runs mid-May to mid-November.

Rule number two: “don’t keep a schedule”.

Weather trumps all in sailing. If the winds are bad, wait. If the winds are good, go. Having a schedule can prevent sailors from following that time-honored wisdom. Furthermore, that’s why it’s called cruising… sailors don’t want a schedule during their vacation.

But this really isn’t exactly a vacation…

The Green Coconut Run was crowd-funded by almost 40 friends and fellow ocean lovers, banking time on coming aboard; people back home needed a schedule, and we would do our best to make it happen.

What is the “conventional” way to cruise?  The majority of sailors on cruising boats are either retired in their 60s, or are young with small boats. Neither of those models would give us what we wanted – a boat capable of taking us to remote dive sites and surf breaks throughout the whole Pacific, while we were still young with minimal money in the bank!

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To pull off a scheduled approach on the edge of hurricane season (that timeline being unfortunately the same as prime surf season) required both bravado and naivety – both qualities that the “surfer-sailor” has in abundant supply.

Logic helps us feel better about our decisions. We analyzed historical storm statistics and determined that most near-shore hurricanes occurred in August-October. If we arrived in Huatulco, which is far south-east of most storms, by early June, we should be fine, right?

That simplistic assumption was now being questioned as Aldebaran’s crew sat in a sweaty taco shop in Zihuatanejo looking at the computer models for the 5 day weather forecast. With great apprehension, we saw the animation on PassageWeather.com of satellite images showing the swirls of a tropical depression forming offshore, with potential to turn into a nasty storm.

5 day forecast with ports

This is the 5 day wind forecast that we saw while at the sweaty taco shop in Zihuatanejo.

That disturbance would become Cat 4 Hurricane Andres, only the 6th hurricane to form in mid-May on record. Strong south-east winds were forecast in 2-3 days to plague the coastline… even if the hurricane stayed offshore.

Was there enough time to get south, away from the mayhem before the beast found its strength?  It would theoretically go away from the coast, as most storms do in the Eastern Pacific.

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Michael (front) and fisherman friend in Zihuat, who insisted that there would be no storm, “it hasn’t even rained yet this year!” We went with NOAA’s opinion on the matter.

We calculated our transit times from Zihuatanejo to Huatulco, in southern Mexico. If we hustled, we would get far enough south (and east, because that is how the coastline bends) to avoid the storm’s effects. If we stayed, we might actually be in a worse position in a week. “Let’s go for it!” we decided.

In a show of cosmic support – as if to encourage our choice to push south – just 30min after we left Zihuatanejo, we had our greatest animal encounter yet. We hooked a fish… a BIG fish. The kind of fish that people spend years searching for on charter sport boats.

Serendipitously, it was exactly the two month celebration of the Green Coconut Run; it was May 26.

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He was little too big for our bellies. Time for catch and release!

A flash of blue shone as he crested the waves: “oh my God it’s a Marlin!” With disbelief, over the course of an hour, we pulled in a majestic Blue Marlin close to 8ft long (from eye to base of tail), possibly as much as 300 lbs.  We must have snagged him in some sensitive area, otherwise he would have broken our 30 pound test line in a flash. Michael described our small battle with the marlin in his blog post about fishing in Mainland Mexico.

After coming alongside the boat three times, the blue marlin took one last look at us, and with a slight wave of his noble bill, plunged back into the depths and finally broke our line. Even if we had the skill, here was an animal that we didn’t want to conquer; its power was in its living.

Dumbfounded, we laughed that such novice fishers like us lucked into such an encounter. We were ecstatic!  The powerful omen gave us confidence to sail through the night, ahead of the building tropical depression.

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Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning

The next morning in Acapulco, the sky showed signs of the developing low pressure system. Ominous winds were freshening when we stopped to re-fuel. We reviewed the Mexican government’s meteorological report: it painted a glum picture, with heavy lightning and strong SE winds in the forecast. The tropical storm was very far offshore, but it could turn towards the coast at anytime.

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The Acapulco Skyline. Just looking at it costs $$$. Everything was expensive including the uncomfortably warm swimming pool. Storm or not, after a few hours we were back on the move! 

There would be no harbor protection for 250 nautical miles… which equates to 2 nights underway. A lot could happen in that time frame. Yet, our intuition was that Huatulco would be safer, if we made it there.

Who could we ask for an opinion? Sailors were mostly parked for the season. Fishermen live day by day. Port authorities recited the official report. Our research and weather forecasts were as good as anything, I figured.

 “Keep going!” we decided.

After motoring through the night in lumpy seas and variable winds, we arrived in the state of Oaxaca. Our gamble paid off — conditions were improving the further east we went. Using our cel phone internet, the weather update showed that Tropical Storm Andres was beginning to whip 25 knot south east winds around Acalpuco, and the storm center was now past us to the north.

chacahua wave

Both the lighthouse and the wave are attractive navigational aids for Aldebaran. 

What a relief!  Were we in the clear?

We celebrated with a stop at the gorgeous Lagunas de Chacahua. We surfed the “bucking bronco” at the rivermouth, which was crazy with its backwash but mighty fun. The estuary is beautiful, and we enjoyed drinking coconuts from the beach vendors with no tourists around.

That decision to stay wasn’t without its repercussions, though!  It gave us our first real scare of the trip, as relayed in the next part of this story.

chacahua aldebran

The “bucking bronco” was challenging to surf because of intense backwash, which was probably why nobody else was there. Ah.. and the lightning storm in the forecast, that’s right, I forgot about that!

One Big, Happy Family

By Guest Crew: Keri, Bryan, and Tessa Hope

One Big Happy Family

Boating isn’t ALL work and wave-hunting. Here we are building sand castles!

Hello, fellow Green Coconut enthusiasts! We are Keri, Bryan, and Tessa Hope, a family of ocean- and adventure-loving souls. We joined the Aldebaran cooperative to be a small part of something bigger than ourselves—exploration, raw exposure to the elements, and once-in-a-lifetime travels with old friends and new.

Satellite image of Huatulco's harbor, Marina Chahue (green circle). Happy family explored the coast just east for 5 days. For the interactive map, check the Google map and click on "Huatulco"

Satellite image of Huatulco’s harbor, Marina Chahue (green circle). Happy family explored the coast just east for 5 days. For the interactive map, check the Google map and click on “Huatulco” on the left menu .

We have been lucky to experience all of these things, whether first-hand at sea or indirectly through the shared stoke of the blog posts, youtube videos, and borderline-obsessive checks of the spot tracker (we can’t be the only ones, right?). Here is our rendition of 6 days spent bobbing along the wind-chopped coast of Eastern Oaxaca with the Aldebaran family in early June of 2015.

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The cockpit of Aldebaran… Tessa was a natural at the helm, even though she couldn’t see over the dashboard 😉

Bryan: What a trip, 2 weeks in Oaxaca –oneth by land and oneth by sea! I’ve been eyeing this coastline of Mexico since Google has been providing satellite images for map geeks like me. The multitude of right hand points with wrapping waves is visible even from space. If you’re a surfer, you’ve certainly seen the footage of experts ripping one of the many right-hand, sand-bottom, warm-water waves. And to explore this paradise with family and friends by sailboat, my expectations were understandably high.

its all flippers and fun for Tessa!

Tessa trying out her aquatic footwear.

In the weeks leading up to the trip, we started getting nervous about how our 3-year-old daughter, Tessa, would handle our time at sea. We counted the days with excitement and enthusiasm despite having a healthy amount of fear about how badly it might go, subjecting our hosting friends to the potential tantrums with nowhere to escape. Like the dread of a child freaking out in the back of the plane on a long flight, this could have been a 6-day nightmare. But it wasn’t.

Warm tropical waters...what a treat!

Warm tropical waters…what a treat!

Keri: We hopped aboard the Aldebaran amidst loud greetings from the salty crew. Immediately, we set to work getting the boat ready for departure. Tessa dove into her assigned task, preparing the eggs for preservation at sea— dip in vinegar, then water, dry, be sure not to crack any! She had been successfully initiated into boat life– all work and all fun.

“we caught a mahi mahi!” exclaimed Tessa

Bryan: Tessa quickly found her groove on the boat. Kristian, Sabrina, Ryan, and Michael welcomed us with open arms and we instantly felt part of a tight family, one that engages in mandatory morning hugs. I thought things might get tough with Tessa in those hours of down time that travel provides, requiring one to be still and think. At home, there are the distractions of play kitchens, the LeapPad (don’t think we didn’t bring it), and a multitude of toys. As it turned out, more quiet time was what the whole family, especially Tessa, needed as part of our vacation from the norm.

leappad

oh how we all love the Leap Pad!

Keri: We surfed, we swam, and we fished our way along a mostly empty coastline. Most magical were those morning and evening surfing, hooting, and “squiggling” sessions when absolutely no one was around but the crew and maybe a lone fisherman leading his horse around the point.

Bryan on the SUP, enjoying solitude and amazing scenery

Less magical was a local, burly “surf tour guide” who told Bryan, in no uncertain terms, that a particular wave we encountered was for guided surfers only. A mere $100 could buy us his guide services, and allow us to surf this little wave. No thanks, we all decided, as more beauty and better vibes were waiting for our happy-go-lucky crew elsewhere.

Ladies party wave!!

Ladies party wave!! Loving the lighthouse spot!

Bryan: I had just come off the busiest wine tour month in 8 years in business. In conjunction with the hopefully short-lived fad of the dad bod, I had little motivation or time to prepare physically for the trip. I expected to have my ass handed to me at least once, but it never happened. The waves were small and soft, but consistent. The new shortboard came out only a couple of times as I usually opted for one of the many larger boards that make up the boat’s extensive quiver. The size did make for a user-friendly experience for anyone wanting to get relief from the heat. Point after point, you could see the potential, and it was just a matter of being there on the right swell when the stars aligned.

Keri: Maybe they weren’t the classic tubes that Bryan was hoping for, but when I dream about waves, these are exactly the type of waves that I dream about! Super long, playful, really fun and easy, waist to shoulder high. Perfect for squiggling, as Sabrina would say…

Keri and Bryan tandem surfing at the lighthouse

The Hopes tandem surfing at the lighthouse… riding “Big Blue”, a 12ft soft top board they used to own, which now lives aboard Aldebaran.

Michael ripping it up and having fun!

Michael in the early morning light

Keri: For those considering sailing with small children, we found that the persistent lulls of the ocean were perfect for inducing long naps and heavy nighttime sleep. All that quality shuteye gave Tessa the energy to chase Sabrina’s awesomeness, collect water samples with Uncle Ryan while pretending to be a pirate, scan for fish with dad and Uncle Michael, and learn the best jumping-off point from the boat (next to the ladder, in her opinion), all under the watchful eye of the competent Captain Kristian. I’m sure there were moments when those onboard were ready to make Tessa walk the plank; I know I was. But she gifted us with smiles and squeals of “Best. Day. Ever!!!” on more than one occasion during our time at sea.

Uncle Ry and Tessa just before retreating from the incoming squall

Uncle Ry and Tessa surveying the incoming squall… we retreated to Huatulco’s marina shortly after!

Bryan: All in all, it was an amazing trip. Seeing how this seaworthy group fulfills their daily needs is infectious. The effects of their healthy lifestyle are evident, motivating me to think about how I might return with the priority of better balance.

Keri: I was blown away by the culinary routines of the crew. In their tiny kitchen, they marinate their freshly caught fish, bake focaccia bread from scratch deriving yeast from the salty sea air (nope, not kidding), and make their own yogurt, creating unbelievably healthy and delicious meals based mainly around the offerings of the sea.

Tessa gobbled up the sashimi, even claiming the last piece!

Tessa gobbled up the sashimi, even claiming the last piece!

Keri: We do not come close to eating this well on land, truth be told, but watching their efforts to collect, prepare, and share food to such high standards has made a lasting mark on our own food rituals. Foods that might have gone untouched by Tessa at home were devoured, perhaps as a result of her participation in their aptly coined “hook-to-fork” food prep. As I write this, it has been almost 2 months since we’ve been back from the trip, and just yesterday, she said, “I don’t like fish. Oh yeah, we ate fish on the boat. I do like fish.” YES!

Bryan: Somewhere along our journey, our daughter transitioned from less of a 3-year-old to more of a 4-year-old– hopefully a trip she’ll never forget. Thank you to the crew and my wife for helping to instill in her a sense of adventure and the idea that anything, like sailing around the world, is possible. Until we join you on the next leg…cheers!

goodbye group

From all of the Hope Family–Thanks for the ride, guys. Best. Trip. Ever!!!

Finding the Light: Punta Mita to Zihuatanejo, part 2

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Finding inner bliss in a Coke cooler.

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Is this a painting? We actually lived in this dreamland for 3 days. Alas, the Light sometimes emerges only after Darkness falls.

by Guest Crew, Pierre Littée & Lianna Giancola

In no time we arrived at Isla de las Corales, between Chacala and Punta Mita, where we paddled to visit the only inhabitant on shore, a ranchero. We were told not to venture too far because of the snakes.  “Are they venomous?” we asked.  “There are snakes!” retorted the ranchero, emphatically. We stayed close to the beach.

Returning to the boat, Lianna stepped from her Stand Up Paddleboard which was attached port-side to Aldebarán. Despite being her first time on a SUP, she confidently boarded with adventure alive in her arteries.  My entrance onboard would be less graceful, and put an exclamatory cap to the first day at sea.

As I attempted to board, my legally impaired eyes were slightly distracted by the beauty and truth of the moment, and I lost my grip and footing. I sputtered and fell back overboard into the ocean, directly onto a stinging jellyfish– or so I thought.

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Aldebaran anchored off Isla Corales on Day 1, the location of Pierre’s injury.

“You might as well use the ladder!” said Sabrina.

“Holy Mackerel!  Jellies!!!” I called back in pain.

A little annoyed at learning about the ladder after-the-fact, I climbed onboard the ship, greeted by the shocked stare of the other crew members. I followed everyone’s gaze downward and saw that  the sting of pain wasn’t just a jellyfish: I was bleeding heavily from a very deep stab on my left shin. The sight of one’s own blood can make some people woozy, shocked, or curious; I was dumbfounded. The gash was down to the bone and would need stitches. What a fluke– I must have snagged my flesh on the edge of the lifeline hardware.

Would we have to go to the hospital, cancel the trip, or would I get sewn up with fishing line in this moment of desperation? Was I the sacrifice for the Great Bull in the Sky?

pierre cockpit

Shortly after ripping my leg open, I consider the Buddha’s eight fold path.

Leave it to my sister, Nurse Sabrina.  The moment she saw the severe nature of the injury, she descended into the galley, ripped off her rash guard, revealed her “Go with the Flo” nursing shirt, tied her RN cape tightly around her shoulders, and flew to my rescue with a suture kit attached to her utility belt. 

With great professionalism, Sabrina said: “Pierre, the bad news is that you’ll be at very high risk of infection and won’t be able to get into the ocean for at least a week, to reduce threat to loss of limb and life.”

“Well, what in Popeye’s name is the good news?!” 

“Don’t worry, I’ll stitch you up myself!” replied Sabrina.  I looked at her suspiciously and thought about all the terrible sibling pranks I had done to her during our upbringing: the time she got blamed for the alcohol I was stealing from our parents liquor cabinet… or how one time, they sent her to a therapist for allegedly lying because of contraband that I had placed in her sweatshirt pocket.  Uh-oh, now it was all going to bite me in the butt.

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Unable to enter the water in the heat of the tropics? We all have a cross to bear.

“Don’t worry, my dear brother. I’ve done this hundreds of times,” Sabrina said with a twinkle in her eye.  As the sun set and the first constellations began to appear in the darkness above, the crew of the Green Coconut Run prepared the cockpit as an impromptu operating room.  Surgical equipment was sterilized by the lighter, Lianna held the flashlight,  Youtube videos were reviewed on the art of self-suture.

After applying local anesthesia, Sabrina did 4 stitches. Ryan offered to do 1 stitch. I said what the hell, and did 1 stitch as well. An hour of squeezing my flesh shut later, Sabrina laughed and said, “Ok you’re all stitched up! Oh, and I forgot to mention, you’re the first human I’ve ever done this on, bro!”

Realizing that I was officially dry docked, Kristian suggested we head to Punta Mita, where he had a friend with a beach house. This idea pleased all, who hadn’t seen fresh sheets, mattresses or a shower head with pressure in more than 50 days.

casa front view

Casa Selvatica, a for-rental beach home in Punta Mita, was very generously lent to us for a 3 day stay, an immense blessing for our rest & recuperation.

That night we each learned how to pilot the boat.  With the stars and the compass, our existence was tied to the whole history of the globe, as this little boat crossed the ocean’s expanse like so many before. The night sky enveloped me and my sorrows in a cushion of compassion.

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Lianna fulfilling a dream… catching and filleting her first tuna enroute to Punta Mita.

The morning began with the “zing-zing!” of the fishing line: to catch and prepare our own fresh fish. How exciting to reel in a silvery tuna! How amazing it feels to gut and fillet our fish, like age-old hunter-gatherers, finding in Nature our sustenance to carry us through the day!  The darkness of our injuries and memories faded in the exhilaration of that primal moment.

The delightful rollercoaster of life continued: before the end of that day, we were lodged in a most luxurious beach villa. Casa Selvatica was on the sand in front of the “Burros” surfbreak. A friend of Kristian’s was exceptionally generous and offered us wonderful headquarters for a few days. We spent a few delicious days recuperating and re-energizing ourselves on terra firma. Like a dreamscape, we felt the ebb of reality escape… Casa Selvatica isn’t something that happens in “real life”.  

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The million dollar view from Casa Selvatica.

Crew Casa Selvatica

I was pleased to give the crew an excuse to have some mandatory shore leave.

I watched with envy the great waves being surfed straight out front.  Damn my clumsy mistake! I thought. The dismay I felt was like an ugly zit. However, the threat of depression was wrestled down by the intense gratitude for our fortune — the wonder we felt for Life in this exotic place was overwhelming my personal dramas.

That evening, the haze of adult libations masked the throb of my leg. We determined to depart the next day. In our relaxed state, Ryan and Michael revealed their deepest wishes; to surf a spot in a secret island, which was illegal to visit.  We nodded enthusiastically at the prospect of adventure — I wasn’t about to let me injury keep us from the glory of illicit discoveries!

In the soft glow of the bungalow coconut lights, a fantasy-filled gleam was taking form in the eyes of the crew. Maybe that island, clouded in its aura of mystique, would help me snap out of my funk. Or would we get in trouble, as the captain warned was possible?

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The captain’s grin was unmistakeable: this is what he lived for.

Days later we arrived at the secret island. We saw it in the horizon, and the federales were nowhere to be seen. As soon as we found the infamous wave, Michael jumped in and paddled into the surf zone. He turned and charged as the first wave came towards him. He took off, zipped across the face, and after the wave barreled he came out the end hollering with pure stoke, pumping his fists in the air.

“We have a double fist pump, ladies and gentlemen!!” exclaimed Kristian in a tone I had not heard before, and in a flash he was overboard, paddling towards the lineup.  Ryan was right behind him.

Two days of perfect waves on a secret island just with my friends. When the Light is found, it shines bright.

Two days of perfect waves on a secret island with just my friends. When the Light shines, it shines bright.

 “Are you going snorkeling?” I asked Lianna. At first she shook here head.  She felt scared to go into such a powerful ocean. Sabrina said she would accompany her with the boogie board as a flotation device… I offered encouragement: “We are here to experience new things, right?” Lianna consented after some deliberation.

As the ladies suited up, I went down below to the galley. With the smell of banana bread baking in the oven, hearing the crashing waves, the shouts of joy from the surfing crew, the girls digging in the dive locker for their gear, I suddenly felt… terribly alone.

The feeling of loneliness is the most common reason for depression. Through whatever means we have — business, gambling, religion, alcohol, sex, or sports — we try to forget that we are truly alone, truly fragile and mortal.  For me, surfing is the most healthy escape from that feeling. Ironically, the fear of infection was paralyzing me from overcoming my fear of loneliness. Fear begets fear, and morale crumbles.

I sat on the edge of my cot, and looked down at the cut on my leg, which was oozing and trying to heal through the collaborative stitching.  How could I keep it from being wet, and risk an infection that could compromise our trip? The hot humidity slapped me in the face, as I knew the best escape was the cool ocean outside, which I was unpermitted to enter.  I felt ashamed and distant.  Tears fell from my eyes… I cried while the men surfed.  I had given up and couldn’t bear the humiliation.

Did I have to hit rock bottom, so I might claw back up with wild, crazy determination? Was this the secret to finding the Light?  

The two women who I cared so much about appeared in the galley, and tried to comfort me as best they could.  But I was clawing out of a deep hole, irrational, insensible.  I didn’t care anymore.  I was willing to risk it.  I needed to go into the ocean, and put aside my Rationality.  I needed to break the vicious cycle that kept me in the dumps.

I grabbed duct tape to seal my leg. My sister stopped me immediately— I was out of mind, she said.  I looked at Sabrina, and seeing her standing there, surrounded by this incredible voyage that she had created, made me more proud of her than ever before.  Turning to Lianna, remembering the moment during our first date when she got the call informing she had just lost her only brother, made me bite my lip in the pain of love. I told them both that I loved them, and that I needed to do this. I was going in the water.

Here is our route from Punta Mita to Zihuatanejo, covering over 400 nautical miles. Click here for the Google Map link.

Here is our route from Punta Mita to Zihuatanejo, covering over 400 nautical miles. Click here for the Google Map link.

Here was the beginning of the happily ever after– the turn from cry of failure, to resurrection of rejoice. It is testimony to the healing power of the ocean, to the healing power of a loving community of friends, to the magic of opening ourselves to adventure, and to the mystery of the unknown, that we left Mexico as entirely different people than when we arrived.

I’ll let the photos below tell the story of what transpired. It was one of the most remarkable series of events that I have ever experienced in my life… not all easy, but all mind-blowing.  I forced myself to stay open, exhale stale air from my mind, and bring fresh air to my heart. The ocean worked its magic by purifying my deepest wounds, and inspiring a courage to be whole again. In the kaleidoscopic combination of those experiences, the whole strength of the Pacific Ocean returned in the palm of my hand, all the way back to “real life” in the Bay Area, California, from where I write these recollections.

The wounds healed well, thanks to the waterproof bandages onboard Aldebaran. The scar remains, but over time, as all things, it too shall pass.

Ryan, Sabrina, and Pierre marvel at our first yellowfin tuna

Just before arriving in Chamela Bay, as if to flood us with the majesty of the ocean, we caught this gorgeous yellowfin tuna. It occured in the most unusual of ways: using a squid which had flown onto our deck and hit Sabrina on the back of the neck while eating dinner! The next morning, we baited the line, and 20 minutes later, landed this fish. It fed us for days with Ahi sashimi and sushi rolls; it made us value the gifts of the ocean like never before. Read more about the experience in this post. 

Four Arrows

Talk about overcoming adversity. Four Arrows has an incredible story. He is battling a difficult form of cancer and moved to Mexico, in order to get plenty of sunshine, coconut water, organic food, and warm Pacific Ocean for daily exercise. That is his regimen for health: find the best possible sun, water, food, and exercise. Now, he is helping to “crowdfund” a marine reserve in his local waters, a true inspiration. 

shark rudder and fish

After leaving Chamela Bay, 30 miles offshore, in the blue-est water I’ve ever seen, we encountered the “magic log”. It was simply a log floating in the ocean, but it had created a home for thousands of fish, dozens of small sharks, and countless turtles.

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Lianna and I were scared to enter the water at the Magic Log because of the sharks, but the crew in the water kept yelling “This is AMAZING!” We jumped in, with 5000 ft of water below the keel of the boat. This photo shows Captain Beadle 30 feet deep.

Pair of Turtles

For hours we stayed in this ocean “playground”, watching the fish nibble at turtle barnacles. It was a scene right out of Animal Heaven, and it was our own personal catharsis. By embracing the attitude of Stoke that we found at the secret island, incredible moments kept happening.

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The crew aboard the Green Coconut Run are like the best family one could ever wish for: hugging each other every morning, listening, playing, laughing, and sharing with respect the cozy quarters of Aldebaran. Having a supportive community is one of the keys to healing.

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Arriving in Zihuatanejo, dolphins played in our bow. We sat on the nets and watched their dance. They were leading us home, as if to say, “It’s all going to be OK. Stop worrying. Come play!”

Finding the Light: Chacala, part 1

by Guest Crew, Pierre Littée & Lianna Giancola

Pierre and Lianna in Chacala

“Meet us at the little concrete pier in Chacala on 1pm”, wrote my sister Sabrina through email.  The plans for rendezvous had changed twice already, but in Mexico you go with the flow.  A wise surfer and friend once told me: “You can’t rush Mexico”.  The clocks keeping time in Grand Central Terminal in NY would have frozen with jealousy had they seen how impeccable the Green Coconut Run runs.  This photo was taken as the Aldebarán is anchoring, 13 hundred hours.

It’s quite remarkable being on a boat in the the Pacific with no clue or care.  It’s even more incredible that I was able to have Lianna join me on this adventure.  

So that the reader may understand who we are, please enjoy this little character background: 

Pierre: I am Sabrina’s older brother, though I often wonder if it’s not the other way around.  She had me join the Aldebaran Co-op upon my insistence on going beyond the horizon of Smallville, USA, to come lend a hand at sailing a leg or two of the Green Coconut Run.  I’d been tending a local bar for the last 5 years, barely keeping my head afloat while simultaneously trying to earn a teaching credential and assisting my mother in aiding my father’s medical conditions.  My life was nearly dreamless, practically predictable, routine and missing je ne sais quoi.  I had ended a long term relationship that was going nowhere, and was searching for meaning like others who look past the surface.  Soon I met Lianna, we started to date (I think), and before we knew it we were in Mexico aboard Aldebarán.

Lianna: I was born and raised in the Bay Area.  I moved all over Cali trying to find the perfect place.  A few years later moved back home.  Decided to go back to school. I attended Le Mélange Academy in the beautiful wine country (Napa). Shortly after getting my cosmetology license I was injured in an accident.  I started working in a couple of restaurants as a server and bartender.  Ended a relationship of 3 years and I met an incredible guy (Pierre).  One thing led to another…and then I lost my brother in a tragic car accident.  I became a lost soul and so confused about life. Pierre asked me to go to Mexico and 2 weeks later there we were in paradise.   

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You may be wondering… How did Pierre convince Lianna to go to Mexico on a sailing trip? Excellent question!

Perhaps this short skit will offer insight, see below.

{Begin Scene. Man is slightly awkward, but finds his stride quickly. Woman pretends to be non-chalant.}

Pierre: “Hey Lianna?”

Lianna: “Yessum?”

Pierre: “Will you go out with me?”

Lianna: “Yes.”

Pierre: “Cool!”

Lianna: “Where do you want to go for our date?”

Pierre: “How about Mexico?”

Lianna: “Sounds amazing.”

Pierre: (thinking to himself) KEEPER!!

Lianna: (thinking to herself) To be decided.

{Next Scene. One week later, Lianna is talking with her parents while packing her bag.}

Lianna: “Hey mom.  Hey dad.  I met this guy.  I don’t know much about him.  I kind of like him.  I’m going to go to Mexico with him. Yes, I said Mexico.  No, I don’t know where.  What are we going to do there?  Well, drink Coronas and hang out on the beach, for starters!  Sure, he easily could be taking me to Mexico to take advantage of me, for all I know! Just kidding…I hope.   Don’t worry…his sister is on a ship and started this new startup company with her boyfriend the captain.  It’s called the Pink Piña Colada I think.  It’s a sailboat… I think… surfing and fishing and stuff like that.  I know I’m afraid of the ocean!  Thanks for reminding me.  Rude!  Ciao!!  I mean Adios!!!”

{End of Act. Begin voyage on Green Coconut Run.}

———

Once upon a time…

in the realm of Astronomy, Aldebarán reigned high.  It was considered a royal star by the Persians, who believed the sky was divided into four districts, with each quarter of the sky guarded by a royal star. 

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Aldebarán was “the watcher in the East”. The others were Antares in the constellation Scorpio, the Western Royal Star; Fomalhaut in the constellation Pisces, the Southern Royal Star; and Regulus in the constellation Leo, the Northern Royal Star (see this Wikipedia link for background info)

The Jews called the star Aleph, meaning God’s Eye in Hebrew.  Aleph is also the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet, associating this star with knowledge.  As Christianity was born, this Royal star became associated with the Archangel Michael.  In Buddhism, Aldebarán is considered the Eye of Illumination, or Buddha’s star.orion and aldebaran

The root and meaning of Aldebaran’s name is Arabic (“the follower”) because it rises near the Pleiades (Seven Sisters). 

As the thirteenth brightest star in the night sky, Aldebarán is a red giant star that lives in the constellation of Taurus.  It is the fiery eye of the bull, whose constellation is one of the oldest in recorded history.  Through the ages Taurus has been associated with divinity and divine power. 

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Similar to the bullseye, Aldebarán is that Grand Prize, the Perfect Location, the most sought after goal, the Eye of Divinity and/or the Light in the Head.  Therefore, it couldn’t be more epic for my Lianna and I to be sitting comfortably in the quaint Mexican town of Chacala and see the mast of Aldebarán slowly enter the cove from the North while the sun was in transit through the constellation Taurus. 

Green Coconut crew for Nayarit, Mexico leg

Over-packed and under love’s spell from Mexico’s calming charm, we were about to come aboard the Green Coconut Run to search for the grand prize, to find “the Light” that shines freshness into our lives… what shape it would take, we didn’t yet know.

The moment we came aboard the beautiful trimaran we were greeted warmly by the crew, in the spirit of the co-op adventure that is the Green Coconut Run. I felt the mystique and magic of old-time maritime adventure envelope us like eagle’s wings.  The feeling of serendipity was a gentle hint to the incredible adventures that awaited us around the bend for the next 10 days. With stories and songs and tales to tell afterwards that even Peter Pan would find hard to conceive, we settled into the ship. 

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To appease Fate and Fortune, we came aboard bearing gifts.  Christmas came early for Aldebarán as we unloaded the duffel bag replete with new oil filters, o-rings, space bags, and tupperware.  For the crew we distributed dried fruit, Cajun spices, breakfast goodies, a bottle of tequila and one pound chocolate bars. 

The true “golden ticket” was Lianna herself.  The sailors hadn’t seen another woman aside from my sister since the last moon cycle and some, and therefore her presence was palpable to seeing a mermaid.  Smiling from ear to ear, Michael and Ryan flexed muscles and hoisted anchor.

Kristian set Aldebarán’s bow South, and as a Mother’s Day sun slowly made its journey over the Pacific, Sabrina steered us out of view from land.

….and so began our 12 day ocean adventure, where we went into a deep, dark tunnel before Finding the Light, and finally saying “this is absolutely awesome” more times than I ever had in my life. 

Scoring City Waves and Boobies (Blue ones): Mazatlan to Isla Isabel

Mazatlan's waves were a very pleasant surprise

Captain was looking forward to Sinaloa’s lefthanders, but he was happy on this backside ride.

“I’m going to stay on the boat,” sighed Kristian, as we loaded the skiff to surf. Fifteen foot swells jerked violently at the anchor snubber. We were 1.5 miles offshore but the depth sounder still read 30ft. Huge rolling swells whipped Aldebaran around like a toy.

We had just finished a 2 night crossing of the Sea of Cortez, complete with a fantastic show of spinner dolphins doing tricks over the azure blue water. Strong seas had blown out one of our beloved nets, which gave the boat a battle-worn, haggard appearance. To top it off, early May’s so-called “Platinum Swell”, one of the largest of the year, greeted us at Sinaloa’s famed left points. Scanning the horizon, Ryan lamented, “Looks big and unruly.”

While the captain looked after the mother ship, we took our trusty inflatable, Lunabel, to the inside of the point. It didn’t take long before a rogue swell pulled Lunabel’s anchor and we almost lost her as she drifted helplessly towards the shore pound!  We frantically paddled back and called it quits on surfing.

After an anxiety ridden night in Barra de Piaxtla, which under those conditions felt like a washing machine on super cycle, we sailed to the city of Mazatlan. We had to deliver Eric and Brian, our diving buddies with whom we had just shared an amazing 10 days in the famous islands of the Sea of Cortez.   

Mazatlan at night

Mazatlan at night

With the moon high over the grand Pacific and crowds promenading on the malecon (waterfront boardwalk), we danced in the back of the taxi pickup truck, and marveled at being in a city after a couple weeks of ocean wilderness. We had given up on surfing this historic swell… but the next day we had the most unexpected surprise…

Kristian woke us up early with uncharacteristic excitement. You see, the captain is notorious for dismissing all but the best conditions.  His late night research had revealed an amazing wave which only breaks every blue moon, accessed by boat.  

The “rare bird” decided to smile for us. It was a perfect, powerful righthand reef peeling off a picturesque island.  Only one surfer was out and we surfed the best waves of our trip for six hours that day… with only a few urchin spines to remove from our feet. With a city of half a million people, we couldn’t believe we were getting these waves mostly alone. The hoots of stoke were sweet song to our ears, redeeming our Herculean anchoring efforts during the last few days.

Kristian usually rides 80's boards, but put him on a potato chip shortboard and an orange wetsuit and he'll do his best pro impression

Kristian usually rides 80’s boards, but put him on a potato chip shortboard and an orange wetsuit and he’ll do his best pro impression

The next day it was gone… the rare bird shone for 24hrs. We worked hard on Aldebaran, installing temporary replacements for the net that blew out in the passage. Filling propane tanks required three different visits – nobody had American valve connections – but eventually a screw driver got the job done.  Filling diesel was also a task, as it was unavailable in Old Town harbor; we motored an hour north to Marina El Cid and struggled with the crowded dock.

We were preparing for an overnight passage to a remote island 60nm south. Isla Isabel, known as the Galapagos of Mexico. It is a square mile volcanic island in a National Park, with stories of crazy birds, bountiful fish, and amazing craggy views.

A river of birds continually circled Isla Isabel

A river of birds continually circled Isla Isabel

Approaching in a musky grey sunrise, rivers of birds flew through the sky. They never ceased the entire time we were in Isla Isabel.  We jumped in the water to freedive a half submerged crater islet, reminiscent of Molokini crater on Maui, where we encountered a phenomenal underwater world. Around the crater swam an endless number of fish, probably the most complete marine ecosystem we’d found so far on our voyage: from huge schools fish of reef fish to large predatory Jacks skittishly eyeing us. 

Isabel underwater magic

Isabel underwater magic

The island is open to fishing and the spearfishing was excellent. Everyone got out of the water except Ryan, who then had a magical encounter with a friendly whale shark, which rubbed its body on his before swimming away.

We each shot a hefty Jack and our freezer was packed with fish!

The boys each shot a hefty Jack and our freezer was packed with fish!

That night, we anchored in the lee of bizzare offshore rocks called Las Moñas. White sand beach spilled into a gorgeous cove with fantastic snorkeling in shallow water. On shore, vast numbers of blue footed boobies nested in scrubby underbrush.

Las Monas at sunset, truly a magical place

Las Monas at sunset, truly a magical place

We anchored next in the southern cove, and SCUBA dove along an underwater cliff pockmarked with caves. Here were by far the largest eels we’d ever seen — with the girth of a human being, but twice as long, they looked like dragons, receding into their underwater caves.

Wondering, “what next??”, we paddled our SUPs to the main fishing camp on shore.  A short walk revealed a crater lake.

The crater lake at Isabel

The crater lake at Isabel

A gigantic colony of frigate birds was the next jaw-dropper. They nested in trees as prolifically as salmon running up a narrow Alaskan river. Iguanas crawled along the paths in the derelict national park center, evidently abandoned for some time.

Isla Isabel protects the largest population of nesting Frigate birds in Mexico

Isla Isabel protects the largest population of nesting frigate birds in Mexico

We climbed past the iguanas and frigate birds to climb to the lighthouse, where a panoramic view swept 360 degrees. Waves crashed on the west side of the island, its wild, windy side; separated by a thin ridge of land, Aldebaran bobbed peacefully in the east side, the smooth, lee side.

Kristian and some boobies

Kristian and some boobies

On the hill top, we found more boobies!  Here were lime green footed boobies, with more slender necks, sharing the territory with their blue footed cousins. They clucked angrily and refused to move if we approached their nests, which were directly on the ground. It was hard to pull ourselves away from this magical place, which had an aura of the Jurassic era.

Michael ponders a lime green footed booby

Michael ponders a lime green footed booby

We eventually left because the odor of bird poop got the best of us. It reminded us of our anchorage at Mazatlan, which got potent wafts from the sewage treatment plant with the afternoon seabreeze — another reason we wanted to keep moving.

Iguanas abounded

Iguanas abounded

Aldebaran sailed south of Isla Isabel late that afternoon, heading back for the mainland and the waves of Chacala on the coast of Nayarit. The late-night, graveyard shifts went by smoothly — we had learned to download new podcasts in advance, like TED, This American Life, and audiobooks, and time simply flew by! 

Dawn revealed strange shapes on the beach… “what are those things?” we wondered for some time.  “Trees!” someone cried. After a month and a half of cactus, we were finally in the land of trees, just around the corner from Puerto Vallarta.

Tropical lush-ness enveloped us. We thought about sitting on this beach for days, drinking coconut water, and relaxing in the spirit of mañana. But whispers of a mystical, forbidden island reached our ears… and we knew the Green Coconut Run must keep going.

Las Monas, where Blue Footed Boobies nest on white sand beaches

Las Monas, where Blue Footed Boobies nest on white sand beaches

The geographically rich Isla Isabel -- note the crater lake and the half-crater on the north side of the island, called Islote Pelon.

The geographically rich Isla Isabel — note the crater lake and the half-crater on the north side of the island, called Islote Pelon. For the Google Map link, click here and select “Isla Isabel” in the menu. 

Impressions from Matt, visiting crewmember

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I certainly wasn’t expecting to eat as well as wedid — every meal seems to be a production aboard Aldebaran

By Matt Hendren

Coming off a week and a half of constant movement, newness of friendship, exciting adventures, and bonding through challenges… it’s been hard trying to reintegrate into the world that doesn’t pitch and heave but moves non-stop.  Reflecting back on time with the Coco crew, I was amazed at how well everything came together, how well we functioned, and what camaraderie we created in such a short while.

I’d known Kristian and Sabrina for a couple months as their vessel eeked its way through the Ventura Boatyard.  There was a call for volunteers to help get things moving and so I showed up to lend a hand… after seeing that I had some real world skills to offer in building storage and shelves and getting things organized, Kristian asked me to put in more time.  I’d show up, work hours in cramped quarters, drinking warm C- (coors light), and dream about the voyages that would fill the spaces I was creating with memories.

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Organizing and cleaning the dive gear in Ensenada while waiting for our ship papers to clear

I instantly grew to respect Kristian’s gentle and trusting way, and Sabrina’s no-nonsense and whimsical  balance – great new friends.  As we finished up the last touches in Santa Barbara, and enjoyed the evening together at their launch party, Kristian off the cuff suggested I meet up with them in San Diego in a week and jump off somewhere down in Mexico later.  It was a question I’d fondled in my mind for months, but here it was … a plan that could happen.  I cleared it with work, with my family, and then just thought to myself, why shouldn’t I be doing this?

Sailing downwind was a real treat

Throwing caution to the wind, I loaded up diving fins, a conch shell, and attempted to ride my supposedly fixed motorcycle to San Diego.  With 4 battery charges and multiple push starts later, I joined the crew just as they were getting started on another 10pm session of boat organization and repair…  we’d intended to leave the next morning, but there was still hours of work ahead. And so it goes with Aldebaran – never a gentle task master.  Waking in the San Diego harbor, everything felt right about this and I was excited to be heading on another trip south of the border.

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Our first adventure on the skiff: diving a pinnacle 1 mile offshore in remote San Benito Island. No big deal!

I’d spent little time with Michael and Ryan, but here we were, getting real cozy, sleeping in rotating bunks, starting each morning with a hug.  It felt like I was just shoved into the middle of a new world where adapting and listening was crucial to sharing space, keeping peace, and embracing what life was offering me.  The crew had been together a week by the time I’d arrived, and had spend the last two years doing trips to the Channel Islands.  Though at times I could sense I might be an odd man out – lacking some experience in surfing and diving –I felt welcomed and celebrated from day one.

On a boat, there is nowhere to hide.  All the ugly non-zen feelings you have come out somewhere or somehow.  I wasn’t expecting to deal with my own ego on the boat, and really appreciated the patience people had with me learning to adapt with how life functions on a boat.  For example, that it’s tough to remember not to flush the toilet paper (despite multiple signs I know!)

Sabrina was on sanity patrol aboard the boat (making sure we were clean and tidy), and always down for adventures, including shore landings chock full of elephant seals.

There are lots of good ways to do things, but from day 1, I decided that I would make it my goal to fit in, accommodate, and try what was working before offering any suggestions for how our trip should go.  This attitude wound up working out great and I adapted to their systems and helped refine some things for the next guests who’d fill my shoes.

My expectations for the trip were few.  I’d expected to be pushed in water sports, see a nice beach or two, and spend lots of time on the boat.  Yes, all this and so much more … diving, surfing, paddle boarding… all relatively new experiences – to which I said, yes please, and drank from the firehose of life.

My last night on Aldebaran, we went to shore at Isla Natividad and were treated to lobsters at the island’s restaurant, aptly named “El Restaurante”. They asked us to pay for the beers only.

Cutting my surfing teeth at open doors, stand up/kneeling paddle boarding out around breaking reefs in the middle of the night, free diving on a pinnacle in the middle of the ocean floor… It took courage and trust to try new things in new ways, but coming away from the experience I learned to trust myself a little more, keep my head down when the boom is coming through, and gained some great memories with new friends.

Looking back, I feel like more than just learning and the adventure I took with me, I felt like I was really able to contribute and share the journey. Manning the helm on overnight passages, teaching knots, installing last minute hatch closures… this was not the typical sign me up for a fun time and pay to have experiences.

No, it was a cooperative adventure – putting in work days on the boat, taking turns with all the chores, being one of the decision makers that helps chart the courses and group activities.  It was not only this, but the chance to see the work that I’d put into the boat really make life function there– that too was a satisfying, and what started off as unfamiliar waters with the Coco crew soon grew to include me as one of the family – miss you guys. 

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At Turtle Bay, where I got off Aldebaran, and began the journey overland north to San Diego, back to “real life”…

 

The Authentic Way of Mag Bay

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Punta Tosca: a burly and majestic place, but a marginal anchorage

“Whatever it is we are looking for – we found it!”  Aldebaran had spent three nights in the Bahia Magdalena area; we were exhausted and euphoric.

Searching for surf and diving in remote places is not everyone’s cup of tea. The cruising book reads: “Shifting shoals, very marginal anchorage, various wrecks, avoid if possible.”  We interpret: “There might be waves and fish!”

It ain’t exactly ‘cruising’ … we dub it… Aggressive Cruising. We’re moving fast and going to funky places, courtesy of our trimaran’s great stability and the crew’s willingness for occasional suffering. Carving your own path has higher stakes but higher rewards — it feels pretty damn good to find our authentic way.

A lonely, blustery point break our friend Johnny had once told us about on a backdrop of gorgeous coastal mountains, near Bahia Magdalena.

Living authentically is also about eating really well- and getting close to the source.

At a village near a Mag Bay estuary, we traded a 10lb yellowtail for a few bucks and AA batteries, which Michael paddled in a SUP through the rivermouth breakers. Sabrina made exquisite sushi rolls that afternoon.

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The yellowtail soon became sushi rolls.. we have now run out of soy sauce

We later swam through a derelict ex-whaling station inside the bay, and when we pulled up anchor, a ton of tasty looking seaweed came up! That night it became seaweed salad (à la wakame) with sashimi from the yellowtail, along with Kim Chi that Ryan had been fermenting for 5 days (cabbage, carrots, and other vegetable detritus).

Breakfast featured fresh homemade yoghurt, which only fermented 8hrs in the sun, then was chilled overnight in the fridge. The jar of yoghurt was nicknamed “Bessie” and we talked to her sweetly as she matured in the dashboard basket.

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Ok, making seaweed salad from what the anchor pulls up is a little extreme… but we had to give it a try!

Amid all this culinary extravaganza, we came upon the intimidating headland of Punta Tosca. The horrendous shoals and rock pinnacles sunk our spirits.. where was the anchorage? (Ahem, the book did mention it was an “emergency anchorage at best.)

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Will she hold? Anchoring in strange places has its uncertainties.

The shoals had migrated offshore and we committed to a night in the turbulent, 50ft deep waters… then were rewarded with a most Mind-Blowing sunset and moonrise, and the next morning we scuba dove a 150ft ship wrecked on the rocks off the point with big lobster and gold treasures.

Subsequently every hugely intimidating but rewarding experience was dubbed a “Punta Tosca”. Few people probably stop here and for good reason– nevertheless it was one of our favorites for its pure ocean wilderness.

Dancing the seductive line between dreams and fears at Punta Tosca

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur fastest passage to date: 150nm in 24hrs. We left Punta Tosca and arrived in Cabo San Lucas the next afternoon after battling the twisted reacher sail off the forestay. We pulled up to Land’s End monumental rocks with a cavalry of tourism boats bumping techno music.

Tourist chaos spoiling the moment? Not at all… When aboard your own boat, you have your own world.  We marveled at the madness, and celebrated turning the “corner” with a fresh focaccia bread coming out of the oven.

Cabo is a love / hate relationship. What a contrast with the wild waters we had left; yet here was the arrival of blue water with 75ft visibility, 75F degree warm water we could swim anytime.

We would have another battle or two with purgatory, but the Holy Grail was within reach. The Sea of Cortez was the next stop.

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Sunrise at Punta Entrada, Mag Bay

Walking on the footsteps of ex-whalers… grey whales were once decimated here, now they are protected and have made a great comeback.

The Blessed Bays of Turtle & Scorpion

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We felt like sea cowboys who had just robbed a bank. We left Bahia Tortuga fast and furious, bombing south by 6pm in a hurry. We were thirsty for waves!

Our friend Matt had jumped ship after 10 days and 4 islands. He took the 3am bus to the highway, which would then be followed by a 10hr bus to Tijuana, and a shuttle back to San Diego. Farewell brave Matt!

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Turtle Bay, as the cruisers call it, is a dusty remote town, the furthest major village from Baja’s “interpeninsular” highway, but everything works flawlessly.  The comfort of the calm Bay waters was tantalizing… one of the cruisers said he was staying there for a month. It is a perfect bay in the middle of the rugged, raw Baja peninsula.

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Alas, there is no rest in calm waters for the adventure-lovers. Team Green Coconut Run was back at sea within 24hrs. We had places to go, and an ambitious schedule to keep.  “Whatever you do, don’t keep a schedule!” we were told by other cruisers. Three factors made us break this time-tested wisdom:

1- Hurricane season. We left late March and want to get past southern Mexico before middle of June. El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica are less exposed to tropical storms.

2- Aldebaran’s Cooperative model. We funded the voyage collectively with friends and plan on meeting them along different legs. Our friends Brian and Eric already had flights purchased to meet us in Cabo San Lucas in a week!

3- Ending in Panama. By late October we hope to be in Panama, to do more boatwork before setting off for the Galapagos and French Polynesia during January 2016.

Would the schedule be fool-hardy, impossible to keep, or would we succeed?  We would find out.

Either case, it is good to be on the move again! Outside, the fresh Pacific breeze greeted us…. as did our reels as they sung with a fresh catch of bonito.

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We were heading to Scorpion Bay, and the overnight 100nm passage was immaculate. Wing-in-wing, or with headsail alone, we slid down the wave crests averaging 6knots, riding the windline 20nm offshore.

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Oil pressure crisis!  Motoring in the smooth water just 2nm from our anchorage, I saw the oil pressure gauge was down to 20psi from the regular 60psi. Oh no!!  Instantly I stopped the Isuzu diesel engine, our faithful “iron wind”.

Anxious, I discovered Mr. Isuzu had lost 2 quarts of oil through the new oil pressure hose, which had been a little short and rubbed against metal until it chafed. I wrapped it in self-amalgamating rigging tape, pumped the black sludge with our 12v oil pump, and reduced the flow to a very minor leak, until we could repair it properly.

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Bonito sashimi kept the morale high during oil leak crises

Finally, we arrived. Scorpion Bay had chest high waves zipping along the cliff edge. Longboards and fish shapes were a blast. A few old timers paddled out during low tide, but we had several hours to ourselves, including an absolutely magic evening glass-off.

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Sabrina was besides herself with joy riding these perfect little peelers. We gorged ourselves for two days, an all-you-can-eat buffet of waves. It made the rush to get here worthwhile.

Meanwhile, we had run out of fish. It seems whenever that happens we catch a tuna. But at Scorpion, a fisherman came by in his panga and offered us octopus. I traded him for sunglasses. Fishermen are in open pangas all day and sunglasses we discovered are a big need. Luis el pescador was terribly happy about his Kind Bar sunglasses!

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The octupus pasta, octupus ceviche, octupus ramen flowed… the latter being the only truly successful meal. Somewhere along this octupus experimentation, we hoisted the big blue reacher for another overnight sail: destination Bahia Magdalena, one of the most famous bays in Baja.

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Central Baja: from Turtle Bay (Bahia Tortuga) to Scorpion Bay (Bahia San Juanico) about 100nm, with a pitstop in Punta Abreojos.

Skirting the Edge at Isla Natividad

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5am. Matt woke me up in the aft cabin and announced in the pitch black: “We’re here.” We had just sailed overnight from Isla San Benito.

I surveyed the disorienting lights. The wind was gusting to 20 knots. We were in the middle of a 6 mile wide channel. The Coast Pilot listed many reefs and hazards in this area. “Give the entire south-east corner of the Isla Natividad a wide berth of at least two miles. Hazards abound.”

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An inhospitable boating environment… but the allure of waves was strong. A small, early season south swell was peaking.

Sailing and surfing.  They seem so compatible… yet… not always so.  Whereas sailors seek flat water, surfers seek the opposite: they seek swell magnets.

There IS one thing in common however: both sailors and surfers rejoice in offshore winds, which grooms the ocean like a Zen garden. This is what we found at Isla Natividad; although in radical proportions.

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The sun peaked over the Vizcaino peninsula as we sailed into the corner of the island and dropped the hook in 35ft of water next to peeling right handers.  NW wind blew over the sandy point then blew spray over the waves in rainbows.

Exposed to the swell, the boat heaved and yawed slowly. A monohull would be rolling like a pendulum. Here is one area the trimaran shines — we  go to the wildest surf or dive spots without too much concern of our dishes falling off the counter.

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Thanks to the offshore winds, it appears to be a smooth anchorage … but the edge of “Punta Arena” was exposed to the windswell from the NW and groundswell from the SW making for interesting oceanic wobbles.

Two days of waves satiated our surf lust. Using a cruising boat to hunt for waves is vastly more than just riding waves — we are riding the whole ocean. Wind and tides aren’t just important for the quality of the waves; it is an equation of safety. Our entire home exists in the 42ft sailboat that is sitting outside the lineup, vulnerable to the very waves we are indulging in. Skirting this edge beckons as much caution as it heralds excitement. Finding the right conditions brings a connection with wave-riding that is unique to the sailing/surfing combination.

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As if surfing on the edge of this windswept island weren’t enough, team Shore-Landing (Ryan, Sabrina, and Matt) were so amped to get to the village they paddled SUPs a quarter mile in 20knot offshore winds to reach a small cove, scored a lobster dinner, and celebrated Matt’s last night traveling with us. This crew is no joke!

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We re-grouped back at Aldebaran which was now tied to a ship’s mooring with incredibly thick lines, which was offered by the Patrol Boat of the Cooperativa given the otherwise shabby anchoring conditions.

Our next stop was idyllic Turtle Bay, 20nm south and halfway down the Baja peninsula, where we found momentary calm from the raw Pacific Ocean.

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Anchoring Qualms at Todos Santos Island

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA compounding mistake.  My friend Kyber’s word echoed “Todos has some sketchy anchorages” as we pulled into Todos Santos Island, 8nm west of Ensenada, slightly after dark.

We checked our cruising guides (Charlies Charts and Rains’ Mexico Boating Guide) which had detailed info but were out of date — the abalone aquaculture farm had expanded its operations, from what we could see in the dismal light, and there was no longer space for anchoring in the north corner of the East island.  It was 150feet deep with buoys all around us, and a skiff taking up the interior cove.

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Now we discovered the true incompetence of our fancy new electronic Garmin charts, which is a beautiful machine, but unfortunately indicated that we were on dry land multiple times… unless Aldebaran is a amphibious vehicle, which could possibly be its next evolution, I’m pretty sure the charts are completely useless for near-shore navigation.

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The result: we scouted our way with trepidation in the pitch black to another cove with scary rocks just below the waters edge, and slept erratically through a night of shifty winds, but we were rewarded with an outstanding view in the morning: the jagged rocky ridges of Todos Santos Island bathed in sunrise light.

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We had suspected that our anchor chain was snagged under a rock, and indeed this was the case… no amount of cajolling by our windlass and boat maneuvers pulled it free. Team SCUBA (Ryan and Sabrina, in this case) jumped in and we shocked to experience that the water had actually dropped 10 degrees to 58F !!

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They freed the anchor in 40ft of water and we cruised around to the north island, which is separated by a very narrow, impassable channel, and spent the morning paddling SUPs, getting longboard waves, and diving the kelp beds, before sailing back to Ensenada at 7 knots with the freshening breeze.

DCIM105GOPROCruiser port Marina welcomed us, Henrique the assistant manager was super friendly, and drove us around to deal with paperwork.  Security was great in the marina and we had a productive 2 nights as we got our paperwork together for checking into the country.  All told it was a very civilized way to enter a country!

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Where to from here? We originally had ambitions to visit Guadalupe Island… but permits required 10 days! Furthermore the best time of the year to see the monstrous great white sharks is fall/winter, so no dive operators would be out there. We look further south at the map… Isla San Benitos, just west of the big Cedros Island, had great reports of diving.

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Distance: 200nm. We figured averaging 5 knots (our cruising speed is 5-8knots but sailboats like to zig-zag on tacks) so about 40hours. This would be our first big ocean crossing… 2 nights at sea.

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The boat demanded some more elbow grease… securing the hinges on the hatches, fixing the radar backlight. Crew worked hard into the evening and we took off at noon on April 8th, beating into a smooth headwind to get around Punta Banda, and set south… free and clear.

The Journey Begins! First stop, Santa Cruz Island.

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So cliché, yet so perfect: we sailed off into the sunset! Aldebaran left Santa Barbara Harbor 6:15pm on March 26, to begin our voyage: the Green Coconut Run.

The winds filled the big colorful headsail, the sun melted below the horizon, and we had one of the most magical channel crossings ever. Aldebaran was weighed down with hundreds of pounds of provisions, but she still zipped at 7 knots in the smooth, starry seas. It was as if Nature was on our side and cheering us on- giving us one final farewell gift! This is going to be one incredible story…

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Slogging away 4 months in the Ventura Boatyard was terribly exhausting, but suddenly it all was worthwhile. The sight of the wind in our sails was surreal – we were heading off for the adventure of our lives!

We still reeled from the immense amount of work it took to physically untie the dock lines –from planning, packing, provisioning, and finding room for all our stuff. (yeah, we’re still working on the latter). But somehow we pulled it off and actually set sail despite the chaos.

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Onboard Aldebaran were the 4 crew mates that are heading down Central America on this first season: Kristian the captain; Sabrina the nurse; Michael the fisherman; Ryan the ukelele-player. Joining us for the five day leg to San Diego was Annie the videographer, who decided to jump onboard less than 24hrs prior!

We spent two nights on Santa Cruz island. We pulled in long after dark and anchored at a beautiful protected anchorage near Smuggler’s Cove. The sheer golden cliffs provided a stunning contrast to the turquoise waters. The sun rose over Anacapa Island’s silhouetted pyramid-shape… this is one of our favorite sunrise spots in the world.

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In the book “Care and Feeding of Offshore Crew”, Lin Pardey suggests taking a day off at a nearby anchorage after departing from home; all your provisioning and celebrating and last minute repairs inevitably turn the boat into utter chaos! This was certainly our case, things were ridiculously messy! We spent a glorious 36 hours ‘decompressing’ on the sunny, calm side of the island, riding waves and organizing the mess in the cabin.

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It felt amazing to bask one last time in the beauty of our ‘home island’ before we ventured south to parts unknown.

Next up: The Mini Magical Island of Santa Barbara

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Metamorphosis: a lot of work, a lot of play

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe great Aldebaran metamorphosis has begun.. from humble local island explorer to transoceanic craft… so you ask, what’s Team Transition been doing?

Just in time for that first Halloween cold spell, Sabrina and Kristian moved out of their comfortable pad in Mission street (ok, err.. they got kicked out by the landlord.. details, details) and are now full time aboard.

The harbor charges double after 2 weeks, so we had to skip town… Aldebaran set sail for Rosa and Miguel on Monday morning. Soon we realized Jimmy Ryguy had snuck aboard at 3:30 am as a “STOWAWAY”.

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He paid his dues making gourmet pasta and hunting uni like a japanese savage. Meanwhile we got blessed with some of the most beautiful surf and diving we could want.. Ah the joys of having no permanent slip !

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My favorite is to work at anchor… we did some fixes to the windlass bolt (which need refurbishing badly), net sewing (same), solenoid cleaning (might live a little longer). The newest addition to the boat, courtesy of Roach Refurbished Rides: Candycane the 5’10 dynamite 80s board, got her new deck pad.

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Since we were already way out there… we snuck into el rancho for a few days, with Adam Jersey Roach himself and friends, which required some major beach launching maneuvers, but paid off with clean and silky waves; tell me about it!

Sarah escaped to visit us for a longboard session and made an epic Roasted Veggie soup… in short time she discovered we had a propane leak. Dang girl I’m glad for your fine-tuned olfactory senses,

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Thus upon return we spent the last 2 days wrestling the stove and propane lines out of their hibernated locations, replacing the failed hoses. While our galley was a total disaster zone, we thought, hey, let’s make it a total catastrophe and change our fresh water plumbing. So now we have all new hoses to the sinks for clean drinking when we are cruising soooouuuuth~!

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AND tomorrow’s big news: installing a fridge! And hopefully getting confirmation on our haul out on Friday… ready the troops… work may get real soon.