Life at 6 knots

I think it’s fascinating that airplane wings and canvas sails use the same aerodynamic principles to generate movement. I love that the wind exerts force on a sail in much the same way that jet engines create air flow around the wings of an airplane to lift it into the sky, and while I much prefer the serenity of sailing over the power of a jet engine, both are impressive.

We’ve put a few thousand more air miles on our flight list in the last two months, as well as a couple hundred road miles. We’ve been moving fast! Now it’s time to get back into our home afloat life. It’s time to slow down, take a breath, soak up some ahhhhs. Six knots is not only the speed that we travel, but it’s a characterization of the speed that we live. Everything takes a little longer when living on a sailboat.

For the past couple months we’ve been moored in a marina, with easy access to buses and taxis and an airport down the road. It’s been a necessity with all of our planned mainland excursions, but it’s not our first choice of places to be. The convenience is nice; there are plenty of stores and restaurants within a few blocks and we can purchase most everything that we need. That all changes though, as we prepare to leave the dock.

Life at six knots is not without a few challenges, and doing a major provision in preparation to be at sea for a few weeks or months can be one of them, transforming a simple trip to the grocery store into an all-day adventure. First we pack up our backpacks full of carry bags to bring home all our loot, then we walk up the hill to the bus stop. We climb on the collective bus, wedge ourselves into a seat, and we’re off.

Collectivo buses come in all shapes and sizes, as well as all levels of comfort or the lack thereof. Usually they are small vans that have 4 or 5 rows of seats with extra fold away seats at the end of each row. When full that means there are about 18 or 20 people on board, often carrying big bags or parcels. The windows are open, the radio is blaring, it’s hot, crowded, bumpy, and fun. It’s like a Chinese fire drill when the person in the last row wants to get off!

When we arrive at the Mega or Chedraui, we grab a cart and wander up and down all the aisles. Super-marcados are comparable to large grocery stores in the states, however the selection is obviously much different, and it’s good to be able to read a bit of Spanish!

I remember one time trying to find yeast and not knowing the Spanish word for it, I tried to act out a description of bread rising to the dumbfounded clerk trying to make sense of my babbling! I finally found the yeast (levadura) and went back to show the clerk what I’d been trying to explain; we both had a good laugh at that one!

Some markets have a “gringo” section, where they have lots of over-priced American products for the tourists who just can’t live without familiar name brand items. We gave up on specialty items long ago and choose more traditional Mexican fare now, with a few exceptions; whenever possible we stock up on American cheeses. However it’s usually more fun to learn to use the local selections and to sometimes be surprised by what’s on the inside of a mystery item!

After we’re all loaded down with bags of stuff, we then wheel our cart out to the curb and hail a taxi. If we’re doing a small shopping trip we’ll ride the bus home too, but if it’s too much to carry, a taxi is a nice treat. We get dumped off in the parking lot behind the marina, where if we’re lucky we’ll find a cart, much like a garden cart, that we can load up and wheel our groceries to the boat. If not, it’s lots of trips up and down the dock as we get our groceries to the boat. Then we have a bag brigade to hand bags down the companionway as we start the process of stashing the groceries in all their various hidey holes.

We take everything out of the cardboard boxes that they came in so that we can avoid bringing onboard any stow-away bugs. Dry goods go into plastic canisters so that they stay dry. Cans get stowed under the floors with their contents written on top in sharpie so that we can see what we’ve got at a glance. Everything has a place on a boat, or at least we try to keep it that way!

With the shopping and stowing done, the next step is to “check out”. That means taking our collection of official papers to the Port Captain and having him record that we’re leaving his port of jurisdiction. We have to let him know how many people are on board and where we’re heading. When we arrive at the next port we’ll then need to “check in”. It’s an ongoing in and out from all the ports in Mexico.

After checking out with the Port Captain, we check out of the marina, and then we prepare to toss the dock lines! Before we start the engine, there are plenty of onboard checks to do as well. All the normal engine checks have to be completed and the cabin needs to be secured, making sure everything on board is stowed so that it doesn’t become a missile when we hit some boat wake or start heeling in the wind.

Then finally it’s time. It’s always a great feeling when that last dock line is removed, Marty steps onboard, and we slowly back away from the dock. We have one more stop to make and that’s at the fuel dock. The fuel dock is full so that means floating in the channel trying to keep the boat in one place as the wind and tide try to do otherwise! As with anything in Mexico, fueling takes time, so we turn in circles as we wait patiently for our turn at the dock. Pretty soon it’s our turn, we pull in, tie up and hand the hose back and forth across the boat to fill both tanks. Marty watches the liter count while I keep an eye on the gauge and the overflow valves.

Fueling is NOT an exact science and it’s easy to misjudge when a tank is full. We want to make sure we get every ounce possible into the tanks because we’ll be making a 350 mile crossing and it’s good to have a bit of reserve in case there’s no wind or in case the wind turns against us. We also carry 20 gallons on deck as a backup, so in theory that gives us a range of 120 gallons, or 92 hours, or about 540 nautical miles – in theory. Once the diesel tanks are full, Marty gets a bit of regular gas for the outboard, and NOW we’re on our way.

We pull off the dock, wind our way through the line of boats waiting their turn at the fuel dock, and start getting ready to sail. Deck crew Marty starts untying the fenders and removing the dock lines when “fender overboard”! Oops, one got away, and of course we’re right in the channel. A little backing, turning, and luckily a friendly dinghy going by to hand us our fender and NOW we’re really on our way!

We clear the entrance channel, get everything ship shape, roll out the sails, turn off the engine and ahhhhhh; back to life at 6 knots. It’s a perfect sailing day; flat water, 12-18 knots of breeze, sunshine, whales breaching in the distance, and plenty of daylight to enjoy it all. We’re on a close haul, so the boat heels with the wind to remind us what it’s like living on a tilt. Settling in with silly grins, we just soak it all in.

After a few hours of sailing and remembering why we live on a boat, we head for the anchorage at Punta de Mita. The afternoon wind is up so it’s a bit bumpy in the anchorage, but that’s okay. We drop anchor and settle in to watch the world go by. We’ll stay a couple days, then start making plans to head north back into the Sea of Cortez. It’s time to get our sea legs back, and start focusing on the weather and swell conditions before we head off on a 3-day crossing to the Baja.

I like living at 6 knots. I like being barefoot. I like drinking my morning coffee in the cockpit as the boat swings on anchor. I like the smiles and “Buenos Dias” when we walk in town. I like fresh tortillas and buying veggies out of wooden crates. I like to listen to the mewing gulls, the sound of the waves crashing on shore, and feeling Happy Dance rise and fall on the ocean swell. I like watching boobies and pelicans circle and dive for their breakfast while I’m cooking in the galley. I like seeing dolphins and fish balls boiling at the surface, hearing the wind in the sails, and the gurgle of the hull as Happy Dance slips through the water. Our canvas wings will slowly but surely power us back to our favorite spots where we’ll drop an anchor, swim to shore and feel the sand between our toes. Simple pleasures, slow life. Perfect.

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