Category Archives: Living on a Sailboat in Mexico

P1070846-2 (Large)We’ve been out on our sailboat, Magic, for nearly a month now exploring the fascinating Sea of Cortez in Mexico. I had the week off from my job at the university for the holidays so we did not need to stick to our usual anchorages with cellular service. We visited a new anchorage near La Paz named Caleta Partida and found a fun surprise: mobula rays!

Brian guided Magic into an unfamiliar bay with steep, orange, rocky sides. The water was dark and deep. I spotted a group of white-finned creatures slowly cavorting around the bay near the surface of the water. I quickly grabbed the binoculars and confirmed they were rays, and at least two dozen! Now was my chance to fulfill a dream but we had to act quickly.

P1070794 (Large)We continued into the bay, anxious to drop our anchor and see if we could get in the water with the rays. As the depth became shallow the water turned a pale turquoise and we could see the white, sandy bottom. We anchored in fifteen feet of water and immediately dropped the dinghy. We zoomed away with snorkel gear in the direction of the cavorting rays.

It was easy to find them. Their white fins gently thrashed at the surface, disturbing the calm water. We stopped right next to the group, and gasped with delight as about twenty rays swooped under and around our inflatable dinghy. I put on my snorkel, mask and fins and gently lowered myself into the water. Brian waited in the dinghy to pick me up after I snorkeled with them.

P1070837 (Large)A group of rays whizzed by with mouths agape and wings gently flapping. With each flap of their brown wings a sliver of bright white belly was revealed. They were only a couple feet away and I was frozen. I was both stunned and delighted by their close proximity. I had impulsively decided to share their space without stopping to consider how they would react. Now I considered it.

I was floating there thinking hard about all this when I began to drift away from them. I turned my body to join them.

P1070827 (Large)My heart beat quickly as dozens of rays flowed all around me like silk. They allowed me to penetrate their group but always kept a few feet of distance. They seemed almost close enough to touch. They knew exactly where they were in the water and stayed out of reach. They were friendly enough, yet polite about my personal space. What wonderful creatures!

The entire group would move together, turning at the same time, marching to a hidden rhythm only they could hear. It was exhilarating to join them and see them flapping around me in every direction. I enjoyed about ten minutes with them, then Brian jumped in with them as I waited with the dinghy.

IMG_8401 (Large)Swimming with the rays was completely spontaneous. This wasn’t on any bucket list but as soon as I saw them I knew snorkeling with them was a dream to be fulfilled. This was a dream I had forgotten about, but had felt the pangs of many times in the past. Each time I saw a ray jumping in the Sea of Cortez, or heard about the groups of friendly rays in the Caymans or Hawaii I wanted to know what it would be like to swim with them.

P1070806-2 (Large)There is no way to know when nature will give us these magical opportunities. I’m so grateful this happened and that I had a camera with me at the time!

IMG_4232 (Large)“What if the baby birds are extra soft and downy? Is it ok to touch them then?” I joked.

There was a lot of talk about petting tame baby birds as Brian and I motored through the night to reach Isla Isabel. Our guidebook showed photos of white, fluffy baby birds and said the birds had no fear of humans. Many varieties of Boobies and Frigate Birds nest on Isla Isabel but we didn’t know if it would be the right time of the year to see babies.

We arrived at the small island, anchored Magic near two other boats, and went ashore. We landed our dinghy on a small beach near a group of metal sheds. Mexican fishing boats lined the beach and some of the fishermen were moving nets from boats to sheds, pausing to offer us a friendly smile. Hundreds of birds of various sizes swirled excitedly around an open shed door, looking for scraps.

IMG_4721 (Large)We walked up the beach and found a tall, metal sign describing the trails on the island. A half dozen Frigate Birds lounged atop the sign, with three foot long bodies, curved beaks and deep black, alien eyes. They merely turned their heads lazily toward us as we stopped to read the sign.

A crumbled concrete path led into a shady forest of stunted trees which grew to only about fifteen feet tall. The forest was filled with the enchanted cackling sounds of the Frigates. I squealed as I began to see nests and fluffy babies in the treetops. These were big babies! The baby Frigates were about a foot tall, with downy white and brown feathers. They always huddled next to either mom or dad in their nests.

IMG_4095-1 (Large)Captivated by the babies in the treetops, I jumped as leaves rustled near my feet. A small iguana sprinted away into the trees. As we continued on the primitive path, we saw at least a hundred iguanas in the small, enchanted Frigate Bird forest. Most were around 10 inches long including their tail, but we also found several larger specimens up to three feet in length!

Anyone who doesn’t like lizards would find a nightmarish scenario on this island. Iguanas and other lizards were everywhere and blended well into the grass and leaves. They would constantly run out from under our feet as we walked. We never got used to this, and we would giggle and jump each time. They were mellow and non-confrontational, and mostly just wanted to bask on rocks in the sun. They were great photo subjects and kept us from gazing up at the treetops the whole time. There was also plenty to see on the ground.

We walked through the enchanted Frigate Bird forest and then followed the trail up a steep, grassy hill. Brian was in front and was the first to see the baby bird in the grass.

“There’s a baby bird right here on the trail!” Brian called out with excitement.

IMG_4174 (Large)I rushed up to him and indeed, there was a single white and brown Frigate chick in the middle of the trail. It stood calmly among large mounds of green grass. Its parents did not appear to be anywhere nearby. It seemed very tame and didn’t even flinch as I approached. I got within just a few feet, and then lay on the ground next to the baby bird. It let out a gentle cackle as I settled down next to it.

The baby was so wild and fearless. It trusted everything it came into contact with, because it didn’t know otherwise. This was the perfect opportunity to pet a soft, friendly, baby bird with no parents around. But fulfilling that human fantasy just didn’t feel right on this sacred island, where the animals probably still live as they did a thousand years ago.

IMG_4274 (Large)We enjoyed the baby bird, and then continued up the path to the top of the hill. We found ocean views in every direction and over a hundred Boobies and Gulls nesting on the ground. More squeals of delight gushed out as I spotted several Boobie chicks. They were indeed the cutest chicks on the island. They were also big babies, about a foot tall, with bodies covered in fluffy, white down. Their inquisitive, innocent faces were precious. Even though they were almost as large as the parents, some parents still tried to sit on the chicks. Some roamed independently, making cute and clumsy progress across the uneven grass.

We wandered slowly through a minefield of nests and birds on the hill, sometimes receiving a squawk when we passed too closely to a nesting Booby or Gull. Overall, we felt tolerated and accepted in the bird world (birld).

IMG_4383-1 (Large)We spent about an hour on the hill, making our acquaintance with the friendly birds and avoiding the squawking, nesting ones. Many of the mature Boobies were quite curious and even seemed to enjoy having human visitors. I met an especially friendly one sitting on a tower that stared intently at me as I stared right back into its cute little face, only five feet away. This went on for at least two minutes.

We saw two blue footed Boobies enjoying a strange mating ritual, where they lift their feet one at a time and shift their weight back and forth as they dance slowly for their partner. They shyly danced for each other near a cliff edge, with the deep blue pacific ocean in the background. Could anything be more romantic? The little exhibitionists glanced over at us periodically to see if we were still watching as they danced.

IMG_1057 (Large)The birds were the most exciting part of our visit, and the scuba diving at Isla Isabel was also wonderful. The water was warm and visibility was good for Pacific Mexico (around 30-40 feet). The underwater rock was different from other places we’ve been diving in Mexico. One dive featured shelf after shelf of different animals as we descended on a shallow wall, like a layer cake of exciting ocean creatures. We found a small underwater cave and arch near Punta Bobos and had fun exploring the rocky features there.

IMG_4531 (Large)We saw many large fish, including a school of shiny, silver jacks. They always caught our eye and never allowed us to get close for photos. During our last dive at the island I even spotted my favorite eel hiding under a rock! A Zebra Moray is always an exciting find.

We took a longer hike all the way around the island just before leaving, and found birds and beautiful scenery everywhere. There is even a crater in the interior of the island surrounded by nesting Frigates.

Isla Isabel is one of my favorite places on earth. This little paradise of friendly animals took me back to a more primitive time in the history of the world, when animals weren’t wary of us yet. It was very special to share their enchanted world for a few days and feel so accepted by them.

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20150320_123156 (Large)We love San Blas, a sleepy town between Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. Some say there isn’t much to do and the bugs are terrible, but we enjoyed a blissful two weeks there. The bliss began after we found a place to stay away from the bugs. We made the mistake of anchoring in a river estuary one fateful night, and the bugs were epic. No-see-ums called “jejenes” came right through our insect screens and feasted on us all night. It was too hot for a blanket, but any exposed body part would quickly become covered in pink polka dots from all the bites.

IMG_3484 (Large)Lesson learned. We left the estuary and found a spot at sea. A wild beach with crashing waves, palm trees and jungle became our backdrop when we moved to an anchorage near our favorite surfing spot, Matenchen Bay. We settled into a routine of working, surfing, relaxing and fervently scratching our bug bites. During the week we usually had all the waves to ourselves in the bay. On weekends, Mexican families came to picnic and swim while vendors roamed the beaches selling loaves of banana bread and mangoes carved into the shapes of tropical flowers.

IMG_3629 (Large)I learned to surf in San Blas. Brian already loves surfing and we have several boards on Magic. This winter I’ve been learning new ocean sports. I already learned how challenging and intimidating kiteboarding could be and I wondered if surfing would be just as difficult.

The answer is no. Surfing was easier than kiteboarding, and much more relaxing. It felt meditative to float in the water and watch waves roll in endlessly across the Pacific. I kept my attention on the different sizes and shapes of the waves, watching them rise, build, and break as I waited in a wide, sandy bay. When the right sized wave would break near me, spilling its frothy top over onto itself, I would jump onto my board in front of the froth, paddle like mad with my hands, and then let the wave catch me and shoot me quickly across the surface of the sea.

IMG_3677 (Large)My own personal surf school consisted of relaxing and playing in the waves with Brian nearby to help or encourage. The time slipped by lazily day after day. No lessons, no pressure, no expectations. Brian taught me to ride the breaking waves on my belly and it felt exciting enough for awhile. Belly rides were great! Who needs to stand up on the board? This most basic version of belly surfing was all I did for the first ten days, as Brian skillfully surfed all sorts of big waves nearby. Then suddenly, one day, it happened! The belly rides were long and smooth that day. Without thinking much about it, I first knelt on the board and then stood up as the wave carried me to the beach.

IMG_3707 (Large)It was an exhilarating feeling to ride a wave standing up. My first dozen rides were stiff and awkward. There were some uncomfortable wipeouts. Then I started to practice different ways of standing on the board and riding the waves became easier.

Matenchen Bay was surfing heaven and maybe I was spoiled having my first surfing experiences there. It might be hard to top this experience, with so little competition for waves, a beautiful bay with a sandy bottom and a great selection of different sizes of waves. Plus, fresh banana bread to snack on between sessions! Does it get any better?

The small town of San Blas was incredible, too. People were very friendly, chain stores were nearly non-existent and we had some of the best shrimp I’ve ever had in my life. We met a great local couple on the street who quickly invited us to their home. We visited with them awhile and enjoyed some easy chatting since they spoke good English. We felt enveloped in their love and it was such a warm welcome to San Blas, which is the kind of place where a gringo can integrate easily into the community. I love places like this.

IMG_2974 (Large)We took a jungle tour near Matenchen Bay. We usually don’t enjoy tours, but this one was really worthwhile and not that costly. Wild crocodiles lounged by the side of the river as we enjoyed them from the comfort of a small powerboat. Some of them were so still, laying there with huge open mouths, they almost looked fake. We visited a crocodile sanctuary as well as seeing them in the wild.

IMG_2999 (Large)Mangroves formed a shaded tunnel through which the boat would sometimes barely fit. We eyed the trees warily for dangling snakes as the boat wormed its way through the narrow passage. We read Boa Constrictors hang from the trees here, but we didn’t see any that day.

IMG_2828 (Large)We did see too many turtles to count, many fascinating birds, beautiful lilies, and even a couple orange butterflies harassing turtles by landing on their noses over and over as the turtle tried to get away by withdrawing into its shell.

San Blas is a special place, and now that I’ve had the full experience maybe I can see the benefit of all those horrible jejenes. Otherwise, San Blas would be full of resorts, tourists, and KFCs. The authentic feeling would be lost. Our guidebook called the jenene “nature’s guardian”. Nature chose an effective guardian for San Blas, and that tiny creature has effectively repelled most tourists from its gorgeous beaches. Good job, jejenes!

IMG_0820 (Large)The Marietas Islands are 21 miles from Puerto Vallarta, yet feel worlds away from the skyscrapers and resorts of the nearby big city. The water is clean and the coral at the islands is well preserved. We even saw two Zebra Moray Eels during our one scuba dive there! We were chased away by a Mexican patrol boat on our second morning at the islands, with Magic tied to a beefy mooring buoy. We were preparing for our second scuba dive on a reef right under the boat when our fun suddenly ended. The area around the islands is designated as a national park, and we unknowingly broke the rules by staying overnight (for two nights, even).

IMG_0853 (Large) At least we were still above water when the patrol boat approached and gently chastised us for spending the night at the islands. Boats may only visit from 6 am to 6 pm, and a plastic park bracelet must be purchased on the mainland beforehand. Our guidebook didn’t mention these details so we were surprised. In retrospect, I guess it’s good we did not know. We enjoyed a fantastic two days at the islands, unfortunately on the wrong side of the law yet blissfully unaware.

IMG_0177 (Large)We got to enjoy the place during its most peaceful hours in the morning and evening. The brown and yellow rock of the small scatter of islands had been shaped into wonderful caves, coves and arches. Foamy surge rushed through these features and created fun places to snorkel and get pushed around by the current. Sea kayaking among thousands of sea birds living on the island was also great fun. We saw Manta Rays jump several feet out of the water and flap their wings hopefully alongside the sea birds, only to belly flop right back into the sea.

IMG_0818 (Large)The scuba diving was great, and very different from other diving we’ve done in the Sea of Cortez. In addition to colorful coral, an occasional green plant swayed gently in the current. It was exciting to see the two Zebra Moray Eels, and now I can check the last check box on my “eels of the Sea of Cortez” list! Now I’ve seen them all, and I think the Zebra is my favorite. It is such a docile and peaceful creature, and only eats mollusks. It’s both the cutest and nicest eel in the sea.

Brian spotted a very strange creature lurking in the sand: a flounder. This was the first we’ve seen in the Sea of Cortez. This fish begins life with one eye on each side of its body, and as it matures both eyes move to one side, allowing it to lay flat in the sand with both eyes watching for prey. Wow!

Several large, loud tour boats from the city visited each day. They dumped 50-75 tourists into one of the bays to snorkel, and then fed them lunch afterward. The tour boat loudspeakers would boom with pop music and crackly announcements. It was comical to see the tourists loudly enjoying themselves, many of them with skin in shades of pink or red.

IMG_0029 (Large)Late afternoon brought solitude, and we had the islands mostly to ourselves. One other sailboat shared the anchorage, and they were very quiet. These were the best times on the island, where we could go for a short paddle and watch birds or snorkel in absolute quiet and solitude. Brian saw these two Blue Footed Boobies lovingly preening each other as he paddled by in his kayak. One morning, he paddled all the way around the island. The birds were unafraid and accustomed to seeing people. No foot traffic is allowed on the islands to ensure the birds have an undisturbed place to live and breed.

IMG_0194 (Large)Brad, our friend from Seattle, visited us for a week on the boat and shared this visit to the Marietas. He typically sails near civilization in Puget Sound, so this wilderness anchorage was a rare treat. We are lucky to be cruising around the Sea of Cortez, where quiet anchorages abound and we almost never use marinas.

The patrol boat let us go without a fight. We apologized for breaking the rules and the officers were very forgiving. They sped away to talk to the sailboat next to us as soon as we detached from our mooring and turned to leave the islands. No citations were given, but the encounter with them definitely made our hearts beat a bit faster.

IMG_7920 (Medium)I’ve always enjoyed watching kite boarders while driving through Hood River, Oregon. Now that Brian and I live on a sailboat half of the year, I wanted to learn this intriguing sport. Plus, Brian already does this and has all the gear on board. I assumed this new sport would soon be mine. I’m a sporty girl. I’ll get this. The internet says it’s an easy sport. You can learn it in just three days, says the internet.

The internet lies.

This is a challenging sport, especially if you come to the table with no skills, like I did. I had no kite skills, no board skills and had never been out in big ocean waves. All these things had to be learned before I got up on the board. Initially, all I had going for me was comfort in the water. Even that comfort was tested when my face was pulled into the waves over and over by the giant kite hooked to my waist harness.

IMG_8640I showed up in La Ventana full of stoke for this new sport, and promptly signed up for three days of fast paced, expensive lessons. Unfortunately, the lessons didn’t really “take”. I finished up the lessons feeling confused by the kite and too nervous to fly it solo. I needed my instructor hooked to me, telling me what to do, or I would freeze.

What was wrong with me? The internet said I could learn this in three days. Brian reassured me it took him longer than three days to learn, and that I was doing fine. But he didn’t feel what I felt flying the kite. He didn’t freeze like I did. I didn’t understand the kite, and didn’t like its unexpected yanks.

IMG_0793 (Large)Then, I got hurt by one of our kites on the boat. Brian was launching the kite from the boat with a long rope attached to it. It was a windy day and things went wrong. He screamed “Lisa! Help!” from the cockpit. I raced outside and found him struggling with a rope which was attached to a crumpled kite. The deformed kite was whipping around with incredible force. I grabbed the rope to cleat it off, and then a gust of wind filled the kite and there was no way I could compete with its power. The rope ripped through the top layers of skin on two of my fingers, hit Brian’s neck, and knocked him into the ocean!

IMG_0779 (Large)Brian got back on the boat and we carefully contained the kite. Once it was back on board we surveyed the damage. The kite’s canopy had a three foot tear.

I gave my fingers a few days to heal and tried another lesson. I didn’t want to give up, but the lesson went poorly and I didn’t make any progress at all. I was failing. This sport I wanted so much was slipping through my fingers and it was tearing me up inside. I didn’t know if I wanted to keep investing money in lessons that were going poorly. It might be best to back off, and I felt very sad about retreating from this dream.

IMG_0801 (Large)Should I give up now before we spend more on lessons? Am I just too nervous to do this? I posted a question on an internet forum for kiting, and got over 40 responses. I read the responses several times and realized I still had potential to learn this sport but I needed to master the kite on land first. Flying the kite in the water before I knew how to control it had stressed me out and taught me little. Of course I was nervous. An unknown entity was yanking me around in the water.

I would need hours of practice with a small kite to gain the muscle memory I would need to perform the basic tricks with a larger kite. I would start with a small kite that pulled gently and learn the moves while standing comfortably on the beach.

I also needed a more structured learning environment. I needed detailed descriptions of the skills I would perform while I was on land and relaxed. I couldn’t absorb much information with a yanking kite strapped to my waist, waves in my face and my instructor tethered to me. The fast-paced, immersion method of learning hadn’t worked for me and instead had backfired. I had moved forward with my lessons and started doing things in the water with little understanding of kite skills. According to the opinions on the kite forum, this was killing my confidence and making it harder to learn the kite. Everything was wrong but I was starting to figure out how to make things right. Maybe I still had a chance at this sport, but I would need to proceed carefully and intelligently, not just throw myself at it without a plan.

IMG_2061 (Large)I bought a two meter, two line kite and flew it every day there was wind. I worked to master a set of tricks that had been posted in the kiting forum, like figure 8’s and power strokes. I loved my little kite and named it “baby kite”. I flew baby kite until I could fly it one handed or without even looking at it. I flew it until I got bored with it.

Brian and I went to a nearby kite shop, and the shop was so friendly I started going there for coffee and meeting other kiters. I met hesitant kiters who had to work to overcome nervousness about the kite, and fear of crashing. They took lessons, practiced, and mastered simple kiteboarding. They loved their instructors. I felt encouraged. These were not abnormally athletic or brave people, but they had somehow conquered the kite and board. I read through the friendly kite shop’s entire website that night.

IMG_0374 (Large)They had a three day girl’s kiting camp starting in just a couple weeks! I signed up. This would be my best chance to regain my stoke for kiting and learn in the most comfortable environment possible. I’ve experienced a couple all women’s canyoneering fests, called “Chickfests”. I’ve seen hesitant women do amazing things in the supportive environment of the Chickfest.

I needed a kite boarding Chickfest. Now, I was the hesitant one. Please, universe, bring me a good instructor who can help me overcome my fear of the kite. I’ve been paying it forward for years. I’ve been teaching people to rappel and canyoneer. Now, I needed someone to teach me kite boarding, to somehow rekindle the dying flame of this kite boarding dream.

IMG_0817 (Large)And then I met Kris. She spent the first day of the women’s kiting camp teaching us to fly kites on land. I immediately felt at ease with her. She explained everything in detail before we ever touched the kite. She answered our questions thoughtfully. Best of all, she loves kiting and it’s her life. She travels around giving lessons and even won a freestyle kite boarding competition recently! Our first lesson began 30 minutes late because she was being interviewed for kite boarder magazine. For her, this was more than a job. She was sharing her passion with us, and I could feel her quiet enthusiasm.

Over the next few days Kris gently helped me through every hesitation I had with kiting and I began making good progress. I had much better kite control, too, and felt competent flying the kite alone. When I choked on sea water, she suggested breathing between the waves. She introduced me to the board, and I tried my first water starts with the kite pulling me up onto the board. I even got a couple short and clumsy rides, and they were incredibly exhilarating!

IMG_8865 (Large)I got up on the board on my last day in La Ventana, with Kris by my side on a jetski. I hooted with joy, then crashed both the board and kite with a big splash. Crashing was not so bad, because as soon as I let go of the kite bar the kite lost nearly all of its power. The water made for a relatively soft landing. I made a lot of progress with Kris and felt like all my effort was paying off. I learned the kite, overcame my fears and found a great instructor. I felt so much gratitude. How do you thank someone for rekindling a dying dream? I couldn’t find the words when I climbed off her jetski after my last lesson. But hopefully she’ll read this and will know how much it meant to me.

During my retreat from kiting, I did a lot of internet research. It’s typical to spend an entire season clutzing around with the kite, crashing often and feeling incompetent before becoming an independent kiteboarder. No one tells you this when you take lessons, but it was all over internet forums as I read about people’s experiences. Why are all these lies circulating about how easy it is to learn kite boarding?

Kite boarders want to share the sport. It’s incredible, and they know it. Learning to kite board is worth a hefty investment of time and money, and I felt that once I was up on the board. This sport has an incredibly steep learning curve, especially for someone like me with no prior experience.

Some people would never try kite boarding if they knew they would invest over $1000 just to gain the skills for basic, clumsy riding. But even basic, clumsy riding gets you so high you feel like you’re floating for the rest of the day. You wake up thinking about kite boarding and when you can do it again. It gets into your soul pretty quickly, this kite boarding sport.

And that’s why it’s worth it.

IMG_7940 (Large)Flying the “trainer kite” was more frightening than I thought. It sounds gentle and easy, right? It’s just a trainer kite. No. I didn’t know how to fly it, and it jerked me violently when I flew it wrong. I also crashed it a lot. A few crashes were right near people on the beach, and each time I was mortified that I had almost hurt someone with this ten foot long kite. No one seemed to care that they had almost been hit with it. I was the only one grimacing when it crashed near them. I received only friendly waves and smiles from the almost injured passersby as I called out, “Sorry! I’m learning.”

My instructor kept telling me to relax. He kept touching my tensed up shoulders. Relax, relax, relax. But this kite was powerful and unpredictable. And it was only the trainer kite.

Then, something bad happened to a lady near us. She was with a friend who was teaching her to kiteboard. My instructor said the kite was much too large for her and the wind was strong that day. She was about 50 feet away and my instructor left my side to race toward her. He tried to release her safety leash but he was too late. The kite picked her up off the ground a couple feet. Then, it slammed her down hard in the sand, face-first, and drug her 15 feet. She was wearing a helmet and a PFD and seemed ok after the incident. I felt shaken, though. My palms were sweating and I had to take a moment to breathe and relax before going back to the trainer kite. I later read that the official kiting term for this is getting “yanked and spanked” by the kite.

“Maybe this sport isn’t for me,” I thought but kept going anyway. With my instructor holding onto the back of my harness I wasn’t going anywhere. It was hard to relax because I was afraid of the kite and didn’t understand what it was doing. I told my instructor this and he told me to sit down and fly it. Only then, when I was sitting on the sand, did I start to get comfortable. I wouldn’t get picked up or jerked around in that position. Then, it became fun to fly the kite. After a couple hours I was still flying it poorly, but at least I felt comfortable with it. Near the end of the lesson, I actually began to enjoy flying the kite.

The whole experience felt pretty overwhelming and I was exhausted afterward. I slept 12 hours that night.

Lesson 2
The next day I chose to do a shorter lesson. My time with the kite was too much yesterday. I need to approach this sport in smaller increments if I’m going to be successful. Flying the kite is intense, and the next step is to get in the water and let a bigger kite drag me through the ocean waves. It’s time for the real kite now, and time for the “body drag”. The body drag involves using the kite’s power to move through the water without a board. I did not feel ready for that at all. I am barely starting to understand the trainer kite.

So we practiced more with the trainer kite for about ninety minutes. Today I wasn’t afraid of it, and felt comfortable launching, flying, (with my instructor hanging onto me) and landing the kite. It was also a bit less windy and I think that helped. I learned to fly it one handed, even. At the end of the lesson I felt like I could control the trainer kite pretty well.

Lesson 3
It was time to fly the big kite in the water. My instructor brought it into the water and hooked it to my harness. I began to fly it as I stood in chest deep water. My instructor was tethered to my harness the entire time. It handled just like the trainer kite, but was obviously much more powerful. At least while in the water the consequences of my mistakes were less. The wind was very light, almost too light to launch the kite. It was a mellow introduction and I was glad. After feeling the intense pull of the trainer kite I was sort of dreading the power of the full sized kite.

The wind was too light to do much body dragging, but we tried anyway. It was a mellow introduction to body dragging and waves were small. We practiced flying the kite high with one hand while pretending to put a board on my feet with the other. This was perfect for me and I ended the lesson feeling good.

Lesson 4
It was the day for body dragging with the big kite in big waves. It was a windy day and I would feel the full power of the big kite. I was nervous but my instructor helped with everything and prevented any “kite-mares” that could happen in these intense conditions.

I was flying the kite again in chest deep water with my instructor tethered to me. I practiced my “power strokes”, which means dipping the kite down briefly to get a little extra power. Each power stroke pulled me up and out of the water a foot or two. It was fun, except the waves hitting me in the face every now and then.

I made a mistake with the kite and flew it right into the “power zone”. My instructor was hanging onto me, and we were both launched out of the water. From the knees up I was completely out of the water in an instant. Wow! The kite can so easily toss me into the air. It’s incredible. Note to self: do not fly the kite across the power zone like that!

There were a lot of people in the water that day. My instructor would regularly tell me to bring my kite up because someone nearby was launching or landing on the beach. It was hectic. People were enjoying the strong wind and waves. The next step in my training is a solo body drag, but with the intensity of the conditions and all the people around I don’t want to do it today. At the end of the lesson, I asked my instructor what he thought of solo body dragging near the boat with no people around. He said yes, as long as wind is light. This would be my next step, to get out in the big ocean by myself and fly the kite.

Self Practice
Our boat was anchored in a big, open area. The wind started building around 10:00 am and there were no people around. It felt like the perfect time to get in the water for my solo body drag. We have all our gear on the boat for kiting and Brian even devised a system for launching the kite right from the boat. So I put on my gear and leapt into the water. I was nervous about this but eager to make the breakthrough of controlling the kite solo without my instructor hooked to me. There was no one out here to collide with. If the kite launched me it wouldn’t be a big deal.

The waves were much bigger out in the bay and my PFD was fitting poorly. It didn’t fit over my kiting harness, which I only noticed once I was floating in the water. The back was riding up. And did I mention these waves were big? And I was hooked to a giant kite. The kite was appropriate for the conditions. It wasn’t overpowered or dangerous. As I tugged on a line to launch it I felt its power pulling me face-first into the waves. Rather than send the kite into the sky immediately like I should have, I just kept floating around and trying to get comfortable with the waves before launching the kite.

I tried to keep my back to the waves so they wouldn’t hit me in the face. This didn’t work because the kite was off to my left, hovering on the water surface, pulling me in that direction. The waves were definitely distracting as they washed right over my head. I flew the kite a little bit, but after about 15 minutes I was done with the waves and ready to stop.

Brian was hanging around nearby, upwind, in the dinghy. He would pick me up as soon as I gave him the signal. The fact that he was so close made me feel secure and willing to keep trying even though the waves were big. He was so close we didn’t even need the hand signal. I crawled into the dinghy and we hauled in the kite lines. They were a tangled mess. We went back to the boat and Brian untangled the kite.

It had been intense, and I felt victorious! I had done my first solo body drag, and in big waves!

Now, I’m waiting for my next lesson so I can do more focused body dragging in different directions. After mastering that, I’ll learn to get up on the board while flying the big kite. That is going to be interesting.

IMG_0362 (Large)Exactly one year ago Brian and I flew to La Paz, Mexico. Brian had a small sailboat stored at Marina De La Paz, which he had sailed from California to Mexico solo.

I had never been on a sailboat before. When we arrived at the dark marina that evening, I had no idea that all around me people were sleeping and living on the boats there. When I saw Brian’s 28′ boat for the first time, Leanne was in the boat next to us, quietly listening. I don’t remember what I said, but it must have been obvious I knew nothing about sailboats, marinas, or boating in general.

Leanne peeked out at me and began texting her friend Allyson, who also lives on a sailboat at the marina. They texted about whether I was wearing high heels (I wasn’t), my lack of sailing experience and the potentially rough winter weather in the Sea of Cortez. They placed bets on how long it would take for me to book the next flight back to the US.

1781518_10203273492656960_1013127472_oThese ladies are now some of my dearest friends. Also, I can now proudly call myself a sailor. In just one year I’ve been through the process of surveying and buying a sailboat, have weathered a serious storm, taken a three day sailing course, and learned how to happily live aboard a boat. I’ve also helped with the decommissioning and re-commissioning of our boat and braved a record setting hurricane season in the Eastern Pacific Basin while living aboard.

IMG_1619 (Large)Wow, what a year!

Through it all, my faithful, skilled and caring partner has helped me fall in love with sailing. I fell in love with him, too, and we got married. Now we live on our 39’ Catamaran a few months per year in Mexico and plan to cross the Pacific ocean next year.

My life has been changed so much by this new activity. I faced my fears of the ocean and learned to trust my boat and my partner. I got back into scuba diving when we installed a compressor on the boat. I even did my first night dive! I discovered a new way to live home-free, and made many new sailing friends.

IMG_7128 (Large)I have always enjoyed travelling abroad, and now my vision for world travel has shifted. Now I dream of scuba diving and kiteboarding while living on our boat in the South Pacific.

As I look out the door at the deep blue Sea of Cortez, it’s amazing to reflect on all that has happened during the last year. Sailing was always a vague interest of mine. It was an intriguing thought, a “someday I will” dream, and now it’s in every breath and every plan I make. I love the sailing life.

This morning I re-lived my early sailing days by reading my earlier blog posts about sailing in Mexico. I got a chuckle out of how easily frightened I would get on the little boat. I was such a boating virgin and those waves were big!

IMG_7576 (Large)According to local lore, the coming of the yellow butterflies signals the end of hurricane season. This hurricane season had been the biggest on record for major hurricanes in the Pacific. Brian and I were out on a boat during the most active months, which meant we were especially vulnerable.

Hurricane season was a difficult time for us. We had big plans for our honeymoon and rushed down to Mexico only to realize it wasn’t safe to go out to sea. We were truly homeless, having left our van (Vanifest) behind in Alaska at the end of the summer. We were committed to living on the boat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUnable to move around the sea, we nervously settled into the San Carlos area. Hurricane Odile, the biggest to ever make landfall on the Baja peninsula, had just devastated Cabo San Lucas. The journalism images of the destroyed Cabo airport, demolished boats and desperate people lingered in our minds, making it hard to feel good about being on the boat during this record-setting season.

Whether hurricanes were nearby or not, the summer monsoon weather was unstable. We were hit with a dramatic and unexpected storm while anchored near shore. A couple times we rode the overnight bus back to the US because major hurricanes were nearby. The worst part of it was I was becoming less enthusiastic about sailing because the boat felt like a threatening place, not a happy place.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe boat was our home and we kept returning to it after the hurricanes passed. We eventually had a great time in San Carlos. We found good places to scuba dive and kite board. We had to dig deep to find fun sometimes. I have never tried jogging but we started going to shore to jog because that was one of the only ways to exercise. We ended up loving it. We would explore the beautiful back roads near a small Mexican fishing village named La Manga.

When the hurricane season seemed to be slowing down, we crossed the sea and headed south. Apparently our timing was right. We found clouds of yellow butterflies on the other side of the sea. They filled the skies near Loreto as we lingered a couple days for some great diving in the Candeleros Islands where we found walls of colorful coral. Hundreds of butterflies would flutter by the large bay where we anchored near the Candeleros, but they never landed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe left the bay to begin our 22 hour passage to Los Islotes, and once we were out at sea they would often land on the boat to rest. They were so docile and cooperative that soon it became the day of a thousand butterfly pictures.

The poor creatures seemed exhausted and would remain wherever they landed on the boat. We felt sorry for them, but also took the opportunity to get some close-up photos of them. One little butterfly rode around on my shirt for an hour before I gently placed it back in the cockpit.

It was one of those perfect days out on the ocean, too. The sky was cloudless and light blue. The water was lightly wavy and we alternated between pure sailing and sailing with the help of the engine throughout the day. In addition to the perfect weather, we were surrounded by yellow butterflies all day long and happy that the stress and danger of hurricane season was over.

IMG_0426 (Large) (2)Yesterday was my first time scuba diving at night! We saw many creatures that are never around during our daytime dives, like dozens of four-foot-long sea cucumbers. These snake-like creatures have white, feathered tentacles sprouting from their alien faces which they use to feel around on the rocks for food. These creepy tentacles would quickly retract when we shined our lights on them. Their long, segmented bodies slowly pulsated like a centipede as they squirmed around on the rocks.

IMG_0416 (Large)It was about 7 PM, and we had just finished a dinner of fish tacos. The fish was speared by Brian just hours earlier and I baked it with a thick covering of pineapple salsa. After dinner we took the dinghy to our dive site we nicknamed “The Aquarium” because of all the fish we’ve seen there. From the small pool of light cast by our flashlight, we could see the silky surface of the water as the dinghy glided along, and nothing else. We arrived at the jagged point of the bay, scanned the irregular, rocky shore with our lights, and dropped our small dinghy anchor.

During the day at The Aquarium thousands of fish busily worked a small reef and the water was clear and deep blue. We could see all the way to the rippled, diffused light at the surface from 40 feet below. Tonight the ocean was black and mysterious.

IMG_0413 (Large)We descended and as soon as we reached the bottom we began seeing bizarre things, like sea hares. Sea hares are waddling, blob-like invertebrates with a sexy secret life. After the dive we found all sort of videos online about their hermaphroditic orgies! Apparently adult sea hares can mate as a male or female or both, and often have mass orgies in which sea hares form long conga-line-like chains of individuals fertilizing and being fertilized. Wow. Unfortunately, the sea hares were not exhibiting any sensual behavior during our dive.

IMG_0437 (Large) We shined our lights all around and found great visibility in all directions, about 50 feet. Conditions were perfect. We continued to explore. We saw many sleeping fish hovering motionlessly in the water with their eyes wide open. It was fun to get a closer look at several huge fish which would normally never let me get near them while they are awake. The parrot fish pictured at right was really cute, suspended in a little cave with a toothy grin on his face! The fish sleep with their eyes open and are so entranced that we could swim right up and touch them.

IMG_0440 (Large)Last but not least, toward the end of the dive we found a tiny cave with three creatures inside: a large lobster, a baby lobster and a moray eel. What would cause these creatures to want to spend time together, share a cave? I guess none of them would want to eat the other. Maybe that is a good enough reason?

IMG_0348 (Large)We just spent four days at the most magical island, San Pedro. We had been lusting after it as soon as we learned it was where the local dive shops go for day trips. They call it “seal island”. When Brian’s mom, Sue and her husband, Tim came to visit us we all headed to San Pedro for a few days.

It was a wavy 15 mile passage to San Pedro. Magic was beating into the waves and rocking a bit. I went down below and took a nap, bored with the wavy passage. Brian woke me up as he called down to me to come take a look, we are at the island!

IMG_7128 (Large)I stepped out on the deck and saw soaring white cliffs next to us with a few scattered nests and large sea birds. Fat, brown sea lions lounged on tan rocks at the shoreline. Soon we pulled up in front of a small, rocky beach with a line of several dozen sea lions next to the water, barking wildly. Brian dropped the anchor close to the rocky cliffs. I was a little concerned, especially since one of our engines had stopped working that morning. If winds started blowing us toward the cliff we would only have one engine to try to keep us from hitting the rocks. We really liked this spot, though, and we all wanted to find a way to make it work. Brian put on his scuba gear and dove to the bottom to wrap the anchor chain around a boulder and secure the anchor itself against a large rock. Meanwhile, Tim went to work on the engine and found a way to hotwire it in case we needed the power of a second engine to get away from the cliffs.

IMG_7135 (Large)With confidence in our anchor placement, we began to enjoy the amazing setting. Animals were everywhere. A couple sea lions came out to the boat to greet us, looking up at us curiously. The other sea lions flopped around on the beach, barking away and occasionally rearing up to bite each others fleshy necks.

Everyone wanted to go scuba diving, but I looked at all the sea lions near us on the beach and didn’t like the idea of diving right next to their beach. I told everyone else to go ahead and I stayed behind on Magic. This island was barely even mentioned in our detailed Sea of Cortez cruising guide and is probably more of a place for scuba day trips than for cruising boats to anchor overnight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABrian, Tim and Sue entered the water in their scuba gear. They swam a short distance toward the cliffs and descended. Within minutes they were back on the surface and swimming quickly back to the boat.

“The sea lions are aggressive”, Brian called out to me.

Everyone made it back to the boat safely with tales of first being nipped and mouthed by one medium sized sea lion, and then two more medium sized sea lions quickly came. They left Brian alone, but they mouthed Tim’s head, nipped at Sue’s neoprene hood, and one opened its mouth wide and wrapped it around Sue’s scuba tank. The decision was quickly made to abort the dive. Sue, a retired veterinarian, said that often mouthing is a prelude to biting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast time we snorkeled with the sea lions at Isla Los Islotes near La Paz, the juveniles nibbled on my scuba fins. This is not considered aggressive; it is just a playful, typical sea lion pup behavior. But these sea lions at San Pedro were not pups and they were mouthing the heads and backs of the divers, not the fins.

Brian, Tim and Sue got in the dinghy and went to a different part of the island, far away from the large group of sea lions on the beach. They had a great dive with excellent visibility and the sea lions they saw were not aggressive.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next day I felt a little nervous about diving but decided to do it anyway. I hoped if we went back to the same location of the second dive yesterday the animals would again act friendly. I could understand the sea lions may be more aggressive when defending their beach and was trying to give them the benefit of the doubt.

As we got ready to descend, a dive boat from San Carlos showed up full of divers! I felt relieved. If the dive boats visit this site then surely the sea lions are used to seeing divers here.

IMG_0380 (Large)The dive was wonderful. Visibility was about 60 feet and the sun was shining on colorful coral, eels and fish. I saw a few sea lions in the distance and kept a close eye on them. None of them were even slightly aggressive and I felt more at ease with them by the end of the dive. Later that day we enjoyed another great dive with good visibility.

The next day I went diving with Brian and Tim at the same site. Visibility had decreased dramatically and was only about 30 feet now. It was late afternoon and we were diving in the shade, making the water appear especially dark.

About 15 minutes into the dive I found myself feeling increasingly uneasy. Large sea lions appeared suddenly out of the darkness and swooped quickly through the water nearby. I did not like that one bit. After a few minutes of feeling uneasy, I was not enjoying the dive anymore and did not want to continue. I wrote this on my tablet and showed it to Brian and Tim: “I don’t like this. It’s dark and vis is poor.” I gave the hand signal to turn around and we swam back to the anchor. We began our ascent and stopped at 15 feet depth for a 4 minute safety stop. During this safety stop a medium sized sea lion charged us repeatedly. Once it even came at us with its mouth open wide, showing yellow, jagged teeth, then swooped away at the last second. I huddled against Brian with my limbs tucked in, not moving. Tim fended off the charging sea lion with his large dive light, being careful to never turn his back on the animal. We completed this uncomfortable safety stop and then ascended 15 feet to the surface. This was not my favorite dive but it was a valuable opportunity to learn how to manage discomfort underwater, stay calm, and remember the importance of the safety stop when I really would have just preferred to surface and get away from that charging sea lion.

IMG_7190 (Large)Brian and I went out sea kayaking afterward and had a really great time watching the sea birds and paddling in and out of the many small caves cut into the rocky cliffs of the island. One very dark sea cave was home to a huge sea lion perched on a rock inside. As we entered, his distressed barking echoed loudly in the small space. Soon he slipped into the water and we had the cave to ourselves. After the way they had harassed us, we felt somewhat justified invading the sea lions special cave and ignoring his loud protests.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe quickly moved on after shooting a few photos and soon reached the southern tip of the island. Small groups of Frigate Birds and Boobies sat on rocks only 10 feet above us, and as long as we remained quiet they showed no signs of distress at our close proximity. There are probably very few people visiting them in sea kayaks and they didn’t seem to mind. We spent awhile near them just enjoying their earthy, pungent scent and watching the male Frigate Bird’s bright red, leathery neck pouches flapping gently as they breathed.

The kayaking was so enjoyable we got up early the next morning and paddled around the island again, this time exploring further in both directions and finding more sea caves. Several of the sea caves rumbled and sputtered as the swell moved in and out of cracks deep within, creating delightful sea monster sounds.

IMG_0372 (Large)We went diving again on our last day at San Pedro. Once again visibility was poor, so we decided to stay at shallower depths so there would be more light and the sea lions would be easier to see. This worked well for me and I felt comfortable diving with them in these conditions. They were in a very playful mood and exhibited no aggressive behavior today. I relaxed and enjoyed their acrobatics. At least a dozen sea lions swirled around us and they seemed genuinely pleased to share their underwater world with us. When they are friendly there is nothing better than diving with them and seeing them up close! Sea lions are the only animals I have been underwater with who seem genuinely interested in interacting with divers and also the only animals who seem curious about the bubbles flowing out of scuba regulators. I’m glad my experiences diving with them ended on a high note and I have very fond memories of Isla San Pedro.


About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van and on a sailboat with my superhero husband, Brian. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, scuba dive with sharks, dodge encounters with bears and wolves, and work remotely as a full time computer programmer.
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About the Van

Hi, I’m Vanifest. I’m a big, 4x4, off-the-grid van complete with solar panel for power. I'm a 2000 Dodge Ram Van and Lisa has had me since 2009. Read more about me here.


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