Travels with Varnebank, part 2

Another adventure without Northern Ranger! Poor thing, she’s going to think we don’t love her!

Well of course we do, but timing and weather and circumstances beyond our control back home had us returning to La Paz later than anticipated mid-January and lacking the weather window needed to cross over to Puerto Vallarta. Our Cubar ride, the MV Varnebank, was planning to cruise across to Paradise Village and wanted crew, so we jumped at the opportunity for another big blue ship adventure. We decided we would spend almost two weeks with them so we could get our La Cruz fix as well as help Ken and Christy out. And I am always up for some big water cruising..

I figured this was a sweet deal, as it meant we would be in Paradise Village, Nuevo Vallarta ( never been there for more than dinner and a swim!) and maybe even get to La Cruz for my birthday, and our anniversary… both substantial numbers this year and ones I wanted to celebrate ( or find people with whom to commiserate… whichever!)

So the groceries I bought for our trip were moved over to Varnebank, and we loaded on bushels more…. had our first sleepover at the dock so we could get an early start..and we were off!

This trip was going to be two overnights, and we weren’t in a hurry to arrive early in the morning (unfamiliar passage into Nuevo Vallarta and a dock they’d never been to plus we had to take low tide into consideration) so I would have ample opportunity to throw out the fishing lines, which was also a good reason to want to go.

The weather was perfect, and as the two weather-prognosticators aboard had predicted, calmed down even more as the hours sped by. We also had the benefit of a full moon, which northerners were calling a ‘snow moon’ but down here that’s kind of just weird. It was, however, spectacular.

We stayed with the same pairings for watches, I planned a few meals, and we settled back into the rhythm pretty quickly.

As we left La Paz, a whale surfaced and gave us a magnificent send-off! A good omen, always welcome and greatly appreciated.

My lines were in the water as soon as we were in the sea. Unfortunately my bad fishing karma has dogged me since the end of Cubar, and the only thing that attached itself to my line was a large skipjack. Got all of us excited but even a big one isn’t worth the effort and he was easy to shake off. I changed lures, changed leaders, adjusted length out… did everything I could think of but… no luck. The sun set and the lines came in.

The moon created so much light that we could barely see the stars and everything around us glowed. We settled into our watches, I fed everyone, we adjusted the three hour watch to a four hour watch and back as we tried to figure out what worked best. We seemed to be the only boat out there – once or twice we passed or were passed by another vessel but mostly we were alone.

Ken and I were on our second night watch when we were treated to a large whale cavorting in the light of the moon… Ken was on the back deck looking behind us and enjoying the light of the setting moon, when he spotted something dark on the near horizon… which turned out to be a whale! One of those ‘Lock it in your memory because no way we could get the cameras out fast enough” moments. Epic and breathtaking.

Daytime is all about feeding crew and everyone trying to sleep when they aren’t on watch…some of us are better than others at doing this! I always want to fish so I miss a few sleep-times, figuring I can make up for it at night and get a good six hours over the two rest times. This isn’t always possible but when you are down in the bowels of a steel boat with no portholes and far away from the engine, sleep actually comes pretty easily- and having a fan keeping you cool helps a lot. So I actually had almost a solid three the first time and maybe two the second. Heck, I have nights when I get less than that and we haven’t left the dock!

However if the trip is longer than two full days, lack of sleep catches up to you, so I would be making more of an effort to sleep during the day. I enjoy long overnight passages but eventually you do need to accumulate a reasonable amount of sleep!

On our watch the second night a frigate bird zeroed in on us and decided that he was too tired to travel, settled on the tip-top of the mast… and stayed there throughout the night. At one point I came up from my bunk and Lawrence and Christy laughed at us, saying the frigate was still there but he must have gone fishing because he left us a present… half a dead smelly fish and what birds do when they fly over you. Only way more than little birds leave. It took a while but I got rid of the poop and the smelly fish.. not a pleasant task but a necessary one.

we shone lights at him, we honked the horn at him, we tried to spray him with water...persistent critter!we shone lights at him, we honked the horn at him, we tried to spray him with water…persistent critter!
Needless to say there was more where that came from later on.

Sunrise saw us steaming slowly into Banderas Bay. We had kept the rpm’s well down below 1000 which kept the aft master stateroom, right next to the monster heat sink of an engine, a lot cooler than usual. We also didn’t want to arrive in darkness, and felt that slower may have been better for fishing. Apparently not… but it was worth a try.

Coming into Paradise Village through the narrow entrance as the tour boats and pangas wake up and race off to start their day is quite the adventure. Having the dredge in the middle of the channel was also a trip. Not knowing whether there was enough water under our ten foot keel… priceless. But the captain steered us through slowly and surely and we were able to find our designated dock, 120 feet, no power, no water, no access to the island it was on… but the price was right and the view was spectacular.

the line handlers do a great job of securing us!the line handlers do a great job of securing us!
and the skipper does a great job of landing us!and the skipper does a great job of landing us!
On one side, Nuevo Vallarta and all the super yachts tied up, lots of activity and daily sailing dinghy races…

some of the smaller big yachtssome of the smaller big yachts
young sailors out in full force having a grand time!young sailors out in full force having a grand time!
and on the other a jungle island full of birds and the occasional iguana. And right there – step into the dinghy or the kayak to explore the miles of waterways through lush jungle, some spectacular waterfront homes, and not a few crocodiles.

Oh yes…they warn you everywhere… no swimming. Keep pets and small children away from the water. I enjoyed the lovely inflatable sit-on pedal kayaks but knowing there was nothing between me and the crocodiles’ substantial teeth but a bit of rubber…. Scary.

Christy and I enjoyed a long pedal-paddle, spent about four hours exploring deep into the mangrove channels…at one point, when we were so far in no one could have heard us scream and the mangrove trees were so thick you couldn’t see the shore, we heard a humongous splash as we paddled by, and all we could think about what the size of croc it would take to make that loud a splash as it slithered its huge body teeth-first into the opaque water. Needless to say we started pedalling very quickly!

Amazingly enough we saw divers working underwater on the yachts around us even though not that far upstream we had crossed paths with a large croc.

The other wildlife- the bright orange iguanas, and the cacophony of birds – was spectacular. It was an amazing place to spend a few days!

We visited with boat friends, Christy and I went out for haircuts and pedicures..there was a first birthday party for one of Christy’s newest Mexican grand babies.. complete with piata!

But no water and the lack of electricity on the dock took its toll, and we decided to head over to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle for the weekend, so I could get my market and La Cruz Inn fix… and hopefully visit with friends we know are hanging out at the marina.

Our timing for departure was bad, as the lowest tides of the year were being experienced, and one thing Varnebank needs is water under her belly. At low tide we were quite convinced the keel was settling gently into the mud under our dock. Christy was set to drive their borrowed car over to La Cruz, leaving the three of us to pilot the ship through the entrance. Ken and I dinghied out and sounded the whole channel – at high tide there was just enough water in spots if we stuck to the middle. That doesn’t take into account having another boat trying to come in or go out at the same time, but might equals right and although some boats may be bigger, not many have the heft of Varnebank! So we slowly backed out and around, ( stirring up not a little mud as we maneuvered) and made it safely through the entrance, while Christy waved at us from the shore.

stay in the middle and you will be fine!

I watched out for whales as we did the short hop across Banderas Bay from one marina to another, spotting a number at a great distance but none close by.

The best part of the trip was taking the dinghy and going in ahead of the big boat, which was a lot of fun and very tempting to head back out and look for whales by myself…but I had a job to do, using the headphones to send information back to the mothership about what to expect when they came in to dock.

Which was accomplished with only marginal trauma and the help of one of the dock-guards.

Water at the dock is usable if you have all the filters you need to put it safely into your tank – we have used it before with no ill effects -but it is very hard. So they had the dock people bring down jug after jug of good water and put it in.. water problem solved. We had power so the generator didn’t need to be on morning and afternoon… and we were close to some of my favourite restaurants so life was good.

We were also at the same dock as Pat and Alexa and the family on N50 Noeta, which was fantastic because it meant we could visit with them…and have a few sundowners on the top deck of Varnebank before we had to head back to Paradise Village.

We were lucky that we came to La Cruz on a Sunday, because we all enjoyed our walk around the weekly market and our impromptu lunch. Best market ever ! And there was a woman who makes purses out of cork fabric which was serendipitous, as Christy and I have been trying for a while to figure out how to use the cork fabric she brought from San Diego. After we talked to the seller about how she does what she does, and I bought two sweet little zipper purses because she was so helpful – we figured we knew exactly what we wanted to do.

By the end of the next day we had four sewing machines out, we worked on a caftan for me, some cork leather purses, Christy finished sewing projects she had started months ago… it was a sweat shop for sure and we were mad at ourselves for not setting up earlier!

What is interesting about Varnebank (well there is a lot about Varnebank that is interesting but we will stick to this for now) is that she is not 120 power.. she is European and thus 230/50 hz..which means no appliances or anything electrical that works for normal boats will work for her.

Ken and Christy have to source out everything that will work on the boat mostly they indeed have found sewing machines and sergers they can keep on Varnebank. There are adapters for plugs we used for things like our cel phones and camera batteries, but things like fans, hair dryers, sewing machines – all have to be 230. Stoves, fridges, microwaves.. all come from overseas. Makes replacing old units a bit difficult but thank heavens for Amazon and E-bay!

The town of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle started an initiative to promote the arts and art tourism, choosing artists and families to work together to create murals on the sides of houses and businesses. We were fortunate to arrive in time to see the completion of the endeavour, and to observe the grand opening. I went up with Alexa to watch the grand opening but after an hour and a half of speeches we decided the sun was going to go down before we would have a chance to parade through the town and see each painting and hear its story. Pity, as I would have liked to do that, but dinner and a sundowner called so we went back to the boats. The paintings I did see were wonderful! Worth another visit, or ten…

sundowners with Noeta, Pat and Alexa!sundowners with Noeta, Pat and Alexa!
yours trulyyours truly
For our last evening we went to La Cruz Inn and had a great meal and delicious margaritas up on their new rooftop deck bar. Missed the Friday night dancing horses but this almost made up for it, beautiful view and good food.

Sewing Machines stayed out while we crossed back to Paradise, and we had another day together of sewing and finishing projects, before we headed over to Piredmus for a dinner with the Two T Talbott’s… a delicious and very fun evening on a beautiful boat, wonderful way to end our trip across to PV on Varnebank. Now it was time to go home to Northern Ranger!

heading for dinner on Piredmusheading for dinner on Piredmus
the one-T and the two-T Talbot's looking rather twinnythe one-T and the two-T Talbot’s looking rather twinny
Travelling from one Mexican city to another seems like it should be easy – but like all the other flights we have been exploring, that has become more difficult too. To get across the sea, a short hop up from PV to La Paz or even San Jose Del Cabo.. you have to fly to Mexico City!

Mexico City is HUGE ..and smoggyMexico City is HUGE ..and smoggy
Seems a bit counterproductive and certainly takes a lot longer than one would hope… however it is what it is so Ken and Christy dropped us off well in advance of our after-lunch flight, we had time for a great breakfast in the airport, and after a few hours in the air, a short layover, and another several hours, we landed in SJ d C to get into a van and be driven two and a half hours to La Paz and our boat. Long long day! Carnival had started up so the Malecn was shut down, and the town is under de-construction with random shut-downs of roads due to big holes being dug in intersections. Our driver, Carlos, who was a wealth of information about just about everything from fishing to food… took us the back route which I guess if you had never driven it before could lead one to become nervous ( where is this guy taking us?!?) but we have done the drive before and it was way more pleasant than sitting in traffic downtown.

Plus it gave him the opportunity to give us all the lowdown on the various mega yachts we have in our marina and best yet…how the president of Mexico was staying at Costa Baja!

Way cool… he told us if we went to one of the restaurants that night we could well be sitting next to him and we’d never know, he isn’t surrounded by a military entourage.

But unfortunately for us it was way too late for restaurants, and we were hungry, so toast and peanut butter for dinner at 10:30 and then bed, happy to be back in our own home!

That adventure over, it was time to regroup,restock, and plan our next chapter: Val and Bill come for two weeks and we get to show them our favourite haunts!

Let the games begin!

back in La Paz, back to our favourite fish taco restaurant, back to margaritavilleback in La Paz, back to our favourite fish taco restaurant, back to margaritaville