March 23, 2010

Three great days of sailboat racing - with no collisions or injuries

BANDERAS BAY, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico - After a five-year layoff from taking the helm of any large racing sailboat, I grabbed the chance to skipper a 43-foot Taswell sloop in this year's Banderas Bay Regatta.

The chance came about thanks to Clarence and Sharon Harvey, owners of the La Cruz, Mexico-based Taswell 43 Lotus, a fine crusing ship and - after three days a racing - a boat that turned out to be a credible racing yacht, too.

Lotus in duel with Justice
Lotus (61) in background, dueling with Justice (67) in race two

Captain Clarence hadn't done much racing and asked me if I would be willing to captain his vessel in the three-race series, an annual yachting affair that drew more than 60 boats this year. We were put in a racing class with 11 other vessels, ending up 8th over in that division.

We would have preferred No. 1, of course, but after three days of hard competition, we were happy with that - for this year. Captain Clarence is already building his case for a better Performance Handicap Racing Fleet rating (PHRF) because it seemed obvious we were rated incorrectly for this year's regatta. One boat that weighed less - and with a longer waterline  - was rated as slower than Lotus. It took first place in the division. Que sorpresa!

Captain Michael directs crew
Captain Michael directs crew in race three - 'Steady, steady - Ready About!'

The amazing part of the races was how quickly the crew came together to work as a team.

The first two days of racing, Admiral Fox and Laura Warner crewed while Captain Clarence watched to make sure the sails were trimmed correctly and jumped in when necessary to work the winches. My job was to steer a true course and direct the action. We had three good starts (a major part of doing well in a sailing race) and only one near collision when the captain of another boat in the regatta failed to give the right-of-way and then seemed to lose control of his vessel.

We made it without a scratch (or bump) though I believe the captain of the other vessel had to change his shorts right after the incident. I hope he had spare BVDs aboard.

And through that scary episode - and the entire race - Sharon videotaped, catching every great move (OK, and the occasional mistake) on film.

Sharon on the camera
Sharon at her perch on the aft, filming everything

Near miss in collision
Ten minutes earlier, we almost collided with this boat

On the third day of racing, Julien,our surfer-dude amigo from Arroyo Seco, came aboard along with Clarence and Sharon's friend Jim (also a surfer who lives north Puerto Vallarta), both of whom were put to work grinding winches. There must be something about surfing that gives you upper body strength because both could pull the sails in very fast - almost as fast as Laura. Almost.

The third day was our best racing performance, and included a wild start when a boat from an earlier division lost wind and bobbed helplessly at the start line, making it very difficult for any of the boats starting the race to get through the line safely.

We did make it past without crunching any fiberglass - thanks to some fancy sail handling by the crew and a lucky break with a puff of wind.

I almost needed to change my shorts on that one.

Here are some photos from the three days.

Sylvia and Laura on the bow
Admiral Fox and Laura on the bow before the first race

Whale ho!
Some whales watch the race - up close and personal

Captain Clarence with Laura
Captain Clarence and Laura

Laura enjoys a post-race beverage
Laura enjoys a post-race beverage

Lotus before the race
Lotus - ready for next year's Banderas Bay Regatta

And here is a short video with a few scenes from the race:

March 14, 2010

Holy Chukkers! They're playing polo up in Careyes

CAREYES, Jalisco, Mexico - The Admiral and I and CEO Laura succumbed to the lure of a polo match Saturday afternoon, a standard, five-chukker event held in toney Careyes, a few kilometers up the highway from Arroyo Seco.

Pip, pip and all that, you know.

It was great fun. And most of my reservations about polo being a really snooty sport evaporated quickly as the horses pounded up and down the field and the local team scored. The crowd had a lot of fun, some of it perhaps inspired by various libations imbibed to ward off dehydration. Regardless, the match was over very quickly and even included a 15-minute divot stomp in which the spectators went out on the field - with tequila shots in hand - to stomp down the grass where the horses had dug things up.

Seemed easier to stomp after a shot or two.

Among the many spectators were La Manzanilla bon vivant Jane Gorby, accompanied by her daughter Lizzie, visiting from Long Beach.

Polo crowd roots for the home team
Some of the elegant spectators at the match

The polo field is immense, maybe three times the size of an American football field. And when the action was on the other side of the playing area, I wished I had brought my field glasses.

But when they came up close, they came really close and you could hear the polo ponies panting.

The riders change horses as many as five times during the whole match.

Polo at Careyes
Children at play - between 'chukkers'

March 13, 2010

Arroyo Seco's Playa Grande beach suddenly harder to get to...

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - For years the beach road along Arroyo Seco's Playa Grande extended past the row of houses, crossing private land to get to a small beach area that half the village seemed to go to every weekend.

The road also gave easy access for people to drive vehicles to the lagoon, where fishing isn't just sport - it's livelihood.

And the same area has been adopted by legions of surfers, depending on the swell and wind, of course.

But Thursday morning the village woke up to find that the property owner had closed off that road by digging a trench and mounding up an impressive looking sandpile.

Roadblock in Arroyo Seco
Roadblock from the north

Trench to stop drivers
The trench shows the owner is serious

For now, persons with four-wheel drive vehicles still can sneak around the end of the fence towards the beach. But if the owner fixes the barbed-wire, extended it to his property line towards the ocean, anyone driving will actually have to go down on the soft sand of the beach if they want to get to the swimming beach, the lagoon, and the beach of El Tecuan. And that sand can be very soft.

The stories as to why the owner suddenly closed the area off vary: there had been vandalism, there was criminal activity, the roadblock is a precursor to a massive development.

?Quien sabe?

In the meantime, a delegation of fisherman from Arroyo Seco have been complaining loudly to anyone who will listen in the government.

That complaining might be a little louder soon when the campers (from Guadalajara and elsewhere) begin arriving for their Semana Santa holiday and find out they can't get to the beach areas where they have been coming for years.

Watch out La Manzanilla, they might in your direction.

Playa Grande - view from the hill
Playa Grande view from the hilltop

Quad from hilltop
Still accessible by quad

March 10, 2010

Days of music in Arroyo Seco and at Boca de Iguana

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - Two days of music in Arroyo Seco by the Celtic Duo (plus Admiral Fox on her violin) - and a band from Barra de Navidad - had the pueblo rocking this Sunday and Monday.

First, Mike, Myranda and Sylvia did an hour-long practice Sunday evening in the jardin and drew a crowd of about 75 - including at least 25 children, many of whom had already heard some of the songs at an earlier music gathering at the Pink Flamingo at a music night for los niƱos.

The songs were lively and because many of the children were familiar with the tunes, there was a lot of enthusiastic percussion work going on with assorted tambourines and other noisemakers. Oops, I mean music makers.

After the practice, our neighbor Dani and his group plugged in their keyboards and electric guitars and kept the music going for another couple of hours.

At the jardin
Mike, Myranda and Sylvia practice

Music lover
Music fan

The trio played again Monday afternoon - but this time for a largely English-speaking crowd in the upstairs area of the bar/restaurant at Boca de Iguana. The sound system cooperated much better for the Boca show than at practice the night before.

And the margaritas flowed a smoothly as the music.

The attendees for the event - a fund-raiser for money to buy guitars to teach music in Arroyo Seco - were quite generous. They donated a total of 1,000 pesos - enough to buy two medium-sized guitars which Myranda will use next season for music lessons. A fund raiser a few weeks ago, coupled with money donated at the jardin in La Manzanilla, made enough for two additional instruments, one of which Myranda has already has in hand. With four guitars - let the classes begin!

Celtic duo one
Mike and Myranda at Boca

Sylvia at the violin
Sylvia gives a solo on her violin

The Admiral's violin was still smoking from the performance at Boca when we arrived back in Arroyo Seco to find a band from Barra - Soul Fire Project - was going to perform. CEO Laura had talked with the group and they agreed to come and put on a show for the pueblo before heading back out on the road to another gig.

The group headed to the beach for a quick swim and returned very hungry, of course.

As they were starving, the Admiral put together a quick dinner for them at the Pink Flamingo, with appropriate beverages to avoid dehydration. The musicians, like all starving artists, were very appreciative and there was a lively pre-performance party with more appropriate dehydration measures taken.

After chowing down, the group went to the jardin and played some very eclectic music.  The villagers took to the group quickly, grabbing percussion instruments to join in the one-hour performance.

Band performs in Arroyo Seco
And the band played on

Band arrives for chow
Soul Fire Project chows down before putting on a show for Arroyo Seco

Fiddle player - playing a Modelo
Soul Fire Violinist, playing the Modelo

Band member plays on
Dancing to the music

Here is a link to the Soul Fire Project blog:


  • Since Monday night, the village has been extremely quiet by comparison and there are no more planned music events - at least for this week.

    Unless the Soul Fire Project rolls back into town, of course...

    March 7, 2010

    Days at the beach with granddaughter Sasha - time for siestas

    ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - After two days of going to the beach - and chasing granddaughter Sasha around through the sand and in the surf - most of the ranking adults are ready to take a nap, the minute Sasha falls to sleep.

    We will likely all drop like the soldiers at Fort Knox did in the 1960s James Bond movie, Goldfinger.

    Still, nothing is quite as much fun as watching a totally joyful 18-month-old at the beach. She loves the water - and the sand. A lot of the time she resembles Pig Pen from the Peanuts comic strip.

    Sasha as PigPen
    Sasha wearing the latest in beach makeup

    Sasha says - come and get me
    Sasha heading out to Cami

    Sasha pets Mia, sort of
    Checking out Princesa Mia

    We spent the first day at Playa Grande, the second and Tenacatita and today, well, Sasha's mom and dad are talking about a return to Tenacatita for another few hours there, before they head back home to Puerto Vallarta.

    Naps will definitely be in order after that sojourn.

    But perhaps we will be able to see another comedy act at the Tenacatita Beach today.

    Late in the afternoon yesterday, a family used a Honda quad to launch a heavy jet ski and got the quad stuck solidly in the wet sand where the surf was breaking. Only a few waves washed over it, stalling the engine. And the episode provided an excellent object lesson of why purchasing a used quad is probably not such a hot idea.

    Unless the Admiral and I were to sell the Pink Flamingo's Honda, of course...

    Quad stuck in the sand
    Waiting to catch a wave - or wash away

    March 5, 2010

    A barbecue big enough for a pig, and it looks like a pig, too

    ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - Our new pig barbecue arrived last week and within minutes I had managed to snap off one of the ears of the ceramic beast. (Merde!) But even as I broke it, I knew a little epoxy would have Porky Puerco back in fine shape in minutes.

    What I hadn't counted on was a visit from Granddaughter Sasha, who this morning made the snapped off ear into two snapped-off-ear pieces. So my glue job got slightly more complicated, particularly having to keep Sasha from trying to help - and gluing herself to the pig in the process.

    She is glue free and the ear is holding so far.

    By the way: Gawd does epoxy set up fast in this heat!

    Pig barbecue
    Pig barbecue - minus ear - but ready for, well, a pig?

    It's been a full day already (it's noon, time to hydrate, doctor's orders).  Eighteen-month-olds tend to make the days of any adult pretty full.  A beach trip is in the offing for this afternoon. Sasha loves the water and shoreside it's likely everyone can take a brief nap in the shade while Sasha chases any sea birds who have the temerity to land near us. And God help the hermit crabs.

    Currently, we are delaying our departure as we wait for the electricity (la luz) to come back on, after a several-hour hiatus. No one in the village seems particularly concerned. And when I ask anyone on the street about their prediction for the return of power, the answer is always the same: dos horas mas o menos (two hours more or less). Usually that is followed by a shrug of the shoulders.

    If the Admiral and I hadn't just made a Costco run in Puerto Vallarta - and picked up hamburger and other meats now solidy frozen - I wouldn't care much at all.

    Honda generator to the rescue - again
    Honda generator to the rescue, again

    Little Honda was called back into service about an hour ago, when dos horas has passed. The generator is purring nicely to keep everything cold (or frozen) until the CFE luz makes its triumphant return - soon I hope.

    If not, we'll head to the beach anyway now that the refrigerator and the freezer are relatively charged up and cold. This morning the waves were huge at Playa Chica, when Cami (Sasha' mom), Sasha and I took a quad ride to check out where we might swim later.

    We will not be swimming at Playa Chica, but instead will likely head to a very protected beach south of Playa Grande.

    March 4, 2010

    Doctor says it's important to avoid dehydration - have a cold beer

    PUERTO VALLARTA, Jalisco, Mexico - We roared up Mexico Highway 200 over the weekend to visit with Dustin and Cami and Sasha - as well as take care of some medical appointments in the metropolis of Puerto Vallarta.

    I went to a new-to-me doctor/dermatologist who told me I needed to hydrate to help with my very dry skin.

    And beer, he said, works to pump up your fluids. Not as well as water, but still...

    No kidding. Beer.

    Hi-ho! Doctor's orders and all that.

    Westsail 32 - A sailing classic
    A classic sailboat - a Westsail 32

    Part of the reason for being in Vallarta was to hook up with Captain Clarence Harvey, skipper of the 43-foot sailboat Lotus who has asked me to help him with racing in the Banderas Bay Regatta in a couple of weeks. It is a fabulous boat, but he hasn't raced and so my role will be to act as an adviser (Don't hit that boat! Turn to port! Turn to starboard!) as well as to be crew.

    And, of course, I will do my best to keep hydrated during the three days of racing in the sun on beautiful Banderas Bay.

    Adm. Fox and CEO Laura Warner will also be joining the crew, too, no doubt in part to monitor my hydrating activities. The races can be very long.

    Sasha chows on her dad's bagel
    Granddaughter Sasha eats her father's bagel

    It was a fun visit with Sasha, who at 18 months really is starting to know her mind - and express it.

    One new word that she can say in English, Spanish and Romanian is 'no.' And she uses it a lot.

    Oddly enough I watched the Jim Carrey movie 'Yes Man' one of the nights and the next day started telling Sasha yes, everytime she said no.

    It worked briefly. Very briefly. She is as smart as she is cute and is back on her no-to-everything stance. We see how long she says no when she arrives tonight in Arroyo Seco and we drag out the cookies.

    A cowblock in Arroyo Seco
    'Cowblock' in Arroyo Seco

    There is only one road in and out of Arroyo Seco. Well, only one that I can drive my two trucks on anyway.

    And this morning - as we tried to get to La Manzanilla for a 10:30 a.m. breakfast date - we ran into a 'cowblock' on the bridge. For as second, it appeared the small herd of vacas didn't want to cross the bridge and we would have had a standoff unless I backed up. (Yes, it would have been Mexican standoff, but really...)

    The vaquero running the herd made them change their minds with a some gentle shouted encouragement - and the back of rope across the butts of several of the laggard cows.

    Not exactly U.S. gridlock, just a nice diversion.

    March 1, 2010

    No close encounters with crocs in a lagoon kayaking adventure

    ARROYO SECO,  Jalisco, Mexico - Admiral Fox and I decided to take a swamp tour Saturday in our two trusty kayaks, all nicely cleaned and debugged this past week. Both boats are swamp veterans, though smaller and lighter one is a sit-on top variety, which means the kayaker's rear marinates in a puddle of swamp water while moving about.

    The Admiral volunteered to take that one. Honest! She was quite leery of putting her legs inside our more waterproof Necky unit. But that meant I carried the gear: cameras and field glasses and, of course, my trusty Crocodile Dundee knife.

    Timber rattler knife
    Timber Rattler, just the thing for swamp tours

    We had meant to get out much earlier to catch glimpses of birds and wildlife, but missed out for the most part by launching about 9:30 a.m. We realized that the most activity is probably at dawn or dusk. Swell...

    On the way to launch, we forded a half-dozen very deep ruts in the road, still full of rainwater from a week ago. One was deep enough that the muffler on the Tundra blew a few muddy bubbles as we roared through. The truck is a lovely two-tone gray and tan now.

    Admiral in Lagoon
    Admiral on the search for birds

    The large lake/lagoon behind the old El Tecuan Hotel is full of fish and all during our paddles, fish would jump within a few feet of the kayaks, startled by our presence. No crocs were sighted, however, though we have been told by many people that they do lurk in the shallows and not to be tempted into doing any wading.

    Given the color of the water in most places, wading did not cross my mind.

    We will return to the lagoon soon - either very early in the morning or a dusk - to see if we can get a glimpse of the herons and other birds we know live there.

    Who knows? We might even see a Pink Flamingo...

    Fishing close to shore
    Arroyo Seco fisherman in close to shore