Try flying stand-by as an airline employee A lot of folks, upon hearing that we enjoy some nice benefits being part of an airline family, comment (with envy), “Ohhh, you must get to fly everywhere for free! How awesome!” And yes, there are definitely some perks being airline employees who can fly on our own airline for “free” and many others for a pittance. But make no mistake, many of our #SAtraveladventures (SA, or “space available,” is code for “You might get on, you might not, but either way be prepared with a backup plan and NEVER lose your shit when you don’t get where you were hoping to go”) are just that–adventures. Last year, we went to Costa Rica on our own airline, which, on an international flight, means we pay the mandatory taxes for the flight (but not much else). Awesome right? Yes. It was. When we finally got there. But let me open the kimono a bit on how getting there actually works out when you’re a family of four travelling to a warm destination when lots of other paying customers (i.e., “revenued passengers” or “PAX”) want to go there too. We drive from our home in Northern California to San Francisco airport. Flight loads (or how many rev PAX, are booked, confirmed, checked in for the flight) look good. But something happens in the 2+ hours it takes us to drive to the airport (in this case, another carrier canceled a flight and rolled their PAX to the flight we were hoping to get on, which, coincidentally, was the last flight of the day to LAX–where we were connecting to our Costa Rica flight). Uh-oh. That means, as we check loads again when we are driving up to the airport parking lot, we see equates with NO seats available on our necessary flight to LAX. Upon checking in with the agent at the departures area, we learn that, as we suspected, there’s no chance in h**l that we are getting on that flight to LAX. And it’s nearly midnight, so no other carriers have a flight to LAX that will get us there in time for our connection to Costa Rica. We walk away from the check in area, which is complete mayhem because the other paid PAX are reeling from this news and frantically trying to ensure they, too, get on that flight…. and begin to figure out how to course correct. The new plan? We frantically book a one-way rental car (before the rental car agencies close for the night at midnight) from SFO and DRIVE to LAX. (We can’t drive our own car there because we were supposed to fly back to SFO and need our car here for the drive home). Yes, drive ALL NIGHT after being up all day, driving 2+ hours to SFO, and hope to get on the early morning flight out of LAX (around 8am) to Costa Rica. Here goes nothing! While the kiddos sleep, hubby and I haul booty down the I-5 South to LAX, checking traffic all the way and hoping we beat the morning LA traffic. We scream into the LAX rental car return center, rush to the check in area, get through security, then sit and hope we get on the Costa Rica flight (which incidentally has also gotten full overnight, Murphy’s law). And in the miracle of all miracles, we GET ON. WOOT! This year for spring break, I decided to get smart and book “positive-space” tickets on our own airline to get to Mexico. This time, I think, “No way I’m chancing my one opportunity to get to a beach since last year.” While I was, by miracle, able to get us confirmed seats on the Seattle-Puerto Vallarta leg of our trip, I wasn’t able to get PST (positive space tickets) for the short hop from our hometown to Seattle. No biggie! (I think). There are enough flights for that short hop, it’ll be no problem. *Famous last words.* Saturday, as we are prepping the house to get out of town, do all kinds of last-minute things that need doing and, oh yea, packing for the trip, we check the loads and discover that oh shnikes, the flights from SMF-SEA are horrendous. So we look at every other possibility to get to Seattle. (and I mean every other possibility)—like: SFO, SJC, OAK, Santa Rosa, San Diego, hell, even driving to Medford (Oregon) or Redman (Oregon) –both 5-7+ hour drives from home, to get a flight to Seattle. We check the loads and decide to just go a day earlier (TODAY, Saturday) and pack frantically–throwing things in suitcases, yelling out instructions to the kids to help us get on the road, because we need to leave for the airport 2 hours after checking the loads! Scene at the airport a couple hours later: We are at the gate, the flight is boarding, and it is becoming increasingly clear that many other non-revs have been at the airport all day and are desperate to get this last flight to Seattle tonight. There were 24+ non-revs listed for the previous flight and only 3 got on. So in addition to the 10+ people that were listed for our 8 pm flight, we now have the other 20+ people waiting for the flight we need to make our connection to Seattle. You can see where this is heading, right? We discuss the option of splitting (when the loads are bad, hubby and I discuss which one of us will go, and with which kid, if there are only 1-2 seats available). This, of course happens. Except the option this time is hubby can ride “jumpseat” (or JAX in airline lingo)–he can ride in the cockpit with the pilots and our older kid can ride as an unaccompanied minor in the back (i.e., in a regular seat by himself). Said older son is NOT happy about this option. And hubby points out that unless I’m willing…
Our time in Southern Jalisco feels like ages ago now… now that we are resettled in our Northern California home, with the kids in school, Dakota safely docked in the Bay Area and the weather slightly starting to cool (very slightly, albeit). But the feelings Southern Jalisco invokes in me are sweet and remind me of the unique adventures we experienced there. Looking back at our pictures and reading back over the sections of our “Pacific Mexico” cruiser’s guidebook is like jumping in a time machine and putting myself back there . . . Back when our biggest concerns were potable water, sufficient power supplies and getting to shore uneventfully from our anchorage. Tenacatita Bay (or more properly, Bahia Tenacatita) is a very special place. Fairly untouched and not remotely close to the typical overrun Mexican resort town, this sleepy bay is where some of our most fond memories are. In addition to our river estuary tour in Perula, we went ashore and took a taxi to the nearby town of La Manzanilla for a field trip of sorts to visit the crocodile sanctuary.
More Adventures Along the Mexican Gold Coast: Tenacatita Our time anchored in Tenacatita is one of the highlights, and probably our first or second favorite anchorage (tied with Isla Isabel). Not only was the sail down lovely (and uneventful/stressful), the anchorage itself was perfect. Quiet, protected, spacious, *not rolly*, close to shore with plenty to see and do, and we could surf and paddle right off the back of the boat! There was lots of marine life surrounding our boat, dolphins all the way down (and we think some sneaky dolphins swimming in the anchorage at night) and lovely boat neighbors (who once rescued our down duvet after it fell in the water off our boom while we were out exploring in La Manzanilla!)
Our time on the Mexican Gold Coast: leaving Banderas Bay, but first . . . . It’s been far too long since I’ve set aside time to write about our adventures south of La Cruz–and there have been many! Part of it, admittedly, was pure burnout. Let me preface this by saying: we have loved our adventures and the experiences we have shared as a family aboard Dakota and on land! But, at some point, after running down the Baja *and* Pacific Coasts of Mexico for weeks and months, it’s fair to expect some level of burnout by both the adult and kid crew on Dakota. But before that, let’s go back a couple months….. La Cruz, Guadalajara, Guachimontones and Tequila: January 10 – 29, 2017 We spent 3 lovely weeks in La Cruz letting it grow on us and us on it. It’s true what “they” say– as a kid boat, it’s *very* easy to get comfortable there what with all of the organized activities for boat kids of all ages, plenty of like-minded and like-aged parental units always up for a cerveza or margarita while we “watch” the kids by the pool, the on-point seminars, the social gatherings and parties, the walkability of the gorgeous and well-appointed marina (so very cruiser oriented) to the lovely town of La Cruz (which is also amazingly cruiser-oriented and cruiser-friendly), and the feel of the community we have there–having friends as neighbors and willing babysitters (WOOT!) and just everything being so easy. So yea, we got sucked in. But after a few weeks, we felt we needed to get off the dock and go SEE something else. So, we rented a cheap little car and headed out on a road trip through the Sierra Madres, driving through valleys and hills with acres and acres of blue agave plants (it’s like driving through wine country and the Rockies at the same time!) and making our way to Guadalajara, which we learned is the second largest city in Mexico.
Since our last post, I’ve started our next post at least three times – the now-familar post indicating where we’ve been and what we have been doing while there. And there has been plenty to report on! But the thing I think you all might find interesting at this point in our adventure is a little more of the “day in the life” part of our adventure and how it is shaping us as both individuals and a family now.
Passage from Isla Isabela to Chacala (En route to La Cruz) We left the amazing anchorage at Isla Isabel (85 nms from Mazatlan) on Saturday January 7 and headed on a short overnight passage to Chacala – a lovely little beach town about 40 nms on the mainland, basically a straight shot from Isla Isabel. The passage was mostly quiet (little to no wind) and uneventful and we kept the pace slow so as to arrive in Chacala right around daybreak, about 6 am. We had heard it was advisable to set both a bow and stern anchor to keep the boat steady in the little bay, which offered some (but not tons) of protection from the swells. And after arriving and scoping out a good place to drop the hook, we found the advice was sage and decided to set a stern anchor once the morning winds died down. Chacala is a quiet little Mexican beach town with one “main” road running parallel to the beach and the beachfront sparsely populated (but pleasantly so) with palapa restaurants and a big beach for walking and play in the sand. The spot to bring the dinghy to shore happens to be right in front of the port captain’s office but since we arrived on a Sunday, it was (as expected) closed so we were free to explore the beach and town and get little feet onshore to get out some wiggles.
By way of Stone Island (Isla de la Piedra) After almost a month at the marina in Mazatlan (most of which was planned) we finally threw off the dock lines once again to make our way South. With a plan (etched in sand as always) in our back pocket, we decided to make the short hop over to Stone Island (Isla de la Piedra) on the south side of Mazatlan, then make the bigger jump over to Isla Isabel on an overnight passage. Stone Island, as it is commonly referred to by yatistas and turistas alike in Mazatlan, is actually not really an island. It’s really a peninsula that juts off the mainland coast but is more easily accessible by boat (panga or private boat). In fact, it’s a perfect place to anchor but for the fact (or fiction?) of wily thieves that target cruising boats and are known to slash your dinghy off your davit in the middle of the night. In order to avoid that chaos, we opted to day-anchor there and go ashore to visit the sites. Approaching the small bay that comprises this anchorage was an interesting experience, with cargo and cruise ships arriving and departing all around us as we crossed the entrance to the commercial channel. We made it safely though and dropped the hook in 20 feet of sandy bottom and promptly dropped in our (newly acquired) inflatable kayak and SUP for the short paddle to shore. Stone Island, while definitely geared towards tourists (both land and sea-based), is a long gorgeous beach with plenty of palapa restaurants, vendors and musical libations (the good kind, from live musicians rather than the oompa-oompa we typically encounter from amplifiers). What a fabulous day! We devoured some fresh fish at one of the beachfront restaurants and then mosied over to where we parked our inflatables on the beach and people-watched, played in the sand, and took a little walk down the beach. We loved the laid-back feel of Stone Island and enjoyed mixing it up with “local” tourists (i.e. Mexicans on vacation).
Passage from Cabo San Lucas to La Paz (er, scratch that, Mazatlan) We arrived in Cabo Thursday December 1st feeling overjoyed, overwhelmed, relieved, happy and very excited to return to a place where modern amenities were not only available, but abundant. After a week on the hook in a remote anchorage, our senses seemed heightened and we felt the joie de vie of Cabo in a way I would imagine a sight or hearing-restricted individual might. It was quite a shock to our systems to take in the zipping around of pangas/water taxis, the gargantuan cruise ship in town, the many jet skis, motor boats, personal sailboats and tourist vessels on the water all at once.
While we weren’t sure how long we’d be in Mag Bay (specifically at Man of War Cove where we anchored), we sure didn’t bet on 6 days waiting for a do-able weather window to make the non-stop jump to Cabo San Lucas. At first, we found the town quaint and charming . . . the 1 dirt road invoked feelings of awe and the neighborliness of the restaurant owner, Jose, and the town Sheriff, Antonio, made us feel like we stepped back in time to when people actually had time to stop and talk with passersby. But with each passing day, the high-wind system that forced us to stay put started to feel more and more like an exercise in isolated restriction and the quaint pueblo started to lose its luster. The final nail in the proverbial coffin was when we learned from our neighboring sailboat Golden Hind that, on the same afternoon we had finally been able to convince Finley to go ashore via our dinghy, the sole restauranteur Jose had packed up his casa (including his mattress and bedding) and left for San Carlos via panga. Like LEFT. Finito. Moved out. For what we could only assume was the rest of the season. So, the carrot we had dangled for 2 days to get our crew to shore (fish tacos and beach play!) had disappeared, leaving us, once again, stranded on the boat–and me, the galley chef, wondering what on earth I would scrounge up to feed our insatiable crew.
While we enjoyed our time in Turtle Bay, we decided to take advantage of the good-sized weather window to make the long jump to Bahia Magdalena (Mag Bay, as its commonly called), which would be our longest passage ever, 250 nautical miles. We calculated a roughly 36-42 hour passage, departing Turtle Bay on Wednesday, November 23rd at 4pm and arriving inside Mag Bay on Friday, November 25 at 12pm (ish). Since that meant we would be underway during Thanksgiving, I bought some tilapia in Turtle Bay and planned to cook up some yummy fish with baked Kabocha pumpkin with asian-inspired shitake mushroom rice. I also put together an activity board of things we/the kids could do on the passage to pass the time and make best use of our Thanksgiving sail.