Road Trip Day 17: Carlsbad Caverns National Park

After a warm night (the temperature got down to 81 degrees) in a gravel RV site off the Carlsbad Caverns access road, we got an early start up to the visitor center to queue up for tickets to get into the caverns. We got there around 7:15 for an 8 AM opening, in time to get in on the second entry slot at 8:45 AM via the natural entrance.

The natural entrance, a 1.2 mile and 750 ft descent

As you can see in the photo, there is a paved path that switchbacks 750 feet down into the cavern over 1.2 miles. It is a fantastic way to go in, but I don’t think it was used all that much pre-COVID. I was here some 50+ years ago as a kid… I don’t think we came in this way back then. By the way, this is the bat exit and entrance, and you can see the entrance to the bat cave about 1/4 of the way down. It is not part of the tour, and a good think at that with 40 feet of guano at the bottom of the cave.

Masked up with the N95s going in…

Eventually we entered the Big Room, or the main part of the caverns. This is where the elevator descends from the visitor center. We did the big room tour, which was another 1.2 mile walk around the “largest known limestone chamber in the Western Hemisphere”.

Map of the cavern in the Big Room.

The temperature in the caverns was in the mid 50s, with humidity at 90%. Surprisingly, it wasn’t necessary to wear the extra layers we brought. The cave is apparently some 30 miles in length, and is not the largest in the park. Another cave called Lechuguilla was discovered in 1986 and is over 140 miles in length and 1,600 ft deep.

With the low light levels in the cavern it’s difficult to get decent pictures. The gallery above has some samples from our walk around the big room.

At the end of our walk around the big room we took the elevator back up to the surface. It ascended the 750 feet in about 1 minute. After a stop in the gift shop to add to Miranda’s collection of postcards and stickers we were off to head across Texas and the final stretch of our trip.

Barra de Navidad

Barra de Navidad is a large bay just 12 NM south of Tenacatita.  The town of Melaque in on the north side of the bay and town of Barra de Navidad is on the south side, where the bay enters a large lagoon.  The Grand Isla Resort and Marina Puerto de Navidad, where we stayed, is on the South side of the entrance to the lagoon.  The wide entrance channel between rock jetties is well marked and has adequate depth, but it shoals up very quickly outside the marked channel.  Barra is mainly a tourist town with sport fishing, and reportedly at this time of year the population is 85% Canadian.

Welcoming visitors to town on the main road.

We had no difficulty coming in and finding our slip in the marina, where we soon met Pancho, the nearly famous “Boat Guy” of Barra.  Everyone we spoke with had nothing but the highest praise for him.  We had Pancho and his crew do a complete wash and wax, bottom cleaning and interior cleaning, and soon understood why he is so highly regarded.  The boat looked great, inside and out, and the price was right at a fraction of what it would have cost back home. 

Looking back at the entrance to the marina and lagoon area.

The marina is attached to the Grand Isla Navidad resort, which has a laundry service, basic showers, a small fitness center, and most importantly, a pool to escape the afternoon heat and humidity.  We utilized their showers to preserve our water supply, as the water is not potable there (we don’t have an ultrasonic purifier), and making water in the marina is not wise. We follow the rule of – if the locals don’t drink the water, we don’t either.

There is a regular water taxi service from the resort and marina across to the town of Barra, where there are plenty of restaurants and a regular Thursday market for produce and other provisions.

The water taxi dock.

The resort is not very occupied most of the time, so at times it was a bit eerie until a group of cruisers showed up from Tenacatita. We walked the property and found an entire additional section that appears completely abandoned, although with a small pool still filled and cleaned, and a security guard often on site. We walked very nice brick roads up steep hills to dead ends where further parts of the resort were never developed. As you enter the marina, there is a large structure that was built expecting it would be a casino, but when that was denied (we are not sure by whom), it was abandoned as is. This type of abandoned structure is a common site in the resort areas of Mexico.

One of our regular water taxi drivers.

A true luxury of the area is the French baker. He comes to the marina in his little boat with fresh croissants and other treats 5 mornings a week. We splurged and also bought a supply of frozen croissants with his careful instructions for preparation and some almond paste to make some even more delicious!

Passing the relic for the casino at sunset.

Since we were in Barra for about 3 weeks arranging for parts to diagnose and fix our fuel delivery issues, we took some trips, one to a coffee cooperative in the mountains and several days to Guadalajara. More on those soon. We really enjoyed getting away from the heat, and to some degree, the gringo orientation of the coastal/boating communities.

While in Barra we spent time with several cruisers that we met along the way.  There is a pretty well defined circuit down here along the mainland coast, with the main stops being Chamela, Tenacatita, Barra, and for some, Manzanillo, and for fewer, Zihuatanejo.  You basically run into the same people wherever you go.  We had some nice dinners in town and enjoyed a concert on the Malecon for the annual Sail Fest, which was happening while we were there.  The weather was pretty consistent, mostly sunny every day, becoming pretty hot and humid in the afternoon.  We fell into a bit of a routine of taking care of tasks in morning, perhaps going into town, then coming back to cool off by the pool and nap in the afternoon, and then maybe back into town for dinner.  Honestly, it was not a bad way to pass the time waiting for parts and waiting for the arrival of our friends Park and Carol, who would join us for the last week in February.

Looking into the Pacific from the edge of the resort.

Feliz Navidad!

We are in La Cruz, in the state of Nayarit, on the north end of Banderas Bay celebrating Christmas in a low key town. Our tree, packed all the way from Anacortes, is decorated with ornaments and decorations all acquired here in Mexico.

Today we will cook a traditional holiday dinner, with a small chicken substituting for turkey in our tiny oven. Miranda requested traditional stuffing which we will do our best to recreate – she brought the stuffing mix down in her suitcase to ensure we didn’t back out!

Will have to turn on the air conditioning for all the cooking – it’s 82 in the salon already before the afternoon sun hits and the oven gets fired up.

It was a lot of fun to explore markets and artisan shops to acquire our ornaments. Here are some examples of Mexican craftsmanship.

Bead work by Huichol artists on egg shells. We just loved these so we bought a number in both large and small sizes. The Huichol are one of the few remaining indigenous peoples in Mexico.
Ceramic art from the Ibarra Pottery Factory in La Paz – a family run business with beautiful unique designs.
Embroidered letter M for Miranda- we got one for each of us. And a gorgeous star for a tree topper.

We wish all of you a wonderful holiday and hope you are spending it with family and friends, enjoying good food and good fortune of the season. Don’t worry, we are catching up on blog posts and will have more about where we have visited coming in the next few days!

Stuck in a Maze of Fishing Nets!

If you had been following our inReach track today (https://us0-share.inreach.garmin.com/MVMissMiranda) you would have seen a funny course deviation and a doubling back, like this.

What the heck were they doing?

We left Chacala this morning to make the 45 NM run to Banderas Bay and Paradise Village Marina, our home for the next month. We wanted to have a look at the next bay South, Bahia Jaltemba, which is supposed to have a nice anchorage. We also wanted to have a look at the Gringo haven surf town Sayulita along the way, so we plotted a relatively near coastal route instead of heading well offshore.

It was a beautiful morning and we had some very large Bottle Nose dolphin riding along with us…. the biggest I’ve seen yet. There were a fair number of pangas out, and we suddenly noticed that we were approaching some net floats (which are often just empty translucent soda bottles, not fancy obvious floats like we see in the US) along our port side. We saw a flag marking the end a ways off, so we adusted course to go around the net. Well, we got to the flag, and found that it was connected to floats on both sides. So, we altered course some more to head seaward. Now, however, we started seeing net floats on both sides, and when we got to the next flag, we could see that we were well and truly hemmed in. As you can see in the voyager recording from our chart plotter below, we turned around to backtrack… a long way, and we eventually saw pangas near one of the flags. We sounded the horn many times and were studiously ignored. We drove right up to the pangas, and were still studiously ignored. We asked for help/directions in Spanish and got a vague arm wave seaward. So we turned seaward again, only to find that we were hemmed in again.

Our escape from the fish net maze. North is up.

By this time we didn’t know what to do. If I was confident in my line cutters, I would have just driven through, but the thought of fouling the stabilizers as well as the prop shaft had me really concerned. Finally, we realized that the net fisherman must avoid the shrimpers working close to shore in 80 to 100 feet of water. We backtracked some more to the end of yet another net and came around the inshore side, and aimed directly at the next shrimper we saw. That turned out to do the trick. As you can see, we backtracked for more than 4 miles and spent a nerve wracking hour trying to escape from the maze.

The rest of the voyage passed without incident, and we arrived here at Paradise Village this afternoon. This time, we earned our arrival beer.

Lessons in Boat Patience

Last Wednesday morning we were very excited to head to Philbrooks in Sidney, BC to pick up Miss Miranda after a month of maintenance work and a few upgrades. We boarded the Washington State ferry that goes from Anacortes to Sidney once a day and settled in for a pleasant 3 hour cruise. About 1 mile away from the dock, the boat came to a stop. After a while , it turned around and headed back to the dock, where we sat for 90 minutes while they tried to fix “mechanical difficulties” and warned us not to use the toilets. But after all that, the sailing was cancelled for the day and we disembarked, wondering how the heck we were going to get to Sidney that day. We had a tight schedule because we were committed to taking the boat down to Seattle for Opening Day of boating season weekend. We had promised Miranda that she could host a bunch of her college pals for the big event on Saturday. And, this was likely our last Opening Day for a long time and we wanted to catch up with our friends before we depart.

We have often watched small private planes fly into the tiny airport just over the hill beyond our harbor. Now we were going to get a chance to experience that first hand. Larry arranged for a tiny 4 person plane to fly us up that afternoon and saved the day.

Heading to the plane. It was VERY small.

It was only a half hour flight, and I think we waited longer on the runway to clear Canadian customs than it did to fly there. Thank god, because I did have to work to keep my stomach in its place up in the air currents!

View of Skyline Marina from the plane.

We did a thorough check out with the crew at Philbrooks, including a lot of time on our new massive anchor and its operation. Then we cruised back into US waters to Friday Harbor in time for sunset and a quick dinner. The next morning we left at sunrise for Anacortes and turned ourselves around in 2 hours to sail down to Seattle. We made it to Seattle, through the Ballard Locks and the Ship Canal and tied up onto the log boom in Lake Washington, again just in time for sunset and a well-deserved cocktail!

Along the way we listened to a dramatic coast guard story unfold over the VHF. An unconscious man was found in the water near Whidbey Island and rescued, but the boat he came from was nowhere to be seen. Later a second person was found who unfortunately did not survive. The boat has still not been found. A sobering reminder, and maybe the reason Larry purchased the rig yesterday that I am supposed to use to get him out of the water if he goes in, despite thinking it was expensive. We need to practice.

I was prepping dinner when the water pressure trickled to nothing. A reset of the pump breaker seemed to fix it. Friday morning, however, the flow of water continue to stop periodically. I managed to take a shower but we decided we needed a spare pump because we left our other spare in Anacortes. A dingy ride and trip to Fisheries Supply was in order.

Larry went to bed early because he was beat after several hectic days. I stayed up cleaning and talking with Miranda, and by the end of the evening the pump was officially dead. No amount of breaker resetting would get it back on. Careful use of the head overnight was in order.

When Larry woke up to the beautiful sunny Saturday, I had to inform him the pump needed to be replaced. He did it with a smile, even when he discovered the box was missing the parts needed to actually attach the pump and he had to jerry rig others to fit, turning a 5 minute job into something much longer. But then all seemed well and we were ready for the party day!

Miranda picked up her buddies from the UW dock minutes before they closed it for the rowing races. It was a clown car of a dingy because she ran out of time for two trips.

We were set up on to spectate in the cockpit and the kids up on the boat deck. Larry got the davit out to set up a swinging hammock chair, when suddenly it stopped in midair, the generator died and all our power went out. Dead in the water. Larry has become very restrained – no salty sailor language was heard.

It’s a very long story and Larry is an amazing electrical detective. He spent much of Opening Day puzzling over the generator and figuring out how to rescue at least a leg of power to provide some charge to our deeply discharged batteries – brand new Lifeline batteries that are supposed to be charge much faster with our newly installed dual inverter chargers. He rewired one of the charges to the water maker circuit (one problem was the charged breakers were clearly too low capacity). He recovered our 120 volt service, but not our 240, which runs the davit. That meant no ability to raise the dingy or put the davit back where it belonged. Also very long time to charge our batteries and stay out of the danger zone while anchored for the 4 day weekend.

Miranda and friends had a great time, fairly oblivious and enjoying the crew races.

The line of boats across from us is freely anchored in the water, on our side we are all tied up to a log boom and anchored. The races and the parade go down the canal between us.

By about 1pm Larry felt there was nothing more to be done and we watched the parade.

The Chief Seattle Fireboat is always a favorite. They usually avoid spraying the crowd.
Many boats come to participate from Canadian yachts clubs and large vessels like this one.

We were happy Miranda had a great time and that it was a beautiful day, but we still had to figure out how to get home through the Locks with the dingy towed behind us in the craziness of hundreds of boats all trying to do the same thing. We planned out all our steps and thought through what could go wrong. We hooked up our tow rope, and lashed down the davit in its upright saluting position. Then early Sunday morning we headed out. We uneventfully hauled our anchor up (our windlass is not on 240 power) and made our way to the Locks. As usual after Opening Day it was an exciting time in the large lock, which can handle up to a small cruise ship and has strong currents when the gates open. A boat always seems to go sideways and there’s yelling and screaming, but damage was averted. Fun to watch when it’s not you.

The view of the Locks filled in front of us. They did cram another boat in there after I took this picture. The view behind us went on twice as far.

We made it home to Anacortes with blessedly calm wind and no significant wave action. Now we are regrouping to get the electrical work fixed over the next week back in Sidney. I am sure Larry will post a technical update for those of you who are into that.

Elephant Seal Molting

Walking McGee late last week near the shore down the street from our condo I came upon a solo elephant seal in the grass by the gate at Cabana Park. There were a few signs on the fence warning “Female Elephant Seal Molting – Stay back 100 yards”. This seemed a little tough for the people attending the retirement party at the Cabana that evening because she was right on the edge of the driveway. I kept McGee back and he seemed blissfully unaware until I tried to take a picture with my phone, rather unsuccessfully.

This morning in front of the boatyard.

I had no idea that seals molt. Turns out at least that elephant seals do, every year once they reach a certain age. I went back this morning, expecting to see her in the same place, but this time she was right in the cul-de-sac itself in front of the boatyard gate. A volunteer named Corinne was adjusting the tape and markers around her and I got to learn some more from her.

She started to get curious about McGee I think.

This seal is from a elephant seal family that lives around Whidbey Island, but she’s an independent young woman who behaves atypically and takes off on her own. This will be the first time she molts as she still considered a juvenile. Molting is the process of shedding the fur and skin layer to reveal fresh fur underneath. It takes about a month, during which the seal doesn’t eat or go in the water. They don’t even like to be on the sand. Speculation is that sand doesn’t feel good on new skin. Females molt around now, after they’ve given birth to pups earlier in the spring. Males mold later in the summer. More often they congregate as a group, so her solitary choice is unusual. They usually return to the same site every year.

This will be something to watch for the next 5 weeks as we prepare to leave for Alaska. She should be finished with the process by the time we leave.

Lucky for the boatyard they have another entrance. Hopefully she won’t come further out into the road. I would much prefer to see her back up on the grass. The volunteer also said she is becoming very interested in dogs. Good thing they aren’t supposed to eat during this time. I think I will keep McGee away from her anyway.

Hydraulics, fluid dynamics and wine

This week we went to Santa Rosa California to spend two days at a training class learning about our hydraulic stabilizers and bow thrusters. The stabilizers are very important features that make our boat easier to handle and more comfortable in rough seas. They won’t save our lives, but they will make us less likely to want to die from seasickness.

A fin – one of a pair that are attached to the hull. Their hydraulic powered motors react to waves hitting the boat to reduce roll.
A tube with a thruster – we have one of these in the bow of our boat – huge assist for docking in wind!

The company ABT Trac holds these classes at their US based manufacturing company in California. The most amazing thing we learned was how service oriented ABT is – they have all the original drawings of our specific boat installation from 20 years ago, and we can call them at any time for help. We got the entire history of parts replacement and service for the life of our boat from the previous two owners. Now we are ready to do what’s required before we set sail on our voyage. We were truly impressed with ABT’s commitment to quality and reliability, and to their highly skilled long-standing staff.

The machine shop and one of the machines that builds the parts.

Our instructor Eric was hilarious – I wish my Physics professor in college had Eric’s enthusiasm and excitement for fluid dynamics – I would not have struggled nearly as much! “Hydraulics is like baseball – everything goes back to home plate. “

In addition to learning the principles of hydraulic systems, we also got hands on mechanical experience taking the system apart to fix problems that are rare but COULD happen. Larry now thinks I am in charge of all maintenance.

I learned a lot doing it myself. Including the importance of LOTS of oilsorb towels available at all times.
The left side is the assembled motor for the stabilizer, the right side is the one I disassembled.

We’ve ordered the list of spare parts that would be hard to get in Mexico. Now I just need to review where everything is on our own boat so I know what to look for when and if anything stops working.

Jordan Estate Winery

In Sonoma County, if you are studying fluids you must study wine. We spent an enjoyable day with two tastings – Jordan Winery and Ramey. Perfect on a dreary rainy and chilly day in California.

Deception Pass

February was a snowy and frigid month, but we did have a weekend that was good for getting outside. We decided to get our boat chores done one Saturday morning and then explore Deception Pass State Park. We have passed under the Deception Pass bridge which connects the Straight of Juan de Fuca to Skagit Bay many times, but had never seen it by land.

Going through by boat can be hairy if you don’t time the currents right. When the tide is coming in or going out the currents can get up to several knots. It’s a tight passage with lots of rocks and lots of boats wanting to go in both directions, so we always time it for slack current to make it a non-event.

On Saturday we came by car, and walked over the bridge. This turned out to be much scarier than I expected! I wanted to take a picture looking directly down from the bridge, but my stomach wouldn’t allow me to. So here is a shot from the bridge looking out and Larry pointing down. Neither of us could actually look down.

Looking back toward Saratoga Passage
Looking out to the Straight of Juan de Fuca

It’s a long way down!

Captain’s License Course

Module_1 I am working on my Captain’s License, using an online system that was recommended by a fellow SYC member – https://www.marinerslearningsystem.com/

I got the “Captain in a Box” course, which contains a full set of printed course materials in addition to online access via their portal.  It’s very easy to use, and the self-paced learning fits my style.  I like having the option of using the portal online or the books for offline reference.  I just finished the first module, and as a result got this sticker.  Not really sure what I am supposed to do with it…. so might as well display it proudly here 🙂

My goal is to take the test in May.