Sunday, May 18, 2014

Leg 6—Ensenada to San Diego

April 27-May 2
We spent 5 days in Ensenada. When we came in, we anticipated a quick turnaround for the short hop to San Diego. But a peek at the weather quickly changed our minds. Unseasonable Santa Ana winds were predicted for the next few days, so we settled in for a little longer stay. The first evening there was really chilly. We chalked it up to being acclimated to the warmth of tropical Mexico until I checked the weather from back home. The high for the day was only 3 degrees warmer in Lafayette, OR than Ensenada, MX. And we were out on the water in the cold wind. We pulled out our electric heater, thankful to be hooked into shore power.
The next day, we walked up through the marina boatyard to the town. We spent most of the day in a coffee shop, catching up on correspondence, business, and the state of the internet. It's always funny to sit around, each of us with a screen in front of our faces, and wonder if anyone is secretly labeling us as those people, the epitome of a family separated by the evils of technology. They don't know we spend almost every waking moment together in a life so close, "What did you do today?" has almost completely disappeared from our vocabulary.
That night, after dinner, Bryan and I walked laps on the wharf, talking over our plans for our return. We'd almost made it back to the States, and the end of the trip was finally seeming real. For years, we've put much of our disposable income and energy toward making these precious months a reality, but we both have lots of dreams and goals for the next stage of our life and it was exciting to talk through our priorities and consider how we might transition well back/forward. Finally, chilled to the bone, we headed back to the boat and the girls, who'd been more than content to monopolize the electronic equipment while we were gone.
Before I even opened my eyes the next morning, I knew the Santa Anas had arrived. The temperature had jumped at least 20 degrees overnight and the brisk offshore winds made us glad to be safe in a harbor. I walked up to the marina office to check in since they hadn't been in all weekend. I'd e-mailed the harbormaster before we got in on Saturday for our slip assignment, but they hadn't required any payment or paperwork until Monday morning. What a departure from our recent marina experiences where they require copies of all our passports, boat documentation, and pre-payment before giving us keys to the gates...the gates which are card-locked both coming and going. If the dock ever catches on fire, you'd better have your key with you or know how to swim!

The Harbormaster pulled together a packet of exit paperwork for me and gave me instructions on how to clear out of the country with Immigration and the Port Captain. They offered me a phone with free US service to make a couple of important business calls and I took care of our latest banking issue. After months of inactivity on one of our accounts, we shocked our bank by making a purchase in Cabo and they stopped authorizing our automatic payment to InReach, our tracking and emergency satellite communication device. We'd spent several weeks on Baja trying to solve the problem by e-mail, repeatedly clicking "Yes, please authorize this payment!" on the fraud alerts that kept rolling in. I even borrowed a friend's phone in Turtle Bay and curled up in the V-berth to wait on hold until I was assured the problem was solved. But it wasn't. More fraud alerts, more denied payments. A final notice from the long-suffering InReach corporation. At one point, we sent our parents a quick note on the device warning them that our tracking might cut out, but that we were just fine...not to worry. As if that would stop them:-)
Anyway, I got that issue and a few others worked out and showed up back on the boat high from my morning of productivity. Bryan had gathered some laundry and offered to take me out on a date to celebrate. Since "date night" at home usually refers to the 5 minutes it takes to push the garbage bins up our driveway to the top of the hill, laundry sounded like a perfect way to spend some time together.
We didn't get a photo of the huge boat behind this impressive door. We just liked the folding door!

We walked through town with our enormous bag and finally located the place, a colorful, 3-story laundromat. In most of Mexico, you drop your laundry off and pick it up later, washed, dried, folded. Here, so close to the states, we didn't know the system. The machines seemed coin-operated, but the attendant helped us get our laundry going, offered to switch it for us, and had it waiting, folded when we came back a few hours later. All for about $3 a load. I won't miss carrying my laundry up the docks and all over town but fresh, folded laundry? Yeah, that's pretty nice.
A little done with tacos for the moment, we found a little Italian cafe and took care of my months-long lasagna craving.
In the late afternoon, Bryan decided to tackle our contaminated freshwater tank. The tank itself is made of plastic, but completely fiberglassed into a hollow spot in the keel. It can't be removed, and access requires pulling up our cabin floor. You might think living in a space the size of a large bathroom is difficult. Just wait until the room has no floor. The girls and I just tried to stay out of the way and keep errant tools or knitting implements from falling into the bilge while Bryan worked to empty, fill, wash, repeat.
Partway through the process, he got suspiciously quiet. It wasn't a fun job by any means, so I set aside my momentary red-flag feeling as ridiculous. But soon the look on his face intensified my worry. And his next words, "At least there's a haul-out handy." did nothing to quell my rising anxiety. He'd noticed a stream of water running down the outside of the water tank. Even after he pumped the tank dry (a long, long process with only a foot pump) water still bubbled. We'd started to hope we had a hole in the freshwater tank, a significant problem in itself, but far less dire than the possibility of a spontaneous crack in our hull. As unlikely as that scenario was—the boat had been through much worse than our rough ride to Ensenada and we hadn't hit anything at sea or in the harbor—we couldn't take it lightly. I sat on the settee, my heart pounding a bit, as I thought through the ramifications. The stream of water was a small one; our pump could definitely keep up all night. And we were sure the boatyard would get us out of the water onto dry land as soon as possible. I decided not to get ahead of myself and waited to worry about all the trouble and the expense until we were sure we knew what was up. Bryan fiddled around a bit more, this time filling the tank only halfway, far below the suspicious "hole". And water still dribbled out.
Finally, he headed upstream, into the engine compartment, where the normal drip around our propeller shaft had increased to a steady stream after our many hours of motoring. He tightened down the packing gland to stem the flow and then checked the "hole" again. It turned out that every time we put water in the tank, it weighed down the boat just enough to shift the puddle from under the packing gland, down some conduit in the fiberglass, and down the side of the tank, making it look like the water was coming from the tank or the hull. After he tightened everything down, the compartment drained and water stopped running from our mysterious "hole." Whew! He cleaned the tank, swabbing out the bottom with a rag on a stick ("I think last time I used a shop vac for this part," he said.) and put the whole thing back together while I sat on the settee and caught my breath. There's always something.

The next couple of days were delightfully boring. We hung out a did a little bit of shopping. I bought a pair of sandals identical to those I'd bought our first time in Ensenada, which I'd long since walked into shreds. The girls poked through the shops and we each bought one last churro. We kept careful track of our dwindling peso stash, trying to somehow make it last but spend it all.

Warned that the US might not allow in raw eggs, I took the precaution of hard-boiling all our remaining eggs. Meira didn't want anyone mistaking them for raw.
Wednesday, we checked out of the country. We visited the same office where we'd checked in and this time, comfortably navigated the multiple windows and regulations. We paid our 260 pesos (about $20 USD) and returned in an hour for our official Zarpe, a beautiful certificate that informed the precisely zero officials who will ever ask to see it that we legally left Mexico.
Now that we had checked out, we were on a 48-hour clock to skedaddle. (We'd been subtly reassured, "They won't come after you if the weather is bad and you're here a little longer, don't worry.") On our way back from the Immigration office, Bryan spotted a cinema playing an English version of Spiderman 2. After a quick dinner at our first Mexican taco stand, he rounded up a copy of the first Spiderman, got it working on the still-broken computer, and surprised the girls with evening entertainment and the plan to see the other one the next day.
In the morning, he and I snagged a dock cart and walked the 5 or 6 blocks down the wharf to the nearest gas station. We filled our tanks and lugged them back with many offerings of thanks to the inventor of the wheel.

We coerced ourselves into a little boat cleaning and whipped it back into a seaworthy state in time to escape the heat in the cool theater. We walked over, bought our tickets and waited. A few minutes before the show started we headed in to find our seats. The ticket taker found a way to convey that the start time was later than we'd expected and the last movie hadn't finished yet. We waited some more.

And then bought popcorn and drinks all around. Movie prices in Mexico are shockingly low. Like $3.50 or $4.00 a person. So we easily justified buying the quite reasonably priced snacks. We found our places, resisted eating all the popcorn before the previews were over, watched the first scenes of the movie, wasn't Spiderman. We waited a few minutes, confused, but it persisted in not being Spiderman. Finally, Bryan stepped out and got some help. We'd been sold the wrong tickets but due to the language barrier, nobody had noticed. Spiderman had started already (the time on our tickets was later than we'd expected because, you guessed it, they were for the wrong movie.) They printed out replacement tickets for the early evening showing, which started about the time we'd hoped to be leaving the country. And we walked out into the heat we'd tried to escape and ate our theater popcorn in the park instead, all feeling oddly deflated by the whole fiasco.
We walked the 10 blocks or so to the grocery store and stocked up one last time on all our Mexican favorites--cookies we love, boxed juices, and shelf-stable milk and cream. On our way back to the boat, we automatically turned down the walking street vendors. "No, gracias. No, gracias....wait a second!" The tamale vendor turned around as we realized our mistake and squealed to a stop. Why were we saying "no" to a quick, easy, delicious meal for our night at sea? Strangely enough, I had not eaten a tamale our entire time in Mexico. I don't know if they're not a tradition in the areas we visited or if we just didn't run across them. We pulled out some of our few remaining pesos and, when he listed his prices in gringo-friendly US dollars, I fished out a $5 bill that had been riding uselessly around in my wallet for almost 6 months. We each got a chicken tamale for dinner and picked up pineapple and corn dessert tamales too, why not?

We dumped our food on the boat and hurried back to the theater again. This time, all went as planned. We counted out the last of our change for a couple more drinks and thoroughly enjoyed the movie, though the oddity of spending our last hours in Mexico in such a non-traditional way was not lost on us.
It felt immensely strange to walk out of the theater, walk a few blocks to the boat, drop our key in the drop box and just...leave the country. In a moment of reflection earlier in the day, I'd recognized the truth that many people lose their lives each year trying to get into the US and, though most of the Mexicans we met wouldn't dream of giving up their lives for mine, the privilege of free travel afforded me by my US passport should not be taken for granted.
We motored away from the dock, through the harbor lights, and across the breakwater. 8 tamales and 15 short, easy hours later, we pulled into the San Diego Harbor.

We tied up to the customs dock, waited for our inspection (they didn't even set foot on the boat), and took down our tattered Mexican flag (why is it that old flags are always "tattered"?)

In the stiff afternoon breeze, we moved to the sheltered La Playa anchorage and dropped the hook.

A few minutes later, Bryan was off helping another sailor on a mission to rescue a houdini hound who'd gotten tired of waiting for his owner and decided to make a swim for it. The dog drifted past our boat in the current and looked pretty beat, but when the guys approached, he wouldn't let them get close.

The girls and I stayed on the boat and yelled across to the owner's boat until he saw the situation and hopped in his own dinghy to retrieve his dog.
That evening, by popular demand, we walked the mile and a half to the closest Smashburger, a local chain we'd discovered back in November. We struggled to translate the dollars into pesos, the currency we'd become most familiar with, and fought the reflex to thank the servers in Spanish.

After burgers and shakes (and a really good, dark beer for Bryan) we walked back to the boat. Meira said, "Now I finally feel like we're really back in the States!" We really are, dear.

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