Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Port of La Paz - Day 2 & 3

[Feb 3, 2015]
M/V Westward at Marina Cortez
Awoke aboard the M/V Westward, docked at the far pier in the gringo-oriented Marina Cortez, which anchors one end of the long, busy waterfront in the gulf city of LaPaz.  Everyone had chores to do, and I spent the morning getting familiar with the boat and cleaning and re-organizing the aft bar/coffee station.  It was actually a pleasure polishing all the gleaming, varnished mahogany. 

I had time for a long walk around the marina docks – many big, $$ American yachts – accompanied most of the way by a solitary eared grebe, who paddled affably alongside the dock for much of the way. 
At first I thought the poor thing had only one leg, I could see it pumping, up and down, behind its fluffy round body.  But then realized the other leg was tucked up –just for fun? – soon he was using both feet quite freely.

I finally decided to turn around on my walk when I came to the last long dock, uninhabited by boats but completely taken over by brown pelicans, arranged along both edges like a gauntlet, and one lone heron policing the far end. The planks of this entire section of the dock were covered in white guano.  So, no thanks, not today.  I walked back the way I had come, back to the boat to help stow the bags of clean guest sheets and towels which had just arrived from the local laundry folk.

[Feb 4, 2015]
La Paz waterfront from the bow of the Westward

LaPaz is a warm, friendly town.  Obviously the main industry is tourism, as the waterfront seems to cater to gringos; many open-air gift shops, cafes and hotels face the big, wide harbor. 
Along the Malecon

Guests posing with a sculpture
The long, pedestrian park along the shore is populated with folks roller-blading, skate-boarding, walking their dogs, out for a stroll; it is lined with white benches and large, fanciful stone sculptures.  This boulevard is called the Malecon – a term meaning pier or wharf.  It is easy to imagine the busy waterfront when the harbor was dotted with Spanish trading ships and local fishing boats instead of white sailboats and mega-yachts.

The Malecon is sparkling, and clean, but once you take a side street away from the harbor, shops are tinier, denser, dirtier, many seem long abandoned.  Perhaps just unfortunate from the violent hurricane Odile that swept through the area only 5 months ago.   Spray-painted graffiti replaces the eye-catching colorful décor of the main street.

I went with chef Tracie to visit the bustling Mercada Brava, or “farmer’s market” on Brava Street, to help her re-provision with fresh produce and fish for the next guest trip.  She rode her bicycle from the marina to a nearby car-rental outfit, returned driving a little red hatchback, and off we went into town, with two blue and white coolers bouncing in the back.  The mercada is a large cement-adobe building, divided up into crowded little square stalls.  The vendors are mostly fishermen and farmers, but I notice a few women selling colorful ceramics and textiles as well. 

Tracie handed me one of her two huge, nylon shopping bags -- one for fish and one for vegetables – and proceeded to scope out the teeming pescado stalls.  She’s quick and decisive – ‘2 kilos por favor!’-‘Aqui, dos cientos, gracias!’ – loading my bag with fresh fillets, scallops, crabs, shrimp and a baby octopus.  Guess I’ll be trying pulpo for the first time, at some point in the next week or two!

The individual stalls are permanent, yellow tile-countered cubicles with boards and basins for cleaning piles of fish (fish heads 40 pesos per kilo) or butchering chickens or a side of beef, and various bins and hooks for all manner of display.  The cement floor was kept hosed down by a smiling brown-skinned man sporting flip-flops and a wide black mustache.  At one stall, two tiny women were baking corn tortillas, packaged to sell by the kilo.  The fruit and vegetable stalls were piled high with colorful and unpronounceable produce.  Tracie picked up a large black plastic tub from a nearby stack and began filling it with tomatoes, tomatillos, beans, onions, peppers, papayas, mangoes, melons, each carefully and swiftly examined.  When it was full, a warm-faced senor appeared, handed her an empty tub and, putting the full tub on his head, walked behind the counter to his senora, who weighed and packaged everything.  In this way they waited on 3 customers simultaneously, and kept everything straight.  Tracie filled 4 tubs, and was glad we only had 1 block to walk back to the car, as her big bag was very heavy. 

When her purchases were all stowed away back at the boat (amazing organization!), she, Bill and Randy hopped in the car again and went off to the Mexican equivalent of Home Depot or Kmart, on the outskirts of town, to pick up other necessaries for the trip.  As soon as Tracie finally returned from the car rental on her bicycle once again, the bike was stowed away on the upper deck near the skiff, and it was time to head out to sea. 
Sunset as we leave La Paz
Just as the sun was lowering to the horizon, the big engine started, we pivoted off the spring line into the current, cast off from the dock, pulled away and chugged out into the harbor.  The only ones around to see us off were the pelicans lined up on the dock.

We set anchor in a pleasant cove in the dark, a mast light from one lone sailboat as our neighbor.  With no guests aboard this week due to last minute cancellations, captain Bill plans to get much-needed repair work done while we’re underway, heading leisurely north to Loreto to meet up with next week’s guests.  In the meantime, just the 4 of us crew aboard, it feels much like private-yachting in this exotic tropical setting.  And we’re all enjoying the luxury of staying in guest staterooms while the repair work is going on in crew-world -- ie: the crew’s bunk quarters down front in the fo’c’sle.

Tracie made us a warm bacon-dressing spinach salad topped with a fine filet of trout, and Bill put episode 4 of the Horatio Hornblower series into the VCR:  the big screen hides behind the tilt-up mirror built into the leaded glass bookcases above the fireplace mantel (yes, the boat has glorious teak paneling and a working fireplace in the main salon!)  We all lounged on the sofas, eating a delicious supper and watching TV.  Aaaah.  And then, secure in our cove with a well-planted anchor, the waves rocked us ever so gently to sleep.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

And now, about THE BOAT

The M/V WESTWARD was designed and built in the wild American northwest, near Seattle, WA, in the early 1900s.  Her lines were modeled after a salmon cannery tender, and she still exhibits the unique grace and elegance of that art-deco period of design, also a time when the notion of wilderness travel as a glamorous adventure was just getting started. She was literally built around her original 1923 Atlas engine, and launched in 1924 as the flagship of the Alaska Coast Hunting and Cruising Co. to pioneer hunting, fishing, and adventure travel in the remote regions of Washington, British Columbia and Alaska.

As a luxury cruising vessel, the M/V WESTWARD served a noteworthy clientele of hunters and fishermen for nearly twenty years. Distinguished guests included Bing Crosby, Walt Disney, George Eastman, A.C. Gilbert, E.F. Hutton and Marjorie Merriweather Post, Paul Mellon, Richard K. Mellon, Hal Roach, Rudolph Schilling, John Wayne, Dean Witter, and numerous other VIP’s of the era.  She was drafted to serve as a patrol boat off the coast of California during the Second World War, and then went on to cruise as a private yacht and charter vessel for twenty years, including a circumnavigation in the 1970s.  She returned to the Pacific Northwest in 1993, joining her "sister" ship the M/V CATALYST in a fleet dedicated to bringing adventure travelers into the wonders of southeast Alaska.  During the early 2000s she was again used for private yachting, until Captain Bill Bailey, still sailing the CATALYST in Alaska, once more re-united the WESTWARD with the CATALYST, and launched his adventure travels in the Sea of Cortez, Baja Mexico, in 2015.

And that's where we come in!  We have had the incredible opportunity to sail and work aboard the CATALYST with Bill in AK, and -- it's almost too amazing to be true!! -- now get to work aboard the WESTWARD in Mexico.  Never thought we'd be counted among the 'snow birds' who leave Vermont in winter, but spending those cold months in balmy latitudes, where you wear flip-flops everyday instead of knee-high snow boots -- well, we just might be hooked!

The WESTWARD has four double state-rooms with two shared heads (bathrooms), accommodating up to eight guests on the lower deck. The salon on the main deck is stunning, with teak paneling and leaded-glass bookcase above the fireplace mantel (true! a working fireplace!)  Full, stainless steel galley (kitchen), and dining area on the beautiful, enclosed aft deck.  Kayaks and skiffs travel up top, on the boat deck, where we also hang our laundry in the fresh breeze.  Yes, there is a little clothes washer tucked into the crew's quarters, below decks in the fo'c'sle -- which is all very tidy with gleaming white paint, varnished trim and fluffy rugs on the floors, and surprisingly roomy with 4 comfy bunks plus a small private captain's room with a desk and two more bunks.  Even our own head and full shower.  And of course the best roommates ever!

Guest relaxing in the gracious salon

Starboard Passageway

Aft Deck Dining

Chef Tracie's Galley

Captain Bill


BAJA! Here we come!

In 2012, Randy retired from twenty-five years in ministry in order to pursue his other loves for a time -- woodworking and wooden boats.  With God's amazing grace, he's been blessed in the most extraordinary way, connecting with the Pacific Catalyst adventure cruise business and crewing aboard their gorgeous antique vessel, the M/VCatalyst, in southeast Alaska. This winter (Jan-March) we had the wildest, most incredible adventure and opportunity to work aboard their second ship, the M/V Westward, cruising in the Sea of Cortez, Baja, Mexico.  [see ]
The following entries were written from the notes I (Carie) scribbled down during the six amazing weeks I was aboard as crew, serving guests on their 10-day trips of discovery and exploration!  Some of the entries are actually smooshed together from the experiences of different weeks, so that I can try to describe all the wonderful spots we visited without repeating, or trying to write all 40 days!!

[Feb. 2, 2015]

Disorienting, official arrival in Mexico, after 3-mile long maze line through customs (OK, maybe slightly exaggerated…) at La Aeropuerto San Jose del Cabo, Baja California Sur.  Wow, it was so GOOD to see Randy and chef Tracie waiting for me just outside the door, backlit by the Mexican sunshine  :)  

I've missed him - he's been in Baja for a month already, while I've been keeping the fires going at home (well, figuratively anyway - we switched from wood to propane in our stoves this winter!)

Next, a bumpy 3-hour van ride through the mountainy Sonoran desert of the southern tip of Baja peninsula, finally arriving at the marina in La Paz weary and bleary.  It has been a long travel day.  I was sure happy to see and greet dear old friends aboard the M/V Westward, and enjoy the short walk as we all (Randy, me, Tracie and Captain Bill) traipsed into town at twilight for some two-for-one margaritas and tasty pescado frito at the local joint called Cayuga’s.  At first I ordered ‘pescadero’, trying to negotiate my way through the menu, but Tony, our waiter, was most polite and kindly let me know that I might prefer fried fish to fried fisherman :]    Tracie order the pescado entero, and was presented a crisply fried entire fresh snapper, enjoying every succulent bite including the eyeballs.  Mine was just the fillet, thanks. I think Randy and Bill had rellenos with smoked marlin.  I'm sure we all licked our fingers.

To get you oriented, here is where we are: 


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Homeward Bound... Petersburg to Juneau....

Homeward bound....

     Pulling up to the dock in Juneau this morning among the towering floating cruise cities was bittersweet for both of us. The familiarity now of Juneau felt strangely comforting;   "oh, yeah, we know where the library is, the hardware store, the restaurants to avoid, and which ones the locals go to..."  But the reality of leaving the Catalyst, crew and Alaska was...  tearful.

Here is the crew:

The decision was made that Randy will not finish out his anticipated season on the boat, but instead will return with me, to get his back and shoulder checked out.  Perhaps there is something that can be done to remedy whatever is the problem.  Which hasn't been getting better on its own.  It was a difficult decision, understandably.  This may also allow him some time to see his mom in Ohio who just entered a nursing home and apparently is rapidly showing signs of dementia.  And time to visit his sister Bev in Pittsburgh, before he resumes his duties and responsibilities back at the church in July as scheduled.  So, bittersweet.  Sad to leave such an amazing part of the world, which manages to get inside of one somehow; sad to prematurely leave his place on the boat;  and also glad to be getting home.

We flew from Juneau back to Seattle today, on to Boston tomorrow. Very strange to maneuver through busy crowds and traffic at the airport instead of maneuvering through ice -floes and rainforests. The earth still sways and rocks in that wonderful, soothing, familiar way.  Probably by tomorrow, or the next day, the earth will stand still again, and it will be us that moves along with the current of the business that seems to be inevitable in life.  We will be so joyful to see loved and cherished ones again.  It seems, for me, so much longer than just three-plus weeks in the wilderness.  And for Randy, it seems longer than two months.  We are not the same, either of us, as when we left home.  This changes one forever....


We hope to see you soon!!
Randy and Carie

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Heading south to Petersburg....

Saturday, June 5

I am sitting now in the Petersburg Public Library, the local wireless access. This is our first day of cool, steady rain, and the sun is already breaking through the clouds.  We have truly been blessed with beautiful weather.

We left Juneau a week ago, and headed south through Stephens Passage and Frederick Sound.  Except for crew, all the passengers aboard were women, and we had a blast sharing new wilderness experiences together.  Randy was very busy with much mechanical work, but he found time to go on a couple of paddling and shore excursions with us.  It was a landscape entirely different than the high alpine peaks and barren ice fiords of Glacier Bay... We paddled with curious harbor seals in green fiords hemmed with sitka spruce; skiffed to the tilled moraine outwash of a grounded glacier and hiked on the glacier ice creeping down from the mountains; oohed and aahed at the cute seal pups lounging on turquoise blue icebergs floating out from the calving Dawes Glacier; kayaked past black bears browsing on sedges in a quiet cove, and saw WHALES!

Near Brothers Islands, the currents from Stephens Passage, Frederick Sound and Chatham Strait all converge, providing a rich feeding ground for the large mammmals.  We spent two days in that part of the Inside Passage, and saw many, many humpback whales feeding, including the awesome spectacle of tail slamming and pec fin slapping.  Wow!  Randy took us out in the skiff, and we drifted (at a safe distance) among a family of four whales as they cruised the passage.  Here are just two of the hundreds of whale photos everyone took:

Stopping in the rainforest, on the way to a gorgeous waterfall:

Fellow passengers:

Other wildlife:

At Dawes Glacier:

On Baird Glacier:


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Glacier Bay....

We are sitting in the beautiful, modern Juneau public library, looking out over Juneau Harbor through massive windows. I know the building is on a solid foundation, but I'm sure the whole town is swaying and rolling.  I suppose this is what is called 'sea legs'....

We pulled into town this morning after the most perfect week in SE AK !  Ten days on the lovely Catalyst, and the weather couldn't have been more perfect.  Enough cloudy days to be cool at the glaciers, and then the sun came out and burned off all the mist hanging low in the ice blue mountain peaks, and we had brilliant sea and sky.  Our final anchorage in a tidy, quiet cove even had one of the guests diving off the boat for an afternoon swim!

It would truly be impossible to describe all the magnificent and breath-taking sights.  It was non-stop, the glory of this wilderness.  We have seen the majesty of the glaciers, calving into the sea. We have seen black bear close enough to scratch behind their ears as they scraped barnacles off the boulders on the beach and licked them up with their huge pink tongues.  We have see 1000 lb.grizzly bears, tearing into a dead whale carcass on the beach.  Some even saw a rare glacier bear (a blueish-gray morph of a black bear) but I missed that one.  I was taking a nap.  We have seen sea otters, a paddle length away,  mother giving her baby a bath; curious harbor seals that come very close to the kayaks; huge sea lions groaning and rolling on the rocks and cavorting in the surf; seven humpback whales indulging in lunge feeding frenzy, showing off their baleen and volkswagon-sized tongues, complete with the range and variety of sounds that I never knew whales could make; and two putting on a delightful show of exuberant breaching (leaping out of the water with their whole body, and then falling back sideways).  We saw sea birds and shorebirds beyond number, including the grand bald eagles. Glacier Bay is without doubt one of God's glorious cathedrals.

[A week later, and we're adding SOME photos...]
At Glacier Bay Headquarters

At Johns Hopkins Glacier

Walking at Reid Glacier

One of hundreds of oyster catchers on the beach

A brown grizzly bear gorging on a dead whale at low tide.

Randy at his post, setting the anchor.

You can view a beautiful album at the Catalyst's facebook:

  Or you can find the rest of our photos (sorry, very unedited!) on our photobucket album: