Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A New Home

Our passage to Puerto Vallarta from La Paz took us back to some waters we had not seen for 15 years.  After leaving Bahia de La Paz we entered the “dreaded” Cerralvo Channel, which fortunately for us was entirely placid and benign.  Before making the 300-or-so mile passage from the Baja Peninsula to Puerto Vallarta, we wanted to get a little further south.  So we made two intermediate stops, the first at Bahia de Los Muertos (Bay of the Dead, however the local developers are trying to get it changed to Bahia de Sueňos—Bay of Dreams…wonder why?)


When we sailed here in 1991 from Cabo San Lucas, there was an unusual south wind blowing hard into the anchorage and all the boats anchored there were pitching violently with their sterns uncomfortably close to shore.  We opted to continue around the point and anchor on the other side of the headland in what is known as Bahia de Ventanas (Bay of Windows).  It was flat calm on that side.  Now in 2006 it was quite calm there and we anchored amongst the half dozen or more boats already there.  There’s only one little restaurant on the beach and we were on the move so we didn’t bother to launch the dinghy.


Los Frailes (The Friars) about 60 miles further south was our rest stop for the next night.  It got its name from the rock formation on the headland that looks like a line of robed men climbing the steep rock face.


We were up early the next morning and on our way toward Banderas Bay and Puerto Vallarta.  We couldn’t steer the direct course due to the fact that the Tres Marias Islands lie directly on the route.  The largest of the Tres Marias is home to a Mexican prison and markings on our chart indicate that we are required to give the island a 20-mile berth.  We know of one boat that missed that little tidbit of information and actually tried to anchor for the night off the island.  They were soon visited by the prison launch and invited to a meeting with the warden.  Fortunately for them they did not wind up as guests of the institution.  After a reprimand and the inescapable paperwork one encounters with any Mexican agency, they were allowed to proceed on their way.


As we left Los Frailes a fair wind came up and for the first time in a long time we were able to hoist sail and secure the engine.  We sailed for 17 hours straight before the wind lightened to the point the sails needed an assist to keep us on schedule for a morning arrival.  It seems we are making all of our overnight passages without the benefit of a moon of any kind during this voyage around Mexico.  On this particular passage it was quite dark and the seas were medium-sized at 6 to 8 feet but very confused—what we like to call “sloppy.”  To add to our pleasure of trying to get some sleep on this passage, we saw several shipping contacts, a couple of them rather weird.  One was a brightly lit contact ahead just off the port (left) bow.  According to our radar we were on a slowly converging course.  We tried hailing them on the VHF radio several times.  It was so bright that we thought it must be a cruise ship, but it was going so slow.  Finally, we decided to alter course to see if we could open up the CPA (closest point of approach).  We had no sooner done this when it appeared that the ship also altered course and once again we were converging toward a collision or a near miss.  Finally we got close enough that we could begin to distinguish individual lights through the overwhelming glare.  We spotted near the top a red light above a white light.  Now we had our answer.  From Steve’s Navy days he still remembers the rules for navigation lights: “Red over white, fishing at night.”  We were slowly overtaking either a shrimper or a trawler that had not the slightest bit of interest in us or whether or not we were going to run into them.


The second interesting contact that night came south of the Tres Marias Islands.  It was on Kay’s nightwatch—all “interesting” shipping contacts happen on Kay’s night watches.  She called Steve up from below to have a look.  Once again the radar said we were converging and unless one of us did something we would have a very close encounter if not a collision.  We were finally in range and able to see its navigation lights dead ahead.  We could see the two white masthead and range lights that tell you which way the ship is pointed and the red side light that tells you you are looking at the vessel’s port (left, remember?) side.  So, we were looking at a VERY big ship dead ahead.  But if it was that big and broadside to us, and dead ahead, it should be moving quickly out of our way.  Gradually it dawned on us that even though it had its RUNNING lights on it was in fact, dead in the water; i.e., stopped.  Had we not been maintaining a visual and radar watch as some single-handed and even double-handed crews sometimes do, we would have plowed right into the side of this monster at full speed.  That would be embarrassing—if one were to survive the crash to experience it.  We altered course and sailed safely around the ship’s stern.  Why they were just sitting there remains a mystery.  Perhaps they were timing their approach to the commercial harbor at Mazatlan for sunrise.


Early that morning we picked up the flashing white light at Punta Mita welcoming us back to Banderas Bay.  We were greeted by hundreds of dolphins and many spouting and cavorting whales.  We saw one humpback come and lie on its back while waving one of its huge front flippers in the air and smacking the water’s surface with it.  The tourist whale-watching boats were out in force and you could tell where the whales were likely to be just by looking for them.  On the way in we helped a vessel in minor distress that could only make radio contact with us and no one else.  We relayed their calls to other boats who were able to go out and assist them in getting into port.  We were amazed at how much warmer both the air and water were on this side of the Sea of Cortez—time for shorts and T-shirts again.


Before noon we were back in our old haunt, Marina Vallarta.  However, this time we would not be able to make use of our friend Gary’s slip as he had (as you may recall) sold it just as we were departing last year.  The office put us on B-Dock this time, in lucky slip number 13 out near the end, which was fine with us because it means you are further from the noise at night on shore and there is less dock traffic past you as well.


Aside from getting out of the cold (if you can call 65F cold) of La Paz, the other reason we wanted to get back to Puerto Vallarta (PV) was to resume our search for a small condo unit that we might come to live in during the winters once we had sailed Kavenga back to Gig Harbor.  We had looked at dozens of units last year.  There was one that we really liked, right here in the marina but we were sure it would no longer be on the market a year later.  Stunned we were, when we saw the For Sale (by owner) sign still hanging on the terrace rail (stroke of luck #1).  We went to the condo’s administration office to enquire about it and were told that (unlike last year) the owner was here on a brief visit! (stroke of luck #2).  We were told he was downtown paying the taxes but would be back later.  We left a message that we would come back to see him at 7PM.


Meanwhile we went to visit two other condo complexes that we had looked at and liked last year.  There were units still available, but not the same ones, and the prices had jumped dramatically.  Now we were worried what we would hear about the price of our first choice.


At 7PM we went up and knocked on the door of unit #210 of Marina Las Palmas II and a small, wiry man in his 70s beckoned us inside.  His name is Seňor Luis Chavez Escobar.  He and his wife Luz (Lucy) Maria have owned it for 12 years.  Fortunately he spoke enough English and we spoke enough Spanish that we could communicate.  We told him that we had looked at his place last year along with several others and that we were definitely going to buy something this time.  We asked him the scary question, was he still asking the same price as last year?


“No,” he said.


(Uh-oh, here it comes, brace yourself.)


He told us that the people in administration had told him it was worth more.  (starting to feel sick)  But then he said that his wife was very ill and no longer felt comfortable coming all the way from PV to Queretaro (a 10-hour drive inland).  He had decided to lower the price to make a quick sale.  It was difficult as he explained some of the details, because on the one hand it was a very sad story and we felt sorry for both of them.  On the other hand it meant that the condo was still in our price range (it had been the most expensive of the ones we were seriously interested in).


We told him we had a couple of other units we wanted to re-visit (not true) and would let him know the next day if we were interested.  The following morning we had one last “reality check” to talk over whether or not this was something we really wanted to do.  It was.  Next we called Seňor Germán Estrada.  Last year a couple from Astoria, Oregon who live in the same condo, Girasol Sur, as our friends Mark and Gail Learned, recommended a book by Germán (Mexico Magico) that helps foreigners find their way through the legal mazes of Mexico when it comes to buying property.  We had also stumbled upon his email address on the internet.  It also happened that he lived on the same floor as Mark and Gail.  We had met Germán the day before when we looked at some units at Girasol (prices had gone way up!).  When we called him we asked him if he would act as our representative in the negotiations to purchase the condo at Marina Las Palmas.  He said he would (for a fee, of course). (Stroke of luck, #3).


The next evening we went back to #210 and met again with Sr. Chavez.  We told him we wanted to purchase the condo.  He smiled, we shook hands and that was it—almost.  We then called Germán and explained the general terms of the agreement.  He suggested a counter-offer on one item, which we made and Sr. Chavez accepted.  Amazingly, while we sat on the terrace drinking a tequila toast to the deal, Germán (at home) typed out an “earnest money agreement” and emailed it to us.  Steve ran down to the boat, printed it off, returned to the condo, we all signed and it was a “done deal”—almost.  The deal still had to hold together until we all signed the Promesa de la Venta (Promise of Sale) at the time of making a 10% down payment, and until the owner signed the new Escritura (our deed).


This process can take months sometimes, but thanks to Germán, he managed to get it done in one month.  (We could write a whole blog with Germán as the sole subject.)  This allowed us to take possession of the unit three weeks before it was time for us to leave Puerto Vallarta (stroke of luck, #4). Sr. Chavez had graciously permitted us to have daily access to the unit during the closing process, but we were not sleeping there until after the signing of the Escritura.


There will eventually be pictures on the website, but here’s a brief lowdown.  It’s a small one-bedroom (king bed), overlooking Marina Vallarta on the third floor (it’s #210 because floors are numbered from above ground level; i.e. we are on the second floor above the ground floor.)  We are on the corner and so our bedroom does not share a wall with a neighbor and we have a street view out the side in addition to the full marina view.  Being on the end means we also get a great breeze on the terrace almost every day, and if we open the door to the utility room off the kitchen it blows right through it and the living room.  If we leave the front door open we have to nail things down at times because the breeze is so strong—we love it!  And at night when the breezes tend to die, we have air conditioning we can turn on for a while just enough to cool it down for a good night’s sleep.


It has a nice, tiled bathroom and shower, and a dining room in addition to the other rooms mentioned.  There’s a walk-in closet off the bedroom.  It came fully furnished and we are, at least initially, very happy with it.  Seňora Chavez had a very good eye.  Perhaps in time we will make changes, but for the time being it is just fine.  Although it is only a 1-bedroom, the living room sofa is a hide-away double bed, so we can have visitors!


Aside from the location, size, price and furnishings, one of the things that really attracted us was the common areas.  It’s like a jungle garden, with thatched palapa-style roofs and all kinds of tropical plants and palms.  There are two tennis courts with covered parking underneath them.  On the other side of the grounds is a very large swimming pool with two islands containing palm trees and plants.  At one end of the pool is a bar with ceramic tile stools in the pool.


And finally, Kay has what she has lusted for so many years—her very own washer and dryer in her very own utility room.


We fully enjoyed our stay in PV especially the last few weeks that we were able to live in our new home.  We are very pleased with our decision.


But soon it was time for us to leave PV and return to La Paz.  We briefly mentioned in the last blog that we had made the decision to ship Kavenga home at the end of this cruising season.  This was directly related to our plans to purchase a condo.  The shipping company, Dockwise, had sent us an email telling us that the ship would arrive and be ready to load in La Paz toward the end of May.  Reluctantly, we moved some belongings back aboard the boat and prepared to leave the condo for four months.  We met with our “new” housekeeper, Maria Luisa (she had been serving the Chavez’ for 12 years) and made arrangements for her to care for the place in our absence.


We’d had a lot of fun during this three-month period in PV.  Not all of it was taken up with buying the condo.  We met many new friends and were reunited with old ones.  We did the hot springs hike at La Desembocada three more times, with the crews of Lotus, Bold Spirit, and Dos Amantes/Ten Ten, respectively.  We enjoyed it every single time.  We also, with Joe and Laurie of Dos Amantes, rented a jeep and drove up to the mountain village of San Sebastian.  Both the drive and the town were a kick. While we are anxious to get to our “old” home, Gig Harbor, we are also anxious to return to our new one in PV in the Fall.


We’re now sitting in slip G-12 at the brand new, luxurious Costa Baja marina near the entrance to La Paz Bay.  Tomorrow morning (May 31) we will depart the marina and motor 3 miles north the Pichelingue to meet DE12, the ship that will carry Kavenga to Nanaimo, B.C.  They are predicting they will be there in only seven days.  This creates a bit of a challenge for us as we have to get back to San Carlos on the other side of the Sea of Cortez where we left our van.  We then have to get it running and drive to Gig Harbor and catch a bus to Nanaimo!  Yikes!


How this all works out will be the subject of our next blog.  Thanks for coming along.