La Paz is a nice place, there’s no doubting that, the harbour sits forty miles or so up on the east side of Mexico’s Baja Peninsular and is considered by most sailors to be the gateway to the fabled Sea of Cortez.
This eight hundred miles of smooth sea that’s landlocked on three sides had been the subject of much conversation between ourselves and American sailors ever since we’d sailed our way south from Alaska, eventually reaching the San Juan Islands to the north of Seattle’s Puget Sound in Washington State. In the truly sublime North American harbours of Port Townsend and Friday Harbor every sailor it seemed had spent some time or other in Mexico’s most well-known sailing destination.
As we then made our way south down the US Pacific west coast, their enthusiasm and perfunctory advice grew in intensity, we were not under any circumstances to miss out the Sea of Cortez…
Leaving Ensenada to make our way south provided a welcome relief from the trials and tribulations of bringing Nellie Cat from England to Mexico. Now we’d see how Nellie took to life on the big ocean which, let’s face it, would be a new experience for all three of us. Well, coming as a complete surprise our new ship’s cat was seasick. Neither Marie or myself had given any thought to the issue of cats being seasick, I think it’s fair to say we were as much stressed than we’d ever been since our time onboard Sänna… we were paranoid about losing our new ship’s cat overboard.
By the time Nellie herself overcame both her fear of the sea and her insufferable seasickness, we’d made the sixty-five miles south overnight to anchor in the tenuous shelter of Cabo Colonet…
“Why bring a cat all the way from England,” the Mexican Immigration guy asked, “there’s already ten million cats in Mexico.” I explained that Mexican cats could only speak Mexican… which would be of no use to us at all because we only spoke English. He nodded and excepted my explanation before waving us away, worryingly unconcerned. Dave.
Neither of us can remember who made the original decision, I think it was me. It must have been me if I think about it now, because I suggested to both Marie and Henry that we should have a ship’s cat, one that was grey to match the colour theme of our boat. It was a joke of course, I never expected either of them to take it seriously… but you should never make jokes like this around a pair of dedicated cat lovers.
Almost immediately I was inundated with internet links to cuddly little grey kittens. Dozens of them from all around the UK, from Inverness in Scotland to someplace I’d never heard of way off in Cornwall. Before I could say ‘Yikes, here comes Officer Dibble’ both Marie and Henry singled out a really cute looking male down in Ramsgate, a harbour town on the south coast of England… a very nice little sea port but quite a long distance to travel. Henry argued that with Ramsgate being a harbour and close to the sea any cat from there would already have its sea legs, which was a vague argument in which I did see some logic. Marie disagreed entirely, but she just wanted to cuddle a little grey kitten sitting on her lap.
So off we travelled down to Ramsgate… just to take a look of course because I already knew this was a really stupid idea…
“It took a while to find her but there she was hiding under the dinghy. We had to drag her out by her tail to sign the papers but right now she’s legal, Nellie is now officially the ship’s cat. She’s complained about one or two things but nothing we can’t deal with and, despite what she tells you, Nellie’s been given her proper rights under international maritime law. She’s gonna be on the night watch most of the time in charge of vermin and stuff like that, she’s not being overly friendly just now but even so, all the signs are looking good.” Dave
Nelly Nelson, Nellie for short, is now all official and legal. We had some explaining to do on the documents about why she was first called Nelson, but when we took Nelson there for the snip the veterinary said it might be best if we called her Nellie. That might not seem important but she needs her own passport and stuff like that.
Nellie has been properly and correctly inducted into the ship’s crew. She’s filed complaints about a couple of things, about being abducted and forced against her will, being press-ganged when nowadays that’s not legal but we’re dealing with all of that. She eats her fill every day so things aren’t that bad.
Now that she’s crew she’s got her own crew list profile, even though she’s a cat it keeps things legal. You can check this out if you want to, especially if you’re one of those cat people.
“At some point we knew it would be time to leave Alaska. Leaving Hoonah would be hard, we’d made so many good friends here in this part of the world that’s refreshingly faraway from mainstream living. Alaska is exactly what we’d been searching for really but, like everything perfect, it couldn’t be forever. ” Dave
Alaska to Mexico 2017
Somewhat belatedly we’ve now written up a transcript of our long voyage from Alaska to Mexico from August to November last year. This forms part of our ‘Where Are We Now’ section of our website that details everything since we left the Mediterranean in 2006.
Mexico is a new experience for us. We’re back in a third world environment to some degree although many Mexicans will argue with that description of their country, but compared to mainland America that’s perhaps what it is. We had to give up our plans for the Northwest Passage route home because of problems with our Volvo Penta engine, so Mexico is our only option considering that we have to make for Panama and the Panama Canal.
Ahead of us await hurricanes, salsa and that curious phenomenon called Donald Trump’s wall… something that many Alaskans are massively in favour of even when considering there are exceptionally few Mexicans in Alaska…
If you are interested in reading our rather lengthy transcript then please click the following link.
“Things are changing fast in Alaska and our own complex situation changes too. Life on a sailboat is often not easy and the influences of the real world create social and family pressures that are sometimes difficult to ignore. There’s always an intrinsic reason to move on…”
Together we decided to leave Alaska to slowly make our way home. Our upcoming blogs and latest news will reflect our feelings that we must perhaps face things as they really are.
In July the three of us, Marie, Henry and myself left Hoonah for the last time to sail south. We left behind exceptionally good friends we’d made during our three years there, it was a heartbreaking decision but one we deliberated knowing it was time to move on. Partly this was because of the changes in Alaska in the face of relentless growth in huge monster-sized cruise ships that often brings tacky tourism and also because of our ongoing engine issues that finally put paid to our plans to attempt a transit of the Northwest Passage… and after listening to lots of advise it was clear that we must head south to get things fixed once and for all. It’s notoriously difficult to fix an English sailboat in Alaska.
In June my youngest daughter Louise travelled out to Alaska to join me onboard Sänna. To meet up with her I sailed Sänna the forty miles or so from Hoonah to Auke Bay just north of Juneau, all the way there worried about docking solo in the absolute chaos that is Auke Bay’s Edward Statten Harbour…
“I will give you water and share the fish we have for food. I will teach you when to sing our song and dance our dance, but you must not then plant your flag in this land and call it your land. Your King is not our King and your Lord is not our Lord.” Chief Kaawishté of the Tlinkit, Shakes V, 1878
The First Nation fisherman from Yankee Maid asked if I’d like three king crabs they’d caught earlier in the day. Sure, I said, I’d be more than pleased to take them off him. We got talking, his name was Robbie, he was true-blood Tlinget descended directly from Kaawishté, the tribal Chief Shakes over on Shakes Island… the Naanyaa.aayí clan still reside in present day Wrangell. Robbie bought over the crabs which he’d cooked up already so I dressed them down for my favourite crab & cucumber sandwiches (always cut diagonally) and fresh-crab salad. This was just fine. Afterwards I wandered over to Yankee Maid to thank Rob again. Come aboard, he said, you can meet Gerry our cook…
“Wes Tyler said it didn’t matter what got into our new cabin ceilings, yellow cedar could take anything without warping, twisting or bending even if we ended up at the bottom of the ocean.”
Well, our cabin ceilings and hatch linings had taken a hammering over the cold winter, condensation having formed and then frozen several times over until they began to rot. But we were in the best place to get new timber… the timber growing in Chichagoff’s Tongas Forest is probably some of the best available in the whole world…
Read about how my step-brother Gary and I both turned craftsmen and made an amazing discovery about slow growing Alaskan Gold…
“If it wasn’t for my bad luck then l would have no luck at all. The curse of my bad luck is in my head but my good luck is always on the horizon where the sun rises every day. I head that way but the sunshine is all the time in the same place each morning when I wake. Now I am old and my bones are creaking like the bending trees in the wind I thank my good luck each day I see the sun rise from the horizon of my dreams.” Chief Eagles Fist of the Huna.
So I got a call from Braden to say there’d been a really heavy snowfall and Sänna was much too low in the water. He said many of the fishing boats in Hoonah harbour were bad but not to worry, because they’re gonna get their shovels and clear the snow as best they could. Then he called to say everything was OK but a few days later he called and said there’d been another bad storm and this time everything had froze over… meanwhile we’re sitting in the sunshine of sunny Norfolk all stressed out wondering what the hell we’ll find in a few weeks time when we get back onboard…