Cruiser Olympics: Las Hadas and Ensenada Carrizal

Just around the corner from Santiago Bay is Bahia Manzanillo and the beautiful Las Hadas marina and resort.  Although this place is praised in the cruising book as one of “many cruisers favorite stops on the Pacific coast”, we found it very beautiful but slightly frustrating.

Halcyon and Agape anchored out front of Las Hadas.

The resort has laid claim to almost all of the beach, as well as buoying off the water out front for swimming exclusively for their guests.  Before you could pay few bucks to use their dingy dock and have access to their pool, laundry and other facilities, but while we were here cruisers were not allowed within the resort and they charged $25 a day just to tie up the dingy and have access to the road into town, making just getting off the boat expensive. There is also a black sand beach across the way where you can land your dingy but it can be rough with the surf landing and you have to walk quite a ways across the private golf course to get to the road. Our friend Becca from S/V Halcyon has a funny story written up about our exciting night sneaking through resorts trying to get back to our boats after dinner one evening.

After five days we made a fun exit. March 31st is Rachel and I’s wedding anniversary and to get everyone involved in the celebration we organized a ‘Cruiser Olympics’.

Let the games begin…

Up first and likely our weakest event was a sailing race.

“But your sailors.. How could this be your weakest event?”

No, no, no… we consider ourselves more destinationers than sailors, and I hold strongly to the mantra that we drift not sail. The winds started off light, not Agape’s favorite and we began the 5.5 mile race to the anchorage in Bahia Santiago. With the winds picking up slightly, the sailing got a little more fun and our 1.5 mile spinnaker sail into the anchorage was definitely a highlight.
Brian and Liz on Pura Vida, a 40′ Hunter came in 1st place with a commanding lead, followed by Halcyon, and bringing home bronze was Agape!

Had a great view of the race from our position. I guess weighing 35,000lbs has it’s downsides.

Round two!

I thought we had this event for sure. Round two was a partner race in which one person drove the dingy towing the other around all three boats at anchor, three times by whatever means possible.

Halcyon had John driving, powered by an 8hp outboard and pulling Becca on an inflatable standup.

Pura Vida had Liz pulling Brian in a kayak with a 15hp outboard.

And we went for mobility and tight cornering, hoping I could pull Weston on a surfboard with our little, 6hp outboard to victory.

It looked good for us on the first lap, we were able to corner quickly and cut super close to the boats, but once John got up on a plane it was all over… His extra horses pushed him to victory, with Becca holding on for dear life, (she actually lost her watch during this event from it being drug in the water at such high speeds. Luckily she was smart enough to wear swim googles).

Poor Liz and Brian… Turns out kayaks don’t corner very well.

For the third and final event, and our last chance to bring home gold it was the beach games.

Bocchi ball and spikeball. This was finally our chance for a come back! Not only did we flood the course with all four of us, but we had hours, nay days of practice in these two disciplines from our time cruising at the Channel Island. And all that practice payed off. We took home the gold in both!!

After all the excitement and celebration it was time to head the beautiful anchorage of Carrizal just 5nm a way. We all planned to meet up with Mike and Nicole on Sloboda for a little R&R. This bay has great snorkeling and decent spearfishing, and we spent all day in the water!

Our second night in the bay we braved the surf landing on the rocky beach to have a huge bonfire. We pilled huge logs and sticks together and doused it all in gasoline. The idea was that we’d all stand back and light it up by shooting the fuel soaked logs with roman candles.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t get it to light with the fireworks so Mike moved in with a lighter. I guess we underestimated how much gasoline we used… As he struck the lighter it went up with a roar. Mike jumped back, but not fast enough, the fire claimed some of his hair on his head, face and arms.

Unphased, pyro activities continued on throughout the night and we had an O.K. coral style show down with the remaining fireworks.

This would be our last night cruising as a gang, Sloboda and Pura Vida would head north in the morning for the rest of the season and we would continue our journey south. We are so thankful for these awesome friends and the way cruising has brought us all together. We have now have unforgettable memories and look forward to sharing more adventures together in the future.
The next morning we left Carrizal at 730 am for our 195nm sail to Zihuatanejo.

Casa Hogar Los Angelitos

We found Casa Hogar Los Angelitos while wandering the busy streets of Manzanillo, Mexico. The home was first started by an american woman named, Nancy Nystrom, following the loss of her son, Fred. In 1994 she founded The Children’s Foundation, a 501c3 corporation located in Colorado and in 1995 Nancy founded the Mexican Civil Association Casa Hogar Los Angelitos for the purpose of rescuing and changing the lives of children in extreme circumstances.

The home is currently home to about 95 children and they are one of the few homes that allow the children who have reached the age of 18 to continue living on site and continue their studies or work until they can support themselves. It was a surprise visit and we found all the children well cared for and the facilities very clean. When we asked what their current needs were, they very simple: rice beans, meat, pasta, cooking oil, underwear for the smaller children, diapers, wet wipes, menstrual pads for the teenagers and hygiene supplies like handsanitizer and toothpaste. The only major need that we weren’t able to meet at the time was for well made, collapsable chairs. When we visited, the children were eating in shifts since there were not enough chairs for them all to sit together at once. Many of their old chairs had broken or were rusting out and not very safe for the children to use.

To contact Casa Hogar Los Angelitos directly to see what their current needs are, provide monthly support, sponsor a child or set up a visit, https://www.tcfcares.org

More information on the home from their website: “Casa Hogar Los Angelitos (CHLA) is a unique children’s home. Children from infancy and up find a safe place of healing to call home.  Helping each child, regardless of previous circumstances, reach his or her full potential and dreams is the guiding principle. To break the cycle of poverty and positively change the life of each child is the ultimate goal. CHLA provides 24-hour care in a family-like setting, with emotional, mental and medical care, education, spiritual foundation, English and Expressive Arts classes. Education is a proven avenue to breaking the cycle of poverty. All school age children at CHLA attend school. Accommodations are made for those with learning disabilities and full-time tutors are provided for all children. Children are not sent back to the streets at a certain age but are encouraged to stay in school and to follow their dreams. After high school, students are encouraged to go to trade school or university.

For many years CHLA has offered classes in the Expressive Arts. Dance, music, vocal, painting, arts & crafts are part of the daily life at CHLA. This has proven to be invaluable in helping the children to heal emotional traumas; stay focused in school and encourages self-confidence with cultural pride and understanding. The emphasis on the arts sets CHLA apart and helps to make it a unique and successful program.

CHLA opened its doors in 1996 with 7 children in a storefront in Manzanillo Mexico.  In 1995, before CHLA was officially open, a soup kitchen was started to help feed the children who were living on the street or in extreme poverty. The catalyst for intervening for the children of Mexico by founder Nancy Nystrom was the deep grief she experienced after the death of her son.  Through that difficult journey she felt God’s call to make a difference in the world around her.

CHLA is a Civil Association (non-profit) under Mexican law. It is not a religious or government organization. CHLA’s major funding comes from individuals, businesses, fundraising events, grants and service clubs.

‘I realized during the early years of this work that providing nutrition for hungry children was life-saving and important. Empty stomachs need to be filled…. However, I knew that we needed to do more than rescue children and fill their stomachs. We needed to fill their hearts and their minds as well.'”

40 Days and 40 Nights

We are finally putting together a few videos of our first season cruising! Here is the first one Josh has made of our time refitting Agape before beginning our journey around the world. It ended up taking forty days on the hard to finish most of the work we wanted to get done before leaving. Josh quit his job two months before our planned departure date in order to work on the boat full time. We hauled out in the Ventura Yacht Yard, but with the help of our friends and family we were able to complete the majority of the work ourselves.

To see more of our current adventures sailing in Central America follow us on instagram @voyagesofagape.

Darkest Before the Dawn

I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.

Heading down Baja was a new type of journey for me. There were moments of adventure, frustration, bliss and sorrow. The night passages were some of my favorite and yet some of hardest moments of the trip for me. My watch is normally 2-6 am, the darkest hours leading into the light of a new day. The nights where the wind was steady and the sky was clear, it felt like being in a dream. The wake around the boat would glow from the phosphorescence and an occasional dolphin would grace me with its company. I’d listen to podcasts and music, watch movies and read, but, more often than not, I’d sit with my face in the wind and my eyes on the sky. I’ve never seen more shooting stars than I did on our way down the remote Baja coast. Those nights were the ones I wish I could capture and share.

Most nights though, the winds were heavy and seas steep on our beam. It was like living in an endless earthquake. Large swells from the west, mixing with the wind chop from the east, had us feeling like we were living in a washing machine.

Everyone had told us cruising down Baja would be a breeze, “Just set your sails and you’re downwind cruising!”. Well, we couldn’t have had a more different experience. With La Nina conditions, we had cold weather, large ocean swells and heavy winds that always seemed to come from the wrong direction, or no wind at all and were forced to motor.

Mornings with him make me so happy.

So, when we left Turtle Bay just as sun was setting, I had prepared myself for another uncomfortable night. We headed offshore for our 240 mile sail south to Bahia Santa Maria with about 15 knots of wind, but as soon as it got dark the winds completely died. We ended up having to motor most of the night, watching lightning storms off in the distance. The second night of the passage we decided to head in and anchor in San Juanito since we had less than favorable conditions all day and were too exhausted to deal with the +25 knot winds and steep swells offshore. We pulled into the large bay around 1 am to find the anchorage lit with about forty large fishing boats. We navigated our way through the fleet to a spot we felt was a safe distance away and set the hook. We woke around 6 am to books falling off the shelves and decided to pick up our anchor and tuck further into the bay to try to find a more protected spot to get a few more hours of sleep.

It felt a little odd being the only cruising boat in an anchorage with so many old, dilapidated fishing trollers, even the fisherman came by in their pongas to wave hello, (mostly while I was showering on deck).

After some much needed rest we continued our journey south to Bahia Santa Maria. Finally, we had great conditions and were able to sail most of the way, we even caught a large sierra mackerel!

Sunrise in Santa Maria

That night during my 2-6 am shift, we hit a pocket of cell service and I received a message from my mother in law. As soon as I read it, tears started streaming down my face. She
was trying to contact us to let us know that Josh’s grandmother was sick in the hospital, and it wasn’t looking good. My heart sank, and in that moment, all I wanted was to be back at home to support Josh’s family and spend more time with Grandma. As the sun rose and we approached the bay, Josh’s watch began and I debated when the best time was to share the news with him. I decided it would be best to wait until after we had set the anchor and settled in. As soon as the anchor dropped I had a hard time holding it together, he asked me what was wrong and I shared the message I had received.

Entrance to Bahia Santa Maria.
Calling home.

It was one of those moments in life where you feel utterly stuck. We thought sailing meant freedom, but in that moment, we couldn’t have felt less free. We were anchored halfway down the remote Baja peninsula, with no access to roads or an airport. All we could do was sit there and pray for comfort for our family back at home.

Josh inflated the dingy and grabbed his board to have some alone time out in the water, I’m sure it wasn’t how he wanted his first surf session in Baja to go. That afternoon we were able to find weak cell reception and got a call out to Josh’s mom to speak with grandma to tell her how much we loved her and wish we could be there with her. With heavy hearts, we fell asleep for a much-needed nap.

In the afternoon, we decided to get off the boat for a bit and explore the estuary. There in the mangroves we found a small fishing camp, as we approached, the fishermen stopped cleaning their daily catch of clams to wave hello. We noticed a few lobster traps lying around and asked if they had any for sale, sure enough they did, $3 for a whole lobster! We bought four!

That night we feasted aboard Sloboda, with our new friends Mike and Nicolle and their adorable labradoodle, Dexter, who we had met earlier in the day. Little did we know, this couple would become some of our closest friends and one of the biggest blessings of our trip. In the morning, we buddy boated twenty miles south to Bahia Magdalena to explore the mangroves and small fishing village littered with whale skeletons.

Bahia Magdalena is most noted for the hundreds, if not thousands of grey whales that visit the bay each winter to give birth and mate. The locals make a living during that season taking tourists out in their pongas to get up close and personal with the whales. The town itself is on a small peninsula and completely cut off from the rest of the mainland. There are no roads, in or out, and yet there are about a dozen rusting, old vehicles littering the small village.

Preparing the lobster for dinner.
Whale bones piled up on the beach.

That night we went to shore to have dinner at the one “restaurant” on the beach. When we arrived and knocked on the front door, we noticed a man reclining on a couch under the window, watching television on a big screen. When he answered the door, we asked if this was indeed the restaurant, and if they were open for the evening. He eagerly replied that it was indeed the “restaurant” and they were indeed, “Abierto”. He called out to his wife, who was somewhere in the back of their house, and led us to a table out on the front porch. He quickly informed us the village had completely run out of beer, but, if we wanted we could go back to the boat and bring our own drinks for the night. He also informed us there was no menu, they would only be able to serve us lobster or fried fish tacos. Both sounded delicious, so we all ordered one of each! As we sat getting to know our new friends, I noticed the photos hanging on the wall. There were photos of fish larger than children, men petting whales and trucks floating across the sea on rafted up pongas.

Well, that solved the mystery of the cars in a place with no roads! I asked the owner, who happened to also be the town’s sheriff, why they brought cars over when they can’t drive anywhere?

Basically, he explained they did it to feel normal. It was the same reason he had a big screen TV, and most of the houses there had satellite dishes. There are less than 50 people living in this remote, small village, and even though the fisherman enjoyed living simple and quiet lives, they also wanted to enjoy the luxuries most of us have.

Exploring Bahia Magdalena’s mangroves with Sloboda.

It’s these memories that stick with me the most. Meeting the locals, hearing their stories and getting to see the world through their eyes, even for just a brief moment, humbles me and brings me immense joy.

The next day we left for our last passage down the Pacific coast of Baja, we were headed 200 miles to the southernmost tip of the peninsula, Cabo San Lucas. This time, the sea gave us exactly what we needed, perfectly warm, sunny days with 15 knots of breeze! It was beautiful!

Caught our first mahi. He was just a little guy so we threw him back!

The second night into our passage, on my 2-6 am watch I received another message, grandma had passed… I had just begun my watch, and as the tears streamed down my face once again, I turned my eyes to the sky ahead of us. There was no moon and the sky was clear. The stars shown brighter than ever before and the warm breeze kissed my wet cheeks. As I prayed for comfort for those we loved back at home, the sky ahead lit up with shooting stars. Over the next few hours I watched dozens, if not hundreds of shooting stars stream across the little patch of sky directly in front of us. Whether or not it was grandma waving goodbye, or saying it was ok to move forward, or just a random meteor shower, it brought me peace in those dark hours.

Josh taking down the main.

This time when Josh woke he knew immediately something was wrong. We decided to pull into the anchorage in front of Cabo even though it was still dark, instead of continuing on three hours east to the Los Cabos Marina. We had been there before and there were enough lights on the beach to help us spot the other boats in the anchorage. We dropped the hook, had a good cry and crashed hard.

Again, we woke to the boat rocking and rolling, we pulled the anchor and headed to the Los Cabos Marina where we planned to leave Agape to fly home for Grandma’s funeral. We definitely weren’t planning on returning home so soon, or having to say a true goodbye to someone we loved so dearly.

It was a hard lesson to learn so early into our voyage. For us, family always comes first, but we realize the lifestyle we have chosen will sometimes mean we cannot make it back home for certain life events. What we can do, what we all should do, is make sure our loved ones know how much we care about them. Life is truly precious and it’s most often better spent with the ones you love.