Friday, January 29, 2010

An Acrostic Poem about the Ocean

Oh, my tummy.
Crazy movement.
Extra Wavey.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

From the Perspective of Freda & Allan Brender (aka Bubbie and Zaida)

My mother and step-dad, Freda and Allan Brender, wrote the following contribution to our blog, describing their experiences aboard Whatcha Gonna Do during their recent visit with us. I added the photos. -BG

"We arrived in Puerto Vallarta on January 14 and were met by Barb at the airport. After picking up an air shipment of kosher meat from Mexico City we made our way to the marina at La Cruz and first boarded WhatCha Gonna Do.

"As first time sailors, we were looking forward to our time on the boat with our family but were also a bit apprehensive since this was a new experience and we also wondered whether our physical abilities were up to life on a boat. As it turned out, our primary difficulty was in getting on and off the boat and we generally managed OK.

"The weather did not cooperate and we spent our first three days in the marina. We saw a pretty spectacular waterspout offshore extending from the clouds to the ocean's surface, basically a tornado over water. We walked around La Cruz which is a small Mexican town that clearly benefits economically from the new marina. Shabbat dinner on the boat was a delight with home-baked challah. The next evening we had dinner at an excellent Italian restaurant together with the family from another boat that has been mentioned in these blogs, Journey. A few nights later we also met the family of another boat mentioned here, Mishak.

"We left La Cruz on Sunday, January 17 for Punta Mita at the northwestern end of Banderas Bay. We sailed for 4 -5 hours, zig-zagging across the bay following the wind. Along the way we saw several whales and a number of great breaches. We anchored offshore for the night.

"On Monday morning we set sail for the Marietas, a group of uninhabited and largely inaccessible islands at the opening of Banderas Bay where there was swimming, snorkeling, kayaking and touring by dinghy. We sailed back to Punta Mita where we anchored about a half mile off shore. The next day, after school work was done, was spent onshore but the highlight was getting there. Freda and Barb swam the whole distance in about an hour while the rest of us followed closely in the dinghy.

"Early Wednesday morning we headed east to Paradise Village Marina in Nuevo Vallarta. Michael caught a late afternoon flight to S. F. to attend to business. The rest of us spent time in Puerto Vallarta and near the marina. The marina is part of a large complex with a major resort hotel. We were able to use its facilities and made good use of the pools. We took an interesting boat tour up the river into a national park and saw lots of iguanas, crocodiles and water birds.

"Now we have left the boat and Mexico. Looking back, we are impressed with how all the Mitgang family has adapted to life on the boat and at sea. They are all sailors now. The catamaran is just right for the four of them, is comfortable if compact and a great way to see the world. The Pacific coast of Mexico is really beautiful and we are grateful we had the opportunity to see some of it with them."

-Freda and Allan Brender

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What we did over winter break and beyond...

Our internet has been down, I've been sick, and we've had guests. Excuses, excuses, excuses. But so be it - it's good to be back! Here's a recap of what's been going on since mid-December.

When last I wrote about our day to day life, we had our friends Natsuko and Kenji on board and were making our way from Mazatlan to Banderas Bay (Puerto Vallarta area), with some stops in San Blas and Chacala.

San Blas (21 degrees 32.617 minutes North, 105 degrees 17.612 minutes West) was a cute little town where we spent two overnights at a marina. Many cruisers bypass this town as it is known for the jejenes (known as the 'no-see-ums'). True to its reputation, we got eaten alive and were still recovering from several of the bug bites several weeks later. Nonetheless, we were there during a town Christmas celebration which took place at the central plaza with jumpees, sparklers and poppers, food and local artisans selling their wares. It was a lot of fun participating in the festivies with the locals. We visited the cathedrals - there are two side by side - one much older than the other and which was made famous in a Longfellow poem about the town and its church bells, only days before the poet died (another useless fact you may be interested in).
Next stop: Chacala - photos of this beautiful spot (21 degrees 9.819 minutes North, 105 degrees 12.615 minutes West):

We anchored in Chacala Bay (photos above) and it was so beautiful that we decided to stay there a couple of nights. Only two small issues arose while we were there. The first is that the bay is only about a half-mile inland so the waves roll in when the seas have even a bit of swell. This made getting into and out of the dinghy a bit tricky at times - when there are waves, the boat is up when the dinghy is down, and vice versa. It's a lesson in patience to get the timing just so. The second issue arose as a result of the first: I thought I broke my toe getting into the dinghy on our first day there in order to get to shore. By the time I got to shore, a fisherman had to help me get to a rock where I could put on my shoe, and Michael had to carry me the rest of the way. It turns out that my toe is not broken, but I had a tough time walking for several days.

Back to Chacala. It's another little out of the way fishing village with a beautiful beach lined with palapa restaurants. The town itself has only a couple of streets. Our friends the Bernsteins from San Francisco happened to be vacationing down the coast and took a taxi there to meet us for the day. The kids enjoyed swimming to/from the boat, boogie boarding, and playing in the sand. The ice cream was pretty good too. I remained pretty stationary with ice packs on my toe (see broken toe story above).

Photos of the Bernstein visit:

Next stop: La Cruz de Huanacaxtle (20 degrees 44.92 minutes North, 105 degrees 22.83 minutes West), where we made our home base for several weeks. We arrived at the marina by mid-afternoon on December 24 to a fabulous greeting from both old and new friends. It was an incredible feeling seeing the Rebitzer/Arfin family waiting for us on the dock - coming all the way from Palo Alto, CA to visit with us. In addition, we learned that our friends from Gypsy Wind and from Meshach had also arrived that day. We had a happy reunion with them as well.

We said goodbye to Natsuko and Kenji, who were joined by Jonathan and Tomo (Kenji's dad and brother) after a couple of days, and spent the remainder of the week with the Rebitzer/Arfins. We went into Puerto Vallarta to walk around the old city, the malecon (boardwalk), watched some dare devil acts of sea worship by 4 local men in traditional dress swinging from a pole, and had possibly the best seafood we've had to date at Joe Jack's Fish Shack (our waiter was from Toronto). The highlight of the week, however, was our 3 day trip to Punta Mita. As you read from the kids' blogs, the kids/dads enjoyed surfing lessons while Mimi and I had a leisurely breakfast on shore. It was such a treat to spend uninterrupted time together.
What the kids didn't mention in their blog was the excitement getting back to our boat after the day of surfing on the biggest surf day of the year. Our boat was anchored off the beach in what normally would have been a safe distance out. However, the waves had gotten so big that they had started breaking right under our boat. Had we not left when we did, the waves would have swamped our boat (the big one, not the dinghy). We needed to get back to the boat as soon as possible and lift our anchor, otherwise, in these conditions, the strain on the anchor chain could knock it loose and the boat would quickly be on shore (again, that's the big boat, the mother ship, not the dinghy). And so, as we noticed how close the break of the waves was getting to the boat, we hurried to get back. Michael had to dinghy us back in two trips, and for several nights afterwards I had nightmares of the experience: Think Poseiden Adventure. Okay, the waves were not that high, but they rose up around 8 feet high, and our dinghy had to get through them. You must know that this is not an easy task. In fact it takes much skill. You have to ride up the front of the wave and through it, but if you see it's about to break, you must turn around, head back toward shore and try to outrun it or surely get swamped, or worse yet, have your dinghy capsize. Our small 8 horsepower motor served us well and got us through several huge waves, and although a lot of water got in, the dinghy did not capsize. Michael's skill was truly impressive in running those waves, although at times I wasn't sure we'd make it. It got to a point that the surfers themselves were cheering him on each time he actually made it over the waves. It was truly exhilirating, but at the same time, incredibly scarey. Not sure I'd ever want to repeat that again.
Of course, as Danielle mentioned in her blog, on the way back we saw several whales and dolphins, and had a close encounter with one large whale only a few feet from our boat. Between our dinghy trip back to the boat, together with the whale incident, this was surely the highest level of adrenalin flow of our trip so far.

We were so sad to see Mimi, Bobby, Elana and Maya go. They were much quicker than we have been and have already posted their photos at their website. Here are a few of ours:

New Year's Eve was spent with our friends from Mesach and Gypsy Wind at Philo's Bar, a local cruiser's hangout in La Cruz. Harrison spent the evening playing pool, while Danielle hung out with the adults. Here's another Mexico-ism: Puerto Vallarta is on Central Time, but just north, across the river in Nuevo Vallarta, the time is one hour earlier, on Mountain Time. In La Cruz, we were on Mountain Time. However, the marina and boating community go by PV time. Making appointments is often a hilarious exchange about what time the meeting is really going to take place. In any case, we celebrated New Year's first on PV time with other boaters at the bar, and then walking home had a second wonderful show of fireworks an hour later for La Cruz time.
We also had a great time shooting off our own expired flares. For those not familiar with flares, they are a must-have emergency supply - you shoot them off when you think a possible rescuer is close by (another boat or plane) if you get into trouble. It's a good thing we have current flares on board, however, because only 2 of our 3 expired ones actually went off.

More about Philo's Bar. Loads of cruisers hang out here, and the owner, another expat, does a tremendous amount to help the local communities, by hosting fundraising events, being a collection spot for donations of clothes, and so on. The 20 pesos it costs for our Spanish classes that we take there Tuesday and Thursday mornings all goes to charity. The other great thing about Philo's bar is that Harrison has befriended Alex, the almost-9-year old son of the concierge that works there and lives in the back of the bar. Harrison will have great stories to tell about how, at 8-years-old, he hung out at a bar playing pool and working the soda fountain.

Harrison and Danielle with Alex behind the bar at Philo's:

The first week of January was a bit challenging for us. We all got sick and got stuck on the boat, a very smaaaaaalllll space. After day four, we clearly needed some personal space. Michael took Danielle to shore to run some errands and Harrison and I stayed on the boat. Good decompression time. Took me well into last week week to feel 100% again due to my asthma that seems to crop up after a cold, and is much worse in the humidity. And it wasn't until the second full week of January that I felt well enough even to begin homeschooling again. Now that we have, however, it really feels good to be back in the routine.

In one of my next posts, I'll write about my mother and step-dad's visit, which sadly is coming to an end tomorrow. And we are expecting more visitors this and next month. Given the number of guests needing to make plans, we decided to stay put in the Banderas Bay area until mid to late February - there's a ton to do around here, and several different places to anchor or dock, so we certainly won't be bored. It's actually so wonderful to share our experiences with family and friends, to allow them to experience first hand what we do, how we live, what we see and experience.
Wishing you all a wonderful 2010 full of adventures and good health!

Signing off from Nuevo Vallarta (20 degrees 40.429 minutes North, 105 degrees 17.607 minutes West),

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How Cruising Kids Torment Their Siblings

The other day, Danielle was returning to the boat via dinghy on her own, and Harrison ran to the back of the boat to help tie her on. Apparently Danielle didn't speak as nicely to him as he liked, so he decided to drop the line and push the dinghy away from the boat. At the same time, Danielle had killed the engine. The current had gotten stronger, pulling her further away from our boat, further into the anchorage. And she couldn't get the motor started again. She hailed me on the VHF for help, but of course I couldn't go out to get her because she was already in my means of transportation. She kept trying and trying to get the motor started, meanwhile drifting further and further away from the boat. She then got the paddles out and was trying to paddle herself back, but the wind and current were too strong so she was getting nowhere. The entertaining part for me was that Harrison was more panicked than Danielle was, and asked me if he should go to his room. He felt horrible about what he had done. In the meantime, one of the other boats in the anchorage noticed that Danielle was having trouble starting the engine (by this time it was probably flooded given the number of times she was desperately trying to get it started), and he went out in his own dinghy and towed Danielle in our dingy back to the boat. She would not speak to Harrison for a while after this episode. Wonder who had the last laugh?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The challahs that never made it

After being sick for nearly a week, we awoke yesterday morning well enough to make challahs for Shabbat and to shower, all in time to make it up the street from the marina in La Cruz to the Banderas Bay Chavurah. Yes, that's right. There are a group of Jews, mostly American and Canadian, as well as a few Mexicans, living in the Puerto Vallarta area, who meet to celebrate Jewish holidays and the occasional Kabbalat Shabbat (welcoming the Sabbath on Friday evening). I came across the group through Mel and Barbara Bornstein (pictured with us in the second photo above, with our host Sally Martin in between them), who were noted in a Pheonix Jewish newspaper as the ones who coordinate ordering kosher meat from Mexico City to the PV area. The wonderful things you can learn about through Google... While I haven't yet successfully ordered any kosher meat (although I'm getting closer), Mel invited me to join the group in La Cruz for the first ever meeting of the Chavurah in the 'north'. For those not familiar with the word, 'chavurah' comes from the Hebrew root word 'chaver', which means friend, and tends to refer to a group of friends who meet for activities, celebrations, etc.

You can see from the photo that it was a lovely group, which met in the gorgeous 'outdoor living' home of Sally Martin's brother and sister-in-law. Sally, a fascinating woman, hails from the Bay Area with her son, Jacob, and is spending the year living in Mexico. There was an Israeli couple from Ottawa, another from Chicago with their granddaughter visiting over break, Rosie and her mom from Tepic now living in Nuevo Vallarta, and several others. We had a fabulous time and loved that we were able to hook up with such a warm and welcoming group - a fabulous benefit of being part of the Jewish community, regardless of where we are, and certainly adding to the wonderful experiences of this year.

Now for the challahs. I offered to bake the usual two challahs that I bake every Friday for Shabbat. These particular challahs were beautiful - one with tons of raisins and cinnamon. And not over-kneaded which many of them are, due to the fact I'm usually making them with other 'boat kids'. In any case, I braided them and left them to make their second rise, turned the oven on to heat up, and left to a meeting at the marina. Danielle was to put the challahs in the oven at the given time, and take them out when done. This she did dutifully. However, at some point right before I left, I must have turned off the oven - the valves for the oven are adjacent to the ones for the stove - but because the oven was still warm, Danielle did not realize this. Just before heading back to the boat to pick up the kids and the challahs to head out to the Chavurah, Danielle realized that the challahs had never baked. We arrived at the Chavurah wholly embarrassed as there was only one small one awaiting our two large ones. Oy.

Everyone was very kind about it, we survived the embarrassment, and I've sworn to bake more for everyone at a future date.

Signing off from the La Cruz anchorage just outside of La Cruz marina,
20 degrees North, 44.919 minutes; 105 degress West, 22.832 minutes

p.s. I have a lot of blog catching up to do, but as mentioned, have had a cold. Will post more soon.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Danielle, my dad and our guests took surfing lessons at Punta Mita over winter break on the biggest surf day of the year.  I stood up on my first try.  Because I'm shorter and my center of gravity is lower, it is easier for me than for bigger people.  It is similar to wakeboarding because you stand up on a board. In wakeboarding, though, you get pulled by a rope and in surfing you get pushed by a wave. It was scary going up the wave and exciting going down. Danielle got a wave that took her all the way in to shore. I hope that my friends that don't know how to surf, learn.


Surfs Up on a Whale Tale

Winter break:  What's the first thing that comes to your mind?  Hanging out with friends and playing games?  Going to parties and watching TV?  It probably isn't spending time at the beach surfing and whale watching - especially for those of you living in Canada!  But those two activities were some fo the highlights of my break.

The Rebitzer/Arfins - Mimi, Bobby, Elana, and Maya - joined us when we entered La Cruz, a small town near Puerto Vallarta.  A few days later, we sailed up north to Punta Mita.  We anchored and went to shore. There were multiple surf schools, and one with fluent English speaking instructors.  All the kids wanted to surf and the dads too, so we got surfing lessons for the next day.

Here's a funny fact:  The day we had our surfing lessons, our very first surfing lessons, it was the biggest surf day of the year!  But it was awesome.  I had a blast!  I rode a lot of waves in and stood up a few times.  Once I rode a wave all the way into shore standing up.  It was so cool!  Harrison rode them in a lot too.  Almost everyone in our group got up!

After our lesson, we went straight  back to the boat because we were right next to he breaking point so the waves were giant.  We raised the anchor and we left.  About an hour later, my dad started shouting, "Oh my God!"  Everyone went to go see what he saw.  There was a whale.  It wasn't the first time we'd seen a whale. We'd seen a school of whales. But this whale was right next to us.  I think it was 5 feet away, Dad said it was 15 feet away.  But the bottom line is that you're supposed to be 250 feet away from a whale to be safe.  The entire back and tail came off the water as the whale dove down under our boat without making a splash.  You could see the barnacles, it was that close!

I hope that we gave the Rebitzer/Arfins a trip to remember!  I'll never forget that day!