This morning we woke up to a perfect Baja sunrise off the Sea of Cortez. We are parked on the Playa El Bledito on the Corridor between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabos. To get here we drove 1000 miles with our great friend Jimmie Shell. We survived possibly the best Palooza week ever and now we are learning how to actually live and work effectively in Mexico.
Beaches are plentiful and the camping in frequently free. The food is fresh and inexpensive. The Pacificos flow freely. Bandwidth remains a challenge. But we are figuring it out. As our Spanish slowly improves so does our success.
In the meantime, the kindness, generosity and infinite patience of the people around us allow us to live the Baja dream.
For Tim and my first open water sail, we decided to go big. When Captain Nick Christie asked us to sail his classic yacht Cruinneag III to Antigua in February, we said yes. That decision was made on a sunny, warm Fall day while we all drank beer together. “How could we say no? What an opportunity!” we said.
February 16th came very very fast. And that Monday dawned very very cold. That warm Fall decision was a distant memory. Icicles hung off the fenders and Jackson Creek wore a shell of ice. But when you sail, you need to watch the weather, and though we knew we’d have a cold start, we only had 24 hours to sail around Cape Hatteras’s “Graveyard of the Atlantic” before another winter Stormaggadon raced up the East Coast – there was no time for delay.
We cracked through the ice with the hull while waving goodbye to the gathered Deltaville Boatyard guys. Even at high tide, we struck bottom on the way out of the channel, but accelerating through it, we were officially underway.
Cruinneag III proved to be a worthy vessel. Nick had refit her in Deltaville for two years, including 10 coats of varnish on her 63 foot teak hull. She is a classic wooden ketch, built in 1936 by A.M Dickie and Son, of Tarbert Argyll, Scotland. This was to be her maiden, “shakedown” sail after 2 years out of the water. A 2000 mile sail through the wintery Atlantic was a challenge that she was up for. We were joined on the sail by Pauline, a seasoned veteran of the sea. Pauline has spent her last 37 years crewing on boats and took all weather in stride.
Once on our way, we reached the Bay Bridge-Tunnel in about 5 hours. We were running fast ahead of schedule knowing that we needed to wait for a storm moving up the coast of North Carolina to pass on Tuesday morning. We spent 5 hours circling the bay at Lynnhaven Roads to avoid arriving too early. While we motored between the giant anchored tankers, snow started to fall. It didn’t take long for 4 inches to accumulate on the decks. If you haven’t been on teak decks with 4 inches of snow, it’s very very SLIPPERY!
We immediately started our watch schedule for the trip. Watches consisted of 3 hours in the pilot house, watching the seas, the chart plotter, other ships on AIS, the autopilot and monitoring the engine and sails. Tim and I served watch together and then had 6 hours off to cook, eat and sleep. Watch happens day and night and there are times when all hands on deck is required. It surprised me how quickly we fell into the pattern.
During Monday night watch, we passed the lighthouses down the VA/NC coast. Tim was on his own initially and it was the first time he had seen them from the sea. The weather steadily got worse and watching these beacons in the thickening snow and wind, he had his first (and only) doubts about whether we made the right choice to come on this trip. We knew we were arriving to Hatteras earlier than we should have and knew we would hit a big blow. Everyone was tense because with strong Northerly winds, we couldn’t easily go back.
We ended up arriving early and faced 10-20 foot seas, but the winds and waves pushed us south and it felt surprisingly smooth. Just north of Hatteras, the winds began to propel us East across the Gulf Stream. At 2pm on Tuesday, it was time to cross.
The Gulf Stream is the advanced class of sailing. The Continental Shelf drops off and creates a deep trough. Here the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico race from the south. Combined with cold winds from the north, the Gulf Stream develops its own storm systems and confused seas.
As we entered the Stream, things got exciting. The cold northwest winds blew across the warm, clear blue water of the Gulf Stream. An eerie steam developed. The steam blew low in the troughs of the waves and we would rise above it as we crested each wave. We were greeted by dolphins and even a sailfish or marlin as we ran down the following 15 foot seas.
After a rolling night’s watch, sunshine and strong winds prevailed on Wednesday as we left the Gulf Stream behind and moved into the open Atlantic. NW winds meant we could hoist the sails for the first time and continue to run with the weather at about 7 kts using the staysail and mizzen.
On Thursday, the heaviest storm of the trip began to build around midnight and by 2am, it was blowing close to 50 kts. When Tim reported to watch at 2am, he came up in time to see a cargo ship to port and 3 others on the AIS. Nick was at the wheel and Pauline on with him as he had to manually steer because the wind and waves were too strong for the auto-pilot. These squalls and winds continued through sunrise for over 5 hours and by the end, Nick was exhausted.
The skies slowly cleared by mid-morning but the wind and waves continued all day. We saw some waves nearly 20 feet high, most in the 15 foot range. I was glad for all 63 feet of Cruinneag’s sturdy build.
By Friday, we were all ready for a calmer day. Winds dropped to about 20-25 kts and moved around from NW to NE. The exciting event was a jibe required to adjust to the more easterly winds. It was a day when we all caught up on some much needed sleep.
The next day, we started to first feel the warmth of the lower latitudes as we moved below the border of South Carolina. As the weather warmed, we had our first official Happy Hour and brought out Admiral Skully, our trusted mascot of 429-apalooza. We would later recognize we were too relaxed and heading more south than east, for which we would later pay dearly trying to move east in the Trade Winds. We only have Skully to blame…
Sunday brought even lighter winds from the east but heavy and confused seas from storms to the north. Nick and Tim had an exhilarating morning raising the working jib. To raise that sail, Nick has to go out on the bowsprit, hanging 10 feet over the front of the boat. The seas were big and the bow was going under water with each wave. Tim watched Nick get completely submerged as he held on and hanked on the sail. It took us about 2 hours to get everything straightened out and the sail up, during which Tim and Nick received several good dunkings. Seas were calmer as the sun got warmer. I was able to cobble together our first proper dinner at sea of lamb and mashed potatoes.
The next day the weather continued to change. We still have many stories to tell and will end our first chapter here with this video. If you wondered what sailing the Northern Atlantic in February really looks like, this is it!
Combine great friends, awesome weather, good food and a pretty boat and you get a little slice of Chesapeake heaven. After 2 weeks of travel or little wind, we finally got a chance to sail with Chico and Mel Viscovich up the Bay to Fleets Bay.
Once upon a time, 2 Jackson Hole residents decided it was time to go adventuring. Everyday they dreamed of traveling far away, exploring new places and meeting new people. They needed the perfect vehicle for this new life and in 2007 they found it.
Some adventures have to be recorded and hiking Paria Canyon in Southern Utah is one of them. It’s time to break out the ole blog again for this bucket list backpack trip.
We had been staying in Kanab through the week and after signing off to family and work, Tim and I drove off the bandwidth grid to Lees Ferry at the head of the Grand Canyon. Here we stayed up packing and getting ready for the 4 day hike ahead of us.
Wednesday morning, we were picked up at by Steve Dodson of Paria Outpost and Outfitters to shuttle 2 hours to the Whitehouse Trail Head for the hike. Steve is a tour guide by trade as well as a restaurateur. The Paria Outpost Restaurant is only open the first weekend of each month…otherwise we would have bellied up for some BBQ on the way.
Instead we listened as Steve told us great stories of John D Lee and lesser known spots in the Vermillion Cliffs Plateau as we drove up House Rock Valley Road, a treasure trove of amazing rock formations, dinosaur remains and Anasazi ruins.
We took a lot of notes.
Steve dropped us at the Whitehouse Trailhead at 11am – just as things were heating up. Projected temperatures were in the 90’s for the week and our first 6 miles were in a sandy open wash. We got moving right away.
The Paria Canyon hike has 3 possible entrances, Wire Pass, Buckskin Gulch and White House Trailhead. We chose White House for length, to get the full taste of the Paria and we’d already explored Wire Pass and the upper portion of Buckskin. We love the area so much we’re already dreaming about our next trip to hike Buckskin, the world’s longest slot canyon from top to bottom.
The hike began with 6 hot miles of trudging through sand (a great butt workout, I kept telling myself) in 95 degree heat with a headwind. Not sure why in those circumstances, it’s always a headwind and never a tailwind…but that’s a discussion for another day.
We were ecstatic when the Canyon walls began to narrow and there was some welcome shade. Here every turn through the Canyon brought new surprises – from giant arches to lush desert oases. You never knew what expect around the corner.
After 10 miles of hiking, we camped at the first Spring in Paria Canyon. The singing frogs kept us company as we dined on delicious Mountain House Chili Mac. You’d never eat it at home, but on the trail there is no better meal.
Day 2, we planned 10 miles of hiking. We hiked through the narrow Canyon until mile 17 when the Paria Narrows opened up. Our necks ached from our continuous gawking at the incredible splicing of rock.
In the Paria Narrows, the easily eroded Navajo sandstone was carved away by the flash floods and trickling Paria springs. Our river bed went from bone dry to ankle deep as we passes springs dripping from the canyon walls. Water is sweetest after a decade of filtering through layers of sandstone. We were respectful of each drop from rainstorms that may have fallen 20 years before.
Once we passed through the Narrows, the Canyon gradually opened. Here we began to see large side canyons spurring from the main channel.
One of these hid Wrather Arch. Tucked a mile and a half up high in a canyon, Wrather Arch is one of the largest arches on the Colorado Plateau. We decided to camp at the base of Wrather Canyon in order to save the Wrather Arch as a sunrise treat for Day 3.
That afternoon, we splashed in a pool in the river, cooling off in the hot sun, washing shoes and socks and getting the dust out of the pockets. Then back to camp for naps, an early meal then bed. We couldn’t remembering having so much free time to relax.
After a bright moonlit night, we woke up early in order to hike up Wrather Canyon in time for sunrise. We bushwacked our way 1 and 1/2 miles up the sandy canyon. As we neared the head of the canyon, the Arch seems to materialize from the surrounding walls.
Though Wrather Arch is one of the largest arches in the region, some people report walking to the base without ever seeing it. To get the full effect, you need to scramble the canyon walls behind the arch to look out past the canyon.
While we sat perched next to the arch, we heard a shriek echo through the canyon. A huge hawk swooped down on a flying sparrow and plucked it out of the air before our eyes. We couldn’t believe what we’d seen…incredible and very harsh, very fitting for our environment.
We returned to camp after the hike and ate Canyon breakfast of hard boiled eggs, grits with jalapenos, bacon and cheddar, and steaming cups of coffee and tea. Day 3’s plan was to hike through the wider canyon. As the layers change from Navajo Sandstone to the darker green gray Kayenta formation, the canyon transforms itself once again.
Boulders sliced down the canyon walls into the river. The flash floods which flush the rocks from the narrow canyon above don’t occur in the wider lower section of canyon. Here the boulders create large pools in the river. It was hard to believe that this was the same bone dry riverbed we’d started hiking 2 days earlier.
We hiked 10 miles before lunch and then pulled over into a shady grove to eat. The temperature continued to climb into the 90’s so we set up the tent for an afternoon siesta.
While we were safe behind mesh, deer flies came hunting for us. When we woke up, they were waiting. We outran them down to the safety of the water to keep from getting stung. Here we cooked dinner, while standing in thigh deep pools to both stay cool and bug free.
As soon as the sun went down, we packed up and started hiking again. We had 10 miles left to go and we figured we’d walk until we were tired and finished the rest the next day.
This lower section of canyon became even more boulder choked, as if the Canyon were crumbling in on itself. We navigated two miles slowly before stopping on a high ledge to camp. Here we had views for miles down the canyon, framed by the distant Vermillion Cliffs. It was yet another personality change of Paria.
Our last day would be a hot one. The final canyon miles had very little shade so we got moving early. Here the deer flies would catch you when you stopped so we were highly motivated to keep walking. We now understood why long pants seemed to be popular for this hike. We hiked through the open desert, watching for lizards, flowers and ancient petroglyphs.
As we walked, the canyon continued to open until it was nearly 3 miles wide. This was one of my first backpacking adventures where we slowed down near the end, not wanting it to be over so soon. Despite the call of ice cream and a cold beer in the van…we would have been happy to stay in the desert longer.
We knew we’d reached the end when we came upon Lonely Dell, John D Lee’s Ranch above the Ferry. We explored the old corral and Emma’s cabin before walking the final mile out the canyon.
When we arrived back to Lee’s Ferry parking, we watched two huge rafts drive towards the boat ramp. Lee’s Ferry is the launch point for the 10 and 21 day Grand Canyon raft trips, and a large commercial outfitting trip was about to set sail. We were curious so we grabbed some liquid refreshment and walked the 1/4 mile down to see the carnival.
While we walked, a giant motorcoach drove by to unload the passengers into the waiting rafts. This was luxury. The guests piled out of the bus and boarded the 30 foot rafts while the heavily laden gear barges followed behind. Tim and I both considered stowing away as passengers, but suspected our unshowered state might give us a way. Instead we returned to the van, pledging to double our efforts to get on a river trip soon.
We packed up and hit the road, checking our email in the occasional blips of cell service. Satisfied that nothing significant had changed in the world during our four days of solitude, we turned off the highway onto a washboarded gravel road for part two of our remote weekend.
60 miles and an hour and a half later, we found a perfect camp spot on the Rainbow Rim. Here on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, we found some of the best camping in the United States. Our front porch opened onto the Canyon Rim and the backdoor opened towards 17 miles of single track which wove through the pine forest and opened out on 5 incredible Canyon rim viewpoints.
Next day, we let the feet rest and instead got the biking muscles back in shape exploring the Canyon rim.
We couldn’t have asked for a more amazing canyon adventure.