I'm writing from Barra de Navidad, Mexico, where my wife Michelle and I are four months into an open-ended cruise aboard our Outbound 46 sailboat Pineapple. The following is a story about our cruising experiences with the Club, and an update on our plans.
On a crisp Saturday morning in March 2013, we sailed to our first StFYC club cruise. It was a day of firsts: not only our first club cruise, but our first time really going anywhere (other than daysailing) in Aegea, our Sabre 38. It was our first season with the boat. It was our first time sailing in the Oakland estuary, and it would be our first time at the Encinal Yacht Club in Alameda (our hosts for the weekend).
As we approached Encinal, I contacted cruise chairman Harry Blake on the radio and he helped guide us in. “No problem,” he said. “We left you a space on the main dock. You’ll have to back in.”
We peered at the docks through our binoculars. Sure enough, they had left us a space. It was about 13 feet wide (Aegea’s beam was 12ft 4in). On one side was a tall motoryacht, and on the other was Staff Commodore Bruce Munro’s immaculate Sabre 402 Princess. Michelle set up the docklines and fenders, and I began to back in.
A crowd had formed. What better Saturday morning activity than watching a nervous new boat-owner back into a space with inches to spare? It turns out, there was no reason to be nervous—the crowd came out to help us, we got tied up quickly, and Bruce Munro even complimented our boat. “Nice-looking Sabre,” he said. We were happy. The rest of the weekend was fun, with a tour of the USS Hornet, dinner at the Encinal Yacht Club, and a brisk sail back to Sausalito on Sunday.
A couple months later, we took Aegea to Tinsley Island for the first time. The next summer, we cruised in company with Doug and Tamara Thorne to Monterey and back—our first time outside the Golden Gate. The summer after that, we sailed Aegea to Southern California for two months, where we used our reciprocal privileges to enjoy the hospitality of the Santa Barbara Yacht Club and California Yacht Club.
Since that first visit to Encinal, we have sailed more than 3,000 miles, much of it aboard our Outbound 46, Pineapple, which we’re cruising southbound through Mexico and Central America.
When I think about our cruises with the Club, I realize what an impact they had on our longer-term cruising goals and plans. There were the people, of course—experienced cruisers like the Patricks, Munros, and Thornes who served as inspiration and role models. And the cruises gave us a reason to get off the dock and go explore places we wouldn’t otherwise see. But above all, cruising with the Club showed us the simple joy of going places on our boat.
In 2016, we decided to make a lifestyle out of going places on our boat. It would be the realization of a dream we’d shared for years. But first, we decided an upgrade was in order. Our beloved Aegea was wonderful, but she was not designed for extended offshore cruising. In May 2016, we ordered an Outbound 46 and began the exciting-but-long process of specifying and outfitting a new boat. Every day there was something to do—select electronics, design a boat logo, shuffle paperwork between lawyers, banks and the builder.
In August 2017, Pineapple arrived on a container ship at the Port of Oakland, and we took possession a week later. We wound down our professional work in anticipation of the boat’s arrival, but we hadn’t expected that the boat would become our new full-time job. For the next seven weeks, we drove in commuter traffic to the boat—first in Alameda, then in Sausalito—where we spent every day supervising, shopping, familiarizing and assembling.
On October 4, we cast off our docklines and sailed under the Golden Gate. Weather held us up for five days in Monterey (so close to home!), but otherwise we had an easy trip down the California coast. We even ran into fellow members Jason & Julie Holloway and Dudley & Debbie Fournier in San Diego as they prepared for the Baja Ha-Ha.
On October 29, we entered Mexico, arriving in Ensenada, where we stumbled through conversation in Spanish, experienced an authentic Day of the Dead celebration, and began to appreciate the amazing fresh seafood we would find in every Mexican town and city. We reached Cabo in early November and lingered for a while near the southern end of the Baja peninsula before crossing the Sea of Cortez for Mazatlan. We slowed down, and breathed deeply in the thick tropical air as we traded the arid desert coastline of Baja California for the lush shores of mainland Mexico.
Somewhere along the way, a fellow cruiser told us: “The further south you go, the better and cheaper it gets.” He was right. Our favorite places have been south along the mainland, off the American tourist radar: La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, 20 miles north of Puerto Vallarta, and Barra de Navidad, in southern Jalisco. Better, yes, with perfect weather, great food, and easy sailing. Cheaper, oh yes, where a haircut costs $5 and an expensive night out is $35.
What has really impressed us, though, is just how easy, safe, and accessible it is to cruise in Mexico. In even the smallest towns, residents have made an industry out of serving sailors—from boat washing to water delivery to canvas work. They take good care of visiting cruisers, and they keep us insulated from any local crime. Many of the marinas are connected to plush resorts, so our slip fees include access to swimming pools, spas, and restaurants. Of course, “real Mexico” is just a few blocks away, and we love exploring the places we cruise, but it’s nice to have the option of secluded luxury when we want it.
Soon our time in Mexico will come to an end. We plan to leave Mexico in early March, sailing past Guatemala and arriving in El Salvador. After brief stops in Honduras and Nicaragua, we plan to spend April cruising in Costa Rica, and May on Panama’s Pacific coast. We’ll wrap up our season in June by transiting the Panama Canal, then putting Pineapple into storage while we visit the U.S. for a few months.
We love the cruising life, so we plan to keep on going. Next season, we’re heading toward the Western Caribbean, where there’s a whole new set of lovely places to go in our boat.
To follow along with John and Michelle's cruising adventures, visit their blog at particularharbor.com