10/26/2009, San Carlos Sonora Mexico to Las Cocinas to San Franciquito, Baja California Norte Mexico
Rick intensified into the strongest Hurricane in the recorded history of the eastern pacific basin the day after we left San Carlos. Rick was about 350 miles south of Cabo San Lucas when we left and had only become a category 2 hurricane. Just the same we thought it best to get out. The forecast was for southerlies in the 5-10 knot range which would be perfect for a motorboat ride north and possibly across.
We went over and told Festima Lente that it was our intention to take off and after the beating they took in Jimena they were happy to join us. After running our errands in town and filling up with diesel and water at the fuel dock we motored past Festima Lente around 1300 hours as they were preparing to haul their inflatable dinghy on deck. We slowed down as we passed and Nan said "We're about 30 minutes from leaving." I said "Okay we'll just be sailing north, see you out there."
I figured they'd catch us up easily since their boat is 45' long and has a waterline length the size of our entire boat. They are heavier by far but they also have a massive engine.
We raised the main as we exited the harbor and I pushed the engine up to full power in an attempt to overheat it. After half an hour at full power the engine temp gauge read 180 degrees. 180 degrees is hotter than it should get but the temp alarm doesnt go off until it hits 200. after another 20 minutes the temp seemed to stabilize at about 184 degrees. I throttled back the engine confident that the temperature was stable, if a bit warm.
We were able to make 5 knots at around 2000 RPM and when I cranked us up to full bore (around 2600 RPM) we were only going half a knot faster so the fuel economy is right around 2000 RPM.
The cat was very unhappy about this passage as she remains terrified of the engine. We are hoping she'll get used to it since its not ideal to have to clean the cat after every passage. She urinates herself from fear every time we run the engine and there is any seaway at all. Consequently she has to ride in her cat carrier whenever we start the engine.
The plan had been to either motor to Las Cocinas, a lovely anchorage about 30 miles north of San Carlos, or turn left and go straight across the sea to bahia San Francisquito, about 100 miles distant. We decided due to the lack of wind to stay in Las Cocinas for the night.
We realized that we wouldn't be making it into the bay before dark but Festima Lente never did catch up to us so we would get to lead the way. Fortunately we have a good working radar unit and SV Valhalla heard us coming and flashed their spreader lights at us to help make our entry easier. On a dark and moonless night the anchorage couldnt have been blacker. You could barely make out the pointy rocks of the headland guarding it's entrance. Fortunately our radar showed a lovely little bight and even showed exactly where in that bight Valhalla was anchored.
Of course as we approached the southbound net came on and I was trying to listen to the latest weather update on Rick while we were making our entrance. My timing had been poor as we were task loaded while making a night entry. Listen to the weather while piloting into the anchorage in the pitch dark. We managed to hear that Rick had intensified to a Category 5 hurricane and could bring storm force winds as far north as San Carlos. We were feeling very good about our decision to head north.
We managed to get in and anchor but not before realizing that in all the excitement we had wrapped our hand line around our propellor. Our hand line is a 50' length of 250lb braided tuna line with a lure on the end and a rubber snubber at the boat to tell us when there is a fish on. This is the method we have used to catch all of our fish. I imaigne its not as fun as using a rod and reel setup but we're not fishing for the fun of it, we want to eat fish. Basically when that snubber goes taut we pull on the hand line and usually there is a nice fish on the end. On this trip, however, the only thing we managed to catch with our hand line was our propellor.
We settled in for the night and had some cup o noodles for dinner. We didn't really feel like cooking a big meal.
The following morning the sun rose and we got to see Las Cocinas anchorage for the first time. The water was very clear if a bit green and the anchorage was lovely and typical of the sea of cortez.
Every morning I switch on our sideband radio and tune in the Sonrisa net on 3968Mhz LSB at 0630 MST to listen to the weather from Geary. Geary has lived in El Burro cove in the Bay of Concepcion on the Baja peninsula for many years broadcasting his weather forecasts on his ham radio from his beach front palapa. Geary is great in that he really tries to forecast the Sea of Cortez in detail as he has lived here long enough to have a grasp on the local idiosyncrasies of the weather. I dont say that he "tries" because I mean to slight him in any way, in fact I think he is the most accurate forecaster available in the sea (we have about 3) but the sea is incredibly difficult to forecast. You cant just look at the weather patterns and know whats going to happen, the mountains and water temperatures and many local phenomenon dominate the area making it nearly impossible to forecast accurately. Geary called for light south easterlies for the next 2 days.
We contemplated staying in Cocinas for the day but thought better of it and decided to leave. I called Festima Lente and they were already making preparations to pull up anchor. I decided to stay another half hour so that we could top up our batteries. This would later prove to have been an excellent decision. The breeze started to freshen to about 6 or 7 knots out of the west-southwest which wasn't ideal but since it was so light it meant we could sail. Had the winds been behind us we would have had to pop out our big light air spinnaker to make any speed at all. As a boat sails it creates its own wind, known as "apparent wind" that can either amplify the "true wind" (e.g. when going into the wind) or it can nullify it when going downwind. If its blowing 5 knots true behind you, and you're moving 5 knots away from it, then you will feel an "apparent wind" of 0 knots. No sail can fill and pull you along when there is 0 knots pushing it. So having the wind on the nose in this case was somewhat advantageous.
We decided partially for the cat's benefit and partially for the fun of it that we would sail off the hook.
Festima Lente's view of us barreling down on them.
We found out later that Festima Lente did the same out of neccesity when an air bubble shut their engine down as they were pulling up their anchor. Kristina hoisted the mainsail as I pushed the button on our lovely electric windlass to retrieve our anchor from the bottom. Our anchor soon locked into the roller with 10lbs of thick muddy sand on board and we rolled out our fancy new furling reacher.
Loving the big "nitro-reacher".
Estrella heeled ever so slightly and we were off to the races. Festima Lente was making way not far ahead of us and in these light conditions we had the weight advantage and quickly flew past them. They were hoisting their staysail and making about three knots and we were bombing along past them at a whopping four and a half.
"Ol Festy" in our sights
Festy looking sharp
Kris steering for fun
As we sailed on a nearly due westerly course (~280 degrees) the wind began to freshen, we were now sailing into closer to 10-12 knots of wind which was creating quite a load on our giant reacher so I furled it and rolled out the genoa, sadly this took our speed down to three knots. So my options were three easy knots or five and a half knots with more load. I elected to roll out the reacher and make it work. Fortunately my paranoia about the sprit and the general installation of the furling reacher proved unfounded. We smoked along at around five knots for the next few hours.
And we're off...
We had been sailing somewhat north of our desired course for some time for two reasons. We agreed that a close reach is more managable and comfortable than a close haul and we assumed the wind was going to die at some point and leave us motoring. Tony's lesson to me about making boats go fast was starting to really make sense. Why beat dead upwind in light air and go three knots when you can crack off 15 degrees and go five knots, your overall VMG (velocity made good) will improve. This means that by going faster in a direction that is slightly away from your destination you will arrive at your destination sooner than if you point straight at it and go slowly.
We criss crossed Festima Lente from time to time as we worked our way further upwind.
I played around with sailing a bit more upwind at times and cracking off to get a feel for how the boat handled and to lay a course to steer us well north of Isla San Pedro Martir, our only obstacle on this crossing. We wouldn't come to Isla San Pedro Martir until sometime around midnight so it was a bit premature but it was fun nonetheless and, after all the wind should die any minute, right? Well if anything the wind was building slightly but staying in the 10-12 knot range and making for really amazing sailing. Estrella was heeled to starboard about 10 degrees and the reacher was hurtling us across the miles. Several times my tom foolery caused us to cross the bow of Festima Lente taking pictures the whole way. Greg and Nan should have a great catalogue of pictures to help them sell their boat.
We have to rerun our wind vane self steering control lines and havent bothered to yet because of how magnificently our wheel pilot has been working. I had adjusted the autopilot motor mount to make the drive belt that turns the wheel super tight and discovered during this crossing that by not making the little lever go all the way over to the other side and engage the locking cam I had made an autopilot that steered perfectly but that would pop itself out of tension. Amazingly even the loose belt was steering us so we barely noticed the problem. I managed to adjust the autopilot bracket under way and temporarily solve the problem. When we get where we're going i'll have to properly calibrate that mount.
Around 1500hrs I decided I should go get a nap to prepare for the evening watch schedule. When sailing a boat into the night, international maritime law as well as common sense dictate that a person must be awake and watching the horizon for hazards. Different people have different standards for watch standing. We have an open cockpit, which means we're very much exposed to the elements. Consequently we tend to stay below and watch the radar while we watch movies to pass the time, we usually get up every 15-20 minutes and confirm that what the radar is telling us is accurate. Obviously if we have traffic or there is something that requires monitoring we stand watch until the danger is passed.
We have heard of european cruising couples arriving well rested after a 30 day crossing from Panama to the Marquesas that were shocked to hear that people didnt just go to sleep at night and let the boat sail itself till morning. At the same time we've met american cruisers who were shocked that we dont spend every waking minute of our watch with our eyeballs planted firmly on the horizon and our head on a swivel. To each their own, there are many right ways.
No sooner had I crawled into the V-berth for a nap when Kristina hollered down the companionway to me "Sorry to wake you but FISH ON!" I will never complain about catching a fish so I went up on deck and pulled the line in. We've been eagerly awaiting our first Dorado after having been almost a total bust last time around and sure enough a beautiful iridescent green female dorado was exhausted on the end of our lure. Who knows how long we drug her before Kris noticed she was on the line. I hauled her in and we took a quick photograph before I dispatched her and made lovely filets, bagged them, cleaned up and crawled back into the vee berth, 15 minutes later Kris yelled "Fish on!" We had debated not putting the line in a second time since we had all the fish we needed but I love arriving in an anchorage with fish to hand out so I had asked for this one. This time we got an even bigger bull dorado. Still not the 60 inchers people usually get but nice sized eating fish. I repeated the process and when the fish was in the fridge the wind had gotten up even more so I stayed on deck to change from the reacher to the genny again. This proved a poor idea yet again as the wind was evidently still not strong enough for the genny to keep our speed above 3 knots. I rolled up the genoa and rolled the big reacher back out. I depowered the main to ease some of the weather helm and proceeded to make dinner.
First ever edible Dorado
Number 2 caught 15 minutes later.
We feasted on a simple, yet decadent meal of fresh grilled dorado and rice on our swanky new cockpit table as the sun set behind Baja.
As night fell Festima Lente hailed us to let us know that their speed had dropped to around two and a half knots and that their batteries were running pretty low so they were going to fire up the motor and catch us up a bit while charging their batteries. This reminded me to check our battery banks and we were still more than half charged. I figured if the wind held up we could sail through the night without draining them much more than the healthy 50% charge cycle to which we try to adhere.
When it came time for Kristina to stand her watch she awoke some some serious stomach cramps. She had sypmtoms we could only attribute to food poisoning, since I overcooked the Dorado and it had been alive mere minutes before we ate it, we concluded her distress must have been due to the questionable burgers we had for lunch. Kristina tried very hard to stand her watch but I couldnt allow her to stay up and work the boat, especially under sail, while she was in her condition and so despite her insistence on standing her watch I sent her to bed and pushed on through the night.
At around 0300 the wind had all but died and I sheeted in the main and fired up the motor.
I'd like to think that ordinarily we could just drift along and wait for the wind to fill in later but at this time the tidal action had kicked up an annoying cross-sea so the motor was the way to go.
We left our mobile broadband adapter in all night and occasionally it would flash green indicating an internet connection was available. We've seen this happen before but never actually got connected to the internet. This time Skype started telling me that people were online, this meant internet access was actually available. I loaded all my weather sources and it actually worked. I wouldn't report that Telcel 3G mobile broadband works 50 miles offshore in the sea of cortez but I can say that we sure didnt mind this anomaly one bit. It only lasted about 10 minutes and was very slow but was definitely an unexpected bonus.
At this time I was starting to fade a bit but was rejuvenated when I was suddenly startledoil by a large twin explosion of bright green phosphorescence off the starboard beam. I thought for a moment a small whale had breached but realized that it was a pair of dolphins leaping 2 abreast in unison and causing a large splash. I suddenly became aware that there were streaks of phosphorescence darting all around the boat.
As the sun rose we could see patches of whirlpools and disrupted water from tidal action, fortunately our wheel pilot handled it perfectly just as it had through the whole crossing. The sunlight also exposed the fact that we were motoring through the largest pod of dolphins I have ever seen. Greg on Festima Lente estimates there were at least 200 dolphins and calves.
Festima Lente called us around sunrise to inquire about whether or not we wanted to continue the remaining 50 miles north to the Bay of LA. I was exhausted and Kristina was waking up feeling better but not very rested so we decided to tuck into San Francisquito and head north the next day.
The entrance to San Francisquito was narrow but we managed it without difficulty and got our anchor down in 15' of water.
I had considered dropping the dinghy in the water but as it turned out I spent pretty much the entire day sleeping.
Estrella managed to make the 80 mile crossing in 20 hours averaging 4 knots with only 4 hours engine time. Without our new light air reacher we would likely have motor-sailed the whole crossing. I should start a running tally of how many hours we sail on the reacher and calculate how much diesel that sail saves us. All in all, apart from Kristina's unrelated illness we had a fantastic crossing. This crossing was precisely what the doctor ordered. Despite having been a bit despondent a few times in the early morning due to exhaustion, the fact that we didn't have to steer, could use our radar to help us identify hazards and caught fish as we sailed across flat sea was a revelation.
We also discovered on this crossing that our Dell Inspiron Mini 9 we purchased only draws half an amp and can run coastal explorer and act as a 2nd chartplotter. It worked beautifully off of the NMEA connection we wired into our chartplotter/GPS system during the refit.
Tucked into the tiny inner bay at Bahia San Francisquito, first time in Baja since October 2007
10/17/2009, San Carlos Sonora Mexico
We've been battling some minor medical issues, the tail end of these never ending colds and kristina's headaches have been irrelevant since its been blowing like stink out of the north and pushing up big steep seas.
We finally saw an awesome weather window in the forecast. Northwesterlies decreasing to around 10-15 knots and dying down to become southerly 10 knots. We saw the window and decided to head north or west. We got hte boat sorted and planned to leave yesterday. We scraped a thick layer of barnacles off the dinghy and ran our errands in town. I realized then that it was a friday.
There is a longstanding superstition against leaving port on a friday. We have never been superstitious people, which might explain why we left port on a friday 3 times on our last cruise. The first time we left San Diego on a friday and lost our transmission, trapping us in ensenada for months. The next time we left on a friday we we got our asses kicked trying to get to Turtle bay and had the hardest passage of our lives. The third time, we left Mag Bay and lost our propshaft out of the back of the coupler, trapping us in Cabo for 6 weeks.
Conversely, in 2007, we decided not to tempt fate and wait until midnight plus 1 on a saturday morning to make our crossing of the Sea of Cortez. This meant we'd have to make a night entry into San Carlos but we were not confident that our coupler would hold together. We made it into San Carlos after a delightful crossing and got our anchor down before the prop-shaft backed out of the coupler. I consider that to have been a lucky passage since we didnt break down till we were safely anchored.
My superstition proved useful again as the afternoon wind blew like snot all afternoon, right from the direction we wanted to go.
Unfortunately while we were being superstitious hurricane Rick was born and intensified at a record rate. Here is a quote from the NHC page:
"RICK NABS ATTENTION WITH IT'S RAPID
EVOLUTION...INTERESTS IN SOUTHWESTERN MEXICO AND BAJA CALIFORNIAL SHOULD
MONITOR THE PROGRESSION OF THE HURRICANE"
"You dont have to do this, Rick.
This thing is very threatening, forecast to hit Category 5 before curving north toward Baja. Don Anderson says "This thing is a carbon copy of Jimena." Its still too soon to say whats actually going to happen but we need to figure out if we're going to try to flee to the northern sea or find a slip here in San Carlos. The big problem with the latter option is that its well into October now and this place is packed with returning boats. our friends on Harmony informed us that they just splashed their boat into the only available slip in Marina San Carlos. We're going to go talk to Francisco this morning and see if we can get a slip and if we cant we'll go to Marina Real.
Sounds like the cyclone season isn't done taking our money yet.
We'll work on keeping the blog updated while we sort out what we're gonna do.
10/12/2009, San Carlos Sonora Mexico
We were going to leave on Saturday to make our way north on the predicted southerlies toward the midriffs and to make our way across to Baja for a 2 week shake down cruise.
We had a debacle occur that kept us in town Saturday night and we had planned on meeting our friends on Festima Lente in Bahia San Pedro. The forecast was for light southerlies and we were awakened by a swelly 25 knot breeze blowing into the bahia here in San Carlos. We got lucky given how unprotected Pedro is from the southerlies. We have no interest in going out in big swells, its too much like adversity. We couldnt leave Sunday because the seas were still kickin. Today we had heavy rains from some cell in the neighborhood and there is now a tropical storm off of Cabo we need to watch.
Its looking like maybe we can leave on Wednesday but the flow is going to be northerly then so if we do we'll likely have to go across to the Baja. No promises yet but we're just going to have to be patient and wait for the stars to align in our favor. The boat is a couple tank fillings away from being ready to go so when things are right we'll take off.
Until then we'll just keep tweaking things on the boat to get her readier and readier.
Sorry no pics of us not leaving ;)
10/07/2009, San Carlos Sonora Mexico
Having been up to Bahia San Pedro once to put half the 20 necessary break-in hours on our engine the time had come for us to repeat the endeavor. The plan was to go up to Pedro and then maybe make our way up to Las Cocinas before returning to San Carlos to do the final valve adjustment and oil change required prior to being permitted to run the engine at full speed.
All the spare parts our used head came with are visible here with the exception of the 2 injectors which were away being serviced at the time. surprisingly the cat knocked none of them over. These parts might come in handy for the next owner, if we need them we're giving the boat away ;)
We departed San Carlos in the morning around 0800 and had another perfect departure. I pushed a button and up fired the motor, I pushed another buttom and up came the anchor, I flipped a lever and pushed a button and the autopilot was steering us. Our goals of effortless boring passagemaking were starting to seem achievable. We dug out an awning Kristina made while we were in La Paz that we never had the time to figure out how to rig and got it up over the cockpit keeping the sun off our heads.
Kristina Luxuriating with the cat while the autopilot steeres and the awning shades.
I decided it was time to push the envelope on good times aboard Estrella and asked Kristina to deploy our new cockpit table. Prior to acquiring this bad boy we had to set our food and beverages on the cockpit seats, not ideal by any stretch of the imagination. Now we have a large cockpit table that fits so perfectly it could have been original equipment. I went below and busted out the flour, eggs, butter and milk in an attempt to produce a nice pancake breakfast for us to feast upon under our new awning on our new cockpit table.
Cockpit table, awning, autopilot, working engine, flat seas, hooray.
The first two pancakes were small so I made "Mickey Mouse" pancakes while Kristina luxuriated in the shady cockpit and scanned the horizon for debris. Just as I was starting to prepare breakfast I got a call on the VHF from Gemini. They were right behind us and headed to Pedro as well. Les informed me that they were going to hug the coast and we watched as they motored at 8.4 knots along the coast as we were ambling along happily at 4.5 well offshore. Les warned me that he had heard reports of large chunks of debris being spotted by mariners in the area. Evidently the debris field from Hurricane Jimena was still having an impact on the waters, we were warned to keep a sharp eye out for refrigerators, furniture and even floating concrete dock segments.
Dont even need to use our spanking new cupholders, its calm enough to use the table like civilized people.
Time to dig in.
Fortunately for us we encountered none of those hazards and had our breakfast dished stowed before we hit the 15 knot headwind on the final approach to San Pedro bay. Kristina didnt want to hoist the mainsail because it was so nicely flaked and covered and she feared she would be saddled with restowing it when we arrived so we unrolled our new turbo charged genoa and tacked upwind into San Pedro. It was actual sailing and despite being upwind was a lot of fun. We tried to tack using the autopilot tacking feature and discovered that some of the spacers that keep the wheel drum aligned had fallen out and attempting a 100 degree course change causes the belt to come off the wheel. Not a big deal by any means but its on the list of things to fix more permanently when we return. When we got to Pedro we were immediately hailed by Gemini and invited over for pork taco lunch.
Motor-sail/tacking our way into San Pedro, K didnt want me to take the mainsail cover off so we just used the new turbo Genoa. Note the reefing dots Tony added to the jib for easy reference. Fun times.
We made the foolish decision to tow our dinghy the whole way and htat little headwind reminded us that we need to be more dilligent about stowing the dinghy on deck when we go out sailing. I was a bit worried to find that the outboard was barely attached to the transom when we arrived. Lesson learned.
Once we had the hook down we motored right over to Gemini and had a delightful lunch with them. We heard all about their boat and previous adventures and regaled them with some of our experiences. A great time was had by all and we departed making plans to meet up further north later in the season.
The following morning we awoke to a completely deserted anchorage. We were all alone for the first time since we got back. It was nice. Then a stormy cell came trucking up the sea and bring southwesterly swell into the bay and strong onshore winds.
We got to enjoy our electric windlass and working motor again as we pushed two out of three of our new favorite buttons. The engine didnt move us into the wind too well at just 1800 RPM but we didnt want to violate the break in period and just took our time getting the anchor up. We left the double reefed mizzen riding sail up as we motored across the wind. It was immediately evident that we wouldnt have enough power to turn up into the wind so I got a chance to test the strength of our new giant anchor roller.
I fed out chain until we had enough scope out and stopped the windlass and as usual the chain came to an almost immediate stop and all the weight of the boat was pinned to the side of the long roller arm. This would be where it should snap off or bend but it worked great. Remember thinking that it was almost as if there was a big metal eye anchored to the earth's core and we had clamped onto it. We immediately sprung around and were lying to the wind. I fed the snubber on and put our load on it instead of the chain. Sadly this spot was also quite rolly. Waves were breaking the length of the beach but we were in no danger. Life was a bit uncomfortable but Kristina had developed a persistant headache and was averse to the concept of going further away from San Carlos to seek shlter 14 miles to the north in the more protected Las Concinas anchorage.
We debated the merits all day and by the time she was feelin better it was already 5:30 and we were losing daylight. She wanted to pull up the hook and try to return to San Carlos. We figured it doesnt hurt to keep testing the systems and we pulled up the hook. As we motored into the swell at the entrance to the bay it was evident we wouldnt be making any real speed toward San Carlos. The wind was completely dead and we were pounding into steep swell that we would find out later on the sideband was being generated all the way offshore of cabo by Tropical Storm Marty. We were averaging around 1 knot and rather than motor for 12 hours to arrive in San Carlos at 0500 we could just endure the rolling in Pedro and go back.
Overnight the swells laid down and we enjoyed a more peaceful evening in the anchorage.
The following morning we had an easy motor back to San Carlos and immediately contacted Omar our mechanic to have him come help with the valve adjustment and alignment check. He was busy for the next few days so we worked on other projects in the meantime. Kristina finished batting her cushions and finalized that long term project. The cushions look great. I helped rebuild an outboard motor in exchange for the space for Kristina's batting project so we saved some money there.
Kristina happily batting while trying to dodge the mozzies.
I'm not doing my job holding that flashlight because I'm taking a picture. I assure you despite how this looks, its batting cushions, in a way.
Luxurious new cabin cushions. Kristina's first real sewing job.
These cushions actually look better in real life than they do in these terrible hasty pictures.
Another bad picture of a good cushion.
Once Omar came out and helped check the valve adjustment and the alignment we were ready to go test the motor at full power. We invited Tony, our favorite sailmaker to come out on a daysail with us and he agreed. We picked Tony up at the fuel dock and left our dinghy with them while we went out. We drove the motor to full throttle and found that we could only get 2500 rpms. The motor is supposed to product 2800 rpms under load and anything less than that would point to a prop pitch problem. We used to be able to hit 2800 under load so I was doubtful we needed to repitch our prop so we assumed there must be some growth on it or something. We had a delightful sail upwind with the reacher in 7 knots of wind. Tony insisted we fly all three sails as he doesnt neccesarily buy my theory that the mizzen is entirely superfluous. We didnt shake our my riding sail double reef and he was able to get some lee helm out of the reacher.
I remained skeptical since I find our helm issues happen in bigger wind and its easy to make Estrella behave in less than 10 knots. The following day we dove the hull and found some growth on the prop. We cleaned the bottom of the hull and Kristina scraped all the growth off of the propeller. Tony came back out the following afternoon and this time we actually sorted out the dinghy harness and hauled it on deck stowed the motor on the new motor mount on the new cockpit rail. The autopilot is a bit out of whack and wont tack the boat for us so another project was born. Make permanent spacers to keep the wheel pilot hub aligned with the wheel pilot motor. We drove the motor at maximum RPMs again and we still were restricted to 2500 rpms. We drove the motor hard for 45 minutes and discovered that she was overheating. It wasnt a quick process but heat was getting excessive. Once we backed off the throttle the temp started to normalize.
Otherwise we had another idyllic daysail. Initially we had close to 13 knots of apparent wind when we were sailing into it and Tony questioned my theory that we needed to unfurl the reacher to get maximum power. I think he wasnt accustomed to fat full keelers because he expressed surprise when Estrella heeled slightly and then dug in. He said he thought for sure the reacher would put us on her ear but shes a fat girl and she likes a press of canvas. On the downwind run the wind got light but with Tony's expert guidance we were able to get Estrella reaching off 7 knots of true wind at a maximum speed of 5.6 knots. We got to sort out the right place to run a barber hauler for the reacher to flatten out the leech and get her foot flatter to produce a better more spinnaker-like downwind sail shape. Tony lost his hat when we tried to gybe the reacher with his help and it was far too dark to find in the choppy seas. On the way back into the harbor Tony got excited and thought that maybe we could power up and break 6 knots but we ran out of wind before that dream could be achieved. No problemo, we just sailed in as far as we could and then with ease and one hand rolled in the mighty reacher and fired up the motor with the touch of a button. Dropping the main into the lazy jacks was another effortless task and mere minutes later we had the sail tied down, sail cover on and with some more button pushing the anchor down and set.
As the sun set on that daysail we were all smiling ear to ear and the biggest calamity we experienced was the unfortunate loss of Tony's hat. We rarely drink and I had purchased some beers to feed our buddy who was supposed to come fix our autopilot so after we splashed the dinghy we all settled into the cockpit to enjoy some well earned ice cold Pacificos in the twighlight.
At present our whole plan entails trying to resolve a couple minor autopilot adjustment issues and the engine overheating issue. Once we manage that we will head out on a shake down prior to finally heading south.
09/16/2009, San Carlos/San Pedro
With the motor rebuild finished our two new tasks became to fix the charge regulator and to put 20 hours in break-in time on the motor.
The regulator has remained a mystery but we wired up the spare "dumb" regulator that will fry our batteries over time and we actually pointed Estrella out of the harbor for a trip to Bahia San Pedro.
With the mandated top break in speed for the motor of 1800 RPM we headed out of the mouth of the bay. Amazed that nothing adverse had happened yet I engaged the autopilot while Kristina continued to stow things down below and prepare for a passage. The seas were a little lumpy, only a couple feet but we havent been out in any seas for years. This was the first time we left a harbor bound for another harbor since October 2007. This little 18 mile jaunt was a major event for us. The autopilot steered beautifully as we passed punta doble and marina real. Kristina came outside and remarked that it was a beautiful day for a motor. As usual the cat was urinating on herself in her cage because she is terrified in the extreme of the diesel. The rebuilt motor is really no quieter than it was before it was rebuilt.
It does run like a clock though and as we got into the 2nd hour of the trip it almost seemed like we might make it to Pedro without any excitement. We were delighted with this prospect since we've really had enough excitement to last us for a long while. But just then as I looked back at the hand line trailing behind Estrella I noticed that our little faded mexican flag lure was now much larger.
"Fish ON!" I yelled as I started to pull expectantly on the line. We havent caught a fish in a LONG time so I was hoping to finally get our Dorado. Everybody we know cant stop catching Dorado but we arent so lucky. What we did catch, however was a beautiful Sierra. We would discover later that the Sierra is as delicious as it is attractive.
This fish was delicious.
No bloodthirsty beatings for this fish. Nice clean death from alcohol poisoning the gills.
The last time we left the harbor on Estrella was when we went outside to test the new furling reacher and the recut "Turbo Genoa" with Tony. Sadly that time I had no time to enjoy the sails or their shape because our high temperature alarm was buzzing at us due to an overheating issue and we were reaching along toward some hard piece of rock in 15kts of wind.
Not having really enjoyed the reacher yet made me incapable of resisting the urge to unroll the furling reacher as we motored in the slight seaway at 3.4 knots. I havent instaled the stanchion blocks for the reacher furler yet so this process involves one person in the cockpit working the sheet while the other handles the furler line. Kristina pulled the sheet while I let off the furler line and by pure chance the sail sheeted itself perfectly. We had telltales flying all the way up the luff.
The Sail Tony made us is a gorgeous tri-radial 4-5.5 oz dacron reacher with a spectra luff. I checked the new bowsprit extension to make sure it wasnt tearing itself off of the bowsprit and all was well. Nothin was breaking and we were now motorsailing at 4.6 knots.
This thing might significantly reduce my spinnaker usage.
Krissy hiding from the sun, Yemayah approaching and the reacher pulling nicely.
In fact the loads on the sprit were pretty negligible. Just as we began motorsailing we saw that Yemayah was evidently on their way back to San Carlos from bahia San Pedro. We took many pictures of them as they passed and seeing them reminded us of better times. They had us over to dinner on their boat in the anchorage at Isla San Francisco in 2007. They didnt remember us, but I hardly expected them to remember one dinner 2 years ago when they've been cruising around and meeting new people this whole time while we've toiled in the salt mines.
Yemayah reaching happily along toward San Carlos
Entrance to Bahia San Pedro
Upon arriving in San pedro Bay we dropped the hook and I jumped in to get clean. The lack of running water in San Carlos for the last week had left me pretty stinky. I should have noticed from the roll that a risk of jellies existed. Once I had rinsed the soap off I could feel the stinging on my legs and jumped out. I offer my apologies to the nice couple on the Nordhaven that was anchored behind us if they managed to see through the covers on their windows as I scraped nematocysts off of my nude body and doused them with white vinegar. Apart from some vinegar I was still WAY cleaner than I had been in days. Shortly thereafter we celebrated the sunset in our first remote anchorage in 2 years. We grilled up a nice Sonoran Ribeye steak with some mashed potatoes and ate dinner on the foredeck while the Generator fed power to the batteries and the air conditioner simultaneously filling the batteries and cooling our berth.
Sunset behind Punta San Pedro
That evening we were reminded what the stars look like on a moonless night anchored in the middle of nowhere. It hardly even seemed to matter that our Cellular Broadband had no signal.
The following morning I decided to head back to San Carlos so we could get some more hours on the motor and sort out a few things in town.
This time the water was exactly like glass. We must have had a tidal push because 1800 RPMs pushed us along at a remarkable 5.8 knots. At this rate we'd get back to San Carlos too fast to consume the hours of motor time we wanted. We monkeyed with our partially completed cockpit awning and tried to find a way to hide from the sun as we trailed our hand line and chatted away the miles. when we arrived in San Carlos I could hardly believe that we had actually left and come back without a single catastrophe. On our way into the harbor we caught Gemini coming out, they were headed to Bahia San Pedro to catch up with us but were unaware we were coming back that day. We were going to try and get back up to hang out with them that weekend but we ended up staying in town to fulfill some other obligations.
Gemini, heading out to meet us.
We had achieved my number 1 goal of this leg of the trip. We pushed a button to raise the anchor. We motored effortlessly across calm seas to a destination without steering by hand one bit. and we dropped the anchor using the other button. We then repeated that process the following day. It is a dream come true.
A few days later we went for a daysail with Tony, our favorite sailmaker, and he insisted that we figure out some of Estrella's idiosyncracies. he insisted we fly all 3 sails and work on figuring out the balance. Despite the white caps all over the water when we left the wind was all but non-existant.
The white caps were a weird tide driven anomaly and the actual wind was around 3-6 knots. That said Tony accomplished the goal of producing lee helm for the first time ever on Estrella, and we even had the reefed mizzen up at the time. Of course its easier to do such things in light winds, I'll believe if when I see it in 15 knots or more.
Just the same sailing with Tony was, as always a privilege and a pleasure. I hope he enjoyed getting out of his sail loft and back onto the water again as well.
The current plan is to sort the boat out and head up to SanPedro or Las Cocinas tomorrow morning first thing. When we return from there we'll have the horus we need on the motor to change the oil, filter and adjust the valves. We'll triple check the alignment as well and then we'll be ready to go explore the northern Sea of Cortez.
09/15/2009, San Carlos Sonora Mexico
When Hurricane Jimena was forecast to be the first tropical cyclone to veer northward into the Sea of Cortez hundreds of worried cruisers began monitoring the storm several times a day. We checked the track daily and when she hit cat 5, the most intense category for a hurricane, we were relieved to see that a high pressure ridge over northwestern mainland Mexico was pushing Jimena over to the Baja side of the sea.
Monday August 31st the storm had chosen a path for the Pacific side of the Baja peninsula. We breathed a sigh of relief. The sheer size of the storm had us concerned that we might get some storm swell or that even perhaps an edge of the storm could graze San Carlos with 30kt winds and some rain. We had contemplated hauling Estrella if this storm was going to be a direct hit and putting her up on stands in the Marina Seca in San Carlos. This would cost us a couple hundred dollars but dry storage is generally considered the safest place to be during a cyclone. Marinas are often considered safe, unless they are poorly protected in which case its safer to anchor out. A marina is only safe if it doesn't break apart and send large boats and concrete docks slamming into you during the storm.
On Monday we spoke to Francisco at the Marina San Carlos office and he confirmed our belief that there were many slips available. There were 5 slips to choose from on B dock but Francisco warned us that they would fill up as the storm approached. I didn't want to go into the marina if we didn't have to. We already spent close to $600 in marina fees and I knew if we went in we'd have stayed a while.
Tuesday morning we awoke to Carla from Tambaran calling Laura from Palawig but identifying herself as "Marina San Carlos".
"Palawig, Palawig, Palawig, this is Marina San Carlos." She said
"Um, Tambaran? This is Palawig." Replied Laura.
"You wanna go to one-eight?"
Like everybody else out here we eagerly followed to eavesdrop on them. Carla told Laura that she could bring Palawig into B16 and Chuck from Pura Vida would take B14. We had our eyes on B14 so this was a wake up call. Kris and I discussed the merits of not going in. If the storm was intense our worst case scenario was that we could flee for marina real and just take an empty slip by the condos there. There is a private community of homes that have docks and many of the homes are either for sale or belong to non-boat owners. The downside to that would be that we'd have no power hook up and might have some drama if something goes wrong. Another option would be to just hold out and take one of the more expensive 50' slips in Marina San Carlos. But it started to sound like all the slips would be taken if we didn't act.
I called Francisco and asked him how many slips he had left and he told me we could move into slip B5. When I asked what else he had he reiterated "B5" so I quickly snatched it up and we started pulling the anchor up to go in.
NOAA still had us very confident that the storm would pass so we didn't go crazy stripping sails and making the boat "hurricane ready."
I furled some more sheet around the genoa and left the big reacher up. The nice thing about a furling reacher with a spectra luff is that it can come down without unfurling the sail in any weather.
All day we watched as the marina filled up and people frantically pulled their sails off and lashed their mainsails down with copious amounts of rope. Stripping dodgers, biminis, and full boat awnings. The professional mexican crews of all the sport fishers and charter boats were tying every piece of rope in San Carlos to every hard point on the boats and creating spiderwebs of lines to the dock.
I was still confident that we didnt need to prep for an actual hurricane. My hubris might have been a result of our surviving Henriette and this storm being forecast to miss us and be "only a tropical storm".
The rains started and brought 30kt winds, I decided to take down the reacher, took two seconds and it was down. As the winds increased I added a couple more docklines. Really that was the extent of our prep.
We have been really pleased with the newfound dryness we have enjoyed as a result of replacing our teak decks with fiberglass. Sadly we should have torn up our coachroof as well. The chubascos were short-lived downpours but by the time this torrent had been dumping on us for 8 hours our coachroof was showing its leaks. The butterfly hatch was dripping, 2 through bolts for the traveller and much of the eyebrow were dribbling merrily into the boat. Kristina had the wherewithal to stick little containers under the leaks. Our mainmast is still lacking a mast boot, a fact we had happily ignored until it became a little shower into the boat right by the bed.
The inside of the boat was soaking wet and the winds were starting to whip up to a gusty tropical storm force. I doubt the winds got up past 50 knots but the duration was unbelievable. At 0200 I woke up and decided to check the National Hurricane Center site to find out where Jimena was and much to my amazement the storm track showed that her current location was across the sea over Mulege on the Baja peninsula. It also showed that the storm was going to turn left and head out into the pacific and die.
I scrolled down to the radar image because despite what the National Hurricane Center was telling me I was pretty darn sure there was a tropical storm over our heads. The Infra Red Radar picture showed clear skies over Baja and an enormous red storm over the top of San Carlos. I always knew that they could be wrong about the path of a storm but I never, for one moment, considered that they could post an incorrect current location when the radar image so clearly contradicts their tracking model.
Since our slip in the marina was well protected from the easterly winds and the rain was just soaking our boat I attempted to go back to sleep. The following morning I awoke before Kristina and took a hike with Laura from Palawig (a dock neighbor) and we hiked up to the newly constructed road to take pictures of the anchorage and see what the night had wrought. Much of the gravel road had washed out and was a river. In fact the door to B dock had a 2" deep waterfall running through it.
We were sad to see that a couple of abandoned boats had gone up on the beach but glad to see that the occupied ones were still safe and sound.
It turned out that the storm parked itself 40 miles offshore from San Carlos and inundated us with 27 inches of rain in 24 hours. 50% more rain that the record set in 1940. When we drove around to survey the devastation we were shocked. People on their boats in the Marina Seca San Carlos storage yard reported a 4' deep river coursing through the yard. Boats were knocked over (though 98% of the boats in dry storage were fine) the road to San Carlos proper was an impassable rapids. All of the power lines and poles down the beach side of the road were down, streetlights were down. The upriver side of the road was blocked by downed trees. The devastation was significant and the storm would last another whole day before subsiding.
That night Our friends John and Veronica in MV/Sea Quest, an 83' decommisioned wooden coast guard cutter had drug their anchors and when they tried to fight the forces with their massive engines the silt clogged their cooling water intake on the port engine. Their windlass requires their generator to run and the generator wouldnt start due to pump failure from silt so they couldnt pull up their anchoring gear and had only one engine to work with. They managed to lasso a vacant mooring with their anchor chains using the power from the starboard engine and much to their relief they held fast 100 yards shy of the rocks. A most impressive performance considering they had been awake for over 24 hours by this time.
By the time the storm subsided we had been subjected to strong winds and torrential rains for 40 hours. After getting hit the 2nd time there was even a rumor that Jimena was coming back again. Thankfully we were actually done. On our side of the sea San Carlos, Guaymas and Empalme got hit very hard with flood waters. The Marina Seca had much mud and damage from the storm. Thankfully there were remarkably few fatalities in Guaymas and as far as I know none in San Carlos.
In the aftermath of the storm left San Carlos without power, water or even cellular service. It was plainly obvious why when you saw all the power poles knocked down and the devastation c aused by the flooding.
Seemingly the instant the rains subsided there were 100 CFE (Mexican power company) trucks along the road. Within 24 hours they had restored power to most of San carlos, within 36 all of San Carlos had power. They were amazing. We went to survey the destruction in Marina Seca San Carlos and had to hike in from the main road since the path to the yard was now a very wet riverbed. We got to the yard and were shocked to see the facilities had been inundated. Some boats had fallen off their stands, some headsails were shredded. The most amazing thing wasnt the amount of boats knocked over or damanged, in fact remarkably few had fallen over at all. The most amazing thing was how well 98% of the boats faired. We walked into the work yard, which had taken the brunt of the torrent, and found a british fellow who was aboard his boat through the storm. He told us about the four foot deep river that raged through the yard. He pointed at the wrecked security gate and told me how he had removed his mast two weeks ago and it was rerigged and sitting on sawhorses ready to be re-stepped when Jimena came and pinned it across the entrance to the yard. He held out little hope that his mast would be recoverable. While we were having this conversation a bulldozer was tearing apart the other wrecked fence that led to the work yard.
Meanwhile, Kristina ran around taking photos to send worried friends. It was still pretty dangerous in there. I had been walking on solid river sand when I suddenly stepped both feet into soft mud and sank up to my knees. Trying to keep my flip flops attached to my feet was difficult but I managed to pull myself out. Kristina got herself similarly stuck while shooting photos of the dry storage yard but was able to free herself. It was clear to us that we couldnt really survey this destruction or get pictures to our friends until some of the cleanup had been done. The mud was impassable in many areas.
The road to Marina Real opened up so we went to check on our friend Tony's boat, Sweetie. The drive there was pretty treacherous the road was washed out and you had to go the wrong way on one way streets that were fairly flooded and filled with debris. We got to Marina Real and discovered that most of the boats there also fared well. They hadnt done as well as Marina San Carlos but mostly they had shredded headsails with the exception of one hunter BNR rig that had shredded it's headsail and toppled over into the mast of the neighboring boat. Tony's boat was just fine his neighbor on one side had a shredded dodger and the nearest sailboat on his other side had a very shredded headsail.
We went back a day later to check on a friend of Tony's boat and while it had no damage at all we could finally see the destruction that the concrete docks had suffered. They were twisted and cracked. The rebuilding process for Real will be a long one since I assume they'll need to get vacancies to rebuld the twisted docks..
We tried to go to the Ranchitos area to check on Tony's trailer in the storage yard and the road was washed out. we were directed to the detour up a steep muddy hill and though a misunderstanding I turned the 19' van at the wrong street and got her stuck deep in the mud. I was amazed to see that there were truckloads, literally truckloads of young men marauding around the disaster area. Some people might think this kind of thing might cause young men to loot or take similar advantage. These truckloads of men were basically the first response team. Just loads of young men looking for something that needs to be lifted or pushed. A truckload of them literally tried to lift the massive van out of the mud. It was amazing. These men asked nothing in return for their help and were far from alone. There were truckloads everywhere.
We had stood on the side of the road hoping somebody in a 4X4 might pull us out. One nice gringo couple gave me a ride to the fireman's house but he wasnt home. A short time later a big dually pickup truck drove up with 4 or 5 mexican kids in the back. They asked us if we had any food to give to the hungry chldren who were evidently trapped at the school up the hill. Sadly we didnt but the fellow said he would come back with tow chains when he got those kids dropped off. Sure enough he and his wife showed up 15 minutes later and easily pulled us out of the mud. He asked for nothing in return and I really wished we had something to repay them with.
If we do anything for somebody else and refuse payment they have Nickel and his wife to thank.
Over the next couple of days the crew at Marina Seca San Carlos really leapt into action. Kiki Grossman emailed al the customers and they had many crews working on getting the mud out. After 30 inches of rain there is a considerable risk of flooding inside boats and she had crews working to pump them out almost immediately. We personally checked on some friend's boats and sent them emails with photos of their boats. Pretty much everybody came through this well.
The lesson we learned is that Hurricanes do what they want regardless of the forecast. We already knew that but most importantly we learned that its actually possible for them to be wrong about the current location of the storm. I always assumed they used sattelite images to report the current location but its now clear they rely on models for that data as well and as we are all painfully aware, models are not infallable.
A final note about the Mexican Government's response to the disaster. They were totally on top of it. They attacked this disaster with zeal and competence. Interestingly in the wake of the disaster it became illegal to sell alcohol in the entire state of Sonora. the government evidently prohibits alcohol during a state of emergency. One cruiser asked a police officer about the prohibition and he stated simply that they just didnt need any more problems to deal with than they already have and that the banning of alcohol is standard operating procedure in the wake of a disaster. We dont really drink so it had no impact on us personally but you better believe there were more than a score of gringo cruisers highly distressed at the lack of beer.
A local cruiser/Ex-pat got permission to attend a town meeting with the general in charge of the disaster clean up and reported on the loca VHF radio net the following morning. He said the general was everything one ever wants out of a disaster manager. No politics, all answers and all of his answers were the same, "yes". He told the people that water would be restored to San Carlos in the next 2 days and power was already largely restored. Somebody asked about profiteering and told him they had seen somebody selling garafallons of fresh water on the roadside for 30 pesos each and he demanded to know where they had seen that and told everybody that profiteering would be punished agressively. Water would continue to sell for 7 pesos/5 gallons and that they were patrolling the area heavily keeping a wary eye out and that any suspicious activity would be dealt with harshly and quickly.
Basically this dude was a rock star and as far as I can tell in the wake of this disaster, he delivered on all of his promises.
The gate to G dock, this hearty fellow actualy climbed through there
Here he is doing it.
We bailed the dinghy hourly for 3 hours before we just removed everything from inside and let it ride on it's floatation.
This river is flowing through the dry storage yard to the left and into the sea to the right.
the awning on this boat gives a good idea of the winds. Not hurricane force but strong enough.
Video of those floodwaters, sorry about the audio the diving case for the camera amplifies raindrops
Many people stored their valuables in facilities like Guardian here never imagining for a moment that their valuables would be safer on the boat.
Strong enough flow to move heavy machinery. had it not been for that island the sea would have claimed this road grader.
In the background you can see wrecked boats littering the bay.
Restless was one of many to have shredded jibs at marina Real
A few shredded headsails and maybe one or two knocked over boats were about the entirety of Seca Real's damage.
This Hunter's BNR rig toppled over into it's neighbor's rig no doubt after much coercion from it's shredded headsail.
The chunk of road missing out of the lower road to Marina Real
Wreck strewn beach
The first store to open after the storm. They had no power and the floors were very wet.
Long line to get to the girl with the cash tray and the pocket calculator. These people deserve big credit for opening up.
My adorable wife striding along through the inpromptu parking lot in front of the only open store in town.
Captains Club and Tequilas both had their big signs fall over.
Fallen power line in front of the Oxxo near the marina. Fortunately the lines were discharged since people were stepping on them and crawling over them to go to the Oxxo
There used to be a big stone sign there. It fell over in the river.
This picture shows the riverbed that ultiimately became a raging rapids and took over the workyard.
This mud is several feet deep in places.
Good representation of most of the boats, they were fine.
Barnacle fell over but most of the boats were fine. For what it's worth it was reported that Barnacle didnt appear to have any structural damage. I suspect the river swept it off it's stands and as the water receded barnacle was slowly lowered onto the soft mud.
Again here, most boats okay
largest boat to fall in Marina Seca San Carlos
nice boat too
This picture shows how many boats stayed upright.
Kristina got herself stuck and insisted that I attempt to come save her. I had to get back into impassable mud to demonstrate to her that I couldnt physically come to her, this pic shows how deep the mud was.
You can see a section of the poor fellow's mast under the mud in this picture.
Electric company rocking the party.
The twisted docks at Marina Real
John on Sea Quest said this boat, Kelskivy broke free of it's mooring and turned 180 degrees gaining a lot of speed before slamming nose first into these rocks.
More wreckage, by the time I got inteh dinghy to take these pictures 50% of the wrecks had been refloated or otherwise removed.
this boat went ashore with an elderly gentleman named Stan aboard. When the Mexican rescguardo maritimo decided it was too dangerous to attempt a rescue a brave cruiser went to his aid in a dinghy. Not saying the mexicans were wrong, just that the cruiser was veyr brave.
I used to follow the blog of this family in 2003 when I was an aspiring cruiser. dont believe the same folks own her now but a sad ending for sure.
Fortunately the plastic part of this dumpster seems to have spared Misty Sea any damage.
All the pics can be found here:
Friends boats in the yard
We made rice pudding at the end of this storm to appease the hurricane gods. We just happened to have made a batch when we survived Hurricane Henriette in 07 and figure we might as well not tempt fate this time.