01/12/2010, San Carlos Sonora Mexico
Kristina and I took a couple days to make a decision about how best to proceed after this latest setback. We got a lot of supportive emails and comments from the readers of this blog who have followed our travels (some for years). When I say "supportive" I want to clarify that I don't necessarily mean "encouraging us to continue".
We were surprised to see how many people wanted us to continue on for their enjoyment but admitted that it might be in our personal best interests to pack it in. I would like to make it clear that every single comment and email was greatly appreciated.
We decided that regardless of what decision was made, we would need to make the boat whole again. Its a lot harder to sell a boat with a broken transmission, especially in Mexico.
Our first order of business was to get back to San Carlos, where our mechanic is, and where we feel more comfortable being broken down. We set out on a nice windy day in hopes of practicing sail balance with a beat to San Carlos.
San Carlos is only about 12 miles uphill from Guaymas. The harbor in Guaymas is very sheltered. Its at least 6 miles inland from the sea. The entrance channel is guarded by Cabo Haro and all of the hills surrounding Guaymas shelter it from the wind. When we left Guaymas that day there was almost no wind in the inner harbor but once we cleared Cabo Haro, we encountered stiff 3-6' steep seas and 15-19kts of wind (as indicated by our wind instrument).
We rolled out the entire 135 genoa and banged the 2nd reef into the main. the weather helm we experienced was moderate. We sheeted that big head sail in board-flat and pointed as high into the wind as possible. The helm eased up as we pinched to within 45 degrees of the apparent wind direction. The waves were quite stifling and slammed into the weather side of the foredeck. We were actually sailing a respectable speed of 5.5 knots upwind. It wasn't a very comfortable ride but we were making good progress toward San Carlos, that is, until we tacked.
Kris wanted to tack earlier, theorizing that closer to the coast the waves might be smaller. I thought her logic was sound so we tacked, er, attempted to tack. I thought for sure that making 5.5 knots of boat speed we would be able to tack. We prepared the sheets and I activated the "tack" function of the autopilot.
The autopilot immediately turned the helm hard to windward. As we began to come through the tack I let off the sheet just as the bow went into the wind and some steep waves hit the bow and our speed dropped to 0. The autopilot "off course alarm" went off as the boat parked into the wind and waves. We sheeted the jib back in and fell off the failed tack. I deactivated the autopilot and took the wheel. Kristina would work the sheets while I tried to steer up "snappily" through the tack. It surely must have been the autopilot's fault.
This time we fell off onto a reach to get our boat speed up to a maximum in an effort of getting us through the tack. Kris was ready at the sheets and once our speed hit 6 knots I threw the wheel hard over turning it as quickly as I could. Kris let go the leeward sheet and we parked into the wind and waves. This time I harnessed all the sailing smarts I had and pushed the big black button next to the tachometer firing up the diesel and put the boat in gear. We pushed through the tack and got the genny sheeted in on the new tack. Turned off the motor and accepted that tacking into the wind and waves was not in Estrella's DNA. Or perhaps just not in ours. Fortunately, we hadn't lost considerable ground in the "double fail tack" debacle.
As we sailed closer and closer to the coast it became apparent that the waves were not diminishing. We were learning a great deal about beating upwind with Estrella. We also were barely making any headway toward our destination. We decided rather than continue this exercise all day and maybe pull into San Carlos 8 or 9 hours later we would just crack off and sail around Cabo Haro into Guaymas.
I told the autopilot to fall off and sail back to the cape. No sooner had we presented our stern to the waves we saw a big breaker froth its way almost to the upper rail before rolling under us. We've been in way bigger seas than these but we've never seen a wave so steep that it almost came into the cockpit over our transom.
After remarking how glad I was that we had turned around at that moment, we rocketed around the cape and all our wind and waves were gone. Kris went below to tidy up the mess from beating and I had to decide if I wanted to fire up the motor or do some light air downwind sailing with the reacher. I decided to roll in the genny and roll out the reacher. Our apparent wind had died down to less than 5 knots and the reacher was still cooking us along at a steady 3 knots of boat speed. Evidently in wind speeds below 8 knots, our reacher will pull us along at half of wind speed. This is very impressive and doesn't bode well for our future spinnaker use.
Drifting happily along downwind with our huge light furling-reacher
The big dredge thats been digging out Guaymas harbor managed to make a round trip out to sea and back while we were ghosting our way back into the harbor. He overtook us pretty close alongside and startled Kristina. I told her that we had seen each other and there was nothing about which to be alarmed. She waved to the guys on the bridge and they all waved back.
Once we hit the inner harbor the wind was officially gone. We were making 0.6 knots in 2 knots of wind. I decided then to roll up the reacher and fire up the diesel. After an uneventful trip back in we dropped the hook and stayed aboard for the night.
The big radar display is reading 2.0kt of boat speed and the wind instrument on the lower right hand corner is showing a wind direction of 120 degrees and speed of 3.1kt. Love that reacher.
As much fun as that experience beating into a Sea of Cortez norther was our new plan was to focus on arriving in San Carlos by leaving early in the morning the following day and motoring north before the wind filled in.
Which is basically what we did. We pulled up the anchor which was fouled by fishing line, a plastic coke bottle and a T-shirt. We motored to the cape where we saw large fishing trawlers ramming each other, presumably to exchange gear of some kind. Once we began rounding the cape we were visited by a large bottle-nosed dolphin who sent us on our way in style.
T-shirts and fishing line on the bottom in Guaymas.
mucky bottom on the snubber, glad I bought those gardening gloves from Harbor Freight in Phoenix!
Guaymas bottom garbage
Fishing boats exchanging gear?
Flipper escorted us out when we finally left on a lighter air day for San Carlos.
"What a difference a day makes!" remarked Kristina as we motored over the glassy sea at a speed of 5.5 knots pointed directly at our destination. As we cleared the headland just north of Cabo Haro, Kristina suggested we roll out the reacher and do some sailing. "You know, for fun?" and my natural instinct was "Fun?! thats insane!" We rolled out the reacher and turned off the motor. We then began sailing upwind in the light 7 knot breeze.
We started discussing tacking angles and playing with sheeting the reacher and pointing as close to the wind as we could. We were cooking along at over 4 knots and having a lot of fun. The seas were flat and the wind was building. We decided to attempt a "roll tack". A "roll tack" is what is required to tack with the big reacher. Since the reacher is only inches forward of our furled genny we have to roll it completely in to tack the boat. So we hauled on the furler line and rolled in the reacher and tacked the boat with the main alone. Since we only had 10 knots of wind and no seas Estrella flew right on through. Once we had tacked we quickly unfurled the reacher and sheeted it in tight on the new tack. The wind was starting to build now and we had roughly 13 knots of wind. We were now pushing the limits of the light air reacher but we were having a blast. We would successfully complete a 2nd roll tack before the day was out.
What a difference a day makes! flat and calm enough for a sunning sea lion.
We had some disagreements about how best to tack into the harbor that were resolved by the punta doble eating up all of our wind as we approached the Indian head rock at the entrance to Bahia San Carlos.
As we rolled in the reacher and fired up the motor we saw a familiar looking ski boat approach being driven by our electrician, Mike Church. He was taking some friends out on the water that morning prior to selling his ski boat and came out to greet us on our way back in. We drove around the harbor for a bit finding our old spot and motored downwind at 2 knots in order to set our anchor. With no reverse we really cant dig our anchor in when we arrive so we decided to do it how we would if we were under sail. The anchor dug in just fine and whiplashed Estrella 180 degrees as we hoisted the delta riding sail.
We felt somewhat recharged after that day sail. Everything went really smoothly and we had a lot of fun just sailing. Once we got settled in and launched the dinghy I called Omar to find out how soon he could come out and pull our transmission. At this point the Christmas holiday was less than a week away and we could end up being trapped for some time waiting for parts if we didn't get them ordered right away.
Omar was very busy but being the consummate professional he came out that evening and pulled my transmission. I told him I needed to order the parts before Wednesday or risk waiting until the middle of January for parts. My parts dealer would be open for half a day on Wed to ship my order and then they would be closed until January 7th. Tony would be coming back down on the 11th for a week then not coming again for 3 weeks. The worst case scenario would be not getting the parts ordered until the 7th and having them arrive after the 11th and having to wait until Feb (or rent a car) to get the parts.
Omar knocked the job out masterfully without removing my engine (contortion and magic were employed) and he took it home and sent me an email at 10PM that night after disassembling the tranny to make sure no unanticipated parts were needed, and indeed none were.
Tranny out! that seal spring caused some seepage, my fault!
Lots of sediment and blackness means new clutch disks are needed, among the long list of parts.
I got the call in first thing in the morning to order the parts and they were meant to arrive on new years eve. The Canadian fellow who sold us the old cylinder head from his 2QM20, having read about our woes, most generously shipped us a box of old parts he had in his workshop. Among those parts was his old low pressure fuel lift pump with banjo bolts, fittings and hoses. I cant thank Paul and Rosalind enough for their generosity. They are without a doubt the single most valuable treasure we've ever gotten from Craigslist.
We swapped the top of Paul's lift pump for the bottom of my lift pump and made a nice pump with proper fittings. Seriously in debt to Paul and Rosalind Turje!
We then began to discuss the merits of renting a car, not just to save us from waiting until the 11th to get our parts but just to release ourselves from endless boat incarceration. I know it may seem like paradise to be living on a boat in Mexico but when you're trapped you basically spend your time trying to divert your attention and focus on getting to the next parts arrival date or repair date, or weather window. It can be rather like prison. We were getting really tired of being incarcerated and Kristina was getting really keen to do something for new years eve.
We decided to rent a car and drive up to Phoenix for new years eve and see Avatar IMAX 3D while up there. Basically to refresh our spirits and hasten our departure by getting our parts sooner.
Upon contemplating our return home I had started to resume my studies and found that my netbook wasnt really up to the task of programming. We found a smoking deal on craigslist in Tempe for a brand new "sealed in the box" laptop that somebody had received as a Christmas gift. After some minor haggling we decided to buy the laptop in an attempt to give me a platform from which to work remotely. If I can land a remote contract, the laptop (which was unbelievably inexpensive) will pay for itself in short order.
We had intended to stay in a motel 6 and just sort of hang out in Phoenix for a couple of days but Shannon and Tony weren't having it and invited us to stay in their spare room yet again. It was very generous of them to offer, as it was the previous several times, and they made us feel as welcome as they did the first time. We remain seriously in their debt and would not be here today if it weren't for them.
We rented a car last minute and they were all out of the inaptly named Chevy "Comfort" that we've grown accustomed to renting so we got upgraded to a much nicer 2009 VW Jetta. After we filled out all of the paperwork and were heading outside to inspect the rental they asked for a cell number they could cal to trade out cars the following day. I told them we wouldnt be in the country until it was time to return the car and they agreed to let us have the upgrade car for a mere $10 more per day.
We went next door and bought a Papa John's pizza and were offered a 2nd pizza for 10 pesos (approximately 75 cents) and decided "what the heck" we stuck that pizza in the back seat and it would prove to be our sustenance for what would become a 12 hour day, the following morning.
Our drive north was relatively uneventful until we approached the border. The line to cross the border was miles long. I suspect that due to the Christmas day bomber homeland security kicked the inconvenience up a notch at the border. As we got closer to the border, agents with dogs walked along all the rows of cars sniffing around.
On a good day the border crossing takes around half an hour. That day we were in line for 3 hours. We had an appointment to meet the guy with the laptop in Tempe at 5:30 PM and by the time we were across the border it was already 4PM and we had another 3 hours driving to go. In the end we managed to track the guy down at 7:30PM and arrived safely at Tony and Shannon's at around 8PM.
We had a delightful time in Phoenix with Tony and Shannon, got to see Avatar IMAX 3D the day after we arrived. Gorged ourselves on dim sum and cleaned out the grocery stores for more of those precious commodities we cant find in San Carlos. All of our parts had arrived and after a really enjoyable weekend with our Sweetie family we drove back down to San Carlos.
Kristina likes to drive the leg back and she really found her lead foot. We had to have the car back by 4:30PM so we left Phoenix at 6:30AM for the 8 hour drive to San Carlos. Once we crossed the border I had to continually remind Kristina that while the Federales with radar guns didn't choose to stop me when I blasted past them in a 100KPH(60MPH) zone going 135KPH(85MPH) they might actually care about her going 165KPH (100MPH) She was really enjoying herself and luckily for us we didn't run into any Federales on the way back south. Insanely, we arrived in San Carlos at 1:20 PM after having stopped 4 times including a half hour stop at the Safeway in Nogales to pick up some last minute forgotten items.
We got the dinghy loaded to the gills with stuff and made 2 trips to the boat to unload the rental. We returned the car on time and jumped on the local bus home. I couldn't reach Omar that day because it was Sunday and he was likely having a life that day rather than eagerly waiting for my call. I managed to get the parts to him on Tuesday and by the following Sunday Omar came out and installed our newly rebuilt transmission.
I highly recommend installing a pair of hands in your engine room!
Its actually much tighter than it looks!
The stripped threads on my fuel pump.
You can see the crappy wrong fuel pump fitting that my boat came with on the left.
Estrella is again ready to go. We are waiting for a weather window and enjoying the NFL playoffs in the meantime. Its looking like maybe we could escape this weekend or Monday but our plans are wide open. Our kitty was dinged pretty severely by this last issue (The transmission parts alone set us back almost $800) and we're looking at maybe having enough cash left to last us until April (if we're very lean).
A friend of ours who is in the same business as I am and also cruises down here has encouraged me to market myself for freelance remote QA on craigslist. That is my plan to try and bolster the kitty. If we can even add a couple thousand more dollars we could fund another 3 or 4 months of cruising. This all naturally assumes we get to go cruising and have fun times that make us wish we had enough money to continue doing it. The fall back plan is to put Estrella up for sale (in the best condition of her life) and go home for the long term to earn money start a family. Really its a win/win situation for us when we look at it that way.
Ultimately we may run out of money and fail to get anywhere but we're not going to quit until the money's gone. Maybe we're being foolish throwing the last of our fund on the table and spinning the wheel but someday we wont have access to the wheel anymore and neither of us wants to wonder "What if our number had come up?" So I guess we're not quitters. I might not be smart enough to know when to cut bait but I'm gonna find out soon enough.
12/26/2009, San Carlos
Yup, its another transmission Christmas tree. Technically the same one as last time since we sent the tranny off this time to be rebult.
Just wanted to wish yall a merry Christmas.
12/13/2009, South of San Carlos, Sonora.
Once we returned from Arizona we were eager to maintain momentum. We hit the ground running, loading up the dinghy with all of our loot from the costco and heading out to the anchorage. When we left our dinghy was running on one cylinder and I had all but forgotten about that issue after 2 days in Phoenix. Once the dinghy was so loaded down and rowing would be physically impossible it returned to the forefront of my mind.
As we dinghied into the anchorage in the pitch dark night, our outboard running full out on the one cylinder it had available to it there was excitement in the air. We had finally cleaned out and returned the van, we were cruisers again, no car no attachments and a working boat full of provisions. All we needed was fuel, water and the right weather and we could finally set our sails and point Estrella south to those warm waters and all of that spearfishing and surfing we've been coveting these last 2 years.
There had been 2 unseasonable rain storms while we were gone and the decks were super clean. The cat was eager to see her humans again after being alone for over 2 days and we had a ton of stuff to stow.
Pisces and Tao were just returning from their evening ashore and welcomed us home in the moonlight. We made plans to get together and have an asian potluck aboard Estrella the following night.
No better way to motivate stowing and cleaning than to host a get together. Pisces, Tao and Tony from Sweetie came over and we had a lovely potluck. the next couple days were spent waiting for weather and further stowing Estrella.
Chris from Tao had a friend coming over from Baja to help him deliver Tao to Puerto Escondido and we had another potluck aboard Pisces as a sort of farewell since we were all leaving on the next weather window.
Gang potlucking on Pisces
We pulled into the fuel dock the following day to fill our tanks and while we were there Noah (Tao's crew) wanted to come see Estrella's new stringers. He is re-powering his boat in Escondido and had just built his stringers so he was eager to see something else to compare with. While his head was in our engine bay he noticed that we were leaking diesel fuel from a loose connection on our lift pump. Not a lot of fuel but still not ideal. When I removed the paper towel from the sump pan we found a very large nut loose in the pan. After some investigation we discovered that one of the motor mounts was missing both it's nuts and was basicaly completely loose. I decided to fix these issues while we were on the fuel dock because of how small and relatively simple they were.
I put a wrench to the fuel lift pump fitting and gave it a turn, it locked in nicely but the angle on the hose was off so I put the wrench on the elbow and barely turned it when the fitting snapped right off. further examination made it clear that somebody had jury rigged this fitting in place. brazing a 90 degree threaded elbow to what had been a straight hose barb.
Estrella was now disabled, again. Kristina had just finished busting her butt scrubbing all of the green growth off of the dinghy and making it generally spotless. We splashed the dinghy and I took the fitting to Star Marine. The fellow at Star told me he could get another one but it'd take 2 weeks. I decided to just bend the hose 180 degrees and stick it on the jagged brazed barb. This worked great but when I went to tighten the fitting into the lift pump it just kept turning, I could get no resistance from the threads whatsoever. When I pulled the barb out there were aluminum shavings in the threads. Evidently the leak was always these threads. Whoever repowered our boat put a standard 1/8" pipe thread barb into a metric threaded hole on the lift pump.
Exasperated, I twisted a bunch of plumbers teflon tape around the threads and screwed it in the best I could. I then fired up the engine and bled the bubbles out of the return line. We let her run for a bit in gear before tying the dinghy back on and heading to the anchorage. Having potentially introduced air into the system i was a bit paranoid so i ran estrella full speed to the anchorage. Once there we took a few laps around to see if the engine would suck air and die. Satisfied the system was airtight we dropped the hook.
I had stuffed some paper towel around the lift pump and when I checked it there was no diesel on it. The paper towel under the motor had some diesel on it that I attribute to drippings from when I bled the system. The next morning I found a motor mount locknut in my nut bin and torqued down the motor mount. Checked the other mounts and the port side forward mount locknut was very loose.
We were officially full of food, water, diesel and gasoline. Mike turned up and adjusted our wind vane control lines for us which meant we were really actually ready to go. We decided we'd leave on Wednesday but we spent much of the morning stowing things and prepping, we originally planned on leaving in the evening so that we could arrive in the morning 36 hours later to Topolobampo. After getting things stowed we were pretty tired and the forecast was for some brisk northerlies so we figured we'd sleep much of the night and take off at 4AM Thursday morning.
I was a bit anxious that we'd have an uncomfortable sea running after the last bit of strong northerlies. I ordinarily would have decided to wait them out in accordance with our new "Adversity Free" cruising plan but I figured the seas should be behind us and we have 2 autopilot solutions so it should be okay.
We had also given up on being the least bit destination oriented. Jacob and Julia on Pisces convinced me that we should just go sailing and if we're happy, keep going. If the wind and sea wants us to go to Baja, we can always just crack off and go to Baja, if not we can keep on to Topolobampo or even Mazatlan.
We've been really keen to finally get down past the tropic and start living that warm weather surfing/spearfishing lifestyle that we've worked so hard for. The concept of going to Baja where its cold and windy wasnt appealing at all but even less appealing was long hard passages, so Pisces' suggestion really made sense.
Our alarm went off at 0400 and we slowly got ourselves up. By 0500 we were motoring out of the bahia for the last time after 2 years. When we got outside there was a slight swell running and no wind whatsoever. We decided rather than bob around we'd just motor until the wind filled in. The engine was running nicely and we were making close to 5 knots due south.
As we got further out the seas really started to stack up. We had about 4kts of wind out of the west southwest and 4-6' short period chop right on the beam. Occasionally an 8 footer would slap into the hull and something would crash down below. During the morning ham net we heard more favorable conditions were being had by other boats in the sea not far from us but we were starting to feel some adversity.
I came to the realization that we were again doing what we did last time. We were motoring through crappy seas trying to get to a destination. I decided that we would turn back at that point. More importantly, I decided we'd switch off the engine and see where the wind and seas wanted to take us.
The minute we turned around and got the reacher unfurled we were happily sailing along on a 40 degree (northeasterly) course with quartering seas making 3.5kts of boat speed in 6.7 knots of apparent wind. We were producing most of that wind by sailing.
We had a lovely sail into the bahia in Guaymas and anchored right off the expensive Singlar marina in the middle of downtown.
Fellow Cascadian sighted!
We were told by multiple people that the holding was poor after jimena deposited silt in the bay. The reports of how much, varied greatly from 10 feet to 10 meters. My Cortez guide has a chart of this shallow bay that indicates depths of 10' throughout most of the bay. My chart and depth sounder matched up almost perfectly so if there is less depth due to silting my sounder doesn't see it.
Likewise I dont understand how a thick layer of sediment would make for poor holding in the first place. I mean no anchor will dig in when anchoring on a polished marble bottom but I don't know of any anchor that wont set in thick mud. Never mind the math if you add 10 meters of silt to a bay that is 3 meters deep you have a 7 meter high mound of land. Anyway, cruiser rumors are worth every penny you pay for them.
We no sooner dropped the hook and it set instantly and violently as usual, when we were told by another boat that we anchored a hundred yards behind, that we were on top of his anchor. He told me the bottom was very poor here and he had 200' of chain out. So his scope (chain to depth ratio) was 20:1. He advised that I do the same because a norther will drag us across the bay otherwise. When I pulled up the anchor we had just dropped and upon which we had not yet even backed down, the rocna was well stuck and had a small lump of thick clay-like mud on it. As usual on anchoring matters I kept my own counsel and let out about 40' of chain after we moved. Of course the anchor set instantly that time too.
When we put the engine in reverse it was only sporadically giving thrust, it seemed odd but we just chalked it up to weirdness. There were strange noises so I checked the transmission oil and it was a little dark and lacking a bit so I added some more oil and called it good. There was more diesel leakage from the bleed screw I had loosened when bleeding the engine so I got the tools out and torqued it down a bit harder. The paper towel had not one drop of oil on it, just some diesel from the leak.
Guaymas downtown waterfront
We decided to stay on the boat and retain the "leaving mindset" that night. There was a lighted boat parade in the harbor and we were anchored right in the middle of it. There was a huge parade on the waterfront and it was extremely loud. At one point every cop, federale and firefighter drove the parade route with lights and sirens blaring, the motorcycle cops revving their bikes as they went. It was quite a spectacle. I kind of wanted to get off the boat and see it but we were planning on leaving Saturday if the weather was favorable.
Pirate boat leading the Christmas light parade
Christmas lighted boat parade
Christmas lighted boat parade
Fireworks off the pirate boat
Christmas lighted boat parade These guys got a special prize from the Mayor of Guaymas because the Mexican kids lost their minds over the big marlin.
Saturday was a lovely day and I decided to make my first ever batch of lemon bars to go along with the biscotti that Kristina had made. Sweets and snacky hand held foods are great if the weather gets snarky. The wind was going to be "moderate" but northerly and a full on "norther" was forecast to blow 30kts for at least 3 days early in the week so this was our perfect weather window. This time we proclaimed that we would go for a "daysail". We would go sailing and if we were having fun we'd keep sailing, if not, we'd come right on back.
K's passagemaking biscotti and my fatmaking lemon bars
We set off around 11 and worked our way under power out of the large shallow bay. We had to motor over the anchor to get it to break free and the bow roller seemed like it might snap off before the anchor finally broke loose. When it came up, the anchor was more caked than it has ever been with thick, super dense, clay like cement colored mud. So, far from being poor holding, we've concluded that this bottom is the best holding we've ever seen.
We motored to the cape and there was glorious wind. It was blowing 10 knots. Unfortunately, this wind was coming out of the West South West and when we rolled out the big reacher we had tons of weather helm. We were cooking along at almost 6 knots but the autopilot was struggling and the wheel was all the way over to port. When a boat gets unbalanced the result is called "helm" this means the sails are trying to make the boat turn instead of help it go straight. Weather helm means the sails are trying to turn the boat into the wind. We have been battling this problem for years. I've added close to 600 sq ft total of sail area to the front of the boat to combat weather helm and never, ever fly the mizzen (sails in the front push the bow off the wind and sails in the back push the bow up into the wind)
Anyway I decided that maybe we had too much main up as the wind built to 12 knots. I banged a reef into the main to flatten it out and dropped the traveler all the way to leeward. This had almost no effect so I dumped the main until the whole thing was luffing. Still the rudder was hard over and the autopilot fighting. By now there was another nice beam sea running and slapping into the boat. I put the 2nd reef into the main and it still made no difference. At this point I dropped the main altogether and there was about a 10% improvement. I know all you salty dogs are going to email me like many have and tell me its impossible to have weather helm with only a headsail up but I would tell you all that nothing is impossible and if you want to be wowed come and have a look at my weather helm.
At this point we were still making almost 6 knots and the wind was up to a solid 15 right on the beam (90 degrees). I figured if we could crack off and sail downwind and down sea we could make a go of Topolobampo. But if we turned east of south at all we'd run right into the big estuarial mainland to the south and not clear the area where the mainland turns east. "What about Baja?" asked Kristina and quickly realized Baja was dead upwind and upsea. We were pretty hungry at this point and with only half a jib our speed dropped to 3 knots and we still had most of the helm problem. I knew that rigging barber haulers (ropes that move the center of effort forward) might have helped but I didnt want to monkey around with them in the building conditions. We had taken stugeron preventively so we weren't feeling ill. I decided to go below and make lunch while deciding what to do.
The kettle was on the floor and the stove was swinging on its gimbals like crazy. I decided to make chicken fajitas. As I stood there braced in the galley chopping onions, peppers and garlic cloves while the boat pitched around crazily I thought "Stugeron is the best thing ever invented for seasickness" there is absolutely no other way I could have pulled that off. The fajitas came out pretty good and we wolfed em down while discussing options and trying to stop the plates from sliding across the cockpit.
I decided as I watched the autopilot groan under the load that if the conditions worsened we would be hand steering all night in lousy conditions and be doing all that helm fighting ourselves, by hand. We decided to turn around again.
Kristina climbed into the pilot berth for a nap and I turned us around and sheeted that jib in tight. Naturally with these waves we didn't make the tack so I fired up the engine to help us through it and then just left it on. I had a blast racing the sunset home. I decided to close reach motor sailing with half a jib and it was perfect. The jib drove the waves and kept them from driving us and we were cooking along at almost 6 knots with the king spoke right in the middle, weather helm all gone. I decided to reach south of the exit so we could get in the lee of Cabo Haro (Cape Haro) and then motor straight upwind without any waves in our face.
This little fella musta joined us on the way back to Guaymas
My chartplotter showed all the dredges working the bay from many miles out using our spiffy new AIS reciever and I plugged in my mp3 player and enjoyed some music while slamming back to the bahia. I felt my nerves relax and was really happy. It was a good time. We didnt make it in before dark but it was easy enough to get in and drop our hook, closer this time, to the marina.
When we put the boat in reverse nothing happened. I stuck my head in the engine room and saw that the prop was barely spinning at full throttle reverse. We would not be setting our anchor that night. I remained optimistic that it might just be a linkage adjustment issue. Anyway, we were back and, in holding this good, were sure the anchor would set itself as soon as something caused it to be pulled.
We made steak for dinner and settled in for the night.
The following morning I went to troubleshoot the tranny. I detached the shifter cable from the lever and flipped it all the way back. Fired up the engine, same problem. Checked the tranny oil and its black as night. My clutches are cooked again and my tranny wont engage, in reverse this time.
We rebuilt our tranny in Ensenada in 2006 after the guy we paid to rebuild it in Portland in 2005 screwed it up (never hire Terry Foren). In order to remove our transmission the engine has to be removed. The previous two times we got away with just removing the lag bolts and sliding the whole thing forward, mounts and all, but now with the new stringers I had built the enigine will have to come all the way out in order to remove the transmission.
At this point our patience is worn to a nub and I seriously dont want to remove our engine again. To top it off our kitty is such that after this setback we might get a few months of cruising out of the deal. Many have suggested I just power through and fix this problem and then enjoy our cruise but after so many years of powering through problems and having something else cripple us afterward, its very hard to continue.
This might be the straw that broke the camel's back. Right now we're pricing out the parts and taking a few days to decompress and make a wise, unemotional, decision. Presently we cant get the boat to sail and we cant get her to motor and every time we fix something, something else goes wrong.
Just to clarify, I never thought this was going to be a vacation, in fact, I looked forward to the challenge more than anything. But we have been more plagued than anybody else we've run into and had a worse "repair to fun" ratio than most. The biggest downside I see to pushing through and making this last repair is that, as with all the other refits, there is no guarantee we'll make it 5 miles afterward.
Forgive the negative tone to this post. We're not super excited about how things have turned out, and throwing in the towel when, by my own measure, our cruise has been somewhat of a dismal failure to this point, is very unappealing. At the same time its feeling like maybe there is wisdom in cutting our losses. I don't want to be the guy who walks up to the roulette table with 10 grand and loses 8 but stays just to win it back until he has nothing.
Estrella in the sunset
More Pics of December can be found here
11/20/2009, Still in San Carlos
Okay so here's a quick update on us. The boat is finally ready. The oil leak turned out to be a bad crush washer on an oil line banjo bolt. I was advised to reanneal the one I have by Les on Gemini. He had a Yanmar with the same problem and said finding those crush washers was nearly impossible. I ran into Omar the mechanic and he wanted to know if I found the source of my leak. I told him I had to re-anneal and he told me to go see Martin at the Diesel Laboratorio. I went straight away and Martin had the washers. At first he looked at my 5/16" banjo bolt and grimmaced but then he found some. They were 6 pesos each but I didnt care I bought a dozen. I should have enough of those now to last the lifespan of 4 Yanmars.
These washers are a pain to install. I had to almost completely remove the exhaust manifold just to get the banjo bolt out since it was in the way. To put it back I had to hold one washer behind the oil line while trying to cram the specialized banjo bolt in the tiny space and not drop anything. As anybody who owns a boat knows, these are the perfect circumstances for a disaster. But I was prepared. I had not one, not two, but TWELVE washers. I almost had things in when BAM I dropped the specialized banjo bolt. it didnt make the typical "tink, tink, thud" that is usually associated with it falling into the sump pan but it also didnt make the "tink, tink, plunk" that accompanies it falling through the impossibly small hole into the oily oblivion in the bottom of the bilge.
After both Kristina and I tried for hours to find the bolt I remembered that I had a nice tidy little bag of oily spare parts from the cylinder head job. The odds of finding this special oil return banjo bolt here in Mexico were slim to none so I was really hoping to score in my spare bag. I dug for a few minutes and found TWO, hooray! I carefully installed the new banjo bolt and crush washers being careful not to over-torque the bolts. The last thing I wanted was to have to drill out a headless banjo bolt.
anyway after torquing down the exhaust manifold I fired up the motor and let it run for half an hour with a clean paper town underneath it and not a drop of oil appeared.
We were pretty much ready to go at this time but I had landed a gig helping a local businessman with his security system in town and had to postpone our departure. We had decided to leave by mid november either way but we found out that Shannon from Sweetie was going to be making a rare trip down to San Carlos to have Thanksgiving on their boat. Kristina insisted we should stay and have a nice leisurely reunion from Thanksgiving 2007 here in San Carlos aboard Sweetie.
Shannon was coming down for the entire week and Kris was looking very much forward to hiking with Shannon as Shannon is quite the accomplished hiker and it had been along time since they got to spend time with eachother. The day they went for their hike I got it in my head that I wanted to go sailing and sort out some more shake down stuff.
Since Estrella now has an autopilot, an electric windlass and a working diesel engine I thought it would be a perfect time to go do some single handing.
Kristina took the dinghy and went off to meet up with Shannon and I pulled up the anchor and set out for the harbor mouth. It was only blowing about 15 and there was a bit of a sea running but overall things were manageable. I decided that since the wind was borderline for the reacher I would play around with the jib and mainsail. This proved a wise decision as the autopilot was pretty quickly overpowered by the weather helm.
Not wanting to reef down in 13 knots of wind I just dropped the main. I had significantly reduced weather helm after I dropped the main. I tried to tack the boat without a mainsail and the sea stopped me in my tracks. Evidently no weather helm also means no tacking without the main in lightish air and a seaway.
I decided that the correct thing to do at this point was to hoist the main and bang a reef in to flatten it and work my way upwind to get the balance right. I also realized that the boat was pretty minimally stowed and I didnt want to have a giant mess to clean up when I got back so instead I gybed the headsail and reached my way back to San Carlos under jib alone. Soon I was cooking along at over 5 knots and I actually had a little lee helm. The holy grail of my boat is lee helm and I had managed to get some. It wasn't much but it'd do.
So after returning to the harbor and anchoring Kristina returned from her hike and told me all about how hurricane Jimena had all but annihilated the tropical micro climate they had gone to Nacapule Canyon to see.
Much to our delight Pisces and Tao had returned and completed their dry storage refits and splashed their boats around this time and anchored near us. It was nice to see these folks again. Come turkey day Pisces and Tao had a cozy little get together and had Arrachera beef tacos for their turkey day feast. Kristina made her famous sweet potato casserole. Kristina decided to take the full baking responsibilities and threw together a lovely pumpkin pie as well. Shannon made a lovely Turkey, baked fresh rolls and made the most delightful creamed brussel sprout dish. We had WAY more food than we could eat and even though we were missing Jason Rose it was a great turkey day reunion and a grand time was had by all. Jason is excused from the reunion as he and his boat are in New Zealand.
Turkey Day 2007
Turkey day 2009
The day after Thanksgiving we got together with Tony and Shannon for a movie and realized that our visas would expire in January. Tony and Shannon graciously offered to allow us to ride along with them up to Phoenix thus saving us to cost of a rental car and housing. We had intended on renting a car and staying in a motel 6 in Tucson to extend our visas but yet again the Morrellis come to our rescue.
We had a relatively uneventful trip to the border. Arizona was very cold and we were really feeling the motivation to get our boat to the tropics. We had a lovely time with Tony and Shannon, Shannon, sadly had a lot of work to do so we didnt see much of her but Tony drove us all around Phoenix and we got to get a last costco run in before returning south.
With a little luck we should be out of here and south within the first week of December. Fingers Crossed.
11/02/2009, San Francisquito to San Carlos (102 nautical miles)
Once we finally woke up from the trip over we discovered ourselves anchored in a lovely little bay. Our decision to wait till the following day to head to Bahia Los Angeles was based entirely on the theory that Hurricane Rick would continue to dominate the area and provide us with light southerlies to ride north.
Lovely shot of us in San Fracisquito
When I tuned into Geary's weather on the Sonrisa net, the latest news was that Rick had parked himself over cold water well south of Cabo San Lucas. The forecast now called for a possible grazing of Cabo and landfall occuring in the vicinity of Mazatlan. By parking over cold water Rick had already weakened to a tropical storm. What this meant for our plans was that the storm was no longer powerful enough to dominate the weather in the area. Consequently our light southerlies turned into strong northerlies.
For the next 2 days we rode out strong northers in the 20-30 knot range. The bay remained pretty flat with small wave action not building until the end of the last day. We found a tiny bit of wifi in the bay but since we have no booster antenna and found no cellular signal we raised the anchor and let the wind push us into shallower water closer to shore. We reanchored in 8' of water and got a sliver of internet out of it. We still had to sit in the cockpit at the aft edge to get a connection. We're definitely after a wifi booster now just to fill the 3G gaps.
Since we all decided to stay in San Francisquito I had fantasized about digging out the dive gear and going after some of the fish that would certainly be around these precipitous points. Sadly it was seriously cold in the bay. The water was below 75 degrees and the air temps were dropping into the high 60s. I'm sure if you're sitting in the midwest right now these temps sound ideal but I can assure you that after a summer in the Sonora desert you would find those temperatures as horrifying as I did. Of course my fond memories of spearfishing in the sea involved diving in my lycra skin suit and staying in the water all day, at sub 75 degree temps I'd have to wear a wetsuit and jump out after a couple hours.
The cat has decided she doesn't want to come in through the companionway in the mornings, she'd much rather jump in through the V-berth hatch and land on a sleeping stomach to better motivate breakfast.
First attempt at white bread.
For breakfast on our last morning in San Francisquito we decided to have a nice balanced breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast with homefries with sauteed green peppers and onions. The weather forecast called for flattening seas and lighter conditions for the next day, Our favorite sailmaker was back in town in San Carlos and we wanted to see him before he left for Phoenix on Monday. The weather was supposed to be light on thursday with an ideal sailing breeze on Friday and lovely conditions on Saturday. Since we dont leave on a Friday our options were to leave on Thursday or Saturday. If something went wrong and the increasingly fickle weather forecast changed we could fail to leave on Saturday which would mean we'd miss Tony. The big deal about missing Tony is we like him a great deal and he isnt coming back down until the 15th of november and its our goal to be in mazatlan by the 18th so if we miss Tony this time we might never see him again, okay at least not for a few months or a year.
So we were officially making a momentous decision. We were going to go be in a certain place by a certain time. This may not seem like much but its something we've never yet pulled off on this boat.
We went over to visit with Festima Lente on Thursday afternoon and enjoyed a nice visit for a few hours and made plans to meet up again in Mazatlan.
The wind seemed like it was filling in so around 1500 we quickly hoisted the pram on deck and fired up the motor. We optomistically hoisted the main as we exited the inner harbor only to find a windless sea on the outside.
After discovering that my little Dell mini-9 netbook is only drawing 500 milliamps I have started using Coastal Explorer as an additional chartplotter as we make our passages, it gives us something to entertain us as we plot our way across the sea.
We tried to motor-sail using the reacher for a bit but soon the wind died and the reacher started to back so we rolled it in and sheeted the main in tight. We decided to make our first 100 mile passage of this cruise and shoot straight for San Carlos. The route I plotted would be 102 miles and assuming an average of 4 knots we would arrive 24 hours after leaving San Francisquito.
There was significant tidal action in the deep waters surrounding San Francisquito and we soon found ourselves motoring along at over 7 knots with our engine at 2200 RPMs. At this rate we would arrive well under the 24 hour mark.
As we approached Isla San Pedro Martir, Kris checked the hand line and saw nothing and a split second later, I looked back to see our handline bar taut and no longer trailing behind us. Whatever was on the hand line was swimming alongside the cockpit as we made over 7 knots of speed over the ground. It was also disrupting a large area of the water's surface much the way whales do when their powerful bodies swim near the surface. I grabbed the hand line and pulled on it only to find it was way too loaded for me to pull on. I was trying to figure out what was on the other end of the line, hoping it would leap out of the water and identify itself before mercifullyly releasing itself leaving our handline intact. I started to look for a piece of string to tie a rolling hitch with so I could take the hand line to a sheet winch and pull this monster in when it made some kind of underwater maneuver and my line went slack. I was grateful to see that the monster had gotten off of my hook and didn't take my precious lure. Whatever it was I wasnt sure if I would land it or it would land me.
We spent the next few minutes speculating as to what that monster might have been. We figure it was either a huge bull dorado or a billfish of some kind. Just as we were discussing whether or not it could have been our first big dorado I looked back to see a huge dorado skipping limply along across our wake on the end of our hand line. I fairly easily pulled this one in but getting this beast on board was a bit more involved. Just the same I landed a 42" female dorado without the use of a gaff. She was exhausted so that sort of ruled out the theory that the previous fish was a dorado. I had to kill this one partially with some alcohol in the gills just so I could handle it without splattering the cockpit with blood. I quickly fileted it and we decided to leave the hand line out of the water overnight. I am now convinced that if you want to catch large fish go to Isla San Pefro Martir just off the coast of Baja near bahia San Francisquito. I have to attribute the deep cold water and the precipitous volcanic island to the easy fishing. I also need to thank Bevan and Lisa Davern for our best lure on the boat. They gifted us a black and purple squid rig that has caught us 3 dorado so far.
Biggest fish I ever caught, 42" Dorado (Mahi Mahi)
As the sun set the motor was running perfectly and our speed had barely dropped to 6 knots despite running the weak 20 horsepower engine at 2200 rpms. Kristina was feeling well and I decided to hit the sack an hour early and forego dinner. Kris baked an instant cornbread loaf and threw a can of turkey chili in a small pot while I hit the sack. The pilot berth was pretty warm so I moved up to the colder cockpit and slept under a blanket for an hour or so before returning to the pilot berth. Kristina had a totally uneventful night watch spent watching TV on the netbook until around midnight when she woke me up for my watch.
Baja sunset. Goodnight baja
I warmed up my half of the chili and had some cornbread and honey butter after I noted our position. We had made great distance putting on almost 30 miles in 5 hours while conserving diesel running at 2/3rds power. I topped up the tank with a 5 gallon jerry jug and pulled off the engine cover to check on the oil leak. Both paper towels were soaked to the corners and there was a small pool of about half a quart of oil. I have started storing a gatorade squirt bottle full of motor oil to make it easier to add small amounts of oil to the tranmission. I dumped most of a 600ml gatorade bottle into the running engine to top up the oil and put the cover back on before settling in for some TV watching of my own.
Having the autopilot is a revalation. Watches are far less stressful and life under way is considerably more luxurious. I went on deck from time to time to make sure the wind didnt kick up and overpower the main causing the autopilot to error out. I was so comfortable on watch that I decided to let Kristina sleep in and just keep kicking along. I alternated between hanging out down below and relaxing in the cooler cockpit.
I decided to go out into the cockpit to take in the sunrise when the mountains on the horizon started to turn deep orange. I was starting to feel a bit sleepy but I was eager to watch the sunrise. So I moved to the port side of the cockpit and kicked back in one of our reclining cockpit seats and settled in to watch the sunrise.
The motor was humming along and I was almost hypnotized by the glassy sea when my peace was suddenly shattered by an enormous bottlenosed dolphin leaping completely out of the water not six feet away from my nose and easily within 18 inches of the port side stanchion gate. As the powerful sillhouette pierced the deep orange hue, the magestic creature bent it's nose downward toward the sea and plunged in almost a hooked bellyflop into the deep. I'm not usually one to attempt prose or one for overstatement but my limited writing skills cant do this encounter justice. It lasted seconds and startled me into exclaiming "Whoa!" My brain was startled and thats what came out. I would think ususally such an encounter is followed by a pod of dolphins playing around the boat, but this dolphin encounter was a solitary one. It was without a doubt the strangest wildlife encounter of my cruising days so far.
The rest of the passage passed uneventfully. We continued to make excellent time after the sun rose. Kristina awoke on her own around 0700 and chided me for not waking her. I decided I'd have a cat nap while Kris took us the rest of the way to San Carlos. We had expected to pull into San Carlos around 1500hrs assuming a 4 knot average and a 24 hour passage. Instead we pulled into San Carlos at 10:00 just shy of 19 hours after leaving San Francisquito. Averaging almost 5.5 knots the whole way. The motor had lost some more oil but nothing too alarming.
picture taken after I removed 750ml of oil from the sump pan.
We launched the dinghy and immediately went ashore to have lunch with Tony. We had for the first time successfully set a goal to be somewhere by a certain time and made it. Kristina was thrilled that we had made an overnight passage and had no adversity. We arrived refreshed and happy with a boat that had no major issues.
The plan now was to hang with Tony over the weekend then say our goodbyes. Spend the following week sorting out the oil leak and cleaning the van out so we can cut our ties with San Carlos for good and head south at last.
Stay tuned for more developments.
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