04/07/2010, La Cruz De H'uanacaxtle
Shortly after departing the marina we hailed Oblivion to get a report of the condtions outside the estuary. They were still in the channel and indicated that things were pretty rolly. I spotted a large ship on our AIS display that was making an entrance at precisely the time we were exiting. In fact, we were on course to cross their bow and pass one another at the big dog leg in the runway. For the first time I used the information the AIS gave me (the name of the ship) and used it to call them. We had a short conversation and agreed that we would just stick to our respective sides of the channel and all would be well.
If this guy can get into and out of Topolobampo, so can you!
Picked him up on AIS before we saw him with our eyeballs.
Once outside of the estuary things got pretty rough and our tiny ship was tossed. Ordinarily we would have turned back at this point but this time the swell was out of the northwest. Consequently we would have a following sea once we finished transiting the channel and made our turn to the southeast. Also, we were quite motivated to make it to Mazatlan for the superbowl. Alberto (the marina manager in Topolobampo) had offered to drive us to a nice sports bar in Los Mochis, watch the game with us, and then return us to the boat. Alberto's generous offer notwithstanding, we wanted to see a U.S. broadcast so we'd get our U.S. commercials and english-speaking anouncers so We made our turn and it became bearable. I turned off the motor and rolled out the jib in the 15 to 20kt breeze and we rolled mercilessly from side to side. I attemped to crack off onto a broad reach as Oblivion had done just ahead of us. I had hoped that if we got a good press of sail on it might mitigate the rolling. Unfortunately, the helm got pretty severe and our roll had worsened so we fired up the engine and furled in the jib. We motored ahead of the wind and seas for the next 40 hours without incident. Don the weather man tried to frighten us into thinking we'd get 30 knots of wind on the 2nd night but after I asked for clarification he corrected himself that we would be fine with one foot on the beach. The entire 2nd night we could see light pollution coming off of Mazatlan.
zOMG! Could it be?!
Instruments prove we've arrived on the Moon.
confirmed with eyeballs, approaching huge city.
Radar is nice at night
Mazatlan has been an elusive goal for us for some years now. It's officially below the tropic of Cancer and therefore represented a sort of minimum achievement for us. Kristina was off watch as we approached the old harbor in the dark and I was shocked to see an enormous lit city with a baseball stadium and skyscrapers. Mazatlan was the largest town we'd seen since Guaymas. After spending the last week in rural Mexican fishing towns we were in for a serious culture shock. As we rounded the light house I made the required call to Mazatlan port control for clearance to enter the ship channel and we were promptly cleared for entrance. Once inside we looked for Tao but couldnt find them so we anchored near the channel and tucked in for the night. Overnight things became a little rolly with ship traffic so when we awoke in the morning we pulled up the anchor and tucked way into the old harbor. Love that electric windlass. As we approached our desired anchoring spot Ed on Aka advised us not to drop our anchor as we were above a sunken shipwreck that would certainly foul our anchor. I moved us over nearer to Festima Lente and as far inside toward the moored sport fishing boats as I dared and Estrella's hook set instantly and violently. At 200 miles we had made our longest passage in years. This was an achievement for us and our little engine purred flawlessly through the entire 40 hour run without complaint. We learned that our fuel tank held closer to 30 gallons as opposed to the 20 we had previously thought and now we were in a fun town that is beloved by most and ready to go ashore and find us a superbowl bar.
Estrella anchored in the old harbor in Mazatlan
The Oblivionistas going ashore in Mazatlan
The instant I hit the dinghy dock I ran into Linda from Aquadesiac. She asked if we'd been there before and I told her we hadn't and that I was in search of a good place to watch the superbowl. She said that some people were going to watch the game at a place called Brewers, just up the road, but that reservations might be required. Shortly thereafter we ran into Festma Lente and Tigger and suddently between Oblivion, festima lente, tigger, Francis Lee, Chat de Mer, Aquadesiac, and Tao I was making a reservation for 17. We had a lovely lunch with Tigger at Brewers and made our huge reservation, evidently not a lot of people had reserved so they had no problem sticking tables together for us. The day of the Superbowl we were thrilled that we had made reservations. Brewers was packed to the rafters with the only open table beng the enormous reserved one for us.
The Superbowl Gang (from left to right: Chat De Mer, Aquadesiac, Festima Lente, Tigger, Wanderlust, Oblivion (unseen), Estrella, Tao
Nan and Greg from Festima Lente enjoying the superbowl.
The Saints defeated the favored Colts in a brilliant upset Superbowl victory. The game was excellent, if a bit difficult to hear over the din of a packed restaurant. Things were pretty social despite the thrall of one of the best Superbowls ever and overall, everybody had a fantastic time. Special thanks to Doug from Aquadesiac for buying all those pitchers.
bashing to weather on the port tack shook loose the fact that this settee slides out to become a double berth.
Kitty really wanted to get into those gaps in the slats but couldnt fit.
After the superbowl there was very short break between festivities since Carnival started the following weekend. We spent the week hanging out with Chris on Tao helping him sort out his head gasket issue. Chris started hearing hissing noises coming from his Yanmar 2QM20 during his crossing of the Sea of Cortez on his way to Mazatlan. After much discussion with Total Yacht Works it became evident that his head was not really warped or cracked and he decided to clean out the clogged cooling ducts and install a new head gasket. The head gasket wouldn't be arriving for another week so he decided to move Tao from the expensive slip in Marina Mazatlan to the old harbor. I volunteered to crew for Chris for the 8 mile engineless journey.
helping push Tao out in Tao's dinghy
When I arrived to help move Tao I had suggested maybe we could have his dinghy and 2Hp outboard on standby in case the wind got too light and we needed a push. I was amazed when we cast off the dock lines and Tao not only ghosted away from the dock but she actually tacked. Estrella would not have made it through stays in those conditions but Tao is a testament to how much agiliy a nice cutaway forefoot can add. Chris' dock neighbor Steve was in his dinghy with 15Hp outboard just in case we needed more help than the 2Hp outboard would offer. We were shocked to be moving along at close to 2 knots with no visible breeze when Steve pulled alongside and said "As much as I'd like to have dinner with you guys..." And lashed his dinghy on the other side of Tao. Soon we were cooking aong at 5 knots. We looked like some kind of hilarious inflatable pontooned trimaran with two outboards propelling us out the narrow channel to the bar at Mazatlan. Once outside Steve untied his dinghy and sped off with a friendly smile and a wave.
Sailing Tao in almost no breeze
Chris had me untie the dinghy and trail it behind because we had over 4 knots of breeze. Tao ghosted along at an incredible 3 knots with just her working headsail and main. Thus began an idyllic trip in light southerlies to the old harbor. Once inside the old harbor we were pleasantly surprised to have a nice 6=8 knot breeze, which is enough to drive Tao at a very nice rate of speed. Chris expertly tacked the engineless sloop through the anchorage until he found the precise spot he wanted to drop the hook, we released 125ft of chain and Chris' Manson Supreme set instantly.
We spent some good times with Chris running around town, enjoying street food and generally getting the hang of old Mazatlan. For what it's worth Mazatlan is divided into two distinct zones. The Zona Dorada (The Gold Zone) and Old Mazatlan. Old town has a nice european feel with spanish architecture and narrow streets surrounding the typical "Zocalo" (town square) where Mexicans hang out. The Gold Zone in Mazatlan is not the place to be. If you want to know what it's like to be in the Marina district near the gold zone you don't even need to leave the country. Just go on down to the biggest fanciest marina faclity in your area and walk around there in the peak of summer sailing season and the only difference you'll experience is that there will be less gringos there. The area surrounding the marina district is devoid of mexican street food but you can enjoy a nice expensive rib dinner any hour of the day. If you came to Mexico to enjoy the company of gringos and to eat at T.G.I. Fridays then the marina district in Mazatlan is for you. I know that may sound judgemental but you'd be surprised at how many people seemingly went cruising for just that reason, or at least it would seem that way. I don't think there is anything wrong with it, if thats what floats your boat, more power to you. It's just not my favorite. I have really enjoyed meeting small pueblo mexicans and found the culture to be open and welcoming.
During our forays back and forth to the marina district for swap meets and to help out cruisers in need gathered information about Carnival. The Mazatlan carnival celebration is supposedly the 2nd largest in the western hemisphere. It seemed like most cruisers were going to skip the big party night on the malecon (waterfront park) altogether and attend the big parade the following day by paying 400 pesos (~$30USD) to sit in some bleachers and enjoy a buffet. I ususally avoid big crowds and parties because I am a boring party pooper but Chris from Tao pointed out that if we're gonna do Carnival we don't want to blow $30 so we can be in the sanitary gringo bleachers. I completely agreed with him. We also decided to go to the big party on the malecon.
Gringos tend to be a scaredy bunch. We pretty much categorically ignore all warnings about danger we recieve from gringos. Many of the gringos warned us that to be in the parade crowd would be dangerous and going to the big malecon party to see the burning of the bad humors would be suicidal. We had expected to hear these things from the gringos and had already dismissed them. We were shocked though when Chris J was chatting with a girl on teh bus and she said her family goes to carnival every year but they were too afriad this year to go. We met another mexican who told us that its "muy peligroso" and that we shouldnt take anything we weren't willing to have stolen from us. We were flabbergasted to be warned by mexicans, this never happened to us before. We decided to go anyway and take our chances.
The first night consist of the burning of the bad humors, the crowning of the Carnival queen and a fireworks display to commemorate when the Mazatlecos defeated an invading french navy fleet from the land batteries. We made plans to hook up with Oblivion at the dinghy dock and maybe try to find Caramello in the streets. We left the old harbor with Chris Tao and Brenda, Thane, Nancy and Jeff from Oblivion. The entire malecon (easily a couple miles long) was secured with gates and guards. We had to go buy tickets at a ticket window for 20 pesos each and then go through a frisk search before being permitted into the festivites. Once inside the music was ear-bleedingly loud. The amps at carnival in Mazatlan are all set to 11 and then I suspect they just break off the knob. We walked past a giant effigy of the swine flu that everybody agreed looked like me. There were crowds of people gathered around it and there were 5 bomberos (fire fighters) standing in a row off to the side with 5 water filled fire extinguishers. We knew that was going to be cool but had to go try and meet up with Caramello so we left Oblivion and went to the fishermen's monument to find them. After not finding them there we returned to discover we had just missed the explosion. Fortunately for us, oblivion got video.it was another one of those great mexican fireworks displays that you could never do in the states because of safety laws.
Everybody said this swine flu effigy looked like me
Exploding the effigy of swine flu virus that everybody thought looked like me.
This dude was the scariest thing we saw at Carnival. I was the only one in our group willing to ask him to pose for a photo. I figure he didn't go through all of that effort to be ignored.
Many of the restaurants of Mazatlan set up booths selling food and I was starving so I enjoyed a small plate of BBQ ribs before making my way further down the street. Sadly, Nancy and Jeff werent feeling very well and had to return to Oblivion early. Shortly thereafter the fireworks reenactment of the battle for Mazatlan began. Without a doubt this was the largest and longest fireworks display any of us had ever seen. It was impossible to discern if a finale had occurred as the entire display was finale like and went on for close to half an hour, directly over our hears. By the end of the fireworks we all had sore necks and feet from standing there looking up. I doubt any of us will ever see a display that spectacular again.
Bigger ones right over our heads. (the guy hollering is Chris from Tao)
As we continued on down the street we passed throngs of mexican families. Children with brightly colored toys running and playing all over the place. I had expected something more like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. I found it hard to feel threatened while toddlers ran and played in the streets. There were at least a dozen massive stages with exceptional bands. The ubiquitous Pacifico girls seemed to adorn every beer booth and many of the stages dancing along with the bands. Perhaps all of the fear made it a more sedate carnival than usual but I suspect its always a family kind of thing. All in all I was really glad that we went. It was a really good time, not nearly the zoo that I had envisioned.
Awesome Pork Adobada everywhere
close up of delicious pork
Gotta love Mexican racial sensitivity. "Tirale Al Negro" translates to "Throw it at the negro" there was a throng of people throwing softballs at a stuffed gorilla that was shouting "neener neener neener!" this game cost nothing and the only reward was the joy derived from throwing it at the negro.
You can get your picture taken with the Pacifico girls that stand in front of every beer vending tent.
The highlight of the evening for the girls (Brenda and Kristina) was when the Pacifico Dancers performed to Lady Gaga's "Poker Face". Far from simplly gyrating, these dancers had actual choreography, did some Salsa, some cha cha, and other latin ballroom type stuff before the men stepped to the front row and stripped off their pants in unison for the big finale. We have excellent video of this thanks to Chris J on Tao.
Brenda from Oblivion with Kristina.
Thane and the ladies
As we were wrapping up the evening we saw a tiny animal that had been skewerd. It looked like some kind of lamb but way too small. I had to ask the guy what it was and he said "Cabrito" which means baby goat. I asked how old and he said it was around 2 or 3 months and very tender. I was stuffed so I couldn't eat an entire taco so the guy knocked me off a piece to sample. It was tender and delicious. While chatting about it with my buddy Scott trying to figure out the correct term he exclaimed "You ate kid!" to which I laughed. So I guess one of the highlights of my carnival was getting to eat a new kind of meat... Kid!
I ate some of that kid!
The following day we ran some errands before meeting up with Kristina at the fisherman's monument to watch the massive carnival parade. I'll let the pictures tell the rest of this story. We decided to bring our expensive camera with us and nobody mugged us for it. We were again surrounded by families and children and everybody had a blast. The floats were magnificently huge and elaborate.
Me getting ready for the parade chaos
Chris before the big parade
Pacifico Dancers Float
Carnival choo choo choooses you!
Ring that bell
Chris and Kris
Carnival is for families!
We spent the next couple of days getting ready to set sail to Isla Isabella. We took a nice hike with Tao and Caramello up the hill to the highest manned lighthouse in the world. It was a helluva workout for a fat guy like me but the view at the lighthouse was great.
Mazatlan after sunset from the lighthouse
Kristina took this awesome picture of Stone Island just outside the old harbor in Mazatlan from the lighthouse
We finally set out for Isabella with a weather forecast of next to no wind. In keeping with our new philosophy of adversity free motoring on glassy seas we set out around sunset for the 88 mile run to Isla Isabella with Tao and Caramello. We hoisted our main in the light afternoon breeze and sailed off the hook. We watched as Tao and Caramello followed suit sailing off their hooks. We called the mazatlan port control and informed them we would be departing the narrow entrance directly and were given approval for departure. As Estrella ghosted up to the entrance a strong swirling adverse current appeared and the light wind started funneling straight into the entrance. At that point I fired up the yanmar and pointed Estrella south. We motored along at around 5 knots and I realized that Tao and Caramello were getting very small inside the harbor. It's then that I realized they were having a light air, up-current, tacking duel coming out of the narrow channel entrance. This kind of shenannigans would be heretofore referred to by the crew of Estrella as "playing silly buggers" They were having a blast though and more power to them. Likewise, more power to the engines! We were off, underway for the little galapagos of Isla Isabella.
Once the port control asked Tao and Caramello to not be in the way when a large fishing boat made its entrance they fired up their engines and proceeded to motor. I had taken a more offshore route than neccesary so chris on Tao passed me as I made my way back east. We usually refuse to "buddy boat" but chris was making his first single handed passage and could get some more sleep if he were near a boat with radar that could help keep an eye out for traffic. Once Chris had passed us I noticed his boat kept getting bigger and bigger. I realized that he had decided to switch off his motor and ghost along in the light breeze. My only hazard on the sea was Tao and he was right in front of me. It was okay though I made a slight course correction and for the first time ever in my sailing career I watched Estrella's shadow in the light of the full moon pass over another sail boat. Once clear of Tao I returned to my lazy watch keeping sched and as we got further and further ahead of him we chatted with the whole fleet on the VHF. It turned out Caramello had done the same and switched off their motor to do some light air sailing. I then passed off the radar duty onto Caramello since their similar sailing philosophy (read: Silly buggers) would make them far better suited for staying in the same vicinity as Tao. It was all good and the night watches passed uneventfully
The Monas and 2 boats anchored on the east side anchorage of Isla Isabella.
As we approached Isla Isabella I spotted a pod of Humpback whales and changed course to go check em out... sadly, they weren't feeing social and dove away from us. We resumed our course for Isabella and as we approached I thought I was seeing breakers along the northern edge of the island. Then I realized it was actually teeming with humpbacks. One large humpback then breached fully. Then another breached, and another. I called Kris up to watch this and my already high expectations of Isabella were already being exceeded. The cruising guide says to anchor on the east side of the island off two large pinnacle rock formations called Las Monas (The Mannequins). It also says that there is a protected southern anchorage that is not reccomended due to a rocky bottom that "eats anchors". I decided to go ahead and anchor in the anchor eater. friends of mine had told me they found some sand patches and it wasn't so bad. We had never anchored in rocks before so once we got the hook down I threw on my dive gear and freedove the anchor. The sand on the bottom in 25' was very hard and nearly impenetrable. I then attempted the lift my big Rocna anchor and move it out from under a rock and found it remarkably easy. I decided we would intentionally hook a big boulder and lie on short scope to prevent chain wrappping the rocks and essentially use a boulder as a mooring. While in the water I directed Kristina to pull up the anchor chain and then reverse Estrella hard. I watched as the Rocna made it's way across the har sand bottom and jammed itself under a large boulder. I was pleased that this boulder was immovable and had K tie off the snubber. Just to be sure I could get us out I dove down and easily lifted the anchor out from under it.
Approaching the south anchorage at Isla Isabella
I have concluded that the reason people lose their anchors here is that they either dont dive or swim or rig trip lines. When Tao came in chris rigged a trip line and a few days later I decided to do the same. I attached mine diving. We decided to take it easy and wait until the following day to go ashore and explore the island. The following morning I heard a call on the VHF from Jesse's Girl in the east anchorage. he was calling for "any divers in the Isla Isabella anchorage" I heard a chance to go diving and jumped on it. His anchor was stuck on the bottom in 24 feet just off the Monas in the east anchorage. I asked him if he had a fast dinghy and could come get me and suggested we bring Chris from Tao as well because Chris has a tank in case the anchor is too dug in for free diving. Soon Ryan from Caramello was on asking if he could come along to watch and we had 4 people in Jesse's Girl's dinghy going around the point. When we got there we all dove in eagerly and I saw a deep crevasse in the earth's crust. I hoped the anchor was stuck toward the top and not the bottom and was relieved to see it sitting in a crack in about 25 feet of water. I dove down and lifted the anchor out with ease and as I was about to resurface when I noticed that the chain was looped into the crack as well so I stayed down and pulled the chain out. As I surfaced Chris from Tao dove and turned the bruce on it's back. Shortly thereafter shana was motoring Jesse's Girl out of the anchorage and Jesse was returning us to ours. It was a fun way to start the morning.
That afternoon our swiss friends Lorenzo, Cecile and Kenzo sailed into the south anchorage on their Nor Sea 27 Plume. We all got together and went for a hike across the island. When we went ashore we found government biologists collecting data on the catch of hammerhead sharks being offloaded by the local fishermen. The Island was covered in nesting birds. The low trees were covered with Frigate bird nests occupied by fledgeling chicks. All of them clacking their beaks together at anything that moved in hopes it would be bringing them a delicious regurgitated meal. Evidently frigate birds take 8 months to fledge so they dont reproduce every year. We hiked to the crater lake in the middle of this volcanic island and then all the way across it to the north end and the Costa Larga. We had a fantastic time and Kenzo seemed to really enjoy himself.
Government biologists measuring a hammerhead
Sharkfins for soup
Tagged Frigate bird
Frigates infesting the trees at Isabella
Iguanas were also rampant
the gang resting on the banks of the crater lake
We found this sign on the ground and took it as a sign we should take a group photo.
Chilling on the breezy costa larga
From left: Tao, Caramello, Estrella, Plume
It was weird to be the biggest boat in the fleet
The males develop big red neck sacks
Blue Footed Boobies
Nice pair of boobies
Boobie chick is bigger than boobie parent
Lorenzo got this awesome picture on the Costa Larga of the Monas
Boobie and hatchling
The next week was spent diving every corner of the island and spearfishing with Tao and Caramello. Highlights of diving the island were the whale calls and massive schools of fish. Every time I would freedive down I'd hear the humpbacks calling all around. The deeper I got the louder the calls got. It was surreal to be hunting fish in the isolated waters off of Isla Isabella while being serenaded by pods of feeding humpback whales. Many people don't stay at Isla Isabella because the anchorage is somewhat exposed to swell or the weather doesn't hold up for them and they have to run due to southerly winds and swell. Sometimes they leave because they dont dive and fear losing their anchor to the rocks. I can honestly say that Isla Isabella is undoubtedly the most amazing place we've cruised and we were seriously blessed to have gotten an entire week of calm weather to enjoy it. That said, I would have loved 2 more weeks to dive there. If we ever return I can only hope to have a long window of calm weather to enjoy that place. It is without a doubt a special place that I will always remember fondly.
Sadly the weather forecast called for strong 25 knot winds so we decided to bug out early for San Blas. The evening before we left I decided to stack the deck in our favor and pull the anchor out from under it's boulder. I dove down and easily lifted our Rocna out and set it down in an open area free of boulders. The weather forecast was for a calm night and when we left atthe crack of dawn the following day the anchor came right up without the need for a trip line. We motored out of the anchorage and set a course for San Blas. We were sad to see Isabella shrink in our wake but were also grateful that we got so much great time there.
The trip from Isabella to San Blas is full of long line fishermen in pangas. We saw many flags foating around, presumably with lines between them. We communicated with Tao, Caramello and Plume as we made our way across and the conditions remained placid. My goal was to outrun the bad weather and get into San Blas before the strong breeze filled in. About 3 hours out of Isabella a panga sped up alongside us and the driver asked if we had anything for his companiero's cut finger. I was briefly confused because I thought maybe he was saing we had cut his line or something and then I realized the fisherman was bleeding from a laceration in his thumb. Kristina leapt into action trying to put together a field surgery kit for the guy. I put the kibosh on that and said, he just needs a band aid and some disinfectant. So we gave em a disinfectant towlette, a band aid and some antibiotic ointment. They were most grateful and sped off to their flag to pull up their long line. As we approached the flag I throttled down and put Estrella in neutral and the panga driver saw this and signalled me that the lines were well weighted and did not pose any threat. This was news to me as I had been treating them all like a threat. All our future encounters wth long lines will be less stressful thanks to that guy.
Once we made our approach to the San Blas estuary entrance waypoint we noticed that there was a wave breaking across the entire bar. I followed the waypoints and punched it. In retrospect it had to be around low tide and there might have been wisdom in parking in the adjacent bay until the high tide the following morning but we rode a small suurf wave across the bar and then motored up the placid estuarial waters. Kristina was a bit sketched out by the shallow depths and the surfing wave that we rode in but any landing you can walk away from is a good one.
San Blas is referred to by cruisers as "That awesome authentic Mexican town with all the horrible bugs." When we arrived we didn't have any good screening system on the boat to prevent the noseeums from entering. We used blue tape to close all the louvers in the teak doors and then closed the portlights. The boat was pretty stifling when closed up tight but it was worth it not to be eaten alive by "no-nos". I hate noseeums so much that we had vowed never to go to San Blas, nevertheless, here we were. I took the preventative measure of changing into long pants and digging out a pair of sneakers and socks. I tucked my pants into my socks. Kristina told me I looked rediculous and I told her I wasnt being eaten by bugs. I think being eaten by bugs to look cool is rediculous. Ironicaly the first week we were there the noseeums were almost non-existant. Two days after we arrived we booked the much lauded jungle tour to the cocodrillerio and La Tovara. We had hoped to get a discount by getting a large group together but it turned out that there is 1 tour and that the price is government controlled and fixed. We got our group together at 0645 and made it to our panga at the embarcadero at 0715 and set off for the tour. We saw more birds than you can shake a stick at. We made our way slowly to the cocodrillerio (Crocodile reserver) the closer to got the more and larger crocs we saw. We saw turtles, birds, iguana, and crocodiles. We even saw a turtle that had narrowly escaped being croc food. His shell was crushed and almost shattered.
Heading ashore with Tao and Plume for the Jungle cruise
The family of Plume, Lorenzo, Kenzo and Cecile
Estrella, Caramello, Tao and Plume on the fast bit of the Jungle boat tour.
Kristina and Ryan from Caramello
Mangroves a plenty
K got this great shot of a green Iguana
Our first wild croc sighting
Snail Falcon takes flight
Turtles who could use a few lessons from Yurtle
The cocodrillerio was a nifty place that had many large and small crocs but we were surprised to see other animals. A couple of playful coatamundi sharing a cage with a racoon, two mexican deer and some wild pigs. Once we left there our tour guide poured on the power and blasted us at high speed through the mangroves to La Tovara.
It takes a brave kitten to live at a crocodile sanctuary
heeeeere kitty kitty!
Hadn't expected to see three coatamundi living with a racoon at the sanctuary
La Tovara is a freshwater spring that empties into a crystal clear pool. Naturally a chain link fence separates the swimming hole from the croc infested waters just outside. There is a rope trapeze type swing and the water is magnificent. Its like swimming in crystal clear purified water. It is such a rare treat to get to immerse yourself in fresh water of any kind after all this ocean sailing and with all our friends there it was really a highlight of the entire cruise. Everybody had a blast and were sad when our hour was up. We blasted our way back to the embarcadero and tipped our guide handsomely. He was affable and knowledgable about the wildlife. Everybody had a fantastic time and It think all 9 of us would not hesitate to strongly reccomend this tour.
Chris breaks in the rope swing with gusto!
After the tour we all walked up the hill to the big fort overlooking the town of San Blas. There weren't many people up there and we had our run of the place. Kenzo from Plume played around with Ryan and Kristina from Caramello and when I went to go enjoy the view of the town a guy named guillermo struck up a conversation with me. He asked me if I was mexican. I told him I was ethnically puerto rican and he told me I looked mexican and my spanish was good. I thanked him and we had a chat about cultures and family. Guillermo and I hit it off and he told me he was the local historian for the fort. He works for the government telling the story of San Blas. He said he doesnt approach people because he figures if they want to hear the history they'll come ask him and he doesn't want to be a pest. He then takes me over to the wall and points out a house and says, "That house... is where my family lives. If you ever return to San Blas without your boat, you stay there. You have a home in San Blas." So I introduce him to our group and get a photo with him and he says "Come with me I'll sing you guys a song." He takes us over to the visitor palapa there and shows us a big poster from the time he performed on "Sabado Gigante" on Cinevision. It was clearly a highlight of his musical career and he proceeded to sing us a sing about San Blas, he was quite good and when he was done he offered to sing to us about the madwoman of San Blas. Evidently her husband went to sea fishing and never returned so she wandered the docks dispondent for years thereafter. I asked if I could video his performance and he gladly gave his permission.
Chris from Tao in the old church ruins
My new friend in San Blas, Guillermo.
Great view of San Blas from the fort
Cecile and Kris in the old fort
The people of San Blas are incredibly nice. Another story I recently heard from some cruiser friends of ours was that they got to go sport fishing after we left San Blas for free. Some guys pulled up to the dock in their sport fisher with a bunch of Dorado and Tuna and these cruisers asked if they could take pictures of the catch. Then a conversation followed and the Cruiser asked what those big sport fishing rods cost and then indicated he could never afford such a hobby and one of the mexican doctors said "You wanna go fishing? You take our boat, our captain will take you out fishing, go and have fun." Evidently they spent a day sportfishing for free on the boat of some doctor they just met. The doctor just asked them to replace the fuel they used and have fun.
Look mister, are you gonna order something or not?
Many Toro on this kids bike
Our plan had been to leave San Blas and make our way south the following day but the weather forecast deteriorated and some strong winds battered the coast. Just then Kristina's Dad inquired about coming for a visit. Suddenly we had Jim Jenkins our first tropical visitor coming to spend 10 days with us. We decided to have him bus from Puerto Valarta to San Blas rather than try to meet him there by boat. That way he could take the jungle tour and see a real mexican town before sailing with us down the coast to Puerto Vallarta. Jim arrived without incident and we met up with Dave and Marili Reilly from SV Tamara. We originally met them at Rose City yacht Club in Portland whle we were back in Portland working in 2008. They were interested in doing the tour with us so we agreed to meet up the following morning on the dinghy dock at 06:30 and do the Jungle tour.
Unfortunately Jim's arrival herladed the return of the noseeums to San Blas. When we left the following morning for the tour the boat was swarming with noseeums. Stepping outside you would be literally walking through a thick cloud of no-nos. The previous night I had done my usual ritual of sleeping in my clothes with my pants tucked into my socks and my hands face and arms covered in bug repellant. unfortunately I had only put repellant up to the sleeves of my short sleeved shirt and when I awole the backs of my arms felt as if they were on fire. In one oversight I had been bitten 28 times on the back of each arm. Such is life and that is the reason that San Blas is such a nice town. If there were not bugs, San Blas would be a huge tourist town. I met a mexican surgeon in the Marina who told me he loves the bugs because Matenchen bay is the most beautiful bay in the world and he can afford to have a house on the beach because the rich people hate the bugs.
The wages of San Blas
The jungle Tour, as with last time, was a lot of fun. Everybody seemed to really enjoy themselves and the Tovara was a real highlight.
Snail Falcon eating it's favorite food
Kris and Jim
Jim about to rock the rope swing
The gang's all here
We were really glad to get together with Dave and Marili Reilly for the jungle tour. It was an all Portland panga!
We decided to make our way out to Mantenchen bay following the tour. Mantechen bay is just outside the bar of San Blas and around the corner 6 miles. The weather was supposed to be very calm so despite the low tide I decided to tow the dinghy and take a chance. We were only going 6 miles on a flat calm day.
We pulled up the anchor as Tao was hoisting his main. We turned around and motored toward the bar entrance. I was shocked to see a 7 foot tall breaking wave across the entire entrance. I immediately turned around and decided to leave the following morning. As we motored back to the anchorage we watched the bar and nothing happened for 25 minutes. Pangas and sportboats crossed over and over without incident. We started to think maybe we just saw some freak wave. I told Chris about it and he decided to go check it out since it looked so placid. We watched him cross and a very small set came through while he was crossing and his mast pitched about a little bit but ultimately it was harmless.
I decided then to just go for it.
The conditions had clearly abated so I started motoring toward the bar. Just as we approach the point of no return I notice the exhaust note on my engine changes and there is no cooling water coming out of the exhaust hole. I look down and our temp gauge reads 189 degrees, just 11 degrees from the overheating alarm point. I give Kristina the wheel and head below to troubleshoot the overheating, just as I get to the companionway I see that 7' wave right off our bow. It slammed into the bowsprit and we pitched right through it. I told Kristina to steer straight into them as the next 7 foot breaker came upon us. We throttled up and fought ourway through the surf. It couldn't have been a worse timed exit. After the third breaker hit us we were clear. Green water had washed down the decks and some stressful words were spoken but the engine was still running and I was eager to get as far away from those breakers as possible. We never tow our dinghy, I mean I can count on 1 hand how often we have towed our dinghy anywhere in the last year. Between the engine overheating and the breakers I had completely forgotten that we had been towing the dink. I look behind us and see a panga towing a dinghy out through the surf. I thought at first "How odd that he has a white pram like ours." then I remembered and looked off the back and our dinghy painter (thats what the piece of rope you tie the dinghy on with is called) had snapped. It was still tied to Estrella and part of it was still tied to the dinghy but the rope had failed catastrophically.
An elderly german man towed us our dinghy. He had thrown a grappling hook onto it and brought it out to us. He delivered us some choice opinions about our wisdom, or lack thereof and gave us our dinghy. I got it tied back on and we proceeded to troubleshoot the motor. While stopped, I pulled hoses off the pumps and saw water flowing out of the hoses put the hoses back together and saw water flowing out of the exhaust outlet. Once K would put us in gear the water would stop flowing. We couldn't imagine that we could have much growth on the bottom since I dove in and scraped the entire hull clean before we left Isla ISabella a mere week earlier. I had evidently underestimated the nutrient rich waters of the San Blas estuary. When we got the hook down Chris from Tao came by and asked if we sorted out our cooling problem and I told him I had no idea what the cause was. He then asked for a mask and snorkel and jumped off his dinghy. He found that of the 4 slots in the water intake clamshell, 2 were so obstructed he couldnt tell they existed. The middle two had a beard of growth in front of it and so when we'd start moving through the water the beard would flap shut and block the water intake.
We set about the following day doing some surf reconnoisance. We found a nice small surf break inside the bay and concluded that when there is large southerly swell it might be the most amazing surfing spot ever. Chris later researched it and found out that due to it's even sandy shoal bottom it is home to the world record longest surf break. Someday we shall have to return for a summer surf vacation. Jim spent time aboard chatting with his daughter and dove in a few times to cool off and get some excercise. He swam from our boat to Tao a couple hundred yards away and back. I am in no shape to pull that off myself but Jim made it look easy.
Beautiful sunset in matenchen bay after an extremely eventful day
Our friends on Plume were already in Matenchen when we got there and they left on our second day there. We got some great pictures of them sailing past us. Great for the family photo album.
Plume family portrait
We had planned on sailing slowly 25 miles south to Chacala but our long calm weather window deteriorated. Suddenly we were expecting a 30 knot blow in the afternoon the following day. Matenchen bay would be very uncomfortable in that blow so we decided on the spot to get up at 4AM and make a bee line 70 miles to Punta De Mita.
Chris and I were really looking forward to spending a few weeks surfing punta de mita so going straight there wasn't exactly a disappointment. The only downside is we'd miss out on sailing to the smaller anchorages and taking our time. I took the first watch while K and Jim got some sleep and we boogied on down to Punta De Mita. Jim woke up just after dawn as I was putting the lure in the water. He asked me to show him how our hand line worked and while I was showing him I realized we had a fish on. Jim and I got excited and he hollered "Fish on!" and Kristina got up and started telling Jim where the Filet knife and cutting board lived. We caught a nice striped pacific bonito. Sadly, we were not granted another fish for the rest of the day but we had a pretty pleasant uneventful motor around the point to Punta De Mita. The wind had started piping up once we arriveed and we put the hook down just outside the surf lineup.
Early morning bonito
Jim takes the helm on part of the leg to Punta De Mita
The next few days are a bit of a blur of surfing (or attempting to surf for me) and swimming for Jim a couple trips ashore for margaritas. I think a good time was had by all during our stay at Punta De Mita. We decided to head in to La Cruz a day early so we could sort out the transport for Jim's flight home and tour the town a bit. We pulled the hook up in the late morning with a plan to sail slowly 12 miles to La Cruz.
The gang's all here another successful passage under our belts
Jim luxuriates in the water at Punta De Mita just in front of the Four Seasons resort for a fraction of the price
Sadly, Jim had an attack of food poisoning and was feeling pretty dodgy. We medicated the symptoms the best we could and he was able to spend some time on deck enjoying the sail. We tried to fly the big reacher as it was only blowing about 9 knots but we were going almost dead downwind and this caused our boat speed to drop below 3 knots. I decided to test out our new spinnaker rigging. I dumped the chute out of the bag and after only some minor issues the spinnaker was full and pulling us along at over 6 knots in that same light breeze. We blasted over those 12 miles in less than 2 hours. The chute flew nicely and I played around with it. Jim relaxed and enjoyed the sail whle hopefully looking back at the hand line from time to time. Sadly, despite sailing through 2 boiling bait balls we caught nothing. Oh well, in the words of Stephen Wright "you can't have it all... where would you put it?"
Jim enjoying his first ever spinnaker run
Jim scans the horizon for pirates
This Huichol indian lady made some nice art for Valerie
Guess where we are?
The next couple of days to enjoyed La Cruz with Jim and a good time was had. We got to know the town a but and hit the big Mega Grocery store Jim got to meet a lot of our cruising friends and they him. Apart from the unfortunate food sickness I would say Jim's visit couldn't have gone much better. We were really glad to have him and wish more people would follow suit and come visit us.
Our last day with Jim, I am sure he was glad to return to his bed and shower and hot tub but we miss him already.
If there were not enough pictures in here for you you can see the rest here...
Estrella Gallery 2010 albums
01/30/2010, Yavarros/Topolobampo, Sonora/Sinaloa Mexico.
The strong southerlies I wrote about in the last post became more and more menacing in the forecasts. The closer to the "wind event" we came, the more apocalyptic the forecasts. What had been forecast as "strong southerlies in the 45 knot range for the far northern sea," started creeping south. Two days before the storm's arrival the forecast changed to "strongest winds along the Sonoran coast," I thought "Thats us, we're on the Sonoran coast!" I hate a rolly anchorage and when the wind gets up to 15 knots out of the south in San Carlos, the bahia becomes rolly as all get out. Kristina is less bothered by a rolly anchorage in general and was inclined to just ride it out in San Carlos.
As we vascilated, John and Janet from S.V. Wanderlust puttered by us in thier dinghy and informed us that they intended to leave the following day for the shelter of Las Playitas anchorage on the south side of Guaymas harbor. Last summer we sublet a slip in the marina from John and Janet on Wanderlust and Kristina came back from meeting them all beaming about how she had met some really cool people and her faith in cruisers had been renewed. I met with them before we took their slip and really liked them as well. Being stuck in San Carlos for nearly 10 months, we get the unexpected privilege of meeting people twice...they arrive, haul out for a season, and we're here to see them return to their boats. I agreed that their idea to move was a brilliant as the Guaymas harbor is very well protected from southerlies and a short trip to Las Playitas would see us anchored in shallow water in a heavy mud bottom with a large land mass between us and the strong southerlies.
Thanks to the nudge from Wanderlust we got the anchor up the following morning. Kristina was initially hesitant as the southerlies had started filling in and we had around 12 knots of southerly winds in our face. 12 knots of wind isn't so bad but the wind waves were 4-6 feet, steep, and annoying. The inner harbor at San Carlos was already getting a one foot rolling sea inside it but outside the chop drenched the boat and occasionally stuffed us into a wave so steep our speed would drop to next to nothing. Fortunately, as we got into deeper water, the waves flattened out enough that we could make decent headway we had a relatively uneventful trip to Guaymas.
Shortly after arriving in Las Playitas our friends on Kia Kaha motored into the anchorage. Evidently they had heard the bad news about the weather and had the same idea as Wanderlust. Mike wondered if Playitas would fill up with refuge seekers that day. I figured more people from Marina Singlar on the other side of the bay in Guaymas might come over and anchor in Playitas.
First time Estrella and Kia Kaha have shared an anchorage since October of 2007
New friends on Wanderlust entering the anchorage at Laz Playitas
The new marina Singlar in guaymas has no breakwater and the plastic and aluminum dock fingers are exposed to the south with easily a mile or more fetch (fetch is the distance waves travel unimpeded, the longer the distance of open water, the larger the waves) but I think some people are what I call "marina folk" and are more comfortable in marinas than on their anchors, even if the anchorage is better protected than the marina. Its all about that comfort zone.
The first day in Playitas was kind of a let down. We expected this big "wind event" and it never blew more than 15 knots all day. Around 10PM it became clear that the wind event had arrived. We discovered that our new wind instrument is capable of reading wind speeds in excess of 30 knots. We had sustained winds in the 30 knot ranges, with stronger gusts, when we attempted to go to bed.
We had complete faith in our ground tackle (ground tackle refers to anchoring gear) . In fact, when we had set the anchor upon arrival our new, seemingly more powerful, transmission really let its presence be known. I changed our snubber out for a fresh piece of rope (when anchoring we tie a 1/2" nylon rope to our anchor chain to absorb the loads and act as a bungee of sorts in big wind) and when we put the engine in reverse to set the anchor we got some speed up and the snubber went straight out, almost level with the horizon and the bow of the boat dipped down as the whole arrangement grabbed violently. I had Kris put the boat into full throttle reverse and wondered for a moment if something might break off the boat, it was so powerful.
Our sleep was not disturbed by a lack of faith on our gear. Our new snubber stretched loudly , creating a tense streeeeeeetch-SNAP type noise against the hull. It never broke and wasn't failing at all but it was loud enough to jar me from my sleep.
The following morning we found out that the boat yard roughly 100 yards away from us recorded a 58 knot gust. A shed evidently collapsed and landed on a car belonging to someone in the boat yard. Presumably both shed and car were a total loss. In San Carlos, nine boats chafed their moorings and went ashore. Friends who had stayed at anchor in San Carlos reported 4 to 6 ft. swells rolling into the bahia the peak of the storm. Those same friends reported that due to the chaos of the storm and the fear of being hit by a dragging boat, they spent the night with their engine running, manning the helm just to be ready to dodge any dragging boats. Southerly storms are a seriously rare event in the winter in this area.California and Arizona suffered much damage.
We spent the next couple of days hanging out with Kia Kaha and reading through Wanderlust's copy of the Raines guide to Mexico for stops along the mainland coast of the Sea of Cortez, between Guaymas and Mazatlan. After bidding adieu to Kia Kaha (they are bound for a lightening-fast crossing of the pacific to return their boat and new baby to their native New Zealand),we moved over to the north side of the Guaymas Harbor with Wanderlust. When we tried to get the anchor up we thought we might break something off of the boat. For the first time ever we had to motor the boat at almost full throttle to break the anchor out and the mud ball that came up with the Rocna was epic. The windlass strained under the weight of all of that mud.
Wanderlust took this picture of our Rocna mud wrecking ball after the storm.
The forecast had shifted to strong northerlies so it was the more protected option. As we hung out with Wanderlust and La Vita we soon discovered that all three us of were waiting for weather windows to head south.
The bright side of all of these most recent delays was that there was now no risk of missing out on the NFC and AFC Championship games. We took the opportunity to hop a bus back to San Carlos for the games and to meet Christy and Jason from S.V. Helloworld, who we had met only through emails. Jason, a java programmer whose career over the last 10 years has in many ways paralleled mine, and Christy were a lot of fun to hang out with. The NFC championship game was awesome and the Saints won it knocking out my least favorite former cheese-head in the process. Apart from totally failing to convince Jason and Christy to come south with the rest of the ppl that want to hang with them, the evening was a huge success.
By this point Kristina and I had tried to "leave" the San Carlos/Guaymas area four times so we decided to err on the side of a motoring weather window. Many sailors will say this is weakness and I am more than happy to admit that weakness. The Sea of Cortez creates awful waves. While technically small in height, I would take a 14-foot rolling North Pacific swell over the 6-foot vertical waves that are the sea of cortez chop. This way there would be no choppy seas and no sail balance issues to sort out. Also it would serve as an excuse to shake down the motor and newly rebuilt transmission.
On what we intended to be our last night in Guaymas, Wanderlust informed us that there was a free classical music/magic show at the Guaymas auditorio (auditorium) right off the malecon (waterfront) and they were gracious enough to invite us along. The auditorio was packed but we got there just in time for the dimming of the lights. We had all speculated as to the content of the show and it turned out to be a magician doing magic to classical music performed by an extraordinarily gifted string quintet. The show was wildly entertaining and we wish we had taken some photos of it. The magician was as affable as he was entertaining and the music was excellent. Certainly not what one expects to find for free when anchored in the noisy part of Guaymas harbor. I have to apologize to the "Mago," because he was very good but I still had "The Final Countdown" in my head the entire time thanks to Arrested Development.
The next day we awoke and started making preparations for departure straight away. Kris baked some passage making biscotti and I topped up our diesel tank, filled our disel jerrys, pickedu up our propane tank and returned the marina gate key. We ended up leaving about 30 minutes behind Wanderlust who announced that they would "See you guys in Mazatlan!" to which I replied "You might as well be talking about the moon.... See you guys on the Moon!" By then we had the dinghy on board and I started to pull up the anchor chain. I saw them make the turn into the main channel and noticed their mast was pitching back and forth quite a bit. I hailed them on the VHF to let them know that, if it was unbearably rolly out there, we would be going back in. Janet said they had pretty lumpy conditions but were going to sail out past the lighthouse and see if things improved in deeper water.
We followed suit and La Vita was on the roughly an hour behind us. We got into the channel and the lumpiness began. We were able to make headway into it but the wind and sea state were far from our ideal goal of glassy motorboat ride. The wind was blowing about 10 knots out of the south-southeast. We desired to sail that direction so, at best the wind would slow our motoring progress. We told Wanderlust that the conditions were not to our liking but that we'd try to catch up to them and get some pictures of them sailing before returning to Guaymas. They were beating upwind roughly due east when we caught up with them and snapped some pictures. We realized once they tacked that they were basically beating straight into the wind to go where we wanted to go.
John and Janet on Wanderlust beating to weather. Beautiful balanced sail trim.
More Wanderlust Beating
Those pangas are a serious hazard out there, you cant see them with the swell running and sometimes they anchor miles away from shore
Estrella aborting thanks to Wanderlust for the photo.
We turned around after another hour of discussion and tried to take some pictures of La Vita but they had accumulated such an offing as to make them to far to photograph effectively. What we could see, however was their mast pitching as they hobby-horsed under power straight into the wind and seas. We said "bah!" to all that and had a nice mellow sail back downwind into Guaymas where we promptly re-anchored in Las Playitas.
La Vita was too far to photograph effectively
We spent the night discussing weather windows and the following morning the forecast was more favorable for motoring to Yavarros or Punta Lobos.
According to every cruising guide that covers mexico there are no stops between San Carlos and Mazatlan, The Raines guide being the only notable exception. Consequently, most cruisers either cross the Sea of Cortez and work their way down the Baja before crossing back over from Los Muertos to Mazatlan. We usually guestimate an average of 4 knots sailing or under power for Estrella. consequently we assume that it will take us a full 24 hour day to cover 100 miles. If we had our druthers we'd prefer to sleep at night and make short day-hops to get where we want to go. Crossing the sea is an overnighter any way you slice it and so doing 2 of them so we can come back to the coast we started from doesn't appeal. Wanderlust showed us their Rains guide to Mexico and evidetly Pat Rains is the only cruising guide author who believes the mainland coast of the Sea of Cortez is worth exploring.
Wanderlust and La Vita had pretty much made up their minds to push on without stopping the full 400 miles to Mazatlan. La Vita moreso than Wanderlust as La Vita had made a slip reservation prior to even departing Guaymas so they had a schedule to keep. Wanderlust planned to anchor in the old harbor and therefore had more flexibility..
My feelings were conflicted. While getting in a 400 mile passage might be just what we needed to re acclimate ourselves to life under way, the prospect of a long miserable slog might also be just enough to cause us to set fire to Estrella and go find out what the rest of our kitty buys us in Thailand. Also, it would be a rare opportunity to go visit places that are very infrequently visited by cruising boats. Since a crossing of the pacific of indeed any cruising further afield than Mexico is highly unlikely at this point, this could be our last chance to see some unspoiled cruising grounds.
As I tried to bring up the Rocna I found it stuck in a way it has never been stuck before. When it finally surfaced it had an entire truck bumper hanging off of it. The struts that usually mount the bumper to the front of the truck were pointing down and prevented me from pushing the bumper off the blade of the Rocna. After many attempts to remove it using our deck brush we lost the deck brush overboard. We managed to recover it but it came off a 2nd time and the bumper was almost off. Once we got the bumper off the anchor we attempted to recover our deck brush but it was long gone. Sigh, guess its a good thing we rarely brush the deck.
After securing the anchor we departed under power with the intention of making the overnight trip to a small estuarine fishing port called Yavarros.
When we discussed going here with Wanderlust they indicated that the unmarked river bar was a bit daunting to them as they draw nearly six feet and feared that they might run aground. I indicated that in calm weather with a high tide any bar is a mill pond and we might just try it out. They quickly dubbed us the "river rats." Being from Portland, Oregon and Columbia River bar veterans, our river bar hubris earned us the title.
There was still a bit of a leftover sea from the previous day but it was quickly making its way behind us. We yawed back and forth off the faces of the waves but the autohelm steered true, never requiring a second glance. Had we not departed so late we might easily have made it into Punta Lobos and anchored out of the northerly swell for the night. In fact, considering that there were no offshore hazards and a radar guided night entry would be fairly easy, we actually discussed sleeping overnight there. But we were so happy making progress Southward that we decided to press on toward Yavarros. For some reason the transmission rebuild seems to have awakened a new beast within our undersized motor...we never throttled above 2000 RPMs and made more than 5.5 knots over ground all night long.
Fishing boat based out of Yavarros doing his thing 20 miles from the entrance
following seas created yawing action but the wheel pilot handled it with aplomb
Shortly after sunrise I put our hand line back in the water in hopes of snagging us a fish. Our purple feathered "Daverne" lure had caught us many Dorado and we loved it but this morning it caught us a Pelican. By the time we noticed the pelican on our lure it had drowned. I released the pelican and shortly after letting out the line another pelican dove on our lure snapping the hand line. No more Daverne lure for us. I reeled in what was left of the hand line and made the turn to enter the bay outside Yavarros estuary.
As we approached the bar entrance for Yavaros. We hadn't plugged the waypoints into our two chartplotters yet and Kris quickly did this as we and made our way toward the entrance from the north. This turned out to be a bit sketchy as there is a submerged former jetty between us and our waypoint and once the depth in the open water dropped to 9 feet we decided to head out to sea and make another approach from the correct southerly direction.
With the correct waypoints in the plotters we had an easy and uneventful bar crossing. The guide book says that if you call the Yavarros port capitan he will send a panga out to show you the way in. We didn't find it neccesary but in any unsettled weather or with breakers I would strongly advise taking full advantage of that service. As we entered the massive estuary we were greeted by what had to be a hundred thousand sea birds. Cormorants, Gulls, Egrets and Pelicans. A large pod of dolphins came to greet us inside the estuary. They displayed the odd behavior or surfacing so near one another that they would disrupt each other's path, they shoved each other around as they eagerly following alongside our odd boat.
"look ma, no hands!" kris shows us how easy entering an unmarked river bar can be.
As you can see here, our depth is more than adequate, the radar clearly shows the entrance and much to our amazement the overview chart on the chartplotter even seems to be correct!
Dolphins nudging each other.
Yavarros is teeming with dolphins
Can you ever have too many pictures of dolphins
Pangas were everywhere as were large shrimpers and one boatload of men in a panga cheered aloud when Kristina waved at them. It was very odd, I got the distinct impression that we were a novelty to these people. We anchored just off the end of the large fishing wharf and tucked in for the night. There was a stiff tidal current that made Estrella's riding sail useless. It reminded us of the famed "La Paz Waltz" where the tidal currents cause boats in La Paz to lie at odd angles to the wind and other boats. We had a breeze astern and our snubber and anchor chain were pinned underneath the bow. It was wierd but our anchor had set soundly, as usual, so we slept well.
The following morning I decided to do some routine maintenance to the engine. There had been some water in the clear bowl of our Racor primary fuel filter and it had been on my mind all night motoring so I wanted to drain it. It was easy to drain but when I tried to pump the fuel back in I could barely get it full. If you have any air in a diesel engine's fuel system, it will not start or run. I decided to run the engine and bleed the fuel return line, as I had often done before, by running the engine, backing off the banjo bolt until the air stops coming. This worked great but the banjo bolt wouldn't tighten back down and was now leaking diesel. I pulled the bolt and found that the threads were completely destroyed. I immediately regretting doing that bit of maintenance in a totally remote fishing village of less than 4000 people. At the same time I was confident that with a large shrimping fleet I should be able to find a "maquinero" (machinist) in town that could overdrill, retap the filter housing and make me a new larger banjo bolt.
I splashed the dinghy and went looking for a suitable place to land. I saw a panguero working on his shrimp nets tied to a town wall and asked him if that was an okay place to leave my dinghy... he said "just the dinghy or the motor too?" and I said "If I leave the motor will it still be here when I get back?" he said "Probably not, but the dinghy alone should be safe." I realized that there were hundreds of pangas in the estuary fishing and shrimping and some of them were being pushed along by a single oar along the shallow bottom. Many people there had no outboards for their working pangas. I stll dont believe those people would steal from me. I think being a poor worker does not make you a thief, being a thief makes you a theif. That said, this man made it clear to me that the thieves would love to have my motor and I dont take local knowledge like that lightly so I turned the pram around to motor back to Estrella to deposit the outboard back on it's bracket.
I had barely hit full throttle on the outboard when I was suddenly sprayed in the face with water. My brain had trouble processing the realization that there was a dolphin blowing its hole right next to the dinghy. I then realized that there were several dolphins nudging and bumping the pram. They surfaced all around and bumped the dinghy. They were huge bottlenosed dolphins and their powerful 14' long bodies seemed to dwarf my little 7' fiberglass pram. I could see some outboard scars on their backs, they clearly enjoyed this behavior regardless of the consequences. I grabbed the handheld VHF and told Kristina she needed to get on deck quickly with a camera and she popped out to find me looking like some kind of tropical Santa in my little white sleigh seemingly being pulled by a pod of dolphins. She actually described it as "Poseidon commanding his dolphins.". If I darted to the right they would turn their heads to look at me and then dart along the same direction. Their backs occasionally pushing the bottom of the dinghy upward with a slight thump. After Kris took her pictures I switched off the motor to see if they'd hang out and they left immediately. I fired up the motor to return to the boat and they were back as quickly as they had gone. It was hard to stop playing with the dolphins but there was a broken fuel filter housing in my pocket that needed my urgent attention.
Dolphins were really eager to pull the pram.
Wild bottlenosed dolphins might never have seen a pram before.
I deposited the outboard and rowed ashore. A panguero tried to sell me shrimp and I told him I had no time for shrimp but needed to find a machinist and he said he would take me to one. 10 minutes later Martin the panguero, and I were sitting in the shade waiting for the part to be fixed. I bought half a bag (2lbs) of shrimp from Martin and tipped him for his help by paying slightly more than he was asking for the shrimp. Martin echoed the warning about the outboard and asked me if I left somebody onboard the sailboat because he said "they'll just take it off your sailboat if its unattended." He agreed with me that the "poor," doesn't equal "thief," but warned me that there "No hay vigilencia." (don't have harbor patrol) so there isn't really anything to dissuade the thieves from having my motor. Half an hour later the dinghy was back on deck and the engine repaired and running. We decided to have dinner aboard since leaving the boat unattended seemed unwise with the two warnings we had recieved. We would maek for Topolobampo the following morning.
Kristina cleaned the shrimp and boiled them to perfection so that we could bust out our rare smuggled American cocktail sauce and have an American style shrimp cocktail on the way to Topolobampo the following day. For the record, "Cocktele de Camarones" is a bit of a disappointment if you're looking forward to dipping shrimp into horseradishy cocktail sauce. Its more like a glass full of Shrimp and Salsa. Still delicious, but not the same.
Pr@wn Pr0n! Yes, Please!
We awoke to a nice flat calm anchorage and brought up the anchor, along with about 60lbs of gelatinous thick bay mud, and began to motor out of the estuary. We had seen the fuel dock there but since we made such good time at 2000 rpms we had barely used any fuel so we dumped a couple jerry cans into the tank and made our way back out to sea.
Our fuel tank has always been somewhat of an enigma. We've always assumed the tank's transparent sight glass represented our total fuel capacity. Consequently, we have always assumed that our tank only held 20 gallons. The first time we filled it to a level greater than the top of the glass it began to leak out of the open top valve so we thought that meant it was full. Recently however, while topping off at the fuel dock in San Carlos I inadvertently squeezed the diesel filler pump fully not realizing that it was designed to fill massive sport-fishers. I had only done so for 30 seconds when I asked the station operator to read me how much I had pumped so far. "17 gallons," he said. I was only half an inch from the top of the glass when I had started so clearly our tank holds much more than we thought. I went ahead and put in another 3 gallons carefully checking the fuel tank vent for any overflow, so now we think our tank has more like 35-40 gallons capacity.
As we were motoring out of Yavarros at high tide my hubris took hold and I decided that since we were in the 20' deep channel I would set the autopilot and hoist the main. I was almost directly on top of our entrance track so I felt confident that we had plenty of water under the keel. Kristina was busy stowing the cabin for sea. Once I got the main up I checked the depth sounder and saw that it read 27 feet. Our depth sounder isnt quite calibrated but we know that we come close to running aground when it reads 3.2ft. The main problem with this is that the difference between 32 feet and 3.2ft is one tiny decimal point. I now suspect the sounder actually read 2.7ft. The reason I suspect this is that I hit the throttle and the boat started lurching. I was confused about what was causing this and soon realized we were bouncing along the bottom . But we were soon in 20 feet of water so this soft grounding was a total non-event.
Once out of the entrance we were treated to exceedingly placid waters. The glassy motorboat ride we had sought was finally ours. It was so flat, I made a german pancake in the oven while under way. We had a totally uneventful passage toward Topolobampo. The goal had been to make a night entry into Topo's well lit entrance around 1-2AM. There is an anchorage in Bahia San Ignacio, just outside Topolobampo, but there hardly seems any point in stopping just to save us two hours, when we could arrive at our destination. I jokingly said to Kristina "If we left early enough we could make it the 65 miles to San Ignacio in daylight, we'd just have to average 6.5 knots." Kris laughed out loud and I laughed with her. Our boat is a 4 or 5knot boat at best.
Made this under way... it was THAT calm.
Ironically, it became evident that something weird and wonderful is happening to our motor because we were actually averaging 6.5 knots of boat speed. We were only running the motor at 2000 RPM, which, pre-rebuild, would barely drive us 4 knots. We left Yavarros around noon and suddenly were looking at the prospect of possibly reaching the anchorage in San Ignacio around 10PM. Well the difference between 10PM and 2AM is a full night of sleep so we changed our plan and made an easy radar guided night entry into Bahia San Ignacio around 10PM. The anchor was down and set off a beach with light surf breaking on it by 10:30 PM. We were pleasantly surprised to have had a passage where the only surprises were our excessive speed and comfort. Things were really looking up. We slept soundly until around dawn when we pulled up the hook to head into Topolobampo.
Kristina took some pictures of the anchorage at sunrise with our SLR and slipped on a step heading back into the cabin and broke her fall with the kit lens and her right tricep. She got a big honkin bruise on her arm and our kit lens no longer auto-focuses. This event was a bit of a psychological epiphany for Kristina. She realized that once upon a time she would have become furious for having broken an expensive piece of equipment but that now she just accepts that things in boats break and there is no point in getting angry about it.
Testing out the manual focus on the smashed kit lens reminded me how much we adore this thing.
We followed some very interesting looking fishing boats down the "runway" into Topolobampo. Taking Estrella down the marked channel into Topolobampo analogous to landing a Cessna on the space shuttle runway. The channel can and does regularly support oil tanker traffic and, compared to an oil tanker, we're tiny. I tried to take some pictures of the fishing boats but had some timing issues with the camera card but I did get one of a very colorful shrimper that was covered in birds.
Covered with birds
huge buoys marking the "space shuttle landing strip"
Krissy keeping an eye on the runway
Once inside there was some disagreement between Kris and I about whether we were in the right part of the harbor or not. I decided to go explore the panga channel and see if there were more Topolobampo hiding from us but once we got our nose into the shanty village our depth suddently dropped to 6 feet so we threw Estrella into reverse and anchored off the new marina.
I was shocked to see one other sailboat in the new marina. A Hans Christian 38 named Oblivion. Nobody was aboard so we quickly assumed they had all gone ashore to take the famed train to the Copper Canyon. We splashed the dinghy and I went ashore to inquire about the facilities, dinghy dock fees and local amenities.
Shortly after tying the dinghy to the brand new dock I ran into Alberto. Alberto is awesome, he is a one man Topolobampo ministry or tourism. Alberto took me to his office and informed me that the marina was 7 months old and pointed out that they are still literally driving piles and adding docks. He told me the showers only had cold water so far but that the owners of the marina also own the hotel in town and that as marina guests we are entitled to use the hotel facilities for hot showers. He pulled out a tourism guide to the state of Sinaloa and showed me several colonial Spanish villages that were only a short 16 peso city bus ride away. He then pointed out that on the same 16 peso city bus we could go catch the Copper Canyon train from Los Mochis.
Alberto informed me that a slip with water and power was only 150 pesos a night and came with 24X7 security and the hotel facilities. I asked him about using the dock for the dinghy and he said 100 pesos a day. Basiclaly Alberto really wanted us to stay in the marina. He said "I'm not trying to scare you or anything but since you're the only sailboat in the panga channel you might end up exposing yourself to opportunistic thieves. If there were 2 or 3 sailboats out there, I'd say you have nothing to worry about, but being alone out there might not be safe for your stuff."
Anyway, we hate marinas but at 150 pesos a day we figured why not. So we pulled Estrella in and she saw her first marina slip since Hurricane Jimena. We went for a walk through We went for a walk through Topolobampo and found it to be a bit on the economically depressed and dirty side. However, we discovered the best "pasteleria" bakery right next to the bus mall. We took a 10 peso bus to Playa Maviri, on the other side of the bay, to get some late lunch since there were a dearth of places to eat in Topolobampo. We were told to eat at the hotel but they were closed on Mondays.
The bus ride to Playa Maviri was awesome. A pimped out Blue Bird school bus picked us up at the corner and the driver blared ranchero music as he bombed along this tiny road over land bridges between what would be estuarine islands. When we arrived we found ourselves at a Cabo San Lucas quality beach. This beach, however, was not covered with condos and timeshares. It was quiet despite the fact that it was a Mexican holiday. There were a smattering of Mexicans around, a few of them selling wares, and a chain of palapa restaurants along the beach. We enjoyed a slightly pricey but delicious seafood lunch at the Restaurante El Maviri while listening to a live 12 piece Sinaloan brass band. Things were really starting to look up for the crew of Estrella.
That night we relaxed on the boat and watched the weather. We discussed the prospects of taking the train to Copper Canyon. The Copper Canyon (or Barranca Cobre) is evidently a system of canyons larger and in places deeper than the Grand Canyon in the United States. It is considered a "don't miss" spot in Mexico. We had more urgent issues to consider though.
The previous week the Saints and Colts both earned the chance to battle each other for the Lombardi trophy. Fortunately for us, there is a 2-week break between the championship games and the Superbowl. We had already consumed one of those weeks getting to Topolobampo. Mazatlan lay 200 miles down the coast from Topolobampo and therefore required 2 days of travel. Since we didn't know our way around Mazatlan I wanted to get there at least a day early so we could find a bar that would have the game, in English and be focused on showing us the game. So if we left on Wednesday we would arrive Friday. This didn't leave much time for Copper Canyon trips, which was okay because the budget doesn't allow for expensive inland trips right now. We did, however agree that if the weather kept us there we would splurge on the trip.
The following day our dock neighbors showed up and we met some great people. Thane, Brenda, Nancy and Jeff turned out to be a lot of fun to hang out with, and hang out we did. We made a return trip via taxi cab to Maviri beach and had a big group dinner at the restaurante.
Kris plus Oblivionistas (from left:Kris, Jeff, Nancy, Thane, Brenda)
Jeff and Nancy frolic in the sunset on Maviri Beach.
Nancy taking a picture of me, taking a picture of Nancy, taking a picture of me.
Kristina and I went to the market in Los Mochis and got a big bag of Shrimp at the open air fish market as well as a ton of super cheap local produce that came from small farms in the neighboring Spanish colonial towns. Our impression of Los Mochis was not great. It was a large dirty city that I would not have been terribly comfortable running around at night. Keeping in mind that we have never felt safer anywhere than we have in Mexico, just saying Los Mochis wasn't an appealing place, despite having awesome tacos, produce, and meats at great prices.
The weather turned foul for much of the remaining week and we got what looked like a break in the weather on Thursday. If we didn't escape on Thursday we would have to stay and brave a night in Los Mochis to see the game. I started referring to Los Mochis as "The Moch," much the same way the rangers in Blackhawk Down referred to Mogadishu as "The Mog," Mochis is not by any stretch of the imagination Mogadishu but I guess my brain went there.
The weather cleared up and it looked as though we might have a window to depart on Thursday. We told Alberto that we would likely be leaving on Thursday to head to Mazatlan but that if the weather turned out to be less than ideal, we would be right back. He said if we choose not to go, for any reason, he would drive us to Los Mochis for the game. In fact he said he would take us to an excellent sports bar he knows, stay with us and watch the game before driving us back to the marina. Alberto also offered us the use of his truck several times during our stay. I assume this is not a service offered by the marina but just Alberto being awesome to us.
Thursday morning we awoke to calmer winds and I took our two empty jerries to the pemex filling station a block away from the marina. There is an excellent pemex fuel dock but at the time it was full of shrimpers. Thane from Oblivion came with me and helped me cart the two jerries back from the gas station. I poured the two jerries in and dug our two remaining reserve jerry jugs out of the lazzarette and poured them into the tank. I had assumed up to this point that if I ever overfilled the tank diesel would come overflowing from the tank vent in the cockpit. As I poured the last jerry into the tank I was shocked to see the last of it come barreling up the deck fill hose. Fortunately it stopped about 18 inches from the top and I felt confident for the first time since we bought Estrella that the tank was full.
Concerned that there might be an issue with the tank vent being blocked by the fullness of the tank, I decided to run the engine at the dock for awhile to avoid an unexpected sudden engine failure later. While I was running the engine I asked Alberto if he wouldn't mind taking my four jerries and I to the filling station. Its hard to move 4 jerries simultaneously on foot and he was more than happy to oblige. When we returned Alberto insisted on helping carry the jugs to Estrella and while I got them stowed Alberto asked if he could see our cat. When we arrived I had confided in Alberto that part of the reason we don't like marinas is that our cat escapes when we tie up to them. When I told him this he burst into laughter. Alberto laughs easily and his laughter can be infectious. I dug Olivia out and he laughed again when he saw her. He said "Que gatita muy linda, pero yo nunca imagine que usted tenia una gata negra!" ("What an adorable cat, but I never imagined you had a black cat!" )
Just then we noticed that Oblivion's engine was running and they were removing sail covers. Alberto and one of the dock helpers ran over to help them shove off and Kristina and I joined them. We said our goodbyes to Oblivion and made plans to chat on the VHF in an hour or so to get a sea state report from them. Just then the whole gang on Oblivion motored backwards out of the slip. Alberto threw them the dock lines and leaned over to me and said. "Que mala negocio, me estima estos clientes y se vayan." ("What a terrible business, I grow to love these clients and then they leave." )
As he threw us our dock lines I couldn't help but feel the same way about Alberto.
Alberto waves farewell as he casts off the Oblivionistas. (Photo Courtesy Oblivion)
01/16/2010, San Carlos
So we took the last couple of days to decompress and reset our mental attitudes. We have a rebuilt transmission that seems very strong when we put the boat into reverse and pulled on our snubber the torrent that churns forward as we force our engine to strain against the mighty Rocna is far stronger than it has ever been.
We also had to wait out a strong norther that was forecast to march through. Realizing that our snubber is 9 months old now, covered in growth and down to 2 strands in one place, I decided to cut that bit off and retie a fresh length of line just to aid in worry free sleep when the winds kicked up.
We got our norther on Thursday and our anemometer showed us sustained winds of 32 knots almost out of the due north.
It blew 25 for much of the day on Friday and we had no desire to go out in that leftover chop so we put off breaking in our transmission until today. We need to put an hour on the transmission to wear in the friction disks and then change the particulate filled fluid so we can put clean stuff in and go on our merry way.
Today was a lovely flat calm morning so I decided to pull up the hook and go for a putter. I figured we could drive around the inner harbor for an hour if the swell was up on the outside. Fortunately after pulling up the anchor we motored out of the inner harbor and found fairly smooth seas. We towed the dinghy so we decided to be conservative and stay in the lee of the land and not go test what those exposed seas were like. I really put everything through its paces. I found the engine to be putting out more power than I ever remember seeing. I pegged the throttle and got the loaded engine all the way up to it's loaded max RPM of 2800 and was shocked to see 6.4 knots of boat speed. I left it that way for 20 minutes and was amazed to see that our engine temp never exceeded 135 degrees.
After driving around in circles for about 40 minutes I headed back into the bahia, once in the bay I gave the throttle full bore again to really wear in those disks and across the smoother waters of the inner harbor hit a maximum speed of 6.7 knots. I was very impressed with this as its only about half a know from our theoretical maximum hull speed.
When we got back we set our anchor and started discussing plans to depart. I made us a nice lunch of chicken pad thai since the first playoff game didnt start until 2:30 PM.
Sadly our SSB radio is having an issue. We have beautiful SWR (meaning our antenna and ground are perfect) and we're putting out full power but there is no modulation. Evidently we cant be heard. This isnt important enough to keep us here so we'll work on it some more in the morning and if I can fix it, I will.
Currently the forecast calls for strong southerlies next week starting Monday or Tuesday. Currently we're treating this as a brand new cruise. We just got here with a small kitty and plans to try and go cruising for a couple months. The boat just got a new transmission and a full refit and we're ready to go see some new places and have some fun. Since the forecast isn't favorable for a direct run south to Mazatlan (400 miles so 4 days at sea) we're gonna see if we can duck out tomorrow afternoon and shoot for Isla Carmen. Its about 115 miles almost due south and has good southerly protection. From there we can try and sneak our way south during the southerlies and make our way closer and closer to our ultimate goal of the Riviera (Mazatlan)
Hopefully our next update will come from somewhere other than San Carlos and have lots of pictures of things other than food.
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