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1982 Formosa 51ft Pilot House Ketch
Land Ahoy!
04/26/2013, Guaymas

Leaving Topolobampo with another 220 miles to go towards Guaymas meant 36 hours at sea. It is good to see that we can handle Fantasia easily between us on such a long passage even though there were a couple of times she tried to get away! We try not to push her too hard and there seems a very tender line between going like a train and suddenly being overpowered. Somewhere around 20 knots we need to start reefing but this always seems to creep up on us leaving us to struggle to get everything in with so much power in every sail and sheet. We are so lucky to have a roller main sail system which makes getting the sails away so much easier. We have managed to sail most days and from Topo we had southerly winds enabling us to make good progress with mizzen and cruising chute. Don't we just love to see that 20 foot high Fantasia hippo emblazoned on our chute!

The wind dropped about 10pm and we enjoyed one of the most perfect night watches with a fantastic full moon with us throughout. We were amazed to hear people on the VHF radio from the other side of the sea and recognised some boat names. We heard the names Heavy Metal and Cat2Fold both of which we have caught up with several times over the last few months. A little later we were quite disappointed to hear of a pot luck in Ramona Cove, it sounded like a great party but we were over 100 miles away! We also heard Lungta on the Sonrisa net following us up the coast a couple of days behind. We had met them in Nuevo Vallarta when we had had an impromptu sundowners party on Fantasia and e-mailed them from Topolobampo to give them our anchoring coordinates. We hope to catch up with them in a day or so when they expect to arrive in Guaymas.

The following day the wind had dropped and we had flat calm all morning during which we saw the largest pod of dolphins we have ever seen. There were hundreds and hundreds of them and we managed to get some great pictures as well as some film as they swam, leapt and dived right across in front of us. I think both of us would agree that it is the natural surprises that make every day so special in Mexico.

The afternoon breeze eventually kicked in and by the time we could see the entrance to Guaymas harbour we were being headed by 20 knots from the north west. With a short choppy sea our movement was as much up and down as forward and we decided to take in the sails and motor the last few miles. Rather than go right into the harbour we chose to anchor in Catalina Cove where we had dragged anchor nearly six months before. Whilst in La Cruz we had managed to obtain a 75 lb anchor for coconuts to replace the 60 lb CQR which we have never quite been able to trust. With 75 lbs of steel and substantially more than the recommended amount of half inch chain on the bottom we are a lot happier and Fantasia did not move an inch this time.

Back in Catalina Cove we listened to the morning Sonrisa net and heard of a yacht called Jazz en route between Bandaras Bay and Mazatlan that had put out a distress call and was thought to have gone aground. We recognised the boat name after hearing it the radio while we were in La Cruz. No further information was available and we have been thinking about the single hander all day unsure as to whether anyone responded to his distress call. Here in Mexico you cannot take it for granted that if you press the red button you will alert the rescue services.

It is no mean feat to make a journey such as the one we have just completed. Relatively few boats make the trip of over 550 miles between Bandaras Bay and Guaymas along the Mexican mainland coast. There are few places to stop and many of the anchorages would be foolhardy to attempt at night. In many instances the charts are inaccurate and even where the information is more up to date, moving shoals and sandbanks can mean it is unsafe to enter a harbour without research. Shoals extend up to 5 miles offshore and we have seen standing waves offshore where the water is very shallow. Long lines also extend several miles out and have proved a menace for many cruising boats when they have got caught around a yacht's keel, rudder or prop. However, with a long keel and vicious rope cutter on our prop we are pretty confident that we can slip right over a line without mishap. We took advantage of a broad weather window and we had no plans to take chances with very limited rescue services. During our 5 days at sea we saw half a dozen shrimpers and no sailing yachts at all. It was an amazing trip which we have both really enjoyed. The plan is to sail around the corner another 17 miles to San Carlos where we are being hauled out before flying back to Europe to spend the summer at our house in France.

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Topolobampo revisited
04/23/2013, Topolobampo

After three days and nights at sea we were glad to arrive at the channel into Topolobampo. The channel here is buoyed and well lit although considerably off its charted position. Topo is a port with substantial ships entering and leaving including the ferry from La Paz so there is no problem with depth. However it is vital not to turn too early and ensure that you are well into the channel and do not cut across. The breakers on either side signify sand shoals stretching several miles off shore and act as a good incentive to take special care. Once inside the bay there are many unmarked shoals so exploring is not recommended however there is safe passage up to the town where there is an excellent marina. Two years ago we left Fantasia here while we caught the Chepe train through the Copper Canyon. This time we tucked in just behind the long sand spit that forms the harbour entrance and anchored at 25 34.54 N 109 09.67 W in 4 metres of water.
After catching up with the Commodore Yachting office e-mails we enjoyed well deserved sundowners on deck whilst watching evening flights of birds going home to bed. After a season in the tropical surroundings of Bandaras Bay we had forgotten about the stark beauty of the Sea of Cortez. The mountains surrounding the bay were stunning and as the evening progressed took on a thousand different colours as the sun set over the sand dunes. It was a treat to go to bed and sleep without having to wake up after 3 or 4 hours to go on watch.
The following day we took advantage of our Banda Ancha signal and had a hard morning in the office before setting off in the dinghy to go ashore. We decided to land on the hook and walk around the edge. We marvelled at the beauty of the shoreline and sculptured dunes within but more than anything, I was struck by how this beach resembled one in Norfolk, a long sandy spit called Scolt Head Island. In fact we could have been almost anywhere on the North Norfolk coast between Blakeney and Brancaster on a hot summers day! The bird life was plentiful, varied and not at all timid, posing happily for our shots. No need for bird hides here! Again, as we have found so many times in Mexico words cannot describe the beauty of this wonderful place, accessible only to fishermen and the (very) occasional yacht.

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The One that got Away
04/22/2013, Mazatlan to Topolobampo

So we are bound for San Carlos, 5 days and nights sailing / motoring from PV to haul out for the summer. Being in Marina Seca, San Carlos will enable us to have Fantasia in the work yard where we can prepare the boat for painting and respray the hull ourselves. Many yards will not let you work on your own boat and charge thousands of dollars for their services, seriously denting the cruising kitty so it will be worth the long trip north to get a shiny new paint job.
Since sunset there have been three of us on board as we gained a hitch hiker. A brown booby is perched on our bowsprit and seems to be staying for a while.
After three days at sea we are falling into a routine. Mornings consist of checking in on the Sonrisa net not only to hear the weather but also to hear first hand, as it is happening reports of the actual weather by other cruisers in various harbours and anchorages throughout Pacific Mexico. It is also exciting to hear boat names that we know of and find out where they are. Likewise people listen out for Fantasia and we find our progress is being tracked by our friends.
The rest of the day is spent reading, writing, catching up with office work, dozing and domestics. In between are the bits that make it all worthwhile such as whale watching, dolphins swimming under our bow and surprises such as rays leaping out of the water and turtles drifting by. Meanwhile Stuart tends his fishing lines and new lures.
Fish seem unwilling to grace the Fantasia galley and so in an attempt to put that right Stuart tracked down the fishing tackle shop in La Cruz before we left. Like a little boy with his pocket money he carefully selected two demon lures and some bait feathers together with some new weights and an extra long line. It would appear that our existing fishing lines were too short, our weights too light and our lures the wrong colour. Even I was excited to see what a difference the new equipment would make especially when we could have filled the freezer twice over with mahi mahi from the fish market with the pesos we had spent. It would seem that three days into our passage it is still early days for this new wonder tackle and that it is still in need of a several hundred mile drag before easing itself into action. Meanwhile our birdie, watching from her perch, neatly dives into the water and comes up with a fish in her beak every time.
When it gets dark we like to watch recorded TV or films on deck. We find a couple of episodes of something funny fits the bill perfectly and have enjoyed old favourites including Black Adder, The Inbetweeners and The Vicar of Dibley as well as the Blue Planet and a film about Ernest Shackleton's Antartic Expedition using some of the original film footage. Sound is provided by our waterproof and wireless Bose, very much an indulgence but worth every penny to give us great telly during our night watches. We have to remember to charge Bosie away from our autopilot head or our course sinuates alarmingly!
Travelling north there is a definite chill in the air and so we curl up on our comfortable cockpit seat with first of all blankets and more recently a duvet as well. After our TV session we split what is left of the night into three or four hour watches and from this snug vantage point we can be comfortable whilst keeping a look out as well as monitoring the chart plotter and radar.
Even the most established routine can go wrong and last night our neatly tuned watches fell into disarray. I usually take the first night watch, the plan being that should things get tricky during the night, Stuart is rested and can take over. During my watch the autopilot started to behave like a drunk driver throwing us alternatingly at 45 degrees from our course. Our VMG (velocity made good) to our waypoint was decreasing alarmingly and it looked as if we would make San Carlos sometime in July. I called Stuart and he gave instructions on how to reset the autopilot which had no effect at all. In fact we were now 90 degrees off course and heading for land. I called down again and he reluctantly got out of up and came up on deck to have a look. It seemed that it wasn't a case of my operator error as he scratched his head before finally remembering Bosie, charging on the surface over the autopilot head and compass!
When we had cruised down this coastline a couple of years ago we had met some people on a boat that had run aground 5 miles offshore and were saved from being smashed in the surf by a panga pulling them off. As a safety measure we set a shallow alarm at 10 metres to protect us from uncharted shoals. About an hour after Stuart went back to bed the shallow alarm went off and the depth was reading under 10 metres. I woke him up again although it seemed impossible that the water was so shallow however he made a series of checks including resetting the electronics which resulted in a depth of over 120 metres showing. It would appear that whereas before when we were in deep water the depth would drop out and not record we were now getting terrifyingly shallow readings brought about by our depth sounder's inability to read big numbers.
Tired from our disrupted watches we took it in turns to sleep well into the morning and it was whilst Stuart was soundly asleep and I was fixing myself some breakfast in the galley that I heard a reel go off. By the time we both got on deck, the rod was bent nearly in two and the line speeding off into the distance. Let it be said that this would have been too big to land and whatever monstrous creature we had caught, it was its own fault if it ended up with one of our lures to drag around for a few days. Fortunately this was not one of our shiny new lures and did prove my point that our old lures were fine and maybe reading a couple of chapters of our 'Fishing Techniques for Cruisers' book would not go amiss!

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Who: Stuart Cooper and Karen Key
Port: Puerto Vallarta, Nayarit, Mexico
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