Here's what happens when you don't quite catch the wave when attempting to leave the beach and return to the big boat!
03/12/2011, Bahia Chamela
Saturday, March 12, 2011. At anchor, Bahia Chamela. We arrived here late yesterday afternoon after an exciting day.
Jeff woke out of a sound sleep when the VHF radio came alive around 5am yesterday. An earthquake in Japan had created a tsunami. For several hours that was the only real information we had, but the radio was alive with opinions, information gleaned on various internet sites and lots of conjecture and random chatter. Then we got the report that the wave had reached Hawaii. What happened there didn't sound too bad, so we were inclined to keep the anchor down and stay put in the Barra de Navidad lagoon. An hour or two later reports started coming in about the wave arriving in California and doing significant damage. That spurred us to action. We picked the hook and headed for sea.
Once we were outside the harbor we could see it was a calm day, good for traveling north. Normally when you travel from one port to another in Mexico you need to go to the Port Captain's office where you present him with the ship's papers, crew passports, etc. After a short conversation and after the port captain makes copies of your documents and after the ship's captain signs in a few places, the port captain pulls out his stamp to make everything official. Of course, under the extraordinary circumstances we didn't have time to visit the Port Captain's office. So we called him on the VHF radio. At first he tried to talk us into not leaving, saying there was no danger here, but we said we were already outside the harbor, did not want to return, and would like to check out via the radio now. There was some hesitation and we were asked to stand by. A few minutes later another voice came on the radio and we successfully cleared Barra de Navidad for La Cruz.
We had a very light southerly breeze and a gentle 3-4' swell at about 10-12 seconds. It was so calm we never even took the sail cover off. There were lots of boats just outside the harbor, but they thinned out as we headed north. During our travels we saw several turtles, we were visited by a large pod of speckled dolphin, and we saw several whales both near and far.
Our first choice of anchorages was Caleta Paraiso, 31 miles north of Barra de Navidad. As we entered the little cove we saw a couple of whales blowing by the rocky islands near the entrance. Just as the guidebook described, Paraiso is a beautiful place. At the head of the cove is an inviting sand beach with a small beachfront hotel. We dropped the hook and set it, but didn't feel comfortable. Both shores were steep and rocky with swirling water currents, and there was a small surf at the beachfront. So, we pulled the hook and moved a little further offshore. As we were pulling the hook, we once again noticed the whales. It appeared to be a mother and her calf and they were quite active. We moved the boat away from the beach out to the entrance of the cove, dropped and set the anchor, but it still didn't feel quite right. We decided to watch the whales awhile then move eight miles further north to Chamela.
The whales were REALLY active. Janie saw the calf fluke (raise his tail completely out of the water to dive). A short time later the calf breached, coming clear out of the water with his whole body, catching as much as 10' of air. After a while we picked up the hook and headed north. The whales were very near the islands on the right hand side exiting the cove, so we favored the left shore to give them lots of room. But, on our way out they turned and swam directly towards the boat. They were only a boat length away when they dove under the starboard bow. At this point Janie was screaming excitedly! She wasn't afraid, just overwhelmed with what was going on. Jeff, thinking of the recent collision between a whale and a sailboat , told Janie to sit down and hold on to something substantial. Then he put the gear shift to neutral, turned and looked over the stern rail. All he could see was black and white skin a few feet under the boat. The whale was huge. At least as long as the boat and wider. These were humpback whales and their back is solid black, but various parts of their underbody have large white areas. So, they must have twisted on their sides or been swimming up side down when Jeff saw their black and white skin under him. They must have been taking a close look at the funny looking "whale" visiting their playground. The calf surfaced first about 20' astern of us. Then we saw Mama blow a patch of bubbles 8' in diameter before she surfaced and blew about 100' astern of us. Jeff put the boat back into gear and when the transmission made it's little bump, Janie thought the whale had made contact with the underbody of the boat.
Wow! What a thrill!
The rest of the trip to Chamela was uneventful. We dropped our hook amongst 6 other boats. By nightfall we had a dozen boats in the fleet. We must have still been getting some residual effects from the tsunami, because all the boats were acting strangely. Normally all boats in an anchorage end up facing more or less the same direction due to the forces exerted by currents or wind. But last night here in Chamela, we were all just twirling around randomly. There were little whirlpools along the boats' hulls. It was like the boats were dancing with each other. They twirled and danced all night long. They were very calm about it. No rock and roll. Just a gentle non-stop waltz all night long.
The water level here in Chamela came up a little higher than normal because of the tsunami, but there was no real damage done. But we heard on the morning HAM radio net that an 18" diameter water pipe that went under the channel from the town of Barra de Navidad to the Grand Bay Marina and Hotel was disturbed by the water rushing in and out of the harbor. The pipeline was un-buried and floated to the surface, blocking the entrance to the lagoon anchorage. No boats can enter or leave the lagoon until the pipeline is sunk and re-buried. So it's a good thing we got out while the getting was good. We also got emails from friends in La Cruz. There the water rushing in and out of the marina several times did quite a bit of damage, tearing docks apart and setting navigation buoys adrift.
I'm sure we will all be getting all sorts of reports of exciting times created by the earthquake in Japan.
We are enjoying Chamela. We took the dink to town and to the beach front palapa restaurants this morning. We were able to buy some internet time from one of the hotels. Coming back to the boat through the surf was a little damp, but our surf technique is improving and we managed not to embarass the fleet in front of the locals.
That's the news from here. Hope all is good with you.
Jeff and Janie
Bahia Chamela, MX
We left Cuastecomate, also known as the Secret Anchorage this morning around 0800. The seas were calm and the wind a gentle breeze out of the south. We didn't have far to go. I think Barra de Navidad is just 5 miles south. But we needed to run the water maker to fill our tanks. Barra is in a shallow mangrove lagoon with water almost as thick as the mud on the bottom. Running the water maker there would clog our filters. So we traveled on a slow bell, making just a couple of knots. While I was fiddling with the water maker, Janie let out an excited shout. A humpback whale had surfaced just a few dozen FEET from the boat. When I got up on deck his "foot print" was still clearly visible. After the whale strike in Tenacatita Bay just a couple of days ago, we were on high alert. In a few minutes we saw him blow again. This time about a quarter mile further aft. We breathed more easily.
As we made our way to Barra, the radio was alive with reports of boats going aground at the entrance to the lagoon. That's a common occurrence. Channel markers are set from the outer bar to the big marina at the Grand Bay Hotel Complex, but the lagoon is a little further in, the channel is narrow, and there are no markers guiding you the rest of the way to the anchorage. Adding to the challenge, the water is so thick that you have mere inches of visibility. You can't see the sand bars until they are dry. The good news is that there are widely published GPS waypoints, and the bottom is soft - few rocks. So if you do run aground you should do little or no damage as long as you are going slow. So we came in with the engine at idle and we kept ourselves right on the GPS track line. There was lots of room in the anchorage. We found a spot and let the anchor go. Last time we were here, Adagio was equipped with a 45# CQR plow anchor. Which did not perform well in the slippery mud bottom of Barra. We plowed furrows, and did not get the boat stopped until we had let out 185 feet of 3/8" chain. And the lagoon is only 8 feet deep! Every time we left the boat and came back from town, a new arrival was parked on top of our anchor.
This year we have a new Rocna 55# anchor. Its footprint is much larger than the CQR's. We figured that would mean better holding in soft mud. But you never know until you put it to the test. We are happy to report that when we dropped the Rocna and paid out 100' of chain, the boat came to a full stop with the chain leading straight out bar tight. The anchor was dug in and we were not about to budge. So we were feeling pretty confident. We were off in the dink to the sail makers' shop with our sail cover that needed re-stitching, and to the Port Captain's office to check in. Checking in took hardly any time at all and the Port Captain spoke perfect English, making the procedure simple. The sail maker needed a couple of hours to do the re-stitching, so we walked to town for lunch and to reacquaint ourselves with Barra de Navidad.
Around 2PM we had our business in town completed. We went back to the dink and headed out to the anchorage. Which was a good thing, because the other thing Barra is famous for (besides a slippery bottom) is high winds in the afternoon. About the time we ran out of gas, and started rowing the inflatable dink the mile or so back to the boat, white caps started forming. Before setting off from the big boat I had had the foresight to check the fuel tank. What I failed to notice was that the tank does not sit level in the bottom of the dink. The inch or two of fuel that showed on the stick was an inch or two of fuel in the bottom CORNER of a tipped tank - not a quarter full fuel tank. Oooops! But we were lucky. After just a few strokes on the oars a passing panga noticed our plight and gave us a tow.
But wait there's more!
By the time we got aboard Adagio it was blowing in the 20's and things were getting lively. As I was busy trying to keep my balance and to not spill gasoline all over the dink while transferring fuel from the jerry jug to the gas tank, Janie was noticing the boat two boats to windward of us starting to drag anchor. About the time the first boat came into contact with the second boat,and then the two boats were heading our way, Janie was opening the engine's sea-cock and grabbing the keys to our boat. She got the engine started as I hopped off the dink and headed for our anchor. Somehow we managed to not swap paint with anybody and found ourselves a new parking spot. Of course the foredeck was covered with mud from our hasty anchors aweigh. But we were glad to be out of harms way. Eventually the wind died a bit and just before dark the two boats were able to untangle their chains and get both boats re-anchored.
That's the news from Barra de Navidad. We hope this finds you healthy and happy.
Jeff and Janie