The best laid plans...
18 November 2011 | Bahia de San Ignacio
We had great plans for our trip from Guaymas to Topolobampo. The plan was to go from our anchorage “Catalina Cove” to the Punto Lobos anchorage, about 50 miles.
Next, we were going to the Puerto Yavaros, about 75 miles.
Then we were going to Topolobampo, about 100 more miles.
We were interested in checking out all these spots because so few boaters we know have actually done this route. For some reason, generally most folks go straight from San Carlos to Mazatlan. A few also stop in Topolobampo, but not a lot. Originally we were going to have some guests aboard who were to document this portion of the journey for their work, but a medical situation prevented our guests from making this trip.
We left the Catalina anchorage around 9am after listening to our SSB radio weather on the Sonrisa net and looking over online weather via Passage Weather. Everything looked great, but it was sounding like the wind was planning on going away during the later part of the week. They were predicting max winds of about 23 Knots, then going down down down to about 6 knots max on Friday.
After hearing the weather, we started planning on making less stops so that we could actually take advantage of that thing they call wind. So many of our trips in the Sea of Cortez have been motoring. We love the SailABago, but, after all, there are these things on the SailABago called sails ....
For most of the first ten hours, we motored. Winds were max 5 knots or so. The engine was getting really irritating and I kept thinking about Lynn and Larry Pardey, the grand mentors of sailing. They have cruised around the world so many times with NO engine at all … should we start thinking more like them? Would the trips be less stressful without worrying about engine systems and such? Or would it be more stressful wondering “when the heck are we going to get there already!”
We motorsailed past our first planned anchorage.
At some point along the way, of course in the middle of the night, the depth sounder started showing freaky shallow areas. We had been cautioned again and again that a lot of people just don't sail this part of the mainland because of shoals that are far off from land. We read and heard to stay at least 5 miles out. But we were farther out than that. It was perplexing. Errrr....Stalagtites and Stalagmites? What the heck was going on? Paul began throwing our hand made plumb line over. Was it going to hit something? No, nothing... Ok, Adrenalin rush is not necessary at 2 am. So, we go further out. Then the same thing keeps happening. Whales under the boat? Schools of fish? Dunno...let's go further out. Finally we're 12 miles out. The depth sounder keeps going wiggy. We decide there ain't no shoaling this far out. The heck with the depth sounder. Argh.
After all the systems that have been fixed and the doubles and triples of everything we have, we realize we have no secondary depth sounder, save for our little hand knotted plumb line. Our fish finder has never worked properly due to some equipment 'upgrades' by an eager young company rep – but turns out old parts don't talk to new parts. The hand held fish finder we looked at before leaving seemed like a silly expense. Darn!
Paul was on watch when it was time for us to make our move toward the second planned anchorage, we had at some point decided that there was open enough access to anchor at Bahia Santa Barbara at night. We wouldn't try Puerto Yavaros at night, but the Bahia Santa Barbara, 10 miles north of Yavaros, would be ok. Poor Paul, turns out a fishing fleet had decided to run their operation just in front of where we needed to go. He tried to make a run-in a few times, but night time fishing boats doing doughnuts with big nets off both sides … well, pretty scary stuff. So, we sailed in place. Max 1.5 knots. Turned off the motor, just used the main very loosely main and cruised around until the sun rose, thinking we'd go into Yavaros at that time.
Well, what can I say. Once the sun was up it was so nice just quietly cruising along without the motor – we didn't want to stop! Plus, there was that notion that if we DID stop, we'd emerge from Yavaros a few days later and once again, not have wind. We decided to keep going. We knew we'd be arriving at the next place at night again, but we thought we had a plan B.
It was a glorious 24 hours of sailing. A rare occasion with NO engine for 24 hours! We had every sail combination and reefing combo imaginable in use, as the winds went from 0, to 3, to 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25. Even our gennaker was in full use for 2 hours! You more experienced sailors are laughing at me, but for us, this was like WOW! Amazing!
Yes, we had so much fun sailing, that we didn't want to stop. But as the hours and miles wound down, it turns out that our Plan B wasn't going to work...we were seeing more info about shoaling in the area where we thought we'd scout out an anchorage, and with the depth sounder acting flukey - combined with the really crummy super old chart data for this area - we weren't going in there in the dark. And then, the winds and seas had built to the point and at a direction that made it extremely uncomfortable to just hang out for ten hours and wait for sunrise. Duh! We cursed ourselves for not stopping to time the trip better! We had to keep going. Long story short, we basically ended up sailing out into the sea and back, a 60++ mile round trip for no reason other than to keep moving. OK, we also reckoned this was all really good practice. Our earlier foray into the other anchorage, nee fishing area, had also added mileage and time.
In the middle of the night when Paul had to go to the bow to take down the staysail, and it was dark, and winds were gusting to 25, and the waves were coming up toward 5 ft, and I was watching him go up and down, up and down, trying to keep both him and the boat ... I was asking myself “ok what are the rescue procedures...what will you do if he goes overboard...remember the steps?” I had to keep reminding myself “this is good practice...this is good practice...wait, this is really freakin' scary! Lions and tigers and bears! NO...This is good practice....this is good practice.” And then the stark realization: “this is nothing compared to what big mother ocean can give you”. Uh-oh. Like I was sayin “this is good practice...this is good practice...”
Needless to say, Zig Zag the scallywag was not at all happy during this phase of the journey. We would cuddle up, but we were being thrown around quite a bit with all kinds of loud scary noises. He was having nothing to do with it.
With daylight came the realization that nobody died and nothing broke. NOTHING BROKE! WOW!
We fought our way back to land waiting for the predicted death of the wind...to no avail...We also thought the seas would die as we got in the lee of the land, but they didn't really...eventually settled down quite a bit, but it took getting very close in to land before that happened. So, we Baja Bashed, turned on the engine to get in. We decided to go to an anchorage outside of Topolobampo to rest and get ourselves back together again before navigating into the Topolobampo channel.
The anchorage that was supposed to be calm ended up being hit with quite a wrap around westerly swell, so we were blowing and coasting quite a bit.
Lots of fishermen were out in Pangas were trying to do their jobs. Eventually one panga with 5 guys came up to the boat. Winds and waves were making it difficult to have a relaxed conversation, but we tried to fumble through some interactions despite the panga hitting the boat and our poor Spanish. We asked them how they were doing and what was going on, did they need something, etc. OK, so when the panga guys come up to the boat, usually they're offering fabulous fresh fish or shrimp or lobsters to sell/trade, or they need things like batteries, or maybe some other thingy. But, today's request was quite unusual. When I asked the guys if they needed something, the response was “do you have a packet of cookies? Maybe some coke?”. I was stunned -“Cookies? That's what you want, cookies?” One guy finally explained, “well we'll take anything, we're really hungry!” The weather conditions didn't really give me a chance to fumble through my lame Spanish for further inquiries – where had they come from, what were they doing, what had happened etc. I just figured that no one in Mexico had ever asked me for food before. Thus, if these big macho fishing dudes were asking for food, they must REALLY need it. Paul chatted with the guys while I loaded up a care package, and then we gave each other best wishes for safe journeys and good luck, and off they went.
At that anchorage after our little 48 hour cruise, I slept for 12 hours straight, one of my all time records. We awoke to another fabulous sunrise and calm conditions.
In addition to all the remarkable components of this journey, there's one more thing to report. I had a lucky watch schedule – I was able to watch two moonrises and two sunrises. Funny thing, when the moon came up the first night, it actually startled me for a minute. It was this bright orange rectangle that suddenly appeared on the horizon. “huh, wah, where'd that ship come from?” A second of panic, then binoculars in hand...and...oh, duhhhh........