We stayed in Mazatlan for another week – a very busy one, because we had our boat hauled out and we worked on it. The boatyard we used is primarily geared towards the shrimping industry. They have two railways that run into the water, with two skeleton cars each that can hold one boat each. They lower a car into the water, using a massive winch, and the boat is driven so that it’s floating above the car. The cars have about a dozen tall posts at their perimeter, to which the boat is secured, and divers shove wooden blocks and wedges under the keel to support it against the bed of the car (which is really just a frame). Then the car is winched slowly up the shore. The first day we tried to haul out, the crew had difficulty and couldn’t make it work. They decided that they needed to reconfigure the car, making it narrower and shorter. So they pulled the car back on shore and told us to hang out until the next day. They helped us to tie onto a shrimper that was tied onto another which was tied onto a third that was secured to the dock. (This is called rafting. It’s not unusual, but not an arrangement that we’ve ever done before!) We clambered over the other three boats to get ashore that evening. The three boats were of different sizes and shapes, and one gap in particular had a significant height difference to overcome. We were introduced to the night watchman, who was told that we would be living aboard while we were there the next week. The second day, things went much smoother. They sent three men to be on deck with us, two divers in the water, and one man paddling around in a rowboat carrying the wooden blocks. As it turns out, the divers were the decision makers. They could see the whole situation and determine whether it looked secure enough to count on. This time they were able to position the blocks in a way that they were confident, and the boat was slowly eased up the track. We could barely see it moving, but the boat shuddered a bit as it did. Finally we were above land again, and they pulled over a scaffold for us all to clamber down.
The next morning, we got right to work. We thoroughly cleaned and then patched a few spots on the bottom corners of the keel, where we’d had some less-than-satisfactory encounters with rocks: none of them serious, but the concrete had chipped off and exposed the steel structure inside. If left untreated, this could cause the boat to rust away. So we are now masons as well! We reached a “major decision”, and changed the primary color of the boat from dark blue to white. Although we both love the blue, it is not a practical color for the tropical waters we intend to inhabit for the next several years. White should be cooler, which is not only more comfortable but also somewhat less wear and tear on the boat itself. We used the rub-rail as a dividing line, retaining a strip of blue at the top, and left the entire transom blue. We taped off pleasing curves from the ends of the rub-rail to the bow and stern. As before, we bought house-paint for the top-sides, but the label calls it “vinyl-acrilico” instead of latex. This is quite a change, but we’re getting used to it (slowly). We had the boatyard’s crew powerwash the hull and repaint the bottom. Although we had just painted last year, the paint wasn’t really keeping up with the buildup of sea life, so we decided to put on a fresh coat. Also, the paint available in Mexico is much more effective (read “toxic”) than that which is available in the States. Hopefully, the higher copper content will be more successful at keeping our hull free of barnacles. We also had a few repairs to make that were related to some overzealous scraping done by a guy we hired to clean the hull the first time. He scraped the paint off a few spots of the rudder and chipped away at the fiberglass farings that we so lovingly crafted near our bowthruster. We had the boatyard sandblast and galvanize the rudder before painting. In doing so, they found that there were a few pinprick holes in the welded joints, and the rudder had partially filled with salt-water. Yikes! Fortunately we had put access holes with screw-in plugs when we built the rudder last year, so we were able to open it up from the top and flush it with fresh water. Before closing it up again, we poured in some antifreeze, to help prevent (more) corrosion. Dan rebuilt the farings around the bowthruster, this time mixing cement in with the epoxy to make it that much stronger than before. Finally we serviced all of the thru-hull fittings, testing to see that they worked smoothly and greasing the rubber sections to preserve their pliability.
We splashed back in the water (figuratively!) and spent one more night in Mazatlan before leaving for La Paz, on the other side of the Sea of Cortez. We had a lovely three-day sail across, with moderate winds most of the way although one night it picked up to about 20 knots. Although this is still at the upper end, we’re getting more comfortable with winds in this range.
La Paz is nestled at the bottom of a large bay, created by a “thumb” of a peninsula extending east off the Baja peninsula. There are several big islands near the tip of this thumb. The wind picked up quite a bit that evening and was close to 20 knots and the sun was setting as we rounded the corner of the thumb. Night had settled, but the wind hadn’t, as we dropped our anchor in the first small bay on the inside western face of the thumb. Our radar told us that there were 5 other boats in there with us, nestled as close to the shoreline as they could to minimize the wind. The wind howled all night, our first introduction to the “coromuel” effect that is very characteristic of La Paz. In the summertime, the ocean on the west coast of Baja is much cooler than the water in the Sea of Cortez. This creates a temperature differential in the air as well, becoming most dramatic after the sun sets. For most of the Baja peninsula there’s a mountain ridge down the center, which keeps the two air masses separate, but it dips near La Paz, providing a path for the wind to cross over. And cross over it does! Most evenings within 15 minutes of sunset the wind picks up from the west and typically gets up to 20 knots. Sometimes it blows out in a couple of hours and sometimes it goes all night. All of the other boats left the next morning, but we stayed another day. The bay we were in is called Balandra Bay, and it is beautiful! The water is very clear, and the beaches are white sand. There’s an estuary there that we kayaked into, observing the water color change into every shade of green from bottle-glass green to lime green to turquoise. We stopped and wandered down a beach for a bit until we came to some rocky cliffs. Kathy noticed some chalk on the walls, indicating that someone had been doing some rock-climbing (well actually just “bouldering”, because their trail didn’t go up more than 15 feet). In another corner of the bay, there was a dirt parking area, and we saw occasional traffic passing by all day. There was a business set up there which rented kayaks and beach umbrellas, and they seemed to be doing a good business: probably a dozen groups came by that day. We found an “oops” when we got up in the morning: the white paint that we had just put on was coming off in sheets, primarily at the waterline on the starboard side, where it had been “heeled” into the water for the past three days. 🙁 We hadn’t given it enough time to dry (not even close: the can suggests 7 days). So we peeled off the worst of it, retaped, and primed the area. We’ll find a quiet bay some time soon and stay for a week while the next coat goes on and dries.
The next day we went the remaining 10 or so miles to La Paz, half of it along a narrow channel, well-marked but not especially deep. La Paz is a smaller town than you might imagine, with roughly a quarter million people. It has a big presence in the cruising and sport-fishing communities and the tourist industry, though. There are lots of places to anchor in the La Paz bay, all along the main channel – but you have to be careful to stop far enough from the channel that you won’t swing around your chain and interfere with traffic! The conditions are similar to those we found in Canada & Alaska last year, in that the tides regularly cause a lot of water to change places from one side of a channel to another. There’s a constant current passing through La Paz, which is not common in this part of the world. Because there’s also often wind going one way or another, people talk about the “La Paz Waltz” causing boats to swing and dance, every one in their own way. We poked around a bit looking for a place where we would be clear of both the channel and our neighbors, and eventually found a nice place pretty close to a dock where we saw a couple row their dinghy. We settled ourselves in and took our little dinghy to the same dock, then we went for a walk to scout the town. We visited a few chandleries that our guidebook mentioned, and were amazed at the breadth of inventory that they had, far and away the best 3 shops we’ve seen in Mexico! We found a couple of items that we couldn’t live without. 🙂 As we were heading back, we ran into some friends from La Cruz that we’d been hoping we would catch up to again. It was real serendipity, because they were leaving the next day to go to a boatyard at the other end of the channel.
Our main goal for our stop in La Paz was to find a new dinghy, preferably with an outboard. We were amazingly successful in that endeavor, lucky that the one guy everyone pointed us towards happened to have a 10′ inflatable dinghy with a hard bottom and a 15hp outboard that was in good shape. It was a pretty basic setup, but the price was reasonable and we were able to get them the next day. La Paz has a morning radio “net” similar to the one in La Cruz, where we heard a guy say that he had a life-raft that he was interested in getting rid of. It was almost exactly what we have been keeping our eyes open for! It needs to be serviced (but they almost always will), and it’s rated for 8 people. Although we certainly could house more than 8 people, we think it’s unlikely that we’ll ever want to cross an ocean with that many, so we got it. We also got a swivel for our anchor chain, which is making it much easier (and safer!) to bring up the anchor after we’ve been swinging for a day or two. All in all it was a very successful visit – and we were only there 5 days!
One evening Dan was playing his guitar in the pilothouse, when an osprey landed on the end of the bowsprit. We watched it for a while – and realized that it was chirping and pausing as if it was listening for a response. As Dan’s hand slid from one chord to another, his fingers would brush the strings in a way that was causing a high-pitched chirp, and apparently the osprey heard it from a distance and came to investigate. The two interacted for 10 or 15 minutes before the osprey tired of the conversation and flew off again.
The day before we left we met an interesting young couple on a nearby boat, and invited them over for drinks and dessert. They brought another couple that was staying with them for a few days, and the six of us exchanged stories. Tom bought their boat 8 years ago when he was only 24 in Hong Kong for $1, and has been running Karaka, a 53′ steel ketch as a “shared-cost” effort ever since. This means that he takes on crew for extended stays, and they pitch in enough to feed themselves and to keep the boat running. He’s been from Hong Kong to Australia to the South Pacific to the Caribbean, and hosted dozens of fascinating characters. Because the crewmembers stay for months at a time, they come to live more like family than as paying passengers or even guests. The model is intriguing… But wow – they had some other stories to tell, of being held at gunpoint by Colombian pirates and being in Haiti last year when the earthquake struck (some local children were playing on board at the time, and at first he thought the kids were jumping on the decks!). They’ll be heading up into the Sea for the summer, and we hope to run into Tom & Kim again!
As we headed out of town, we stopped for one last visit with a friend whose boat is in a marina at the outer edge of the main channel. We anchored just outside the channel while we visited for a few hours. While Jeff takes a long-planned trip to visit family & friends in England & Europe, his partner Maru (who is new to boating) stayed on the boat with her cat in the marina. Her English is slightly better than our Spanish, and we enjoyed another opportunity to learn and practice conversational Spanish in delightful company. We were disappointed to learn that Jeff feels tied to the internet (because he’s still working – imagine that!), so they probably won’t wander far from La Paz this summer. This life is filled with ‘goodbyes’.
So goodbye for now – but not for long, we hope!
>> Kathy & Dan