We’re currently sitting 15 feet above the ground, in our boat, but “on the hard” – in Puerto Penasco, way at the northeastern end of the Sea. We spent most of the last month traveling up the western coast of Mexico (but inside of the Baja peninsula) in order to get the boat hauled out of the water for a new paint job. It was a full trip, with a variety of experiences, and some surprises!
We started out by heading just a few miles west of La Cruz, to Punta Mita where we had first visited with Kathy’s mom just a few weeks previously. There were a number of boats there, and we spent a very pleasant evening gathered with most of them on a friend’s boat,”Final Escape”. We were enthusiastic about getting underway, so we left early the next morning. We had a lovely sail for a few days, in light winds with calm seas. There wasn’t as much wildlife as we’ve sometimes seen, but we did spot a few whales, one of which was breaching repeatedly. He must have jumped a dozen times in a row – it was very impressive! We also saw quite a few of the small leaping mobula rays, which make us grin whenever we see them. We caught a couple of fish on this stretch, the first one a sierra which puts up a bit of a fight, but is worth the effort. The second fish was a bit of a surprise, because the line was hanging straight down, almost as if it might touch the ground, but it was clearly moving back and forth as well. It turned out to be a red snapper, locally called huachinango, and it was a big fish too – about 25 pounds! It is a beautiful copper-orange color, and offered 12 very tasty meals. (But at this point we decided that we had enough fish in our freezer for time being, and didn’t put the line back out again for the rest of this passage.)
We try to stay in touch with the weather when we’re underway, using the morning ham radio nets. Actually there are two that we’ve been using, one of which, the Sonrisa net, is a ham net, and the other, the Amigo net, is a marine single-side-band net. SSB is very similar to ham, but with fewer requirements for training/credentials. The Sonrisa net begins at 7:30 and the Amigo net at 8:00. Both of them have weather forecasts 15 minutes later, so if all goes well we can catch two versions of the forecast each morning. However it turns out Murphy was a sailor, and it’s rare that we get both forecasts. Fortunately we are also able to get weather forecasts via internet, so whenever we are in cell range we can get that important information. The radio communication is affected by all kinds of factors, including weather, distance, proximity to obstructing objects, and solar activity, and it tends to degrade as the sun gets higher. We often hear some of the conversation but not all of it. Every day the net controller is someone else, so some days we are close enough to hear them, and some days we don’t hear them very well. On this trip, we frequently heard 3 boats check in daily who are on their way across the Pacific to the Marquesas Islands. That was pretty exciting! And we knew two of them from our travels in the Sea of Cortez last summer.
About 3 days after we left Banderas Bay, a strong northerly wind blew through, which was predicted well in advance. This weather pattern is pretty common in the winter and dies off as summer approaches. It brings with it very strong winds coming directly from where we were headed, and creates big waves over several hundred miles of fetch, so we decided that it would be more pleasant to be tucked out of the way than underway and decided to push to reach Mazatlan in time for that event. We entered the harbor in the evening, and anchored in the same place we’d been before, Club Nautico. This is the place where our dinghy was stolen, so we were a bit jumpy while we were there, but our stay was actually quite pleasant. We were there three days while the wind howled outside the harbor. We’re getting to know a few more places around town, and it’s “familiar” when we return. That’s kinda cool!
We were ready to go, though, as soon as the weather permitted. And once it did, we jumped. We had another 4 days of lovely sailing. We saw a few sea lions on this leg of the journey, a first for us on this side of the Sea. They were very curious about the boat, and they would swim alongside for quite a while, checking us out. Several times we saw them doing something odd: they were floating along at the surface with their fins sticking straight out into the air. We had seen this once before in San Diego, from a distance, and we thought it was a carcass. But this time it was clear that they were doing this intentionally. Dan thought they were sleeping; Kathy thought it was more like sun-bathing. Whatever the intent, we thought it was cute! We also saw a lot of sea birds in this region, all the usual suspects but in larger quantities than before: frigates, pelicans, boobies, terns, and even gulls. At night the frigates and sometimes boobies would try to perch on top of our masts or the spring-stay that connects them. We wouldn’t mind, except that they make a mess down below, and every morning we’d wake up to a deck full of white patches. So we took to chasing them off whenever we could. We usually do this by shaking the shrouds from the side of the boat, which causes the mast and other stays to jiggle, causing them to lose their balance. But Dan figured out a new, very effective night-time technique: shining a very powerful flashlight at them when they circle around to land again. Presumably the bright light makes it difficult for them to find their footing on the skinny line. The frigates are very persistent, though, and will circle around repeatedly, frequently more than a dozen times! This game isn’t always a fun one for whoever was sitting watch at 3am!
Shortly before reaching Guaymas, we contacted the boatyard again, to clarify some details about our haul-out, including what route to take through the very shallow harbor to get to them. Unfortunately, it turns out that the harbor is too shallow for our “deep draft” boat – even at high tide – and this had been overlooked the first time we contacted the boatyard. So we passed on by Guaymas, and hurriedly came up with a Plan B. Friends on Dejala had told us that last summer they spent some time in Puerto Penasco, and that there was a big shrimping fleet there. So we contacted the biggest boatyard there and found that they had the capability and space to haul us out. They regularly have tides over 15 feet, and occasionally up to 23 feet, so we knew we could get to their front door at least once a day, any day. But that meant an additional 400 miles of travel – how awful is that! 🙂
We spent the next night at an anchorage just north of Guaymas/San Carlos, and as we pulled in we saw that there was another boat already there. Shortly after we dropped our anchor, a young man on that boat dropped a surfboard into the water and paddled over to greet us. He wanted to know if we’d had a recent weather forecast. He and a friend were sailing around the area for a couple of weeks, and didn’t want to bite off more than they could chew. We told them that another northerly blow was due in a couple of days, and discussed a few possible places to “hole up” while it blew by. The next morning we took off again and motored the last several hours to make sure that we’d be in a well-protected place when the wind raged once again. Our starter has begun acting up again, and Dan had to go down below to give it a nudge. Immediately after the engine started up, the fishing pole let out a squeal: we had another fish on the line. This was another sierra: they seem to have a funny knack for biting at oddly inconvenient moments! When the boat accelerates right after starting the motor, the lure jumps in a way that seems appealing to a hungry fish – who ends up satisfying a hungry human instead! We reeled it in, cleaned it up, and popped it in the freezer for the next few days.
We stopped along the southern side of the largest island in the Sea, called Isla Tiburon. Apparently it was a holy place for the indigenous people, and visitors are discouraged from exploring the interior very much. We only stayed 36 hours, but the winds really howled, ramping up from the late afternoon and through the first half of the night – we saw gusts of 38 knots, which is comparable to the fringes of Hurricane Paul last summer! Finally around midnight it peaked and began to settle out, although it wasn’t at all calm until almost dawn. We waited until the middle of the next day before we poked our nose around the corner and began heading north again. We had another great sail, and enjoyed lots of wildlife sightings, from huge pods of dolphins to squadrons of birds plummeting down on a roiling bait-ball of fish. There were a number of islands around, but we stayed several miles off.
This area does not have much to offer with respect to anchorages, so we were committed to going the remaining couple of hundred miles without stopping. We didn’t have much in the way of a weather forecast either, so we were hoping that following close after a norther might be a good strategy. There is a saying, “when it rains, it pours”. Well, we didn’t get any rain, but we got wind, in spades! We took three more days to get to Puerto Penasco, and were traveling quite briskly most of the time. It was an exciting ride, and although nothing especially bad happened, we found it a little too exciting for much of the time. As the winds increased, so did the choppiness of the waves. We repeatedly reduced our sail exposure, and the for last several hours before arriving at Puerto Penasco we were down from 5 sails to a single sail, the smallest one – and still traveling around 5 knots in 30 knot winds. The winds blew incessantly the last 48 hours. Even in the middle of the night the winds never calmed below 25 knots. We did everything shy of setting a drogue to slow down the boat but we arrived at 4am and dead low tide, so we had to wait a few hours for both the sun and tide to rise. We faced into the wind and waves and turned on the motor to try to smooth things out a bit. During this time, Kathy noticed that the dinghy was not hanging off the back the way it should be. When we looked a little closer, we found that one of the lines holding it up had chafed through in all the turbulent waves, so it was hanging from lines that were only supposed to prevent it from swinging wildly and not intended to bear much weight. It was canted steeply to one side, and many of the things inside (gas tank, small anchor, paddles) were threatening to fall out. Fortunately nothing did fall out, and the outboard motor was not yet submerged. We managed to tie on another line, a halyard from our mizzen mast, so we were able to use a winch to haul it back up temporarily. It has a slow leak in it, and after 3 weeks of travel it was collapsing pretty seriously. The whole thing looked pretty sad. We were wiped out after the long trip, and glad when conditions finally allowed us to enter the small harbor. We actually came in a little earlier than we should have, because we saw readings of 11 and 12 feet on our depth gauge as we transited the entrance channel. (Since we draw 10 feet, this is cutting things a little close, but we knew that the rising tide would lift us off within minutes if we ran aground.)
We arrived about a week earlier than we’d expected, so we needed to find a place to wait until we could get into the boatyard. We had heard that there was a big side-tie slip that was not used during the week, while the resident boat was away on passenger trips. So after looking around for other likely candidates, we pulled up to this slip. The dock was completely covered with pelicans, so when Kathy jumped off Lungta to tie off our dock lines, it was very slippery with at least 1/4 inch of slimy pelican poop covering the entire surface – yuk! A guard came down the ramp, though, and told us that we could not stay, even for a few hours while we looked for another place. So we pulled away again. We were unable to find anything else, so we just dropped anchor off to the side of the harbor’s center. We reinflated the dinghy and dropped it in the water, found the boatyard and met our contact there. He gave us a quick tour of the place and told us that they could get us in at noon the next day. We checked in with the harbor-master who told us it would be OK to leave the boat where it was until we hauled out, so we went home and fell into bed for several hours of restorative sleep. It was good to be in a calm harbor again after sailing the entire length of the Sea of Cortez without once getting off the boat.