Although this last month has been full, I’ve put off writing the next blog entry because there hasn’t been enough noteworthy to write about. But last night that changed…
We began the month with a visit from our Portland friends, Duncan & Marie. We met these folks on the dock in Tomahawk Bay marina, when they bought a boat and moved it in near ours. They were doing a lot of work on it, so we saw them often on the weekends. They decided to come visit us in Mexico, and couldn’t have picked a better time! October is a time of change in the seasons, and although sometimes the weather is a bit unsettled, often it is ideal. We couldn’t promise which end of the spectrum we’d get, but we lucked out and had clear skies without the sweltering heat of the summer. Immediately after they left – the very next day, in fact – we had heavy skies and rain, from the edges of a tropical storm that happened to be in the neighborhood. We spent a lovely week with them, sailing a few days and snorkeling most. They are considering “leaving the dock” themselves to go cruising, and wanted a better feel for what it might be like. We showed them a nice time, and shared what we could to help them make an informed decision. The Sea of Cortez is a great place to begin a cruising adventure, and there’s a lot of community to share the learning curve with. However, there are so many variables that it is unclear whether this life would suit them, and also whether they will choose to give it a try. It would certainly be fun to spend time with them again in a remote anchorage.
After our visit with Duncan & Marie, we hopped 15 miles south to Puerto Escondido, where we could find a more protected place to anchor than Loreto to sit out the inclement weather. We were also looking forward to connecting with several friends that had followed a different route the last several months. Our friend Bernard just returned from a trip to the US, carrying lots of boat parts – meaning boat projects. His boat is in the boatyard in Puerto Escondido, and if he runs true to form, he will be there approximately three times as long as his current estimate. Our friends Phil and Janet came back from a long visit home to Canada, and then promptly sailed north 4 days from La Paz to meet us (and others in the area). We tried to convince them to sail across the Sea to Banderas Bay with us, but they’d only just arrived and weren’t ready to go just yet. Another couple, Tom & Susie, we met in San Diego almost exactly two years ago and thought they would be leaving San Diego the week after we did, but we didn’t see them again until now. They’re getting “stuck” more often and for longer than we are, one place at a time. We met a few new friends as well who we’ll look forward to seeing again next year. We spent an enjoyable social week catching up on news and good meals, vowing to get together again next year, if not sooner.
Then we began our journey south for the winter season. We left a little bit early, because we have once again created a schedule with several items back-to-back. Kathy’s family – mother and 3 siblings – will be visiting us the second week of November, arriving in Puerto Vallarta, and we thought it would be a good idea if we were there at the same time! Right afterwards we will be going back to New York to visit Dan’s family for Thanksgiving. A bit of a whirlwind month, but we’re looking forward to it. So we left in mid-October for our crossing of the Sea of Cortez. Last year it took us 8 days, but we were becalmed for quite a while. However, we left from La Paz, a good bit further south. This year we went directly from Puerto Escondido all the way to La Cruz, roughly 450 miles. We did it in 9 days, a new personal maximum, and felt good about the accomplishment. As stated above, the trip was basically uneventful. We kept a close eye on Hurricane Raymond that stayed around for quite a while but never directly impacted our travel. We did have a bit of rain and dark clouds near the end of our trip, but the associated winds turned out to be a nice finish. Once in Banderas Bay, we passed through a few areas of feeding jacks, which caused the water to roil all around us. There were some flocks of terns that were joining in the activity some of the time. It was pretty exciting! We also noticed that the water was experiencing a red tide, turning dark red to Coca-Cola brown in patches and whorls – yuk! We arrived on Friday evening, dropping anchor just after sunset, and went straight to bed.
The day after we arrived, we went into town and visited a few people. The second day, Sunday, was the first farmer’s market of the season, and we enjoyed the bustling scene. After we got back to the boat, we spent the afternoon working to prepare for our guests. The winds picked up in the afternoon, as they often do in this area, but they kept on getting stronger. Soon we noticed that we were really bouncing around, and we tried to button things up, including adding a backup “snubber” to our anchor chain. The snubber is a line with some stretch to it, often a nylon rope, which is attached in such a way as to prevent the chain from getting pulled up straight, to make a smoother ride and cause less wear on the gear when the boat pitches. The snubber we usually use is a 25 foot length of 5/8″ three strand nylon line. Shortly after that, right before sunset, the winds approached 20 knots, the chop grew to about 5 feet and the main snubber broke. We had to rig up a replacement. The second one wasn’t situated as nicely, and it ran over a corner which was unfortunately a strong candidate for chafing through the rope. We found some pieces of leather to wrap around the affected area, and used cable ties to secure it. We knew that we needed to check it frequently, though, because it was definitely not a strong design. Our original snubber is connected to the point where the bow meets the water, at a strong and low point called the stem fitting. Unfortunately, by the time we were rigging up the replacement, conditions were rough enough that it was no longer feasible to attach another line all the way down there.
The weather continued to pick up, and the boat was really pitching. We checked the snubber’s chafe protection every 30-45 minutes and every time had to make some changes, whether to slide the leather back into place, or to add more ties to replace some that had been pinched through, or even to add another couple of layers of leather. By this point, we knew that it was shaping up to be a long night. In addition, our dinghy was hanging on the davits at the stern, and although it was tied up to prevent it from swinging, it was not secured in a way that could handle being slammed up against the davit arms by the sea and dropped back down every time the bow pitched up. Around this time, one of the lines holding it onto the davits broke, and the dinghy was hanging and swinging wildly at a funny angle. We removed the extra lines and cut the other davit line, leaving the dinghy to float behind in the water from the usual painter line.
Shortly after this we noticed that a large commercial fishing boat at least 90 feet long, which had been anchored almost a mile away for the last day was suddenly a lot closer. Although we never found out exactly what went wrong, something caused him to lose his connection with the ground and begin drifting downwind directly towards us! it was pitch dark but he had all of his massive lights on and we could see them rapidly getting larger and larger – and closer and closer. We tried to contact them on the radio, we turned on lots of deck lights to be sure he could see us, we yelled through our radio’s loudspeaker – in short, we did everything we could do to get his attention so that he could move off of this collision path. We also started our motor, in the hopes that we could dodge him if need be, although we didn’t have time to pull up all 200 feet of our anchor gear, so we wouldn’t be able to move far. At times he was pointed in the same direction as us, upwind, and at times he was turned sideways, making it difficult to know if he was out of control or moving intentionally. Our radar showed him approaching us steadily, until he was just a few hundred yards away. We were pretty sure that we would lose the boat if he hit us, because he was so big and heavy. We never saw anyone moving on deck, and he never responded to our verbal calls, but finally he stopped moving closer and then it was clear that he was moving away. You cannot believe our relief!
But this night there was no time for celebrating. Just about this time Dan noticed that the dinghy was no longer riding behind the big boat. The painter line had snapped and the dinghy was lost into the night. There was also no time for mourning, because just then our new snubber failed, breaking with a bang. This was a 20′ length of 1″ line which should be good to at least 30,000 lbs. It failed at the chafe point, but when we later retrieved the pieces we found another spot that was in the process of failing and which had no chafe at all. The forces were staggering. We had a couple of other ropes in place providing lesser protection, but decided to keep our engine running at idle but in gear into the wind to take some of the pressure off of these lines. We spent the next four hours keeping a close hand on the helm, to point straight into the wind and neither override the anchor nor fall back and overload the snubber arrangement. Finally about 2am the wind began to drop down from the high teens (gusts in the mid-20’s) to low teens, and the steep waves followed suit. As the boat settled down to a low roar, We turned off the engine and went to bed for a few hours of sleep. We got up early this morning to mount a search for the dinghy, hoping that we might find it before someone else did. We lowered the kayaks into the water and then climbed over the rails. We paddled in the direction that the wind had been blowing during the worst of the rough stuff. We checked out probably 4 miles of coastline, breath held each time we saw something about the right size or shape ahead on the beach – but no luck. So we are now in the market for a replacement dinghy, with guests arriving in 3 days. Tomorrow we’re moving into a marina for a few days to gather our resources and recreate a comfortable place to entertain from the shambles around us. We’re confident that everything will look a little different around a nice swimming pool with family.
It turns out that this weather event was probably the fringes of Tropical Storm Sonia, that went ashore in Mazatlan, 150 miles north at about the same time. People are saying that it was an unusual situation for this area, especially this late in the year. One friend said “we’re nearly out of alphabet, so the hurricane season MUST be coming to an end soon!” We sure hope so. We usually have wonderful things to relate – we often comment that we’re living in paradise. But occasionally we have a day from hell, and in the interest of balanced journalism we share that here too.