Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mazatlan to Matanchen Bay

Mazatlan is an easy city to get around in thanks to an excellent bus system.  We took a bus across town with Rick and Rosanna of Tension Reliever to explore the marinas and buy some boat parts.  On the way home, we had a late lunch at La Canoa where we enjoyed live music and two-for-one margaritas.  The rest of the day was lost, but we found our way home on the bus.  On a more productive bus trip, the four of us took a bus to go shopping for provisions and easily got our groceries home on the bus.
Lunch and margaritas at La Canoa
We eat out very infrequently.  When we do, we try to make it an event.  During one of our walks around town, we took a table for lunch at a beachside restaurant called El Faro where we were waited on by Jesse, the owner.  Jesse once lived in California and we enjoyed talking with him.  After taking our order, he came back to our table with a surprise - a Southern Mexico delicacy, fried crickets.  They were tender with a smoky flavor.  Trisha ate one under duress.  I ate the other three.  My enthusiasm was rewarded with a second helping of crickets. 
Derrick sampling a fried cricket

On Saturday the weather looked pretty good for making the passage south to Matanchen Bay.  We were mildly concerned because it was going to be windy, but we would be sailing downwind.  By 1130 we were out of the harbor and on our way south.  The first four hours were great sailing with winds at ten to fifteen knots and moderate following seas.  In the late afternoon, the wind piped up to fifteen to twenty knots and we shortened sail.  The seas were building to six feet ore more on the starboard quarter.  It wasn’t the most comfortable ride, but we were happy to be making way under sail.  It was almost midnight when the wind died and we had to resort to motor sailing.

It was a dark, moonless night and the stars were shinning brilliantly.  We were amazed by all of the celestial details we could see.  Looking low in the southern sky it was a treat to see the Southern Cross, a constellation we have seen before but only when visiting the tropics.   At about three in the morning, our friend the moon peeked over the horizon and helped light our way.  Dawn approached just in time to help us navigate through the unlit fishing boats pulling in their nets.  By 0930, we were at anchor in Matanchen Bay.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Stone Island anchorage was a nice place to rest so long as the wind was blowing.  The first two nights we saw fifteen to twenty-five knots from the northwest and the boat was steady.  Each day we made the spirited dinghy trip out of the protection of the anchorage into the open water around Isla Chivos and on to the Club Nautico facilities behind the breakwater.  The return trips were wild rides with heavy afternoon winds blowing us home over large following waves.  Trisha wasn’t the big fan of either direction.  On our last day at the anchorage we took the dinghy ashore on Isla Chivos, explored Stone Island Beach, and had a shrimp and garlic pizza at Pizza Benji’s.  That night the wind died and the absence of northwest wind waves allowed a southern swell to enter the anchorage and we rolled the night away.  It was time to move into the harbor.

Trisha made a new friend
Mazatlan harbor is a busy place and the entrance is quite narrow.  Port control manages the traffic and requires that vessels contact them for clearance before entering or leaving the harbor.  With my weak Spanish this was an intimidating proposition.  I put together a little script for the occasion, knowing that I would be in over my head if things got complicated.  Fortunately, when I hailed port control in English a thick accent responded in English.  We were soon anchored in the calm waters of Old Harbor ready to explore the city.

Old Harbor had it’s hey day in the years before the marinas were constructed (ten or more years ago?).  The sailboats at anchor here now are, what Trisha likes to call, scrappy cruisers.  There is no charge for anchoring and the only available dinghy dock is at Club Nautico.  The club charges fifty pesos (about four bucks) a day for dinghy docking, internet, taking trash, and showers.  This is definitely the other side of the tracks.  Five miles away is the marina harbor were a slip for Interabang would cost more than forty dollars a day.
Trisha studies the map of Old Town
The cool thing about Old Harbor is its proximity to Old Town, a well maintained historic district, and the light house.  We enjoy shopping for groceries in the open market, a building that takes up an entire city block and has about a hundred vendor booths inside.  The space is organized by product type and grocery shopping requires wandering through the vegetable, meat, and packaged food areas.  As if we aren’t doing enough walking already, we climbed the steep hill to the lighthouse for exercise.  There we met a New Yorker that lives in Mazatlan.  He gave us an interesting local history lesson, provided some sightseeing and shopping tips, and took our picture with Interabang at anchor in the background.  
Interabang is the boat closest to the left of Trisha's head

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Crossing

The five mile trip exiting the La Paz channel brought back vague memories of limping in during heavy weather two weeks earlier.  Once out of the channel, the wind was on our nose as we motor-sailed across the bay and past the hazards of the San Lorenzo Channel (named for a ship that was lost there).  Finally, we turned south and twenty knots of wind and a strong current were pushing us on our way.  It took all day to sail the sixty miles back to Los Muertos and it was dark when we dropped anchor.  Now we needed confirmation that the weather window was holding for the 200 mile crossing to Mazatlan on the mainland.

We got the green light the next afternoon.  The forecast on the cruiser’s net called for forty-eight hours of favorable winds and seas in the southern crossing.  In addition to the weather, we were concerned about avoiding the notorious fishing nets in the waters around Mazatlan.  We calculated that the passage would take thirty hours.  Leaving at 0400 would have us arriving with plenty of light for dodging fishing nets. As nightfall approached, big waves began rolling into the anchorage causing the boat to roll wildly and making sleep impossible.  By midnight we had enough and decided to get and early, sleepless start on our passage.  Within the hour, the anchor was up and we were headed for the mainland. 

The first half of the passage was uneventful with light winds and a fair amount of motoring.  At the halfway point, the wind and waves were building out of the southeast.  We were beating into fifteen to twenty knot winds with four to six foot waves on the forward quarter.  It was a rough ride.  With the strength of gusts increasing, we were fearful that we might be experiencing the leading edge of a storm.  Trisha thought to tune in the afternoon weather update on the cruiser’s net.  Next thing I knew she was having a conversation with Don Anderson, the weather man located near Los Angeles, and two other boats making the crossing within a hundred miles of our position.  Positions and weather conditions were compared and Don concluded that his forecast was correct and the winds would be decreasing.  His personalized forecast was a huge relief.  Over the next several hours it became reality.

We were happy to see the sun come up after the second night of our passage.  Each of us had only about three hours sleep over forty-eight hours and the sleep deprivation was causing some minor hallucinations.  We were twenty miles from Mazatlan when I noticed a black flag bobbing in the water about fifty yards ahead.  We were about to hit a fishing net.  I turned off the autopilot and turned sharply to port.  There were black flags every quarter mile or so with barely visible floats in between.  We traveled along the net for a mile and a half before we could get around it.
Second highest lighthouse in the world
 Once back on course, the mainland soon came into view.  By late morning we got a clear view of the second highest lighthouse in the world.  We were in Mazatlan.  We picked our way into the Stone Island anchorage and dropped the hook.  Interabang was the only boat at anchor.  We tidied her up, took showers and relaxed.  As the sun went down the sea and the sky were just beautiful.  A couple of pangas quietly fished behind us and dolphins swam all around.  Maybe it was the relief of having completed the passage, or maybe the sleep depravation, or maybe it was just as awesome as it seemed, but sitting there in the cockpit enjoying the scenery in the twilight was magical.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Leaving La Paz

After just a couple of weeks in La Paz, we came to understand why many cruisers end their voyaging here.  It is a sweet place to call home.  La Paz is also a great place to prepare for the next passage.  Despite our weak to nonexistent Spanish, we were able to locate most all of the parts we needed to complete a long list of boat projects.  After scavenging at a dozen or so hardware stores where no one spoke English, we had developed our own style of communication.  The combination of Spanglish, physical animation, and sound effects was not always successful but was always appreciated by the locals, frequently earning a smile and a pat on the back.  The boat was soon made ready for the trip.  For provisioning, the challenge was moving the booty from the store to the boat.  Choosing to minimize expenses and maximize exercise, we refused to take a cab.  Each day one or both of us would make the three mile round trip to the Mega store carrying back as much as we could handle.  Life got easier when Trisha negotiated a deal with Judy on Pura Vida, a pair of shoes in exchange for a little handcart and a few other items.  The little red cart significantly increased our capacity for trips to the store.  On the first trip, the cart returned with a load of beer, milk, rice, canned goods, etc.  Little did we know, negotiating the bumpy sidewalks and dropping off of the high curbs was taking its toll on the cart’s wheels.  On the second trip, the wheels were done.  Broken and wobbly, they barely made it back to the boat.  That afternoon we went to our favorite hardware store and found a stout pair of replacements.  With some minor modifications, the new wheels were installed and the cart was back on the track.

We had planned to spend more time in the La Paz area exploring the many islands, but the weather was not cooperating.  It was an unusual weather year.  We had seen heavy rain twice during, what should be, the dry season.  In addition, Northers were blowing through regularly.  With each system, the wind would blow hard for two to three days and then it would take an additional day for the seas to settle down.  The tropical weather of the Mexico mainland was calling our name.  The islands of La Paz will have to wait for our trip north next spring.

We had been in the marina for a couple of weeks and it was time to move the boat.  Should we just start our passage to the mainland?  The weather forecast showed a favorable weather window for the next couple of days.  High tide was mid morning.  After that, the current would carry us south.  All the ducks were lined up.  It was time to start our crossing to Mazatlan.

Friday, November 25, 2011

La Paz (The Peace)

We were happy to have the 150 nautical mile gauntlet to La Paz behind us.  It has been said that sailors have a poor memories.  Why else would they subject themselves to the same miseries over and over again?  After a couple of nights in a peaceful anchorage, the memories of the wild times faded.  We seldom discuss the really scary parts of the experience, except when we meet other folks who were also anchored in Balandra Cove the night of the pineapple express.  In those conversations we wear the experience like a badge of courage, vividly recalling every detail.  We pulled out in the middle of the rough stuff at 0400, we explain.  “That was you?!” is the typical response.  No sense dwelling on the anchor dragging part of the story.

No better way to convalesce than with a ‘Welcome to La Paz’ beach party.  Several marinas, restaurants, and shops sponsored a great party for us new arrivals.  It was held at Stella’s, an Italian restaurant right on the beach.  The first twenty-five boats got in for free.  I think we were number two.  The margaritas were great.  The food was fabulous.  The mariachis were entertaining.  There were awesome folk dancers.  We danced and laughed with new friends.  We won a bottle of Don Julio tequila in the raffle.  It just doesn’t get much better than this.  That storm wasn’t so damn bad.

With Rick and Rosanna of Tension Reliever and
Jackie and Leif of Dodger Too at the beach party
La Paz is a large city with small town charm.  The people are friendly and easy going.  Gringos love La Paz and there is a large population of gringo retirees and cruisers.  After three days at anchor, we pulled into a slip at Marina de La Paz and enjoyed much easier access to the city and an unlimited supply of electricity, water and internet.  The space available was in the high rent district next to a 161 foot mega-yacht.
Interabang with mega-yacht Ostar 
We look forward to the challenge of shopping for groceries.  Obviously, everything is in Spanish and that can be a challenge.  Many of the US products that we are familiar with are available but costly so we either find a Mexican substitute or get by without.  The chicken is outstanding, whether barbequed or cooked in the pressure cooker it is much more flavorful than anything we find back home.  Vegetables are limited so Trisha has to get creative.  Finally, beer is $4 a six-pack and tequila (100% agave) is $10 a liter.  Nice.  Since it is a three mile walk round trip, what we buy is limited to what we can carry.  

Mexican folkdancers at the Welcome to La Paz Party

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Pineapple Express

After the first little sprinkle, there was another then another.  As the sun was setting a light rain began to fall.  We hoped that the rain would be heavy enough to rinse off the layer of salt that covered everything on the boat.  There were little streams of muddy water running down the white decks as the rain washed away some of the dust we picked up in Turtle Bay.  The salty windows on the dodger were getting clear again.  The crew on a neighboring boat scrubbed the decks.  Another boat hung out the laundry for rinsing in the rain.

We were tired after getting little sleep before rising at 0330 that morning.  We ate dinner and went to bed.  Trisha was nervous after our Los Muertos experience.  She was up and down checking on the anchor and the weather conditions.  At 0100, we were awoken by heavy, heavy rain.  We peered out from the cover of the dodger and saw rain falling harder than we had ever seen.  The wind was still light so we tried to ignore all the noise and get back to sleep.

At 0400, it hit the fan.  The wind had clocked around to the unprotected side of the anchorage and piped up to twenty to twenty-five knots.  Four to five foot waves were rolling in and the boat was rocking up and down like a hobby horse.  The wind and waves were pushing us toward shallow water.  The boat anchored behind us was unusually close.  It must have come in during the night.  I turned on the instruments, went to the helm, and began studying changes in GPS position and the depth.  The boat behind seemed to be getting closer and the depth of water under the boat was decreasing.  We were dragging anchor and it was time to “get the hell out of Dodge”.

As the engine warmed up we planned our escape.  Thankfully, the sky had cleared and a nearly full moon provided light for our task.  Trisha took the helm and began to motor us away from the boat behind.  As the boat moved forward, the anchor chain went slack and we were at the mercy of the wind and waves.  The wind caught the front of the boat and blew it around ninety degrees to port.  Next a big wave came in and pushed the boat sharply over.  We were barely keeping control.  Trisha turned the boat back out to open water.  I made my way forward on the rocking deck to pull up anchor.  The snubber was cleared quickly, but I was only able to retrieve a small amount of chain before the windlass stalled under a heavy load.  I looked over the side to see the chain angling back behind the boat.  Trisha was doing a great job getting us out of the anchorage but the boat’s engine was pushing us forward while the windlass was trying to pull us backward to get up the anchor.  I went back to the helm and asked her to throttle back long enough for me to get the chain up.  The wind caught us again.  Back on the bow, I bounced and waited with the windlass switch in my hand.  Each time a wave rolled through, the bow would drop, the chain would slacken, and I would take up as much chain as I could.  It was a tedious process.  Finally, the anchor popped out of the sandy bottom and I quickly got it up and in the bow roller.  Time to go!

I raced for the helm not taking the time to tidy things up.  The dinghy was not tied down, but we were free to go.  We motored slowly out of the anchorage and into the wind and big waves.  It was so nice to put land and the other boats at a safer distance behind us.  With howling wind and building seas, we clawed our way out to sea waiting for daylight.  Trisha wouldn’t let me go forward to secure the dinghy.  We hoped it would hang on.  The boat came off the top of one big wave with a huge splash that covered the entire boat with sea water.  Damn, we just got everything rinsed off.

The hours passed and the sky began to brighten in the east.  At about 0600, we turned the boat with the waves and headed for La Paz.  Waves were breaking on the shoal as we navigated the tight and complicated channel.  Miraculously, the dinghy was still on board.  In my hasty work on the foredeck, the dinghy’s painter got caught in the bathroom hatch and under the door to the anchor locker.  It wasn’t going anywhere.

At 0800, we listened to the cruisers net on the VHF radio.  The weather segment of the broadcast focused on the previous night’s rain and the Pineapple Express system that had blown through.

Needless to say, we did not pause during all of this to take pictures!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Los Muertos

Weather can ruin your whole day.

We got out of Cabo San Lucas early one morning because the forecast said a ‘norther’ weather system would move down the Sea of Cortez the following day.  The boats that made the trip to Los Frailes the day after us got hammered.  The weather kept us pinned down at anchor behind a mountain for five days.  On the sixth day, we made a sweet passage to Ensenada de los Muertos.

Los Muertos is a nice little anchorage well protected except from the east and southeast.   After a good night’s sleep, we went for a long walk on the beach and ate lunch at the cantina.

On the dinghy ride home we noticed that the winds had increased and the seas were building.  It was a wet ride.  To make matters worse, the wind and waves were coming from the east, pushing the boats at anchor toward the beach.  It was a bad scene.  We sat in the cockpit for hours making sure that the anchor was holding and monitoring wind speed and direction.  There was no improvement as daylight faded, so we stowed gear and prepared for a quick escape.  Just one problem, it was way too rough to get the dinghy back on board and towing in these conditions is a bad idea.  Getting the engine off and hoisted to the rail in four to six foot waves would be risky.  Pulling the dinghy on deck with a halyard in twenty knots of breeze would be like flying a kite.  We waited and hoped for the best.  Several boats raised anchor and got out of town, but so long as our anchor was holding we thought it best to stay put.  No sense trying to find our way into a strange new place in the dark if we don’t have to.  The good news came about 2100 when the winds lightened up considerably and shifted to the southwest.  Boats were no longer headed for the beach.  The bad news was that the waves to continued coming from the east.  The dinghy got stowed and we dreaded a sleepless night with wild rolling from side to side.  We radioed our friends Rick and Roseanna on Tension Reliever to discuss an exit strategy.  The plan was to take off in the morning at 0400 thereby catching the flood current that would speed us along to La Paz

Making great time with the current, we had covered more than forty miles by late morning.  As we neared La Paz, the flood ended and we decided to avoid navigating the tight and unfamiliar La Paz channel against an ebb tide.  We tucked into Balandra Cove, a beautiful little place ten miles short of our destination.  The Los Muertos experience seemed far away.  Trisha went below to read her book and I enjoyed a cigar in the cockpit.  Things were swell.  Suddenly, I felt a sprinkle of precipitation.  But this is the dry season?!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Los Frailes

Saturday night we had a great time at the Baja Ha-Ha awards ceremony.  This was the last event of the rally and we were finally on our own schedule.  Chuck jumped on a northbound bus to do some exploring by land on his way back to California.  We were busy planning our next passage.

Each morning at 0700 we tune in the Amigo Net on the single-side band radio.  The net provides a forum for cruising boats to chat, share advice, and watch out for one another.  The main event of the Amigo Net is Don Anderson’s weather forecast.  Saturday morning, Don’s forecast had warned of a ‘norther’ weather system coming through our area starting on Monday.  Sunday was our weather window to make it to the next anchorage.  When we returned from the awards ceremony, we got the dinghy on deck and made the boat ready for an early morning departure.
Derrick topping off the fuel
 Up at first light, we drank our coffee before raising anchor and the mainsail.  The breeze increased as we motored out to sea.  Off went the engine and out came the jib.  Sailing at five knots with a warm breeze and no engine noise, it just doesn’t get much better.  We had about four hours of near perfect sailing before rounding Punta Gorda.  Now the wind on the nose and the waves were square blocks of water four to six feet high coming at us in four second intervals.  Every couple of minutes, Interabang would come off the top of one of these waves and belly flop into the water below with a loud slamming sound.  Not fun.  We put away the jib and went back to motor sailing.  I changed course to the east by fifteen degrees so that the boat approached the waves at an angle and sail helped stabilize the ride.  By 1600, we had traveled 43 miles and were comfortably anchored behind a 750 foot high mountain in Los Frailes, a nice place to wait out the norther.
Entering Bahia de los Frailes

We spent five days in Los Frailes.  We worked on boat projects, snorkeled and went for walks on the beach.  This is a sleepy little place to hang out with about 20 other boats, a small hotel, and a handful of guests here and there on shore.  We were hunkered down for a couple of days as the norther passed.  Winds gusted as high as 28 knots in the anchorage and four boats dragged anchor causing some excitement and, fortunately, nothing more serious.  We spent another day waiting for the seas to calm down.  Finally, it was time to move on. 
Rowing the dinghy is not as easy as it looks!
Sunset at anchor

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cabo San Lucas

Que paso?
It’s time for a dreaded fishing update.  Frequently trolling with two lures (an effort to improve our odds), we have logged an estimated 1,000 fishing miles since leaving Alameda and have little to show for it.  On our way to Bahia Santa Maria, lady luck finally smiled upon us and we hooked a little yellowtail tuna on a cedar plug.  Half the fish was cleaned and served as sashimi (raw fish) with soy sauce and wasabi.  Excellent!  Trisha cooked the remainder of the fish and served it over rice.  Nice!  But the crew was not satisfied.  While at anchor, a fellow rally participant got on the radio and offered dorado (mahi mahi) in exchange for wasabi.  We jumped in the dinghy and raced to the fisherman’s boat where we traded a dollar’s worth of wasabi for about three pounds of mahi mahi.  Sometimes it pays to be in the middle of nowhere.
The prize catch!
Finally, it was time to start the last and shortest leg of the Baja Ha-Ha to Cabo San Lucas.  We estimated that we would arrive back in civilization by early afternoon the following day.  Just one night at sea is a piece of cake.  There was little wind when we motor sailed across the starting line at 0700.  In the afternoon we had five to ten knots of wind and spent six hours sailing.  Early the next morning we approached Cabo Falso and the finish line in the company of about a half dozen other boats.
The start of Leg 3 of the Baja Ha-Ha
So much for the little secluded bays we had been enjoying.  Now we were near a city with lots of vacationers enjoying the water.  There were jet skiers, para-sail boats, pangas, and party boats blasting music racing through the anchorage in all hours of the day and night.  All the traffic kept the water churned up and the boats at anchor rolled violently.  Working on deck was difficult.  We rigged our handy flopper-stopper, which is a piece of equipment that cuts the rolling of the boat in half.  A boat rolling at anchor is much more tolerable when the surrounding boats are a little worse off.
With Rick and Rosanna of Tension Reliever at the Cabo Beach Party
We went into town and found a bank where we could get some pesos and had lunch at a great little family restaurant we found well off the beaten path (best chile rellenos ever).  It was time to clear into Mexico (Port Captain, Customs, Immigration, etc.) and we had planned to walk through the administrative process on our own.  However, Chuck offered to pay the fee for an agent to process all the paperwork.  The next day we had our six-month tourist visas and we were legally visiting Mexico.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Bahia Santa Maria

We were thankful that the distance for the next leg to Bahia Santa Maria was only 240 nautical miles compared to 360 in the first leg.  Considering the distance and our average boat speed, it was likely that we would be anchoring in the dark.  Before setting out in September, Trisha and I agreed that we would never enter a strange port at night.  This is a dangerous practice because most landmarks are not visible and the lights, if any, can play tricks on you, especially when you’re tired.  We made an exception for the Baja Ha-Ha rally stops because both have large entrances, few obstructions, and we had the waypoints from our cruising guide.  We entered Bahia Santa Maria a little after midnight.  Trisha and Chuck were tired and I was exhausted with only a couple hours sleep over two days.  Entering the bay was no problem, finding a place to anchor was another story.
So happy to be here!
We crept into the huge anchorage at just under two knots.  The moon had set and most of the light was coming from the forty or so boats already at anchor.  As we got closer, we could see red and green lights ahead that seemed to be some kind of marina entrance.  We steered away.  There were a handful of smaller boats zipping around in the distance as if searching for something.  We were amazed at the variety of boats at anchor.  There were sports fishers, commercial boats, pangas, and a few sailboats.  We finally found a place to anchor between a tugboat and a fishing boat.  It was great to finally be tucked in for the night.

We woke up the next morning to find ourselves anchored in a bay with sailboats.  No marina, no tug, no fishing boats, nothing but sailboats.  We now had a first-hand experience with the tricks lights can play.

Bahia Santa Maria was even more remote than Turtle Bay.  There was no village, just a small fishing camp consisting of six or so little structures up on a bluff.  Trisha and I launched the dinghy and explored the beach.  We’ve been told that it is not unusual for boats to leave the rally in Bahia Santa Maria to take more time exploring the area.  We could totally see why.  Walking an untouched white sand beach with a warm breeze it was clear that we had found the Mexico we hade been waiting for.
Trisha found this whale vertebrae on the beach
Beach party at Bahia Santa Maria

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Turtle Bay

As the sun began to light up the night sky, the silhouette of Isla Cedros appeared on the horizon.  The northwest wind picked up so we shut off the engine and unfurled the jib.  Our plan was to sail between Cedros and the mainland, but an early morning report from the Baja Ha-Ha rally leader told of heavy kelp and large tuna traps stored in the passage.  To avoid these challenges, we decided sail out to sea, past the west side of island, and then down the coast to Bahia Tortugas (Turtle Bay).  We wanted to get to Turtle Bay as quickly as possible to avoid arriving and anchoring in the dark – it was going to be tight.
Cedros Island
Winds were light and the waves were coming from multiple directions as we wobbled our way along the island.  Suddenly there was a loud crash on the foredeck.  Closer inspection revealed that the hydraulic boomvang had parted ways with the boom and was now lying on deck.  The boomvang is mounted on about a forty-five degree angle between the boom and the base of the mast.  It pulls down the boom when sailing down wind and keeps the boom from falling to the deck when the mainsail is lowered.  Days of wiggling and swinging had caused the mounting screws to work loose.  The screws were collected in a coke bottle, a short piece of rope suspended the loose part under the boom, and a spare block-and-tackle served as a temporary boomvang.  The last remaining problem was that a topping lift had to be rigged to support the boom before dropping the mainsail.  Enough boring mechanical details for now, let’s just say that stuff breaks.

We were motor sailing with a couple of miles to go and a pack of boats behind us as the sun was setting.  The boats ahead were a couple of miles away and provided no path for us to follow as we approached the anchorage.  Fortunately, we had the GPS coordinates provided by one of our cruising guides.  Thanks to a combination of these waypoints and Trisha and Chuck keeping a sharp eye out, we raced into the anchorage at about six knots with a handful of boats tagging along close behind.

In the morning we woke up in a huge anchorage with a hundred or so sailboats in the waters all around us.  Turtle Bay is the home of a tiny fishing village with dirt roads and few amenities but amazingly friendly people.  Aside form its natural beauty, the most prominent feature is an over abundance of yellowish, brownish dust covering everything.  Thanks to a period of very high winds, the dust was distributed in sand storm style over all the boats in the anchorage.  Turtle Bay reminded us of a lesson learned long ago in California.  An ice cold Tecate beer costs three dollars near the beach and one dollar five blocks inland.

We had just started our Mexico experience.  We practiced a bit of Spanish and realized that recycling is more of an American phenomenon.  Garbage is garbage in Mexico.  After fifteen years of owning Interabang, I jumped from her deck into the water for the very first time in Turtle Bay.  This was the first of many firsts to come.
Derrick and the Skipper from Knuckle Dragger

Friday, October 28, 2011

Mexican Odyssey

With the clock ticking down to the start of the Baja Ha-Ha Rally we put Interabang in a slip at Cabrillo Isle Marina near the San Diego airport.  We were busy for a solid week.  Days were focused on completing a long list of boat projects and provisioning for our voyage down the Baja California Coast.  Evenings were spent with great friends.  The car that Roy and Mary Roque loaned us was a godsend.  Ken and Monica of Endeavor loaned us a fabulous Mexico cruising guide, and gave us a ‘comal’ for warming tortillas and making quesadillas.  We had great fun with Jeannie and David and they gave us many great cruising tips, educated us on Mexican pastries, and gave us an awesome cruising cookbook.  Darrell and Sarah of El Tiburon had us over for cocktails and filled in many of the blanks about our entry into Mexico.  Marina life is expensive and cushy - no worries about making water or keeping the batteries charged – nice, but a little boring.  On Sunday, Chuck, our crew, landed at the San Diego airport and walked across the street to our marina.  Time to get this Baja party started.

Jeanne and David visiting us at Cabrillo Isle
The rally started on the morning of October 24 and it was time to shift into sailing mode once again.  A parade of boats was scheduled before the start of the race.  Wanting to avoid the frenzy of all the rally boats leaving at once, we were the first to leave the dock and creep our way to the parade staging area.  A half hour later we and one hundred fifty other sailboats were slowly motoring to the start line.  The Dolphin, a large sport fisher, presided over the fleet with TV cameras and local dignitaries looking on.  Trisha blew the horn wildly, trying hard to get us on TV.

With light winds, the race organizer announced on the radio that it was “time to get out of town” and start motoring to Mexico.  A few hours later, the fleet had sailed into Mexican waters.  We celebrated the event by drinking a Tecate beer and dutifully raising the Mexican flag on the starboard spreader.  There was still no wind to speak of, so the fleet motor sailed at six knots through the night and into the following morning.  The next day brought more wind and the most glorious day of sailing.  We raised the symmetrical spinnaker at about 1000 and spent eight hours screaming southeast.  At one point, Trisha heard a boat on the radio say, “The boat with the blue spinnaker is kicking my ass.”  It was a sweet ride.
Derrick and Chuck toasting the border crossing

Flying the "kite"
The next night we motor sailed with full main dead down wind with six to eight foot following seas.  Every three minutes or so we would catch a large wave and surf down its face.  Interabang’s hull speed is just shy of eight knots, but with the boat surfing we are able to reach much higher speeds.  At one instant, speed over ground was 10.6 knots on the GPS.  This is wicked fast and we had a great time surfing through the night.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

On the hook in San Diego Bay

Once we started cruising around Southern California, we began hearing vessels identify themselves as warships on the VHF radio.  A voice on the radio would say “This is Warship 52,” for example, and announce the coordinates for a live fire range or ask a civilian vessel to alter course around one of these areas.  We were intrigued by this new vessel description, and we heard it on the radio more frequently as we got closer to San Diego.  During our passage from Dana Point to San Diego we actually began seeing warships.  We spotted a gun ship of some kind and later an aircraft carrier, both about four or five miles away.  Our third warship observation was a bit more intimate.  We had made our way three miles up the San Diego channel and were approaching the first set of docks.  Suddenly, there was a great deal of commotion in our path.  High speed inflatable boats with machine guns and flashing blue lights were zipping all around.  Three large yellow tug boats were taking up most of the channel ahead.  We then heard the announcement of a departing submarine on the VHF radio.  And there it was.  The sub was about thirty yards away and an armed security boat kept us at a distance as we passed it port-to-port.  This was a nerve racking arrival in a strange port.

Welcome party?
Well before dark, we were settled into an anchorage off a golf course just south of the Coronado Bridge.  On our second evening at anchor, Roy and Mary came to meet us for dinner.  Derrick worked with Roy in the late 90’s and he has been a great friend and mentor.  Roy and Mary were very kind to loan us a car while we were in San Diego.  This was extremely helpful in getting prepared for our trip to Cabo San Lucas.  The next night we had dinner with David and Jeanne.  David is the owner and skipper of Siren, the Cal 39 that Derrick crewed on in the Pacific Cup race to Hawaii back in 1998.  It was great catching up with David and Jeanne and revisiting our Pacific Cup experiences.

 After three days, it was time to move to our next anchorage, La Playa on Harbor Island, several miles back up the channel towards the harbor entrance.  The harbor police control the anchoring at La Playa and allow a limited number of boats to anchor there for a maximum of 72 hours over the weekend.  We reserved a space when we checked in with the harbor police upon our arrival (just after the sub incident).  La Playa is an anchorage off Shelter Island that is essentially a wide patch of water nestled between three yacht clubs and a residential beach.

Getting to Shelter Island was more complicated than usual as we had to move a boat and a car.  Our plan was for Trisha to drive the car to the police dock where I would pick her up with the boat and she could help anchor.  The execution of this plan was made a bit more challenging as a thick fog blanketed the police dock and surrounding area.  Fortunately, I had been to the police dock a few days earlier and that experience helped me find my way through the fog.  We were soon on the hook and ready to explore Shelter Island.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dana Point

It’s a small world out there.  One evening, while cruising around Avalon Harbor in our dinghy, we came across Mark and Mimi on Mimiya.  They were our next door boat neighbors back at Marina Village in Alameda.  We knew they were on their way down the coast to San Diego.  Next thing you know, we’re hanging out on their boat in Avalon. 

The forecast said the high winds and seas from the passing storm would calm down on Friday, and it was time to move on.  Rather than make a marathon trip to San Diego, we decided to break up the distance with a stop at the highly recommended Dana Point (Orange County).  The thirty-two mile passage was an uneventful motor/sail and I spent most of the time running the water maker while Trisha piloted the boat.  As we neared shore, we got a first-hand look at the red tide that Southern California has been experiencing.  The color of the water went from blue to reddish brown.  There were occasional tide lines where deep blue streaks of clean water sliced through the red tide.

Once at the Dana Point Harbor entrance, we made a hard left turn behind the sea wall that protected us from crashing waves.  We were led to the west end anchorage by the harbor patrol and found a spot to anchor between the seawall and another anchored boat.  Things were pretty quiet when we arrived on Friday, but that all changed Saturday when we learned that the harbor is well loved by the locals.  During the weekend, there was marine traffic of all shapes and sizes: kayaks, paddle boards, out riggers, power boats, kids racing small sailboats, sailing lessons, an on and on.  We also learned that, at low tide, a beach appears about a hundred feet from our boat and this is the harbor hot spot.  We had a great time watching all the action.

On Sunday, Chuck, our crew for the trip from San Diego to Cabo, made a hundred mile journey from his home to meet us.  We showed him more about the workings of the boat, discussed the paperwork requirements for entering Mexico, and even worked out a watch schedule for our trip.  We also did a dry run for rigging the spinnaker.  We are very excited to have Chuck making the trip with us.
During the night we got very close to the sea wall.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Swinging in Avalon

As our week in Avalon comes to an end, we have to say that this has been our best stop so far.  Once we got past the boats being packed in like sardines, there was much to enjoy.  The harbor is well protected so there is minimal boat rocking.  The town is small and walking is the best way to get around.  The hiking is great in the surrounding hills.  There is a large grocery store for provisioning.  Off the beaten path, we found a restaurant that serves $1 tacos during Happy Hour.  The cruise ship people leave after a relatively brief visit.

Today we’re hunkered down waiting for an early season storm to pass.  Weather reports are closely monitored, particularly the size of the seas.  We need to decide whether to make the crossing to the mainland on Thursday or stay an extra day and let things calm down.  Trisha will make the call.

We took a fair number of pictures and some of the better ones are posted here.  Despite accusations to the contrary, the swinging shot was not alcohol induced.

View from Wrigley Memorial
Flying the battle flag on Saturday
Swinging in Avalon
How much farther to the top?!
View of Avalon from the Divide Road summit
Can we go back to the boat now?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Twenty-six miles across the sea

Click here to listen to the song from 1958, "26 miles (Santa Catalina)"

Avalon Harbor - Santa Catalina Island
On Wednesday at 0730 we left Kings Harbor and headed for Catalina Island.  We said goodbye to our anchor mate, Michael, as he was having a cup of coffee on Compass Rose.  As usual, we raised the main sail in the harbor and motored out.  Fortunately, we had some wind to work with.  Once we rounded Palos Verdes Point, we set the jib, shut down the main engine, and Trisha took the helm while I ran the water maker.  It is a little hectic making water while underway because there is so much going on – sailing, watching for traffic in the shipping lanes, and monitoring the water maker temperature (it can suck up a piece of kelp and overheat).  Trisha did a great job sailing the boat.  Winds were fluky ranging from three to ten knots.  At one point I heard Trisha cheer in celebration in the boat speed hitting six knots.  Making way under sail alone has been a rare treat.

There were dolphins everywhere!
Twenty-two miles goes by fast as the silhouette of Catalina soon came into view through the fog.  Before we knew it we were approaching Ship Rock outside of Cherry Cove.  By 1300 we were on our mooring and comfortably observing the struggles of the arriving boats (one of our favorite pastimes).  Elaine and Jamie on Tardis, old friends from Alameda that moved to San Diego, arrived in the late afternoon.  We had a great time on Tardis.  Elaine’s mole chicken was fabulous and Jamie shared the details of his sailing travels and electronic installations.

Elaine and Jamie on Tardis
At 0900 the next morning, we said goodbye to Elaine and Jamie, dropped the mooring, and made our way to our next port of call, Avalon.  It was a beautiful morning and we enjoyed identifying the rocks and coves as we made our way along the coast.  Avalon is a busy place, and a harbor patrol boat guards the harbor entrance and enforces the first-come-first serve policy, assigns the moorings, and takes payment in cash.  This is the most efficient mooring operation we have ever seen.  The density of the moorings is very tight and it was challenging to slowly squeeze between the boats and the mooring balls.  We were soon tucked in and looking forward to a week of exploring Avalon.