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