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.