Sunday, February 21, 2010

Southern Crossing: Muertos to Mazatlan

Passage: Bahia de los Muertos to Mazatlan

Travel time: 49.5 hours

Average speed: 4.3 knots

Approximate mileage: 210 nautical miles

The morning of February 3rd dawned with clearing skies and a light offshore breeze. Chris and Dave made ready for the beginning of their 195-nm passage to Mazatlan, sent out their last emails, and raised anchor at a little after 10AM. Winds were light from astern at first, but quickly rotated clockwise as Tao made way a few miles offshore. As the wind veered, the crew went through several sail combinations before settling on the simplest; the working 100% jib and a single reefed main. A very pleasant and steady 10-15 knots of wind built out of the northern quadrant.

Tao sailed windward of the Mazatlan waypoint to be upwind of the objective in case of an unfavorable shift in wind direction. Besides a few ominous looking clouds looming off both bow and stern, the route appeared clear and visits from several pods of dolphins helped us along. The last rays of the sun filtered through the grey cloud mass off the slowly shrinking land mass behind us. Yellow light soon faded to red, purple, and then the only light left was that produced by lightening in flashes from every direction. With the darkness, Chris and Dave became acutely aware of just how many cloud cells were tracking across the waters. The largest and closest off their stern was the focus for now, but lightening was continuously flashing in the distance from at least 3 other locations.

The shift schedule consisted of four 3-hr shifts at night and three 4-hr shifts during the day. The first evening shift started at 1900 hours, and the odd number of shifts ensured a switchover. Regardless of who was on watch, both Chris and Dave spent the first night on the edge of their nerves enraptured with the incredible storm cells, and changed course several times in attempts to avoid their apparent tracks. Darkness changed their perspective, and the storms appeared larger, more threatening, and closer than they actually were. The only other vessel noted that stormy night was the overnight ferry destined for Mazatlan from La Paz, steaming directly towards its goal without concern for the storm cells exploding all around.

Sunrise on their second day out, February 4th, was a welcome sight. To the great relief of Tao’s crew, the night’s storms greatly dissipated and pleasant winds filled in at steady 10-12 knots from the NW. However, now in the middle of the southern crossing, the seas became bouncy and uncomfortable with short period swell from almost every direction one could imagine. As multiple layers of waveforms with different frequency, amplitude, and period collided with one another, some added to wave size, while others cancelled each other out. Add to this huge tidal forces rushing unfathomable amounts of water in and out of the Sea of Cortez can increase wave steepness and propensity to break all together creating unpredictable mixed seas.

In short, Tao’s crew were being knocked this way and that by short, steep 1-3 foot mixed slop. In fact, the energy expended trying to keep oneself upright and free from seasickness in these conditions is sailor exercise. No joke, you burn calories. Chris and Dave spent a lot of time during the journey across to Mazatlan in the cockpit, sitting and watching the living sea around them. The second night out was nothing like the first. The seas were so bouncy they had to wedge themselves into the sea berth with two cushions. Still, sleep was much improved from the previous night, with now clear skies and pleasant winds. Off the bow, the city lights beckoned for most of the early morning hours, and Tao was 10 miles short of her destination when the sun arose on February 5th.

The initial plan was to go directly into the Puerto Viejo (Old Port) and set the hook in the free anchorage off of a place called Club Nautico. This is located at the south end of Mazatlan, near to the city center where the large Mazatlan shrimping fleet is based and where the large passenger ferries dock. Oddly, the only marina facility is located on the opposite side of town, 7 miles north, and it is built into a dredged estuary. This feat of engineering accommodates 4 different marinas and numerous pleasure yachts.

Since a top priority was getting the engine looked at, Chris hailed the Yanmar mechanics at Total Yacht Works on the VHF and after brief conversations Tao grudgingly changed course to head 7 miles upwind toward the end tie of Dock 4 at Marina Mazatlan. Frustratingly, the wind nearly disappeared just as the course changed and the crew spent most of the morning slowly sailing Tao into the tight marina entrance at the north end of town. They sailed safely onto the marina end tie around 11:30AM. Chris and Dave had made it to Mazatlan 4 days ahead of Dave’s scheduled February 9th departure flight. Coming off of a sailing passage, no less tying onto a dock, was a bit of a shock for both of them. Suddenly surrounded by the noises of industry and the hustle and bustle of people it was time to assess the engine...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

San Gabriel to Muertos

Passage: Bahia San Gabriel to Bahia de los Muertos

Travel time: 23.75 hours

Average speed: 2.3 knots (brought down by the night calm...)

Approximate mileage: 53.2 nautical miles

January 31st. The distance between the anchorage and the shore in Bahia San Gabriel (Isla Espiritu Santo) was very deceptive from the perspective of Tao’s cockpit. Chris and his dad sailed onto anchor in 15-20-feet of water which would normally imply a close proximity to the shoreline. Not in this case. It was a good 20 minute motor ride with all of Seahor’s 2 horsies working overtime before Eeyore landed ashore. But during the trip, they were rewarded with stunning water colors, from blue to light green, and everything in between as the sun shone brightly. Once finally ashore, it was hard to see Tao’s hull and mast bobbing out in the massive bay.

They began walking inland towards a large salt water lagoon rimmed with mangroves. Vegetation was sparse and rugged, spiny acacias, cacti, and lots of raw rock. They walked across 2.5-miles of spectacular desert scape. It was warm enough to work up a sweat, but nothing compared to the baking summertime temperatures. After about an hour of weaving through prickly underbrush they finally made it to the east side of the Isla overlooking the small bay formed by Punta Bonanza for a quick PB&J lunch. A small cruise ship was anchored peacefully in the lee of the point while small wavelets broke along a nicely formed sand beach littered with colorful seashells.

After lunch, Dave returned to San Gabriel via the direct return route while Chris explored the area around Punta Bonanza more thoroughly. He wanted to find the elusive hot springs that were described briefly in the old Charlie’s Chart cruising guide. No dice. His efforts were instead rewarded with the discovery of an old set of concrete foundations apparently left from a failed business venture or fishing village and a the spotting of a Conejo Negro, an endemic species of black rabbit on the island.

Rocky was hauled aboard the next day (February 1st), and sails were set. There was a surprisingly heavy pull of an unknown force towards La Paz. Mechanics could be found in La Paz, and parts could be shipped down from the States. Plus, we could contact Doug, the sailmaker and canvas guru at Snug Harbor Sails about a future wishlist upgrade…a dodger. Thus, the delay could be used to address two goals instead of one. Furthermore, Chris already knew his way around La Paz because of the time he and Shawn spent there last winter and the ambrosia served in the form of homemade ice cream from the masters at La Fuente was particularly enticing. All in all, the tractor beam now aimed at Tao from La Paz was getting dangerously close and indeed, course was set for La Paz.

Fortunately, word over the ham airwaves arrived that boat engine parts could take weeks to get down to La Paz. As can be seen in the passage track above, Tao abruptly turned 180 degrees and course was newly set for Bahia de los Muertos, staging ground for the southern crossing of the Sea of Cortez. New destination: Mazatlan; where flight arrangements awaited Dave and fortuitously(?) the only certified Yanmar mechanics on the West Coast of Mexico are based.

Tao tacked east through Lorenzo channel on a building NE breeze and navigation was via our previous waypoints and depth monitoring as the channel markers had been removed. Besides tacking, entertainment included watching an undersized motorboat with a blue flashing light on top trying to maneuver the huge replacement channel buoys into place as we sailed by. Winds were very favorable on the beam into the evening as miles were quickly ticked off to Muertos between Isla Cerralvo and the Baja peninsula. But night fell, and so did the winds. As was the case last time Tao approached Muertos nearly a year previously, the rest of the night and some of the morning of February 2nd was spent covering the last 18 of the 53-mile journey. Mid morning the hook was set in Bahia de los Muertos, where 4 other yachts were anchored.

No rest for the weary as Chris and Dave headed into the Bay of Dreams Beach Club (renamed for marketing purposes) and spent the afternoon on the internet, using the telephone, and attempting to get parts mailed to Mexico before they set off across to Mazatlan. As they sat in the palapa eating a large plate of arrachera (a popular beef cut with the locals), a large dark cell of rain descended upon the anchorage, delivering a deluge of water complete with thunder and several lightening bolts. Still, weather reports from saildocs GRIB files and Don and Geary on the Amigo and Sonrisa Nets, respectively, were looking good for a morning departure. Rain continued to fall after sunset, and it was even cool enough to dust off the diesel cabin heater. The cabin hadn’t been that cozy since Chris and Shawn were anchored at Little Harbor on Catalina Island welcoming in the new year of 2009. Time to catch up on some sleep…