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...

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