Friday, April 23, 2010

Surfing your sailboat 101 (written March 20th, 2010)

Passage: San Blas to Matenchen Bay

Total time: 2.25-hr

Engine hours: 2.4-hr (plus 0.5-hr to recharge, only sailed off anchor and down estuary channel, read on for why...)

Total distance: 6.15-nm

Average speed: 3 knots

The Fleet’s time in San Blas Estuary drew to an end in mid-March. On March 13th the crews from Estrella, Caramelo, Plume, and Tao attended the weekly cruisers potluck (in the bug-less Singlar facility) to celebrate Kristina from Caramelo’s 30th birthday. The following day Caramelo left the estuary for Chacala, an anchorage 20 miles south with palm trees and no bugs, while Tao, Plume, and Estrella stayed in the estuary to complete a few extra tasks including taxes (uggh!) and re-provisioning for the journey south to Banderas Bay. March 18th dawned like any other day in San Blas, calm and pleasant. Little did the crews of Tao and Estrella know that they were going to have a sailboat surfing lesson that afternoon.

Plume made their way out of the estuary at high slack in the early afternoon. By late afternoon, Tao and Estrella were still making an effort to get out of the estuary, somewhat of a vortex, and hoped to set the hook in Matenchen Bay a mere 4-miles away. Mistake #1: forcing a departure schedule. Mistake #2: they began their exit attempt near the end of an outgoing tide. Upon raising anchor and motoring towards the channel entrance, Estrella’s first pass of the outer jetty revealed a set of waves breaking clear across the channel. Several minutes behind and under sail, Chris on Tao did not see much wave activity out the channel. In fact, to Chris’s eyes as an indefatigable surfer of waves on rivers and the ocean, the sea state appeared calm. Tao proceeded to exit the estuary cautiously…Mistake #3. All of a sudden, out of the ocean, a distinct wave line appeared. As an oceanbound sailboat, Tao was excited to sample surfing. Unfortunately for her, Chris had no such desire for them both. Although she was nearly able to catch her first breaking wave over the shoals of San Blas, Chris foiled her attempt by starting the motor just in the knick of time, turning the tiller hard to port, and directing Tao’s bow into the steepening wall of water now making its way toward them.

Over the first wave, and luckily Tao was clear of further threat. Estrella was not so lucky. At the time, Chris felt that his close call with the one wave was a fluke. The sea was otherwise calm. He advised Estrella that the way was clear, but the risk was theirs to take. Slowly working their way out of the channel, Estrella was outside of the inner jetty when out of the ocean appeared another set of waves. This time the set consisted of more than just 1 wave, and, as is typical with most sets, the first wave of the set was not the largest. Tao watched as Estrella had the time of their life. One wave broke over their rail and the boat was rocked from end to end. On Tao, Chris observed the top of Estrella’s mast making large lurches forward and aft while her entire profile was hidden from view from the size of the oncoming waves. Then, all was well when the set passed…or almost. The line holding their hard dinghy, which was trailed behind for such a short journey, snapped in two. Luckily, a panga was on its way out at the same time and was able to help Estrella reclaim their dinghy. A little shaken, but otherwise OK, Tao and Estrella continued on under power to Matenchen Bay and anchored as the light was fading from the day. Luckily, they had both made it through their sailboat surf lessons unscathed, and the number of mosquitoes and no-see-ums was also greatly reduced; both causes for a celebration of life. Salud!

The following day, March 19th, was a day of rest in Matenchen Bay for Tao. Plume decided to make passage to La Cruz in Banderas Bay, and left for their overnight journey mid-afternoon. Adam (from Estrella) and Chris decided to go surfing on the waves rolling into the well formed bay. The perfect but small peeling right handers over the sand shoals inside of Tao looked like a good place to start. Chris later found out that, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, this was the location of the one of the longest waves in North America. Although almost too small to ride, Chris and Adam were ready to get wet. Chris later realized that this was his first surf session since December 2008 at Paradise Cove in Malibu, CA, on Tao’s journey south from San Francisco Bay. It’s hard to believe that he hadn’t been able to surf anywhere along the Baja coast on the southbound journey, but, at the time, Chris and Shawn agreed that ensuring a safe sailing passage took priority over wave riding. Adam and Chris were rewarded with a few short rides before the sun dipped below the palms along the rocky point and provided a spectacular canvas of gold, red, and purple before the stars appeared for another night of rest.

However, before shutting down for the night, Chris listened to Don Anderson’s updated weather forecast on the Southbound marine SSB net, and was surprised to find that Don’s previous predictions of “no wind” had been replaced. Instead winds were expected to pick up to a brisk 20-30 knots from the NNW. Chris radioed Adam on Estrella to consult about a possible change in plans. Originally, Estrella and Tao were planning a slow passage south towards Punta de Mita, stopping at a few locations along the coast to break up the trip. Unfortunately, none of the intermediate anchorages were reported to offer good protection from moderate to strong NW winds. Adam, Kristina, and Chris decided to leave at 0400 hrs the next morning with the intention of arriving in the protected lee of Punta de Mita before sunset.

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