Tuesday, June 1, 2010

True Singlehanding; no buddy boat, no computer, no engine…

Passage: Mazatlan to Topolobampo to San Carlos (5/22-30/2010)
Distance Traveled: 471.2-nm (242.6, 228.6)
Total Travel Time: 185.25-hrs (55.25-hrs, 80-hrs)
Engine Hours: 10.8-hrs (10.8-hrs, 0-hrs)

Saturday morning, May 22nd, Chris was truly singlehanding, alone on Tao with no buddy boat headed for the same destination, nearly 500-nm journey north to San Carlos. Chris was looking forward to this passage, excited for the challenge and eager to start by checking out some surf possibilities just up the coast from the Mazatlan harbor. Happily motoring out of Mazatlan close to shore scoping out surf, all of a sudden Yannie sounded like she lost power. Chris throttled down to neutral and with some final wisps of white smoke, she stopped working all together.

Reminiscent of early season, having come full circle, again just outside of Mazatlan, again engineless. Decision point, turn around and run back to Mazatlan and Total Yacht works or buckle in for the now even bigger passage north? A well timed call (just after engine failure and before cell service was lost) from Shawn found Chris at this point, from her view safely in northern California the decision was obvious- Chris was well rested, well provisioned and southerly flow was filling in. Go for it! The option to turn around and run back down to Mazatlan was always there. Wanting to take advantage off all good winds, Chris quickly got off the phone to set sail offshore to gain sea room. Dolphins swam along side reminding him that he wasn’t truly alone. Still, now engineless and computerless, Shawn was very glad for the SPOT reports sent out as northward progress continued.

As evening fell and winds abated, Chris again tried Yannie. Sounding very sluggish, Chris kept her at low rpms (below 1,000) for 3.4 hours until the winds filled in again just after midnight. In the morning, Chris checked in with Caramelo, en route to Muertos, on the SSB and the whole next day winds were around 10-knots from the southerly direction pushing Tao northward at over 5-knots. That is until the sun set and winds shut down. Yannie was on again, during the graveyard shift at low rpms for another 5.4 hours. Off she went around 0400 when a light NW wind filled in. Tao sailed smartly on building winds up to 15-knots until 1130. After 3-days and 2-nights of solo sailing, on the afternoon of May 24th, Chris dropped anchor in the shelter of Punta de San Ignacio.

A short distance away, an eerie hulk of a steel, an old ship, was rusting on the beach at the north end of Bahia de Topolobampo. When the anchor was down, Chris immediately checked on Yannie. He found a quart of oil and diesel mixed in the pan and decided against any further engine use. The winds continued to increase to 20 and then 25-knots. A mere hour after he was set, Rocky was brought back aboard, the 100% jib was raised and Tao sprinted on the now strong NW winds the 9-nm back downwind to the entrance of Bahia de Ohuira which houses Topolobampo proper. 3.25-hrs later Chris sailed onto anchor in the calm protection of sand dunes at the mouth of the estuary.

For the next two days, the winds howled from the NW and safe from the norther, Tao swung on Rocky with the strong currents at the mouth of the estuary. Chris received cell service and was able to contact both Shawn and his father Dave to discuss possibilities regarding the engine. The consensus was the problem could be a faulty lift pump diaphragm, but whatever it actually was, the engine likely should not be run until fixed, so after 8.8-hrs of low rpm speeds since the incident, the seacocks were closed and Yannie was put to bed for the rest of the passage. Very solitary here, Chris did not see one other ship or person while in this beautiful place. He pumped up Eeyore and ventured to the sand dunes exploring ashore, resting up for the next leg of this journey, and awaiting the norther to pass.

Early (0645) on the morning of Thursday 27th, Chris weighed anchor and attempted to sail out of the entrance to the estuary. Two hours later he abandoned the harbor exit attempt as the incoming tide was too great for the wind conditions. The anchor was again set to await an outgoing tide. Start number two began at 1400 (amazing how much easier life is when you go with the flow) and the next leg of the northward trek had begun. Spanning 4-days and 3-nights Tao slowly worked her way 229-nm north to San Carlos.

The first night was a magical sail with perfect light southerly winds filling in, a beautiful full moon, and bright stars illuminating the way. The next day was filled with delightful wing-on-wing sailing and the first sign that anyone else was moving on the sea as traffic passed to port. Day-3 was full of light and variable winds with random strong gusts and sail change after sail change ending in a final night of beating northward in northwesterly winds and wave-slop reminding Chris where all of Tao’s leaks are. The morning of May 30th dawned clear with continued NW winds. Tao was close, a mere 7-nm off San Carlos, when the winds suddenly shut down. Tao rolled around awaiting a breeze to carry her in, Mother Nature teasing Chris with spectacular views of the entrance to San Carlos Bay. Tao ghosted in on a breath of wind and finally at 1450, the anchor was down (on the 2nd try as the first anchoring had been too close to the channel). At long last, Chris breathed a sigh of proud satisfaction and caught some sleep.

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