Monday, July 12, 2010

The longest 30-nm yet, earning every mile

Passage: Puerto Refugio to Bay of LA (7/6)

Distance Traveled: approximately 35-nm

Time Traveled: 17.25-hrs

Engine hours: 0.5-hrs to get out of anchorage past trawler with current and no wind

We spent a blissful week with Puerto Refugio mostly to ourselves. We first anchored in the West Bay off Isla Mejia and spent several days swimming, hiking, snorkeling, and generally watching the tides rise and fall and the currents rush past like a river switching directions.

When a southerly event was forecast we decided to seek shelter in the East Bay and spent several days exploring that side of the anchorage. We have realized that projects are indeed more fun in exotic ports implemented several: Shawn got Elna out and made some no-see-um screens as well as patched Eeyore’s canvas cover while Chris did several little lingering projects that were dominated by removing all excess 4200 from everything we have ever installed on deck. We celebrated the 4th of July by putting up (along with our Mexican courtesy flag of course) our American flag, (which hasn't been up since who knows when- it's flagpole had such nice varnish on it, reminding us that the rest of the varnish needs to be redone), dinghy exploring, snorkeling, and uploading e-mails to family.

Moving on, we weighed anchor on Monday July 5th and sailed out of the East Bay, around Fang Rock in the center of the bay, through the river passing between it and the West Bay and started our trek towards Bahia de Los Angeles. Winds were light from the north in Puerto Refugio, but, as suspected that was due to a big eddy created by southerly flow, and as we exited the protection of AdlG, we realized the next 25-nm was indeed going to be an upwind beat. Already after noon, we decided to turn around and run back to our favorite anchorage to catch some sleep and prepare for an upwind adventure.

Tuesday the 6th we weighed anchor at 0400 and slowly sailed our way out of Puerto Refugio in the light of the moon and stars. A half hour later when the slight breeze vanished and currents dominated we turned Yannie on for a half hour to get us passed an anchored trawler and out of the protection of AdlG. We were hoping to catch a little bit of the summer westerlies in the early hours, but at 0530 as the sun rose, winds filled in forcefully at 12-15 from the SSE- directly where we were headed and we pulled our first reef in the mainsail. We pushed on, prepared for a beat to windward. However, we were not prepared for the beating we were about to receive. At 0600 winds were up to 20-knots with 2-3-foot seas at 3-sec. We pulled the second reef and discussed changing out the 100% for our 80% jib, a change we hadn’t made since passing Abreojos on the outside. By 0700 we had the 80% up (after nearly losing the 100% overboard when sail ties lashing it to the stanchions failed) and had tacked back toward shore hoping for protection from AdlG. We should have thought a little bit about the “promontory effect,” as winds were up to 20-25 gusting 30+ from the SE with waves up to 4ft at 3-sec, and the tide was flooding against us (though with the wind), but we didn’t. Instead, we took the third reef in our main (our first time to get to really use it) and a half hour later we tacked back away from shore to head across the Canal de Ballenas, the Baja coast a mere 8.5-nm away.

Shawn was down below sponging up water (which is another story in itself) Chris was on deck, having just disconnected Moni to steer into the gusts, when a gust came down a canyon directly from the west and put Tao on her side to a near knock down- we guesstimate about 75 degrees over (15-deg being comfortable heeling, 20-deg being sail reduction time, and 90-deg being mast at the water). Surprisingly everything was well secured on deck (including us with our life vests, jack lines, and safety tethers) and down below (including Griz in her hiding spot behind the port settee) through it. The biggest issue was that we took water over the downwind rail into the cockpit, but it drained relatively quickly and overall it was comforting to observe how quickly and well Tao reacted in this weather, immediately righting, turning into the wind and draining.

Knowing that we could always turn around and run north back to our favorite anchorage, we decided to continue on and an hour later the winds had considerably mellowed to SE 20-knots and seas back down to 3-ft. As we looked behind us, winds still appeared strong toward Isla AdlG, but were lightening for our sail. An hour and a half later we found ourselves having completely crossed the channel and nearing the Baja coast as the winds completely shut down. We shook all three reefs, looking back toward Isla AdlG, where we could see whitecaps a mere half hour ago, there was nothing. The winds had vanished and also the tide had shifted, the currents now taking us toward our goal. When we slowed to less than two knots at 1000, we decided to put the 100% back on. A mere 15-min later, we watched a line of menacing white caps roll down the channel. Luckily we were in the shadow of the Baja coast, or so we thought.

At 1015 we realized that we were going to get hit again by a second round, this time we ruled out any sort of promontory effect, it was just here. So, we triple reefed. By 1030 winds were upon us SSE 20-25-knots with seas immediately up to 2-4-ft at 3-sec and we had the 100% down on deck. Looking at this as a chance to improve our last slow and painful sail change, we raised the main to our 2nd reef in order to heave-to. We lashed the tiller, removed the 100% and hanked on the 80%. Before raising the 80%, as a test, we attempted to tack with the double-reefed mainsail only, although close, it was unsuccessful. We pulled the third reef, and though not expecting to be able to tested again- not even close to tacking. Tao gained speed readily after we raised the 80% and we tacked to port, away from the Baja coast. At 1100 we were sailing at over 6-knots close reaching upwind with our 80% and triple-reefed mainsail. By noon, the winds started easing again and we shook all three reefs. By 1230 we were bobbing, windless, in flat seas saying, “What the hell just happened?”

Taking the opportunity, Shawn cooked up some lunch. We ate and awaited the next round. We watched a pod of at least 100 dolphin playing in the flat water. Finally we pulled the 80% down and replaced the jib pennant that we noted had a meathook. The seas were so flat that we could hear dolphins splashing miles away and whales blowing from across the channel. All of a sudden we were surrounded by a pod of at least 20 pilot whales heading north, swimming right by Tao. Amazing. Still gaping at them as they swam away, we felt a little breeze again from the SE. The 100% went up and the winds filled in at a nice 4-5 knots, seas calm.

Two hours later at 1530 we were at the north end of Isla Coronado, only a couple miles away from our planned anchorage. And then we were in LA Bay and the islands shadow- again with no wind. Tao ghosted along on little breezes that came from this direction and that. We waited patiently, had some soup for early dinner and 2.5-hrs later the expected evening winds filled in from the west. We got to the little island Isla Mitlan that according to our guide book information had protection from the west, to find absolutely no protection from these building winds. We dropped the main and sailed around under 100% alone, Shawn on bow-watch and Chris tacking Tao in search of possible anchorage.

No dice, nearly sunset now, we headed to our backup plan- Bahia La Gringa only 3-nm away, an open bay to southerlies, but good protection for anything west to east. We sailed at 4-knots under jib alone on 10-15-knots from the west, gusting up to 20. We set Rocky at 2000, close to shore for fetch protection from the summertime westerlies. Quick tide calculations showed that we should be in deeper water for safety of swinging if southerlies came in during the night, so we weighed anchor and let the winds blow us off shore until our preferred depth of 28-ft. Rocky set for the second time at 2016. Shawn immediately started dinner while Chris closed the boat down for the night. Out of fresh veggies, our tired bodies were happy as we wolfed down with an amazing dinner of chicken alfredo pasta and split pea soup then promptly fell into bed to recover from the day. Thirty very hard earned miles, we slept hard.

North into the Sea (written 6/30/2010)

Passage: San Carlos to Algadones to San Pedro to Puerto Refugio (6/24 – 6/28)

Distance Traveled: 211-nm (7.5-nm, 15-nm, 188.5-nm)

Time Traveled: 62.75-hr (4.5-hr, 3.75-hr, 54.5-hr 3-days 2-nights)

Engine hours: 8.4-hr (0.5-hr, 0-hr, 7.9-hr)

After three weeks anchored in San Carlos project-making, we finally put the sails up and started to move. Thursday June 24th after getting Pepe washed and stored in San Carlos, taking one last fresh water shower, filling Tao’s diesel tank, and freshwater rinsing the deck we set out. At 1445 we pushed off the fuel dock, motored to the anchorage, turned Yannie off and set sail as we watched Randy and Jenny aboard Dulcinea (20-ft Flicka) tacking out of the anchorage. We were quick to follow suit and Tao raced ahead, excited to be back under sail, moving at 2 to 3-knots on a light 5 knot breeze. Just before the sun set, we anchored in Bahia Algadones; 7.5-nm sailing, but a mere 2.25-nm as the crow flies from where we were anchored for the past weeks. Once Dulcinea sailed in and got their anchor down they joined us with the bright nearly full moon overhead for a late night pesto pasta meal and shared stories of shaking the San Carlos Vortex.

The next morning SE winds filled in for a beautiful sail to Bahia San Pedro- so beautiful we nearly passed it to make some miles northward toward the Midriff Islands. After 10.75-nm of downwind sailing, we did a sailby to check the south protection in Bahia San Pedro. We tacked back out to discuss our plan and sailed halfway to Isla San Pedro discussing whether to continue on while the winds were in our favor or stop for another evening with Dulcinea. Finally we reached the right decision, and tacked back, having added another 5-nm to our journey sailing onto anchor in the bay for more fun times in Bahia San Pedro. We enjoyed a huge meal in Tao’s cockpit with fresh ceviche (ala Randy and Jenny), grilled veggies and chicken, and even chocolate brownies (ala Chris). The story filled night was topped of with a full moon and the morning we awoke to a lunar eclipse!

Unable to talk Dulcinea into continuing northward, we waved as they sailed off to start their beat back to San Carlos and shifted our thoughts toward passage making. After listening to Don’s weather, making contact with Estrella, and a quick head plumbing rerouting, at 1035 Saturday the 26th, we weighed anchor and started our passage north into the Sea. The next 3-days and 2-nights we worked our way into unknown (to us) territory. The north end of the Sea of Cortez (where the Colorado River ends) is new territory for us. In our experience, if you see white caps you can safely assess approximately 10-knots of wind from that direction. However, here splashing lines of white coming toward you are not necessarily due to wind, as or more likely you are seeing either A) a pod of dolphin hunting, B) a flock of birds floating, or most frequently C) a current moving in a certain direction building the waves to breaking; very confusing. However, we toiled our way northward dealing with situations as they arose.

We had a beautiful first day of downwind sailing on SSE winds out toward Isla San Pedro Martir in the center of the Sea. As the sun set the haze cleared and we realized that we could see the Midriffs to the north as well as the outlines of the Baja to the west and Mainland to the east. We continued to work our way north through fresh winds from the WNW to no winds and sloppy seas. The morning of day-2 dawned with winds from the NE and as luck would have it, we were at the passage between Isla Esteban and Isla Tiburon at the perfect time, just as the tide was turning in our direction. Winds shifted around from the NW and then further west for WNW and a near 7-knot sail on the beam with the current between the islands. After the channel, the winds went very light around noon and abruptly died. An hour later, still caught in the eddy just north of Punta Willard on Isla Tiburon and no wind, we fired up Yannie for 2.5-hrs of motoring through glassy seas until the slightest of breezes filled in and we sailed on.

Night-2, at 2330, smart winds finally picked up from the west and we started to sail again. Little did we know we were about to meet another wind phenomenon called the “Elefantes,” or at least a mellow version of them (catabatic winds accentuated by topography). Half an hour later we had gone from no wind and engine on to engine off, all sails up, to a double reefed main with 25-knots of wind gusting to 30+ and angry looking seas picked up to 3-4-ft at 3-seconds. After an hour of making way beating into this and no sign of winds abating with a 15-nm fetch from the lee of Isla Angel de la Guarda, we chose to heave-to. We dropped the 100% jib and lashed the tiller hard over making for much more comfortable motion, monitored and rested. By 0300 winds had abated to 15-knots but still gusting to 20+, it wasn’t until 0500 when the seas stopped looking quite so menacing and we raised the jib to continued on. Unfortunately, a mere 2-hours later, winds abruptly dropped and we found ourselves again bobbing, becalmed. By noon the winds shifted from the south and ever so slowly we ghosted toward Puerto Refugio at the north end of Angel de la Guarda (AdlG). At 1500, still over 10-nm out of safe anchorage although we could see white caps, we were again becalmed with currents in charge. Instead of spending another night out, we turned Yannie on and headed in.

At the north end of 42-mile long national park, Isla AdlG, we noted that water temperatures had decreased nearly 10-degrees to low 70's and over the next two hours as we made our way inshore, we were welcomed to the northern Sea by a variety of sea life; sea lions, finback whales, sea turtles and many species of birds- rookeries everywhere and even the beloved boobies. Although the guidebook information we have seemed to point to the “East Bay” of Puerto Refugio as the favored anchorage, we decided to motor to the “West Bay” to see it and get a waypoint in case a middle-of-the-night move was required for protection from NW winds.

We stumbled upon paradise and set the anchor in bright blue waters with clearly visible sand 25-ft below us off the little island, Isla Mejia, on the NW side of Isla AdlG at 1700 on Monday June 28th. Happy to have the hook down, we cooked a steak in celebration, sat back to relax surrounded by thousands of calling birds, and watched the sun set on the mountains, as the tides moved toward their nearly 14-foot swings and the currents created "rivers" of water passing by with the flood and ebb.