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.

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