Friday, March 4, 2011

San Carlos to Topolobampo to Mazatlan

Passage: San Carlos to Topolobampo to Mazatlan (Feb 14 to Feb 21)

Travel Distance: 180-nm, 244-nm

Travel Time: 51.25-hr, 56.5-hr

Average speed: 3.5-knots, 3.7-knots

Engine hours: 1.5-hr, 7-hr

After what felt like quite a long time of not moving, we pulled Rocky aboard and motored to the fuel dock in Bahia San Carlos where we filled our 5-gallon diesel jerry jug, gave Tao one more freshwater rinse, and then finally headed out of the bay into the Sea of Cortez (aka Gulf of California). We set our sails and relished once again being under sail. Starting out under 100% jib alone sailing downwind at around 6-knots, as the sun dipped behind the Baja and our bodies got used to the motion of the sea, we decided this was the perfect way for us to spend Valentine’s Day 2011.

Throughout the beautiful moonlit night the winds decreased but sunrise brought the breezes back and we hoisted the main and fell off to sail wing-on-wing for a gorgeous day averaging around 5-knots. The second night winds dropped off even further so we dropped our main, but the swell continued just off our stern quarter and created a bit of uncomfortable motion. The next morning, after listening to the weather and determining it was forecast to stay light, we dropped the 100% and hoisted the new-to-us 165% for mellow sailing with lots of sail area up front. We raised our Mexican courtesy flag on the flag halyard with our newest handmade prayer flags underneath and also raised the US flag up its new backstay halyard. Although slowly and steadily making way and very close, we were still too far to set the hook before darkness descended. So, we decided to fire up Yannie at 1630 and motored toward shore to set the anchor in very settled conditions just off the shipwreck in the lee of Punta San Ignacio a mere 8 miles north of Topolobampo just as the sun disappeared into the sea.

The next morning we excitedly got Eeyore all pumped up and transferred Ruby (our 15-hp) off Tao onto the dink in preparation for going ashore to explore the shipwreck. There was quite a bit of swell breaking along the entirety of endless miles of beach, so Chris used his surf skills well to time our entrance between the closing waves, and we managed to land without mishap or even stepping on one of the jelly fish that were everywhere (does anyone know what kind they are?). None of our guide books say anything about this rusting cargo ship Carmen so we just explored her stripped down rusty innards. Chris was super excited about the huge engine room and noted an area fresh with grease that someone had recently liberated a part from. Shawn was most impressed by the magnitude of the whole boat and how much solitude there seemed to be as it sits there on the beach rusting away.

After appropriately timing our way out of the crashing 3-ft waves (very thankfully Ruby started upon demand as Shawn managed to pop an oar in the initial row out) and back to Tao, about 1500, we weighed anchor and sailed with the currents toward the entrance toward Topolobampo. The incoming flood pushed us along and we were able to sail into and along the well marked channel entrance as the full moon rose ahead and the sun set behind in simultaneous magnificence. Four hours after pulling Rocky aboard, under the blazing light of the moon, we sailed onto anchor in outer-Topolobampo in the lee of Isla Santa Maria.

The next day we again put Ruby onto Eeyore (decidedly our new surf mobile setup), packed for a day away from the boat with a VHF radio and a GPS, and made our way the 5-miles from our anchorage into Topolobampo proper. By chance, we chose to head left at the fork in the channel (instead of right into what turned out to be the more industrial side and the large Bahia Ohuira) and got permission to leave Eeyore at the small and quite nice though relatively empty Marina Palmira dock. From the marina, we hiked into the small mellow town and walked the malecon, enjoying ice cream and being the only gringos along the way. There was a seafood restaurant overlooking Bahia Ohuira that looked like the prow of a ship, so of course we decided to grab a bite to eatand while there we met the nice couple from Nordic V and shared our excitement over the seemingly undiscovered beauty of this area. With full belly’s, we made a loop back toward our waiting chariot by hiking up over the hill to the church which had amazing views overlooking our anchorage and the sea. The tide was much lower by this time and we found that it really is wise to stay in the marked channel. Though we had no major mishap, we did do a little "sanding" of Ruby’s propeller before realizing how shallow we actually were and rowing back to the main channel where we again watched the sun set as we quickly motored back to Tao.

After a morning hike around the now abandoned fish camp on Isla Santa Maria (it had been in heavy use when Chris had stopped here as he made his way northward last May), followed by lunch, the tides were right for exiting the harbor. Set for another passage, this time south to Mazatlan, we weighed anchor. Once Rocky was aboard, we set the 100% jib and then the main to sail out of the channel on light winds from the south, the shallows outside both sides of the channel marks crashing around us. With the current spitting us directly out the bay’s exit we only had to tack once to stay high enough in the channel and were sailing on near nothing winds at 6-knots (obviously mostly current).

After the convergence zone mark, winds disappeared completely and the currents started taking us northward. We decided to fire up Yannie and make a few miles in the right direction while we were in the “cone of no wind” awaiting the forecast northerly winds. Six and a half hours later at 2300, the engine was given a rest and the 100% went up in the slightest of breezes. Winds were unsettled for the rest of the night shifting from W to NE several times, but we continued to make way the right direction and as the sun rose, the predicted winds finally filled in from the NW.

In the morning, up went the main for wing-on-wing sailing flying along around 5-knots all day until 1400 when winds mellowed and boat speed dipped below 2-knots. So up went our 165% and several hours later, as the sun set, a nice little breeze filled in to push us along between 5 and 7 knots. Around midnight as the winds abated but the seas did not, we changed our point of sail for a bit of a more comfortable ride. The next day we had a beautiful downwind sail conditions, wing-on-wing the whole way to Mazatlan’s Old Harbor. Though we didn’t quite make it by sun down, we had the opportunity to watch the beautiful Mazatlan skyline twinkle to life. Once in the lee of the lighthouse marking the entrance to Old Harbor, we started Yannie, brought sails down, hailed the port captain to check that the entrance was clear, and motored into the anchorage which was well known to Chris. Rocky was set by 2030 and we breathed a sigh of relief having made it here before Chris’ dad, due the next afternoon.

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