As the saying goes: Cruising is fixing your boat in exotic places
I spent a good part of the day fixing things:
One of the dual Racor fuel filters had been dripping fuel into the bilge (onto absorbent pads) for a couple of weeks. I’ve tried replacing o-rings on the threaded drain knob at the bottom of the bowl several times in the past, but it continued leaking a few ounces per day. It was a nuisance cleaning up the pads and once I forgot to check things for a week and had to remove a half gallon of diesel from the bilge using a drill pump. I noticed if I tightened the plastic drain too much, the o-ring compressed too much and it leaked faster. But even loosening it by various amounts wouldn’t stop the leak all-together. Removing and inspecting the drain plug, I noticed the bottom of the plastic bowl was a little uneven, so I filed it smooth with a very fine file. I also put a bit of silicone gasket sealer on the threads next to where the o-ring seats. After screwing the plug back in and re-filling the bowl with diesel, it seems to have stopped the leaking–at least 24 hours later, I’ll keep an eye on it!
Our Fleming self steering wind vane, nicknamed Ian, never really worked right and I think I finally found out why! Another cruiser (Scott from SV Velvet Sky) was telling me how well his wind vane steered his boat and offered to take a look at mine. His is a Monitor, but works the same by turning the wheel in response to veering off a set course with respect to the wind. The problem with Ian, is that he seemed to turn into the wind all the time and never corrected course. Analyzing how the wind affects the vane, which affects the servo-pendulum rudder, which in turn moves the wheel, we realized that the lines going from Ian to the wheel drum needed to be reversed, or criss-crossed, to make the wheel turn in the correct direction! I decided to cross them where they were routed through the lazarette, which was more difficult than crossing them near the wheel drum, but provided a fairer lead through the blocks. Can’t wait to test Ian out on our next sail!
The head felt like it wasn’t flushing properly. The Y valve that steers waste either into an onboard stainless steel tank or overboard was getting harder to move, and with the valve in the tank position, you could hear some of the water going overboard. So I disassembled the Y valve and right away could see the problem–lots of calcium deposits had built up so the valve wouldn’t completely move to the tank position. This was not a fun job, but was finished in about 2 hours and now the Y-valve operates much better.
With Christmas and Jacintha’s birthday falling on consecutive days, Jacintha has been very excited. On Christmas Eve, after our night swim, hot tub and shower, we watched The Polar Express and ate popcorn. Jacintha put out milk and cookies for Santa and could hardly keep her eyes open for the whole movie. She went to bed without a fuss as she knew St Nick would be coming down the hatch at midnight!
On Christmas morning, the stocking was full of presents and there were some under the tree as well! Santa must have a real good GPS as he found us here in Mazatlan. After opening the presents, I started cooking Christmas dinner, whilst Jim called his parents in Florida, then took Jacintha to the beach where she saw some girls she met at the pool the day before and was soon building a large sand castle. Roy from SV Mabrouka joined us for Christmas dinner and he brought over the mashed potatoes. We had roast chicken with gravy, greek salad, peach crumble and Roy’s mashed spuds. After that it was over to the pool for some relaxing (grown ups) and playing (Jacintha). What a pleasant Mexican Christmas day.
Birthday–Jacintha wanted a party and piñata for her birthday and we found the piñata in La Paz. It’s been hanging in our port-side salon (not so inconspicuously!) for the past 300 miles. Our original plan was to be in Puerto Vallarta for Christmas to meet up with other kid boats, but we were delayed leaving La Paz and decided to spend a week in Mazatlan. Jacintha decided to wait until we meet up with some of her friends to have her birthday party. She was excited to be in a “resort” with pool and beach, I think it reminds her of our vacations in Hawaii. The day began with a surprise birthday announcement on the morning radio net (thanks Scott from SV Velvet Sky). Then Jacintha spent half the day at the beach with Hannah from SV Ohana and Bucket from SV Velvet Sky where they enjoyed eating Karen’s homemade birthday cake on the beach. For the second half of the day we all went to the pool where the kids played in the water and the adults relaxed.
The sail from the Baja Peninsula (Bahia De Los Muertos) to Mexico mainland (Mazatlan) is 190 miles. At the half-way point, we would be nearly 100 miles from land, another first for us. Our pre-departure planning was calculated with a moving average of 5.5 knots so we allowed about 35 hours to get there. Since we wanted to arrive during daylight hours, we decided on a 3am wakeup and a 4am departure. This would get us into Mazatlan around 4pm. The GRIB files (weather data) showed a 10-15 knot northerly for the first 24 hours, which is ideal for the crossing since it would be a broad reach point of sail.
It was pitch black when we left and the wind was already blowing 10 knots inside the bay, so we were cautious and double-reefed the main and pulled out the genoa. Outside the bay, the northerly picked up to 15-20 knots and the seas became rough (5-8 feet). I took the first 3-hour watch while Karen got some rest. Sailing in rough seas in darkness (clear skies but new moon) can be exciting since you don’t SEE the waves. The larger waves normally come in bunches of 3, and it’s the 1st one that surprises you! Every so often, a wave would hit the boat causing it to roll, then a second wave would break on board. When it broke near the bow, the gunnels filled with water and you could hear the scuppers slurping down the sea water. When it broke near the stern, you were surprised with a shower. When the wind began picking up above 20 knots, we furled in the genoa part-way to keep the helm light. So for the first 24 hours, we sailed along at between 6 and 8 knots, ticking off 150 miles. With the constant rolling motion and hand steering, we got pretty tired and began doing 2 hour shifts (although I’d sometimes trade an extra hour for a hot cup of tea, or when I was in a groove with my iTunes playlist). It wasn’t until I woke up from my 2 hour “sleep” at 7am on the 2nd day, that the wind had finally dropped to 10 knots. We shook out the mains’l reefs and pulled out the full genoa. By then we were only 40 miles from Mazatlan and continued sailing at a slower speed of 5 knots, and finally turned on the engine for the last 2 hours as the wind dropped further.
The remaining hurdle was getting around the breakwater and through the narrow channel to the marina. Although we timed our arrival for daylight (with the stronger winds, it was around 1pm), we didn’t consider the tides. We read in our guidebook the channel requires constant dredging to keep it deep enough. As we rounded the breakwater, the shallow depth alarm (set to 8′) began beeping. Soon I saw 2′ on the depth sounder, which measures the depth of water below the keel. There was also a 3-4 knot current coming out and the channel had a dog-leg. The channel was only about 20 feet wide and I found deeper water steering towards the port breakwater. We made it through and pulled up to the fuel dock at Marina El Cid. Just before entering the channel, another sailboat radioed us on VHF saying they would be following us in but they had a broken transmission and were only able to go forward. While I was at the marina office, that boat radioed the marina to report they were grounded in the channel and were asking for an emergency tow (they eventually got towed off). While waiting for the tide to turn we washed the salt off the boat then went for a swim in the resort pool which was deliciously warm. We then moored the boat and took a nap. In the evening I watched with some other Seattle fans as the Seahawks beat the Cardinals to take over 1st place in the division!!
After a much needed full night’s sleep, we took a bus to Old Mazatlan, the heart of the city away from the tourist hotels, beaches and marinas. We took in the sights of the landmark Cathedral Basilica with twin yellow spires, the Mercado Municipal 2-story public market, and ate at small street-side loncherias (lunch counters). We also bought some refreshing fruit-filled licuados, fresh coconut water, and just-made tortillas.
Back at the marina, we enjoyed the swimming pools and restaurants that belong to the El Cid resort. We also did the routine chores like re-provisioning at Mega, exchanging dollars for pesos, boat maintenance, and laundry.
Confession–today we stopped at a Starbucks and ate at McDonald’s – they had a play area for Jacintha and free wifi for her parents!
Seven days turned into nine days at Marina Cortez in La Paz, but it was nice staying at a marina for a change. We didn’t have to load up the dinghy every time we wanted to go ashore, we could use the dock to work on canvas projects (hammering in rivets), we could use land showers, and Jacintha had lots of friends on the same dock. She and her friend from Family Circus (a family with 5 siblings aboard) exchanged sleepovers on the two boats.
Swimming with Sea Lions
We felt like we were growing roots, so we shoved off and headed back to the Islands for 4 days. The highlight of this trip was swimming with the Sea Lions. Our guidebook mentioned a place known for curious California Sea Lions near the northern end of Isla Partida just behind 2 large rocks called Los Islotes. The rocks have been painted white from birds hanging out there feeding on the Sea Lion’s leftover fish. We anchored in 60’ of water with just 100’ of chain on a rock bottom so we decided to keep 1 person aboard while the others rowed the dinghy to a mooring buoy next to the rock. I went with Jacintha and we snorkeled in 10’ of water with lots of Sea Lions swimming around us. The larger ones mostly sunned themselves on the rock ledges watching their pups and juveniles play in the water. When we were done, Karen went in and got some great photos and video. A small Sea Lion darted toward her then swam away and posed in a graceful arc, then swam back to her and nipped at her fins. Another medium sized one came up to her and playfully nipped her in the side. It was amazing how curious, fun, and unafraid of humans these creatures were (I don’t think the Sea Lions around Seattle are quite as friendly).
We spent the last 2 days at Caleta Partida, a nice anchorage at the southern end of Isla Partida. There we combed the beach and added 6 more hermit crabs to Jacintha’s collection. We also joined 2 other boats for a fantastic potluck dinner aboard sv Scoots (Eric and Vanda, home port San Fransisco).
We decided to splurge a little and stay in a marina for a week. Marina Cortez is a partially completed new marina located a short walk from the main part of town. We were assigned a slip right next to another Hans Christian boat (38’ sv Wahkuna 1), and two slips away from yet another Hans Christian (33’ sv Korbett Rose). Earlier today the owners of a sister ship to Apropos, a cutter/ketch (43’ sv Calypso) came aboard our boat and invited us to theirs, which is moored at nearby Marina La Paz. The owner, who is from Bremerton, WA, knew about Apropos when it was for sale in 2004. He thinks his boat has the teak propane box that was once on Apropos (when Lake Union Yacht restored Apropos, they built a new teak propane box to replace the worn one and the previous owners of Calypso bought a used one at around the same time).
It was nice being in a marina and we washed the boat, re-provisioned, did some boat work, and got together with friends who were staying on the same dock. We had some repair work done on the inflatable paddle board, Karen finished sewing the stays’l bag, I fixed the minor leak in one of the Racor fuel filters. I also polished off the rust marks that were forming on the stainless steel tubing (stanchions, bowsprit, pushpit) due to the salt, which wasn’t ever a problem in fresh-water Lake Union. We hosted a movie night on our boat with crew from Flying Squirrel where we placed the TV in the cockpit and the kids watched the animated Howls Moving Castle.
Swimming with Whale Sharks
We went on a tour that takes you to an area known for Whale Sharks and lets you snorkel around them. At up to 50’ long, Whale Sharks are the largest fish on earth. They are filter-feeding fish and their main food is plankton such as crustaceans and fish eggs. These gentle giant sharks can live as long as 75 years. Whale Sharks are protected in Mexico and are considered an endangered species worldwide.
The boat ride to where the Whale Sharks are took 20 minutes. When we arrived we could see huge dorsal fins moving slowly around. We went in the water with masks, snorkels, and fins and swam alongside several whale sharks for a couple of hours. We saw some juveniles and some larger adults. Some were in a horizontal position and lazily swimming while taking in many gallons of water with each gulp. It took some effort to keep up with them, but it was possible to swim alongside them for a minute or two. Others were floating at a 45 degree angle with their mouths just below the surface staying relatively stationary. They offered great close-up views of their set of 5 gills per side, their relatively small eyes, and their huge mouths. You could also see the turbulence of the water as it entered their mouth, and the outrush of water through their gills. Small fish called Remora were attached on the backs of the whale sharks getting a free ride and feeding on leftovers (Wiki says the host also benefits from the Remora’s cleaning of its sloughing epidermal tissue). Floating alongside the stationary ones, you would sometimes find yourself 3 feet in front of their huge open mouth when they pivoted around. I held Jacintha’s hand and pulled her along to help keep up with the faster whale sharks. She had no fear and I could hear her giggling underwater. We’ve done enough snorkeling now that she’s very comfortable breathing with a snorkel. The water was a comfortable 78 degrees so I didn’t wear a wetsuit and ended up getting stung on the arm by a Jellyfish.
After 5 days in La Paz, we headed north for 10 days to explore the rugged coast. Our goal was to see as much as possible but not go too fast that we wouldn’t have time to relax and enjoy the sights. I charted a course that included short day-sails of only a few hours. Our guidebook (Sea of Cortez, A Cruiser’s Guidebook by Shawn Breeding and Heather Bansmer) was amazingly helpful in choosing where to stop and anchor. Most of the places that we visited were because they sounded interesting from the descriptions in the guidebook. We wanted to meet local people from the small villages that dot the coastline along the Sea of Cortez. We also wanted to do some hiking, snorkeling, paddle boarding, exploring, and relaxing.
Winter Northerlies—The Sea of Cortez normally has light northerlies in the summer, but can get heavy northerlies during winter. We use the SSB radio to plot GRIB files to get weather data (both current weather and predicted weather). When we left La Paz to head north for 10 days, a cell (high wind area) was moving in a southerly direction towards us down the sea. We decided to find a cove to duck into until the cell passed. Our guidebook said Ensenada de la Roza on Isla Espiritu Santo was good for northerly protection. Espiritu Santo is a national park island 20 miles north of La Paz. When we pulled in there were 2 other boats anchored in the cove, so there was plenty of room. We put out 100’ of chain in 20’ of water for a 5:1 scope since we knew we’d be here during the blow, which would begin the following evening and last for 36 hours. We swam around the boat in warm turquoise water and relaxed. The next day we took the dinghy ashore to look around and have lunch. By then the other 2 boats had left so we had the whole cove to ourselves. With the wind starting to pick up, we sailed the dinghy back to the boat by holding up a beach mat (good thing it was directly downwind)! Back at the boat we prepared for high winds by making sure everything was lashed down or stored down below. By evening the wind picked up to a steady 20 knots with higher gusts. For the next 24 hours the wind blew steadily with 30+ knot gusts, but Apropos held well to the sandy bottom. Aside for the howling wind-noise, we were comfortable since the cove was protected from wind-generated waves. Karen baked bread, Jacintha did lots of schoolwork, and I did some misc. boat work. We all read a lot on our 3 Kindles—Karen with “Game of Thrones”, Jacintha with “Judy Rudy”, and me with “Steve Jobs”.
When the wind died down the following day, we decided to leave the sheltered bay and head north. Karen was a little bit concerned by the whitecaps we saw outside the bay but I said don’t worry, we sail in this stuff all the time in Puget Sound, so lets just stick our nose out and see what it’s like. So we left the cove and as soon as we got beyond the wind shadowing small islet just outside the cove, everything changed. The wind wasn’t that bad, maybe 15 knots, but the chop was extremely steep with a period of about 2 seconds and hitting us head-on. In the 10 years that I’ve been behind the wheel on Apropos, including coming down the Washington/Oregon coast, I’ve never seen waves that square. When they began breaking around us, we decided to head back into the cove. Even turning the boat around was worrisome because that would put us abeam to the breaking waves until we turned through 180 degrees. Fifteen minutes later we were back in the relatively calm cove where we would stay for another day.
Isla San Francisco—A hard 5 hour upwind sail in medium chop was rewarded with a postcard perfect, crescent-shaped beach surrounded by warm, turquoise water. On our 2nd day there, Jacintha and I paddle-boarded to shore then hiked along a ridge overlooking the bay. Along the way we watched Turkey Vultures soar overhead. At around 1000’ we ate our snacks (skittles and peanut butter cups) and enjoyed the view. After descending back to sea level we cooled off in the water before paddle boarding back to the boat. While we were gone, Karen sewed 2 mesh bags that will be used for our diving gear.
Punta San Evaristo—San Evaristo, about 2 hours north from Isla San Francisco, is a quiet little fishing village with about 20 families living there. A 70-mile road to La Paz is mostly dirt and ends here. We anchored and went ashore to buy some fish from fishermen who had just arrived in their panga with their catch of Trigger Fish. We also stopped at the Tienda for a few snacks, eggs, and produce. Back at the boat, Karen and Jacintha made cookies and bread, so the boat was smelling wonderful! We fried the Trigger Fish in garlic, pepper, and olive oil and dipped it in a wasabi sauce. The next day we went ashore and Jacintha met 2 little girls, ages 3 and 5, who live in the village. They communicated with few words but soon were playing catch with a nerf ball and singing songs from the movie Frozen in 2 different languages (the older sister wore a shirt with Olaf printed on it). When it was time for the girls to join their family to drive their fish catch to La Paz, Jacintha gave them the colored drawing of the 2 girls and their dog that she was working on, plus the crayons and ball. I thought about about the huge difference in the girls’ lives in terms of how and where they lived, their schools, and what they did for entertainment. Next we hiked to the salt evaporation pools a mile north of San Evaristo, passing a small escuela (school) and a couple of burros along the way. The pools were still full of water from when Hurricane Odile went through a few months ago. Later that day we up-anchored and motor-sailed 5 miles north to an anchorage on the north-west side on Isla San Jose.
Isla San Jose—Another hour north from Punta San Evaristo is an anchorage on Isla San Jose called Mangle Solo. A highlight of this anchorage is the large carson cactus forest. These cacti can grow to 70’ tall and 4’ wide. Natives use the flesh of the cactus for its healing properties and the long straight ribs for fences and beams for housing. I did some snorkeling around the boat and removed some barnacles that had accumulated in the thru-hulls and bow thruster. We spent the night, then up-anchored after breakfast and motor-sailed to Isla Coyote.
Isla Coyote—Half way between Isla San Jose and Isla San Francisco is a tiny rock island with a few houses. We anchored in 30’ of clear water and took the dinghy ashore. We were greeted by a friendly fisherman who gestured for us to go up the steep path where houses were built into the rock. At the very top was a small building that looked like a chapel. Jacintha picked out a shark-took necklace from a woman who was selling hand crafted jewelry from her porch. Her friendly husband came out and we attempted to have a conversation. We pulled out our spanish phrasebook and he got an atlas so we could show him where we are from and where we are going. The men on the island fish for a living so we bought another large Trigger Fish for 50 pesos ($4). Back at the boat, Karen found a Greek stye fish recipe using tomato, herbs, onions, goat cheese, and lemon and served it with a Greek salad and rice.
Back to La Paz—We were planning on a 2-day sail from Isla Coyote to La Paz, but woke up to a strong northerly and ended up sailing the entire 50 miles, getting in just before dark. Almost the entire sail was in 20 knot winds and steep, lumpy seas. The genoa was enough to keep up moving at 7 knots most of the way. As we neared La Paz and the wind decreased, we pulled up the mizzen sail and sailed all the way through the La Paz channel.
The past 10 days of cruising in the Sea of Cortez were very enjoyable. It felt great to be self-sufficient in a number of ways:
Meals—There were no restaurants! We provisioned in La Paz before departing, and found just one small tienda along the way. We didn’t have any luck fishing (aside from a small puffer fish I caught while jigging at anchor), but were able to buy some great tasting Trigger Fish from local fishermen.
Energy—We only used the Honda generator once when anchored in Ensenada de la Roza on Isla Espiritu Santo for 2-1/2 days. The rest of the time, the solar panels would do their job during the day, and the engine driven generator would make up for the evening’s lost Amp-Hours when we motored the next day.
Water—The Spectra watermaker has been working great. Whenever we motor, we make water. We start by filling up a 5 gallon plastic container that we use for drinking. This lasts around 3 days and we use it for making coffee and tea and to fill up drinking bottles that we keep in the refrigerator. Then we switch the watermaker output to the water tanks in the bilge. This water is used for cleaning dishes, brushing teeth, filling solar shower bags, and doing laundry. The only salt water that comes into the boat is for the head. We’ve been running the watermaker every other day for 2 to 3 hours, which makes 32 to 48 gallons. So far the only maintenance has been to replace the paper filter once, and I brought a dozen along on the trip.
Laundry—A lot of our clothes are quick-dry type (my years of running races got me a locker full of tech shirts!). We have 2 8-gallon buckets we use to launder our clothes—one for washing and one for rinsing. Plenty of lifelines and good clothespins (some old fashion wooden ones and some stainless steel ones where you go Oh shit! when one falls overboard). A laundry plunger is used for the wash cycle. We get by by washing just the lightweight, quick-dry things and leave the cotton shirts and towels for when we find laundry service. We use the leftover water to rinse the salt off the cap rails, gunwales, and coach top.
We also kept life pretty simple—no cell phones, no internet, no media (an occasional email via SSB was our only contact with friends/family). When we weren’t out exploring, we read a lot, played games, and did a few boat chores.
Make New Friends–Rrrrrrrrrrr! went the dinghy engine. Me, mommy, and daddy were going to San Everisto in our dinghy. We brought crayons, paper and a water football for kids we found at Everisto. Once we got there, we parked at the beach. Then a five and a two year old caught up with us. We tried to talk but too bad they spoke Spanish. Luckily we had a Spanish book. After a little bit of talking, we gave them the crayons and ball. The next thing I knew I was playing catch with the five year old girl. Then mommy and daddy left us to play. We found a trigger fish and a puffer fish. After that we did a little bit of coloring, then my new friends had to go to La Paz to sell fish. So I looked for my mom. When I found her I found a dog who caught rocks you throw in the water. The end.