Monday, June 23, 2014

Fly North!

There is no signal up here in the pine woods of Kaibab National Forest.  No signal on the phone.  No signal for internet.  But there is a small chipmunk playing in the cold fire pit and it is 70 degrees in the cabin of the LRV.  I’m sitting at the dinette table in our little Dolphin RV.  This is the “land” RV as opposed to the “water” RV which is Traveler.  She’s 800 miles away south of here and 8000 feet in elevation below us, all covered with tarps, her thru hull valves shut, her water tanks clean and empty.  We have abandoned our Traveler, fleeing to higher elevations and the coolness that comes with it.     

Connie and Omar, celebrating the removal of the Perkins engine.
We were on the hard for two weeks prepping the boat, removing the broken Perkins 4-108, and arranging for a new Beta engine to be shipped from England.  We found Omar Garza to help us with the engine.  He'll be there when it arrives from England and can install it for us while we are visiting the northwest.

 By the time we arrived in Guaymas we’d been in the oven that is late spring Baja for about 10 days.  We’ve learned our limits as to how much heat we can take.  My comfort level for sleeping is set at about 85 degrees.  We’d not seen 85 degrees for more than two weeks and we were not only dehydrated but cranky from lack of sleep.  I’d wander around the boat in the middle of the night with the temperature gun in my hand shooting the laser pointer at things and remarking, “95 degrees on the cabin floor” or “90 degrees on deck”.  Connie and I stopped sleeping together because our combined body heat only made the bed hotter. 

We drank water by the gallons, amazed at how fast the 5 gallon carboy emptied itself.  And we became more stupid every day. Connie stopped playing music because it was too hard.  We’d wander around in a daze, resting often, taking twice as long to complete tasks as normal.  Finally, after getting somewhat finished with the necessary paperwork on the new engine we decided we could leave.  Our to-do list was short.  We’d leave on Wednesday. The last few items were tough.  In cooler temps they’d be a breeze but in the heat every task seemed insurmountable.  I sat on the floor removing the inspection ports on the two stainless steel water tanks.  Each port has 16 bolts.  Four ports means 64 bolts to remove.  It took forever.  Exhausted, I went up top to tell Connie that I’d finished, hoping that she’d take over and start cleaning out the tanks.  She did and emerged an hour later soaked in sweat, her joints creaking, her muscles bruised from the contortions necessary to reach every surface of the two 75 gallon tanks.  I went below and installed the covers, tightening the 64 bolts one at a time, emerging covered in sweat, stiff and sore from crouching on the floor.

Free camping on Kaibab National Forest road 246E
The final item was to tarp the boat. We covered the teak decks with various tarps and tied them low down on the stanchions.  Connie wrapped the lower part of the mast with another tarp to keep the ultraviolet rays off the coiled lines.  We stumbled around, argued, cut small pieces of line, and finished with the tarps by sundown before climbing down the ladder to hide from the mosquitos in the hot LRV.  Cooking was out of the question, it created too much heat.  The next morning we grabbed a few more items off the WRV, jumped into the LRV and headed north.  It was already 95 degrees in the cabin of the pickup truck.

The land gradually rises on the road from Guaymas to Nogales.  We paused just south of the border to take stock of our supplies, looking for fruits, vegetables, and meats that could not cross into the U.S.  Connie boiled the potatoes and beets and we cooked the little bit of raw meat we had in the freezer.  We were searched, as always, at the U.S. customs and came away without a problem.  By late afternoon we were in Nogales, Arizona pigging out at an all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant.  By nightfall we were in the Walmart parking lot luxuriating in the 75 degree evening. Ahhhhhhh..75 degrees, Isn’t it just wonderful?

Thursday, early, we drove into Phoenix and the air conditioned apartment of Connie’s sister Diane.  I sat on the couch with the computer on my lap and Connie made shell wind chimes and jewelry with 6 year old Ava, her grandniece. Friday we drove out of the 100 degree city and made our way up to the high elevation town of Flagstaff.  Friday we braved the desert again heading north as always and found a forest service road up in the Kaibab, north of the north rim of the Grand Canyon.  We camped in the pines, experiencing a cool night under blankets, stars overhead, and complete silence.  After visiting the north rim we found another isolated spot in the Kaibab and here I sit, full of pancakes, watching a chipmunk digging in the dirt. 

Lesson learned:  When it gets too hot, go someplace else. 

Coming down out of the national forest.  Grand Staircase Escalante in the distance.
On entering the states Connie reminded me to stop before turning right on red. We don’t do that in Mexico, we just look and go.   In the states you don’t have to bring your own toilet paper into the bano.  In Mexico they pump the gas for you. Mostly, not so in the states, and there are no kids waiting to wash your windows for a couple of pesos.  In Mexico you greet everyone you meet.  In the states people look aside or down at their feet, or they get that tight-lipped, almost smile on their face as a slight acknowledgement of your presence but a warning to not presume conversation.

We’ll come down out of the Kaibab this morning and try to find internet so I can check to see if we need to be in Seattle by the first.  I’ve got job prospects there.  Maybe we can do some work and make enough cash to reimburse the cruising kitty for the 9k we just sent off to the U.K.  In the meantime, it feels great to be wandering the back roads, taking our time, living cheap, and experiencing that delicious feeling of slipping on a fleece sweater when the sun goes down.

Best of all, Connie has started playing music again.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Dependent on the Wind

It becomes all too obvious to us that this sailing thing we are trying to do is not a task taken lightly.  We have to actually depend on the wind! 

Monkey is our navigator and has a little nip once in a while.
Late spring winds can be really light, strong and strangely fluky in the Sea of Cortez and Traveler is a big fat barge that needs ten knots of wind just to give her positive steerage.   Four hours of Sunday sailing brought us only eight miles from San Juanico to Punta Pulpito.  Seven hours sailing on Monday merely found us off of Punta Medano Blanco where we knew we’d not make it the 21 miles further around the corner into Concepcion Bay.  We’d already fought ourselves 14 miles upwind and the day was getting long.  Shawn and Heather’s guide book had no mention of anchorages along this lonely coast, but when we rounded the little headland Connie spied a sailboat anchored near shore.  We got out the binoculars and checked it out.  Sure enough, there was a good sized yacht swinging at anchor. 

I went below and dug out the guide I have on board by Captain Rains. Sure enough, she mentions an anchorage at Punta Medano Blanco!  With the dying afternoon breeze we coasted two miles into shore and rounded up into a slight indentation in the shoreline.  There we dropped the hook onto a sandy bottom and were happily set for the night.  We’re finding that having multiple guide books is quite advantageous out here.  For the Sea of Cortez we use:   

  • Shawn and Heather’s Sea of Cortez (2009)
  • Captain Rains’ Mexico Cruising Guide (With updates in 2011)
  • Jack Williams’ book, Mexico Baja California (1988)
  • Charlie’s Charts (2009)

We like Shawn and Heather’s book because of the beautiful color charts and multiple waypoints.  Accurate waypoints are a life saver in Mexico as the paper and electronic charts can be more than a mile off.  We use the paper and electronic charts to get the general lay of the land then when we get within a couple of miles we look to the guide books for the exact latitude and longitude and I program those waypoints into the little Garmin chart plotter.

Shawn and Heather do a fantastic job on most of the major anchorages.  However, Captain Rains’ book has more not-so-popular anchorages mentioned and we find this helpful when we are running out of options.  Jack Williams’ old book is fun to read as he sprinkles in some history as he describes what this coast looked like back in the 80s.  Charlie’s Charts is valuable also with detailed drawings of bays, anchorages, passages, and prominent points of land.

Most mornings we wake just before sunrise, as the light begins to fill the cabin.  One of us will get up in time to switch on the HAM radio at 07:45 and tune it to the Sonrisa Net at frequency 3968 when Gerry gives his famous weather report for the Sea of Cortez, Mexican Riveria, and outside Baja.  We’ve been listening to Geary for two seasons now and have come to rely on him as does everyone cruising in these waters.  Boaters with a HAM license can check into the Sonrisa net and get detailed weather routing information from Geary.  He’s located in Concepcion Bay just south of Mulege and has a little house on the beach at Burro Bay.

Geary in his radio shack at Burro Cove
We decided that we MUST do the pilgrimage to Burro Bay and pay homage to this famous prognosticator.   It was a long haul around the outside of Concepcion but the genaker headsail made it very pleasant.  The wind built as we rounded the cape and I learned AGAIN that we should douse that big sail when we see the first signs of white caps.  I fought the sock down around the sail, hanging on with all my weight, and then rolled out the genoa as we beam reached into the big bay.  At first we thought we’d take advantage of the good wind to reach on down the bay to Burro but two miles down I spied the flat water up ahead and just knew we’d be hating life trying to make the seven more miles to the anchorage.  So, over Connie’s objections, we tacked around and ran back to the anchorage at Santo Domingo.  Ahhh!  Anchor down at last.

These little sea catfish swarmed the shady side of the boat.  Very easy to catch, and tasty!
The following day, with a dinghy assist, we made it to Burro Bay and spent a couple of days there in the sweltering heat.  Connie and I found Geary in the local bar there in Burro Bay.  We brought an offering of a bottle of Trader Joe’s wine and told him our story of engine woe.  He drank his coke, smoked his cigarettes, and nodded sagely then took his wise self off on an errand swinging the wine bottle beside him.  Connie and I finished our beers then hustled back to the boat, our homage paid, our duty done. Check that one off the list!  

Lunch in Mulege - Eating out is a treat after a week at sea.
By this time the daily temperatures were reaching 97 degrees.  It was over 90 degrees in the cabin so Connie slept out on deck while I tossed in the sauna of our stateroom.  I can sleep if it is less than 85 degrees but anything over that and I’m not happy.   Connie is a human heater and needs fresh air for sleeping so she roams the hot boat at night looking for a cool spot.  We met some folks in the bay, Suhwa and Jerry on Calypso and Joy and Captain Ron on Intima-Sea and we all hired a taxi to take us into Mulege for shopping and lunch.  It was a nice day, in a good small Mexican town.  I can see why people come down there from the states.
Traveler under tow.  Flat seas are normal in Bahia Concepcion.

The next morning Intima-Sea took us in tow through the glassy water and dragged us back out to Santo Domingo where the wind built beyond belief as we tried to tack into the bay.  Ahh.  Cool, fresh wind. 
We jumped on Sunday, that is, we started across the Sea of Cortez bound for Guaymas.  After catching the slight southerly out of the mouth of the bay we were becalmed for a couple of hours.  I took the opportunity to finish sanding the guck off the short section of deck that we’d stripped of teak the week before. 
  I looked up to see a sailboat heading across Traveler’s stern and jumped to reel in the fishing line we had streaming out behind.  When the boat was about 100 feet away it lurched to port as the pilot realized that he was seconds away from ramming us.   The good thing is that he brought a good east wind with him that we rode the rest of the day and into the night.  After sundown Connie took her shift at the wheel and as I tried to sleep the winds built and built.  By midnight we were in 20 knots of wind that bowled us along at 7.2 knots.  Did we have the main reefed?  No.  Did we have the Genoa rolled in?  No.  Will we ever learn?  It appears not.

As the wind stayed constant the waves built as Connie tried to sleep and I rode the rocking cockpit into the night.  We went so fast that our arrival in Guaymas would be in the dark… if we maintained our speed…so I tacked around and retraced our track for 45 minutes before tacking around once again back on our original course as Connie came back on at 03:00.  An hour later I woke to slatting sails and found us in a topsy turvy sea and a windex that rotated around without any clear directional purpose. No wind.
Finding Havana Club in the little store.

Connie finally got us moving and fought us nearer to Guaymas in the morning dawn.  We were both pretty sleep-deprived by that time and I opted to close Bocochibampo Bay as a good shelter to the building morning southerly.  And again, from dead calm, to light winds from the north, then south, then east we found ourselves bowling along at seven knots reaching into our anchorage.  Becalmed for 15 minutes, we crept around the corner and sailed gloriously into Bocochibampo Bay for a perfect anchoring maneuver and a celebration of breakfast Bloody Marys for all! 

We collapsed into deep sleep only to waken when some boaters got our attention as they drifted by with engine problems.  We gave them water for their radiator and some tools then sat on deck in a dazed condition after surviving an all-nighter close reaching our way across the Sea of Cortez.  By bed time that evening the winds had shifted to the north coming off the hot desert.  Temperatures climbed and by midnight our thermometer recorded 100 degree air streaming into the boat.  The coolest place Connie found was sleeping on the floor.  I shut the windows in the master cabin and opened up the floorboards bringing in the “cool” 88 degree hull temperature; another bad night’s sleep.

Celebrating the crossing with a special bottle of wine.
In the morning we tacked out of the bay and fought a 2 knot current around the corner, arriving in the Guaymas bay late in the afternoon.  We then tacked our way into the harbor, heeled over at 7kts. in 14 feet of water,  up and around to anchor in 8 ft of water just off the Guaymas Seca where we had an appointment to haul the boat in the morning.  
Another hot night and we got Traveler moving across the water with the aid of the dinghy and assistance from our new friends on Island Wind; thanks Heather and Ken!  We negotiated the shoals and made it to the travel lift ways.  Then we met the crew at Guaymas Seca.  The size of the lift made it necessary for us to either dismantle the radar post on the back of the boat or take off the roller furler and headstay from the front of the boat.  We opted to pull off the headstay.  

To take the tension off the headstay Connie loosened the backstay by turning the turnbuckle.  Then I took a piece of line and tied a loop through the bow roller and the shackle above the furler head.  Then I took a screwdriver and inserted it in the loop and turned it round and round, twisting the loop of line, kinda like you do when you tension a fence.  This drew the forestay closer to the deck, bending the mast forward so I could slip the pin out and free the furler.  Clever huh? With the forestay and staysail stay off, the lift could get centered on Traveler properly. 

See how the front of the lift is aft of the forestay?
Soon Traveler was airborne and rumbling across the dirt yard.  There is nothing so strange as seeing your marine home way up in the air rolling across a yard at 1 mile per hour.  The hull is so enormous!  Now we are up in the air, on the hard, with our first actual showers in three weeks.  I’m clean, sunburned, dazed, fat and happy.  It will take a few days to get my energy (and mojo) back so we’ll try to take it easy as we prep the boat, arrange for a new engine, and get ready to bus south to Mazatlan to pick up the little Dolphin RV.

Thanks for following us this last season in our water wanderings.  Next up will be some engine replacement stuff and land based travel notes.  For those of you in Seattle and Olympia, get your spare bedrooms ready.  We are coming!  (That’s what she said.)  lol
Can you spot her?

Scott's birthday present to himself.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Leave Puerto Escondido, No really, just leave it!

Puerto Escondido is a strange little place.  On paper, and from the air, it looks like the perfect shelter for boats coming up the inside Baja coast.  Fonatur, the Mexican tourism office, came in years ago and appropriated all the land around the uniquely sheltered bay.  They laid out wide boulevards with sidewalks connecting the inner harbor with the outer harbor and a short connector road to the main highway that takes you north to the town of Loreto.  They carved in an ellipse shaped anchorage with a concrete sea wall, placed a marina, fuel dock, and travel lift next door, and dropped mooring buoys throughout the anchorages.  It was an auspicious start; then development slowed, then stopped.  Now it is a fairly lonely spot, livened only by the transient cruising community who take shelter there in the landlocked, hurricane safe harbor. 

We were stuck there for a week, a little shocked realizing that we were without an engine and far from any facility we’d trust to help us resolve our diesel dilemma.  Once we loosened up with a day trip into Loreto to treat ourselves to a lunch out and a wild fling provisioning at the local supermercado we settled into the notion that we’d be sailing from here on out.  Who needs an engine anyway?  And isn’t that why the diesel is called the “axillary”? 

San Juanico Sunset
We did get a good internet connection there.  Not only was I able to post to the blog but I was able to research the facilities in San Carlos and Guaymas.  I sent out email messages to both yards, the local boat broker, and to our friends Robert and Virginia who are familiar with the area.  We got quick replies and felt much better about the availability of experienced help in those two cities.  I researched the Beta line of engines, a marine version of the Kubota, and came up with nothing but good reviews about them so we’re considering the re-power option pretty strongly now.  Now that we’ve talked to some people and resigned ourselves to another big investment we feel pretty good about our next month ahead.  It will be a challenge to sail the boat the long way up and over to the east side of the Sea of Cortez.  But we will be careful and take the time to enjoy this beautiful area.  This is a lesson learning time for us, a challenge for sure. 

Being in one place for a week you start to hear stories and meet people and you start to see the dysfunctionality of a place. At Puerto Escondido, Fonatur controls one side of the buoyed anchorage and API controls the other.  Both charge different fees with complications determined upon where you anchor or take a mooring and where you dock your dinghy.  Then there is the local yacht club with its curious shabby club house and set of strange hangers- on who choose to live there all season getting to know each other a little too well and looking upon the rest of us as temporary visitors who will be gone tomorrow. (So why bother embracing us when we’ll only leave and break their hearts?) Throw another dog on the grill, have another beer, and tell that crazy story for the umpteenth time.  Puerto Escondido, what a strange place to choose to live.  We gotta get outa here!

I ain't nothin without my cup of morning tea.
We thanked our friends for the loan of the mooring ball, dropped the painter into the bay and raised our sails.  The boat sat still in the water.  Ten minutes later we were ten yards away.  I strapped the dinghy to the starboard stern quarter of Traveler and used it as a tug boat to push us a couple of hundred yards to the south.  The vacuum that is Puerto Escondido was trying to suck us back in, suck us back to the mooring buoy.  “Stay for a little longer, won’t ya?” But ‘the little dink that could’ pushed the big mother ship out of the bay where we caught a southerly and off we went!  Sails full now, Traveler dragged the little dinghy beside her till we were able to kill the outboard and let her fall back off the stern.  The wind picked up and we had a sometimes brisk, sometimes not, sail up to the north end of Isla Carmen to the little bay of Puerto Ballandra 16 Nm NE of Puerto Escondido. 

We were clipping right along at 5.5 knots heeling quite nicely as we approached the bay and I became concerned about what I’d find there.  What if the small bay was full of anchored boats?  What if the wind was as stiff in there as it is out here?  So, I hailed, “This is the sailing vessel Traveler approaching Puerto Ballandra.  Any vessel anchored in the bay at Puerto Ballandra please come back on channel 22.”
Connie at Isla Coronados
Connie at Isla Coronados
We got a reply and were assured that there was space for us and that winds were light inside the bay.   Barreling along with a bone in her teeth (for those of you who don’t know what this means, it’s the way a ship looks with a big white bow wave crashing under her forefoot), Traveler had too much way on her for my pleasure.  So we rolled up the big genoa and came in under main only coasting into the entrance and into relatively flat water.  We slowly found our spot and rounded up into the wind.  Forward motion stopped, Connie dropped the hook, and the light wind gave her sternway as the ninety feet of chain slowly came out of the chain locker.  We dropped the main and stowed, covered, and coiled everything for the evening.  We’d completed our first embarkation and disembarkation without the assist of an auxiliary engine.  Whoo Ha!

After rigging the sun shade we noticed that the boat Moon Shadow next to us brought up their anchor and headed out of the bay only to turn around and come back into the anchorage to move to another spot.  Did they go out to empty their head?  Were we anchored too close?  Were they seeking better shade from the hillside?  Minutes later we were hit by a squadron of bees, bees in the cockpit then bees in the galley.  A hundred bees. Those little guys were thirsty for fresh water.  Connie had to give up doing dishes. The bees finished the job for her.  Two hours later the bees left, all but the three fallen soldiers drowned, two in the sink and one in my glass of wine.  He died happy.

We hiked up the volcano on Isla Coronados to view the anchorage below.
The next day’s sail to Isla Coronados (8 Nm away) was not quite as successful.  We lost our wind in the afternoon and ghosted around the corner at one or two knots taking hours to finally find enough wind to carry us into the wide open anchorage where we dropped the hook in 30 feet of clear blue water.  We stayed there three days, got in a nice hike to the volcano, and joined everyone for a dinghy raft up of cocktails and stories.  When I went to put Connie’s ukulele into the dinghy she made me put it back.  This time she wanted to just be another sailor and not the musician there for everyone’s entertainment.  She said, “For once, I’m just going to engage in conversation and be like everyone else.”

Our fossil fuel power plant.
At the raft up, everyone was very nice to us and we engaged in some good conversations.  Everyone seemed surprised and appreciative that we were making our way north without an engine.  The second day at Isla Coronados we peeled off four feet of rotten teak deck and started in on patching the leaking deck prism on the port side.  The third day we snorkeled in the morning then used the afternoon winds to carry us slowly north to Punta Mangles (15 Nm), sailing off the hook then using the dinghy to help get us away from the glassy water in the lee of the volcanic island.  A dinghy full of fellow cruisers came to say farewell and fair seas!  How sweet.

The seas built but the wind collapsed so that when we were a half mile away we were barely making headway.   I’m learning patience but hadn’t enough yet so I rigged the dinghy as a tow boat and used it for propulsion.  The rough seas tossed the dink up and down, the lines groaned, and everything got a little too tense.  Before we knew it we were in 20 feet of water and it was time to drop the hook.  The anchored skipped a few times then dug in.  We stowed what was necessary and rushed below to make a quick cocktail then sat in the cockpit doing our debriefing and letting the alcohol calm the nerves.  Our agreed upon new rule:  If we have rough seas we will NOT use the dinghy as a tow boat.  We will be patient and wait for wind.  It’s too dangerous to be jumping in and out of that thing when it’s bashing up against the mother ship. 
San Juanico rock formation with panga.
The next day we tacked our way the 7 Nm miles to the beautiful Caleta San Juanico.  As before, I radioed ahead and connected with an anchored vessel, Island Wind, who assured me that the wind would continue with us into the anchorage and that there was plenty of room there.  Under the eyes of five other boats we came in under genoa and main, rolled up the jib, and turned into the wind to come to a perfect stop in 25 feet of crystal clear water over a sand bottom.  Connie dropped the hook and I locked the rudder amidships and dashed to the cabin top to yank out some yards of mainsheet so I could push out and backwind the main.  It took all my strength to hold that big spar out to the side but I held it there until Traveler gained stern way and, clinkety clink, I could hear the chain coming out of the locker and over the bow roller.  Connie snubbed it at 120 feet and we were set, bar tight.

Just like tourists.. we gotta leave our mark!
Later, we took a quick dinghy tour of the beautiful bay and got ourselves invited to a beach bonfire party that evening.  As we prepared our stuff to go ashore, I set out the ukulele and Connie’s music bag.  She gave me that ‘look’ then said, “Alright.”  On shore the folks on Que Linda! got the fire going and we all tossed our foil wrapped food into the coals.  Connie and I used a section of our removed teak deck to fashion a little sign for us to hang on the “Cruiser Shrine” tree in the bay.
The tree is chock full of decorations and plaques from the of boats that have come this way.  We recognized many of the boat names there. We had read about the shrine and this was on our list of things to see and do up in the Sea of Cortez.  The next item on the list is to make it up to Concepcion Bay where Gerry does the Sonrisa Ham net weather. 

Cruiser Shrine
After the meal and the talk and once the sun had long set behind the mountains, we gathered around the fire and Connie played songs that everyone could sing along with.  Everyone was very happy and pleased with the music, the fire, and the good camaraderie.   And it’s back to the boat by 11:00 for good deep sleep until 2:30 AM when I went outside to investigate all the noise.  The dinghy was there floating safely as ever but all around the boat the water was jumping with phosphorescence as hundreds of fish danced around the hull.  The stars were bright as the moon was just a crescent and a light land breeze flowed across Traveler’s bow.  San Juanico, what a lovely place.  
San Juanico Bay  Can you find Traveler in this picture?

Once we get our light southerly we’ll head north trying to make the big Concepcion Bay 40 Nm away.  With these light winds we don’t know if we can get there in a single day but we’ll try.  ( As I’m posting this, two weeks later, I’m laughing at our optimism. Silly, silly people are we. )