Saturday, May 3, 2014

Z Town to La Paz and Everything Inbetween

Might our friends and followers be wondering what happened to the crew of Traveler in the past month?  Did we drop off the face of the earth?  Did the leaky thru-hull fitting burst and we went blub blub blub down to the bottom of the ocean?   Or did we just sail off into the sunset?  

Since Zihuatanejo (and Paracho) we’ve been on the move, headed north, mostly.  Now we find ourselves boat bound for a week in the windy harbor of La Paz while we assemble the many bits and pieces that will become our new EchoTec water maker.  I’ll get out the boat log and calendar and try to summarize what’s gone down this last month since we left you in sunny Paracho Mexico.

Fishing boats in Guaymas
When we got back to Z-town from our land trip we found the harbor vastly emptied, more than two thirds of the boats had left in the week following Guitar Fest.  Following suit we departed early in the morning in company with the sailing vessels Lungta and Nirvana.  We had spent 16 days anchored in Zihuatanejo, enough time for a healthy crop of algae and barnacles to grow on the boat’s bottom.  On the trip north I kept worrying that the critters on the hull were slowing us down but I don’t think that was the case.  The first day out, we motored, then sailed, then motored again.  We had a wonderful night sailing through calm seas with millions of stars overhead and found at dawn that Lungta had dropped far behind us and Nirvana had disappeared over the horizon to the north.  We were on our own. 

About 10:00 the morning of the second day the wind died so we hit the starter and the engine would not start.  While we rolled and bobbed Connie tried to keep us pointed into the swell and I checked the fuel system for leaks.  Saw none. Then cleaned the Racor and replaced the filter.  When I went back up to try a restart I noticed the kill pull-switch out slightly, a little bit open.  I nudged it back in a quarter inch and she started up just fine. Duh!

We passed Caleta de Campos and made it into Maruata just after sunset for a comfortable night’s sleep (at anchor) and an early morning departure.  During the next day we had some good sailing until the thermal winds died,  but the seas stayed active and we had a bouncy night motoring past Cabeza Negra and finally into the lagoon at Barra de Navidad at 08:30 the next morning;  72 hours from Zihuatanejo to Barra with 60 hours underway and 12 at anchor.

Barra is such a fun town and we love to provision there so we stayed two days then hit the fuel dock for diesel and water and sailed around the corner to Tenacatita where we cleaned the hull and waited for our weather window.  Connie was able to free dive down to the keel and the prop and I scrubbed the hull from the waterline to the top of the keel.  I got a touch of hypothermia when I overdid it, stayed in the water too long and got chilled.  

 Three days later we got a good weather forecast with light winds from the west/north west and moved the boat north to Bahia Chamela for the night. Approaching the anchorage under genaker Connie was pulling down the sail when 2 guys started circling us in their dinghy taking photos. Later they came by giving us the photos and shared their stories; nice to meet new folks.  A leisurely start the next day made the timing right to round Cabo Corrientes at midnight arriving in La Cruz at first light.  From Barra to La Cruz we had 19 hours motoring and 26 hours sailing.  

Typically, boats headed north do a lot of motoring.  Many crews take motoring as a given necessity so they just hoist the main and plan on motor sailing the whole way, only rolling out the genoa if they find a beam or broad reach wind strong enough to move them at four knots or better.  These folks make a schedule and stick to it.  Then they stop at the fuel dock and pay the price.  

On the other end of the spectrum we have friends who will sail no matter what.  Four knots is good!  But one knot will do also.  And when there is no wind… it’s time for a nap.  You’ve got to have a lot of patience for such sailing but you save lots of money in fuel and you accept the luxury of time.  

Traveler does a combination of these two methods.  We try to sail whenever possible, even if the knot meter dips below four.  As long as the boat is moving forward and the ride is tolerable we keep sailing.  When the wind drops altogether and the boat gets sideways to the swell then we start up the engine and head toward our destination.  Often times the wind dies in the early evening but the seas stay lumpy and this is usually when we reluctantly crank up the noisy Mr. Perkins and keep him going through the night.  We make good speed this way but sleeping is difficult and neither of us is very happy.  It is such a relief to switch off the engine and hear nothing except the water on the hull!

We reconnected with our friends Lane and Vicky on Adesso in La Cruz and spent a few days there. Our plans were similar and we thought it would be fun to buddy boat up the coast.  I had also hoped to take the HAM radio exam and specifically timed our landfall in Bandaras Bay for that event but the exam was cancelled.  I’ll have to find a location in the Seattle area to take the exam later this summer. On a day trip to Sayulita we got a late in the day weather report and decided to dash north for Mazatlan. Catching the next bus to La Cruz we zipped back to the dinghy dock.  Adesso was not in her slip so we figured that she had just left hours before us.  Unknown to us, Lane and Vicky had tried to leave in the morning but had to turn back when their engine developed a critical oil seal leak.  They anchored right next to us there at La Cruz.  But in our haste, we brought up the anchor and steamed away with them all the while not 100 yards away trying to hail us on the VHF and waving their arms like crazy.  

Evening found is at Punta de Mita but we didn’t find Adesso there.  Darn, they must have headed north without us!  On the run north from Banderas Bay to Mazatlan we kept thinking that we’d find Adesso anchored somewhere along the way when all along they were back in La Cruz dealing with a leaky seal.  They eventually decided to repower, replacing their engine with a brand new one.  As I write they are at the dock in Opequimar with Adesso floating high because she has no engine.  How plans change!

Pangas at Guaymas harbor near Marina Seca
Chasing the phantom Adesso up the coast we rounded Punta de Mita and headed north.  Seeing fishermen in pangas, we tossed out a couple of lines and boom! Connie caught a beautiful Sierra.  While she was cleaning the Sierra I let the lure out again and boom! I caught a big Dorado!  What a treat.  We motored along with a big swell on the beam making it difficult to gut and clean both fish.  In an hour we had the fish in the freezer and all the blood and guts washed off the deck.  We collapsed into the cockpit in exhaustion as the sun rose high in the sky and the temperature soared.

Chacala was a welcome sight and the anchorage there is nice if you anchor bow and stern, which we did, and later watched the other boats swaying largely, beam on to the southwest swell.  Hmm, maybe we ARE learning some things out here.  

From Chacala we sailed and motored towards Isla Isabela but because we didn’t keep up the required four knots per hour we could not make the island before nightfall.  On the way I saw a panga directly ahead with their crew waving their arms.  I motored over to them and they motioned for us to follow.  We did so and soon they stopped and pulled down a net so that we could cross over their long line.  Big smiles and waves and we were on our way without getting line wrapped around the propeller.   We passed Isla Isabella about ten miles on our port side and set the course for Mazatlan arriving there the next morning logging twenty nine hours of motoring (Ugh!) from Bandaras Bay.

Looking at the calendar I see that we took three months to lollygag our way south from Mazatlan to Zihuatanejo and it took us only two weeks to make the “express” return trip back.  Needless to say, the lollygag way is our preference.

Marina Fonatur had an open slip for us so we docked there for a few weeks alongside our friends Chris and Heather on Legacy and Doug and Lynn on Miramar.  Next door at Marina Mazatlan we found Hal and Nina on Luna Sea, also good friends of Adesso, who finally told us their sad tale of engine woe back in La Cruz.   There were many familiar faces there in the harbor and we recognized many boat names on the VHF radio.  Mazatlan is a hub of activity and many boaters spend time there provisioning and getting work done.  Some cruisers make Mazatlan their stopping point for the season and fly or drive back to the States or Canada for the summer.  

We ran into our old buddy Bernie Maas who was just coming aboard a new boat as crew. 
Bernie and Scott
Bernie has an interesting lifestyle for an old retired guy.  An experienced sailor and one familiar with the Mexico coast, he chooses to sign on as crew hopping from port to port. In this manner he takes watches during passages, helps navigate, and troubleshoots mechanical problems aboard.  For this he usually gets his way paid in room and board for the extent of the trip.  Bernie goes up and down the coast from California to Acapulco with runs out to Hawaii on occasion.  This guy does an amazing amount of traveling with short stints ashore as he looks for the next crew position heading for who-knows-where.  The last we saw of Bernie he was headed to British Columbia via Hawaii on a boat delivery gig.  Am I envious?  No.  But if I wasn’t so lucky to  have Connie and S/V Traveler and a 402K then I’d be doing what Bernie is doing.. in a heartbeat.

Connie and I headed over to the Marina Mazatlan parking lot to find our little Toyota Dolphin RV.  She was there, intact, air in the tires, with a heavy layer of grit and a little note on the windshield advertising a car wash special.  After connecting the battery she cranked right up!  Toyota = Reliable.  Now we had wheels.  Connie vacuumed the grit and the dead ants out of La Dolfina’s carpet and scrubbed down the interior and we closed up Traveler and hopped aboard our land yacht and drove north to San Carlos where we stayed the night then continued on to the border at Nogales the next day.  We always get searched by US Customs, always.  They found and confiscated two apple cores and four fresh eggs. 

We parked overnight in the parking lot of the Nogales Walmart.  Let me say that we NEVER shop at Walmart.  Their labor practices are the worst, their product quality is cheap, and they don’t buy anything locally. Plus they tend to drive out local, mom and pop style business.  Having said that, we do use their parking lot for the RV and we do use their restrooms.  We are trying to start a movement.  If everyone will just park overnight in the Walmart parking lot then their real customers won’t have a place to park!  And all those folks coming and going to and from the bathrooms will clog the entrance way and clog the plumbing eventually driving the evil Waltons out of business. 

In Phoenix we visited with Diane, Tom, and the kids and had a whirlwind four days of provisioning, picking up parts, dry goods, tools, an air compressor, and our new water maker just arrived from EchoTec.  The culture shock was extreme.  Traffic, rude drivers, big cars, mean people.  We’d say hello to someone on the sidewalk and they would avert their eyes.  We’d say hola to the Mexican pruning the palm tree and he’d smile and buenos tardes us right back. 
The big lift next door to Marina Seca
After the obligatory overnight in the Nogales parking lot supporting our Anti-Walmart crusade, we crossed back into our beloved Mexico and made our way south through the desert to Guaymas, arriving just before sundown.  We visited Marina Seca, a dirt lot dry storage yard and talked to some fellow boaters there.  I believe we will be bring Traveler to Guaymas in early summer and she will spend the summer there on the hard.  The benefit of the yard in Guaymas is that it is cheaper than storage options in San Carlos, and they have fewer rules.  In Marina Seca we can bring the RV into the yard and park it right next to the boat while we ready her for the summer. We can also do our own painting, scrubbing, and maintenance on the boat.  
Ariel IV there on the far right

At sundown we drove just over the hill south of the boat basin to find a small dock and boat ramp where we hoped to be able to bandit camp the Dolphin for the night.  There we found a place to park and a few finger docks with a couple of sailboats moored.  Walking down the dock we spied our friends Birgitta and Eric on S/V Ariel IV.  What a surprise!  Big hugs all around and before we knew it we were firmly planted in their cockpit having dinner and drinking wine.  We rounded out the night with Eric on guitar and Connie on the uke and Birgitta and I singing along.  This lasted till midnight and then there were more big hugs all around.  Morning found us on the long dry road to Mazatlan where we arrived at sundown without incident at the Fonatur Marina and our dear Traveler.  

A few days to clean the boat and do some provisioning and we welcomed aboard some friends I’d met online.  Bob and Pam had just bought a Slocum 43, a sister boat to Traveler and Bob had been following our blog for a while reading about the boat and our adventures.  When he pushed the donate button on our home page and bought us $10 worth of beer I got the notification and emailed him a thank you.  “Do I know you?”  “Nope.”  What followed was a series of email messages about the Slocum / Passport series and how best to update and modify them for Mexico cruising.  This led to that and I invited them down to Mazatlan, sight unseen, to help us with the crossing over to La Paz.

Bob, Pam, Scott, Connie
Bob and Pam generously provisioned Traveler and we headed west across the Sea of Cortez for an easy 48 hour crossing arriving in Los Muertos in the early morning.  Pam cooked her way across the sea providing us with fantastic meals. Bob trimmed sails and stood watch.  Connie started the trip a little sea sick but rallied the second day.  I slept most of the way.  Don’t you just love having crew?

At Los Muertos we did some more hull cleaning and Pam swam to shore and back.  Then we headed north the next morning, sailing to Bahia San Gabriel at Isla Espiritu Santo.  After we anchored I reminisced that the last time we stayed at San Gabriel was in 2010 on the sailing vessel Sea Scrape and we got our butts kicked by strong coromel winds.  Well, duh!  Later that night the coromuel winds cranked up and kept us up all night. The islands near and north of La Paz are tricky because high winds and rough seas are common.  At night, when the land on the Baja side cools, the winds funnel down the mountains to the Sea of Cortez, gathering momentum as the air drops to the warm waters.  We experienced 30 knots of wind with 4 foot seas at San Gabriel, the boat tossing us about.  Pam in the vee berth was often airborne. Bob sought refuge in the salon but had to hang on tight to stay on the bunk.  Connie and I held onto Monkey and waited for dawn to arrive.  In the morning we sailed around the other side to the protected anchorage at Playa la Bonanza where we had a pleasant day and a good night’s sleep. 
Men at work sealing the deck prism on the foredeck

After the calm waters of Playa la Bonanza we sailed around the corner towards La Paz.  We tried all sorts of sail combinations until the wind finally petered out and Bob negotiated the dog-leg entrance to the harbor.  We found moorage at Marina La Paz and put a tearful Bob and Pam into the taxi early the next morning.   What followed was chores, cleaning the boat, laundry and provisioning before we left the marina and found anchorage in the bay.   We sit this May Day, the sounds of a parade in the distance and Banda music wafting its way across the water from the malecon.  We are four days into the water maker installation with a couple more to go then we’ll do a provision, sneak some showers at the marina, and head north into the Sea of Cortez reaching territory where we have not been before.   Up there provisioning stops will be smaller and further apart and our internet options will be limited.   But the water will be crystal clear, the seascapes breathtaking, and the cerveza cold in the cooler.
Anyone wishing to visit can send us an email and you can jump aboard in Loreto. 

And to our friends making their way north as well, we’ll listen for you on the VHF and SSB radio nets and look forward to running into you in what the gringos call the Gulf of California but most sensible people call the Sea of Cortez.

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