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Sunday, November 14, 2010

11/6 San Diego to Ensenada

With Larry and Karen on S/v Panta Rhei right behind us we left San Diego just as the sun was setting on Thursday evening for the 65nm passage to Ensenada. It had been in the nineties for several days and so for the first time ever we were sailing in shorts and flip flops after the sun went down. We decided on the overnight passage because we needed to arrive by noon on Friday in order to clear into Mexico before the Capitan de Puerto office closed for the weekend. We had no winds but the seas were calm as we celebrated crossing the border with a chilled bottle of Williams and Sonoma Blood Orange Sparkling Cider I had hidden away for the occasion. It was an easy passage and simple a simple watch schedule let us both get some sleep so we didn’t arrive exhausted.

Panta Rhei passed us early on (they are a bigger faster boat!) but we made such good time that we had to slow down to a crawl in order to arrive after day light. The sunrise over the dry hills along the coast was a lovely welcome to Mexico. Marina Corral quickly assigned us a slip and we were soon surrounded by the local E-dock ex-pat population. We were quickly filled in on lots of local info then set about finding transportation into town for all the clearances we needed.

For our first foreign language clearance we opted to accept Marina Corrals offer to take us all in hand for the Mexican shuffle. Four boats worth of gringos loaded up into the hotel van and headed into town. We had been told that if we paid to have someone walk us through the process we would be in and out in no time. Wrong. Turns out that having someone “help” in this case may have been the wrong choice since it turned out this was one of our guys’ first attempts and it was an exceptionally busy day at the offices. Plus doing four boats at once was maybe a bit more than we had all bargained for.

In several of the main ports of Mexico they now have all the separate offices in one building, the Centro Integral de Servicios, which is a big improvement from having to go from one end of town to another. We needed to complete our official International Entrance which includes face to face meetings and paper work for clear Immigration and Agriculture, get our 180 day visa, have our The Port Captain, Immigration and Customs. Then a Crew List must be presented in Spanish, copied and verified to keep for our eventual Zarpe (departure.) We also needed to obtain out Temporary Import Permit with an ANEXO 1. The TIP/ANEXO is a ten year permit required if we ever needed or wanted to leave the boat for any reason in Mexico (maybe to fly home during hurricane season?) and the TIP also required us to have a list of all the systems on out boat and their serial numbers.

The theory behind the TIP (which I compiled ahead of time) is that it is supposed to make it possible to receive any needed parts or replacements via the USA without having to pay an importation tax. In theory. We have heard it is almost impossible to actually receive anything from out of the country while in Mexico…..but of course impossible not to try to grease the wheels now instead of later.

The idea of having everything in one building seems like it would be more efficient but remember this is Mexico. It took us four hours to complete! And we still had to finish things off at the Marina offices when we were finally made it back to the hotel. It is the picture of inefficiency to go through this process yet there is no alternative, and again this is the new and improved version! It became clear early on that we would be much better off to just settle in and enjoy the experience.

There would be no hurrying the process. Each window is a separate entity: Customs, TIP, Visa’s etc and after each one you then needed to go to the bank window to pay some nebulous amount and then go back to the earlier window and show your receipt to finish the process, then on to the next window, then the bank, then the window again, etc, etc, etc. Before we left San Diego I made 12 copies of everything I thought we might need. There was one boat less prepared that got part way through the process (two trips out for copies already) only to find out the store across the street and down the block that makes copies had closed for the weekend at 2:00 pm! We just settled in dreaming about lunch and a nap and enjoyed the interesting conversations with other cruisers on their way south. Why fight it?

It is wonderful though to finally be in Mexico. We spent one lovely afternoon and evening enjoying the hotels offerings. The pool had been calling my name those long hours in lines so Bill and I along with the crew from Panta Rhei ended the day with a lovely meal in the hotel restaurant followed by a swim in the pool and a soak in the Jacuzzi. In spite of the middle of the night watch naps we were sound asleep by 8.

We planned to leave the next morning but first we enjoyed a lavish buffet at the hotel. Just $8 got a choice of pancakes, omelets, half dozen hot dishes, fresh fruit bar, pastries, toast and croissants, granola, yoghurt, bacon, ham or sausages, juice, tea and a desert bar. I had a pile of fresh papaya and pineapple with toast and it was delicious. After breakfast I accepted an offer from Lola (in another Peterson 44) for a ride into town to pick up milk, eggs and fruit. BTW, the books said eggs, meats , vegetables or fruits were taboo with the Department of Agriculture but that did not prove correct. No one got anything confiscated and my preparations just opened the door for a visit with Lola on “Patience” as she drove me to the “supermercado.” After provisions we just needed to fill a diesel tank and get 5 gallons of gas for the outboard and we were off.


We left Ensenada on our own with the plan in mind to do a long passage south. As I write this it has been 46 hours and we have covered some 220 nm. I am exhausted and ready to stop. Two days is only enough time to exhaust us both but not enough time to really have set up a good rhythm. You’re still spending too much time lying in bed thinking “if I fall asleep right now I can get 3 3/4hours of sleep before my next watch.”

I do though really like night watches. There is a wonderful sense to them, all alone with the sky and the sea. Any sea life is yours like a private little encounter. I plug into my IPod turned on low enough to hear the sounds around me and lose myself in the music and the stars. What did we do before IPODS? We were given a gift, ¾ of a terabyte of wonderfully eclectic music. (To make sense of that one folder alone is 36,000 albums!) I spend my watch hours listening to country music and old rock-n-roll and watching the world slowly slip by.

The first night was lovely. No moon but the stars and Milky Way were bright in the sky. Some stars are so bright they leave a trail across the water like moon light.

That first night we had an odd experience that reminded us that we are a.) in a foreign country and b.) out of range of quick help. For the most part Mexico is a safe country to travel in. Even with all the media coverage of border trouble if you look at the numbers available the USA has a much higher rate of violence than Mexico (or almost any other country in the world for that matter.) Still we were traveling alone on a dark coast with little population and even in our old boat we would definitely be perceived as “haves” compared to many “have nots” in this world.

We could see off in the distance a boat of some kind with very bright lights. As we drew closer the lights seemed brighter and brighter. So bright in fact that our precious night vision was shot and it was impossible to “read” any of his navigation lights which made it difficult to determine which way he was headed or determine how fast he was really moving. As we drew closer he seemed to turn and come right for us, lights blaring and ruining our precious night vision. He was moving much faster than we were and each time we made a course correction he seemed to change right into our path. He made no attempt to contact us on the VHF and then suddenly he curved in around behind us and continued to come towards us then just as abruptly veered off and away. By then I was in the companionway with radio in hand and Bill had started the engine to give us as much maneuvering ability as possible along with full sails.

We are still stumped as to what actually occurred. We were worried that we had somehow wandered into his set of nets or some fishing gear but the lights on the deck didn’t indicate that he was a long liner or trawling big nets. And usually the fishermen are quick to call on the radio if you stumble into their territory. We knew we were out of radio range of San Diego USCG or our friends back in Ensenada. We didn’t feel in danger at all really…but his movement felt somehow like a threat. The realization came, if there is trouble for us now as we journey along we are for all intents and purposes on our own. We could of course get off a transmission but we are a long way from anywhere the cavalry is going to come rushing in. Just part of the package I guess.

Our plan btw is to try always to keep an open mind as we move through the world. We have heard sad stories of cruisers being terrified when a small boat appears full of men who are perceived as threatening only to discover that in fact they are just local fishermen wanting to barter some fresh lobster or trying to see if the cruisers have a current weather report or some fresh water to share. We don’t carry arms and would not consider doing so but we do believe in a show of force early on to discourage random acts of opportunity. We will use non violent forms of protests up to and until it becomes apparent that it would be better to give them exactly what they want and offer it with a cold coca cola, a plate full of cookies and the best smile we can muster!

Nothing on the boat is worth getting shot over. Nothing. If we always take the time to keep our gear out of sight and out of easy access then not being an easy target should be enough to stop any thefts based on ease and opportunity. So if our dinghy is always on the davits and or locked to the quay and the outboard has a good stout lock then hopefully the would-be thieves will look for an easier target. So our plan of good prior planning and a first offense show of force and resistance -shouting and turning on our bright deck lights in the middle of the night if we hear noises, not allowing anyone the opportunity to board the boat, verbal resistance- should warn off most people. Then too if bright lights and shouts and locks aren’t going to stop them then we have more to worry about than loosing some replaceable equipment.

Our second night came with equipment failure. The forecasted 10mph winds freshened in early evening into 15 to 20. During the afternoon we had been using our carbon fiber spinnaker pole to pole out our head sail and we were moving briskly along wing-on-wing. (The main sail to one wide the poled out Yankee to the other.) As the breeze continued to freshen Bill suddenly said “we need to bring the pole in.” I slipped downstairs to grab a coat and there was a big “BANG.” The line that runs up the inside of the pole and supports the pole in the correct position had failed.

Suddenly we were crashing along in pitch blackness with the pole banging and clanging around the forestay and our big Yankee was forward of the stay flapping precariously around as we surfed down the fronts of the big rolling waves. We already had our life jackets on but we both needed to grab our safety tethers before we could begin to try and sort out what to do.

Bill clipped in and moved forward to see what was what and I ran below to flip on the spreader lights. We had to shout back and forth to be heard in the building winds now blowing 20-25mph. After lowering the pole into its locked position we tried to bring in the banging Yankee. With Bill on the furling line I tried to handle the two wildly flapping sheets as we strained to bring in the sail. Oh #@$%^!! I looked forward in dumb disbelief. In the blink of an eye instead of furling neatly and cleanly the bottom half of the Yankee furled into a mess of lines while the top half remained all bunched up still whipping wildly in the wind. OK, now what?

We regrouped for a moment and then tried to unfurl the sail again in order to get the mess fixed. No go! The furler wasn’t budging. Not because of any problem with the furler but because the sheets were such a tangled mess and there was still so much tension from the still flapping top half. Again and again we tried. Nothing seemed to be working, it just wasn’t budging.

Bill moved forward again and began working the drum on the furler by hand. As he worked I alternately released and winched in the sheets and the furling line. At the same time I was busy looking at the chart, scoping out possibilities in case we had to try and run for a lee. Was there any place to run? Could we find any relief before the sail shredded and all the beating tore the head stay down around our ears? There was an island about 10miles away……and we had just rounded a point…..maybe we could get there? Finally we began to make some headway. Slowly inch by inch the rats nest untangled and we were able to re-furl the sail and get all the lines in order. My adrenalin was still surging and my heart hadn’t slowed much but clearly things were being righted. I holler up to Bill “always something exciting in this world of ours!”

So, in the end all is well….the first night I got a total of 5 hours of sleep and last night I got 3 ½. We were hoping to make Mag Bay but have decided to run for Turtle Bay and take a break. A good nights sleep tonight…recoup tomorrow and then off south again.

Oh, almost forgot, yesterday while Bill was working on his tan we hooked not one but two beautiful fish!!! First on was a 15lb Yellow Fin tuna. We dropped the tuna rig back into the water to get it out of the way as we bled and filleted our dinner. Buy the time we had most of the mess cleaned up we had the second fish on, a 20lb Bonito. Catching a big fish like that is a bit of work and makes a big mess. Plus we only have so much room in the fridge and our tummies so the second fish went back in the water. Can’t wait to tell folks on the radio we caught fish!

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------After deciding to make a run for Bahia de Tortuga (Turtle bay) we needed to lay on some speed in order to make it to the anchorage by sun down. Better to enter an unknown anchorage with some daylight left. Also finally got a hold of Panta Rhei on the VHF and it turns out there are also headed into Bahia de Tortuga and only about 7nm ahead of us. So we turned on the engine and motor sailed in. I am not sure we have ever pushed the new engine quite that hard for so long before. We had 3 ½ hours to get there and we were surfing down the wave fronts at 8knots.

As we neared land we saw two wonderful sights. The first was a school of feeding dolphins. The dolphins as usual were rather frenetic in their feeding. Dozens and dozens all around us intent on nothing but dinner. There were scores of pelicans diving in to the fray and amidst it all there was a school of tuna. The tuna were running with the dolphins, or perhaps running from them too? But there frenzy included jumping out of the water ahead and amidst the running dolphins. They come up out of the water like salmon jumping up a stream, flinging themselves sideways out of the water and flashing silver and blue in the sun.

Then a little farther in the boat was surrounded by dolphins on the bow wake. I moved to the bow and the just kept coming and coming. There were easily three dozen in the wake with many dropping off and others joining in a silver grey river of speed. They somehow manage to ooze and turn and roll as one. Never hitting each other that I can tell and in a constant state of movement. They were very aware of me as I stood grinning over them. Some species more than others likes to roll and look at people. It was a wonderful way to end a 56hour passage.

We entered Bahia de Tortuga as the sun was setting, got the anchor down and made a quick VHF call to Panta Rhei. After a quick meal we were dead asleep by 7pm.

Bahia de Tortuga is a small Baja town, approximately 1000 people and getting slowly smaller after the collapse of their fish processing plant and the first real test of our ability to communicate. The town of Ensenada afterall is so close to the border and such a tourist town it was easy to find someone to “habla in espanol.”

We took our dingy in tandem with Panta Rhei and found a spot at the only dock (a relief, brief though it will be from experiencing our first surf landing.) We immediately met Jesus who was willing to let us tie up on his one open cleat for just 20 pesos and Pedro who wanted to help us with whatever we might need.

We had an easy if badly pronounced conversation and then headed into town with Pedro in the lead. Panta Rhei needed gas for their outboard so we headed into town to find the Pemex. Pedro carrying the gas can was well ahead of us with Larry and we soon arrived. When the tank was filled Pedro was ready for his cut and wanted 20pesos for his trouble. Larry balked not feeling he had struck any deal tp begin with. In the end he decided his 20pesos saved him from a search through the dusty streets for the Pemex station and taught him a valuable lesson. Always settle the deal before you head off across town. No help, no taxi ride, no tie up at a dock until both parties have agreed upon a price.

The people of Mexico are not thieves but we who have so much must understand that there is a give and take and a process that can in fact be much of the interaction between us and our temporary home….almost a sport really….. and if applied with finess can be ahighlight of our exchanges here and part of the process of making new friends as we move along. I believe that they have a right and a real need to make a deal with us…we just need to do our best to make it a friendly exchange.

After getting the tank back to the dingy’s we were free to explore the town. Everyone was friendly as the little dusty town spread out around us. We even managed to find the light bulbs Bill and I needed. We had neglected to pack any replacement bulbs for our navigation lights before we left. They are small non-indexed bulbs that we would usually get at a boat store. We found them in an auto parts store and had a lovely conversation with the manager. The conversation turned out to work remarkably well with the four of us on one side and the manager on the other. Between the four of us we sort of filled in the blanks for each other until we understood the basics. Between that, my Spanish-English pocket dictionary and a pad of paper and pen for a drawing of “non-indexed” we walked away with six replacement bulbs for fifty cents each and had learned that Edwardo had gone away alone to school in Sinoloa(SP) and had completed the sixth grade. No chance for secondary school and yet he was here as the top man at the store. Then when asked he gave us directions to the best lunch in town complete with a view of “la playa.”

We met three other boats worth of cruisers while walking around town and managed to buy eggs, drinking water, oranges and fresh tortillas before heading back to the boat to try and repair our broken pole so we can take off again tomorrow. All around a wonderfully successful first outing for the crews of Island Bound and Panta Rhei.


  1. Wonderful, your writing brings the trip alive. Your attitude of playing it Mexico's way while in Mexico is stupendous. On our first trip down I saw a woman bargaining with an old woman on the street, she was telling her daughter “you can’t let them take advantage of you.” But for what amounted to a US quarter she was degrading the older woman and embarrassing the rest of us from up north. They are there making a living and both parties are getting something out of the bargain. Hugs Sis

  2. Yikes, Kat, scary story about the whisker pole! Sounds like you guys handled it long as you were tethered in! XO Liz and Chris