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Friday, October 14, 2011

The Gadget Gods Were Smiling


Today Bill saved us five thousand dollars! One of our last moment purchases before we left Seattle 17months ago was a used dive compressor. We love to dive and the thought of being able to fill tanks along the way ourselves seemed like a great idea and would be a fantastic luxury. We had no idea where we were going to put it but the bid went in and we “won.” The seller shipped it our way while Bill ordered a rebuild kit and downloaded an owner’s manual. Two days later we picked it up at our mail drop and hauled it’s 30”x15”x17” bulk back to the boat.

Once aboard there was no obvious place to store it. We already had the parts and pieces of dozens of other pending projects crammed into every remaining inch of locker space and by this time we even had piles of lumber and still more project supplies tied down on the cabin top and deck. The only place left for the compressor was the back deck. We stuffed it into a big open ended blue plastic bag our new main sail had been shipped in, tied to the back rail and off we went.

Jump ahead to a long hot summer in the sea: the dive compressor is still tied to the back rail. It’s now been sitting barely sheltered from the elements for thousands of miles - Seattle to Alaska and back, a six hundred mile off shore from Neah Bay to San Francisco, through two and a half months dilly dallying along the coast of California and then almost eleven months here in Mexico –through rain and salt spray, heeled over in the wind, through Coromuels, Chubascos and months of dissolving UV rays from above.

I am tired of worrying about it, tired of stepping around it and frustrated with trying to clean up the thousands of tiny blue bits and pieces of shedding plastic bag. By now I have fine-tuned a fantasy of silently shoving it over the side and exclaiming in dismay that we’ve been robbed. I know I can’t fix it myself and am completely convinced that it will never be resurrected. Bill on the other hand I think just wishes it would disappear or better yet rebuild itself and spontaneously begin filling tanks.

I’m sure the procrastinators out there will be able to relate to the problem: days have passed, opportunities slipped by and the job just keeps getting pushed aside and pushed aside. There are only two cures. 1. Time itself steps in and renders the whole thing a moot point: the kid is now five and doesn’t need the pretty knitted baby blanket anymore or the house burns down and that dryer vent simply no longer needs to be reattached. Or 2. A deadline looms and you are forced to bite the bullet and get the job done.

So, here we are the summer season is winding down. It is finally cool enough to begin thinking about boat projects again and our thoughts have turned to our upcoming passage to the South Pacific. We are making lists and reading cruising guides. We are thinking about what we need to buy before we leave and are talking with friends who have been there before us. The conversation keeps coming back to the world class diving we are all anticipating and to conversations about dive compressors.

For most divers having your tanks filled is sort of an incidental. You go out on a dive boat where the crew fills your empty tanks or you drop off your empties at a shop and pick them up filled like you pick up your dry cleaning. But for cruisers like us the truth is that if you don’t have your own compressor you simply don’t dive. It is always more important to have a filled tank on hand in case of an emergency than it is to drift that wall or do that amazing reef dive. You can’t afford to find yourself with three miles of fishing net wound round your rudder with nothing but empty tanks aboard waiting for the next dive shop you find.

It finally came down to #2! Time was running out and the discussions had come round again to renting a car with some other boaters and driving to San Diego for the sole purpose of buying a couple of $5000.00 dive compressor. It would be the epitome of procrastination to make the drive and spend the money without at least trying to get the used compressor running. Amazingly once the oil reserve was filled and the gas tank topped off she started after only a couple of pulls. Walla’ a working dive compressor and money in our pockets. A few tweaks, a new charcoal filter and a notation on our “to buy” parts list for some replacement oil filters and we were rocking and rolling.

Bill lavishly emptied a tank cleaning the bottom and replacing our prop zinc before hooking the tank up to the compressor and in just 20minutes we had a full tank. Oh one more thing, if you own your own dive compressor you are guaranteed to make friends in every anchorage. Hmmm, some cruisers make money filling other diver’s tanks, me, maybe I can make a trade for some shiny stainless or a scrubbed hull????


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bahia de los Angeles


Fuel, fresh fruits and veggies and the chance of a meal off the boat mean that what is left of the fleet will spend the next 8 weeks bouncing back and forth between the small village at Bahia de los Angeles and a dozen or so nearby anchorages. The Bay of LA Village is essentially the only place that offers services of any kind to the small fleet of cruisers spending the season on the northern Sea. Our only other options for food, fuel, boat parts and services or medical care are well south, 124nm down the Baja peninsula in Santa Rosalia or 150nm south east in San Carlos/Guaymas.
The town is small, friendly and pretty rustic. In face they have only had electricity for about five years. There is a medical clinic but no hospital, no cell phone coverage, internet only via satellite at one of two internet cafe’s, two small stores and a couple of “supermercados” the Mexican equivalent of a Circle K or a 7-11. They don’t have a fuel dock but you can haul gas or diesel in jerry cans from the Pemex station about a mile out of town. There is no marina and no docks or dockside water available. As you walk through the village there are numerous restaurants and taco stands though we only saw 6 or seven that were actually open for business.
Sundays are family day in Mexico as it is typically the one day off during the week. But when a group of us walked into town about 7:00pm for dinner (the time that Mexican families are just starting to think about dinner) by 9:00pm when we were walking back to the beach to return to our boats for the night the town had virtually shut down around us for the night. No bars, no ice cream joints and no open stores.

We don’t need to be this far north quite yet in the season (the main hurricane months are typically September and October) but we didn't want to miss the August Full Moon Party so we arrived in plenty of time to take our place in the anchorage at Las Monas. We came specifically for the party but also wanted to take the time to do a bit of recon at the hurricane hole in Puerto Don Juan.
The Full Moon party was great. Just 15 boats but we pulled off a great potluck, had a chance to see the whale sharks again, got in some decent fishing (we caught two Sierra, a trigger fish, a small tuna and two groupers) listened to nightly coyote serenade and watched the space station fly overhead. But the highlight of the Full Moon party was definitely the afternoon of “Floatie toys” in the lagoon.

It was quite a sight to see: twenty five grown-ups with colorful toys in tow in the corner of the bay where the lagoon fills on the high tide. We all parked our dinks, climbed into or onto our air mattresses, pool noodles, floating chairs and blow up Barco loungers and floated the incoming tide into a small lagoon. Once inside we floated around with our drinks chatting and trying to stay cool. It still amazes me that we are still making new friends when all the boats here in the Sea have been on essentially the same path for 9 months! We floated along over the clean sandy bottom in the bath water warm sea then when the tide began running out we caught the current and floated back into the bay before getting out, walking across the sand isthmus and back into the lagoon for another ride. By 3:30 we were all pretty pruned so we headed back to our boats for a bit of siesta before the evening potluck. Come night fall we started a bonfire, (don’t ask me why someone felt we needed the bonfire when the temperature was hovering at 95degrees) turned over a couple of dinghy’s to use as potluck tables and settled in to eat and talk and eat some more. We had a clear view of the space station flyover and we were all full and happy by the time the full moon rose over the mountains behind us. A great party!

Early the next morning we were off for our first visit to the Village. Guellermo’s Trailer Park and Restaurant was the site for the sad detail of parting out a fellow cruisers boat. I think most of us simply can’t pass up the possibility of a good deal but also suspect many wanted a chance to see S/V Ansuer (one of the five grounded boats this season alone) up close.
Bill and I felt a sort of small connection to the boat and its owner Fred because Bill had intercepted the original Mayday when Ansuer ran aground a month or so ago. It was just odd timing to have taken the call at all. Bill had gotten up before the Ham Net was set to run but had turned on the radio as he settled into the cabin with his cup of tea. Fred an 80 year old single hander had ended up on the beach in his Shannon 38 just north of San Francisquito. He knew the Net was scheduled to start soon and hoped to reach someone for some help. He stated that he had committed the worst possible single hander mistake by falling asleep while underway. He had arrived in the Bay of L.A. in the middle of the night and had tried to catch a few minutes of sleep while waiting for the sun to come up so he could get into the unfamiliar anchorage. Unfortunately he fell asleep and woke to find himself hard aground. It was heartbreaking to listen to the call and to try and help.
The first mistake of course was having fallen asleep. The second came when once on the beach he couldn’t use his dinghy to take an anchor to deep water to try and winch himself off the shore. He had been in a Chubasco a week before (a sudden high wind that occurs in Mexico) that had flipped his dink causing him to lose his outboard and one of his oars. Without engine or oars he had no chance of kedging off the shore. Third was the bad luck of being alone and unable to contact the Navy. Just as was our experience when we took the Pan-Pan call from Safety Cat we were many miles (80 nm and 13 hours away) from being able to offer any assistance ourselves and were unable to reach any other help quickly.

When S/V Ansuer called his Mayday we in turn called the Navy via VHF but were unable to reach anyone. Next we called the US Coast Guard –again no luck. Then the Mexican Navy on our cell and then finally in desperation we called Hiram a local we had met who called the Navy on his cell phone and still it was hours until anyone made it to S/V Ansuer. The last we had heard the Navy had finally reached Fred and air lifted him to a mainland hospital in Hermosilla but left the boat on the beach.

Fred wasn’t really injured but between spending hours struggling to try and solve his own problem then spending a couple of hours on the beach alone in the blazing sun he was simply wiped out and dehydrated by the time the Navy arrived. He probably would have fared fine on his own but I suspect the Navy was uncomfortable with the 80 year olds prospects and they could hardly just leave him on the beach.
In the end he then was forced to hire a Mexican salvager who got the boat off the beach (the boat had never been underwater) but then as they were lifting it by crane to the barge the straps broke and the boat plunged down into the bay: saltwater throughout, end of story. It is rare and extremely difficult to resurrect a boat once it has been truly sunk.

So, the cruisers flocked to the once lovely sailing vessel Ansuer but she was sad to see. They had stripped virtually everything off of her including cutting her mast off (at the deck????) removed her keel, ripped out all of her bronze ports and stripped all the rigging and sails. When we saw her she was laying on her side on the barge. The hope was to raise at least $7,000 to pay off the salvage costs but the dollar count at the end of the first day was only $800 U.S.
This last year there have been five boats gone aground, three were single handers and one boat was totaled from a whale hit south of La Cruz. All of which makes me grateful for our decisions and choices in outfitting our own boat. Clearly Bill and I sleep soundly and safely with all of our modern safety equipment: life raft, EPirb,(GPS controlled satellite positioning emergency beacon) alarmed depth sounder, an anchor watch mode on our GPS, the alarm functions on our AIS (collision avoidance system) and two people to swap watches. After seeing Ansuer on the barge my heart hurt for her. I cannot imagine the heartbreak of seeing our baby awash on the beach. Or watching as people slowly tore her apart bit by bit for parts and pieces.

There wasn’t anything for sale that we really needed for Island Bound but since we hadn’t been at a store for 12 days we did need to stock up on fresh food so off to the stores we went. We had laid in supplies in Santa Rosalia and Mulege’ but as always in this heat our fresh stuff was long gone. I am glad that the village is used to us invading them because when the fleet descends as we did after the Full Moon Party we can pretty much wipe out a small tiendas’ supply of fruits and vegetables. They seem to plan for us though and were glad to see us and our business. We ran into cruisers at every corner stocking up essentials, hauling gasoline, buying beer and wine and filling up the local restaurants.

As is the usual we set out in the heat on foot to try and find our way to the stores with the best selection and most reasonable prices. The first day in a town is always part shopping trip part exploration. Basically you wander through a town with some vague ideas of where you hope to find fruit and vegetables, meat and of course…..ICE CREAM! We set off for “the yellow store” and the fruteria near the Pemex.

For the fruit store we were told that it was just past the Y in the road but on reaching the Y we didn't see anything that looked like a grocery. By the time we could see the Pemex we knew we were not on the right path so stopped to talk with a local. He assured us there was no place near that sold fruit and that we would need to retrace our steps to a place called “Dos Pinas” but we were pretty sure we were actually close. We retraced our steps and tried again and walked into a store that had piles of clothes and shoes outside. Walla` the fruit store. Turns out that behind the t-shirts and dresses was a pretty nice tienda who’s weekly fresh produce delivery had come just the day before. The selection was pretty good and we walked out with seven big bags of groceries (mostly fruit, vegetables and eggs) for about $55 US. I felt lucky to have hit it so close to delivery day and it’s good to know the right day for future trips “to town ” so we can plan our future stops and not end up back in town when the fresh stuff is all gone.

Tomorrow we will sail to Puerto Don Juan to check out the hurricane hole. We won’t stay long we just want to have some familiarity with the anchorage so if any significant weather comes our chart plotter will already have a “bread crumb” trail to follow allowing us to enter even in the dark or under poor conditions with confidence. Simply having a clear picture in our minds of the anchorage will lower the stress level a bit if we have to start monitoring any storm activity. Our motto when the winds come up: reef early, seek shelter and remember “Land is not your friend!”


Buddy The Pelican


We just sailed in to the anchorage at La Mona after spending three nights at Animas Slot. The Slot is a tiny little cove tucked in behind a large islet that leaves just enough room for one or two boats to tuck in snug between the rocky rugged shores. The day we arrived there was a single small boat in the cove but the next morning it motored away and left us alone in the quite secluded spot.

We spent a couple of days fishing and had pretty good luck. We caught three Yellow Tails, a Grunt and a small tuna. Using our poles with light tackle both days meant a few lost lures, plenty of fish that never made it into the boat and lots of action. Our first day out I saw a three foot Marlin or some type of sail fish and on the second outing a beautiful blue green Dorado came screaming off the rocky point after a small Yellow Tail I had hooked.

On our way up from San Francisquito we once again had tried our luck at some big fish but our luck seemed to have run out. Sadly the only thing we managed to hook was a pelican. Friends have been telling us stories of catching booby birds and the difficulties they have encountered trying to get them set free again and we have had several of the dumb fowl waste their time trying to snag one of our drag line lures but they had always managed to either figure out it wasn’t a good meal or simply continue to miss until they gave up, but the luck ran out for this pelican.
We do most of our big game fishing with a hand line rather than a rod and reel. For us the fishing isn't really sport (though it is still fun and exciting) we simply catch and haul in on our quest for food. Because we don't use a rod and reel we don't have a telltale ziiingggg when a fish is on and often don't realize right away we have caught something. That was the situation when we caught the pelican. By the time we realized we had him he was already dead. We were under full sail cruising at about 6 knots so when he hooked himself on the lure. I am sure he simply couldn’t keep up and quickly drowned as we drug him along behind us.

Maybe we had penance to do. I’m not sure but after our first fishing trip at the cove we seemed to have acquired Buddy. He showed up with the feathered crowd that always materializes when Bill starts cleaning fish. The gulls come in and start to squawk which calls to the pelicans and soon there is a whole cheering section floating around fighting over the bits and pieces he throws off the cleaning table In the past we have had gulls that become very persistent. As soon as we clean a single fish in an anchorage the gulls consider us their local grocer. Then on some occasions a gull or two decided it’s just time for dinner regardless of whether or not we’ve been fishing. They fly in it seems whenever it crossed their minds and land near the boat then begin to squawk. They often stay at it for quite a while until they either get distracted or give up. We can be below and suddenly there is a single gull outside just causing a ruckus. I suppose it must think if it makes enough noise we will relent and toss out something worth eating. But Buddy was different.

Buddy came around with the first fish Bill cleaned and he simply never left. I could soon pick him out of a crowd but mostly he was simply there. He spent all his daylight hours paddling quietly around our boat waiting for any activity. Every time we came on deck there he was always hopeful. When I jumped in the water he would move closer still but just out of reach. If I climbed into the dinghy he would come right up and flap his pelican beak towards anything that moved. If you moved your arm up he would watch you closely and then reach towards your hand. He stood out, young and sort of soft and fluffy and a shade or two darker than all the other pelicans around. He would look you right in the eye as his webbed feet fluttered along. He wound around and around the dinghy and made no attempt to get out of the way when we started the outboard. When we went came in from our second day fishing he was front and center looking for a hand out. Then while we were busy trying to tie up the dink and unload our fishing gear he took a grab for one of the lures attached to our poles so from then off we had to shoo him off and snatch the rods out of his reach.

While the newest batch of fish was being cleaned Buddy stayed close. I threw him the first big piece, head, innards and tail all still attached. He scooped it up in his beak and paddled away trying to protect his find. He paddled around in a tight circle, the huge fish piece in his mouth. One small piece of the innards wrapped around his beak so he couldn’t swallow and so was forced to defend his prize from the other birds. I couldn’t help myself from laughing at him he looked so ridiculous with his neck all scrunched down into his body. Eventually he was able to fling his prize about and get it unwrapped and down his gullet. Whew!

Later I discovered that poor Buddy was not at all discriminating. Well I should have known that I suppose from the fishing lure or from the snorkel and fins he thought might be worth a taste but then I made the mistake of tossing over a tin can. Tin cans go over the side regularly. You fill them with saltwater and drop the over the side. They sink to the bottom and then disappear quickly unlike plastic and even paper. I casually tossed a tropical fruit can over the side only to cringe as Buddy scooped it up and tried to swallow it whole. Luckily he has some taste and determined it wasn’t really to his liking and spit it back out but I learned to be a bit more discerning.
After three days we motored out of the anchorage, careful to get far enough away from buddy before we spooled out our fishing gear. I hope the next boat in carries more fishermen and I will remind myself to let our friends know to look out for Buddy when they make it to Anamas Slot.

“The Pelican, his beak can hold more than his belly can.”


Uh uh, no playing with the humans you kids,


While anchored at Animas slot we got in some good fishing along the rocky points. We were calling it a day with four fish on our stringer when Bill pointed out dolphins in the distance. As we putted along in the dink they came nearer and I wondered at their size: “wow those are big dolphins.” As they came closer we could see into all the activity and realized that we were looking at dolphins, sea lions and a whole pod of pilot whales. As we paused to stare they all came nearer and the pilot whales began breaching right next to the dink, behavior we had never seen before.

As the crowd got closer Bill started the engine and moved off to the side of the froth of activity. Part of the crowd though swarmed around us. Suddenly we were moving along on plane with dolphins and small pilot whales surged around us. We flowed along in tandem for several minutes with me (of course) whooping and hollering in enthusiastic support while the air filled with whale sounds and the clicking and buzzing of the dolphins. As quickly as it had begun the older larger whales swooped in and seemed to say “uh-uh not today guys. No more playing with humans.” The youngsters and the dolphins were effectively herded off and away from us by the biggest of the pilot whales and out towards open water, Bill let off the gas and we slowed down in the waves and watched them disappear again into the blue. Amazing wildlife! Kat

How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Party (Boarded by the Mexican Navy)


After a single day 80 mile run north we are now in Bahia San Francisquito along with a small handful of other boats. After the heat and exhaustingly high humidity of Santa Rosalita everyone is thrilled to be comfortable again. The humidity level here is remarkably low in comparison to S.R. and there is a lovely breeze and the water is an amazing 12 degrees cooler. I had no idea I would appreciate 103 degrees in any form but this feels like heaven after the endless hours of sticky sweaty heat in town. The evening we arrived I was in the water three times before I even put dinner on the table.
I remember being told last winter that once we hit the summer months in Baja we would live by the humidity level but the warning just didn’t sink in. After all Baja is a desert, scant rainfall, cacti, lizards and coyotes. Aren’t deserts supposed to be dry? Not so during a Baja summer. Every night since we arrived in S.R. every surface in the boat has been damp. The cockpit seats stayed sticky, the exterior teak looked dark as if I had just hosed down the boat and every night when we would climb in to bed the sheets were moist and tacky and felt dirty and damp no matter how clean. (Cruisers hint: if you shake a bit of baby powder across the sheets before bed the sheets feel remarkably cool and dry beneath you.)
Shortly after we arrived in Bahia San Francisquito two other boats pulled in, both friends from our old docks at Seattle’s Shilshole Marina: Cindy and Adam on Bravo (a Kelly Peterson sister ship) and Sherry and Bob on Ponderosa so once we had all caught up on our rest the only logical thing to do was to have a party!

Sundowners in the cockpit are a time honored tradition with boaters that come with a few bits of protocol. First off everyone brings a snack though they can range from the simplest to decedent and extravagant. It’s not meant to be dinner though it often turns into that. Second, everyone brings their own beverage and ice is not provided unless the host offers(many boats don’t carry ice and those that do usually have it in short supply and pay for it dearly with high electrical use.)Third, unless specifically invited for dinner protocol calls for the end of the party to inherently come when the sun is setting and the anchorage is getting dark. That way everyone makes it safely back to their boats in time for cruisers’ notoriously early bed time -up with the sun, down with the sun, though that timeline is changing as the days of oil lamps and scant electrical supplies morph into modern boats with seemingly limitless electricity, flat screen TV’s and exhaustive movie libraries.
So, there we are in Bravos’ cockpit chatting about how wonderful it feels to be cool again and gobbling up goodies until we notice the Navy boat coming our way. An Armada de Mexico boat has been at anchor across the bay since the previous evening when we all arrived but we have seen little if any activity there until of course the party starts. They come across the bay in their warship complete with Uzi carrying crew. As they approach we figure we better switch on the radio (which we are not required to have on while at anchor) since it looks like they are going to try and board us. The Capitan calls and the conversations lead to a request for Adam to bring his papers via Bravos dinghy to their ship which he cheerfully does.

After a few minutes Adam returns and we resume the party while wondering exactly why they would only want papers on one of the three boats in the anchorage. A few minutes later they return this time in their dinghy while the warship hovers nearby intermittently throwing a large wake into the anchorage. When they return at first it seems like they have mistakenly come back. Why would they come to Bravo again? But, as it looks like they are intent on boarding fenders are quickly hung to protect Bravos paint and soon there are three armed officers aboard and they explain that Bravos’ paperwork is not in order in fact one of the papers they looked at earlier was “muy malo” ( very bad.)

With a bit of a group effort it is explained that the TIP Bravo supplied –Temporary Import Permit- was a photo copy. Which in itself is not a problem, but it is a color copy and should be in black and white only. A color copy is equal to a forgery and is muy malo and very illegal. OK. So while two armed men stand on deck and two armed men stand in their tender holding on to the side of Bravo as the war ship circles and throws a big wake the officer who speaks the best English goes through the list of papers again and ask to go below to check fire extinguishers, GPS and flares.
While the inspection is taking place a VHF call comes in from friends on Buena Vista (another Peterson sister ship) saying they are coming into the bay. We all sort of looked at each other and stated that as soon as Buena Vista rounded the corner the Armada would be off in pursuit but for now they were out of sight. In a few minutes the inspection is done and they are climbing into their tender and turning to the two other Captains present and indicating that it is now Island Bounds and Ponderosas turns.

End of party time to pack up and call it a night. Sherry and Bobs dinghy is tied closest so they climb in first and as they head towards Ponderosa the Armada de Mexico follows and Bill and I putt back to Island Bound to leisurely round up all the necessary paperwork and articles they are likely to want to inspect.

Contrary to nearly everyone we know Island Bound has never been boarded in the years we have owned her. With our numerous trips in and out of Canada, the Coast Guards heavy presence in the Pacific Northwest and even our entrance into Mexico no one has ever even done a safety inspection. We have heard lots of tales but somehow we slipped through unnoticed. We of course have all the documents we ever expect to need along with all the required safety and communications gear so a boarding is simply a formality yet can often cause an elevated stress reaction and response with many folks. The troops were busy on Ponderosa so we had plenty of time to gather everything together and even straighten up a bit. For us the inspection was simple and easy and in fact rather abbreviated. By the time the Armada reached us the enlisted men were yawning and obviously hot and bored while they carried on conversations about their weekend and tequila. The spokesman was polite and friendly and seemed to be doing nothing other than an obligatory inspection. They did no search and unlike the other boats they took no pictures (Bill thinks they had run out of film or memory in the camera.) They transferred some information off of our boats Documentation and out of our passports then thanked us and said goodbye.

Unfortunately while they held court with all of us our friends on Buena Vista sailed into the anchorage and were quickly relegated to inspection number four. I felt bad for Buena Vista because I knew how tired we had been when we arrived and how much all I wanted to do was slip into the cool water. They barely had their anchor in the mud before they needed to scramble to protect their paint job and start digging out their paperwork amidst the inevitable disarray after a long hot crossing.

P.S. By this morning there were now five boats in the main anchorage (three of which were nearly carbon copy Petersons) when yet another police presence appeared. They once again bee lined to Bravo (we joked and said that Bravo was easier to pronounce but Buena Vista sort of disintegrated that theory) nearly reamed his hull before he was able to hang some fenders and boarded once again. Same script different jurisdiction and then off they went to the inner harbor never bothering to approach any of the other boats. Then again it’s early yet, maybe they are waiting to see if we throw another party?

Oops, which way were we going?

Our crossing to San Carlos was simple and easy. We’ve done enough now to be comfortable and relaxed in just about any situation. The only thing different about this crossing was that it was totally unanticipated. When the decision was made it was early afternoon and it was going to be a 70nm crossing. If we left right away we would arrive in the middle of the night so we decided to relax though the afternoon, have lunch, take a nap and then leave in the early evening in order to time our arrival for daylight. Now well underwayBill woke me at eleven pm for my watch and I quickly grabbed my gear and headed up on deck. As he passed me the watch he filled me in on our heading and I checked the chart plotter to get my bearings then Bill handed me our remote and headed below for some sleep.

One of our purchases before we started this journey was a new autopilot with a remote control. It is a handy little device about the size of a garage door opener. From any place on the boat with remote in hand you can you can switch back and forth from standby to auto and change course one degree at a time or with the push of a button alter your course in ten degree increments. It’s really a wonderful tool and has only two downfalls. 1.) The original designs accommodation for attaching a lanyard was a niche in the back with a tiny span of plastic about the width of a toothpick. Within a month or two with no abuse whatsoever that thin plastic piece broke leaving us with a remote that has the potential to not stay with the human doing the controls and 2.) The batteries wear out very quickly(and often do at the most inopportune times.)

The battery problem is simple enough to handle we just keep a stash of rechargeable batteries close by. Being unable to keep it attached to your person with a lanyard has been harder to solve. The thing wasn’t cheap so it’s policy not to put it in a pocket or take it out of the cockpit where it could potentially go over the side. [Electronics such as cell phones, IPods and remote controls evidently have evolved with a special sensor allowing said electronics to literally jump out of a humans grasp anytime they are within a few inches of a boats lifeline.] So though we have been in search of a fix for the defective lanyard since Neah Bay when in use the remote is always in someone’s hand or laying in the cockpit close by whoever is on watch.

This particular night crossing was moonless and dark and there was a light marine layer of fog which limited the view of the stars. I had looked at our course and checked for any potential dangers. There was nothing but open sea ahead: no islands, no rocks, no reefs or navigation lights, absolutely nothing between Island Bound and our destination in Guaymas an estimated eight hours to the east.
Course checked I settle into my watch and plump and push my cockpit cushion and chair just so, have my bottle of water and a snack at hand, place the remote control out of the way yet near my chair and plug myself into my IPod for some toe tapping country music (for night watch I try not to sing along, I really do.) Personally I choose not to read during my watch because the light ruins my night vision and for safety sake I try and keep my IPod volume low enough to still hear the sounds around me. Then all that is left for me to do until I wake Bill in four hours is follow the course and check the sea around me every few minutes looking for any signs of traffic, whales or bad weather.

I don’t know how other people manage their night watches but for me any real ability to see out into the night is limited. With a full moon you can see ahead of you but lacking that you are essentially driving along blind. For all intents and purposes your ability to see a whale or an object like a container floating in the water is virtually nonexistent. You MUST though keep a look out into the nothingness ahead of you for whatever you can see and especially for the navigation lights of other traffic.
So, there I am sailing along peering every few minutes off into the hazy murk not seeing any other traffic at all. If it had been a clear night I would have oriented myself to the stars above and ahead in order to give context to my course. This night everything was just dark and slightly foggy. Then about three hours into my watch I pick up the remote to check my course and realize that the batteries died and the autopilot was back on standby.
For you non sailors out there what that really means is no one was steering the boat!! I sprang up and searched around me then flung myself towards the chart plotter to see what our heading was and how far off I might be. Initially I had no idea how long the autopilot has been off but one look at the plotter made my heart race and jump into my throat.
On examination the plotter showed a rather circuitous route but because we were zoomed in for a close view it was hard to tell how far off we were from our original course. Once I zoomed out and had a good look at our course I was horrified. We weren’t on a collision course with anything thank God but I had managed to do two complete circles to the tune of about two hours of travel time. The two circles looked like a little girls ringlet or maybe a double pigs tail: a straight part, an almost perfect circle, a small straight leg, another near perfect circle and then straightening out again. Worse yet it was right there in black and white on our chart plotter.
The moral of this story is that regardless of how comfortable you are with passages and how sure you are that there are no obstacles near your route it is still important to look at the course every few minutes to be sure that you are in fact still headed in the right direction. Simple complacency could have brought disaster. I never imagined that scenario playing out: plugged into my IPod, no land or light references on our course, dead batteries, and no stars for orientation while I was checking the sea around me and somehow not even thinking to look at the plotter. It definitely makes me grateful that the damage was only to me pride. I know l will make other mistakes, big, little, new and old. Life is a learning process and the learning curve for me in this cruising life has been steep. But I can pretty much assure you that that particular mistake will not happen again on my watch. The rest of my watch passed slowly. Bill got a free extra hour of sleep.


Whatever the weather we weather the weather


Today we are bobbing along on anchor at La Ventana in Bahia de los Angeles. After hitting the August Full Moon party at La Mona and a quick stop at the Village we spent three nights anchored in Puerto Don Juan arguably the best hurricane hole in the northern Sea. With no place to be we move with the rhythm of the Sea in summer: no hurry, relaxed, bits of fishing or clamming in the mornings, stay out of the sun in mid-day, jump in the water to cool off, hope for a cooling breeze. Everything revolves around the heat.

Our second night we woke around 3:00am hearing a very odd and unfamiliar sound: what, huh, is that rain? Quick run around and close the hatches and ports! The last time we saw rain was Oct 15th 2010 yet here in Bahia de los Angeles they last saw measurable rain seven YEARS ago. As I worked to get back to sleep I had great flashes of getting up and taking a walk into the dessert to see the transformation the rains would bring. When we woke up the skies were overcast and the day felt cool so we set off early for that walk.
Disappointingly the dessert had not transformed over night by the rains. Despite our dash for dryness at the sound of raindrops on our decks it all added up to nothing measurable. No glorious carpet of color was produced and though the walk was pleasant we saw nothing more than coyote tracks, spikey shrubs and cacti and a few tiny bright red blooms.

The heat of the sun rules the entire fleet this time of year. We have run to the Northern Sea of Cortez as an escape, historically from the path of the annual hurricanes. In early spring as we made plans to go north to the Sea the rest of the fleet was breaking off: west across the Pacific to the South Pacific, South to Central and South America or through the Panama Canal to the Caribbean or simply home to their “real life” in The US or Canada. We choose the northern Sea for safety knowing that the summer sun still will control us. It is the heat of the sun that warms the water that draws the winds that fuel the storms. It is the heat that fuels the convections and katabatic winds. The Chubascos and the Elefantes, Coromuels and Hurricanes all are ruled by the suns warming of the land masses and the tides of heated water. Add that to the reality of no internet and no telephone service in the Northern Sea and you have a recipe for little or no warnings coming our way when trouble is brewing.

The fleet tries to counter the absence of at hand reliable weather forecasts by building a network of relayed information. At the most basic level it comes from the boaters actively utilizing the VHF radio to pass along information on current weather activity.
“Ponderosa, Ponderosa, Ponderosa this is Island Bound.”
“Ponderosa here.”
“Switch to Channel 69.”
“ 69.”
“Ponderosa, this is Island Bound, we saw you raising anchor right behind us on your way out and just wanted to warn you that as we rounded the corner out of Don Juan we ran smack into 25 mile per hour winds and are now seeing gusts to 35, over.”
“Roger that Island Bound, good luck, we’ll keep our sails down until we see what’s what.”

We had been at anchor in paradise for three nights when we decided on a whim to move to another anchorage. It had been still and windless all day but as we rounded the corner we ran smack into the beginnings of a daytime Chubasco. In fact as we radioed Ponderosa other friends less than 5 miles away were listening to our reports of weather and thinking perhaps we had gone mad because where they were sitting there was no wind at all. But a mere couple of minutes passed when they were hit first by wind waves and then by the very winds we were calling about.

At the same time miles north our friends on Bravo were under sail bound for Refugio when in the middle of bringing in a lovely big Dorado when the winds found them. Busy reeling in a fish under full main and a stays’l they were suddenly in 50 mph winds. Another group of three boats coming north from San Francisquito were caught unaware as well. Far from their last port but still hours away from the next shelter the high winds overtook them. One of three ended up sailing under bare poles at 6 ½ knots while another, V’ger lost their back stay, both port side lower shrouds and suffered a crack in their mast from the strain. All on what started out as a clear and sunny summer day.

Now lest you get to fretting thinking we might be caught in a hurricane let me assure you that hurricanes do not come without warning. Other nasty little weather can but not hurricanes. They are tracked for days and definitely make themselves known giving us all plenty of time to get as far out of their path as possible. Again, the problem is the lack of forecasting that can be the bear.

This time of year we have access three ways to weather forecasts. 1.) Baja Geary gives us the weather 7/days a week via his ham radio and the report is then recorded and transmitted via the VHF. 22. 2.)Twice daily 6/days per week we listen to Don on Summer Passage from Oxnard California. He has been the resident weather guru for the west coast and Pacific Ocean for years. In addition to his daily weather forecasts for the outer Baja coast, the Sea of Cortez and the Mexican Riviera south to the infamous Tehuantepec (sounds like: two-wanna-peg) boats underway can check in with their current location via Ham radio and Don will fashion a personal forecast for you which he did for us aboard S/V Western Grace on my maiden Pacific Ocean voyage from Cabo San Lucas to Hawaii in 2005. Back then Don had been doing this work (for free) for many years and now in his late 70’s he is still here today.

So, for the small fleet here in the northern Sea it is a matter of weather. We are here because we seek safety but of all the places I have sailed the Sea has the weirdest wildest weather. It is early in the season but already it is common to catch ourselves looking at the clouds searching for a hint, any hint. “Is that cloud headed our way?” “If the wind shifts will we sleep tonight?” and “What did Baja Geary say this morning?” Once caught, twice shy. kat

Squid Frenzy


Tonight we had our friends from Taya over for fish curry and when they left to head back to their boat as usual we turned on our spreader lights as a courtesy while they loaded up in their dinghy. After they motored away Bill could see by their phosphorescent trails dozens of fish swimming around us. He grabbed a pole and threw out a lure to see what he could catch. The activity of the lure brought in still more fish and soon there were bait fish swarming in schools all around us.
Following the bait fish were bigger fish and following the bigger fish pelicans joined the party and began diving for their dinner. There wasn’t any action on the lure but as we watched I began to see something odd. Weird looking fish rising all around us. They looked strange and moved strangely too. Oh, they’re squid. They were as long as my arm and just as fat. And they were calling Bills name.

We had picked up a squid lure in Santa Rosalia but had no idea exactly how to catch squid. One thing for certain though the longer the light was on the more came swarming around our boat. I ran down and got the lure and Bill had it rigged and in the water in a flash. It took only a minute to catch our first one.
As he reeled it in I grabbed a bucket with the idea that we would lift it out of the water and into the bucket. No problem, until they squirt. Squid send out jets of water and I swear they have pretty good aim. The first one got the deck and halfway into the cockpit and the second one got a direct hit right to my torso: instantly soaked to the skin with squid water, yuck.
Between the sound of the pelicans hitting the water around, fish jumping, running and schooling, Bills shouting out instructions and me squealing in fright while the creepy things soaked us it was a flurry of activity and noise. The deck and the cockpit cushions were soaked I was soaked and one squid had a direct hit through the port light over the stove filling my galley with saltwater. It was a very noisy and wet 20minutes. We have six big squid in a plastic bag in the fridge -guess the fridge needed to be cleaned out anyway right? Tomorrow we will clean them, fill our freezer and then offer the rest around in the anchorage.

Afterwards we learned some interesting squid trivia which compounds my belief that you will never find me doing night swims unless it’s in a pool. Squid can be huge –upwards to 40 feet. The Mexican fishermen hold the belief that if you end up in the water during a squid fishery you should simply pray. You will not make it back to the boat. They feed in a frenzy meaning once they start to feed they bite everything and anything even turning on the other squid around them. Squid hunt and work in groups teaming up on larger prey. One squid researcher now wears a chainmail suit connected to his research boat with a stainless steel tether after being dragged by a swarm of squid to seventy feet, chewed on and had a collar bone broken nearly losing his life. He escaped and continued his research.
Does anyone have a good recipe for aoli?

Safety Cat Aground

We are back in Bahia Concepcion at anchor in Burro Bay. It’s the first of July and the outside temperatures hover just over 100. The waves are building and our rigging is singing as we bounce in the building waves. Todays waves were even higher than usual but no one complained because the winds were the only thing that made it even marginally livable here. It was too rough to kayak or swim and no one was attempting to land a dinghy on the beach so most of the cruisers sat tucked in their boats keeping an eye on their anchor set and waiting: for evening, for calm, for relief. With the thermostat pegged at 93 at 11:00PM instead of tossing and turning for hours I finally grab my pillow and retreated to the cockpit looking for a sip of air.

The routine afternoon high winds are the reason we are here. Not because we sought them out but because they caused a near disaster. Most of our friends had plans for the annual 4th of July bash in Burrow Cove but we were going to skip it in favor of the cooler anchorages to the north. Just the day before Panta Rhei along with Nick, Andrea and seven year old Pandy on their 30 ft. catamaran Safety Cat had left us in Sweet Pea Cove headed for the party.
40nm away in Sweet Pea Cove we intercepted a Pan-Pan radio announcement on VHF emergency CH16. Our ears perked up at the sound of our friends on Panta Rhei calling for any local assistance for a boat that had drug anchor and was now being pounded in the surf on an empty beach just off the mouth of the river into Mulege’.
Headed for sightseeing and groceries both boats were left anchored at the mouth of the Mulege’ river, when they returned and rounded the corner at the lighthouse Panta Rhei was right where they had left her but Safety Cat was not. Every boaters nightmare: in the time they had been gone the 30 foot cat had drug anchor and been washed ashore and now rolled and heaved on a steep beach. Safety Cat was in serious trouble
The Pan-Pan that Panta Rhei was sending out said that Safety Cat was on the beach taking a pounding and they were asking for assistance from anyone in the area who could help them try and get her off the beach before she was holed and left unsalvageable. Another boat in Sweet Pea was the first to respond but wanted to switch to another channel to gather information but Panta Rhei declined wanting to stay on the emergency frequencies with the Pan-Pan hoping to raise someone close enough to assist.
40 nm away we listened for a minute or two as Panta Rhei repeated the Pan-Pan on CH16 and then again on the cruisers Ch22 but no one locally responded. We responded making suggestions about calling for outside help and then stood by while they continued the Pan-Pan. One of the ideas was to call Garth on “Tunaholic” in Guaymas knowing he spoke fluent Spanish and had friends in Mulege’. We had met him when we attended his “Fishing the Sea” seminar at Loreto Fest and then again in Guaymas where I stayed a few days on my own while Bill flew home for a few days of business. I found him working in the local boat yard and he had helped me get around town for groceries and even given me a tour of San Carlos. I knew he spoke Spanish and I knew he had friends and connections in Mulege’. Hermie on Iwa one of the other boats in Sweet Pea picked up our conversation and happened to have Garths telephone number so with her Spanish and our cell phone we soon had Garth on the line and a number for a fisherman on “Gringo Loco” in Mulege’.
Our Spanish is still not exactly fluent so we jumped in our dinghy and raced across the anchorage to Iwa with our phone to try and make a call. The first number we called was not correct so we had to call Garth back but the second time we got Gringo Loco’s owner who agreed to leave right away to get his panga and head out to help.
About 90 minutes had passed with us thinking that a rescue was underway when we heard a VHF call coming in for Island Bound. It was Nick on Safety Cat saying so far no one had come to offer any help, Safety Cat was now holed and taking on water and did we know anything else.
The wind had continued to build and the heavy swell continued to drive her harder onto the beach. In the time between the VHF and telephone calls the crews of both Safety Cat and Panta Rhei worked frantically but Panta Rhei’s dinghy alone could not drag Safety Cat off the beach. Andrea had even gone out to the road to try and flag someone down with no luck. From 40 miles away listening to the frantic calls and hearing that the Cat was taking on water we wondered if it was already too late but we set off again to Iwa for another round at telephone calls.
Hermie called straight off but we were startled to learn that no panga had been launched because there was no cash for gas for the engine! They had instead sent their son by foot alone to the beach to try and get gas money from Safety Cat - Abel the pangaro we had called was waiting at his boat and would launch as soon as the son returned. By the time we got back in touch with Safety cat the son had arrived and was now running home. The rescue panga we hoped would soon be headed their way.

We didn’t hear anything for some time and no one was answering radio calls anymore so we stood by waiting to hear the news, any news. Hours later finally we got a call back: they had been successful in getting her off the beach and up the river.
Finally with two pangas and now loads of locals they had pushed and pulled and heaved and hauled finally getting her afloat. With one pontoon listing dangerously low it took hours but they got her towed up river and she was now sitting just off the boat ramp in a foot or so of water. Immediate crisis over, everyone slowly left leaving Nick working late into the night hauling off anything of value from the boat but unfortunately things didn’t look good.

The next day an announcement went out on the Sonrisa Ham net and this time the call was answered. A group of cruisers loaded into Baja Geary’s truck (the local weatherman) and headed into town to help. At the same time a Good Samaritan on vacation from Ensenada showed up and quietly began offering assistance. He makes his living salvaging and then parting out abandoned and neglected boats in Ensenada and he had a truck and a great idea. It was a trick he had used many times before to temporarily plug a leak: bee’s wax toilet seals. You plug the wax into the holes from both the inside and the outside and you can generally stop the incoming water long enough to begin repairs.

Volunteers fanned out all over Mulege’ looking for the bee’s wax rings and systematically bought up every one they could find. In the morning we sailed south to offer our stash of West System epoxy and glass mat but the days’ hard work had already begun. The cruisers crew had already arrived to catch a five am low tide. Working with a hookah and the bees wax they plugged the many holes, pumped out the water with a high speed pump and with the Good Samaritans truck hauled her ashore. By the time we arrived Burro was quiet except for the wind and we had nothing to do but sit and wait. By afternoon we had our update. The boat was pumped dry and ready to be staged for repair. But there is plenty of work left to do before Safety Cat is going anywhere.

Having your boat wash up on the beach or a reef is every sailor’s nightmare. When a boat hits the shore even if they are not holed often there is significant damage if the surf is pounding. Everything gets soaked through with saltwater and often is pretty much a total loss. They worked for hours in the surf and then were holed too. Though all the damage has yet to be discovered it looks like the boat IS salvageable.
The family was poised to head home and back to the real world of jobs and school. Now they are left with a damaged boat in an area where there are no boatyards. The plan is for Andrea and Pandy to go home to California while Nick will stay and begin repairs with the hopes that he will be able to get Safety Cat to San Felipe to dry dock. Not exactly how they planned on ending their first dream cruise but everyone is safe and that is of course the most important of all. We wish them luck and know that the offers for help will continue to flow their way.