Friday, March 5, 2010

La Cruz to Chamala

In case anyone reading our blog thinks that all our days are full of sunshine and fun, here is a little account of one of our tougher passages...

I guess we should have paid more attention to the unsettled weather systems in the area before leaving La Cruz for parts south. The predominant wind direction at this time of year is from the north and we expected light winds from that direction when we set off for Cabo Corrientes. Corrientes is yet another 'Cape Horn', this time the Cape Horn of the Mexican Riviera. Hence we were advised by other cruisers and guide books to pass the cape late at night or early in the morning to avoid strong winds. Because the winds were light and we were impatient we left early in the morning, which should have put us off the cape around supper time or in the early evening.

Relaxing in the cockpit.

We ghosted across Banderas bay in a light 3-4 knot south east windcoming off the land. e had up our usual full main and jib. Remnants of a pineapple express (a tropical weather system) were still in the area, cloaking the mountains around the bay in moisture laden clouds. In the distance we soon saw whales spouting and gradually drew closer to what proved to be a pod of 5 humpback whales feeding near the surface. Whale watching boats were crowding the poor giants forcing them to dive deep more often than they would have liked. I was frustrated with the watcher's behaviour but envious of how close they were to these impressive creatures.

Whales and watchers

By lunchtime a nice westerly sea breeze had Ladybug moving briskly at 5 knots and for a while we had a pod of bottle nose dolphins playing alongside. Ten miles north east of the cape the wind dropped to a couple of knots and we slowed to a crawl, wallowing uneasily in the big ocean swells. We waited patiently for the 'cape effect' to give us a nice breeze, but the wind continued light and the current was running against us now. Finally Chris broke down and turned on the engine and we motored for a couple of hours before he reached is limit and tried to set sail again. The wind was too light to move us, so we struck all sail and lay bobbing in the swells off the cape around 9pm.

The captain told me to get some sleep while he stood watch. At 11:30 pm, I heard him moving about on deck and sure enough, he was trying to sail again in 3-4 knots of wind behind us from the east with a jib held out by our aluminum reaching pole – the guy never gives up!

By 1 am we were only 6 nautical miles past the cape. Both of us were on deck, searching the sky and wondering if the approaching dark clouds were friends or foes. Soon several squalls bringing rain but little wind passed over the boat. Chris took down the pole and put up the mainsail as the wind built to 15 knots. Behind us, we could see lightening in the hills above Banderas Bay. The seas began to build, reaching six foot swells with a two foot chop and I ducked below to take a Gravol.

By dawn we were exhausted from the sail changes and we discussed anchoring in Ipala, a cove that lies 13 miles south of Cabo Corrientes, but as we neared the anchorage, we could see it filled by surf and big swells with no sign of anchored boats. So we pressed on toward Chamela, resigning ourselves to another night at sea or a night time entry. At 8:15 we listened to the weather forecast on our shortwave radio, hearing that we were experiencing light winds from the north. The actual conditions were averaging 15 to 20 knots from the south east, right on the nose and all that day we beat into unpleasantly sharp seas, heeled over from between 15 to 25 degrees. We had another 50 miles to go and tacking would add at least 50 percent to that distance. Because of the rough seas and head winds, we could only make at best 4-5 knots. We reefed down the main and furled half of the jib. When the wind rose, the wind vane had trouble steering in the sloppy seas, so we took turns hand steering in order to make better progress.

Our 'inclinometer' - gimbaled stove with curry.

By midday the wind was gusting to 25 knots with the occasional squall. For the rest of daylight hours, the wind rose and fell, requiring us to make frequent changes to the sails, shaking out and putting in reefs in the main and furling and unfurling the jib. We tried to fly the stay sail – the small sail that a cutter has inside the jib, but found that on its own it was too small to give us much progress to windward.

We saw a few boats heading north, enjoying the boisterous following wind. Using our VHF, we made contact with Neil on SV Moondance, en route to La Cruz, who gave us some suggestions for anchoring in Chamela. We also encountered a number of trawlers – large rusty fishing boats that seemed to take a special delight in coming close enough to scare the pants of a gringo sailor! At one point near dusk, we tried to raise a trawler which was on a collision course with us using our VHF but were not able to make contact, so Chris got on deck with a flashlight to show him where we were.

By 2 am the next day we were both exhausted from the continuous pounding and sail changes, so we heaved Ladybug to under double reefed main. We left her jogging along at one or two knots about 60 degrees off the wind and we went below to get some sleep. Up around 4 am, we set all sail and made a little progress toward Chamela, but the wind died out at 5:30 and we gave in and fired up the engine. Three hours later we dropped our anchor in a little sandy cove off Isla Passavera near the village of Chamela and fell into a deep sleep.

Later we washed the sleep from our bodies in the warm clear waters off the island, following large schools of colourful fish as they swum along the rocky shores at the edges of the cove. The island reminded me of a tiny version of Isla Isabela, with nesting frigates, boobies circling above, and pelicans perched on guano covered treetops and cacti. Every inch was covered in bushes and vines of all shapes, sizes and shades of green.

We re-anchored that afternoon off Colorado Island when a southerly wind made our anchorage uncomfortable. The next day we inflated our kayak and paddled around Colorado island, landing on a lovely hidden sand beach on the southwest side. On the north side we paddled by another elephant shaped rock, bringing us fond memories of our visit up north in the Sea of Cortez to Catalina Island.

Our next destination would be Tenacatita, about 25 or 30 miles south.

Kayaking off the elephant rock.

Beach on Colorado.


Lorraine said...

Hi Chris and Rani,

I sent a long reply and lost it. I'm James' sister ...James of James and Joan. I'll tune in from time to time. Lorraine

Anonymous said...

Chris and Rani
What is your destination for this year? Warm wx here in Victoria, warmest Jan and Feb on record. Getting ready to spash Optima the end of Mar. Watch your voyage with interest. Neil & Sharon.

Chris Bennett said...

Hi Lorraine - nice to hear from you and sorry you lost your comments - we are pretty good at doing that too especially when using flaky wireless internet connections from the boat (like now!)

Chris Bennett said...

Hi Neil & Sharon - Thanks for dropping us a line. Our plans are to head north from Manzanillo back up to Puerto Vallarta and then into the Sea for the spring. We will haul out the boat probably in May in Guaymas (near where we bought her a year ago) and leave her there for the summer.

Good to hear about the weather and the early launch date. Hope to see you when we are back in BC (probably in July).