Monday, April 19, 2010

Sailing across the Sea and up into the islands

After a week in Mazatlan we were ready to re-cross the Sea of Cortez. This time, we would avoid the cruiser vortex of La Paz and sail for the islands to the north of La Paz bay. We backed Ladybug II out into a brisk wind, gunning the enigine to clear the bowsprit of a Morgan 41 that protruded into the fairway. The wind forced us to back out of the channel by the marina making a wide reverse turn after 600 feet into the main channel. As we motored up the channel, we could see that the dreger was working at the mouth. A tourist catamaran with dozens of people on deck filled the rest of the channel and we just managed to hold our position against the tidal current as the big cat cleared the channel. The dredger slacked its cross-channel mooring cable to let us past and we were soon motoring across the bar. A big swell was running into the shoal waters off the entrance and the motion was not comfortable. We put up the sails and began to work our way north into a light headwind. Despite the steadying effect of the sails, both of us felt queasy.

Dredger off the Marina Singlar in Mazatlan

We had hoped to do the crossing in 2-3 days, but the winds on this passage were the lightest we have experienced in any of our Sea of Cortez crossings and it took a full 100 hours or just over 4 days to sail from Mazatlan to Partida island. Other boats left 2 days later than us and arrived at the same time, but that is not because they were faster boats. Instead, while we sailed or lay ahull during calms, they motored or motor-sailed most of the way. We sailed for all but 2 of the 100 hours, turning on the motor twice during night-time calms to avoid vessels in a channel and for an hour to get into port before dark on the last day. When we tell people that we sail most of the time, they say that I must be very patient, but in fact, it is Rani who has become much more patient and tolerant. I love to sail while she is not so passionate about this past-time and I am a lucky man to have such an amenable partner!

The first night, the wind died out near midnight and we took down the sails and lay ahull for 4 hours, hoisting the sails when a light easterly wind sprung up coming off the land. We took down the sails again at noon and later in the afternoon for another 3 hours in calm conditions. Around supper time we checked into the Sothbound SSB radio net – something Rani likes to do so that people know where we are during a longer passage. We also listen to Don Anderson's weather forecast on this net. Shortly after the net a booby landed on our upper spreaders and was only dislodged by a sharp rap from the main halyard.

The second night we were ale to sail all night, taking two hour watches and making 3-4 knots in light winds. The wind died out by 10 am the next day, so we went for a swim in 4000 foot deep water. A dolphin came over to see what we were and swam right up to us, hovering in front of me and clearly looking us over. He/she had scrape marks on its tail, perhaps from being too curious about another boat. It was a strange feeling regarding this obviously intelligent creature, eye to eye in its own envrionment. However we were clearly not that interesting – perhaps our aquatic prowess was not up to snuff – and our dolphin friend soon lost interest and went elsewhere. We were to see and hear dolphins around the boat several times during the passage. In the moonless night we could sometimes see them by the trails of phosphoresence, but more often we could hear their gulped breaths as they rapidly surfaced, speeding past ladybug beneath the star-filled sky. An advantage of not motoring through the calms is that you hear and see things you would otherwise miss. The sea was so calm at night that reflected stars danced around in the gentle rippling swell.

Chris cutting his own hair while underway.

The wind remained light on the third day and we took the sails down again after supper. That night we approached the channel into La Paz and saw two sail boats motor past us. It turned out later that one of these was Faith – a Morgan 41 whom we had met in Manzanillo and again in La Cruz. We sailed until a complete calm at 3 am and then took down the sails until morning. Light westerly winds allowed us to sail for most of the day and Just before 7pm we dropped anchor at the 'Partida back-door' anchorage on the east side of Isla Partida. This was a new anchorage for us, but we had seen it from our kayak when we paddled through a shallow tidal cut from the other side of the island in the fall.

I decided that it would be fun to see how long we could sail without turning on our motor and for the next week or so we sailed off the hook and re-anchored under sail each day. We sailed next for Isla San Francisco, beating into a light northerly wind that built through the day until it reached 12-15 kn ots. A good sized swell built up as we tacked toward the island and we had to dog down the hatches to keep Ladybug dry. One incident of note on this 9 hour passage was when we were buzzed by a twin engine prop plane that flew so low, we thought they were going to crash into the sea. As the sun lowered in front of us, we saw several dolphins leaping completely clear of the water amidst the white caps and spray. Some appeared to turn somersaults in the air.

Chris jumping for joy at finally being on land after 4 days out.

Indigenous grinding stones on San Francisco. These stones were apparently used to grind the red cactus berries.

We spent a full day and 2 nights at Isla San Francisco. We wanted to hike to the north end of the island, which we had been told had fantastic views. There is a rough trail that leaves the beach at the 'hook' and makes it's way through fields of scree to a saddle and look off. Another even fainter trail skirts the side of a scree covered hill and then peters out in an arroyo. We found a cave near the end of this trail and placed a geo-cache here for our friends Marv and Ardy to find when they next pass this way. I watched a tarantula wander into the cave after we placed the cache, so we shall warn our friends to exercise caution. We continued to the hill overlookiing the north end of the island. The views on the hike and at the top of the hill were phenomenal – lapis lazuli seas – the swirling colours ranging from yellow green to a deep blue green – the result of shifting sand bars that lie between Isla San Francisco and nearby Isla San Jose. The lagoon on Isla San Jose lay behind miles of white sand barrier beach with two or three cruising boats anchored just north of it. Below us were the colourful little fishermen's homes that cling improbably to rocky Isla Coyote and two sailboats looking like toys from this height, were motoring south down the San Jose channel.

Chris stands on the look off above the Hook at San Francisco.

Chris hides the geo-cache in a tarantula's cave on San Francisco

Rani feeling good - Isla San Jose and Isla Coyote in the background.

We had a potluck supper that night with a group of cruisers from Arizona, including Chris and Sandy of Faith, the boat we had seen pass us a couple of nights earlier. The potluck was hosted on Sea Peace, a 53 foot sailboat that made Ladybug look positively tiny. Rani's home made hummus and roti flat breads were a big hit. We also re-connected with our friend Ken on Red Pepper, whom we had last seen in La Paz at Christmas. His wife Pat was not on board, but Ken had a friend visiting him from Maple Bay (just down the road from Rani's home in Duncan). Ian is in his 80's – a wiry Scot who played the pipes each evening as the sun was setting. The haunting sound of Amazing Grace and other familiar tunes carried beautifully across the anchorage. Ken, who had been enjoying these concerts at close range for 2 weeks was less enthusiastic and kept making jokes involving swimming bagpipes and/or bagpipers.

We sailed across to the mainland village of San Everisto, stopping en route at a long sand beach just south of the town. As we rested at the end of a mile long beach hike, a coyote came out of the cacti and brush to look us over. This was the first time we had seen a coyote in the Baja and we noted that it seemed smaller and lighter coloured than its northern cousins. Rani found some paper nautilus shells on the beach including a nearly perfect specimen. As the name implies, these 2-3 inch shells are incredibly thin – translucent and lovely. Some survive being washed ashore, protected in strands of seaweed.

Blooming cacti - Isla San Jose in the background

In San Everisto we had Ken and Ian over for a chili dinner and Ken was good enough to allow us to leave a tote bag full of shells and books as well as Rani's heavy old computer on board his boat. Red Pepper will be shipped back to Nanaimo via Dockwise and should arrive about the same time we do in early June.

Ken and an unidentified Scot.

Rani makes Ian's day.

Our next stop was El Gato, which was a long day's sail in light airs. After reprovisioning at the tiny store in Everisto, we bade farewell to Ken and Ian and set sail with a nice east wind, which died out a few minutes later. A flooding tide and light northerly airs carried us up the passage between San Jose island and we arrived in El Gato long after dark. Fortunately we had been here before and had waypoints for both the approach and anchorage that kept us well clear of the reefs on either side. We could see the lights of 8 boats in the anchorage and were able to sail straight into the bay between two of the more widely spaced boats, dropping the hook in 22 feet over a sandy bottom.

The next day we spent snorkeling, hiking, and making a curry dinner for our friends on Rio Nimpkish. For those of you who have been following our blog from the start, you may remember that we met Rio Nimpkish first in Fort Bragg and then again in Santa Cruz. At that time (Fall 2008) we had promised Tom and Shirley a curry on board Ladybug I, so needless to say after an 18 months wait, their expectations were high! Rani did not disappoint and we enjoyed a mixed veggie curry made with Mazatlan cabbage & potato, and Everisto carrots. She also broke out some of our precious split red lentils from Canada to make a special daal.

From El Gato we had planned to sail for Agua Verde, but the winds, for a change, were quite decent, so we pressed on for Isla Monserrate on a lovely beam reach with no swell and a South East breeze pushing us along at up to 7 knots. The VHF radio was abuzz that day with talk of a big blow that Don Anderson had forecast for the next day and it sounded like everyone in the area was taking cover. This made Rani pretty nervous, but I was still able to convince her that we should anchor off the lovely beach and cliffs at the north end of Monserrate. We sailed into this anchorage beating into a vigourous headwind. At one point Rani yelled that we were headed for an uncharted reef, but this turned out to be a flock of little aquatic birds lined up in such as way as to make a jagged black line on the horizon. Our friends on Speck call these little swimming birds toasters because they are always diving and then popping up in front of you, so I named Rani's 'reef', Toaster Reef. We left our GPS on that night with an anchor drag alarm of 80 feet set to warn us of sudden wind shifts and turned in for an early night.

The next morning, we set sail at dawn, pushed by a gentle south east breeze. We had decided to head into Puerto Escondido where we would have good shelter and access to the internet. We haul out in Guaymas on May 1 and need to make reservations for this and at the Singlar marina where we will make the boat ready for the long hot summer.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

La Cruz, San Blas, and back to Mazatlan

I shall remember our second stay in La Cruz for the music we shared with Tasmanian friends Joe and Adrienne of SV Bluebottle. Chris and Joe jammed on their ukeleles and we all shared good food.

We will post a video of one of the jam sessions shortly.

It was also in La Cuz that we bumped into Chris's brother's friend, Chad, from Vancouver. He was on a surfing holiday in Sayulita, just north of Banderas Bay, and while driving to Punta Mita, he stopped at the marina in La Cruz to use the washrooms. He saw Chris sitting the hall – what a coincidence!

The three of us drove in Chad's rental car to Puerto Vallarta for a walk along the malecon and comida at the vegetarian buffet. A few days later, we invited him for a day sail to the Islas Marietas. The anchorage was quite full with charter boats so we anchored a long way out and swam in to snorkel near the rocky shore.

Chad and Chris go sailing.

We departed from La Cruz on March 26th in a light SSW breeze and had to resort to motoring for a few hours in the evening to reach Guayabitos Cove for a night's rest. Along the way, Chris caught his big toe between the jib sheet and a block, needing a winch handle to winch him free. Luckily, his toe was not crushed and rebounded to it's normal shape after some hours!

Puzzling giant concrete collander.

Lovely coastal resort.

Another day sail brought us into Matanchen Bay, San Blas. We hitchhiked into San Blas after leaving our kyak on a very crowded beach, hoping the mango salesman would keep an eye on it. A pick-up dropped us off near the town centre and we hiked up a hill to see the ruins of an old fort and Customs House.

Weekend at the beach in Mantenchen Bay.

Mango on a stick - very messy eating!

Later in the plaza, we saw local native women weaving palm fronds into decorative pieces to sell to those going to the cathedral for Palm Sunday mass. Semana Santa, the week before Easter, is huge here, and many Mexicans tourists were in town. When we hitch-hiked back to Matanchen Bay, the beach was thumping with music and hundreds of people were eating at the palapas and swimming in the water.

Palm Sunday service in San Blas.

Weaving palm offerings.

Woven palm offerings

From Matanchen Bay, we encountered such light airs that it took us 54 hours to sail to Mazatlan, a distance of 125 nMiles. We rested for a few hours each night by dropping anchor in 35-40 feet of water off the low-lying coast, using bow and stern anchors to hold the boat into the waves and prevent side to side rolls.

Trawler and birds off San Blas harbour mouth.

Our progress recorded during the 2nd night 'sailing' to Mazatlan. We took down sails and drifted during the night.

We have checked into Marina Singlar for a week to effect repairs and attend to home affairs and shall be leaving this Thursday to cross the Sea of Cortez. It was nice to meet up with old friends on Hotspur (Jim, Meri, Tim, & Carolyne – formerly of Windfall) and Hana Crew (Windfall – now renamed, with the Browns - Ann, Doug, Henry, and Chandler on board). We sold our dinghy to the Browns on Hana Crew and waved them off on their maiden voyage to Isla Isabela. Our plan is to either buy or build a sailing dinghy for the next season. We also hooked up with Ken and Lori our talented musician friends who now live and work here in Mazatlan.

Lori and Ken with friend playing at the Seafarer - a local restaurant. Thanks to fellow cruisers Dave and Mary Ann Plumb for the pic!

We missed the details on our previous post, so I am going to fill in the blanks. Many thanks to Jo and Rob of Blue Moon for pictures from the Melaque San Patricio celebrations.

At El Carrizal, Santiago Bay, we met up with Morgana and Blue Moon. Ernie from Morgana took us snorkeling to three sites around this bay aboard his powerful inflatable dinghy. The first site was at the mouth of the bay near a couple of caves where the surf thundered through a blow hole and there was much foaming and frothing. We swam around the edges of the rocky walls, saw some corals and sea fans but not many fish. Ernie saved the best for last – a cabbage patch of coral heads only 4-5 feet below the surface, great visibility, rainbow wrasses darting in and out of the corals.

On March 15th, we said good-bye to Ernie and sailed to the little town of Melaque, whose patron saint is San Patricio, unique in all Mexico. Like the Irish, the Mexicans love partying and drinking. In Melaque, the celebrations start 10-14 days before the actual day and we were just in time.Mexicans from Guadalajara and other cities converge on the town, kids play on the beach, adults drink and dance to loud music into the early morning hours, fireworks exlpode and light up the sky every night. What fun!

We arrived after sunset and set our anchor near some fish pens, following directions from our friends on Blue Moon. The next morning, we paddled to shore, left the kayak in front of a restaurant under the watchful eye of Jose, who promised to protect it from the toddlers. We walked along the little malecon towards our boat and then took a steep trail up to the bluff for a panoramic view of the bay. There was an abandoned restaurant building on the point and a little shrine set up by the owners to the Virgin de la Guadalupe to protect their clients and business - she must have had more important things on her agenda :(

Melaque from the hills behind the town. Ladybug is anchored near the islands in the middle of the picture.

The outer coast above Melaque harbour. No anchorage here!

Taking a dirt road down the hill, we came out by the main highway into Melque and wandered past pastel coloured Mexican homes, army barracks, roadside stalls selling coconuts and cold drinks. We stopped at a couple of hardware and electrical stores to purchase a tiny 4W bulb for our anchor light. Our original bulb, bought in Canada for $6, had only lasted about 3 months. Here, we bought 3 for 50 cents Canadian!

Tasty local candies available from street stalls during the San Patricio celebrations.

In the market, after buying guavas, bananas and a few veggies, we took a seat in front of one of the half dozen family run eateries for comida. An old woman parked in the corner of the counter, abuelita ( grandma ) no doubt, prattled off the menu and did not cease repeating it until we had placed our orders. These market stalls offer really good meals for 3 to 4 dollars -
I usually order chile rellenos ( poblano peppers stuffed with cheese ) which come with a side of beans and rice as well as a variety of fresh salsas and pickles. Delicious!

We walked back to our kayak along the golden sand beach, watching kids burying their papas and gringos taking advantage of the 2 for 1 margaritas.

After 8pm, we paddled back to shore for the evening festivities. Walking into town we came upon the funfair set up near the plaza. Other than a few kids in the bouncing castle, the merry-go-rounds and bumper cars were all empty. Activties start late in Mexico and parents have no qualms about keeping their kids out after midnight. A street market of food stalls and shooting galleries led to the zocalo ( square ). Strangely enough, the largest stall in the centre of the zocalo was selling books, offering everything from fairy tales to Plato. In front of the church was a 40-50 foot tower built of steel wire and rebar. Tiers of Catherine Wheels and sparklers were lashed from top to bottom. The fireworks were supposed to start around 10pm, mas or menos, so we contented ourselves by grazing around the food stalls. I bought some ice-cream while Chris wandered the streets looking for banos ( lucky for him, the ocean was only a few blocks away :)

Families started gathering, toddlers running around chasing balloons and each other, the brass band in the gazebo getting louder. We found space on a low wall around a raised bed of grass and palm trees. Since Jo was afraid of fireworks we had strategically placed ourselves on the opposite side of the plaza from the fireworks tower, knowing that Mexicans do not seem to be restrained by silly things like safety regulations!

Chris and Rani test drive new fuel efficient transportation at the fun fair in Melaque.

Fireworks tower - each wheel spins as the fireworks ignite, then additional fireworks explode from the wheel and the next higher wheel is ignited.

An hour later, we heard the first popping sounds from the tower, wires leading to it started sparkling and fizzing, embers shot into the air. Then the Catherine Wheels began to spin firing mini rockets into the crowds and people dashed for cover under the stalls, shielding their heads with cardboard. We all stood up on our grassy platform to get a better view.

BANG! There was a deafening explosion about 10 feet away from us! Jo clutched Rob, who clutched the nearest palm! Collective screaming! How could we have missed the 44lb garbage can loaded with a rocket canon just below us? The can was even cordoned off with black and yellow security tape. In the air, the rocket bloomed into a gorgeous crimson flower.

More rockets were fired, the fireworks on the tower reached it's apex and a mini helicopter lifted off , flew a few hundred yards and landed in the street, probably on some poor bugger's car!

Just as we thought it was all over, a screaming wild pack of kids started running around the plaza following what looked like a flaming bull! As they got closer, we saw a man holding a papier mache bull, sparks flying around his head. Every few minutes, the man would shake the bull close to the ground, do a jig and send firecrackers into the crowds at ankle level. We all ran and hid behind each other, screaming at the top of our lungs. That is all but Chris, who decided to jump into the action and run with the bulls....and pigs.....and goats. A scruffy little dog joined the action, chasing the sparks. In the meantime, Jo and Rob took shelter in a record shop nearby. It was an exciting evening! We left just as the band warming up for the night's dancing.

Fireworks with the church in the background.

Here is a link to a video on Blue Moon's blog that captures some of the action.

The adventure continued as we took a wave while paddling off to Ladybug, soaking me entirely. They say “ Be careful what you wish for “. I was thinking I needed a swim to clear the sand out of my clothes and body parts when I fell into the water while trying to board Ladybug! The water was warm and I was fine but my glasses sank to the bottom. We had the presence of mind to drop our rock anchor with a float attached to mark the spot.

The following morning, Chris, Rob and Jo dived into 25 feet around the float to look for the specs. Visibility was only about 2 feet, so it took a lot of effort going down each time. Everyone gave up after about 6 dives each but Chris went down again. This time he used a stick to mark his track from the anchor, as suggested by Rob, and found the glasses on his third dive.Poor guy suffered from a headache for days as a result.

We were meant to leave a sacrifice to Neptune in Melaque as the next morning we woke up to find our gate lifeline missing. It must have worked loose during the heavy swells at night. Not having a clue as to when and where, there was not much point in diving for it. However, Chris went down a few times anyway, acting as a human fender when an old fisherman came to retrieve his net from under Ladybug. His panga bashed into our bow, nicking the gelcoat in several places. We took that as a hint to move and sailed out of Melaque.

We enjoyed a lovely beam reach sail to Chamela. The anchorage was somewhat rolly but we had a nice refreshing swim the next day before setting off to La Cruz. In light SW winds, Ladybug averaged 4-5 knots until it lightened in the evening. As the wind changed to light NW, we had to tack away from the land but averaged 2.5Kts. However, in the early hours, we were back to speeds of 5Kts plus in 10 Knots of NW wind.

Ladybug screamed into Banderas Bay at 6.5-7 Knots. It was the last day of the regatta and we heard some of the excitement on the VHF radio when the last race got underway. More about La Cruz and beyond in our next post.