Sunday, March 20, 2011

Crossing to the Mainland

It is hard to believe, but this is our tenth crossing of the Sea of Cortez in two years. Every crossing has been quite different both from where we have departed from and sailed to and because of the time of year and weather conditions. This crossing was mainly in light airs and took a total of 8 days from La Paz to La Cruz.

We departed La Paz on March 8 but only made it as far as the Caleta Los Lobos anchorage, less than 10 miles from La Paz . We sailed down most of the channel, putting on the motor to avoid beating through the very narrow stretch between Marina Palmira and the entrance. We had tried to tack through this bit twice already this year and find that with our big jib and the inner stay of the cutter rig that such short tacking is unelievably strenuous. Unless the wind is strong, someone has to go forward to help the jib around the inner stay and then run back to the cockpit to grind in the genoa. By the time this is done it is time to tack again! I am tempted to remove the inner stay and tie it off to the mast but it is nice to have it in reserve in case we have a very strong blow. This stay is where we can set a small staysail or storm jib.

Baking banana bread underway

Before we turned on the motor, Kurt came barreling out of Marina Palmira in his inflatable, pulled up behind us and handed up a nice cold Negro Modelo cerveza – one of the best send offs we have had yet from any port! Kurt and Nancy on Raven were also kind enough to maintain radio contact and relay messages to Rani's relatives in England, so we could clarify a health issue with Rani's mother.

The sail to Lobos was a beat to windward and we soon had 2 reefs in the main and were doing a nice steady 6 knots. We were outpointing and outsailing a couple of other boats and feeling very smug until the wind dropped and we were left flopping around in an infuriating steep 3 foot chop. We have often seen strange wind patterns in the area of La Paz Bay near the entrance to the Cerralvo Channel and also north of the channel near Espiritu Santo Island. We wallowed around for a while and eventually lost patience and put on the motor to steady things a bit while we searched for some wind. It looked like we would have a very rough time in the channel, so we called it a day and bore off for Lobos in the mid afternoon. Sometimes it just makes sense to call it quits...

Booby riding a turtle

The next leg of our passage was a long day's sail from Lobos, through the busy Lorenzo Channel and down the Ceralvo Channel to Los Muertos. We sailed out the anchor and were able to make the passage entirely under sail. The commercial port of Pichilingue lies just south of where we departed and in addition to tankers and small container ships, the big Baja Ferries run from here across to Mazatlan. We had to alter course to avoid shipping a couple of times in the Lorenzo Channel. The wind was light in the morning and as we rounded the corner to run down the Cerlavo channel it came behind us and its apparent speed dropped to almost nothing. A big swell made it difficult to keep the sails filled, but we poled out the jib to reduce the slatting and about half way down the 20 mile long channel the wind began to build until it reached 20+ knots. By 3:30 pm, even with a reefed main and partial jib, we were seeing boat speeds as high as 9.9 knots down the face of the waves. Each time we have sailed this channel, we have experienced similar conditions, with light winds at the north end and more than enough wind as the afternoon arrives and we reach the mid-point of the channel. This was exciting sailing and our Monitor wind vane steering was barely able to control things on this almost dead downwind course. As dusk approached we made the decision to pull into Los Muertos rather than face a rough night at sea for the first night of our crossing.

The actual open water crossing began at Muertos and ended about 80 hours later at Isla Isabela. On day 1 we began our sail with a good breeze and swell left over from the previous day. We had a pleasant downwind run that day with Ladybug galloping along despite being thrown from side to side by 6 foot quartering swells. That night, as forecast, the wind died down and we were forced to gradually turn off our course and point up into it to keep the boat somehat steady in the big rolly seas.

Bringing down the cruising spinnaker

On Rani's watch at around 3 am, half a dozenn dolphins came to play around Ladybug, weaving glowing tunnels of phosphorescence as they passed across our bow. I was woken to the strains of classical music as Rani attempted to communicate with her new friends. On my morning watch I had to alter course radically when a humpack whale sounded immediately in front of the boat and maybe 30 feet away. The whale seemed as surprised to see us as we were to see it and immediately dived. In La Cruz we learned of another boat and whale that had not been so lucky. The sail boat struck the whale three times, the final strike leaving the whale pinned across the boat. The boat began to take on water and they transmitted a mayday, but were able to stop the flow of water (the propeller shaft had become dislodged) and made it to La Cruz, where they are currently hauled out.

The wind died entirely around dawn and we motored slowly for a couple of hours to reduce the maddening rolling. After checking in to the radio net and listening to the weather we put up our sails to catch 1-2 knots of wind and were able to sail for the remainder of this day and through the second night until about 8:30 the next morning. We then took down all sails to wait for some breeze, the swell having gone down enough to make this tolerable.

Anchorage at the Monas (Manequins) Isla Isabela. Sea Hobo is pictured here and we later met single hander, Andy at La Cruz. He is a boat builder from Vancouver Island.

The third day was a light air day, too, with some slow downwind sailing and a couple of hours of motoring when the wind disappeared entirely. We began to see thousands of jellyfish and other assorted gelatinous blobs – some with bright blue glowing spots. I guess we were in a current that must run up and down the coast. We began to see two to three foot turtles drifting in the same current as well as sea lions basking on the surface with their flippers cocked up in the air. Rani counted over two dozen turtles go by that day close to our boat, some with birds riding on their shells (see picture). The calm seas also allowed us to hear and see humpback whales and we had several decent sightings of these huge creatures. Shortly after I fell asleep after my morning watch, I was woken up by Rani's excited shout of “Killers, Killers!” and I ran to the cockpit in time to see a pod of killer whales or, more correctly, orcas off our port beam.

Panga fishermen at Isla Isabela

The fourth day was even quieter than the previous and we decided to fly our Spinnaker to make better progress, hoping to reach Isla Isabela by nightfall. 7 hours running with the big red and white sail up, 4 hours under white sails, and nearly 6 hours under motor, saw us arrive at Isabela at dusk, anchoring off the Monas to the east of the island. Due to time constraints we did not go ashore and left early the next day, enjoying a splendid Spinnaker run until mid-afternoon, when the wind swung ahead of us into the south and we switched back to our regular sails. The wind vanished altogether by suppertime and we elected to motor in to Punta Mita at the entrance to Banderas Bay. Navigating this stretch of coast in the dark is a bit nerve-wracking because the charts are so inaccurate and there are rocks and unlit buoys at the entrance to the bay. However, we had waypoints and a GPS accurate mini-chart in our guidebooks and also some recollections of last year's night time entry. We anchored succefully at Punta de Mita, moving the next day into the more protected anchorage at La Cruz, where we will visit with our friends on Blue Moon.

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