La Paz to Mazatlan

(Rick’s comments are in italics)

Hasta Luego, La Paz!

Hasta Luego, La Paz!

It is times like these that we need to remind ourselves we are on a traveling adventure. When I first went traveling to foreign lands, at age 18 to Europe for the summer, I swore that the next time I went somewhere, I would stay longer so that I could learn from and understand the people and places I was visiting, not just breeze through them. But now I see there are consequences of staying longer, namely, it is difficult to resist the draw of a new place so much that you never leave! I have made a very lovely Mexican woman friend here, who has invited us into her home and her family, taken us dancing, and shared her heart with us. We have the most fabulous salsa dance instructor from whom we could learn a tremendous amount if we kept up with his classes three times per week, and we have made another friend who would give us a ride to the classes indefinitely. We have a prime slip in the best Marina de La Paz, with its own RO plant for pure drinking water, kind and attentive staff, and a whole cruising community centered around Club Cruceros that is located right on the marina property. An industrious and honest woman does our laundry for a mere 50 cents per load more than it would cost me to do it myself, and that to me is a huge benefit! We have islands galore to explore within a day or two of the marina, where sea life and empty white sand beaches abound. So why, I ask myself, are we leaving?

The answer is that we don’t need a new home; we already have one in Northern California, where much of our family and friends and activities have been. If we ever wanted to live six months in Mexico and six months in California, maybe we would indeed make La Paz our second home. But for now, our goal is to travel – to see new places and discover new things about the world around us and about ourselves.

We haven’t finished exploring the Baja Peninsula, so we will likely be back there in 2016, but our schedule this year makes it more logical to go see Mazatlan, Puerta Vallarta and perhaps more of the west coast of mainland Mexico for now.

So after washing, rolling up, and storing the dinghy on the forward deck, and otherwise prepping the boat for a crossing (we know enough now to make our own couple-page checklist of what not to forget to do), making one-pot meals ahead of time to save for eating underway, examining several weather sources every day to wait for a good forecast for a crossing, saying goodbye to friends, and checking out of the marina, we left La Paz on Sunday morning, headed for an interim stop at one of our favorite anchorages, San Gabriel on Isla Espiritu Santo. Stopping here got us a little further towards our next anchorage so that each day’s trip wouldn’t be as long.

Sunset at San Gabriel anchorage

Sunset at San Gabriel anchorage


As Rick describes below, we used a new anchor here that took some extra time to deploy because it doesn’t fit on our bowsprit without modifications, so Rick has to carry it up from the stern to the bow and return it after we weigh anchor. But with the added security it provides, Rick sleeps a lot better at night, and that makes my sleep better too, so I didn’t begrudge the extra time it took! Rick BBQ’d hamburgers on the outside grill while I made up chicken fajitas to supplement the stew I had already made for the voyage. It was a fairly windy night with gusts up to 20 knots, but not rolly as the waves were minimal and only caused by the wind on the nose. We slept well.

(everything in italics are Rick’s comments) At the two anchorages we visited on the way, we tested some new ground tackle, a 35 pound Mantus anchor to replace our 35 pound CQR that we have not been happy with. We found ourselves dragging on the CQR in conditions where it should never have been an issue. We would have rigged the Mantus sooner but in our current configuration, without some major rework, we cannot have this anchor at the bow. To use it we have to manually deploy it (we are able to use the windlass) but we store the anchor in an aft lazarette and I bring it to the bow and set it up when we use it. Aside from being a bit of a pain to use it this way, I love this anchor! Both times we used it on this trip, it set correctly the first time and held nicely, in winds to 20 kts. We will work out the details to improve on the installation but my thought at this point based on performance is that we may ditch the CQR at first opportunity. That will be 35 excess pounds off the boat. We also still have our Fortress anchor mounted on the stern as a secondary.

The next day, we sailed the 40+ nm to Los Muertos, our last anchorage before heading across the Sea of Cortez. Of course, we could have gone directly to Mazatlan without stopping, but stopping at Los Muertos makes the remaining trip across the Sea only 190 nm. It would have been even closer, 160 nm, if we had taken yet another day to sail further south to anchor at Los Frailes before crossing, but the weather forecasts showed increasing weather events by the end of the week and we didn’t want to take the chance of getting caught in something by adding another day so we decided to cross from Muertos.

The trip to Muertos was faster than we planned; once we motored out of the San Gabriel anchorage, we had good wind of about 10 to 15 knots all the way, tacking only a few times. We even deployed the whisker pole and sailed our favorite wing-on-wing configuration. We maintained a respectable speed for Cool Change of about 5 knots until we hit the head of the Cerralvo Channel opening to the Sea, at which point we were pushing 6 knots. It was partly sunny, with just enough clouds to keep it from being hot.

Starting through Cerralvo Channel in the morning; the partly cloudy weather made for some dramatic skies and kept the heat down

Starting through Cerralvo Channel in the morning; the partly cloudy weather made for some dramatic skies and kept the heat down

The seas were short and confused, making for some uncomfortable rolling. In anticipation of the uncomfortable seas that everyone warned us about, I decided to take some sea sickness medication as a preventive measure. I had not been using it at all in all of our trips out to the islands but I decided it would be better to be safe than sorry – we couldn’t afford to have me unavailable for watches if I were sick. I tried a medication new to me that my Club Nautique navigation teacher, a native of Great Britain, had recommended; it is not available in the States but it is in Mexico. Unfortunately, I bought pills that were too strong so I had to break them into fourths and the resulting dosage was inconsistent. Nevertheless, this product, called Sturgeron, has far fewer side effects than Scopolamine, the “truth serum” patch I used to take. Rick thought Sturgeron made me a little sleepy, as I did in fact find myself resting a lot during the daylight hours, but I was wide awake on night watches and I didn’t have the dry mouth, blurred vision, or foggy mind that comes with Scopolamine.

We arrived at Muertos early enough to contemplate a visit to the palapa restaurant located there. Some friends of friends were already anchored at Muertos, and invited us over to their boat for a beer, giving us a ride in their dinghy. (Our dinghy was all rolled up and stored for the crossing). Dan and Deanna have a gorgeous, 44 foot Island Packet that they have maintained in bristol condition, but they are on their way back up to San Diego to sell it! An interesting couple, he was able to retire at age 37 and they have been trying to keep themselves happily occupied since then! They admit they are really motor boaters at heart, but were persuaded to try sailing because of his dream to cross the Pacific. After spending the last year or more on the sailboat, including a hot summer up in the northern Sea of Cortez, she decided that she just wasn’t that into spending that much time on the sailboat crossing an ocean, and they both decided they preferred the more temperate Pacific Northwest climate, so they are heading back up there to buy a trawler instead.

We had a lovely time with Dan and Deanna on their boat, and then together we jumped in their dinghy and dined at the palapa restaurant. We had enough food to have dined on board, but heck, this was our last chance to eat out for a few days, so why not?

Dan, Deanna and Cindy at the palapa restaurant at Los Muertos

Dan, Deanna and Cindy at the palapa restaurant at Los Muertos

Both Rick and I love to sail but I must confess, I am more concerned about making headway than he is. So when we planned our departure time, knowing that we needed to arrive in Mazatlan at about 0900 for high tide at the tricky breakwater entrance, we considered various scenarios of what average speed we needed to maintain in order to arrive on time, not too early and not too late. Rick, or course, wanted to allow more time for the crossing, so that we wouldn’t have to motor if the wind diminished to a level that provided us insufficient speed to arrive at our destination at the right hour. I, on the other hand, wanted to leave later so we wouldn’t find ourselves having to deliberately slow down if we were sailing too fast, or else arrive in the middle of the night to an unknown anchorage, recognizing at the same time that we may have to turn on the engine if we were going to slowly. This all had to be decided within the context of the vagaries that exist of predicted versus actual wind and sea direction and speed, as well as the changes in those factors that occur as you move across the Sea.

Well, we compromised, but more towards Rick’s preferences, allowing for a slower average speed. It was hard to argue with because following my preferences meant we had to hang out longer at Muertos and leave later in the afternoon. While Muertos is a beautiful place worth exploring more, we were both anxious, I admit, to get crossing!

But neither of us were prepared for the speed at which we flew across the first half of the Sea! By dawn of the second day, I calculated that if we maintained that speed, we would be arriving at 2300 hours at Mazatlan, a full 10 hours in advance of our target! We considered our options: keep going at that speed, and anchor out behind an island near shore to wait for dawn or heave-to a few hours away from land and wait for dawn, or slow down tremendously to make up for having gone so far in the first day. Rick didn’t like anchoring out at an unknown location at dark, and if didn’t want to heave-to while in the Mazatlan-La Paz ferry route, so we decided to slow down. It was like a reverse race, where instead of trying to figure out how to go faster, we had to work at going slower. We had to maintain less than 4 knots of speed when we had been averaging over 6.

The Mazatlan-La Paz ferry route was the same as ours

The Mazatlan-La Paz ferry route was the same as ours

We used various sail configurations to meet our goal, depending on what the wind was doing. We reefed down to one reef on the mainsail, and later, down to two reefs. We reefed in the jib to one and then two reefs, and then when the wind picked up even more, we doused the jib completely and sailed with the smaller staysail, eventually having to reef that too. We sheeted out the main to depower it as well. It was really kind of fun, watching by what fraction of a knot I could diminish our boat speed by furling in the staysail say, a foot or so. At one point during day two when Rick was napping and I was a bit bored, I created an algebraic formula to plug in the remaining distance, time and two desired speeds so we could see how many hours we would have to keep the boat sailing at an artificially low speed before we could let the sails fly full speed ahead: the busywork of a frustrated math-minor, I suppose.

Both Rick and I were still suffering from the unending grips of La Gripa (the flu) which made this trip a little harder on both of us, but especially on Rick, since my seasickness medication doubled as an antihistamine. We ate well, though, with chicken fajitas for late breakfast and a thick, rich stew for dinner. We continued our ritual, now firmly established, of allowing ourselves one shot of one of our favorite liquors at sunset, either a sipping tequila like Don Julio or a spiced rum like the Sailor Jerry’s our friends brought down from the States for us. Then, one of us takes a nap to prepare for the 9:30 pm 3-hour watch while the other takes the helm. Our 3-hour watches worked pretty well, in that we were not particularly drowsy during the watches but were each able to sleep pretty well during our periods off-watch.

Ferries passed by me, going each direction, at least twice under my night watches. One came from behind and I tried to stay on course as best as I could because I was the “stand-on” vessel but I did alter course a little upwind just when the ferry was about a mile away because I think its skipper’s comfort level for a close approach was a little too close for me! When I encountered the other ferry coming at me at night, AIS continued to show that we would come no closer than 3.5 miles from each other, but when you see large bright lights approaching you from a distance, and the large boat icon coming closer on your radar and AIS, it is a bit intimidating! I held our course, though, and he passed by me with plenty of room to spare.

AIS on left, RADAR on right; both show the ferry coming at me!

AIS on left, RADAR on right; both show the ferry coming at me!

During the course of our crossing, we hadn’t seen a lot of sea life and were commenting to one another about it when I said, yeah, I would really like to see a turtle. I looked over the rail and as if on queue, a turtle appeared! They look so out of place, these brown blobs floating slowly on the water. This one had a red streak across its shell. What a treat! We also had a few pods of dolphins pass close by, but didn’t catch any whales spouting or breaching this time.

It is always such a welcome sight to spot land after an overnight voyage, and Mazatlan was no exception. I love the peace and tranquility and absence of Facebook and most email while we are underway, I love the feeling of independence and adventure, and I love the opportunities to really gain some sailing experience beyond what day trips provide, but the 3-hour night watches with just two people do take their toll, and the boat tends to get a bit stale more quickly than when it can be regularly cleaned at dock, so I am always ready to get there by the time I see land. Seeing the sun rise over Mazatlan as we approached was an extra special treat.

Sunrise over Mazatlan as we approach our destination after two nights at sea

Sunrise over Mazatlan as we approach our destination after two nights at sea

Here is Rick’s version of our trip he wrote some of this as we were underway:

Today it is Tuesday Feb 03 and we left Bahia Los Muertos this morning at 1000 hours. The crossing is just under 200 miles and we are trying to time our arrival at Mazatlan for 0900 on Thursday to enter the Mazatlan jetty at high tide as we have been advised.

We have been underway for 2.5 hours and motor sailing as there is not enough wind yet to sail. We expect sailing conditions to improve later this afternoon.

Last night we caught a ride into shore to the cantina with Rocket Girl, Dan and Deanna. We had a nice dinner in a beautiful palapa restaurant.

Rocket Girl and Cool Change in the Muertos anchorage

Rocket Girl and Cool Change in the Muertos anchorage

View from the Muertos palapa restaurant

View from the Muertos palapa restaurant

We then got a good night’s rest before our leisurely departure this morning. Listening to the Sonrisa net this morning we were advised on our crossing to be looking to the skies at 1950 as the space lab will be crossing over and should be visible. How cool is that! We shall see.

I have the water maker going while we run the engine so at least we can make use of that engine time for multiple purposes. We should already have enough water for the crossing but now we will be able to shower and not be concerned about water stores.

After four hours motoring we finally got some nice wind we were able to shut down the engine. We are right on schedule and there will be a beautiful full moon to sail under tonight.

It turned out that we made way better time than expected that night. As a result, we had to slow the boat the next day or we would have arrived at Mazatlan at 11pm. It would not be advisable to arrive in an unfamiliar busy port at night. On the second day the wind and currents were so favorable that we could not slow to any less than 3.5 kts but that was just about what we needed to average the rest of the trip to arrive at 0900 as planned.

We encountered traffic numerous times in the crossing consisting of cargo ships and car ferries but we were always aware of each other’s positions so we could keep a safe buffer between us. The only exception to this was a fishing boat late at night on my watch that I first saw on radar 6 miles out, then soon after saw his lights and it was apparent we were on a collision course. I was not overly concerned, just monitoring him until he got within 2 miles. At this point I started the engine and changed course and he followed me to my new course. I tried raising him on the radio and got no reply. When we were less than a mile apart I turned deep to starboard to take his stern and he held his course. I think that sometimes the fishermen get bored and play games like this for entertainment. Other times, they are just so caught up in what they are doing that they are not paying attention to navigation and they can’t see anyway because they are using bright lights on deck. In both the U.S. and Mexico I have not seen an AIS signature from any commercial fishing boat. Poor Cindy awoke during the motoring maneuvers and looked out through the companionway in time to see this boat passing much less than a mile across our bow. Not the best way to wake up from your off watch.

We were really fortunate to have clear skies and a full moon both nights underway, to light our way.

Full moon with clear skies lit our way both nights

Full moon with clear skies lit our way both nights

We arrived at the breakwater entrance to Estero Sábalo where we would be transiting to our slip at Marina El Cid at 0930. This was on the high tide and just before the dredge was put in place that works to keep the channel depths needed for safe passage. When it is operating you must radio ahead and get clearance that lines and equipment are clear so there is room to get past it in the narrow channel. We got into our slip and spent a few hours cleaning and re-organizing Cool Change after the voyage. After walking around a bit on the El Cid Resort grounds, grabbing a bite to eat and having a welcome drink with our friend Roy on Mabrueka, we found ourselves fast asleep by 7pm.

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