Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bahia San Gabriel

We spent the last 4 days at anchor near the Mogote, with strong north winds blowing most of the time. It was a nice view of town,

but a wet ride getting to and from shore in the dinghy. And this is just a preview of the stronger north winds we will get for much of the winter here.

This morning, the winds subsided, and there was a mass exodus of boats heading out to the islands or off for the mainland. We decided to stick fairly close to town, because I need Internet for my work for the next few days. After an hour of sailing, and another 2 hours of motoring, we arrived at Bahia San Gabriel, near the SW end of Isla Espiritu Santo. It is a convenient and popular choice - there were 8 boats here ahead of us.

The first order of business was to don snorkel gear and jump in the water.

Viz was no more than 20 feet, but there was a lot of fish life and coral.

We finished the day with a walk on one of the nicest beaches along this stretch of coast.

The oyster shells remind us of when this area was famous for pearls. John Steinbeck wrote a book about it.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving on the hard

The morning came for our haulout, and of course it was blowing a norther. Not too strong, but combined with the current at our slip, it felt too risky to try moving on our own. There is a huge schooner anchored behind us, with its bowsprit looming close by. The marina sent 2 pangas over to tug us into open water.

The haulout operation at the Palmar boatyard went smoothly. We were second in line, and got to see our fellow Oregonians Dave and Donna on Salonah come out first. We had been neighbors at the Embarcadero in Newport, Oregon, back in 2003.

Next it was our turn.

Once the hull had been power-washed and dried out, I started chipping away at the area where the fiberglass wrapping the hull-keel joint had separated from the keel.

Unfortunately I stopped taking pictures because I was nervous about what we would find, and my hands were dirty with bottom paint. Once we had ground and chipped away the loose fiberglass, the exposed joint looked fine. The 5200 sealant was perfectly dry and solid, with no sign of separation or leakage. I filled the bilge with fresh water, and the outside of the keel remained perfectly dry.
The boatyard men thoroughly inspected the entire hull-keel joint and expressed the opinion that I need not worry further about its integrity. They proposed applying a new layer of fiberglass to the small area where the old glass had separated, re-fairing, and painting.
I still wanted them to check the keel bolts for tightness. Unfortunately, with the tools they had, we could only check about half of them, but all of those were as tight as they should be. To take the inspection process any further in this yard would have required tearing out a large part of the boat's interior, so I agreed with their plan to re-glass the cracked area.
While I was greasing the Max-prop and installing a new zinc to the strut, a distinguished visitor wandered by from a neighboring boat. It was Cecil Lange, a highly-regarded designer of bluewater boats such as the Cape George family. He has lived in La Paz for 23 years, and at the age of 87, still surveys boats. I was eager, but a bit apprehensive, to hear his opinion of our boat. I half-jokingly said that I wish I could trade it in for one of his designs, now that we were planning to cross the Pacific.
He reassured me that although the ride would be bumpier in our boat than in a heavier full-keel model, we would be fine. He didn't seem at all concerned about the hull-keel issue, and told me stories of boats that he had surveyed where some of the nuts had never been installed on the keel bolts! We also discussed the Hydrovane, Max-prop, and offset prop shaft on our boat. It was a great pleasure to converse with such a knowledgeable man.
Looks like we'll be back in the water tomorrow. Because of this unexpected yard bill, we have decided to move out to the "cheap seats," giving up our spot at the marina and anchoring out in the bay for the next month.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

settling in to La Paz

After a day anchored at Muertos, where we were surrounded by recent arrivals from the Baja Ha-Ha, the wind subsided. We got up very early and started motoring back up the Cerralvo Channel. Before noon, we had passed through the San Lorenzo Channel and decided to stop at Balandra to go snorkeling.

While we enjoyed exploring the rocks and seeing a great variety of fish, what we didn't enjoy was spotting a small crack along each side of the trailing edge of the keel. For the ten years that we've owned the boat, there has never been any sign of trouble with the bolt-on external keel. But we've heard many stories of people needing to deal with loose, corroded, and/or leaky keel bolts. Guess our time has come.

Balandra is a popular fair weather anchorage, with turquoise water due to the shallow sand bottom, and terrific scenery. Today it was relatively undeserted, with only one other sailboat. But by the time we left, an enormous motor yacht had dropped the hook not far away, and began deploying a small armada of inflatables and jetskis. This was our cue to head on in to La Paz!

We were fortunate to get a side tie at Marina de la Paz. We had originally thought we might stay at Palmira, which is a very nice marina, but farther from town and, more importantly at this point, the boatyard. Marina de la Paz is one of the original marinas in Mexico, and is a hub of boater activity, because of the dinghy dock used by boats anchored out, the Club Cruceros, and its proximity to a myriad of boater services, restaurants, etc. Its also one of the cleanest marinas I've ever seen, where we share our space with plenty of wildlife. Here's a night heron fishing from our neighbor's bobstay,

and a trumpetfish watching for its chance to snag one of the smaller fish swarming around our keel.

The first order of business was to head out for a walk along the malecon.

This is a good place to walk not only in the day, but in the evening. Here we are with a gaggle of prep school girls who were practicing their English by having gringos fill out questionnaires for a homework assignment.

Unfortunately our next order of business was to arrange a haulout to deal with the keel. We're hoping its nothing more than re-torquing the aftmost keel bolts, but we may need to drop the keel and inspect the condition of all the bolts. We're waiting for bottom paint and an upcoming Mexican holiday, so we won't haul until next Tuesday. Meantime, we're meeting many new boating friends, and working on a myriad of other planned and unplanned repairs and regular boat maintenance items.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Back to the Baja

After 5 days of recommissioning the boat, visiting friends, and enjoying some of our favorite restaurants and other places in Mazatlán, we had a good "weather window" for crossing the Sea of Cortez and decided to set out. This is a very unusual direction of travel for this time of year - most boaters are crossing from Baja to the mainland and heading south. We felt a bit of remorse in thinking about all the fun cruising destinations we would miss out on in the coming months. However, we had made our plans for the winter and it was too late to change our minds. We are looking forward to a liveaboard dive trip to Socorro, whalewatching at San Ignacio, and at least two visits from friends coming to Baja in the coming months.

We set out just before sunrise on Saturday, and had an easy first day of motorsailing. About 35 miles offshore from Mazatlán we came across a pod of about 5 orcas feeding in a tight bunch. These were the first orcas we had seen since coming to Mexico 2 years ago.

An hour or so later, we came across several large pods of dolphins. They swam by the bow for quite awhile. These encounters always leave us feeling joyous and one with nature!

The wind slowly came up during the day. Usually we expect WNW winds on this passage, but today we were getting a southerly breeze from a low pressure system to the west.

Skies were mostly clear, with a few clouds on the horizon. We had an excellent sunset, and saw the Green Flash for the second night in a row (we had seen it from a rooftop bar in Mazatlán the night before).

By nightfall we had enough wind to turn off the engine, and we sailed all night under a moon that was just past full. I was grateful to get the windvane steering properly, so we could take the pressure off of our wimpy wheel pilot.

On Sunday morning, we had a colorful sunrise.

The Sierra de la Laguna, the mountains northeast of Cabo, were visible over 60 miles away off the port bow. Winds were fluky, due to the passage of the low pressure system. At one point we were pounding into a steep westerly chop, but with only a light wind coming from the NNW. The sky was covered with amazing patterns of cirrostratus clouds.

By late afternoon, the mountains were looming close ahead, and we entered Cerralvo Channel just after sunset. Isla Cerralvo is uninhabited, and is the legendary resting place of the "Vagabundos del Mar" (sea gypsies), the last of whom were still active when I first kayaked here 40 years ago.

At this point, our plan was to continue toward La Paz, with an estimated arrival time of about 2AM. However, we were still groggy from our first night at sea and the resulting lack of sleep. When we saw a ketch anchored peacefully just north of Punta Viejos on Cerralvo Island, it just looked too inviting and I decided we should join them. The hook went down and we were soon slumbering blissfully. Except for the occasional pattering of rain on the deck, all was calm.

Until 5AM. No sooner had I remarked on what a nice calm night we had had, than the wind piped up sharply out of the NW. It took only a minute or two to realize we were on a lee shore and it was time to get out of Dodge. With the engine on and the anchor raised, we started steaming up the Cerralvo Channel, alongside the other vessel that had been anchored next to us. But the wind was gusting over 20, and the chop soon built to very steep breaking seas. Because of the hobby-horsing, we were only making about 2 knots, meaning it would take us all day just to reach the San Lorenzo Channel. I turned the boat around, and we were soon surfing downwind under a partially unfurled jib, Cerralvo Island receding in the distance.

By sunrise we were passing the windsurfers' homes at La Ventana.

By 8AM we were anchored in Los Muertos, which already had about 12 sailboats, all of them flying Baja Ha-ha burgees. Looks like we'll have lots of company for the next day or so!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

thoughts on dry storage vs. in the water storage

Everyone who cruises tropical destinations like Mexico has to decide what to do with the boat during hurricane (cyclone) season. You can either leave the area, store the boat on the hard, or leave it in the water, someplace safe.

After our first season in Mexico, we tried dry storage at San Carlos. This is a very popular option, and the yard we were in had hundreds of boats in it and excellent security. We never thought about the boat while we were home for the summer, and everything looked fine upon our return 5 months later.

After the second season, we decided to try something different. We left the boat in the El Cid marina in Mazatlán. After 5 months, the boat looked fine. The biggest difference from the first year was that I never stopped worrying about the boat. I checked the hurricane reports daily. During one period when 2 hurricanes lingered off the coast, and some computer models showed at least a chance of one affecting Mazatlán, I booked a flight down. The bad weather never came anywhere near the boat, but I at least had peace of mind.

How do costs compare for the two methods? These are my rough figures:

Cost of dry storage:
haul/launch boat: $200
5 months' storage: $800
bottom paint (including labor): $1600
total: $2600

Cost of leaving the boat in the marina:
5 months' slip rent: $2000
boatwatch: $250
diver to clean bottom (2x): $80
RT flight to check boat: $600
insurance premium surcharge for leaving boat in hurricane zone: $300
total: $3230

Of course, all of these costs vary, depending on location and individual choices. For me, the bottom line is that had I not flown down to check on the boat, they would have been comparable in our situation. So cost in my case is not a huge consideration.

How about wear and tear on the boat? For our boat, wear and tear seemed far less in the water than during dry storage. The temperature in the boat during dry storage in San Carlos probably reached 150 degrees Fahrenheit, based on data from other boatowners with recording thermometers. Some plastic items were discolored on our return. We were able to leave our full boat covers on in Mazatlán, which really saved the gel coat from solar damage.
Another wear/tear item from dry storage: the haul/launch trailer caused a small amount of damage to the keel, which had to be faired before re-launch (at the yard's expense).

Again, "your mileage may vary."

The most important thing to consider is the list of preparatory work needed before leaving your boat in the water or in dry storage. It really helped us to talk to other boatowners who had previously stored their boats. For the locations we used, there were several days' worth of work to be done before leaving the boat and in re-commissioning upon our return. In both cases, sails and canvas should be removed, cleaned and stored belowdecks. Halyards should be skyed or removed entirely. The engine should be flushed with fresh water, and the fuel tank filled. Water and holding tanks should be emptied. Windows and hatches should be covered with aluminum foil. Winches and other delicate parts should be completely covered to protect from dust. We removed all food and sprinkled boric acid to discourage pests (we had zero in either case). Additionally, in Mazatlán we bagged up all fabric and books to discourage mold/mildew, and had no problems in that regard. There are dozens of other tasks - these are the major ones. Again, talking to other experienced boatowners helps refine the list.

So what will we do the next time around? Probably dry storage. The bottom line for us is peace of mind while you are away from the boat, and in that respect dry storage is best for us.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The long and winding road - back to the boat

With the truck packed full of food, camping gear, and boat parts, we headed out of Corvallis on Saturday October 22. We drove down the coast in beautiful weather, stopping to admire the view at Cape Blanco, and spending our first night at Humbug Mountain State Park. No picture to prove it, but we experienced our first ever "Green Flash" at an Oregon beach.

The next morning, we stopped to watch the elk rutting at Fern Canyon.

We made it to Mill Valley by late afternoon and enjoyed a 2-day visit with Dave and Jean from s/v Exit Strategy. Dave took me on an exhilarating mountain bike ride to the top of Mt. Tamalpais.

From the Bay Area, we picked up the pace and made it to SoCal in only one day. We spent nearly a week visiting family members and picking up last minute items for the boat. Finally the time came to cross the border into Mexico, but despite an easy crossing, we didn't get far. We stopped to visit more cruising friends in Ensenada, Jan and Ramona on s/v Jatimo, and ended up spending the night on their sturdy 30-footer. Jatimo and her crew are veterans of two crossings to the South Seas, and we enjoyed an evening of stories and good advice.

It was hard to leave Ensenada and our friends, but the rugged beauty of the Baja soon captured all our attention, especially after we passed El Rosario and headed into the mountainous interior. We stopped to photograph and admire the amazing landscape and plants,

and visited some cave paintings made by the elders who first came to live here, many thousands of years ago.

Still trying not to rush, we decided to take a newly-paved side road out to the coast at Asunción, where we had anchored on our way down the coast 2 years ago. We then left the pavement to make our way south along a rugged and mostly uninhabited coastline, where we found our own deserted beach and camped just above the pounding surf.

We also saw our second "Green Flash" of the trip, a particularly vivid one. A strip of emerald detached itself from the sun at the last instant of sunset, and hung above the horizon for an extra few moments. Wow! The next morning we had to partially deflate our tires to get back to the road from the beach, but after this slight delay, we soon found ourselves driving on smooth mudflats between La Bocana and Punta Abrejos. We stopped to birdwatch at an estero along the way.

From Abreojos, we were on new pavement most of the way back to the main highway, and we reached San Ignacio in time for lunch. This is a quaint town in a remarkable oasis-like setting.

After a brief stop to make arrangements for a whalewatching trip next January, we continued to a campground in Mulege, our 4th night in Baja. From here it was only about another 6 hours to our final destination, with some terrific mountain scenery along the way.

Most people reach La Paz in 2-3 days from the border, but we had managed to stretch it to 5 days (of course a lot of the extra time was spent stopping to find an Internet connection, so that I could keep up with my teaching responsibilities). After all the desolate scenery from the past several days, it was a bit of a shock to come over a rise and see the bay of La Paz spread out ahead of us. Our friends on s/v Slacker call the northern approach to La Paz "tope-landia" (land of speed bumps) and it certainly matched that description!

We spent a couple of nights aboard s/v Anon, with our friends Keith and Olina. Keith is a fellow telecommuter, but one with a lot more technical savvy than I have. Here we are enjoying a tasty dinner at Rancho Viejo.

After our 2-week road trip, it was time to park the car and board the overnight ferry to Mazatlán.

This last stage of the journey was by far the easiest, despite getting a "red light" (mandatory inspection) at the Customs station. We had our own cabin with en suite head and shower, and we pulled into the Port of Mazatlán feeling clean and rested.

A short ride by pulmonía, and we were finally back to our boat at the beautiful El Cid marina. She looks ready for another season of cruising (and so does the boat)!