Across the Sea of Cortez

Tuesday December 9:

Jim Elfers, Marina Manager at Puerto los Cabos (pictures above), suggested we head to Mazatlan for our engine repair—an easy reach, said he, while we’d have a terrible beat up the coast to La Paz with no engine. Okay. When weather predictions from three sources said we’d have 15-20 knots from the NW, slowing by Thursday/Friday, we decided to take off. Jim and a Mexican fellow towed us out on Tuesday at 4PM (waiting for light winds in the marina area so their small boat could maneuver us). We headed out on a close reach, which Jim had predicted, in about 20 knots of wind. No problem.

Except that a couple of hours later as we came out from the protection of the headland, things changed. We shortened sail as the seas mounted (they were supposed to be 1-2 meters. Un-unh. Three meters minimum, off our port quarter and slipping around to our beam when we weren’t looking.) We saw sustained winds in the 30s and gusts in the 40s all night. Hold on Nellie! We decided to heave-to and rest as we realized we’d forgotten to take seasick meds and were not happy campers. Dumb. We’d taken medicine for the first two days after leaving Ensenada, but then hadn’t needed any. I suppose five days in a marina had made our bodies forget and, boy, were they unhappy. We never actually lost food, only felt like it.

I can’t say we got much rest, though, not with those big square waves slapping and pitching us. Fortunately, that night was the last time we saw wind in the 40’s. After that, it stayed between 25-35, so we just used the mizzen and jib. Still, with only two sails, we close reached at 5.5 knots. Sometime during that first day/night, we reread all the grib files and weather predictions just to see if we’d missed something. Nope. They were wrong. We would have happily waited a couple of days if anyone had mentioned big winds. We’d rather have a sail that takes an extra day or two and is comfortable than one that makes you wonder what on earth you’re doing. Frankly, this was as bad if not worse than the trip way off the coast coming down from SF. At least by Thursday morning the winds had begun to drop and by evening the seas were more in the 1-2 meter range.

We were finally enjoying ourselves. We had about 12 hours to go at this rate, so we decided shorten sail again before dark and take it easy.

Fortunately with redundant systems in our pilothouse, the person on watch could check the radar on the computer from a prone position across the way (on our pilothouse settee) and then every hour or so stick a head up to look around outside. Much easier than having to gear up to go outside.

We had hoped for quieter winds and sea, and by Thursday night we got our wish. It was so still that we couldn’t make landfall, nor could we make any headway in the right direction, so we hove to again. Friday morning we set sail with very light winds, knowing we wouldn’t make it to port before dark. So there we sat, enjoying the lovely light breeze, the whales breaching to starboard (and wasn’t that a thrill for me to actually see them nearby as well as through the binoculars!), making water, reading, napping in the sun–in December. A lovely, lovely day, reminding us of why we enjoy cruising and helping us forget the beginning of the trip.

A bird roosted on our bow pulpit Thursday night. (I wish I could find the picture of him. Instead, I’m posting one of the pelican who greeted us at Puerto los Cabos.) He was so cute (I’m sorry, I haven’t yet figured out what kind he was), but Michael didn’t want him leaving calling cards. We tried lights; he didn’t budge. Michael got out his lazer beam, which used to send the sea lions diving for cover, but the bird just ignored it. When M. had to go forward to straighten some lines, he decided to do something to get rid of our nester. He waved his arms; the bird tossed his beak and held on. M. clapped from two feet away. The bird looked M. up and down and tucked his head under his wing. It wasn’t until we gybed that our friend flew off, returning a short while later when things settled down. They’re lovely creatures, but their remnants are very hard to clean off the deck.

a miracle and a test

En Route from Bahia Santa Maria to Cabo San Lucas 12/2/08

You know how sometimes something you’ve just had in your hand all of a sudden disappears? You know it was right there a moment ago. And now it isn’t.

A few days ago, back in Bahia Asuncion, Michael was putting all the parts and pieces together for the watermaker. Ours has two large filter units that together can generate approximately 45 gallons per hour of fresh water. Each filter housing requires two large O rings and two small ones to seal the end plugs. Michael had assembled the first unit and was about to begin the second when he realized that one of the large O rings had vanished. He held one large and two small in his hand and spoke in a voice heavily laced with frustration. “Don’t throw out that trash,” he said as I began separating the paper from the plastic in his overflowing bin.

His first scouring took care of the floor. Then he searched the bilges, the floor again, the desk, the table, his pockets, toolbag, the trash. Nothing.

So, he tested the unit using the one filter and decided he’d have to try to purchase a new O ring in Cabo. No problem, but very, very frustrating. Every spare moment after that was spent sifting through every bag, every crate and box, re-examining the desk, the drawers, the bilge—every place and every thing that had been in the pilot house during the installation. His bilge inspection was thorough and repeated several times using a flashlight to peek into every nook, no matter how far from the watermaker scene. He crawled under the nav station, cleared surfaces, used a headlamp and flashlight.


Okay. You do your best, then you leave it alone. We’d prayed, but figured either God had better things to do than hunt up O rings that were replaceable or we were just too deaf to hear His direction Fine. We’d be in Cabo by the 3rd. A search of parts stores was on the agenda. Considering that we’re water hogs and it takes fuel to run the generator to run the watermaker, he wants as much efficiency as possible from the unit.

We rose early this morning. After breakfast, I checked the Software on Board (linked to the AIS) navigation program on this computer to see what sort of shipping was out there. We got our MaxSea nav program (which is linked to our outside chartplotter/radar) set to go. Michael checked the engine oil, and we donned our outdoor gear.

I was backing into the aft cabin when I heard Michael say, this time surprise registering: “Where did that come from?” He was pointing at the nav station. On the desk top right in front of the computer at which I’d just been working, where we’ve been every day, several times a day doing radio work or navigation checks, where the deck had been cleared several times because of that nagging sense that a big two-inch diameter O ring couldn’t just vanish into thin air. We’d moved the computer—each of us at different times, lifting it, lifting the drawer under it. Picking up every single thing on the surface. But now, in the spot where my hands had been only minutes earlier sat a large O ring. All by itself, out in plain sight, where we couldn’t miss it.

I love the things of God. Even you skeptics have to admit that something unusual happened—unless you think we’re lying.

Michael just verified that he now has two large and two small O rings available. And if that isn’t a miracle, I don’t know what is.

I think of the other times God has raised the axe head for me. Just as he did for Elisha, when the axe head flew off and into the water and God floated it to the surface, the Lord has floated lost things to the surface where I could find them. Or He has whispered to me, telling me where to look when I was about to despair. It seems this time we didn’t get silent enough to hear, so He had to float that O ring right to the top of the desk.

Glory! We serve a great God!!

12/3/08 And now the test begins:

It was a little after 6AM. Michael had just come off his watch and was about 20 minutes into a good sleep when sputter-growl-huff-huff-huff-bang-bang. The engine decided it wanted to quit. We’d been motorsailing in light winds to make it to Cabo in time to do a few clean-up projects before my mother arrived on the 8th. Now, with no engine, we’ve got to sail. Okay, not a problem. We’re a sailboat. And if we take a few hours longer–lots of hours longer–that’s fine. Only, what if we can’t get the engine fixed or find a place to anchor and try to get parts before Mother arrives? What if she gets to spend her whole vacation in a hotel because the boat is torn up for engine work?

Praise God anyway, right? Amen. He’s a big God.

We edge into Cabo among the jet skis, the tour boats, fishing boats, motoring boats of all sorts. Out of our way, folk, we can’t change course very quickly! We’re looking for the moorings we’ve read about, but can’t see any. The anchoring ledge is between 26 and 42′ wide. Deep water, then anchoring water, then beach. If we had an engine, we could drop a stern anchor, then keep the boat sideways to the beach and drop a bow anchor. With 56 feet of boat, we’ll be in the surf before we can get the second anchor over. So, we turn and lope out the bay. We’ll try a marina up the coast.

We call them. Yes, they have a place if we can get inside their jetties. They can help bring us in if we get there early enough.

We don’t. Now the wind has dropped and we’re down to less than 2 knots to go 15 miles. Michael wants us to edge up to the jetty, just to take a look, but then smartly decides that we’re way, way too tired from night watches to try anything that smacks of heroics. Instead, we head back out into the Sea and heave to. This allows us to set sails so we don’t go anywhere, except a slight .8 knots and drifting. I volunteer to sleep on deck so that M., whose job will be troubleshooting the engine, can get a full night’s sleep.

It’s lovely under the stars. Fishing boats are out there, plying their trade several miles away. I set an alarm so I can look around every so often. It’s quiet all night, though around midnight I need more than just two blankets. As dawn approaches, I wake M. and we set the sails for shore. We’ve drifted further than we wanted because the wind changed in the night from the southeast to the norhtwest. There’s not much wind now, barely enough to tack the boat, but we do and have a leisurely sail, gybing back and forth, toward shore. The dockmaster brings a fishing boat out to tow us, bringing us in easily.

So here we are at Puerto los Cabos Marina in San Jose de Cabo. It’s quite a high end marina, though still under construction. We’re the poor folk on the block, but we still have to pay big boat prices. This wasn’t in the budget, but we’re not going to worry about it. The Lord always provides.And we believe He has a purpose in all things, so we give Him praise.

As I’ve been writing this, M has discovered that we have more than a head gasket issue. One of the pistons shot a valve and destroyed a cylinder.That’s a picture of the cylinder up there. Oh, me. But, hey, glory anyway.

I’m looking forward to figuring out what’s next.

Cedros Island

In between Bahia San Quintin and Turtle Bay, lies Cedros Island. As you can tell from the dates on the posts, I’m uploading what I wrote from the comfort of an internet connection in Mazatlan. I forgot Cedros, poor thing. And that’s where I caught my first fish! So, I’ll see if I can upload the pictures now.

Bahia Asuncion

We arrived at Bahia Asuncion late on the 27th, in time to feast on homemade chicken noodle soup and whole wheat biscuits for our Thanksgiving dinner. I’d thought of doing more, but we were both tired from the large rolly waves, so it was wonderful just to sit, eat, and relax.

This anchorage is much nicer than Turtle Bay. Far less rocky even when the wind pipes up. I suppose its disadvantage as a way stop is the lack of fuel. But so far, we’ve preferred the spots others don’t pick.

Michael worked on the watermaker during the day on Friday and actually made about ten gallons before the pump overheated. He’d had the pressure running too high. This convinced us to remain here an extra day.

Four other sailboats and one Ensenada fishing boat came in around 4 PM Friday. It’s now 9:30 Saturday morning. The sloop that sailed into the anchorage because of a fouled prop and his buddy boat have left the anchorage as has the fishing boat. Michael is messing around with cleats and lines for the lazy jacks and reefing lines while I’ve got dough rising for my first yeast bread baking on board. Yesterday I tried a soda bread recipe. I’ve done enough baking to know that something was wrong with that recipe, so I shouldn’t have wasted the propane checking it out. The resulting rock bread fed birds this morning.

We’ve just had some excitement nearby. Pangas dropped nets and hauled in mackerel galore while the herds of pelicans waited expectantly. At the second dropped net, a seal had to find its way to freedom and one of the assistant pangas came over to request a wrench to repair a motor. Michael, being West Marine south, obliged. We’re pleased they asked and they’re pleased we had what they needed. Hope I can find a way to post the pictures.

We’re impressed by the way the Mexicans work together, a community rather than fishermen in competition with one another. The net tossing and hauling boats have at least four men on board. A second panga works with each net boat to gather the line and use its motor to help with the haul. Two sets of fishermen are busy around us this morning. I’m so glad we came here and stayed this extra day. For us, this is what cruising is about, not just getting from place to place. If we didn’t have a deadline to meet Mama in Cabo, we’d probably hang here until the weather pushed us south.

Turtle Bay

We reluctantly left the lovely anchorage at San Quintin around 11AM on Monday, 11/24/08. The wind clocked around from east to south to northwest as we motored out far enough to avoid navigation hazards along the coast. By nigh fall, the wind was dead astern and there wasn’t enough of it to fill the sails. We lowered the main, rolled in the jib, and motorsailed with mizzen only until dawn brought us on the approach to Cedros Island. When the wind piped up a little more–still not enough to carry the main without it slapping–we unfurled the jib. With mizzen, jib, and motor, we ran at a steady 7 knots.

In the lee of Cedros, the waves had calmed enough for me to get out my lovely, way-too-expensive rod and reel. I didn’t expect to catch anything—I mean, how many people do on their first try? Two minutes. That’s all it took after the lure bounced in about 50 feet astern. I thought at first that I’d hooked kelp, but that baby was running with my line. I finally had to call Michael to help haul him in as I don’t yet have anything like a fighting chair.

He was beautiful. Novice that I am, I pulled out the books to try and identify him. It wasn’t until I started to clean him that I finally determined he was a bonito. Grilled, it was like eating steak. Even Michael enjoyed it.

M added rpms so we’d get to the anchorage before dark. We pulled in around 5:30 PM. With a southerly wind beginning, we anchored on the south side, behind a low hill.

And didn’t sleep much at all. It felt like being at sea, rolly and smelly from the bird rocks. This morning the grib files showed the wind clocking back to the west and then northwest, so we moved in closer to town.

Now we’re floating in pelican bay, with a cormorant squadron off out starboard side, keeping watch as the big guys circle, plunge, and plop. Quite a show.

We bought diesel from a young man named Rogelio who has lived here 18 years minus one in Cabo, which was not his favorite place. $2.55 a gallon plus $20 service. Might have been cheaper at the dock, but this was much, much easier. Besides, he took the trash.

Still in San Quintin

It’s November 23. Sunday: The Bible on CD and now worship music as we celebrate the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. How anyone can doubt a Creator God when all this magnificence surrounds us?

Michael had to turn on the generator to uses his metal cutting saws for solar panel brackets. It’s noisy (nothing like the main engine, which is a Ford Lehman diesel, marine-adapted from tractor motors), but we’re thankful to be so self-sustaining. M. has declared that he’d like to stay here a week or two—and we could if we didn’t have obligations further south.

The swell, which the GPS says is 6.53 feet, feels like a gentle roll as it slips under us. The sun flickers off a rippled sea, and the breeze is slight but cool enough to make us very comfortable. Peace settles….

South from Ensenada: Bahia San Quintin

It’s November 22, 2008. I’m watching the fog roll in from the ocean as the sun lowers itself behind the clouds and the white hotel behind us lights up in reflected brilliance, the first color it’s had all day. I don’t know why more boats don’t come in here. Sixteen hours plus or minus south of Ensenada, it provides shelter from the prevailing northwesterly winds. Our hook grabbed immediately, and the swells have been so benign that we’ve barely straightened the chain. The dance recorded by our gps lets us know we haven’t dragged, a comfort when the surf breaks less than a mile away.

Ducks woke me around five this morning. Their quacks sounded odd in the stillness. When we first arrived yesterday at 10 AM, I feared the greeting sea lions would be as raucus as those in Ensenada, but they merely swam over to welcome us, then backed off to sun themselves, flippers raised in a salute to the day.

Coming from Ensenada, where noise levels required two pillows over my head to get any sleep—why do those discos think music must be loud to be enjoyed?—we rejoice in the silence. Waves crash against the beach; we can hear them and the occasional bird, but nothing more than our own survival noises as Michael uses his power tools to make a bracket for his watermaker membranes and another small pump. (See the Sea Venture Workshop on deck.) Once that is completed, we’ll have the capability of making 45 gallons of pure water every hour. Luxury, cocooned in our traveling home.

Moved to Richmond

Well, deadlines are wonderful things but they don’t often work. So, instead of heading to Mexico, we’ve moved the boat to Marina Bay in Ricihmond, CA. The trip down the San Jauquin was cold and lovely, and we can now see the Golden Gate–we’re almost outside!

We’ll try to get picutres up soon.