Starting to feel Tropical

Sorry for the blog silence – it was my Christmas gift, a break from reading my long winded posts.

I don't think we are in Baja anymore

Tucked in a little bay midway between San Blas and Banderas Bay is the village of Chacala.  Having decided to skip Isla Isabella on our way south from Mazatlan (we’ll catch in when we head back north in the spring) we aimed for Chacala instead.  Or course, our timing ended up a little off and we found ourselves approaching a strange anchorage in the dark.
The are numerous warnings about Mexican charts being off, so that your GPS will show you anchored on land.  So far, our chart chip has been pretty accurate, other than our track showing our boat going across the entrance jetty at Cabo.  Still – I don’t trust the GPS here the way I did on the trip down the coast with US charts.  So we rely on the radar, peering at the shore with binoculars, and the chartplotter with a grain of salt.  While Chacala is a  fairly open bay, we found it a rather challenging approach.  And after sharing every anchorage we’ve been in with numerous other boats, for once we couldn’t spot a boat on the hook, and several radio calls for assistance went unanswered.  We crept in, adding the depth sounder to our navigation tools as we closed on the bay.  Finally we felt we were in the anchorage area, although struggling to pinpoint our exact location and a bit unnerved by the sound of crashing surf on the beach.  We did spot another boat at anchor, and they must have spotted us because their spreader lights came on as we approached them.  If they would have just answered the VHF and turned them on as we approached, we would have significantly less frazzled nerves.  We picked a spot, and anchored probably a bit closer to the boat then we should have, but if one boat was anchored in the area we hoped it was a decent spot.  We debated if some odd looking water nearby was exposed sand, but decided it was just water flattening out a bit.  After setting the anchor and watching our position for a bit, we were off to bed, Jenn electing for a spot in the cabin that didn’t feel as bouncy at the v-berth where I crashed.

A little early morning fishing from the boat

A little early morning fishing from the boat

After a good nights sleep I was awakened by roosters.  Somehow I sleep through machine gun fire in Mazatlan, and can’t sleep through a rooster crowing.  We watched the anchored boat leave at first light, then launched the dinghy and headed to shore, admiring Ventured sitting all by itself in an anchorage for the first time.  Unbeknownst to us at the time we misread the guide book, so we landed the dinghy at the end of the beach in mild surf instead of in a protected little beach for boat landings.  We drug the dinghy up the beach (I swear, I’m putting the wheels on before we leave PV) and set off to explore.  About halfway down the beach a stranger walked up and told us the police had just ticketed our dinghy, and told us about the better dinghy landing everyone uses.  I put out the opinion that we should just leave it since returning probably meant having to move it and pulling it up and down the beach is a bit of a workout, but this option was vetoed.  We walked back and found the Port Captain had left his forms for us to fill out.  Of course, four trips to the Port Captains office throughout the day yielded nothing but a locked gate so we finally just tossed the form on the stairs behind the gate.  When  we made our first couple visits we didn’t have the paper work since we had left it on the boat.  We decided to go ahead and enjoy the beach a bit first.  We wandered around the town, probably the most rustic town we’ve been in since Turtle Bay.  Chickens roamed the streets, as did numerous dogs and even a cute kitten at one of the souvenir stands.  We even spotted a sheep in the back of a pickup driving through town.

Don't drop our boat!

I'm adjusting to anchorages with waves breaking on the beach.

After the desert topography of the Baja Haha peninsula, and the city scape of Mazatlan, Chacala is a tropical paradise.  Palm trees lined the beach, with a row of Palapas before the beach gave way to jungle stretching down to the golden sandy beach.  We walked the beach, swam in the ocean and I even body surfed a few waves. It is a bit strange to be surfing in waves when our boat was anchored just a few hundred feet away.   Sadly, between trips to the Port Captain’s office, and no other cruise boats being around to clue us in, we missed out on the hike that our friends on SV Bella Star went on a few days before.  Lucky for us they posted lots of pictures so we were able to enjoy the trip later reading their blog.  Despite our lack of duplicating their hike, we had a great time relaxing on the beach, grabbing some fresh ceviche at a Palapa, wandering through the town and enjoying a fresh pineapple filled with fresh fruits and veggies such as cucumber, jicama, and papaya.  While we saw a few gringos in town, the vast majority of the tourists appeared to be from Mexico.  There was no huge mega resort on the beach, giving us an authentic Mexican tourist experience.  Even the little tourist stands Jenn drug me into had shopkeepers that did not speak English, so we weren’t berated with the typical sales pitch we receive in the more resort based towns we go into.

Local girls inspire us to try a Pineapple drink

But first, some ceviche.

So delicous!

Even a small town gets some boutique B&Bs

The jungle takes over

Of course we take pictures of the local wildlife.

It is a major effort not to end up with a puppy on the boat.

This is paradise.

All in all Chacala was a great stop on our way to Puerto Vallarta.  While it would have been fun to meet some other cruisers there that may have known a bit more about the area, we enjoyed admiring Ventured alone in the anchorage all day long (I’ll only post one or two of the pictures…).  I highly recommended a stop over in Chacala for any boats transiting between Mazatlan and Banderas Bay.  We have even considered sailing back up for another visit if we stay in the the Puerto Vallara area for an extended period of time since it is only a 45 mile trip, a day sail with good wind.

Apparently our lack of fishing success is not due to a lack of fish.

We departed Chacala the next morning after another rather rolley night at anchorage (note to self, rig up a stern anchor) and without the above mentioned good wind motored most of the way to Banderas Bay, where we are currently anchored near the quaint town of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle (don’t feel bad, I’m here and I can’t pronounce that last word either).

Another sunset at anchorage.

Minion says he will help fund the crusing with some male modeling.

Happy New Year from Erlin, Jenn and Minion!

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X Marks the Spot

Our current location - North of downtown Mazatlan.

Since I keep forgetting to buy new batteries for our Spot tracker so I can at least turn it on and ping our current location, I thought I would upload a map of where we are.  Look close for the red X, and you can see where we are.  While this marina is a bit out of the way, it is small enough with a lot of long term residents that most people know each other and it feels very secure.  We’ve been staying in this area, although we did bus to one of the mega grocery stores a couple days ago, and downtown yesterday.  We discovered that the big grocery store was actually more expensive than the little one by our marina.  Granted they had a bit more selection, but factoring in the bus ride required to get to Soriana or Mega (a few blocks apart) I’m not sure it is worth heading off to them when we are finding what we need much closer and for less Pesos.

So far our most entertaining time in Mazatlan was an impromptu potluck a couple nights ago.  We went over to Endorphin with Rob from Wings of the Dawn, and visited the kitty they have up for adoption.  Very cute, but long haired which doesn’t seem like a great fit on a boat in tropical climates.  We then headed over to one of two Force 50s moored next to each other, both owned by French couples.  We spent the next few yours with three languages flying around, speaking whatever words we knew in the another language to communicate.  Pascal, one of the husbands on the French boats spoke very good English, which helped quite a bit, and his wife is doing well with her Spanish.  We laughed, ate, and for some reason the other French gentleman kept opening bottles of wine.  All in all, a wonderfully fun and entertaining evening.  We even had a Spanish family they had met drop by for a chat, the parents and two impeccably behaved and precious daughters.

Being a Saturday, I think we are going to relax a bit today, Jenn wants to hit the beach so we’ll take a bus to one of the beaches and hang out for a bit and relax, before we start some more boat projects the next couple days in preparation for a sail down towards Puerto Vallarta.  Overall we are kind of short changing our visit to Mazatlan and all there is to see and do here, but since we plan to be back for Carnival we’ll catch up the sights then.

The crossing to Mazatlan – in painstaking detail

As I previously wrote, it was time to move on from La Paz. We knew we wanted to head south, for more than one reason. Don’t laugh (or hate) but we were getting cold. Sure, low 70s isn’t that bad, but with some strong winds cooling things down we were starting to wear long pants and long sleeved shirts, especially in the evening. And while I’m sure there is more to explore we had kind of settled into a rut of the same taco stands with the occasional night at The Shack. All along our plan had been to head further south for the winter, so when we finally perceived a weather window we just kind of suddenly decided to pull up the anchor and head out, probably with less planning than some of our previous passages.

Sailing into the sunrise.

So off we went on Thursday, leaving with enough light to get out the long channel leading into La Paz, and back up a stretch of water we had previously transited in some unpleasant conditions. This time went much smoother, until Jenn turned on the stove to heat some water. No propane in our tank, that we had filled a few weeks previously and did not expect to be empty this soon. I took a frantic look for an adapter we have, and upon finding it we decided to chance the trip with what was left in our green, one pound barbecue tank, plus one full spare we had. It turned out to easily be enough for the crossing, although now we need to find a source to replenish our barbecue tanks.
Our last time through the Cerralvo Channel was a beautiful night time sail. his was a rather slow 3 knot ghost, being carried in part by tide assisting some light winds. After exiting the channel, we turned due east and started across the sea. A couple hours into the trip, Jenn expressed some concerns about weather and timing, so we turned around and sailed back to the Muertos anchorage, dropped anchor and relaxed on the boat. I’m finding one of the annoyances of dinghies is the work involved in deploying and stowing it on the front deck, where we carry ours. I may have to experiment with towing it, although I have some slight concerns about it staying attached to the boat if some rough weather caught us unexpected. The point being, it just seemed like a lot of work to flip the dinghy, hoist it over the life lines, get the engine attached, drop it in the water, and then reverse the whole process, all for an afternoon. See, I’m tired just typing out a description of all that work! So we just hung out on the boat and kept reading. Both of us have been in a bit of reading mode lately, Jenn racing through the Game of Thrones series, and I’ve been reading a stack of pulpy paperbacks I’ve saved over the years in preparation for this trip (and before they invented e-readers – if anyone has a used Kindle they want to get rid of, let me know).

One Manta Ray a Leaping (hey, it is almost Christmas)

We tried again on Saturday morning, and which much better results this time. A one night wait rewarded us with some amazing sailing, a broad reach in almost flat seas. Other than some sail trim to try and balance the boat so the windvane would steer us, I barely touched anything. We’ve talked to some other boats that saw a variety of wildlife we missed, turtles, a bay hammerhead shark. We did have a few dolphins swim by, and as we approached Mazatlan we saw rays jumping far out of the water and splashing down. They are very difficult to photograph in mid air, but Jenn managed to catch one in mid air. We’ll try again next time we see them, but it would certainly help out if they would let you know where and when they plan on leaping out of the water. Our other wildlife encounter was catching a bird when our fishing lured fooled it, and it dove in the water and tried to eat our cedar plug fish. I managed to pull the bird up to the boat, and it remained pretty calm while I worked the hook out of it’s neck. It appeared to be a pretty superficial wound, and the bird was rambunctious enough to give me a pretty good nip on the finger when I got the hook out. I let it go with a toss skyward and it flew off – I’m hoping to a full recovery. We’ll have to keep a little closer eye on the sky when dragging fishing lures behind the boat.

Not the preferred method of measuring your prop shaft.

Around midnight our second night into the trip, the wind shut off on us. There was a bit of breeze and we continued on at around two knots, but I suspect we were getting more of a current push than sailing. We kept the engine off, as motoring the last 30 miles or so would have put at the entrance to a harbor in the dark, something we’ve had enough experience with and don’t need to do again if we can avoid it. So we just worked the wind and current, until it timed out to motor towards the entrance. A bit after dawn, I glanced to starboard and noticed we were pulling a yellow polyester line with periodic half gallon (two liter?) milk jugs strung periodically along its length. Not good. I immediately put the engine in neutral along with an unmentionable word or two. Jenn fetched the boat hook and I began to try to push the line under the rudder, hoping that would free it. This wasn’t working out the way I hoped, and to make matters worse a panga started heading our way. Amazingly, the fishermen did not appear upset at us. They pulled on the line for a couple moments, and since they weren’t succeeding, they cut the line before I could stop them. The tied the two ends together, and although communication was limited, they did hang out while I grabbed a swimsuit, mask and knife. I was about to just take the leap, but decided to just dip a toe in case I was in for more of a shock then expected. Luckily it wasn’t bad, so in I went, and a quick inspection revealed it was pretty bad. Not only was the line wrapped around the prop

Also not the preferred way to get new toys for Minion.

more times then I could count, we had picked up a fish hook in the tangle with a bit of a small thin metal cable. I gamely started diving and sawing away, and around the third dive felt two sharp stings on my arm and back. That got me out of the water, zipped into a wet suit, and back in. I lost count of the dives, and many of them felt like they accomplished nothing, but I kept ducking under the surface and sawing with a steak knife that gave it’s life for the cause. Every so often a huge chunk of line would come off, motivating me to keep cutting away. About halfway through I got the fish hook out, a big relief since I could quit worrying about impaling myself (although maybe that would have been karma for the bird…). Finally the last piece had come free, after taking a break as a ferry went by and I decided it would be prudent to be on the surface, not under the boat if the wake started bouncing the hull up and down. I can do just fine without a knock on the head from a multi thousand pound boat.

Ahh, the joys of cruising.

I climbed out and dried off while the fisherman, who had gone over, I think, to steer the ferry around their line and returned, gave Jenn some routing information. I was somewhat surprised they made no effort to collect money from us for the damage to their line. The engine started right up, and off we went. There was a bit of a funny noise a minute or so later, but after taking the boat back out of gear and easing back in, the noise disappeared. Maybe the last bits of line working their way out – I hope! We’ve motored several hours since with no issues.

Our cozy little anchorage, with our stern just visible. Where's Ventured?

The entrance into the marina basin was a bit tricky – narrow and with rocks on the side I wanted to veer over to so I could line up my approach. Instead I took a close rounding to the jetty, with no ill effects. We motored on past the El Cid marina, and back into area where a round island is ringed with mostly empty slips and much of the shore is lined with half finished gray cement buildings, almost resembling a bombed out cityscape. Around the island we found a small marina we had a slip reserved at thanks to Merrick on Spica, a fellow Puget Sound sailor I know from our mutual West Marine employment. Although I was a bit nervous about my first dock landing in over a month, it went as smoothly as could be imagined. It does help to have people on the dock to catch your lines, I won’t lie, but I think Jenn and I would have managed it fine on our own if we had to. Of course, Rob on Wings on Dawn arrived the next day, and backed his 52′ Hans Christian Christina into a slip while everyone watched. Oh – singlehanded. Nothing like being upstaged!

We are settling into Mazatlan for a few days or so, there are boat projects and provisioning, then hopefully some exploring and new friends, old friends and taco stands!

Minion looks into the mirror - kind of.

Made it to Mazatlan

I just looked at the Spot track, and for those watching and wondering why we started out to sea and just quit tracking, it was a lack of new batteries. We’ll remedy that while we are in Mazatlan. We arrived mid morning, after some adventures I’ll detail in the next post. It was good sailing, and although we generally prefer the anchor, we got such a bargain on a slip thanks to a friend we are going to spend a few days at a dock. It will be a good chance to wash the boat and go up the mast for a couple projects with out getting bounced around. Some showers and a probably a nap are on the agenda for this afternoon after two overnights on this trip. Then I’ll try and get some info up on the blog about our crossing.

Here we are, back in Bahia de los Muertos. For today, I’m sticking with the old name, Bay of the Dead, not the new one, Bahia de los Suenos, Bay of Dreams. My dream for today is dead, sailing to Mazatlan. After listening to the radio net yesterday morning in La Paz, where the cruisers club web master announced over the net he was resigning because of someone in the clubs “dictatorial attitude,” and another woman calling in with a boat name announcing Christmas caroling at her house, we just kind of spontaneously decided to pull up the hook and go. Not that I’m being a grinch with the Christmas caroling, but you aren’t a cruiser if you own a house in the city you cruised to. You are a resident with a boat. We really enjoyed La Paz, and will be back next spring for a jumping off point to the north end of the Sea of Cortez, but it was time to go before we ended up stuck there. There are some wonderful resources for cruisers, but the community feels stagnant after staying for a few weeks (and by community, I mean the “cruisers” who haven’t left the dock or pulled anchor in months, if not years, not the great people we hung out with!). Plus we perceived a break in the northerly winds that had been pinning us down. So around 4:00 pm, we just pulled up the anchor and started toward our journey to Mazatlan.

So far, it hasn’t been our best trip. No major problems, but about two hours into the trip, Jenn’s attempt to boil water resulted in the surprise discovery we are out of propane. I say surprise, as we had sent the tank out to be filled just a few weeks ago, and have had the tank last well over a month with prior fills. I’m not sure if it wasn’t topped off, or there is something to the snipet floating around in my head that the gas here is something other than propane and not as efficient. After some digging, I found the adapter to run our stove off of a 1 pound tank for the BBQ (in the first compartment I looked in, just at the bottom of it). Of which of course we have one almost empty tank, and one full one. Hopefully they will last a couple days.

After some light wind sailing, with a couple hours of motoring when there just wasn’t any wind, we exited a channel around daylight, and made our decision to set sail straight across the Sea of Cortez for Mazatlan. Then the wind and sea state began to vary from the forecast. The admiral made another decision, and we turned around and actually had wonderful sailing conditions back to the Muertos anchorage, maintaining 5 plus knots with bursts in the 6 knot range with most of the jib rolled in to keep us a bit more upright. Minion had a bit to say about being under sail again, but other than talking quite a bit doesn’t seem phased to be underway, as usual. He is just a born sailor. While anchored, he amuses himself, and us, by chasing flies. We purchased some netting in La Paz, and the next time we tie up to dock and have shore power the sewing machine is making an appearance to sew some covers for the hatches and companionway. I’m sure we’ll all miss the fly chasing antics, but not the flies.

We are now anchored, and getting weak internet but enough to check weather and hopefully upload this post. We think we can manage to try and cross again tomorrow, so hopefully we’ll have a bit better luck then. It is about 190 miles to Mazatlan, in pretty much a straight shot. If the forecast holds and the seas don’t beat us up too much we should be able to make it in a day and half. Sadly we’ll miss catching up with the Jen who crewed the Haha with us, who is leaving Mazatlan today. We had planned to visit her their, but the wind just didn’t work with us.

If you were following the Spot, I think the batteries died, so we’ll look for another set before we head to Mazatlan.

After an overnight sail, it is time for some naps!

La Paz, here we stay

This is a challenge – what to write about when not much is happening.  As we came down the coast, with the scenery constantly changing and the pressure to keep moving to the next port motivating our progress, it seemed my contact with people back home revealed mostly day to day life.  While not quite the daily grind here in La Paz, we seem to have settled into a cruisers daily grind.  Up in the morning, make coffee and listen to the morning radio net, check email and a few daily internet sites.  Then hang out on the boat till the stir crazy arrives, and run into town in search of street tacos and run errands.  There is always some groceries to buy, or the search for a little item like Jenn’s need for new hair ties, or Minion’s strange need for a bag of cat food when his empties. Usually a trip into town involves running into someone we know, and sometimes we join forces on the food search, sometimes we just chat.  Some activities that are taken for granted back home become somewhat of a production here, like getting a shower.  We aren’t hooked up on the boat to shower, and with the cooler temperatures, wind, and proximity to the main beach walkway with our current anchored location discourage cockpit solar showers.  So we have to load up our shower bags, grab a towel, and dinghy into town, probably about a 5 minute trip.  Tie up the dingy, go to the office and pay 15 pesos to tie up, and another 30 pesos for two showers.  Then track down a security guard or the janitor to let us into the marina showers, and juggle all the bottles of shampoo, conditioner, soap dish and such into and out of a shower.  Finally, stash the shower bags back in the dinghy if we are staying in town, or head back to the boat, desperately trying not to get too splashed with salt water after all the effort just invested in getting clean.  Getting water is similar, we picked up four jugs that each hold four gallons, and they have to be slowly filled from a spigot at the dinghy dock, and emptied even slowler into our tanks back on boat. It still beats going to work though.

Of course there are the chats with fellow cruisers about the weather, the next port of call and long term cruising plans.  And the attempt to balance trips to town with the budget.  I keep meaning to start tracking the spending better – sometimes I feel like a trip to town is like a Costco run, you are just going to spend more than you meant to by the time is it over.  But evening rolls around, a group heads to The Shack, and it is hard not to buy a bucket of beers and maybe a couple happy hour margaritas, and then why not get dinner there?  Town seems somehow designed to separate us from our Pesos, but just staying on the boat gets a bit old too.  We are eager to move on from La Paz, although our next stop will probably be Mazatlan, kind of right back where we started with a town.  There are some wonderful bays and anchorages just north of La Paz, where going ashore would be for hiking and snorkeling at the beach, not to spend money at the local hangouts.  However, the weather is deteriorating in this area, and should be warmer down south by Puerto Vallarta.  While we would like to go spend some time exploring the nearby islands, it looks like that will have to wait until next spring.  While I know I will get no sympathy, we are actually feeling cold as the temps drop into the 70s, and the winds pick up.  Currently we are riding out a strong northerly wind, which is keeping us from sailing over to the mainland.  I suspect when this wind dies down there will be a mass exodus of the transient cruising boats for the mainland, where we will congregate in new anchorages with a fresh town to explore.

Of course, there are always a list of boat projects, and lately I’ve been a little more interested in laying around reading then tackling them.  I chatted with a new neighbor after setting in anchor in what I hoped would be a more protected spot from this north wind who said he gets up and does a couple hours of boat work in the morning.  I think I need to get a written list and adopt that strategy, just get at least one thing crossed off the list everyday, never mind that I’ll probably write three more on it.

Despite the hardships, we are having fun.  I think we needed a break after the push to get here, and both wanted to just kind of settle for a bit and recuperate from the trip down the coast.  We like La Paz, and it is an easy town to just slow down in, lots of friends, no tourist pressure when you walk the streets, and plenty of local support for projects and services should you need them.  But after being here for awhile, we are both ready to see some new sights.  We will be back here, it is a great jump off spot to go north in the Sea of Cortez which we’ll do next summer.  But for now, the warmer cities with new adventures to the south are calling, as is the desire to do some sailing and enjoy being on the move.  Plus we feel like we are letting down all the people that watch our spot messenger for entertainment.  We have our responsibilities to keep up with!