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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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!

Cabo, at last

After 2200 miles of sailing, we have reached Lands End – Cabo San Lucas Mexico. After a few days spent here soaking up sunshine and warm water, we are feeling the call of the wind and are preparing to sail on, now heading north. At least this time we will be going north up the inside of the Baja peninsula, inside the Sea of Cortez, and not exposed to vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean generating wind and waves we are sailing in. Not that there isn’t some weather concerns in the the Sea of Cortez, including hearing some very mixed weather forecasts right now. It is either light winds, or a storm. But at least the next anchorage is only about 45 miles away, a short sail by our standards at this point. Such is the difficulty of cruising.

I’ll get a wrap up of the Baha Haha up soon. It was a lot of fun, but we are glad to be done with sailing deadlines for a bit. And with motoring. And with overnight sailing. Several boats have already departed for La Paz, but we needed to catch up on some shopping and such here today and decided to just have a lazy day. We had moved the boat out to the anchorage last night after several days in what we were told was the second most expensive marina in the world (a fact I admit I have not verified or even tried to), but lucky us the economy is down a bit here and the prices were over half what they were last year. We needed to wash down the boat and fill water tanks, and with crew still on the boat and friends in town to visit we splurged. It did get a bit dicey getting back to the boat last night after a late dinner with Steven and Sean at a pleasant little beach front restaurant. We had caught a ride in with Lightspeed after my first ever sail on a catamaran, and they had returned to their boat, the water taxis weren’t running from the beach, and not many dinghies were left at the dinghy dock to try and mooch a ride with. I think we caught the last water taxi back to the anchorage. My next choice was to swim out the boat and deploy the dinghy and come get Jenn, but it would not have been easy in the dark in a rather rolly anchorage.

After another water taxi ride in today, we met up with Lela and Ian at their beach resort and spend some pool time, until they had to check out and fly back to Seattle. Then Jenn and I wandered into the non tourist area of Cabo, found a cheap streetfront taqueria to eat at, where I ordered something I had never heard of. It was tasty, kind of like a quesedilla with two tortillas filled with steak and cheese. Then we poked into various stores and found a few little sundries, and finally wound our way back to a supermarket we had found a couple days ago and got some groceries for the next week of sailing. After taking a shortcut through a mall filled with designer shops and boutiques looking at things we won’t be buying for quite awhile, we walked back to the resort to “borrow” some wifi on one of the better connections we have found in Cabo. We’ll head out to the boat after I post this for a sundown grill of some of the Darado we caught while sailing down here (pictures and details coming in the Haha post).

While Cabo San Lucas isn’t really our destination, reaching it and finishing the Haha feels like a goal achieved. Now we can really start cruising, no agenda, no organized events, and just our pace and destinations. The sun is hot, the water warm and swimmable, and we are feeling accomplished.

Miles to Monterey

Finally, a weather window to leave Fort Bragg.  And not only a break from the rough seas, but a forecast northerly wind.  While Fort Bragg wasn’t a bad place, it didn’t have much charm, we weren’t docked with easy access to other cruisers, and its rain and cool weather was causing serious condensation issues on the boat.  I was wiping water off the walls with a towel that I then couldn’t get to dry out.

The narrow channel in and out of Fort Bragg

We had resorted to running the diesel heater to try to remove some moisture from the air but I think it was being overwhelmed. So it wasn’t with the sadness of leaving some of the other ports that we fired up the engine and began winding our way back down the creek towards the bar crossing.  Seeing it in the daylight did make it a bit easier, although maybe a bit more eye-opening actually seeing how narrow a channel we were passing through.  It is a pretty short run to get clear of the shoreline and then we were back to the ocean swells.

I hope I’m not going to jinx myself, but I have yet to visit the rail to feed the fish on this trip.  When I spent time on a fishing boat in Alaska, I would usually do some chumming in the beginning and then I would be fine for the rest of the trip, except for once when we were caught in a storm and I could not quit being seasick. When the mixed swells (NOAA speak for a washing machine on agitate cycle) after leaving Fort Bragg kicked in, I was feeling just a tad green.  I managed to adjust before anything tragic happened, but the sea did let me know I’ve probably been more lucky than cured of the seasickness ailment.

One of the boats we met while in Fort Bragg, Deep Playa, followed us out an hour or so later, and checked in over the VHF about the conditions.  We were still motoring along, which they proceeded to do as well.  For all the boats we’ve met during our stays in the harbor, this is actually the first time we’ve been traveling within site of another sailboat.  Watching the arc of their mast as the water pitched their boat from side to side really gives you a perspective you don’t need on how much rocking your boat is doing.

Downwind at last!

After a few hours of starting to wonder if NOAA stands for “We don’t know-a what we are talking about,” a northerly started to fill in.  We tentatively rolled out the jib, started picking up a little speed, and decided to give sailing a try.  I pulled the kill switch on the engine, and blessed silence settled over the boat.  Well… not quite silence as there was a whole net set of squeaks and rattles we hadn’t heard with the motor drowning out all other boat sounds.  I’ll take the sailing sounds over the engine any day, but we did discover, surprisingly, it is actually easier to sleep with just the sound of the motor.  I’m not sure if it is concern over the noises you hear while sailing, or the variety of sounds your brain is sorting out, but we did miss the drone when it came time for sleeping.  Not all the noises were from sailing, such as the shelf full of glass bottles clinking together.  I’m sure they have been doing that the whole trip, we just never heard them before.

While we sorted out the new sounds, the wind started to pipe up.  Deep Playa had continued to motor, and slowly passed us by, but I was happy to finally be sailing, even more so that it was downwind.  There were large swells also coming from the north, but with both the wind and waves behind us the ride was fairly comfortable, as these things go.  As the winds velocity grew, the boat began to get a bit squirrely coming down the waves, and I did something I don’t think I’ve ever done before.  I slowed a sailboat down on purpose, by rolling in about half the jib. We were still sailing at six plus knots, really scooting along compared to our trip so far.  I would not have wanted to be bashing into this weather, we’ve been there and it is not pleasant, but running with it was quite fun.

Best sunset yet!

The wind continued into the evening and it was a beautiful night.  The moon was already up as darkness descended, and one by one stars filled the sky.  The moon was almost dead ahead, casting an undulating path of silvery sparkles leading us towards the horizon. We plowed on, the sounds of rushing water filling the cockpit, the sounds of bottles clinking, dishes in the sink rattling, and a variety of other hopefully not serious boat noises clunking, thunking and creaking down below.

We began crossing the shipping lanes off of the entrance to San Francisco Bay and the wind began to abate.  Faced with potential large commercial vessel traffic, ebbing wind, the approaching Farallon Islands and lack of sleep from both the cold and boat noises, I doused the sail and fired up the engine.  Jenn turned on the heater that blows warm air heated into the cabin and finally was able to sleep.  I drove through the shipping lanes, and my fears were not realized as I only saw one large ship in the distance. Clear of the shipping lanes as marked on the chart plotter, I woke Jenn up, having given her an extra hour of sleep.  I worked my way into the pilot berth and quickly dozed off, something that doesn’t always happen when you take your blessed two hours away from the helm.  Jenn proceeded to avoid some large vessels, which we later determined in a chat over dinner with Dawn and Patrick from Deep Playa, were Canadian military vessels on exercise.  Jenn dodged them like a pro, although I think I deserve some credit for my advice when she asked what to do if she saw a ship as she was taking the helm for her shift.  “Don’t hit it” I mumbled as I focused in on the bunk I was aiming for.

I came back on watch near dawn, and looked over towards where San Francisco should be.  There was a faint glow of light in the sky,

San Francisco, hiding behind what it is famous for.

and a solid bank of white, more fog than I could imagine existing.  I could see no signs of civilization as we passed one of the landmark cities of the west coast. The wind was pretty calm, but we went ahead and rolled the jib back out, and eased along in the three to four knot range.  Jenn insisted the wind would come back up, we were well ahead of our schedule and moving almost as fast as the motor would take us, so I was content to keep moving forward.  And sure enough, as the day progressed, so did the wind speed till we were back to carrying about half the jib and racing down the swells.

I’ve read and heard about surfing a sailboat for years, but never been at the helm of a boat that was doing it.  Until now. I think I surfed more waves in a day than some Hawaiians do in a month.  The stern would suddenly lift like an elevator rising, the boat surging forward, great mounds of white frothy water flying away from the sides of the hull.  I could feel the push forward, watching the GPS speed climb, 7,8,9 knots, and at times almost alarming numbers such  as the maximum 12.5 knots for the trip.  Then the stern would settle as the bow rose slightly, and the wave would race forward and continue towards the horizon, soon lost in the overall rise and fall of the ocean.  The boat would slow down, stumbling for a moment then regaining her feet (keel?) and climbing back to normal speed waiting for the next swell.  At one point three waves pushed the boat forward one after another with no time to wallow between them, and suddenly my GPS showed me arriving at our 18 mile away destination in 2 hours and 2 minutes.  Sadly it only flashed that for a moment and our speed settled back down.  Still, we were averaging about 6.7 knots running downwind with still only half of the jib (and this is the smaller of the two jibs we have on board).

Large swell and an unphased Jenn

While the speed hurtling us towards our destination with a very satisfying velocity, we had one problem.  Our arrival time of Sunday morning was calculated on a 4 knot average speed, and we were going significantly faster.  So once again, we prepared for a night time arrival in a new port, something becoming a bad habit like the junk food I was eating before we left.  GPS zoomed in, radar on, spotlight in the cockpit, we approached the marina, dropping sails about 3 miles away and returning the engine to life. A quick lesson was learned about just how much the sail steadies the boat as we began to roll side to side again until clearing a point that blocked the rolling swell. Deep Playa responded to my email inquiry about the entrance with a question about how we had caught up, and the advice that it was an easy entrance, like Shilshole back home.  And yes, it was like Shilshole with no bar crossing, but again I found myself faced with a very narrow gap between pilings and a seawall, but with no swell to deal with it was fairly straightforward.  We wound our way through the marina to an easy end tie the friendly harbormaster had given us, tied up about 10:30 pm, completing about 200 miles in about 38 hours with only 8 hours of motoring.  By far the best leg of our trip in every way except sea life encountered, there was very little of it on this leg.  Fortunately Monterey has an abundance of birds, seals, and an amazing aquarium to make up for what we didn’t see while sailing.  The wind angles lined up almost perfectly with our course, we made great time and did not spend a fortune on fuel for this leg.

We’ll be in Monterey for a few days, while it is a bit of a tourist trap, we are enjoying the sights and having fun being in a town geared toward entertaining visitors, something we haven’t experienced in our previous stops.