The 2011 winter cruising season -- December 2011 through April 2012
In a nutshell, this page is about single handing from La Paz to Santiago.
I accidentally hung out in La Cruz for six weeks, and in Santiago for twelve.
This is my third year in Mexico.
I'm not 'cruising' as much as 'hanging out in Mexico.' I'll do it for another two years at least,
but am thinking about moving on. Who knows?
Note: My web development tools are fifteen years old, and this page looks
best with an MS browser. Yeah, I know, I originally wrote in raw html back
when Netscape invented the browser. Blah blah blah. I know that half the
folks who check this site are using other browsers, but I really don't want
to buy an upgrade to my development tool.
I'll get around to it, maybe eventually.
In the meantime, this page probably looks bad with *every* browser, because I gave up trying to make everyone happy.
I don't take many pictures these days. Yet another camera broke and I bought a waterproof one, and it takes lousy pictures.Besides, I just don't walk around with my camera, because I don't feel like a tourist on vacation and it really doesn't occur to me to bring it.
Anyway, the pics on the left are from the crossing from La Paz to San Blas. The first three are of a marlin.
It wasn't the first time a marlin has danced around my boat.
It was, however, the first time one hung out long enough for me to think about grabbing a camera and taking a picture.
Live it first, take pictures later.
You don't see too many marlin these days.
In Steinbeck's 'The Sea of Cortez' he mentioned seeing hundreds of marlin dancing around his boat. That was only fifty years ago, so the fact that this is only my third is really sad.
Here's a nice pic of dolphins riding the bow wave.
Here's a fin whale that took an interest in my boat. Fin whales are small -- this one was 30 feet -- and I think they're like a bridge between dolphins and whales. They aren't cute like dolphins, though, and are big enough to disable the boat.
At first I thought I had crossed an entire pod of them, but it turned out to be just one that had an inappropriate interest in my boat and kept sounding all around the boat. I quietly did a 90 degree tack to get away, but it kept following me around. In the attached pic it sounded 15 feet behind the boat, and I watched it swim directly under the boat, then pace me 20 feet off the port side for about ten minutes.
That might sound really cool, but if it brushed against my rudder it would disable the boat. That's a serious concern when 70 miles off shore, so I was glad when it went away.
This little piece of chart shows the position 22,9N 107.7W.
I mention it because the ocean suddenly turned into a washing machine, and I was tossed around like an old sock.
I was sailing south, with an easy 6 foot swell behind me, and a 12 knot breeze. All I can figure is that there was a huge deep current coming from the south, and at this spot you can see the bottom rises sharply from 1600 to 600 fathoms. So all that water must have created an up welling that hit the surface current and surface swell, stacking the waves up. It was really weird, as I suddenly was surrounded by square breaking waves out in the middle of nowhere.
After four miserable hours I moved north about 10 miles,
and suddenly the sea was okay again.
I think I'll avoid this spot in the future.
I pulled into Matanchen Bay feeling great after three days at sea. Most singlehanders I've talked with agree that it takes about three days to get into the rhythm of single handed crossings. On day three, one's body is used to sleeping in 30 minute snatches, and feels ready to keep going forever. I think I'll have to try a four or five day single handed passage before making a definitive statement. It´s possible that after five days of limited sleep one goes nuts.
Of course, that raises the question: How would I know?
Less than an hour after pulling in, I was swarmed by bees.
I've been 'swarmed' more times than I can count, but this was different. Usually they just look for food and water, but this is an entire hive on the move. It seemed that the queen decided that the space between the dodger top and solar panels would make a nice spot for a new hive. Great.
12 hours and a half dozen stings later: Throwing pots of boiling water on the bee ball was effective, but made a heck of a mess, especially since I hadn't cleaned up the cockpit after sailing in it for three days. I had blankets, lots of lines and sheets all over the place, and all my safety gear, all covered with dead and dying bees.
I fired up the inverter, pulled out the shop vac.
Unfortunately, there were hundreds of bees that were part of the hive, but
were out and about while I was cleaning. They kept showing up, and they were
not passive. So I finally decided to leave and head down to Chacala, 21 miles
south. This is the amazing thing: They still were able to find the boat. Perhaps
they have an extraordinary sense of smell, and home in on the queen. Even
over 18 miles of open water, they were finding the boat and circling around
the spot where the ball had been. I could see them coming in across the water.
I motored with the inverter on, and developed a real talent for picking them
out of mid-air with the shop vac. They were still finding me in Chacala, and
the following morning there were about 40 dead bees in the cockpit. I guess
they flew 20 miles, discovered that the queen was dead inside a shop vac,
and just gave up and died.
I arrived in La Cruz, in Banderas Bay, two days before Christmas, and ended up staying for six weeks.
That was about a month longer than I'd hoped, but it took a lot of time to get new glasses and contacts, because of the holidays.
When it was time to head south again, I realized that I hadn't taken any pictures. Well, I didn't see anything new, except for the shallots at the left. You might wonder why I took a picture of shallots. Well, I haven't seen shallots in a long time, because they're not part of Mexican cuisine. I love to cook, though, so finding shallots was cool.
Oh, yes, one other item of note. Darn it. In the pic to the left you can see two cockroaches hanging out in my fridge thermostat. I guess they're living there because it's warm.
This is a huge bummer. Cockroaches on a boat are incredibly difficult to eradicate, because there are so many places to hide and it is impossible to remove all food sources. A boat has more nooks and crannies than an English muffin.
They may have come aboard when I was hauled out in Puerto Escondido, or when I was tied to the dock in La Paz, but probably they came aboard with a bag of groceries in La Cruz. I have two separate species, the common German roach and small black round ones that I haven't identified.
The boat is now has RAID roach motels all over the place, and I started to
see dead ones within days. Hopefully that will do the trick.
Yeah, I could sprinkle boric acid all over the boat, but I don't really want boric acid powder all over my pots and pans.
Heading south from Banderas Bay I ran into 'whale central'. I stopped counting after 30, but the entire day was all about whales. I nearly hit one. I had a closer call last year when a gray whale actually sounded underneath the cockpit and missed the prop and rudder by a few feet. Gray whales don't leap, though. Humpbacks do.
A humpback sounded and leaped 60 feet in front of me while I was going full
speed ahead. Usually I like humpbacks because they splash around a lot and
you can see them well in advance,
but this one came out of nowhere.
I was keeping a sharp watch, as I'd already passed the 30 count.
Stand in your cockpit, find a spot about 12 feet up the forestay (on a 38 foot boat,) and follow the line. That's how high it jumped, or how big it was, or how close it was. It was surreal, like something from 'clash of the titans', where the foreground is normal and suddenly there's a bad special effect monster in the background. The splash was very loud and rocked the boat. Fortunately, the LF38 is a very stiff boat, as I spun the wheel and all the sails went backwards. When single handing, you have to quickly prioritize actions: Miss the whale and spill the sails later. No, I didn't get a picture. <VBG> I did take this one after I calmed down, when it was about 1/2 mile away.
You can see how the whale is actually turning in midair to land on its back. The young ones just jump and splash and flop around, but the older ones seem to jump purposefully. I think they splash to knock the little critters off. Gray whales that I have seen up close don´t seem to have as many barnacles and other annoying problems, and maybe that´s why they don´t jump. Anyway, when it leaped in front of the boat it's belly was towards me, and it was very white.
So, yes, I have seen the great white whale.
It was weird sailing through the night, knowing that I'd been seeing a whale every 20 minutes during the day, and had changed course three times because of it. They were all around me, but I was sailing blind and hoping for the best. Well, not really blind, as there was a full moon. That doesn't help. It just makes every wave look like the back of a whale. <G> On the other hand, the full moon kept the big fish hunting, and I had a huge marlin leaping and dancing around the boat in the moonlight for a while. I must have sailed through a school of bait.
The first thing I did, after arriving in Santiago,
was make a new leather cover for the steering wheel.
I had picked up half a cow hide back in Banderas Bay for about $20 US, and cut it to size, punched the holes, and sewed it up.
The old leather cover had just about rotted off.
I still have a quarter of a cow hide left.
Maybe I'll save it for later, or give it to someone.
The water here is full of bait fish, and they hang out under the boat for safety.
I spend a lot of time just watching the fish. Every now and then they go
crazy, even bashing themselves against the bottom of the boat. Then you'll
see the big fish coming swimming through for lunch.
I've seen Crevale Jacks, Dorado, and even a Sailfish here.
In March, I decided to make my own corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick's
Day. Frankly, my recipe needs a little work, but I think after a few more
tries it will make the recipes page.
I have never found corned beef in Mexico,
and I like it.
I noticed that I was running the little Honda Generator a lot more than in the past. The new LTH golf cart batteries keep a charge just fine, but I honestly don't think they have 220 AH capacity. I think it's somewhere between 150 and 175. It's tough to determine, when actually living aboard, although I could disconnect half the house bank and do a textbook test. It's also important to note that I was unable to find any published literature from the manufacturer to substantiate any claims.
Does it really matter at this point in time?
If and when I leave Mexico, I'll go to the trouble
of putting new Trojan T-135 batteries back on.
I've heard people say that LTH stands for 'Less Than Happy' and I've heard
others say that they're the best batteries in the world.
I actually lean toward the 'Less Than Happy' camp.
Most of the folks who say they are good batteries
are also folks who sit at the dock
tied to shore power.
Any battery will last forever
if you never leave the dock and unplug the charger.
This winter, stuff started to fail.
Nothing failed that would sink the boat, but it was annoying.
First, the refrigeration quit. It was just a slow leak around an O Ring. It really snuck up on me over the last couple of years. I had noticed that the evaporator in the freezer wasn't frosting up as much, but just thought I was doing a good job of keeping the lid closed.
But after defrosting the freezer, the whole system wouldn't get cold again. Charging it up isn't a big deal, but since I'd never done it before it took a few days to get the right parts and adapters.
Now it's running like new, and using a lot less power. Whew.
Then the water maker quit. That was more of a crisis. Again, it was a slow deterioration in output and quality, which I'd noticed over the last six months. Suddenly, though, it was down to three gallons per hour, and the dissolved solid count was over 1000 ppm. That is really bad, and the water tasted brackish.
Fortunately, it wasn't the main membrane, but the primary pressure pump. I have two spare pump head assemblies, and a spare motor, because this is an important part.
I'm pretty sure that the diaphragms in the pressure pump just wore out along the edges, so it couldn't keep the pressure up to 110 psi any more. With the new head on the pump, suddenly I'm back to six gallons an hour, and dissolved solids down to 400. Whew.
Then the starting battery for the diesel died. That was weird, because one
day it was fine and the next day it just wouldn't hold a charge.
I should have replaced it when I replaced the house bank last October but it seemed to be fine. In reality, though, it was ten years old, which is a long service life for any battery.
Replacing batteries when you're on an anchor is chore, because lifting the battery in and out of the dinghy while the boat's bouncing around is tough. Oh well, it's gotta be done.
At this point I was really feeing a sense of impending doom. What's going to break next?
The belt on the diesel. I'd motored around the corner to Las Hadas, to fill up my jerry cans with fuel and make sure the boat was ready to head north, although I didn't plan on leaving for another month.
On the way back, I overheated. Great. I'm bobbing around on the ocean, about 1/4 mile off the rocky point, with only a 4 knot light shifty breeze. After quickly raising the jib, the boat was making about 1.5 knots, but heading away from the rocks, so I could relax and figure out what was going on.
This belt was only five months old, with only 150 hours on it. It must have been a bad belt, since I haven't changed anything and the last belt was in fine shape after 3 years and 1000 hours.
Fortunately I keep about five spare belts on board.
With a V drive, the belt is all the way in the back of the boat, so everything has to come out of the cockpit locker to get access. That's always fun when bobbing around in open water, but fortunately there wasn't much of a swell, so the whole job only took about an hour. Whew.
Then the outboard stopped pumping cooling water. That's a problem when you're living at anchor. Heck, I have oars, but doing beach landings in an inflatable with oars is asking for a wet disaster.
I did a major provisioning run, because if I couldn't figure it out I was going to be stuck on the boat for weeks until I could get up to the marina in La Cruz.
Fortunately, again, I have a spare impeller on board. The impeller, though, is part of the low end gear box assembly, which means taking the bottom off of the outboard. Something else I'd never done before. Oh well.
It took two days to figure out who to take it apart without breaking anything, one day to disassemble and replace the cooling impeller, and three days to put it back together. It was darned near impossible to get the drive shaft aligned and back into the bushing at the bottom of the crank shaft. I finally started tapping it with a hammer, and it suddenly slipped into place. Whew.
I really love the Kindle.
I have developed 'Kindle Thumb.' That's a lot like 'Tennis Elbow.'
There's a little indentation on my little finger, and my thumb hurts from pushing the 'next page' button so often. But heck, I'll plow through a book a day, unless there's something really massive.
By April 18 I was the only boat left in the anchorage. It's a weird feeling. I have to keep reminding myself that most of the winter cruisers are on a 180 day visa, usually starting in October, so they have to be out of the country by the end of April.
It's time to start planning to head North, because hurricane season officially starts on May 15. Realistically, the first storms don't start until June, and usually not until July. However, it's time to get going.
I wanted to wait until the Northerly breezes stop. In the winter the breezes are predominantly from the North West, and sailing to weather for a few hundred miles isn't fun. Most folks end up motor sailing.
In the summer the weather pattern changes and southerly breezes start. That's coming in the next few weeks, and right new we're in a transition period. So, it's time to get moving. Right now, though, there's a huge fog bank off the coast, and I'd like to wait until it burns off and while there's a good weather window. But if not, I have AIS, radar, and Google Earth tied in with the chart plotter, so I can sail through fog if necessary.
I need to dive on the hull and clean it, as well as the prop, then do one more major provisioning run and stock up the freezer. The computer is backed up, and the laundry done, so it's time to get the boat set up for sailing instead of hanging out on the hook.
Summer plans? Well, it's been five months since the boat has had a good fresh water scrub, and Stella Blue is looking pretty tired. You can see the mildew building up on the opening port frames.
It's also been four years since I moved aboard, and three years of cruising around. I think I'll sit in La Paz for the summer, and take everything off the boat, do a serious interior scrub, and reorganize.
But first I've got to get there. Single handing for 500 miles, when most of the boats are already gone, is actually a scary thought. But I know that once I'm under way and get into the rhythm it'll be okay.
The whales should have migrated North by now, and that's a good thing.
Hm. That's an interesting amount of growth on the anchor. That's what happens when you're on the hook for five months straight.
Note the free lunch. That's a huge concha snail, and I probably should have grabbed it and eaten it. Instead I just knocked it off.
I wasn't that hungry.
I'm lookin' for the man that shot my paw.
(har har har)
Well, I guess I really *will* be single handing.
It's a good thing I know how to sail this boat.
Yeah, doing a beach takeoff in surf, with a dink loaded down with jerry cans and a month's worth of dry goods can be a challenge. I must have twisted my wrist just right and strained a ligament or tendon or something. Getting old sucks. Once again I'm glad that I'm doing this now, before I get too old. Fortunately, I have a well stocked first aid kit.
Nothing left to do but load up with perishables (proteins and veggies) and dive on the hull. Not having the use of my left hand is a challenge, though. Try cleaning your hull one handed. Heck, for two days I couldn't even pick up a coffee cup.
It was just a minor delay, though.
Anyway, the overnight stop in Tenacatita turned into a three day wait, because
it started raining. That was fine with me.
The rig needed a good rinse.
Finally, on February 12, I pulled into Santiago. This is where I spent the rest of the winter cruising season.
I really like this place. There's no marina, and no cruiser services, so
the 'marina people' don't hang out here. You have to do beach landings with
your dinghy, through the surf, and a lot of people don't like that.
You also have to take a couple of buses to Global Gas and
fill your own propane tanks.
On the other hand, it's a good big anchorage, with great holding. The beach
is very safe and secure, very clean, and four miles long. You can have a nice
long walk on the beach to get to the town of Santiago, or walk a mile and
catch the bus for six pesos. If you stay on the bus another few kilometers
past Santiago, you'll catch the outskirts of Manzanillo.
There's a Wal-Mart, Sorianas, as well as movie theaters, AutoZone and Office Depot, so everything you need is only a six peso bus ride away.
So for me it's the best of both worlds: A nice good anchorage, and all the benefits of civilization for just a short bus ride away.
The whole area is a major vacation spot for Mexicans, but gringo tourists don't seem to have discovered it. I hope they never do. I really have come to despise the areas where gringos are so prevalent that local folks have a 'gringo tourist' mentality, and don't really care who you are, just seeing the color of your hair and skin.
I have to admit that this year the southerly swell was larger, and occasionally made surf landings difficult and the anchorage a bit rolly. Rolly doesn't bother me, unless it's so rolly that I can't put my coffee down. The beach landings were a challenge at times. An experienced cruising couple, who often spends the entire winter anchored here, actually lost it and flipped the dink in the surf. Major bummer. I had a few close calls, but really it was always my own fault. Sometimes, if you do something a lot, you can get overconfident. One time I nearly lost it, and twisted my right hip joint. It hurt for a month. Usually I put both legs outside the dink, and keep my center of gravity in the center, and ride the back of a wave onto the beach. I got overconfident, as I've become used to doing it well and just stepping out and grabbing the handle in front and running like heck before the next wave comes. Oops. That time there was a second big wave really close behind the little one, and I should have seen it coming. I was caught with one leg on the beach and the other inside the dink. I saved the dink, but ended up totally wet and hurting.
Now I do it the way I used to... Both legs over the side, ready to leap, but with my center of gravity in the middle of the dink to keep it stable until the time is right to make the commitment. Getting back out requires the same level of commitment. Once you're into it, you're into it, and there's no turning back. It's better to get wet than spill the dink.