December 2009: Cabo to La Paz

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Finally the drama with the prop shaft is over, and it's time to get back on track. I'd planned to leave Cabo weeks ago, and check into La Paz for a bit, then head over to the mainland. Most of the folks I knew who were doing the same are going to be gone by the time I get there. Bummer.

The first stop north of Cabo, for just about everyone, is Los Frailes. It's just a protected spot where you can hang out. It's also about 50nm north of Cabo, which makes it an easy day sail if the breezes are right.

The pictures to the left are funny. Charts for Mexico are notoriously bad. Here's proof. The first is a C-Map chart on my Furuno chart plotter/radar. It shows my boat anchored 1.5 miles inland. (The boat is the black dot.)

The second picture is the Navtech charts on my laptop. Well, it's closer to reality, but shows me anchored right on the shoreline. So it's only about 1/8 of a mile off. That's better, but, it still makes one feel leery of using these tools when there's limited visibility.

I actually have been double checking Latitude and Longitude with the satellite images from Google Earth, and creating special waypoints just in case.

But mainly, it's important to time one's arrive during daylight. I left Cabo at 4 a.m. just to make sure I'd arrive during the day. Note the picture to the left. Yes, I'm anchored in water.



Speaking of anchoring. The oversized Rocna and chain rode has been working fine, although it hasn't been tested in any breeze over 25 knots. I use a snubber to reduce any chain noise at the bow, and to provide some stretch during gusts. I tie a good rolling hitch onto the chain, since that spreads the load out over a few links of chain.

Anyway, I used to use an old length of three strand nylon for the snubber, but just tried some Yale nylon single braid. It's as strong as three strand, but so far is a lot easier to work with after it's been salty for a while. We'll see how that works out.

As I write this, sitting at Frailes, there's a mild "Northern" coming down the Sea of Cortez. It's only about 20 knots, but since it's straight out of the north, and I'm heading north, it's better to sit here at anchor and wait it out than try to sail into the teeth of it.


I stuck a few little fake squid over the side to try to catch breakfast, but only caught some little puffer fish. You don't eat these if you want to live. I set them free. As a diver, I've always liked puffers.

The whole area under my boat seems to be home to puffer fish and four inch bait fish. I need a fish trap, to get some live bait.


After the mild "Northern" (20 knot breezes and 6 foot swell) passed, I headed to Ensenada de Los Muertes (Cove of the Dead.) There was a sloppy sea left over from Friday's weather, which knocked me around.
In fact, at Los Muertes I discovered that my 250 feet of chain anchor rode had bounced around enough to be nearly upside down. You can imagine how much the boat was rocking and rolling to get 300 pounds of chain airborne. Most people would have been sea sick.

But, it mellowed out in the afternoon, as forecast, and I pulled into Los Muertes. Since it's named "Cove of The Dead" I set the anchor, fixed dinner, had a few shots of tequila and played a bunch of Grateful Dead. Something different.


Here we go again with inaccurate charts. Once again my computer thinks I'm on the beach, and my chart plotter thinks I'm a mile inland.
Oh well. I have to make sure to arrive at anchorages in daylight.
Maybe Furuno has a way to enter an offsetting correction, although the error seems to vary from chart to chart.


There's not much here except a Palapa "Beach Club" restaurant, a resort hotel, a few private homes, and a really long, nice beach. Clearly it's being "improved" for development, so this might be a good place to buy land if you're looking for a long term investment. It's only 37 miles by road from La Paz.


Stella Blue at anchor. Wow, that's really far away, but the bottom is shallow. It's a heck of a kayak paddle. The kayak is now essential.
It's so easy to toss the kayak over the side and go somewhere, rather than lower the dingy, mount the outboard, and all that jazz. Besides, it's good exercise.

I'd hoped that as time passed I'd spend less time worrying about the boat, but no. I'm still constantly checking, and worrying that the anchor might drag and I'll lose everything. It's silly. With a 55 pound Rocna and 5 to 1 chain scope, there's no way this boat is going to move under these conditions. Still I worry.


I finally figured out out why there's occasional brackish water in the tanks. After making fresh water with the little Spectra desalinization plant, it needs to be flushed out with fresh water so the membranes and filters aren't sitting in sea water. If this valve is left in the "flush" position, and the sea cock in the hull is open, sea water will siphon backwards into the system. Whew. Glad that's figured out.
It's a real drag to be sitting at anchor and find the fresh water tanks full of salt water.



So far, I'm not regretting the decision to leave the 90% working jib up front. It's a good sail, not the least bit blown out, and moves the boat along just fine. Of course, Stella Blue has a fast hull for her era, and doesn't need a lot of power to get moving.

Sure, the boat could go a knot or two faster with a bigger sail up, but in this picture I'm making about 5 knots, in an 8-10 knot breeze. That's fine.

In this picture, there's a bit of sag in the sail. The halyard needs to be a touch tighter, but having a bit of extra belly doesn't hurt in light breezes. It was set just right, but on the way down one of my crew cranked down really hard on the halyard without talking with me, and jammed up the furler bearings nicely. That's what crew is for -- they come on board, break stuff and leave. <VBG> Next time I have a ton of fresh water available, I'll take the sail down and do a little maintenance on the furler.


This is Balandra Cove. It's a popular spot to stop, since it's only an hour north of La Paz, and allows one to time the entrance to La Paz for daylight and tides. However, it's open to the West, so if a breeze kicks up it's not a nice place to be. I met Rod and Elizabeth from Proximity here, as they were leaving La Paz and heading out.

At sunset, the day before this picture was taken, there were eight or ten boats in this anchorage. About 8 p.m., a serious 25 knot breeze kicked up, the tail end of a 40 knot gale that passed over the northern Sea of Cortez. I sure would have liked to have seen that on any of my forecasts. The breeze came right out of the West, and kicked up a 4 foot wind swell. A few boats started to drag anchors, and had to leave in a hurry as they were headed for the beach. Folks who were anchored right next to the cliffs also had to run away, because they were being pushed into the rocks. My bow was crashing up and down ten feet or more, with waves coming over the bow rollers.

For about the tenth time I was grateful for that huge oversized anchor, with 250 feet of chain, and was glad that I always set the hook as far from shore as possible while still staying in shallow water. I like to motor around in a huge circle before setting the anchor, to survey the bottom. In this case, I was in 25 feet of water, and it never was deeper than 30 feet for two hundred feet in every direction. With 6 to 1 scope on the anchor, Stella Blue didn't budge.

But I still sat there watching the GPS and chart plotter, noting every thousandth of a degree change in position. Single handing limits options. There was no way, without someone at the helm with the engine on, to raise the anchor against that breeze and swell. I would have had to dump the anchor and leave it on the bottom, and come back and dive on it the next day. Fortunately, everything held. By morning, only four boats were still there. Stella Blue, Proximity, and two others.


So I pulled into La Paz, and checked into a marina. It's been two months since Stella Blue had a fresh water bath. Gosh, that's a pretty boat.



I'm amazed at the amount of rust on every bit of stainless steel. I'm spending a lot of time cleaning and polishing, inside and out. Everything on the boat is going to the laundry.


I also need to equalize the batteries. For folks who don't live and breath 12 volt systems, here's what that means: Unless you're plugged into shore power, or motoring for hours and hours, the batteries never get fully charged. It takes a lot of time to force that last 10-15 percent of charge into them. So when cruising around, the big house batteries tend to stay between 10 and 50 percent depleted. Over time, sulfur from the sulfuric acid solution begins to collect on the battery plates, reducing efficiency and preventing the batteries from ever reaching a full charge. Also, the cells begin to develop mismatched specific gravity as the acid gets weaker.

To fix that, you turn off every electrical load, and blast the batteries for 4 to 8 hours with a controlled overcharge, up to 16 volts. That makes the acid boil, which knocks the sulfur back into solution, cleans up the plates and forces all the cells to the same voltage.



I like La Paz. It's not a tourist town. There's a large U.S. and Canadian expatriate community here, and it's easy to see how some folks get "stuck" and never leave. Who knows, maybe someday I'll come back and stick here. Not now, though.


The mountain bike is really nice. Dragging a full sized bike around in this boat can be a real pain, but once again it's worth the hassle. I've probably put 40 miles on it in the first few days, and am seeing a lot of La Paz that most folks miss.

I found Walmart and Home Depot. Both here and in Cabo, only Walmart has popcorn. Go figure. I don't have a microwave, and need the old fashioned stuff that you make in a big pot.

Taking a circuitous route back to the boat, I stumbled across the Palacia de Gobierno, which I assume is the main government house for the state. Gee, Christmas is in less than two weeks. I forgot.

I was laughing at this paper mache elephante, but then someone told me that one of the Magi rode an elephant.





Grocery shopping is interesting.

I don't know what half of the stuff in the store is, and should get a local to take me shopping. Some of this unknown stuff probably tastes really good.

Bacon is easy to figure out, fortunately. Unlike in the U.S., this bacon is just about all meat.

All the cheeses have different names, so I'm trying them all, one by one.


I headed for La Paz to meet Sergio, the stainless steel guy who made my custom stern rails and some other stuff. He was going to make new bow rollers for me, but then moved to La Paz. Apparently, he's done very well here, and has already established his reputation.

It's time for those new bow rollers, so I guess there's a project coming.

Click on pictures to see them full size