May 2010: Back in the Saddle Again

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I've become a bit disgruntled with Bouyweather forecasts for the Sea of Cortez. It's a computer model forecast system, and was pretty accurate off shore, and down the entire west coast of North America. However, I think there are just too many factors that affect Sea of Cortez weather patterns, such as the weather in the Southwestern U.S., pressure systems in Northern Mexico, warm ocean currents, bizzarre anomolies, etc,
and the computer model appears to me to be inaccurate quite often.

There are also a few bugs. Look at the forecast to the left. It predicts 2300 knot winds. Hmm. I'm not going out in *that*. The four day forecast was normal, but the seven day forecast was totally bogus.

I prefer humans, like Don Anderson on Summer Passage, who covers many HF Cruiser Nets. I also like Gary's forecast on the Sunrisa Ham Net for the Sea of Cortez, and Mike from PV Sailing who does the extended weather on the Banderas Bay VHF cruiser's net.





May 25. I woke up at 2 a.m. and continued to worry about
breaking my rudder on the sand bar at the entrance.
High tide wasn't until 8, so by the time I crossed the bar I was already tired, just from sitting there, wide awake and worrying.
I was also a bit worried about the crossing itself.
I'm heading for Bahia de Muertos, which is 190 miles away.
190 miles is the longest single handed leg I've done yet, and I haven't single handed this boat at all since last November.
I became accustomed to having a first mate on board.

On the way out of the marina I noticed the yellow 'small craft advisory' flags up, which didn't jive with the Bouyweather forecast of 10-13 knots. I crossed the bar without trouble,
getting lucky and hitting it between sets of waves.

Outside the harbor, I ran face first into 15-20 knots, and a 4-6 foot swell with only a 6 second period. That wasn't on the forecast.
Square swells on the nose will stop the boat dead in her track, and even motor sailing with the engine at cruising RPM I was only making 4 knots while bouncing up and down like a see-saw.

That kind of "Yee-Haw" sailing can be fun for an hour or so, but not for the entire day, with 190 miles to go.

After two hours I turned back and anchored in the lee of Deer Island, one of the big islands right off the coast of Mazatlan. On the chart to the left, you can see my track as I turned around and headed back.
Note the incredible inaccuracy of the charts for Mexico.
No, I didn't sail over land; the chart is nearly a mile off.

Deer Island is not a great anchorage. The bottom is rocky, and the anchor chain bounced as the anchor skipped across the bottom.
On the fifth try I found a sandy patch, the anchor caught and I settled in to wait for the breeze to slack off a bit.

That really was a good idea. My mind was still in 'marina mode' and I didn't have my sea legs. I was already tired, which is no way to start a 190 mile single handed crossing. By sitting at anchor for a couple of days, adjusting to the motion of the boat and being surrounded by water, my head moved back into sailing mode. After two days I was in the right state off mind to take off across the Sea of Cortez.

Here's my last look at Mazatlan, with the full moon rising.
This time I'm really going to leave, and will weigh anchor at 3 a.m.
It's usually dead calm at 3 a.m., and the plan is to motor for a few hours to get the batteries topped off and run the water maker for a while.




Ah, yes. This time it was a much better departure.


This is a great time to do the crossing, with a full moon all night long.

The two pics to the left were taken minutes apart.
The full moon set just as the sun rose.






With morning, a lot of freighter traffic passed,
as well as a few dozen fishing boats.

Bouyweather had forecast a light and variable 3-5 knot breeze out of the north west. Shucks. When it comes to breezes, sometimes it's Feast or Famine. I was hoping that the forecast was as wrong as it had been a few days earlier, and that I'd see something a little stronger.

A north west breeze wasn't good, either, since that was exactly the direction I wanted to go. I planned to be flexible, and knew that I might have to head south to Frailes. When cruising, sometimes you have to go where the wind blows you.

But there was no breeze at all. None. Nada. Zip.

By 1700 hours, after motoring for 14 hours, I was really worried and was calculating fuel consumption. Stella Blue only carries 32 gallons in the main diesel tank, and I had four jerry cans lashed to the rails, so I knew I could make Muertos even if I had to motor the entire 190 miles. The real question, though, was whether I could then make it to La Paz to refuel. If the breeze didn't pick up soon, it would be a problem. The worst case scenario was to head for Cabo San Lucas, which was 60 miles closer than La Paz, but more than a hundred miles in the wrong direction.

I was seriously considering heading to Muertos, taking the dinghy ashore, and hitch hiking to the nearest Pemex station with a couple of jerry cans.
That would be a total drag, but would be better than going down to Cabo San Lucas just for diesel.

At 1800 hours on May 28, a bit of a breeze finally started. On the chart to the left, you can see where I started sailing, as the blue track jogs north and south. The breeze was right on the nose, and was light and variable. I couldn't sail anywhere close to where I wanted to go. The southerly tack was 218 degrees, and the northerly tack was 340. My boat points pretty darn well, but the breeze itself was so shifty that both tacks were about 80 degrees off my rhumb line.

Finally: The epiphany. The moment where I truly got back into the cruising state of mind after spending too much time in Marina Mazatlan.

Hey. It's a sailboat. Sail. There's no rush. *So what* if the boat's only making two knots in a four knot breeze, and I'm going in the wrong direction. There is only one time constraint: If I don't check in by next Tuesday (five days away) my friends and family will call the U.S. Coast Guard and report me overdue. That would set a bunch of embarrassing wheels in motion, but five days is a heck of a long time. I have food.

So relax. Go with the flow. I decided to take the northerly tack, hoping that if the breeze picked up from the north west, the next tack would take me closer to the west coast of the Sea of Cortez.

As it turned out, the breeze shifted south. Perfect. Looking at the blue track line, you can see that my final port tack curves from the north to the west, and suddenly I was starting to sail in the right direction. Slowly. Who cares.

To put 'slow' in perspective, I should mention that the little 'jog' in the track took almost six hours, and I only made five miles of forward progress. So what? There's no rush.

I have lots of food and water.


A few people have asked me about the physical logistics
of single handing for long distances. I'm not an expert.
I single hand this boat easily, but
don't have lots of experience with long distances.

The big problem is sleep.

This picture was taken at 0300 hours. I have a comfortable cockpit cushion, am wearing my life vest with integral harness, and am tethered to a padeye low in the cockpit. The huge sunglasses fit over my regular glasses, and block the light of the full moon. (Those sunglasses also fit over regular sunglasses, and make everything dark during daytime naps.)

Next to my head, I have two separate kitchen timers, set for 30 minutes. So, yes, I wake up every 30 minutes and check things out. You can actually get a good nights sleep even if you wake up every 30 minutes. The trick is to check everything out quickly and go back to sleep before you're fully awake.

My Furuno Radar console is 12 inches away from my ear,
on the other side of the bulkhead.

The Furuno stays in standby mode to conserve batteries, but wakes up every five minutes and sweeps the area. I set up a 'guard zone' ten miles around the boat, and if any targets appear within that zone a very loud alarm goes off. It's a great feature. During this crossing,
it woke me up five times with significant events.
I don't think I could sleep comfortably without my Furuno.

It's important to note that I am not dealing with heavy weather. Different rules apply under those circumstances,
and I don't want to appear cavalier.
I picked a weather window that minimized risk.



In the middle of the Sea, I was able to pick up weather forecasts on the Sonrisa Net with my cheap $150 Sony ICF-SW7600GR receiver. Cool.

I have a backstay antenna, and a few years back I glassed copper tape all over the bottom of my hull. However, when the time came to drop the thousands of dollars for an Icom 802 HF transceiver, I balked.
I was (and still am) worried about money.

I bought this little radio as an experimental compromise, and connected the backstay antenna via the external antenna jack.

Don't misunderstand me; It's not nearly as good
as a solid HF transceiver/antenna tuner component system
that costs 300 percent more.
(Yes, $4500 is a lot more than $150, and you *do* get what you pay for.)

When using it, I feel like someone in an old WWII movie. I feel like a French Resistance fighter trying to tune in the Voice of America, listening desperately for that critical message: "GO or NO GO."

I feed the 'line out' into my stereo system, and have set up a custom equalization filter to reduce noise and emphasize the voice spectrum. Sometimes it works well enough to get a clue, sometimes it works incredibly well, and sometimes I can't hear a thing and give up.

I have noticed that it works best with a strong signal, and I think that it will work well this summer. The Sonrisa Net is broadcast locally in the northern Sea of Cortez. This radio seems to pick up local broadcasts better than those which bounce off the ionosphere from thousands of miles away.

We'll see.
Heck, I'm learning as I go.




Back to the crossing.

The breeze filled in from the SouthEast.

Well, who 'da thunk? Gary on the Sonrisa Net said it would happen, but all the internet based computer models didn't have a clue.




Finally, I got a light steady breeze from the southeast. Perfect.

I was on a broad/beam reach, straight on the rhumb line to Muertos.


It was still slow.

Really slow.

I barely made three knots.

But it was in the right direction.

What's the rush?

I have lots of food and water.

And books.


A five foot Marlin leaped, danced and did tail stands fifty feet off my port bow. No, I didn't get a picture. Couldn't find the camera in time.


The Monitor works perfectly in light air downwind.
Of course, Stella Blue doesn't require a heavy hand,
in light or heavy conditions.


At least there's no swell.

I can putz along at three knots forever.

In fact, it looks like that's what's going to happen.

Three knots.



The third dawn, with Bahia de los Muertos dead ahead.

I picked Muertos because it's a huge anchorage, easy to get into, with good holding. I could land there at night, in the fog, even if I'm too tired to think straight.

Ten miles out, the breeze died, so I fired up the engine. That's perfect. I'll arrive with the batteries topped off, ready to hang on the hook for a couple of days and relax.


Off to starboard, the pass between Baja and Isla Cerralvo is wide open. It's only eight more hours to the islands north of La Paz, and I feel well rested.

But it's better to wait for the right tides, get some sleep
and then head out.

56-1/2 hours to make a total of 212 miles. No speed records this time.

Time for some sleep, then I'll cove hop up to Santa Rosalia,
250 miles north. There's a party there in about five weeks.

Back in the Saddle, Again

Click on pictures to see them full size
























































The Second Law of Boater-Dynamics:
A boat in motion tends to stay in motion, and a boat at the dock tends to stay at the dock.

Marinas can trap a cruiser. I've noticed that the longer I'm in a marina, the easier it is to stay just one more day,
and the more reluctant I am to leave the safety of the dock lines. It's a trap.
Live on the hook. Es Mas Mejor.

I had planned to leave Mazatlan the first or second week of May, but caught a serious case of 'super touristas.'
I mean, really, it was the first time since 1993 (Guatamala) that I visited a doctor and said
'I need antibiotics, and I need them NOW.' <VBG>
Then, the harbor entrance was closed due to large breaking surf across the entire entrance.
So I ended up stuck for a total of six weeks.
Marina Mazatlan, in May, is incredibly depressing. Everybody is gone. Only three other boats on my dock were occupied, the rest were empty and stowed for the winter, with everything lashed down tight in case of a hurricane.
Mazatlan gets at least one serious tropical storm every year.

The morning cruiser net, on channel 22, only had about fifteen boats, and most of them were locals who were going to stay put for the summer, or who owned condominiums and were talking on the net from a land base.
Like I said, it was depressing.
I was starting to get desperate to leave, and as soon as the breaking surf died down
and the harbor entrance was open, I ran.

I always hear horror stories about the sand bar in San Blas, but really never heard about Mazatlan. I guess it's been there so long that everyone but me knows about it and takes it for granted. Locals tell stories about bottoming out when crossing the bar. That week of breaking surf had definitely changed the shape of the sand bar across the entrance, and the dredge wasn't back in operation. I didn't want to wait another week for them to dredge it clear.
I was more than a little worried about my rudder.