We finally departed Alameda on October 20th, a week behind schedule. We were waiting for the new canvas installation, which was finally done on October 19th at 5:00PM. We left the next morning.
October 20th, 2013
After waiting for a week to get our canvas work done, we were finally able to leave to start our journey. The weather while we were waiting was beautiful – sunny and warm every day, like October in Northern California typically delivers. However, Sunday morning it was overcast and gloomy early, but it started to get sunny by the time we left. Friends at the dock came to give us a send-off, and took some great pictures of us on the boat. We really appreciated and enjoyed all the great friends we met at the Grand Marina. We hope to see some of them during our journey.
By the time we left the Oakland Estuary, the weather deteriorated rapidly: heavy fog, close to zero visibility, and cold. Fortunately, few boaters were out on this Sunday morning. We quickly learned to use our navigation instruments, just like when passage making on a moonless night.
Before we left the Bay, we were visited by the Sumudra Joy on its return from a short sea trial. At 428 feet, we didn’t see it until it was less than a quarter of a mile away. The AIS and radar were our friends that day! Going under the Golden Gate Bridge, we could hear the foghorn, loud and clear, but we couldn’t see the pylon of the bridge until we were almost on it. As we passed under the bridge, we couldn’t see the bottom of the roadway above us. The current was very heavy coming in on a flood tide, slowing us to less than four knots. As we passed out of the gate and headed south, seas were pretty calm, but we didn’t make much more than six knots.
It was easy going to Half Moon Bay, but gray and foggy – no sun. Winds were around 11 knots, and the leg covered 35.6nm. And as for Captain Quincy, he did pretty well for his first cruise. He didn’t mind the engine noise, but he decided to sleep in “the cat cave” in the forward berth for most of the day. Fortunately for him, we had following seas – no pitching. We anchored in Pillar Point Harbor, without problems – good holding in very thick mud. For dinner, we had a crock pot dinner of roast beef, potatoes, and carrots, cooked by the Admiral. Quincy emerged from the cave, anxious for dinner. We observed that few boats anchored in the harbor used anchor lights.
Position at destination: 37°30’ N, 122°29’ W
Air temp: 55, Water temp: 54
Nautical miles for this leg: 35.6 Total: 35.6
October 21st, 2013
We left in the dark, and it was really dark in this harbor. It was another gray, gloomy day – for the first time ever, we used the heat in the boat. Fortunately, it worked. Captain Quincy (so named by our realtor, Barbara) stuck to his cave. It was an uneventful passage – we did see some whales in the distance in Monterey Bay. We decided to stay at a slip in Monterey, since the cruising guides said the anchorage was rolly. Based on our observation, this wasn’t the case.
The first slip we were assigned to was on the fringes of the marina, and we were surrounded by LOUD and smelly sea lions. They were all over the docks, and we knew that our new swim platform would be irresistible to them. However, we were able to move to a better slip. While Rosé showered, I made a valiant effort to clean off the caked mud from the anchor and the chain. That was the thickest, toughest mud I have ever seen. Many people admired the Tropical Blend while we were there. We had a nice dinner at a small restaurant in the harbor, just steps away from the boat – sand dabs and mahi-mahi. We split it with Quincy. He liked the mahi-mahi, but was ambivalent about sand dabs.
Position at destination: 36°36’ N, 121°53’ W
Air temp: 58, Water temp: 57
Nautical miles for this leg: 63.8 Total: 99
October 22nd, 2013: Monterey Harbor to San Simeon Bay
This was the Queen Stage (as they say in cycling races), or the longest leg on our California portion of the voyage. We got up at 3:30 for a 4:10 departure, knowing this leg would take at least 12 hours, and we wanted to anchor in daylight. Another gray day, with a little bit of late afternoon sun. In bright light, this is supposed to be a beautiful passage – along the Big Sur coastline. We have driven this a few times, so we know it to be true. But this day, all we could see was a big cloudbank obscuring the coastline all day. Seas were calm, but no favorable currents, holding our average speed to around 6.5 knots. Lots of sea lions, many birds, and some kelp were all we had to entertain us.
We anchored in San Simeon Bay, which the guides said was a calm stopover. We did get some sun on arrival, but it was windy and cold. There was one other boat in the anchorage, an NOAA catamaran named the Fulmar. It seemed to be stable in the bay, although we could see a big swell coming through. We got as close as we could to the rocks, but the swell still rolled us badly. We decided to deploy the paravane poles, to see if that would help – not really. But this was our first time putting out the poles, and it went relatively well, and our marriage was preserved.
We had bought a Magma Flopper-Stopper, which is a hinged plate designed to reduce rolling. Milt Baker, owner of the Nordhavn 47 Bluewater, said he only needed to deploy a single unit, on the swell side. We tried that, but we still rolled badly all night – not much sleep. In the morning, we retrieved the plate to find that two of the lines had broken loose – not much build quality in it. But, Quincy didn’t seem fazed by the roll – he has four sea legs, as opposed to our 2. Our OJT continues.
Position at destination: 35°38’ N, 121°115’ W
Air temp: 58, Water temp: 56
Nautical miles for this leg: 84 Total: 183
October 23rd, 2013: San Simeon Bay to Avila Beach
Another gray day, but it was sunny once we arrived in Port San Luis. We decided not to stop in Morro Bay, as it takes a lot of time to get into it, and there are a lot of concerns about the swell and surge when anchoring there. Avila Beach is a large, open bay, but protected by a big seawall. The weather brightened throughout the day, and we anchored for the night. We had a good anchorage, but the wind was howling. Our instrument said 20 knots, but it felt stronger, so we laid out 150 feet of chain in 25 feet of water. I learned how to properly use the anchor alarm on the GPS, providing some peace of mind.
Nothing was remarkable about the passage itself. Captain Quincy started to spend more time on duty in the pilothouse.
Position at destination: 35°10’ N, 120°45’ W
Air temp: 64, Water temp: 61
Nautical miles for this leg: 40 Total: 223
October 24th, 2013: Avila Beach to Cojo Anchorage
This day we were planning to round the famous Point Conception to officially enter Southern California waters. The forecast was good, and the weather was definitely sunnier. We had a pretty good view of the missile silos at Vandenberg, and saw lots of sea lions and birds again. There was a lot of radio chatter about boats in the target zone, which provided some entertainment.
Point Conception was sunny and calm!
We rounded Point Arguello, and the clouds opened up to reveal that the sun did still shine, after all. The waters were easy going around Conception, and we finally hit seven knots, at 1750rpm’s. We found Cojo around the bend, and pulled in to anchor. There was one small express cruiser, a skiff with three people fishing, a couple of other commercial boats, and a cable laying boat. The guide was right in that the waters were smooth despite the STRONG winds. We were reading gusts to 25 knots, and were a little concerned about the snubber’s holding ability. However, it managed to hang on. The wind died somewhat after dark, and we didn’t roll too much.
In the absence of wind, we guessed that this would be a really nice anchorage. There’s not too much kelp, no fish traps plaguing the entrance, and just a few trains rolling by.
Position at destination: 34°28’ N, 120°26’ W
Air temp: 64, Water temp: 59
Nautical miles for this leg: 51.3 Total: 274
October 25th, 2013: Cojo Anchorage to Santa Barbara Harbor
We left early with bright sun shining. We ran the generator to get some laundry done. The normal cycle takes forever, about one and a half hours – but it works. The dryer seems to be much more efficient. Later, the Admiral would figure out that the express cycle worked as well as the normal one, in half the time. Well, we’re learning as we go…
Easy passage, but it also got very cloudy, not clearing until we got to Santa Barbara. We passed through an area off of the aptly named Coal Oil Point. The guide said that oil naturally seeps to the surface here, unrelated to the offshore drilling platform. The surface was covered by an oil slick, and you could really smell the raw petroleum odor. We quickly shut down the water maker – I can only imagine what raw petroleum would do to the filters and membrane.
We saw a large cruise ship anchored off of Santa Barbara harbor – the Golden Princess. Apparently in the fall shoulder season, this ship journeys between Ensenada and Santa Barbara. A drinking and shopping extravaganza, we suppose. Approaching the harbor, we ran across a large collection of fish traps. For some reason, most harbors in Southern California are fish trap magnets, they collect around the harbor entrances like flies on dog poop – I had to take care to dodge them. I’d rather not test our shaft cutters unless by accident.
View of Santa Barbara Harbor with Tropical Blend
We spent two nights in a slip in the harbor. Friday night we walked over to the pier for dinner. There was a sailing school for kids going on in the harbor for entertainment. We were amazed that none of them flipped over, although our waitress said that happens regularly. On the way back we found a little sushi place right on the dock. We bought some Maguro sushi to go, fed it to Captain Quincy, who gave it his nod of approval.
We had an end tie that was a LONG way from the entrance – longer than the walk we had at the Grand Marina. So, it was time to BRING OUT THE BIKES! That really shortened up the distance. On Saturday morning, we biked to a grocery store in town to re-provision a little bit. We have to be able to fit everything into two small bags on the bikes. No room for extras. Like the tomatoes we bought that somehow didn’t make it into the bags we carried out of the store…
Anyway, it was a beautiful day, hitting 75 degrees. It was like a vacation within the vacation, although we did do some work. Debbie washed down the boat, and I made a couple of trips to the West marine at the dock to try and re-rig the flopper stopper. Captain Quincy ventured up to the boat deck for the first time – he’s starting to get into the cruising life.
We were interrupted out of our roll-free sleep by an electronic foghorn located just across from our slip – at 5 in the morning. It gave off two long blasts, waited about 10 seconds, then blasted again. It reminded me of a cross between a vuvuzela and a flugelhorn. Really, really annoying.
Great day to sail outside of the harbor
For lunch, we got a 25-piece sashimi sampler, which included tuna, salmon, yellowtail, albacore, and snapper. It was fabulous, although Captain Quincy still got his share, about four pieces worth.
We lowered the Little Blend and got it up on plane for the first time, since we’re still breaking it in. Of course, it promptly ran across some wayward kelp, so we had to clear the prop. We saw two other Nordy’s in the harbor: a 40 called Zeeno, and a 47 called Seabird. The 47 had two dinghies on the boat deck. Looking at the larger deck, flying bridge, and pilothouse made me think again that we should have considered a 47. Well, it uses more fuel… and costs a lot more. But our broker always told us that we could afford a lot more boat, so I won’t let him know about my bigger boat envy.
Position at destination: 34°24’ N, 119°41’ W
Air temp: 75, Water temp: 67
Nautical miles for this leg: 38.7 Total: 313
October 27th, 2013: Santa Barbara Harbor – Channel Islands Harbor
We started off at 8:00AM after purchasing 300 gallons of diesel fuel at $3.96, tax included. We had planned to go to Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands National Park. We had checked the weather forecast the night before, and it was supposed to be pretty calm out there. But, after about 10 minutes of rocking and rolling in some decent swells, we checked the weather again on the VHF – and the forecast now included a small craft advisory, with winds to 30 knots in the islands. We decided that there were many, many islands in our future, so we gave it a pass, and aimed for Channel Islands Harbor at Oxnard. With a following sea, the ride smoothed out, but there were a lot of whitecaps breaking. On the plus side, it was sunny.
As we approached the entrance to the harbor, we were again greeted by the ubiquitous fish traps very close to the entrance. After dodging a few, we entered the channel. Shortly before entering, we saw a large express cruiser zooming out, and zooming back in after seeing the waves. We stopped at the harbormaster office to check in. They have a side tie dock in front, with their boats tied up aft of the dock. Across from their boats were a Coast Guard cutter and some other smaller boats. The basin ended in a rock wall. After completing check in, I decided to back off of the dock to avoid hitting the stern, using the bow thruster to push the bow into the channel. There was a 15 or so knot wind directly on our port beam, pushing us into the dock. After backing out, I started to apply the thruster. Some people say that boating is 99% boredom, interrupted by a brief moment of sheer terror. I was about to experience that terror – the thruster failed. There was enough space for us to fit between the sets of boats, but not enough room to power out using the single engine. I worked to maintain our position between the boats, as we pushed towards the wall. There was great excitement on the cutter, as they tried to start it and move it, after I told them the thruster was out. But, it wouldn’t start. The harbormaster rushed down and powered up his boat, and was prepared to push our bow. Rose was going fore and aft with a fender in case we hit something. I could tell that the wind would push the bow just enough so that I could back out of there – and for once, an emergency plan worked. I powered back out to the channel, and we proceeded to the dock – a side tie far up the channel with lots of room. We had recently had the thruster repaired, replaced the drive gear in it. But, we had never experienced motor failure in it before – I thought it might have overheated and popped the breaker.
Once we tied up (easy, with the wind pushing us onto the dock), I checked the breaker, and it was not popped. I waited a while, but no thruster. I checked the fuses – they were good, as far as I could measure. I could hear the solenoid, but there was little voltage across the motor. At this time, I threw up my hands in despair. I figured that we could head south to Newport the next day, and ask Outbound Yachts, the resident Nordhavn specialist to troubleshoot and fix it. Rose pointed out that we could ask the local boatyard, which was worth a try. As it turns out, the weather was still going to be bad on Monday, so we were stuck there anyway, with a storm approaching that morning.
Resigned to our fate, we had a late lunch and decided to walk around in search of a store to get some cat food and jellybeans – depression medicine to cheer me up, and Captain Quincy could always use a snack. The area around our dock was pretty deserted – a number of failed restaurants. The location seemed good, and the buildings had potential, but still empty. Across the main street, we found a small strip mall, but no grocery store. There was a store called “Big Lots” that seemed to have some groceries. Trouble is, it had a lot of little lots of what appeared to be cast-offs from other stores. Rose called it a clusterfuck store. We decided we could find better groceries at the Rite Aid drug store. They did have some cat food, and some off-brand jellybeans that managed, but paled next to Jelly Belly’s. Such is life. We grilled some chicken for dinner and made an early night of it. With the extended time at the dock, Captain Quincy started venturing outside the cabin of the Tropical Blend.
Looking south into Channel Islands Harbor
Late that night, a sailboat came in and docked just ahead of us. In the morning, I talked with the captain, and he said that they were passaging from Catalina to Santa Cruz when the weather hit them out of nowhere. They also decided to run for the Channel Islands Harbor. He told me they were taking 6-foot waves over the bow, and came close to broaching.
A little after 8, I called the local boatyard, and they said if I would bring it down, they could look at it. They only had one slip open, which could accommodate the Tropical Blend, but not the fenders. I explained what I had done to the yard manger, and he said that in his opinion, the small fuse for the solenoid power was probably bad, even though it measured continuity. When he showed me some burn marks on the end, I started to think that he might be right. Of course, I didn’t have a replacement fuse in the spares kit, and they didn’t have one in their office. He said that he would send someone out to get one soon.
In the meantime, we started to work on rebalancing the load in the Tropical Blend. Rose had noticed, and I concurred, that there was a list to port that we had never seen before. There was some idea that maybe the starboard auxiliary water tank (60 gallons) wasn’t filled, since the sight glass showed nothing. But, I determined that there was water in that tank. Rose believed that the balance issue could be caused by the load in the salon storage areas – I didn’t think that was likely, but I have a habit of being wrong. Under the settees in the salon, Nordhavn was good enough to provide a ton of storage space. As it turns out, we used that storage for the deep liquor cabinet – big bottles of vodka and rum, as well as a case of wine and a case of champagne. In addition, my DVD collection was there – ten binders full of movies and TV shows to provide entertainment on the water (before we decided to add the Direct TV service). On the starboard side, the stored items were pretty light. We spent about an hour redistributing the load, and lo and behold, the list was gone! Chalk one up for Rose. Concern about the list had kept her up the night before, so now she could sleep peacefully.
In the meantime, we were still waiting for the fuse, which finally showed up at 12:30. I installed it, and … nothing. So the yard said they would send someone to troubleshoot it after lunch. A little after 1:00, Dale arrived with a multimeter. After poking around a bit, he wanted to blame the batteries – but I pointed out that three 8D’s were connected, putting out close to 13 volts. So, he looked again, and noticed some corrosion (melted plastic) around one of the terminals on the 500A fuse. He decided to clean this area up, but I didn’t have much hope. In addition, he replaced one of the solenoid wires, which had a burned terminal. This took about an hour and a half, and miracle of miracles, it worked! I was now wrong twice today. Feeling a little humbled, I strolled to the office to pay what I figured was at least $200. A third miracle then happened – the yard manager said no charge! After all of the grief we have experienced with boat repair people, this was a real delight.
We headed back to our dock, where the sailboat was also waiting out the weather. Rosé took a shower, and I looked at a map of the area. It turns out that there was another shopping center just past the one that had the Big Clusterfuck Lots store in it, and that center had a Ralph’s grocery store there. In addition, I found a pizza parlor close by that got great reviews. So we decided to hit the grocery store, then the pizza parlor. This turned out very well – we got the tomatoes that we lost in Santa Barbara, and the pizza was great. We also committed a high crime by lifting one of the parmesan shakers. We decided to leave very early the next morning, skipping over the previously planned anchorage in Long Beach, heading direct to Newport Harbor.
Position at destination: 34°10’ N, 119°13’ W
Air temp: 68, Water temp: 66
Nautical miles for this leg: 32.6 Total: 346
October 29th, 2013: Channel Islands Harbor – Newport Harbor
We got up at 4:30 for a 5:00 departure. It was pitch black, but no wind. While I was getting the key deposit refund, we heard a small craft warning over the VHF, from Point Conception to Dana Point. We decided to go anyway – worst case, we had some harbors we could escape to along the way. I was nervous about the fish traps, so I steered from the FB for some time, checking for fish traps with the spotlight – I never saw any. Although it was really dark the shores in this area are brightly lit. Shortly after departure, Rose decided to continue her beauty sleep in the salon. I was wide awake, waiting to see if the weather would turn. Just before dawn, around Pt. Mugu, we ran through a pod of dolphins – at least 100 by my estimate. But they seemed to be on a mission for breakfast, so they didn’t play in our bow wave.
This turned out to be the calmest day we have had on the trip to date. We turned off the stabilizers, as the water reminded us of a day on the Delta. We heated up the leftover pizza for lunch – I learned that a small oven cooks faster than a big oven! It was a beautiful, bright, sunny day. There were three really big container ships off to starboard. They were 1000 feet long, but making 11 knots. As we approached Los Angeles Harbor, they turned toward us, using the vessel traffic separation lanes. We saw the harbor pilot boat drop off pilots at all three ships. The first one was well ahead of us, but the second one was on a direct collision course. The AIS showed a CPA of 0.00nm. Given our size differential, I decided to change course to go astern of the Evergreen Salute. It’s amazing how many containers they stack onto one of those ships. More cheap stuff from China!
The Evergreen Salute, carrying cheap Chinese crap to satisfy the American consumer
The rest of the trip to Newport Harbor was easy and warm. We entered the channel and headed to the Harbor Patrol Office. There is only one small anchorage area in the harbor, and if you swing out of the area, the sheriff presents you with a ticket. They also require one person to be onboard an anchored vessel at all times. We decided to take a mooring ball, at a cost of $25 per night. We got an assignment, and I tried to decipher where our field was located. The map showed it adjacent to 13th Street, but how in the Hell would I know where that was? Anyway, we finally found the mooring field we were assigned to, about 30 minutes before sunset.
Now we have a lot of experience picking up moorings from our chartering days. All of the mooring balls we have used have a floating line connected to them, which you pick up with a boat hook. Then, you run a line through the loop connected to the ball, and tie it off on the bow cleats, forming a bridle. Rose is quite the expert at this. We have been a little concerned because of our bow height, but we bought the longest boat hook we could find, and we were pretty sure it would work. Of course, if the ball HAS NO LINE, nothing will work. And the balls in this harbor HAVE NO LINES! In addition, in order to maximize the mooring density, you have to tie off fore and aft. We could reach the aft ball from the swim platform, but there was no way to get to the bow one. We pulled back from the field, (which requires some very tight maneuvering) to call the Harbor office. They said they could send someone out in an hour or so (when it would be totally dark) to help. This wasn’t an acceptable solution, so we started to think about anchoring, when the guy on the boat next to our assigned ball was able to attach a line and a float to the ball. With this, Rose was able to get us tied up. We gave the guy and his dad a couple of beers for their help. On a side note, as we were navigating the field, we saw a great sight on a dilapidated sailboat just ahead of our mooring. A very large sea lion had gotten aboard, and was sitting on top of the cabin area, as if he was King of the Hill. Too bad we were otherwise occupied – it would have made for a great picture!
Position at destination: 33°36’ N, 117°55’ W
Air temp: 74, Water temp: 68
Nautical miles for this leg: 81.7 Total: 427
October 30th, 2013: Newport Harbor
We spent the day moored in Newport Harbor, exploring the harbor in the Little Blend. We ventured up to the Newport Shipyard, where we had the Tropical Blend hauled last May. There was an enormous yacht docked there, called Cocktails – we decided this should be our next boat. However, considering that a few fill-ups would cost about the same as the entire Tropical Blend, perhaps we should be content.
Anyway, we had heard that there were plenty of public docks in the harbor to serve the many restaurants and bars that surround the water. This was definitely misleading. We only found one very small dinghy dock near Balboa’s Fun Zone, where we went ashore for lunch. The harbor itself is very large, and we could only imagine the money that it would take to have one of the harborside mansions with a yacht dock at the door.
Later in the afternoon, we toured the back bay, where there are more boats, more houses, and even a little bit of nature. We then went back to the north end of the harbor in search of a West Marine that we had seen from land on a previous trip. We actually found one more public dock, and using the phone, we got to the West Marine. This was one of the largest stores we have been to. We decided to see what they might have to aid on grabbing a mooring ball, after last night’s miserable experience. We ended up buying a contraption that fits onto the end of a boat hook, and allows a line to be strung through an eye. It looked simple enough in the promotional video, but someday in the future we can see how easy it is to use.
October 31st, 2013: Newport Harbor to Dana Point Harbor
Happy Halloween! This day marked the return of Tropical Blend to Dana Point harbor, where it was originally commissioned as Island Magic in 2004, and where we had kept it for 10 weeks after we purchased it. Dana Point is also the headquarters of PAE (Pacific Asian Enterprises), the company that makes Nordhavn yachts. We planned to show all of the upgrades to the broker (Larry Gieselman) who had sold us the boat. It was a beautiful day for cruising: bright, warm, and very little wind. We made the short hop in the morning, arriving around noon.
The views of the coastline were just stunning. Dana Point Harbor has a large kelp bed just to the northwest, and it was as big as we had remembered it. There is also a large colony of sea lions, which use the breakwater as their personal toilets. Fortunately, the smell wasn’t nearly as powerful as we had remembered it last May. As the Nordhavn HQ, there are always a large number of Nordy’s in the harbor. This time, the N86 (formerly Aurora) was in the harbor. We were hoping for a tour, but it had already been sold. We were assigned to a side tie at the far end of the West harbor. Fortunately, there was no wind to speak of, and the bow thruster worked as promised, so we were able to squeeze the Tropical Blend into our assigned space with no drama.
Later that afternoon, Larry from Nordhavn dropped by, and he really loved what we had done to the boat. Of course, he had to remind us again that we could afford a bigger boat, so when we were ready… The harbor is surrounded by a number of shops and restaurants, so Rose could get some shopping done. Quincy also decided it was time to stretch his legs on the dock. Later that night as we were making dinner and getting some laundry done, he even ventured onto the dock without us knowing. Fortunately, he didn’t go too far.
Captain Quincy’s big adventure
Position at destination: 33°28’ N, 117°42’ W
Air temp: 72, Water temp: 66
Nautical miles for this leg: 16.4
November 1, 2013: Dana Point Harbor
Today we met our crew member for FUBAR, Ron Okada. Because there would be several overnight passages, including two legs with consecutive overnights, we wanted to add a crew member. None of our boating friends were able or willing, so we checked on the FUBAR website, where a number of people had posted, hoping to go as crew. Ron had a 50-ton license, had owned sportfishing boats in Mexico, he had a ton of fishing experience, and a lot of local knowledge of the waters where we were going to be cruising. We talked with him on the phone, and we believed he would be a good match for us and the Tropical Blend. We were particularly excited about his knowledge of fishing. Our saltwater fishing experience was limited to sportfishing in Alaska, which bears little resemblance to the fishing that was planned for warm water pelagic species.
Ron picked us up late that morning, and we gave him a tour of the TB, and then set off to get outfitted at local tackle stores. He gave us a lot of great advice, picked out a good starter set of lures and tackle, and helped us to select good trolling gear. The outfits we had purchased previously really weren’t heavy enough to catch some of the larger fish we would encounter. After meeting Ron, we were very certain that we had made a good decision to ask him along. He would be joining us in San Diego shortly before we would depart for Ensenada.
Rosé and Ron
A friend of Ron’s had designed and manufactured a product called Dry Tubes, which are plastic cylinders sealed with an O-ring, designed to keep supplies for the ditch bag dry – also good for transporting items through surf on a dinghy! They float, you can attach lines to them, and they aren’t too big. Ron had shown these to the FUBAR organizers, and they had decided to buy one for every boat in the fleet. However, they had to get to Ensenada, so the Tropical Blend was enlisted as the cargo vessel. We stuffed as many as we could in the forward stateroom, and the rest were tied onto the bow. That night, we had fish and chips on shore, and did as much laundry as we could prior to heading to San Diego.
November 2, 2013: Dana Point Harbor to Mission Bay (San Diego)
After spending a couple of peaceful nights in Dana Point harbor, we were ready to undertake our last California leg to San Diego. We planned to spend a couple of nights anchored in Mission Bay, then head to our final stop at Kona Kai Marina on Shelter Island. We left at 8:45 to brilliant blue skies, warm temperature, and little wind. By now, Quincy was content to spend passages curled up in his electric bed in the pilothouse. And to thank, some people say that we spoil our cat…
Captain Quincy, off-duty in his electric bed
We started out the day from the flying bridge. There was a large pod of dolphins that wanted to play on our bow wake for quite a while. Later in the afternoon, the winds picked up and we were rolling in and out of some pretty heavy fog banks. We decided to run the wing engine for a while. Most Nordhavns are single-screw boats, but are equipped with an auxiliary, or wing, engine. This is a small secondary engine with its own drive shaft that will get you home in the event of a main engine catastrophic failure. The previous owners of Island Magic barely exercised the 27hp Yanmar engine – it only had 20 hours on it. This isn’t good, as the engine has never been broken in. We decided to run it for at least an hour per month. Since it is so small, it only propels us at 3 to 3.5 knots, so we only want to use it on flat days – stabilizers don’t work at those speeds. We had previously run the engine in the dock, pulling against the dock lines. This was the first time for us in open waters. After a few minutes, I went into the engine room for a check, and I was surprised to see that there was no water at all dripping from the stuffing box, and that the shaft temperature was really high – 145°! This is hot enough to melt the packing material, so we shut it down, with a plan to adjust it once we were in port. It’s a V-drive, and the space to get at the packing nuts is much too tight to adjust it under way.
The rest of the journey was uneventful, save for the excessive fish traps and kelp as we approached San Diego. There was a lot of emergency radio chatter as it was Saturday – some missing snorkelers (later found unharmed), a kid yelling, “help!” on channel 16, a boat with propulsion failure that wasn’t sure if they were in Mexican waters, etc. We turned in to the inlet for Mission Bay to find a fish trap square in the middle of the channel – I have no idea what the moron who set this could have been thinking!
Just inside the breakwater, there is a small anchorage tucked in towards the beach, where transient boats can stay up to three nights. It’s a little tricky here, because there are a ton of sailboats permanently moored, and of course they swing much differently. While there was little wind here, the changing tide spun us completely around a couple of times each day. We stayed here two nights, exploring the bay by dinghy. I had hoped to see the Chargers game on local TV Sunday morning, but the signal kept coming and going as we swung around. Rose did enjoy a bay tour on her paddleboard, as the mid-day winds were very calm. That evening, we were treated to a beautiful sunset, coming over the houses on the narrow spit of land facing the beach.
Mission Bay sunset
Position at destination: 32°46’ N, 117°15’ W
Air temp: 71, Water temp: 65
Nautical miles for this leg: 49.4 Total: 492
November 4, 2013: Mission Bay to Kona Kai Marina, Shelter Island
This small jump would be our last leg entirely in the United States. Daylight savings time had also ended the day earlier, so there were a couple of milestones reached. We left at 8:45 in the morning, to partly cloudy skies and mild winds. Once in the channel departing the bay, the winds and swells picked up significantly. While the swells weren’t breaking, they were probably 4 to 5 feet going over the bar. Once we cleared that, we had to dodge kelp beds constantly, which are quite dense in that area. There was also a lot of Navy traffic in the area, and recreational boats are expected to give these monsters a wide berth. I had expected that they would show up as AIS targets, but clearly they don’t broadcast. They simply are identified as “warship xxx”, where the number is the large painted number on the sides of the bow. Because of the very thick kelp, we had to travel well offshore to transit around Point Loma, while keeping an eye on the various warships. This was the roughest day of passage making we had faced yet during our trip down the California coast – very much unexpected. We finally cleared the kelp beds, and started our passage to the channel for San Diego Bay. A couple of warships passed us to port, going fast at a very close distance- no announcement. Another one was heading out, flanked by four patrol boats (with deck guns). We altered course to give the ship a wide berth, but two of the patrol boats still shadowed us ominously, refusing to acknowledge Rosé’s friendly waves.
We turned into the Shelter Island opening, which is the first island in San Diego Harbor. There are two sections to this marina, and the map we had didn’t show actual slip numbers, forcing us to guess. Which of course, was wrong. Once again we were lucky to have no wind, so moving out of the alley and back to the other side wasn’t too difficult. This marina mostly uses side-by-side slips, which we have rarely used. Our assignment was shared by the Nordhavn 40, Salacia, also on the FUBAR. Salacia is owned by Neil and Dianna Simpson from Spokane, WA, and we would become great friends. It turns out that it wasn’t too tough to ease into the port side of the slip, next to Salacia. Later that day, we would tour their boat, then host them for some Tropical Blends. We were planning to cruise together for most of the FUBAR.
One of the nice services arranged by FUBAR was an inspection of the engine room and systems by Bob Senter. Bob is considered to be the pre-eminent expert on Lugger engines, and he is widely known as Lugger Bob. He was pretty pleased with the condition of our engines and systems, but he did caution us to tighten the throttle linkage (which was loose), and he did recommend a set of spare parts that we hadn’t considered. He went through a lot of the maintenance procedures for both the engine and generator, and I was glad to he came on board.
The Kona Kai Marina is at the Best Western Kona Kai Resort at the western end of Shelter Island. At least during our stay, the resort seemed to be pretty deserted. We had dinner at a resort restaurant, and there weren’t more than a handful of people there. We were planning to rent a car for the next couple of days to get some final supplies and provisions.
Position at destination: 32°43’ N, 117°14’ W
Air temp: 70, Water temp: 66
Nautical miles for this leg: 15.6 Total: 508
November 5 – 6, 2013: Kona Kai Marina, Shelter Island, San Diego
Tuesday morning, we got a rental car in order to complete our last errands:
- West Marine – replace the line on our anchor snubber to something more robust, and get a few other last-minute supplies
- Petco – more cat food and litter for Quincy
- Home Depot – see if they had short wrenches that could be used to loosen the shaft packing nuts for the wing engine – short answer was no. But, we did get a small bucket that would be used to dry out cat litter. We had heard from the Nordhavn N52 Dirona that they were recycling pearls cat litter by soaking it in salt water. We had done this, but we had a difficult time drying it out in the cool, moist air of the California coast. We took a bucket, drilled a bunch of tiny drain holes, and voila! We now had the cat litter washing system finished.
- Costco – more supplies, that I can only say seemed like a mistake at the time. We really struggled to get everything put away, but somehow, we managed. There wasn’t an ounce of storage left after this run.
Auto parts store – we were looking for Standydne diesel fuel stabilizer, with no luck. I did manage to find some electrical terminals to replace the bonding wire terminal of the stuffing box that had broken off during repeated adjustments.
- Veterinarian – we had to get a health certificate for Quincy, basically confirming that he has an up-to-date rabies shot (he got that right before we left San Jose), and that he doesn’t have communicable diseases. The very also recommended fluids and a Vitamin B-12 shot, which she said would perk him up. It certainly did – he was feeling great after we got him back on board.
Quincy is an older cat, and his kidney function is going away. We’re just planning to let him eat whatever he wants, to enjoy his last days. I was afraid that the stress of the journey would accelerate the disease, but there have been no signs of that at all. If anything, he is thriving.
Kona Kai has a megayacht section – and the yachts were definitely in the mega category. The biggest was the Invictus, and brand-new 262’ beauty. It’s owned by a Southern California real estate developer billionaire, and it really was amazing to see.
The Invictus – our next boat, for real this time!
On the evening of Nov. 6th, Ron came on board. He decided to bring some specialty provisions – some sushi rice, wasabi, sesame oil, coffee (since we don’t drink it), trail mix, pistachios, energy drinks, and some more fishing gear. Somehow, we found room for everything!
November 6, 2013: Kona Kai Marina to Ensendada Marina Coral
FUBAR 2013 had 34 boats signed up The organizers set a baseline speed of 8.5 knots for the fleet. We’d have to run at WOT to make 8.5 knots, so several of the smaller Nordy’s decided to group together in a “slow boat flotilla”, leaving earlier on each leg.
The Slug Boats:
- Salacia, an N40 owned by Neil and Dianna Simpson
- Koumba Bang, an N40 owned by Abdullaye Diop
- Endurance, an N43 owned for Kurt Antonius and Steve Stroud
- Tropical Blend, our N43
Since we were the only boat in this group with a flying bridge, we actually had the heaviest and slowest boat. Originally, the FUBAR kickoff was to be in San Diego, the morning of November 7th. The organizers eliminated the San Diego leg, since many boats were planning to cruise direct from the harbors in Los Angeles and Orange County to Ensenada. The Slug Boats decided to leave the night of the 6th, arriving in Ensenada the next morning, so we could get fuel and relax. We would meet Endurance and Koumba Bang at the offshore buoy marking San Diego Bay. Salacia decided to leave the morning of the 6th, to make the first leg a day trip.
We kept in phone contact with Endurance that day, and we were guessing that we should leave the marina at 10:00PM in order to rendezvous with them outside of San Diego Harbor. It was a moonless night, although the harbor was well-lit. I always dock and depart from the flying bridge, which gives me a lot more visibility. We eased our way out of the slip and the marina, and headed into the channel. Before I returned to the pilothouse, I replaced the instrument covers and turned off the lights on the flying bridge instrument panel. Given the darkness, I fumbled a bit with this, and then went to the pilothouse.
Just ahead of us in the channel was a sailing catamaran, Razzle Dazzle, which I followed out of the channel. I noticed that the engine gauge panel lights weren’t on, so I flipped the switch – nothing. I checked the electrical panel, and every switch was correct. I did notice that the voltage reading for the engine battery was zero at the panel. I put a light on the engine gauges, and they were all off – very strange. Rosé took the helm while Ron and I tried to reason out what was wrong. I re-checked the panel on the flying bridge, and it was dead as well. We attempted to re-start the engine, but there was no response to the stop button. I did an engine check, where I could verify the temperature, alternator output, and oil level – all was well. We decided to go ahead to Ensenada where there would be a lot of assistance available – not the least from Lugger Bob. We did step up the engine checks that night, just to be certain. Rose was not comfortable, and wanted to return to San Diego, but we really believed there was nothing fundamentally wrong, just an open circuit on the gauge panel. Rose went down below with Quincy, and Ron and I shared the watch for the rest of the passage.
We picked up Endurance at the buoy, but they said they couldn’t see us on their AIS – I guessed it might have something to do with the electrical problem we were having. Koumba Bang was well behind, and well outside. Apparently he had decided to take a passage outside of the Coronado Islands, to avoid any fish traps. Ron was confident that we wouldn’t see any traps inside of Coronado, and that there are many tuna pens on the outside, so we agreed to the inside passage. We continued to monitor Razzle Dazzle to port, as was Endurance.
That night there was a warship doing an exercise that had them making continuous circles – and they were good enough to broadcast there intentions every five minutes. I have to say that gets old, fast. And when they are making circles, they get pissed if another boat, staying on its straight course, got too close for their comfort. The funniest exchange came when a radio operator with a string Russian accent on a commercial boat gave the Navy a lecture about ocean etiquette…
After I was convinced there were no serious issues with the electrical problem, I took a brief snooze, and then relieved Ron. Right about sunrise, we passed through several really large pods of dolphins that were very appreciative of our bow wake. I never get tired of that.
Shortly after sunrise, Ron got up, and we discussed options for stopping the engine one we got to Ensenada. The brute force way was to stop the fuel supply, but that could take a while, and then we would have to re-prime the engine. I remembered that Endurance had told me about a box on the engine that had an emergency stop button, so I located that one. Still, we wanted to know the ramifications of using that button. While Ron was on the phone with a friend that was an engine expert, I raised Lugger Bob on the radio. After I briefly described our problem, he had two words for me: circuit breaker. D’oh! That red button isn’t an emergency stop, it’s the circuit breaker for the engine diagnostics. One quick push, and voila! We had gauges again. One think about owning and operating a complex boat – something happens just about every day that makes you feel stupid.
Position at destination: 31°52’ N, 116°40’ W
Air temp: 75, Water temp: 66
Nautical miles for this leg: 65.4 Total: 573
November 7th – 8th, 2013: Hotel Coral Marina, Ensenada, B.C.S.
Ensendada was the official starting point for FUBAR 2013, and we were staying at Marina Coral, together with Endurance and Kumba Bang, and a host of other FUBAR boats. The rest of the fleet was at Cruiseport Village, located in town. We stayed at Coral because that’s where the fuel dock is located, and where the kick-off dinner would be held. We decided to get our fuel as soon as we arrived, so we could have the rest of the day to do whatever. When we arrived, there were already two boats docked at the fuel dock, and two others waiting in the marina basin. We joined the queue, and were enjoying the morning sunshine. With no wind, we didn’t have to do much motoring in the basin. Coral is legendary for big surge in the marina, but there was nothing when we were there.
While we waited, Quincy actually ventured out onto the bow with Debbie.
Captain Quincy soaking up the morning Mexican sunshine
After circling for about a half an hour, and seeing no fueling happening at the fuel dock, we began to realize that there was probably no fuel. Yes, there was no fuel at the fuel dock. We called one of the boats at the dock, and learned they were waiting for the fuel truck to arrive. This being Mexico (mañana land), we decided to get into our slip and check in.
Waiting for the fuel truck to arrive
One downside of Coral is the width of the fairways – they are some of the narrowest I have ever seen. Fortunately, with no wind and no surge, docking was easy, as long as we moved very slowly. After tying up Tropical Blend, we went to the office to check in. At that time, they told us that we didn’t need to visit immigration, and that they would take care of this for us. It’s easier to check in to Mexico than it used to be, especially if you are prepared. We already had our TIP (temporary import permit), so we wouldn’t need to go to the bank to pay for it. For the fueling situation, we told them we were in line behind After Midnight, so we were given number 6, and they told us they would call us on the radio when it was our turn. The day before we left California, I placed a travel advisory with the credit card company I was planning to use in Mexico. Otherwise, they would deny the charges. Yep, you guessed it – they denied the charge at the Marina! I used a different card, and then called up the card provider. Their lame excuse was that we tried to make a major purchase ($200!), which was different than our typical pattern. I asked them how a $200 purchase could be “major” when the card limit was $25,000. I told them there was no way I was going to call them every time I was going to purchase $200 on the card. They seemed to get this…
Rosé decided to go check out the pool, and Ron and I returned to the boat to wait for our fuel call-up. We noticed that After Midnight was still circling in the basin – perhaps they didn’t know that there were assigned slots. At about 1:30, we saw that the fuel truck had arrived and actual fueling was taking place – que milagro! In the meantime, we heard some chatter on the radio that immigration had declared that we would indeed have to go check in personally with them – all crew members! The marina said they would take us in after we finished fueling. Once we saw that boats one and two were finished fueling, we decided to get in line. We pulled into the basin, and then boat three finished, allowing After Midnight to tie up at the dock. However, boat three was still at the dock, although there were no signs of fueling. Rosé was standing above the dock, and she told us that the boat was fueled, but they couldn’t find the captain. Then when the captain finally returned, they couldn’t get their credit card to work for the payment! That made me think about my card, so I called the card provider again to warn them that we were about to make a $1500 purchase for fuel – a major major major purchase!
In the middle of fueling After Midnight, once again the dock was out of fuel, and was waiting for another truck. After the truck transferred the fuel, we would have to wait 45 minutes for the debris in the tank to settle. This was getting to be unbelievable. But it didn’t matter, as the boat sitting on the dock was still sitting on the dock, trying to figure out how to pay. At long last, the fuel was flowing again, and the incredibly annoying boat at the dock left. We pulled in and quickly took on 1,600 liters (422 gallons) of diesel fuel. By now, it was four o’clock, so after returning the boat to the slip, we hustled up to the office. We saw our friends from Endurance at the dock, and we let them know that they had to go to immigration in person. We weren’t sure when the office would close, so we were anxious to get there – but so were a lot of other Fubaristas. We finally left for the immigration office, and the process of checking in and getting our tourist cards was quite lengthy. We returned to Coral at around 5:30, and the dinner was scheduled to start at 6:00. What was supposed to have been a relaxing day turned into something ugly – but at least we weren’t working, or stuck in traffic.
One of the nice things about FUBAR, compared to the Baja Ha Ha, is the onshore dinners. We had heard very good things about the food served on previous FUBAR’s. However, the dinner was indescribably bad. It was apparently some kind of paella, but I wouldn’t have known it. The meal consisted of overcooked rice in a weak sauce, with a variety of tasteless protein items in it – a gray and grisly lamb, mussels that seemed to have been left in the sun for a few days, and other mystery items. It was really bad… We met with the other slug boats, and we agreed to leave at 4:00 the next afternoon for Turtle Bay, although the rest of the fleet was planning to leave on the morning of the ninth. The run to Turtle Bay was long, at 282 miles. At an average speed of 6.5 knots, it would take us a little over 43 hours. When making long passages, we consider when we want to arrive, rather than when we want to depart. We always want to arrive in daylight. Had we waited until the morning to leave, we would arrive at dark o’thirty. By leaving at 4:00PM, we had an ETA of noon or thereabouts.
The following day we actually did relax – we had a really good breakfast buffet at the hotel, where I learned to joy of chilaquiles for breakfast. These are tortilla chips baked with either a red or green sauce, with some sour cream and cheese. These are actually standard breakfast fare in Mexico – how cool is that? After breakfast, we spent time at the pool, and did some FUBAR socializing.
Our friends from Endurance were going to town, so I asked them to mail a letter to my brother (actually, a check – Wayne was depositing live checks into our account for us). Rosé had asked for stamps to day before at the marina and hotel, without luck. Later that afternoon, Kurt from Endurance came to visit us, and he told me a tale of woe related to my letter. To make a long story short, he told us that they needed pesos to buy the stamps, and that Steve had gone to an ATM. Trouble was, Steve left the card in the ATM. When he returned to the ATM that card was gone, so he had to call his bank to cancel the card. There were other details, but the saga made me feel really bad, and I promised them some really tasty blends to drown their sorrows. Now I’ll tell you what – I would never play poker with Kurt! He relayed this story with a totally straight face. He finally said that the story was BS – they simply asked the marina to mail the letter, which they did for no charge! Kurt definitely snookered me this time…
November 8th – 10th: Ensendada Marina Coral to Turtle Bay
We left the marina at 4:00PM, as scheduled. During the afternoon, while at the pool, we had seen a pretty large fog bank offshore, but it seemed to dissipate. Well, it came back with a vengeance. As soon as we left the marina, the fog came up like a gray wall. Visibility was probably a tenth of a mile, so once again we relied on the radar. Endurance was behind us by about a half of a mile, and Koumba Bang was on our starboard aft, but really close. Salacia stayed at Cruiseport, and left a few miles ahead of us. The Bang was close enough to make me nervous. Later, I asked them why they stayed so close – they told me they were trying to keep us in visual range. Anyway, we finally got some good spacing and slogged through the fog, which stayed pretty thick for about four hours.
For the watch schedule, we decided on four hour watches. Rosé was smart enough to immediately claim the 8:00PM to midnight watch, so Ron agreed to take the midnight to 4:00AM, and I would take the 4:00AM to 8:00AM. This worked out pretty well. Because of Ron’s experience on fishing boats, he could easily sleep on board, allowing him to have a couple of hours rest before the midnight watch. As the fog cleared, so did the seas. By morning, we had virtually flat seas, with no wind, no waves, and almost no swell. These were great conditions for the Baja coast.
Endurance enjoying flat seas and warm sunshine off the Baja coast
The seas actually got flatter as the day went on, with the water and air temperatures rising as we cruised south. This was a cruiser’s dream! Well, at least those of us who rely on power. There wasn’t enough wind to sail. We saw Razzle Dazzle on our AIS, and they were obviously motoring. We started fishing, but we only caught a couple of skipjack tuna, which Ron said were marginal eating. We decided to keep one of them to test out his claim. Towards sunset on the ninth, we took some pictures of Endurance, and they did the same for us. These would be the first pictures we had of Tropical Blend on the open sea. We settled in for an easy night on watch.
Position at destination: 27°41’ N, 114°54’ W
Air temp: 80, Water temp: 72
Nautical miles for this leg: 281.8 Total: 855
November 10th – 11th: Turtle Bay
We arrived at Turtle Bay a little before noon on the 10th. We were greeted, as is customary, by a dolphin that puts on quite a display, jumping out of the water and seeming to enjoy the arrival of boats. We decided to anchor on the western side of the bay, which seemed to have more protection from the wind. When we arrived, it was pretty calm, but early in the afternoon the wind picked up and the chop in the bay was substantial. Endurance also anchored with us, as did a Nordhavn 55 called Insignia.
Salacia had arrived a little before us, and had chosen to anchor in the east end, closer to the town. Most of the fleet would anchor here. We lowered the Little Blend, and went off to visit Salacia. After that, we decided go into the village for lunch. The dock at Turtle Bay is notorious. It has gaps in it, and the stairway from the floating section to the fixed dock above is really treacherous. At the previous FUBAR in 2011, the weather was up, and many of the people decided not to risk their limbs making the leap from the floating dock to the stairway. Today it wasn’t too bad, but as they say, watch out for that step!
The village at Turtle Bay is pretty small, with no paved streets. It was really dusty in town, and apparently only one restaurant was open. We ran into our friends from Endurance – they had gone in earlier and beached their dink. There aren’t many dinghy docks in Mexico and Central America, so in order to beach the dinghy; you need something light enough to haul it up and down. That wasn’t going to be possible with the Little Blend, so we would either need a dock, or anchor out past the surf line. For the trip to Mexico, Endurance had replaced their normal dink with an 8.5’ that had an inflatable bottom and a 2.3hp motor. It was light enough for them to carry it up onto a beach.
Despite the limited menu, lunch was really good. We then set out to find a tackle store that was supposedly in town, but we couldn’t find it. We headed back to the mother ship for dinner, including our skipjack sashimi – it was OK after all. The next morning, Ron and I decided to go fishing off of the kelp beds. Rose took her paddleboard out for a ride, and we decided to make some water. Amazingly enough, I hooked a calico bass on my first cast – beginner’s luck!
Ron and I had some more luck fishing around the kelp beds – we caught and released a few more of the calico bass. About an hour after we started, Rose called us on the radio to let us know that the water maker had stopped. We returned to the boat and re-started the water maker. Sure enough, it stopped after running for a few minutes, with the low pressure alarm on. This meant that the low pressure pump wasn’t running, so no sea water was getting into the system. I guessed that it might be related to a clogged filter, dating back to our adventure through the oil slick near Santa Barbara. We had plenty of water, so we didn’t need to troubleshoot this immediately. Ron and I went back to fishing, and this time we hooked a couple of yellowtail. They fought tremendously, and were a lot of fun on our light tackle. We ended up keeping two yellowtail and two calico bass.
The wind kicked up again that afternoon, and we needed to secure the Little Blend to the boat deck. We had heard that this was a much more difficult job when the wind was up, and this turned out to be very true. As we hauled it up the port side, it was swinging quite freely. Fortunately with Ron, we had two people to hold the forward and aft lines for the dinghy, so we managed to get the job finished without too much difficulty.
That evening there was an organized dinner on shore, at Enrique’s restaurant on the beach. We were supposed to be there at 5:30, and there was supposed to be a panga service. We started calling for the service at 5:00. We called, Endurance called, Insignia called – no response. As a matter of fact, pretty much the whole fleet called, with little in the way of response. Finally, around 6:00, a panga came to our cove and picked us up. By this time, the entire fleet was already onshore. There was no organization at all. There were tables and chairs on the beach, but we had to find our own. We asked around, and found out that the food was being served in the restaurant (and I use that term very loosely) upstairs. Apparently we had a choice of chicken or carne asada. By the time we made it to the line, they were out of food, so we had to wait another 15 minutes or so. This dinner was only marginally better than the one at Ensenada. We decided to leave at around 7:30, and went out to the pier. There was already a long line of Fubaristas waiting for a panga. There was only one panga operating, and that was even questionable. The rumor was that this was Enrique’s revenge for the fleet not buying the fuel they had ordered, which had increased in price greatly from the original promise. We must have waited on the pier for a half an hour, then one of the larger tenders for a fleet boat showed up and volunteered to take us out to Nordhavn Cove – very nice of them!
The original plan for the slug boats was to leave at about 4:00AM the next morning. But, we decided that we wanted to get into Magdalena Bay by noon, so we decided to leave that night, at around 10:00. After some discussion, Endurance and Koumba Bang elected to stick to the original plan, while Salacia agreed to leave with us. After returning from dinner, we ended up leaving a little after 9:00, with Salacia not far behind.
November 12th – 13th: Turtle Bay to Magdalena Bay
Since the wind had picked up, the sea wasn’t the lake that we had enjoyed on our trip to Turtle Bay, but they weren’t overly rough, either. I guessed they were around three to four feet – piece of cake. The evening watches were uneventful, and by dawn the seas were pretty flat again. We had a very easy day, driving from the flying bridge and enjoying the sunshine. We put the lines out again, and we caught and released a few more skipjacks. That afternoon, we hooked three decent sized yellow fin tunas – we guessed they were around thirty pounds. They fight much harder than the skipjacks, and it’s an effort to land them. Ron taught Lucky how to fillet a tuna, and we had fresh maguro sashimi for dinner – it was fabulous! Strangely enough, Captain Quincy wasn’t interested in it, but he did eat a little of the grilled calico bass. Ah, the fickle nature of cats – he must have some of Morris the Cat’s DNA in him…
While on watch that evening, we heard quite a saga unfolding over the VHF. One of the fleet boats, an Offshore named Sparrow’s Point, reported that they were taking on water. It wasn’t totally clear to us, but we think that the water was building up in the transom, getting in through a crack in the swim platform. They reported that the bilge pump had burned out. One of the boats had some underwater epoxy on board, and they would give it to Sparrow’s Point when they caught up to them. This saga went on for hours, well into the following day. We couldn’t follow all of the details since we were well ahead of them, but it sounded pretty dicey. Eventually they decided to stop short of Magdalena Bay to fix the problem, with several other fleet boats.
At dawn, we went inside Cedros Island. This area is notorious for fish traps, but we were OK with this passage since we were there in daylight. We were fishing again, and this time we hooked a marlin. Ron said it was a black marlin, which wasn’t good eating, so we were planning to release it. I learned just how hard a marlin can fight. Based in the size, we estimated it at 100 to 125 pounds. To land the marlin, you have to grab onto its bill and haul it onto the platform. Just as Ron got the bill, the leader broke and the fish released itself. Since we had the leader in hand, it counted as an official catch. But I remarked that I didn’t want to catch any more of those bad boys – it really wore me out!
Late that morning, we arrived at Magdalena bay, and made our way to Man ‘O War Cove. Mag Bay is really big, about the same size as San Francisco Bay. It was very flat inside the bay and the Man ‘O War Cove anchorage was huge. We were the first boats from the fleet to arrive.
Position at destination: 24°38’ N, 112°08’ W
Air temp: 80, Water temp: 78
Nautical miles for this leg: 258 Total: 1113
November 13th – 14th: Man ‘O War Cove, Magdalena Bay
It was very calm and peaceful inside the cove, with fleet boats were arriving all afternoon. We decided to troubleshoot the water maker. We took out the 5 micron filter that filters the raw water, and sure enough, it was clogged with raw petroleum. The smell was very strong, and there was about a quarter of an inch of raw petroleum sludge in the bottom of the filter canister. We installed a new filter element, and that did the trick. Fortunately, we have quite a number of these spare elements on board. On the radio, we heard a number of other boats complaining about water maker issues, so we felt good that we solved ours so simply. Late that afternoon, we visited one of the 62’s in the fleet, Anna Mae. The 62 has an amazing galley and salon area, and a huge bow deck on it. When we visited, Anna Mae was taking on water (since theirs wasn’t working) from the Spring Day, an N76. On the way back, we stopped to visit the other N62, Infinity. I had shared some e-mail with Infinity’s owners – they were on a similar track as us. They had the boat for about ten months, had made significant changes to it, and decided it was time to go cruising. Andy and Julie, from Vancouver, were cruising with their daughter Chloe, who was on sabbatical after graduating from college – now that’s a smart kid!
The following day it was bright and sunny. In the morning, a panga came around collecting fish for the fish fry. A FUBAR tradition in Magdalena Bay is a fish fry from the fleet’s catch. We donated some of our tuna, and we asked that it be used for sashimi. The village here makes Turtle Bay look like a major metro area. I’m not sure that there is more than one road. We went to the only restaurant in town for lunch, which is right on the beach. The menu was even more limited than at Turtle Bay, but the food wa good, and the cerveza was cold. While we were having lunch, we noticed that a FUBAR boat, the N55 Sea Fox, was leaving the cove, followed closely by a non-FUBAR boat, Family Time. We had a portable VHF with us, and we heard the owner of Sea Fox say that his weather router had given him a forecast of rough seas and high winds for the following day, around Cabo San Lucas. FUBAR had engaged the services of the same weather router we used, Bob Jones (Omni Bob). He had a very benign forecast. A couple of other forecasts were also reported to be very benign. So, most of the fleet decided to stay, but ten or so boats high-tailed it out of the cove that afternoon. Oh well, more food for us!
The fish fry was very enjoyable, including reliable and prompt panga service! In addition to the fish, the restaurant had made rice and beans, salad, albondigas soup, and of course, cold cervezas and margaritas. This was by far the best FUBAR meal we had so far – but we didn’t see our tuna sashimi there… well, you can’t always get what you want. After the dinner, we got a panga ride back to the boat. The beach was a little ripe that night – the next morning was the opening of lobster season, and the bait was being assembled on the beach. We only hoped that our tuna wasn’t part of the bait.
November 15th – 16th: Magdalena Bay to San Jose del Cabo
We left at 6:00AM, just as the sun was rising. Most of the fleet would leave a little later, and many were planning to fish on the banks. We figured we would arrive around eight or nine the next morning, with the whole day to enjoy San Jose del Cabo.
The terrifying hurricane that was predicted by the rogue weather router never happened – it was another great day for cruising, with flat seas and light winds. Other than a couple of skippies, we didn’t have much luck fishing. In the morning, we saw a marlin playing around with one of the lures, so we hauled it in as fast as we could to avoid another catch and release that would wear us out. Most of the Nordhavns came together before rounding Cabo San Lucas. There was a pretty strong southbound current, so we enjoyed the big push. Tropical Blend was cruising at 7.5 knots, reminding us again that we needed to paint racing flames on the hull!
Cabo San Lucas is a highly developed tourist destination, with a lot of big hotels and resorts right on the beach. The marina is VERY expensive – said to be the second most expensive in the world, after Monte Carlo. Fortunately for our wallets, FUBAR was stopping at the very affordable San Jose del Cabo, about sixteen miles west of Cabo San Lucas. As we rounded the cape, the winds were non-existent, daylight was on us, and the fishing fleet had already gone out for the morning. It was pretty cool to see the AIS light up with all of the other Nordy’s in the fleet. There was a lot of radio chatter about our range with this current. Ah well, perchance to dream…
There was also a lot of radio chatter about slip positions at the Puerto Los Cabos marina – none of us had received assignments, and the faster boats were arriving before the marina office would be open. Fortunately, we got there a little after 8:00, and the office gave us an assignment. We were held up getting to our slip watching Infinity trying to shoehorn into an impossible slip. It looked like Andy had less than six inches on each side. After a few attempts, the marina agreed to get him a different slip, so we moved back towards ours. On the surface, Puerto Los Cabos is a nice marina. However, they have one glaring deficiency – the only marking on the slips is on the surface of the dock at the head of each slip. It’s beyond me how you are supposed to identify your slip when pulling in for the first time!
We were able to locate the slip by asking one of the dock workers, and we pulled in without incident. Although it was still early in the morning, it was plenty hot and humid, with no breeze. It was a very long walk to the marina office for check-in, but lucky for us, they had cold cervezas and water available gratis while we waited. As is usual in Mexico, despite the fact that we had previously sent all of our paperwork in, they wanted the originals for copies, and we had to fill out the very lengthy forms again. We finally finished around 10:00, and then we had breakfast at the small restaurant next to the office.
Position at destination: 23°04’ N, 109°41’ W
Air temp: 82, Water temp: 82
Nautical miles for this leg: 184.4 Total: 1297
November 16th – 17th: Puerto Los Cabos Marina, San Jose del Cabo
We had two days to spend in San Jose del Cabo (SJDC). The town has a lot of character, and it doesn’t seem to have much of a touristy vibe to it. After we finished breakfast, we returned to the boat to wash it down after the long trip from San Diego. At the marina, electricity cost is fixed, based on the boat size. I think we paid around $16 per day, so we could use the air conditioning without any concern on cost. Tropical Blend has two 30 amp shore power inlets. One is for air conditioning, and the other one is for everything else. On our boat, the inverter powers most of the ac circuits, with the exception of the water heater, water maker, and the washer / dryer. The Tropical Blend has three separate air conditioning units: the salon, the pilothouse, and the staterooms down below. So, I fired up the salon unit – check. Next was the pilothouse unit – check. Finally, the cabins – but then the problem started. The pump turned on and ran fine, but the compressor shut down shortly after starting. I tried it a second time, and briefly saw an error code, before all of the ac circuits in the boat shut down.
This was not good! I was able to reason out that running the third compressor required more than the 30A cord could deliver – each zone requires around 12A. I pulled out the boat manual, which is actually the best manual I have ever had for a boat. After reading about the ac power system, I determined that there was a master circuit breaker located in the master stateroom medicine cabinet. Sure enough, it was tripped, so I reset it. Now that ac power was back, I tried out the stateroom AC, and nothing else. Once again, the compressor shut down with the error code indicating that head pressure was too high. I checked the sea water through hull outlet, and nothing was coming out. There was some kind of blockage in the system. I walked over to ask our friends on Endurance if they were familiar with this, and sure enough, they knew this issue well. They said that sometimes small creatures (like baby barnacles) make a home in the pipes, and that they can be blasted out with a pressure hose. They had this kit called “Blast It Out” that allowed a garden hose to be secured to just about any hose inlet or outlet for clearing lines. They said they would bring it over the following morning.
After troubleshooting the AC and cleaning the boat, we took showers on board. The marina only had two showers that we knew about, located in a trailer pretty far from our slip. That was the second deficient point about the marina. Since we had gotten the water maker up and running, we had full tanks again. We had been advised that the water quality at the marina was good, but “not up to USA standards”, so we decided not to trust it. Neither did Endurance – they don’t have a water maker. They had ordered fifty gallons of pure water, which arrived in the form of ten five-gallon jugs. Then these had to be poured into the tank through a funnel. Since we already had our full complement of 300 gallons of water, we all took showers with impunity!
That night we were invited to a sundowner party on board the Giddy Up, an N55 owned by Anne and Jim from Calgary. We had first met them in Dana Point just before we left for Alameda. We had seen their boat in the marina, and we were amazed by how much bigger it looked than ours. After touring the boat, Ron remarked that it was like our boat, but on steroids. We love the flying bridge on the N55 – very spacious, and very high up. We got several of our ideas from Giddy Up. Most notably was the shoe rack in the cockpit. Rosé got the idea to redo our upholstery in black, and the idea of that table covers. Anyway, it was a fun party, with most of the Nordy crowd there, as well as many of our FUBAR friends. After the party, we went back to the marina restaurant for a late dinner. The restaurant food is pretty good, and the prices are reasonable, but they don’t have a lot of items on the menu. We had some tortilla soup, which was quite good. The following morning (Sunday) Kurt and Steve from Endurance came over with their Blast It Out. We started at the through hull – it was clear. Then, we checked the inlet and the sea strainer, and there was plenty if sea water coming in. Finally, we found the compressor, which is beneath the lower port bunk in the guest stateroom. It’s not exactly easy to get to it. First we blasted water from the outlet of the compressor, and found it was clear. This left only two options: there was a blockage in the compressor tubes, or there was a real problem with the compressor. I undid the sea water hose at the inlet, hooked up the blaster, and crossed my fingers. Ron and Rose were monitoring the through hull outlet, and they said a lot of black gunk came out, followed by clear water. I reconnected the water inlet, and we had a working air conditioner for the staterooms! The previous night we had slept using just the pilothouse AC. You’d think that in a boat of this size, that would be sufficient, but the staterooms were quite warm. We were pretty happy know that night we could sleep in the cold!
We went into town for breakfast and some shopping. Considering the short distance to town, the taxi fare was pretty high at 100 pesos, but what can you do? Ron was very familiar with the town, so we went to a hotel he recommended for breakfast, the Tropicana Inn. They had a fabulous buffet there, with a great selection of both Western and Mexican dishes. Once again I was able to get chilaquiles, which I thought was a great idea for a breakfast dish. After breakfast, we toured to town and did a little shopping. We picked up some produce at the public Mercado, at rock bottom prices. We ran into Salacia: Neil, Dianna, and their crew. I asked about an ATM, and they said they had seen on one the road into town. The only ATM at the marina dispersed US dollars – that made no sense to me. In a lot of the border and tourist towns, you can use US dollars – but the exchange rate is way below what it should be. For example, at that time, the actual exchange rate varied from 12.5 to 13.0 pesos per dollar. But you would be lucky to get an exchange rate of 12;1, and sometimes as low as 10:1. I was anxious to load up on pesos. We never did find the ATM, but we did find some air conditioned shops. I loved these, as the heat and humidity were way up, with little breeze to compensate. We didn’t have any luck finding the ATM, so I still had no pesos.
That evening was another FUBAR dinner, this time on top of the hotel at the marina, the Hotel El Ganzo. The view up there is fabulous, with a very cool infinity pool at the side of the roof.
The dinner, however, was another FUBAR fiasco. It consisted of finger food – taquitos with a hint of chicken in them, and some kind of slider sandwiches. At least this time we didn’t have high expectations. It was fun to socialize with the other FUBARistas, but the party shut down pretty early. We headed back to the boat to sleep in air conditioned heaven, with a planned 6:00AM departure.
November 18th: San Jose del Cabo – Ensenada de Los Muertes
We left at 6:00AM, prior to the sunrise. Ron said there was great fishing on the Gordo Bank, so we decided to troll there for a while before heading off to Los Muertos. We weren’t the only FUBAR boat with that in mind – there were quite a few out there, in addition to countless pangas. Sadly, we had no action, and started the trip north to Muertos. We had heard that there would be a small norther. These are winds that race down the Sea of Cortez when there is high pressure over the Great Basin in the USA. With nothing to get in their way, they can blow hard for a couple of days. Shortly after we made our north turn, the seas got ugly. We had short, steep seas directly on our nose, with the wind blowing at a steady 20 knots. We estimated the seas at five to six feet, but the period between the waves was so short, we just slammed up and down all day.
We slowed down to under six knots in search of a better ride. We were taking white water on the pilothouse windows, and the anchor was achieving zero-G. Ron braved the slamming to tighten the anchor down. There was a lot of chatter on the radio about the seas, and we decided to give the fleet a little concert from a famous Gordon Lightfoot song:
When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck
Sayin’ “Fellas, it’s too rough to feed ya”
At seven PM a main hatchway caved in
He said, “Fellas, it’s been good to know ya”
Captain Quincy was doing okay, but he was a little distressed by the pounding. At one point, he needed to use his litter box, and Rosé observed him as spread-eagled as he could possibly be to maintain his balance. She wanted to take a picture, but felt that he should be given some dignity. The crew of Giddy Up were in the spirit of the day, calling out a loud “yee-haw” on the radio. Earlier in the day, we had been making water, but I saw that it turned off, with a LP alaram, similar to what it had done with the petroleum. I figured that it was because with the violent motion of the boat, the intake was exposed to air periodically. We’d try it after anchoring.
We arrived at Los Muertos at sunset, one of the last boats in. Muertos is a pretty big anchorage, with good protection from the northers. After dark, the wind gave up the ghost, giving us a restful night. We tried out the water maker, but it wouldn’t operate. The low pressure pump sounded like a garbage disposal with a spoon stuck in it – I figured that the impeller was probably toast. Anyway, we turned in early – getting pounded by head seas really wears you out.
Position at destination: 23°59’ N, 109°50’ W
Air temp: 82, Water temp: 82
Nautical miles for this leg: 79 Total: 1376
November 19th: Ensenada de los Muertos to Marina Costa Baja, La Paz
We left at 6:00AM on this final day of the FUBAR odyssey. It felt like graduation day. It was dark when we left, and we followed the N55 Insignia out of the anchorage. Several other boats were behind us, as much of the fleet was anxious to get to La Paz early. The wind had calmed down considerably, and the seas were much nicer than on the previous day. Since there isn’t a real ocean swell in the Sea of Cortez, wave conditions can change drastically, depending upon the wind. We had an easy run around Punta Coyote and through the San Lorenzo channel. The closer we got to La Paz, the calmer the water became. Early in the morning in the lee of Isla Cerralvo, we were passed by one of the Baja ferries.
When we arrived at the Costa Baja marina entrance, the seas were totally flat. We had a slip assignment in the inner harbor, which is close to shopping and restaurants at the complex – but far from the marina office. After we docked, Ron and Rose went to work cleaning the boat while I hitched a ride on a golf cart to check in at the marina office. Once the cleaning and the formalities were done, it was time to relax! The marina is at the Costa Baja resort, which allowed us to use the beach club. This is a restaurant, bar, and pool next to a beach that is located at the entrance to La Paz harbor. The only downside to the beach club was the pool temperature – it was quite chilly compared to the ocean! We enjoyed the afternoon at the beach club, and there was a cocktail party for the FUBARistas there that night.
After a few piña colodas and some socializing, Kurt from Endurance suggested that the Slug Boat Flotilla head over to Steinbeck’s restaurant in the hotel for a festive dinner. All of the owners and crew of the Salacia, Endurance, Koumba Bang and Tropical Blend were together for this dinner.
The following morning there was a seminar on cruising in Mexico, put on by Pat Rains. We had seen her talks before, and they were about the same – but there was supposedly a decent continental breakfast being served, so Ron and I joined in. It really was the same talk again, but I guess things don’t change that much. The food was quite good, which gave us hope that the final dinner that night would be an improvement. Well, it certainly was much better. There was some good arracherra beef, good fish, and good everything. It really was a great way to wrap up FUBAR. After this, we would start our own solo cruising adventure.
Position at destination: 24°13’ N, 110°18’ W
Air temp: 82, Water temp: 78
Nautical miles for this leg: 50.4 Total: 1426
The Sea of Cortez
November 20th – December 2nd: Costa Baja Marina, La Paz
We had originally planned to spend one week at Costa Baja, but the facilities were great, we were a little worn out from cruising every day, and we had some boat work to get done. We decided to spend two weeks at the marina. Most of the FUBAR fleet either left their boats at the marina and flew home, or moved to other marinas in the area. After a few days, there were only a few of us left at Costa Baja. The crew from Endurance stayed at the hotel for a couple of nights (taking very long showers, after living with water austerity for two weeks), and they invited us to join them on an afternoon cruise to Puerto Balandra. It was rather enjoyable to be cruising on someone else’s boat. Balandra is about twelve miles from Costa Baja. We anchored in the cove, had a little lunch, and then Kurt and Steve went snorkeling. Susan, Caro,l Rose, and I took their little dinghy across the bay for a beach walk. Since very few anchorages in Mexico have dinghy docks, Endurance decided to leave their regular tender home, and bought a small 8.5’ dinghy with an inflatable floor and a 2.3hp motor. This was light enough to carry up onto a beach. Most of the sailboats here have small dinghies with retractable wheels on the stern, so they can be rolled up and down beaches. We had considered this idea, but it just wasn’t practical for us to carry two dinghies. The motor on the Endurance dinghy didn’t have gears – when it started, is was in forward gear. This took some getting used to, as you can’t rev the engine up after it catches. Also, it was completely impossible to steer it in a straight line. We wandered all over the bay, and it actually tired me out to steer it.
We had a nice walk on the beach where we collected some unusual shells, but then the wind had picked up, so it was time to go back. It wasn’t easy to launch the tiny tender into the breaking surf, get everyone on board, and start the motor. Rose held on to the mighty ship while I pulled the starting cord. To get it started, I had to give it enough gas such that it kicked up and ran into Rose – she would have a big bruise on her leg to remind her of Balandra! It was a very wet ride back to the Endurance. We cruised back to Costa Baja for some sundowners and appetizers, and then we bade farewell to our friends, since they were flying back to L.A. the next day.
We really liked La Paz – it had a nice combination of Old Mexico, with just a touch of modern style. There were tons of great restaurants, good grocery stores for provisioning, and lots of cold cervezas at good prices. On Thanksgiving, there is an annual cruisers pot luck dinner where for a very small price, turkeys are provided, with the expectation that everyone brings a side dish. We elected not to join, so we had a very traditional Thanksgiving dinner at a small restaurant in town.
Our friends Neil and Diana from Salacia were also staying for the two weeks, so on many days we went into town with them. Costa Baja ran a free shuttle every other hour that dropped you off at the cathedral in the center of town. One of our favorite restaurants was Rancho Viejo. They are famous for their arracherra tacos, which is a type of skirt steak. The main restaurant is actually open twenty-four hours, and there is a smaller one on the Melacon in the tourist area.
And then there was boat work. At the top of the priority list was the water maker. We got the name of the top water maker expert in town, but he was pretty busy. A lot of the FUBAR boats had water maker issues, so he was working on their much larger systems. We finally got him to our boat. He did the same diagnosis as I had – checked to see that there was water coming into the boat through the strainer, observed that the LP pump wasn’t working, and then did something really simple that I should have thought about: he flushed the system twice. It was highly likely that we did have air in the system, and the flush back-filled water where it was needed. After this quick fix, and 400 pesos later, we were back in business.
The other important item was to adjust the stuffing box for the wing engine. I had discussed this with other small Nordhavn owners, and they all agreed it was a pain. Endurance had cut a wrench in half with a hack saw to allow access to the very tight space. I borrowed that tool, and I was finally able to get the nuts loose. I banged the gland out a bit, started the engine and adjusted the gland until there was some water dripping out. In order to finish the adjustment, we would need to have the boat cruising, so I called an end to that exercise for now. I also figured out how to get a socket wrench around the lock nut, allowing for adjustment of the gland.
Other than those items, we enjoyed a relaxing stay in La Paz. We had dinner with cruising friends a number of times, visited the marine stores, got haircuts, spent a lot of time at the beach Club, and generally enjoyed ourselves. One of the highlights was swimming with whale sharks outside of La Paz harbor. Apparently the juveniles come into the harbor to feed at this time of year, so we took a tour boat out. There had been a mild norther blowing for a couple of days, so we were waiting for a good day. We thought we had it, but even though the wind had died down, the waves were still annoying, at about three feet, close together. There was also a lot of murkiness in the water, lowering visibility to a few feet. Despite this, we had a great time swimming with these gentle giants. We tried to take some underwater movies with a GoPro, but visibility was just too poor. Kurt and Steve from Endurance had gone out on a much better day, and they had very good video that they shared with us. Basically, the boat driver looks for the sharks. At thirty feet long swimming along the surface, they aren’t hard to spot. The swimmers jump in ahead of the shark, and then swim along with it as it feeds. Now I realize that they are filtering out plankton, but there is something spooky about being next to the mouth of a thirty-foot shark!
Exploring the southern Sea of Cortez
December 3rd: Marina Costa Baja to Playa Bonanza (Isla Espiritu Santo)
We decided to buddy-boat with Salacia in the Sea of Cortez for a while. We departed Costa Baja on December 3rd for Isla Espiritu Santo. This island is close to La Paz, and it is a major cruising haunt. It’s oriented north-south, with most boats concentrating on the western side. There are over thirty anchorages on the island. We decided to start with a large bay on the southeast side, known as Playa Bonanza. Salacia decided to take on a full load of fuel at Costa Baja, so we ambled out into the Sea at just five knots, waiting for them to catch up. The sea was completely flat that day, making for a fine passage. A Mexican Navy patrol boat passed right in front of us, but they weren’t interested in boarding.
A patrol boat enjoying the very flat seas
Because we started out slow, the 16.5nm trip took three hours. Playa Bonanza is a beautiful white sand beach in a broad three-mile half moon bay.
The surf was almost non-existent here, so we had no trouble taking the Little Blend close to shore, anchoring it just off the beach. Salacia joined us, and they brought their little dog Chewie to run on the beach. This beach is also a paradise for shell collectors – Rose found quite a few pieces of sea glass for her collection. After an afternoon on the beach, we took Little Blend up to the reef at the north end of the bay for some snorkeling. The water was a little chilly, and the visibility wasn’t great, but there were a lot of fish on the reef. We also got the chance to use our dinghy ladder for the first time. If you have ever had to climb into a dinghy from the water, you’ll know what I am talking about when I say that it is close to impossible for a full-grown (especially an extra-grown) adult. You grab on to one of the handrails, pull for all you are worth, and desperately try to swing a leg over the side. You resemble a cross between a beached whale and a trout on ice, as you struggle mightily. The dinghy wants to roll over on top of you, and there is no leverage for your feet. On one of our charter trips to BVI, we took a folding ladder. It was relatively useless, since as soon as you stepped on it, the ladder would swing directly underneath the dinghy. We attended the Strictly Sail show in Alameda in 2013, and we saw what looked to be a serviceable ladder. This was the first chance we had to use it, and it worked like a charm. I was able to hoist myself up with relative ease. On a related note, this was the first time we used our dinghy anchor, the world’s smallest Bruce – held like a champ!
We returned to the Tropical Blend for dinner and an exquisite sunset.
- The next morning Lucky tried his luck fishing, using the same plastics that caught fish in Turtle Bay. The first cast yielded a strong strike, with the tail bitten off of the plastic. The second cast had a similar strike, and now half of the body was gone -so much for fishing. A little while later, some park rangers showed up in a panga to check our permits. In Mexico, most islands are National Parks, requiring permits to visit them. We had heard something about this in La Paz, and we had purchased annual permits. We also heard that you can buy them direct from the rangers without paying a fine, so… We spent another lazy afternoon on the beach. We were anchored at about the mid-point of the beach, and other than Salacia and ourselves, no other boats were hooked. There were a few sailboats anchored in the southern half of the bay, which is apparently more sheltered from northers. We only had a light east wind, that tended to shift west after dark. All in all, it was very comfortable there.
December 5th: Playa Bonanza to Bahia San Gabriel
We decided to head to the other side of the island, going just around the southern point for Bahia San Gabriel. This is another bay with a beautiful beach in it, although it wasn’t as large or wide as Playa Bonanza. The waters near the beach are quite shallow and shoal, so Lucky took a ride in Little Blend to check it out. Although it was pretty shallow, we figured that we could make it to shore, even if we had to get out and pull Little Blend to the shore. We carried all of our beach paraphernalia with us: the Tommy Bahama chairs and umbrella, a large folding cooler and portable speaker for Christmas music. Dianna and Rose went down the beach in search of shells. After a half an hour or so, Neil noticed that his dinghy wasn’t really floating anymore. We had underestimated the speed of the tide – it was going out fast! We realized that if we waited much longer, we were going to be stuck. At San Gabriel, there are a series of sandbars running parallel to the beach, so we couldn’t go straight out either. We piled all of the beach stuff back on the tenders, yelled for the girls, and started hauling the dinks in search of deeper water. We could see that towards the south end the water looked darker, so we pulled the tenders until we felt there was enough of a channel to make it back into the bay – one small bullet dodged! We took a little tour of the bay – it’s quite delightful, and only one other sailboat was anchored in it.
As a side note, for the short hops in the sea, both of us had decided to tow the tenders instead of hauling them up to the boat deck each day. By this time, we were slowly developing a routine to raising the Little Blend, but if there is any wind, it’s a real pain, as it can swing pretty wildly. We weren’t too concerned about security in these waters; although we did cable lock the Little Blend to the swim platform each night. After we returned from our bay tour, we noticed that Salacia was hauling their tender up to the boat deck. I called to ask why, and Neil said they had sprung a leak in the fiberglass bottom. He had previously sealed a hole, and scraping the bottom along the sands of Bahia San Gabriel apparently loosened the patch – oops!
Position at destination: 24°25’ N, 110°28’ W
Air temp: 82, Water temp: 77
Nautical miles for this leg: 10.0 Total: 1453
Departed at 10:00am, arrived at 12:00pm
December 6th: Bahia San Gabriel to Caleta el Candelero
We made the short run up to Caleta el Candelero in the morning. This is a smaller cove with a towering rock in the center of the entrance – hence the name Candelero. It was an overcast day, but still quite pleasant. We anchored on the northern side of the rock, and then we picked up Neil and Dianna (their tender patch was still curing) to head for the beach. There was a small fish camp on the beach, which is divided into two sections by a rocky outcrop.
Our friends from the sailing vessel True North were anchored in the cove, near the candle-like rock that splits the cove. They said the snorkeling was quite good around the rock, but we were too far from it to swim over, and we couldn’t find a sandy spot to anchor Little Blend. That night, Neil and Dianna came over for dinner and some Liar’s Dice. Since their dinghy was still curing from the patch, we chauffeured them over and back.
Position at destination: 24°30’ N, 110°23’ W
Air temp: 82, Water temp: 77
Nautical miles for this leg: 6.6 Total: 1460
Departed at 10:15am, arrived at 11:45am
December 7th: Caleta el Candelero to Partida Cove
On Pearl Harbor Day, we Tora! Tora! Tora’d over to Partida Cove, said to be the most popular anchorage on Espiritu Santo. It’s a much protected bay that splits the island. To the north is Isla Partida. There is a small channel between the two islands that can be traversed by dinghy at high tide. As the island went, it was busy, with about a dozen boats anchored. Since it is such a large bay, there was no feeling of being crowded. We took Little Blend to the beach, where we were joined by Neil and Dianna in their newly repaired tender.
We took the dinghies through the channel that separates the two islands. The water was very clear and full of schooling fish. There are a number of fish camps on the south end of the cove, and the pangas flew through the channel at breakneck speed. After our beach tour, we decided to lift Little Blend to the boat deck, since we had a twenty-two mile cruise across open water planned for the next day. Unfortunately, we got one of the tender lines wrapped around the prop as we got to the Tropical Blend. I tried to undo it in the water to no avail. Once we had the Little Blend secured on the deck, it was easy to unwrap the line. Whew! Partida Cove seems to be a popular weekend destination, as there were quite a few Mexican power boats in the cove. They tend to play music pretty loud, but not so much to disturb our sleep. It’s nice to see local people enjoying their beautiful country.
Position at destination: 24°31’ N, 110°23’ W
Air temp: 82, Water temp: 77
Nautical miles for this leg: 3 Total: 1463
Departed at 10:00am, arrived at 10:45am
December 8th: Partida Cove to Isla San Francisco
The next morning we joined Salacia in a cruise to Isla San Francisco. There was a Norther forecast for the following two days, and the west side of the island (The Hook) is well protected. The bay is much smaller than it looks in the cruising guides, but there is easy room for about a dozen boats to anchor in a single line. We anchored in the far north part of the bay, close to the mountain side for protection from the Norther. This is a very picturesque bay, with a perfectly formed semi-circle beach. We took Little Blend to shore, where we discovered that the beach was primarily constructed of pebbles. Flip-flops were required here. We also discovered a concrete block on the beach, which was much better for tying up the bow line that the PVC pole we had been using – we decided to keep the brick for the future.
After learning that dogs aren’t allowed on the islands in the Sea, Neil and Dianna would leave their cute little dog Chewie on board. Chewie didn’t like that, and he had a habit of endless barking when left alone. Neil was concerned about this, so I suggested that he use his handheld VHF to yell at Chewie from the beach. The barking would start, Neil would use the radio to say, “Chewie, NO!”, and there would be silence for a few minutes. Now, every time we hear a dog barking on a boat, we look at each other and say, “Chewie, NO!” I decided that we needed more than beer for such a beautiful beach, so I went back to the boat and blended up some strawberry daiquiris for the beach.
Position at destination: 24°49’ N, 110°34’ W
Air temp: 79, Water temp: 77
Nautical miles for this leg: 21 Total: 1484
Departed at 8:30am, arrived at 12:00pm
December 9th – 10th: Isla San Francisco
The forecasted Norther came in, but it was fairly light – at least in the protected bay. We saw gusts to twenty knots, but not too much. We went back to the beach again for some R and R. At the southern end of the beach, we saw a couple of small children cavorting about on the beach with no apparent adult supervision. Had they gone into the water, we were prepared to go down there and watch them, but finally an adult came to shore on a kayak. From what we could tell, the kids had been told NOT to go into the water, and they had obeyed. Still, you have to wonder… These people were on a catamaran anchored at the southern end of the beach. Dianna would later tell us that the crew walked around naked on the boat. Fortunately, we never saw them. Most people don’t look like supermodels when naked. Later that afternoon, Neil and I decided to snorkel the wall at the north end of the bay. The water was a bit chilly at 77°F, making me wish that I had put on my shortie wet suit. We did see quite a lot of fish, so it was worth it.
The next day, I got the bug to climb to the top of the hill that overlooks the bay. Rose sensibly decided that she didn’t have that bug. For the first time in over a mo
nth, I put on shoes and set off on the hike. I could see a trail going up the hill, so I walked down the beach to find the trailhead. This trail ended up going pretty much straight up the hill – easy to go up, but all the loose rocks had me concerned about coming back down. After just ten or fifteen minutes, I got to the top. The southern wall is a sheer drop down to the ocean, and the trail is right on that edge. The view from the top was fabulous! As it turns out, by walking this trail to the west, there is a gradual path that goes back down to the beach, so I didn’t have to worry about slipping.
Neil and Dianna had decided to go back to La Paz. They felt that with the frequent Northers, it was getting a little cold. Since they would be back in the Sea the following spring, they felt it was time to go. Dianna wanted to be in a metro area for Christmas, so they would probably cross to Mazatlan. Since this was the only foreseeable time we would be in the Sea, we planned to keep going north. Our plan was to go as far as Bahia Concepcion , then cross to Topolobampo.
December 11th: Isla San Francisco to Bahia Amortajada
Salacia left for La Paz in the morning, while we cruised around the south end of the island, heading for Isla San Jose. There is an anchorage on the south end of the island with a mangrove estuary, said to be a great place for a dinghy tour. The guidebook said to enter just before high tide, but we didn’t have the luxury of choosing our time. We anchored at Bahia Amortajada, with some difficulty. There is a shallow shelf that extends quite a ways out and
then drops off quickly. Trying to find the sweet spot was challenging, but eventually we were satisfied. We were towing the Little Blend, so we jumped in to find the bar for the estuary. As we got close, and the water got shallower, we could tell that the tide was going out – FAST! We located the bar, and I jumped out to tow us over, as it was too shallow to motor in. It was quite a struggle, but we eventually got into water deep enough for the motor. I had to give it a lot of gas to get over the bar, but once we were inside the estuary, it was like another world. The water was clear enough to see to the bottom, at about twelve feet. There were quite a few fish, but not so many birds, as promised in the guidebooks. Still, it was a different experience, and we were glad to have made the side trip. It was easier getting out – I still had to tow the dinghy, but the tide was pushing us.
Position at destination: 24°53’ N, 110°34’ W
Air temp: 79, Water temp: 77
Nautical miles for this leg: 7.8 Total: 1492
Departed at 9:00am, arrived at 10:20am
December 11th: Bahia Amortajada to Mangle Solo
After a quick lunch, we pulled the anchor and cruised north up Isla San Jose to our anchorage for the night at Mangle Solo. This is a long beach that faces west, with a little protection from north winds. There were only two other sailboats anchored there. With drinks to go, we went ashore to do some shell collecting. There are a couple of fishing camps here, and an amazing cactus forest just off of the beach. This seems like one of those hidden gems, where few cruisers venture. We found it to be a beautiful and peaceful place.
Position at destination: 25°01’ N, 110°41’ W
Air temp: 76, Water temp: 75
Nautical miles for this leg: 11.8 Total: 1504
Departed at 12:30pm, arrived at 2:30pm
December 12th: Mangle Solo to Bahia Tembabichi
This cruise would take us across the San Jose channel to the eastern coast of the Baja peninsula. Tembabichi is a wide bay with some protection from north winds. We left early in the morning, still towing Little Blend, to light winds and calm seas. These conditions didn’t last long – soon we had a Norther whacking our nose, with a strong opposing current. We were only making 4.5 knots at 1700 rpm’s, and we were pitching pretty violently. We definitely wished that we had the Little Blend secured on the boat deck, but there was nothing we could do about it. We continued to get slammed all the way up the channel until we reached the protection of the point north of Tembabichi. There were two other small sailboats anchored in the bay – we took a position in just twelve feet of water, still a quarter of a mile off of the beach – this is a very shallow bay. Since we had protection from the wind, we took the dinghy to shore for a beach walk and more drinks to go. We also decided to put out the flopper stopper, since there was a refracted swell causing a little bit of rolling.
Position at destination: 25°16’ N, 110°56’ W
Air temp: 73, Water temp: 74
Nautical miles for this leg: 21.3 Total: 1525
Departed at 8:00am, arrived at 11:40am
December 13th: Bahia Tembabichi to Puerto el Gato
We had a grand plan this day, with several stops along the way to Agua Verde. We left early in the morning to medium winds. A soon as we rounded the point, we got hit with a 20 knot wind on our nose, but the seas weren’t up too much yet. It was only three nautical miles to Puerto el Gato, which has very stunning sandstone rocks around it. We anchored in the middle of this small bay as the only boat. There was some protection from the north wind there, and no rolling. Rose decided to take the paddle board to the beach, while I donned my wetsuit and snorkeled in. It was probably about a quarter of a mile to the beach.
The sandstone rocks truly are stunning, with a very vivid red coloring. There are lots of large oyster shells on the beach, as well as underwater. The snorkeling around the rocks was the best I had seen so far. I saw a large moray eel and a lot of sculpins on the bottom. The water was chilly at 74°F, so I was glad to have the wetsuit. We took a bunch of photos, and Rose collected quite a few shells.
We returned to the boat to continue our journey north to Agua Verde. However, as soon as we rounded the point out of the bay, we were slammed really hard by the wind and waves. It was blowing at twenty-five knots, with very short and steep seas at six feet. Clearly, this was not going to be comfortable. We decided to seek protection. Rose wasn’t comfortable staying at el Gato due to the proximity of the rocks, so we decided to go back to Tembabichi.
Position at destination: 25°18’ N, 110°57’ W
Air temp: 73, Water temp: 74
Nautical miles for this leg: 7.1 Total: 1532
Departed at 8:15am, arrived at 9:00am
December 14th – 16th: Bahia Tembabichi to Bahia Agua Verde
We returned to our same anchorage spot, where we didn’t have much protection from the wind, but the fetch was quite small. Again, there was some rolling due to the refracted swell, so we put out the flopper stopper, dampening the roll. We would spend three days here as a big Norther raged on. We saw peak gusts of forty knots, and most days the wind was sustained at twenty-five to thirty knots. We never dragged, but we did sail around the anchor somewhat, which led to some rolling. We didn’t really do anything, but being in the wind like that really wore us down. You can actually feel exhausted by it. The second night we were there I notice that the water pump was running when there was no demand. We have a pressure water system – there is a one gallon pressurized tank that delivers fresh water throughout the boat, kind of like a city water hookup. This reduces the number of times that the pump starts and stops – it kicks in when the pressure in the tank drops below a set level.
The next morning I started to troubleshoot the problem. According to the manual, this happens when the accumulator tank is bad, or when the pressure switch in the pump is bad. I assumed it was a tank problem, since with the pump off, that tank would not deliver water a few minutes after being pressurized. I asked some of my Nordhavn friends about it, using the Iridium phone to send out an e-mail. They also believed that it was a faulty accumulator tank. With the frequent Northers and colder water and air temperatures, we decided to change our plans. The wind was supposed to lay down on the 16th, and we really wanted to see Agua Verde . I didn’t think that we could find parts to fix our water pressure issue at Puerto Escondido (near Loreto), but I was confident we could get it done in La Paz. We decided to abort our plan, and only go as far as Agua Verde, and then head back to La Paz.
The wind had indeed laid down that morning, so we weighed the anchor and headed off to Agua Verde. It was only twenty miles, so we were confident this would be an easy cruise. Although the winds was much lighter, the head seas were still up somewhat. It was a much better ride than we had experienced in the San Jose channel, but we still pitched a lot. Rounding the point where we turned west to Agua Verde, we saw a small Hobie cat sailing along. This was crazy – the seas were at least five feet, and they would have to get back to wherever they came from. Some days, you just can’t fix stupid.
When we got the Agua Verde, there were no other boats anchored. We anchored near the panga beach on the north side, and it was very calm. This is a very beautiful bay, named for the greenish tint of the water. We wanted to visit the very small village behind the beach. During a radio conversation, a sailboater had told us about getting fresh goat cheese at the village – we wanted to find it. So, we lowered the Little Blend and took off for the beach. There was a decent swell up that day, so we couldn’t land on the beach. However, we did see a road heading up into the hills from the panga beach where we were anchored, so we speculated we could walk that road to the village. There was absolutely no surf at the panga beach, so we anchored the Little Blend. There was a small house on the beach, with an elderly man who had a dog named Lola and a little kitten in his lap. I took him a beer and asked him to watch the dinghy. He actually offered us lunch, but we had already eaten. We were touched that this stranger who had very little had offered us lunch.
We hiked up the road, and took some great photos of the Tropical Blend.
This turned out to be quite the hike. The road took us inland for a while before it joined up with the main road leading to the village. We were impressed by the level of greenery. Having lived in Arizona for a long time, we were quite familiar with deserts. But this area had a very nice green hue to it.
As we descended to last hill into the village, we dreaded having to climb back up. This was a really small village, with no paved roads. There may have been a tienda, which may have been open, but we elected to give it a pass. We never did see the goat cheese lady. We did see the ever-present Mexican army – a newer pickup came driving through the village, with two soldiers armed with automatic weapons in the back. We walked along the beach, and Rosé speculated that we could walk all the way back to the panga beach. There are cliffs on that side, and we could see some walking areas, so we decided to take a chance. It turns out that here instinct was correct, and we were able to walk along the rocks back to our panga beach. Late that night, under a brilliant full moon, I watched a couple of panga fisherman use the same walkway to get back to the village- with no flashlights.
Position at destination: 25°31’ N, 111°04’ W
Air temp: 72, Water temp: 73
Nautical miles for this leg: 20 Total: 1552
Departed at 7:20am, arrived at 10:30am
December 17th: Bahia Agua Verde to El Cardonal
We departed early in the morning to get as far south as we could during the daylight. The weather was pretty nice, with winds varying up to 15 knots, and a light swell. There wasn’t much traffic in the water – just a couple of fishing boats and a few sailboats. We were planning to spend the night at Isla San Francisco, but with a strong current pushing us, we decided to make for Partida Cove. We figured that we would be there just after sunset. The wind picked up after we passed San Francisco, slowing us down considerably. It was well after sunset when we arrived at what we thought was Partida. It turns out that we were actually in El Cardonal, just north of Partida. The C-Maps chart was so far off, it showed us on land between the two bays. Cardonal looks like a small version of Partida, especially in the dark. We set the anchor without problem, and turned in early for the night.
Position at destination: 24°33’ N, 110°23’ W
Air temp: 72, Water temp: 73
Nautical miles for this leg: 73 Total: 1625
Departed at 7:45am, arrived at 6:15pm
December 18th: El Cardonal to Marina Costa Baja
We awoke that morning to a dead flat sea – not a hint of a breeze or a ripple on the surface. We pulled the anchor and left Cardonal, turning south towards La Paz. Since this was such a calm sea, we figured that this would be a good time to exercise our wing engine, and adjust the stuffing box. Since the engine has a V-drive transmission, it’s quite difficult to access the nuts for adjusting the stuffing box. We would run the engine, observe what adjustment was required, stop the engine, adjust the nuts, and wash, rinse, and repeat. After a few cycles, I felt that we had the adjustment down pat, with a reasonable temperature on the coupling – about twenty degrees over the raw water temperature. We were surprised that the boat made so much speed with a 27hp engine. We were humming along at close to four knots, at 80% of WOT. Since the wing engine has its own shaft and propeller, which are offset, the autopilot is a little confused, but it worked fairly well in these flat conditions.
As we approached the La Paz channel, boat traffic picked up considerably, including a pass-by from the ever present Armada de Mexico patrol boat. We called Costa Baja on the radio, and they had exactly the same slip that we had in November for us. We docked without further incident, and set out to fix our water pressure problem.
Position at destination: 24°13’ N, 110°18’ W
Air temp: 75, Water temp: 73
Nautical miles for this leg: 22.4 Total: 1647
Departed at 7:45am, arrived at 11:00am
December 18th – 25th: Marina Costa Baja, La Paz
We checked in with the marina without incident, and since it was early in the afternoon, we took the shuttle to town with the intention to walk over to Lopez Marine. This is the largest marine store in town, and we had a fuzzy memory that the walk from the Cathedral (where the shuttle dropped us off) wasn’t so far. However, the sun was blazing down on us with no wind, so we got quite hot on the walk. We finally got to the store, and asked about an accumulator tank. The only tanks they had were the small Jabsco ones, or a two gallon Shurflo. I took a long look at the Shurflo, and figured that I could probably fit it in to our system. We asked about ordering the Groco direct replacement. But with Christmas coming up, they said we couldn’t get it until mid-January. I decided to keep searching for the replacement, as the Shurflo was $350 with a lot of work needed to fit it in.
We continued walking to several other stores, with no luck. Since we were in the area, we decided to visit a grocery store. We went to the CCC store. We thought it was very odd to have people selling produce just outside of a grocery store, but once inside, we realized that this store had dry goods only. Instead, we decided to head over to The Cow. We found The Cow to be a pretty complete store, although small and cramped.
The next day I started investigating how we could get the accumulator tank shipped quickly. Someone on the net told me about an express delivery service, where you have an item shipped to their San Diego office, and then they take it to Tijuana, load it on a truck, and ship it twice weekly. They simply ass 30% to the invoice of whatever you buy. Since the replacement tank cost around $100, this seemed reasonable. However, getting it shipped quickly to San Diego wouldn’t be cheap. Plus, I called the express service and found out their deliveries would happen only once per week during the holiday period, and they wouldn’t guarantee delivery even if we got the package to them two days prior to the scheduled ship date. This wasn’t looking good.
The next day on the net, I found someone that had a slightly used Shurflo tank – the same one that I had seen at Lopez Marine. He offered it to me for $200, so I decided to go with that option. In the meantime, we thought that our friends Kurt and Susan on Endurance would be around, as they were planning to spend the week before Christmas on their boat. We tried to call them on the radio, but no answer, so we figured they were out cruising. We had lunch at the Breeze Mart – chicken burritos that were actually soft tacos, but delicious nevertheless. In the middle of lunch, in walked Kurt and Susan! We agreed to meet at the Italian restaurant for dinner that night. We had pizza and calzones, which were huge and delicious.
The next day I started to install the Shurflo tank. It was a piece of cake to remove the old tank, but in order to mount the new one on the side of the ballast box, and I had to take out some of the lead bars in the box. Did I say they were really heavy? Other than that, mounting the new tank was pretty easy, but I realized I needed a male-to-male fitting to hook it up to our water system. I found the largest plumbing supply store in town, and took a taxi to save time. This being the Saturday before Christmas, traffic was terrible, so the ride took a very long time. It also cost 300 pesos – to buy a fitting that cost 49 pesos. D’oh!
I installed the new fitting and hooked up the tank, but there was a leak in the fitting. I tried every which way but loose to stop the leak, without success. Exasperated, I finally decided to test the system, since stopping the leak might require a permanent bond. And yes, you guessed it – the pressure would not stay up! I had wasted around $250 to fix something that wasn’t broken. I went back to the first suggestion, that the pressure switch in the pump was faulty. I replaced the pump, and lo and behold, we had water pressure again. Arrgghhh! Stubbornly, I decided to keep the Shurflo tank, leaks and all, for an emergency backup. I still hadn’t learned to try the simple, direct solutions to problems first.
Anyway, our week was filled with a little more boat work – changing engine oil and generator oil. That didn’t go so smoothly, as I decided that I could drop the main engine filter into a one gallon zip lock back, instead of the much larger trash bag. When it fell into the bag, heavy with oil, the bag turned downward, spilling oil on the side of the block and under the engine. It took us about an hour to clean up that mess. The generator change went off without a hitch. The last job was the transmission oil and filter change. That filter is upright, so I anticipated issues. I punched a hole in the old filter to try to get all of the oil to drain out of it, but the oil still spilled all over the place, forcing another extended cleanup. With all of the fluids changed out, we were ready to continue our journey.
We took Kurt and Susan to Rancho Viejo, where we continued to enjoy the arracherra tacos and queso fundido. We decided to depart La Paz on Christmas Day, bound for Muertos and then across to Mazatlan. We said our goodbye to Kurt and Susan on Christmas Eve, and prepared to make our passage over to the Pacific Coast. We contacted our friends Neil and Dianna – they were staying in Marina La Paz, and not enjoying it at all. They were looking to move to El Cid. We called El Cid, and made a reservation.
Pacific Coast of Mexico
December 25th, 2014: Marina Costa Baja to Ensenada de Los Muertos
We checked out of the marina on Christmas Eve, since the office would be closed on Christmas Day. I was told that we could give our gate keys to one of the dock workers that would be there. I asked if he could come over at 8:00. Well, we didn’t see anybody on the docks, and no one responded to our radio hail. I asked (in my bad Spanish) one of the security guards to find him. By 8:30, no sign of him. Finally at 9:00, I saw a couple of guys talking up by the gate. I asked them about our missing worker, and they said he wasn’t working that day. Fortunately, one of the workers came by on the Gator cart – at least he said he worked there, despite not having the uniform. I decided to take him at his word, and gave him the keys. Ah well, we were living in the land of mañana.
We finally shoved off at 9:15. The weather forecast was good, with mild offshore winds. We had dead calm seas and a beautiful sunny day cruising through the San Lorenzo channel. However, once we turned south around Punta Coyote, all Hell broke loose. We had a large beam swell hitting us with a very short period. The stabilizers couldn’t keep up with the fast moving swells, and we rolled considerably. Lots of things were clanging and banging in the cabin, and Quincy was not a happy kitty. We had to adjust our course to tack away from the swells, which reduced the rolling. The winds were on our port beam at around twenty knots all the way through the channel. We tried running closer to the lee of Isla Cerralvo, but that didn’t give us any shelter from the beam swell. Late in the day we finally reached the point and headed into Los Muertos. The wind was still howling, but the bay was pretty calm, so we were fairly comfortable. There were only two sailboats in the anchorage, so we were able to anchor with the best protection. We had phone service, but no network access, so Rosé called her aunt and sister to wish them a merry Christmas.
Position at destination: 23°59’ N, 109°50’ W
Air temp: 70, Water temp: 74
Nautical miles for this leg: 50.7 Total: 1698
Departed at 9:15am, arrived at 4:45pm
December 26th – 27th: Ensenada de Los Muertos – Mazatlan (Marina El Cid)
We left Muertos early in the morning to make the twenty-nine hour crossing to Mazatlan. One of the two sailboats anchored in the cove left shortly before us, but we quickly passed them. The wind was around fifteen knots, with a mild swell hitting our port bow. This died down in a few hours, and for the rest of the crossing, the seas and winds were very calm. We didn’t see any other boats all day. What was really strange was that we had network access for about the first twenty miles, so I was able to download a few forecasts. I say it’s strange, because in the cove at Muertos, we had no network service – but no problem on the open sea!
This was the first overnight passage that we made as a cruising couple. We agreed to keep to the four hour watch schedule. I would take 8:00PM to midnight, Rosé would take midnight to 4:00AM, and I would take 4:00AM to 8:00AM. Generally speaking, Rosé is a much better sleeper than I am. She was able to conk out shortly after dinner, while I was wide awake. I was enjoying the crossing, what with the stars shining brightly on the moonless night. When she came up for her midnight shift, I told her that I was wired and wide awake, so she went back to bed, understanding that when I tired, I would wake her up. This turned out to be a regular pattern for us. Shortly before midnight, we were met head on by one of the Baja ferries. That was the only traffic I saw all night.
At about 5:00AM, I gave out and asked Rosé to take over, allowing me to take a small siesta. During her watch, she also came across a westbound ferry. In the morning we were greeted by a lot of humidity. La Paz had been around 50%, but here it was up to 75% – that made a big difference in the heat index. We saw some whales close to Mazatlan, but they were boat shy, so no close-up. Marina El Cid is located at the south tip of Mazatlan’s Gold Coast, a very developed stretch of beach, with many high rise hotels. We identified to marina’s breakwater, and hailed them for a slip assignment – without luck. I tried several times, but there was no response. Finally I called them on the mobile phone, and they gave us an assignment.
Some boaters had told us the bar entrance to El Cid and Marina Mazatlan has shallow with surge, but we had an easy time of it. Once we got into the marina harbor, the dock workers told us that they had changed our assignment to the end tie off of A dock, the first dock. There was plenty of space there, so we were pretty happy. Once we tied up, we noticed that several boats had chains and nylon straps holding them at the dock. The boat next to us had a very elaborate set of tie-downs – they told us it was because of the surge. Sure enough, we saw our braided lines stretching back and forth. We decided to use the one-inch monstrosities from the previous owners. Almost all of the lines were one-inchers when we bought the boat; Dan and Whitney told us they got them because of the surge in Marina Coral. They were really difficult to use with normal cleats, but we decided to keep them anyway. We learned that they were indeed useful when there is a lot of surge. We checked in, and went out to explore the marina.
Position at destination: 23°16’ N, 106°28’ W
Air temp: 79, Water temp: 79
Nautical miles for this leg: 190.5 Total: 1888
Departed at 7:40am, arrived at 12:30pm (next day)
December 27th – January 2nd: Marina El Cid (Mazatlan)
We first walked over to C dock to visit with Salacia – they had moved over from Marina La Paz a could of days earlier. Being in this marina had improved their opinion of Mazatlan immensely. We joined them at one of the two pools. This being the week between Christmas and New Years’, the resort was pretty busy, as were the pools.
As marina guests, we got a twenty-percent discount on food and beverage – a pretty good deal, but the prices were pretty reasonable anyway. To our pleasant surprise, there was a happy hour already, so we got two-for-one drinks. In addition, our waiter brought us a free round when we got the check – excellent! Neil told us about getting around by bus. There are two bus systems there: one of them is an air-conditioned bus that basically goes from the Gold Coast to downtown – it costs ten pesos. The standard buses cost only six pesos. We were really starting to like Mazatlan! The marina had laundry service – either do-it-yourself, or paying a small charge to a lady who would wash, dry, and fold laundry on site. There was also a small tienda selling Pacifico’s for ten pesos (sweet!) And a couple of clothing stores. The marina had two pools, what we called the main pool and the rock pool. The rock pool was closer to us, and it had a big jacuzzi and an artificial rock cliff you could dive off of. But, Dianna correctly advised us that the water at that pool was pretty cold. In addition, there was a beach club accessed by a free water taxi. That would also give you access to the public beach at the Gold Coast.
We agreed to join Neil and Dianna for dinner that night, since they would be leaving shortly. Neil had a coupon for a free round of drinks at a restaurant within walking distance. On the way, we were approached by a lady calling herself Mary – she was a timeshare tout. We explained to her that we were living on boats, and timeshares weren’t on our agenda. We proceeded to the restaurant, which was a large place serving seafood. We found that they had very good Happy Shrimp (stuffed with cheese, wrapped in bacon; mmmm, bacon!). The waiters and some of the patrons were singing, using a wireless microphone. I couldn’t follow the words enough, but I think they were people celebrating something. On the walk back to the marina, a car suddenly stopped in front of us, and out jumped a woman touting timeshares – yep, it was Mary again. I guess all of us gringos look alike!
We had a nice day at the pool on Saturday. Neil told us about a weekend tradition in the old town, where a bunch of restaurants surrounding a square move their tables into the square for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. So, we decided to head to town to check this out. The bus route goes down the very long Malecón, which was very pretty at sunset. We got off of the bus in the old town, then walked through the large public market. This is a very traditional Mexican market, with some items that we found over the top, such as whole cow heads and whole pig heads. I suppose you could use them as a soup base, but seeing them hanging in the open air, eyeballs and all, was quite an experience. We picked up some cash, and headed to the square. It was early, so the restaurant tables were pretty empty. Each one had a menu posted, and each one pretty much had the same choices – lots of shrimp, steak, and chicken. We picked one, and ordered shrimp, of course. Dinner was very good, and the square was quite full by the time we left. Neil suggested that we find the Best Western Hotel on the Malecón, which has a rooftop pool. On the way, we walked past a bar where a cover band was doing an excellent rendition of some Doors songs. We found the Best Western, and took the very old elevator to the roof. It really creaked and groaned, and when we got to the top, you could see the motors. I’m pretty sure they were vintage 1930’s; we weren’t so confident about taking them back down. The view of Mazatlan by night was fabulous, and we had a round of drinks. After that, it was time to find the ten peso bus back to the marina.
Neil and Dianna left the following day, so we took the water taxi to the beach club and walked up the Gold Coast beach. I was very surprised that there were no beach bars along that stretch – most of the high rise towers were condos. We were hoping to find a sports bar that might have the Chargers game on (they were fighting for a playoff spot), but no luck. We went back to the marina, and I watched, or rather tried to watch, the game on streaming. We have DirecTV Caribbean, from Trinidad, but they don’t carry CBS – a dispute over the rate they pay. The bandwidth at El Cid was pretty poor, typical of most of the networks in Mexico. We’d see a play just get started, and then the stream would freeze. It was a long, frustrating game – both from the perspective of the stream and the lackluster effort by the Bolts – but they finally prevailed to get the last playoff spot! We had a nice shrimp dinner on board – the water taxi driver had brought me two kilos of cleaned shrimp for 440 pesos.
On Monday, we wanted to do some provisioning, so we decided to take the bus to Soriano. First we walked down the road past the marina, near Marina La Paz, where we heard there were some chandleries. We were hoping to find a spare fresh water pump, as well as a manual gray water pump (ours had started to leak). We found a couple of chandleries, but they didn’t have what we needed – not a real surprise. But we also found a sports bar – we probably could have watched the game there… We knew that Soriano was near Home Depot and Walmart, so we asked a couple of buses if they were going to Soriano. We boarded a six peso bus that was supposedly stopping at Soriano. But, it kept going east from the marina area, to a brand new shopping mall that was net to a brand new Walmart. We weren’t aware that there was a new Walmart, and we thought that the driver was mistaken about Soriano. The bus then headed back to, and past, the marina, eventually getting us to Soriano. This is a very nice grocery store, with a lot of other items as well. We stocked up on a number of items, including ricotta cheese, which we never saw in La Paz. We also bought some Mexican cat food for Quincy – a Purina brand called, “Felix”. It turned out that on most days, he would eat that one! We were able to take the bus back with all of our bags – a cheap expedition!
On New Year’s Eve, we decided to go back to the mall and the Walmart, looking for more cat food, as well as a couple of kitchen gadgets. While waiting for the right bus, one of the open-air taxis offered to take us for 30 pesos, so we agreed. Those taxis remind me of the Mokes that are rented in Barbados.
January 2nd – 3rd: Mazatlan to Matanchen Bay
We decided to take on fuel before leaving Mazatlan. El Cid’s fuel dock is small, angled, and busy with charter boats. We waited until the dock was clear, and then motored over to take on fuel and check out. We decided to take on 1600 liters, at a price of about $3.95 per gallon. After fueling, we went to the office to check out, and to pay for our fuel. The marina office there also takes care of the day charters: fishing, cruising, and little outboard fun boats. In the middle of paying, someone called to ask about one of the charters, in Spanish. The senorita proceeded to discuss options with them in excruciating detail, answering endless questions, while we were waiting to pay our bill. Another boat was waiting to get to the fuel dock, but we had to wait fifteen minutes for the charter conversation to finish. We have noticed that customer service in Mexico operates on the squeaky wheel principle – there seems to be no sense of finishing a job. Ah, the land of mañana…
We were finally able to pay our bill and get on our way. We were blessed with another beautiful day, clear skies, light winds, and calm seas. We left just about at noon, had some sandwiches, and settled in for the long cruise to Matanchen Bay. We decided to skip over San Blas, since we had heard horror stories about the marina there – very hot and sticky with a big tide that could hold us up in the marina. Despite the warnings about the jejenes (no-see-ums) in Matanchen Bay , we decided that would be our next destination. Just outside of the entrance to El Cid, there are a couple of pretty little islands that are popular weekend destinations for the locals.
Isla de Pajaros
The cruise down this coast was uneventful, but we did see a number of whales. Towards sunset, we saw some whales doing full breaches way ahead of us, but they were too far away to take pictures. For dinner, I got the insane idea to recreate the Happy Shrimp using hot dogs. I quickly learned that bacon on a grill is a really bad idea – flame on! I had to finish them up in the microwave to avoid torching the boat. We had been told to watch out for long lines, but at night there’s nothing much you can do about them. Long lines are fishing lines hanging from a main line, possibly spread out over miles. Sometimes they are marked with small pennants or buoys, and sometimes they are just invisible. At night, you just hope that you don’t run across them, and if you do, you hope that the shaft cutters do their job and slice them up before they wrap around the prop.
I took the midnight watch. There was a lightning storm behind us on the coast, and the pyrotechnics were fun to watch. We were also in prime shrimp boat territory. They are well lit, and they easily show up on radar. They don’t like changing course, so you have to play a little dodge ‘em. At about two in the morning, I picked one of them up on radar, heading straight for us. I altered my course once we got close, but then the shrimper also altered course to match ours. It also changed direction to match ours. I continued to alter course, and my shadow followed me. This went on for about a half an hour, and finally I put the hammer down and got away from that crazy skipper. Eventually, I figured that he was bored and was screwing with us – kind of confirmed talking with some other boaters.
Just after dawn, I finally saw one of the long lines, marked with a black pennant. I have no idea why they use black, it’s barely visible during the day, and completely invisible at night. Anyway, we cruised past San Blas and into Matanchen Bay. It’s a very large and shallow bay. We headed for the recommended anchoring position to find the only other boat in the bay anchored there. We moved off by about a quarter of a mile and dropped the hook.
Position at destination: 21°31’ N, 105°14’ W
Air temp: 84, Water temp: 80
Nautical miles for this leg: 132.9 Total: 2021
Departed at 12:00pm, arrived at 9:00am (next day)
January 3rd – 5th: Matanchen Bay
It was noticeably warmer in Matanchen than it had been in any other place during our trip – for the first time, it actually felt like the tropics. The northern part of the bay is ringed with endless restaurants on the beach – and under water, at high tide!
Matanchen beach restaurant at high tide
We lowered Little Blend and went for a tour of the bay. It was about two miles to get to the east side of the bay from our anchorage point. We surveyed the beach in front of the restaurants, and observed there was virtually no surf, so we decided to head in for lunch. First, we stopped at the sailboat near us, called Happy Dance. We met the owners, Marty and Sue, from Seattle. They said that they had been in the bay for a couple of days, and had not had any bug problems. We talked about the jungle tour, and agreed that we would take it the next day. They had dinghy wheels, so we could hitch a ride with them. Since the bay is so shallow, the tide exposes huge amounts of beach, so we couldn’t anchor Little Blend for a long period of time.
We headed to one of the restaurants and anchored just off of it, wading to shore in a couple of feet of water. The restaurants specialize in fish and shrimp, so Rosé ordered a whole fried fish, while I wanted to try shrimp empañadas. While we were waiting, a local vendor came through with fresh baked goods, so we bought a loaf of banana bread – a specialty in this area, given all of the banana plantations. Rosé saw a pickup truck drive past with a load of watermelons, and we both wished that it had stopped. Lunch was delicious – my first date with shrimp empanadas was a smashing success! The watermelon truck came back by, so we flagged him down, and bought a small watermelon for fifteen pesos – a little more than a dollar! It was a seedless melon, and it was absolutely delicious. Towards the end of our lunch, Rosé saw that a couple of kids playing in the water decided it would be good fun to lob mud at our dinghy. I ran out and told them to cut it out in my best Spanish, and only then did their parents tell them to stop. They made quite a mess with all of the mud, and it’s beyond me to figure out why that was fun. Apparently vandalism is a universal trait for teenagers.
We went back on board for a quiet afternoon. A couple of other boats came in to the anchorage, but it still felt deserted. The restaurants were open that night, but not too busy, considering it was Friday. The next morning, Marty and Sue picked us up and we headed into the beach. I had my first experience hauling a dinghy on wheels – their tender was 9.5 feet, with a 10hp motor. Still, it wasn’t a walk in the park to walk it up the beach, since we had arrived at low tide. We paid a local restaurant guy thirty pesos to watch the boat, and set off for the Rio Tovara jungle tour. We had read that this was a panga expedition up the Rio Tovara esturary, with lots of crocodiles on the beach. It was about a half an hour walk, and we passed by a lot of roadside stands selling banana bread, smoked fish, fresh fruit, and other goodies. The four of us got our own panga and guide – I think we were the only gringo’s there that day. The guide spoke a little English, and we spoke a little Spanish, so the tour was muy bueno. When we first set out, we were in a tunnel of mangroves.
Our guide had very sharp eyes – throughout the tour he would spot birds, lizards, plants, turtles, and of course, crocodiles, which we would sometimes struggle to see. We saw a lot of crocs sunning themselves – many had their mouths open, which is how they cool down. Who would have known that crocodiles pant like dogs?
After touring the preserve, we got back onto the panga and headed for the freshwater river pool for lunch. They have the river fenced off to keep the crocs out, and there is a jungle swing int the pool, but we were more interested in cervezas. The restaurant had no power that day, so the food was limited to ceviche – but it was very tasty! After lunch, we boarded a panga with a lot of local people for the cruise back. We stopped at some of the roadside stands to get some more banana bread, and we also bought some jaka fruit, the local name for jackfuit. We hiked back to the restaurant area, and decided on shrimp all around. The no-see-ums may have been around, because the waited placed a smoking coconut husk near our table. There was a large group of Mexicans next to us, and one of the men introduced himself to us. He had lived in the Bay area for a while, so we shared some stories, cervezas, and danced to local music with his big extended family.
The previous day we had heard the old “Alley Cat” song coming from shore, and we thought it was a popular local song. Turns out it was the music on the local ice cream truck, which looked like this:
After lunch / dinner, we hauled the Happy Dance tender down the beach and returned to our respective boats. We planned to go to San Blas town the next day, which was Sunday. We made some vanilla peach ice cream that night, which we planned to share with Marty and Sue.
The next morning we went back to shore with Marty and Sue, and caught a taxi to San Blas. Our first stop was the old fort that overlooks the town. The taxi ride was cheap, at fifty pesos. It was well worth it, considering that the driver took us all the way up the very steep hill to the fort. The ruins of the citadel are very cool, with a museum in the old buildings. There are great views of the town of San Blas from this location. The citadel and the nearby church date back to the late 1700’s, although the fort was damaged heavily in 2002 by Hurricane Kenna. When we walked to the old church, we were mobbed by mosquitoes, so out came the Off. After enjoying the ruins, we walked down the hill to the town.
We spent some time exploring the museum and taking a lot of photos. And then we hiked a little bit down the hill to the ruins of a very old church.
We quickly found out that this ruin was infested with mosquitoes – the Off was sprayed fast and furious, but not much deterred this little bastards, so we hustled down the hill to the town. San Blas is a charming Mexican town, with lots of tiendas, restaurants, and vegetable markets. Even though it was Sunday, most of the stores were open. We were seeking a restaurant called McDonald’s that was recommended in the cruising guide. And no, it isn’t THE McDonald’s. Someone cleverly named their restaurant, and I guess that the mega chain’s lawyers don’t know, or don’t care, about the copyright infringement. Or more likely, it’s Mexico. Anyway, we found the restaurant, and had a very nice local lunch. It had wifi, and I was able to get the ESPN Gamecast for the Chargers – Bengals playoff game. I promised Marty and Sue that I would pay for the beer if we could stay there and follow the game. After much arm-twisting, they reluctantly agreed! Amazingly, we won the game with some ease, so we were thrilled, if not a little drunk. It’s a little hard to see in the picture, but I was proudly representing the Chargers that day. We found a couple of produce markets and tortilla factories to add to our ship’s stores, and then we caught a taxi back to Matanchen.
Matanchen is infamous for its jejenes (no-see-ums), but other than a few in the restaurants on shore, we hadn’t seen them, or felt them. However, on this night, we were invaded by a horde of mosquitoes. They came from nowhere at dusk, so we closed up the boat, turned on the A/C, and started the slaughter. We killed around twenty-five of them over a few hours. Somehow the swarm missed Happy Dance, lucky them!
January 6th: Matanchen Bay to Chacala
The next morning we departed for Chacala, the next recommended destination in the cruising guides. The pictures of it looked like a sub-tropical paradise, with a beautiful pink sand beach fringed with palm trees. When we arrived at the bay, it didn’t disappoint, looking very much as shown in the guides. There were around ten boats anchored in the bay, and it was large enough to accommodate two or three rows of boats. There was one powerboat on the left hand side of the bay, and the rest of the boats were small and medium sized monohulls. We noticed that quite a few of them had stern anchors out, but the bay was quite calm, so we didn’t deploy ours. The wind was blowing from the west, so we were stern-in to the beach.
On the north side of the bay, a concrete dock held a ton of pangas, so it was obvious that we couldn’t tie up the Little Blend there, but there was a calm, protected beach area just inside of the dock. We lowered Little Blend and anchored in that small cove. The main beach at Chacala has small breakers, but the cove is well protected. The Port Captain’s office was right by the cove, but it was closed, as this was one of many Mexican holidays. The beach has about a half a dozen restaurants on it, and a small village is just behind the beach. We found a couple of markets there that had fresh produce and cheap beer. We had a fabulous shrimp lunch at one of the restaurants, and then walked up the beach.
We were very surprised at the number of gringos on the beach. We had never heard of this place outside of the cruising guides. We asked one couple how they had heard of Chacala – they said that there was a large retreat on the south end of the beach, and that they take a bus from Puerto Vallarta to get there. As this was a holiday, there were a lot of Mexican tourists enjoying the beach, and late that afternoon, some of the strangest mariachi bands we had ever seen appeared. They had full brass sections, including tubas, along with marching-band drums. The mariachis we were familiar with had guitars, bass guitars, violins, and trumpets – but no tubas and drums. The songs sounded like you would expect a Mexican marching band to sound like. We returned to the boat for sundowners, and Quincy actually joined us up on the boat deck.
Position at destination: 21°09’ N, 105°14’ W
Air temp: 82, Water temp: 81
Nautical miles for this leg: 22.3 Total: 2043
Departed at 9:40am, arrived at 1:10pm
January 7th – 8th: Bahia Chacala
After dark, the wind shifted, and so did we. Unfortunately, we were beam to the swell, and started rolling. It wasn’t too bad, but we decided that we should deploy the stern anchor the next day. I read through some of our “how-to” books that discussed stern anchors, but none of them provided a procedure for deployment. Our stern anchor is a large Fortress with 30’ of chain attached to the Quickline nylon strap on a roller. It was a little big to take out on the dinghy, so we decided to let out a lot of extra chain on the bow anchor, then back down, deploy the stern anchor, go forward and then take back in the extra chain. This worked out fairly well, and the stern anchor was easily set – all swinging ceased. We went to the beach again for the day.
As we were enjoying the beach, we watched another trawler anchor in the bay to the right of us. It turned out to be Antipodes, from the FUBAR. When we left the beach, we went over to visit with Nancy, Randy and Adam to catch up. They had crossed over to the mainland a little before we did, and they had gone out to Isla Isabela for diving. Randy said that he didn’t have any problems anchoring there, which was the prime reason we decided not to stop there. This was the first time we had been on board their boat, so we got the tour. It’s a custom 55’ steel trawler, with a nice cockpit area. They have two young and overactive cats, Oreo and Fiddlesticks. Adam is twelve years old, and is being home-schooled during their voyage. They are taking a sabbatical with relatively fuzzy plans. Randy is a very experienced fisherman, and they gave us some dorado they had recently caught.
We had originally planned to stay two nights at Chacala, but since we loved it so much, and Antipodes was there, we decided to stay another night. They joined us on the beach and for lunch the next day. The cove where we anchored the dinghies was around some rocks and out of sight. Some of the local people use the small beach there for picnics. When we returned to the cove that afternoon, we found the local kids using our dinghies as a play platform. At least they weren’t tossing mud at them like in Matanchen, but they managed to get a lot of water into the battery and fuel tank compartments. Their parents were right there with them – I guess that parents in Mexico don’t care what their kids do to other people’s property. It was worse for Randy – they had Mustang life jackets on board, and the kids decided to inflate them, leaving Antipodes with no CO2 cartridges. We invited Nancy and Randy over for sundowners. They were going to leave early the next morning for La Cruz, planning to fish offshore along the way.
January 9th: Chacala to Punta de Mita
We got an early start that morning, since we needed to pull up the stern anchor. The advantage of the Fortress is its light weight, being made of aluminum. However, I grossly underestimated how heavy thirty feet of 3/8” chain is when pulling by hand. We let out the bow anchor chain, and then backed down on the stern anchor as I pulled it in. At one point, I was convinced that it was stuck on a rock. Debbie backed down past the anchor, and I was finally able to haul it in. Clearly, we didn’t need that much chain on the stern anchor! Our destination today wasPunta de Mita, just inside of Banderas Bay. The coastline on this cruise was lovely,with long palm tree beaches ever present.
There are a few anchorages along the way mentioned in the cruising guides, but we decided to skip them as they weren’t well protected. Along the way I did a fuel burn test. Tropical Blend has a day tank, which I believe holds forty or fifty gallons. We can select either of the main fuel tanks to feed the day tank. By shutting off supply from both tanks, the day tank will start to drain. There is a highly sensitive sight gauge for the day tank, marked in increments of 1/10th of a gallon. By doing a timed run, you can easily calculate the fuel burn for a give RPM. We ran increments of twelve minutes, and determined a burn rate of 2.1 GPH at 1600 RPM’s, and 2.6 GPH at 1700 RPM’s. This indicated a range of around 3600nm at 1600 RPM at a speed of 6.4 knots. The longest run we have contemplated is crossing to the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific, a distance of around 2600nm, depending upon the launch point. Even at 5.5 knots, we have a range of 3100nm – good news if we get serious about a circumnavigation.
The original owners of our boat, when it was Island Magic, cruised to Alaska and then down to Costa Rica. Their waypoints were still in the old plotter, and I had referenced them a few times. This day I used them when I shouldn’t have done so. There is a reef around Punta de Mita, and I had laid in a course around the reef. But as we were getting closer to the point, I noticed an Island Magic waypoint closer to shore, so I decided to use that one to save some time. We were getting very close to the waypoint when I saw rocks visible below the boat, and the depth suddenly went from fifty feet to less than ten. At the same time, a panga was racing towards us frantically waving their arms. Too late, I stopped forward thrust, and then we hit a rock with a big clunk. I reversed the boat, and we brushed another rock. The guys on the panga showed us the way off of the reef, which was my original waypoint. Rosé rushed below to make sure that no water was coming into the boat, which it wasn’t, and everything else seemed to be OK – no vibrations, full power, full steering. We continued on to our anchorage. I looked up the waypoint from Island Magic, and found that they had labeled it, “Punta de Mita rock”. I learned a valuable lesson here – always enter my own waypoints and be 100% certain. The cruising guides use waypoints to mark dangers, but I never enter them into the plotter to avoid any confusion. I’m not sure why you would do this, as long as you had a safe course entered.
Immediately after we anchored, I dove down to inspect the keel and rudder. Apart from some chipped paint, I didn’t see any real damage, so we seemed to have dodged a big bullet. We had lunch, but we were too rattled to lower the dinghy to explore the shore. There is a very expensive Four Seasons resort here, and somewhat of a town along a long beach. The anchorage is quite large, though it’s not well protected. We had a fairly strong wind keeping us aligned into the swell, so we weren’t moving too much. Through the binoculars, we spotted another Nordie from FUBAR, the N50 Worknot, owned by Gale and Mary Plummer. White beach at Punta de Mita
Position at destination: 20°42’ N, 105°18’ W
Air temp: 81, Water temp: 80
Nautical miles for this leg: 33.5 Total: 2077
Departed at 7:45am, arrived at 12:45pm
January 10th: Punta de Mita to Nuevo Vallarta (Paradise Village)
We left the following morning for the short run to Paradise Village Marina in Nuevo Vallarta. We cruised past La Cruz and lined up for the entrance to Nuevo Vallarta. Once we spotted the entrance, we contacted the marina. This is a very popular marina, and it is often full. Salacia had been told that they couldn’t get in until January 20th. While we were in Mazatlan, I sent an email request to PV Marina for a January 10th arrival, and they confirmed it immediately – beginner’s luck, I suppose. The marina winds up a natural channel, with many of the slips along the side of the channel. We were advised to proceed up the channel to the section called E dock. It was a 73’ slip, and we might have to move after a day or two. We easily tied up in the slip, and then made the very long walk to the marina office to check in. In addition to the marina, there is a yacht club that accepts marina tenants, a full-service resort, and a modern shopping mall.
After checking in at the marina and convincing Dick Markie, the marina manager, to let us stay in the extra-large slip, we checked out the resort. It’s a little dated, but the grounds are gorgeous, there are three swimming pools, and a large beachfront with a bar and restaurant. We decided to have lunch at the beach bar. We were shocked at the prices – beers were 46 pesos, about three times what we had been paying. I told Rosé that we weren’t in Kansas anymore… A basic lunch for us, with one beer and one cocktail, cost $35. Looking around, it was easy to see why – the resort is patronized strictly by gringos, most of them Canadian. We would have considered these prices reasonable in our landlubber days, but we had been spoiled by remote Mexico prices. We spent the afternoon at the beach, where we flaunted the signs that said you couldn’t bring your own food or drink.
Position at destination: 20°42’ N, 105°22’ W
Air temp: 82, Water temp: 81
Nautical miles for this leg: 14.4 Total: 2091
Departed at 8:50am, arrived at 11:15am
January 10th – 18th: Paradise Village Marina
This view is from the yacht club, which is about halfway up the docks. Looking forward are C, B and A docks, including the docks for the megayachts. We found our friends Julie and Chloe on board the N62 Infinity and stopped by for a visit. Andy was still working in SE Asia, and Julie and Chloe were busy with boat work. We noticed there was a lot of surge on the forward docks. Julie told us that it took a lot of effort to get Infinity stable in the dock, and there were a lot of cargo straps and chains used to tie up the boats. Our position on E dock had very little surge.
During our stay at PV Marina, we planned to do some major provisioning at Costco, and attempt to get some boat supplies at Zaragoza Marine, said to be an excellent source for parts. In particular, we needed to get a replacement for our manual gray water pump, which had developed a leak. Amazingly enough, Zaragoza did have the replacement Whaler pump. They also had the Groco accumulator tank, but I decided not to get it, since I was convinced replacing the fresh water pump had solved that issue. They didn’t have a replacement for the Flojet fresh water pump, but that wasn’t surprising. We did buy a few more items at Zaragoza. We also had our anchor line snubber re-spliced at the small marine store at PV Marina, as it had started to fray badly. We also expected to get the zincs received that we had ordered when we were in Mazatlan. I was quite surprised to find out that they still hadn’t left the USA, considering that we placed our order on December 30th. The only shipping choice was USPS, which I found out is terrible for shipping into Mexico. The post office said that because of customs issues, shipments can take up to thirty days!
Another item we were looking for was a laser range finder, typically used on golf courses. Rose and I see distances much differently: she sees them as very short, and I see them as very long. This has caused a lot of controversy when we anchor, as Rose is convinced we are too close, and I am convinced we have plenty of room. To settle the controversy, I thought we could get a range finder. We tromped through a lot of likely stores, but never found one. It wasn’t too hard to get into Puerto Vallarta from Paradise Village. There is an occasionally air conditioned bus for fifteen pesos that runs direct from the resort to downtown PV, stopping at the Walmart and several other locations along the way. But, it can only stop at designated places, so it can’t be taken direct to Zaragoza.
Unlike other marinas we had used in Mexico, PV Marina can’t check you in with the Port Captain. Their office is just across the inlet, so you take a water taxi that has random pricing and may or may not wait for you – a real pain. And the office is closed on weekends and Friday afternoons. I checked us in on Monday morning, but this actually took about an hour and half, with the water taxis.
Basically, we spent most of our time shopping or lounging at one of the pools. There were two chandleries at the marina, and Zaragoza in town, but as in the rest of Mexico, it’s hard to find what you want. In addition to provisioning at Costco, there is a decent supermarket in the mall at the resort. The prices aren’t Mexico cheap, but they have a decent selection, and some import products that you can’t find elsewhere. There is a Laundromat in the mall, staffed with señoras that will do it for you, or you can go with self-service. They sell you tokens for the machines, but the machines for self-service are limited.
A few days before we were due to depart, Salacia arrived, as space had opened up. We were happy to greet them, but we found that Dianna was sick. She had been running a high fever and had some gastrointestinal issues. Rose checked her out, and then suggested that she visit the hospital that was next to the resort. She was quickly admitted, and it took doctors several days to diagnose her illness, which turned out to be dengue fever – ouch! She was in the hospital for five days, and had first-class care in a very modern facility.
We used the shower facility at the north end of the docks. Along the way, we saw another Nordhavn, the N40 Chinatsu. I observed a strange site – two full-grown Alaskan Huskies were on the bow! I introduced myself to the owners, Richard and Olive. Originally from England, they now live in Canada and Singapore, and keep their boat in Nuevo Vallarta. They stay on it in the winter with their dogs. I noticed that Richard had a full-size BMW motorcycle on board, which he lifts using the boom. We invited them over for drinks, together with Julie and Chloe from Infinity. Nordie owners have somewhat of a cult following – we easily make friends, sharing information and sea stories. We made some sashimi appetizers, which Chloe thoroughly enjoyed. She told us about a beach town called Sayulita, located north of Punta de Mita. She went there for a weekend with a crew from one of the megayachts, and really raved about it. We made a mental note to get to Sayulita when we stayed in La Cruz.
January 16th was my birthday, and as luck would have it, the yacht club was sponsoring a potluck full moon dinner. We spent a lazy day at the pool, and took some brownies to the potluck dinner. They had the BBQ set up, and you brought your own meat. After dinner, Dick Markie asked people to share their sea stories, with a prize to be awarded for the best ones. I told the story of our circuit breaker failure when we transited from San Diego to Ensenada. But I was legitimately trumped by two better stories. The second place winner was a couple that had returned to San Francisco for Christmas, to see new grandchildren. While in the area, they had expensive fishing gear stolen from their SUV, their SUV itself was stolen, and their credit card literally went down the drain at a sidewalk restaurant in San Francisco. The winning story was a fish tale, told by a sailboater. With little fishing experience, they had a crewman with a lot of fishing knowledge join them for the crossing from Mazatlán to La Paz. At about five in the morning, the crewman had gone off watch, and suddenly they hooked a large dorado. They brought the dorado up the sugar scoop. If you have ever caught a dorado, you know that they are relatively calm in the water, but once you bring them out of the water, they go insane. Well, their first dorado was no different – he said that the fish got off of the gaff and was flopping everywhere. They had an aft cabin, and the fish spotted the open hatch, being a dark place that resembled the pre-dawn ocean. It flopped in through the hatch, and proceeded to share its blood throughout the master cabin, soaking their brand-new mattress in fish blood! It was also on the walls and ceiling. There was no question about that story as the winner.
The next day (Friday morning), we checked again on our package of zincs, which had finally left the USA. We were preparing to check out, and the marina told us that they could forward the package to us at our next marina, Barra de Navidad. I took a water taxi for the check-out cha-cha, since they aren’t open on Friday afternoons or Saturday. On the way back, there were some land tourists on board, talking about a beached boat. They showed me a picture of an Azimut, probably around 70’ long, sitting high up on the beach just south of the Nuevo Vallarta inlet. The story was that both the woner and captain had fallen asleep while the boat was on autopilot, and it drove itself right up on the beach. Fortunately, it missed the rocks. I decided that we needed to cruise by for a look when we left the next afternoon.
Before we left on Saturday morning, we went over to the hospital to visit with Dianna. The hospital was very modern, very clean, and very impressive. Dianna was very tired, and had obviously been having a hard time of it. We were glad that she was under very good care, and it was fortunate that the hospital was so close, so Neil could easily spend time with her. We returned and got underway for the short trip to La Cruz.
January 18th: Paradise Village – La Cruz
We left Saturday afternoon for the quick run up to the La Cruz anchorage. Once we cleared the inlet, we turned south to check out the beached boat. By this time, a backhoe was digging a trench underneath it. We figured that the plan was to dig the trench to the ocean, and float it out under high tide.
Since it was Saturday afternoon, Banderas Bay was quite busy. There was a sailboat race under way, and many boats were out for the day. Some annoying birds were determined to drop their loads on our newly cleaned boat, which they managed to do despite our efforts to drive them away. We were starting to develop a healthy dislike for these birds. They would fly overhead, and then dive bomb the bow before hitting the water to fish. When we got to La Cruz, it was very busy – we counted fifty boats! We recognized a couple of boats from FUBAR, including Worknot and Context. The anchorage is huge, so we had no problem dropping the hook. There was a decent fifteen knot NW wind holding us in place, but the wind did a 180° flip after sunset. This seems to be the norm in this part of Mexico. Fortunately here, the wind was perpendicular to the swell, so we barely rolled, making for a comfortable stay.
Position at destination: 20°45’ N, 105°22’ W
Air temp: 82, Water temp: 80
Nautical miles for this leg: 8.0 Total: 2099
Departed at 1:30pm, arrived at 2:45pm
January 19th – 20th: La Cruz
On Sunday morning, John from Context came by for a visit. He told us that his group would be having breakfast at Philo’s, a cruiser’s hangout in La Cruz, and then they would be going to the Sunday Farmer’s Market, which is well-known. We decided to join them, so we took Little Blend into the La Cruz marina, where they have an area for dinghies from the anchorage. You are supposed to pay 50 pesos for the privilege, but we couldn’t find anyone to take our pesos, so we tied up and walked to town. On the way, we ran into Gale Plummer, and he introduced us to Becky and Bernard from Worth Waiting 4, the trawler we had seen at Chacala. We arrived at Philo’s and met up with John, his wife, and her sister for breakfast. While we were there, we saw Richard and Olive from Chinatsu, in the biker’s Sunday best. Every Sunday they get together with other bikers for a ride – it’s a small world!
Afterwards we went over to the market, which is very large, and very busy. It’s a mixture of food and handicrafts. We bought some fresh produce, some bread, and some fancy flip-flops. While walking through, we ran into Jim and Anne from Giddy Up. They were back at PV after spending the holidays in Calgary – small world, indeed!
The next day we went to see Sayulita. To get there, you walk up to the main highway in La Cruz, about ten minutes from the marina. You catch a local bus to Bucerias for ten pesos. The driver lets you know where to exit for the Sayulita bus, and then you walk across the very busy highway 200 to catch the second bus. I believe that one cost 14 pesos. It’s about a half an hour to Sayulita, but we were delayed by a small fire on the side of the road. We arrived at Sayulita and walked through the town, which has some small produce markets, some restaurants, and a lot of beachwear shops. The surf is usually good here, so there are a lot of surfers here during the winter months. You can live quite cheaply here, so young surfers were everywhere. It’s fun place to spend a day, and easy to get to from Banderas Bay.
We went to the beach and settled in at a restaurant that provided beach chairs and an umbrella. Being uncommonly thirsty, I ordered a buck of beer, which I figured I could somehow finish it myself, as Rosé is not a cerveza drinker. The surf is strong, and the beach has a steep slope to it.
After the ubiquitous camarones lunch and a few drinks, we got into the swing of things and thoroughly enjoyed our Sayulita mini-holiday. On our way back to the bus stop, we picked up some very inexpensive local produce. That night in the boat I checked on the status of our zinc package, only to find out that they had been shipped from Guadalajara and were now in Bucerias, before being delivered to Paradise Village. Had I known this, I could have stopped at the correos office to pick them up…
January 21st: La Cruz to Yelapa
The next major leg of our voyage was heading south to Barra de Navidad. Along the way, we would stop at several prime anchorages which make up the Gold Coast, a very popular cruising ground. Between Banderas Bay and Bahia Chamela, the first big anchorage, there are some marginal stops that we decided to skip. One of the obtacles to this section is Cabo Corrientes, which some people call the Point Conception of Mexico. It’s where you turn 90° to the south after exiting Banderas Bay, and there can be some strong currents and winds around the point. It’s recommended to make this passage at night, or very early in the morning. We decided to spend a night in the Banderas Bay anchorage of Yelapa, and then depart at 5:00 in the morning to get around Cabo Corrientes.
The cruising guides said that Yelapa was a very deep bay, with a very steep slope. There are some moorings in the bay, but we didn’t trust those with our heavy boat. Before we got into the bay, we were greeted by a panga, looking to promote services in the bay – the cruising guides said this would happen. The panga driver spoke perfect English, and Rosé had a running conversation as we approached the bay. After explaining our weight, he agreed that we should not take a mooring, but that he would guide us to a good anchoring position. We were only about 200’ off of the beach, but we still found ourselves in 80’ of water. We dropped anchor when we got to 70’, and laid out 300’ of chain. The panga driver took our stern anchor and set it close to the beach, so we felt about as comfortable as we could be. It turned out that the panga driver had lived for some time in our former home town of San Jose, CA, which explained his English proficiency.
After settling in, we took a water taxi to the beach for lunch. Yelapa is quite busy on the weekends with tourist boats from Puerto Vallarta, but this Tuesday it was quiet. A couple of vendors came by, including one with a big iguana. He offered to take pictures of you holding the iguana. He asked the wrong person – Rosé is not too big on rodents and reptiles! Midway through our lunch, an elderly woman came walking through asking for money. Well, not exactly asking – she was saying, rather emphatically, “give me a peso”, and then muttering a curse in Spanish. This didn’t exactly endear her to us.
Yelapa is a narrow, deep bay. On the north side there are some moorings, and a sailboat claimed the one closest to our port side. To starboard, we had a rock wall, as shown in the picture here. I decided to pull the stern anchor, since we were planning to leave in the dark the next morning. It wasn’t too rough in the cove, so I took the dinghy to the anchor, but I didn’t have enough leverage to pull it up. Fortunately, a panga with hard sides came by and we were able to retrieve it.
Shortly after sunset, all Hell broke loose. The winds shifted 180°, and we were suddenly rolling rather violently. We were concerned about both the moored boat next to us and the rock wall on the other side. We discussed leaving right then, but Rose was very concerned about getting out of the bay, given the narrow confines. I was confident that we could follow our track out, but we agreed to ride it out until morning. The refracted swell kept growing and the waves off of the wall sounded louder and louder. Finally at midnight, we decided to get out while the getting was good. Since we were turned completely around, we had to reorient the boat to pull the anchor. Between the rolling, bobbing, and weaving, Rosé had a difficult time bringing up the anchor, but she prevailed. We followed our old track out of the bay and set course to round Cabo Corrientes. There is a saying in the cruising guide – “it’s better to have a palapa in Yelapa than a condo in Redondo”, but we would heartily disagree!
Position at destination: 20°29’ N, 105°27’ W
Air temp: 82, Water temp: 80
Nautical miles for this leg: 16.6 Total: 2116
Departed at 9:30am, arrived at 12:15pm
January 22nd: Yelapa – Bahia Chamela
As mentioned earlier, after midnight we decided to get the hell out of Dodge. It took some time to get oriented, come up with an emergency plan (should the swell knock us towards the rocks, beach, or moored boats), pull the 300’ of anchor chain, and carefully follow our track out of the dark, moonless bay. We are pleased to report a successful exit, although it was a little harrowing. We rounded Cabo Corrientes to a gentle sea with long period swells and light winds. There wasn’t too much traffic that night, but we did pass a northbound cruise ship about eight miles off our starboard. It’s amazing to see these ships that resemble floating Christmas trees.
After a smooth day, we entered Bahia Chamela. This is a large bay that is well protected to the north. And of course, the wind had shifted to the south… There were quite a few boats in the anchorage, including Worth Waiting 4. We anchored in about twenty feet of water, but the wind was blowing at twenty knots or so, and we were actually pitching up and down. There was nothing we could do about that, so we poured some sundowners, and enjoyed the rest of the day reading in the flying bridge, cooled by the steady wind.
There is a beautiful pink sand beach here, with a few hotels and a small village. There is even an RV park here. As usual, there is no dinghy dock, and the surf was up a little bit, so we decided to take the kayak on shore. This was the first time that we had used the kayak. It’s an ocean two-person kayak made by Hobie, the Kona model. We bought this one because it was the smallest tandem kayak that we could find. Given our limited space on the bow railing, this is very important. We had a stainless steel rack fabricated to hold it, and it fit perfectly. To launch and retrieve, we would just need to lower and raise it using lines on its bow and stern. It weighs about 78 pounds, but we could manage to manually muscle it up. We experienced our first surf landing in a kayak, which is very much like surfing. If you time it right, you get carried into the beach, hustle off and grab it. Of course, we were a little slow getting off so wet was the order of the day. We had lunch at one of the many cantinas on the beach – being a weekday, it was fairly deserted. We had heard there was a tienda in the village, so we walked up to the main road. There were a couple of tiendas, but very minimally stocked. Other than a prodigious amount of Bimbo bread, water, and beer, there wasn’t much there. Fortunately we weren’t in need of any serious provisions.
Position at destination: 19°35’ N, 105°08’ W
Air temp: 86, Water temp: 82
Nautical miles for this leg: 85.2 Total: 2201
Departed at 1:00am, arrived at 2:30pm
January 24th: Bahia Chamela – Isla Cocinas
Bahia Chamela is quite large, and the southern end has several islands that contain anchorages. After a couple of nights at the Playa anchorage, we decided to venture to the islands, where there was supposedly clear water and good snorkeling. We ended up off of the northeast corner of Isla Cocinas, which gave us some protection from the south wind. There are some primitive camps on the beach, and one family was enjoying the beach. The waters weren’t so clear, and the waves were still running, so I decided against snorkeling. That night the wind died off, and I noticed something that would happen again in many Mexican anchorages. We have underwater lights – blue LED’s. The only fish we attracted were trumpet fish, plus some small baitfish. During the evening, we heard a couple of heavy splashes right next to the boat. The splashes were caused by freeloading pelicans, taking advantage of the fish attracted to the boat lights. For some reason, they really annoyed me. We turned off the underwater lights, but the fish were still hanging around, as were the pelicans. I shone the spotlight on the pelicans to shoo them off, and tons of fish started jumping out of the water wherever the light hit the surface. They looked like flying fish, but I never did make a positive identification. We would see these fish many more time, providing lots of entertainment for a simpleton like me. It doesn’t take much to distract the village idiot…
Position at destination: 1933’ N, 105°06’ W
Air temp: 84, Water temp: 83
Nautical miles for this leg: 2.7 Total: 2204
Departed at 12:30pm, arrived at 12:50pm
January 25st: Isla Cocinas to Paraiso
The next stop on our tour of the Gold Coast was Paraiso. This is a narrow anchorage in a bay that has numerous rock islands with blow holes and sea caves. The entrance was straightforward, and there were no other boats in the anchorage, so we dropped the hook deep in the bay, as shown by the “A” in this chart.
We had a hundred or so yards to the rock walls on either side, and the swell in the bay was fairly light, so we felt comfortable. The bay itself was very beautiful, with red rock islands strewn everywhere.
There is supposedly a very expensive private resort on the beach, and we saw what appeared to be a photo shoot going on there.
We explored most of the bay on the kayak, and then stopped at the tiny little beach to the south of our anchorage. To the north of us, the big rock contained several blowholes. Despite the apparent calm of the water, the blowhole action was pretty big.
Early in the afternoon, a small sailboat anchored just in front of us – Cupcake. We had heard this boat’s name before, and we thought it was rather amusing. Only a sailboat would be named Cupcake. And to top it off, there was another sailboat in the area named Cake. That one was owned by a baker, so at least there was a reason. Cupcake only stayed for a couple of hours, so we had the anchorage to ourselves. The rocks looked like an inviting snorkel place, so I gave it a try. The visibility was poor, and the fish we scarce, so I gave it up early. The waterline of the boat was getting awfully green – it hadn’t been cleaned since Mazatlan. I decided to snorkel around the transom to clean off the moss and growth. I had no idea that it would take so long, and take so much energy. I had a suction grab bar which made the job possible, but I had new respect for those that clean the bottom. Sooner or later, I would need to break out the hookah and clean the entire bottom by myself.
Shortly after dark, something bad happened: there was a wind shift to the east, typical for this area, but then the swells started to pound us on both our beam and our bow. The swells suddenly seemed to be refracting off of the rock wall south of us, and we commenced to rolling quite severely. Given that it was after dark, and the roll was pretty bad, we decided not to try to deploy the flopper stopper, instead hoping that the wind would calm down after dark.
It didn’t, and the roll persisted all night. The main water tank is under our berth, and when the water level is at a certain point, it sloshes over the baffles during rolling. And of course, it was at the optimal point for sloshing that night. Rosé is a great sleeper, but that noise drives her crazy. She abandoned the berth early in the evening and moved up into the salon, but neither of us got much sleep that night. At first light, I climbed out of the cabin and said, “Let’s get the Hell out of here!”
Position at destination: 19°28’ N, 105°04’ W
Air temp: 81, Water temp: 82
Nautical miles for this leg: 6.1 Total: 2210
Departed at 8:45am, arrived at 9:45am
January 26th: Paraiso to Bahia Tenacatita
We were delighted to leave the beautiful, but rolly Pariaso. We had originally intended to make Careyes our next stop, but the cruising guides say that it is more rolly than Paraiso, so we gave it a miss. Instead, we continued south to Bahia Tenacatita, one of the most popular anchorages on the Gold Coast. The guides list two primary anchorages – one is just around the first corner, nicknamed The Aquarium, and the other is at the main beach. Since we hadn’t yet had any decent snorkeling along the Mexican coast, we headed straight for the main anchorage. It was busy, with about forty boats present, but there was plenty of room. We anchored in about thirty feet of water, and settled in for a long stay.
Position at destination: 19°18’ N, 104°50’ W
Air temp: 86, Water temp: 84
Nautical miles for this leg: 24.9 Total: 2235
Departed at 7:40am, arrived at 11:30am
January 26th – 30th: Bahia Tenacatita
We ended up spending the entire week at Tenacatita. It was very calm, and the community of boaters there was delightful. Every day there was a VHF net that covered Manzanillo, Barra de Navidad, Santiago, and Tenacatita. We couldn’t hear boaters from Manzanillo or Santiago, but someone was always able to relay messages. After this net was finished, there would be a low power net just for the Tenacatita contingent. On the beach, there was an outdoor restaurant that was open every day except for Tuesday. There was also a park there for camping, which had garbage cans – great news for those of us spending extended time on the hook.
Many of the boats at Tenacatita have been coming there for years. There was a de facto “Mayor” of the anchorage named Robert. Every Friday was the Mayor’s raft-up, where dinghies would assemble to share food, music poetry, and whatever. Sadly, we weren’t there on Friday, but we heard great stories about it. Every afternoon on the beach there were bocci ball games, beach walks, and Mexican Train (a game similar to dominoes) at the restaurant. Following the bocci ball games, we would assemble at the restaurant for cervezas and story-swapping time. We ran into Bob and Sherri from Nirvana, who we had last seen at paradise Village (and originally next to us at Costa Baja). Although we were one of only two powerboats at the anchorage, we were quickly welcomed into the community. We had a problem with our forward head overflowing because the water level solenoid wasn’t working, and another boater quickly came on board to help me with it. He suggested exercising the solenoid manually, and I eventually found a very small particle in it that was keeping it opened – problem solved without spending money!
We used the kayak for beach access, since the surf was relatively high. We did get swamped one day, so we were glad not to have tried the Little Blend. We did launch it for a bay tour. There are a number of resorts around the bay, some of them deserted. Near the Aquarium anchorage, there used to be a number of beach restaurants, but those have been removed for some new resort that doesn’t seem to be getting built anytime soon. The guards at the property are very aggressive. Some people had gone under the fence, only to be chased off by guards, including a demand to erase any pictures of the construction site – really, in Mexico? There is a small jungle river that runs from the Tenacatita beach to the Aquarium anchorage beach, but it can be very shallow crossing the bar. Once morning I decided to take the kayak up the river, and left about two hours after high tide. I thought that the current would be down, but I was wrong. It was quite a struggle paddling against the tidal current, but coming back was fun. I didn’t see any crocs in the river, but it was a beautiful river surrounded by mangroves. There were a lot of pangas ferrying people back and forth, but they were really polite and cut their motors to idle when they went past me.
We passed a lot of time not doing much of nothing at all. We thought about going across the bay to La Manzanilla, a town where some of the cruisers go for provisions. There is a croc sanctuary there that has some really big boys. But, we were told that the beach landing can be very hairy, even for the wheeled dinghy set, so we decided not to go. At the eastern end of Tenacatita Beach there is a pair of resorts – one is called Blue Bay (all-inclusive) and another one around the rocks that is clothing-optional. We heard that you can buy a day pass at Blue Bay, but at $50 it seemed awfully pricey.
One afternoon while sitting at the restaurant, we saw a small catamaran cruising through the anchorage. The owner was well known to the community, and they said he always sails through an anchorage before finally anchoring outside of it – and he uses a stern anchor only. We laughed while watching him get close to all of the boats, but later the joke was on us. A small sportfishing boat came in and anchored in what seemed to be very close to us, just to our port side. We wondered why, with all of the room in the anchorage, he would get that close. Later, we would see that it wasn’t too close, but still there was no reason for it. While watching this, I noticed that Little Blend was behind our boat. Normally, we tie Little Blend up next to the port cockpit entry door, so it doesn’t stick out past the platform. But we were seeing it well behind our cockpit. When we returned via kayak, we were shocked to see that one of the lifting eyes (the one we used for the stern tie) had some completely out of the transom, and was in the water at the end of the line. It must have slowly vibrated out, and we felt very fortunate that it had not come out during launch or retrieval. After that, we would check both eyes every time we picked up the dinghy. That was a real “whew” moment. On our last day, I decided to clean the entire waterline using the snorkel. It took me about two and a half hours, and wore me out.
After a delightful and fun week in Tencacatita, it was time to move on to Barra de Navidad, which we had been looking forward to for most of our trip. There marina is part of a big hotel that is set into a hillside. The captain that helped us take our boat from Dana Point to Alameda had told us that it was one of his favorite destinations, as had Ken Williams (owner of the N68 Sans Souci) in his book on cruising Mexico and Central America. It was a short sixteen mile cruise to the harbor entrance and marina. This entrance is a little bit tricky, as there is a big shoal inside the harbor. Boats that try to cut corners here run aground in mud, and only high tide can lift them out.
You can see the marina, and we only had to follow the marked channel, which does come VERY close to the wall by the hotel. Continuing past the marina is the lagoon, which is very shallow. Many boats stat there for free, but just about every day you hear a call on the VHF for a boat that has broken loose. Given the shallow water and tight spaces, not much chain can be let out, and with poor holding mud, any kind of wind prompts breakouts. Plus, there are mozzies in the lagoon, and the water quality is very toxic-looking. At just $0.70 per foot per night, it was an easy decision for us to stay in the marina, with the resort privileges. The marina doesn’t take reservations, and they don’t respond to the VHF, so you just pull in to an empty-looking slip and check in at the office. We did that, but sure enough, there were plans for a different boat to occupy the slip we were squatting in, so we had to move. We ended up in a double slip by ourselves, with one of the brand-new Nordhavn 63’s, True Blue, in the next slip over. Also in the marina was Antipodes. They were planning to leave the following Monday, so Randy suggested that we go together to the Port captain, which isn’t easy to find. We went with the Antipodes crew to the pseudo-marina located in the fingers northeast of the harbor, and walked over to the Port Captain’s office, which is nowhere near the port. After we checked in, Randy gave us a quick tour of Barra town, and we had tacos from a street vendor. Barra is a great little town – many restaurants and shops line to two streets of the town, but it doesn’t have a tourist trap feel at all. There are a lot of ex-pats living there, but it still feels like a small Mexican town with Mexican prices.
Position at destination: 19°12’ N, 104°41’ W
Air temp: 86, Water temp: 86
Nautical miles for this leg: 15.7 Total: 2250.5
Departed at 8:40am, arrived at 11:00am
January 31st – February 16th: Marina Puerto de la Navidad (Barra de Navidad)
After we completed our check-in and the short tour of Barra, we explored the resort property. It’s the Grand Bay Resort Hotel. It has four swimming pools – three are terraced near the entry channel, and a fourth one is on the tenth floor of the hotel – we didn’t know about that pool at first. There are tennis courts, a golf course, a beach club, and a spa. The grounds are absolutely gorgeous, and the hotel looks very unique in the hillside setting. There are several restaurants, although we never ate at any of them – they were rather pricey, and there were great restaurants in town, just a short water taxi ride away. You call a water taxi for the five minute trip into Barra – the cost was forty pesos, round trip. They serve the resort, the marina, and the lagoon.
The pools got crowded in the afternoon, and the water was a little chilly, but very refreshing. Most days we had wind coming off of the ocean, gathering speed as it swept down the hill, so it was very comfortable sleeping without air conditioning. As marina tenants, we got full resort privileges, including free wi-fi, which worked passably well. The marina was only about half-full, and we were told that it would be virtually empty during the summer. The water in the marina looked very clean, and we had a resident yellow puffer fish that was munching stuff off of the boat’s hull.
The first Saturday we were in the marina, Antipodes invited us for a tuna sushi party, along with friends of theirs from Sea Otter, Mike and Julie. We made the rice and brought our Vitamix blender. Rosé learned how to make sushi rolls, and a good time was had by all. Sunday was Superbowl day, and we decided that we would watch the game at a hotel in town called Cabo Blanco. Barra really gets hopping on Sundays, and the town was full of people, both locals and tourists. The vast majority of Americans planning to watch the Superbowl were Seahawks fans. We don’t really care one way or the other about the Seahawks, but I have a pathological hatred of the Broncos, more properly called the Donkeys. Of our small group, only Julie was pulling for The Forehead (Peyton Manning). The kids enjoyed swimming in the pool, and we enjoyed Superbowl beverages. The hotel had a sort of widescreen set up – a dull projector and a sheet. But it was good enough to witness the slaughter, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Given the amount of sailors from the Pacific Northwest in town, the mood was very festive.
Mike from Sea Otter had told us about a pool that was on the tenth floor of the hotel, and we finally found it. Well hidden, it required three different elevators and a couple of long walks. But it was well worth the effort – it was a beautiful, quiet, and usually deserted pool. Our opinion was that the rooms on the tenth floor were the best rooms in the house, and celebrities could rent out the entire floor and have a private pool. There was a bar at the pool, but it was never staffed during our visit. That was no problem with the Tropical Blend portable rolling bar!
When we arrived at the marina, there was a Nordhavn 43 in the marina, the Discovery, owned by Frank and Linda Osborne. They have been cruising Mexico for the past six years. We had drinks and went to Barra for dinner together. Their boat is the “plan B” version, which has the owner’s cabin in the bow section. We thought that this plan had a much more efficient use of space than the far more popular “plan A” boat. Had we seen one of these, we may have elected to purchase it. We thought that the “plan A” boat had very limited storage, what with the two separate passageways leading to the berths.
Driving to Puero Vallarta
Putting on the “way-back” machine, do you remember about the zincs that we had ordered way back when we were in Mazatlan, but had not arrived in Puerto Vallarta before we left? I called Paradise Village Marina and confirmed that they had finally arrived, but PVM wasn’t going to send them on to us. We didn’t know anybody planning a transit to Barra anytime soon, so we decided to rent a car and drive up to PV to get them. Plus, we could make a provisioning trip to Costco, as well as Home Depot. The drive is around three hours, so we could do it in one day. The only rental car company in Barra is Crazy Cactus, which also does construction, rents storage space, and sells real estate – one stop shopping, indeed! The fleet is rent-a-wreck. Since we needed to leave at 6:00AM, we decided to rent for two days. The only available cars were a Dodge Atos with a standard transmission, or a Chevy Comfort with an automatic. Having once rented the woefully underpowered Atos in St. Maarten, and desiring an automatic, we went with the Chevy.
We left the following morning at first light. We were amazed at the amount of traffic we encountered at Melaque, just a little north of Barra. The schools were already open at 6:30. I suppose that allows the kids to get home early in the afternoon to assist with chores and such. It was quite foggy in the hills, but the car was doing fine. Until it wasn’t. On one long straightaway, I suddenly felt the car lose power. The engine was still running, but we were rapidly slowing. After a few seconds, it returned to normal. However, a few minutes later, it happened again, and didn’t get better. I noticed that we only had high gear, making acceleration very poor. In addition, the “check engine” light was on, as was some kind of “sport shift” light. We looked at the Spanish manual as we were driving (not daring to stop the car), but couldn’t make sense of what was happening. The car wasn’t overheating, and it was capable of maintaining speed, unless acceleration was needed, which quickly became important when we climbed the hills around Cabo Corrientes. There was a lot of construction on the highway, with long stretches of dirt and gravel.
We crawled over the mountains and started the long descent into Puerto Vallarta. We decided that we would call Crazy Cactus once we arrived to figure out a plan. We proceeded to Nuevo Vallarta and Paradise Village. By now, the engine was roaring quite loudly, but other than the limited acceleration of fourth gear, it was managing. Once we pulled in to Paradise Village, we decided not to turn the engine off. We parked near the marina office, and I hustled in to pick up our zincs. When I put the car in reverse, it made a very loud “clunking” noise – clearly there were transmission issues. We left Nuevo Vallarta and drove to Home Depot to pick up a few items. We finally turned the car off, and it did restart – and the check engine light went off. I called Crazy Cactus to advise them of the problem, and they basically said that we could drive the car back to Barra, or leave it in PV. Of course, then we would have to take a bus back, with no Costco provisions. We decided to keep on driving until the car died.
Across the street, I pulled into a Pemex station, added some fuel, and checked every fluid level in the car. All was normal, and suddenly the transmission worked properly. It wouldn’t malfunction again – very strange. Anyway, we picked up a nice load of provisions at Costco and drove back to Barra, arriving at dusk without further incident. The next day we decided to drive over to Melaque before turning in the car. We were seeking the Hawaii grocery store, which supposedly had a lot of gringo products that were hard to find in Mexico. We found the store, and it did have unusual products, but at exorbitant prices. We did buy some nice-looking produce while we were there. Afterwards, we had lunch on the street, at a place where they made the tortillas and salsa right there, and grilled fresh meat. We had some delicious tacos, paying thirty pesos for the entire lunch. After this, we drove back to Barra and turned in the car, explaining about the problem that had gone away.
Friends, friends, and more friends
Just after we returned, Salacia arrived. Dianna was fully recovered by now, and we had a lot of fun in Barra with Dianna and Neil. A few days later, Mary and Gale from Worknot arrived, and they joined us at what we now refer to as the “Nordhavn pool”. While we were out at anchor, our batteries had started performing poorly, requiring about six hours per day on the generator. I knew they were nearing the end of their service life, but I was hoping to keep them going until the end of the year. We have a Xantrex 3kW inverter and charger, and five house batteries (at the time I thought we had three batteries, but that is another story). Neil had told me that while he was at Tenacatita, Tom Collins from Misty Sea (a FUBAR boat) had given an impromptu seminar on batteries over the VHF. Misty Sea was in the marina, so at the weekly cocktail party, we cornered Tom. I asked him about equalizing AGM’s, and he said that they can be equalized. In addition, Neil told me to make sure that our Xantex remote panel was set up correctly. Well, at some time after we had the boat in Alameda, all of the LED indicators on the panel had started to flash, in a staircase pattern. I thought that this was normal, but I was now unable to enter the panel into setup mode. Neil took a look, and then did some research. He told me that I could restart the panel by disconnecting the RJ-11 (telephone cable) that links the remote panel to the inverter in the lazaraette. Well, lo and behold, that did the trick, which was a real d’oh! moment. I remembered that we had lost shore power once week when we were at Alameda, losing all of the charge in the batteries – I’m pretty sure that’s when the flashing started. Anyway, I entered the correct values and decided not to run an equalization cycle.
On Valentine’s Day, we decided to get together with Neil and Dianna for happy hour and dinner. On the way to our favorite happy hour hotel, we looked at Bananas Restaurant, which was having a lobster and filet mignon special for $15 – dinner plan made! The day before, Dennis Fox and his wife came into the marina on Sea Fox, and Gale and Mary were planning to join them for dinner. However, they found out that the dinner menu at the place they had selected was limited and expensive (just like the USA), so they decided to join us at Banana’s. Dinner was very good, and we had a lot of fun. Dennis has
extensive experience cruising in the Caribbean, so he invited me to come over the next morning to get some tips.
The next morning, I woke up to find Sea Fox nowhere in sight. I went over to ask Gale what had happened, and he said that Dennis heard that in a few days’ time, there would be some weather around Cabo Corrientes. Dennis had big plans for a 50th wedding anniversary party at the Four Seasons in Punta de Mita, and he was taking no chances. Gale told me that as soon as Dennis heard that there was a weather system on its way to Corrientes, he loosed the dock lines and high-tailed it out of there, not giving his crew enough time to finish their coffee! Dennis was very keen on avoiding weather…
One of the benefits of being in Barra is El Horno Farancés, the French Baker. Emeric comes through the marina every morning around 9:00AM, ringing a bell to announce his presence. He has fresh-baked baguettes, jalapeño bread (to die for), croissants, rolls, and even pizza dough. When that bell rang, we re-created Pavlov’s Dog, salivating at the prospect. He made a stop every morning at our boat. Quincy also loved the French Baker – he likes white bread, so he loved the fresh baguettes. We used the jalapeño bread for sandwiches, and we froze a good deal of it. This is one of the many pleasures of Barra de Navidad.
In addition to his bakery, the French Baker has an Italian restaurant in town. One night we went to his restaurant, which has a very simple menu: pasta (fresh) with three different sauces, bread, and beer or wine for one-hundred pesos. It was absolutely delicious, but we were the only customers there. It’s not open a lot, but if you are in Barra, check it out! After dinner, we went to the town square where a small traveling carnival had set up. We figured there were no regulations or inspections of the rides, but Mary was brave enough to take a spin on The Himalaya. The creaks and groans as the ride spun around were terrible, but she had a great time.
Neil and Dianna weren’t planning to go any further south than Barra, but they wanted to see Manzanillo, so we joined them on a bus ride over to the city. It’s not far, but it takes about an hour and a half, what with stops, topes, and towns in the way. The bus was a highway bus – clean, quiet, new, and air-conditioned. Once we got into town, we took a taxi searching for a chandlery that Gale had asked us to go to in search of a part. The chandlery was on the south end of the city, in the middle of the commercial harbor. It was basically a fishing store, with very few boat parts. We decided to go back to the northern area by bus. We found the right bus, but it took a tortuous route up into the hills above the city, and at times was crawling along at about 5MPH. It had the most uncomfortable seats we had ever had on a Mexican bus, which is saying a lot. We finally exited the bus near the Soriana, and started to look for a restaurant. This section of town is full of big stores (Home Depot, Soriana, Walmart, Commercial Mexicana, etc.), but very few restaurants. We finally saw one that had a big grill under a ramada, so we decided to try it. We were the only customers, as it was already around 2:00PM. We ordered a mixed grill for four people, but it could have easily fed eight of us. All of the meats were fabulous, as were the bean tacos that came with it, and the price was just 400 pesos. We each took quite a bit of it back to our boats.
We did see a sailboat grounded on the shoal one day. There were three pangas trying to pull it off the shoal, and the skipper was gunning the engine. I remember thinking that was a bad idea, what with sand ingestion and all. Apparently they were able to break loose at high tide. A day later, we heard a VHF conversation from the grounded boat, complaining of engine overheating…
We spent sixteen days in Barra, more than a week more than we originally planned, because we enjoyed it so much. We watched some of the Winter Olympics while we were there – our DirecTV Caribbean had very good coverage. Unlike American TV, which shows the winner, the Americans, personal stories, and tons of commercials, the DirecTV coverage was end-to-end of an event. We got the boat washed, the superstructure waxed, and the bottom cleaned while we were there. We had fun with friends new and old. We enjoyed the food, but I don’t remember the restaurant names, other than Loco Loco, which has the best pizza in Mexico. All in all, we loved Barra, and we look forward to going back some day.
February 16th: Barra de Navidad to Ensenada Carrizal
We finally said adios to Barra de Navidad, and left in the morning for the short cruise to Ensenada Carrizal. The seas were pretty calm for the four-hour run, and we anchored on the western side of the bay. There were a handful of boats anchored, but the large bay offered plenty of room. There are fish pens on the eastern side of the bay. We had read that there was good snorkeling here, so I gave it a try. The visibility wasn’t goo, due to sand kicked up by the surge, but there were a lot of fish here. For some reason, we never took any pictures here, but it was really a very scenic place to spend time. The bay is open to a south swell, but we had an east swell at this time of year, so it was a pretty comfortable night.
Position at destination: 19°06’ N, 104°26’ W
Air temp: 84, Water temp: 83
Nautical miles for this leg: 22.0 Total: 2274
Departed at 10:30am, arrived at 2:30pm
February 17th: Ensenada Carrizal to Bahia Santiago
We made the short and leisurely cruise towards Manzanillo, stopping in Bahia Santiago. This is a very large bay that is fairly protected. We anchored not too far from a visible shipwreck, which provided some decent snorkeling.
We spent a couple of nights here. The beach is very long, and the western side is lined with lots of (what else?) shrimp restaurants. There are houses on the beach and just beyond it. We took a walk through the area, and it was very nice. Many of the houses had pools, and the entire area had beautiful landscaping. We were able to land Little Blend on the beach, although the surf was stronger than it looked from our anchor position, and the tide was getting bigger as well. But we employed the brick and Little Blend bobbed around just outside the surf line while we ventured about.
As I was coming back from snorkeling the wreck, a couple from one of the sailboats had dinghied over for a visit. They were getting up in years, and they wanted to switch from sail to a trawler, so they were asking trawler questions. Rose and I invited them to come on board for a look several times, but they felt that would be too intrusive. Strange, because most of us boaters enjoy showing off our floating homes. Anchored not too far from us was Worth Waiting 4. We hadn’t really spent any time with Becky and Bernard, so we stopped by to say hi to them. They invited us to some back for sundowners later that day. Worth Waiting 4 is an older Offshore boat, I believe from the 80’s. It was in very nice condition, and was a nice cruiser. They were having problems with their dinghy motor, a Johnson, but they said they would kayak over to visit with us the following evening. They are basically cruising the Mexican coast – they weren’t planning to go further south than Manzanillo.
We discussed out plans, and Bernard cautioned me against cruising eastward from Cartagena to Trinidad. The seas and winds are on your nose, and it can be a pretty uncomfortable passage. He loaned me a book called “Cruising the Big U”, written by owners of a Selene 43. The “Big U” runs from Alaska to Nova Scotia, and there is a cruising association dedicated to those making this passage. The Selene from the book made the eastward trip to Trinidad, and they got beat up pretty bad. I found the book on Amazon, and bought it as a reference guide. We had heard of this issue from sailors, but we thought it was just simply a difficult sail, going directly into the wind for over five hundred miles. We decided that we should alter our plans. Instead of cruising east past Cartagena, we decided to spend the entire summer in Cartagena before heading east – Plan B.
Position at destination: 19°07’ N, 104°24’ W
Air temp: 82, Water temp: 83
Nautical miles for this leg: 4.9 Total: 2279
Departed at 10:00am, arrived at 10:45am
February 19th: Bahia Santiago to Las Hadas (Manzanillo)
The next short hop was to the Las Hadas anchorage in Bahia Manzanillo. The resort was made famous in the Dudley Moore movie “10”. There is a marina there, but it is all Med mooring, so we figured that we would just anchor outside of the marina. The seas were calm and protected, and the holding was good. You can use the dinghy dock at the marina, which also gets you full resort privileges. The cost was two hundred pesos per day, about $15. We heard some blow-boaters complaining bitterly about having to pay a whole $15, and quite a few of them grouped together to spread the fee around. We saw one tender that looked about eight and a half feet long loaded down with eight people in it. It was just about to sink!
Position at destination: 19°06’ N, 109°21’ W
Air temp: 86, Water temp: 83
Nautical miles for this leg: 4.5 Total: 2284
Departed at 9:45am, arrived at 10:30am
The resort is looking a little tired, and it was fairly deserted when we were there. We spent the afternoon at the pool.
The next day we went ashore to catch a bus to the Soriano grocery store for some provisioning. The road that the bus takes goes around the hills lining the bay. A sane driver might take this road at 15 to 25mph. Our insane bus driver decided to test out the ability of his brakes to make emergency stops. He was channeling Mexican F1 driver Sergio Pérez. It was in stark contrast to our previous bus ride in Manazanillo, which we thought was the slowest driver on earth. It was more frightening to be on that bus than it had been at any point in time on our boat. Feeling glad to be alive, we got off the bus near Soriano and enjoyed a very inexpensive lunch at a streetside cantina. The Manzanillo Soriano was quite large, and we had a very satisfactory provisioning trip. We decided to take a taxi back, which was much calmer than the bus ride.
A large Offshore yacht had anchored near us, and we recognized it from FUBAR – it was the Temptress, which we had also seen at the Barra de Navidad marina. The owners are Kim and Carolyne Megonigal. They stopped by on their tender, and we let them know about the dinghy dock procedure. We had a nice conversation, and we agreed to go to dinner with them the following night.
We picked a restaurant that we could see from the anchorage, just east of the Las Hadas resort. We started on their boat, which was absolutely gorgeous. Kim and Carolyne hail from Newport Beach, and they were doing commuter cruising, based in Barra de Navidad. They spent a couple of weeks in Mexico, and then would return to Newport, where they are building a new home. We got to talking, and found out what a small world we live in: Carolyne graduated from the same high school as I did in Tucson, Arizona – we were fellow Rincon Rangers! She was a couple of years ahead of me, so our paths hadn’t crossed, but the coincidence amazed me. We really enjoyed meeting them, and we swapped boat stories and shared solutions to problems. Part of cruising that we have really enjoyed is meeting so many nice and interesting people that share our passion for cruising.
February 21st – 22nd: Las Hadas to Caleto de Campos
There were several other boats in the anchorage that were heading to Zihuatanejo for Guitar Fest, and annual festival of guitar players. Nirvana had told us about this when we saw them in Tenacatita, and they were in the anchorage with us. Robert had recommended that we stop in Caleta de Campos, which is the only viable anchorage between Manzanillo and Ixtapa. An armed robbery had been committed on a boat there a few years ago, so many boaters are afraid to stop there. We figured that this was an extremely isolated event, as no other incidents had been reported after that. The passage to Caleta de Campos is 120 miles, so we figured it would take around twenty hours. We left late in the morning, figuring cruise at an easy six knots and arrive early in the morning.
The daylight portion of the cruise was uneventful, and we had a strong current pushing us along at six knots, requiring just 1500rpm’s to maintain speed. Manzanillo is a large commercial port, so there was some traffic in and out of the bay. After we cleared out of the bay, we did see quite a few shrimping trawlers. That night the current got stronger and stronger. I realized that if we cruised at more than six knots, we would arrive before daylight. I kept backing off of the throttle, eventually running the Lugger at just 1000rpm’s to maintain six knots – that was amazing. I stayed on watch all night long. Close to daylight, as we approached the anchorage, I throttled up the engine for a stack blowout, and I was amazed to see that we were making 9.6 knots! I took a picture for posterity’s sake.
Position at destination: 18°04’ N, 102°45’ W
Air temp: 79, Water temp: 81
Nautical miles for this leg: 120.6 Total: 2404
Departed at 11:25am, arrived at 7:30am
We arrived a little after sunrise. There were two other boats in the anchorage, and one of them left shortly after we arrived. It was a little bit rolly, so we put out the flopper stopper. The village is tucked into the western side of the bay. There were some pretty big rollers crashing on the beach, so we decided not to even think about going on shore.
We decided to just rest for the day, especially since I had been on watch all night. We planned to leave late that same night for Ixtapa. I slept for a few hours, and then got up in the middle of the afternoon. Around 5:00, I turned on the generator, as we were planning to use the microwave to make dinner. The microwave takes a lot of power, so I usually ran the generator when using it. The inverter can be used to power the microwave, but given that our batteries were getting near the end of their service life, we tried not to use the microwave without the generator or shore power.
All of this being said, I noticed that the batteries weren’t being charged. They were sitting at 71%, not charging, but at least not discharging. Well, that’s not right, the batteries should be charging when the generator is on. I reset the charge button on the inverter remote control – no change. I looked at the status of the inverter, which is located in the bowels of the lazzarette. The inverter was showing an overheating condition. I decided to call my friend Neil – he was still at Barra, and he is very good at bird-dogging solutions. I explained to him what was happening, and he suggested checking out various breaker settings associated with the generator – everything looked good. He called me back a few minutes later, and said that people have reported that the cooling fan stops working. I verified that was indeed the problem. He said that some people report that they can bang the unit, and the fan starts working – kind of like how we used to bang the Hell out of tube tv’s to get them to work. But in this case, no success. I concluded that the fan had failed, and that I would need to replace it. Of course, I didn’t have that spare on-hand.
The generator was able to maintain the current level in the batteries, so we ran it until we left. We departed under pitch black conditions, which were very disorienting. The bay is large, and shaped like a half-circle with land jutting in on both sides. A catamaran had just anchored in the bay, directly behind us, and I was trying to locate it on radar. Maybe I was just frazzled by the charger issue, but I had a hard time getting out of the bay. Rosé was on the bow securing the anchor, and she had a better sense of where we were, so she helped me to find the right course. The swells inside the bay had picked upo considerably, and the waves crashing on the beach were very loud, contributing to my disorientation. In retrospect, all I really had to do was follow my track in reverse, which was right in front of me on the plotter.
February 22nd – 23rd: Caleta de Campos to Marina Ixtapa
We made it safely out of the bay, and turned east towards Ixtapa. The swells were very calm, and once again we had the monster current pushing us. I backed the engine down to 1100rpm’s, maintaining six knots. Since I was wired about the charger problem, I stayed on watch all night. We passed by the very busy commercial port of Lazaro Cardenas, and several harbor movements were taking place in the wee hours of the morning. We approached Ixtapa into a beautiful sunrise, and identified the various rocks and islands on the approach. If the swell is running hard, the inlet to the marina can be closed, as it is a mini-bar. This day the swell was manageable, and we entered the channel with no issues. The marina responded to our hail, and assigned us to a slip. It was the very last dock, closest to the office. As we prepared to turn in to the slip, another problem reared its ugly head – the bow thruster wasn’t working. The motor was spinning, but we had no thrust. We had experienced this same problem in Alameda, and the drive leg was replaced. Surprised by the lack of the thruster, I had a difficult time getting us bow-in to the slip, but with the help of a couple of strong dock workers, we made it.
Position at destination: 17°40’ N, 101°37’ W
Air temp: 88, Water temp: 87
Nautical miles for this leg: 73.0 Total: 2477
Departed at 11:15pm, arrived at 9:30am
February 23rd – March 7th: Ixtapa
We checked in at the office, where the manager is also the port captain, making for a simple check in. Despite being tired from my all-night watch, we went to one of the dockside restaurants for breakfast. While eating, we saw a crocodile ambling through the marina – it was about six feet long. This was the first marina croc that we had seen. The marina has a VERY strict prohibition on entering the water. At one time, a croc had grabbed someone that was in the water, and did some serious damage to the fellow’s arm. I asked how boat bottoms are cleaned – you have to take your boat to Isla Grande, about three miles west of the marina.
We quickly noticed that we didn’t get much of a breeze, so we were going to need the air conditioning. We checked out the area – there were a number of restaurants, and some very small tiendas. There was one specialty liquor store that carried gourmet food as well. We bought some more rum at really good prices, and we also bought a few bottles of wine from Ensenada. Rose was happy to see a wide selection of chocolate, and she fell in love with the white chocolate coconut bars.
The immediate job to address was the charger. Plugged into shore power, the charger worked well enough to get the batteries back to 100%. It would run a while, then overheat, then cool off, then run again. I called technical support at Xantrex, and they confirmed it was the cooling fan, and at ten years of service, they would expect it to fail. They thought that I could find the fan locally. I inquired about a replacement model, but they don’t make a modified sine wave 3kW inverter / charger anymore. They make a pure sine wave inverter, which is a lot less efficient than the modified since wave inverter. So, I figured we needed to replace the fan. Based on my estimation, I thought we would need to take one of the batteries out to access the inverter, which is a tow-man job. There is supposedly a boatyard at the marina, but the marina manager, Elsa, suggested that I use a local electrician. She knew a young guy that could do the job. He came right out on his scooter, and with his broken English and my pathetic Spanish, we mostly understood what needed to be done. Elsa did a little more interpreting, and we agreed that he would come back at 10:00 the next morning to remove the fan from the inverter.
That night, we decided to walk into the main part of Ixtapa where the hotels and restaurants were located. It’s definitely touristy, although the food prices were reasonable. There were a ton of clothing stores, but the prices were definitely at the USA level – no bargains here. Same for the liquor store – tourist pricing. The specialty liquor store at the marina was much cheaper. The best thing we saw on our walk was Spiderman driving a horse carriage. There are several horse-drawn carriages for hire on the main street – tourists seem to enjoy it. Once of the drivers was very enterprising: he wore a full Spiderman costume (I can’t imagine how hot that was), had a lot of neon lights on his carriage, and he boomed classic rock music out of the back. We saw him every time we went to Ixtapa, but we never got a picture. We did give him a beer one time…
The marina is at the end of a bike path that runs for 10km, from the marina to a beach. The next morning, we decided to ride it before the electrician came over. The first part of the path runs next to the golf club, over a few small hills. Then it branches off into the swampy woods, before emerging on the beach, looking at Isla Grande. The path is fairly new, and is very smooth, making for a fast, fun ride. On the return there is a wooden bridge followed by an immediate small, steep hill. I was in the big chain ring before getting to the hill, and I had to dodge a kid on the bridge, so I hadn’t downshifted for the hill. I strained in the high gear, when suddenly the chain snapped. We have brand-new Specialized hybrid bikes. I was very surprised that this happened, and of course I didn’t have the chain tool with me. It was around 9:30, and we figured that we could make it back without riding. On the downhill and flat sections, I was using the bike like a scooter: I had my right foot on the left pedal, and used my left foot to propel the bike. Uphill, I had to walk. It started to get clear that we couldn’t make it back in time, plus the constant pushing was causing pain in the knee that I had injured just before our voyage started. Rose volunteered to give me her bike, so I rode the last couple of kilometers back to the marina.
The electrician, Luciano Felipe, showed up right on time. He had a helper with him. We again discussed what was required, but we weren’t able to communicate. Luciano called in another friend that had lived in the USA for some time, so he could translate. Luciano was able to remove the inverter without moving the battery, and he removed the fan. He said that he would try to find a replacement in town. He took off on his scooter, and came back about an hour later with the exact replacement! He also told me that he connected 12V to the old fan on the bench, and confirmed that it was bad. He put in the new fan, put the inverter back in, and we were in business! He charged 400 pesos for all of the work, which I thought was quite reasonable. So, if you need electromechanical repairs in Ixtapa or Zihuatanejo, call Luciano, he’s your man.
Luciano Felipe Munoz Chavez (755) 102-9891
The next issue was the bow thruster, but it was now working as required. Could it be a gremlin?We originally planned to spend a little over a week in Ixtapa. Our good friends Tim and Catlin from San Jose were coming to visit us. They arrived on February 28th, planning to spend two nights on board with us, and then three nights in a luxury hotel in Zihuatanejo. Our original plan was to see the butterfly preserve before Tim and Cat arrived. We were going to take a bus to Morelia, spend the night, and arrange a tour to El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Preserve. But with fixing the boat problems, we didn’t have the time, so we decided to extend our stay at the marina and see the butterflies after Tim and Cat left us. We decided not to anchor at Zihuatanejo – at this stage, we’re not comfortable leaving the boat at anchor. Back to the bike, I found the chain tool and got the chain repaired. That being said, it took me no less than four tries to get it threaded properly. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I was an engineer in my past life…
The day before they were due to arrive, we walked over to Ixtapa beach – it’s about five minutes from the marina. We took our beach chairs, umbrella, boogie board, and drinks to go. The surf was fairly big, and the waves were pounding the beach. It wasn’t easy to use the board, but I managed to catch a few good rides, and only got flipped and pounded once. The beach wasn’t very crowded, and it was very long, wrapping around the bay with lots of high rise hotels. We didn’t see any beach bars or restaurants like we had seen in so many places – I guess this is what happens with too much development. Ixtapa looks like an example of a failed dream. There are still hotels, restaurants, and shops, but there is a sense of failure is everywhere. February 28th: Isla Grande and Zihuatanejo.
Our friends Tim and Cat arrived, bearing boat gifts. We asked them to bring a few things down to us, including a new spare water pump and a wi-fi amplifier. They also brought along some ESPN magazines for me, and some recent People magazines for Rosé. We went to dinner in Ixtapa with them, and waved to Spidey and his rockin’ horse-drawn carriage. The next day we took them for a short cruise to Isla Grande. We have some history with that island. About fourteen years ago, we went on a vacation to Zihuatanejo for a friend’s birthday. We had a group of sixteen, including Tim and Cat. We stayed in a hotel over the beach – two-hundred stair steps over the beach! Towards the end of the trip, I suggested that we take a tour to Isla Grande, for some snorkeling, drinks, and lunch. At that time, the island turned out to be a trashy tourist place with lousy food and drinks that gave most of us Montezuma’s Revenge. To this day, they refer to it as “Lucky’s Island”.
Despite our dubious history with Lucky’s Island, we decided to go out there, as the cruising guides had favorable reviews. It turns out now to be a much nicer place. We enjoyed a beachside lunch, some drinks and some swimming.
We left in the afternoon to cruise over to Zihuatanejo. We had not seen turtles anywhere on our entire voyage, but this day we were graced by the presence of a few of them, along with some playful dolphins and more rays than we could count. Cat was impressed by their aqua-botics, something she had never seen. Zihuatanejo was much more developed than any of us had remembered. We’re not sure if it was that much more developed, or if the rum had erased too many brain cells from fourteen years ago.
The next day we went to the beach at Ixtapa, just a five minute walk from the marina. The beach is very large, both long and wide, and it was not crowded at all. Lucky battled the waves with his boogie board, and the waves won. The surf was breaking hard and very close to the beach, resulting in numerous face plants and wipeouts. After the beach, we cleaned up and joined Cat and Tim on the bus to Zihuatanejo. Once there, Rosé and Cat did some shopping, while Lucky and Tim drank cervezas at a local cantina. After a few rounds, we caught a taxi to take us to their hotel, La Casa Que Canta. It’s a very beautiful boutique hotel located at the beginning of the cliff, with fabulous views of Zihuatanejo Bay.
We had some bienvenidos drinks at La Casa, then walked down the road for dinner. The staff at the hotel were very helpful, calling an air conditioned taxi for our ride back to Ixtapa. We returned to La Casa the next day, having lunch on the beach followed by a cantina crawl across Playa La Ropa. The area was certainly more developed than we remembered it, but it was still very charming. In addition to the beach, we enjoyed the pools at La Casa: there is a fresh-water pool at about mid-level, and a salt-water pool at the bottom level near the Bay.
It was really great to spend time with Cat and Tim – we have taken many tropical vacations together with them, and we always have a great time. They were flying out the next day, and we had decided to travel to Morelia in order to see the monarch butterfly preserve at El Rosario. We said goodbye to our good friends, and went back to Ixtapa. Along the way, I remembered the letters that I had planned to ask them to take back to the states – d’oh!
March 4th – 5th: Morelia and the El Rosario Butterfly Preserve
Back when we were in Mazatlan, we read about the monarch butterfly preserves in Michoacan. These are the winter homes for millions of monarch butterflies that migrate from the United States and Canada. Sadly, their numbers are in decline, due to loss of habitat in the north. Mexico has taken steps to ensure that the butterflies have a safe winter home, preserving the natural forests. But the caterpillars only eat milkweed, which has been displaced in the United States and Canada in farming areas. We understand that the USA is restoring milkweed, but this year had the lowest butterfly numbers on record. Still, we believed it would be a worthwhile trip.
We planned to take a highway bus the the capital of Michoacan, Morelia. We had been told that Morelia is a very beautiful city, despite being the capital of Michoacan, where many of the cartel wars are happening. We would spend a night in the historic district, and take a guided tour to El Rosario the next morning, returning to Ixtapa by bus that night. The morning we were to leave I noticed that we had lost all water pressure. The pump was supposedly running, but there was no output. Well, that was a fine kettle of fish! Our friends had just brought us a new spare – I had not seen Flojet pumps anywhere in Mexico. We simply turned the breaker off, left lots of food and water for Quincy, and departed for the bus station. The bus was very comfortable, with air conditioning that was actually too cold. We left at 10:00am, arriving in Morelia at 2:00pm. Morelia is in the mountains at 6,400 feet, so the nights are very cool. In addition, the butterfly preserve at El Rosario is even higher at about 10,000 feet. We were looking forward to cooling off…
We stayed at the Hotel Real Madero in the historical district. I had the reservation paperwork with me, but the first taxi driver we met had no clue where it was, despite having the address right in front of him. He had a book of hotels, and kept insisting that there was a different Hotel Real Madero, and that it wasn’t in the historical district. I offered my phone to him to call them, but to no avail. We wasted a good five minutes trying to convince him where we were going, and then we gave up. The second taxi drive immediately knew where to go. Once we got to the district, close to the hotel, we ground to a halt. There were a mass of people camping in the street we needed to use to get to our hotel. The driver explained that it was just a couple of blocks away, but that we would have to walk. The area looked like the “occupy” protests in the USA. There were lots of tents, food booths, and an almost carnival atmosphere.
We found our hotel and entered the lobby. Both of the agents there spoke English very well. After checking in, we asked about a tour to El Rosario. They made a phone call, and we were booked to leave at 6:00am the following morning. Our room was on the second floor, and the bedroom was in a loft. It was a very cool room, both literally and figuratively. We dropped off our bags and went out to see Morelia. The architecture in the historical district is French provincial – you would swear that you were in Paris. There are lots of al fresco restaurants and bakeries. This area has many universities, so it was crawling with college kids. There was a beautiful cathedral just outside of our hotel, and we walked through the neighborhood.
At the eastern end of the district, there was a square with a fountain and an aqueduct. We found Morelia to be a very charming and beautiful city, and we wished that we had more time to spend in it. We had a nice dinner in our hotel, and retired early since we had to leave before dawn.
The next morning our guide picked us up for the long drive to El Rosario, which would take about three and a half hours. We asked him about the protesting campers. He explained that they were teachers. The Michoacan government was trying to upgrade their education system. At present, it seemed like anyone could be a teacher. The government was now requiring teachers to either have formal education qualifying them, or else requiring a teaching certificate. They were allowing present teachers to get educated for the certificate while still teaching, but the lay teachers were protesting this by camping out in the main street – go figure.
Our guide was very knowledgeable about the area, as well as the butterflies, and he drove us to the preserve in maze-like fashion. If you have ever driven in Mexico, you know that signs are a rarity. We went through a lot of villages with twists and turns, over roads that were a mixture of good and evil. We finally arrived at El Rosario at 9:30, and bought some cokes and water for the hike. We knew that it was quite a ways to get to the butterflies – some people choose to rent horses for the trek, but we decided to walk. Our guide told us there were 600+ stairs to climb. You pay a nominal entrance fee (I think it was ten pesos), and a guide / ranger from the preserve goes with you. The senorita that was with us was in much better shape than us. Being acclimated to sea level, and a relatively sedentary life, we weren’t in the best of shape. I shed my jacket after about one hundred stairs. The stairs are cut into the dirt side of the mountain, so they aren’t even. But we took advantage of the many benches that were set up for resting. We finally got to the top of the stairs, and then there was a undulating trail. It felt marvelous to go downhill a bit. I was sweating, sick, and delirious. After some time, we went cross-country, and then descended into a pine grove – and there they were!
The grove was eerily quiet, and we were the first visitors of the day. At first, you don’t even realize there are millions of butterflies around you in the trees. It was still cold, and they were just starting to stir. Our guide told us that they clump together for warmth at night, and as the sun warms their wings, they start to flutter about. You know, a butterfly fluttering by! We aren’t religious people, but being there was a spiritual experience. You are awed that these delicate creatures are able to undertake such a huge migration. We felt very humbled that we are migrating with twenty-seven tons on boat underneath us, with all of the creature comforts of home. You realize that these butterflies have traveled over a thousand miles to get here, going on nothing more than instinct.
As the sun started to warm them up, the monarchs started to fly. The forest was full of gossamer wings with brilliant colors. Every now and then, one of them would light on us, pausing without any cares. We were told that before they start the migration north, they mate. The males won’t make the migration, and they die on the ground. The females will fly north until they find a milkweed patch, lay their eggs and then die. The caterpillars emerge, gorge themselves on milkweed, and then undergo an incredible metamorphosis into the next generation of monarchs, and then continue the northbound journey. It;s truly amazing, and we just marveled being there. Like I said, it was a spiritual experience. Let these pictures express some of the wonders we saw that day.
We stayed in the grove for about an hour. A few other groups joined us after some time. When we left, we saw a huge group of people on horseback in the clearing near the grove – we left just in time. The trip down was much, much easier on us, and we had a local lunch at a shack when we returned.
We arrived back at the Morelia bus station just in time to barely miss the 3:00 Parhikuni bus back to Ixtapa.So, we We arrived back at the Morelia bus station just in time to barely miss the 3:00 Parhikuni bus back to Ixtapa. So, we booked tickets on the Autovias bus leaving at 4:30. This was the same company we used getting to Morelia, and this bus was even colder than the one we had the previous day. I think there were only tow or three passengers besides ourselves. The fares aren’t cheap, at $485 pesos, but it’s hard to imagine that they could make money
with the handful of passengers on this route. It’s a non-stop bus, but there are many slow-downs for security checkpoints and turns. Once we got back to Ixtapa, we stopped for a pizza, and walked back to the marina.
March 7th – 8th: Ixtapa – Acapulco
We spent the next day preparing for our voyage to Acapulco. I replaced the water pump, so we were good to go with that. Earlier in our stay at Ixtapa, I had met a couple, Roger and Susan, cruising on their sailboat Second Wind. Roger was wearing a Banana Slugs tee-shirt, which anyone from the Bay Area recognizes as the mascot of UC-Santa Cruz. We found out that they were bound for the El Salvador Cruisers Rally, and annual event taking place at Bahia del Sol every March. After looking inot this, we decided that it would be a good idea to join. We would have the camaraderie of other boaters, with enough marina discounts to offset the small entry fee of $76 USD. We figured that we would be arriving after the official starting date of March 15th, but rally activities last for about a month.
We wanted to arrive in Acapulco in the morning, so we left at one in the afternoon for the 118 mile trip. According to the Pat Rains guide, the marina situation in Acapulco had improved dramatically over recent years. Based on her reviews, and the marina’s website, we chose to stay at La Marina Acapulco, which supposedly had been recently renovated. I had some problems calling them, to Elsa from Marina Ixtapa made a reservation for me.
Our trip to Acapulco was uneventful, taking just nineteen hours for the journey. We arrived early in the morning, and tried to figure out where the marina was located. The shoreline in the harbor is very busy and confusing, but we finally spotted La Marina Acapulco. We called them on the VHF, but got no response. After a second effort, someone chimed in to call them on a different hailing channel. I did this, but the response I got was to wait until 9:00 for someone that could speak English. In the meantime, we tried the bow thruster, but it wasn’t working. Once we came into the marina, we realized that the “photographs” on their website are an artist’s conception of what it will look like in the future. For now, there is just a big L-shaped dock where almost every boat is med-moored. If you aren’t familiar with this, it is when you back the stern up to the dock and either tie the bow to a mooring ball or drop the anchor tight. I guess this way they can accommodate more boats. We had never med-moored Tropical Blend, and I wasn’t crazy about doing this without a bow thruster.
We were directed to a tight spot between two other powerboats. Just as we started to back down, the wind kicked up a bit. I can assure you that backing down a Nordhavn trawler with a flying bridge is not an easy process. I had to make several attempts at it, and finally got close. A couple of guys on the dock dove in to the water and passed us the line for mooring ball that would hold the bow. To complicate matters, there was a surge in the harbor, so we were bouncing up and down, and drifting back and forth. After a lot of effort, we tied up as best we could. A couple of the guys on the dock said that they could clean the bottom, but they wanted double the price we had been paying elsewhere in Mexico. It had been some time since we had the bottom cleaned, so we agreed on a price. Only then did I find out that they didn’t have any diving gear, and that they would clean the bottom by free diving. They assured me that they could do a good job, so I agreed. I observed them putting on wet suits, and checked the water temperature, which was suddenly down to 79°!
Position at destination: 16°50.5’ N, 99°54.5’ W
Air temp: 86, Water temp: 79
Nautical miles for this leg: 118.4 Total: 2617
Departed at 1:00pm, arrived at 8:30am
I went to the office to check in on this fine Saturday morning. During check in, I learned that there was no pool – it was for condo residents only, and there were no bathrooms or showers. We were paying $45 per night for a med moor and electrical power. We had high expectations for Acapulco – we thought it was going to be a great place to spend a few days. High on our list was seeing the world-famous cliff divers at La Quebrada, which was very close to the marina. Acliff divers at La Quebradafter assessing our marina situation, we decided not to spend more than the one night there. We would go across the bay to anchor near Base Naval for Sunday night.
The cliff divers have one show in the afternoon, so we decided to head over for the 1:00pm show. We took a VW bug taxi (Acapulco culture) to the cliffs. We decided to go to the lower viewing platform, which cost just fifty pesos. The area where the divers plunge is quite narrow, and the surge coming into it obviously results in a great depth variation. We saw the small prayer chapels on top of the cliff, and we assumed the divers would appear at the top. Wrong – they came right through the crowd, climbed a little bit down the cliff on our side, then jumped into the water, and proceeded to climb with all of the skills of mountain goats almost straight up the side – it was amazing.
One of the divers was just a young teenager. Before the show started, a number of boats had anchored near the cove. Two of the divers started swimming out to those boats. As far as we could tell, they were out soliciting donations, which we thought was very appropriate, since we were paying customers. Once the actual diving started, the teenager went first, from a small step about one-third of the way up the cliff. Even that relatively small dive was thrilling to watch. Once the dives started from the top of the cliff, we were really awed by the bravery and skill of the divers. It was truly a very memorable experience. Afterward, the divers returned to sell t-shirts and other memorabilia, and we purchased an autographed shirt to remember the show.
When we returned to the marina, we stopped at the Superama grocery store just across from the marina. It turned out to be a really good store, including hot Italian sausages, which we had not seen anywhere in Mexico.
The next morning we were visited by the guys that had cleaned the bottom, asking if we needed anything else. We asked them if they could fill a propane bottle, and they said yes. We gave them the one we use for the oven and stove, which had not been filled since we left California. They said they would be back in a couple of hours, so we decided to take a bus to the nearest Home Depot. We were still hoping to find a UV water filtration unit. We caught one the highly decorated local buses. The colorful non-air-conditioned local buses offer a unique travel experience, even for those who think they’ve seen and done it all. They come in virtually every color, are frequently personalized and decorated (some to an extreme), and often have a nickname plastered on the windshield. No one can say that they’ve vacationed in Acapulco until they’ve ridden a local bus. The buses have ‘barkers’, young teens who typically hang out the doors shouting its destinations: “CICI! Hornos! Caleta!”.
The Home Depot was across Parque Papagayo from Ave. Costera, so we took a Costera bus. We thought we had seen it all on Mexican buses, but that day we saw something new. There was a fish market along the way, and our driver stopped the bus (parking on the busy Avenida Costera) and ran to the fish market to make a purchase. It was only a minute or so, but it was a moment of hilarity. We got off at the park, which was very nice, and walked through it to find the Home Depot. Alas, no water filter, but it was still a memorable experience. To get back we took one of the Ave. Cuauhtemoc buses back to the marina – this bus had a very loud barker, who was yelling out the destination in between the peanuts he was shelling. These buses cost six pesos, a very cheap way to get around.
The guys were late getting our propane bottle back, but they finally made it. They told me that the fitting was leaking and had to be replaced, which we had also been advised about back in Alameda. We figured out how to drop the mooring and get out of there, and cruised east to the Base Naval.
March 9th: Acapulco – Puerto Marques
Once we got near Base Naval, we didn’t really like the looks of the anchorage – it was open and a bit rolly. We decided to leave Bahia Acapulco and take the short hop to Puerto Marques. That bay is very popular on weekends for the Acapulquenos. We arrived in the Bay and determined that the northwest corner was the most protected area. There were tons of beachside cantinas, with the requisite umbrellas. There were quite a few medium sized powerboats in the bay, which seemed to have local people aboard. There were a lot of tourist boats pulling skiers and banana boats. We figured that the scene would calm down after dark, since it was Sunday. On cue, between five and six, all of the boats anchored in the bay left, except for one sailboat that we had talked with back when we were looking around Base Naval. We turned in early that night to prepare for a pre-dawn departure for Huatulco.
Position at destination: 16°48.6’ N, 99°50.7’ W
Air temp: 84, Water temp: 80
Nautical miles for this leg: 8.8 Total: 2626
Departed at 1:15pm, arrived at 2:45pm
March 10th – 11th: Puerto Marques – Huatulco (Marina Chahue)
We left just before dawn for the long overnight run to Huatulco. We had been eying the weather conditions in the Gulf of Tehauntepec since we had been in the Sea of Cortez. For the winter months, the “T=peckers” had been howling, with seas over fifteen feet during almost every day. We had finally seen some easing when we were in Ixtapa, and now windows were cropping up. There was a solid window forecast for March 14th, so we were anxious to get to Huatulco to wait for our crossing.
The conditions during the day of March 10th couldn’t have been more benign. There were no winds and no swells, and the sea surface looked like a pane of glass – perfect weather for a trawler like ours. During the morning hours, we saw countless numbers of turtles floating on the surface to warm themselves.
Quincy didn’t seem to be too impressed by the turtles…
This part of Mexico is fairly deserted. The shoreline looked like an endless beach, with very few towns, and fewer boats. We didn’t see any other cruisers over the nearly 240 mile stretch. There are a couple of marginal anchorages between Acapulco and Huatulco, but we elected not to stop there as we wanted to get to Huatulco to take advantage of a crossing window.
The afternoon before we reached Huatulco, a west wind whipped up to twenty knots with a following sea of four to six feet. Still, it was a gentle ride. We could see the beautiful beaches that lined the Bays of Huatulco, a series of small bays in the area. We arrived at Marina Chahue late in the afternoon. It wasn’t very full, and we made it into our double wide slip without problem. I was getting good at docking without a bow thruster by now.
Position at destination: 15°46’ N, 96°07’ W
Air temp: 84, Water temp: 82
Nautical miles for this leg: 236.6 Total: 2863
Departed at 6:05am, arrived at 5:05pm
March 12th – 13th: Chahue
Marina Chahue is a nice, modern facility with very helpful staff, especially harbormaster Ezequiel Gutierrez. Unlike many of the marinas in Mexico, Ezequiel responds to email promptly, and was very helpful with the check in process. He apparently gained fame setting up the new Marina Chiapas, so he knows how to take care of cruisers’ needs. However, the facilities are primitive. The docks are nice, if a little surgy, but that is typical of Mexico. The bathrooms were very basic, and the shower was in an outdoor stall with non-existent water pressure. The town of Crucecita is right there, with good provisioning, restaurants, shops, and beach clubs.
There is no pool or beach at the marina, but Ezequiel advised us to take the short walk to the Club de Playa Chahue for both. There is a nominal $35 peso fee to use the club, but we were never asked for it. The food was decent and the cervezas were cold. We went in the morning to secure a table an umbrella right off of the beach. The sand is almost pink, but it’s a little coarse. The water gets deep quickly, and there is an undertow, so weak swimmers should stay out of the ocean. The pool at the club was large and relatively clear, if a little dated. We spent the entire day at the club, thoroughly enjoying ourselves. We met a pretty little senorita named Victoria while we were there.
The next day we explored the town – we think it is Crucecita, but we just called it Huatulco. There is a lot of shopping – cruise ships dock here, and one was in town the day we were there. We finally found the correos (post office), so we were able to mail our letters back to the states. We had a great lunch at a local restaurant, where I finally got to sample Oaxaca cheese, which is muy delicioso. We wandered around the town, and it was really hot that day. We bought some paletas, which helped with the cold. We stopped at a fairly large supermarket for provisions, and made our way back to the marina to prepare for departure. We wish we would have had more time to explore Bahias de Huatulco – the little that we saw was stunning, and not touristy at all. But, we had a plan to get to the cruiser’s rally in El Salvador, and we needed to exploit the weather window across Tehuantepec. While we were at the marina, we met the crew of Catchin’ Moments, a 78’ Hatteras. They had to lay up in the marina for some engine work (it required sending a mechanic down from the states), but they were also planning to go to the cruiser’s rally. They cruised quite a bit faster than us, at ten to twelve knots, so they weren’t leaving until the next morning.
March 14th – 16th: Huatulco (Marina Chahue) – Marina Chiapas
We left the marina just after dark and made our way into the Gulf. We had decided on a “one foot on the beach” strategy, which means that we would follow the contour of the bay, roughly five miles offshore. Even though the weather window looked good, we have heard some horror stories about boats getting caught in a sudden gale when they were heading straight across the bay. By being closer to shore, even if the wind picks up, the fetch (wind waves) are fairly benign. It’s well offshore that the waves get dangerous. Our route would stretch about 250 miles, and we were expecting it to last around forty hours. There can be some strong currents in the gulf, so we were estimating a six knot average speed.
The weather turned out to be great, with very light winds and flat seas. For the first section of the trip, a northeast leg to the commercial port of Salina Cruz, we had a strong current helping us out. After we passed Salina Cruz and turned due east, the current eased. But once we made the southeast turn towards Chiapas the next afternoon, the current was against us, and we could barely make five knots. This area had a very large shrimping fleet. After dark, they mobilized. I was amazed at how many of them were trawling. You have to stay on your toes, as they don’t like to change course. At one time, I counted over twenty-five of them on a three-mile radar screen. It took us a couple of hours to work our way through the fleet.
We had been getting visited by frigate birds since San Blas. They show up in the evening, and like to light on top of our paravane poles. These are big seabirds that leave big … well, you know. I had read one boating book where the owner attempted to shoo them off with a slingshot. We had been looking for a slingshot for a long time without success. I got the idea that we might be able to use a Super Soaker to move them away. Early the next morning, I found some of them hitching a ride on our poles, and I sprang into action. Rosé was very impressed by my machismo! To save water, I filled a bucket from the salt water washdown, and got busy. Not only was it fun blasting those ugly bastards, but after a couple of hits, they left for good. Victory was mine!
As we approached Puerto Madero on Sunday morning, we saw Catchin’ Moments on the AIS. They entered the channel just minutes ahead of us. Marina Chiapas is very well protected, located behind the commercial port. It took about fifteen minutes to get there. They weren’t responding to the radio, but we figured that the marina office was closed on Sunday, so we decided to just take a convenient slip. The marina was pretty empty, so we took a slip on the back row that would be easy to get in to without a bow thruster. Catchin’ Moments was having a more difficult time, as the fairways were a little narrow. For some reason, the dockworkers that were there that morning told them to take a slip instead of the end tie that would have been much easier. They seemed to believe that another boat was coming to take the end tie. We docked without incident.
Position at destination: 14°42’ N, 92°23.5’ W
Air temp: 90, Water temp: 91
Nautical miles for this leg: 250.5 Total: 3113
Departed at 7:45pm, arrived at 10:30am
We had read that the Mexican Navy inspects boats arriving and departing Chiapas, but we didn’t see any sign of them. Before we entered the channel, we contacted the Port Captain to get permission, so they knew we were there. We decided to check out the marina and walk over to the restaurant. The facilities are very nice, including a brand-new Travelift and boat yard. The restaurant had the best nachos I had eaten in Mexico, although it was a bit pricey. As we were finishing our lunch, Rosé noticed several official-looking guys by our boat, so I guessed that would be the Navy. I hustled back over while Rose settled the check. Sure enough, it was the Navy and the Port Captain. The inspection consisted of filling out some very detailed forms, including information about our fuel and water capacity, engine horsepower, and other items that I can’t begin to guess why they want to know them. But, they were very friendly, even though they had limited English – I had to use the phone translator a few times. We offered them some sodas, and they were our best amigos. They were quite fascinated with Quincy, and the process, though tedious, went smoothly.
On Monday morning, we checked in at the marina office, and inquired about the checkout procedure. The staff at Marina Chiapas is incredibly helpful. They drive you to the airport for immigration and customs, and then to the Port Captain. Memo told us that it takes a few hours, and that we could do this on Tuesday, since we wanted to depart Tuesday night. We had seen another trawler in the marina, so we went over to introduce ourselves. The boat was Pegasus, a 49’ Sea Horse. We had looked at a Sea Horse before settling on the Nordhavn, but it wasn’t well equipped for long range cruising. Pegasus is owned by James and Charlotte Caldwell, a very nice couple originally from Scotland, now cruising full time. We found out that they were also going to the cruiser’s rally, and they were planning to leave that night.
We decided to go to Tapachula on Monday. This city is very close to the Guatemalan border, with over 500,000 inhabitants. We knew there were several stores there we wanted to visit, including Home Depot, Office Depot, and Walmart for groceries. We walked outside the marina to the highway, and waited for the collectivo taxi van. It came by after about fifteen minutes, and it only cost fifteen pesos for the thirty-kilometer trip to Tapachula. Once there, we got off near the Home Depot. We had a map that showed the Office Depot very close to the Home Depot. We were looking for a USB wall plate to install the cable for our Ethernet amplifier. It turns out that the map grossly understated the distance to the Office Depot. It took us about a half an hour of walking in the 90°, 70% weather, along a street under construction. While we were sweating, sick, and delirious, we observed construction workers wearing sweatshirts and hoodies. Oh, lawsy, lawsy, lawsy.
Anyway, the Office Depot didn’t have what we were looking for, so we decided to look for a lunch place. Every city in Mexico is required to have at least four restaurants per block, except Tapachula. We wandered the area around the Office Depot, and found nada. We decided to head back to the Home Depot, which is across the street from a mall that had restaurants. We had seen that the city buses were air conditioned, so we took a bus back for the mile or so to the home depot. At six pesos each, the cold a/c was a bargain. We were hoping to find a UV water filter at Home Depot, but it was another nada experience. We did pick up some more five micron filters for the watermaker, so it wasn’t a clean bust.
We went across the road to the mall, and had a decent lunch. The inside of the mall connected to the Walmart grocery store, so we picked up some more provisions. As is typical in Mexican stores, we had to check in our Home Depot bag. Once we had finished provisioning, we hailed a taxi for the ride back to the marina. We agreed on a fare of two-hundred pesos. Just before turning into the marina, we remembered that we had left the Home Depot bag at the Walmart – d’oh! We decided that I would go back for it while Rose put the provisions away. I explained to the taxi driver, and he agreed to take me back to Tapachula and back again to the marina for another two-hundred pesos, which I thought was more than fair.
After we got everything settled, we left to visit the fuel dock. We had read that the fuel dock at Puerto Madero has a large concrete fixed dock, which can do a lot of damage to fiberglass hulls. The recommendation was to visit only at high tide, which was around 4:00PM that day. The dock was as ugly and dangerous as advertised. Since we knew the prices in Central America would be higher, we took on a lot of fuel at Pemex prices (about $3.96). We took on 2000 liters, over 500 gallons. This was a commercial fueling station, with lots of buses and trucks coming through. The diesel hose for boats was huge, but the flow was really slow. It took us over forty-five minutes to fuel up. We were pretty concerned about leaving the dock, since the bow thruster was not working at all anymore. We had a plan to shove off, go forward of the dock where there is a small turning area, and kick the stern around – and the plan worked. In the meantime, we got a VHF call for the marina office, who had gotten a call from the Port Captain, who had seen us leaving the marina. Apparently they were concerned that we were leaving without checking out. W explained that we were just making a fuel dock run.
While we were at the marina checking in that morning, a sailboater came in asking where they could get an oil filter for their engine. Memo gave them some possible places in Tapachula, but I guess they decided not to go, as they pulled out of the marina late in the afternoon. Towards dark, we heard them calling on the VHF, saying that their motor had quit in the ocean, and they were heading back to the marina under sail only. Fortunately for them, there was enough light for one of the boaters too meet them in a dinghy and to tow them in. I’m not sure if the oil filter was their problem, but they had a tale of woe getting out of Chiapas. Earlier, they turned back because of weather.
The next day was checkout day. Memo took us, the crew of Catchin’ Moments, and two other boats in his large pickup. The first stop was the port office. Since Puerto Madero is a commercial port, we have to pay a fee for being in port – I think it was seventy or so pesos. The next stop was the airport, for immigration. Memo had warned us that we needed to show a receipt for our tourist cards. We didn’t have one, since we had received them from Marina Coral when we pre-checked in at Newport Beach during the final FUBAR meeting. They did the paperwork, and we got the cards when we checked in at Ensenada. Rationally, I thought that having the card was proof of having the card, receipt be damned. But oh, was I wrong! As I recall, we had to pay again for the tourist cards that we already had, at about 336 pesos each. This pretty much exhausted our stash of pesos. There was one more stop, at the Port Captain’s office, where we had to pay for our Zarpe. Fortunately, Gary from Catchin’ Moments had some extra pesos, so he spotted me the Zarpe fee. I gave him some dollars after we got back to the marina.
Back at the marina, we had to endure another inspection from the Navy and Port Captain, with exactly the same guys that we had seen two days earlier, with exactly the same forms. I asked them if they wanted to copy the information, but they insisted they had to fill out new ones by asking me questions. Some days, you get the bear, and some days, the bear gets you. Zarpe in hand, we were now cleared to leave Mexico, after spending a thoroughly enjoyable five months in that wonderful country.
March 19th – 21st: Marina Chiapas – Bahia del Sol, El Salvador
We left that evening in order to carefully time our arrival at Bahia del Sol in El Salvador. To enter the bay, you have to cross a bar that has breaking waves. This can only be done around high tide, which was due at 5:00PM on our arrival day. The rally was arranging a pilot boat to meet us and lead us over the bar, and they said we would cross around 4:00PM. If you miss the bar opening, you have to anchor in the ocean, a rolly open roadstead, waiting for the next daylight high tide – yikes!
It was quite dark when we left, but the harbor had a lot of background lights, and the channel was well marked. Once we got near the end of the breakwater, the darkness was full-on, and we had to use the radar to find the very long breakwater. Once we cleared it, we played chicken with a few pangas that sort of had lights. These boats rarely have navigation lights. Sometimes they wave a flashlight around, but you have no idea what that means: are they anchored, moving towards you, or what? One of the pangas seemed to be heading for us with an occasional light flashing, so I steered well away from them. We had decided to go well offshore, as Pegasus had told us this area had a lot of longlines out. Once we crossed into Guatemalan waters, boat traffic disappeared – well, at least as far as we knew. At least the seas were calm. The next afternoon, the wind kicked up to around twenty knots, and we had a quartering sea with waves of five to six feet.
Thanks to some favorable currents, we arrived at the bar opening at 3:00PM, well ahead of our scheduled crossing time. It was a little rolly outside, so we elected not to anchor, but just circle around. We called the pilot boat on the VHF, and they advised us to wait until about 4:00PM, as they wanted to take both us and Catchin’ Moments across. We weren’t sure where the bar was located: from a mile offshore, it isn’t obvious. We had a waypoint where the pilot boat would meet us, but we could not identify the bar crossing. We did a mile back and forth waiting. Turning into the waves was challenging, as we tried to avoid rolling with the beam swell. Once we would track back to the west, it was amazing how much smoother the ride would get.
Around 4:00PM, we picked up Catchin’ Moments on the AIS, and they hailed us on the VHF. We told them that we had been in touch with the pilot boat, and they had advised us to wait out here. Catchin’ Moments joined us in the circling game. With all of this time to wait, I started to psych myself out, worrying about the bar crossing. We had never done this before. The pilot boat’s job is to look at the swells and pick the right moment to burst across. They are supposed to have local knowledge of the depth contour, as it changes from day to day as the sandy bottom shifts. I really got tense about the impending crossing, but Rosé was calm as a sleeping kitten.
The pilot boat finally appeared, and I moved up to the flying bridge for the crossing. The plan was to escort us across first, followed by Catchin’ Moments. Bill, the rally organizer, was on the pilot boat and he explained that we would follow them to the launching point, and when he said now, to floor it. I explained to him that we could floor it, but it would take time to get up to top speed, but he was familiar with trawlers, and said it wouldn’t be a problem. We got into position, and a few waves later he said “now!” I mashed the throttle lever, and about three seconds later he said to stop – I guess the swells weren’t right. We waited for a few more swells, and he said “now!” again. I punched the throttle, and we started to surf. I had to saw the wheel a bit, and then he said that we had crossed the bar. That was it? I nearly soiled myself for that? Sheesh! It was quite easy. As we crossed over, we hit a top speed of 9.6 knots.
Cruising up the estuary, we had the inrush tide and we were making close to eight knots at 1600rpm. We watched Catchin’ Moments cross, and soon they passed us. The bar crossing is about a mile from the marina. We were instructed to take the slip closest to the restaurant, easy to do without the bow thruster. Once we were in our slip, we were greeted with welcome drinks, and the immigration official told us he would check us in when we were ready. Participants in the Cruisers Rally to El Salvador receive a gift bag with hats, shirts, guides, and discounts at other marinas in Central America. This marked the first time we were greeted with gifts and cocktails upon arrival – the way it should always be!
Position at destination: 13°18’ N, 88°53.5’ W
Air temp: 88, Water temp: 88
Nautical miles for this leg: 255.5 Total: 3368.7
Departed at 8:00pm, arrived at 4:30pm
March 21st – 29th: Bahia del Sol, Cruisers Rally to El Salvador
The check-in process was smooth. Immigration fees are $10 per person, and the cruising permit is just $1 per day, with a minimum of thirty days. After we completed our check-in formalities, we checked into the marina at the hotel desk. As members, we received a 10% discount on the dockage fees as well as food and beverage at the restaurants. Next to us were Roger and Susan from Second Wind. They told us about a good restaurant just a short walk from the hotel. We set out to find it, and quickly realized that once we were off the hotel property, there weren’t many lights. We walked a ways up the road, and decided to turn back. We ended up having dinner at the marina restaurant. It turns out that they have really good cheeseburgers! Our friends from Catchin’ Moments joined us – Susan and Gary, their daughter Pressley, and her friend Alex. We found out they were from Florida and had owned many sport fishing boats. They had bought Catchin’ Moments in California, and they were taking it back to the Keys, where they planned to place it in a crewed charter business. They were very serious about fishing and diving. We really enjoyed meeting them.
The rally has a lot of sponsored activities, including trips and dinners. Saturday afternoon there was a BYOB party at a house up the estuary. We made a jalapeño bean dip and brought some rum punch. It was a long dinghy ride up the estuary, but the house was beautiful, with a very nice pool. Docking the dinghy wasn’t so easy. There is a 10’ tide in the estuary, so any fixed docks have to be pretty high. We arrived at low tide, so at least we could see all of the jagged steps on the dock. And that first step was a big one! Anyway, we had a great time meeting the other participants and sharing food and drink. We returned at dusk, taking Gary, Susan, and Pressley back with us.
That night we walked over to the restaurant on the ocean side of the hotel. They had a buffet going on, and it was really crowded with locals. After dinner, there was a dancing show put on. Then they asked for volunteers for something, so we immediately volunteered Alex. He was partnered with a very attractive and skinny local girl. They had to pop a balloon between them without using hands, if you know what I mean, and I think you do! They did really well on that task, as well as a couple of others that I can’t recall, because we were laughing so hard that we cried. It was a really fun night.
On Sunday, there was a lunch party at a “restaurant” at the eastern end of the estuary. The restaurant is located on a sandbar in the estuary that is well exposed at low tide. It’s on stilts, about fifteen feet above the low tide level.
They had coolers full of soda and beer, and they had fish and shrimp for lunch – you picked out the type and size of fish. We each ordered a combo. The fish was fried whole (minus the innards), as was the shrimp – this is the style in Central America. Lunch was quite tasty, and afterwards we engaged in a bocci ball game on the sandbar, which by now was very large.
There was a daily happy hour from 5 to 7 at the restaurant, with $1 local beers and rum drinks – how cool is that! Most of us would head into the pool, which was really too warm, but beat sitting outside. The hotel had restaurants on both sides of the peninsula. On the ocean side, the pool was green and very uninviting, but the estuary pool was usually blue, although a bit cloudy. The water at the marina was terrible – it had a yellow hue and it had a little smell of sulfur about it. This applied to the dock water as well as the bathroom shower. I took one shower in the bathroom, and the water had a very metallic taste to it, not to mention the stinking smell of sulfur. Bill said that at the peak of the dry season, the ground water has tannin in it. His water generally comes from a cistern, but he had just had a 1000 gallon delivery. Fortunately, our tanks were full with good water from Chiapas. The water in the estuary is full of floating garbage and debris. Catchin’ Moments had to clean out a lot of branches and trash from their air conditioning intake strainers. We were docked just ahead of the fuel dock, and we witnessed several customers simply throwing used oil containers into the estuary. Some boaters that were docked further out made water on the incoming tide, but we certainly never tried it. And the speed of the tide going in and out was unreal – it had to be pushing three knots or more. A ten-foot tide forced through the narrow mouth of the estuary created an enormous tidal current.
We had been thinking about spending just four or five days at Bahia del Sol, as was Catchin’ Moments. They were in a hurry to get to Costa Rica for serious fishing. But when they checked on the weather, they were advised that a Papagayo wind was coming up. Those are winds that blow across Nicaragua in the spring, and can be almost as fierce as the Tehuantepec gales, whipping up some short, steep seas. Since they were able to make a higher cruising speed than us, Catchin’ Moments decided to leave on Wednesday and head directly to Marina Papagayo in northern Costa Rica. We decided to stay longer until the forecast improved.
On Tuesday, we took a trip in a van to the town of Zacatecoluca, simply called Zaca. We were told there was an interesting public market, as well as stops at a grocery store and a local lunch. It took about an hour to navigate the road to Zaca, considering curves and topes. The town was pretty dense, and the market was much larger than we expected. The first building we went in had mostly produce and some clothing and crafts. The produce in El Salvador appears to have
been hit with radiation – it was freakishly large. There were carrots up to three inches thick, and
softball-sized tomatoes. Strangely, the vendors don’t like you picking your own. The custom is to tell them what you want, and they will pick it out. You can also specify for today or mañana, and they will select based on ripeness. We bought some carrots, tomatoes, and cucumbers. We had a hard time paying at one vendor: when I asked how much, she kept saying something about a “cuata”. I had no idea what that meant, and couldn’t find it in the translator. Finally another cruiser told us it was Salvadoran slang for a quarter. They use the US dollar for currency, so a “cuata” is a quarter.
A different building held unspeakable meat and seafood items. I say unspeakable because of the presentation. Everything was out in the open air, and flies were everywhere. The meat was hanging from hooks, fish was laying in tubs on melted ice, crabs were trying to escape, and chickens were in various states of slaughter.
It was kind of like a timid kid at a horror movie. They can’t bear to watch, so they put their hands over their faces, yet continue to peek through fingers with one eye. We walked around a bit to get horrified. This was also common at the public markets in Mexico – one needs a strong stomach, and a depressed sense of smell to handle it. After the market, we went to a Super Selecto grocery store, which wasn’t bad, considering the size of Zaca. To my delight, I found some Vlasic dill pickle chips – I had been jonesing for good dill pickles for a long time, and they just weren’t available in Mexico. We then left Zaca and went to a roadside local restaurant for lunch. This was a real locals’ place, with local prices to boot. Two pollo asado lunches with beer and soda cost us just $4.50.
The rally included a couple of one or two-night tours to other places in El Salvador, but we had arrived too late to make the sign-up, so at mid-week, there were just a handful of us at Bahia del Sol. We were invited by James and Charlotte on Pegasus to join them for a day trip to San Salvador. We caught the local bus (an old Bluebird school bus) outside of the hotel, and then traveled for about forty-five minutes, with many, many stops to a place called Los Arcos (the arches). There, we would catch a different bus to San Salvador, via the autopiste (expressway). Once we got off of the local bus, we were immediately assaulted by bus touts to get on their bus to San Salvador. It literally felt like an assault. We started towards one bus, but it weas immediately blocked by another one – these guys really compete for business, and not in a friendly way. A Salvadoran with good English skill showed us which bus to take, and we got in without any more assaults. These are min-buses, with air conditioning, and the expressway is very nice. I don’t recall the exact cost, but I believe it was somewhere around $2.50 total to get to San Salvador.
Once we got into the city, which is in a valley after a small climb, we were dropped off in an open lot – no station. Charlotte had planned the day’s itinerary, which was fine with us. The first place required a short taxi ride. Charlotte had said she was tired of seeing cathedrals in Mexico, but lo and behold, our first stop was… a cathedral! Actually, it was a very unusual cathedral, Iglesias el Rosario. On the outside, it is a stark, bare concrete building – you would never know that it is a church. But inside, it has a very unusual stained glass, which was quite stunning.
The glass provides all the colors of the rainbow, and there were a number of metal sculptures that Charlotte said were made from melted-down civil war guns. Not too far from Rosario was the more conventional Metropolitan Cathedral.
After visiting Rosario, we walked through the historic district of San Salvador. We have never seen so many loud, smelly, diesel buses as they plowed through the streets. There were lots of street vendors, including a few mobile phone repair stations. In Latina America, electronic items are repaired, not thrown away – a big change from the USA. The electrical wiring in this part of San Salvador has to be seen to be believed. The poles contain a spaghetti jungle of wiring. It’s clear that anytime someone needed some power, new wiring was just tacked on. Whoever has to repair wiring when things go wrong has a very tough job.
After walking for some time, we caught a taxi to a very modern mall in the affluent area west of downtown. It was a modern as anything you would find in an upscale area of the USA. We took advantage of the cold air conditioning and had some berry smoothies. We did a little window shopping and then went off for lunch.
Charlotte had found a local pupusa restaurant in the Lonely Planet guide. Pupusas are the national food of El Salvador. They are sort of like thick tortilla pouches stuffed with meat or cheese. We actually hadn’t tried any, so we were looking forward to it. This restaurant was vegetarian, so we got some stuffed with cheese, jalapenos, and some vegetables. They were absolutely delicious! The restaurant name was Kalpataru, and we definitely recommend it.
After lunch, the next stop on our tour was a nearby university where there was a museum about the civil war. The museum had the clothing that Bishop Romero was wearing when he was gunned down by the right-wing death squad. It had a lot of information about the civil war, and it was very moving to be there. On the plus side, the area was very vibrant, with lots of students and upscale housing. Our impression was that El Salvador is on the way up, developing a strong middle class.
We then walked over to a nearby Super Selecto grocery store, much larger than the one we had been to at Zaca. We were looking for cat food for Quincy, but they didn’t have brands that he would like. There was a very nice produce selection, and we bought some fresh vegetables. However, we broke the rules. Apparently you are expected to have the produce weighed and priced in the produce section, while we took it directly to the cashier. They sent it back to the produce department, and didn’t chastise us for our ignorance.
We then took a taxi back to the area where we could catch the bus back to Los Arcos, and amazingly enough, we found it. By now it was rush hour, and the traffic was pretty crazy. The bus hung around for some time to pack some more people in and then left. Once we got to the autopiste, the bus turned into something like a rest area. There was a pedestrian bridge over the expressway, and a lot of people were coming into the area. There is a saying in El Salvador about buses: how many people fit into a bus? The answer is, “one more”. We found this to be very true. While sitting in the stop, the barker was pounding the side of the bus and screaming out the destination, while the driver was constantly on the horn. More and more people kept coming in. Based on the available seats, the bus capacity was about forty. But soon we had standing passengers, followed by squeezing passengers. Each time we said they couldn’t possibly add another passengers, two or three more would squeeze in. We were totally amazed. After about twenty minutes, the barker must have been satisfied that the bus was full and we finally left.
Freeway or not, the bus made stops on the autopiste to both drop off and pick up passengers. We slowly got some air into the bus as passengers left. Once we got to Los Arcos, we identified the bus going to Bahia del Sol and got on board. Once again the barker was determined to get the bus stuffed. Since these buses aren’t air conditioned, it was really hot with the still air. But, you didn’t dare leave your seat for fresh air outside. We finally added “one more” and left. At one of the early stops, a paleta frozen fruit bars) vendor came on board – with his cart. He dragged it into the stairwell and held on to it as we rattled down the road. The bus experiences were a blast, totally making our day!
The rally organizers put together some fun events. One night we had games, including a whistling contest with a twist. The contestants had to consume a number of saltine crackers and then whistle. This is a lot more difficult than it sounds. I finished second in my round, but Rosé won hers to make the final. She just barely missed taking the championship. We were always filling to pool at happy hour, but the water was very warm. One day an ice truck showed up, and they brought huge slabs of ice into the pool, arranged by one of the participants. We were like little kids playing with the ice, and it was great fun.
March 29th: Bahia del Sol to Rio Grande de San Miguel
According to our weather router, the conditions for cruising down the Nicaraguan coast were improving. We expected that by Monday, the window would be good enough: not great, but manageable. We decided to leave on Saturday. With the bar, you can only cross around high tide, which was at 1:00PM on Saturday afternoon. We made a plan with the pilot boat to leave at 12:00, which would get us across with the outgoing tide. The pilot boat was late, not arriving until 1:00PM. On departure, the bow thruster failed – the first time it had not worked leaving a dock. The wind had kicked up a bit, blowing on our beam towards the dock. Directly behind us was a small basin next to the fuel dock. I figured we could back out of the slip, and the wind would push the stern into the basin, and then we could use the thruster to turn the bow hard to starboard. When the thruster failed, something close to panic set in. the stern did carry into the basin, so I turned the wheel hard and attempted to power forward to starboard. But, there wasn’t much space to maneuver, and the wind was really pushing us, so I had a difficult time with it. Rose and one of the guys on the dock had fenders ready in case we got too close to a dock or a boat, and it was really close. We finally got enough room to get out of the marina, without hitting anything.
We thought that going out over the bar would be easy, but it was harder than coming across. With the outgoing tide and incoming swell, the seas were rather angry over the bar. Plus, I had not activated the stabilizers as we cruised through the very calm estuary. The pilot boat told us to go, and we were pitching and rolling severely. We couldn’t make more than four knots, and it took well over a minute of white-knuckled terror to cross the bar. Once we cleared the bar, we made a course to the southeast, about a mile offshore. We were surprised by the amount of garbage floating out there – it’s a bigger problem in El Salvador than it was in Mexico. Our real destination was the Gulf of Fonseca, a very large gulf shared by El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. But since we couldn’t cross the bar until 1:00PM, we didn’t have time to make the seventy-three miles in daylight, and we didn’t want to arrive in the dark of the morning. We decided to anchor in twenty-five feet of water in an open roadstead once we lost the sun. We ended up anchoring about a half a mile offshore near the Rio Grande de San Miguel. Of course, the winds turned our beam into the swell, so we deployed the flopper stopper.
Position at destination: 13°09’ N, 88°20’ W
Air temp: 88, Water temp: 87
Nautical miles for this leg: 39.4 Total: 3408.1
Departed at 1:30pm, arrived at 7:15pm
March 30th: Rio Grande de San Miguel to Golfo de Fonseca (Isla Meanguera)
We left at first light for the Gulf of Fonseca. After a rolly night, the seas were very calm on this leg. On the cruise down, we ran across a “river” of debris running parallel to the coast. There were a lot of floating logs in the river, and we had to veer off course for over two miles before we could find a clear opening to cross the river. I’m not sure why this debris stayed so tightly packed. We rounded Punta de Amapala and entered the Gulf. It was very beautiful and well protected. Our destination was the southeast corner of Isla Meanguera, close to its little sister, Isla Meanguerita. There was a small village there, and we thought we might want to go onshore for lunch. After we had anchored, I could see a large boat heading across the Gulf towards us. We had officially checked out of El Salvador at Bahia del Sol, but we were told it was OK to stop in Fonseca in transit. The boat was an El Salvador Navy boat, and the officer in charge boarded us. He spoke English well, and just wanted to see our documents. We showed him our Zarpe and other documents, and he copied some information into his logbook. He was very friendly, and told us that if we had any problems to call the Navy on channel 16. We were too lazy to go ashore, so we had meals on board, and went to sleep early in anticipation of our long journey to Costa Rica.
Position at destination: 13°10’ N, 87°41.5’ W
Air temp: 90, Water temp: 86
Nautical miles for this leg: 40 Total: 3448.1
Departed at 6:15am, arrived at 12:30pm
March 31st – April 1st: Golfo de Fonseca to Bahia Santa Elena, Costa Rica
It was almost 190 miles to our next destination in Costa Rica, so we left early in the morning. We had decided not to stop in Nicaragua. There is a very nice marina, Puesta Del Sol, in the northern part of the country. But, it is very isolated, and we knew that it was very expensive to check in to Nicaragua. There were some other anchorages listed in the Sarana cruising guide, but we decided to go straight to Costa Rica. We were close to crossing the Gulf when the radio chattered with an “hola hola hola hola” call. We had heard kids in Mexico doing this, so we ignored it. A few minutes later the call was repeated and we again ignored it. After a couple of minutes, Rose noticed that there was a large boat catching up to us. I took a look and realized it was a Navy patrol boat, so we slowed down for another boarding.
Scary boarding by the Nicaraguan Navy
This was the Nicaraguan Navy. Once we came to a stop, the patrol boat circled us three times, and they motioned that they wanted to board. They came up on our port side with no fenders, and smacked into us hard enough to crack the gelcoat. Two very young soldiers carrying AK-47’s jumped on board. I figured this would be similar to the boarding we had from the Salvadoran Navy. They didn’t speak English, but they did have a translator on a Smartphone, as did we. We explained that we were in transit to Costa Rica from El Salvador, but they seemed to think that we needed to check in to Nicaragua to transit their waters. I explained again that we were not planning to stop in Nicaragua, and that we should be clear to transit. They said that this was illegal. I began to get the idea that a shakedown was happening. They wrote down information about the boat and our passports, and then another launch showed up, from the Nicaraguan Coast Guard. The guys in that boat had some conversation with the Navy guys, and then a call came through on the VHF. There was a rapid conversation that I couldn’t follow, and then the Navy guys asked me to speak to the caller. In English, the caller identified himself with the Coast Guard. I explained that we were just transiting through the Gulf on our way to Costa Rica, and he said that we could do that. He then said to call him “if we have any problems continuing our journey”. I said that we were having a problem with the Navy, and then he repeated himself. I hung up the call, being a little confused. Suddenly the demeanor of the Navy guys changed. They were no longer claiming that we were illegally transiting in their waters, but that they needed to inspect the boat. They went into the engine room, taking numerous pictures. They looked at the cabins, and took pictures of all of the instruments in the pilot house. They wanted detailed information on the boat, so I pulled out the inspection report from the Mexican Navy, when we were in Chiapas. They asked if we had any pictures of Nicaragua – we had taken a couple of shots of their patrol boat as they circled us. They told me to delete those photos. Out of curiosity, I asked if we could take their pictures, and they consented. We gave them some sodas, and they were finally done. The entire process took two hours, and we had drifted a mile to the west during the boarding. We think that they were trying to shake us down for a “fine” for being “illegal”, but the Coast Guard found out and put a halt to it.
Experiencing the Papagayo winds
We reset our course and continued our voyage. Once we left the Gulf and turned southeast down the coastline of Nicaragua, we thought we would have a smooth ride. We couldn’t have been more wrong. The wind started to build, going from fifteen to twenty to twenty-five knots, coming on our port bow. Our course was straight for Bahia Santa Elena, which would take us ten to fifteen miles offshore. The fetch started building, and we were pounding into short, steep seas. It was too rough to us the flying bridge, so we moved into the pilothouse. Late that afternoon, we were taking spray over the flying bridge, and the winds were still picking up. We decided to take a closer to shore course to reduce the fetch on the waves. That helped make a smoother ride, and after dark the winds calmed down to fifteen knots.
There were a lot of pangas out fishing, and of course they don’t have any lights, so we had to keep a sharp eye out. At least they would periodically wave a flashlight, allowing us to safely dodge them. We only saw one other boat that night, a large yacht called the Polar Bear. We had seen that yacht at Paradise Village. I talked with them on the VHF, and they had been fishing in Costa Rica, and were returning to Nuevo Vallarta. Once dawn broke, the winds increased in intensity to a steady thirty to thirty-five knots, and we saw a peak gust of forty-four knots: we were in a gale. Amazingly, there were a lot of pangas out fishing – these are some tough hombres! We continued to get soaked in spray (the boat, not us, which is one of the reasons we have a power boat) and continually adjusted course to get closer to shore. We couldn’t get too close, as there were many fishing nets. This was a very uncomfortable passage, and it really wore us out. We were barely able to eat crackers, cheese, and apples over the leg.
Once we passed San Juan del Sur, the winds backed down to twenty knots or so, as we adjusted course for Bahia Santa Elena. The Papgayo winds are similar to the T-Peckers. They blow across Nicaragua, and can be especially strong where Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua lie. Normally, they don’t appear after March, but we had a doozy of one at the beginning of April. We finally crossed in to Costa Rican waters and entered Bahia Santa Elena. Once we got into the bay, the waters were flat, and the wind was down considerably. We went to the far end of the bay that offered the most protection. It felt great to be still.
Position at destination: 10°55’ N, 85°47.5’ W
Air temp: 88, Water temp: 76
Nautical miles for this leg: 189.5 Total: 3637.6
Departed at 7:00am, arrived at 4:45pm
April 2nd: Bahia Santa Elena, Costa Rica
It’s OK to stay in Bahia Santa Elena without checking in to Costa Rica – there is no port of entry here. The bay is in a National Park, and we had read that sometimes rangers will come and charge a fee, but we never saw them. We were the only boat anchored at that time, and we only saw one panga during our stay. The water in the bay was perfectly calm, but we still got some string wind gusts. Out of nowhere, the wind would blow at twenty-five knots or so, and then completely die. We decided to spend the day and night to rest up before heading for Marina Papgayo. I could see that we had picked up some fishing nets in our starboard stabilizer – there were ropes and a bunch of 2-liter soda bottles hanging there. We have “kelp cutters” in front of the stabilizers, which are angled stainless steel blades designed to cut through kelp. Clearly, they don’t so much for fishing nets. I decided to dive in and remove the nets. Notice in the arrival info above that the water temperature here was 76°. We hadn’t seen any water below 80° since we had been in Mazatlan. Since I was so acclimated to warm water, I donned the wet suit. It turned out that the kelp cutter was completely gone! He ropes were wrapped around the stabilizer shaft. I worked them with a knife for a long time, but couldn’t get all of them. I would need to use the hookah to stay under water, and I didn’t want to break it out here, so we decided to let it go for now.
The bay is very scenic, but since this was near the end of the dry season, most of the vegetation was tinder dry and gray. Only the trees close to the water had some greenery. We could hear howler monkeys, but we never saw them. At dusk, we saw a lot of parrots roosting in the green trees near the water. We checked the weather forecast, and it looked good to transit to Marina Papagayo the next day.
April 3rd: Bahia Santa Elena to Marina Papagayo
We departed Santa Elena at first light, into much smoother seas than we had during our passage along Nicaragua. As we got close to Punta Cabayul, Rosé noticed that the sea was full of snakes. They were swimming away from shore. We weren’t able to get any pictures, as they were hard to see, and swimming fast. We don’t think they were sea snakes, as they stayed strictly on the surface. It’s interesting to note that the Gulf of Papagayo used to be called Culebra, Spanish for snake. Hmmm…
Once we rounded the point, the seas totally flattened out, and we were mobbed by a huge pod of dolphins. They were coming towards us like they had been shot out of a cannon, and they numbered in the hundreds. This was the biggest pod we had seen on our voyage.
We turned into the Gulf of Papagayo, heading towards Marina Papagayo. The marinas in Costa Rica are quite expensive, but Papagayo had the best rate, plus we got a discount where we got seven nights for the price of five, thanks to the El Salvador Cruisers Rally. We had read up on the check-in procedures for Costa Rica. According to the Pat Rains guide, the Port Captain and immigration were at Playas de Coco, at the east end of the gulf. She said that you can either make a beach landing there, or go to the marina and take an expensive taxi ride. We didn’t want to worry about a beach landing with the extreme tides, so we decided to go the taxi route. I don’t know if her guide was wrong, or if procedures had changed, but once we called the marina, they informed us that we could not leave the boat once we were docked. We would be in quarantine, and we would have to wait up to twenty-four hours for the Port Captain and immigration to meet us for check-in. And, we would have to hire an agent to accomplish this, at the very high price of $350! Since we were anxious to dock, we decided to eat the $350.
Of course, the wind kicked up just before docking, and we were not able to get into our assigned slip without a bow thruster. Fortunately, the marina was fairly empty so we were able to get into another open slip. We found out that under the quarantine rules, we could not even go to the marina office or the restaurant. Technically, we were only allowed to tie up the boat, but the marina manager said it would be okay for us to wash the boat. Washing the many pounds of salt off of it took a considerable amount of time – virtually the entire afternoon. The water pressure at Marina Papagayo was intense – it was like a power wash from the hose. Considering how brown the countryside was, I’m not sure where they get water during the dry season, or why the pressure is so high, but we were grateful. We had paid a crew to polish the stainless steel when we were at Bahia del Sol, and it was already rusty in spots due to the heavy spray we had taken – yikes! We found out that the agent would be bringing the officials for our check in at 10:00 the following morning.
Position at destination: 10°38.5’ N, 85°39’ W
Air temp: 92, Water temp: 82
Nautical miles for this leg: 44 Total: 3681.6
Departed at 6:00am, arrived at 12:30pm
April 4th – 14th: Marina Papagayo
The marina is very new, with wide slips and fairways, and a wide floating concrete dock. We were about as far as we could be from the marina office complex, but the exercise didn’t kill us. The marina is part of the resort complex, which includes some luxury hotels, golf courses, and high-end housing. We had resort privileges of a sort by staying at the marina – we could use resort facilities for a small fee, but we would have to get to them, and there was no public transport. It’s about a forty-five minute drive to Cocos, at a rate of at least $50 each way by taxi – no bus service. There is one restaurant at the complex, and a small convenience store / chandlery. There was also a small condominium building, with a lounge, swimming pool, laundry, and exercise facilities that we could use for free. But, we quickly figured out that we were very isolated.
The agent and the officials arrived promptly on time – Cost Rica is not on mañana time, like the rest of Latin America. Other than the agent’s insane fee, check-in is free. As was the case in Mexico, we would need a domestic Zarpe to travel from port-to-port, but we would get that when we checked out. Once we had finished the immigration procedures, the agent drove me to the Liberia Airport for customs. For some reason, customs doesn’t have an office in Cocos. For that matter, the marina had built offices for the Port Captain, immigration, and customs, but they were sitting empty. We only needed one passport for customs, so Rosé decided to stay on board.
Costa Ricans, or Ticos, are pretty crazy drivers. I learned that they like to drive in the center of the road, only moving over for oncoming traffic. The countryside on the drive to the airport had burned recently, adding to the near-moonscape appearance. We had been thinking that even in the dry season, Costa Rica would be green, but we couldn’t have been more wrong. This state, Guanacaste, gets extremely dry at this time of year. The customs office isn’t at the airport, it’s a few miles past it. Once we arrived and went inside, it was clear that the customs lady was in a foul mood. First, she was upset that the agent had copies of our documents, not the originals, and then I found out that I had grabbed Rose’s passport by mistake. Cringing with fear as I faced her wrath, I threw myself on the mercy of the Aduana Court. She reluctantly agreed to grant importation for our boat, but not before extracting a pound of flesh from our hides. After wards, the agent told me that he had never before been questioned about copies of documents. It sounded to me like a petty bureaucrat was venting…
We had lunch at the marina restaurant, where we were introduced to Costa Rica prices – higher than the USA! Clearly, we weren’t going to be eating out much. That afternoon, we met a Steve and Joan from Salty Dog, a monohull sailboat in the marina. They had a standard poodle with them, Vivi. They were also planning to go to the Panama Canal, so we discussed a buddy-boating plan. Steve had worked out a number of stops using the Sarana guide, so we decided to join them. We found out that they were working to get a replacement debit card. They had rented a car to go to a local beach, but had left their bag in the back seat, and some enterprising Ticos had liberated the bag and its contents. They also told us about some beaches in the Gulf, accessible by dinghy, where they were running Vivi. We joined them on Sunday morning to enjoy the beaches.
While at the first beach, with the very dry vegetation, I saw a brown coatimundi ambling down the beach. By the time I grabbed the camera, it was already obscured in the brush. VIvi had never been swimming before, but this day she was taking to the water like a fish.
The swimming pool at the marina was really nice, as were the showers. The water was much cooler than we had at the pool in El Salvador, and it was very refreshing. I had arranged for a marine electrician to come out to check out the bow thruster on Monday afternoon. Since Steve and Joan still had their rental car, they invited Rosé to go to Cocos with them for lunch and some provisions. I had been trading some e-mail with Imtra, manufacturer of our bow thruster. They believed that the problem could be the Automatic Main Switch, as I had determined that the voltage at the thruster motor was well below the 9V they said was necessary. I was still skeptical about this – I couldn’t figure out how the motor could turn without the propeller moving. We had the drive leg (gears and props) replaced just before our journey, so it was doubtful that could be the problem. I knew that our battery capacity was weak, as the batteries were nearing the end of their service life. But that didn’t explain why the thruster would (usually) work when we left a dock, but not at the end of a cruise. It seemed to me that the batteries would be fully charged in either condition. Anyway, I asked the electrician to look things over. Of course, that day there was nothing I could do to make the thruster fail. I disconnected shore power and allowed capacity to drop to 70%, but the thruster always thrusted. The electrician did determine that there was over a volt dropping across the switch, lending credence to the theory from Imtra. My theory was gremlins… While troubleshooting the thruster, I ran a cleaning cycle on the watermaker, which had not been able to produce water under 500ppm TDS since leaving El Salvador. After cleaning, it worked fine.
The volcano, canopy tour, hot springs, and whitewater rafting
Steve and Joan told us that they had been to the Arenal volcano, about a four hour drive from the marina. We decided to go there for a night, cramming as much fun as we could into an afternoon and a morning. We rented a car for three days, at the low, low price of $99 per day – Costa Rica is expensive! We left the pilot house air conditioning on for Quincy, and left at dawn for the volcano. We hadn’t driven the car, a Toyota Yaris, since we got it the previous afternoon, and it just barely started – I think the battery was almost dead. We drove to Liberia, then turned south on Highway 1, the Pan American Highway. It was under construction, widening it from two lanes to a divided four-lane highway. The construction was haphazard at best. Traffic would be diverted down the side that was finished, and then suddenly you would have to go to the opposite side. Wherever these crossovers happened, traffic would slow to a near stop. There was very heavy truck traffic, and they had no intentions of pulling over at any time to allow traffic to get around them. We did get lucky, as we weren’t held up by trucks. Were behind a very new, large pickup truck. I was maintaining a respectable distance while keeping an eye in the rear view mirror at the Tico that was tailgating us. We went through one of the crossovers, then started to accelerate when the vehicle (an armored car) in front of the pickup suddenly braked hard. The pickup couldn’t stop in time, and we heard that sickening “WHAM” of a rear-end car crash. I was able to stop in time, and prayed that the Tico behind me had good brakes – he did. The armored car didn’t have a scratch on it, but the entire front end of the pickup was trashed.
We turned off the Pan American Highway at Cañas, and started our trip up into the mountains. The road is narrow and windy, and it wraps around a very large reservoir. The wind was howling on the western end of the reservoir, so we were glad to be in a car. We passed through several villages, and there were a lot of single lane bridges. Unlike the construction zone on the Pan American highway, the truck drivers here would motion passing cars around them. Soon, I was driving like a Tico. As we neared the eastern end of the reservoir, the countryside was noticeably greener. After we crossed over the dam, we were definitely entering a rain forest. The speed of the transformation was remarkable. We made the turn onto a dirt road that led to the Arenal Volcano Observatory Lodge, our home for the night. It was raining off and on during the ascent to the lodge. We checked in, but at 10:00, our room wasn’t ready, and the restaurant wouldn’t be open until 11:30. We booked three tours: a canopy (zipline) tour of the cloud forest, a natural hot springs resort with dinner, and whitewater rafting for the next day.
We stayed at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, and our room had a picture window view of the volcano – which was mostly obscured by clouds. Apparently when the volcano is erupting, it isn’t a dangerous or explosive type of eruption, and you can see the glow of the lava from this room. But. It has been dormant for a few years, so we didn’t see anything other than its base.
We needed to be at the canopy tour at 12:30, and the restaurant wasn’t open until 11:30, so we decided to take a short hike to a nearby waterfall. There are a lot of trails around the lodge, which is nestled in a dense rainforest. Looking at the map, the trail to the waterfall looked short and easy. We didn’t count on the elevation changes, so it took us about twenty minutes to get to the fall. It was around forty feet with the outflow in a steep jungle ravine – very much worth the walk.
There was also a great view of the reservoir, Laguna de Arenal. After lunch, we drove over to the canopy tour, just ten minutes from the lodge. There is some background about us on ziplining. I’m not afraid of heights, but let’s just say that I have a healthy respect for them. When we were in Fiji for our 15th wedding anniversary vacation, we decided to take a zipline tour in the rainforest. There was no practice – just grab and go. The line there was the style where you grab the cable with a gloved hand to brake yourself. Too late, and you have a rough landing; too soon, and you stop short of the platform and have to haul yourself up. Well, that’s precisely what I did on the first line. I never got comfortable with the braking, and I stayed at a high anxiety level. You were supposed to be in an almost sitting position with a tether to the lower cable holding up your harness. There was an upper cable that you kept your hand on for balance and braking. I think that I was actually using my left hand to pull up my body so I wouldn’t just hang on the harness. The next day my arms were incredibly sore. Somehow I managed to survive, and at the end of the tour, the instructors said that we could go again. Rosé was thrilled; I was terrified. Anyway, I knew that she really enjoyed doing this, so I wanted her to have another experience.
The nice thing about the Sky Trek system is that braking is semi-automatic. There is a single cable, and you assume a horizontal position, feet first. You have a braking mechanism that goes around the cable behind your harness. You can twist it to reduce speed, and to initiate braking. At the end platform the guides brake you with some rope mechanism. They vibrate the cable to let you know when to start braking. We took the tram up to the top platform. The course basically goes back and forth over a very deep valley. Unfortunately, once we got to the platform it started to get very cloudy. They instructed us, and then had us go over two very short lines to get the hang of it. That helped to ease my anxiety. Once we finished the training runs, the skies erupted with some very hard rain. The guides said we had to wait for the wind and rain to ease. After a few minutes, about half of the guests decided to opt out and return to the base via the tram. I have to admit I was half-hoping that the tour would be canceled. Once the rain and wind eased somewhat, the tour started. The clouds were low enough that you couldn’t see the landing platform. Rosé went before me, and clearly had a great time. I summoned up all of my courage and released my steely grip on heavenly earth, and off I zipped. It was still really cloudy, so I couldn’t see much around me. I’m not sure if that was good or bad. The landing platform was hidden by the clouds as well. The lines at Sky Trek are quite long – it takes close to a minute of white-knuckled terror to get across. I finally felt the line wobble, and I twisted the clamping mechanism for all I was worth. The braking system did its job, and soon I was standing on blessed ground again. I decided it wasn’t so bad after all, and after a couple of times, I actually enjoyed the experience.
After we finished the canopy tour, it was off to the hot springs in the town of La Fortuna. At Baldi Hot Springs, there are a lot of pools, all labeled with their respective temperatures. We started with hot and progressed to scalding. The last pool we were in was 120°, which was the hottest one. Behind it there was a man-made grotto. Suddenly hot water started pouring down in the grotto. It was practically boiling, and there was no warning at all. Fortunately we weren’t standing under the scalding waterfall at that time. We moved on to a larger pool listed at 110°. At the end of that pool there were a couple of water slides. I decided to give them a try. Being emboldened by my ziplining experience, I decided to take the more difficult slide that started with a high spiral. I had never been in this kind of slide. Quickly I lost all control, and I was spinning wildly inside the tube. I had no idea which end was up until I finally emerged, launching backwards and upside down into the pool. Rose was trying to take a picture of me, and asked me to go again to get a better shot. I countered that she should go, and I would take the picture. For some reason, she declined the opportunity. I always knew that I had married a smart girl. We had a nice buffet dinner and then drove back to the lodge. It was incredibly dark up there, what with the cloud cover and very little human-made lighting.
The next day we drove to La Fortuna for our whitewater rafting experience. It was raining that morning, and we were told that due to the heavy rains, we would be taking a different river than the planned one. Having exactly zero experience with whitewater rafting, that sounded fine with me. I was thinking that we would be in a large raft, gently meandering down the forest, with an occasional rapid or two. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It took a little more than an hour for us to get to the launch point. We were going down the Rio Sarapiqui, a Class 3 – 4 river. There was a lot of lecturing about safety while we were riding to the river – mostly on what to do if you fall out. I was determined not to fall out.
We were grouped with a family from New Jersey, so we had four adults, a teenaged girl, and our guide. I was placed in the front with the father, and we entered the river for paddling practice. The guide would tell us when to paddle forward, backwards, hard, or to stop. We were the first raft in the group, following a guide in a kayak, who would determine the optimal route. It was really a lot of fun, but the water was fairly cold, and there was no avoiding getting wet. We quickly discovered that the teenager was completely worthless at paddling, and the mother wasn’t much better, so we had to work pretty hard. I kept my foot jammed under the holding strap hard enough to cut off circulation, but my partner didn’t. Somewhere around the fifth rapid, he fell out. Fortunately for him, our guide caught him immediately and we got him back into the boat.
Midway through the tour, we stopped for fresh-cut pineapple and watermelon, which was absolutely delicious. After we cleared each rapid, we would all touch paddles and yell out, “pura vida!”, the national slogan of Costa Rica. Once we finished the rafting, we were served a tipico lunch, consisting of rice, black beans, and choice of meat. The rice and beans in Costa Rica are really good, so the meal was very nice. We returned to La Fortuna, picked up a few things at a grocery store, and started the long drive back to Papagayo. We left at sunset, so most of the drive around the lake was in utter darkness. We made pretty good time until we got onto the Pan American Highway. This time we got behind a few trucks that had no intention of pulling over, and every time we came to a crossing, they ground to a halt. This section had taken us a half an hour on our drive up, but with the crawling trucks, we spent an hour and a half that night. We made it back to the boat around 11:00, and Quincy was very happy to see us.
Back at Papagayo, we learned that another wind event had blown through the area, and the water temperature was all the way down to 73°! We had the car through the day, so we took Steve and Joan into Cocos for lunch and provisioning. We were also planning to check out with the Port Captain, as were wanted to leave on Saturday. I found the Port Captain’s office, but it was closed – supposedly for lunch. Later I would be told that it was pretty much closed all day on Friday. So, we were stuck for the weekend. Steve went over a plan to buddy-boat all the way to the Canal, which looked good with us. They had a car on Sunday and Monday, so we had a very nice dinner with them in a small town between Papagayo and Cocos. We attempted to go to the Hilton on the east side of the bay, but they insisted we had to buy day passes at $75 just to get in to the property. Monday morning Steve drove me into Cocos for checking out with the Port Captain. With a Zarpe Nacional in hand, we shoved off from the marina. Steve and Joan were not able to join us, as they were still waiting for their replacement debit card.
April 14th: Marina Papagayo to Bahia Portrero
The first stop on our Costa Rican cruise was Bahia Portrero, a large bay about eighteen miles southeast of Papagayo. It was a very calm and pleasant cruise, but it started with a strange twist. A couple of minutes after leaving the dock, I heard a strange sound coming from the smokestack, followed by a visible dark discharge. Believe it or not, a black bird (dead) came flying out of the stack. I don’t know whether it had gone down to hide because it was sick or dying, or if it had nested there, but it came flying out when I kicked up the rpm’s. There were a few boats moored in Portrero, but only one other cruising boat was anchored. It was a calm overnight stay, but not particularly remarkable.
Position at destination: 10°26.5’ N, 85°47’ W
Air temp: 88, Water temp: 85
Nautical miles for this leg: 17.8 Total: 3699.4
Departed at 12:00pm, arrived at 3:00pm
April 15th: Bahia Portrero to Bahia Carillo
We departed early in the morning for our next anchorage, Bahia Carillo. The coastline here is dotted with numerous small bays, popular with surfers when the summer swells are up. Bahia Carillo is exposed to the south swell, and it can be quite rolly at times. There are very shallow shoals near the beach, and reefs that jut out into the bay. We chose to anchor close to the east side of the bay, near a mooring field. The cruising guide said this was the most protected part of the bay, but we still had a good amount of swell. We were the only cruising boat in the bay. Most of the moored boats were fishing charters. There were a few hotels and restaurants on the beach, but we stayed on board, as the rolling motion would have made retrieving the Little Blend very challenging. After dark, the swells shifted to our stern, and we had a lot of wave slap against our swim platform, and the reflected swell kept a steady roll going all night – not the best for sleeping.
Position at destination: 9°52’ N, 85°29’ W
Air temp: 89, Water temp: 87
Nautical miles for this leg: 56.4 Total: 3755.8
Departed at 6:25am, arrived at 3:45pm
April 16th: Bahia Carillo to Bahia Ballena
The rolling and slapping got worse through the night, so we decided to leave before sunrise, since we weren’t sleeping anyway. We continued down the coast in a southeasterly direction to Bahia Ballena, a very large and well-protected bay. Between Carillo and Ballena, the coastline is rough and rocky with very few anchorages. The big feature is Cabo Blanco, which juts into the open ocean. The surf was really pounding this area, and there were lots of logs floating offshore – more evidence of the rainy season’s start. Bahia Ballena is also known as Tambor, and there are scheduled airline flights to San Jose. The bay has a very large beach, with coconut palms everywhere behind the beach. There is a village here, and we were able to tap into free wifi from one of the beach hotels – thanks to the wifi amplifier!
We really started to see the large tidal range here, which was around ten feet. The beach was quite large at low tide, and at high tide it virtually disappeared. There was a fishing village in the western corner of the bay that had docks, but they were fixed metal docks, requiring the skills of a spider monkey to climb them at low tide. There were a few cruising boats anchored in the eastern part of the bay, but we were by ourselves in our corner. Because of the large tide and the scary-looking dock, we just stayed on board. The countryside was starting to look a little greener, and we guessed that the rainy season was starting somewhere, as some pretty big logs came floating by us. There were a lot of people on the beach, as this was Santa Semana (Easter Week), which is the second-biggest holiday in Latin America.
Position at destination: 9°43’ N, 85°00’ W
Air temp: 89, Water temp: 87
Nautical miles for this leg: 46.8 Total: 3802.6
Departed at 4:30am, arrived at 11:30am
April 17th: Bahia Ballena to Islas Tortugas
We decided to take the short trip to Islas Tortugas instead of crossing the Gulf of Nicoya to Puntarenas. The cruising guide said that Islas Tortugas has an average of 120 visitors per week, but there were probably double that number when we went there. That’s when I realized this was Santa Semana. On shore there are a number of ramadas where lunch and drinks are served to the day-trippers coming over from Puntarenas on the tourist boats. Across on the mainland is Curu National Park, with lots of wildlife and hiking trails. But since this was the end of the dry season, the crackled, gray landscape of the Park was not very inviting. We anchored well away from the tourist beach and used the kayak to go ashore.
These islands very much reminded us of the Caribbean, with white sand beaches and palm trees. The crowds reminded us of beaches that are inundated by cruise ship passengers. Ashore, we found out that the food and drink operations are strictly for the wristband-wearing tourists, as they could not take cash. We walked the beach for a while, then kayaked to a nearby island for some shelling. Late in the afternoon, the exodus began. We had seen about twenty-five boats anchored off shore – a mix of tourist, fishing, and sailboats. Within a half an hour, all but two were gone, back to Puntarenas.
Position at destination: 9°47’ N, 84°54’ W
Air temp: 92, Water temp: 87
Nautical miles for this leg: 9.7 Total: 3812.3
Departed at 11:00am, arrived at 12:30pm
April 18th: Islas Tortugas to Quepos (Marina Pez Vela)
We left at first light for Marina Pez Vela, a relatively new marina just outside of Quepos. The seas were very calm that morning, but shortly after Rose went down for a morning nap, we were hit by a micro-rogue wave that I never felt up on the flying bridge. Our port side was slapped by a wave high enough to dump in a good amount of sea water through the port windows that are over the berth. Sea water inundated the mattress cover that Rose had just washed, destroyed a portable DVD player that was on the shelf, and wreaked havoc with some books on the shelf. It was amazing that I never saw or felt this wave,, but after that, we vowed never to passage with those windows open.
We passed by the very expensive Marina Los Sueños at Herradurra, where the slip rate (if you could get one) was $3.75 per foot, per day. That marina is used by large and expensive sportfishing boats. We were going to spend some time at the new Marina Pez Vela at Quepos. Once we arrived in the afternoon, we could not find the marina entrance. There was a full mooring field outside of the marina, which was too new to appear on any chart that had. We called the marina for instructions, and still couldn’t find the entrance. After another pass through the mooring field, we found the entrance, which was parallel to the marina. We tied up to the office dock and checked in. The marina is a large circle, with all of the docks arranged around the edge of the circle. There are plans to eventually fill in the circle with finger docks. Despite being well-protected, there was a lot of surge in the marina. When we pulled away from the check-in dock, our swim platform got caught under the pier and the surge pushed it up, tearing out a mouse bite. After all of the grief and expense it took to get that platform, we weren’t happy to see damage to it.
We motored across the circle to our assigned dock, a typical two-wide slip. What with the surge and the wind, and no bow thruster, I wasn’t too keen on going stern first into the slip, so we went in with our bow. However, the dock finger wasn’t long enough to allow us to exit using our cockpit doors, so we had no choice but to back in. taking careful aim, and with help from some boat boys, we managed to muscle into the slip. Fortunately there wasn’t another boat by us, so I had the full width of the slip to work with.
Position at destination: 9°26’ N, 84°10’ W
Air temp: 90, Water temp: 90
Nautical miles for this leg: 52.3 Total: 3864.6
Departed at 5:30am, arrived at 1:45pm
April 18th – May 3rd: Quepos
Once we were settled in, we took off on foot to explore the village of Quepos, just a five minute walk away. As this was the Friday at the end of Santa Semana, not much was open. We found a few small tiendas and a number of restaurants. We found an open Italian restaurant that served excellent pizza with gelato for dessert. We liked the look of the village.
On Saturday morning, we decided to visit the Manuel Antonio National Park. A bus leaves Quepos for Manuel Antonio every half hour, and it only cost around a dollar. The road goes over a mountain, where the grades can be pretty steep – we had doubts that the bus could make it. There were a lot of small hotels along the way, as well as a grocery store larger than the one we had seen in Quepos. We rode back down the mountain and onto Manuel Antonio beach, which is very large. At low tide, the beach is thirty yard wide, but only about five yard wide at high tide. We got off of the bus and walked to the park entrance. We decided not to hire a guide, as they were pretty expensive, and we figured that we could see the animals on our own. That decision was questionable. There weren’t many animals evident, but the guides were finding many spiders, birds, and lizards for their clients to view with a telescope. We really didn’t see any animals, but the park was gorgeous. Only one main trail was open, so we soon found ourselves at the beach contained within the park. It was muy linda, but very crowded.
We jumped in to cool off a bit, and then we decided to cut through the small stretch of woods to the less-crowded beach on the other side. At that time, a troop of white-faced (capuchin) monkeys arrived. We followed them along the beach as they looked for food. While they weren’t tame, they clearly had little fear of people. One enterprising monkey spied a plastic bag full of bananas, which promptly ended up with the monkeys.
We were able to get a lot of close-up pictures before the troop scampered back into the forest. We walked a few paces through the woods to other beach, which wasn’t nearly as crowded. In the woods just behind the beach, Rose spotted an agouti and an iguana – who needs guides?
We walked along the beach towards town, to exit the park. We had lunch at a local restaurant, and caught the bus back to the marina. Once we returned to the marina, we saw that Salty Dog was docked just a couple of slips down from us. We greeted Steve and Joan, and they had a tale of woe for us. They had departed Papagayo a couple of days after us, after finally getting their replacement ATM card. They were anchored in Bahia Carillo, but more in the center of the bay. The dropping tide caught them, and apparently they were anchored over some rocks and dragged to shallower water. The incoming swells lifted their stern and slammed their rudder onto some rocks. Steve believed that the rudder shaft was bent, and their autopilot wasn’t working. They hand-steered on an overnight run to Quepos, fighting the rudder all of the way. Yikes! Marina Pez Vela had a brand new Travelift and a boat yard that still wasn’t open. However, the yard manager agreed to haul Salty Dog on Monday to ascertain the extent of the damage. It turned out that the rudder was severely damaged but the shaft could be straightened. Steve talked to their insurance carrier to plan for the repairs.
We ended up spending two weeks at Marina Pez Vela, in spite of the high cost. Had we known we would spend that much time, we could have gotten the monthly rate for less than the cost of two weeks at the daily rate. We spent a lot of time hanging out with Steve and Joan, having several dinners out and a couple of trips to Manuel Antonio. One night we decided to go to the small casino in Quepos, which doubled as a brothel. We played a little bit of blackjack. Rosé ordered a drink, thinking it was comped. It wasn’t, and we were quoted two different prices for the drink. Ah well, we made enough at the table to buy some drinks and ice cream. There was a sports bar in town that had numerous televisions, but was unable to get the NBA playoffs as we wanted to watch the Warriors play against the Clippers.
There were a number of stores that sold cat food, and we were able to scrounge up a few Latin varieties of Fancy Feast for Quincy. We also found a fried chicken chain called “Pollo Hermanos”, which immediately made us think of “Breaking Bad” (Chicken Brothers Restaurant). The chicken was right up Quincy’s alley, so he was a happy cat.
We found out that on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, there was a farmer’s market on the jetty in front of town. There was a huge selection of produce, some great looking chicken, and a few odds and ends. Best of all, the prices were reasonable! We got some very good watermelon, pineapple, vegetables, and even decent strawberries. This was definitely one of the highlights of our Quepos stay.
While at Quepos, the rainy season started in earnest. We had rain most every day, and one day it rained for over six hours. The rain was accompanied by some very nasty lightning – this part of Costa Rica has some of the most intense lightning in the world. We had the bottom cleaned by a local expat, who did a really good job. He looked at the damage we had sustained on the keel back at Punta de Mita (Mexico), and he told us it was just some fiberglass damage. Nothing critical, but it should be repaired at the next haul-out. Also of note was the tide: it was about ten feet. The bay across the jetty from us had great surf at high tide, but was completely dry at low tide. There was a small working marina in the town, and a very narrow channel flowed the edge of the jetty. It was surreal to watch small fishing boats speed through that channel at low tide.
For Joan’s birthday, Steve picked out a nice hillside restaurant called “Los Altos” on the way to Manuel Antonio. The view was fabulous, and the restaurant came with a great pool. Later in the afternoon a troop of white-faced monkeys appeared in the trees. All in all, it was a great day.
One afternoon we went to the beach with the boogie board. The waves came in with regularity, and the depth of the bay was pretty shallow, which made for some great long rides on the board. Unlike Ixtapa, I never got flipped.
We were in need of some spares for the boat, and I needed a new DVD player, so we had been talking about my going to Florida while we were waiting to cross the canal. But this would be a problem, since we were not able to get a marina slip in Panama City, meaning that Rosé would have to stay on a mooring or at anchor. I checked, and found to my surprise that I could get award tickets from San Jose to Jacksonville with ease. I’d have to get from Quepos to San Jose, and I would need to spend two nights in Jacksonville due to flight times, but the trip would be mostly free. I found out that I could book a dirt-cheap fare from Quepos to San Jose on Nature Air: the fare was just $14, but that taxes were $22, for a $36 all-in price. We decided to make this happen, and we quickly ordered some more supplies for our Jacksonville mailing address. I figured I would be bringing back about $800 worth of parts, taking one full-size carry-on and a big duffel bag. Steve and Joan also had another replacement card sent to our mail forwarder, and they asked me to pick up some specialty batteries for them.
My trip was actually smooth. I was a little concerned about my first smuggling experience, but I was never questioned. Just before my trip, I found out from another boater that I would have to have a return ticket from Costa Rica – they wouldn’t accept the fact that we would be leaving by boat, so I had to buy a refundable ticket back to the USA.
The Quepos airport consisted of a single landing strip with no control tower, surrounded by very green forest and fields. The terminal “building” was open air. When I checked in, I didn’t have to show any ID – Nature Air operates on the honor system. Strangely, I was weighed along with my bags, and I was pleased to see that I had actually lost a little weight since we left San Francisco last October. I almost expected that the arriving flight would be announced by a little person yelling, “the plane! The plane!”
The first flights I took in seven months weren’t without drama. I had booked a 2:40 flight out of San Jose, which gave me two hours to make my connection in Miami. My plane from Quepos left 25 minutes early (more on that later), so I got to the counter in San Jose at 11:00. There was a 12:55 flight, so I wanted to switch to that one. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any aisle seats left in the MCE section, so I decided to stick to my original flight. But then something hit my sixth sense, so I did switch to the earlier flight, taking a window exit seat (the one on the 757 with no seat in front – 10A). This turned out to be a smart move; the 2:40 flight was canceled! However, the incoming plane for my flight had to go around a storm, used too much fuel, and was diverted to Liberia (northern Costa Rica) for refueling. And then it got delayed when a big thunderstorm hit San Jose. We actually left at 2:30, but I made it! When we arrived in Miami, I discovered the new kiosk immigration system – do they have that in San Francisco now? Immigration was a snap, and I went to baggage claim – which was an absolute zoo. I got the bag quickly, but the lines to exit customs resembled waiting lines at Disneyland on a holiday. They snaked around multiple baggage carousels, then went back and forth with turnstiles. Lots of people missed connections because of this. It took 45 minutes to get through the line! Anyway, I got to the lounge about an hour before my connection.
The most interesting part of the trip were the flights from Quepos to San Jose. I found a $14 fare on Nature Air for the trip, although they did tack on a $22 “fuel surcharge”. Because of the mountains, it takes about 3 to 4 hours to get from Quepos to San Jose by bus, which isn’t air conditioned. The fare is ridiculously cheap, at $8, but then you have to get a $30 taxi ride to the airport in San Jose. My return flight from Miami arrived at 1:35PM, and the last flight on Nature Air was at 3:00. I didn’t book the flight, since I wasn’t sure that I would clear customs in time, so I had no sure way to get back to Quepos. Pus, there would be some big charges for excess baggage – the $14 fare (actually $39 with surcharges and taxes). I really should have just forked over the $39 and hoped, but the cheap side in me came out. I knew there were buses at 4:00, 5:00, and 6:00, but I really didn’t want to endure that long, slow ride (with no A/C). So, I was hoping for a smooth transition. Nature Air says that they close the flight an hour before departure. There was another local airline, Sansa that had a flight at 3:45, but at a much higher base fare. Anyway, we landed a few minutes late, but I got my bags quickly. I had a suitcase that can be carried on (although I didn’t, knowing that with all of the parts in it, the TSA would have cow) and a duffel bag. As I understood it, you get a $500 exemption on household goods brought in to Costa Rica by tourists. I wasn’t sure if my supplies (including 28 cans of cat food) would qualify, but everything I had read says that customs rarely opens bags, so I decided to go full-on smuggler. However, I saw that all bags were being x-rayed at the exit, so I thought about declaring some of the items. I had $800 of boat parts (including oil filters, watermaker supplies, solenoids, water testing kit, and some other odds and ends) as well as another $300 of non-boating items. Well, they x-rayed my bags, and nothing happened. My first foray as a smuggler worked!
By that time, it was 2:15. At the exit, you get mobbed by taxi drivers. I told one that I was going to the domestic terminal. He asked me if I had a reservation, since I need to have a ticket 24 hours in advance. He also offered to drive me to Quepos for $140. I was prepared to do that if I couldn’t get on the plane, since I really didn’t want to ride the bus. Another guy escorted me to the terminal, where I was able to get on the flight at the last minute. However, the full fare and excess baggage required a $99 fare – no problem, since it would save me over three hours. Nature Air flies very small planes – Cessna Caravans and DeHavilland Dash 6’s. From Quepos, I was on the Cessna, which was very cool since I sat just behind the open cockpit.
The planes fly at 6000 feet, so when there aren’t clouds, the views are great. On the return trip, I was on the “big plane” with two engines. This one had a stop, going first to La Fortuna, which is near Arenal Volcano. It was 25 minutes to Arenal, 5 minutes on the ground, and another 25 minutes back to Quepos. Not so fast, but much better than the bus. Although it was a cloudy and rainy day, the view was pretty nice. Leaving San Jose, we headed up towards a mountain pass, and I could see that all of the rivers were flowing. We turned to land at La Fortuna, which has an airport about the same size as Quepos. After just five minutes on the ground, and an exchange of a few passengers, we took off for Quepos. The return trip was much cloudier, so there wasn’t much to see on the ground. After landing, I hustled out of the airport, paid the $3 tax, and thought I was going to catch the only taxi that was waiting. Sadly, that cab was waiting for specific passengers. There was a Canadian guy also looking for a cab to Quepos, so we split the ride once another cab wandered by. The fare for the marina was again 5000 Colones, but only 3000 to town, just about one minute less! Anyway, we split the fare, and the taxi delivered me direct to the dock, where the Fabulous Rosé was waiting for me. After our first time apart in seven months, it was great to see her again.
We put away the supplies and had dinner at the marina restaurant with Steve and Joan. We decided to leave on Saturday, as we wanted to visit the produce market one more time. That turned out to be a good decision, as it rained all day on Friday. While I was gone, the fuel leaking sailboat to our port side departed, but a derelict sailboat moved in on our starboard side, next to Salty Dog. It was owned by a rather corpulent lady who had bought the boat in Florida, and had sailed it single-handed to Panama, and now was planning to take the boat up to California to sail with her kids. After taking a look at that dilapidated boat, I had a hard time believing that it had made it this far. Apparently she had hired a captain in Panama, but he had jumped off of the boat as soon as he could once it was docked in Quepos. She was also low on funds – she didn’t have money to tip the dock boys, and there was some question about how she would pay the marina. Later, the captain told her that she needed cruising guides, as he wasn’t familiar with the areas north of Quepos. She said she couldn’t afford that either…
On Thursday we went in to town looking for some more cat food, but most of the stores were closed. Later, we would realize that May 1st is a holiday – Labor Day. Funny how a capitalist, democratic country like Costa Rica celebrates a famous Soviet holiday. Anyway, we had lunch at the Chicken Brothers (yes, just like Pollos Hermanos from Breaking Bad), which had delicious fried chicken. We saved a little for Quincy, as he always loved KFC. We visited one of the carnicerias, picking up four New York steaks and a half-kilo of very lean hamburger for around $20. That night, we had pizza that Joan made, and pasta that we made.
May 3rd, 2014: Marina Pez Vela – Playa Dominicalito
We woke up early Saturday to prepare the boat for cruising, topping off the water tanks and hosing all of the dead flying ants off of the deck. The long rain had brought them all out, but quite a few had drowned on the decks. I went to the office to check out and pick up our national Zarpe. Of course, it was sunny that morning, so we were sweating profusely. I was lucky enough to catch a golf cart ride back from the office. We said goodbye to the surge zone and shoved off at around 10:30 with partly cloudy skies and light winds.
The cruise past Parque Manuel Antonio was very enjoyable, and some friends from the El Salvador Rally, Kim and David, called us on the radio – they were just arriving at Quepos. We shared our knowledge of the area and the park. They were planning to spend just a couple of days there before heading to Golfito, so we thought we might see them again. We noticed that our wind instrument wasn’t working – it was saying we had five knots of true wind speed, with an apparent speed of zero. The anemometer was spinning, so we figured it was a problem in the instrument – it’s always something! By mid-afternoon we arrived at Playa Dominicalito, which turned out to be a very beautiful small bay, with the very green rainforest running right up to the beach.
The surf was up, so several surfers were enjoying their Saturday on the waves. Given the short afternoon, we didn’t bother going onto shore. We were the only cruising boat in the bay. With the afternoon breeze, our bow was aimed directly into the swell, so we were pitching somewhat at anchor. We decided not to deploy a stern anchor or a flopper stopper. After dark, the breeze shifted, and our stern was onto the swell, resulting in some wave slap. I thought the night was pretty calm, but Rosé had a hard time sleeping.
Position at destination: 9°14’ N, 83°51’ W
Air temp: 88, Water temp: 88
Nautical miles for this leg: 26.5 Total: 3891.1
Departed at 10:40am, arrived at 2:45pm
May 4th, 2014: Playa Dominicalito – Drake Bay
The morning breeze shifted us so that the swell was directly on our beam, so it was time to move on. We departed at 8:00am. The skies were full of clouds, so we anticipated rain, but the morning cruise was sunny and delightful, and the wind instrument was working correctly again. By mid-morning, the sea was almost flat, and we ran across a river of logs. This was a long stretch of logs, branches, and garbage that had collected together, running for about three miles parallel to shore. Some of the logs were full-sized trees, and we couldn’t see a good place to pass through it. We had to alter our course by about fifteen degrees to the west for about two miles before we finally got an opening.
As we approached Drake Bay, a rain squall was dumping its load right on the bay. We couldn’t see any lightning, but as it was still fairly early in the day, we decided to wait for it to clear. We changed our heading and reduced speed to run southwest of the cell, and after about an hour, it had cleared. We motored into the bay and dropped the hook. We were the only cruising boat in the bay on a lazy Sunday afternoon. There were quite a few boats coming in from Isla Caño (Cane Island), a diving hotspot that has the most lightning strikes in Central America. Most of the boats headed up into a narrow inlet that supposedly had a small dock in it. Those boats entered the inlet with the pedal to the metal, so maybe it was bigger than it appeared on the charts.
We spent the afternoon on board reading, then I experimented with making Costa Rican black beans using the Lizano salsa – they were pretty good, but not quite right. With the sun pounding through the back door, I decided to fire up the generator and turn on the air conditioning. Rosé went to bed quite early to compensate for her lack of sleep at Dominicalito. Later, I was starting to go to bed when I noticed that the salon carpet was wet – at first I thought that Quincy had an accident, but it was water. The drip pan for the salon A/C was overflowing, and running under the carpet. I couldn’t tell if the drain hose was plugged, or if the rolling motion of the boat was causing the water to spill. I sucked as much water out of the pan as I could, rolled up the carpet, and headed below. By that time, the skies were clear, so I assumed it would not rain that evening. Given the high temperature and stale air in the cabin, I elected to open the forward hatch. It was still pretty hot, so I brought in the portable fan to blow onto the bed.
Position at destination: 8°42’ N, 83°40’ W
Air temp: 91, Water temp: 89
Nautical miles for this leg: 35.5 Total: 3926.6
Departed at 8:00am, arrived at 1:30pm
May 5th, 2014: Drake Bay – Puerto Jiminez
We awoke at 5:00am to get an early start, but we were delayed by my error in judgment the previous evening. It was raining fairly hard that morning, and the open hatch allowed quite a bit of water in – oopsie. We spent quite a bit of time cleaning up the two water accidents, and finally left at 5:50am in a light rain. We had a nice current pushing us along at seven knots for a couple of hours, before we turned south around the Oso Peninsula. An opposing current cut our speed to 5.8 knots, so we jumped up to 1800rpm’s to maintain six knots. We wanted to arrive at Jiminez before dark, and at 65 knots, we couldn’t afford to drop below six knots.
We passed by the Corcovado National Park. This was the densest forest we had yet seen. It’s hard to imagine the difficulties early Spanish explorers had in bushwhacking through this country. We turned into the Gulfo Dolce to be greeted by several rainstorms, although they decided not to dump on us. We arrived at Puerto Jiminez a little after 3PM, and started searching for a good spot to drop the hook. The cruising guide warned that the bottom slope here was very steep, and indeed it was. The bottom would drop from fifteen feet to sixty feet in a heartbeat. There were a number of boats on moorings, and there were small ferries from Golfito constantly plowing through the anchorage, so our choices were limited. We ended up anchoring in what looked to be a relatively flat spot with forty-five feet under us, so we played out over two-hundred feet of chain.
When I went to bed at about 10PM, I stopped to look at the depth finder, and I was shocked to see that we were at nine feet! I panicked a bit and rousted Rosé to help move the boat. We drove over several areas before we were satisfied that we had a flatter spot. At the time, I thought that our anchor had dragged. In retrospect, the tide was low, and the wind had shifted, moving us over a much shallower part of the bottom.
Position at destination: 8°33N, 83°13’ W
Air temp: 89, Water temp: 89
Nautical miles for this leg: 60.5 Total: 3987.1
Departed at 6:00am, arrived at 4:00pm
The squalls continued on and off into the night, accompanied by some loud thunder and spectacular lightning. Rose turned in early, and I stayed up until 11:00. Before going to bed, I checked the depth, and was shocked to see that we were in 9.9’ of water! I had the anchor alarm set, but I was convinced that we had dragged, given the slope of the bottom. I rousted Rose and we pulled the anchor, searching for a flatter spot. We dropped anchor in 40’, and our swing got us into 25’, much more manageable. In retrospect, we don’t think that the anchor dragged. With 200’ of chain out, we simply swung up the slope. At least the minimum depth we saw was at low tide. After the events of the late evening, we didn’t sleep so well, occasionally getting up to check the depth. We stayed above 20’, so our anchor reset worked out well. The morning brought bright sunshine and smooth seas for our short passage to Golfito.
May 6th, 2014: Puerto Jiminez – Golfito
With perfectly flat seas, we cruised the short distance across the Gulfo Dulce to Golfito. It was so flat, we ran using the wing engine for about an hour. The 27hp Yanmar engine can move us along at 3.5 knots, but it is tough to control, as the prop is off center to port, and there is no wash across the rudder. So, it’s a constant battle with the wheel to maintain course, as the autopilot is worthless when using the wing engine. We hadn’t originally planned to stop in Golfito. We had heard about a lot of crime in the area, and that it was an industrial port with no allure. But, when we are at Quepos, we found out that in order to check out there, we would have to get to Puntarenas for customs, about 120 miles away. Alternatively, we could hire an agent for $300+. The procedure for checking out in Golfito seemed pretty straightforward from the Sarana guide, so we decided to go for it.
Position at destination: 8°37’ N, 83°09’ W
Air temp: 91, Water temp: 91
Nautical miles for this leg: 12.3 Total: 3999.4
Departed at 8:30am, arrived at 10:45am
Golfito turned out to be a beautiful harbor, surrounded by mountains, with a charming town right outside of the dock. There are a few small marinas, and we stayed at the Fish Hook Marina, surrounded by big sportfishing boats. We caught the city bus just outside of the marina, and did a little provisioning in town. Of course, it rained for most of the afternoon, but we did finally see some scarlet macaws flying overhead – our first wild parrot sighting!
The next day we confirmed the checkout procedure with the marina office. First was immigration, a short bus ride down the main street. Then we would go to customs, located by the Zona Libre shopping area. After that, we would pay the Zarpe fee at a bank and then proceed to the port captain to get our Zarpe. We had originally planned to check out on Thursday, May 8th, but the office advised us that the 8th was inauguration day for the new President. Although not an official holiday, it was unlikely that the Federal offices would be open. We decided to expedite our checkout and hopped on the bus.
Once at the immigration office, we ran across Mary and Pete from Neko, one of the boats that had been at the El Salvador Rally. We compared notes, and since we had similar agendas, we decided to buddy boat to Panama together. We finished the immigration procedures and caught a taxi to the Customs Office. The driver didn’t know where the office was located, but we knew it was at the Zona Libre. This is a duty-free shopping area, where you have to get a ticket (free) but for the following day. Locals make a small industry out of selling tickets for immediate entry, and it was a bit of a zoo. We found the Customs office, filled out the forms, and proceeded to the bank. Central American banks are crowded and always have armed guards outside and inside. For some reason, they won’t allow you to wear a hat – maybe some gangsters hide pistolas under their hats… We paid the Zarpe fee, around $25, then proceeded to the Port Captain to pick up the Zarpe. We were free to check out the next day!
We showed Mary and Pete the better grocery store, and made a final visit to Pollos Hermanos. We had a couple of drinks with the Neko crew at their “marina”, Land Sea Services. The place offers mooring balls and a host of services at a very inexpensive price. Neko wanted to get fuel in the morning, so they would catch up with us somewhere in the islands. We had a final Costa Rican dinner on board and prepared to depart at first light.
May 8th, 2014: Golfito – Puerto Armuelles, Panama
We departed the Fish Hook Marina at 6:00AM for the sixty-five mile run to Puerto Armuelles, our first stop in Panama. This anchorage is an open roadstead, but we didn’t want to arrive at a better anchorage after dark. The swells were minimal, so we figured it would be OK. Although we were going out against the tide, we made reasonable speed at 1800rpm’s. After we got around Punta Blanco, exiting the Golfo Dulce, our speed jumped over seven knots. Woo-hoo! The swell in the ocean was light, but the surf was still running well as we passed by Pavones, a popular surfing area.
We continued due south around Punta Burica, crossing in to Panama. Just off the point is a small island, Isla de Burica. It was heavily forested with trees, and the spit of the end had some beautiful palm trees on the beach – this looked quite dreamy.
We rounded the point and turned due north into Golfo de Chiriqui. After facing head seas all day, we now had a very smooth following sea. This area has a long, fairly flat beach on the coast, but the depth is tremendous just offshore. We were in over six hundred feet of water barely a mile offshore. I did see some boats anchored offshore, so I rechecked the guide, to find there was an anchorage of sorts, another open roadstead called Punta Balsa. We had already passed it by a couple of miles, so we decided to continue to Armuelles. Thanks to our decent speed, we arrived at 3:30, about an hour before we expected too. We decided to anchor further south of the old banana boat pier than the cruising guide had recommended – the bottom looked flatter further south. We dropped the hook in thirty feet of water, and decided to deploy the flopper stopper, since we were in a medium beam swell.
Position at destination: 8°37’ N, 83°09’ W
Air temp: 91, Water temp: 91
Nautical miles for this leg: 63.0 Total: 4062.4
Departed at 6:10am, arrived at 3:45pm
Just after we finished settling in, we heard a hail in indecipherable Spanish on the VHF. The hail was repeated a couple of minutes later, and I got the sneaky feeling that despite being a mile from the town, the Capitania de Puerto was calling us. We had understood that when entering Panama with the intention of crossing the canal, it was acceptable to not check in until arriving in Balboa. Armuelles was an official port of entry, but we wanted to wait until Balboa for check in. A few minutes later I saw a large panga with a big Panamanian flag flying, and I told Rose that we were about to get a visit from the authorities. Sure enough, the boat was chock full of local authorities: the Port Captain, immigration, customs, and agriculture inspectors, as well as two boatmen. They tied up to our stern and came on board. Immediately the Port Captain pointed to our boat deck, waved his finger rapidly, and yelled, “Problem! Problem!” We hadn’t had time to take down our Costa Rican courtesy flag, and it was definitely offending the Port Captain. We explained that we had just entered Panama, and we hoisted the Q-flag, taking down the offending flag. I explained to the Port Captain that we planned to check in Balboa, but he was having none of it, insisting that we check in immediately. I later reasoned that the Port wasn’t busy these days, and the officials were anxious to justify their jobs.
So, they proceeded to assault me with check-in formalities. The Port Captain spoke a reasonable amount of English, and we were able to communicate effectively. The other officials were impatient, wanting to get their stuff done first. I had to provide them with copies of all of our documentation, and the customs and agriculture inspectors did a cursory examination of the boat. For the first time in our journey, the agriculture inspector wanted to see Quincy’s paperwork but all was well. And then came the fees – everyone had their hand out, but they did all give me receipts. At the end, the Port Captain said that I needed to come ashore to get the cruising permit, as well as for our passport stamps. He wanted us to anchor closer to town, where he said there would be less rolling. But they also wanted us to tow the panga. We pulled up the flopper stopper, raised the anchor, secured the panga, and took the entourage towards town.
We anchored just north of the old banana boat pier, a rusting remnant of good times in the past. I jumped in the panga, and we went around to the south side of the pier. It was low tide, and there was no real ladder to get up the pier. The Port Captain explained that he and his crew would be climbing up the pier, but that it was too dangerous for me, so they would land me on the beach. I didn’t argue the point. They looked like spider monkeys clamoring up the rusty remains of the pier. Once on the beach, the Port Captain gave our passports to the immigration officer, and then he took me to his office. He proceeded to fill out more paperwork on an ancient typewriter, hunt and peck style. There were a couple of old computers and printers in the office, but they seemed to prefer using the typewriter with the multiple carbon copies. He created crew lists and a domestic Zarpe for us, of course accompanied by a fee.
Eventually a woman came into the office, apparently from the maritime authority. She created the cruising permit for us, which was quite expensive at $193. Here is a list of the various fees that we were charged, to the best of my memory:
Cruising permit $193
Port Captain Declaration $20
Immigration $25 (more on this later)
Agriculture inspection $35
Domestic Zarpe $15
Customs inspection $20
I was also charged $20 for the panga ride. The fees paid in Panama can vary widely according to the mood of the local authorities. Overall, I don’t think we were overcharged, especially since they could have charged us for overtime, since we didn’t finish until after 6:30PM. Noonsite has an excellent summary of the fees paid by cruisers.
Finally I was taken back to Tropical Blend in the dark by our friendly neighborhood boatmen, now $20 richer. Rose was anticipating my mood, and she had a dinner of salads and spaghetti and wine ready to go. We had a lot of laughs about the experience, especially the “Problem!” we had caused with our Costa Rican flag.
May 9th, 2014: Puerto Armuelles – Isla Parida
Under clear skies, we left Armuelles bound for Isla Parida, part of the Gulf of Chiriqui Marine Park. As we were leaving, a fairly modern-looking fishing vessel, the Diva Maria, was anchoring off of Armuelles. With flat seas, we headed out to Isla Parida. Once at the island, we had to search a bit to find a protected anchorage, as the wind and swell had kicked up.
Based on the information in the Bauhaus guide, we had planned to anchor on the west side of the island, but those spots looked a little rough. We continued around the north end and found a great spot between Isla Parida and Isla Gamez on the east side. It was well-protected and calm, with a beautiful palm-tree encrusted beach just off of our bow. A few fishing boats were coming and going, but we were the only cruising boat anchored there. As we were relaxing later that afternoon, I heard the tell-tale sound of the fresh water pump cycling off and on. Apparently we had yet another failure of the Flojet water pump – changing it was getting really old. We had another spare on board, but I decided to wait until the next day to make the swap, being somewhat infected by Panamanian laziness.
Position at destination: 8°07.7’ N, 82°19’ W
Air temp: 87, Water temp: 87
Nautical miles for this leg: 35.2 Total: 4098
Departed at 8:10am, arrived at 1:30pm
May 10th, 2014: Isla Parida – Islas Secas
Our next destination was Islas Secas, a group of sixteen mostly private islands in the Gulf of Chiriqui. It was a short twenty-mile cruise, and we arrived before noon. We anchored next to Neko, down from Golfito. After lunch, I decided to tackle the water pump. I changed in the newest spare, only to find that we still weren’t getting any water pressure. I decided that the old accumulator tank had finally failed, and I decided to just by pass it. This wasn’t as easy a task as I was expecting, and it turned into a several-hour job. Mary called us on the radio and said they were going to shore with their dog Lucy, so we decided it was a good time for a break.
Position at destination: 7°59.6’ N, 82°02’ W
Air temp: 89, Water temp: 86
Nautical miles for this leg: 20.2 Total: 4118
Departed at 8:20am, arrived at 11:30am
On shore there was a very narrow beach separating the two sides of the island. There was a lot of driftwood, including coconuts. We turned one over and found a hermit crab condo. The water was very warm, but murky, as the small swells were licking up a lot of debris. We tried to snorkel, but the visibility was very poor. That night we invited Pete and Mary over for some tuna sushi, and we learned that their dog Lucy had major separation anxiety: she stood on the bow barking the entire time they were on board.
The next day we did some dinghy exploring of the island. There is a resort on shore that features very expensive tents that resemble Mongolian yurts. We also found a few small sea caves. Overall, Islas Secas were very beautiful, and fairly deserted.
May 12th, 2014: Islas Secas – Bahia Honda
After a couple of days at Islas Secas, it was time to continue our journey eastward to the Panama Canal. Our next destination plan was Ensenada Rosario, a cove on the mainland coast. On our arrival, the weather turned a little ugly with a small squall. We checked out the anchorage, but it seemed to be too rolly, so we continued south to Bahia Honda, a well-protected wide bay on the mainland.
We entered Bahia Honda and decided to anchor on the southeast side of the village, which is on an island in the bay.
Position at destination: 7°45’ N, 81°31’ W
Air temp: 86, Water temp: 88
Nautical miles for this leg: 40.7 Total: 4158.5
Departed at 8:30am, arrived at 3:00pm
There were a lot of local people paddling around in Cayucos, which are small dugout canoes. Shortly after we dropped anchor, a couple of canoes carrying teenaged boys showed up. Rose asked if they wanted something, and they nodded yes. She gave them a couple of packages of Chips Ahoys. A few minutes later, the word got out and an army of Cayucos bearing children were heading straight for us. Unfortunately, we had no more cookies to give, or any other candy, but the kids didn’t understand, and hung around for about a half an hour. No good deed goes unpunished. We heard from Neko on the radio – they were at the north end of the bay, near Domingo’s house. Domingo was mentioned in the Sarana guide as an older Panamanian that was always welcoming to cruisers. We decided to move and join Neko the following morning.
May 13th, 2014: Bahia Honda Village – Bahia Honda Domingo
The next morning we made a daunting voyage of two miles to Domingo’s house on the north end of the bay. We anchored near Neko, and we were the only cruising boats in the entire bay. We learned all about Domingo and his family from Pete and Mary. Domingo lived on one house, while his son had another one on the beach. His daughter worked in David, and came to the bay on occasion. Domingo lamented that not many cruisers came to Bahia Honda anymore, and he blamed it on the government’s increase of the fee required to visit the offshore islands for diving. He had asked to trade fresh produce for some items, including school backpacks, a winter coat or jacket for his wife, and a few other odds and ends.
Domingo had asked Neko for some help moving some things from his panga to his house, so we took the kayak to his beach to help. It turns out that he had a roll of chain link fence and a new 40hp outboard motor. Needless to say, it took all three of us to haul these items up the beach to his house. After mule duty was over, we talked with Domingo and his wife, in broken Spanish. He didn’t speak much English, but he was used to speaking with cruisers, as his Spanish was slow and simple, so we were able to converse. He had a farm, and he offered to give us some fresh fruit later, which we gladly accepted. We gave him some items off of our boat that we thought he could use. He offered to take us to a local village up one of the mangrove creeks later that afternoon.
After our visit we joined the Neko crew on a kayak tour of the area, paddling past the shoreline and up some of the estuaries. They had an inflatable kayak with the pedals – very cool.
The “Domingo” anchorage Mary and Pete and a dog named Lucy
The forest on the shoreline was incredibly thick, but we didn’t see too much wildlife. We did see a snake in a tree, and we found out that Mary has a “respect” for snakes… After lunch, Domingo picked us up for the ride to the village, using his brand-new Yamaha 40hp motor of which he was very proud. We motored up a long mangrove river to the village of Salmonete. There were some guys on a boat selling lobsters, so we bought four of them at $5 each. The village was pretty rustic, but it did have electrical power. There were a lot of political signs around for the presidential election. The village consisted primarily of a few residential buildings and a church. There was a concrete sidewalk, necessary with all of the rain in the area.
Lucky, Pete, and Domingo
After we left Salmonete, Domingo took us to the main village at Bahia Honda. There some tiny tiendas where we bought some soft drinks. Then we walked up the hill to the school. This school takes kids from the village and surrounding countryside, and it includes weekly boarding for the kids that come a long distance. It was nice to see that Panamanians understand the value of education. The view from the school was really beautiful.
Bahia Honda Police Station La Escuela
After the village tour, Domingo returned us to our respective boats. A little later, he showed up with gifts of fresh produce: two pineapples, a huge bunch of green bananas, two giant avocados, and an enormous bunch of cilantro leaves. We tried to talk him into keeping some, but there was no stopping him. We hung the bananas outside to wait for them to ripen.
We had the lobsters for dinner. We boiled them, but we weren’t sure how long they should boil. We guessed short, and finished them off in the microwave. They were already dead when we bought them, so the quality wasn’t so good. But considering that this was our wedding anniversary, we enjoyed the meal, topped off with champagne. There was a full moon that night, which always looks huge in the tropics. We took some pictures, but they never do justice.
After three lovely nights in Bahia Honda, it was time to resume our journey to the Panama Canal. We agreed with Neko that we would make several relatively short day hops before taking a long overnight passage around Punta Mala. Today’s journey would lead us out of Bahia Honda, southeast to Isla Cebaco. It was a great day for cruising under overcast skies, and we anchored between Isla Cebaco and Isla Gobernadora. We probably could have continued to our next stop, but both Neko and we were in a mood for relaxing.
Position at destination: 7°33’ N, 81°07’ W
Air temp: 87, Water temp: 83
Nautical miles for this leg: 33.2 Total: 4193.9
Departed at 8:00am, arrived at 1:10pm
This would be our last short leg before the trip around Punta Mala. It was an easy twenty-four mile run with some favorable currents and light winds. When rounding Isla Cebaco to the southeast, there is a reef about a mile offshore called English Rock. It was interesting to see waves breaking so far offshore with no visible formations around them – thanks for charts!
As we approached Ensenada Naranjo, Neko caught up with us, and we took some nice shots of them under sail. Ensenada Naranjo is a small bay on the mainland, just a little north of Punta Mariato, which marks the eastward turn towards the Gulf of Panama. There was no village at the bay, but there were a lot of cows. That, and the approaching rainstorm, discouraged us from going ashore, so we had a lazy, relaxing afternoon.
Position at destination: 7°16.5’ N, 80°55.5’ W
Air temp: 88, Water temp: 85
Nautical miles for this leg: 24.9 Total: 4218.8
Departed at 8:45am, arrived at 12:45pm
May 17th – 18th 2014: Ensenada Naranjo – Isla San Jose (Pearl Islands)
The next morning we took a last look at the weather report and called Neko. We agreed that the weather looked favorable for a passage around Punta Mala, and departed a little after 8:30. We expected the passage would take a little over twenty-four hours. The forecast near Punta Mala called for W to SW winds at 15 knots, with three to four foot long period swells. As we departed around Islote Roncador, the seas were confused, but once we turned due east, they calmed down to an orderly fashion. At this point, we were as for south as we would get on our journey to the canal.
Around noon, our pleasant day was slammed in the nose by a strong east wind, blowing around thirty knots right on our nose. The winds waves built very fast, and soon we were slamming into steep seas. Our anchor was getting air time, so we pulled into the beam and Rose worked for a long time to build a complex web of lines that restricted the anchor bounce. We turned back into the maelstrom, and heard Neko call a westbound sailboat. They said that it had been blowing from the east since they rounded Punta Mala, so we resigned ourselves to our fate. It wasn’t so bad that we needed to pull in, and it actually improved throughout the afternoon. By nightfall, we had minimal winds and calm seas, and we rounded Punta Mala without fanfare, and turned NNE towards the Pearl Islands.
Around 10:00PM, I was taking a nap and Rose woke me up to check out the erratic movements of a sailboat heading towards us. It was pitch black, and I was much disoriented. She told me that the boat wasn’t responding to hails, and that it seemed to mirror our movements to get away from it. It took me a couple of minutes to figure out our heading, and we managed to avoid the erratic boat. Since I was now up, I decided to stay up for the night watch. Around midnight, the east wind returned with a fury, accompanied by driving horizontal rain. We were in a Gulf of Panama squall. Neko called and told us they were veering north to avoid sailing directly into the wind. Now that we were in the Gulf, large ships started popping up on the AIS, but we didn’t come close to them. We did see an odd flashing light on the water, which wasn’t notated on any chart. We didn’t get close enough to identify it, but it was pretty spooky. The rough weather stayed with us for a few hours before relatively calming down.
At dawn, we approached the western shore of Isla San Jose in the Pearl Islands. Our anchorage was on the southwest side where we expected shelter from the prevailing west winds. We were excited to see a lot of white sand beaches, and water that was clearer than anything we had seen so far. We dropped the anchor in forty feet of water, bearing in mind that it was high tide, at +fifteen feet!
Position at destination: 8°15.3’ N, 79°05.3’ W
Air temp: 90, Water temp: 85
Nautical miles for this leg: 141.6 Total: 4360.4
Departed at 8:40am, arrived at 10:10am
We spent a couple of relaxing days at Isla San Jose. It’s the second-largest island in Las Perlas, but it is private. There is no problem with cruisers landing on the beaches, so we did some exploring. We tried to do some snorkeling, but the water clarity still wasn’t great, so that was a short-lived adventure. We anchored in Ensenada Playa Grande on the east side, sheltered from both west and north winds. We were close to a rock wall that had a small hut on the top. There are sea caves in the area, and apparently the hut is used for fishing in one of the caves.
May 20th 2014: Isla San Jose – Rio Cacique (Isla del Rey)
The Bauhaus cruising guide had a section about a 100-year old small submarine that was lying on the beach at Isla San Telmo. Pete was really interested in seeing this, so we decided to cruise over around lunchtime to see the sub, before continuing to the Rio Cacique anchorage. We went around the southern side of San Telmo before going around to the submarine beach on the northern side of the island. We both had a hard time anchoring, as the bottom was very rocky. As we were searching for flat ground, Rose was on the bow and saw a large submerged rock just below the surface that we fortunately missed. For the first time ever, we heard our anchor dragging on rocks, until it finally set in a sandy patch.
We went on shore to see the sub and the beach. The sub looked like a two-man midget sub, and it was well-rusted, with about half of it left.
If you like pelicans, this is the place to be. There were hundreds of them hanging out on the beach – perhaps a pelican convention? Lucy took a dislike to them, and spent some time vainly chasing after them. The beach was nice, and there were some small caves in the rocks. Pete found a natural swing, but it couldn’t really support him…
We discussed options to get to our next anchorage, Rio Cacique on the big Isla del Rey. Looking at the Bauhaus guide, there was a passage through the reefs to get to Rio Cacique directly from the submarine anchorage. It was a little tricky, but is sowed twelve feet of water at low tide, which was the current tide state. The alternative was to go back around Isla San Telmo, which would take about an hour. We agreed that the direct passage would be okay, and we volunteered to go first. We idled through the passage, and we did indeed see twelve feet. We radioed Neko to let them know we got through clean, and to follow our track. About a minute later, we got a frantic call from Neko saying that they had struck a rock before they got to the reef passage. They weren’t taking on water, but they turned around to go all the way around the island. We guessed that they might have hit the submerged rock that Rosé had seen when we were anchoring. We continued to the Rio Cacique anchorage.
About an hour after we got to the anchorage, Neko arrived. Pete dived the boat to check out the damage. He told us that one of the dagger boards was pretty chewed up, as was the skeg on the starboard pontoon. Both would need to be fixed, but it wasn’t enough to stop their cruise at the time. We agreed that we would both go to Isla Contadora the next day, where there was civilization and phone service. A big thunderstorm came by, filling the dinghy with water. After the storm passed, I turned on the dinghy bilge pump to drain the water, but nada – the pump would not run. I don’t think that pumps like me very much… I had to bail and run out the water.
Position at destination: 8°18′N, 78°54W
Air temp: 90, Water temp: 85
Nautical miles for this leg: 23.2 Total: 4383.6
Departed at 8:30am, arrived at 2:45pm
May 21st, 2014: Rio Cacique (Isla del Rey) – Isla Contador
We left the next morning for Isla Contadora, with no wind, smooth seas, and a current pushing us, for the first time in a very long time. We decided to take the safe route around Isla San Telmo, avoiding any uncharted rocks or reefs. It was a beautiful day for cruising, and we were treated to some great scenery. At one point, we were going nine knots, thanks to the current!
We arrived at Isla Contadora. This is the most populated island in the Pearls, supposedly with restaurants and grocery stores. We anchored on the north side, just off a beach and a relatively large hotel.
We went ashore to the beach bar, and Rosé enjoyed a very fresh rum and coconut drink. After a round of sundowners, we walked up the small hill to see civilization. There were a few small restaurants, and a very small grocery store. The store carried mostly snack food, although there was some reasonable produce. The prices definitely reflected the tourist nature of the island – Contadora is a big weekend destination for people living in Panama City. The airport was on the hill just above the beach, and ferries came through fairly often. With no dock in town, Panamanian pangas shuttled the passengers to the beach. It was more of a problem for us, as the tide was getting pretty extreme here, at around fourteen feet. We could anchor off of the beach for short visits, but we agreed that we would need to use Neko’s dinghy on wheels for any longer visits. However, one of the tires was flat, so dragging it up was a real chore.
Position at destination: 8°38′, 79°02W
Air temp: 87, Water temp: 86
Nautical miles for this leg: 34.9 Total: 4418.5
Departed at 8:00am, arrived at 1:30pm
We had dinner at a German restaurant on the south side of the airport. We decided to have pizzas, strange fare for a German restaurant. During dinner, a deer sauntered by and the restaurant gave it some food. Apparently, it’s kind of a pet there. During our stay, we wandered around the island, and we saw some very nice houses. There were also a lot of failed developments, with half-constructed buildings. Most people got around on golf carts. Mary had read about a really good restaurant called Casa Tortuga, owned by an Italian chef. We had some general directions, and started walking in what we thought was the right way. After a long walk, someone came by on a golf cart and offered us a ride for the rest of the way – very nice. The restaurant was at Chef Piero’s house. The menu has a fixed price course, with the main dish changing every night, or you can order a pizza. We decided on two pizzas and one main course. It was the best pizza we had eaten in a very long time. If you go to Contador, we highly recommend Casa Tortuga. We talked with Piero for a while. He had lived and cooked in the San Blas Islands for several years, so he gave us some opinions about the best places to go. We got golf cart rides back to the beach, where we found the surf was up a bit. It was a challenge to drag the dinghy down to the water and negotiate through the surf, but we managed without much incident.
May 23rd, 2014: Isla Contador – Mogo Mogo Island
We had read that Mogo Mogo Island, just south of Contador, was where Survivor: Pearl Islands was filmed. We wanted to see this place, being big fans of the television show. Pete and Mary decided to stay at Contadora, as they were trying to make arrangements to get Neko repaired in Panama City. It was only five miles to the anchorage, and it was a beautiful day. We hopped in Little Blend to have a look. The shows were filmed in 2003, so we knew that the jungle had reclaimed everything. The island was alos used for the Israeli version of the show in 2008. We landed on a beach that we thought might have been used by one of the tribes, and walked through the jungle to another likely looking beach. We took the dinghy further south, and we found a clearing that we thought might have been used for tribal council. Irrespective of Survivor, it was a beautiful place.
Position at destination: 8°35′, 79°01.5W
Air temp: 93, Water temp: 86
Nautical miles for this leg: 10.2 Total: 4428.7
Departed at 10:30am, arrived at 3:45pm
We returned that afternoon to Contadora. It was Friday, and a few boats had arrived from Panama City for the weekend. The bananas that Domingo had given to us decided to ripen – all on the same day! We made a couple of drinks, and peeled and froze the rest. Pete and Mary had found out what I knew to be true – there was no way we were getting in to either Flamenco or La Playita marinas. Flamenco had actually responded to my inquiry, but said they were full. They thought they would have new docks open in June. La Playita never responded at all. There simply is no space for transient boats at these marinas.Most transients take mooring balls at the Balboa Yacht Club, just outside the entrance to the canal – they also said they were full. Mary did find open mooring balls at Taboga Island, about ten miles from Panama City. We decided to join them there while we prepared for our canal crossing.
May 23rd, 2014: Isla Contadora – Isla Taboga
We hoisted the anchor and said adios to Isla Contadora. The sea was as calm as glass, and the northbound current pushed us along quite well. We covered the thirty-four miles in five hours, and arrived at Taboga under threatening skies. A squall was picking up, and we were expecting to get pounded by rain. The owner of the moorings, Chuy, came out on his dinghy to help us tie up to the ball. Our bow sits seven feet over the water, and getting a painter when it is windy can be quite challenging. With Chuy’s help, we were soon snugged to the mooring. The squall never happened, and we had a relaxing afternoon.
Position at destination: 8°47.6′, 79°33’W
Air temp: 87, Water temp: 86
Nautical miles for this leg: 34.1 Total: 4462.8
Departed at 8:45am, arrived at 2:00pm
July 2014: Shelter Bay Marina
Journey to the Free Zone
As we entered July, we decided that we would spend the summer based in Shelter Bay (there was something about that swimming pool) before heading north to Bocas del Toro for the rest of hurricane season. We really wanted to see the San Blas Islands, so we decided that while we were waiting for our next shipment of batteries to arrive, we would go there for a couple of weeks. Before that, we arranged with Teddy to go to the Colon Free Zone with Pete and Mary. We were expecting the world’s biggest outlet mall – but it was much different than that. Yes, it is huge, so we told Teddy what we were looking for, and he took us to shops that he recommended. Rosé and Mary wanted to get iPad Mini’s, Pete wanted a DSLR camera, we wanted to check out a liquor store, and I wanted to find the pet supply store PeDeSu that we failed to find in Panama City. We’ll start with PeDeSu – we called them, Teddy talked with them, and we came to believe they were in a separate part of the Free Zone. We also came to believe that they didn’t necessarily exist, and if they did, they would only be interested in selling pallets of dog food. We gave up on that one. Teddy took us to an electronics store run by some Indians that spoke perfect English, and we made some good deals for the iPads and camera. After that, we went to a liquor store. We were expecting giant duty-free liquor superstores, but they were just very small and cramped storefronts with display bottles and prices. As with the electronics store, the goods are kept in a warehouse somewhere – you place an order, and the goods are delivered a few minutes later. I think this is because many of the customers are from cruise ships, and the goods are delivered directly to the ship. Anyway, Mary was looking for a high-end bourbon, which didn’t seem to exist in Panama. We bought a few bottles of Bacardi at reasonable prices, as well as some soda cases. We also shopped at some sporting goods places – they had really inexpensive Nike wear and shoes everywhere. There were tons of watch and jewelry stores, as well as perfume – typical of cruise ship duty-free shops. Although the zone is supposedly for businesses and tourists, we saw many Panamanians shopping there. It was interesting to see, and the discounts on the electronics balanced out the fee for Teddy, but we wouldn’t go back again, unless we had an interest in specific big-ticket items. As a side note, Teddy brought his adorable son (four years old with him), and his van wouldn’t start when we were ready to leave – dead battery. Amazingly, we found enough people to push start it on a very crowded street.
July 12th, 2014: Shelter Bay Marina to Isla Linton
We left for the San Blas Islands on a bright and clear Saturday morning. We decided to take on fuel at the marina. As the last fuel we got was in Chiapas, Mexico. The price was reasonable, at $4.42 per gallon inclusive of tax. The marina doesn’t have a fuel dock, but it does have a fuel “barge”, which is a large tugboat with giant fuel tanks. It does pump a lot of fuel, and they give you a sample so you can see what you’re getting, so we were comfortable with it. We took on 500 gallons, which took about a half an hour.
Good to go, we set out across Limon Bay to the breakwater, at last entering the Caribbean. We had read that cruising in the Caribbean would be a big shock after the Pacific, and the authors were right. In the Pacific, you generally have very long period swells, usually fifteen seconds or more apart. Even if there is a big swell running, you don’t really notice it as the waves have shallow slopes. In the Caribbean, the swells are wind-based, close together, and steep. As soon as we crossed through the breakwater, we started pitching and pounding with the swell coming in about 30° to our port bow. They weren’t big, at about three to five feet, but they definitely impacted our speed through water.
Since it was about seventy miles to the first of the San Blas Islands, we decided to stop at Isla Linton for a couple of days, where I would clean the bottom. It’s a popular and well-protected anchorage, and we heard there were some monkeys on the island. The anchorage was indeed crowded, and we sought a good place for a while. The “mayor” of the anchorage came by on a dinghy as were contemplating a spot, and chastised us not to drop the hook where we were considering – the reason escapes me now. It seems whenever there is an anchorage with some long-term boats in it, someone appoints themselves as the mayor. They are generally harmless, and it’s best to appease them. So, we moved a little bit to where the mayor recommended, and peace was preserved.
Position at destination: 9°36.7’ N, 79°35.3’ W
Air temp: 87 Humidity: 73% Water temp: 86.5
Nautical miles for this leg: 28.4 Total: 4549
Departed at 11:10am, arrived at 3:30pm
July 12th – 16th: Isla Linton anchorage
Shelter Bay Marina frowns on bottom cleaning in the marina, and the first time I went down using the hookah John came over to harass us, and Rosé told him I was checking on some damage. So, we decided to wait until we were out of the marina. We have an Airline hookah on board. It’s a gas-powered air compressor with two 60’ hoses meant for recreational diving. Since we aren’t SCUBA certified, and we didn’t want to carry tanks on board, we decided to skip SCUBA certification and go with a hookah. It allows you to do shallow dives as long as the gas holds out. It rides in an inner tube, and follows you as you dive the reefs. There is an electric version, but it’s strictly for dockside use. I learned how to use it while we were in Shelter Bay, so I was prepared to do the heavy-duty bottom cleaning work. I wasn’t prepared for the strength of the current that flows through the bay. I found that I needed to use the suction-cup grab bar to stay in place under water. There was a lot of hard growth, so clearly we needed to get the bottom repainted again. It took me eight hours over two days to scrape the entire bottom. I also took a look at the rock damage to the keel from back in Mexico, and I thought it looked pretty bad. An entire chunk of fiberglass was relatively loose – probably six inches long. Clearly, this was going to require fixing. While I worked on the bottom, Rosé cleaned around the waterline. When I finished, I realized there was no way that someone could clean the bottom with just a snorkel, so that was out for the future.
There was a catamaran just off our starboard bow with a group of people on it. Most of the boats anchored here were either unoccupied or long-term liveaboards. These people looked to be long-term. One of the guys was doing some painting, and his painting uniform consisted of the tiniest thong I had ever seen on a man – not something you want to see. There was another catamaran behind us, and the owners stopped by to invite us over for BYOB sundowners. It turns out they were friends with the mayor, who also came for sundowners with his wife. We don’t remember the name of the cat, but it was Hawaiian, owned by Harry and Linda. The mayor was Rob, with his wife Lauren, on board the sailing yacht Southern Comfort. We had a really nice time, and we learned that Rob and Lauren had extensively cruised the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and the Virgins. At that time, our working plan was to go to Florida for Christmas, then quickly through the Bahamas and work our way down the Caribbean to Trinidad for summer of 2015. After a long discussion with Rob, we decided that we should spend a lot more time in the Bahamas, and the summer in Puerto Rico. He also recommended avoiding the Dominican Republic, due to the big hassles presented by corrupt officials. After a few drinks, we mentioned being entertained by the guy in the tiny thong on the cat in front of us. Rob said that he was French, and they called him “ball-sack”. You’ve gotta love cruiser humor…
We reciprocated and hosted the two couples on our boat the following night. We got a recommendation for a restaurant in the bay, and found out there was a dinghy passage through the mangroves to Panamarina, a large protected anchorage used as a storage facility. Harry and Linda had seen monkeys and sloths on that passage, so we tried it the following day.
The river was deep enough for us to motor through it, with very clear water. We went through a tunnel of mangroves, searching for a sloth. Linda had shown us her pictures, where the sloth had come right down a mangrove to the water to poop – they had great close up pictures, although they did preserve the sloth’s dignity. We didn’t see any sloths, and soon we emerged from the river into the large Panamarina storage area. It was full of mostly sailing catamarans, moored tightly together. Apparently you can leave your boat here for the summer, and it is checked on periodically. We went back into the mangrove river, and soon Rose’s steely eyes spotted a sloth above us. It wasn’t real close, and it was in a hurry (if a sloth can ever be in a hurry) to get away from us, but we managed to snap a few pictures.
After finally seeing a sloth, we decided to go onshore for lunch at the tiny restaurant Rob recommended. We found the small restaurant which had a few lines set to secure dinghies. It was located to the right of the town dock. The owner was Dutch, and he had run the restaurant for ten or so years. The menu was on the wall. We both ordered the chicken dinner, which was a sautéed chicken breast, served with the best French fries we have ever had, the best coconut rice we had ever had, and salad. It was simply fabulous. Perhaps it tasted so good because we were pretty tired of the limited menu at the Shelter Bay restaurant, but damn, it was good!
July 16th, 2014: Isla Linton to West Lemon Cays
After a few days at Linton and with a clean bottom, it was time to get to the Kuna Yala (the native name for San Blas). We left early in the morning for the forty-five mile run to our first stop, the West Lemon Cays. The Bauhaus guide showed a pretty tricky entrance, so we wanted to be there at best light. It was a fairly smooth run, and we arrived at the reef around 1:00PM. We slowed to idle and Rosé took up watch on the bow. The guide was very accurate, and our plotted course worked out very well. We wanted to anchor off of Naguarchirdup Island, but we had a hard time finding the right spot. The depth varied wildly, and we didn’t know if the wind would be shifting. The flattest spots were taken up by mooring balls. We anchored one time, but after diving the anchor, we decided to try a different spot. We finally settled on a fairly flat spot at about 12’ of sand and grass – we weren’t used to anchoring in shallow waters, but we had no option. The anchorage was beautiful, nestled between several very small islands. The Kuna Yala islands are small, flat, sandy, and covered in coconuts. Typically, one family lives on a small island, and they own the coconuts, but not the island. One of the cays close to us had a makeshift bar on the beach – we guessed that they host day boats from time to time.
Position at destination: 9°32.7’ N, 78°54’ W
Air temp: 92 Humidity: 66% Water temp: 88
Nautical miles for this leg: 45.5 Total: 4594
Departed at 6:35am, arrived at 2:15pm
Shortly after we settled in, we were paid a visit from Lisa, the master mola maker. Lisa is a transvestite, which is fully accepted in Kuna culture. Lisa is one of two master mola makers in the Kuna Yala. She was in a cayuco (dugout canoe with an outboard motor) with a man and a small boy. She speaks excellent English, and she had a wide variety of molas to show us. We ended up buying several, both for gifts, and to make pillows with for the boat. We gave some candy to the boy, and we also bought a few lobsters for dinner, at $5 each. We were starting to enjoy the Kuna Yala!
July 17th, 2014: West Lemon Cays to West Holland Cays
The next destination on our short Kuna Yala cruise was the western side of the Holland Cays. Along the way, we passed a number of small islands that looked like something from a Castaway movie – small, sandy islands covered with coconut palms, some with settlements for the Kuna, as well as backpacker retreats.
A little less than ten miles later, we arrived at our anchorage in the West Holland Cays. There was one other boat, a sailing cat, near us, and another boat anchored close to shore further east. We were anchored near a narrow opening between two cays, and we could see the reef through the opening.
Position at destination: 9°36’ N, 78°46.5’ W
Air temp: 90 Humidity: 77% Water temp: 87
Nautical miles for this leg: 9.6 Total: 4604
Departed at 10:30am, arrived at 12:10pm
We took down the kayak and paddled ashore. Although this was a relatively large cay, there were no visible settlements. We decided to go rogue and abscond with a coconut, as we were still trying to figure out how to make coconut rice. Technically, you aren’t supposed to take the coconuts, but seeing that there were tons on the ground and no settlement in sight, we figured it was okay. Plus, we had been visited by a cayuco when we arrived, and the Kuna requested a $15 “cruising fee” for anchoring in the Holland Cays. We also gave him some ice, so we believed we had paid for this coconut.
We had a peaceful night at anchor. We tried to make the coconut rice by adding fresh shavings to steaming rice, but that was less than worthless – back to the recipe board. However, the lobsters were delicious. I learned that the secret for either grilling or sautéing them was to boil them in the shell for a couple of minutes, plunge the tail into cold water to stop the cooking, then remove the meat from the shells and complete cooking – yummy!
The next morning, I looked out and observed that there was a rainstorm approaching. About five minutes later, it hit us with a fury, winds gusting to 35 knots, and heavy rain falling almost horizontally. We saw that the guy in the catamaran near us had donned a wetsuit and was furiously scrubbing his boat – we laughed, but it was actually a good idea, although the wetsuit was a bit over the top.
After the squall passed by and the boat washing show ended, we hoisted the anchor for the quick trip to the eastern Holland Cays, a more popular anchorage. It was a very smooth passage through the protected channel. We could see a lot of breakers on the reef, and there are some visible wrecks out there. There is a well-known anchorage called the Swimming Pool, but we decided to anchor off of Ogoppiriadup Island. This was relatively deep, at 20’, and a lot of space between reefs. We still weren’t used to shallow water boating.
Position at destination: 9°34’ N, 78°40.4’ W
Air temp: 84 Humidity: 68% Water temp: 86
Nautical miles for this leg: 6.9 Total: 4611
Departed at 10:15am, arrived at 11:30am
I went snorkeling on the reefs near the boat. I wanted to try out the Sea Life camera. We had gone through four Panasonic Lumix cameras – all of them leaked after a few uses. They were replaced on warranty, but we decided to never use it underwater again. Before we left on our voyage, we bought the Sea Life DC1400 camera and underwater housing for $500. It was highly recommended by divers that used it to 200’, so we figured it would be a snap for shallow diving and snorkeling. The case is very robust, with a large O-ring. I took it with me and snapped a few shots, and then it went dead. I took it back to the boat and decided that it wasn’t fully charged. After charging, I tried it again, and it wouldn’t turn on. A few more attempts later, it did turn on, but went dead again after a few minutes. It wouldn’t respond to the charger, and I went on line to check on it, and found others had had similar problems. I couldn’t find the date when I purchased it, or a record of where I purchased it, so warranty was probably out of the question – D’oh!
Anyway, we kayaked over to the island and explored the beach. We found a new coconut tree sprouting out of a husk that was on the beach – so that’s how it’s done!
July 19th, 2014: East Holland Cays to East Coco Bandero
Our next stop was Coco Bandero, a group of small cays with a protected anchorage between them and reefs all around them. We had to carefully negotiate the passage through the reef, as the datum on our plotter was off. There were a few boats already anchored, but we found a good spot between reefs, anchoring in about 20’ of sand.
Position at destination: 9°30.7’ N, 78°37’ W
Air temp: 89 Humidity: 71% Water temp: 86
Nautical miles for this leg: 10.5 Total: 4621
Departed at 10:10am, arrived at 12:00pm
A sailing cayuco came along, and we bought a couple of lobsters. Whenever some Kuna stop by to sell something, after the deal is concluded they ask for something else: soda, water, ice, beer, etc. When you consider how they live, you really don’t mind giving them something else. These guys wanted cervezas, so we passed out a few Balboa’s to them. We grilled the lobsters that night – very yummy!
We kayaked around to the small islands. The bottom is pure white sand, which was covered with large orange starfish. We snorkeled the reefs, which had a decent amount of fish. The Sea Life finally gave out, stuck with the zoom lens out, and refusing to take a charge. I decided to look in to replacing just the camera when we got back to Shelter Bay – rats… This was a beautiful anchorage, and by dark, there were ten boats anchored around the islands. The larger island to the west of us had some huts on it, and it was apparently used for backpackers. Basically, they get dropped off at the island, stay in the huts, and eat whatever the host Kunas are making – probably fish. It’s a cheap way to enjoy the islands.
July 20th, 2014: East Coco Bandero to Green Island
Our next stop was very close by, the uninhabited Green Island. It’s a small island three miles southwest of Coco Bandero, just three miles from the mainland. Supposedly, a supply boat stops in the anchorage to take orders from long-term cruisers. We found a sandy spot to drop the hook on the south side of the island. We saw two other sailboats anchored in the area, and a couple of others arrived after us. The anchorage is large, so there was no crowding. One of the sailboats had two large dogs on board, perhaps Labradors. The owner would dinghy to the island while the dogs swam behind – good exercise for them. We took the kayak to shore and walked around the small island. It’s really just a long finger of land – two beaches with a small coconut forest between them.
Position at destination: 9°28.8’ N, 78°38.2’ W
Air temp: 90 Humidity: 67% Water temp: 87
Nautical miles for this leg: 3.0 Total: 4624
Departed at 11:40am, arrived at 12:15pm
We decided to stay two nights at this idyllic anchorage. Since our batteries had greatly reduced capacity, we had decided to run the generator all night and enjoy air conditioning while we were in the islands. The second morning at Green Island, Quincy got me up at 6:00AM for his breakfast, and I noticed that there was a cayuco tied to our stern. Inside was a sleeping boy, probably twelve or thirteen years old. I guessed that he had rowed over during the night and was catching a little sleep before fishing. I was going to offer him some drinks, but by 7:00 he was gone.
July 22nd, 2014: Green Island to Dog Island
Since our batteries were due to arrive in a few days, we decided to head back to Shelter Bay. Our first leg took us back west towards the end of the archipelago. Dog Island is between the Lemon Cays and Chichime. We chose this one because it was easy to get in to it, lots of room, and good depth. We just weren’t comfortable with shallow water boating yet. On the way, we did some trolling, and hooked a skipjack tuna. Unfortunately, it drowned before I knew it was on the line. Since skippies aren’t very good eating, I decided to keep it for bottom fishing bait. Later that day I gave it to a Kuna who would enjoy eating it much more than we would.
While we were there we were visited by a guy offering molas and jewelry. Rose bought a few bracelets and anklets, but we later realized that this was the second master mola maker, Venancio. Had we known that, we would have looked through his molas. We also bought some more lobsters, and finally we had a visit from the Kuna family living on the island closest to us. They asked us if we could fill their 5-gallon jug with fresh water. Since we still had plenty of water on board and would be going back to Shelter Bay the next day, this wasn’t a problem. Our water maker had stopped meeting the 500ppm TDS standard, but our tanks were close to full. I figured that it was time to change out the membranes, which might have been the original set for all that I knew. We gave some hard candy to their little boy, and the lady let us take her picture- very striking.
July 23rd, 2014: Dog Island to Shelter Bay
We left at first light in order to be sure to be at Shelter Bay before dark. We had never bothered to check in to San Blas. Our domestic zarpe, which we got when we crossed the canal, was for our original plan. It had us transiting from Balboa to Bocas del Toro, with a stopover in Shelter Bay. We didn’t want to go through the hassle and expense of changing it to a long stay at Shelter Bay, or transiting from Shelter Bay to Porvenir in the San Blas. We were never boarded or checked anywhere in Panama, so this wasn’t a problem. Unlike Mexico and Costa Rica, Panamanian port captains charge varying fees for domestic zarpes – whatever they feel like you are willing to pay. Plus, you can’t get one in Shelter Bay. You either have to pay the marina to get it for you in Colon, or get yourself to the Capitania de Puerto’s office in Colon. Either way, you are out some righteous bucks. We figured we had paid quite enough to Panama already. Even if we were boarded, it would be a matter of a small propina, since we were legally checked in to the country, and we had a valid cruising permit.
Anyway, as per usual, we had a current pushing against us. It seemed that for a long time, 80% of the time we had opposing currents, no matter what direction we were heading in. The ride back was somewhat better, as the sea was quartering our stern. We crossed through the breakwater into Limon Bay around 5:30, with enough time to spare to arrive back at our slip in daylight. We had no problem backing into the slip, as I was getting pretty good at maneuvering it without a bow thruster. Of course, no wind was helpful as well. A couple of guys on the dock helped us with our dock lines, and we were back home again.
Position at destination: 9°22’ N, 79°57’ W
Air temp: 87 Humidity: 74% Water temp: 87
Nautical miles for this leg: 71.7 Total: 4712
Departed at 6:40am, arrived at 6:00pm
July 2014: Shelter Bay Marina
We quickly settled back in to life at Shelter Bay: a little boat work in the morning, socializing at the pool in the afternoon, happy hour at the restaurant, and back to sleep. Wash, rinse, repeat, interrupted by the occasional shuttle bus ride to Colon for groceries and cat food (fried chicken from Popeye’s). I bought some tee shirts and swim trunks from the cheapest department stores I had ever been in. The shuttle bus takes you the shopping center that has a few department stores, hardware, pet food, and electronics, in addition to the large and modern El Rey’s Supermarket. There was a really nice hardware store, Novey, just a little south of the El Rey center – the bus would drop you off there, and it was just a couple of bucks for the cab ride back to El Rey.
The battery saga comes to a successful conclusion
A couple of days after we returned, our final batteries were delivered, and I scheduled the installation with Scott. He had come down single-handed from San Francisco, and arranged to do contract work for the yard while he was there. In addition to free docking and restaurant discounts, he got a free haul-out during his stay. He had a cute little Jack Russell Terrier named Eddie, of course (from Frasier). Scott came over with one of the stronger yard guys, and they managed to remove the old batteries and install the new ones. Given the size and weight of the batteries, and the very limited maneuvering room, it was a very difficult job. Scott didn’t like the quality of the adaptors (round terminals to blades), so he said he was going to order some better ones. Anyway, after we got the batteries installed, we tried the bow thruster, but it still didn’t work. We observed that the batteries were charging, so we waited, and once they got a decent charge on them, we finally had a working bow thruster again. I was surprised that the batteries didn’t come with a full charge – maybe they were sitting on the shelf for a long time. We finally concluded the major boat work, and we looked forward to a relaxing August.
The Great Salsa Carpet Conundrum
When we bought Tropical Blend, it had custom short pile carpeting throughout, to protect the teak and holly flooring, and to provide some firm footing and insulation. It looked pretty sad, but Rosé took all of it home over a few weeks and it cleaned up quite nicely. Now if you own an indoor cat, you’ll know that they and carpeting don’t exactly mix, due to hacking up hairballs on a regular basis. Each time Quincy barfed one up, we had to take it out, scrub it, and hang it over the bow rails to dry. Given its age, this was tough on the backing, which was deteriorating somewhat. We didn’t want to buy new carpet until Quincy took his final cruise (He’s 19 years old, and his kidneys are failing, so he might be shoving off soon).
One morning I was making some enchilada sauce. The recipe calls for some vegetable oil, flour, lots of chili powder, and a few other spices. It’s very tasty, but it does make some nasty stains when spilled. I keep it in the refrigerator in powdered Gatorade container, which have round screw-on lids. I had just transferred the sauce to a container, when I lifted it up by the lid, which wasn’t actually screwed on. It fell, and splattered everywhere: on the salon carpeting, on the cabinet doors, on me, and inside the galley refrigerator grate. That was a triple D’oh! moment. Looking at the incredible mess on the carpet, we decided that this was not a washable item anymore. We would need to replace the salon carpeting.
We asked our friend and line handler Rick if he knew of a carpet store in Colon, which of course he did. We arranged for him to take us, and the old carpet, to the store in Colon. We had indoor / outdoor carpeting in mind, but the store didn’t have that style. Instead, we opted for a modular carpeting that had rubber backing. By modular, it comes in 2’ by 2’ squares, and they are laid in wall-to-wall, staying in place. When an accident happens, you can simply pop out the square, wash it, and reinstall. We arranged to have the entire salon with installation for a little over $400. A week later, they come out on time, cut and installed it.
San Lorenzo National Park and Fort
While we were cruising the Kuna Yala, Pete and Mary had flown to the Galapagos for a vacation. They returned on Tuesday of the week we were hauled out, and they had a rental car for a couple of days. They asked us if we wanted to visit the old Spanish Fort San Lorenzo in the nearby San Lorenzo National Park. The fort was built in the 1580’s to protect the gold shipments coming down the Chagres River. There are no guard rails here, so you have to be pretty careful as you wander around. It’s amazing to think about the manual labor required to build the fort and drag in the cannon.
July 27th – August 1st: The haulout tests our patience
After the batteries were installed, we arranged our haulout for the first week of August. Our list was simple: power wash the hull, repair the keel damage, bottom paint, change zincs, and wax the hull. The yard said they could get this done in one week, and they would be ready for us on Monday morning, August 4th. They allow you to stay on board in the yard, but with no seawater connection, we couldn’t use the air conditioning, so staying in the hot yard wasn’t an option. There is a hotel on the second floor with nine rooms. Sadly, there is no discount on the rooms when you are having boat work done – another example of lack of coordination and cooperation at Shelter Bay. They also told us it would cost an extra $25 for the cat, but that was only a one-time charge.
Monday morning came and mostly went. The yard was finishing up work on a sailboat, so we had to wait and wait. Finally, a little before noon-word came that they were ready for us. We drove the boat to the yard, and the workers dove on the hull to make sure the straps were correct, and then we were lifted. Once they pulled us into the yard, we jumped off the bow via a ladder, bringing a confused and unhappy Quincy with us. We waited while the power wash was done so we could inspect the keel with Victor, the yard manager. A few days before we hauled out, a beautiful megayacht called Angiamo had docked close to us. It was a 140’ long Feadship, with a beautiful blue steel hull – it sold in 2013 for over $12M. So, while we were watching the power wash, a guy comes walking up wearing an old tee-shirt and shorts, puffing away in a cigar. He started asking us questions about our boat, and professed to love Nordhavn’s. He said that he and his wife think about downsizing, so they can run around naked on their boat without needing crew. He was really admiring Tropical Blend, and I asked him which boat was his. You guessed it, the owner of Angiamo was admiring our little boat.
Victor evaluated the keel, and told us that it could be easily repaired with epoxy and new fiberglass. We hooked up shore power to keep our refrigerators running, gathered up a few things and checked in to the hotel. We had the corner room where we could see both the yard and our slip. Quincy was actually pretty excited to be someplace new, and settled in well. The worst part about being in the hotel was that we would need to eat often in the marina restaurant. It’s not bad food, but the menu is limited, and it’s boring to eat the same things again and again and again. We kept a small cooler in the room so we could make our own sandwiches, and we also had a microwave so we could make some popcorn. At the end of the first day, I went back to Tropical Blend for a few more items only to discover that the shore power had been unplugged, and our brand new batteries were down to 50%. It damages the batteries to discharge them more than 50%, so this was a lucky catch. I taped up all of the power connections to be sure this wouldn’t happen again.
By Wednesday, there wasn’t much progress. The keel had been repaired, but not much else was happening. We expressed our concerns to the yard office, but they assured us it would be finished. We needed to check out of the hotel by Sunday, as it was already fully booked for a film crew that was shooting a documentary at the nearby Spanish fort. We asked about the hull waxing, and we were told that the yard didn’t have any wax, and asked if we could provide it. What kind of yard doesn’t have wax? Our confidence level was not very high. I decided I needed to harass the yard on a twice daily basis. We had heard a lot of stories about frustrated boaters in Panama trying to get work done, and we witnessed firsthand the problems that Neko was having. We knew the yard did good quality work, but apparently “on-time” didn’t translate very well.
By Friday, the bottom painting was underway, but no action on the waxing, even though we had offered our wax. We again met with the yard manager, and it was agreed that they would wax the hull after we were back in our slip, as they needed to splash us on Saturday morning at the latest. That afternoon, when we went back to our hotel room, we noticed a small express cruiser had moved in to the slip next to us. The slips at Shelter Bay are doubles, but we had never had a boat next to us. We were on the west side of the slip. Now, our slip had a Doral express cruiser in its western side, and we could see that they had hooked up to our shore power!
I went down to see why they were horking our power. The owner (Diego) and his family were ex-Venezuelans now living in Panama City. He showed me that the power pylon for his slip was completely disconnected, and he was told to plug in to ours. He was a very nice guy, and the entire family spoke very good English. I went to the office to discuss the problem with John, and he said that he would get the power pylon on Diego’s slip fixed. After further discussion, we decided to relocate to an empty double slip a little further down the dock. It seems that this was Diego’s first boat, and docking was a mystery to him, so we decided we’d rather be further away.
After we were back in our new slip, we took some welcome drinks to Diego. He had quite an interesting story. He had been a commercial airline pilot in Venezuela, and one day a teenager broke into his house in Caracas, pointed a rifle at his wife, and declared that President Chavez told him to kill the rich people. Diego’s eldest son stepped in front and took two bullets to his abdomen. He was hospitalized for over a month, but made a full recovery. After that, Diego decided it was time to leave Venezuela, although they clearly miss it a lot. He worked for some time in Panama flying cargo, and had recently retired. They got the idea of running weekend charters to the Pearl Islands. The Doral 360 Express was purchased in Florida and shipped on a freighter to Colon, where Diego brought it over to Shelter Bay. Since we had a lot of experience on similar boats, we helped him to understand its operation and systems. It was well-equipped, with twin diesel V-drives, a diesel generator, air conditioning, and even a bow thruster. I helped him to troubleshoot an air conditioning problem, and he gave me a couple of really good bottles of Venezuelan rum. One night they were celebrating his wife’s birthday, and they invited us for cake, which they assured us came from a Venezuelan bakery. They did suffer one major misadventure – when they took the boat to Cristobal for canal measurement, they dropped the anchor in deeper water and stronger current than they were used to. They watched in stunned surprise as the bitter end of the anchor rode went over the side – the anchor rode had not been secured to the boat! Well, these things happen… Anyway, we really enjoyed the time we spent with Diego and his family, and we wish them the best of luck.