Saturday, August 9, 2014

Cruising Aboard a Beneteau 423

Finisterra at anchor in Bahia de Concepcion

As of today, we've owned Finisterra for a little over two years. During that time we've lived aboard for 10 months and sailed her about 6,000 miles including a six month cruise to Mexico and back.  We are preparing to depart again on another voyage and I thought now would be a good time to review my list of things that I would like to repair, replace, add or upgrade. As part of the process I considered what worked, what didn't, what we love and what we don't love about the boat. I categorized it all into the following groups:

We've always been pleased with the boat's performance under sail. It's a cruising boat so the criteria for good performance are skewed toward ease of handling, safety and reliability in addition to pure boatspeed. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that I converted the rig from a roller furling mast to a classic. In doing so, I replaced the original mast with a new one from US Spars, added a Tides Marine sail track, lazyjacks and a stackpack, plus reefing lines and all the necessary blocks and clutches as well. Of course I also installed a new full-battened mainsail to go with the new mast. These changes improved the boat's sailing qualities and made it safer. The new mainsail is more powerful than the roller furling sail so I was able to replace the standard 140% genoa with a 120% without any loss of power, and we sailed the entire 5,000 miles of our last voyage with this sailplan. With these sails we seldom had to reef and whenever we did, it was a simple process. In winds of 6 knot or more, Finisterra sailed well upwind and reaching. Downwind the boat suffered from a lack of power until the wind built to about 12-14 knots, but I expected that and considered it a good trade-off for a more easily handled boat in a breeze. We always sailed with a crew of two, which made me the deckhand and winch grinder, so easy boathandling is important to me. One thing I would like to improve is the rudder. I believe Beneteau uses the same one for the shoal and deep draft models, so it is a bit short. This makes the boat less responsive to the helm than a similarly sized racing yacht and, coming from a racing background, it is noticeable to me. 

Finisterra sails well with the apparent wind at 40 degrees or more. We could sail higher, but VMG drops off significantly and at less than 35 degrees apparent she just wallows along at 5 knots or less. If we had full on racing sails, we would certainly have been able to sail higher and faster than our cruising sails allowed. There were times when we pressed the boat hard upwind and it responded well, but with her thin keel and fairly wide sheeting angles, she doesn't like it all that much. Once we knew her sailing qualities we never asked more of the boat than she could deliver. 

The boat came with a fairly tired old spinnaker which we flew only a couple of times. I would like to replace it with a slightly smaller spinnaker that is in better shape. I want an AP kite that works well in 5-20 knots of wind and we'll keep shopping in the used sail market until we find one we like.

Finisterra's performance under power is excellent. She is equipped with a Yanmar 4JH4E naturally aspirated diesel engine connected to a Slipstream 3 bladed folding prop. In flat water we have 7 knots of boatspeed at 2,100 RPM and a fuel consumption rate of about .8 GPH. Punching into a head sea, I would throttle up to about 2,300 RPM. I could have run the engine harder but never felt the need.

During the two plus years and 6,000 miles we've owned and sailed the boat, there have been no structural failures. Driving the boat hard upwind in 15 to 20 knots of wind for 24 hours revealed no leaks, the leeward shrouds remained taut, and we never felt any concern regarding the boat's structural integrity. With that said, I must say I was disappointed in the construction of the aft-most bulkhead in the boat. My blog entry dated 4-6-2014 describes the issue. The bulkhead didn't fail, but it needed reinforcement. After that incident I went through the boat carefully, examining bulkheads, frames and reinforcements, and found no other reasons for concern. Is it the best boat ever built? Hardly. Is it sturdy enough to take us wherever we care to venture? I would say yes.

Much has been written about the pros and cons of glued versus tabbed bulkheads. I've built many boats with carefully tabbed bulkheads and can attest to the strength, durability and cost of this type of construction. Virtually all of Finisterra's bulkheads are glued into recesses in the boat's fiberglass liner. If properly done, glued and tabbed bulkhead joints are in fact roughly equal. To my mind the more important question is how well the liner is bonded to the hull. In Finisterra it seems to be very well secured, so that loads are adequately transferred between the bulkheads and the primary hull structure. Still, I would prefer that the bulkheads be bonded directly to the hull whenever possible.There are other production boats that have bulkheads that are not as well secured as our boat's, yet they soldier on year after year, with most of their failures, whenever they have them, in the engines and systems rather than the primary structures. There have been a few keel failures, or more accurately, hull/keel joint failures, on Beneteaus over the years. Google "Cheeky Monkey" for an example of the tragic consequences of such a failure. Finisterra's hull/keel joint is massive and I would be surprised indeed to hear of a structural failure of this type on a Beneteau 423.

Our last boat, a Beneteau First 36s7 had a rudder that was supported by a fiberglass cone surrounding the rudder tube. It was pretty flexible and watching it move around when we were under sail was a bit disconcerting, but we never had a problem with it. The Beneteau First 42s7 has the same type of construction and I have first hand knowledge of one that sailed from Los Angeles to Australia with nary a problem, and another that recently completed a voyage from San Francisco to Denmark via the Panama Canal, also with no problems. Finisterra, like all Beneteau 423's, has a rudder tube that is supported by a set of longitudinal and transverse bulkheads, which is a much more robust arrangement. I've watched for flex in this area while underway in various conditions and am pleased, and relieved, to report that there is no discernible movement of the rudder stock, even in fairly boisterous conditions.

Finisterra's rig is just about perfect for the sailing we do. It's not a tall rig but it provides adequate power in all but very light conditions. The mast has double aft swept spreaders and is fitted with forward lower shrouds and double backstays. What I really like about it is that it is simple, reliable and well built. I have no concerns about the rig coming down.

Overall, I am pleased with the boat's structural details. With a full fiberglass liner in the hull and the deck, we hear a bit of creaking when the boat is pressed, but that is to be expected with this type of construction. Flexing is an integral part of any structure and the key is to keep it within the allowable limits. I think Beneteau's boats are well thought out in this regard.

The electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems aboard Finisterra have been almost flawless since we bought the boat. Last year we installed new 6v AGM batteries, rewired the 12 volt system from the batteries to the DC panel and added an auxiliary DC panel. The previous owner had made some changes to the system that were not in accordance with ABYC standards so we corrected that, eliminated some wiring and simplified the system. I converted all the internal and external lighting to LED's and added three solar panels. I wasn't sure that three 50 watt panels would be sufficient in all the situations we might encounter so I brought along a Honda 2000 genset on our voyage to Mexico, but we never needed it and I am considering leaving it home on our next voyage.

The engine has been the epitome of reliability. The previous owner had installed a 125 amp alternator in place of the standard 65 amp unit, which enables quick charging of the batteries. He also replaced the standard stuffing box with a PSS shaft seal and replaced the fixed 3-bladed prop with a folding unit and both have performed very well.  Aside from those improvements, the system is exactly as it was the day it was shipped from the factory.

The steering system is also original and has shown almost no signs of wear. The previous owner had replaced the steering wheel with a Lewmar folding unit which is not as strong as the standard wheel. Those folding wheels make moving around the cockpit easier while in port, but I prefer the solid feel of the original, so I put the old one back on and sold the Lewmar.

The plumbing system aboard Finisterra has also worked well. The boat had two electric heads when we bought it and one failed almost immediately, so I replaced both with simple and reliable Jabsco manual units. The gauge on the aft holding tank stopped working not long ago so I will diagnose and repair that before we leave on our next voyage.

When we bought the boat it was equipped with a Village Marine Little Wonder Model 200 watermaker. It's a simple and reliable unit that fits nicely under the forward part of the dinette. In southern California, where the water is usually less than 70 degrees F it produces about 7.8 GPH of pretty good water, in the 300-350 PPM range. In the warmer waters of Mexico, which sometimes reached 85 degrees, it produced water in the 450-500 PPM range. It's going on ten years old and I think it's time to replace the membranes.

Ground tackle:
The Rocna anchor fits well in the Beneteau 423's stemhead. I changed both rollers on the starboard side to the type with a chain relief. Notice the chain stop just aft of the anchor.

The relief in the  Lewmar anchor roller helps prevent the chain from bouncing on the deck when raising or lowering the anchor.
Not long after we bought the boat I replaced the standard 3/8"BBB chain with 5/16" G4 and swapped the original 40 pound Bruce anchor for a 55 pound Rocna. This required changing the gypsy on the windlass. In doing so I found some corrosion on the windlass housing and ended up replacing the entire unit with a new Lewmar H2 unit. We now carry 200' of G4 chain, 150' of 5/8" nylon rode and the Rocna on the bow and a 35 pound Manson as a backup. The platform that the windlass is mounted on is dead level so the windlass almost always sits in standing water, which is why the housing corroded. I solved that issue by mounting the new windlass on a 3/4" high riser.

I converted the Raymarine wind, speed and depth instruments to a TackTick T104 wireless system. TackTick was recently acquired by Raytheon, which I guess is a good thing. I've been using TackTick racing instruments for years and would never go back to the old wired system.

Tacktick system T108
TackTick T104 Wireless Cruising Instruments.
I added a Vesper wireless AIS system last year. With the amount of commercial traffic we encounter at sea, I find it to be invaluable. Because it's wireless it talks to all of our laptops, Ipads and smartphones. Neither of our installed GPS receivers are wifi enabled so the AIS data don't show up on them, but we almost never use the Raymarine chartplotter, and use the cockpit mounted Garmin 551 mostly just for course keeping. The Vesper system has been flawless.

M802 Single Side Band Radio
Icom M802 SSB. 
I installed an Icom M802 SSB with a GAM antenna, and wouldn't go cruising without it. I plan to have Satphone capability on the next voyage though. The SSB is the more reliable communications device in places like the Sea of Cortez, it's free and there are lots of radio nets that provide weather and other useful information, but I like the convenience of a Satphone in spite of the subscription cost. Iridium has just released their Go! device which enables any smartphone to communicate over their satellite network and acts as a hotspot as well. I'm still researching the details, but this looks like a great solution for satellite voice and data.

Zodiac 250 Rib
The transom folds down to make a very compact package when it's deflated.  It came with a nice nylon zippered bag but it faded quickly in the tropical sunshine. I had a cover made for it out of Sunbrella, which incorporates tie-down webbing straps to secure it to the deck . Photo courtesy of Zodiac Marine.

Danard dinghy wheels
Our dinghy is a Zodiac 250 Rib with Hypalon tubes. At 8'2" long, it's smallish for our needs but that is offset by its compact size when deflated, about 6' long x 3' wide and 10" thick when stowed on the foredeck.  It will plane with two aboard using our Tohatsu 6hp motor as long as we don't have a lot of groceries aboard. Of course planing is relative,  we're traveling at about 15 knots with the engine wide open when we're on a plane. We used only 3 gallons of gas in the six months we were in Mexico so the boat is very economical to run. Whenever we had a beach landing, which was all the time while we were in the Sea of Cortez, we used
Danard pinless dinghy wheels. They use pneumatic tires and are perfectly simple to operate. This is another piece of equipment I would not go cruising without.
We also brought along a Hobie inflatable kayak which we used often. It's perfect for cruising around quiet bays. If we had the space to store it, I'd bring a second one on our next voyage.


We added a set of high quality stainless steel cookware from Magma. At first I was put off by the price but grew to love this equipment because it really is high quality, it nests together and they do a nice job of distributing the heat from the small burners on our stove. The removable handles enabled the entire set to be stored in a small locker under the stove. We also carry a Magma two burner propane grill, which we used extensively while in Mexico. It's another piece of equipment I wouldn't leave home without.

The boat has been very comfortable to live aboard. The fixed dropleaf table in the cockpit was annoying and I replaced it with a small pedestal that serves as a drink holder and mounting base for the GPS. I had planned to fabricate a smaller fold-down table that would mount on the pedestal but didn't get around to it before we left for Mexico last January. On that trip we used a couple of small plastic folding tables that could be stowed out of the way when not in use. Now that we're home I've started making a new table, which will be done in a couple of weeks. The cockpit itself is big and comfortable and the step-thru to the transom/swimstep is very convenient. The previous owner installed a tankless propane water heater in the starboard lazarette, which provides lots of hot water without having to run the engine. This is especially nice for showering on the transom, which we did a lot of in the Sea of Cortez.

I like the tall, sturdy bulwarks and grippy nonskid on deck. They make moving around the foredeck easy even in rough conditions. Whenever we reef the mainsail I have to go to the mast to secure the tack, but aside from that, pretty much all boathandling tasks can be done from the cockpit.

Shade is vital in the tropics so we replaced the dodger, expanded the bimini and added removable mesh screens around the sides and back of the bimini. The screens do a fair job of blocking the sun while still allowing plenty of ventilation. But when it's really hot outside, the most important accessory is the swim ladder and transom shower. A quick dip in the ocean followed by a freshwater rinse on the transom is the best way to beat the heat.

Below, we found the basic accommodations plan to be nearly ideal, but there are some details that would make it even better. For example, in the forward cabin , the Vberth should extend all the way to the hull on the sides. It would also be nice if there was a bit more counter space in the forward head. The main cabin proved to be adequate for entertaining up to six people comfortably and plenty spacious when there were just the two of us aboard. The galley has a lot of usable counter space and is quite large for a 42 foot boat, which makes day-to-day life aboard much more comfortable for the cook. The quarterberth is enormous and I rigged up a leeboard to make it a suitable sea berth. That's where the off watch slept whenever we were at sea. The primary fuel filter, shaft log, batteries, water tank and a couple of storage spaces are all located under the quarterberth, but access to them was difficult because you had to pull out all the cushions and lift up the plywood bunk supports to get at them. So I built smaller access hatches into the panels that enable me to get at the fuel filter, shaft log and storage compartments without disassembling the entire bunk.
Lighting and ventilation in the 423 is excellent but we need a few more fans to keep the air moving, especially when we're in the tropics.

Another item that vastly improved our comfort aboard was the small, 5,000 BTU air conditioner that I bought in Mexico. It was very much appreciated when the thermometer reached past 100 degrees, which it often did in La Paz. I had built a seat in the companionway awhile back, with the thought in mind that it would be a handy place for a portable AC unit, and it worked well.

Overall, the boat has been very comfortable and we have no plans to make any major changes before we head out on our next adventure.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Cockpit Project -- Replacing the Teak Decking

Finisterra arrived at her new home on June 26th and we took a few days to unload cruising gear and get moved back into the house. Then I got right to work on the biggest project on my work list, replacing the teak in and around the cockpit and transom.

The teak doesn't look too bad in the photos but it is pretty well worn down between the caulking lines and occasionally offers up a splinter. There are also rows of bronze staple ends that are beginning to emerge from the teak in several areas. 
The dots in the foreground are staple ends sticking up through the wood. 

I think the way Beneteau makes the teak panels is to lay the teak planks on a table with the caulking grooves on the bottom, then staple them together to make panels. After the planks are stapled together into panels, they flip them over and fill in the grooves with silicone caulking. This makes the finished panels flexible enough to conform to the curvature in the seats. Then they fit the panels into recesses in the deck, bedding them in what looks like black 3M 4000 Polyether adhesive.

It was fairly easy to pry the teak off the deck, but much more labor intensive to remove the black adhesive. I finally resorted to a set of sharp chisels to scrape the black gummy adhesive off the fiberglass. The bead around the perimeter is similar to Dow 795 silicone and was fairly easy to remove with a razor knife and a chisel.

In this photo the teak has been removed, but you can see a few spots where some of it stuck to the adhesive. Notice the parts where there are vertical lines. Beneteau applied the adhesive with a serrated trowel and then bedded the teak in the stuff. You can see where the teak was actually in contact with it and where it wasn't. You can also see the bead of silicone around the perimeter.

To get the teak off, I first cut the silicone around the perimeter with the razor, then using the hammer, carefully drove a chisel in between the edges of the teak and the fiberglass.  Once it was started, I could drive the screwdriver further under the teak and pry up large chunks or complete planks of it.

Here you can see where I have removed the adhesive from part of the portside cockpit seat. 

To remove the adhesive, I used a razor knife to scribe sectional lines into it, then worked a sharp chisel between the adhesive and the fiberglass. I was able to remove most of it this way. Then I used the chisel to scrape off as much of the remaining adhesive as possible. Later I will sand the rest of it off.

It took several long days to get all the adhesive off the deck. It was fairly dull work but there is a lot going on in the industrial part of the harbor and I often paused to watch as ships came in to unload their cargoes from all over the world, then reload and head out to sea again. There was also no shortage of interested passersby, many of whom stopped to check my progress and offer advice, so the days passed quickly and before long the job was done.

I decided to replace the teak with PlasDECK synthetic teak instead of real teak for several reasons, not the least of which was the cost. The price Beneteau quoted for replacement teak panels was a little north of $3,000, while the synthetic material runs about $1,000. But price is only part of the reason for choosing PlasDECK. It's made of recycled plastic and I like the idea of putting less plastic in landfills. It is easier to keep clean and is quite durable. Of course no knowledgeable person is going to mistake synthetic for real teak, but I'm okay with that. You can learn more about this material by visiting

The next step was to make templates for the replacement panels. I used 6 mil poly sheeting as pattern material, and glued it in place with a light spray of aerosol contact cement. Then I inscribed the outline of the perimeter of each piece along with all the other information the manufacturer needs to fabricate the replacement panels. I'll send them off tomorrow morning and in about three weeks the panels will be delivered.

The pattern material is temporarily glued in place, then marked with all the necessary information.

It's important that the "caulking lines" of the new panels line up properly so the patterns were carefully marked to show where they should be.

While I'm waiting for the finished panels I'll have lots of time to finish removing the black adhesive from the seats and maybe even spend a couple of days at the Island.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Salona 41 Review

I first noticed the Salona 41 a couple of years ago when we were still searching for a new boat. Salona Yachts is located in Split, Croatia. As the American sailboat industry has declined in recent years, eastern European countries have developed a strong presence in the sailing industry and Salona Yachts is a good example of why this has occurred. They build solid, well engineered boats that look good and offer excellent performance. The Salona 41 was designed by J&J Design, which is part of the Seaway group of companies. Over the last twenty years J&J has created an enviable portfolio of designs, including most of the Salona boats.
Sensible keel and large rudder on the 41.
In studying the sailplan and photos, I was impressed by the conservative approach to the hullform. We don' t have the lines plan for this hull but based on the photos and drawings, it appears that the longitudinal centers of flotation and gravity are somewhere near the aft end of the hull/keel joint, roughly at the deepest part of the hull in the drawing above. This indicates that the bow sections are finer than a typical cruising yacht but not extreme, and the stern is pulled in a bit compared to many new designs in which the beam at the stern is nearly as wide as the beam amidships. This boat will have good manners even when pressed hard. With a displacement of 16,424 pounds on a 37.56' waterline, the displacement length (D/L) ratio is 138, which might be a bit light for an all-out cruiser of this length but is about right for a racer/cruiser. I like the big, aft-swept keel. It isn't as hydrodynamically efficient as a vertical fin and bulb but it will shed kelp and is, in my opinion, the best solution for a performance cruising yacht. Salona offers four different keels of 5.74', 6.56', 7.38' and 8.79' draft on the 41. For cruising in most parts of the world I'd choose the 6.56' version. But for racing on the west coast, the deep keel would be my choice.

In cruising mode, the 41 shows off her  clean lines.

I like the rig on this boat. The chainplates are located a foot or so inboard from the sheer, making it possible to run overlapping jibs but I'm not sure they are far enough inboard to allow the tight sheeting angles needed for racing. For cruising, the large rig, with a sail area/displacement ratio (SA/D) of 22.2 means you can leave the genoa home and cruise with nothing bigger than about a 105% jib and a cruising kite. The mainsail is set up with an Admirals Cup style mainsheet that is led aft on the boom and down to a traveler located on the cockpit sole. This is an efficient arrangement but most cruising sailors accustomed to the traveler on the cabin top or even on an arch will find that it takes some getting used to. Notice the stackpack mainsail. Salona has wisely chosen not to install a roller furling mainsail on the 41.

Sleek deck lines, twin wheels and no chines. Notice the short bowsprit on this boat. You'll want one if you plan to do any cruising on your S41. It will keep the anchor chain from rubbing the gelcoat off the bow.

I like the wide open cockpit with the traveler recessed into the sole. 
The cockpit is well designed for racing and cruising. The coamings are wide enough to sit on and the seats are long enough for lounging, yet neither would hamper a racing crew. A large and uncluttered cockpit is essential for quick boathandling in racing situations, and is just as important for cruising. After living aboard for a month or so, you'll appreciate every square inch of space in the cockpit.

Two cabin version works best for a cruising couple. 
The boat can be configured with two or three cabins and one or two heads. For cruising I would choose the two cabin, single head version. The forward cabin is large and incorporates a good sized berth, two hanging lockers, a seat and plenty of open space. This kind of space gets important quickly for liveaboard cruisers. The main cabin is open and features a big enough galley and a big dropleaf table amidships. The accommodations plan above shows a forward facing nav station, but the photo below shows the three cabin layout with an outboard facing table with a stool instead of a seat. I would demand the configuration shown above. Those little round stools are great for the local pub, not so good for working at the chart table, especially underway.

The three cabin version, shown here, is okay but the two  cabin version is ideal for a cruising couple.

I like the fact that the builder chose a basic, straightforward interior design, without gimmicky features like angled bulkheads and foldaway tables. This is a comfortable and useful interior plan that will wear well over the long term. If you visit the Salona web site, where all of the photos I used here came from, you can see 360 degree views of all the interior plans.

Salona uses vacuum infusion technology to fabricate the hull, deck and other fiberglass parts of their boats. This process results in light, strong parts and minimizes styrene emissions into the atmosphere, which is important for the health of the people who build the boats, and good for the environment. They also incorporate a structural steel grid in the hull to accommodate keel and rig loads. This is not the easiest or least expensive way to build boats, but ensures they will be strong, light and stiff for years to come.

Overall I give the Salona high marks for design and construction. The boat will be fast enough to be a lot of fun to race, yet has enough cruising amenities to make life aboard quite comfortable. It's a good looking boat that avoids extremes and faddish design elements. The nearly vertical transom lacks a swim step, which would be desirable for cruising, but other than that minor point, this boat is ready to go racing or cruising.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Home For The Summer

Finisterra left Avalon at 0900 on June 23rd for the short trip to the Isthmus, or Two Harbors as it is called on the charts. We picked up a mooring there at 1130 and sat back to enjoy the view of one of our favorite places in the world. Though we've anchored in many beautiful coves and harbors in Mexico, there is something about the Isthmus that makes it more special to us than anywhere else. In the afternoon we hiked over to Wells Beach in Cat Harbor. It's a beautiful walk with views of the surrounding hills and the broad bay below. It was nice to be back.

The following day we hiked three or four miles up the road toward Avalon until we reached a peak that overlooks the Isthmus and out toward the west end of the Island. Catalina, like the rest of California has been suffering from a prolonged drought and the vegetation along the way was pretty dried out. But compared to the sere landscapes of the islands we visited in the Sea of Cortez, Catalina still looks fairly lush.

The superyacht Attessa IV was at anchor off Avalon when we arrived. We've crossed paths with this well traveled yacht in Cabo, Puerto Vallarta and La Paz.  For more info on this magnificent vessel visit:
After the shark, the next fish to come aboard was this plump little perch, which we released after taking its portrait. 
Two Harbors. The coves on the far side of the bay are called Fourth of July and Cherry cove.
This pretty little schooner's home port is Dana Point. Ship Rock is in the background.
Another schooner passes by Ship rock.
Walking back to the harbor, we stopped and chatted with a couple of people chipping golf balls in a little clearing near the village. Turns out they cruised in Mexico a few years earlier aboard their Morgan 44, "Missteak" and will be heading south again about the same time as us. They had found this little makeshift chipping range, so the next day we went back and I spent an hour or so learning how to hit the ball with a wedge. Fun. The following day we hiked toward the west end, passing Fourth of July cove, Cherry Cove, Little Geiger and Big Geiger Coves, and Howlands Landing. It was great to get back in touch with what we consider our home island.

When we left Long Beach back in January we had no intention of coming back, so we gave up our slip in Alamitos Bay. Of course that marina is full now, so we were forced to look elsewhere for a place to keep Finisterra. We had once kept a boat at California Yacht Marina in Wilmington and after checking with the folks there, we took a slip on gangway E. The location is not quite as upscale as Long Beach, but the people are really friendly and it's a great place to get work done on the boat. We'll probably stay here until we head south again next fall.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Catalina Golf

The harbor was fairly full when we arrived at Avalon so we were fortunate to get a mooring near the Tuna Club. We had arrived just in time to relax in the cockpit and watch the sun set over the hills behind the town. The next day we went ashore and visited some of our favorite places in town.

One of my goals when I retired last year was to learn to play golf and we actually took clubs with us to Mexico, but we never got around to playing, and to this day I still haven't played on a regular course. So we made a point of playing a round of miniature golf in Avalon. Lisa is an experienced tournament golfer, with a handicap of 22, so I need to work hard to catch up. The course in Avalon is not like the typical miniature golf course on the mainland, with rotating clown faces and castles, etc. It is more like a botanical garden with artificial greens. Anyway, we teed off around 1:00 pm and Lisa played the front nine pretty well, with two birdies and couple of bogeys to be even at the turn. I stayed close with two birdies and three bogies until the eighth hole, a tricky dogleg fairway and a fairly rough green. I was on the green in two, then blew up and four putted the hole. On the back nine Lisa scored two holes in one while I struggled, with a couple of birdies and three bogeys. Now I know how Tiger Woods feels. After golf we retired to the 19th hole where we spent an hour or so relaxing and people watching. 

Here's a link for more info on the mini golf course:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Back in the USA

Arriving in Ensenada after the long passage up the Baja coast is always fun. The hard part of the voyage is over and we are rewarded with hot showers, good food and plenty of friends around.  Ensenada also marks the end of the long, cold overnight passages which for a two person crew can be tiring. Fortunately we had good conditions for most of the trip from Cabo so we arrived in good shape and after a hot shower and a good night's sleep we spent the next three days enjoying Ensenada.

Big new tugs in Ensenada
The weather was perfect for long strolls along the city's bustling Malecon. When there is a cruise ship in port, it's full of foreign tourists, mostly Yanks. On other days Mexican vacationers come to breathe the fresh air and feast on street tacos. Mexico has enjoyed strong economic growth in the last couple of years and the tugs pictured above are an indicator of that growth. With the increasing likelihood of a west coast longshoreman strike in the US later this year, we can expect more US bound cargoes to pass through the Mexican ports of Ensenada, Manzanillo and Lazaro Cardenas.

The Carnival Inspiration calls at Long Beach and Avalon as well as Ensenada.
Even with a bit of haze, the San Diego skyline is beautiful from the top of Point Loma
A sailboat picks its way through the vast kelp beds off Point Loma

On Monday, June 16th we cleared the breakwater at 0100, bound for San Diego. It was a calm and uneventful 65 mile passage up the coast and we arrived at the customs dock in San Diego at 1130. We were met by our good friends, Tom and Mary Ellen when we arrived and we shared a toast to a voyage completed before the customs officials arrived. By 1330 the paperwork was completed and Finisterra was tied up at Southwestern Yacht Club's guest dock. We stayed in San Diego until Saturday, June 21st, then departed for Finisterra's home port of Avalon on Catalina Island, arriving at 1830. We often drop a hook over the stern when conditions are good in hopes of catching dinner. On this day, about 15 miles southeast of Avalon, we caught something else.

We couldn't figure out what it was at first. This was Lisa's fish so she was reeling it in while I went for my camera.
She said, "I think it's some kind of shark." We guestimated that it was about 40 inches long and weighed roughly 12-15 pounds.

One look at those jaws and we knew we had a baby great white on the hook. 
This was just a baby, but it looked dangerous enough to me.
I'll never forget the sound those jaws made as he snapped and bit at the hook in his mouth. It didn't take long for him to bite through the 40 pound test nylon leader, which was a good thing because there was no way I was going to bring this bad boy into the boat. Unlike other fish, Great White sharks are born live after a gestation period of 11-18 months (different sources claim various gestation periods). While in the womb, the baby shark apparently feeds on its siblings. Once out of the womb, the baby shark is on its own. This fellow had to be very young, which means his mama was probably not far away.
In this closeup you can see two rows of teeth, the large eye and the olfactory sensor near his snout. Even as a pup, this was one scary looking fish!

After that bit of excitement we arrived at Avalon at 1830 and took a mooring just off the pier, where we stayed a couple of days before moving up to Two Harbors.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Homeward Bound: Bahia Santa Maria to Ensenada

Finisterra remained in Bahia Santa Maria all day waiting for more favorable winds, and by 2200 the strong northwesterly had died down to about ten knots. We got the anchor up and slipped out of the bay at 2330 under a beautiful gibbous moon and rounded the south-facing Punta Hughes around midnight. From there we headed northwest toward Turtle Bay, about 225 miles up the coast. We headed offshore a couple of extra miles as we passed Cabo San Lazaro, giving it plenty of room. The last time we passed this way, in 2011, we watched a large sailing yacht that had strayed too close break up after it was stranded on the rocks there.

Once past San Lazaro, it's a straight line to Turtle Bay and we motored comfortably into the northwesterly wind and swell, which remained mild until the next morning. By 1000 we were punching into a fifteen knot headwind and a short, steep swell. Fifteen knots of wind on the nose translates to 20 knots of apparent wind, which is enough to send spray flying across the deck. These conditions stayed with us well into the night, then eased around midnight. The next morning we were greeted with the same lumpy conditions, which finally eased about ten miles out of Turtle Bay.
Finisterra's route to Turtle Bay. Notorious Cabo San Lazaro is the point just north of Bahia Santa Maria

We made the entrance to the bay at midday and were tied up to the fuel dock at 1245. We took on about sixty gallons of fuel and checked the weather forecast. It looked good for us to continue north, so we headed out again at 1330. From Turtle Bay, we could go inside Cedros Island, which is roughly the size of Catalina Island,or head further out to sea and pass to the west of it.  We chose the westerly route and headed well out to sea, passing to the west of Cedros and its neighboring islands of Natividad and San Benito. This turned out to be a good decision because that night we passed well to the west of a very large fishing operation instead of threading our way through it. We could see the bright lights of a dozen or so large fishing boats and many smaller lights around them. Throughout the night we could hear the radio chatter of other sailboats that were dodging their way through the fishing fleet. I was glad have a few miles between us and the fishermen, which were most likely after squid. Commercial squid fishing operations use "light boats" and purse seiners. The light boats are fitted with very bright lights that are shined into the water to attract large schools of squid. The purse seiners deploy a net around the school and reel it in close. With the net drawn up close to the boat, a pump is lowered into it and the squid are pumped aboard. I love calamari!
Turtle Bay to Ensenada

The passage from Turtle Bay to Ensenada is about 280 miles. It was all upwind and into seas that varied from easy swells to vicious lumps that we slammed into, making life aboard something less than comfortable. We had those lumpy conditions until we were about 40 miles from Ensenada, where conditions eased and we had a smooth ride between Isla Todos Santos and Punta Banda, and on into Ensenada harbor where we secured a berth at the Cruiseport Marina at 1230 on June 12th. Total distance traveled from San Jose to Ensenada was 824 nautical miles in six days and three hours.