Sunday, November 28, 2010

La Cruz de Huanacaxtle

People just call it La Cruz. What a beautiful place! We left Punta Mita around 0930 yesterday for the short eight mile trip and anchored outside the small harbor here. Located on the northern coast of Banderas Bay about twelve miles from downtown Puerto Vallarta, La Cruz is the kind of place cruising sailors can spend a lot of time...It's an old and colorful small town with lots of great restaurants, well equipped marine hardware store, plenty of dive bars that cater to expats and yatistas and a mellow pace that makes me want to sit back in the shade of the rooftop palapa at the La Cruz Yacht Club and sip a tall cool margarita. Which is what we did as soon as we got ashore yesterday. I like this place and think we'll hang out here a few more days.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Cabo to Banderas Bay

A View of the Cockpit
Starting on the left, the Lifesling is for recovering a person who has fallen overboard, the silvery bags cover stereo speakers, the mushroom shape is the GPS receiver.  On the pedestal is a small platform for the swivel-mounted GPS, it has cutouts that can hold a wine glass by the stem, so no matter how far the boat heels, the glasses stand firm. Below it, the orange thing is the automatically inflatable life raft. Just to the right of the outboard motor is the 'MOM 8'. An automatically inflatable life ring. All this safety gear is nice, but probably of little use, since when one of us is on watch, the other is below sleeping. The most valuable of all these features is the GPS, after the wine glass holders.
Departed Cabo San Lucas around 1130 Tuesday in light air. We heard from some people who had just arrived from Mazatlan that conditions would be windy on the passage, but it was pretty light when we left so I hoisted a full main  and our all purpose jib, which is a 135% or #2 size. The wind never showed up. In fact it was pretty light all the way to Banderas Bay. Our course was to take us south of the Islas Tres Marias, but the wind was so light that I had to steer well to the north of them to maintain our boatspeed. As night fell the wind did too, and we started the engine around 1800 and pointed the boat south of the Islas. The next morning the wind filled in a bit and we were able to sail, but were forced to head in a more northerly direction than I wanted. Once again, as evening fell the wind dropped and we motored southeast. The next day we had enough wind to sail pretty much the direction we wanted. All the while, the seas were lumpy and confused, making for a rather uncomfortable ride. This is because we're sailing through the region where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean. Cortez waves come from a more northerly direction and Pacific waves come from a more westerly direction, and where they meet, it's lumpy.

The Islas Tres Marias consists of four islands: Tiny San Juanito is the northwesternmost, then ranging to the southeast are Maria Madre, Maria Magdalena and Maria Cleofas. Only Maria Madre, the largest of the group is inhabited. It is there that the Mexican government has located a penal colony housing around 1200 prisoners and staff. Sailing past it, I was reminded of that old Steve McQueen movie, Papillon, in which the protagonist was sentenced to life on Devils Island. From a distance all the islands look drab and forbidding. There are a couple of bright notes though, the Mexican government prohibits people from venturing near them so they have become a de facto nature preserve, which I believe the government has now formailzed. Second, conditions for prisoners there are apparently fairly good. They are allowed more freedom than we might expect and can even have family stay with them at times. The Mexican government abolished the death penalty many years ago, although the Mexican drug cartels have not.

Once past the islands, we continued southeast toward Bahia Banderas, arriving at the entrance to this large and beautiful bay around 2100 on a night when the moon did not rise until around 2130. So we slowed down and waited for some moonlight before entering the bay, being careful to avoid some uncharted rocks in the area. Navigational charts are notoriously inaccurate for Bahia Banderas, and even with our state of the art navigational equipment, I was amused to see that where we anchored is a quarter mile inland on the chart. At any rate, after a passage of about 300 miles, taking two and a half days, we groped our way into a snug anchorage in the lee of Punta Mita around midnight without knocking any of those uncharted rocks out of the ocean.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cabo San Lucas

We arrived in Cabo Saturday afternoon. It was very light all the way, until we got within 10 miles of the cape, then it blew 22kts. We managed to get to the fuel dock in the high winds and take on 34 gallons of diesel and then got a slip. After we got into the slip we took care of periodic maintenance items, did laundry, checked the internet, got groceries, and generally rested up for the next passage. I also disassembled and lubed the top gear in the steering system.

We'll leave here at noon tomorrow, which is 11:00am Pacific time. Our next destination is Puerto Vallarta, which is about 300 miles from here. In some ways this will be the most challenging part of the trip so far. From Long Beach to Cabo, it's all downwind, but from here to PV, we have to cross the Sea of Cortez, which will put the prevailing winds on the beam. Right now the forecast is for strong winds tomorrow and Wednesday, then ease up for the last miles into PV. We are sailing very conservatively so I'll start with a reefed main and small #4 jib. If the predicted winds don't show up, I can always shake out the reef.
Cabo has changed so much since the last time I was here in 2005. The city now boasts a permanent population of 56,000, plus at least that many tourists on any given Sunday. They've built thousands of condos, dozens of hotels, and miles of shopping centers as well as a new marina and expanded the existing ones. But the slow American economy has made itself felt here. In 2005, the marinas were slips available. Today, we're in a slip on a gangway that is literally half empty. Most of the gangways here are in the same condition. Five years ago, there were at least 300 moorings just outside the harbor. If you wanted to anchor for free you had to anchor way down the bay. All those moorings are gone now, and I counted only five boats anchored off the beach, right in front of the Hacienda hotel.  There is still a lot of hustle and bustle in the main commercial part of the harbor, with the Rolex, Armani, Harley Davidson, Saks and other stores still going strong, but the cafes are only half full. The famous Giggling Marlin and Cabo Wabo clubs were absolutely dead when we walked through them. We wandered up the hill to my old favorite haunt, the venerable Hotel Finisterra and had a drink in the old bar overlooking the Pacific. It was quiet and peaceful. I remember wild times there when I used to do the Cabo races in the 80's and 90's.
We are well, no sickness or injuries. The boat is doing very well, aside from that annoying squeak in the steering system, which I think I fixed. The only casualty in the roughly thousand miles we've sailed so far was a broken antenna on my handheld VHF, which was easily repaired. I expected more trouble and was prepared for it, but it never showed up, thankfully. Many people might think the long hours of sailing, with nothing around but the sea and sky would be boring, but that's not the case at all. I haven't had a single moment of boredom yet. Sometimes it feels like what we are doing is enormous, sometimes it feels like it's just a folly of ours, but most of the time it's just plain fun. I should say that sometimes we get tired, keeping watch, cooking, writing up the log, tending the sails and all the other jobs that need to get done to keep this boat running. But the vast majority of the time we are happy and content to sail the boat and look forward to the next adventure, however small or large it may be.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bahia Santa Maria to Los Cabos

It's 1600 and we're sailing on a broad reach toward Cabo San Lucas. The wind is just strong enough to keep us going at 6kt. I came off watch and am lying in my bunk listening to the sounds of the boat, the wind and the sea. If this wind holds, we'll have a glorious night of sailing. The moon, already aloft, is nearly full and will light up the sea tonight. This is a big part of why we chose to travel by sailboat. There are certainly faster and more comfortable ways to see the world, but nothing quite compares to the ineffable pleasure of being at sea on a beautiful moonlit night, with a warm (well, at least not freezing) breeze and following seas. I wouldn't trade this for all the five star hotels on the gold coast. Even the work I do while sailing is pleasant. Aside from the actual sailing of the boat, trimming sails, steering and keeping the boat well organized, there are maintenance and repairs that are constant. I listen to the rush of the water along the hull, the creaks and groans of the hull and rigging, the sounds of all the systems from the watermaker to the autopilot and I know what the boat is doing. In my mind I can isolate each sound and tell if it's normal, or something needs adjustment, or if it's a sign of trouble. Right now there's a squeak in the steering pedestal that has developed over the last few days of sailing. It started as the tiniest little chirp when the autopilot moved the wheel. Now it's clearly audible, especially for the person sleeping in the quarterberth. I took the steering wheel off while the autopilot was steering the boat and tried to lube the bushing there, but it didn't help. After investigating it, I know it's nothing serious and I'll disassemble the top gear in the pedestal and lube it all when we get to Cabo.

Bahia Santa Maria

It blew hard most of the night, but by morning the wind died and was replaced by more fog.  I woke up before dawn and started getting the boat ready to travel. We had planned to spend a couple of days here but the cold temperatures are driving us south. By 0600 we were once again groping through the fog as we slowly motored out of the bay. About 5 nm out the fog began to lift, but there was still very little breeze. I started the watermaker around 1000hrs, which makes about 4 gallons of pure water per hour. It’s easy to tell the boats that have watermakers aboard. Those that don’t, usually have as many blue jerry jugs tied down on deck as they can, and maintain constant water discipline. Aboard the Honcho we have plenty of pure water.  It’s a luxury for a small boat that saves me the hassle of finding, buying and, worse, lugging 5 gallon jugs of water from shore to boat wherever we go. Without a watermaker,  water is a big deal.

A fish story:
 For most of this voyage Lisa has been trolling with a cedar plug in hopes of catching a dorado. As far as I could tell, we were just towing the thing from Ensenada to Cabo, without a fish so much as looking at it. This morning she changed it to a pink trolling lure, then went below to take a nap.  Half an hour later the reel lit up.  I quickly grabbed the rod because it looked like the fish was going to take it with him.  A couple of minutes later we had our first fish aboard, a five pound skipjack. Lisa came on deck toting a half gallon of rotgut rum. Maybe she thought I needed a shot of courage before I bashed in the head of the fish that was flapping around in the cockpit. Instead she poured a double shot down his gullet. With a couple of stiff ones under his belt, the fish relaxed in the back of the cockpit, then died in his sleep. I really don’t know jack about fishing, but I sure like the idea of standing any fish we bring aboard to a drink instead of beating him to a bloody pulp with a winch handle.  

Ten minutes later, Lisa had a couple of fillets carved using our specially engraved "Honcho" filleting knife by Messermeister, and I had the cockpit cleaned up. The knife was a gift from our friends, Steve and Deb. Deb owns Messermeister, and thanks to her, we are very well knived. I think the cleaver is Lisa’s favorite.  Thanks, Deb!!

Log entry 11-18-2010 1200hrs

Position: Anchored in Bahia Santa Maria

Rounded Cabo San Lazaro at sunup, going about 5 kts. We could see dense fog rolling out of the mouth of  Bahia Santa Maria, so we slowed down to let it burn off before entering the bay. After a couple of hours, we had about 150 yards of visibility, so we slowly rounded Punta Hughes and crept north into the bay. We groped about a mile and a half up the bay through the fog and got the hook down in the lee of Punta Hughes around 1030 hrs. A little while later the fog lifted and revealed the starkly beautiful bay stretching away to the east and south, and hills to the north and west. There are no facilities here except for a small Mexican fish camp. Bahia Santa Maria is known as a windy place and right now it's blowing about 25 kts. We'll stay here overnight, and leave around 0600 tomorrow morning.

Log entry 11-17-2010 1800 hrs

Position: 25d, 25.9m N, 113d, 00m W
Course: 150d magnetic
Speed: 6.2 kt
Wind: 13 kt @ NW
Sea: 3' swell @NW
Sky: 100% clr

We've traveled 176 nm since leaving Bahia de Tortugas, average speed is 6 kt. Our positon puts us about 70 miles from Bahia Santa Maria and about 50 nm from the coast, a fairly lonely piece of ocean. Speaking of distances, here are some others, as the crow (or gull) flies:
555 nm from our home port of Long Beach.
235 nm from Cabo San Lucas
521 nm from Puerto Vallarta

Seen little sea life on this passage, except for the ever-present dolphins. Did see a long-tailed Tropicbird, the first of its kind to be seen on this voyage, earlier today. Sailing conditions are excellent, with a waxing gibbous moon high overhead and a solid breeze. We are sailing with a full main and #2 jib. I brought a spinnaker but it's not feasible to fly it with only one person on deck. So we're sailing hotter angles, keeping the apparent wind at about 120 deg. and jibing when it makes sense.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Log Entry 11-16-2010 1800hrs PST

11-16-2010 1800 hrs.
Position: 27 deg. 06.5 min. north, 114 deg. 35.3 min. west
Course: 105 deg. M 
Speed: 5.8 kt
Wind: 13 kt @ NW
Sea: 4' swell @NW
Sky: 100% clear

Broad reaching under full main and #2. Early afternoon the wind built to 18-20kt and gave us a big push south. We are now headed southeast and will pass about 8 nm off Isla San Roque, then a few miles further, Isla Asuncion. There is a good anchorage in Bahia Asuncion, protected by the island. We won't stop there now but will when we come back this way next year.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Turtle Bay

We left Ensenada Friday morning, motoring in no wind. Our course took us southwest between Isla Todos Santos to starboard and Punta Banda, home of the famous La Bufadora, to port. Once clear of the island we caught a fifteen knot breeze out of the northwest and the Honcho headed south toward Isla Cedros, about 260 miles away. On the way we would pass well out to sea from San Quintin and the notorious Sacramento reef. Cedros lies at the southwest corner of the vast Bahia Vizcaino, just northwest of Punta Eugenia. The famous Scammons Lagoon is in the southeastern part of Bahia Vizcaino.  The lagoon is a breeding and calving ground for Gray whales which migrate annually from the arctic sea. In the winter the place is teeming with whales and while spectacular, it is not a good place for a sailboat. Scammon's Lagoon got its name from captain Charles Scammon, who discovered this breeding ground in 1857 and was the first to harvest the gray whale for its oil. On many maps the bay is called Bahia de Ojo Liebre.  Scammon and other whalers set up shop in the lagoon and over the next few decades nearly drove the grays to extinction. In fact, by 1900 they were thought to be extinct. Think of the David Crosby/Graham Nash song, "Wind on the Water". Fortunately the taking of grays was banned and their population has rebounded, and now thousands of them make the annual trek along the Pacific coast to breed and calve not only at Scammons but in many of the bays and inlets along the Baja coast and Sea of Cortez. We'll see lots of these animals as we cruise south from here.

Anyway, we passed about 60 miles out from Scammons lagoon, and to westward of Cedros Island and tiny San Benito Island as well. Turning southeast we rode a strong wind and rolling sea toward Turtle Bay, arriving at 2:00pm after sailing a distance of almost exactly 300 miles, taking a little more than two days.  This place got its name for the large number of sea turtles that once used it for the same purpose as the Grays at Scammons, only the story ends differently. There are virtually no more turtles left in Turtle Bay.

Here in Bahia de Tortugas we took on fuel, had a nice lunch at Enrique's, wandered around the dusty town of 4,000 and generally lazed about for a couple of days. Rested and ready, we'll leave this afternoon for Bahia Santa Maria, 225 miles down the coast.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cruising boats of Ensenada

A fine example of a luxury sailing yacht, about 65' long. Probably here to serve out its year out of the states to avoid taxes. This is by far the nicest sailboat in the harbor.

I couldn't resist taking a photo of this Nordhavn 63. Also new and likely serving its year out of the States. Nordhavn's have a well deserved reputation as very capable long distance cruising motor yachts.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Had a nice sail down from Long Beach. Mostly light air all the way. Got a bit of rain twenty miles out, but, all things considered it was a near perfect ride. Yesterday I wandered around the marina looking for interesting cruising boats to write about. Unfortunately there was only one to be seen, and I already know all about the Honcho. There are quite a few cruising sailboats here, but they all look like they've been here a long time and their owners have no plans to leave anytime in the foreseeable future. Both the boats and their owners look pretty old and kind of scruffy...I fit right in!

The weather forecast is for warm temps and fair winds,  so the Honcho will be out of here in a couple of days.