Saturday, December 24, 2011

Summit 35

Summit 35
Nice Profile

One of the best things about being in the market for a new boat is checking out the newest designs, going for test sails and pondering cruising to distant places or collecting trophies. When I started looking at the Summit 35, I quickly forgot about the distant coves and palm trees, and instead, thought about racing and collecting pickle dishes.

Mark Mills designed it for Summit Yachts and Edgewater Boats builds it in Florida. The Summit 35 is really a buoy racer with enough accommodations for a couple to spend a week or so cruising, or for longer coastal races. Mills describes the boat as being designed to excel under the IRC. The IRC is a handicapping rule that is in some ways like PHRF and some ways like other measurement rules such as the now defunct IOR rule. I say that because to get a rating you must have your boat measured or have the builder certify the dimensions of the boat. Then you submit all the required information to the Rating Authority, which has a secret formula that they use to calculate the boat's handicap rating. The PHRF aspect comes from the fact that the Rating Authority may use subjective judgments as well as the boat's measurements to give a boat a final rating. The idea behind the secrecy of the rating formula is that designers and builders aren’t supposed to know what it is and therefore can’t tweak their designs to take advantage of the rule. Some of you may recall the goofy designs that came out of the IOR rule, where speed producing factors were penalized and credit was given for speed reducing factors.
The S-35 has a displacement of 10,930 lb with 5,300 lb of ballast, most of which is in that massive bulb.

Enough of the handicapping jargon…Let’s just evaluate the Summit 35 based on common sense. I should say out front that I haven’t had an opportunity to sail one yet and all the information I have on the boat was taken from and I like the overall proportions of this boat. The very slightly raked stem and transom make the hull more visually attractive than if they were vertical, as does the slightly sprung sheer. Below the waterline we see a fairly shallow hull with a narrow waterline beam and lots of flare in the topsides. The keel consists of a vertical fin with a slightly raked leading edge coupled to a massive lead bulb. Notice in the photo that the bulb extends a long way forward from the fin. There doesn’t appear to be a kelp cutter on the keel so that bulb could be a problem in areas with lots of kelp, like southern California. On the other hand, the bulb will keep the boat on its feet in a breeze.
Big cockpit, square corners and German mainsheet system

I like the deck on this boat. It has a beautiful cabin trunk and a nice big cockpit with seats forward and plenty of room for the crew. The options list includes twin wheels instead of the standard tiller. I would choose that option in spite of the extra weight and cost. The wheels are smallish, but allow the helmsperson to sit well outboard, and leave plenty of room for the crew. Notice that the main traveler is located well aft on the cockpit floor, with the sheet led forward along the boom, then down under the deck and back to a pair of winches just aft of the short cockpit coamings. This arrangement is known as a ‘German’ or ‘Admirals Cup’ system. With 2:1 purchase and the ability to trim the main quickly, it can be an excellent arrangement for a racer, and has some benefits for the cruising yachtsman who understands the strengths and weaknesses of this system. On the Summit 35 with tiller steering, the helmsperson sits forward of the main trimmer, on or outboard of the coaming, with the main trimmer sitting aft. It doesn’t look too comfortable for the helmsman. With wheel steering, the helmsman will be aft of the main trimmer, but it’ll be a tight fit for the trimmer. This will be fine on the upwind legs, but could get complicated on the downwind legs jibing in heavy air and at the leeward mark where the main trimmer will be ripping in the mainsheet and the helmsman is busy getting around the mark and avoiding flying elbows and mainsheet tail.  It’s not a big deal, but will take some practice for the helmsman and trimmer to work out how to do their jobs without getting in each other’s way.

In studying the cockpit, notice that everything is pretty well squared off and all the edges and corners have roughly the same radius. There is nothing wrong with this and it is quick to tool straight lines and squared edges, but this very nice looking overall deck design could have been more artfully sculpted. Of course boats have a way of getting prettier if they win a lot of races, and I have no doubt that the Summit 35 will do that.
Compact galley is suitable for sandwiches and MRE's

It’s hard to fault the interior of this boat. The layout is just about perfect, with a good sized galley and nav station as well as a positively luxurious head for a boat this size. The interior drawing shows a big dropleaf table in the main cabin, but I'm sure few Summit 35’s will sail with it, as it looks heavy and takes up space needed for packing chutes. The galley is fitted with a gimbaled Origo two-burner alcohol stove. This is a very good unit that eliminates the need for a gas bottle and its attendant locker, solenoid, etc. While the galley is too small for cruising, it’s quite adequate for the racing crew that expects sandwiches and MRE’s instead of ‘meals’.

I was surprised to see that the Summit 35 is equipped with an aluminum mast instead of carbon fiber. This may be due as much to the IRC rule as to economic considerations. The boat carries non-overlapping headsails and can be fitted with symmetrical or asymmetrical spinnakers. There are some advantages to symmetrical spinnakers in tactical situations, especially at the leeward mark, but these are outweighed by the simplicity and efficiency of asymmetrical kites. Unless you plan to race your boat under IRC rules, which apparently favors symmetricals, you’ll want to set your Summit 35 up with a short bowsprit and asymmetrical kites.

If I were in the market for a racer, I’d consider the Summit 35. It’s a nice looking and fast boat with reasonable accommodations and, inspired by Barry Carroll, a good pedigree. I like the fact that it’s built here in America. I think that, regardless of whether the IRC rule really gains much traction in the USA, the S-35 will be a very effective PHRF racer as well. It's interesting to compare this boat to the J-111. It's very close, but I think I like the J just a little bit more. Of course neither is well suited for the kind of cruising we're planning, but it would be interesting to see these boats matched against each other in a buoy race and in a long distance race.

Inasmuch as we're in the market for a used cruising boat, my next review will be the Beneteau 423. In the meantime I invite you to visit if you'd like to learn more about the S-35.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

J/111 Review

Now that the Honcho is up for sale, we're beginning to look for another boat and another adventure. I've always liked J Boats, so I couldn't wait to see the new J/111, which we thought might be a fun high performance cruiser that would suit our needs. Well, after checking one out, we decided to keep looking because it's not quite big enough for the voyages we are contemplating. But that doesn't mean it's not a great boat. In fact, I think it's one of the better boats J Boats has produced.
J/111 Outboard Profile

The J/111 is, in my opinion, a continuation of the J/35 theme...A fast, seaworthy boat that is offshore capable, but is most comfortable as a racer that a couple could easily spend a week at the island aboard. This is a type that J Boats excels at, so I though it would be fun to do a review of this design. A few years ago I spent some time cruising aboard a similar boat, an Aerodyne 38  called "Matador" and really enjoyed sailing across the southern reach of the Sea of Cortez from Cabo to Mazatlan aboard her. In 2003 we won our class in the Newport - Ensenada race in the same boat. I'll add some photos of both boats for your viewing pleasure, and I'll take this opportunity to credit for all of photos of both boats. I also encourage you to visit if you're interested in learning more about the A/38.


The J/111 reflects the state of the art in boats of this genre. With its plumb bow, long waterline, near vertical transom and bulb keel, the hull looks fast and its PHRF base rating of 42 looks about right to me. Interestingly, the Aerodyne 38 rates the same.

Aerodyne 38
Both boats have a deep bulb keel with a vertical leading edge and the all-important kelp cutter. This keel shape is one I have used in my own designs and it really is more efficient than, say, the keel on the Honcho.
J/111 Keel
The Aerodyne's keel has a more torpedo-shaped bulb than this.

Both the J/111 and Aerodyne 38 have deep carbon fiber rudders and wheel steering. The wide sterns of these boats demand deep rudders to keep them from stalling when the boat is heeled at speed. Rudders on boats of this type are usually large relative to the keel as they not only steer the boat but help generate lift to weather as well.

I really like the aesthetics of both boats. The 111 looks more modern but that is to be expected. The cockpits are large and incorporate seating forward and wide open space aft. This is efficient for racing, but makes for a surprisingly friendly place to be if you're cruising, provided that the seats are long enough for an occasional snooze.
J/111 accommodations
Going below, the basic layout of the J/111 looks lightweight and efficient for racing. For cruising it would be snug. Notice that the head and V-berth are in the same cabin space. I'd remove the cushions and relegate the V-berth to storage only. The quarterberths might be big enough for two and the settees in the main cabin would make reasonably good sea-berths if they were fitted with lee cloths. The galley is small, but probably adequate for short cruises and fixing simple meals for a racing crew. I like the nav station. It's big and has plenty of storage space.
J/111 interior
Light and open spaces abound

Aerodyne 38 main cabin
Engine is under the sinks

The Aerodyne, by contrast is oriented more for offshore racing or cruising. The layout incorporates a head aft to port and large quarterberth to starboard. The galley has plenty of counter space, with the Yanmar engine under the double sinks. The forward cabin is spacious and has a berth big enough for two.

The sailplans of both boats are similar. Big main, non-overlapping jibs, asymmetrical spinnakers on retractable poles, carbon fiber mast. What's not to like here?
Aerodyne 38
High speed cruising

J/111 Under sail

I have not yet had an opportunity to sail the J/111 so I can only speculate on how the boat handles, but it is similar enough to some of my own designs and to the Aerodyne 38, which I have sailed, to expect that it will be very quick, with a light helm and fast acceleration out of tacks. The deep, high aspect ratio keel and fine bow combined with the lightweight and efficient sailplan will make it fast upwind. The high sail area/displacement ratio means it will be quick to heel in puffs and will require close attention to sail trim in windy conditions, but it will reward you with high speeds downwind. Overall, an exciting boat to sail. I can say the same for the Aerodyne, athough it will be a slightly more comfortable ride. My guess is that the J/111 will be slightly quicker in light air buoy racing and downwind racing. The Aerodyne would likely be a better choice for the longer downwind races like the Transpac.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Beneteau 36s7

Now that the Honcho is back home in its berth in Long Beach, I've had some time to reflect on the boat and how well it performed as a cruising vessel on this voyage. First and foremost I should say that we had a fantastically enjoyable time while we lived aboard the Honcho. We set sail fully aware of the small size of the boat and planned the outfitting, provisioning and sailing route accordingly, and so got along very well aboard the Honcho throughout the voyage. Still, it would be valuable to anyone who is planning such a voyage as ours to consider some of the lessons we learned along the way. So I'll begin with the design and construction of the boat, then the outfitting and provisioning, and finally the sailing of the Honcho.

The Beneteau First 36s7 is designed as a racer/cruiser, with the emphasis more on cruising than racing. This results in a moderately lightweight boat that performs well enough under sail to make the sailing fun. It’s also important to be able to sail your way out of trouble, especially upwind, so you don’t have to rely on the motor if the weather turns nasty. The Honcho performed well whenever called on for such duty.

After living aboard the Honcho for nearly a year, I’ve had ample time to ponder her accommodations. I guess the fact that we never felt the desire to change anything speaks for the basic accommodations plan. We really like the large drop-leaf table in the salon, with its built-in wine storage, and the auxiliary wine locker over the port settee. One thing I would have changed if we had spent the summer in the Sea is the hot water heater plumbing. It uses engine cooling water to heat the freshwater. That’s good most of the time.  But the heater is located under the quarterberth and when it’s blazing hot out and the water temperature is over eighty degrees, it makes for a very warm berth. If I had it to do over, I’d rig a bypass line, so that I can bypass the heater when I want to.
The Honcho on the hard, getting an epoxy barrier coat

Given the size of the boat, the galley worked really well. I built a cutting board to fit over one of the sinks to expand the counter space, which is always in short supply on a small boat. The galley is equipped with a two burner stove, which is adequate for the cooking we did. When we stayed in marinas we dined out regularly, but it was almost always easy to find plenty of high quality fresh food in the local markets or big-box stores. Costco was our favorite of the big stores, though it was more  fun to visit the smaller stores and bargain for fresh picked fruits and vegetables.

We would have preferred a built-in freezer, but that’s not practical on a boat this size. The little freezer compartment in the icebox could be relied on to make two trays of crystal clear ice cubes, and that was enough for four tall cold drinks everyday regardless of the temperature outside.

One improvement we would have liked was a bigger cockpit. There is ample room to have designed a longer, wider cockpit with an open or step-through transom. As built, it was fine for a crew of two, but it gets tight with four or more. On the other hand, the transom extension was an invaluable addition.

When cruising as we did in Mexico, you’ll spend about 85 percent of the time at anchor or in a marina. Over a span of about nine months, we sailed a total of just over 5,000 miles. At an average of 5.5 knots, that works out to about 38 sailing days out of 270. Pretty good for a 36-foot boat. We would like to have gone further during the voyage, and would have if we could have gone faster. We missed some interesting places in the Sea of Cortez because we ran out of time. Of course we could have spent more days sailing, but we always enjoyed being where we were. So the lesson we learned is that in the future we would like to have a faster boat, which translates directly to a longer boat.

Cruising in Mexico involves a lot of sailing dead upwind or dead downwind. The Honcho is a pretty good upwind boat, but most of the time when our destination was upwind, we motor-sailed. Having raced thousands of upwind miles I had always thought that cruising sailors were a bit on the wimpy side for motoring when they could sail. However, it’s much quicker and more comfortable to motor-sail a hundred miles upwind than to spend thirty hours heeled thirty degrees in a twenty-knot headwind.  So the lesson here, for us at least, is that our next boat will be one that motors well and has plenty of fuel capacity. The Honcho has a nice three bladed feathering prop that proved itself many times, especially on the long bash up the Baja coast. Our 24-gallon fuel tank, adequate for local cruising was not enough for the longer passages we made, or for cruising in the Sea of Cortez where fuel docks are few and far between. We usually carried two 5-gallon jerry jugs of diesel on deck, and added four more for the passage between Cabo San Lucas and Ensenada.

Mexico has to be one of the world’s great cruising grounds, with literally hundreds of beautiful, remote anchorages in addition to many fine marinas. We always preferred to anchor whenever we could, and stayed in marinas only when there was a compelling reason to do so. Two things make riding at anchor a pleasure or a trial. Your ground tackle, and how the boat rides at anchor. I prefer to have big anchors and all chain rodes, so I fitted the Honcho with a 35lb Manson Supreme and 120 feet of quarter inch high-test chain. For backup, we had two Danforths of 22 and 12 pounds, with a 20’ chain and 150’ nylon rode. We also took another 150’ foot nylon rode for just in case. I’ve read the Internet arguments about the Manson vs. Rocna and the other brands…That’s mostly just wind in the rigging. But there is no doubt in my mind that the basic design of the Manson/Rocna type is superior to the plow and fluke type anchors. Ours never dragged, always popped free when we wanted it to and never gave us any trouble.

As for how the boat rides at anchor, the hullform of the Honcho, rather full in the ends and relatively light displacement, meant that it had a tendency to sail around quite a bit while on the hook. We didn’t over-burden the boat with a lot of extra stuff on deck so it didn’t roll much though, and I’ll take the sailing over rolling any day. With a chain rode, it was always prudent to rig a nylon snubber to keep the boat from being jerked as the chain went taut in windy conditions. I usually rigged a double snubber about 10’-15’ long led to the port and starboard bow cleats. This arrangement helped to dampen the yawing as the boat sailed around the chain, but a narrower, heavier boat would certainly have ridden to the anchor better.
The honcho at Catalina a week before departing for Mexico

The Honcho’s rig is a fractional sloop. When we bought it, the boat had a roller furling jib and lazy jacks on the mainsail. The main on this boat is quite big, and set up with slab reefing. In heavy air, it was easy to reef and we did so quite often. The boat sails well under main alone with the apparent wind at 40 degrees or more and we often sailed that way. Before we left, I took the roller furler off the boat. It was worn out and I thought it would be just as well to just hank the jib on the headstay. That way it would be easy to shift gears from the big jib to the little one. This system worked well, but it was labor intensive to set, douse and stow the jibs. Hanks are foolproof and furlers are not. But I found myself on the foredeck wrestling a jib more often than I would have liked, so in spite of the efficiency and safety of the hanks, our next boat will be fitted with a roller-furling jib.

As for safety gear, we took plenty of it and wore self-inflating life vests at night and whenever it was rough out. We carried a MOM and a LifeSling and thankfully never had to use them. Our jacklines were polyester webbing led to heavy-duty padeyes on deck. We carried a Switlick Rescue Pod instead of a full-fledged liferaft. It was a good compromise given that we were only going down the coast and not crossing any oceans.
No one should leave without a good EPIRB with integral GPS. We used an ACR Globalfix.

Wherever cruisers gather, the conversation eventually turns to communications and navigation equipment. Some argue that with Sat-phones, there is no need for a single sideband radio. I’m not convinced. We used our SSB regularly for weather reports and forecasts as well as to talk with friends who were hundreds of miles away, for free. We liked to get away and were always glad to find a hidden anchorage with no other boats around. But it was also nice to know that we could get in touch with someone almost instantly with the SSB. Could the same be done with a Sat-phone? Possibly, but I liked the ability to broadcast when I wanted to, while the phone only enables you to call a certain phone number.

We did not carry AIS or Radar. The AIS is a great piece of equipment and we won’t leave home again without one. There were times when Radar would have been handy. The Mexican coast has plenty of fog and more than once we waited for fog to lift a bit before entering a bay or anchorage. The newest models use less energy than before and we’ll install one on our next boat.

Finally, the sailing: We always enjoyed sailing the Honcho. She handled well in all the conditions we encountered, giving a good turn of speed reaching and running, and always well balanced and easy to steer. With her wide stern, I first thought the rudder would be too short to give good control when the boat heeled under sail, and I thought I might add some depth to it. But time ran out as we prepared to leave and I never got around to it. It was just as well because it proved to be just fine as is. We used the autopilot a lot and it worked flawlessly the entire trip. In my opinion it’s a good idea to get one that’s rated for a bigger boat than you have, and ours never strained or complained. Upwind in light conditions, I could skip the autopilot and just lock the wheel and the boat would sail along for miles with nothing more than occasional attention to the traveler in the puffs and lulls.

Before we left I went through the boat from keel to masthead, and made sure she was ready in all respects for the conditions and adventures we expected to encounter. Good materials and workmanship served us very well throughout the trip. We never had a serious breakdown and spent virtually no time on repairs except for routine maintenance and, once, a corroded connection at the windlass. That left us free to enjoy the wonders of Mexico, and share a leisurely and mostly carefree voyage along the coast and in the beautiful Sea of Cortez. I’m pleased to report that the Honcho arrived home after a voyage of some 5,000 miles in excellent condition, as did we.

When planning this trip, we decided to find a smallish boat that would be capable of handling the voyage we were contemplating with a minimum financial investment, yet still provide the comfort and safety we desired, and the Honcho filled that requirement beautifully.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Season in Mexico Part 2: Marinas

The Honcho took berths in ten Marinas in Mexico and found them comparable to American marinas in many ways. Each of those marinas is listed below, along with a summary of our experiences there.

Cruiseport (Ensenada)
Located just past the Naval Base in the port of Ensenada. The entrance channel is well marked and easy to navigate.This is a modern marina with good facilities and excellent staff. Cruiseport Marina is the ideal place to officially check into Mexico. They will assist you with all the necessary paperwork and drive you to the Port Captain's office at no charge. If you're not fluent in Spanish, Jonathan will translate and assist you with all the necessary forms and documents. There are many marine stores, restaurants and tiendas within walking distance, but you'll want a cab to get to the local Costco or Walmart. I think this is the best marina in Ensenada because of its central location and low cost. One downside is that there is no fuel dock there, but Jonathan offered to drive me and four jerry jugs to a gas station downtown that sells diesel at no charge. Very friendly and helpful.

Marina Cabo San Lucas (Cabo San Lucas)
This is a very well equipped marina in the heart of the tourist area in Cabo. It is expensive (we paid $125 USD/night in November, 2010 but I think they have lowered their prices somewhat recently). The staff was friendly and the marina offers clean showers and laundry facilities and even a small swimming pool for guests. The central location was nice because nearly everything is within walking distance, but there are at least a dozen nightclubs within shouting distance, so we were serenaded every night until around 0400 by a dozen bands. The music and high prices drove us out of Cabo after only two nights.

Puerto Los Cabos (San Jose del Cabo)
This is a new marina and is part of the Puerto Los Cabos Resort. As of June, 2011 the slips were completed but not all had electrical outlets. Prices were much better than at Cabo. We got a slip for $40 USD/night in a slip without electricity, which was fine with us. The same size slip with electricity was quoted to us at $80/night. Restrooms and showers were in trailers but there are plans for more permanent facilities. The harbor at San Jose del Cabo did not show on our Maxsea electronic charts nor on our GPS, but the Navionics app on our I-Pad showed it. It's a moderately long walk to downtown San Jose so you'll want a taxi to get to the local (new) Walmart. There is a restaurant and gift shop at the marina. Prices are high, but the burgers were good. This marina is about 16 miles from Cabo San Lucas and is, in my opinion, a better place than Cabo to stay while waiting for a weather window for boats that are headed north along the Pacific coast of Baja.

Marina Palmira (La Paz)
Located just outside of downtown La Paz, Marina Palmira is our favorite place to stay in La Paz. While not a new marina, it is well maintained, with electronic gate locks on the gangways and plenty of security. It is affiliated with the Hotel Marina so we had free access to the large hotel pool, a necessity from May through October. There are a couple of good restaurants at the marina, and it's a pleasant 3 mile walk to downtown La Paz from there along the beautiful malecon. We provisioned twice in La Paz, visiting the Soriano and Walmart. They are both too far to walk, but taxis are inexpensive in La Paz. Like most of the other marinas we visited, Marina Palmira offers free wifi, and like the others, it was spotty  at best. We always relied on our Telcel 3G cards in Mexico and were seldom disappointed by them.

Marina de La Paz (La Paz)
This is the main marina in downtown La Paz. Older that the others, it has a character of its own that makes it hospitable to many long-time live-aboards. For us, the key attraction of this marina is its location in the heart of downtown La Paz. There are several marine stores as well as hardware stores, shopping mall, immigration office, restaurants and other services all within walking distance of this marina. Being downtown, it's noisier and more crowded than Marina Palmira. This marina is also home to Club Cruceros de La Paz. This organization offers all sorts of services and information for cruisers in the Sea of Cortez We stayed in this marina in the month of May, and it was quite hot, with little wind during the day and the surrounding buildings and geography blocking much of the cooling Coromuel winds at night. The local year-round liveaboards assured me that you get used to the heat. I'm not sure I want to do that myself, but it's clear that many American and Canadian expats have found a home here.

Marina Mazatlan (Mazatlan)
Located about 10 miles north of downtown Mazatlan, most charts don't show this marina very well so I recommend using the Pacific Mexico Cruising Guide by Shawn Breeding and Heather Bansmer for accurate navigational information. The channel entrance is narrow and sea conditions can sometimes make entering or leaving tricky. The channel entrance requires constant dredging to keep it navigable and it is occasionally closed due to ongoing dredging operations. If in doubt, hail the marina on the VHF to check on conditions.
 Mazatlan is an important commercial port and you can find almost anything you need here. There are good restaurants, a shipyard and other conveniences within walking distance of the marina, but it's too far to walk downtown, which is where you need to go for provisions. You can take a bus, taxi or pulmonia for a few pesos. The pulmonia is unique to Mazatlan.  It is a small open vehicle with a canvas top. It's cheaper than a regular taxi and in Maazatlan's warm climate you don't need doors and windows, so whenever possible we took a pulmonia, which was more fun than a bus or taxi.

There has been some drug related violence in Mazatlan and at the time we were there cruise ships were not calling at the port of Mazatlan, so the town was a bit quieter than normal. We enjoyed the beautiful old city of Mazatlan and could have stayed there longer if we'd had time.

Marina Riviera Nayarit (La Cruz de Huanacaxtle)
This was our favorite marina in Mexico. Nearly new and very well maintained, Marina Riviera is probably as good as it gets. It is located in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, on the north shore of Banderas Bay. La Cruz is a picturesque town with just the right combination of old Mexico charm, yatistas and an interesting mix of expats from around the world. The marina sports a yacht club with an excellent restaurant and bar, fuel dock, shipyard with 150 ton travelift, convenience store and laundry. There are plenty of good restaurants within walking distance, ranging from high end Italian to funky outdoor places with live music. We especially enjoyed Philo's, Ana Bananas and Frascati. If I could visit only one marina in Mexico this would be it.

Paradise Village Marina (Nuevo Vallarta)
Located in Nuevo Vallarta, about 10 miles from downtown Puerto Vallarta, Paradise Village marina is built on an estuary, so bring your bug screens. This marina is a bit older than the one in La Cruz, but it is well maintained, with good facilities and friendly help. It is part of the Paradise Village resort, so visitors have access to the hotel pool and beach. This place reminded me of Marina Del Rey in California. So if you like Del Rey, you'll like Paradise Village Marina.

Marina Vallarta (Puerto Vallarta)
Located in the port of Puerto Vallarta, this marina was once a fine place to stay while you visited the city of PV, but when we visited, it was fairly rundown. Security was so-so, and the noise level was only a few decibels this side of Cabo San Lucas. It does have the benefit of close proximity to downtown PV, which is a wonderful city.

Marina Ixtapa Nautica (Ixtapa)
Like Paridise Village Marina, Marina Ixtapa Nautica is also part of a larger resort. As such it offers good facilities, access to fine restaurants and shops, and a nice beach.  It is located a short bus or taxi ride from the beautiful city of Zihuatanejo, where there an excellent anchorage for when you tire of marina life. Isla Ixtapa is less than five miles away by boat and is a perfect place to anchor for the day and snorkel or lounge on the beach. While anchored there I cleaned the bottom of our boat, which is prohibited in the marina due to the large crocodiles that occasionally swim through.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Season in Mexico Part I: Security and Health Care

 Now that the Honcho is back in the USA we've had time to sit back and review our experience in Mexico and pass along some information that you might find valuable for your own voyage south. In part one, I'll discuss security and health services as we found them on our travels. In later posts I'll review our route in Mexico, marinas and anchorages we visited, food and dining, and Mexican officialdom. Lastly I'll review the Honcho, how it was set up and rigged, what worked and didn't, and what we would do differently with regard to the boat. Bear in mind that this is our personal experience and yours will certainly be different in any number of ways.

There is certainly no shortage of security in Mexico. We spent a lot of time in a number of harbors and marinas, some of which were in urban settings and some in resort settings. We also anchored in remote places where there were few if any people within miles. We also traveled fairly extensively ashore using various modes of transportation:  On foot, private car, rental car, taxi, bus, train and commercial airplane. Our shoreside travel took us to resort areas, big cities, towns, villages, and some places that we considered to be Mexico's outback. We traveled in the states of Baja California Norte and Sur, Jalisco, Nayarit, Guerrero, Sinaloa and Chihuahua. We visited exclusive resort destinations as well as grittier destinations where tourists are rare.

In general, security in every marina we visited was pretty good. Electronic gates and watchmen with radios were present at every marina we visited. We never lost anything to theft and usually felt comfortable leaving the boat unlocked during daylight hours. When anchored out we frequently hoisted the dinghy out of the water  as a precaution in some areas, but never heard of anyone's dinghy getting stolen while we were in Mexico.

One thing I think unfortunate was that a few Americans brought their biases and prejudices with them to Mexico, and were in my opinion overly suspicious of Mexicans. I believe those people missed out on one of the greatest pleasures of cruising in Mexico, which is getting to know and understand the Mexican people, whom we came to regard as the friendliest people we've ever met.

Practically everywhere we went in Mexico there were plenty of heavily armed police and military personnel. It was not unusual to see a truckload of armed and masked police on the roads or parked next to a bank. On the water we had numerous encounters with Mexican Navy personnel. They were always heavily armed, and were also always polite, courteous and professional. For our own part, we were always friendly toward them, and were never treated with anything but respect by them. With that said, I can understand how it can be unnerving to see a boat with a squad of masked men carrying assault rifles bearing down on you at high speed. I should also point out that in the ports of L. A. and Long Beach, it's not unusual to have a patrol boat with a .30 cal machine gun mounted on the foredeck bearing down on you if you happen to stray too close to a cruise ship in the harbor.

We did have one negative experience that involved Mexican traffic police in Puerto Vallarta. Four of us were driving a rental car on the highway and were pulled over and shaken down for 500 Pesos by a local cop. It's a fairly common occurrence in that area. Mexicans told me later that the government is working to get rid of corruption in local police forces, but it still happens. 500 Pesos is the equivalent of about $45 USD.

Throughout most of our travels on mainland Mexico we felt quite safe, except when we were in the state of Sinaloa, which is home to one of Mexico's most notorious drug cartels. Mazatlan is Sinaloa's largest commercial port and is reputed to be a major shipping point for drugs and as a result there has been some violence there. Enough to cause the cruise lines to stop visiting there until security improves. This is unfortunate because Mazatlan turned out to be a beautiful and charming city, and once we became familiar with it, we were able to relax and enjoy it.

We traveled by bus through Culiacan and spent a couple of nights in Los Mochis, which are supposedly the nexus of the Sinaloa cartel's empire. There we noticed many police checkpoints along the way. The checkpoints were sandbagged and the police were usually helmeted and masked. However, we never felt personally in any danger as we rode through them on a pretty luxurious express bus.

We used the same common sense in Mexico as in the USA: Be aware of your surroundings and keep an eye on your possessions. Leave the diamonds and Rolex at home. Don't flash wads of cash around. Be careful at ATM's, and use only those that are at banks and other reputable institutions. Stay off the streets late at night. Don't do things you wouldn't do in the States. Know where you're going and avoid high crime areas.

Here are some statistics that I took from a cursory internet search:
Homicide rate for Mexico (2009): 15 (per 100,000 population)
Homicide rate for the USA (2009): 5 (per 100.000 population)

Below is a chart of crime statistics for Mexico and the USA in 2004.  In some ways Mexico is safer than the USA, and some ways more dangerous.

Crime Rates in Mexico per 100,000 inhabitants
20002001200220032004USA in 2004
Total Crimes1433.811439.411391.541521.931503.714118.76
Murder with firearm3.454.543.663.532.581.25
Aggravated assault171.06172.02185.01187.33186.68310.14
Automobile theft161.15161.52162.10150.66139.86432.12
Drug offenses20.6223.9724.6523.3823.40NA
Source: 7th[1] and 8th[2] Survey, 
First some statistics which I took from the CIA World Factbook:
*Infant mortality rate: Mexico 18.42 (112th), USA 6.26 (46th) of . Global average is 42.09 for the 224 countries in the list.
*Life expectancy: USA 78.4 years (50th). Mexico 76.06 (71st). Global average 66.57

Based on these statistics, it appears that Americans can expect to live a healthier, and slightly longer life than Mexicans. But the statistics do indicate that both countries could do much better. Sweden, Australia, Canada, Spain and even Britain do better than the USA with regard to infant mortality and life expectancy.

Fortunately we never got sick or suffered any injury that required medical attention. Our experience with routine medical services was that it varied from very good to rather poor. Prescription drugs cost roughly half what they would cost in the USA. We did hear of several other cruisers who did use Mexican medical services for conditions ranging from injuries due to falls to heart attack and were generally pleased with the outcomes, and usually thrilled with the low cost of care in that that country. My impression is that those near the bottom of the socio-economic scale don't don't get much health care in the USA or Mexico, those in the middle classes get fairly good care, and those in higher classes get very good care in both countries.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


We spent three days in San Diego, a perfect place to get re-acclimated to life in the States. We shopped for American goods and foods that were not available in Mexico, changed our boat insurance to domestic instead of Mexican, switched from Mexican Banda Ancha (broad band) to Verizon, and generally adapted to the faster pace of life here in the USA. When we were done, we decided that it would be more fun to set a leisurely pace for our return to our home port of Long Beach.

Rising early on June 24th, we departed from our dock at Southwestern Yacht Club at 0600, bound for Dana Point harbor, about sixty miles north.  Motoring out from San Diego harbor, we set a course that took us well to the south and west to avoid the extensive kelp beds off Point Loma before turning northwest toward Dana Point. With flat seas and zero wind, we motored through the chilly and overcast morning. In the afternoon the sun broke through the clouds and a light wind sprang up, but by then we were nearly at the harbor mouth. From there we motored up the channel and took a berth at Dana Point Yacht Club, where we had a nice dinner.

The next morning we slipped out of the harbor at dawn, bound for Avalon, near the east end of Catalina Island. The sky was completely overcast as we motored over a flat sea and no wind. The morning haze remained dense, keeping the island out of view until we were within five miles of it. Then the sun burst through the clouds revealing the deep green of the hills around the harbor at Avalon. We took a mooring among hundreds of other boats. Accustomed to anchoring in Mexico's tranquil waters, we experienced a bit of culture shock with paddlers, kayakers, jet skiers, and motorboaters all passing within feet, and sometimes inches of our boat. In the afternoon we went ashore and checked out some of our old haunts here, but chose to return to the boat for a quiet dinner instead of going into an overcrowded restaurant. The weekend will be over today and the hordes will head back to the mainland, and we'll move up the island to Two Harbors, where we expect to spend one more week before returning to the mainland, and our lives ashore.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Back in the USA

The Honcho rested a couple of days in Ensenada, but there was no reason to stick around longer than that. So just after midnight on June 21st, we cast off for the last time from a Mexican port. It was sad to say goodbye to this country that we have come to know and love, but with a smooth sea and light winds in the forecast, it was a good time to head north to the USA. Over the last seven months we experienced much of Mexico, but we realize that there is so much more to see and do in this lovely, friendly country that we've already vowed to come back as soon as possible.
Approaching Ensenada harbor. A cruise ship and the city's trademark enormous flag are quintessential elements of Ensenada's personality.

The Honcho at the dock in CruisePort Marina. The flag is about half a mile away. 

We cleared the breakwater and set a course that would take the Honcho northwest past Punta Salsipuedes and toward the Islas Coronados, the last Mexican territory before crossing the imaginary line in the ocean that marks the boundary between Mexico and the USA. We crossed that line at 0930 and almost immediately the morning haze lifted and the skyscrapers in downtown San Diego began to come into view.

A dolphin cruises along with the Honcho, San Diego skyline in the background.

At the same time, the VHF radio was crackling with warnings about a nuclear sub that would be departing from the submarine base in San Diego. It came into view when we were a couple of miles from the harbor entrance buoy and we slowed down almost to a stop to give that enormous and lethal looking warship room to pass by.

The photo doesn't show how big this ship is. There are a couple of sailors standing on top of the sail in this photo as it exited the harbor. Within a few minutes it submerged, bound on some mysterious mission. 
Shortly after the sub disappeared we entered the harbor and headed for the police dock on Shelter Island, where we were met by the customs agents and officially cleared into the USA. We were also met at the dock by our good friends Tom and Mary Ellen, who arranged for a guest slip for us at Southwestern Yacht Club and brought a care package of my favorite wine and some gourmet delights from Trader Joe's. We quickly squared the boat away and drank several toasts to good friends and voyages completed, then repaired to the yacht club dining room for an excellent dinner. As much as we love Mexico, it's great to be back in the USA.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Bahia Santa Maria to Ensenada

The Honcho stayed in Bahia Santa Maria five days, waiting out the strong northwesterly wind. I was glad that I put extra large ground tackle aboard the boat, as it never gave us any reason for worry in spite of the rough conditions in the bay. When the wind finally blew itself out, the sea was still pretty lumpy, but we got the anchor up early on June 11th and headed out around Punta Hughes and northward once again. Our destination was Bahia San Bartolome, also known as Turtle Bay, about 225 miles in a northwesterly direction. Our course would take us past Cabo San Lazaro, then we would bend slightly northeast, about 25 miles east of the rhumbline, or direct line, to Turtle Bay. This course would keep us in relatively milder conditions than we would expect if we headed straight for TB. As it turned out, we had an average of about 15 knots of wind on the nose throughout the passage. During this time we were listening on the VHF radio to other boats that chose the direct route. They were facing 25 knot headwinds and rougher seas. The Honcho sailed more miles, but arrived at roughly the same time as those boats and had a much nicer ride. Sometimes it pays to go around rough conditions instead of banging headlong into them.

As we cleared Cabo San Lazaro, we observed a 60 foot ketch which had wandered too close to the Cape and foundered on the rocks that lie off the tip of the land there. We were about 2 miles off, and knew it had already been reported to the Mexican Navy, so we continued northward while monitoring the radio in case we could be of help. When we first saw the vessel it was standing upright with the mainsail hoisted, but as we watched, it began to heel over until the masts were nearly touching the water. Surrounded by large breaking surf, it would take little time for the vessel to break up. We later found that the name of the vessel was the Nordic Light, with three people aboard. The Mexican Navy rescued them but the boat was a total loss.  Cabo San Lazaro has claimed many vessels over the years. It's not a place to trifle with.

With that rather grim sendoff from the Cape, the Honcho continued north and arrived in Turtle Bay at 0730 on June 13th. We anchored in the bay and quickly got Enrique "El Gordo" on the radio and ordered some diesel which he delivered in his panga at about 1000. By 1100 we had the anchor up and were once again headed north, with our next destination of San Carlos about 130 miles distant. Our course would take us northwest through the Dewey Channel and past Punta Eugenio. From there we skirted along the east side of  Isla Cedros for a few miles. As we approached the northern end of Cedros, the wind piped up to about 28 knots and we opted to bear off a few degrees and make for Bahia Blanca, which is well inside the mighty Bahia Sebastian Vizcaino, where we expected easier sailing conditions. After a long, cold night of sailing we arrived at fog shrouded Bahia Blanca and waited for dawn before groping our way into the bay. There we anchored and spent the following day in comfort while the wind offshore continued to howl.

The following morning we were up early, headed for San Carlos. For most of the 55 mile passage we motorsailed directly into a light wind, but about 20 miles short of San Carlos, the wind picked up and before long we were punching into a 30 knot headwind. About three miles from the anchorage the engine died and we sailed into the anchorage under a double reefed main.

Once we were anchored I refilled the fuel tank from Jerry jugs we carry on deck. The 24 gallon tank took only 19 gallons so I knew we hadn't run out of fuel. I've gotten dirty fuel in Turtle Bay before so I checked the primary and secondary fuel filters, but they were all clean. Then I began to suspect that with all the bouncing around we did in those last few miles, maybe the pickup in the fuel tank sucked up some air.  I bought a service manual for the Yanmar engine before we left California, so I got it out and reviewed the procedure for bleeding the fuel system. I carefully followed the procedure as outlined, but couldn't get the engine to start. By this time it was nearly midnight so I decided to sleep on it, maybe a solution would come to me in the morning.

The next morning I woke up early and tried bleeding the system again but had no luck. So we decided that since we had a prediction of good sailing conditions for the next couple of days, we'd pack up the tools, hoist the mainsail and sail off the anchor, bound for Ensenada where I could take a more thorough look at the engine.

From San Carlos, Ensenada is about 165 miles distant. It turned out to be a delightful sail, with winds in the 15 knot range and relatively calm seas. We sailed west past the notorious Sacramento Reef, which has also claimed a large number of ships and boats, and out about 60 miles from the coast. Tacking north from there we fetched the land just north of Cabo Colnett. Tacking offshore again, we went about 25 miles out before tacking north again. From there we could just lay the channel between Isla Todos Santos and Punta Banda, arriving at the Cruiseport Marina at 1500 on June 18th.

We had not set foot off the boat since leaving Los Cabos on June 2nd, so the first order of business was a hot shower and a steak dinner ashore, one of the finest meals we've eaten in a long time. Arriving back at the boat in the early evening, I took a more serious look at the engine, did some reading online about the fuel system and discovered a secondary bleed screw on the high pressure fuel injection pump. Within ten minutes I had the system bled and the engine running. I was very glad to get it running again without having to pay a mechanic, but I was more that a little chapped that the service manual makes no mention of this vital step in fuel bleeding procedure.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Bahia Santa Maria

The Honcho remained in San Jose del Cabo for several days to refuel and provision. This would be our last stop before heading north around Cabo San Lucas and Cabo Falso on the long windward jaunt back to California. The next city we will visit is Ensenada, about 800 miles north. This leg of our voyage will be the most challenging as it is all upwind, with only a very few places to stop and rest along the way. Our course will be generally northwest, directly into the prevailing northwesterly winds, so instead of shorts and t-shirts, we’ll be in fleece and foul weather gear most of the time while under way.

We departed San Jose on June 2nd, at 2100, choosing this hour because it would place us at Cabo Falso around midnight. That is typically when the wind begins to lighten and we hoped to get a few miles up the coast before the wind builds back up to its typical 20-25 knots during the afternoon.  Cabo Falso collected its toll from us by delivering 25-30 knot headwinds as we rounded the cape, but after a couple of hours of that, the wind settled down and we experienced light 12 to 18 knot headwinds for the next 155 miles or so to Punta Entrada, which marks the entrance to Bahia Magdalena, or Mag Bay, as the yatistas call it. After rounding the cape, the seawater temperature began to plummet, going from the high 70’s to high 50’s in a day or so, bringing the air temperature down as well.  We entered Mag Bay at 0830 and motored toward Man-O-War cove, about eight miles up inside the bay, dropping anchor there at 1030 in twenty feet of murky, smelly water. 

Mag Bay was in the midst of a red tide of sorts, with millions of crawdad-like creatures that the locals call ‘Langostinos’ dying off. Their rotting carcasses filled the water all around us and created a powerful stench in the air.  To top off the situation, we were immediately swarmed by thousands of flies. We quickly fitted bug screens on the hatches, but still had to hunt down at least thirty of the pesky rascals with fly swatters.  I had hoped to run our watermaker at Mag Bay to top off our water tanks, but the water was so polluted with dead Langostinos, we not only didn’t make any water, we didn’t even launch the dinghy and go ashore during the two days we spent there. It was blowing 25 outside the bay so we were content to hang out on the boat until that wind calmed down, which it did in a couple of days.

We left Man-O-War cove early in the morning on June 6th, glad to get away from the reeking air, foul water and flies of Mag Bay. We cleared Roca Vela and set a course for Bahia Santa Maria, about 14 miles distant in about 10 knots of northwesterly wind.  As we approached Cabo Corso at the southern end of Bahia Santa Maria, the wind and seas began to build, and within a few minutes we had a 20 knot headwind and 6 foot seas.  I altered course to sail further into the bay, thinking we would get a little protection from the high hills at the northwest end of the bay, but the winds and seas continued to increase until we finally made it to the anchorage in the northwest corner of the bay, where we got the hook down in 20 feet of roiling water and 30 knot winds.

We’ve remained at anchor here, staying mostly inside the boat while the wind howled outside for three days in the 25-35 knot range, with occasional gusts to 40. With little to do besides checking for wear on our ground tackle and making sure things were secure on deck, we spent those days reading , watching movies and monitoring weather forecasts on the internet and the HF radio. The weather began to ease yesterday and it looks like we’ll have a nice window to make our next passage north beginning on Saturday night, June 11th.  Our plan is to clear Cabo San Lazaro around 0100, then work our way north toward our next planned destination, Turtle Bay (Bahia San Bartolome), about 225 miles distant.  Rather than banging straight up the rhumbline, we’ll sail a course well to the east where we can expect lighter conditions.  This course gives us the option of ducking into San Juanico, Abreojos or Asuncion, which are small anchorages along the way, in case the weather turns against us.

There are several other boats here in Bahia Santa Maria with us, all waiting for the expected weather window. Among them are the following:
Manta 42 Catamaran
Norseman 447 cutter
Catalina 400 sloop
Seawind 1000 Catamaran
Catalina-Morgan 45
CT-54 ketch

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Cape

After San Juanico, the Honcho hurried south to La Paz where we spent a couple of days to refuel and reprovision. On May 28th  we left La Paz for Puerto Balandra, a favorite of ours, where we spent the night tucked into the southwest cove. The Coromuel wind blew hard all night and into the next morning, but by 1100 it had settled down to a 15 knot southwesterly and we got underway, bound for Ensenada de Los Muertos, on the east side of the cape. Our course took us north, then east through the Canal de San Lorenzo and then southeast through the Canal de Cerralvo. There the wind turned southeast, exactly the direction we wanted to go. It brought with it a southeast current of about a knot, so it was a slow passage through that channel.

The Honcho arrived at Los Muertos about 2030 and got the anchor down just after the sun set over the mountains. The southeast wind died at night but the swell didn't and we spent a fairly rolly night in the anchorage there. We were on the move again at dawn, bound for Bahia de Los Frailes, about 45 miles down the coast. After the sun rose, the southeast wind returned and the Honcho punched into it for about eight hours, arriving at Los Frailes around 1700. Los Frailes is open to the southeast and thus was not a suitable anchorage with a fairly heavy southeast sea rolling in. We gave it a look and decided to continue on to San Jose del Cabo.

An hour or so later the wind turned around and blew 20-22 knots out of the northeast, bringing a following sea with it and we made a quick passage to San Jose, arriving in the harbor after dark, about 2115 on May 30th.  It was a moonless night and we had never been into the harbor. On top of that, the harbor is new and our charts don't show it. We pulled out the I Pad with its Navionics navigation software and used it to navigate the last mile to the harbor. I think that software is based on satellite photos instead of charts that were originally made back when the Spaniards were running the show around here, and are very accurate. In the future we'll convert all of our navigation gear to this technology.

We are now in San Jose del Cabo, refueled and ready to begin the last portion of our voyage, the 900 or so miles up the west coast of Baja to Long Beach, CA. With northwesterly winds dominant on this coast, which is exactly the direction we want to go, we'll sit tight here in San Jose and wait for those winds, which have been blowing hard recently to lie down a bit.

Our course on the first part of this passage will take us northwest along the Baja coast to Man-O-War Cove, inside Bahia Magdalena. Then we'll head for Bahia Santa Maria, Bahia San Juanico, Punta Abreojos and Turtle Bay, where we'll spend a few days.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bahia de Concepcion

The days are rolling by ever so quickly and we have many miles to go, and many places to see before we say adios to Mexico. So we have hurried along on our voyage, reaching Bahia de Concepcion on May 17th. Our route from San Evaristo took us to Bahia Agua Verde for a night, then to Puerto Escondido for a couple of days. From there we went to Caleta San Juanico, where we anchored again for just a night.  We then anchored in Bahia de Concepcion in a small cove between Playa Santispac and Posada Concepcion.
At Puerto Escondido there is a large and very well protected lagoon with at least a hundred moorings, a fuel dock, tienda and other amenities including internet access, which is rare in this part of the world. We took advantage of all of these as well as the fine restaurant there.

Dawn in Puerto Escondido

After a couple of days at Puerto Escondido, we continued north another forty miles to Caleta San Juanico. Arriving there around 1600, we got the hook down in about 30 feet of water and had a nice swim before dinner. At roughly 26 degrees north latitude, San Juanico is far enough north that there is a bit of coolness in the air in the evenings, which is a refreshing change from the dry heat of La Paz.

San Juanico sunrise
 Our next destination, Playa Santispac, about 55 miles from San Juanico, is located inside of the large Bahia de Concepcion. The Honcho got an early start, motorsailing into a building breeze. By noon the wind and seas had built to the point where we were getting spray over the dodger, with the promise of more to come as we approached Punta de Concepcion, which lies at the entrance to the bay.  Fortunately our course was northwest and the wind and seas were from NNE, so we weren’t too uncomfortable as we worked up the coast.  Around 1600, just as we cleared Punta Concepcion, the reel lit up and we caught a nice 6 pound yellowtail, which we’ll barbecue for dinner.

The Honcho trolling with a Mexican lure. It's called a Mexican because it is red, green and yellow; The same colors as the Mexican flag. We've had the most luck with this lure, hooking innumerable Jacks, yellowfin, even a striped marlin.
 Bahia de Concepcion is open to the north, so after clearing the entrance the Honcho bore off and had a quick downwind run in 20 knots of wind toward Playa Santispac. As we approached Santispac we could see the north wind raking through the anchorage so we continued a bit further to a small cove just east of Posada de Conception and dropped the anchor in 20 feet of water, about 60 yards from shore.  With steep hills to our north coming right down to the water’s edge, we are well protected from the wind. 

An eighteen foot whale shark glides past the boat in Santispac. The fin to the left is the dorsal, to the right is the tail.

Bahia de Concepcion is about 20 miles long and roughly 4 miles wide. It is dotted with many small islands and is home to a wide range of birds and marine life.  After a nice dinner ashore and a good night’s rest, we were up early the next morning, cleaning accumulated salt off the boat and rigging. Suddenly we were distracted by a slight commotion in the water and discovered a couple of whale sharks lazily feeding next to the boat. We watched and photographed them for a while then donned mask and fins and joined them for a swim. Whale sharks feed on plankton and other small sea life and don’t pose a predatory threat to humans.  We dove under water and could see the massive fins and gaping mouths of these animals as they passed by close enough to touch. Predatory or not, swimming that close to such a large animal was exciting!

Kayaker stalks a big one
This shark is about 18 feet long and has a wingspan of about eight feet, near as I could estimate. Whale sharks feed at or near the surface of the water, drawing large gulps of seawater, then expelling it out through their large gills, which have filtering elements that strain out the plankton and other small sea life. The water in Bahia de Concepcion is full of nutrients, which makes underwater visibility not nearly as good as at places like Isla San Francisco.

Playa Santispac is pretty much the boonies and there are no services here…no taxis, internet, cell phones, or gas stations. In need of diesel fuel, we took a couple of jerry cans and wandered up the beach, trusting that somehow we’d find a way to get to the nearest gas station, thirteen miles up the road. Sure enough, before long we’d hitched a ride on an old beat up water truck that took us all the way to the Hotel Serenidad where we had a fine lunch of fish tacos, guacamole and ice cold beer. We then got the fuel and a ride back to the beach in Santispac, where we’d left our dinghy. From there it was a short mile back to the boat.  
The next day we were again visited by the whale sharks, but didn’t swim with them as we had plans to visit the town of Mulege, where we spent most of the day touring this flood ravaged town and socializing. Mulege suffered a direct hit by Hurricane Jimena a couple of years ago. Much of the town was damaged or destroyed by the storm, which caused the Rio Mulege to overflow its banks, washing a good portion of the town into the sea. There are still many signs of destruction in this pleasant little village.

Bahia de Concepcion is as far north as we will get on this voyage. So when we weighed anchor Saturday morning, May 21st, we were southbound, headed back toward San Juanico, where we spent a couple of days.  It was a delightful sail during which we were able to fly the spinnaker for a few miles before the wind shifted to the southeast and we were forced to set the trusty jib for the last twenty miles.  Along the way we caught an 8 pound yellowtail, which we barbecued with friends from the sailing vessels Stray Cat and Capriccio in Caleta San Juanico. San Juanico is a fairly large bay, with good protection from northerly and southerly winds, but is open to the southeast, which is where the wind has been for the last couple of days, forcing us to shift to a snug anchorage in the lee of some large rocks in the northern reach of the bay. There are dramatic rock formations here, a beautiful freshwater lagoon and a kind of shrine or monument where passing yatistas put up plaques and inscriptions made of anything from old sandals to beautifully carved wood, usually with a boat and crew names and dates. It was interesting to see the names of many boats we’ve come to know hanging in the tree that makes up the shrine.  This passage is the first of the truly homeward bound portion of our voyage. We’ll continue south to Cabo San Lucas, stopping at various places along the way, where we’ll provision and secure the boat for the last long leg of our voyage, the long windward passage up the west coast of Baja to our home port of Long Beach. 

The volcanic rocks in San Juanico. Fantastic colors and shapes

It was surprising to see this sparkling freshwater lagoon just a short walk from the beach in an otherwise torrid desert landscape.

Monday, May 23, 2011

San Evaristo

The Honcho sailed from Isla San Francisco on Wednesday, May 11th. We had planned to head directly for the village of San Evaristo on the coast of Baja, but at the last minute decided to detour to Isla Coyote, a tiny island that lies between Isla San Francisco and Isla San Jose, only about 2 miles away.  The wind was blowing out of the northwest about 15-18 knots and the only anchorage at Isla Coyote is an open  roadstead and completely exposed to the prevailing wind and seas.  With unfavorable conditions at Isla Coyote, we bypassed it and proceeded on to Bahia Amortajada, on the southern tip of Isla San Jose, only three or four miles further. Sailing in company with two other boats, Blue Rodeo & Swift Current, we came to anchor on the south side of the sand spit that makes the bay in about 15 feet of water.  We had heard about an interesting lagoon here and quickly jumped into Blue Rodeo’s dinghy and found the entrance to the lagoon, which was only about a foot deep so we lifted the engine and walked the boat through the pass and entered the lagoon.  Once inside the lagoon we motored up the estuary, which was teeming with fish and birds of many varieties.  After an hour or so, we returned to our boats and prepared to cross the Canal de San Jose to the village of San Evaristo.
Looking west from the lagoon on Isla San Jose across the channel toward the mainland of Baja and the Sierra de la Giganta mountains.
Wildlife in the lagoon, Isla San Jose
When we cleared the southern tip of Isla San Jose, the wind piped up to 20-22 knots with steep 4 foot seas. Punching into this, the Honcho could just make about 4 knots, with spray flying.  It was only about 7 miles to San Evaristo so we soldiered on, a bit dampish but enjoying the view of the white flecked sea.   Around 1600 we came to anchor in a snug cove just off the village of San Evaristo, well in the lee of some steep hills.

San Evaristo is typical of many fishing villages that dot the Baja coast, with a small tienda, beer ‘Collectivo’ (where you can buy beer), small water desalinization plant, and a small elementary school. All of which serve the twenty or so families living here as well as the salt farmers and rancheros who live in the surrounding area.  One day we walked over the hill behind the village and came to the salt ponds, a mile or so away. It was a sweaty walk on the dusty road under the blazing sun. On the way we shared the dirt road with wild burros and hardy Mexican cattle. Skittish at first, the burros eventually relaxed enough to pose for a couple of photos. Looking out over the salt pans, I saw a lone worker in the distance raking salt into piles. He looked miserable in the hot sun with his rake and vast piles of salt around him.
Salt ponds at San Evaristo
These burros darted into a thicket when we surprised them coming around a bend in the road. Once we passed by, they came back onto the road, watching us and following about 50 yards behind us.
We saw several of these critters browsing on the steep hillsides near where we anchored.

Cardon Cactus
It seems like cactus grows everywhere in Baja. The Cardon, one of the most noticeable, is a remarkable plant...or tree. It is thought to be the tallest cactus species in the world, reaching more that 60 feet high. Natives of the area use the fruit of the Cardon as a food source. It also is known to contain alkaloids, and is reputed to have psychotropic properties. We didn't try any, as food or drug. These cacti can apparently grow on bare rock because their roots provide a haven for certain bacteria and fungi that can extract nitrogen from the air and chemically break down rock to extract nutrients. Pretty cool stuff.

We spent a couple of days in tranquil San Evaristo, then headed north toward the green waters of a place called Agua Verde (Green Water). We'll see.
A calm day in the Sea of Cortez, northwest of Isla San Jose.