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.