Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Cabo San Lucas to La Cruz

Three days in Cabo are more than enough, so Finisterra cleared the breakwater of that picturesque port at 10:00am on January 23rd, bound for La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. There was a cruise ship anchored just outside the harbor so the bay was thick with tour boats, paragliders, jetskiers, fishing boats and pangas loaded with vacationers. We picked our way through the crowd and it wasn't long before we were sailing in clear air. The wind, however, stayed light and we began to motorsail again.
A cruising boat struggles to keep his spinnaker full on a light air Bahia Banderas morning.

La Cruz is located on the north shore of Bahia Banderas, about 290 miles southeast from Cabo San Lucas. I plotted a course that would take us 20 miles south of the Islas Tres Marias and then through the channel between Punta de Mita and Islas Tres Marietas, which mark the entrance to Bahia Banderas.
Pretty little trawler in the anchorage at La Cruz.

For the next 30 hours we motorsailed over a glassy sea with winds never getting above five knots or so. With these conditions it is easy to see all the sea life that abounds in this region and we saw so many whales that we stopped counting them and focused more on avoiding running into them. Birds were plentiful and we were entertained by the incredible diving of the blue-footed booby's that fed on small fish that were stirred up as the boat passed by. A bird would dive into the water and swim after its prey under water, usually coming up with a fish dangling from its beak. This is also frigate bird country and we were never without them soaring overhead. At night the boobys and frigates often try to land on the boat. They can wreak havoc on masthead instruments and antennas so we do all we can to keep them off the mast. We had one booby hitch a ride with us for a short while but it didn't harm our masthead gear. I've found that the best way to keep them off at night is to have a powerful flashlight ready and shine it at the bird just as it makes its final approach to the masthead. During the daytime there is little you can do to keep them off.
An overloaded Freeport 36. If you truly need to carry this much stuff, you may want to consider a bigger boat.

Here is another F36 in the same anchorage. Which would you rather sail?

About thirty miles out of Bahia Banderas the wind turned around and blew hard straight out of the east so we found ourselves punching into a nasty chop with spray flying over the dodger until we reached the mouth of the bay at 0130 the next morning. Once through the pass we turned northward and anchored just off the village of Punta Mita. It was about 0300 by the time we got the hook down and the boat secured.

The next morning we lazed around on the boat for awhile, then sailed the last nine miles to the anchorage outside of La Cruz, arriving around 1500 in the afternoon. There were 46 boats anchored there when we arrived. We anchored on the southwest side of the group, a couple hundred yards from the nearest boat,  then went ashore where we met friends for drinks and dinner at the famous "Tacos in the Street" restaurant. Naturally just after we got our anchor down, another boat arrived and decided the best thing to do was anchor as close as possible to us in spite of all the open water all around us. Thus began our stay in beautiful La Cruz.

The voyage from Long Beach to La Cruz is for all intents, the first leg of our journey. To summarize it, we sailed just over 1,400 miles, traveled from a temperate to a tropical latitude and traversed two time zones. It took a total of 23 days, and we made stops at Newport Beach, Dana Point, San Diego,  Ensenada, Turtle Bay, Cabo, and Punta de Mita. During that time we had excellent weather, though the winds were lighter than we would have liked. The boat, aside from a balky refrigeration system performed flawlessly.

Here in La Cruz we'll make the decision whether to hurry south to Panama by May, or spend another season cruising in Mexican waters.

Reunion at Ana Banana's in La Cruz. The crews of Scout, Finisterra, Hotel California and Sirena share a table.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cabo is back!

The harbor in Cabo is choked with boats of all types, except cruising sailboats.

The dark hulled 'Atessa'  is the big boat in the harbor right now.

Four years ago we sailed the Honcho into the harbor at Cabo San Lucas and discovered that the place was empty. It had been hit hard by the recession in the USA and at the time I estimated that 70 percent of the slips in the harbor were empty. The bars and restaurants that I had frequented in the past were closed or barely hanging on, and the people I talked to bemoaned the bad economy and lack of jobs.

That was then. In the wee hours of Monday, January 20th, 2014 we entered the harbor once again and were presented with an entirely different situation. The place is packed with sportfishermen, day boats, party boats, dinner cruise boats, luxury yachts from around the world and a zillion pangas. I think we got the last available forty foot slip in the harbor. It was heartening to see the town bounce back from what was a devastating recession here. Of course we were not pleased with the prices for a meal around the waterfront were the tourists go, but overall, it's great to see the economy in this part of Mexico rebound.

The last time we were here, a slip for a 35' boat cost about $125.00 per night. This time we put the 42 foot Finisterra in a slip for $79.00 per night. Still not cheap, but acceptable for a couple of nights. There has been quite an uproar recently in the US about a recent crackdown by Mexican authorities on foreign boats that are temporarily in the country. I won't go into the details of it because they are available on 'Lectronic Latitude, but basically, some boats that didn't have all their paperwork in order, and some that did, were impounded by AGACE, Mexico's rough approximation of our IRS, until the paperwork is straightened out or taxes paid. The problem has been with boats that have all the proper documentation but because mistakes on the part of AGACE, and due in part to foreign owners not having all the documents available at the time AGACE inspected their boats, the boats were impounded. I noticed several boats in the marina with "Embargo" notices taped to them, so this is a real and serious issue. Before leaving California and upon checking Finisterra into Mexico, we made very certain that we had all the paperwork and understood the new rules and so as far as I know, we're in good standing with AGACE. In the US, this controversy has already resulted in the cancellation of at least on race to Cabo and I know of several boats that are sitting out this cruising season in California because of the controversy. All the Mexican officials I've spoken to have downplayed the situation, saying the inspections were not well conducted and that AGACE will handle things better in the future.

Enough about embargoes and officials. We've been enjoying wandering around the bustling town, dining on fabulous cuisine in high end restaurants, and equally fabulous meals in smaller places outside the tourist areas.
We checked out the beach and the new cultural pavilion downtown and marveled at the vast number of fish being caught in the local waters.
The barrels are full of fish parts. Pelicans and gulls live like kings around here.

While here I checked all the systems aboard the boat. The only issue we had on the trip south was the refrigeration system. It stopped working in Ensenada, then mysteriously came back from the dead a couple of days later.  It's working now so I'll wait until we get to La Cruz before digging into the system. We also thoroughly washed the boat which had acquired a thick layer of gritty dust in Ensenada, the result of a Santa Ana wind that blew hard the day before we departed.

A remarkable bird, the pelican...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Ensenada to Cabo San Lucas

We had a very enjoyable three days in Ensenada, and by the 16th we were ready to continue south.  So Finisterra sailed at 1030 that morning under a beautiful clear sky and a light northwesterly breeze. Our course took us out of Bahia De Todos Santos by way of the channel between Punta Banda and Isla Todos Santos. Once out of the bay we bore off toward our next destination, Turtle Bay, which lies about 300 nautical miles down the coast of the Baja peninsula. About that time the wind fell to almost zero and we rolled up the jib and started motorsailing under the main alone. As it turned out, we had less than ten knots of breeze out of the northwest almost all the way to Turtle Bay so we ended up motorsailing the entire distance except for a few miles when the wind backed or veered enough for us to sail, which wasn't often.

We entered Turtle Bay just after sunup on January 18th and anchored a couple hundred yards from the rickety old pier in front of the village. There were no other sailboats in the bay except for a couple of derelicts anchored off in the distance. In the past we've always anchored and Enrique, the local fuel seller would bring diesel out in his specially equipped panga. But this time he told us to bring the boat up to the pier, where they have cobbled together a couple of floats to make a rudimentary fuel dock. We took on 35 gallons of diesel and gave the attendant a thirty peso tip. The poor guy nearly fell off the dock when he realized I didn't want any change back. The people in Turtle Bay don't have much, and thirty pesos, about three bucks, is a nice spiff.
A beautiful sunset every evening

While at anchor I was able to download some weather data and the forecast was for more light air for the next few days, so we didn't waste any time in Turtle Bay and by 1030 we were headed out of the bay toward Bahia Santa Maria, about 240 miles down the coast. The wind remained very light and consistent out of the northwest so we continued under power. The sea temperature rose rapidly to 68 degrees, making the nights reasonably warm. Weather in this region can be cold and stormy as easily as warm and sunny, so, remembering how we froze on the passage north through these waters three years ago, we brought plenty of heavy cold weather gear and I was grateful that we never had to use any of it. With seven knots of wind coming straight up the tailpipe on a boat moving at seven knots, the apparent wind is zero, so even though the daytime temperatures were in the sixties, we were quite comfortable.

Finisterra's cockpit. On the left are the Lifesling and MOM unit. The bag on the stern rail holds fishing gear. The GPS is mounted on a swivel so it can be seen from anywhere in the cockpit. Notice that the compass cover is closed. We almost never use it anymore. All of our navigation tools are set up for true rather than magnetic directions.

The port side of the cockpit carries the outboard motor and hoist, GPS and Sirius XM radio antenna. Notice two rods mounted on the stern. Lisa rigged one with a cedar plug and the other with a pink & white. Off Mag Bay we sailed through a school of yellowfin tuna and both reels lit up almost simultaneously. We caught two little yellowfin, about 12 pounds each. We kept one and released the other. 

Watches on this passage, like the last one, consisted mainly of relaxing in the cockpit, snacking, writing up the log, reading, watching beautiful sunsets, stargazing on night watches, and then watching the sun come up.
Off watch, we would sleep, read, relax, repeat.

Finisterra was off the entrance to Bahia Santa Maria at 1900 on January 19th. We had planned to anchor in the bay for a day or two, but with the weather so fine we decided to continue south toward Cabo San Lucas instead. Later that night the wind finally arrived and we sailed through the night on a broad reach. It didn't last, though, and by morning we were motorsailing again.
A straight wake on a sea of tranquility.

We passed Cabo Falso around 2200 on January 20th and were tucked into a slip in Marina Cabo San Lucas by midnight, thus completing what was by far the most pleasant passage down the Baja coast I've ever done.

The day before we left Ensenada the refrigerator compressor stopped working. Faced with the prospect of losing all our frozen food, we quickly packed the freezer with ice. Worse than losing our food, we were also in danger of having to drink warm beer and wine. Not acceptable. Fortunately, the day after we left the compressor started working again. I'm not sure why it stopped or why it started again so I'll dig into it after we arrive in La Cruz.

I have Nobeltec navigation software on my laptop and have used it for years as my primary navigation tool. On this trip we decided to try out Inav-X on our Ipads. It is vastly superior to the Nobeltec and the charts loaded into the Garmin GPS. I never even opened the laptop.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Leaving Ensenada

Notice the retractable bowsprit on this classic woodie.

Yesterday we traveled to the wine country in the Guadalupe Valley. I won't go into the details of each winery we visited but one that stood out was Adobe Guadalupe. The architecture of the buildings is distinctive as are their wines, and the tour was informative and entertaining. Another unique winery was JC Bravo. This is a small place, still under construction, but they are producing a red and a white that were quite good. At Bravo, wine is made the old fashioned way, with dry farmed grapes and old style equipment. Needless to say, we returned to the boat loaded down with a variety of interesting wines.

We decided to stay in Ensenada one more day so I had time to wander around the marina and look at some boats. This time of year is a slow season for the marina. Most of the boats that migrate south from the US and Canada to cruise in Mexico have come and gone, and it's not yet the season for northbound boats to arrive. So most of the boats here are more or less permanent. Or they are like Finisterra, getting a late start on the cruising season in Mexico. As I wandered the docks I noticed that cruising boats seem to be acquiring more and more gear: Solar panels, wind generators, various antennas, dinghy davits and racks, etc.  Below are some photos to illustrate what I mean.

This pretty little cruiser is overloaded with steel-work and stuff. I would not like to be caught out in a blow on this boat, which is an otherwise seaworthy vessel. Notice that she's down by the stern and has a pronounced list to port.

Nereida, Jeanne Socrates' boat was on our gangway and looks pretty good for a boat that has recently been around the world non-stop.

At the far end of the marina I spotted a MacGregor 65. It had been heavily modified for cruising, but I question whether it would ever be a good cruising  boat regardless of what equipment is added to it. M65's are very quick boats downwind but they are not well suited for cruising because they don't have the load carrying capability or structural strength for the work of a 65 foot cruising yacht. Of course M65's have been cruised successfully but I'd wager that their owners kept the heavy cruising toys to a minimum.

Too much stuff on this M65? Notice that it's down by the stern and listing to starboard.

I paid careful attention to the weight and location of all the equipment, supplies and provisions we put aboard Finisterra. Still, fully loaded she is down by the stern about an inch and lists to starboard about half a degree. But her decks are relatively uncluttered and she's easy to move around on, and her sailing qualities haven't been compromised too much by a lot of steel-work and extra weight above the deck.

We have a nice weather window opening up so we're leaving Ensenada tomorrow, headed for Turtle Bay. If sailing conditions  remain good we'll continue on to Bahia Santa Maria, or Los Cabos.

Monday, January 13, 2014

San Diego to Ensenada

We were in San Diego for six days, mostly socializing with friends, provisioning and doing a few minor projects on the boat. We were graciously hosted by our friends at Southwestern Yacht Club for four days, then we moved over to San Diego YC. On Sunday, January 12th, we departed SDYC at 0645 with our good friends Tom and Mary Ellen aboard for what turned out to be a quick ride to Ensenada. 

The fog was thick as we motored slowly down the channel toward open water. By 1000 it was beginning to lift a bit and a very light breeze sprang up out of the northwest. A bit before noon we crossed the border into Mexico and hoisted the Mexican flag. Shortly after that we were approached by a Mexican patrol boat and ordered to heave to. With all of the controversy over foreign boats in Mexican waters, we didn't know quite what to expect as we drew alongside the dangerous looking patrol boat, which was manned by ten or twelve well armed sailors and immigration officers. They ordered us to present our papers and after a quick review of them, they handed them back and wished us a good voyage as we pulled away from their boat. It is my policy to be friendly and cooperative with the Mexican authorities and it turned out to be a very friendly encounter on all sides. 

It stayed fairly cold all day. The wind began to build in the afternoon and by 1400 it was around 20 knots and coming straight over the transom as we passed the big LNG terminal on the northwest corner of Todos Santos Bay. We had unrolled the jib earlier to help steady the boat in the light air and lumpy swells, and with the knotmeter hitting 10's we sailed dead downwind the last few miles under the jib alone toward the harbor mouth, which we entered a few minutes after 1500.  Finisterra was secured to her berth in Cruiseport Marina a short while later and by 1600 we were enjoying a cold beverage in the cabin. 

That evening Tom's friend, Juan Hussong drove us to his restaurant, Sano's, which overlooks the bay near the Coral Hotel and Marina. There we had a splendid steak dinner and enjoyed Juan's stories of his life as a fisherman, boatbuilder and restauranteur. 

The next morning we went to the Port Captain's office and officially entered the beautiful country of Mexico. By coincidence, one of the officers who had been on the patrol boat the day before came into the office and greeted us with a friendly smile. Once all the paperwork was done, passports stamped, fishing licenses and import permit secured, it was lunchtime and we walked a few blocks to the Mahi Mahi restaurant for tacos and beer. After lunch we said goodbye to Tom and Mary Ellen, who had to catch a bus back to San Diego, and walked back to the boat, stopping along the way at the Telcel store to set up our Mexican phones and internet access. 

It turned out to be a beautiful, balmy afternoon. We washed down the boat, took long luxurious showers and, with sundowners in hand, walked the docks in the marina checking out the boats. Many were unfamiliar, but some we knew from the last time we were here. One interesting boat was Nereida, the boat that Jeanne Socrates recently sailed nonstop around the world. 

Tomorrow we're headed inland to do some wine tasting in the Guadalupe Valley. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Long Beach to San Diego

Sunset in Dana Point.

The day finally arrived when we gave up our much coveted berth in Alamitos Bay and began our journey south to warmer climes and new adventures. January 3rd, the day of our departure, dawned cold, damp and foggy and we felt our way out of the harbor using GPS and Radar because visibility was down to about 150 feet. By 1100 it began to burn off as we motored down the coast to Newport Beach in zero wind. By the time we tied up at the guest dock at American Legion YC, it was sunny and beginning to warm up nicely. We spent a couple of days there, finishing up a few little projects on the boat but mostly socializing with friends. On the 5th, we departed from Newport Beach under balmy skies and, yet again, no wind. In about three hours we had the hook down in the west basin at Dana Point Harbor.

Gray whale headed south off Point Loma.

Off Camp Pendleton the Ospreys were at work

Sunrise off San Clemente. 

We departed Dana Point at 0530 on January 6th and after a pleasant sail in very light air, arrived at Southwestern YC in San Diego harbor at 1500.  On the way we spotted some Humpback whales about a quarter mile off the starboard bow, and a few minutes later a couple of Grays forty yards off the port beam.
We'll stay here in San Diego a few days to socialize with friends and make final preparations for Mexico