Saturday, April 18, 2015

So, The Haul Out Didn't Quite Go As Planned....

Heading for the marina...we think

Oh Oh.... this isn't good
They say there are three kinds of sailors: those who have been aground, those who haven't been aground yet, and those who lie. On April 14th, 2015 we firmly moved from category number two to category number one.

We set off from the Fonatur marina on a beautiful, warm sunny morning - there were six of us on board: Gary and myself, Scott and Tanya from s/v Kialoa, and Jim and Tricia from s/v Falcon VII.

We were set to haul-out of the water at the dry storage yard in Guaymas at 10 am, the second boat of the day (our friend Bill on s/v Greybeard was ahead of us).  We transferred Scott and Tanya to Bill's boat, then drifted around the bay while waiting for him to get pulled out of the water.

Finally, at 9:40 am we got the OK from the marina staff to move into the marine slip ways for the haul out.

Guaymas harbour is known for being extremely shallow, which strikes fear into owners of large draft boats like ourselves (we draw 7 feet below waterline). To remove the stress of going into an unknown, very shallow harbour, Gary had helped another couple into the marina a few days before. He took his handheld GPS and plotted a course, as well as used our handheld depth sounder to determine the depth of the channel leading into the marine ways (there are no buoys marking the channel, this being Mexico).  As he read 10 feet all the way in, we were feeling confident that we knew where we were going and all would go smoothly. Famous last words.

As we headed towards the slip way, the guys from the marina talked us in...'go left... now a bit to your right...'. In addition to these instructions, we were supposed to make sure we lined the slip way up with an old house on the shore behind us. As we were getting close to the docks, I looked behind and realized we'd drifted just a tad to the right. As I began to tell Gary to turn to the left...Thump. Bump. Yup, we were aground.


Murray from s/v Ponga helping us to kedge off the reef...
 Did we mention it was a falling tide??

We sprang into action.

Plan A: Gary tried to reverse off the reef using both the engine and the bow thruster. No luck.

Plan B: We radio'd the boat set to haul out after us (s/v Ponga from Victoria, with Marty and Murray on board) and asked if they'd be willing to try to tow us off. They agreed. We threw them a line and with both engines pinned, we tried to pull us off. Again, no luck.

...Then trying to back off the reef...

Plan C: We attached one of our anchors (which was of course nicely packed away in our back lazarette) to a line on a halyard (which we had to re-run up the mast as we'd pulled all of our lines before leaving the Fonatur...lessons for next year - don't pack everything away on the boat until you are out of the water!). Murray from Ponga took the anchor and dropped it several hundred feet off our port side. We then reeled in the line and tried to heel the boat over enough to slide us off the reef. No luck.

... with some help from the Mexican Navy... No luck.
Plan D: Unknown to us, the marina guys had called in the Mexican Navy to give us a hand. The next thing we knew, a large panga with two Navy guys showed up. They picked up Andre and Roberto from the marina (who both speak perfect English, thank god) and came out to help. They attached a line to our back cleat and revved their 90 horsepower engine. Despite creating a lot of impressive wash in the water, we didn't even budge.

Plan E: Wait until high tide and float off the reef.

We lowered our dingy into the water and Gary rowed Jim and Tricia to shore. They were along to help, but we didn't want them to have to wait around for 6 hours while the boat heeled over and came back up again. Overall the day was quite instructive for them as they learned where NOT to go and what NOT to do.

Low tide
Low tide was at 1:20 pm. Happily we only ended up on a 14 degree angle. Apparently the last boat that had gone aground a few days earlier (another BCA boat, s/v Swerver II) heeled over to 45 degrees. So we felt pretty lucky.  We were also happy that the afternoon wind waves weren't that big and so we weren't bounced up and down on the bottom. We just rested sedately on our side and waited to float again.

A look says a thousand words

View of the travel lift from our grounded boat at low tide. So close, yet so far...  we were just 10 feet too far to the right!! 

Sea Rover safely in the marine ways after her ordeal
Finally, at 4:10 pm the reef decided it had had enough of us and let us go. Thankfully we were in the cockpit discussing what we would do when we drifted free and so we were quickly able to turn on the engine and get underway (before we were pushed over to the other side of the channel by the wind and ran aground again). We turned the boat around, got in touch with the marina guys and told them we were coming into the dock. Luckily they were on the dock waiting for us, as the strong cross wind made for a very tricky entry into the marine ways. More hands on deck would have been useful, but we got the lines to the guys and they pulled us in to safety.

As it was too late in the day to haul us out, we stayed in the marine ways overnight. We were then hauled out first thing the next morning (ahead of s/v Kialoa, who were scheduled to be the first boat of the day - sorry Scott and Tanya) without incident.

No damage done, except to our egos. Phew.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter in Santa Rosalia

Church designed by Gustav Eiffel (of the tower fame)
Santa Rosalia is an old mining town about midway up the east coast of the Baja peninsula. It is our last stop on the Baja side before we head over to Guaymus to haul the boat out for the summer. The copper mine here operated for about 150 years before shutting down in the mid 1980's. The mining history here is quite rich, as much of the infrastructure is still standing (and, it being Mexico) accessible.

Rock crusher in the processing plant

We toured the mining museum (which is still recovering from losing most of it's roof in Hurricane Odile in September), then walked through the ruins of the old smelting plant. Although definitely a walking safety hazard, you can still get up to the second floor and look around. The old furnaces still stand, as do some of the turbines etc. We had fun trying to figure out the processing process.

The town itself was apparently constructed from BC timber and much of it is still standing. It is certainly the only place we've seen in Mexico where the houses are made of wood. Interestingly, they've made most of the new stucco construction look like wood to match. So, kind of a neat town.

It is definitely NOT a tourist destination. The only gringos here are the Cruisers.

Jesus at the beginning of the procession

We'd been told by other Cruisers that the Easter celebrations on Good Friday were not to be missed. We understood that there would be a parade and that it was quite elaborate. This turned out to be an understatement. Ten Cruisers lined up with about 1000 locals to watch (and participate) in the proceedings.

The judgement of Jesus
Leading Jesus to his fate
Following the crowd 
It started off by Jesus and the three thieves being dragged into the square by several soldiers, while the 'townspeople' watched.

Jesus was then de-robed, whipped, re-robed and dragged down the street, followed by the crowd (us included). The procession proceeded through the town, stopping every couple of blocks so the next part of the story could be played out (all 12 stations). The crowd, full of families, babies, grandmothers, dogs, teenagers etc, all sang between the different acts of the re-enactment as they walked along. This went on for 2 hours while the thousand of us wound our way through town and up the hill to the big cross that overlooks the city. Then, yup, you guessed it, Jesus got nailed (well, tied) to the cross.
The final scene of the re-enactument

 I'm not sure we'd participate in something like this again, but we are certainly glad we did. I gather this is a pretty common Catholic tradition, but it was amazing to see the whole town participate. Quite an experience

Crews of Falcon VII, Avant, Kialoa and Sea Rover II (all BCA members)

The next few days were filled with boat projects, as it is time to start preparing the boat for it's 6 month 'vacation' on the hard in the blistering Mexican summer sunshine. We've been washing canvas, rinsing the boat, oiling all the woodwork, sorting through and cleaning all the cabinets and cupboards. Fun fun.

Mmmmmm, deep fried bacon-wrapped hotdog... 

In between all our boat chores, we did find time to eat some ice cream and try our first deep fried bacon-wrapped hot dog though...mmmmm. Definitely a treat not to be missed.

We'd like to wish everyone a Happy Easter. We will be celebrating with a potluck dinner with all the other Cruisers at the dock tonight, but we'll be thinking of you all.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Heading Further North

Caleta San Juanico
After a slow sail from Isla Coronado, we spent three days in lovely Caleta San Juanico.  This quickly became one of our favourite stops on the trip north. We arrived just before dark, but managed to snag an ideal anchor spot between several rock reefs. At least, it was ideal for the first two days... until a strong west wind threatened to push us into one of the reefs - in the middle of the night. After both lying awake for several hours waiting to hear the crunch of our rudder on the rocks, we decided to up-anchor and move to a deeper, less rock-strewn spot. Still, it was nice while it lasted.

Gary's Birthday dinner - thanks Bill and Phil!

We spent our days snorkeling (which unfortunately wasn't great as the visibility in the water was poor), hiking, and walking the wonderful beaches.

Our stay here coincided with Gary's birthday. After inviting several other Cruisers to help us celebrate, Bill and Phil (both single-handers) took it upon themselves to catch the birthday dinner. Miraculously, they each managed to spear a large parrot fish, so we ate like kings. Gary BBQ'd it with garlic and butter...mmmmm.

Gary's Birthday dinner
He even got a cake...with icing
I even managed to bake a cake (from a box) and make icing (from scratch). For those of you who don't know me well, I don't bake. So, this was a pretty big deal. It was even edible (or at least our guests had no trouble gobbling it up - but then again they are Cruisers...).

Leaving our mark at the Cruisers shrine in San Juanico
Before leaving, we added our contribution to the famous "Cruisers shrine". Basically each visiting boat hangs something or places something under one of the small trees on the beach. Some of the displays are quite elaborate (like the huge carving made in the hillside above the tree - no idea how the people got up there to do the carving). We found things from several other Blue Water Cruising boats, so it was kind of fun to poke around the area. We chose to carve our boat name into a small piece of sandstone and placed it on the ground near the tree. Guess we'll see if we can find it next year.
Heading north early...Sunrise at Punta Pulpito

We reluctantly left San Juanico and had a very boisterous up-wind sail to an anchorage 8 miles north called Punta Pulpito. We had pretty consistent 18 knot winds directly on the nose, so we bashed our way north with a reef in the main and genoa. Not the most comfortable sail of the year, but it certainly was fast!

From looking back at pictures from our sea kayaking trip 13 years ago, we determined that Punta Pulpito was one of our stops, as was Caleta San Juanico. It was certainly different to see it from the perspective of the sailboat this time.

Whale shark (dark lump) and campers - Playa Coyote
After a quick overnight stop, we left at sunrise for a 50 nautical mile day up to Playa Coyote in Bahia Conception. We had pretty much decided to by-pass Bahia Conception this trip as other Cruisers had warned us it would be extremely busy. The week after Easter is a school holiday in Mexico (Semana Santa) and so many families (ie, thousands) descend on the beaches in Bahia Conception for their once a year camping experience. We weren't sure we wanted to experience that after being in such remote places for so long, but then our friends Rob and Deb on s/v Avant told us there were whale sharks in the bay! That clinched it for us (well, for me anyway).

Following a whale shark on the SUP
As it turned out, Bahia Conception was also a highlight of the trip north. When we arrived the beach at Playa Coyote was only about half full of campers, but it was amazing to watch it fill up with tents over the next few days.

The Mexicans take car camping to a whole new level. Each campsite housed several extended families, each of which had tents with full kitchens, eating tents, sleeping tents, port-a-pottie tents etc. Some families had set up hammocks in the palm trees, and most had water toys of some variety. One night they had an impromptu disco on the beach. While we were there, a small tienda (store) popped up on the beach, along with a hot dog stand and beer tent. And the ice cream truck drove by on a regular basis. Although this sounds kind of awful when you try to describe it, it was actually really interesting to watch. It was a total family atmosphere and so the vibe was really good. No one was overly rowdy, everyone just wanted to visit with their extended family and have fun.

Luckily for us, all the activity in the bay didn't affect the whale sharks, at least for the first day and half we were there. We were able to quietly follow them on the paddleboard while they cruised the shoreline. It was pretty amazing to see them just swimming around our boat.

Another unexpected benefit of going into Bahia Conception was that the water temperature was 25oC. Definitely the warmest water we've seen in Mexico. You could easily swim without a wetsuit. We took advantage of this and cleaned the bottom of the hull (Gary) and removed the tar that had been stuck to the side of Sea Rover since California (me). It was nice to spend a few hours in the water.

Mulege - oasis in the middle of the desert
Another highlight of trip to Bahia Conception was spending a day in the tiny town of Mulege.  Mulege is a couple of miles up the Rio (river) Santa Rosalia and so the valley is absolutely filled with palm trees. It is always weird (but welcome) to see palm trees in the middle of the desert.

Our group of Cruisers (5 boats) had made friends with one of the Mexican families camping on the beach and so the father Ceasar) very kindly drove us into town. We spent the afternoon exploring, enjoying tasty fish tacos and visiting the 250 year old mission.  We had an "it's Mexico" experience on the way
250 year old mission in Mulege
home as Ceasar had arranged for someone to take us back to the campsite. Of course when we showed up at the rendezvous spot the guy wasn't ready... then he was busy... then he couldn't do it at all, but he'd arranged for someone else to take us back (or at least this is what we think they were telling us!). After about an hour of waiting, another guy did show up to take us back. But of course the price was 50% higher than what Ceasar had initially negotiated for us.  But, he got us back to the boats in one piece (he drove like a maniac) so we can't really complain.

Although we loved Bahia Conception, the lure of strong south winds convinced us to head further north to our final destination on the Baja side of the Sea of Cortez for this season. We left in the company of another Blue Water Cruising boat, our friends Jim and Tricia from Falcon VII, and had our best sail of the year - a 9 hour spinnaker run almost all the way to Santa Rosalia. Truly fantastic!  We plan to spend Easter weekend in Santa Rosalia before heading across the Sea to our final final destination of Guaymus, where we will haul the boat out of the water for the summer.  More to come!

Chasing down s/v Falcon VII... Best sail of the year - a 9 hour spinnaker run!!