Saturday, November 28, 2015

North - Aborted!

Rob, Deb, Bill, Scott, Gary and Tanya - Guaymas
 Well, we tried to go North.  We really did.  Even though people who’ve been sailing the Sea for years told us not to try at this time of year… It turns out they knew what they were talking about.

It started off so well…  After seeing Rob and Debra’s boat Avant safely put back in the water, and after having a final celebration, our happy group of Greybeard (Bill), Kialoa (Scott and Tanya) and Avant (Rob and Deb) finally split.  Kialoa, Greybeard and Sea Rover headed north, leaving Rob and Deb in Guyamas to finish putting together their “kit boat”.

Bill adjusting something on Greybeard en route to San Carlos
We had a great motor and sail from Guaymas to San Carlos.  The Sea of Cortez welcomed us back with a dolphin and whale show, just to remind us of what we missed over the summer.  After a pleasant afternoon getting the kinks out of the boat (ie, fixing the autopilot, learning the speed gauge wasn't working etc) we arrived in San Carlos (about 15nm north of Gyuamas) just in time for their afternoon blow and got to practice anchoring in tight spaces in 20 knots of wind.  Ah yes, I remember this Fun.  We spent the next day doing boat jobs (cleaning the hull, installing holders for our dingy paddles, sorting out a halyard issue, getting our speed gauge working).  We also met up with Cruising friends Phil and Deb on s/v Coastal Drifter, who were the first other Cruisers we met last year on our way down the coast – we waited out weather together in Port Angeles, Neah Bay, and met for the final time in Astoria.  It was great to catch up and to hear how their first year of Cruising had been.  They are an interesting couple as each year they take a couple of their grandkids sailing for the year with them.  Last year we met Savannah and Sierra, and this year we met Ethan.  He gets to sail to Tahiti with them – lucky kid!

Looking north from Bahia San Pedro
Capture the flag! Tanya and Gary at the top
The group split again the next day, with Kialoa and Sea Rover heading north, leaving Bill in San Carlos waiting for a weather window to cross the Sea.  We had an uneventful motor in calm seas to Bahia San Pedro, which is a lovely little bay about 15nm north of San Carlos.  We took advantage of the calm weather (the anchorage doesn’t have great protection from the N or S) and spent the next day exploring the sea caves outside of the bay, and hiking to the top of one of the mountains to get a view of the coastline.  After 90 minutes of picking our way up through cactus bushes and other equally prickly plants, we made it to the top and were rewarded with a spectacular sight.  You don’t get a sense of all the little indents and fingers along the coast when you are traveling at sea level!

Looking south from Bahia San Pedro
As the weather was still forecast to be calm, we headed out the next afternoon in 10 knots of breeze (from the north) and sailed up another 20 nm up the coast to anchor off a little village in Bahia Colorado.  Our guidebook didn’t have much to say about the bay, but they did show a picture of the bay filled with fish boats.  Usually this means it has some protection from the wind and seas.   As it turned out, it was protected from the wind, but definitely NOT the seas.  This turned out to be the worst anchorage we have ever stayed in!  The swell was horrendous.  The boat rocked back-and-forth, back-and-forth, back-and-forth, all night long. 
BBQing in worst anchorage ever! Still gotta eat.
Things that haven’t moved in 4500nm of travel were knocked loose that night.  For example, the picture over the bed leapt off the wall and tried to de-capitate me, the cutlery in the cutlery drawer spend the night banging to get out, the tools did their best to escape their cabinet (they finally broke free the next day – but that’s another story…).  We finally succumbed to sleeping on the floor crossways in the salon in an effort to rock WITH the waves instead of at right angles to the waves.  Needless to say we were gone by 5am (Kialoa only made it to 4am before they couldn’t take it anymore).

Casualty of the tools escaping while under sail

After our early departure, we headed out into what should have been reasonably calm conditions.  Should have been.  But weren’t.  Kialoa had already turned around and were headed south back to San Carlos by the time we were motoring out of the bay.  We forged ahead though, as Gary really wanted to get up to Tiburon.  We sailed our rhumb line close hauled in about 10 knots of wind for a couple of hours and made good time.  The seas were pretty lumpy, but not unmanageable.  Then, all of sudden the boat heeled over at an alarming angle (!) and we are doing 7.8 knots upwind!  Can anyone say ‘over-powered?’  The wind had jumped up to 15 knots and caught us off guard.  (This is when the tools in the cabinet finally made their break for it).  After reefing the boat and getting things more or less under control we took stock and realized all of a sudden the seas were a LOT bigger than they had been… But still we sailed on.  The wind increased to 16 knots and we reefed again.  The seas got bigger.  

We then started talking options.  We were still about 20 nm away from our destination and could have made it, but it would have been a hard sail.  And there was no guarantee of safe harbour once we got there.  I need access to internet for work on Saturdays and Mondays.  We were pretty confident we’d be able to get internet on Saturday, but given the weather we were seeing starting to set up (ie, a strong Norther being being stirred up by hurricane Sandra), we would have had to be somewhere safe by Saturday night.  Unfortunately the closest safe harbour would not have internet.  So, to ensure that I would be able to make my Monday morning conference calls over the internet, we turned around and started heading south for Santa Rosalia, 64 nm away.  We were going to cross the Sea of Cortez.

At first this seemed like a good decision.  The wind decreased a bit and we sailed along nicely on a beam reach.  Then the wind built, and the seas built, and built, and built.  While a beam reach is a really fast point of sail for us and the boat loves it, it was a really uncomfortable point of sail as the seas were smacking us squarely on the side.  The good news is that the piles of dust we had accumulated while sitting in Guyamas  got washed off, the bad news is that the dust was replaced by salt.  The next 6 hours were interesting as we braced against the violent, steep, choppy seas.  At one point I looked down as a blur went past the companionway.  It was Gary getting thrown from one side of the boat to the other while trying to make lunch.  Luckily he landed on the settee.   We were handling the conditions OK, but were both a little worried about what would happen once we got to the Baja side of the Sea, as conditions were forecast to be worse over there.  And Gary was feeling sea sick (believe it or not, I was actually OK).  As it turned out, the wind and seas calmed down significantly when we were 20 nm from the Baja shore.   Instead of galloping along at 7.5 knots, we started to do a sedate 4-5 knots with the wind and seas more at our back versus the side.  A much more comfortable ride.  It gave us a chance to get some rest (remember, none the night before) and eat some food… All good things. 
Keeping Sea Rover off the docks in Santa Rosalia

We pulled into Santa Rosalia at about 10pm after a very long 95 nm day of sailing.  Of course
Myrtle, our engine, decided to pull her “I don’t like to have water running through my body to cool me” trick when we turned her on just outside the breakwater, which meant we had no engine. Did I mention it is dark?  So, we had a few exciting and tense moments doing donuts outside the harbour with me trying to keep the boat level in the 4 foot swells while Gary was down below pulling off pipes and sucking out salt water with his mouth.  He finally got her to go (magician) and we made a dash into the harbor.  We docked at the marina, and collapsed in exhaustion.  I guess we’ve done our shakedown cruise this year.  We certainly felt shaken and stirred after that one.  And we now have a new list of repairs that need to be done...

We’ll spend the next week or so in Santa Rosalia doing boat jobs and working while we wait for the next weather window to head south.  The wind has already started and so we've had to use every dock line we own to keep our boat off from being squished on the dock.  Once the weather improves, we hope to rendezvous with our sailing buddies again.  Probably some time next week.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Heading North???? Really?

Well, who would have thought that come December we'd still be thinking about going north in the Sea of Cortez.  But its November 24th and that's exactly what we are doing.
The weather has been all messed up this year due to the strong El Nino and while hurricane season is usually over by now we've just watched Tropical storm Rick die out and now Tropical storm Sandra is spinning up, expecting to be a hurricane in the next few days.
While Sandra will be no Patricia (the strongest Hurricane ever recorded) which somehow managed to miss all the big Mexican coastal cities, Sandra will be something for us to watch.  Also, the lull from Rick and Sandra spinning up has made it unusually possible for us to get some Northing under our belt.  As such, north we go.  We hope to make it up to Tiberon, an island about 75 NM north of San Carlos but we'll have to see how the next few days go.  If we cant get any sailing in we might just stay put somewhere or head south or maybe west.  That's the beauty of our plans this season....  We have none.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Season Two Begins!

Sea Rover II gets a new bottom!!
Mid-September marked the beginning of Cruising Season Two for us in the Sea of Cortez.  Gary and our friend Rob on s/v Avant stuffed our Subaru Forester with boat crap and drove to Mexico with the intention of supervising work being done to both our boats, and to get a few boat projects done before the season began.  While it sounded like a good idea at the time, the reality ended up not meeting the expectations…   It turns out that the average temperature in mainland Mexico in mid-September (or at least in Guaymas, where the boat was hauled out) is about 40oC, with 100% humidity.  And did I mention it is still hurricane season then?  Gary and Rob survived one Tropical Depression, with 50+ knot winds and more rain than you can possibly imagine.  Gary spent most of the night going around the yard tightening the stands of all the boats around us, then went and slept in the car.  By then the boat was moving so much on the stands he was afraid to sleep aboard.  But, they survived, as did our boats!  After an unproductive week (for them) sweating and living in McDonalds and Burger King (for the air conditioning), they admitted defeat and came home.  Luckily, the Mexican worker bees fixing our bottom didn’t seem to mind the weather and got most of the job done.  As this wouldn’t have happened if Gary hadn’t been there to harass them, it was a good thing he made the trip.

After a quick trip home to arrange renting out our house, Gary was off to the boat again on October 18th.  He arrived in the evening and was in the water 36 hours later, after a flurry of activity. 
Sea Rover II going back into the water after her "makeover"
Happily, Sea Rover II was no worse for wear after her summer baking in the Mexican sun.  At least the heat took care of the little cockroach problem we developed at the end of last Cruising season!

Having made a 6 month commitment to work for the summer, I joined Gary on the boat on November 3rd.  I was shocked (and pleased!) at the condition of the boat – she was clean, organized, and most of the “put back into the water” boat jobs were done.  There were even flowers on board to welcome me home!   I promptly rewarded his hard work and efforts by catching a terrible cold, which I then shared with him.  Several whiny days later, I am now on the mend.  He is a still a few days behind.
Installing new flexible solar panels on the hard dodger

As neither of us has been particularly healthy the last 2 weeks, we are still in Guaymas.  Despite our crappy health, we’ve been slowly picking away at the boat jobs that need to be done (installing solar panels, working on sewing projects etc) and helping friends get their boat ready for launch. 

The weather has also “turned” in the last week and so we are back into the typical winter “Norther” pattern, where it blows like hell for 3 days, then there are 2-3 days of calm, and then it blows like hell again.  In the two weeks we’ve already weathered two of these, and are in the midst of the third.  Needless to say we won’t be going anywhere any time soon. 

On Saturday we had our first “boat lesson” of the year – always check the tides, even if you don’t think you need to.  You guessed it, we didn’t complete this simple task and ended up going aground on a small underwater knoll when the wind switched direction.  Apparently they have negative tides here…   Of course the “grounding” coincided with a crazy squall (some people are calling it a “Microburst”) that literally came out of nowhere.  One minute there was a stiff breeze out of the south, the next it was blowing 30+ knots consistently from the north.  Unfortunately we were aground broadside to the wind when it hit 46 knots (!!) [about 90km/hr], and so we got heeled waaaay over.  Although this sounds 

Street art from "Day of the Dead" parade
bad, it turned out to be a good thing as the wind actually heeled the boat over enough to push us off the knoll!  Luckily the whole event was over in a matter of minutes and no damage was done.  At least we know that our ground tackle can withstand 45 knots of wind, although I’d rather not put it to the test on a regular basis.   So, not unexpectedly, as this is an El Nino year, it looks like we are going to encounter some “weather” this year.  

Guaymas is a pretty great place to be “stuck” though.  We are currently anchored in the bay off the Marina Fonatur, where we can shower and use the internet.  Our car is parked at the marina, which has been convenient for provisioning with food and water (we can’t run our watermaker in the harbor – too mucky) and for making Home Depot runs.  The town itself is great – we’ve been serenaded daily by several high school marching bands on the promenade (the sound carries really well into the anchorage), and the street food is fantastic.  We can both eat our fill of tacos and ice cream for less than $8!  It is almost cheaper to eat out than to cook for ourselves.

Enjoying the pool at Marina Fonatur Guaymas
We’ve also been reunited with our main group of Cruising friends – Bill on Greybeard, Scott and Tanya on Kialoa, and Rob and Debra on Avant.  So, it has been a fun time. 

But, it is not all play… I’m still working for STEMCELL one day a week and so I’ve been spending time going through data and working out how best to hold conference calls.  This means I need access to the internet on a weekly basis, which will restrict what we do and where we go this year somewhat, but so far so good.  This is another reason to stay here – internet access is easy.

Sunset over Guyamas, from anchor

So, overall we are re-adjusting well to boat life.  We miss Charlotte, but I know she is happier at Fat Camp this year.  Hopefully my parents will survive having her for 6 months!  Fingers crossed.