Monday, November 28, 2016

Land and Sea

Steinbeck Canyon
The Crew of Sea Rover II have had a few adventures this last week.  Last year when we were in Puerto Escondido in December, we hiked a bit of the Steinbeck Canyon, which is a lovely slot canyon up in the Giganta mountain range about two miles from the marina.  The canyon has beautiful rock formations and is full of fresh water pools in the fall after the summer rains.  After last year’s hike, we talked about how neat it would be to hike further into the canyon and spend the night.  So, this year we brought our tent and some camping gear with the intention of doing just that!

Rock wall; end of the line for most hikers... but not us!
Tanya and Jay from s/v Kialoa joined Gary and I on our “land” adventure up the canyon.  We left the boats tied up to mooring balls in Escondido and left the dinghy locked to the dock.  We took minimal gear (tent, sleeping bags, thermarests, a few clothes - Tanya brought a pillow!) and Jay carried most of the food (he’s young and strong).  It used to be a relatively easy hike all the way up the canyon, but a hurricane a few years ago caused a change in the boulder configuration such that some climbing moves are required to get past the rocks a mile or so up the canyon.  

Sketchy move up the rock wall - there is a 15 foot drop below

This is where I (and most other people who do the hike) stopped last year, while the others hiked/climbed on.  This year Gary was determined to get me up there!  With a lot of help and coaxing from Gary and Jay (both mountain goats), Tanya and I completed the 4 “sketchy” sections required to move higher up the canyon.  Tanya had made the moves last year, but was still happy for the extra support again this year.  Thanks Jay and Gary!

Pool just above camp
The efforts were worth it.  As there hasn’t been as much rain this year, the pools weren’t nearly as full of water.  As such, most of the pools started just above the “sketchy” section.  We stopped to dunk our heads in the water and have a quick lunch, then continued up the canyon. 
Gary lounging in camp with Tanya's pillow
We found a nice flat area with some palm trees about an hours’ hike up the canyon, and set up camp for the night.  Tanya and Jay continued hiking (and were eventually turned around by a water chute, although Jay really wanted to climb it but was worried about getting his camera wet), while Gary and I lounged in camp and enjoyed the surroundings.

Humming birds, yellow butterflies and frogs.  Upon their return we played cards by headlamp, then made a campfire and ate all the food Jay had hauled up (the makings for quesedillas, chocolate, fruit etc).  It was a feast!  We talked long into the night then went to sleep under the bright moon.

Stick bug
We didn’t see any wild animals, but the place was crawling (literally) with daddy long leg spiders.  Tanya had to remove 8 spiders from her tent before she could go to sleep as she’d accidently left the tent flap open.  Oops. 
Our only other visitor was a stick bug, which climbed up Jay’s arm, then realizing he’d made a mistake promptly turned himself into a stick!

We enjoyed swims in several of the pools on the way down, and got through the “sketchy” areas again with Gary and Jay’s help.  
Tanya and I avoided the worst of the “sketchy” climbing moves by climbing down a small waterfall and swimming across one of the pools instead.  Much easier and less stressful for all involved!  The day was topped off by a stop at for ice cream on the long walk back to the marina.

We left Puerto Escondido the next day and sailed down to Isla San Francisco, one of our favourite spots.  While we were there, we put together my new Feathercraft folding kayak.  After an intense hour of figuring out how it went together, I was paddling around the bay. 

I had so much fun, I decided to “go for a paddle”, and proceeded to paddle around the island.  I’m guessing it is 5 or 6nm around, but I’m not exactly sure – it took 2 hours anyway.  It turned out to be a long paddle, mostly upwind, and then downwind in choppy seas.  But, it was a good test of the kayak – it performed really well and I am pleased.

We left early the next morning (ie, 4am) to sail to Ensenada del Candeleros on Isla Partida, the island close to La Paz.  We spent the day snorkeling the reef and cleaning the bottom of the boat, then left the anchorage at 11pm to sail to La Paz.  We were hoping to spend the entire night in the anchorage, but a Coromuel blew in (nasty nighttime west winds that cause huge waves to be pushed into all the bays in the Islands) and we literally got bounced out of bed.  We had a quick sail down to La Paz even though there was only 5-7 knots of wind and we were double reefed!  We couldn’t seem to slow the boat down.  She even sailed downwind in less than 4 knots of wind, which is very difficult for us to do under normal conditions.  Crazy sail!  Anyway, we arrived at the La Paz channel mouth at 4:15am and decided there was enough light to enter.  We anchored at 5:15am and then got some much needed sleep before I had to “go to work”. 

We’ll be here for the next week doing some boat projects and catching up with friends, and then will look for a weather window to cross over to the mainland side.  Puerto Vallarta, here we come!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Slow Learners

You may recall that last year we had a particularly “sporty” sail across the Sea of Cortez.  We were trying to go north up to the island of Tiburon, but were turned back by strong NW winds and large seas.  Instead of going back to San Carlos or Guaymas, where we would have had safe harbour, we decided to cross over to Santa Rosalia on the Baja side instead.  Despite thinking we were far enough north to have a good wind angle, we ended up sailing a close reach with large, beam-to seas regularly spraying through the cockpit for the entire ride.  Gary was seasick, I was fine (I believe in seasick med, he is skeptical).  16 hours and many frayed nerves later, we were safely moored to the dock.  There was a lesson in there somewhere. 

This year we vowed to “do things right”.  But, of course, we wanted to sail (both of us, not just Gary this time).  We looked at the weather and there was a moderate norther starting last Thursday.  We looked at the wind direction and reasoned that if we sailed from Guaymas down to the Loreto area we should have  a great downwind, broad reach sail.  In theory, the seas would be behind, or at least on the back quarter.  We discussed our plan with other sailors at the Guyamas Fonatur marina, and the ones that actually sail their boats agreed all indicators pointed to a good, fast downwind run. 

With that in mind, we left on Thursday afternoon.  Shortly before hauling anchor, the wind cranked up to 17 knots from the west.  Hmmm, we had so sail due west to get out of the harbour, but that should be OK, right?  We’d bet to turn to the S/SW direction once we cleared the point.  We continued on.  Once outside the harbour buoys, we hoisted our sails and were off.  The seas were moderate (still protected by the point, remember) and we had a screaming sail in a SE direction.  Not exactly the direction we wanted to go, but no matter.  We’d correct that once we got outside the protection of the point.  Well, we passed the point and our pleasant sail turned into a survival exercise!  The waves quickly built to 4-5 feet (with about a 4 second period – yikes!) and the boat was on its side more than it was upright.  We set our course, expecting to be on a broad reach, and discovered we’d need to sail a close reach to even get close to making our destination of San Juanico.  We looked at each other and sail convinced ourselves that surely it would get better once we were out of the influence of the Guaymas mountains and land effects.  We carried on.  About an hour into it (and 7 nm from the point!!) we had to admit that the wind was coming from the NW, not W as we’d originally thought.  And yes, our sail was going to have to be a close reach to make San Juanico.  For the next 18 hours. By this point half the things on the starboard side of the boat had found their way onto the floor.  And the rest were leering at us just waiting to make the leap.  The boat was rocketing along under double reefed main and genoa at 7-8 knots and being knocked down every 5-6 seconds.  Aaaagggghhhhh!!!!!!!!  We started to have the “OK, this sucks, what are our options?” conversation.  Option 1, keep going.  Not attractive.  Option 2, turn back to Guaymas.  Also not attractive as Gary doesn’t believe in going backwards.  Option 3, turn downwind to a comfortable point of sail and end up in Topolobombo or Mazatlan 36-48 hours later.  Sort of attractive, but neither of us really wanted to go to Mazatlan, and we would arrive in Topolombombo in the dark.  Very unattractive.  

We chose option 2 and turned back towards Guaymas.  We were only 7nm from the point, so it would be an hours sail back in.  We’d arrive in the anchorage we’d chosen (Bahia Catalina, just off the point) at dusk.  Perfect, right?  Well, turns out that we had to sail an even hotter angle (almost close hauled) to make it back to the anchorage.  Now everything on the port side of the boat decided to join the ‘suicide party’.  Total carnage down below.  The seas were incredible.  At one point we sailed through a wave, not over it, and the entire cockpit enclose was treated to a lovely salt water shower .  All good fun.  After an hour of clinging on for dear life, we passed the point and the waves settled out to something manageable.  Remarkably, considering what we’d just gone through, the engine started (no air lock – yippee!) and we motored into the anchorage with an entourage of pelicans, as the sun set.  That part was perfect.

After a restless night in the anchorage (Gary got up to pee at midnight and discovered the boat ahead of us had dragged into us – I could literally climb into the guys cockpit from our bow pulpit), we regrouped, looked at the weather in the morning and decided our mistake was trying to leave too late in the day.  The weather patterns around Guaymas are a bit strange, in that the wind tends to blow west in the afternoon, where everywhere else it blows NW.  Our thought was that we had been stuck in the westerly afternoon winds on our way out of the Guaymas area, and if we’d gone ‘just a little further’, we would have found the good wind and had a good sail.  It seemed reasonable.  Surely we hadn’t got this whole wind angle thing wrong, right?? 

Gary estimated we’d need to get about 20 nm offshore before we’d be free of the Guaymas westerlies.  We left early, at 10:30 am, and headed out again.  The seas were still the same, but this time the winds were moderate.  We motored in a NW (well, more W) direction for as far as we could in the beam-to seas, and started to sail about an hour in.  It certainly wasn’t pleasant.  Again, we were on a close reach and the seas were incredibly uncomfortable.  At least I’d secured things a bit better below and so the carnage was kept to a minimum!  About an hour in, Gary announced he wasn’t feeling well.  I handed him the barf bucket that lives in the cockpit while we are in passage, and he immediately found in it useful.  Oh dear.  This was going to be a looonnnggggg trip.  We discussed turning around again, but I guess he can only do that once a season.  Again, we hoped it would get better.  It didn’t. 

We raged forward at between 7-8 knots under double-reefed main and genoa.  The boat was doing fine…the crew, not so much.  Gary went down below to sleep while I took the first watch. Otto (our autopilot) seemed to be doing fine, but the boat was on it’s ear every 10 seconds.  I’m pretty sure the keel was exposed to the waves on a fairly regular basis.  But, we persevered.  By dusk, the winds had increased from 16 knots, to a consistent 21 knots and our boat speed had increased to a consistent 8-9 knots.  It felt like we were on an out of control sleigh ride.  Happily, by dusk the wind angle had changed slightly to a beam reach.  The seas were slightly behind the beam, but they now had a good slap to them.  We started to regularly take water through the cockpit.  Oh joy.  When I came on watch at 9pm, the world was dark, dark, dark.  The moon hadn’t risen yet, but you could see the bioluminescence-filled waves cresting as they charged for Sea Rover’s starboard beam.  The spray of water through the cockpit would come next.  Joy.  The motion was so violent that dinner consisted of picking the meat out of the sandwiches we were supposed to have eaten for lunch (for me at least; Gary didn’t eat the entire trip).  There was a brilliant moonrise at about 10pm, which highlighted the craziness of the boat.  We were up, then down, then up, then down, then up, then wet, then up, then down… you get the picture.  I literally held on for dear life and encouraged the boat to hang in there.  Again, she was fine (in her element, really) – it was the crew who were suffering!

Finally, after 17 hours of ‘fun ride’ hell, we arrived at Isla Coronado just as the wind died and the seas turned to behind us (ahhhhh, blessed relief).  This was a good thing, as of course the engine had an airlock.  At 0315, Gary was down below with the shop vac trying to convince water to run through the engine cooling system.  The benign conditions (finally!) made it easy, and we got the hook down shortly after. 
I’m sure there is a lesson in here somewhere.  Like, don’t cross the Sea of Cortez when the wind is forecast to be greater than 15 knots.  And, there is a reason most experienced Sea of Cortez Cruisers choose to cross when there is a lull between weather systems and the winds are calm.  I’d like to think we’ve learned that lesson after 2 Sea of Cortez beatings, but knowing our track record, I wouldn’t put money on it.

Sorry, not pictures for this on.  We didn’t have enough hands to hold onto the boat and the camera at the same time.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

New Season, New Look

Sea Rover at the end of last season
Sea Rover's New Look!
After torturing several sets of guests in Season Two, Gary and I decided to have an integrated swim platform added to the back of the boat over the summer.  We were getting the boat painted anyway, and the addition of the swim platform didn’t add a huge amount to the price tag.  In other words, it was a ‘good deal’.  Francisco, our fiberglass/painter wizard here in Guaymas, worked on the project over the summer.  Through a series of bad photos (usually with Francisco’s thumb in the way), we saw the swim platform come to life.  Sort of.  And then the really hot, rainy season came and, predictably, all work came to a halt.  To ensure the boat would actually make it back in the water before the new year, Gary drove down to Mexico at the beginning of October (before all the other Cruisers arrived) to prompt the work along.  Despite the incredible temperatures (>35oC, 24-7), the boat work got completed – the day before I arrived on October 29th!  The inside of the boat was in a complete state of chaos when I got there, but the outside looked incredible.  From the photos we’d been sent over the summer it was hard to imagine what the final product would look like.  I was very pleasantly surprised.  Francisco is an artist.  The new “back end” and paint job have totally changed the look of the boat, but she looks great.  Like a new boat! 

The new sugar scoop
Old "back end"

Since the work took most of October to complete, poor Gary was way behind in getting the boat ready to sail.   He’d spent his days cajoling work out of the tradesmen and installing our new lithium boat batteries (not the catching fire kind).  
Mmmm, lithium batteries....

An added pressure was that Gary’s cousin Karen was coming to visit on November 1st and she expected a sailing trip.  Needless to say my first three days in Mexico were a blur of activity while we sweated and fought to complete all the jobs needed for us to go back in the water (in 35oC+ temperatures).  This involved jobs like servicing all 14 through-hulls (many of which had ceased over the summer), hooking up the solar controller and re-plumbing the engine exhaust system, to name a few.  The boat was still in a state of chaos when Karen arrived, but at least we could see what needed to be done to be on our way.  We put Karen to work and spent the first 2 days of her holiday getting the boat back in the water, and then rigging her for sailing.  Miraculously we sailed out of Guaymas harbour on November 4th.  A new record! We only forgot to close one through hull and started taking on water as we motored out of the harbour, but Karen quickly discovered the water squirting out of the engine room and Gary fixed the issue.  Phew.  

Crews of Sea Rover and Nauticat at the Soggy Peso

Our first trip was a calm motor in flat seas (unheard of last year!) 22nm north up to Bahia Algodones.  We spent a windy afternoon watching the kite surfers playing in the bay, then enjoyed margaritas at the “Soggy Peso” beach bar with a neighbouring boat. 
Karen swam to shore from the boat.  Quite idyllic.  It was also the inaugural use of the new swim platform!  It is amazing.  It is now so easy to get on and off the boat.  No more 5.10 climbing moves to get back on the boat after going for a swim! 

After Algodones we motored north in choppy seas with 15 knots of wind on the nose.  Despite our slow progress, we got the water maker working and filled up the tanks.  We spent the next 2 nights in Bahia San Pedro, which is a lovely secluded bay about 10 nm north of the last civilization in Algodones.  We snorkelled and listened to the coyotes sing at night. 
Kialoa leaving to cross the Sea of Cortez
We met up with Tanya and her brother Jay on s/v Kialoa and spent an evening with them before she crossed over to the Baja side of the Sea.  As we’ve travelled so many miles with Kialoa over the last 2 years it was a bittersweet moment watching Tanya sail off into the sunset (literally).  We were so proud of her, doing her first passage without Scott and as sole owner/skipper of Kialoa, but we were also sad that an era seems to have come to an end and we aren’t travelling together anymore.  Hopefully we’ll catch up with her later in the season. 

Morning rest
My work schedule dictated that we had to return to Algodones for internet access and so we had a very pleasant early morning motor back to civilization.  We watched the sun come up and provided refuge to one small bird along the way, who needed to rest his wings before flying further.  We spent the day relaxing, and  then had a nice sail back to Guaymas the following day. We are happy to report that the sails still work, and we even remembered how to rig the pole for wing-on-wing sailing (it always takes us 2-3 tries to get it right at the beginning of the season - this year, only 1 small adjustment was required).  We discovered an issue with the roller furler, which required a trip up the mast the next day, where we ended up having to take the genoa off so that the forestay could be tightened (which meant pulling the whole furling unit apart, of course), but we seem to have fixed the issue.  Fingers crossed.  
Sunrise over San Carlos

We’ve been doing more boat jobs in Guyamas (sewing, re-wiring, re-fueling, re-provisioning) while we wait for our friend Bill on Greybeard’s crew to arrive early next week.  We’ll then travel north to visit friends in San Carlos, and will start making our way down towards the Mexican mainland, probably via the Baja coast.  We are storing the boat in San Blas (between Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta) over Christmas and so we have a few miles we need to travel before then.  
Blue Footed Boobies

We are looking forward to some great downwind sailing. Our plan for the season is to make it down as far as Manzanillo, and then work our way back north to Guaymas again by April.  We hope to do a few multi-day passages to help get us prepared for next season when we finally leave Mexico and cross an ocean or two.