Mazatlan to San Carlos

March – April 2016  (posted from La Paz, April ’17)



Just after first light we pulled anchor and left Deer Island (Isla Venados) with its amazing view of Mazatlan. We were headed into the harbor at the north end of the big city, in anticipation of a storm coming. As always, the narrow entrance was only visible when we got quite close. Surf crashed on both sides of the bar but the passage was fine and the barge dredging the channel just inside the bar wasn’t operating yet. We tied up at the fuel dock at Marina El Cid and waited til they opened to top up our tank. When we hailed Marina Fonatur on the VHF they said they had a slip available. Antonio and another guy were there to catch our lines and soon we were settled on the dock. I went to the office to register and was happy to see Miriam and Eunice working there still.

The storm came in and our friends, Doug and Lyneita on Ka’sala, arrived from Barra de Navidad just before the Port Captain closed the port. We watched the weather forecasts for five days from our slip at Manina Fonatur, looking for a good opportunity to head north. Our friends on Ka’sala were staying at Marina la Isla, a charming little marina nearby. They invited us to the Chill and Grill Restaurant for music and drinks. The next day was the 38th anniversary of when Alan and I met in Chiapas, at the Mayan ruins of Palenque. Lyneita and Doug sweetly offered us use of their bikes for the day.

In the morning, after a few boat chores we hopped on our loaner bikes and rode from Marina Fonatur to the malecon. It was tricky riding the streets in heavy traffic – no shoulders – and the sidewalks were crowded; lots of stop and go. But when we finally got to the malecon it was wonderful. The magnificently wide sea-wall stretched for miles along gorgeous beaches with big surf rolling in. It wasn’t a good day for swimming but we watched some really good surfers catching waves.


Hotel on the malecon, Isla Venados in the distance.

We rode the whole malecon, past the many lovely statues, down to the area we knew from staying in the Old Harbor. It was a refreshingly different perspective on the bike. We rode by the panga basin near El Centro, our first time there. We were keeping an eye out for a 15 h.p. Honda outboard that friends had had stolen a few nights before in the Old Harbor. There were a lot of pangas in the basin but almost no motors. Riding back to the marina seemed easier (even on the streets off the malecon) and we were so pleased to have had the bikes for the day!

Maz statue on malecon

Statue on the malecon, Old Harbor in the far distance, miles away.

We had a reservation for dinner at El Presidio, a restaurant recommended for special occasions. The old mansion appeared to take up a good chunk of the downtown block. We walked into the grand entryway; dark, polished wood and glass presided in the spacious foyer and we were greeted by several well-groomed waiters, handsome and friendly. We were passed to a young woman who walked us past the indoor seating and out to the huge courtyard where our small table was waiting. There were only two other parties there and it felt like we had the place to ourselves.

The courtyard had several areas partially separated by pillars and trees. On closer inspection it seemed to be a grand house that had fallen into disrepair – as evidenced by the hosts of trees and vines that had volunteered – and was now part ruins and part sumptuous reclamation.

The food was amazing and in between dinner and coffee we walked through the building, discovering stairways to nowhere and whimsical rooms with fascinating views from the rooftops and balconies. Our extravagant meal cost less than $70. We were whisked back to Enchanté in one of the charming open-air taxis, zooming along the malecon in the warm night air.

Maz Mar La Isla

Marina La Isla

We moved over to Marina La Isla on Saturday morning and right away appreciated the low key, inexpensive moorage. We went for a walk with our friends to Cerritos in the afternoon. Six of us trekked from the marina along the bus route and then on to the gorgeous long sandy beach. It was a good discovery; this cool area north of “marina-land”, with beautiful rock formations at Cerritos. When we arrived at the palapa restaurant way down the beach, we took a table set up in the sand, under an umbrella, and ordered beer. When the waiter said they only had Tecate we almost left. But then he said “No, no” and walked across the sand to the fancy restaurant next door and brought back some Modelos and Dos Equis – problem solved.

We watched kite-boarders while we chatted in the shade. They were literally flying off the waves at times. Then the kite took them right back out for the next wave, almost effortlessly it seemed. After our beer we walked up the hill and around to a “mini-mall” of stalls selling items for tourists. There were some red pick-up trucks – “trockas” – with a roof over seats in the back of the truck – like taxis. Eventually the six of us climbed into the rustic seating in the back of the trocka and paid for a ride back to the marina.


We were still waiting for favorable weather to leave. We made plans with Doug and Lyneita for a trip to Concordia., a town recommended several times to us because of its reputation for furniture makers. The four of us caught a pulmonia Sunday morning to the Centro d’Autobus (bus depot). We got out, paid the driver and without breaking stride, walked right on to the departing bus to Concordia. We were the only passengers on the big comfy bus. But as we drove out of Mazatlan, more and more people got on. Soon the bus was more than half full. I loved being on the bus; checking out the other passengers, watching the scenery and getting there slowly. It was over an hour ride and cost 40 pesos (about $3 US then). After several attempts to get off too early, we finally disembarked at the bus depot in Concordia.

door in Concordia

It was a sleepy Sunday morning up in the foothills of the Sierra Madres, in the historic city of Concordia. It felt so different from the ocean-side culture we were accustomed to. We walked along in the hot sunshine and enjoyed the fresh mountain breezes in the shade. The town seemed to be built of cantaloupe-colored concrete; the shades ranged from buttery yellow to pumpkin, most of it freshly painted. It was tranquil with not many people around. In the square I bought a couple of thick zorilla bark / wood carvings from a fine young fellow who did the carving.


Lyneita and me in the giant chair in the square.

We wandered around and found a furniture-maker half a block off the square. Al chatted with him for a bit and then followed us into the Museum next door. There we met Vicki. Her animated, generous face, full of enthusiasism and humor, was framed by black and silver cork-screw curls cut below her ears. She spoke of the history of the town for a good while before we toured the six rooms in the old jail-cum-museum. Each room was dedicated to a certain period of history; indigenous people, la conquista, mining and industry, etc. – informative and well done.


Cathedral in Concordia

About 3 blocks north of the town center we found a high point to enjoy the view of rolling foothills and mountains in the distance. On our walk back (one block over) we found another furniture shop with a much higher level of craftsmanship than the first shop we’d seen. It was in a yard behind a house. As we walked past the house we saw through the open kitchen window, a man (maybe Al’s age?) chopping tomatoes for salsa fresca. We chatted with him through the window a bit, about furniture making and other topics. When his daughter overheard that we were from Washington she came out to meet us. She had lived in Arlington and Stanwood (near Lummi) and loved it there! Eventually seven family members came out onto their veranda and we had a lovely connection with these incredibly nice people! As we walked away we felt so grateful and satiated with our encounter and our visit to Concordia. When we arrived at the bus depot there was a bus departing in five minutes to Mazatlan – smooth.


Finally we had a clear weather window. On March 15th at first light, we left Marina La Isla, just after Ka’sala. We chugged along the calm canals to exit the harbor, then close by the dredger crew who were eating breakfast on the barge at the harbor entrance. They returned our greetings of “Buenos dias.”. The bar was easy; the rollers only about two to four feet tall and not too scary. And we were off on our journey…

We motor-sailed away from land for a few hours and then shut the motor for the next five, sailing a moderate breeze with low seas. Al was concerned about the motor because the temperature gauge and the hour meter both quit when our tachometer (aka Taco Lobo) took a break. We had become used to the tach going offline when the batteries were absorbing but had never had all the instruments go down like that. Electrical gremlins? And the motor was running a little hot. I lowered the RPM from 2200 to 2050 to cool it down for the last 2 hours of my noon-to-four p.m. shift. That worked fine in an okay-but-not-great kind of way.


Sunset the first night.

On my four-to-eight a.m. watch the next morning, light started stealing over the eastern horizon around 5:30. The half moon had set long before and only the brightest stars remained as day dawned. Darkness huddled to the west and northward. On our starboard side the sea reflected silver from the brightening sky. On our other side the water was dull, dark gray. The dome of sky became a starless pale blue-gray with a gorgeous peachy glow in the east.

Birds circled sometimes – boobies and frigates – looking for a landing place it seemed. I chased a brown boobie off the top port-side spreader (the metal crosspiece coming off the mast). A large bird sitting in the rigging was not desirable especially if it let loose some guano – nasty to clean up! The boobie was apparently not impressed when I snapped the spinnaker halyard by its bill. But my guttural shout of ownership finally chased it off.

During our time in Mazatlan we had a couple of interesting critters on Enchanté. At Marina Fonatur I moved my yoga mat in the aft cabin one day and felt a dry skittering sensation on my arm; an almost weightless bit of pressure from miniscule gecko feet gaining traction on my forearm. In a blur of movement the delicate tiny lizard zipped back into the yoga mat which I then passed carefully out to Al. The gecko was still hiding in the mat and Al shook it gently off onto the dock.

On March 15th, after we left the dock at Marina La Isla on our way north, I was straightening things up under the dodger and discovered a strange, slender, stick-like creature on a piece of fabric. Joy and wonder when I realized it was a praying mantis. It was delicate, possibly very young and a light brown color. Manny (as I started to call him) stayed on the piece of baby-blanket rag for over 12 hours. In the morning I looked for him and he was gone.

I had recently read an excellent book about some Kalihari bushmen who revered praying mantises. Perhaps that and my concern that this inadvertent stow-away was somehow my responsibility, had me checking around for him – or perhaps I just had too much time on my hands…. Hours later I spotted him on the birdseye-maple fuse-box panel down by the nav station. I made a home for him in a clear container with some broccoli and celery leaves and a few drops of water. I was so stoked to see him take a bite out of the broccoli stalk. He was riding up under the dodger and I hoped he had what he needed.


We motored for a good long while. When the wind picked up we happily shut Desi down for a well-deserved rest. We sailed and then motor-sailed, north, north on low seas,  getting into the rhythm of it. We were close enough to see the topography of the land – lots of mangroves and estuaries, low hills in the background. We had only two or three options for harbors to get out of foul weather along the Sonoran Passage from Mazatlan to San Carlos, all of them with lengthy and challenging approaches. We kept an eye on the weather and opted to keep going.


On day three, north of Topolobampo, Alan was on watch and saw a disturbance in the distance, a kind of boiling action in the water. It turned out to be a dolphin “rodeo”. At least 200 of them were playing in a tide rip. They traveled across our bow and continued their leaping and cavorting off to the southwest. It was an amazing sight! We watched them, fascinated and delighted until it seemed we’d lost them. And then, there appeared to be a reversal of direction. Sure enough, they were headed back towards us. It was exhilarating watching them approach; countless sleek gray bodies glistening in the sun as they erupted out of the water. What a treat to witness!


Weather conditions had been excellent and we traveled, non-stop, up the coast. On the last morning (about 24 hours from San Carlos) we listened to the net and heard an announcement that the sailing vessel, Sea Boa, had been struck by a whale and sank, 35 miles out of Guaymas. The owner, Allen, (from Duncan, B.C.) was fine – he reportedly stepped aboard his dinghy (with his life raft in it) and was rescued soon after. Holy shit! We were headed for Guaymas! We had also seen In the Heart of the Sea (the Moby Dick movie) not long before. Images of a deranged whale had Alan scurrying around Enchanté, assembling a proper ditch bag – we had become very lax with our coastal cruising. After a brief discussion I got involved as well; we now have a much better emergency evacuation plan. We kept a very watchful eye out all day (for whales of course) with varying levels of anxiety.

Just before sunset, we were closing in on Guaymas. In the serene, calm waters, I saw long dark ripples that seemed like maybe they weren’t ripples. Indeed, after watching the area close off our port bow, it became clear that it was the backs of two whales. As I lowered our RPM I called to Alan who was down below checking on the motor. We were motor-sailing at that point and Al came up, a little shaken. Both of us were anxious to be unobtrusive near the giant beings. In the past they had always inspired awe and appreciation but now we were keen to get some distance away and to calm our racing hearts.

We turned the motor off but we had essentially no wind, hence no steerage, and we were at our closest point (on the whole journey) to land – only four miles off the deserted coastline. In the gorgeous dimming light of sunset, mauves and peaches were reflected in the silky mirror of the sea. Long dark ripples were the only contours on the otherwise glassy surface. None of these turned out to be the whales although you can bet we were paying very close attention, trying to determine where they had gone. No spouts were seen. How long could they stay down?


Eventually we fired the motor up again and made our way nervously north in the falling light. We were able to laugh (a little bit) about how different the experience would have been if we hadn’t heard the morning net.

We arrived to the lights and dramatic contours of the hills near Guaymas. There was almost no traffic or evidence of other AIS vessels in this often-crowded port city. Entering Bahia San Carlos in the first light of day was such a great feeling; so beautiful! We were at the end of our longest passage ever; ninety-six hours.


We had the rest of the day and night at anchor. As soon as I had wi-fi I googled-up “caring for a praying mantis”. Manuel was still alive and had been transported several hundred miles from the lushness of Mazatlan to the Sonoran Desert. I found out they are wicked predators and started putting bits of ripe banana on the screen on top of his cage to attract fruit flies. They showed up in a matter of minutes it seemed and provided Manny with some fresh protein. His agile foreleg front pincers were lightning fast and would pin the flies to the screen so he could pull them through. Eventually I released Manny at Marina Seca on one of the trees in the parking lot. I hoped he would eat some of the many ants available and figure out where the water was. The tree bark was great camouflage for his sandy brown color.

(Side note; I had never seen a praying mantis there before releasing Manuel, but six months later when we came back to Marina Seca I saw not one, but at least two praying mantis’.)

From the anchorage in the Bahia we took a slip in the Marina. Al washed off the deck and we washed and dried the sails. The jib got folded up and packed in the sail bag. Two days later we were hauled to the work yard. The main sail was left on the boom until after a couple of days in the yard, We worked away at the tasks to prepare Enchanté for the long hot summer in San Carlos.

Just when we thought we were ready to head homeward in our newly-painted Sprinter, we had engine problems with the camper van. The battery wasn’t being charged and quickly lost power when it was driven – Al had to get a jump four times in 45 minutes. After a couple of false starts out of town and several trips to the mechanic we felt confident that we would make it to Tucson. Once we got there, we had the name of a mechanic there who maintained the fleet of Sprinter vans for FedEx.

We said adios to San Carlos after another lovely cruising season. Home to Lummi for the summer….


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