This post was written in April 2017 from our slip at Marina Palmira in La Paz where we sat without a motor for four and a half months. It was then edited and added to on May 24th from San Carlos at the end of our season.
We passed a fine summer on Lummi – and took a couple of road trips; one to Cortes Island and one to a family reunion in Alberta. Al had surgery on his left shoulder – very successful thanks to a great surgeon and Al’s amazing diligence with his P.T.
After 10 weeks recovery from his shoulder surgery, Al carefully started back to work. He and Zack created some more beautiful furniture for happy clients and we enjoyed being on our property, seeing friends and family.
We set off again in September; cruising in the land-yacht, headed for San Carlos and Enchanté.
First stop was Cheney for an excellent visit with Shoshana and Maxwell in their new apartment. Next we stopped with Richard and Pam in Boise and did some bike riding with them. We took an unexpected u-turn to visit our friend of 37 years, Kathy Galvin, and her wonderful family in Bellingham. (We are so grateful to have had that last time with Kathy. Her four-and-a-half year-journey of living with glialblastoma came to an end on March 18th.)
On our drive south, the highlights were hiking in Zion National Park and in the Sierras outside Tucson with our friend Steve. After a couple of days in Tucson for various errands and provisions, we made the hot, seven-hour drive on the Gringo Highway to San Carlos, back to Marina Seca. It was wonderful to see friends there again! We worked hard to get Enchanté ready to sail across the Gulf of California, back to the Baja.
We had hoped to launch on October 27th but there was a delay. Al had recently cleaned the exhaust-elbow and heat exchanger and then reattached them to the motor. We had to wait 24 hours for the glue to cure. The next day when Al finally got our Volvo-Penta (aka Desi) started in the work yard, there was a leak at the exhaust-elbow. Silicon to the rescue, overnight cure and started it up again – no leaks. Good to go for Friday morning launch.
While we waited for the glue to dry Al repaired the salt-water wash-down pump for the anchor chain (yay!) and worked on the prop and shaft. I got a ladder and washed Enchante’s top-side hull, printed out proof of Mexican boat insurance and got the Enchanté binder updated, ready for the marina check-in.
Launch day in the work yard was a bit hectic as usual. Once we were in the water it felt wonderful to be floating again – bobbing gently instead of propped up on dirt and concrete. It was a hot, hot day in the marina. We were feeling some heat exhaustion after running around with last minute preparations in the yard. The extreme heat in the marina finished us off. We discovered the hotel pool nearby and the cool water revived us deliciously, a real game-changer.
At anchor in the Bahia;
After 4 days in the marina we moved out to the anchorage. What a lovely difference – no need for bug screens or fans when the wind-scoop funneled the near-constant breeze through the cabin. At night the temperature dropped into the 60’s, so nice for sleeping. Our floating home was feeling very comfortable!
After a week in the bay we were looking for good weather to cross over to Baja. We missed a great window because of a computer glitch plaguing me. I was trying to set up my new ham license email account (winlink) on our new laptop. This would bring us weather forecasts and email using our SSB radio. Thank heavens for Juan from XPro, a computer shop in San Carlos. Between marathon computer sessions I went for a delightful paddle on my board in the bay. The breeze was brisk and the water choppy but all my practice from last spring in Matanchen Bay came back to me. Paddling around the cove was a great antidote to being bent over the computer frustrated. What an amazing anchorage – the nearly land-locked bay nestled in rugged red-rock hills.
On November 19th it all came together; the weather looked decent and we were finally ready. Last minute chores; stowing provisions and soundproofing cabinet contents. After a quick shower on the swim-step I connected to the SSB to attempt to send a couple of winlink messages. Success!
By mid-afternoon we were ready to weigh anchor. The bridle and top 40 feet of chain were slimy and grotty with marine growth after sitting at anchor for a couple of weeks. The wash-down pump worked like a charm and eventually all the chain was up, fairly clean and in the chain locker. Our friends, Chuck and Karen were anchored beside us on the lovely Katie G. We circled them to call out our farewells and waved as we motored out of the harbor, hoping we’d see them again. Little did we know how that would play out…
Leaving San Carlos – crossing the Gulf of California;
As I motored us out of the bay Al got the dinghy strapped down on the foredeck. As soon as we were past Martini Cove (just outside the bay) the waves were white-cappy and frisky. Within the first half hour, down below closing through-hulls and dog-downing hatches, I knew I should take some seasick meds. I popped a Cinarazina (Stugeron) and went back up to the fresh air. We flew the double-reefed main and full genoa.
The unfamiliar pitching and rolling when powerful waves pushed us around was unsettling but we had known the Sea might be rough as we set off. The forecast called for good wind and lower seas later in the passage. The Gulf of California was famous for steep, short-interval “square” waves when the wind blew and these were definitely considerable. Our most comfortable ride in those big seas (still rough but better) was straight down the Sea of Cortes – not where we wanted to go. We discussed the wisdom of crossing at that time. Neither of us wanted to go back to San Carlos but we discussed our options. I figured in the unlikely event the seas continued to be challenging we could hove-to. And so we continued.
The wind was in the high teens, the waves at least 4 or 5 feet. We had furled the headsail a bit and set up our wind-vane, Vinnie, to steer. About 4:00 I lay down in the cockpit and a short while later decided to try lying in the sea berth down below while Al was on shift. I was able to rest comfortably there while we pitched around until my 8 pm shift.
In those rough waters on the crossing, I was basically in one of two places; up in the cockpit on watch or down below on the sea berth. I made 2 or 3 trips to the head in the 24 hours, making my way across the lurching cabin, always one hand on the boat. When I swung open the door to the head I was mindful not to leave any appendages in the door-frame (easily reached from one’s perch on the throne) because the heavy door would usually slam shut on the next roll.
My 8:00 to midnight shift was good – the stars were amazing. By then the seas were noticeably less and our course was taking us either to Isla Coronados off Loreto or Isla Carmen just south of there. I was tired and sometimes lay down comfortably on the cockpit settee . I kept warmish in my merino wool long-sleeved top, fleece pants and puff jacket. This was a big change from shorts and t-shirts day and night in San Carlos. By 9:00 the wind eased to low teens. Later it came back up into the high teens and hit over 20 knots a time or two but the seas were not problematic. Around 11:00 I watched the old half-moon rise behind us, above the lights of Guaymas.
I was on shift again as sunrise approached. The wind dropped, and I shook out the third reef, then the other two and unfurled the jib. Our full sails made the most of the dwindling wind as we headed for the barn, yearning for the intense pleasure of being at anchor after sailing over 100 miles.
Arriving on the Baja;
We motored into the beautiful protected bay at Ballandra on Isla Carmen. There was just one small red sailboat flying a Canadian flag, its dinghy trailing half way to shore. An upscale panga with a nice dodger was on the gorgeous white sand beach. The pangero was very welcoming calling, “Hola amigos!” as we circled by. His two clients were walking the beach, holding hands, hanging out.
We got the anchor set, feeling a bit rusty and running on fumes. After a quick bite and some coffee I cleaned up the cabin. It was amazing how trashed it could get in 24 hours! Al got the awning set up and took a catnap in the cockpit. I wrote in my journal, hydrated a bunch and then the hot, hot, still air of the Baja enveloped me. I lay down on the other cockpit settee and passed out. Air temperature 82, water 82; it was great to be back on the Baja!
We fell into a nice rhythm in the days we spent in the anchorage there, its beauty revealed more and more with every passing hour. It was so peaceful with the lapping of small waves on the nearby shore. A small creek estuary nearby flooded at high tide and little waves broke on the shoals at the entrance. We dinghied in to shore and scouted out the trail to Salinas, a bay on the east side of Isla Carmen, our destination for the following day. Then we back-tracked to climb up the small hills forming the northern boundary of the bay. The view was wonderful looking up the mighty Gulf of California; blue-green sea filled with choppy white caps, a steady norther blowing. Occasionally we would see a gust when skittering wavelets swept across the sea’s surface, the wind strong enough to lift the salty liquid in arcing swoops.
Amazingly, we had good internet there in the mornings and could use our phone to text. Loreto, the source of this bonus, was off in the distance. It was only visible at night – a charming string of lights on the western horizon in the inky blackness of our moonless nights there.
The hike to Salinas, across the very large island of Isla Carmen, was listed in the guidebook as a long hike. We didn’t get going until noon. Al checked the Navionix chart and it looked like about three-and-a-half miles each way to Salinas from Ballandra. We walked up the dry riverbed in fairly deep, sandy gravel for a good part of the way. This required more effort and frequent stops to dump the little pebbles and sand out of our shoes. Next time different footwear.
The rocks were beautiful, pale gray and rose; the inland hills were covered in greenery with handsome russet-brown rocks emerging in spines and outcroppings. Our trail took us up the continuous arroyo. At a flat area the arroyo fanned out and we found cairns marking a small trail that ran alongside and slightly above the flood plain. Sometimes the arroyo ran through narrow, pretty canyons, sometimes more barren, wider areas. There were ruggedly carved, fine-grained boulders; pink, silver gray, and some arrestingly green rocks.
In one of the twisty canyons of rugged and handsome rock, our “trail” led us under a large, steep hillside. I heard a noise, saw movement and realized the clattering on stones came from a Bighorn sheep. It was quite a specimen; chocolate–brown with haunches of solid muscle, carrying heavy spirals of pale, dense horn aloft as it leapt and pounced across loose gravel and steep rocks. My view of the hillside was perfect for tracking the three Bighorn sheep that came along after the first. The ravine rang with the clattering of hooves and stones.
Another discovery on the walk; a flash of red in one of the tall bushes and I saw the classic cardinal ruff, brilliant red body and tail. Then the female appeared, much closer than the male. She had a red tuft on her head as well, with muted peachy-brown body, red in her tail feathers and a red beak. I watched them for a couple of lovely minutes. (Back on Enchanté I looked them up; Northern Cardinals.)
Lots of time to meander mentally – we were out on our exploration for over 4 hours. I started to tire, unsure if I wanted to continue or whether we’d actually find Salinas Bay. There was some allure of finding the eastern shore and possibly digging chocolate clams. Each twist of the arroyo brought both disappointment and the renewed possibility of discovering the final approach around the next bend. A thin scrubby vegetation covered the hills and a perfect breeze kept us cool. Eventually we headed back to Ballandra with hopes for success next time – definitely bringing the GPS.
The next morning I was pleased to still be mobile after our big excursion the day before. Got the water-maker going after pancake breakfast and then paddled around the bay with my snorkel gear strapped on the board. The waves were a bit choppy but I was pleased with how my balance was. I circled the large bay and decided to snorkel by the estuary mouth – an interesting and satisfying outing. Easing myself over the side of the paddleboard near the outflow of the creek, I put my mask in the water. About 10 feet below me there were lots of fish milling around what I realized was a small dead tree on the ocean floor. There were several more tree “skeletons”, all washed out no doubt in some mighty flood. The fish congregated there – perhaps there were some delicacies growing on the rotting wood.
I kicked back to Enchante and got set up to clean the bottom of our dirty-hulled boat. A loop of string kept the wide-bladed scraper on my wrist. With my head down, breathing through the snorkel, I worked my way along the water line, scraping green slime off our copper brown hull. There were patches of little white creatures (krill) like tiny quinoa grains that floated off in clouds when I passed the scraper under them. A few dark-purple seaweeds, a couple of inches tall, sprouted impudently on our bottom, and an unsettling settlement of small barnacles tenaciously gripped the hull. There was a very satisfying scraping sensation as the blade cut them loose. With my snorkel gear I was able to dive down and get to most of the bottom as far as the keel junction. The incentive for these efforts was it would help Enchanté go faster.
This was the second time we had encountered this group of hardy outdoor enthusiasts.
We left the next day for Danzante Island. (Farewell to internet and text messages.) We had a lovely sail from Puerto Ballandra to Honeymoon Cove – broad reach or running in variable winds.
We had heard glowing reports of Honeymoon Cove for a couple of years and it was lovely to finally experience it. We dropped the hook beside Aries in the main lobe and set well back from them. It was a busy anchorage. A commercial catamaran was anchored in the north lobe when we arrived and another one with a dozen people and kayaks pulled into the south lobe of the bay. A short walk later revealed more of the charms of this popular bay. We could appreciate why many people prefer to anchor there than go into Puerto Escondido.
The next morning was a really hard start on the engine. Al had been unhappy about it for some time but this was the worst yet. At 5 a.m. that morning he was reading Nigel Calder‘s Diesel Motor book and had performed the steps to get rid of sea water introduced with excessive cranking.
Our plan was to leave that morning and head south, bypassing Puerto Escondido. Our route would take us through a reef-strewn area. As we motored out the RPMs started dropping – what? Got the sails up. The motor was definitely acting weird. RPMs dropped again, then it died. Restarted but it didn’t sound good.
We realized it was probably a mistake to leave the Puerto Escondido area where there were resources; phone, internet, close to Loreto. Where we were headed was a remote coast, not to mention those scary reefs. So we turned towards Escondido. The wind was dying and Al put in a call on the VHF to ask assistance from our friends who keep their boat there. No response from them (they were on shore walking the dogs) but Barney, from Sand & Barnacles, offered to get us with his 25 hp dinghy. We hip-tied him to our quarter-stern and he motored us across the channel, through the narrow entrance to this natural “hurricane hole”. The impressive Sierra Gigantes towered overhead to the west, we dropped the hook near the dinghy dock and thanked Barney profusely.
Diagnostic testing of Desi’s ailments began with a phone consult with our favorite mechanic, Rob Cross, in La Paz. He recommended adding Stanadyne fuel conditioner to the spin-off fuel filter. Then our friends, Dave and Merry, introduced us to a retired mechanic from another boat in the harbor. He agreed with Rob. The fuel conditioner would hopefully dislodge any particles that might be in the injectors.
The procedure resulted in the “best start of the season” according to the captain. Unfortunately, that was followed by a god-awful metal hammering sound. Quickly shut it down. Later the mechanic in the bay listened to it and agreed it was VERY loud but probably just a fuel knock, unlikely to cause damage. Al wanted to check the various injectors so he would have that information when he talked with Rob later. He restarted it, cracked the nut on the #1 injector – motor faltered, he retightened the nut. Cracked #2 – it faltered, cracked #3 – it exploded!! I was up at the helm and Al had his hands on the motor. It sounded unmistakably (and felt to Al) like a fatal blow. There was no restarting Desi.
There was only one person we wanted to help us in our situation. We decided to get ourselves to La Paz without a motor. After all it was a sailboat.
We realized our best course of action was probably to go out “the cut” between Danzante and Carmen and head for the open Sea. Conditions still looked good for Monday and Dave and Merry were on their way north that morning. Dave came over in their dinghy just after first light and Merry drove AirOps. The wind was blowing nice and steady and after Dave released us we got our sails up and set off. It was a bit bouncy and I noticed a queasiness early on so I took a Cinarazina.
We sailed up the north side of Danzante admiring the turrets and cliffs in the rock formations. Past that we saw the long, long southern coastline of Isla Carmen which blocked a little of our wind, but we made way out towards the more open waters of the Sea of Cortez. We had a good steady NW breeze taking us towards Santa Catalina island. There were some reefs of concern but we passed by with no difficulty.
And then our steady breeze started to subside, as predicted. By the time the wind died we were sitting in a pretty good spot – the area in fact that Al, on previewing our course the night before, had hoped to be when the afternoon lull arrived, as far as possible from reefs and islands.
On my afternoon shift, as we sailed along Isla Santa Catalina, I saw what looked like a boat off the south end. This was the first vessel we had seen since watching AirOps motor north. But on closer examination and looking at the chart, I decided the far away, small white shape was a light tower. When Al came up for his shift he said, “Hey, there’s another boat up ahead.” I said “No it’s the light at the south end of Catalina.“ But I looked again and it was obviously a sailboat.
That morning, on the Sonrisa ham net we had heard Chuck from Katie G saying they had crossed the Sea from San Carlos and were abeam of Agua Verde on the Baja. It seemed really unlikely but we wondered if that could be Katie G on the horizon. A couple of hours later we decided to try hailing them. What a surprise for both of us when Chuck answered immediately and sounded like he was next door. He could see us and it was wonderful to chat for a good long while. We agreed to stay in touch and they hoped to catch us in Ensenada Grande in a couple of days. They planned to be at Isla San Francisco the next day and offered to assist us if need be. We were very happy we’d be in the same neighborhood with them again!
For two hours we drifted. We started a Baja Rummy game (I won). It was pleasant out there but after two hours we were ready to sail again. We’d been looking at the southern coastline of Santa Catalina for a long time, very conscious of the fact that without wind we could drift too close to the shore or drift towards the reef that was not far enough away to feel completely safe. About two-and-a-half hours into the lull we felt some breeze. That started an hour-and-a-half of very frustrating attempts to sail on virtually no wind.
The sun went down, there was no moon and the stars were brilliant but gave us no visibility or perspective on the inky black water – it was pitch black all around us. And then we entered a crazy-making kind of twilight-zone. I was down below trying to get some rest and I could hear Al trying every kind of adjustment with the sails to get some movement going. Then he started making sounds of great puzzlement. Eventually he called me up to look things over with him. Our chart plotter seemed to be messed up. In the dark it was impossible to see which direction we were pointing. We had 0 knots of wind and the chart plotter had the icon of our boat pointing north and traveling at up to a knot – in the wrong direction! We checked the compass and saw our bow was pointed south, just as we thought. Eventually I got the iPad charts up and the GPS to cross-reference with the chart plotter. They agreed. After some time of perplexing thoughts, becalmed in the pitch-dark, we realized we were being pushed north by current – towards danger. We were frightened, frustrated and felt powerless. I joked with Al that when the wind finally came up we’d probably have to put a reef in.
The wind did come up but from a southerly direction. We were tremendously relieved to have wind (from any direction) and to be traveling south again, away from the reefs and Santa Catalina. I was wrong about having to put a reef in the sail though – we had to put in two! The wind went from nothing to 16 and 17 knots pretty quickly, right on the nose. After getting the mainsail set up I sent Al down to rest. He had been stressed to the max and I was feeling fine to be up on watch. We had Vinnie steering and once again we were on our way to Ensenada Grande.
Al had been resting for a while when I saw the anenometer climb up to 18, then 19 knots. I thought I should probably get him to put in the third reef but I waffled, not wanting to disturb his much-needed rest. Within five minutes conditions were getting stronger and I knew I had to get him. He was asleep on the sea-berth but popped up instantly when I touched his leg.
It was howling as we hurried up to the cockpit. I clipped in to the tether on the jack-line, made my way carefully up to the mast and slipped the reefing hook into the third reef-point of the partially lowered sail. It was done quickly and helped smooth things out but we decided to furl the headsail a bit as well. When that was done and the lashing jib sheets tamed again, it felt manageable.
Al went back down below. Fifteen minutes later the wind climbed into the 20+ knot range and Enchanté was straining in the high winds and big seas. I waited only a minute or two before going down to rouse the captain again. He could feel the boat shuddering, assessed the conditions and said we needed to turn around and run with it. We furled the headsail to a mere hanky and turned downwind, going back over the hard-won ground of our recent progress!
It was still blowing hard but running with it was so much smoother! We sailed back northward for almost an hour until the wind eased and changed direction. There was no rest for anyone during that time – all hands on deck. When it settled down into the high teens we happily unfurled the headsail and started back towards our destination. Quite a night – and it was only midnight…
I felt wiped out and tried resting in the cockpit but it was really cold and eventually I knew I had to go below for some better rest. It was heavenly to take off my jacket, headlight and PFD and crawl into the sea berth, snuggled beside our rolled-up paddleboards. I drifted off, woke a time or two in the dark and went back to sleep. It was still dark the next time I woke but I felt energized and jumped up to give Al his long-overdue break. He was happy to give up his watch and down he went.
Thirty hours after leaving Puerto Escondido we were sailing along beautifully on a promising breeze, approaching Isla San Jose, on target for a 4:00 arrival at the large, protected bay of Ensenada Grande on Isla Partida (just north of Espirtu Santo). We were already strategizing of course, how we would enter under sail, hoping to have enough wind to power us to a good place to drop the anchor.
And then the wind petered out. Again Al went through elaborate adjustments with the sails trying to milk some speed out of the dwindling wind. This was of course the time we would ordinarily shrug, bring in the jib and start Desi to motor to our desired destination. Over the next five hours we covered only eight miles; it was painful! We were nearing Isla San Francisco (shades of the broken transmission saga from two-and-a-half years earlier) and our sails were doing nothing except driving us crazy. Ensenada Grande had become unreachable in the daylight. And so it was that we dropped the mainsail to give us a break from the slatting of slack Dacron as we rocked over slight swells and chop.
As soon as we dropped the main the wind filled in. Al was like, “You’re kidding me!” Once the main was down it was hard to get it back up again without the motor to assist in getting us pointed up in the wind. The breeze stayed steady so we unfurled the head sail and made excellent progress towards our new destination, a favorite anchorage at the lovely Isla San Francisco. We hailed Katie G to tell them we’d be anchored in the same bay that very night.
We sailed close to the southern coast of Isla San Francisco figuring out how we would anchor under sail in the familiar bay. The wind was robust which was wonderful but this would be only our 2nd time anchoring without a motor, After several practice runs with lots of tacking and jibing we were on the right course with the right velocity and I let the anchor go and 120’ of chain. And then we were there – a great relief!
It was great to have a “rest” day (busy doing this and that) followed by a fabulous happy hour and calzone dinner with Karen and Chuck.
Raising the anchor takes on a whole new meaning without a motor to power the windlass! In the morning Chuck came over in his 15 horse dinghy to offer assistance for our departure. When it was my turn to crank the chain up with the unpowered windlass I gratefully accepted his efforts. He hauled up on the chain from his dinghy taking all the work out of it. When we had 60’ of chain still out we raised the main and finished hauling up the chain and anchor. We had a perfect NW breeze to sail out of the bay.
All was looking good until the wind started getting fluky. Spinnaker was lovely until the wind got weird. We dropped it, put it back up later and finally doused it. The main sail was up then down, back up, jib unfurled… Katie G left after us, passed us, then “treaded water”, waiting. We spoke on the VHF and compared wind in our respective locations. When it became obvious we wouldn’t make it across San Lorenzo Channel, Katie G came back to us and pulled us with the ingenious stern lines and blocks Chuck had engineered. They moved us easily at our usual cruising speed. Another delightful evening with them in Bahia San Gabriel.
December 2nd; Pulled the anchor up easily on our own and sailed away in a promising breeze. It was excellent until around noon. Wind died pretty much and on Rob’s lunch break he came out in the Trophy with Carlos. They tied a line to our bridle and pulled us easily to the wide spot in the channel where we hip-tied the speed boat to our port side and they brought us into slip 304 at Marina Palmira.
To be continued… (-: