La lluvia en Mexico

OK, we’ve been to four major ports in Mexico, and in three of those, we’ve had rainy days. And of course, the locals say “it never rains here”. We have not disclosed our home port in Washington for fear of being accused of bringing the rain.

In San Jose del Cabo, the rain drove the marina to change the venue for our CUBAR arrival party from the lawn/dolphin show area at the marina to a really nice covered, but open air, venue in town. It was a great time, with mucho food, tequila and very bad singing and dancing. The rain also helped with washing off some of the accumulated salt from our trip down the coast.

Uninhibited by the rain. CUBAR party, San Jose Del Cabo

In La Paz, the rain also came, but after our arrival. Once again, this resulted in a change of venue for the final CUBAR party, which was to be on the rooftop terrace at the CostaBaja resort. It was moved inside, and was a nice going away dinner, but was significantly more sedate than the previous party (possibly owing to less free-flowing Tequilla).

We had also arranged to have a much needed boat wash and wax job at the marina, which was delayed by a day due to the rain. Fortunately, Valentin and his crew were able to get the job done the next day.

We came over to Mazatlan from La Paz ahead of a low pressure system that promised Gale force winds and rain after our arrival. We woke up this morning to torrential rain, though not Gale force winds. It has been raining hard for the past couple of hours and previous forecast indicated that we might get as much as an inch of rain today. At the rate we are going, I don’t doubt it. EDITOR UPDATE: An inch of rain? HA! At some points in the day we were getting over 2″ per hour! Total of 12″ Torrential. Monsoon-like. Biblical.

NOAA Satellite image showing an atmospheric river flowing towards Mexico. We see this all the time in the NW.
The view out the pilothouse door this morning. Does not do justice to how hard the rain is coming down.

We listened to the local cruisers net this morning. The guy that does the weather drives from his home here down to his boat to broadcast on the net. He reported massive flooding on the roads, with a foot to a foot and a half of standing water. We had some thoughts of going into town to see what we might do for Thanksgiving dinner. Unless the rain stops we will likely stay where we are and enjoy the dinner that El Cid puts on.

Nearly a foot of rain our home rain gauge, while rain still going strong in the afternoon.
Pelicans watching the now brown swirling water for treasure.

La Paz to Mazatlan

We spent about 10 days in La Paz, first at Marina CostaBaja where the CUBAR Rally finished up, and then at Marina Cortez right in downtown La Paz at the beginning (or end) of the Malecon.  After a week of Spanish lessons and dental work for Gwen (a blog post coming soon) we were ready to continue on our journey.  The weather for crossing the Sea of Cortez was beginning to look complicated, as a large low pressure system was forming up off the South end of the Baja Peninsula.  It looked like we would have a good window to get across Monday (11/25) arriving Tuesday before the Gale, so we took it. The planned route was about 240 miles and 30 hours. 

Sunrise in the marina looking toward the malecon and town.

The early morning sunrise was gorgeous over the marina and the town as we made last minute preparations and turned in our keys to the security guard.  It was a good omen that the small dead-appearing fish on the dock turned out to be alive and swam away briskly when thrown back in the water.  The security guard was just as surprised and happy as I was. 

The channel was very narrow here so we had to pass close!

The first part of the day was retracing our steps out the channel, with a close passage with a tanker ship that was backing up to what we think was a fueling facility.    Boat traffic soon thinned out as we headed up and around the La Paz point and back down the side of Baha. 

In mid-afternoon, we turned east to cross the Sea.  Gwen spotted flying fish skimming over the water, and a monarch butterfly flew alongside the pilothouse for a few minutes.  A large pod of dolphins was leaping in the distance, and soon came over to us to socialize. 

Right next to our bow!

It was only as we left the Baja coast behind that we realized this would be the longest open water crossing we have undertaken.  We’ve been two thousand miles down the Pacific Coast, but really never more than 20-30 miles from land.  If we had a problem with the main engine, it always seemed reasonable to cover that distance on our wing engine chugging along at 4 knots or so.  From the middle of the Sea, not so much… particularly with weather approaching.  Of course, no need to worry, as our reliable Lugger just kept on going.

Night came fast and early.  Gwen made a chicken pasta salad to use of various leftovers in the fridge and we ate our dinner in the waning twilight with our red cabin lights substituting for candles.  Through the course of the afternoon the sky had become heavily overcast, so no moon or stars were going to light our way.  The crossing was easy, with winds from the NW rarely exceeding 15 knots and a long 3-6 ft swell on our port quarter.  Overnight the winds dropped and the seas flattened out making for an easy ride.  We saw few vessels – Gwen spent a half hour tracking a vague radar signal that passed within a mile of us, but never saw a light.  Larry saw a cruise ship on AIS and radar and then was treated to a dolphin visit that featured flashes of bioluminescence along their paths through the water. 

Drying up squid. One of many we found.

As dawn came, we found squid on deck, with no clue how they came that far out of the water, until we learned that they are attracted to boat lights and they can shoot themselves out of the water.  A stowaway cricket also decided to start chirping from somewhere in the cockpit.  We put the fishing lines in the water but had no luck until we decided to bring them in.  We caught and released what we think was a small skipjack.

Cloudy sunrise sky.

The most exciting part of the passage, by far, was arriving at Mazatlan.  We read about constant dredging and currents, and knew that the tide was low.  We followed the guidebook recommendations and called the marina for a report on conditions at the breakwater.  No response after repeated calling.  We approached slowly and saw buoys right in the middle of the entrance channel.  Clearly there were obstructions… but on which side?  We could see the current flowing out of the channel, saw the depth go down to 6 feet, and were in the process of backing out to reassess when a fishing panga passed by and signaled us to follow. 

Looking back at the dogleg entrance from our dock. This was taken at high tide and the current was less dramatic.

Based on the captain’s energetic arm waving, it was clear that we were to stay close (very close) to the jetty side… with the current trying hard to push us on to the rocks.  As they say, fear tends to focus the mind, and with a generous dose of thruster, rudder and throttle, we were in safely in the channel following the panga.  By this time it was clear that we had 3+ knots of current against us, and still no slip assignment from Marina El Cid, which was coming up quickly.  Fortunately, they came back on the radio just in time and offered us a choice of slips.  So, with more throttle than I would like, and some timely help from dock neighbors, we were able to get in without incident.  We later learned that the dredge has been out of service for six months, and that we arrived in the middle of a “King tide” cycle – the largest one cruiser had seen in three years at Mazatlan.  We will not be leaving at low tide…

An update – we managed to get out to the jetty to get this shot of the dog leg entrance. Not shown in the photo are the two bouys that mark the silted up side, making the navigable channel half as wide as what you see here.

El Cid seems to be a very nice resort and marina.  We have use of the pool, there are good restaurants nearby, and it is right on the bus route into downtown Mazatlan.  We’ll be happy to sit out the weather and explore the town before continuing on to San Blas, and to Paradise Village in Puerto Vallarta by December 7th so we can greet Miranda on the 9th.

Another hitchhiker seen while 25 miles offshore.

East Coast of Baja California Sur

We left San Jose Del Cabo at a civilized time for a day’s journey to our intermediate stop before La Paz, on the eastern side of the Baja Peninsula and our last stop with CUBAR. Bahía de los Muertos (muertos means dead) is also known as Bahía de Los Sueños (Bay of Dreams), which sounds better. It is a moderately protected anchorage and good stopping point for the day for travelers on the way to or from La Paz, or waiting to cross the Sea of Cortez to the mainland side of Mexico. 

Stunning vista on our port side for hours!
I imagine this is an old mission.

On the way, we watched the change in the coastline from desert browns and sands to lush greens.  Clearly there is more rain on this side of Baja.  Most of the coastline was empty, but at times villages were apparent.  We were several miles offshore so it was a bit challenging to get good photos and things were more visible through our binoculars.

We also listened to weather discussions on the radio of an incoming tropical storm – Tropical Storm Raymond. It was apparent that it would have some impact once we were in La Paz, but as the storm was a day or more away from us on the other side of Baja in the Pacific, we were fine to finish our transit over the next 48 hours.

Abandoned pier in the cove. Apparently much of the land surrounding this bay has become privately owned very recently.
A private hacienda overlooking the bay. It was unoccupied while we were there.

We got in to Muertos with just enough time to spare to take our first swim of the trip before the sun set and after we put out the flopper stopper.

The water temp was a luxurious 80 degrees.  I had no hesitation at jumping right in to cool off.  It is amazing how much saltier the water is than in the Pacific Northwest.  This makes us very buoyant.  Normally I have to work to stay afloat, but here I am perfectly neutral.   We have a faucet with freshwater on the back of the boat that pulls out to be a shower head, so getting the salt off is incredibly easy too.  We know how lucky we are!

The next morning it was up and out to La Paz!

A rainy, stormy welcome to La Paz.

Los Cabos

Sunrise offshore of Cabo San Lucas

We had a smooth 24 hour passage from Magdalena Bay to San Jose Del Cabo, which we timed to arrive at the marina on Sunday morning.  We were treated to a beautiful sunrise just outside Cabo San Lucas. 

The marina is outside of town in a fairly newly developed resort area.  Lots of fish were jumping in the marina bay, and multiple osprey hang out in the sail boat masts.      

About to have a well-deserved beer and taco lunch!

We relaxed with well deserved beers and lunch at El Marinero Boracho, or the Drunken Sailor.  Wonderful rooftop palapa on an apparently unusually hot day.  It was Sunday when we arrived, so not much happening around the marina and we needed to wait until Monday to check in with the Port Captain.

The marina hosts a “Swim with the Dolphins” location. Many of us on CUBAR were quite unhappy to see the small pens positioned inside the marina right across from the fuel dock as the home for dolphins. When we checked in we were informed that part of the next evening’s events would be a dolphin show. Many of us decided we would abstain.

The view across the marina from the bow of our boat.
The Port Captain’s Office
The osprey who arrived every morning to perch on the sailboat mast and plaintively call out to mom, or someone, to bring him food (at least that’s what it sounded like to me!).
Mexican Coast Guard boat fueling up.

The big excitement of the 3 day stay unfortunately was my adventure in dentistry.  I had been medicating myself for a tooth abscess in a previously root-canaled molar for most of our trip, knowing I could get it addressed here.  So, after checking into the Port Captain on Monday morning, we headed into town.  We had a stroll around the town plaza, which had this cool tribute to Frida Kahlo as part of the Day of Dead decorations still up.  It was quite a touristy area though, filled with shops and restaurants, and tourists (which includes us). 

Tribute to Frida Kahlo in the town square.

I left Larry and Sean to hang out with the crowd and ultimately explore tequila at a local shop, while I had the first of two visits to the dentist.   More on that in a different medical related post.

Fancy pharmacy I was sent to for medications inside the gigantic La Comer megastore in the “American” section of town.

That night the marina, Puerto Los Cabos, held a great party for us Cubaristas, which had to be changed to a covered venue at the last minute due to highly unusual rain storms.  Fortunately this meant we did not have the dolphin show. 

All we kept hearing was “It never rains here this time of year!”.    Unusual weather seems to be the norm at the moment.

The next day we said good-bye to Sean, the best crew member we could have asked for, as he flew home to his family and below freezing temperatures and snow in Boston.  Now it’s me and Larry until we see Miranda in December!

The crew preparing for our last overnight passage together.

Fishing Down the Baja Coast

As I mentioned in a previous post, I had a Tuna fishing rig made up for us by a commercial fisherman in Brookings, OR. He (and others) told us that we could troll behind the boat even at our cruising speed and have a chance to catch fish, provided that the water is warm enough (definitely over 60 degress). We did not fish at all on our passage down to San Diego, but planned to do so once we got into Mexican waters.

In San Diego, we went to a tackle shop for help with the appropriate setup. We had some rods on board from our feeble attempts at fishing up north this summer, but they were really not beefy enough for the job, nor did we have the proper rod holders on board. The shop suggested that we buy some hand line rigs. These consist of lengths of very heavy braided line that are connected by a big rubber bungee as a shock absorber. One end gets secured to the boat (on one of the cleats), and the other end attaches to a long, heavy, monofilament leader, to which you attach the lure. Then you simply toss it over the stern and wait.

Hand line setup. From right to left, short line that attaches to a cleat, rubber bungy to absorb shock, length of green braided line, monofilament leader, and cedar plug lure.

After purchasing Mexican Fishing licenses for everyone, we were ready to go. We had beautiful weather on the long run from Ensenada down to Turtle Bay, and decided to put lines in the water. We set out three hand lines, with one tied to the center hawse pipe and one each from the port and starboard sides. While Gwen took a turn at the helm, Sean and I worked the lines in the cockpit, which consisted mostly of eating snacks, drinking soda and chatting while trying to stay out of the sun. Suddenly we had a fish on… and I realized that we had not really prepared to CATCH a fish. We hauled it in, managed to gaff it, and got it into the boat. After some struggle (the cockpit looked like a crime scene), we got the small Bluefin Tuna ready to be cleaned and prepped. I had never cleaned a Tuna before but vaguely recalled having to bleed them before cutting filets. We do have the Crusier’s Guide to Fishing on board, and now that catching fish was a possibility, I actually went back and read the chapter on cleaning them. The next day we fished again, and this time were more prepared. We caught another Bluefin Tuna and made the proper cuts to bleed it. We even dragged it behind the boat for a few minutes, as recommended. We stopped fishing each day after catching one fish, wanting only to take what we would actually eat. But, before we were able to pull in the lines, we hooked up again… this time two at the same time. Sean and I each pulled in our lines only to find that we had Bonito on. These are good sportfish, but not good eating. We were able to realease them without bringing them into the boat, and managed to avoid getting too close to their mouthfull of sharp teeth.

It was clear from the radio chatter that there were boats in the fleet that had real fishermen on board. Lots of people were catching fish.Once we arrived in Turtle Bay, we went over to visit Alex on Bella Luna for some expert cleaning advice. Alex is married to Monica, who works for the Santa Barbara Harbor Patrol and checked us in when we arrived from our long run down from Oregon. Anyway, we were able to watch Alex clean a tuna, and learned where to cut the gills. He also showed us where and how to trim away the darkest red meat along the lateral line, which has a strong flavor.

On the next segment of the journey we were really prepared to fish, and the fishing was outstanding. We first caught a Bluefin Tuna, and then immediately hooked up with some Yellowfin Tuna. These were all small fish – probably in the 6-8 lb range, but plenty for good eating. This time, we actually had cameras ready and were able to document the catch.

Sean with a Yellowfin Tuna.
Larry with a Yellowfin about to go into the bucket.

We knew what we had to do with all of this fresh fish… Sushi! Gwen brought our little-used Sushi making supplies, so we put together some bluefin and yellowfin sashimi, nigiri and a couple of rolls. It was excellent!

A sushi dinner underway. Tough life on passage on Miss Miranda.

It may not be clear from the photo, but the flesh of the Bluefin Tuna is significantly darker than that of the Yellowfin. Both were delicious, if I do say so myself.

As we approached Bahia Santa Maria the next day, the water temperature continued to rise and soon there was chatter over the radio of the fleet catching Dorado. When Gwen took over from me at the helm around 9 in the morning, I decided to put the lines in and try our luck. In no more than 10 minutes it was Fish On! We had a Dorado on the cedar plug. It was quite feisty and took some effort to Gaff and bring aboard, but we had our system pretty well down by this time.

Dorado on board.

It was not a huge fish by any means, but between it and the Tuna, it was enough to feed us and guests for two meals on Miss Miranda. Some of the CUBAR veterans told us that the fishing was far better this year than in previous years. Many of the boats caught more and larger fish, including Marlin. We were very satisifed just trailing the hand lines at normal speed and pulling in a fresh dinner each day.

Here is how the pros do it. Saw the helicopter land on this fishing vessel as we were going by.

Mexican commercial fishing boat with helicopter on board.

Bahia Santa Maria and Magdalena Bay

Sunset on passage to Bahia Santa Maria.

After an easy 30 hour overnight passage that had some drama on a fellow boat involving my medical expertise (more on that in another blog post), we pulled into Bahia Santa Maria.  The view was a tiny fishing village and miles of sandy beaches.  We relaxed on board and hosted Justin Edelman, the CUBAR photographer and videographer, for dinner.    It was a lot of fun to hear about his adventures photographing sailing around the world, and he has kindly shared some photos with me to use on the blog.

Sunrise at anchor in Magdalena Bay. Courtesy of Justin and CUBAR.

The next morning we up anchored for a short cruise down the peninsula and into Magdalena Bay, where we stayed for two nights.  Magdalena Bay (often called Mag Bay by Americans, but according to the professor we heard lecture that is not preferred by Mexicans) is a gigantic natural harbor at  25 miles N-S and 13 miles E-W with multiple good anchorages.  We anchored in Man Of War Cove. 

Some of the thousands of fishing pelicans.

The bay is obviously full of fish.  We had a constant accompaniment of pelicans bombing head first into the water and sea lions surfacing and breathing hard all around our boat.  It was a deterrent to swimming in the 74 degree water for me, but so much fun to watch.  The pelicans are hilarious the way they look like they are about to kill themselves on the water.  I can’t help thinking – it’s gotta hurt to slam your head into the water over and over again!  But apparently they are made for that. 

Hanging out at the Miramar palapa restaurant.

There is a tiny fishing village on the shore with about 160 people.  The Miramar palapa restaurant served us wonderful fish cooked various ways and we relaxed all afternoon.  I walked around the village taking pictures and bought a few things from the tiny tienda.  I missed out on fresh tortillas but was able to get a few limes and some refried beans.    There is no road access to Magdalena Bay – all supplies are carried in by ferry from San Carlos, a larger town across the bay. The village is fortunate now to have a desalination plant for their water supply which opened in 2018, so it no longer has to be ferried in. 

The people in Magdalena Bay were all very friendly, smiles and waves when I walked around.    I had fun talking with and practicing my Spanish with the restaurant proprietress and her charming 1 year old baby boy.    

The church was just down the beach from the palapa.
Many of the fisherman were around working on their traps.

The guys were slightly disappointed because earlier cruisers had drunk all the beer so the owner of the restaurant was running across to San Carlos in his panga to get more beer once he saw 25 boats turn up.   It was hours before he came back though, and by that time a small squall had come up and it was time to return to the boat. 

The next day we were led on a dingy tour to the mangrove estuary. 

Senor Enrique. I think he was disappointed that our dingies could not go as fast as his panga!

Enrique in his panga led the way through shallow sand bars and crab pots with some commentary over the VHF radio.  It turned out to be a very long way from the anchorage at high speed in choppy waves, fun for the most part, with frigate birds and pelicans flying around us. 

The entrance to the mangroves
Sand dunes in the middle of the estuary

The estuary was beautiful, with sand pipers and ospreys waiting for us.   

Osprey waiting for fish
They were completely unfazed by our passing.

There was some drama when Justin launched a drone from the panga and it lost its’ mind and dropped into the water.  Justin instinctively jumped in and was able to retrieve it from 13 feet of water.  Editor’s Note: We have now christened Justin “El Hombre de Augua”… Aquaman!

Drone rescue – I was just worried someone was going to run over Justin!

We hosted a group from the boat Lahaina Sailor with CUBAR organizer Dave Abrams and family on our boat for the CUBAR potluck dinner circle. We feasted on mahi-mahi and tuna that Larry and Sean caught.  Larry is a master of cooking fish and it is truly spectacular to eat the fruit of our labors (guess I should say Larry’s labor:)! 

Battery Woes Resolved… Yay!

Before leaving San Jose Del Cabo, I was able to finally identify the root cause of my battery problem (https://mvmissmiranda.com/2019/11/11/battery-woes/), and it was not a bad battery. That was a good thing because a replacement battery would have had to have been shipped to San Diego to a freight forwarder for delivery to Mexico, and the manufacturer would have likely wanted the old battery back. No fun.

So, what happened? In order to find the problem battery, I disconnected the cabling from all 5 batteries in the port bank and then measured voltage across each of them individually. Well, each one measured 12.9 Volts… exactly what a healthy battery should. This didn’t make sense to me, since when I tried to power the whole boat from that back alone, by switching it “on” and the other one off, I saw a rapid voltage drop and an indicator of dead batteries up at the pilot house monitoring panels.

CUBAR Fleet Captain and fellow Nordhavn owner Bill Roush came over to help me troubleshoot further. I was looking at voltage at a monitoring panel, and we wanted to see if the readings at the batteries were the same as the readings at the panel. It turned out that they were not. The batteries read a constant 12.9 volts no matter what we did, as if they were completely disconnected, even though the switch was on. Bill says “maybe the switch is bad”. I say, “no, can’t be, just replaced this year”. Bill, being somewhat more lithe than me, was able to reach way over to where the switch is mounted in the lazarette, and surprise, surprise, one of the cables was WAY loose. He was able to tighten the connection, and upon retest, the battery voltage was agreeing with the system measured voltage.

The culprit!

I was wrong in my suspicion of a dead battery, and Brother in Law Sean (who had gone back to Boston by now) was right in suspecting a bad connection. What turned out to be a complication was the input of the solar panels, which was creating a voltage that masked the fact that the battery switch wasn’t working. However, they did not provide enough amperage to power the systems as the only source. When we thought we were selecting the port battery bank, we were, in fact, powering the boat only off the solar panels. What I now realize is that for some unknown period of time, the port battery bank was disconnected due to the loose connection. When I saw a low battery voltage in Turtle Bay, I thought the batteries were 40% discharged. Because the port bank really was offline at the time, the batteries were, in fact 80% discharged, so the low voltage was perfectly consistent with that state of charge.

I am very glad to have found this, as a loose connection, particularly in a very high amperage DC circuit, is a serious fire hazard. So, happy ending to this one, and we are now off to Bahia los Muertos and the last leg of the CUBAR Rally.

Of course, the list never gets shorter… it’s just the items that change. It seems that our second Nav computer was a victim of the low battery voltage that occurred during the testing. It refuses to boot up, and the recovery procedure for booting from an external BIOS requires a wired keyboard. We probably have 5 keyboards on the boat… all wireless. So, we’ll be hunting for a USB keyboard in La Paz, or may even try to order one from Amazon MX and have it shipped to the marina. On to the next problem!