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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.