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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
We have been in Bahia Los Tortugas (Turtle Bay) for the last couple of days after a 35 hour run down from Ensenada. We have a great story in an upcoming blog post with lots of pictures, but it will have to wait until we get someplace with better data connectivty. We had great Telcel phone signal, but no data here.
This is the first time we have anchored overnight in a month (since we were in Neah Bay). Unfortunately, when I got up the first morning to make coffee, I discovered that the battery voltage was unusually low. I realize that before I continue the story, I need to do a little aside explaining our electrical system and why low battery voltage is not a good thing…
Our boat has an electrical system based on large 12V DC batteries. These batteries power the electronics, lighting, water pumps, heads, etc, that all run on 12V DC, and in combination with an Inverter, also power 120V equipment such as the refrigerator, freezer, etc. The batteries (in what we call the “house bank”) are charged by chargers which run from shore power when we are at a dock or from a generator when we are at anchor. They are also charged by the solar panels that we installed recently. The bottom line is that the house battery bank is a critical system on the boat, and we carefully monitor the “state of charge” to make sure that everything keeps working as it should. One important detail here is that the battery voltage is a (rough) indicator of how fully charged the batteries are, and a fully charged 12V battery should read not 12, but 12.8 volts. If the reading is below 12V, as it was on this morning, that means that the batteries are either deeply discharged, or a warning sign that something is amiss.
Back to the story… we ran the generator to recharge the batteries and decided to monitor and record the state of charge data over the next 24 hrs to see if we could identify the problem. During the day, our new solar panels are working well, producing enough energy to keep up with the house loads (usage by the refrigerator, freezer, etc) all day. When the sun goes down, we start drawing on the house banks, and the battery voltage got pretty low by bedtime that night. The next morning, we were down to 11.5V. Clearly something was wrong.
Because our batteries are split up into two banks (they are in two bix boxes in the lazarette), I was able to isolate the problem by turning each bank off and observing the results. When I switched off the port bank nothing happened. So I turned it back on and switched off the starboard bank… and everything on the boat shut down. Clearly there is a bad battery in the port bank – so bad that the boat can’t even run on it. My suspicion is that the bad battery is creating a load within the battery banks, therefore drawing down all the other batteries. So, I disabled the port battery bank and started the generator to charge up the starboard bank. That bank charged back up, with voltage and other parameters as expected, so we think that set of batteries is still good. Therefor we are good to go, except with half our our battery capacity. We will need to conserve electricity usage and monitor the batteries carefully, but will have no problem continuing on down the coast to San Jose Del Cabo. Once we get there, our task will be to determine which battery (or batteries) is dead and figure out how to get a warranty replacement from the manufacturer.
Today (Wednesday, Nov 5th) we are underway from Turtle Bay to Bahia Santa Maria. It is a 30 hour run, and we have the same great weather (and fishing… also the subject of another post) that we had for the ride down to Turtle Bay. We expect to arrive tomorrow (Wednesday, 11/6) around 2 PM. We have heard that there is decent cellular data there, so we will be able to do some updates on the great time we have been having so far on the CUBAR Rally, Fishing, and enjoying Mexico.
We arrived in San Diego a couple of days earlier than planned in order to get some repairs done for the issues I described recently. Boomer and his crew of two helpers showed up after receiving the necessary parts and went to work on fixing the leak on the new autopilot steering pump, installing a replacement for old, leaking steering pump, and replacing the coupling for the bow thruster. It was actually a bit scary to see Boomer disappear deep in the forward bilge to get at the thuster coupling. There is no way I would have been able to get in there, much less get out. After a long, hot day’s worth of work, we had a working bow thruster and two brand new autopilot steering pumps. The next day we did a sea trial around the harbor to make sure that all was well. Everything was good, so we were ready to go.
We also had an issue with the stabilizers, which I THOUGHT we had fixed on the way down to San Diego. Briefly, the stabilizers on our boat are a pair of fins mounted on the hull of our boat. They are moved through a complex electical and hydraulic control system to counteract the rolling motion induced by waves. The stabilizer circuit breaker mysteriously started tripping, shutting off the control circuitry, and therefore, the use of the stabilizers. We actually discovered this on our run from Marina Del Rey to Alamitos Bay and spent a couple of hours underway without the stabilizers working. Even though the conditions were mild, we realized that we’d really rather have them working. After consultation with fellow owners on the Nordhavn Owners Group and Ernie Romeo, it appeared that the circuit breaker was undersized for the new power supply that was installed this summer. So, I changed the breaker, and everything worked just fine on the remaining legs down to San Diego. Of course, there was the nagging question of why the breaker had not tripped before….
As Gwen mentioned, we prepared to depart San Diego for Ensenada this morning, only to find that the breaker started tripping AGAIN. We turned around after getting less than 100 yards from the dock and tried to figure out what was wrong. It was clear that the circuit was not overloaded – the 20 Amp breaker was tripping with a measured 8.5 Amps of load. Now thoroughly confused, I decided to call Boomer – actually expecting to leave him a message. I just happened to catch him on the way in to work, and he came right over to the boat. He started troubleshooting and I was helping him recreate the problem, when suddenly, the stabilizers were not working at all – there was no hydraulic pressure. Boomer discovered the culprit, which was a failed main relay for the hydraulic system. This relay allows the hydraulic system to become pressurized and move the stabilizer fins. In a stroke of good luck, Boomer happened to have a spare relay at the shop. Replacing that and a fuse that blew when the relay failed finally fixed the stabilizer problem once and for all (I hope).
So, one more night in San Diego and we hope to rejoin the CUBAR group down in Ensenada tomorrow (October 31).
We are in Marina Del Rey, California enjoying the hospitality of the California Yacht Club, where we are on the guest dock. It is an end tie, which is a good thing for us because yesterday our bow thruster died. We were pulling out of Ventura Yacht Club yesterday morning, backing down the fairway and using the bow thruster to keep us straight in the narrow channel. Suddenly we started hearing a loud grinding noise as we engaged the thruster. Not good. We were out of the fairway, so were able to move on with normal steering control. On our approach to Marina Del Rey, Gwen spotted several mylar balloons and we decided to pick them up… good maneuvering practice. In swinging the boat around, I tried to use the thruster and more noise, no thrust, and soon, it seemed to lock up. Not good… not good at all. We proceeded into Marina Del Rey and had no problems getting on to the CYC end tie.
Soon after arriving I had a call from Ernie Romeo at ABT TRAC. I had been texting with California expat Devin Zwick of Nordhavn Northwest to see if he knew of any thruster experts in the area… he called TRAC as we were bringing the boat in (thanks, Devin!). Ernie suggested that we get a diver to see if there are any obstructions of the props and reckoned based on my description of the symptoms that the coupling from the motor to the props would be the likely failure point. I was pleasantly astonished to learn that the three parts to be replaced totaled less then $300, downright cheap as boat stuff goes. Ernie also suggested a service guy in Marina Del Rey, who we could not get in touch with, and one in San Diego, with whom we spoke and arranged a service visit next week. We have a diver recommended by CYC coming to look at the props today… maybe something got stuck in the thruster tunnel.
It turns out that the very same technician will also work on our autopilot pumps. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we installed a back up autopilot system… which we needed, because the steering pump for the primary autopilot developed a leak which drained nearly half the steering fluid over the run from Neah Bay to Brookings. From Brookings, we switched over to the backup autopilot, and all was good…. except that the new steering pump also had a leak, though minor. After much wrangling by Ian, our project manager at Philbrooks, with Kobelt, the pump manufacturer, they agreed to send a technician out to fix the leak with the new pump under warranty when we arrive in San Diego. We also decided to replace the old, leaking pump. However, the Kobelt dealer does not install pumps. They recommended a local technician in San Diego that was the very same guy recommended by ABT TRAC to service our bow thruster. Very convenient.
So the new plan is to make our way down to San Diego for a Monday arrival. We will stop in Long Beach and Oceanside along the way and will visit the Southwestern Yacht Club in San Diego on Monday before arriving at the Police Dock on Wednesday. We will connect with the technician on Tuesday to begin the repairs. An oft-quoted saying is “Cruising is repairing the boat in exotic places”. I am not sure Southern California qualifies as exotic, but there surely are worse places to be…
We were walking by the commercial basin this morning when we saw a sign for Tuna off the boat.
F/V EZC was selling flash frozen Albacore Tuna for $3 a pound, plus another $6 to have the deckhands clean the fish. Too good to resist, so I had them do a 14 lb fish for us, which they estimated would yield about 7 lbs of filet.
We got to chatting and I mentioned that we were heading to Mexico on our boat. They said we should try trolling for Tuna (which we had planned to do when we got further South). The advice was simply to find 60+ degree water and troll a plug. I didn’t have one, so Captain Jimmy offered to put one together at his cost.
He said we can even hand line the setup, just drop it back a little ways off the stern. They troll around 5 knots but said that even up around 8 knots we should be able to catch some. However, they recommended using a bungee cord at the boat end to absorb some of the shock of the strike.
Maybe we’ll try some off the coast if we find the right water temps.
We arrived in Brookings on Monday, October 7th, after a very easy ride down from Port Orford. We knew that we would be here for a few days, as the forecast was for gale conditions along the Northern CA and Southern Oregon coast. Our friends and Anacortes neighbors Stuart and Judy have a place down here, and as it happened, Judy was in town while we were here. She took good care of us during our brief shore leave.
Crossing the Bar
All of the ports along the Pacific coast of Washington and Oregon are at the mouths of rivers, and all have a “bar” to cross, which is a shallow zone where the river outflow meets the ocean. It can be quite hazarous to cross a bar when conditions are poor, and it is always recommended to cross as the tide is rising (towards the end of the flood). We timed our arrival for the beginning of the flood and approached Brookings with some apprehension… this was our first bar crossing. We did not have time to take any photos on the way in, but got this one looking back out when we arrived.
As you can see, the only hazard was all of the fishing boats trolling in the entrance channel as we were trying to come in. We went straight down the middle, and fortunately, the boats moved (barely) out of the way.
Maintenance and Mechanical Issues
When we arrived it was time to change the oil on the main engine. The oil change interval is every 250 hours, and the last time we changed was in Hoonah, AK this summer. This change should be good for the remainder of the run down to Mexico. We have a built in oil transfer pump, so it is a pretty easy job. The biggest issue is finding the used oil disposal facility, which is right over in the boatyard.
As we were doing a general mechanical inspection after the long run, we noticed that there was steering fluid leaking from one of the autopilot pumps. It is not obvious where the leak is coming from… the fittings and hoses are all completely dry.
We cleaned up the area thoroughly and put down new pads. I cycled the pump a bunch of times to see if I could reproduce the leak, but no luck. I know the pump worked REALLY hard on the trip down, especially when we had big following seas. It turned out that it had leaked about a quart of steering fluid over the nearly 48 hours of continuous operation.
The astute reader will notice that there are two autopilot pumps in the photo above. We had a second, independent Autopilot system installed just in case of this type of problem. In consultation with the yard, we decided that on the next leg, we will run the primary autopilot until we can detect signs of leakage, and then switch to the backup autopilot. We also picked up another gallon of steering fluid in case more refills of the reservior were required.
Using the backup autopilot is fine… except that we have been experiencing problems with the new heading sensor (which tells the autopilot the direction the boat is moving in). We noticed that occassionally and unpredictably, the heading would be off by as much as 30 degrees. After more consultation with the yard, I discovered that the cause of this heading error was electrical interference from one of our DC circuits – the one that serves the lights in the master cabin. Turn that breaker off, and you can see the heading return to normal (in this case from 333 deg magnetic to 308 deg). Turn it back on, and the heading slowly increased back up to 333. Needless to say, this was not ideal placement of the heading sensor, but for now we will simply turn the breaker off while underway.
The Next Leg
It looks like a very good weather window is opening up starting on Friday. Our goal will be to move as far south as possible during that time. The major obstacles between here and sunny Southern California are the notorious Cape Mendocino, about 120 miles S of us, and then Point Conception, West of Santa Barbara. We are considering a straight shot from here to Santa Barbara, which is about 560 NM and about 3 days of 24/7 running. The other alternative would be to get to Monterey, which is about 375 NM and 2 days run. We will discuss with our weather router before we head out and then make an assessment along the way.