Stuck in a Maze of Fishing Nets!

If you had been following our inReach track today (https://us0-share.inreach.garmin.com/MVMissMiranda) you would have seen a funny course deviation and a doubling back, like this.

What the heck were they doing?

We left Chacala this morning to make the 45 NM run to Banderas Bay and Paradise Village Marina, our home for the next month. We wanted to have a look at the next bay South, Bahia Jaltemba, which is supposed to have a nice anchorage. We also wanted to have a look at the Gringo haven surf town Sayulita along the way, so we plotted a relatively near coastal route instead of heading well offshore.

It was a beautiful morning and we had some very large Bottle Nose dolphin riding along with us…. the biggest I’ve seen yet. There were a fair number of pangas out, and we suddenly noticed that we were approaching some net floats (which are often just empty translucent soda bottles, not fancy obvious floats like we see in the US) along our port side. We saw a flag marking the end a ways off, so we adusted course to go around the net. Well, we got to the flag, and found that it was connected to floats on both sides. So, we altered course some more to head seaward. Now, however, we started seeing net floats on both sides, and when we got to the next flag, we could see that we were well and truly hemmed in. As you can see in the voyager recording from our chart plotter below, we turned around to backtrack… a long way, and we eventually saw pangas near one of the flags. We sounded the horn many times and were studiously ignored. We drove right up to the pangas, and were still studiously ignored. We asked for help/directions in Spanish and got a vague arm wave seaward. So we turned seaward again, only to find that we were hemmed in again.

Our escape from the fish net maze. North is up.

By this time we didn’t know what to do. If I was confident in my line cutters, I would have just driven through, but the thought of fouling the stabilizers as well as the prop shaft had me really concerned. Finally, we realized that the net fisherman must avoid the shrimpers working close to shore in 80 to 100 feet of water. We backtracked some more to the end of yet another net and came around the inshore side, and aimed directly at the next shrimper we saw. That turned out to do the trick. As you can see, we backtracked for more than 4 miles and spent a nerve wracking hour trying to escape from the maze.

The rest of the voyage passed without incident, and we arrived here at Paradise Village this afternoon. This time, we earned our arrival beer.

Spanish Names

As we have been taking Spanish lessons and trying to communicate effectively with our Mexican hosts, we have realized that our names present something of a challenge for Spanish speakers.  So, for instance, instead of using Larry, I use my full name, Lawrence, but change it to the more spanish-sounding Lorenzo.  I try to always introduce myself to whomever we meet – taxi drivers, shopkeepers, etc, and “Soy Lorenzo” seems to work well.  In Mazatlan, I met a father and son team of Marine Service guys, named, aptly, Ruiz and Ruiz.  When I introduced myself as Lorenzo, Ruiz the younger immediately said “Lencho”, the shortened name for Lorenzo.  I kind of liked it… though Gwen was not entirely pleased.  She insists that it must be some kind of inside joke.

Mi nombre es Lencho…

Gwen has a very difficult name for Spanish speakers.  In fact, people everywhere seem to creatively mangle her name.  Even in the US, we regularly show up at restaurants looking for a reservation under her name, and wind up seeing “Glen”, “Owen”, or other odd takes.  So, having my own Spanish name, I thought Gwen would be well served by having one of her own.  She refused the standard contractions of her name, e.g., “Wendy”, and we eventually settled on Gabriela.  However, when we next met some people and introduced ourselves, I boldly said “Lencho” and Gwen…. choked.  She said “Gwen”.  She just couldn’t pull off the Gabriela thing.  The other morning when we were on the La Tovara Estuary tour, we introduced ourselves to our guide, who spoke some English.  When he heard Gwen, he immediately said “Cuando”, which is, of course, Spanish for “When”.  We had a good chuckle about that, but then I thought that this might be a good Spanish name for her.  We used it a couple of times the other day, and Spanish speakers who know a bit of English do get a kick out of it.  Gwen, not so much. 

Ella nombre es… Cuando?

Perhaps our faithful readers can help Gwen… what should her Spanish name be?

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.

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.

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!

Battery Woes

The suspect is in here somewhere….

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.