San Carlos Area

Beginning of our passage day.
Approaching San Carlos, with the distinctive Tetas de Cabra in the distance.

We arrived at San Carlos in the state of Sonora on the mainland after a very pleasant, calm passage from Punta Chivato. We found our slip in Marina San Carlos and went up to the office to check in.  By late that night, a cold front was moving through and it started blowing hard.  We saw upwards of 34 kts in our slip, which happens aligned perfectly with a gap between the protective hills around the bay. 

The dip between the hills allowed strong winds to blow right at us.
The two derelict boats seem to be permanent fixtures – they are attached to mooring balls. The floating dock is populated by birds and gave a distinctive odor to our moorage when the wind wasn’t blowing 25 knots.

The wind stayed fierce until the next afternoon.  That was fine because it was a chore day on the boat.  I changed the oil and filters on the main engine and Gwen took the laundry in to the hotel and arranged for a boat wash for the next day.  The next morning, it was calm and sunny.  We had the boat washer at work – she is from Guaymas, the industrial city about 10 miles away, daughter of the captain of a shrimp boat and an incredibly efficient and hard worker.  We also found Francisco, the diver, to clean the bottom of the boat, which had been developing some shaggy green growth along the waterline.  As early afternoon came around, the winds started picking up again, and by mid afternoon we had whitecaps, 2 ft chop and 25+ knot winds again, coming right through the gap.  This was getting old!

The next day we decided to get down our folding bikes to ride around town a little bit and see what stores were best for provisioning.  We rode from the marina down the main drag of San Carlos which ran along the bay down the “Charly’s Rock”, a big rock formation that looms over the commercial strip.  We stopped at the Ley supermarket for some key items (big limes and butter) and found a wine and liquor store where we managed to get several bottles of wine and booze packed onto the rack of our bikes.  We also stopped at a bank for a reload of Pesos.  Once back at the boat we turned around and walked up to the nearest supermarket, just up the road from the marina with our folding wagon.  I made a side trip to the Modelorama store to pick up a case of Pacificos, having gotten over the annoyance with the tall, narrow cans.  Back with the groceries, and guess what?  The winds and waves were up again.  Our beautiful boat wash was being rapidly undone by salt spray down the back third of the boat.  We mounted the bicycles again and headed to the beach for lunch at Palapa Griega, which had an excellent menu featuring Greek and Mexican dishes.  We had a couple of cold beers, spanakopita, Gyro salad and coconut shrimp while enjoying a sunny afternoon on the beach.  

(A note on our restaurant going relative to COVID risk. We only go to outdoor seating restaurants – which for us means no walls to impede air flow. We also look at table spacing, and we don’t sit with others. Servers are masked and we wear our masks when not eating or drinking. In San Carlos – the wind was pretty much blowing 15 knots anytime we were at a restaurant so Gwen was confident that any aerosolized virus that could be around was blown away! )

We got back to the boat with the wind still howling.  I wrote an email to Shawn Breeding, one of the authors of our cruising guide, saying that his reports of wind in San Carlos was accurate, to say the least.  He wrote back saying that they used to refer to the winds as the “Afternoon gale”.  An apt description, which somehow did not make it into the guide.

From the walkway inside the marina.

Finally, on Friday morning we were ready to depart.  It was another sunny, mild morning.  After checking out of the Marina, we went over to the fuel dock to top up our tanks.  I have to say that this was the best run fuel dock we encountered in Mexico with two attendants that caught our lines and then took care of fueling the boat.  All we had to do was tell them how much in each tank.  Very efficient and easy for us!  Next we pulled out of the harbor and did a little tour of the bay in front of town. 

Circling around one of many Islets named “Los Candeleros” in the Bay in front of San Carlos.

Our next anchorage was Bahia San Pedro, some 12 miles North, but we needed to make a lot of water (the marina water was reported to be notoriously non-potable) on the way up.  We cruised by the beachfront palapa, viewed Charly’s rock from the water and made a lap around one of many “Los Candeleros” islets before heading North.  As we headed North, the winds, of course, picked up and we worked our way into head seas.  Lots of whitecaps but the waves were not too bad. As we pulled into the anchorage we saw winds as high as 25 knots on a day forecast at 10-15.  No problem setting the anchor – just let the chain out and the wind did the rest for us.

Tucked into the anchorage.

Our friends on Last Arrow and Gitana had also come to Bahia San Pedro but left at sunrise the next morning.  I was up to wish them fair seas (and less wind).  Waiting in the predawn darkness, I heard the howling of coyotes that were obviously on the beach.  Unfortunately, it was too dark to see them.  Overnight the temperature in the anchorage went up quite a bit.  It was 77 deg at 5 AM, I think due to warm air coming down from the land in gentle N breezes.  Later in the morning as the wind picked up from the NW the temperature went down about 15 degrees with the wind over the chilly (57 deg) waters of the Sea.

Sea cave in the bottom of the colorful cliffs with cacti and palm trees.
Gwen was excited to get a shot of this Hermann gull – breeds only here in the Sea.

We took a little dinghy tour of the anchorage, looking at the sea caves that formed in Roca San Pedro right at the point of the anchorage.  It was interesting to see Palm trees growing all over this large rock, in addition to the usual cactus.  We went ashore, where there were remnants of a fish camp, particularly several dumps of conch shells that I called Conch Cemeteries.  These shells seemed recent, retaining their sharp spines.  The beach was mostly gravel and finely ground stone, forming a crescent shape and surrounded by low hills.  It offered very good wave protection from the N and NW, but the winds funneled around either side of Roca San Pedro.  The holding was very good as confirmed by our couple of windy days and nights.  Morning sunrise over the hills was beautiful.

One of the many conch graveyards.

After a couple of nights we headed back down to Bahia Algodones which is just 3 miles away and around the corner from Marina San Carlos. We anchored right off the beach with the Soggy Peso restaurant and bar and the Sunset Grill and several hotels farther down.  This location is famous (at least in our cruising guides) for being the setting of the late 1960’s antiwar movie Catch 22 (based on the novel). We watched Catch-22 that evening while anchored in the bay (thanks to our “Curator” onboard entertainment system invented by our friend John.), and seeing the distinctive scenery was absolutely uncanny.  It was obvious that we were sitting right off the runway from the movie. The guidebooks talk about being able to visit the runway and see the remnants of the set, so we were excited to do that.

The Tetas de Cabra, or Tetakiwi mountains, are the signature view of this area. In Catch 22 there wasn’t a single sign of development and it appeared completely wild.

Overnight, a bit of wind and swell came in, enough to make it pretty uncomfortable even with the flopper stopper out, so we elected to brave the afternoon gales in Marina San Carlos again.  The next day we rented a car to have lunch and look for the runway and ruins.  We drove over to Bahia Algodones and had lunch at the outside Sunset Grill. We asked the waitstaff at Sunset Grill about the Catch 22 movie site, but they knew nothing of it at all.  And we can see why. Everything on both sides of the road is fenced off and there are various bits of development happening or not happening in that typical Mexican way.  We backtracked and finally found a dirt road off the highway that was going to a ranch that offered horseback riding.  We took that road and veered off onto another that eventually crossed the runway.  We found the asphalt still intact in some places but clearly being overtaken by the scrub.  There were no structures whatsoever left.

Runway looking toward the water.
End of the runway looking to the hills.

The construction going on at the south end of Bahia Algodones is astonishing. The other marina (Marina Real) is completely surrounded by houses/condos, and the road up to the scenic viewpoint is full of construction on both sides, all apparently speculative based on big “Se Vende” sale signs in front of them.  The hills around Caleta Lalo have been carved and flattened for homesites, and  there was a private breakwater and pilings in the NW corner.  You’d think the entire US is moving to San Carlos.  Anyway, we enjoyed exploring the area in the rental car, and shockingly enough, we actually experienced a (single) calm day in the marina.

Caleta Lalo with new mansion and private dock.

San Carlos is obviously a resort town with a significant population of Gringo expats only 300 miles from the Arizona border, but also appears to be growing in popularity as a destination for Mexican tourists. It was established in 1963, and is only some 20 miles from the gritty port town of Guaymas. We actually drove into Guaymas for a look around (and some provisioning) but did not find it very interesting.

Next, we head back over to the Baja side looking for warmer weather!

Punta Chivato

The weather reports were finally showing an opening for crossing over to the mainland side of the Sea of Cortez, where we wanted to visit the San Carlos area.  It looked like Monday would be a good day to cross, and we decided to head up to Punta Chivato, North of the town of Mulegé, to jump off.  We departed on a sunny Saturday morning.  The North winds were about 10 knots creating a little bit of chop for the 24 miles out of Bahía Concepción and across Bahía Santa Inez. 

Punta Chivato has a very long beach with a significant number of houses, an airport for small planes, and what looks like an abandoned hotel (more on that later).  When we arrived there were 4 other boats in the anchorage, but there was plenty of room off the beach in good depths.  The wind, as one might expect by now, kicked up after we arrived.  The anchorage has wave protection from the North and some wind protection, and has excellent holding.

When the wind died down we went in to the beach, which had a huge number of shells spread along its length. There were so many piled up it was like “shell dunes”. The entire area out to the Islas Santa Inez a couple of miles offshore is very shallow, so this must have been a great place for shellfish at some point in time. All of the shells did look very old and worn.

Highlights of the shells on the beach.

Sunday turned out to be a bit milder than Saturday.  In the morning a fisherman and his two sons came by in a panga and offered fresh fish.  We bought a small (6 lb) halibut and they filleted it up for us.  It turned into some very tasty fish tacos later that evening.  They also had a good sized Pargo (snapper) and some lobsters, but we passed on those. We paid in Pesos, cans of coke, and a bag of chips – the dad was hungry.

Fresh fish delivery right to the transom!

Later, we went for a walk on the beach where we met some fellow Gringos from Oregon staying in one of the nice houses up in the sand dunes.  They had been down here since November and commented on what a cold and windy winter it has been. We then took a little dinghy tour around the anchorage and looked at what must have been a very fancy hotel right on the point.  Our guidebook said it was the hotel Posada de los Flores and a great place to go for a sunset drink on the stone patio overlooking the anchorage. Well, the stone patio was still there but the hotel is out of business and obviously abandoned.

Very sad – clearly the weather is taking a toll quickly.

While sitting in the cockpit, we were amused watching large flocks of our favorite bird the lesser grebe as they popped up en masse, then suddenly would dive down again. Not clear what their signal is but they all disappear in just 2 to 3 seconds!

Just surfaced…
Dive! dive!
Almost gone…
Just a few stragglers.

We were up before dawn the next morning, ready for a departure at first light.  The weather was beautiful – calm winds and flat seas with sunshine almost the whole way.  The 9 hour, 72 mile crossing was uneventful – the kind we really like!  Next up is our visit to the San Carlos area on the mainland side of the sea.

Bahía Concepción

After spending 4 nights at San Juanico exploring the beautiful bay and surrounding areas (and waiting out yet another Norther) we pulled out on a sunny, calm Sunday morning to head North 55 miles to the many anchorages inside Bahia Concepcion, a 24 mile long, 3 mile wide bay just south of the town of Mulegé and the 27th Parallel.  We rounded Point Concepción after an uneventful trip and were planning to anchor at a spot called Playa Santo Domingo, just inside the NE corner of the bay, and across from Mulegé.  We were told that there was good cell signal there and we figured we’d spend the night catching up on internet.  However, as we were rounding the point, the winds were picking up, and by the time we reached Santa Domingo, the wind was at 20 knots and there were whitecaps and good little swells in this poorly protected anchorage.  We elected to continue on down the bay.  The wind was, for the first time of the season, coming out of the South, so we proceeded to a lovely bay called Playa Santa Barbara, our first S wind anchorage in the Sea of Cortez.  We were alone in the anchorage.  There was a camper and some fancy yurts set back from the beach, but none were occupied.

Mangroves and a heron at the tip of Gwen’s kayak.
First time we had seen the magnificant frigatebird in a long time

The next morning we kayaked around the entire anchorage, exploring the rocky shore on the E side, the mud flats and mangroves at the head of the bay, the estuary on the W side, and at the NW corner of the bay, a pearl culturing setup consisting of a 55 gallon drum float at one end of a line and steel mesh bags containing small oysters.  We didn’t find the sunken sailboat that was reported to be in the anchorage and wound up not having a good chance to look for it.

Later we took the dinghy a few miles over to Playa Coyote in search of a tienda and avocados.  We found the tienda, but no avocados as they weren’t stocking any fresh stuff because of lack of people to buy it.   We did enjoy a very nice meal of chili rellenos con camarones with rice and beans (and a couple of Pacificos, of course) at their outdoor restaurant, homemade just for us as the only people there.

Playa Coyote
This anchor was in the shallows we waded through to get back to our dingy after lunch.

That afternoon, I started noticing swell rolling into the anchorage.  I was surprised, as the wind was light and the forecast was for continued light winds overnight.  It was just about cocktail hour and I had already prepared our libations… but the swell was getting larger, and looking North, I could see whitecaps.  We decided to move.  Because this was a S wind anchorage, it was completely exposed to winds from the North.  As we were exiting the bay, the winds climbed up into the 15-20 knot range, which would have made for an unpleasant night indeed.  We moved a couple of miles up to a spot called Posada Concepcion in the NW corner of the larger bay.  There were colorful houses along the beach and up on the cliffs, and Highway 1 runs right beside the bay in this area.

Lining the hills above the anchorage.
This house in particular surprised us with the whole skeleton!

The next bay over from us is called Playa Santispac, and a couple of other Nordhavns we know from last season were anchored in there, along with a couple of sailboats.  This offers the best protection from the North winds that came every afternoon for the week we were there.  There is a palapa on the beach that has good food  – we had some tasty breakfast pastries – and internet service by the hour.  It serves an RV park that is nearly empty and the normally crowded anchorage.  Our friends on Gitana and Last Arrow told us that the beach was full of RVs at this time last year, mostly Canadians that didn’t make the trip down this year.

At anchor in Posada Concepcion. You may notice that both the burgee and Mexican courtesy flag are wrapped… to keep the noise down and preserve a good night’s sleep in the windy weather.
The long beach usually occupied by rows of RVs. The yellow building is Ana’s Restaurant Palapa.
Many sections of beach had structures like this for campers to set up in. In the entire bay probably 20% were occupied.

Right in front of where we were anchored was an island that the birds clearly felt was a good nesting spot, and was frequented by locals who were fishing and diving off their kayaks.  One man showed us the fish he was catching and said the name in Spanish which we didn’t understand. I thought it was a triggerfish.  He said it was good for ceviche and other dishes.  A reef just beyond it might be a good snorkeling spot, but the water is still too cool for that (for us anyway). 

Cool rock formations covered in guano.
The far end of the small island, our view from the boat.
The pelicans were clearly using this area as a bird bath and grooming area. The hillside was populated with what appeared to be nesting pelicans and the sound of birds we could not see.
Gwen just loves the green water contrast with the rocks.

On another day we spent a few hours on our own “private” beach searching for shells and soaking up some sun while the wind was down. 

The best of the shells Gwen found.

We ended up spending about a week of windy and somewhat chilly days here.  It’s a beautiful spot, and we actually feel lucky to have been here without the usual crowds.  We are sure there is a very different feel to it when beaches are packed with RVs and the anchorages with boats. 

Editors note: Gwen provides nearly all of the photos for the blog and the strain and pressure of our rigorous production schedule are getting to her. She recently suggested that we should reduce the posting frequency on the blog! So, if you love Gwen’s pics and posts, please comment and send her some love.

Puerto Ballandra and Isla Coronados

We left Puerto Escondido the morning after the big Norther turned out to be nothing much, at least at Marina Puerto Escondido.  Over the course of the morning, the winds came up a bit and by the time we left they were around 15 knots from the N.  Not a problem for us.  Our run for the day was a short two hours to Puerto Ballandra on Isla Carmen, which was reported to have good North wind and wave protection.  We planned to sit out the next Norther there, due in a couple of days.  

Coming out of Puerto Escondido and turning N into the channel between Isla Danzante and Isla Carmen we could see that the seas had been raised a bit by the presumably stronger winds farther north, but wind speeds were still low at around 10 knots or so.  Things started picking up after an hour or so into the middle of the channel.  The winds were now more in the 15 knot range, we were starting to see whitecaps on the waves and the seas were building into at least the 5-7 ft range.  Soon it started to feel like practice for the Baja bash, with the boat pitching into the occasionally large waves.  We had a few instances of “bow slap”, where the bulbous bow on the boat comes out of the water and then slams back in.  It’s quite noisy but otherwise harmless.  We were taking lots of spray and were very happy that we had invested in interval wipers.  They got a workout keeping the salt water off the pilot house forward windows.  At the very end it got quite sporty, with the winds exceeding 20 knots and lots of wind waves on top of the swell.  We were happy to pull into Puerto Ballandra, which was indeed well protected from the swell.  

Looking out the entrance from inside Puerto Ballandra anchorage.

A couple of weather lessons learned for me were: 1) If there is a Norther in the Sea, even if your local area is unaffected, it is going to create some swell.  2) With the fetch, 15-20 knot winds will cause the seas to build quickly.  Nothing that we experienced was remotely close to dangerous and was not even uncomfortable.  However, the motion did cause Gwen to have a mild bout of seasickness – enough to have her hang out in the salon where there was less motion. She had made the mistake of reading while underway while it was rough.   Our goal is really to avoid even conditions like this.  I think we may have been a touch too eager to get off the dock.

There were two sailboats tucked into the N end of the bay when we arrived but we had enough room to get into the NW corner next to them.  The bay has excellent protection from waves, but not so much from the winds, which funnel right down the hills to the North.  We hardly needed to back down on the anchor – the 20+ knots of wind did it for us.  It looked like we were catching the Norther a day late.  We saw 25+ knot winds in the anchorage for several hours.  We were also experiencing some rolling from swell wrapping around the point.  When the wind died down a bit we decided to put out the flopper stopper and got it almost ready to drop in the water when, yes, the winds kicked back up.  We pulled it back in, untangled the lines and got it dropped quickly in the next calm period.  Things were all comfy after that.

Alone in the anchorage, for a while.

The next morning the two sailboats that we shared the anchorage left and we decided to move to a better position at the head of the bay.  Of course by this time the winds and a tiny bit of swell were coming from the SW so we knew we would need to reset the anchor again before the next Norther kicked in on Sunday.  After getting set we had a lazy day exploring in the dinghy, reading, having a “Bloody Michelada” with lunch, playing a bit with fishing gear and Gwen going for a late afternoon kayak.  It was a bit cool and cloudy in the morning (by Mexico standards) but the sun came out in the afternoon.  

Because this area is so close to Loreto, it has clearly been quite picked over for shells. The few we found on the beach were quite aged, along with a fair amount of dead coral. There are some good shallow rocky areas that are supposed to be good for snorkeling – perhaps we will try them on our way back down in a month or two. We didn’t walk deeper into the island – there are big horn sheep and an active hunting lodge nearby, and a very marshy swampy area between the beach and the hills.

We were able to join the monthly Nordhavn 50 owners call.  We had enough cell signal from Loreto across the way to join the Zoom video call. 

After a peaceful night we began preparing for the Norther, bringing the dinghy and kayak back on board and resetting the anchor with more than enough scope for the expected winds.   

Speaking of resetting the anchor, I’d like to touch on the topic of Anchoring Etiquette.  Do a google search and you will find many articles on anchoring etiquette, that is, how to safely share an anchorage with your fellow boaters.  The general rule of thumb is that the first boat into an anchorage deploys their anchor as they see fit and other boats have the responsibility to anchor such that they do not collide with that first boat.  It is often not as straightforward as it sounds as you are trying to optimize depth and protection from the prevailing conditions.  It gets more complicated – power boats tend to swing differently than sailboats, and how much your boat swings depends on how much and what type of anchor rode you put out.   I’d like to propose a corollary to the general rule of thumb.  Please don’t anchor immediately upwind of me when we are expecting a Norther. 

The chartered catamaran anchoring on top of our anchor.

Some time after we reset the anchor another boat came into the anchorage and came by to ask how much chain we had out.  It was very good form for them to ask, and we told them how much chain we had out and that there was good holding off our starboard side.  What did they do?  Anchored directly in front of us.  Now the winds had picked up a bit, but were nowhere near the 30 knots we would see later in the day.  If they dragged anchor, they would be right on top of this.  I got on the hailer and expressed my concern telling them that I hoped they were well set because they were right on top of our anchor and would tangle with us if they dragged.  Eventually they called us back and after some discussion moved over to a (perfectly fine) spot to the west of us.

We happily settled in for lunch when another boat came into the anchorage.  This was a boat that was in the anchorage when we arrived but then left.  They, too, dropped right in front of us, even though there was room on our starboard side.  They realized that they were too close and moved, but then came back… splitting the distance between us and the sailboat that had come in earlier.  At least in this case, if they dragged, they would slide between us.  They came by for a visit by dinghy later and we learned that they were accomplished sailors, having come over from Europe via the Pacific and had been out cruising for 9 years.  That gave us confidence that they knew how to anchor their boat securely.  It seems to me that coming into an anchorage, particularly in windy conditions, the best thing to do would be to drop your anchor perhaps even with the boats nearby, and then fall back behind them as you let out your rode.  This way, you swing clear and don’t have to worry about dragging back on your neighbors.

We all sat through about 48 hours of the Norther, with winds up to 33 knots and swell coming into the anchorage and breaking on the beach.  When it finally settled down on Tuesday morning, we all cleared out of the anchorage, with us heading for Isla Coronados, an extinct Volcano only 8 miles north of Puerto Ballandra.  There was still some residual swell left from the Norther and the winds were up into the 10-15 knot range.  Apparently my memory for lessons learned is short.

Picture perfect west side anchorage. There were a number of pangas bringing tourists in for day trips.

The main anchorage at Isla Coranados is on the West side of the Island, with a big white sand beach North of a long sandspit and a small Islet to the West.  The other anchorage is South of the sandspit in the shadow of the 900+ foot volcanic cone.  We approached from the South and went around to the main anchorage though the narrow and shallow pass between the sandspit and the Islet.  It was exciting in the choppy conditions and heading over to the anchorage, it was clear that we would have no shelter.  So around back to the South side where we anchored in 25 ft of crystal clear water below a low bluff.  The anchorage was open, so was exposed to swell wrapping around the point.  Out went the flopper stopper again to smooth things out.  It was blowing about 15-20 here for a while before things calmed down in the evening.  We did spend a pleasant afternoon on the beach and Gwen explored the paths that are part of the park system.

There are beautifully laid out paths all through the area.

We went to sleep with the lights of Loreto to the SW, and woke up in the morning seeing the fishing fleet working the dropoff just to the south of the anchorage.  We decided that this was not the place to ride out the next norther, so got ready to head on up to San Juanico.  It was very cool picking up the anchor in the crystal clear water.  We could clearly see the chain laid in a nice straight line along the bottom, and as we retrieved it we could see where the anchor had buried itself deeply in the sand, with only the shank visible.  It was reassuring to see how well the anchor dug itself in!

Darth Vader Lives in our Head

When you hear the words Darth Vader, what do you think of?  The wheezing, mechanical, sounds like he’s in scuba gear breathing, right?  That’s what I think of, anyway.  Now, what would you think if you heard that sound coming from the forward head?  OK, maybe now you understand the title.  This is a post about all of the noises on the boat that can drive you crazy as you are trying to sleep in some remote anchorage.  

We are all sensitive to novel sounds.  On a boat it is important to pay attention to any unusual sounds, which can be warning signs for problems.  And when it is a windy night in the anchorage, we tend to be even more alert.  

The Darth Vader breath, as it turns out, comes from the sink drain in the head (nautical for bathroom).  There is a hose from the drain that goes to a thru hull to drain overboard, right near or even below the water line.  When it is rocking in the anchorage, the bow of the boat pitches up and down and air gets sucked down the drain and then pumped back out, making a very distinct wheezing sound.  We have plugs that we put in the drain that prevents Darth from breathing, but if it is really rolly, they pop right out.  Our friend Ron from Duet asks incredulously “why don’t you just close the through hull valve?”.  Of course we could do that, but then we fill the sink when we wash our hands and have the potential for sloshing water around.  So it’s usually jam in the drain plug and close the door.  

The forward head sink on a rolly night.

Last year when we were coming down the coast we got very good at eliminating all sources of banging, whacking, knocking, and clunking as there is nothing like a Pacific Ocean passage to expose all areas with laxity.  Ask any boater and you will hear a long list of solutions for the bangs and rattles that can happen both underway and at anchor.  Just the other night our friend Penny revealed her ultimate weapon – blow up beach balls.  Easy to store when empty and can be inflated to just the right size.  We have a very large collection of nerf-like footballs and basketballs that Gwen searched around Brookings Oregon to find after our first multi-night noisy passage.  

The usual suspects are easy.  All cabinets and drawers latch, yet we are often lax with securing them properly.  The bang, bang, bang synchronous with the waves is easy to track down.  More problematic are those less frequent thumps that only happen when things really move in a certain direction.  Since we returned to Mexico and have been anchoring again, we have been experiencing one of those slow rolling thunks, usually when trying to take a nap during a storm because there is nothing else to do!  This one sounded like it was coming from directly over Gwen’s side of our berth (bed in nautical lingo) and was obviously driving her nuts.  This is a bit unusual as I am typically the one driven to distraction by these things.  She had searched on multiple days to find it, and her most recent supposition was that the muffler guys had left a piece in the muffler stack (which does go right through the area near the thunking sound).   

Last night she suddenly announced, “I found it!”  Jubilantly, she reported that the culprit was a tequila bottle that was leaning back and forth against other bottles in the liquor cabinet when the boat rolled at just the right angle.  When we are on passage, we wrap the liquor bottles with that rubber cabinet liner material, but when we are coastal cruising, it is of utmost importance to have unfettered access to the booze.  I think this problem will soon be solved by emptying the offending bottle.  

Our current checklist for a sound night’s sleep at anchor:  

  1.  A well-set anchor
  2. Bridle to take strain off the anchor has chafing protection to cut down on noise
  3. Burgees and flags are all restrained
  4. Horn pump is off – this has the nasty habit of repressurizing with a very loud pump at 1 in the morning
  5. VHF radios are OFF
  6. Doors are secured
  7. Bow of dingy is tied to back of boat securely but far enough away so it doesn’t bang the boat (or it’s stowed up top)
  8. New addition – cushion the liquor bottles

(Yet another) Racor Fuel Manifold Update

I spent some quality time in the engine room while we were at Puerto Escondido trying to diagnose the problem with air bubbles forming in the Racor filters.

I have been suspicious that there was a leak in the Racor filter manifold itself, despite it being brand new. Fellow N50 owner Ron Goldberg suggested that I test this by creating a vacuum in the filter housing and seeing if it holds. The method for creating the vacuum is to run the engine at idle and then shut off the fuel valve at the supply manifold. The engine continues trying to suck fuel in and will create a vacuum, shown on a gauge mounted on the filter manifold. When the vacuum level reaches the desired point, shut down the engine and monitor the vacuum level for a period of time. This sounds scary, but in practice was pretty easy – the vacuum rose pretty slowly after I shut off the fuel supply, and I could shut down the engine by closing the fuel solenoid. The fuel manifold lost very little vacuum over an hour, even after operating the filter selector valve a bunch of times. I concluded that there is no leak in the filter manifold.

I did the same test on the fuel supply manifold and had the same result. It too was able to maintain a vacuum, which means that none of the valves or their connection to the manifold itself were leaking. That leaves the lines back to the fuel tanks (including the fittings) or the “dip tubes” in the tanks themselves.

The next experiment was to select different tanks (Miss Miranda has 4 fuel tanks, port and starboard, forward and aft) as the supply to the filter manifold and look for changes in the amount of bubbling. To get an idea of what the bubbling looks like, take a look at this very shaky video. You can see towards the end of the video that there are few, if any bubbles. That is the result we are looking for. The bottom line was that I saw many fewer bubbles when drawing fuel from the aft tanks. These are much smaller tanks (115 vs 500+ gallons) and have shorter dip tubes, and seem to have less opportunity for air leaks. This is very good news. It seems that we should be able to run from the aft tanks with much less air leakage and much less concern about pockets forming in the Racor filter housing. Oh, and in case you were wondering, we have a fuel transfer system so that we can refill the aft tanks from the forward tanks.

The very last check was on the fittings to the forward fuel tanks. I have pretty easy access to the top of the port forward tank via a hatch in the galley floor. I disconnected the fuel supply line from that tank and inspected the adapter fitting. That fitting needs to have thread sealant on it to prevent leaks. The sealant on the fitting was 20 years old and most of it seemed to be gone. I cleaned up the fitting and applied new sealant. The tests for bubbling, unfortunately, were inconclusive. It seemed to be less than before, but still more than the aft tanks. It is possible that the source of the leak is the dip tube itself or the hose, or the fittings at either end.

I was a little bit disappointed after doing some more testing while underway. Under more load, there are still bubbles in the filter housings when drawing from the aft tanks, and after a short, two hour run, the fuel level in the filter housing was down, though less than previously. Racor does say that it is normal to have the fuel level down about halfway when you open the filter housing, so not sure if this indicates a problem. I did try drawing from the port tank while underway, and there seemed to be less bubbling than when drawing from the aft tanks, so maybe the thread sealant helped. I’ll continue running from the port tank and monitoring as we continue along the way.

I now have a very good idea of where the air leakage is coming from. I will probably wind up having to replace the supply lines and fittings to the tanks (and maybe even the dip tubes) before returning to the US, but can I can get that work done when we return to La Paz.

San Evaristo and Weather in the Sea of Cortez

After a surprisingly windy and choppy night at Isla San Francisco, we headed North and across the San Jose Channel to the protected anchorage of San Evaristo, a fishing village on the West side of the Channel.  This was the second time that we were surprised by these Westerly winds that arose in the middle of the night and could reach 25-30 knots.  It’s not good to have those conditions anchored up against a “lee shore” meaning that the wind is blowing the boat towards shore.  The anchorage at San Evaristo opens to the East, so would not be a lee shore.  As we were heading up the channel we encountered some pretty localized westerly winds up to about 25 knots.  Because the wind was blowing across the channel there was no fetch for waves to build, so lots of whitecaps, but no big deal.  It was still blowing when we turned into the anchorage.  We at first sought shelter in the North cove, which was protected from the North and somewhat from the west. The cove had a small shelf with easy anchoring depths in the 20-25 foot range but then sloped down to 50 ft or so further out.  We also realized that while the wind was (temporarily) coming from the west, the swell  was coming from the South, which was exposed.  We were not satisfied with where we were sitting, so we moved over into the northern part of the main cove, with much more swinging room and shallower depths.  The beach here was lined with houses and pangas were actively coming and going to unload their catch at a buyer setup in a tent on the beach.  

I was wondering about the unexpected westerly winds that we experienced both in Isla San Francisco and again in the morning here at San Evaristo.  The guidebooks that we have describe these as Corumuel winds, said to be mostly in the La Paz area and Elephantes, said to be mostly in low lying areas in the Northern Sea.  In both cases, nighttime winds from the cool pacific air crosses the penisula into the Sea.  Since the weather forecasts cover such large areas, these localized events are not called out, and we didn’t see obvious signs of them from the low resolution wind maps that we have been downloading on our Iridium GO! 

A screenshot of the PredictWind Offshore app. The outline in the center is Baja California, and the little white dot represents where we were when I took the screenshot. Wind speed is color coded as shown on the scale at the bottom of the display This is a low resolution map, which can be downloaded reasonably quickly on the Iridium GO!, but it doesn’t highlight the significant Westerlies that we have been experiencing.

So, I downloaded one of the higher resolution wind forecasts from PredictWind and saw that it did, in fact, predict these localized westerly winds.    The model showed the wind we experienced in the morning, and predicted an overnight Westerly in San Evaristo that night.  And sure enough, we experienced several hours of 25 knot winds overnight.  It was noisy, but since we were protected from the west, we had no waves/swell, and therefore, not a problem. Now we know that it is worth downloading these higher resolution wind forecasts, even though they take about an hour to get at the snail’s pace of the Iridium GO!.

This is a screenshot showing the higher resolution forecast map. You can see that this one highlights the “hot zone” of Westerlies.

More of these westerlies were predicted through the week, so we planned accordingly, looking for anchorages that would have the best protection for the conditions.  We decided to leave San Evaristo the next morning and continue North.  Honestly, it felt a little weird to be anchored here in what was people’s front yards.  We didn’t even go ashore.

We experienced these localized winds three more times heading up to Puerto Escondido, and each time the forecast was pretty accurate on the start and duration and the maximum wind speeds.  And, armed with this information, we selected anchorages that seemed to have the best protection from the West.

A good old Norther forecast for the end of the week. We planned to be at Marina Puerto Escondido before this one arrived.

The other weather pattern that we were already familiar with is the Northwesterly winds that funnel down the Sea of Cortez pretty regularly in the winter months.  These occur when there is High pressure in the Great Basin of the US and lower pressure down in the Sea.  These are called Northers, and bring 25-30 knot winds that can last several days.  We had already experienced a number of these during our month in La Paz.

This is a “gust” map showing the crazy winds we’ve been experiencing today. This is from the web-based version of the app that requires a pretty good internet connection, which we have here. Deep red and darker is not so good… The winds were actually significantly higher than forecast.

A quick update – the Norther is here with a vengance. We arrived at Puerto Escondido on a lovely calm afternoon. The slip they had reserved for us was way too small, so they put us on the long breakwater dock… on the outside. When the Norther hit, we realized that was a BIG mistake. We saw 25 knot plus winds all day with gusts exceeding 33 and probably 3 ft wind waves. We have all 13 fenders out, and several of them look like they are about to pop. If the winds drop down at all, we will see if we can get quickly around to the other side of the breakwater dock.

Racor Fuel Manifold Update

We are back on the grid after a week and a half cruising from La Paz up to Puerto Escondido. Lots of posts and lots of pictures coming, but first this maintenance update for those who love the smell of diesel in the morning…

Well, the new Racor manifold has not worked as well as hoped.  Underway we are seeing some small bubbles on the output side of the manifold which we are not concerned with… the engine has no problems with these and has been running smoothly.  However, there are bubbles apparent in the filter bowls themselves, which indicate that air is getting into the filter housings.  This air is either coming in from the input line OR it is the result of a leak somewhere within the racor fuel manifold itself. 

Why is this a problem?  Well, the fuel filter sits in the housing, which is filled with fuel right up to the top of the filter. There is a cover that seals the housing closed, which has a gasket and a t-bolt to tighten it down. When bubbles form in the (bottom) of the filter housing, an air pocket forms at the top.  When the air pocket forms, the fuel level goes down (and no longer covers the entire filter).  If too much air gets in, the fuel level might get to the bottom of the filter, and air would get into the output line to the engine.  If enough air gets in the line the engine shuts down. 

The bubbling seems to be minimized by running both filters simultaneously, so that’s what we are doing. I have been monitoring the bubbles as we are underway, and the I measure and top up the fuel level at each stop. We’ve had no problem on runs as long as the 40 mile, 5 hour run from La Paz to Isla San Francisco, but the fuel level has gone down in the housing each time.  That’s not a big deal when we are doing short runs, but will become a real problem when we need to make multi-day passages.

Refilling the housing has become part of the departure checklist, and now that we are here in Puerto Escondido, I plan to add a section of clear tube to the fuel line going in to the Racor manifold, just like I had last year. If the fuel going in is clear and without bubbles, I will know (again) that it is the manifold. If there are bubbles in the input line, that means that there is an air leak upstream of the manifold. More to come, I’m sure…

Last Project(s)… We Hope!

On Saturday January 30th we moved the few miles from Marina CostaBaja to Marina La Paz. The plan was to be here for a week for what we hope is the last set of boat projects with Cross Marine Works before we get underway for some real cruising. The main project is replacing the dry stack muffler, as mentioned in a previous post. The muffler arrived here in La Paz, delivered by a freight forwarder that specializes in bringing parts across the border. The shipping cost was 35% of the overall price, which covers the 16% tax plus another 19% for shipping and handling. There was an optional additional “special shipping charge” that got added on after it arrived in Mexico that we agreed to in order to get it here in a timely fashion. Otherwise we suspect it could still be in limbo.

Another issue to be attended to is a fuel delivery problem on the Tohatsu outboard for the big dinghy/tender. In spite of adding a gasoline stabilizer, it appears that the fuel got gummed up after sitting so long in the heat. Apparently this is a common problem down here. It is likely that there is a problem in the internal filter or the injector pump itself. Not too big a deal, or so we are told. While we are looking at the dinghy, we are hoping to get some canvas repair done on the seats. Apex did a terrible job on the bench seat for this model.. the fabric is not waterproof, the foam gets soaked and the seat stays wet. The edges of the seat covering have now come loose, exposing the foam. What’s worse, the seat back, which screws into a couple of supports that allow it to fold up and down, has some rot at the screws, and they are coming out. I suspect the back is plain plywood, covered by the aforementioned non-waterproof fabric. We will have some canvas guys take a look at repair or replacement.

A last, “while we are here” issue is addressing the one piece of teak on the exterior of the boat- the cockpit cap rail. We have not done anything with it since we’ve owned the boat, and it is in desparate need of refinishing.

Muffler Replacement

Day 1: Very good progress, removing the stainless steel vent grates, removing the old exhaust insulation and removing the stainless steel bolts, all of which came out pretty easily. Late in the afternoon, they cut the access panel in the back of the stack. The muffler is now ready to come out.

Day 2: The muffler is out! They took it out while we were away for a walk, and used the davit crane to lower it to the dock. The rest of the day was devoted to making an access panel out of the piece of fiberglass that was removed from the back of the stack.

We also took the opportunity, while the stack was empty, to install a new VHF antenna on the port stack wing. That was a part I sent down to replace an improperly installed antenna for the back up radio. Apparently the installers twisted the cable resulting in a dead short… that means no transmit or receive on that radio. We knew that it was not working the whole way down to Mexico, but confirmed the short when we in La Cruz last year. It’s good to have the new antenna in place and a working backup radio again.

Day 3: Time to get the new muffler installed. We used the Davit to lift the new muffler up onto the boat deck.

Day 4: We lifted the new muffler into place, put in the new gaskets and re-used the original stainless steel bolts and nuts to secure it in place. Now the focus is on fabricating a flange for the cutout and fitting the fiberglass panel back into place.

Days 5/6: Getting very close! Today they installed the insulated jacket, reinstalled the aluminum housing for the the exhaust fans, and closed everything up. The only item that remains is installing and sealing the access cutout. They got this done on Day 6 (Saturday), and did a good boat wash to clean up.

The Dinghy

The problem with the motor was as suspected; gummed up fuel in the high pressure pump. After Rob cleaned out the pump, the motor started right up. Also, we discovered that the steering ram had frozen up… a little shot of grease took care of that. A future project to go on the list will be installing a primary fuel filter before the on-engine filters. The seat came back from Hector the canvas guy, who repaired the seat back and re-glued the fabric covering on the seat bottom. Cost was 500 pesos!

Not much to see here, except that the seat is no longer falling apart.

Teak Cap Rail

We had Mauricio from Rob’s team working on the only piece of exterior teak on the boat for the entire week, stripping off the old varnish, sanding it down and gradually building up many coats of fresh varnish. Unfortunately, I neglected to take any “before” pictures, but trust me, it was in bad shape. We never touched it in the four years we’ve owned the boat. It now has 4 coats of varnish, and according to Rob, could use 4 more. We might come back in April to have that done. Oh, and the flagpole is also redone and looks beautiful.

Our thanks to Rob and Kim Cross and the rest of the crew at Cross Marine Works. They did a great job – high quality work with attention to detail. Recommended if you need any work done in La Paz.

Miscellaneous Jobs

Hot Water Valve. We recieved the fittings that we ordered to properly repair the hot water line mentioned here. The rescue-taped jury rig was holding up surprisingly well, with just a little bit of leakage. The new fitting was easy to get on and the whole job was done in less than 10 minutes.

The new connector that replaced the hot water valve that blew it’s top.

Racor Fuel Filter Manifold Revisited. You may recall that we had some issues with our fuel delivery system last year, as outlined here and we wound up getting a replacement fuel filter manifold from Racor as decribed here. Well, this week I finally removed the old manifold, installed the new one and replumbed the fuel connections to reconnect the fuel transfer filter back to the tansfer pump. Easy job, but very messy. It seems that there is no way to do that without distributing diesel fuel all over myself and the engine room. But, it is finally done.

The new Racor fuel filter manifold on the left, and the fuel transfer filter on the right.

I left just a little bit of clear tubing in the output from the manifold to the engine so I can see if there is any air in the fuel line. We will test it out when we restart the main after the muffler install, and will have a good chance to watch it while we cruise up into the Sea of Cortez.

Generator Oil and Filter change. So easy it is hardly worth mentioning. The oil change interval on the generator is 200 hours, and it was due this week. With our reverso oil change pump, it is as simple as letting the generator warm up a bit, pumping the old oil into a waste bucket, replacing the filter and refilling. We should be good for most of the season now.

What now?

The weather over the next week or so looks outstanding… sunny and warm with light winds. Our goal is to get out of La Paz on Sunday (Feb 7) and start heading North towards Puerto Escondido, where we expect to arrive in late February. We think we won’t be back to La Paz until late April as we think about heading back to the USA.

Clean up after your Perro!

Nothing to do with the project, but we loved this sign at the marina.

No translation needed here.

Watermaker Maintenance… and Repair

Miss Miranda is equipped with a watermaker, which we found to be a “nice to have” up in the Pacific Northwest, but is a must have down here in Mexico. Our boat holds a little bit less than 300 gallons of water, and we tend to use 20-25 gallons a day, depending on how often we shower and do laundry. So we have at most a 10 day supply on board. Given the general scarcity of water in Mexico, where it is common that people have water delivered to their homes, it is important to be able to make our own. Anyway, when we left the boat in March of last year we “pickled” the watermaker for long term storage, which consists of adding a chemical preservative to the system… kind of like winterizing the domestic water system on a boat or RV.

We just got around to “unpickling” the watermaker in yesterday, in part because we were waiting for a new filter, as one of those we sent down with Red Rover was the wrong size. The unpickling process is pretty straightforward. It involves allowing the system to fill with fresh water to displace the preservative and then circulating fresh water for a half hour or so. Next, we put in new filters, and then we were ready to test the system by making some water. Everything seemed to work perfectly… except the “product” water was contaminated with a chemical taste. We have a TDS (total dissolved solids) tester that allows us to check the quality of the water, and it was reading well over 950 PPM, even after making about 15 gallons of water. As a reference, the TDS in our filtered drinking and tap water on the boat is 150-160 PPM, and any water over 500 PPM is not considered safe to drink. Seawater is about 35,000 PPM!

It was now time for some professional help, so we called Hector Marine, who is the local watermaker dealer. He had two techs over on the boat within an hour, and they found the same thing – the watermaker was working properly (meaning it was producing fresh water from salt water) but the quality was poor. They saw PPM readings as high as 4000, and not lower than 1500. From this they concluded that the membrane needed to be replaced. This was not terribly surprising, since it was last replaced by the previous owner in early 2015, and the average lifespan is about 5 years.

This is the old membrane assembly removed and sitting on the dock. It’s 3 feet long.

The membrane is the real guts of the watermaker, and it works via reverse osmosis. Put simply, salt water is pushed through the membrane at high pressure. The membrane prevents salt from passing, so what comes out is fresh water. About 10% of the water pumped into the membrane assembly comes out as fresh or “product” water, and the remaining “brine” is pumped overboard. Our watermaker can produce about 30 gallons an hour or a little more than a day’s usage.

It turns out that they have the membrane in stock here in La Paz, so they removed the assembly and took it to the shop to install a new membrane. The very next afternoon they were back to reinstall the assembly on the boat.

The guys in the Laz installing the membrane. Better them than me!

After about 30 minutes of installation and flushing with fresh water, we were ready to test the watermaker. After just a few minutes of run time, it was producing product water at 238 PPM, which is just fine.

A bit hard to see, but TDS of 238. Way better than the 1500+ we saw yesterday!

I am super impressed with the quality and speed of the work done by Hector Marine. It is almost shocking to have a job like this, especially one that requires a replacement part, to be completed in just about 24 hours!