Fishing Down the Baja Coast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dorado on board.

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

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

Mexican commercial fishing boat with helicopter on board.

Bahia Santa Maria and Magdalena Bay

Sunset on passage to Bahia Santa Maria.

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

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

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

Some of the thousands of fishing pelicans.

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

Hanging out at the Miramar palapa restaurant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battery Woes Resolved… Yay!

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

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

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

The culprit!

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

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

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

Turtle Bay – Giving Back to Mexico

The waterfront of Turtle Bay.

A week or so ago, our first anchorage after a 36 hour very smooth run from Ensanada was Bahía Tortugas, or Turtle Bay. This has been by far the best and most rewarding part of the voyage for me to date.

I was looking forward to this stop because I had organized a medical supplies donation from CUBAR participants to the town as a way of giving back to the community.

Bahía Tortugas is very remote on Baha. They are at the end of approximately 100 miles of deserted partly gravel road. The community is about 3,000 people and their livelihood is fishing and lobstering. There is no official firehouse or emergency services, so they are on their own in emergencies.

The dock at Turtle Bay. Pangas tie up and you scramble up the ladder.

About 10 years ago a group of citizens formed an association to work on improving the health and safety of the community called the Asociacion pro bienestar Bahia Tortugas.  They are a group of about 17 men and women who have gotten firefighting and EMS training on their own in order to support their community.  About 10 years ago an old American ambulance was donated by Russ Harford, an expat living in the community, but they had no supplies, no funding and also no place to acquire supplies from easily even if they did have money for it.  A new ambulance was provided by the government recently, but still without supplies. 

They help a lot of folks with serious injuries make it to the hospital.  CUBAR brought them some basic supplies two years ago, but they really needed all the basics for accident care, and during that CUBAR visit one of the participants had a head injury and was delivered by the ambulance to the hospital. 

Through conversing with Turtle Bay native Isabel Harford and her husband Russ in San Diego as my liaisons, we developed a list of needed supplies, collected financial donations from the CUBAR fleet and I ordered up the supplies to be delivered to stage in San Diego.  The Montecito Fire Department also donated a bunch of equipment and uniforms.  It took about a half dozen boats to carry the stuff to Turtle Bay. 

I got quite the Spanish workout communicating by text to coordinate our dropoff visit through texting in Spanish with Esdras, my local contact.  On the day of the visit, we were greeted at the boat by a group of the Bomberos, or firefighters, and the President of the Association, Señor Jose Ignacio Perpuli, by panga.

Unloading supplies onto the dock with the bomberos. You can barely see me and Christy in the panga below – the ladder is steep. Courtesy Justin and CUBAR.
Some of the supplies in front of the ambulance that they will fill up, and the bomberos! Courtesy Justin and CUBAR.
In front of the station. They don’t have a firetruck but the ambulance lives here. Courtesy Justin and CUBAR.

Through my and Christy’s Spanish and their enthusiasm, we had a wonderful time visiting with the group and touring their station. They were excited also because Esdras had invited us out to see the Lobster facility where he was working that day, and to host us to a big meal.

We crammed into their van for a 45 minute trip on the dusty gravel road to Punta Eugenia to visit the Lobster Cooperative where lobsters are received from the fisherman. The Cooperative has 35 teams of 2, and the holding facility prepares them to be shipped live to US and then to China. The facility looks out on massive kelp beds, and also houses an Abalone Nursery where they are breeding abalone and working to repopulate the bay with juvenile abalone.

A live lobster. Now I know how to hold one! Esdras is both a bombero and works here at the lobster facility and the abalone nursery. Courtesy Justin and CUBAR.
The view from Punta Eugenia of kelp beds where the abalone live.
The abalone larvarium where they are bred.
An 5-6 year old abalone for breeding. They are slow growing. They wait until the abalone are 1 year old before putting them into the bay.

The absolute topper of the day was the journey out to a fish camp where one of the bomberos was living and working for the season. They put on an incredible lobster and fish feed for us, complete with gorgeous views.

Preparing the bountiful feast.
House with pangas at anchor in the distance.
The fish camp.
Larry and Larry fixing the seafood cocktail drink that makes you go “wow!”
Larry, me and Sean at the fish camp. Photo Courtesy Justin and CUBAR.

Our group videographer Justin is preparing a video about the whole experience that I will be able to share soon!

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.

Into Mexico!

The Marina Coral in Ensenada. Finally in Mexico!

After our aborted departure on October 30th due both to a stabilizer issue and then 50 knots wind reports telling us to stay in port, we had a lazy afternoon with a nice lunch courtesy of Sean (thanks Sean!) at the Kona Kai resort next to the Police Dock.  It was a beautiful day, although we did feel a bit like we were in limbo.

Still in San Diego…..

The next morning we were up and out and successfully made it to Mexico.  The winds were still gusting up to 35 knots for a few hours with big waves and we took a lot of water over the bow and port side,  but we had secured everything well and rode it out into Ensenada.  The winds had another effect which was fires – we saw several large fires on our way down the coast, including one that seemed to have started spontaneously as we passed with huge amounts of black smoke suddenly pouring off the hillside.  On our way into the Ensenada harbor there were fires on the shore – we could see firefighters actively fighting them. 

Wildfires above the bay in Ensanada.

In Ensenada Marina Coral staff took us to town to the Customs and Immigration offices, as well as the Port Captain. It was hopping there as this is prime season to enter Mexico by boat.  We had to check ourselves into the country and obtain a Temporary Import Permit (or TIP) for the boat.  The TIP allows us to have the boat in the country for 10 years.  They ask for a list of equipment on the boat and serial numbers of the engines.  If you do not get a TIP, the government has the right to confiscate your boat.  It seems similar to the US process of registration and tax collection.  In this case no tax payments are required. 

One of the very professional Mexican Officials. Photo courtesy CUBAR and Justin Edelman.

There was some confusion over names.  The boat documentation has Jr. listed next to Larry’s name, which he never noticed was there, but it’s not on his passport.  Much confusing discussion in Spanish and English ensued about where the owner, his son, was (we do not have a son), and us telling them the boat is named after our daughter.  Hijo versus Hija and lots of perplexed faces all around.  In the end, we reached comprehension and the officials decided I would be listed as the sole boat owner on the TIP to avoid any problems with the mismatched Jr.    Larry seems ok with that for the moment. 

That evening there was a spectacular seafood feast for us hosted by Marina Coral.  They obviously specialize in all types of ceviche and oysters cooked with various toppings.  I ate until I felt like I would explode.  We listened to a lecture by a professor who is part of a conservation group kayaking the entire Baja peninsula to bring awareness to the history and environmental gems of Baja.  It sounded somewhat harrowing at times with the huge Pacific swell!    Topped off the evening with the best margarita I have ever experienced – no mix used here, and churros, a classic Mexican dessert.

All the captains assembled for the CUBAR Captain’s Briefing in Ensenada.