Dana Point

Our next stop after San Diego was a short hop up the coast to Dana Point. We are spending much of June making short hops in Southern California to explore and wait for our daughter Miranda to join us for a visit before we continue the serious journey the rest of the way home.

Front entrance of the mothership.

Dana Point is the home of the Nordhavn manufacturer Pacific Asian Enterprises, or PAE. They were very gracious and arranged for us to spend our first night on their dock, where they also have boats being commissioned. We met Brian, one of the Project Managers, who gave us a tour of one of their new boats, the N41, and hooked us up with some awesome swag afterward!

Larry wearing the N50 design T shirt.

Dana Point was under a pall of “June Gloom” the entire time we were there. We rarely saw the sun, which surprised us, since we thought it’s always sunny in Southern California!

Looking out the harbor entrance. This was the cloudy gloomy sky for most of our visit!

Dana Point is named after Richard Henry Dana, the author of Two Years Before the Mast and famous for his descriptions of his few years on a clipper sailing ship in the 1800s. He saw this harbor and felt it was “the only romantic place on the coast”.

The namesake of town.

The harbor itself is completely man made, with long breakwaters that destroyed the famous Killer Dana surf break when they were constructed in the 1960s. The marinas are jam packed on both sides of the fairway, and clearly this is a popular spot for all kinds of water activity.

Looking down one half of the harbor, with the high bluffs of town on the sides.

They have some nice walking paths around the harbor, which is bisected by a bridge. On the jetty side, I was quite surprised to see dozens of little critters running around that looked like a cross between squirrels (which we hadn’t seen since Anacortes) and prairie dogs, with the way they sit up on their hind legs and pop out of holes. Turns out these are ground squirrels.

One of the dozens of ground squirrels running around.

And, Dana Point is also known for being the home of the rare white ground squirrel, several of which took me by surprise when they ran across my path. They live in a very circumscribed area of the park. Apparently all the ground squirrels are considered pests in California but for some reason I just loved them.

Someone was feeding them pistachios (not me!).

On one afternoon we broke out the folding bikes and road south of the harbor alongside Doheny State Beach on the Coast Highway Protected Trail. This ran right alongside the main highway going toward San Clemente. I was amazed by the densely packed houses right on the beach between us and the bike path. At other areas there was obvious beach erosion repair work going on. I can’t imagine how these homes are going to avoid serious damage or loss over time.

Doheny State Beach, with surfers out in the distance.

At the park, even with the surf not being very active, there were many wetsuit covered figures waiting in the waves with their boards.

We enjoyed our stay at Dana Point, next stop Newport Beach.

San Diego – Return to the United States

We arrived back in San Diego on Sunday June 6, after an uneventful 65 NM run up from Ensenada.  Entering the channel on a Sunday afternoon was quite an event, with sailboats, motor yachts, fishing boats, and runabouts of all shapes and sizes converging on the outer markers.  To make it more interesting, a submarine was heading out of the harbor with Naval patrol boats clearing a path.  This was more boat (and radio) traffic than we have experienced in a couple of years. 

The submarine in the background with sailboats and other traffic around it.

We used the CBP Roam app to check in after entering the harbor channel, and it couldn’t have been easier.  A customs officer called us and asked some questions about where we had been and where we were going, and then assigned a clearance number that came back from the App.

Soon we were tied up at the Police Dock (formally called the visitors dock) at the head of Shelter Island.  It is run by the Port of San Diego and provides inexpensive moorage ($1 per foot) for up to 15 days.  They have an online reservation system that makes it easy to reserve a spot.  The only downside is that the dock is frequented by San Diego liveaboards that seem to do a continual circuit between the anchorages and the police dock, occupying slips that are not reserved.  Not a big deal, really but inconvenient when we had to changes slips and wait on one of these boats to depart the slip we were scheduled to move to. 

Not long after after we arrived, we saw the beautiful blue steel hull of Varnebank, owned by Ken and Christy Donnelly, off our stern. We had traveled with them during CUBAR 2019.  They were our hosts during our stay, giving us a car to use and having a couple of dinners with us in spite of just closing on their house and having two daughters in town shopping for wedding dresses.  Thanks, Ken and Christy!

Varnebank greeting us as we arrived at the Police dock.

Our main project for San Diego was getting our second COVID vaccination, which wasn’t scheduled until the following Monday.  While waiting for that we made good use of the car, shopping for provisions and boat parts.  In the middle of our first week (following a domestic altercation on one of the liveaboard boats that brought the police to the police dock) we learned that Southwestern Yacht Club was able to reopen their reciprocal docks.  We stayed there for a few days in 2019 and really appreciated the hospitality.  Southwestern member and 2019 CUBAR fleet captain Bill Roush was able to secure us a member’s empty slip for the second week of our visit.  Thanks, Bill, and thanks to Southwestern YC!

The view of San Diego harbor from Cabrillo Monument. The Naval air station is directly across.

We did a few touristy things around town.  We drove up to the Cabrillo Monument (on one of the few sunny days) for the spectacular view of the harbor and Pacific Ocean.  We also visited the USS Midway and the San Diego Zoo.  Both were VERY crowded with newly free San Diegans after (well actually a few days before) California reopened completely.  After mostly keeping to ourselves for the past five months, the crowds were a bit of a shock.

We also drove down to Chula Vista to visit Diesel Guru Bob Senter, and spent a little time on his Roughwater 37 cruiser.  Bob put the spare time afforded by the pandemic to good use, bringing the classic Monk-designed cruiser up to Bristol condition.

Finally, we refueled over at Pearson’s on Shelter Island.  While the price wasn’t great by US standards it was much cheaper than Mexico and the attendants provided outstanding service.

All in all it was a great stop, but we were ready to go by Thursday, June 17th.  Next stop, 60 miles to the North, was Dana Point, mecca for Nordhavns and home of PAE – Pacific Asian Enterprises.

Bashing up Baja

From Puerto Los Cabos to Ensenada is a 700 mile journey around the notorious Cabo Falso, then heading northwest along the Pacific coast, straight into the prevailing winds and seas. There is a good reason that this is called the “Baja Bash”, as we learned this past week. We had been waiting in Puerto Los Cabos for over two weeks to find a suitable weather window to make the trip. Finally, Bob Jones of Ocean Marine Navigation told us that there was a window opening on Memorial Day and potentially lasting the entire first week of June, which would be enough time to make a 100 hour passage all the way to Ensenada.

There was some possibility of less than optimal conditions over the first couple of days, but the forecast improved further up the coast. Part of the reason for this window was the formation of a tropical low pressure system well to the South that eventually became Tropical Storm Blanca. As Bob explained it, this low pressure system weakened the normal gradient between the high pressure system that tends to sit off the Baja Coast and the low pressure trough South and East. This pressure gradient causes almost constant NW winds off the coast, which can build to 20+ knots in the afternoon and create unpleasant conditions. By this time, we were ready to go, having learned not to pass up on decent weather window for a perfect weather window that might never happen.

Looking over my shoulder as we round Cabo Falso. Those are waves splashing over the bow and dumping seawater on the windows.

We departed at 5 AM on Memorial Day, which would allow us to round Cabo Falso just after sunrise, hopefully minimizing the often challenging conditions. As it turned out, we timed it well, and rounded the cape in pretty thick fog, but relatively mild winds and seas. After a few hours we seemed to have broken out of the cape effect and had much reduced head seas. After 28 hours or so, we passed Magdelena Bay, which was the first option for a rest stop. We were making good progress and wanted to press on, knowing that if we stopped, the weather conditions would deteriorate due to swell from the tropical storm.

We rounded Cabo San Lazaro just north of Magdalena Bay, and then crossed the very large Bahia San Lazaro, with the next opportunity to stop at Turtle Bay, some 230 miles to the North. On this second day, conditions began to deteriorate, with the wind picking up in the early evening, getting into the 15-20 knot range and creating short, steep head seas that caused a constant pitching motion and pretty frequent slamming as the bulbous bow came out of the water going over the tops of waves and hitting hard in the troughs.

Unfortunately Gwen had the 4 hour watch during this stretch, and when I came to take over at 2 AM, she was looking quite green in spite of having taken her seasickness medication.

Gwen’s log entries descrubing the deteriorating conditions on her watch.

Above is a page from our voyage log on Tuesday night. I have highlighted Gwen’s entries from that fateful night. You can also see that as soon as I came on, conditions started to improve. Sorry, honey. After Gwen discharged the contents of her stomach she got a little bit of sleep, and we decided in the morning to make a stop at Turtle Bay, which was only a few hours away.

When I came on watch at 10pm that night, the boat was pitching and slamming a fair amount, but Larry said “It should calm down and get better, sorry it’s bad right now.” I took a half of a Gravol (Canadian seasickness medication that I like) – I had taken it regularly the day before and the wisdom is that usually on the second day you can wean off of it. I watched the wind go up instead of down, seeing 20 knots a few times, after which I could sense the waves getting worse. In the second hour, I started to feel pretty bad. I did all the things that one is supposed to – have fresh air blowing directly on you, sip water and take in small amounts of carbs – pretzels, in my case; actively manage the boat – I found sitting in the helm chair to make me feel worse, and standing and rocking with the movement of the boat to help. The big recommended thing that proved difficult to do was to watch the horizon. It was pitch dark with no moon and with spray and, at times, green water, hitting the windshield, and the only way I could keep my eye on something stable was to look at the few visible stars that I could see through the top of the port side corner window. I took more Gravol, no longer worrying that it might make me too sleepy – no danger of that. My last two hours were spent standing there, eyes glued to the stars (except for when we pitched down into a wave trough), and every 15 minutes taking a glance at the radar to ensure we were still all alone out here. I was never scared, because I knew the conditions were nothing the boat couldn’t handle, it was just bad for the human. Once Larry relieved me, and I moved around a bit, everything came rushing up. This, at least, made it possible for me to sleep for a bit.

Gwen’s Perspective

We got into Turtle Bay around 2 PM on Wednesday, June 2nd. This was a good time to stop regardless, as the winds were up into the 20 knot range by this time in the afternoon. Conditions were forecast to be much better in the morning. We anchored just inside the bay, set out the flopper stopper, had a meal, and a good night’s sleep. This first leg wound up covering 420 NM in 57 hours, for an average speed of just under 7.4 knots and fuel economy of 1.37 NMPG at 1700 RPM. We were pushing into adverse current most of the way, and this combined with the head seas made for a slower, less efficient passage.

We headed out at dawn on Thursday morning. This final leg to Ensenada started with rounding Punta Eugenia (named after Gwen’s mother), and crossing Bahia Vizcaino. This is often the most difficult leg of the passage with the open bay and potential convergence zone off Cedros Island. We followed the advice of our friend and Nordhavn Broker/Delivery Captain Devin Zwick and took the “inside” route, passing through the Canal de Dewey and East of Isla Cedros.

Looking through the salt encrusted windshield at Gwen, feeling much better, thank you!

As we continued along, we had an unusual visit from a seagull. It was flying above the boat and made many passes across the bow, seemingly interested in the burgee staff. It came closer and closer on each pass, and finally, on one pass… it tried to take a bite out of the top of the staff.

I don’t know why this seagull was trying to eat the burgeee staff!

As you can see from the photo, conditions were much improved on this leg. As predicted, winds were well under 10 knots and seas nearly flat calm. Gwen had an uneventful night watch and the next morning we had calm winds and pretty flat seas, with overcast skies and temperatures in the high 50s. I spotted several Gray whales off Punta Colnett, and we had several visits from groups of Pacific White Sided dolphins. One was playing in the bow wake, and as we were watching from the foredeck, flipped over, swam upside down and seemed to look right at us as if saying “I’ll bet you wish you could do this”.

A little video of the afternoon conditions off Baja. These were the conditions we were hoping for!

We could soon see the Todos Santos Islands off Ensenada and by mid afternoon we arrived at Marina Coral. We bumped up our speed on this leg, setting the throttle for 1800 RPM. As a result, we covered the 280 miles in 35 hours for an average speed of 8 knots and a fuel economy of 1.3 NMPG. We were happy to trade a little more fuel burn for saving a couple of hours of travel time.

The only boat-related issue we had was a problem with our drinking water. We have a separate drinking water supply with a dedicated charcoal filter and faucet. This also supplies the icemaker. We began to notice that the drinking water was tasting salty, as were the ice cubes. In fact, Gwen thinks that this may have contributed to her bout of seasickness. We tested the drinking water and found that it was 2,980 PPM of total dissolved solids (i.e., salt), compared to the tap water (from the other tanks) at 191 PPM. Clearly salt water had gotten into the forward tank. We realized that the vent for the tank is up on the bow of the boat on the port side. Our theory is that with all of the slamming into the head seas, salt water was forced into the tank through the vents. This would also explain why the forward tank level was higher at the end of the passage than the beginning.

We are very happy to have the Baja Bash behind us. We waited for what seemed like a long time for a good weather window, and while this one was not ideal, it was good enough to make it the entire way up the coast in almost a single shot. We learned when we checked into the marina on Friday afternoon that we would be able to clear out of the country and cancel our Temporary Import Permit for the boat on Saturday. That will allow us start on the last 65 mile leg from Ensenada to San Diego on Sunday. Miss Miranda will soon be back in the USA for the first time since November of 2019.

Our celebration margaritas after arriving in Ensenada.

Escaping the Heat in Todos Santos

While we were still in La Paz in early May, the temperature started to climb and the weekend was predicted to be in the high 90s. This sounded unpleasant to us, so we looked for an escape and figured out that we could spend the time on the Pacific side of the Baja peninsula where it was significantly cooler. I quickly booked a really nice Inn and we planned to use our friend’s Penny and Lawrence’s (on N50 Northern Ranger) trusty little red truck to get ourselves there and back.

A day or two before we planned to go, we came out to the truck to find the battery was dead. Larry got to put his battery fixing talents to work sourcing parts and replacing the terminal connectors.

So intent on his project he forgot to take off the mask.

On Friday we drove out of La Paz, which seemed to go on forever in the hot sun, with the same type of urban sprawl we have in the US. About halfway across the Peninsula, we suddenly felt a welcome and distinct drop in temperature as the Pacific breezes kicked in.

There were a lot of Mexican families taking their photos here – I snapped this in a 10 second break between groups!
Lovely old restored street and entrance to the Inn.

Approaching Todos Santos we drove through lush irrigated fields growing crops we couldn’t quite recognize. In town, we found the old streets to be narrow and quaint in the restored part of the town. Our hotel, The Todos Santos Inn, was in a recovered sugar plantation home, with a lovely interior courtyard and small swimming pool. Our room was at the far end, opening onto the courtyard, and it felt like we were nearly the only people there.

Larry in the pool. We had it to ourselves.

This was the first time we had been off the boat overnight in nearly 5 months. I luxuriated in the very large shower where I didn’t have to keep my elbows in, and unlimited hot water.

The town is popular as an artist enclave – mainly American and Canadian artists from what I read – and has many galleries. Nearly all of them were either closed or only open for appointments because of COVID, so we decided not to focus on looking at art. The historic section of town was a few streets lined with beautiful old restored buildings, and the town square was bordered by the church. The square itself was not the focus of town activity though, a change from most Mexican towns. Rather, the commercial streets with restaurants galleries and boutiques seem to be the most heavily traveled. There were a fair number of tourists around, fairly evenly split between Mexicans and Americans.

The church – the rope for the bell hangs down the side of the building – I was tempted to ring it!

There were a number of restaurants with outside seating. Because of the slow season, we were fortunate to get a table at the last minute at El Refugio Mezcaleria, which serves traditional indigenous dishes and mezcal. Noel Morales, the chef, is a Mexican man from Guerrero and an expert in traditional arts and food, and his wife Rachel Glueck is an American writer who published a beautiful book called the Native Mexican Kitchen, which I am enjoying reading for a lot more background on the culture and the explanation of foods and how to use them. I am inspired to make some of the dishes now that I understand the different types of chilies and how to use them.

A flight of mezcals and a tasty appetizer at El Refugio.

Strangely, it is difficult to get to the beach at Todos Santos. We are not sure if that is by design, since the waves are quite strong and the reason this is a popular surfing area, so maybe they don’t want unsuspecting tourists to drown, or it’s just the way the town developed, but we spent a good bit of time driving carefully down narrow one lane sandy roads toward the beach side attempting to find an actual path to the beach.

Looking to the north.

We finally succeeded by following the instructions to reach Laguna La Poza from some blog posts and Google maps, which does map out the dirt and sand roads. The trip took us up the hill between the town and the water, past a neighborhood of vacation casitas and larger homes, through a lowland area with dense tropical vegetation and barbed wire and the sudden appearance on my side of the road of a man in camouflage gear and a machine gun who was talking on a cell phone, before we found a place to park the car. We avoided getting stuck in the sand, and crossed the dunes to the beach and the lagoon.

You can barely see the boy fishing off the rock in front of the luxury homes on the hill.
I was disappointed by the lack of birds in the lagoon.

I had read a variety of information in articles and blog posts discussing Laguna La Poza as a bird watchers haven. But I had also seen some complaints about the decreasing water levels in the lagoon from development and other issues, and so was not totally surprised to see both the homes right on the edge of it and the lack of any real sign of bird life.

We enjoyed watching the crashing waves and the fog that drifted across the scene. All in all, an enjoyable respite from the boat and the heat!

Love the green water with the sun shining through the waves.

Puerto Los Cabos

After spending a bit of time in La Paz to have some more boat work done, including the fuel system, repairing the spotlight, a good wax job (for the boat), a side trip to Todos Santos (more on this in another post), stainless steel cleaning, a couple of coats of varnish, and a bottom cleaning (again, for the boat), it was time to head South toward Puerto Los Cabos and the long journey back to the Pacific Northwest.

The first leg of the trip brought us to Bahia Los Muertos, where we last stopped during CUBAR in 2019. There appears to have been quite a bit of development in the area, including a high end resort on the beach and a fair number of houses outside the north end of the anchorage. Notably, the N end of the anchorage by the restaurant(which has the best protection from the prevailing winds) now had 5 very large (but unoccupied) mooring bouys, making it impossible to anchor close in. We don’t have any idea who the bouys belong to.

Dawn at Muertos

The next morning we were off bright and early for the 72 mile run down to Marina Puerto Los Cabos. The day was warm and sunny, and the water temperature was up close to 80 degrees. Gwen read a Facebook post from one of our CUBAR buddies reporting successful fishing along this route a couple of days before, so I tossed out a couple of lures to see what would happen. Not much, as it turned out, until it was time to pull the lines in. As I was reeling in, I got a strike and brought a very small tuna into the boat. How small? I didn’t need the gaff to land it. I saw that it was hooked pretty cleanly through the mouth and decided to return it to the sea to get a little bigger. Over the side it went and off like a shot!

We entered the surprisingly uncrowded marina and settled in to our spots on C dock. Of course, now that we are down here and ready to go, the weather has not been cooperative. The trip up the west coast of is known as the Baja Bash because of the prevailing NW wind and seas, which can build quite a bit durning the hot, sunny days. We don’t have a timeline, so we are settling in to wait for a good weather window that will allow for a little less bashing. How long that will take, we don’t know… but we did pay for a month of moorage since the daily rates are quite a bit higher.

Miss Miranda and Duet at Puerto Los Cabos

We filled up with fuel and have prepared for a passage. We’ve had a couple of calls with OMNI Bob, and have already decided to take a pass on the first (marginal) weather window. There could be another one opening in early June, but a bit early to tell. We just need to be ready to go on 24 hours notice. Meanwhile, Miss Miranda’s air conditioning systems are getting an extensive workout in the warm weather.

Wildlife around La Paz

After waking up at Isla San Francisco (previous post here) to strong westerly winds and wave action, we retreated to the safe anchorage at San Evaristo. We had a secure but very windy night. Before bed we watched a sailboat get blown clear across the anchorage not once, but twice, during the high winds in the dark (we had watched them set their anchor and clearly it wasn’t done well).

The next day we contemplated the weather and after some emotional conversation (mainly from me), decided to head to La Paz. We already had paid up moorage for the next month in order to get work done, and we acknowledged that no one is going to award us a trophy for hunkering down in the wind at anchor for days.

On the way, we had the good fortune to see a spectacular blue whale pair. Maybe it was mom and a baby, as they usually travel solo. They were majestic. Over the next few weeks, we would see a blue whale several times in the same general area around Espiritu Santo – not sure if it was the same one, but very exciting to see him or her. We have now seen at least 4 species of whales in the Sea.

Very tall spout – one sign of blue whale.
Another is this distinctive skin coloration.
Very small relative dorsal fin set way back is another characteristic of blue whales.

Back in La Paz, summer has arrived. We now believe that our Airmar weather station doesn’t have the ability to go above 99.9 degrees (F) – we’ve seen this several times. So we have also given in and become familiar with our air conditioning.

When the wind doesn’t blow it’s quite hot.

As Larry wrote in the fuel post, our follow-up boat work has gone really well. We were able to get out and spend a final weekend at Espiritu Santo in Caleta Partida (earlier post here), and again were visited by turtles every day.

Hello there!
Final sunrise at Caleta Partida.

Fuel system – the Final Chapter

Warning. Geeky stuff ahead, no wildlife pictures. Those without a deep interest in fuel systems or human suffering might consider skipping this post.

We are back in La Paz and I made arrangements for Rob Cross to help me get to the bottom of the fuel system issues.  From the last post we know that the air leak that I see as bubbles forming in the Racor filter housing must be coming from somewhere between the tanks and the supply manifold. I had the opportunity to talk to a technical specialist at Racor since the last post and he agreed with my conclusion about the potential source of the leak. He also convinced me that the fuel levels in the filter housings have reached a steady state around halfway full, and that still provided adequate filtration. Any additional air coming in was passing through and going out as bubbles in the output line. He said that the bubbles in the output is common and not a concern. So, I eventually stopped refilling the housings every day and in fact have not even checked the levels since leaving Marina Puerto Escondido at the beginning of April. That has been 289 miles and 49 hours of engine run time over 14 voyages in the last month. I am pretty sure that this leak is not going to cause the engine to stall at an inopportune moment, but I am still determined to track it down.

Rob got to the boat and we started by pressure testing the fuel supply lines.  To do this, we removed the supply line at the tank and plugged that end.  Then we used the fuel transfer pump to create positive pressure in the fuel line.  We shut all the other valves in the supply manifold, leaving open only the valve for the fuel pump input and the line to the tank.  We turned on the pump and… no leaks.  The pump is rated for 8-11 PSI of pressure, equivalent to 16-22” of mercury, which is easily 4-5x the amount of vacuum on the system when the engine is running.  No leaks on either side. 

The next step was to take the inspection plates off the tanks to inspect the fittings and dip tubes.  As I observed before the thread sealant on the fitting that goes between the plate and the fuel lines was old and cracking.  Bad thread sealant could be the source of the leak. 

On removing the inspection plate we saw the dip tubes for the supply and transfer circuits, both with stainless steel screens at the ends.  The welds on the tubes looked good, as did the tubes themselves, and the screens were free of debris.  Rob took them to his shop for pressure testing, and they are fine.  He used a high quality thread sealant on the fittings, so that should be eliminated as a leak source.

Cleaned up with well-sealed fittings, the cover is ready to go back on.

The next step was to reprime the system and fire up the engine to look for the telltale bubbles. Before we did that, Rob suggest that we pressure test the Racor manifold and supply manifold, again using the transfer pump to create positive pressure. The pump is rated for 8-11 PSI or 16-22 inches of mecury, the unit of measure displayed on the Racor vacuum gauge. This is at least 4 times the normal vacuum level when the engine is running (2.5-4 inches of mercury). We found no leaks anywhere.

Next, we primed the transfer and supply dip tubes using the transfer pump, and topped off the racor filter housings. There was about 3″ of fuel in the housings before we topped up, one month after I last checked. The filter elements are 5″ tall, so we were about 60% full, as good as I have seen when I was measuring every day.

We selected the starboard tank for fuel supply and return because it has a shorter hose run and therefore lower vacuum in operation compared to the port tank. We selected the forward filter on the Racor manifold and then started the engine….

Disappointingly, there were still bubbles forming in the filter bowl. We could reasonably expect some bubbles from residual air trapped in the system as we disconnected and reconnected various lines. We used a rubber mallet to tap on the supply manifold and the filter manifold hoping to dislodge residual bubbles. Even after tapping for a while, we were still seeing a small but steady stream of bubbles, perhaps less than before, but the goal is zero bubbles (or, at most, tiny “champagne” bubbles). When we switched the selector to operate both filters, the bubbles disappeared (after some transient air bubbles in the aft filter bowl). What remained were champagne bubbles in both bowls. Progress, but I was not satisfied. At Rob’s suggestion, we checked the fuel tank vents to eliminate the unlikely possibility of blockage there. Then, just to be sure, we plumbed some clear line into the input port of the Racor manifold reasoning that if there was any air at all, we might see at least some sign of bubbles. Nope. None. The fuel going in was absolutely clear. There was nothing more we could do. I believe we addressed any and all possible leak sources, summarized on the table below.

At this point, we called my technical contact at Racor and reviewed all of the findings. He had no suggestions for additional tests, agreeing that we had covered all the possible sources. He said that the bubbles we were seeing were due to cavitation, which, in his experience occurs when the filter is undersized compared to the delivery demands of the engine. However, he confirmed (what I already knew) that my filter unit was well within spec for the engine, and also confirmed that the vacuum levels were well within the normal range. His one suggestion in this regard was that I could replace my filter manifold with the next size up, whose filters were twice the size. The other area we touched on was the fuel supply and return to the tanks. When we told him that there was not a return dip tube into the tank he speculated that the return fuel dropping from the top of tank could be aerating the remaining fuel in the tank, which he called the “aquarium effect”. He suggested that adding a dip tube returning the fuel to the bottom of the tank could negate this effect. In my opinion, neither of these suggestions are worth the time/effort/expense to implement at present.

As the last step, we removed both sections of clear hose from the Racor input and output ports and fired up the engine again. This time, we were seeing some small amount of bubbling when running the front filter, no bubbling at all when running both, and, surprisingly no bubbling at all when running the back filter. I suppose it is possible that it took a fairly long time of engine run time to clear all of the residual air out of the system, but this was quite encouraging. We observed this running the engine at normal cruise RPM, but at dockside. We will need to do a sea trial to be certain of the results.

Sea trial and videos

We got out of Marina CostaBaja on a warm, sunny Saturday morning. After we got everything stowed and up to cruising speed, I went down to the engine room to check on the filters. I decided to run the Racor on the aft filter and was drawing from the starboard tank. The first video shows me checking for bubbles selecting the aft, then both filters, then the forward filter. The results were pretty encouraging. Very little bubbling from the aft filter alone, some bubbling from the forward filter alone, and still less when both were selected. Pretty good, but not perfect.

I continued to run on the aft filter for the 22 mile, 2.5 hour run up to Caleta Partida. When I checked the fuel level in the housing, it was down to about 2″ or so of the 5″ height of the filter element… lower than I’d like to see.

On the way back from Caleta Partida, I decided to run in tandem filter mode, after having refilled the aft bowl. Here is the video with the results.

Again, better, but by no means perfect. There is still a little bit of bubbling even running in this mode, although less than I was seeing before. I’d REALLY like it if there were NO bubbles at all. However, I remain pretty convinced from following this all season that this amount of bubbling is not going to lead to an engine stall at an inopportune moment.

Summary and my conclusions

Here is everything we did to test the system:

  • Vacuum and pressure test Racor filter manifold. No leaks.
  • Vacuum and pressure test fuel supply manifold. No leaks.
  • Check/tighten all fuel fittings – hoses, supply manifold, Racor manifold.
  • Check/tighten all valve assemblies on the supply manifold.
  • Pressure tested supply lines – manifold back to tank. No leaks.
  • Inspected/pressure tested dip tube assemblies in port and starboard tank inspection plates. No leaks.
  • Resealed NPT to JIC fittings on the inspection plates.
  • Reinstalled inspection plates, tightened all fittings.
  • Checked all fuel tank vents. Clear.
  • Observed fuel entering the Racor manifold using clear tubing. No bubbles.

I can’t think of any part of the fuel system that we didn’t look at and/or test, and I am as certain as I can be that there are any extraneous leaks in the fuel system. I now believe that the residual bubbling that I see is normal for the filtration system. In fact, a Racor Technical Bulletin discusses air separation in diesel fuel, and starts by listing these facts:

Fact #1: There is AIR entrained in diesel fuel.

Fact #2: A very slight pressure drop can cause air to form visible bubbles.

Fact #3: Air can cause problems.


Racor, Products Parts, Service
and Technical Information, 7480F

I love how understated they are with fact #3. In another Racor document, “Turbine Series Rebuild”, they state in the troubleshooting section that “It is normal for fuel level inside housing to be about 1/2 full after lid removal“. They also mention that if the fuel level gets too low, the engine will stall, and that excessive bubbles indicate either a system restriction (high vacuum) or an upstream air leak.

Going back to the very beginning, I did have engine stalls on two separate occasions last year. I am certain that both of those stalls were due to leaks within the Racor manifold itself, which I replaced back in January. From then until now, I have still seen some degree of bubbling, and have seen the fuel level in the housing consistently down to half full, but not lower. Until now, I have not been able to rule out an upstream air leak as the source of the bubbles. After this week, I conclude that there is no upstream air leak. The final question – is the bubbling that you can see in the videos excessive. I have decided, because it has never caused the engine to stall, that it is NOT.

Done. Really. Finally.

Bahia Amortajada

Waking up in Isla San Francisco on our third morning to southwesterly winds and rolly waves, we headed over to Bahia Amortajada as planned so we could hit the high tide at 9am to dingy into the estuary.  We planned this trip after marveling at what a difference a few months makes in Isla San Francisco.  Instead of having it to ourselves, with just a few other sailboats, there were multiple 100 foot plus crewed yachts setting up tents and lunches on the beach for their guests, jet skis and water skiers zooming around, and music playing out across the anchorage.  We still enjoyed beach walking and snorkeling in the 70- degree water early in the day and lounging back on our boat on floaties in the water off the cockpit out of the action, but were also happy to move on. 

Entrance to the estuary.
Looking back to the entrance from inside – Baja mountain range in the distance.

We’ve explored other estuaries while here in Mexico and were looking forward to this one.   Armed with long sleeves and a thick layer of bug spray against the reputed jejenes (little tiny flies) that bite, we got in our micro-tender and headed to the opening just before high tide.  An inward current helped our little engine.  The mangroves looked very healthy, and the entrance had a crowd of pelicans and scattered herons to greet us. 

As we went further, we looked for fish in the relatively clear water.  We saw a few – some trigger fish, some long coronet or pencil fish, some puffers and some groups of small fish – but much of the time the water was empty.  This probably explains why we didn’t see birds in much of the estuary.  We looked hard but didn’t see any of the usual mangrove crabs either.      

Love the contrast of the green mangroves with the cacti and the mountains.
One of the side channels.

We made it to the other side and the other entrance – which looked hairy and quite turbulent.  Not a good place to take one’s tiny tender through!   

Border of the far entrance, with turbulence and white caps outside.

Overall, it was a fun dingy trip and a worthwhile visit.  We rank it number three on our explored estuaries – behind La Tovara at San Blas and Tenacatita, south of Puerto Vallarta, both on the mainland side of Mexico.

The tiny fishing community of Isla Pardito – perched on this tiny island.

As we were wary of bugs and swarming bees – which have quite the nose for a single drop of fresh water – and of predicted strong southerly winds affecting the wide open anchorage at Amortajada, we headed over to the north side of Isla San Francisco a short mile or two away.  As soon as we dropped the anchor, some fishermen from nearby Isla Pardito came over and showed us some humongous crabs, harvested from 200 feet deep out on the far side of the island.  We took one, and I was scared to bring it in the boat.  But I “womaned up” as Larry said, grabbed its two foot long front arms with big claws and held it while Larry sent it to heaven with a sharp knife and a mallet.  It made a wonderful dinner for us, plus another meal, and a good paycheck for the fishermen, so we thank it for its life. 

I think that’s a baleful look in his eyes.

We were joined in the anchorage by 4 other boats, one a beautiful crewed 80-foot sailboat, seeking protection from the southerly winds stoking rolling waves.  And we all woke in the middle of the night to 25-30 knots winds and rolling waves, despite the good protection.   It’s never dull around here.

A forest of cardon cacti borders the mangroves.

Puerto Los Gatos

Our next stop on the way South from Agua Verde was Puerto Los Gatos, twenty-some odd miles down the coast.  On the way North we stayed at Tembabiche, just a couple of miles south of here.  When we arrived, the anchorage was empty save for a panga that seemed to be setting up a camp on the beach.  We chose to anchor in the S lobe of the bay in anticipation of SW winds.  In retrospect, it may have been better to tuck all the way up into the NW corner.  Los Gatos is known for its beautiful pink sandstone formations, buffed smooth by the wind action.  It also has several reefs that are good for snorkeling.

Pink Sandstone at the North end of Puerto Los Gatos.

The anchorage is completely exposed to the east and as the southerly winds picked up in the afternoon, swell wrapped around the small point on the South end.  As usual, we had the flopper stopper deployed, but wound up deploying the other one for the first time this season.  That flattened things out nicely.  Later in the afternoon a few sailboats arrived, and the beach camp took shape, with nearly a dozen dome tents, a cook tent, a sun shelter, and what looked like a “pee pee tee pee”.  Soon afterwards, a group of kayaks pulled in, led by another panga.

Kayak tour on the beach. Can’t see the pee-pee tent in this pic.

After a pleasant night, Gwen got up early to catch the early morning light on the rocks. 

Sunrise.
The rock formations in the early morning light.

We got the big dinghy down to go ashore, and as we were doing that, we saw spouts jut offshore.  We motored out and saw a couple of humpback whales swimming back and forth just outside in about 100 feet of water.  We wanted to get a little bit closer… until one surfaced nearby and we realized how big they were.  Gwen says I screamed like a girl.  I steadfastly maintain that I was merely commenting on the majestic creatures.  Afterwards we went ashore to walk along the beach, explore the rock formations, and walk out on one of the reefs at low tide.  The sandstone was very cool.  It was easy to rub off bits of it from the rock, so you could see how the jagged bits of it were eventually worn down into smooth shapes.  There were lots of tide pools on the reef, but as we have come to expect, none were particularly rich with life.  There were a fair number of crabs on the rocks and Gwen got some good pictures of the increasingly rare Sally Lightfoot crabs.

The water was very clear and reasonably warm, about 71 degrees.  We went ashore and had a good time snorkeling along one of the reefs.  As we finished up, the wind had shifted from SW to SE and started blowing vigorously, creating a bit of surf on the beach.  We were in the big dinghy and had a bit of excitement getting it turned around and launched into the surf and freshening breeze. 

Miss Miranda with both flopper stoppers out at Los Gatos.

After a rolly night and more SW winds forecast, we decided to bid Puerto Los Gatos good bye and move further South.  On the way out of the anchorage we spotted a fairly large pod of whales we had not seen before, which we think were pilot whales.  They were swimming back and forth in a leisurely manner, again just off the anchorage.  The depths drop off quite rapidly here, so we assume that this must be a good feeding spot.  After watching them for a while we turned Southward bound for San Evaristo.

Pilot whales.
Mother and baby whale.

Return(s) to Agua Verde

We set off from the S side of Isla Coronados to return to Agua Verde, where we had spent some time on the way up North in mid February (https://mvmissmiranda.com/2021/03/07/agua-verde/).  It was a calm and pleasant cruise of about 5 hours, with sunshine and rising temperatures.  By the time we arrived at Agua Verde it was 91 degrees.  There were already 4 sailboats anchored in the “Agua Verde Yacht Club” or AVYC, also known as the fisherman’s beach, in the Northwest corner, so we elected to drop the hook right off the beach in front of the village.  There was one other power boat anchored in the mouth of “Pyramid Bight”, and that was all.  We put out the flopper stopper as usual and were a bit surprised by some swell coming in from the NE, where the bay is open.  The afternoon heat drove us into the water, which was just under 70 degrees.  Gwen put on mask and snorkel and swam over to shore.  I took the more genteel approach of inflating a floaty toy and swinging on a line tied to the back of the boat.  The swell calmed down by bedtime, and we had a pleasant, if warm, night’s sleep.  When I awoke before dawn the next morning there was another power boat anchored not far from us, and two more heading in.  One was the gigantic Megayacht Ulysses that was anchored near our friends Ron and Nancy the day before in Bahia San Francisco.

Ulysses, at over 300 feet long, the biggest megayacht we have seen yet. The 70 foot motor yacht is one of the tenders!

It was a bit cooler in the morning, but overnight temperatures hovered around 80 degrees.  When Gwen got up we noticed that the yacht anchored behind us left… actually, it simply pulled up to Ulysses.  Why?  This 70 ft flybridge motor yacht was a tender (one of many) to the megayacht.  We watched for a while as the dual cranes dropped boat after boat from the foredeck, from a 20-some foot wakeboat to a 50 ft speedboat, along with the usual assortment of jet skis, landing dinghies, etc.  The capper was the giant slide set up off the upper deck on the port side.  I can tell you that some group was having big, expensive fun!

They don’t anchor – their captain rotates the boat in place into the sun at all times.

Soon we saw that the boat moved out of pyramid bight, so we moved over there and tucked into a very nice S wind cove with a great sandy beach and, we would find, good snorkeling out to Pyramid rock.  We went to the beach for the day and did do some snorkeling along the shallow reef on the W side of the cove.  We saw lots of starfish here, including one called a chocolate chip starfish, and a pretty good assortment of small tropical reef fish.  The water was warm enough to snorkel just with rash guards.

Late that afternoon, our friends on N50 Duet entered the anchorage.  We have been corresponding with them for months (mostly me complaining to Ron about various boat problems) and they were on their first extended cruise since the boat returned from Australia in 2019.  They were vaccinated before leaving San Diego, and we all had been out of human contact for a while, so we… gasp… had cocktails on their flybridge without wearing masks (though of course, Drs Gwen and Ron insist that we include that we maintained 6 ft of social distance).

Our friends on our sister ship headed to take a ride on the slide :).

The next day we visited the little tienda in the village and picked up some avocados, tomatoes and bananas.. we were running short on fresh produce.  Later, Nancy and Ron joined us for some snorkeling around Pyramid rock. 

We had a dinner of burgers, roasted cauliflower and baked beans, with some nice red wine, again on Duet’s fly bridge.  Notably… the burgers had CHEDDAR CHEESE, the most valuable food commodity in Mexico.  Nancy and Ron even made a gift of a chunk of cheddar as we left.  I’m sure they will regret their generosity at some point.

We love the pyramid bight anchorage.  Apparently, so do other boaters.  We wound up with three other boats in there close enough to exchange jars of Grey Poupon.  The weather is quite settled so not a big deal… but Agua Verde is HUGE… I’ll never understand why people feel that they must tuck in no matter what.

This has been an absolutely fantastic stop.  Sunny days, calm weather, warm temperatures and crystal clear water.  What more could you ask for?

Well, you could ask for… more.  After going back up to re-visit Marina Puerto Escondido and Loreto with Ron and Nancy, we headed back down to Agua Verde while Ron and Nancy headed North.  This time several other boats had found our preferred South cove, but we managed to squeeze in (having decided to act as others do). 

Looking across the valley from the goat track trail at the cemetery.

Our mission this time was to hike on the trail from the north beach over the hill, past the village cemetery and on to the beach on the other side.  The trail was a typical human/goat trail, a mix of compacted dirt and lots of loose rocks.  Some other boaters were investigating the cemetery so we went onward toward the beach.  Soon we found ourselves at the head of an estuary, surrounded by palm trees and looking into a brackish water pool.  It was low tide, so we could cross the stream.  Once we did, we could see the estuary opening to the beach, several hundred yards away.  We tried bushwacking along some goat trails that ran next to the estuary, but weren’t able to get there, so we gave up and headed back. 

The esturary, looking toward the sea.
Some large paw prints – seemed large for a coyote.
Palm trees were growing sideways – reminded Gwen of dragons.
Larry the explorer.

We stopped in the “village cemetery” which is quite clearly abandoned and in a pretty advanced state of decay.  Most of the memorials that were still legible were from the 50s and 60s.  We assume that the descendants of those former residents have moved on and there is nobody left to care for the place.  Kinda sad, really.  We went back to the dinghy and then over to the main beach and the tienda.  Gwen was able to get some goat cheese, chips, and a couple of hours of very slow internet connectivity.  The goat cheese, while perfectly OK, was nowhere near as good as the stuff we had in San Juanico.

Abandoned gravesites. A few lived to ripe old ages but many legible stones had deaths at young ages.

Late one afternoon, a large pod of dolphins came charging into our little cove and were very active, jumping and swimming rapidly back and forth.  They seemed to be feeding and kept sweeping in and out of the shallows on the W side of the cove… it was crazy and lasted for at least an hour or so.  Meanwhile, Gwen was looking out in the other direction out into the bay and spotted a pod of Orcas.  At first I didn’t believe her, thinking it was just more dolphins, but a careful look with the stabilized binoculars made it clear that they were, in fact, Orcas, and at least a half dozen of them.  Gwen said she thought she saw one flipping a small animal, maybe a seal or baby dolphin, out of the water… apparently not an uncommon trick.

The squadron of mobula rays. Their wing tips break the surface at times which is how you get clued in that they are there.

We had more cool wildlife sightings.  Early one morning, Gwen saw a squadron of Mobula Rays (like mantas, but way smaller) cruising by the boat.  It was very cool to watch them slowly flying by just under the surface, in formation.  Later in the evening we saw an even bigger group come by, and saw a bunch of them trying to fly, without success.  They would launch themselves out of the water as if they believed that their wings worked in air, too, only to be disappointed when they fell back to the sea.

I can fly! Or not.

This time in Agua Verde, the water really was a deep green, and not at all as clear as it was on our previous visits, during which we could see our flopper stopper and the sandy bottom below.  This time we couldn’t even see the flopper stopper, not ideal for snorkeling but just fine for enjoying the sunny afternoons on our floaty toys behind the boat.

We spent a total of 11 nights over three visits to Agua Verde, making it our favorite anchorage in the Sea.