Travels from May 10 to May 12, 2000
The next step in the voyages of Nanjo thus begins: The Sea of Cortez, the wonderful water-world of the Mexican cruising grounds. The place experienced cruisers from the tropics, the Caribbean and beyond, unanimously have proclaimed as the best part of their cruising. We obviously looked forward to this with excitement and a certain urgency.
We joined the growing "conga line" of cruising boats departing from Mazatlan over the last few weeks. Each day another half dozen boats would checkout from the Mazatlan VHF net. The day we left was Mexico's Mother's Day. But since we (Nancy) were (was) not going to be relaxing, we reserved the traditional 14th as Nancy's day of honor. However, we didn't try to get underway before sunrise. Instead, we left after our usual breakfast hour, VHF net and final preparations for the two-day (240-nm) voyage. The morning had started off quite foggy, but it was improved to a distant haze by the time Nanjo passed out of the harbor breakwater. There was no wind yet and Nancy motored out while the deck crew (me) stowed the anchor washdown pump, secured the safety jackline and rigged our harnesses.
This is probably a good time to reinforce your understanding of some of the nomenclature and "pet" names I use throughout the Chronicals:
Jackline - a piece of rope which runs down both sides of the boat, on deck, to which we attach our safety harness straps. If we were ever to fall overboard, this system will keep us attached to the boat. At the same time, we are able to move around on deck to conduct whatever task we need to do, our harness sliding along the jackline.
Safety harness - a strong, web-belt harness worn by each of Nanjo's crew whenever Nanjo is on the ocean. A strap connects the harness to the jackline, clipped on by a rock-climbing carabiner at either end.
STEVE - a name we gave to the STEering VanE. I have emphasized the appropriate letters to show how the name came about. STEVE senses the wind direction and moves the helm to keep Nanjo in a consistent position, relative to the wind. STEVE thereby becomes a third "crew member", relieving Nancy and me so that we may navigate, trim sails, work, cook, sleep or whatever. STEVE only comes alive when there is wind.
MAX - the name of our anchor.
Jib - the sail on the front of Nanjo. This sail is "furled" or rolled up like a vertical roll-up window shade when not in use and unfurled (pulled out) when it is used.
Mainsail - the sail in the center of Nanjo. This sail is "raised" from its stored position, folded on top of the boom. When lowered, it is "dropped" back onto the boom where it is tied down until the wind returns. The size of the main sail can be reduced in the case of high winds by "reefing" or partially raising/lowering the mainsail.
Sloop - Nanjo is this kind of sailboat, a boat with one sail in front of the mast and one sail behind the mast.
Sheets - the ropes at the bottom of a sail, used to control the shape of the sails, allowing them to function aerodynamically, creating the "lift" which makes Nanjo move forward even when the wind is coming from almost dead ahead. The adjustment to the sheets is called "trimming" or the "trim".
Helm - Nanjo's steering wheel, which moves the rudder under Nanjo's stern (back end).
Dodger - the canvas partial enclosure (with plastic "windows" to see through) in front of Nanjo's cockpit and over the hatch ("main door") to protect against water, spray and chilling wind. Without it the crew would be cold and wet most of the time.
Dinghy - commonly called the "dink", is an 8', small inflatable boat, used by the crew to get from Nanjo (at anchor) to shore.
[OK. Those are some of the basics. I was asked to go through them again.]
The anticipation of the wonders of the Gulf of California was brought back to reality soon after departure. Since we were under power, I wanted to make water. However the watermaker's high pressure pump didn't build up pressure. Apparently the cleaning chemicals I used "ate" some of the parts when I inactivated the system before leaving in March. But not to worry, I removed the pump and rebuilt the valves in a couple of hours, using parts I had brought along (good planning). Although the wind had risen by then and Nanjo was under sail, STEVE eagerly guiding us onward, I tested the pump briefly to confirm it would build pressure. It was fine.
Around 1600, Nancy decided to go below to prepare dinner. Since I had nothing better to do, I announced I would throw the fishing lure over the side. "That's fine. Just don't catch anything, because I'll be fixing dinner", Nancy begged. Of course, 10 minutes later I had a fish. It fought and tugged. Nancy forgot dinner to watch our first, $170 fish being hauled in. [The price is what we had to pay for Mexican fishing licenses for 12 months.] Eventually I brought aboard a thoroughly dead skipjack, a small tuna-like fish. Nancy was prepared to wrestle with a flopping fish and had a spray bottle of cheap tequila ready to daze the sea dweller. Although it was past needing any anesthesia, my able assistant gave each gill a spray (one-for-the-road, maybe) and was satisfied that I could proceed with the filleting process. Soon two very thick fillets were stored in the refrigerator for an appropriate time. OUR FIRST FISH!
Our night watch standing has matured to Nancy starting about 2000 (8pm) for a 6-hour stint, after draining a cup of caffeinated tea. She wakes me at 2200 for my evening insulin. I give her a brief break, check our position and make any adjustments to course or sail trim.
The first night, Nancy motored most of her watch. By the time I took over at 0200, a beam wind had begun. So I unfurled the jib and put STEVE back on the helm. About the only ship I saw was the Mazatlan to La Paz ferry. The moon had set just as I came on watch and sunrise was around 0600.
Throughout the day Nancy and I take turns napping for an hour or more. Just before mine, I started the watermaker and started filling the tank with our "sweet", converted salt water. Really! Nothing tastes better.
The second day gave us excellent southerly winds and we made a fast passage until about 1400, when the wind dropped and it was back to the "clunker" and STEVE took a nap. Unfortunately the wind stayed down throughout the night.
I had planned a course to avoid areas known for their currents and high winds. The plan was to make landfall at the northern end of Isla Cerralvo. We picked up the island on radar and soon after had it illuminated by the moon. The only problem was that we had to pass between a tiny group of rocks over a shoal, four miles off the northern end of the island, and the tip of the island. The chart shows a navigational light on the rocks, visible at 7 miles, but Mexican nav lights are renowned for not working. We weren't sure. However, Mary had emailed us just before our departure from Mazatlan, advising us that the U.S. government had turned off the strategic error factor for GPS navigational system, making our GPS positions more accurate. So I felt better about the increased accuracy . . . but Mexican charts are also known for being a mile or more inaccurate! I didn't sleep well as Nancy carefully piloted Nanjo toward our waypoint.
At 0200 I took over about 8 miles away from the rocks. The good news was that a "new" light could be seen at the north end of Isla Cerralvo. I finally found the "rocks" at about 5 miles distance. I just had to go between the lights.
THEN THE CURRENT HIT! THE "SQUARE" WAVES RIGHT BEHIND! The waves are sets of three steep waves, close together. The effect is that Nanjo drops off the back of the first and "plants" her bow into the next, slowing her down. She then falls off the back of the next, planting the bow in the third. For all intents and purposes, Nanjo is stopped! It took me 4 hours to go 4 miles. At around 0500 the wind started as well . . . right "on the nose". This means that not only can't I sail but the wind is pushing me back as well. Naturally I was between the island and the rocks when the morning La Paz ferry was coming by. They were very alert and turned on their huge spotlight to determine what I was and what my intentions were. I was going so slow, and our course so erratic, their radar computers couldn't predict a "solution" for my course and speed. However, once they visually determined the situation, they passed by quickly.
The wind continued to build, Nancy was up and between the two of us, we motor-sailed until we could change our course (fall off) enough to sail only. While it wasn't in the direction of our next waypoint, we were back in control. [Sailing is rarely going exactly where you want to go - we have to tack back and forth to end up where we want to go.] Nancy went back to bed at 0600. I had STEVE sailing Nanjo in 25 knots of wind on a tack we would hold for at least two hours.
I waited until after breakfast to tack. A tug, towing a barge had appeared behind us, heading for the same channel we were going to use. I had hoped the tug would pass while I delayed. Unfortunately, the heavy seas made the going difficult for them as well. So we tacked toward them. The change of relative position was not showing much change, if any. We didn't want to limit our options to falling behind the barge, so I tacked back toward land briefly (15 minutes). This gave the tug enough time to get past and clear. At the same time, my tack maneuver had us even closer to the channel entrance and I could go-to-school on the tug, recognizing the location of the channel.
The Canal de San Lorenzo is centered between two shoals. It is one thing to motor through the center of the markers, another to sail through it, at an angle. We were ready to tack repeatedly to make the last 2 miles into deeper waters. However, as we swung onto the port tack, the wind direction began to change in our favor. We didn't have to tack again, practically passing through on a perfect line.
Of course! As we entered the bay waters, the wind dropped about 20 of its 25 knots. I fell off and headed for the best anchorage in the neighboring islands, Caleta Partida. The last place we wanted to be was La Paz at that moment, specially for Mother's Day. Nancy took another hour's nap until I came to the entrance to the cove. We recognized Gemini immediately and anchored close by.
We met Alii Kai, as they dinked over to Gemini to trade kitty litter - clumping for non-clumping. Alii Kai's gato prefers non-clumping and Gemini's navi-cat knows how to use clumping. A match made in paradise.
Gemini invited us over for ribs at 1830. But I was just closing up the bar-b-q after having cooked and eaten some of the skipjack, and getting Nanjo ready for the 45-knot winds Gemini had experienced for the last two nights. I had only one eye open by then. Three hours of sleep had caught up with me.
Crew of Nanjo