Travels from Feb. 23 to Feb. 28:
Sunrise saw us already up and preparing Nanjo for the next leg of our trip. The wind was down from its peak during the night, but the chop and surge in the anchorage was little changed. Daylight at least gave us an opportunity to view Isla Isabela and its east anchorage perimeter, where we sat.
The main attraction to this island is the booby nesting grounds throughout. In addition there is a crater lake in its highest summit. In San Blas, we had been informed that a group of college students camped on the island, observing the birds. Even at the early hour that I took my first scan of the island, I saw one of the students actively pursuing his research with tripod and camera in hand.
There isn't much vegetation on this wind-swept island. Small brush between the volcanic boulders was all I could see. To get any better details would have to wait until we explored the land on a future visit.
The anchorage reminded me a lot of Scorpion on Santa Cruz Island, just northwest of Anacapa in the Channel Islands. There too a large rock and the reef created the "protection" offered. In either we hadn't received much. Still this is the easiest anchorage at Isabela to enter, especially at night, and it has less of a "anchor eating" reputation. By that I mean rocks on the floor of the anchorage can tangle the anchor chain or jam the anchor in such a way that raising becomes impossible. The southern anchorage here is worse in that regard than The Stacks, the eastern anchorage. [A few days later, we heard the remaining boat had to dive to retrieve their anchor and they were only 60' behind us.] In order to have a chance to clear and retrieve a jammed anchor, a trip line is suggested. The trip line is a piece of rope attached to the head of the anchor, with a float at the other end. If the anchor is stuck, you can usually extract it by hoisting the trip line. Having been duly warned by the cruising guides, I had rigged mine before we left San Blas and deployed it the night before. However, I didn't need to use it.
In the daylight, we could recognize just how small the anchorage was. Waves formed over the submerged reef just ahead of us. It appeared that the only way more boats could stay here would be with bow and stern anchors, eliminating swing. The rocks between the east and south anchorage had breakers crashing on them, 10' high and roaring their awesome power, just 200' away. The anchorage waters were covered with foam from the waves crashing on the rocks. We were ready to leave this currently uninviting refuge.
The first two boats had already weighed anchor and headed south by the time we began our effort. Their departure showed the safe path for exit. Nancy had to use the engine to remove the load tension on the anchor chain caused by the wind and surge. The anchor came up without any hesitation, but Nancy saw the depth indicated as 13' - much too shallow! It was good that we were leaving. She took Nanjo outside the anchorage while I completed stowing Max. Then we raised the sails. Initially I reefed the main in anticipation of higher winds once clear of the island.
Actually the wind stayed around 10 kts during the first few hours, so I shook out the reefs to get the most power I could - we had 85 miles to go and we weren't expecting ideal VMG. We cleared the island to windward after breakfast, heading west. The wind slowly built. The seas began at a mild 4' but continued to increase. By lunchtime there were sets of three 8 footers hitting us. The wind was back in the 15 - 20 kt. range. Steve was dialed in and doing all the steering. Nanjo again was doing 5.5 kts. over the ground but only 1.5 kts. VMG.
Below decks Nancy wasn't having fun. Nanjo would plunge off the crests of the larger sets of waves, Max would bounce and clatter on the bow and the hull would squeak and groan. Nanjo was healed about 30 degrees. Nancy had poor footing below decks and worried about the sounds. One extra large swell broke on the high side of Nanjo. A 2' wave of water washed back from the bow toward the cockpit, ultimately hitting the dodger. Some of the water made it under the canvas and spilled into the cabin. "What the Hell!" Nancy boiled out of the cabin. We closed the hatch to prevent another, similar incident. Nancy wiped down the teak entry and cabin deck.
The days we had spent "bashing" into the seas in Southern California had helped prepare us for this flogging. Nanjo was dry below decks, although constantly awash topside. Steve was doing a great job steering. Whenever Nanjo lost speed after crashing through a swell, the sails would power her back up almost instantly. Nancy and I actually slept topside, warm and dry. No. Not at the same time!
When we finally tacked to the northeast, we enjoyed an excellent VMG. We could almost point at our destination. The miles began to peal off.
This went on throughout the daylight hours.
We were surprised when we picked up Jama on the San Blas afternoon Net at 1700. He was very excited to hear from us and wanted to know what the weather and seas were like. He asked several questions and became concerned about what we were experiencing. Remember though, Jama is a power boater and these conditions SHOULD scare him. In any case, we found out later that he had put out a weather alert on SSB radio, warning travelers to stay in port. He told Nancy he would try to raise us later that evening after he returned from the plaza. We never heard that call.
The evening gave us a few surprises. While Nancy was on watch and I was attempting to rest, Steve blew out a splice in one of the control lines. The good news was Nanjo instantly went "hove to", stopping herself and giving us a stable platform to figure out what happened and what to do. I replaced the broken control line and Steve went back to work. The next surprise occurred on my watch: The wind had died around 0100, when I got up t relieve Nancy. I furled in the jib and turned on the iron horse. By 0200 I knew this would never do. We were only making 1.5 kts. with RPM which should have given us 5 kts. The seas were gentle and not the problem. I woke up Nancy and announced I was going to dive and inspect the prop. It had to be fouled with barnacles. I hooked up the spotlight for Nancy to shine in the general direct of the screw. After putting on my dive suit, mask and snorkel, I climbed down the transom ladder into the cold, dark ocean, 40 miles away from Mazatlan. The screw was a mollusk habitat! I dove repeatedly, scraping off the two blades, resting while hanging onto the suction-cup handle I had temporarily attached just above the waterline. It only took a few minutes. Nancy wondered if I worried about what was down there in the dark. No. I was cold and trying to keep from cutting myself on the shells. I was very focussed.
Back aboard, I dried off and returned to my long pants and "foulies". But around my head I wrapped a winter woolen coat scarf Marty had given us a few years ago on Christmas. I went back on watch and Nancy returned to her dreams. Now Nanjo was making good speed and we would be in on schedule. If I hadn't cleared those barnacles, our trip could have taken another two days and we could have run out of diesel. There hadn't been another choice.
We entered Mazatlan harbor about 1030 Thursday morning. There were just two other sailboats anchored; it was practically deserted. We quickly anchored and prepared to check in. We expected the authorities would close for siesta at 1400 and we had to find them first. On the way into shore, we stopped at one boat and got some directions. Shortly after we began walking, an open-air cab stopped and asked if we wanted a ride. After negotiating a lower price, he took us to Immigration, passing the Port Captain's office. About ½ hour later we were done. Quick! On the walk back we had a fish lunch and called Grandma to let her know we were safe and in Mazatlan. We were back on Nanjo before siesta time. We also had found that, included in the price for tying our dinghy at Club Nautico, we had the use of A SHOWER! We hadn't had a regular shower since arriving in Mexico. The solar shower and one gallon of water has been the extent of our shower fixtures. A "real" shower made us almost giddy.
Club Nautico is not a yacht club like any of you might think, as the title implies. It's merely a fenced boat launch ramp, fuel dock and bathrooms, containing a single shower stall in each. The Club is located on a narrow piece of land extending from Old Town section of Mazatlan and a 515' hill containing the lighthouse, nestled between a shipyard and several sport-fishing concessions. Across the street is the modern, municipal sewage treatment plant. In my previous life, I would have rushed into their maintenance shop and sold them some Belzona. The aroma in the air might smell bad to you, but it smelled like money to me. [An inside joke for EBMUD and my Belzona friends.] The view beyond the treatment plant was beautiful. To sea are islands and beaches. Toward land, colorful buildings clung to the sides of the hills. We were reminded of California cliff-side communities. On our trek into town to check in, we had walked through a residential area, very clean and American looking, although we only saw Mexicans. We looked forward to seeing more of this attractive city. Already we ranked it far above PV.
But that was going to wait. We were tired and wanted to rest. We visited the third boat in the harbor, another Ericson 38-200. The couple told us Jama had put out the SSB radio weather warning based on our report and had asked any boat in Mazatlan to tell him when we arrived. They were planning to head south as soon as the weather improved. Each afternoon, the wind climbed over 15 kts in the anchorage. Our neighbor didn't leave for days.
The crew of Nanjo stayed aboard and rested for three days. I worked on the San Blas stories and Nancy caught up on her log. We finally discovered the local cruisers hailing channel and VHF Net is on 68. We heard Pepina. So now we knew she was here, in Marina El Cid. We tried to raise her but were unsuccessful. Finally we ran out of margarine, so we had to go into town to shop. We also needed to get to an Internet cafe and do e-mail. The rest period was coming to an end.
Crew of Nanjo