Thursday, June 18, 2009

Citla Crew from La Paz to Cabo

All good things must come to an end and so, too, our time in the Sea of Cortez. The decision has been made to sail Citla back to San Diego for hurricane season and perform some modifications to make it a more comfortable cruising boat. Given the horror stories of the 750 nm bash to weather up the coast of Baja without real services or support until Ensenada, this decision was made with some trepidation.

The nature of sailing a small boat against the prevailing winds, waves and currents adds to unknown scheduling considerations for us, since we are also neophyte Baja bashers. Adding to the unknowns for us is the fact that it is getting on into the summer season and the beginning of the formation of tropical depressions and cyclones. Given all of these considerations, we'll be watching the weather up the coast and, hopefully, be able to time a favorable weather window for the first part of our bash north.

To help make the trip more manageable, we were hoping to enlist the services of one or two crew to help with the trip home. With the scheduling uncertainties, finding enthusiastic volunteers to join us for the bash won't be easy. Fortunately for us, we do know several people who have some flexibility in their schedules and would be great additions as crew members. Two people who volunteered to join us in our adventure were Bruce Bennett and Peter Vierra.

Bruce is an old friend, who I first met as the general contractor to an addition to a house in Mission Hills 28 years ago. While he doesn't have any sailing experience, his enthusiasm and mechanical expertise lends itself well to this type of trip. Unfortunately, due to business and family priorities he would only be able to join us for the leg from La Paz to Cabo San Lucas.

Peter Vierra is our nephew who has been around boats since he could walk, but has limited sailing experience. He spent a great deal of time on his grandfathers (my father) powerboat growing up, learning boat handling skills. Besides being physically fit and strong, he has an engaging personality with a great sense of humor. A perfect set of qualifications for any crew members to have! We are fortunate to be able to have him join us for the entire bash home.

June 12th, Bruce, Peter, Kathie and myself departed Marina de La Paz to begin our trip to Cabo San Lucas. The first leg took us to Playa Bonanza, on the east side of Isla Espiritu Santo. We set anchor towards the north end of the 2-mile long beach and Pete and Bruce swam ashore and spent the remainder of the afternoon beachcombing and snoozing under a stunted tree along the shoreline.

The following morning we weighed anchor and headed south across the San Lorenzo Channel intending to make our way to Ensenada Los Muertos. Thirty minutes out in the channel, it was observed that the alternator was not charging. Rather than continuing on southward, the decision was made to sail back to Marina de La Paz for repairs.

We were fortunate to be able to have the alternator repaired the same day of our return to La Paz and were on our way south again the following morning. We left the Marina early and were out of the harbor channel by 9 a.m. and on our way to Ensenada Los Muertos. By 6:20 p.m. we were anchoring at Los Muertos. After securing the boat, Pete and Bruce rowed into the cantina to check out the scene and ended up having dinner and closing the place before returning to Citla.

The sun rose on a glorious morning in the anchorage at Los Muertos and by 9:50 a.m., the anchor was raised and we were on our way to the next stop at Los Frailes. Los Frailes is a south facing anchorage just around the point from Cabo Pulmo, the largest coral reef along the west coast. It has provided us great protection in the past from the Sea of Cortez infamous 'Northers', but now we were exposed to winds from the southeast. The anchorage has a deep sea canyon almost to its shore, requiring anchoring in suitable depth water close to the beach. In the prevailing notherlies of winter this is not a problem or a concern, however, with the southeasterlies the beach becomes a lee shore with breaking waves.

We anchored within a couple of hundred yards of the beach and let out enough scope to feel comfortable given the conditions. The anchorage is over good holding sand and after a couple of hours evaluating our position, we felt confident about our anchor. That still did not prevent me from checking several times during the night for any change in position. The first 24 hours on at any anchorage finds me constantly checking our relative position to insure we are not dragging. After the first 24 hours, I generally feel more confident and only bother to check once or twice during subsequent nights.

We got an early start the following morning, with Bruce taking his first try at raising the anchor. After struggling mightily, Bruce managed to get the anchor on board with only one skinned knuckle and almost managing to lose the pin securing the chain lock overboard. The good news is that it did not dampen his enthusiasm or his confidence. The remainder of the day was spent motor sailing to Cabo.

We didn't use the autopilot much on the legs between La Paz and Cabo, but chose to hand steer for most of the time. Steering the boat takes some experience and practice to keep on a straight course. The most common error is to oversteer and have to make constant corrections to compensate in the opposite direction. The result is that the boat travels further than necessary to cover a course between point 'A' and 'B' (which in a slow moving sailboat can add significant time) and can be detected by observing the snaking course of the wake left behind. It was decided that Bruce was the hands down winner of the 'snake-wake' award.

Making long distance passages, one of the critical crew considerations is to be well rested between shifts. We found that this was an area where Bruce excelled! When not occupied with crew duties, Bruce could drop off at a minutes notice, day or night, and be soundly resting and saving his energy for his next crew stint. One additional side benefit we found, was that the presence of pesky flies and bees was greatly reduced when Bruce was off-shift. We believe this was due to the posture he took while at rest. He demonstrated the uncanny ability to draw insects in during his inhale without disturbing his rest or allowing for their escape during his cacophonous exhale. This was an amazing ability that wouldn't have been believed had not the rest of the crew observed and documented it.

Rounding the east cape, the wind and waves built, compared to the lake-like conditions we had enjoyed in the Sea of Cortez. We arrived at our slip in Marina Cabo San Lucas at 3:25 p.m. on June 16th. Bruce rented a car and allowed for easy provisioning of Citla at the local Costco. For the next several days Bruce and P-dos or P2 (our nephew) explored Cabo San Lucas while Kathie and I took care of immigration and Port Captain paperwork to clear Citla and it's crew into and out of Cabo. Time was passing and Bruce had to make his way back to San Diego and the real world of priorities and responsibilities. His departure left a noticeable hole in the crew morale that didn't fully compensate for the added room we had aboard.

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