Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Bash Back to San Diego

Several days after Bruce’s departure from Cabo San Lucas, the weather patterns for the next several days looked promising beyond Cabo Falso, so we departed the marina at 07:35 on June 20th to begin the bash back to San Diego. It was a clear, warm morning as we left the marina and headed out to the Arches. Rounding the rocks at lands end and making our way to the west, the wind began to increase and the air temperature took a noticeable drop.

An hour and a half out of Cabo San Lucas, the winds were at a steady 30 knots with confused, choppy seas cresting at 5 to 6 feet. Motoring, boat speed was reduced at times to below 3 knots and still the ride was a wet one. After burying the bow in the green water of one of the waves, the Delta anchor came loose from the bow roller. I turned the boat downwind and Pete Vierra hooked on to the jack line and cautiously made his way to the pitching bow in order to subdue the swinging anchor. After assessing the situation for several minutes, he decided the most appropriate course of action would be to remove the renegade anchor from the bow roller and store it in the anchor locker. Amazingly, given the conditions, he was able to get this task done and returned to the cockpit, albeit wetter and colder than when he had departed.

We turned back into the wind and the confused seas to continue our assault on the rounding of Cabo Falso. With winds still blowing a steady thirty knots and the washing machine white water conditions only getting worse, the Danforth anchor began to work its way loose from the bow hanger. Once again, Peter Vierra (or Pete two, Pete dos, or P2) transferred his tether from the cockpit strong point to a jack line and carefully made his way forward until he was prone on the bow and working on the lashings keeping the Danforth secure. Not having turned downwind for this maneuver, there were a couple of instances where he felt his legs go weightless as the bow dropped into the next wave trough. Pete was decidedly wetter upon his return to the cockpit, but the anchor was secure in its lashings.

Within minutes of his return to the cockpit, the carbon monoxide alarm in the cabin sounded and the red indicator light made it clear that the cabin was not suitable for habitation, I made an attempt to reset the alarm, without success and also noted while I was in the cabin that the alternator had stopped charging. At that point, the decision to return to the marina at Cabo San Lucas was an easy one to make. We turned around and headed back. We were tied at our old slip by noon and began making plans for repairs.

To make a long story short, upon our return we contacted Cabo Yacht Works and met Russell, their electrical guru. He tested our house batteries (which turned out to be bad), and replaced our Heart Smart regulator with a Bosche automotive voltage regulator. He also removed our alternator and determined it was bad, but he couldn’t fix it locally and, therefore, secured an automotive replacement (as Victor in La Paz suggested) to serve for the trip up north. Two new wet-cell house batteries and a wet cell starter battery were purchased and installed by P and P2. All the work was completed by the afternoon of June 22nd.

During this brief time, our weather considerations became more complicated. In addition to looking for a suitable weather opening for our trip north, tropical depression Andre made it’s presence off of Acapulco and was predicted to become a tropical cyclone (hurricane) on its way towards Cabo San Lucas. The initial projections showed its predicted path to be no closer than ~120 nm south of the Cape. However, within a day that prediction was modified to show that there was a possibility it could actually hit Cabo in the next several days. While still off southern Mexico with sustained winds of less than 40 knots, the prediction was greater than 50% that it would turn into a cyclone with sustained winds of greater than 70 knots. The decision was made to sit tight in the marina until Andre sorted itself out. By this time, we were ordered to move to another slip closer to the inside of the marina to make room for other boats to be moved closer and away from the harbor entrance. Dock and spring lines were doubled by ourselves and the boats around us in anticipation of a possible hurricane.

By the morning of June 24th, tropical depression Andre had lost its energy and deteriorated approximately 200 nm south of Cabo San Lucas. That same day, the weather was predicted to be relatively benign up until the fourth and fifth of July. Around 2 p.m., we made our way up to the overlook at Hotel Finesterra to see what the sea conditions actually looked like off of Cabo Falso. Off-shore, conditions appeared to be confused, but in closer to the beach the waves appeared to be more manageable. We decided if we were to make it back by early July, we’d have to leave now.

We departed the fuel dock at by 15:35 on June 24th and were on our way to make our second attempted rounding of Cabo Falso. Conditions off the beach did prove to be much better than what we had previously experienced. Winds were steady at 15 knots and the waves were cresting at 3-4 feet. By 19:00 on June 24th, we had made our way around Cabo Falso and were on our way to San Diego. We motor sailed the next 45 hours before making anchorage at Bahia Santa Maria the afternoon of June 26th. The anchorage was windy (18 knots) and cold, with fog swirling into the anchorage in the evening. It was good to be anchored over good holding sand and be able to sleep relatively soundly for the night.

We were up early the following morning and P2 had the anchor secured by 07:45 as the fog was receding from the entrance to Bahia Santa Maria. We were met with long 6 foot swells as we made our way into the open ocean, with the sun making its presence and warming us all. We were still seeing a great number of purple, brown and yellowish-orange jellyfish as we headed north. The wind was moderate, at 12 knots, but directly on the nose and wind waves in the morning were less than 1-foot. We continued to see jellyfish and more Hawksbill sea turtles as we pulled further away from Cabo San Lazaro. The one problem we did encounter was a packed up 'Y' valve in the head a couple of hours out of Bahia Santa Maria. While the head no longer was capable of draining directly overboard, we could still by-pass to the holding tank and dump overboard using the maceration pump when the tank was full. As would be the pattern to come, by 18:00 the winds increased and the seas became sloppy.

For the next two and a half days we followed a near rheum line course between Cabo San Lazaro and Bahia de Tortuga. This course brought us 50nm off-shore before closing with the coast again near Punta Abreojos. By midnight of June 29th, we were passing off Punta Abreojos. Between the headwind and the current, progress around the point was painfully slow. By noon, 12 hours later, we were within 5 nm of the coast line with less than 35 nm to Bahia de Tortuga. At 19:00, with the wind and waves building outside the bay, we were settled on the anchor off the village in Bahia de Tortugas.

We were all looking forward to getting a hot shower at one of the hotels in Tortugas, but were informed by the panga taxi to the wharf that the hotel was closed. Undaunted, P, P2 and Kathie made their way up the rickety steel stairs and down the old wharf towards the beach and town. Independently checking on our own, we confirmed the hotel was closed. We wandered through town and back out towards the old cannery along the bay, past the new town square and up the hill to a restaurant we had visited on the way south.

Resturante La Palapa, built in front of the owners private house, commands one of the best views of the bay. It is has open air seating in a covered patio area with an enclosed kitchen to the rear. Carlos and Mercedes are the proud proprietors of this delightful cafe. When we first approached, we were informed by their young grandsons that the restaurant was closed. Several seconds later their grandfather, Carlos, stepped out of the house and told us that they were open for business and invited us in. After taking drink orders, Carlos asked what we would like for dinner. Asking about fish, we were told they had none but would have fresh fish tomorrow. Instead, Carlos asked if we would like chicken, pork or beef. Given the choice, we all opted for chicken. Moments later, Carlos disappeared and we heard his pickup truck start and saw it leave for town.

Thirty minutes and another round of cold cervezas later, Carlos returned and told us he was unable to find chicken in town and asked if beef would be alright for dinner. We all agreed that would be wonderful. Mercedes and one of her daughters began dinner preparations in the kitchen while Carlos joined us for conversation. Within 20 minutes we were all served plates with beef, vegetables, beans, rice and salad along with a selection of salsas and an unending supply of fresh tortillas. Once sated from the delicious home cooking, Carlos and Mercedes rejoined us for after dinner conversation. We found out about their marriage and family and spoke of cruising and they shared stories of the friends they had made among the cruisers visiting Bahia de Tortuga. The sun had set and the hour was getting late. We paid for dinner and were invited back the next day to have fish and take showers at their house.

We made our way back to the wharf, looked up our water taxi driver and made our way out the dock to even more unstable floating docks running along the west side of the wharf where the panga was tied. P2 and Kathie almost ended up in the bay off the rocking and rolling narrow floating docks. Finally, we all made it safely to the panga and then back to Citla to enjoyed a peaceful night at anchor.

The following morning found us refueling before making our way back to town to wander and revisit La Palapa. As offered, Carlos and Mercedes generously offered the shower in their house for us to use when we arrived at the restaurant in the late afternoon. After we were all refreshed from our showers we enjoyed another wonderful home cooked meal of fresh fish along with all the trimmings. Afterward, we spent several more hours sharing with our hosts before excusing ourselves for the evening.

After the late lunch, we made our way to an Internet cafe to check Sailflow weather. It was obvious from the check that the weather would be good for making our way north until the 3rd of July. Both the 3rd and 4th were predicted to have stronger (>25 kts) winds, so took our leave of Tortugas at 22:15 on June 30th.

For the remainder of the night and into the next morning, we had 14-16 knots of wind with 4 to 5 foot seas. By dawns first light, Cedros Island was spotted to the north and for the remainder of the morning we made our way along the protected eastern shore. Breaking out from the northern tip of Cedros four and a half hours later, the seas picked up again between 4 to 5 feet. By midnight the following morning, we had finished crossing Bahia Sebastian Vizcaino and were several miles off of Punta Canoas and following the coastline along a northwesterly course.

By 2 p.m. we were 3.5 nm due south of Sacramento Reef in building wind and seas. We began to have problems with the transmission not staying in gear and were forced to partially unfurl the jib and tack out to sea under a double reefed main and a 110% jib. We tacked back to our north an hour and 45 minutes later and continued on a course of 354 magnetic for another 5.5 nm. This placed us 2.9 nm due west of the reef and south of Isla San Geronimo. We put in another westerly tack and maintained it for an hour and 15 minutes before tacking back to our north. The wind was blowing from ~120 magnetic, between 22 and 26 knots apparent and the seas were cresting at 6 to 7 feet. The skys to the west were dark and held promise of worse weather to come. We were all tired and cold, so the decision was made to make for Punta Baja at the north end of Bahia El Rosario and anchor to wait out the weather and get some needed rest.

We anchored just off of Punta Baja at 01:45 on July 3, 2009. We were tired, cold and wet, but happy to be at anchor and looking forward to getting some needed rest. Kathie made grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and we were asleep by 3:00 am. For the next two days we sat at anchor while the wind howled through the rigging. Being in close to the protection of Punta Baja, there were no wind generated waves. We had anchored in 21 feet over good holding sand and had 160 feet of rode out. We took time over the next two days to top off the fuel tank and tighten the shrouds. Due to the surf on the beach, we remained on board and all suffered some mild cabin fever. It was a quiet, subdued 4th of July.

The morning of July 5th was overcast and the wind had moderated over night. We (P2) had raised the anchor by 07:50 and we were on our way for the final push to San Diego. The sun broke out as the day progressed and by 14:00 we were due west of Cabo San Quentin. Our motorsailing speed was reduced during this leg, due to ongoing transmission problems, and our motoring speeds averaged about 4 knots. By 20:00 that night we began sailing again to give the transmission time to cool. Tacking offshore resulted in encountering larger seas and freshening winds. While our boat speed increased into the mid-sixes, our course towards our destination suffered. Before midnight, we began motorsailing towards San Diego once more.

The night was clear and cold. By dawns light, P2, who was on watch, appeared to be on the verge of hypothermia. He gladly gave up the watch and went below for some much needed sleep and to get warm. The day turned into a sunny, pleasant motorsail. By 15:00 we were off Bahia Todos Santos and the city of Ensenada.

We continued north, staying within 3 to 7 nm of the coastline, enjoying the evening lights as they came on in each of the villages and developments along the way. We passed within 1 nm of the south island of Islas Los Coronados and crossed the international border around 01:00 the morning of July 7th. On cue, as we rounded SD entrance buoy #1, we were approached at high speed by an unlit USCG patrol boat and briefly illuminated by their search light. We arrived at the Police Dock on Shelter Island by 03:15 and contacted Customs. A quick call back by the Customs agents informed us that they were about to clear a newly arrived freighter and would be with us in about and hour and a half. Almost 3 hours later, we were greeted by two agents, Rivas and Sampson, and in a matter of about 10 minutes were checked in to the country and on our way to Half-Moon Anchorage and our new slip. The bash was over and we were finally home.