Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Boat Repair in Baja California Sur

This is the season we decided to rectify our rudder problem we've been living with since a haulout in a San Diego boat yard in 2010. The boat was hauled out prior to our second trip down the Baja coast in the Fall of 2010. In addition to having our bottom paint done, a new cutless bearing installed and a new stainless steel propeller shaft fabricated, it was noted that there was a small fracture in the fiberglass on the port side of the blade. Rusty water was issuing forth from the fissure at a slow but steady pace. Since there was also a small amount of play in the rudder stock, the yard removed the rudder to allow it to dry and, at the same time, address the small movement.

After removing the rudder and allowing it to drain and dry in the yard, a thin bushing was fabricated and the rudder reinstalled. Returning to the yard prior to the launch, the yard manager asked if the, now mis-shapen, rudder looked like that when it was taken out. I replied that it didn't, but rather a symetrical foil shape. The response didn't elict a reply and the launching went on as scheduled.

Fortunately, there is a company in southern California (Finco in Santa Ana) that still has the jigs for several rudder designs (including the Cal 39) and will fabricate a new rudder when ordered. Three weeks after ordering the rudder I picked it up at the fabricators, loaded on the roof racks of the truck, where it stayed until we arrived in La Paz, when it was unloaded at the boat in the Singlar Marina. Fortunately, we enjoy the nearly 800 mile drive down the Baja peninsula; we loaded the truck nearly to the roof with all we needed for repairs and living aboard this season.

The three day drive to La Paz was inspiring, but uneventful and the truck and rudder arrived without incident. While out of the water, I sanded and painted the bottom, which included three coats of epoxy primer/barrier coat on the new rudder before applying the bottom paint. The rudder replacement work I contracted out to a local yacht maintenance group. Besides doing all around yacht cleaning and maintenance, one of the principles (Arturo) was incharge of the boat yard in Palmira for 12-years. He, his younger brother Sergeo and partner Enrique did a professional job of installation.

Concurrent with the rudder work, I occupied myself in the mid-80's temperatures and humidity sanding and painting the bottom. The bottom paint from last season's job in Puerto Escondido was good, but since the rudder needed painting anyway, we decided to do the entire bottom once again. We went with ablative paint from Comex (AF-30) and the finished job looked good. Now time will tell how well the paint holds up.

The launch, itself, went without a hitch. The old 'dolphin' (metal posts with a marker on top) have now all been replaced with floating red and green bouy markers, making navigating the very narrow channel to the marina much easier. The markers are much easier to spot and clearly indicate the edges of the shallow channel. Last year taking the boat in, the average water depth was around 8-feet and we touched the sandy bottom three times as we search for the 'deep' water. This time went without a problem.

The work we did in the yard took about a week. Hiring out the bottom sanding and painting would have shaved maybe a day or two off that schedule (and saved a lot of sweat, too!). One of the things we did do differently this year was take a hotel room to stay, rather than being on the boat. The room cost was around $38 USD a night, had cable TV (Mexico, Ontario, Canada and Seattle), WiFi, AC and a shower with hot water. While not the Ritz, it was clean and comfortable and provided us with a good place to clean up and sleep.

Overland Down the Baja Peninsula

No matter how many times I've made the trip down this beautiful, wild and largely uninhabited peninsula, I never tire of the trip. Each time there is something different and this year is no exception. The southern portion of the peninsula (Baja California Sur) received a larger than normal amount of precipitation this hurricane season. While most of the bridges across the normally dry arroyos held up well, there were a few failures due to the volume of run off from the Sierra de Gigante. The most striking effect is to the landscape itself. It has transformed from tropical desert to a cross between a tropical desert and a tropical jungle with cactus.

Our picture's will never capture the beauty and majesty of this wild landscape. Times of abundant rains make this an especially spectacular trip. The development at Juncalito, just north of Puerto Escondido

could have passed for one of the tropical villages on a Carribean Island, rather than a small village in the desert along the Sea of Cortez.

Already acknowledging the photo's will not do the scenery justice, I'll end with a few more shots in a feeble attempt to capture the beauty.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Our Neophyte Sailor

During the past year or so, there have been life's interruptions to our cruising plans. We've been fortunate because all of these interruptions have been enriching; the wedding of our youngest daughter followed shortly thereafter by the birth of our first grandchild to our oldest daughter. All have been causes for celebration. This post, we'll take some time to share photos of the newest neophyte sailor and dote, as grandparents are entitled. Archer arrived early afternoon of March 20, the first day of Spring, on a cool overcast day in San Francisco.

He's been the joy of the entire family, but the grandma's and great-grandma are over the moon for Archer. Here he is with his great-grandmother, Pat.

Of course there's also Grandma Cheryl and Grandma Kathie who never seem to get enough time with their favorite grandson.

The truth of the matter, his parents, aunts and uncles, all of us, think he's pretty damn cute!

Archer is pretty non-plussed by it all. While he has taken his first hike in the woods around Willits, his sailing adventures will be starting before you know it.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Care and Feeding of a Non-appreciating Asset

This season will be more illustrative than most when it comes to owning a boat. As the old saw goes: "Break Out Another Thousand"! As is widely recognized, boats are not appreciating assets (as opposed to houses, that is until the housing bust in 2009). Still, it is important to maintain a boat for safety's sake, if for no other reason.

This year we will be replacing our deformed, mis-shapened rudder (The
Foss Company, Newport Beach, CA). Ever since the "rudder repair" we had at the Driscoll yard in San Diego, we've been living with a warped, asymetrical, non-foil shaped appendage in lieu of a proper rudder. Due to both safety and performance considerations, we will be hauling a new rudder south with us to make the replacement. We will also be bringing enough Sunbrella , zippers, Stratglass and Common Sense twist-lock fasteners (all from Sailrite) to have all our canvas replaced. We've had our dodger, bimini and mainsail cover resewn twice since having the boat in Mexico. The canvas wasn't new when we purchased the boat, so it's about time to replace it. Buying the materials here, insures that we get the color of our choice (Sunbrella color selection in Baja can be limited) and takes the trouble out of looking for hardware. We're also providing the Tenara heavy duty thread so this set of covers will wear-out before needing to be restitched.

There are a couple of canvas shops in La Paz with experience fabricating boat covers. We're hoping to be able to use the services of either Danny at Pacific Threads or Doug at Snug Harbor Sails. Both do very good work and will be able to do the fitting on the boat. There is also a modest savings in labor charges by having the work done in Mexico.

In addition to doing the two major upgrades (the rudder and new canvas) we'll also be bringing bottom paint, two-part epoxy gelcoat sealer, replacement batteries for the Nicro solar vents, a 3dB VHF replacement antenna, an ICOM hand-held VHF antenna replacement, new sail ties, mast boot-tape, fiberglass cleaner, wax, Hypalon repair kit and BBQ replacement parts. Since the boat has been out of the water for some time and the new rudder will require bottom paint, we'll be doing the entire boat. Having the boat on the hard also provides a time when cleaning and waxing the hull can be done relatively easily.

We're believers in lists. These days, most things we might need can be found in Mexico. Some of them easily, others not so much. Taking those items we know we'll need from home, saves an enormous amount of "searching" time to find those same things in Baja. This is the reason that for the past several months, we've been compiling lists of things we need to take to the boat and things that have to be done. As we accumulate the items on our lists, they get checked off and are stored in the boat 'pile' in the garage. When it is time to depart, hopefully we will have gone over the lists to confirm that we have all we had planned to bring The plan is to order the rudder replacement a couple of weeks prior to our departure in November; pick the crated rudder up in Santa Anna, lash it to the roof rack on our truck so we can drive it to the boat. With the fabrication paperwork in hand, along with our TIP (Temporary Import Permit) for our boat, we don't anticipate any problems with Customs (Aduana) in Mexico. We'll see how it goes this time around and will be updating as we get ready to head south.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In Memory of Jo Bird and Support of Billy

All who knew Jo Bird will mourn her passing. She carried the light and laughter of life and infected all around her with the joy. She will be missed by all who had the good fortune to make her acquintance, but none more than Billy, her partner in life and love of his life. The cruising community in La Paz has lost a beloved member of their own. We hope all who knew Jo carry on in her memory by bringing the same joy to life that she so freely shared with everyone she met. Our support goes out to Billy. Hang in there kaikunane and be strong. Carry Jo's aloha forward in your life.

He pua laha'ole aloha, Jo.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What To Do When You Must Leave Your Boat Unattended

This summer, Citla spent out of the water at the Singular yard in La Paz,
Baja California Sur. It provides a less expensive alternative to leaving the boat in the water during hurricane season, while, at the same time, having the boat ready for a new rudder installation when we return. The monthly storage charge is slightly less in the yard than what is charged in the marina's and there's no routine bottom cleaning and zinc replacements needed while the boat is out of the water.

When you're not cruising full time, or you need to take a sabbatical from cruising to attend to emergencies, the question of how best to leave your boat becomes a concern. Since we've switched to cruising on a part time basis in 2010, we've had to face this question twice during the past two seasons in Mexico. There have been cruisers that have successfully left their boats either at anchor or on a mooring for an extended period without problems. Unfortunately, there are also instances where boats have been lost or vandalized following this practice. While there's no guarantee to insure that your boat will be absolutely safe when left unattended for weeks to months, there are practical actions you can take to minimize your risks.

I'm an admitted conservative when it comes to leaving the boat unattended. While we have friends who have left their boats for days
unattended at anchor, I cannot bring myself to do this. Even in a populated anchorage, as can be found in La Paz or La Cruz, my worry meter rises when the boat is out of sight for more than a couple of hours. Even if over the years, I've only experienced dragging anchor a half a dozen times (one due to 40-knot winds, where more scope solved the problem, and the other times due to weed fouling the anchor over a period of days).

We have no problem leaving the boat unattended for weeks to months in most marinas and boat-yards. For extended absences, we take all the loose gear off of the decks and store it below, locked away in either the
salon or lazerettes. This includes the horse-shoe bouy with strobe light; the lunch hook on the stern pushput; the man-overboard pole; the outboard; the life-sling; and the barbeque. When leaving the boat over the summer, we also take down all the canvas and sails, the halyards, the vang, the main sheet, and the boom (to help reduce windage). The anchor locker, lazerette covers and wash-boards are all locked to discourage petty theft. The propane is shut off and all batteries are disconnected (one or more would be left connected should the boat be left in the water to insure operation of the bilge pump).

If the boat is left in the water, a responsible friend should be asked to
check the boat on a regular basis. Depending on your relationship, this could be done without charge. When it comes to maintenance (washing the decks, cleaning the bottom, replacing zincs), however, you should expect to fairly compensate someone to perform these chores. Most all marinas and many anchorages have local workers who perform these services as their business. Ask fellow cruisers and locals for recommendations and then help the local economy by hiring one or more of these marine service providers. You'll find if you spend any time at all in a particular locale, the best service providers will be well known and easily contacted.

Friday, September 21, 2012

House Sitting in Wine Country

Here is the view we are enjoying across the Valley of the Moon, looking Mount Hood and Sugarloaf Ridge. We're very fortunate to be able to enjoy such great back-to-back house sitting locations. After spending two weeks in Aptos, overlooking the shore of Monterey Bay, we're here just east of Santa Rosa, spending a week in the heart of wine country along highway 12.

While vineyards and wineries are the major attractions in the
Napa/Sonoma area, there are other things to see. Forests, rivers and the ocean are all within short drives of wine country. The oak studded grape vineyards are picturesque and often spectacular to see. The upper elevations of the surrounding mountains transition from oaks (coast live oak, interior live oak, Garry oak and blue oak) and black walnut to Pacific madrones, Douglas fir, California laural and toyon. Continuing into the western coastal range more conifirs are seen, including the majestic Pacific Redwood (the tallest tree in the world). Dropping down the western escarpment, oaks begin to dominate once again with coast silk-tassel and Mendicino Cypress establishing their presence, within the fog belt of the coast. All along the central California coast Pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana), an invasive non-native, can be seen along the land/ocean boundary.

California Highway 1, running along the coastal area of Sonoma County
is a spectacular extension of what is found along the more well known, Big Sur coast. It snakes along its tortuous route, high above the rock strewn Pacific Ocean below. The coast is rugged and the overlooks are breath taking. The beaches here, a few of which are accessable, have sand that is darker and coarser in texture than the sand found on beaches further south. Beaches along this stretch of coastline are typified much of the year by fog and brisk cold winds from the northwest. While the sun does make an appearance occassionally during the summer, the best beach weather for sunny days is during September and October (but don't expect too much heat).

An montage of some of what may be found in Sonoma County may be found in this video. As contrition for this uninspired post, a suggestion for a superb appellation for red wine enthusiasts. It is a collaboration between Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe De Rothschild. The wine is a 2007 vintage Opus One from Napa Valley, bottled in Oakville, California. Sante!

Monday, September 10, 2012

House Sitting in Aptos

For the second summer in a row, we've had the pleasure of house sitting for an old friend of ours who is traveling in Italy with her Vespa club. She has a cozy beach house perched on the cliffs, overlooking Monterey Bay. The reason for house sitting, besides watering her wild beach garden, is acting as surrogate food providers and boring play things to her two cats, Lexi and Sophie.

The house is in a reverse configuration, with the bedrooms and bathroom down stairs and the kitchen, living space and ocean facing deck on the second floor. The views from the living room and deck stretch from Pleasure Point in Capitola to the north, uninterrupted to Pacific Grove to the south. While we've had our share of fog, overcast and even some rain since arriving, the past two days have been spectacularly clear, sunny  and warm. Rising before the sun and putting on the coffee while checking for the ubiquitous pods of dolphin patrolling just outside the gentle surf line measures the start of our day.

Once brewed, it's a pleasant repast to take a cup of coffee out to the Adirondack chairs on the deck, along with the binoculars and check out the activity on the water. Judging from the sea bird activity the sardine and anchovy schools must be making a come back in the bay. There have been vast flocks of petrels and sheerwaters, punctuated by seagulls and pelicans that have been seen making a churning maelstrom of the surface water as they dive for bait.

The sea otter population in Monterey Bay while having made a slow come back from near extinction due to the fur trade, still number less than  3,500 (population range from Pigeon Point, San Mateo County in the north to Gaviota State Park, north of Santa Barbara in the south) according to the last study in 2010 and had been experiencing an unexplained two year decline in numbers. It's a treat to see them floating on their backs just off shore.

An interesting sea otter relationship we see frequently is having the scavenging seagull trailing his sea otter buddy just off his rear paws
(Image courtesy of Tanglewing Blog) . We're pretty certain the seagull profits from this relationship by availing itself of any lost food scraps generated by the hard working otter. Unless the gull is providing a more visible and slower moving shark target, it's not clear that this represents any type of symbiotic relationship for the sea otter.

While we've been here, we've had the pleasure of seeing a number of old friends. In addition to Gay Ann, a friend since high-school, whose house we're enjoying, we've also visited with several other people. Dennis, my old college room mate was surfing at 41st Avenue and came over with another high-school friend, Mike, with whom I traveled overland throughout Mexico and Central America in 1972. Dennis lives in the east bay and has his own dental practice, while Mike lives on his boat here in Santa Cruz and works with a local boatwright making Olympic dinghys. We had lunch with another old high school friend (who is also named Mike) who is living here in Santa Cruz with his wife. He graciously gave us a mini-tour of the area and we're scheduled for a custom tour of Santa Cruz proper later in the week. Sunday night we were treated to dinner at Colin and Sharon's house (cruising friends on s/v Mamabird an Island Packet 38)who we first met at the anchorage in Chacala in 2008. Both are incredibly energetic and entertaining people. Colin continues to impress (and please) us with his culinary skills. We hope to touch bases with both of them once more this week before heading up to wine country.

We'll be enjoying another week here at the beach before heading to wine country for another house sitting gig. This will be in the Valley of the Moon, right in the heart of wine country where our responsibilities will be split between the garden and a playful pooch. We hope to have time to do some wine tasting before heading south and make our preparations to return to Citla.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Recent Upgrades and Musings on Compromises

While by no means having an unlimited budget for cruising, we're fortunate to be able to afford to make small upgrades to the boat to make our life aboard more comfortable. Last year, in addition to replacing our primary jib halyard with new, we struggled over a decision between solar panels or an auxiliary generator. We opted for the generator. We purchased a Honda EU 2000i based on its compactness, efficiency and relatively quiet operation. The final rationale was that it could provide reliable portable power, on the boat or off. The two biggest downsides to this decision have to do with the dependence on gasoline to provide this power. In addition to not being a green source of renewable energy, the inherent dangers of gasoline on a vessel is always a safety concern. While not being able to rationalize the first issue, we already have gasoline on board for the outboard for the tender, having a bit more for the generator doesn't significantly increase the safety considerations.

The second upgrade made this year was to the depth sounder. We had an old Signet digital depth, temperature and speed module which was beginning to suffer from dark areas on the screen, making it difficult at times to read the depth soundings. The old unit is no longer supported by Signet, so we opted to upgrade to the new SL 250 SmartPak base model that serves at its replacement. It provides the same data as the original model but is capable of being expanded (at a cost) to provide more data using the same base unit. For now, the depth, boat speed, log and water temperature data will satisfy our needs at this point.

The main sheet assembly and line is scheduled for replacement this time around. The traveller, itself, really could be upgraded and replaced, but that will probably have to wait until the boat is back in San Diego in a year or two. The line on the boom vang is nearing its replacement cycle. We're considering going with a rigid vang to eliminate our topping lift. This improvement may be postponed another year.

The final upgrade that is scheduled for this year is replacement of the rudder. For those of you who have read about our rudder delamination and rebuilding issues (see previous posts), the prudent solution at this juncture is to replace the defective rudder with new. Fortunately, the Foss Company in Newport Beach, California still manufactures rudders for our Cal 39 and we plan on using them to provide us with our replacement. Originally we were considering removing the old rudder at the time of haul out this summer and install the replacement when we return in the Fall. However, having the rudder swapped in and out at the same time seems to make more sense.

As was overheard one morning on the dock, the Cal 39 was never designed to be an off-shore cruising boat. It was one of the many compromises between a better than average (for its vintage) sailing boat with a modicum of creature comforts to allow for extended sailing. It wasn't designed with the necessary tankage of the true cruising designs to allow for long range motoring and it doesn't have the interior volume that seems to be considered a "must-have" for many of the retired cruising couples of today. It also doesn't have all the systems that many modern cruising boats are fitted with. However, as with most basic designs, it doesn't require a crew, electronic or hydraulic aids to be able to manage it under virtually all sailing conditions we could expect to encounter.

All boats are a compromise. As pointed out by the foppish comments shared by the self-appointed cruising guru on the dock, there are aspects of Citla that sets it apart from true cruising designs. The fuel capacity for one, is on the low side for most modern cruising designs. The Cal 39 carries just shy of 45 gallons of diesel. For most destinations, that is more than adequate given the boats sailing characteristics. However, bashing back up the Pacific coast of Baja California, against wind, waves and prevailing currents, I felt it prudent to expand my capacity. The compromise I chose was to carry an extra 40 gallons on deck to provide a margin of safety. Not the most elegant nor seaman-like solution (wave wash can tear out both the full fuel cans and stanchions) when compared to designed for cruising boats, but an inexpensive, temporary alternative. Aesthetically, it's not a particularly handsome addition, but it is practical and doesn't require compromises to sailing characteristics that a few of the cruising designs seem to fall prey (of which, the worse offenders are better suited as motor-sailors rather than true sail boats).

Another difference, one that always elicits a great deal of discussion (especially in crowded cruising grounds), is the choice of ground tackle. Chain has its place and advantages. Having all anchor chain usually requires less scope and, therefore, less swinging radius than all nylon rode or chain and rode combinations. Chain is also a superior choice when anchoring in sea beds of rock or coral, for its resistance to chafe. The draw back to using chain is its inherent weight. It doesn't take a very heavy anchor with very much chain before even the fittest of us require mechanical assistance to retrieve our ground tackle. That means the use of either a manual, mechanical or a combination windless. Keeping it simple when it comes to windless choice has its advantages. A manual or combination mechanical-manual unit will always allow for retrieval of your anchor. This isn't always the case with a pure mechanical unit. There are instances where these have malfunctioned rendering the boat unable to anchor, either due to not allowing the chain to be let out, or knowing that once it is released it cannot be easily retrieved. With a chain claw, a length of line and one of the deck winches this, too, can be overcome, but that solution wouldn't be something to look forward to each time it was time to anchor. The other inherent disadvantage to all chain for many modest boat designs is the weight it adds to the chain locker. Larger cruising boats with broader bow entries or chain lockers situated further aft of the bow can get away with carrying all chain without its weight contributing to hobby-horsing when under sail in anything but the smoothest of conditions, which significantly impacts sailing efficiency and boat speed (even under power).

At the other end of this issue are dinghy davits. Boats lacking proper buoyancy in the stern sections can be affected by weight carried aft. Fortunately, with the shift towards designing boats that more nearly resemble sailing dinghies, with their broad flat aft sections, this isn't such an issue. Boats with pinched or narrow stern sections, will be affected when hanging the weight of davits and a dinghy off the stern, again contributing to hobby-horsing and poor sailing performance.

When it comes to these two issues, we choose to be very "un-cruiser" like. Our two bow anchor rodes consist of 30 feet of chain each and 300 feet each of either 5/8" 6-plait or 5/8" three strand nylon. Our stern lunch hook has 20' of chain and 250 feet of three strand nylon. When not inflated, our dinghy lives next to the mast in the cabin. When inflated it either rides on the cabin top, forward of the mast or is towed behind the boat, without motor and oars. For either of these choices, whether all chain or dinghy davits, it's a matter of choice, functionality, safety and comfort. There are no hard and fast rules governing what can or should be done, as long as one is aware of the compromises. Unless you're going cruising with an unlimited budget, there is no "right" answer to most design issues; there are always acceptable solutions, each with its own associated set of compromises.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Summer Nearly Upon Us

After a short sailing (rudder repair and waiting out the 'Northers') season, we returned home for taxes, births, weddings and graduations. It's time for us to return to Mexico and our sailing vessel, Citla.

 We return as proud grandparents (our first!) of a beautiful grandson, Archer. He was born on the vernal equinox, adding to our celebration of the first day of Spring!

We also have expanded our family through the wedding of our youngest daughter. The wedding took place on a beautiful day and portends of good things for the future.

The weekend following the wedding, we were treated to a visit by my wife's cousin and her husband, Michelle and Jim. They were in San Diego to attend the graduation of one of their grand-daughters from San Diego State University. We joined the proud parents, grandparents and friends for a delicious celebratory dinner in Old Town.

Summer is fast approaching, with already two named tropical storms in the eastern Pacific. It's getting warmer as the days pass and it is time for us to return to our boat and prepare it for time on the hard. We plan to leave Memorial Day weekend for La Paz. This should be another short trip, the primary purpose of which is to prepare the boat for summer. Time and opportunity permitting, we also hope to spend some time out at the islands before hauling the boat out of the water. This year, rather than leaving it in Puerto Escondido, we're opting to leave it in La Paz. The facilities at Puerto Escondido are excellent and the staff is friendly and helpful, but the protected location is also a distance from stores and chandleries. Loreto is the closest town for supplies and it's about 28 km to the north. This year we felt it would be more convenient to use the Singlar boat yard in La Paz.

Cruising plans remained as solid as always; we departed San Diego on Tuesday. The delay was a result of a sewing project to customize some inexpensive canvas tarps to serve as a boat cover when we leave our boat on the hard this summer. The old plastic tarps provided the pattern for the various cut-outs (e.g., mast, solar vents, cowls). All cut edges were hemmed with bias tape and 2" nylon webbing was used to reinforce all stress points. Grommets and Velcro were applied to provide attachment points to join the two tarps being used as the cover. A day late we began our drive south to La Paz late Tuesday morning.

As has become our habit, we split the drive three segments. The drive can be done in about 18 hours, if all goes well, but it isn't worth it. We generally try to leave in the morning to cross the border at Tijuana after all the commute traffic has subsided. We stop at Immigration and pick up our tourist permits and have our passports stamped and then head out of town, along the border fence, to Playas de Tijuana and south on the toll road to Ensenada. Given the price of gasoline in San Diego, we filled our tank south of Rosarito Beach for ~$2.85 a gallon. Our first overnight was at Jardines Hotel in the coastal farming community of San Quintin. The hotel has modern clean rooms and is surrounded by luscious gardens, both ornamental and vegetable. It is backed by an orange grove. There are water features in the main hotel garden and the birds seem to come from far and wide to enjoy this oasis.

We departed San Quintin in the morning to begin what is one of our favorite segments of the drive down Baja. We filled our tank in the coastal farming and fishing center of El Rosario before driving east and south into the desert. You leave the community of El Rosario, passing over a bridge that spans the Arroyo de El Rosario, before beginning the climb into the Cardon and Cirio forests to the south. This segment was punctuated with a "stretch" stop in Catavina with its' beautiful rock and boulder formations. We continued south towards the turn off on Mexico 1, to Baja de Los Angeles.

Proximity to Bahia de Los Angeles is first announced by the changing flora. One begins to see yucca trees, along with more Elephant trees. The next stop for us was the border town between the states of Baja California Norte and Baja California Sur (BCS) Guerrero Negro or Black Warrior. Besides being the entry to BCS, it is also famous for the eastern North Pacific population of California Gray whales, who both mate and give birth in the nearby lagoon of Ojo de Liebre or as it was subsequently named after the whaler who first discovered its bounty, Scammon's Lagoon. [As a side note, mid-February until early March are the best times to see these spectacular leviathans in the Lagoon] We made a quick stop for both gasoline and pesos before continuing south towards Loreto.

The continuation of our travels brought us through the date oasis village of San Ignacio. A stop here reveals a beautiful spring fed fresh water lagoon, a now nearly defunct date operation and one of the better restored missions of Baja California, founded by the Jesuits in 1728.

Driving south from San Ignacio brings us across the spine of Baja, down the steep, winding Tres Virgines grade and finally out to the western shore of the Sea of Cortez, just north of the historic mining town of Santa Rosalia the road continues down to the shoreline and then into the town. Rather than stop, we continue south, anxious to make it to the town of Loreto before sunset. The road continues south, mostly out of sight of the coast to the town located on the Mulege River, from which it takes its name. We continue on for several more kilometers south of town before stopping to refuel. A short time later brings us to one of the most spectacular bays along the western shores of the Sea of Cortez. While being developed at a rapid pace, the beauty of Bahia Concepcion still shines through. A little over an hour later finds us at Mike and Julie's Iguana Inn in the historical capital of Baja California Sur, Loreto.

After a great dinner at the Giggling Dolphin, a restful night at the Iguana Inn and a late morning breakfast, we were off for the final push into La Paz. The road leaving Loreto follows the coast on past the cruisers spot of Puerto Escondido (one of the best hurricane holes in the Sea) and then continues south and west up into the rugged Sierra de la Giganta. The rugged moutain scenery is a change from the relatively flat road that follows the Sea from Santa Rosalia to just south of Puerto Escondido. It finally breaks out onto the coastal plane along the Pacific Ocean and heads south through the two farming communities of Constitucion and Villa Insurentes. The ride southward is through coastal desert until it turns east once again to meet the Sea of Cortez just north of the capital city of La Paz. We arrive in the late afternoon with the temperature in the high 90's and the blue skies matched by the azure color of the Sea of Cortez.

At last we're at our home away from home, the sailing vessel Citla. In our absence the boat has collected enough desert dust to qualify it as a floating farm. An hour of scrubbing with the boat brush and water and it looks like our boat again. The challenge now is to locate local talent to drop our old rudder and install the new replacement when it arrives. This will all take place in a couple of weeks when we pull the boat out of the water for hurricane season. In the mean time, we hope to have a couple of good days of sailing before hanging it up for the summer.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Back to La Paz and Winter Weather Patterns

It's been difficult to begin sharing our travels. Perhaps it's because I know we will be on an abbreviated schedule this season due to family milestones that far out weigh the mundane muses of our travels. There are two events this year that will draw us away from cruising the sea. The first is the birth of our first grandchild and the second is the marriage of another of our daughters. Both coincide with the fair weather in Mexico and both are far more important to us than our time on the boat.

So far this winter, southern California has experienced some warm and sunny weather caused by a high pressure dome over the four-corners area of the United States. This adiabatic phenomena results in an off-shore air flow along the southwest coast of California, accompanied by compression of the air mass as it moves down the coastal mountains, creating warm, dry and clear conditions. For those of us in the Sea of Cortez these same conditions result in a not so benign weather pattern.

That same high pressure ridge over the central western United States also causes airflow southward, across the low lying desert, down the Colorado river basin and into the northern reaches of the Sea of Cortez. While the air is usually clear, it has not undergone any abrupt elevation compression and remains cool. It flows southward, unimpeded along the entire fetch of the Sea of Cortez creating steep wind-waves (up to 10 feet) that are generally at a very short interval (5-6 seconds) creating what are described locally as a square wave pattern.

Winds generally will blow anywhere from a consistent 20-25 knots with gusts upwards of 30-40 knots. These conditions can last for days on end, creating a very uncomfortable environment to exist in and a potentially dangerous one to be sailing in. Most tend to hunker down in their boats to read and play games to pass the time. Depending on the proximity to the nearest land, venturing outside exposes one to blowing dust and sand. It loses it's charm after three or four days of constant blowing. This winter seems to have had more than its fair share of these 'Northers'.

We experienced these weather conditions during most of our stay in Puerto Escondido. Conditions were often severe enough to make it impossible to do any fiberglass work on our rudder. When all the repair work was completed, we also had to wait for a weather window in order to relaunch. Due to the high winds and accompanying gusts, the boat crane operators do not perform boat launching maneuvers during these conditions because of the danger of boats swinging in the crane slings.

After launching we spent a couple of days on a mooring ball in the protected harbor at Puerto Escondido before leaving with our buddy boat, Mingaat (Don Anderson and his Islander 36, along with crew, Captain Mary Campbell) for our trip south to La Paz. We spent three uneventful days covering the 120 nm back to La Paz, anchoring at Bahia San Marte the first night and Isla San Francisco the second before making our final push to La Paz.