Thursday, January 17, 2019

Ixtapa: Leg 1 Completed, Goodbye to Pete

Leg 1 of The Voyage was completed yesterday afternoon upon our arrival at Marina Ixtapa.  It was a great trip with great crew.

We set sail from Barra de Navidad to Caleta de Campos on Tuesday morning and arrived at Campos on Wednesday around noon. Unfortunately, we had to motor almost the whole way, despite valiant efforts by the captain to catch the fickle winds with the Code 0. I made six furling-unfurling sail entries into the log during my watches, all within an hour of each other. The last furling entry ends with "BAH!", in all caps. In the end I meditated and calmly accepted that I cannot control the wind. And then I opened a beer and drank it to the hum of Intermezzo's economical little Yanmar diesel.

Caleta de Campos turned out to be quite a nice little anchorage. It is somewhat exposed to the ocean swells, so you hear the surf breaking on the beach all the time, sometimes pretty good sized waves, big enough to surf on. Despite the swell, Intermezzo hardly rolled at all at anchor, making for a comfortable stay and night's sleep. There is an attractive little town along and on the hillside on the east side of the cove and steep, burnt orange colored rock cliffs from the center to the west end. A nice sandy beach runs along most the shoreline, the sand also orange-tinted with black highlights. We did a great job landing and launching the dinghy through the light surf for our shore excursions, earning mild respect from the many panga fisherman watching us. We enjoyed a nice meal at one of the rustic beachfront mariscos restaurants; crab, huachinango (Pacific red snapper) and ceviche, washed down with cold beers.

To reach Ixtapa before sunset, we had to leave Caleta de Campos at 04:00 in the dark. We roused ourselves out of bed at 03:30, had a cup of coffee, prepared the boat and weighed anchor, departing right on time.

There was virtually no wind the whole way to Ixtapa and, when there was a little, it was right on the nose. From here to Panama, except for the Golfo de Tehuantepec and the Golfo de Papagayo, the winds are generally light. Intermezzo motored a lot on the previous trips up and down this portion of the coast.

The day spent motoring to Ixtapa was not without excitement, however. We encountered quite a few panga fishermen, open boats about 20 feet long with 60 to 90 hp outboards, manned by two guys. They string out a thin rope to which dozens and dozens of baited hooks are tied, wait around, and then proceed slowly along their line, lifting it out of the water to unhook whatever they catch.

On previous passages, it was pretty easy to avoid these long lines, which can be half a mile long or more. At one end of the line would be a buoy with a black flag. At the other end would be the panga. You just needed to go around the buoy or the panga. This time is was more difficult.

The fishermen were using lines with plastic bottle as floats, the bottles spaced about 50 yards apart. These bottles were often hard to see in the water and the lines were either placed or drifted into confusing curves - crescents, semicircles, spirals. To avoid running over the line and fouling the rudder or propeller was sometimes like trying to figure our way out of a labyrinth.

Some of the fishermen would try to direct us with hand signals. Unfortunately none of us understand Mexican fisherman hand language, which involves hands held in different positions, wagging one way while waving another, which means either go ahead, turn left or turn right. We couldn't tell the difference, so we'd try what seemed right to us. The fisherman either looked at us with a friendly smile, in which case we continued on and they waved goodbye (hand language we did understand), or they got agitated, looked distressed and waved their hands like windmills, in which case we turned different directions until they settled down.  Pete was on watch for most of these encounters and he said it was the most stressful part of the trip for him.  We only caught one line, for which I jumped into the water to free from the prop. An easy job, no blue spots on my head like Roy's.

We were pretty tired by the time we got the boat tied in its slip, completed our check-in at the marina office and ate dinner. We didn't have keys to the marina showers because they are issued by a different marina office that was closed for the day, so marina residents, neighbors and passersby were treated to the view of nude sailors showering on Intermezzo's stern step. One sailor at a time, not all together. We didn't want to overdo it.

This morning Roy and Pete washed Intermezzo's decks while I straightened up inside. Then it was time for us to say goodbye to Pete who had to fly back to his job as a police officer near Montreal. Snow, cold, brrrrrrrr.....

Pete was great crew, very attentive, practiced good seamanship, always in good humor, even during his short bout of seasickness. He said the best parts of the trip for him were the dolphins, the Code 0 sail and Roy's Frozen Grapes.  I enjoyed speaking my bad French with Pete, confounding Roy, who is struggling to learn Spanish. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with the leftover gaily colored Fruit Loops cereal Pete eats for breakfast. But I do know what I'll do with the half-bottle of Appleton rum he left in the locker. We'll miss him. I hope he sails on Intermezzo again.

Pete ordering bread and pastries (in French) from French Bakery boat in Barra de Navidad.
Roy observes.

A Blue-Spotted Roy emerges from below Intermezzo after freeing fishing line from prop.

The beautiful rugged coastline on the way to Caleta de Campos

The small town of Caleta de Campos
Caleta de Campos

Monday, January 14, 2019

En Route to Caleta de Campos

Intermezzo is en route to Caleta de Campos, a small remote anchorage about 115 nm down the coast from Manzanillo.

We weighed anchor in Bahia Tenacatita yesterday around noon for the short sail to Barra de Navidad. When we raised the anchor, we found that the chain had wrapped itself around the shank of the anchor. We tried rotating the anchor to untwist it but the chain was wedged too tight by the anchor's weight pulling down on it. We tried relieving some of the weight by attaching an line and hauling up on it, but that didn't work. I looked at the situation for a moment and then asked Roy, who was at the helm, how deep the water was. He reported 50 feet, so I told him to stop the boat. I dropped the anchor to the bottom and then told Roy to drive in a tight counterclockwise circle. Voila, when we raised the anchor, the chain was unwrapped. I hadn't told Roy about the anchor chain wrap when it occurred and later he asked, "Why did you have me do a donut when we left the anchorage? Is that a tradition or something?"

As we approached Barra de Navidad, I noticed that the hull of the tanker that had wrecked on the cliffs in November 2015 was still there. We first observed this wreck on Intermezzo's first visit to Barra in January 2016. Government authorities were trying to decide the what to do about it then. On Intermezzo's second visit to Barra in March 2017, helicopters were flying workers out to the wreck to clean and dismantle it. I wasn't sure then whether the intent was to cut it up and remove it or just take off the dirty and expensive pieces and leave the rest. Apparently, it was the latter. The superstructure of the ship has been removed, along with the deck piping and appurtenances, leaving just the main hull lying against the cliffs until it rusts away in a couple of centuries. The wreck isn't visible from land, but It spoils the view from the sea of the beautiful natural scenery of the bay, but not too terribly and it's certainly a curiosity.

We dropped anchor in the lagoon of Barra de Navidad around 4 p.m. and hailed a water taxi into town. We saw a sign outside a beachside bar advertising jumbo Margaritas for 50 pesos, an offer we couldn't refuse. The crew apparently is quite sensitive to more than a little tequila. I walked and they staggered slightly as we toured the town. We ended our shore leave with a nice dinner, then it was back to the boat for the rest of the night. For the crew's safety.

This morning, we waited for the French bakery boat to come by so we could buy fresh bread, croissants and pastries Then we weighed anchor and set sail for Caleta de Campos.

Along this section of coast, fishermen in pangas lay a long line with baited hooks between their boat and a flagged buoy. These lines can be a half mile long and need to be avoided. That's usually done pretty easily by spotting the panga and the buoy and steering around the outside of one of them. This afternoon, however, the skipper (me) was puzzled by a line that had multiple floats and we (I) managed to snag the fishing line, first with the rudder, then with our own fishing tackle trailing behind, then with the other rudder and then wrapping one of our fishing lines around our propeller. Mind you, this was all done with great care and precision.

Roy immediately offered to dive below the boat to free the fisherman's line from our rudder and our fishing line from the prop. I decided I'd tell him about sharks being attracted to the fish caught on the long baited lines after he had completed his work so that he wouldn't lose focus. He made quick work of the job while accenting the top of his head with beautiful bright blue patches of bottom paint. Pete started to tell Roy about his blue spotted head but I shushed him up so that I could get a picture. Pete thinks that I would never have told Roy, but that's not true. I wouldn't let him spend more than an hour ashore in public looking like that.

We're sailing along gently tonight under the Code 0 after motoring most of the day against light headwinds. We're all looking forward to exploring Caleta de Campos, our last anchorage before we end the journey in Ixtapa.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Tenacatita: Anchored at 'O Dark Thirty

We anchored in Bahía Tenacatita at 05:30 this morning, about an hour before sunrise.

We had sailed all day yesterday until we reached Chamela at about 21:00 when the wind dropped. We considered "bobbing around" (Roy's term) and wait for the wind to pick up, but the motion of the boat lying beam-to to the swells was not very comfortable for off-watch sleeping. I considered anchoring by moonlight in Bahía Chamela for the night, but decided against it. I hadn't studied the anchorage well enough and wanted to spend the next day in Tenacatita, about 30 nm further down the coast.

It was awkward timing. If we motored at standard cruising speed we would arrive at 03:00. The moon set around midnight and if we weren't comfortable with anchoring in darkness we would have to bob around for quite a while until sunrise. So, I decided to motor at minimum speed, which would get us to the entry to the Tenacatita around 04:30.  That way, if we aborted anchoring, we'd only have to bob around for an hour and half to wait for dawn's light.

We entered the anchorage cautiously, navigating mostly by radar and chart plotter as it was very dark and difficult to make out the rocky shoreline. As we inched our way into the anchorage, there was enough light behind us from the nearby town of La Manzanilla and a beach resort for us to make out the shore and the other boats in the anchorage, most of which were showing there anchor lights.

We made quick work of anchoring and Roy, who had been off watch in a deep sleep, went right back to his bunk. Pete and I enjoyed mini "sun-upper" glasses of rum to celebrate our arrival and relax as the sky lightened to an orange-pink, then turned in to catch a few more hours sleep.

I got up early, swam from the boat to the beach and did some yoga, observed by an egret who was fishing in the shallow surf in front of me. The rest of the crew roused themselves a bit later to begin enjoying our beautiful surroundings.  Intermezzo previously visited Tenacatita in January 2016 with friends Marc and Marcy on board. On that visit, we took an adventurous trip through the mangroves, and discovered we were the first yatistas to have made it through the estuary since damage from Hurricane Patricia the previous November.

This visit was far more relaxed. We took the dinghy to a nearby beach restaurant and enjoyed some micheladas (beer and clamato juice with chili and salt around the rim of the glass) and shared the local seafood specialty, "rolls de mar", a filet of fish stuffed with shrimp, wrapped in bacon and smothered in a creamy almond sauce.

This morning we had a meeting onboard and the crew decided they would like to push on tomorrow to visit Barra de Navidad. The captain granted their request as a reward for their bravery and good behavior at sea. We set sail for there tomorrow morning.

Pete, Roy and me, Captain and Crew of Intermezzo for Leg 1 of the Voyage

Roy filleting the dorado we caught on the way to Tenacatita.

Friday, January 11, 2019

En Route to Tenacatita: Fish On, Night Arrival

We had another great day of sailing in beautiful conditions under the Code 0 sail, which the crew now loves as much as I do.
We caught a nice 12+ pound dorado (mahi mahi) at mid-day on the new lure I got for Christmas. It was a beautiful fish, blue, green with a bright yellow tail. I always feel a bit sad when I kill a fish like that and all the color drains from it. It's like you are watching its life fade away, a beautiful creature never to swim in the sea again. It makes me want to be a vegetarian and leave the fish alone. But not today. We had fish tacos for dinner and we saved the best fillets to grill tomorrow.
We are about six hours away from the anchorage at Bahia Tentacatita, which means we'll arrive just after midnight. I normally avoid entering anchorages in the dark, but I've been to this one before and its big. We'll find a temporary spot to anchor in safe water, away from other boats for the rest of the night and then move to a better spot if we want to in the morning. I'm feeling an appropriate level of cautious apprehension; I'm going to be really careful, go slow and if I don't like it, head back out and heave-to offshore for the rest of the night.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

En Route to Tenacatita: Mellow Day, a Bit Blechy

We're about 100 nm off the coast from Mazatlan.
Today was a mellow day, enough wind to keep the boat moving at a nice pace most of the day and gentle seas after a faster, more boisterous passage last night. Just after sunset, the wind dropped and we turned on the engine per The Two Knot Rule. I used to follow the Three Knot Rule, turning on the engine if the boat speed dropped below two knots, but I want to become more patient and accepting of the wind, improve my light air sailing skills and burn less diesel on this voyage.
The three of us are all feeling a bit seasick and we skipped dinner this evening. I very arely get seasick but if I do, it is in slow rolling swells. Waves can be big and fierce and I'm fine, but a two foot gentle swell can do me in. Roy and Pete are dealing with their own responses to the motion. We're all fine and functional, just slow, quiet, sleepy. Hopefully we'll feel better tomorrow after another day at sea.
It's been a bit of a challenge keeping the batteries charged on Intermezzo. This time of year, the sun is low and towards the south and doesn't hit the solar panels at a good angle for long and the panels get shaded by the sails in the morning in the direction we are sailing. The little 1000 watt Yamaha portable generator is coming in handy to top of the batteries. Much more economical and less polluting than running one of the diesels to just charge the batteries. Now that we turned on the engine due to lack of wind, the batteries will soon be fully charged. Cloudy weather is forecast, so the little Yamaha will probably get used again.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Departed La Paz, Starting Leg 1 of The Voyage

We left La Paz around 10:00 a.m. this morning after preparing the boat, checking out of the marina and topping off the fuel tanks and jugs. Roy, Pete and I were pretty excited and happy to be starting the journey. I felt a little bittersweet sadness saying goodbye to La Paz, a town that I have called a second home for almost two years.

We're headed for Tenacatita, a small bay about 120 miles south of Puerto Vallarta. It should take us about three days sailing to get there.

We motored out of the Bahia de La Paz and through the San Lorenzo channel. Once we were out of the lee of Isla Espiritu Santos the wind picked up and we hoisted the main and jib. As we shaped our course towards the southeast and were sailing more downwind, we dropped dropped main, rolled up the jib and unfurled my favorite sail, the Code 0. Soon the wind piped up and we enjoyed loping along at 7-8 knots, surfing steep five foot seas. The wind kept building and I 22 knot true, I called for the Code 0 to be rolled up and the jib deployed. Now we're sailing pleasantly along at 5-6 knots almost dead downwind in somewhat confused seas.

Roy and Pete have taken well to Intermezzo and I'm quickly bringing them up to speed on sailing the boat. We're a double-handed watch schedule, with Roy and Pete standing watches and me on continual standby, keeping tabs on things and ready to answer questions or provide assistance whenever needed.

I'm cooking dinners each evening at the 18:00 change of watch. Tonight we had a shrimp Thai curry. Pete was a little seasick so only got half rations.

The weather has been beautiful. Slightly cloudy skies, breezy, cool. There's a sliver of moon out.

It's good to be on the water again and I'm grateful that our first day of sailing has been so enjoyable.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

George, Again


Yesterday was a good day.

I finally found the spare primary fuel filters I have been trying to purchase since November. Intermezzo has Racor fuel filter water separators to protect the engines from diesel fuel contaminants.      Although we have yet to have it happen on Intermezzo, it is not uncommon on boats for the filter elements get clogged by gunk stirred up in the fuel tanks during heavy weather, from sucking fuel from the bottom of near-empty tanks, or from dirty fuel. If a filter gets clogged, the engine won't run, so it's important to have spare filter elements on board. We were down to just one spare on Intermezzo.

Replacement Racor filter elements are usually readily available. However, last Fall, the manufacturer moved its factory across the country and apparently had a lot of trouble re-starting its operations for quite some time. I looked everywhere in the U.S. for filters for two months and came up empty handed.  I returned to Mexico hoping that I might find some here in La Paz.

Yesterday morning I tuned into the daily La Paz cruiser's net on the VHF radio and when the "local assistance" segment came up, I asked if anyone could help me source the Racor filters that I needed. I was delighted when George from s/v Thalia responded with some recommendations. Delighted because George is one of my favorite people that I've met sailing since leaving on this extended voyage. Those of you who have been following this blog may remember him.

I first met George briefly in Puerto Chiapas while clearing out of Mexico to head south in March 2016. The marina manager helps cruisers clear in and out of immigration, customs and the Port Captain by driving them around in the proper sequence in his truck. George and his girlfriend rode in the truck with me and a couple of other sailors as we made the rounds. I didn't talk to him much at the time, but I remember thinking looked like an interesting character.

After clearing out of Mexico, our next port was Bahia del Sol in El Salvador. It turns out is was Georg'e next port, too.  To make a long story short, I spent much more time in Bahia del Sol than I wanted to and during that time got to know George pretty well over quite a few beers.  He watched over Intermezzo while Renee and I took a sightseeing trip inland, helped me when I beached Intermezzo to work on the props and sail-drives and was a good friend when Renee had to leave suddenly when her Mom had a stroke. When I said goodbye to George when I finally left Bahia del Sol on my own for Nicaragua, I figured I might stay in touch via email but that I'd never see him again.

What a pleasant surprise it was one morning seven months later in October 2016 when, in the isolated anchorage of Bahia Ballena in Costa Rica, I see George rowing his dinghy towards Intermezzo. Renee had returned and we enjoyed a dinner on board Thalia, featuring George's homemade pizza and his potent "rum and yellow shit" cocktails. When we said goodbye again I, I figured it was a lucky coincidence to have met up with George again, but very unlikely to ever happen again.

So, last November as I was eating lunch in the cafe at Marina La Paz, you can imagine my surprise when I looked out the window down onto the dinghy dock immediately below and there's George, not  10 feet away from me getting out of his dinghy! I was truly amazed. We had a brief conversation and he invited me to dinner on Thalia. I got busy with launching Intermezzo and boat projects and wasn't able to make the dinner.  I figured that George would be sailing on and that was the last time I'd see him.

By now it's clear that my figuring regarding George is wrong. It will never be the last time I see him. He will pop up again, as he did yesterday on the radio.

George's recommendations for where to find the Racor filters turned out to be spot on. Based on conversations with local boat maintenance people, I believe I purchased five of the last two dozen Racor filters of this type for sale in La Paz. It is a big relief to have enough spares on board for Intermezzo's upcoming journey.

After buying the filters, I met up with George at Marina La Paz and had a beer with him. I enjoyed his company, but was saddened to learn that he recently discovered a serious health problem.  It's still being diagnosed, but it is potentially life threatening. As we talked about it, I couldn't help but feel some optimism for him. I told him I'd always been wrong when I've said goodbye to him, thinking it will be the last time I'll see him. I figure he'll get through this and I'll see him again, somewhere unexpected. I gave him a wholehearted hug as I said goodbye, sincerely wishing him the best and hoping our paths cross again.

In addition to finding my Racor filters and meeting up with George, yesterday was a good day because Intermezzo's crew, Roy and Pete joined the boat.  More about them in my next post.

And as an added bonus, Sir Geoffrey The Heron, paid us a brief visit. Sir Geoffrey fished from, slept on and shat upon Intermezzo on-and-off for a few months last year. He's a very aristocratic chap who walks up and down the dock as if he owns it. We became well enough acquainted that he would allow me sit quietly in close proximity while he fished off Intermezzo's stern, though he remained very aloof to a commoner like me.

George, again.

A few of the last Racor filters in La Paz

Sir George, gracing the dock at Marina Palmira with his presence