Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Caleta Lobos: Sailing Intermezo

I’m back on Intermezzo again.

I returned to La Paz a week ago Sunday, January 14 and found Intermezzo in good condition in the slip at Marina Palmira. I had a productive week working and writing from the boat. I’m pleased about that, as I hope to be able to combine sailing with my other life interests and priorities going forward. I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to do that, with careful planning and a little flexibility on the part of others. 

Renee arrived this past Sunday and we set sail for Caleta Lobos yesterday after spending Monday provisioning and getting the boat ready for a 10-day cruise to explore the multiple coves of Isla Espíritu Santo. The past few days have been sunny and clear, but quite windy, blowing from the NNW at 15-25 knots. The forecast is for the winds to subside for a few days before piping up again on the weekend, but so far, they are still blowing strong.  We’ll be motoring against the wind in short hops northward and then should enjoy a nice long downwind sail back to La Paz at the end of next week.

We stopped at Caleta Lobos in November 2015 on our way to La Paz after finishing the Baja Ha-Ha. We considered it then one of the best anchorages so far and time has not diminished the impression. Yesterday I ventured to shore on the dinghy in the late afternoon and enjoyed walking along the beach and edge of the mangroves, climbing a rocky hillside, doing some yoga and meditating before a beautiful mountain backdrop.  The weather is cool, but comfortable. The water is a bit chilly for swimming, but comfortable for wading.

This morning, I was woken up by a sea lion fishing around and below the boat, making quite a bit of noise and occasionally banging against the hull. I’m amazed by how wild and isolated this anchorage is, less than 10 miles away from the marina in La Paz.

A short time ago, I started a new blog as a place to write when I’m not sailing and posting to this blog. It’s called “Steve’s Words” and you can find it at and subscribe to follow by email if you like what you read and are interested in my non-sailing musings as well.

Caleta Lobos anchorage 
Desert mountain backdrop beyond the mangroves

Intermezzo and the dinghy sharing Caleta Lobos with a shrimper and one other boat

Hiking rocky terrain in flip-flops

Caleta Lobos landscape

On board Intermezzo again

Friday, December 8, 2017

Penngrove: A Belated Wrap-up and Confession of a Near Miss

I'm writing this from The Ranch, two weeks after leaving Intermezzo in La Paz and flying home, a belated wrap-up of our short cruise in the Sea of Cortez. It has been a busy time here since I returned and my transition from sea- to land-life is always more difficult than in the opposite direction. When transitioning back to land, I often feel like I am falling through a swirl of intense thoughts and feelings, like a space capsule that heats up and glows as it re-enters the earth's atmosphere, a transition from a thin atmosphere to a thick one. I've been wanting to write this for over a week but other work was a higher priority and I had to cool myself down from re-entry. I'm glad to finally be able to do it.

My last post was from Isla San Francisco on November 20 just before we sailed to Caleta Partida, a beautiful cove nestled in a volcanic crater that divides Isla Espiritu Santos from Isla Partida, about 25 miles north of La Paz.  This cove is one of our favorite spots in the Sea of Cortez. It has a very calm anchorage in shallow bright turquoise water, a nice white sand beach, great hiking up to the rim of the crater and excellent snorkeling around the rocks at the entry to the cove. The anchorage is pretty large, so even with half a dozen or more boats, it is a peaceful and quiet place to stay.

The sail from Isla San Francisco to Caleta Partida was a nice downwind romp in 15-20 knots true wind flying just the Code 0, without doubt our favorite sail. Effortless and enjoyable sailing. After we dropped our anchor in the bright light-blue water, we launched the dinghy to do some snorkeling. The water was just warm enough to take a leisurely swim around the perimeter of the narrow rock reef that extends off the cove's northern point. We swam through brightly colored clouds of thousands of small fish swimming near the surface, looking down at larger reef fish and the occasional tuna below us. It was one of the best dives I've had in the Sea.

After pulling ourselves out of the water and back into the dinghy, we motored towards the beach to enjoy a beer (me) and explore (Renee).  When we were about a quarter mile off the beach, I realized that it was low tide and while the water was deep enough to float the dinghy, it was too shallow to run the outboard. So turned off the motor, hopped out and towed Renee into the beach, shuffling my feat through the sandy bottom to avoid a painful encounter with a sting ray. Towing the dinghy took no effort at all, but I played it up by moaning and groaning a bit so that when I opened my beer, it would seem to Renee like I earned it. She's used to my cartoon character dramatics and rolled her eyes and played along as usual. I enjoyed my beer.

It was a very still night at anchor, with a clear night sky and only a sliver of a moon. I made an amazing discovery that night. I had taken my contact lenses out to go to bed but wanted to take one last look at the starry sky. I didn't bother to put my glasses on before I went out onto the deck and gazed upwards. Wow! I am really nearsighted and without corrective lenses, points of light turn into fuzzy balls, just like dandelions look when they have gone to seed. I have enjoyed this visual effect before by taking off my glasses while driving at night or,more safely, as a passenger in a car. The taillights and the headlights of the traffic turn into a moving collage of colored dandelions, some of them undulating in size as my eyes and brain try to focus and make sense of the abstract. Well, gazing up at the stars without glasses presented a similar scene. The stars turned into dandelions, only they didn't undulate in size, I think because my brain accepted the stars as static objects as opposed to  moving cars. The result was that the main stars of the constellations appeared as much larger dandelions than the other stars.  I saw the night sky just like it looks in a star chart, the stars of the constellations augmented to help you find them, only my version also turned them into big, soft, fuzzy stars. I could pick out all the major constellations easily and saw others that I'm sure are named but less familiar. It was amazing. To those of you who may be suspicious, I want to be clear that no drugs were involved in this experiment. Though I had to accept my poor vision at an early age and usually consider it a handicap, it has given me gifts of dandelion abstract night art, the ability to see detail at a very close distance, like a macro lens on a camera and now, deciphering the patterns of dandelion stars in the night sky. It makes me smile thinking that if we were all nearsighted like I am, how different we would perceive and describe stars. Not the twinkling points of light, like a black canvas that has been pierced by a needle to reveal mysterious light beyond, but nice soft balls of light that have arranged themselves to hang over us, comforting us with beauty and inspiring dreams as to their meaning.

Okay, back to earth. Or sea, in this case.

The next morning, this would be the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, we enjoyed a long swim and lazy snorkel in the shallow waters of the anchorage. While there was less to see under the surface than the day before, we were entertained by a school of rainbow runners (called salmón locally), colorful, mackerel shaped fish about a foot long or so. We appeared to be their morning entertainment, as they swam lazy circles around us, seemingly curious about our ungainly land-bodies and inelegant way of swimming in the water.

We pulled up anchor just before noon on and set sail on our last leg of the cruise to the marina in La Paz which will be Intermezzo's home for the upcoming months. There wasn't quite enough wind to move us fast enough under sail alone, but enough for the Code 0 to let the motor run at lower rpms and let us pretend we were sailing.

I have to confess to a near miss that occurred on our way to La Paz. While I'm embarrassed and ashamed of my poor seamanship,near misses are best turned into lessons learned to prevent future accidents and lessons are most valuable when shared with others.

We were approaching La Paz about three miles south of Punta Diablo, the point at the northeast of the Bahia de La Paz. There is a dramatic increase in vessel traffic as you enter the bay, compared to the mostly deserted waters in the rest of the Sea, including quite a few  large tankers, cargo ships, cruise ships and ferries. I scanned the waters ahead of me, spotting the big ships, figuring out if they were moving or at anchor, and relating what I saw with my eyes to the electronic Automatic Identification System (AIS) targets displayed on the chartplotter. All looked good for clear passage, except for a Mexican naval vessel that was in our path a few miles ahead.  Given the navy ship's location in a heavily navigated channel, I assumed it was moving and would be out of our way.

While we love our Code 0 sail, the foot of the sail is so low and the sail is so big that it completely blocks the view ahead from the helm station on the side of the boat that its flying.  The only way to sail safely is to frequently get down from the helm  and look through the front windows of the salon which are low enough to provide a clear view ahead under the sail. Renee and I sometimes cheat a little and agree that one of us will keep an eye out from inside the salon while the other is outside. If we have confirmed agreement on this arrangement, it's safe enough for passages in low traffic areas, but a bit dicey in more congested waters. As we approached La Paz, I was neither getting down from the helm frequently enough nor had I asked Renee to keep watch from inside to see what the Code 0 might be blocking from view.

I glanced at the chartplotter and was glad to "see" that the AIS target of the Mexican navy ship had moved out of our path as I expected, heading into a nearby harbor, but I didn't look under the Code 0 to confirm my conclusion from a second source of navigational data, i.e., my eyes.

We were motorsailing along at about six knots in calm seas on a beautiful day, the autopilot doing the steering. Renee was sitting at the helm, asking me a question about right-of-way while motorsailing and I was lecturing her my answer as I fiddled with mounting the remote mike for the VHF in preparation for entering the marina. Fifty yards sailing alongside to port was another sail boat, close enough to require my attention, especially since the crew of which was wearing a very skimpy and flattering black bikini.  After I got the mike mounted, I jumped up to sit next to Renee, still prattling on about navigation rules and regulations.

I noticed out of the corner of my eye, just to port of where the view was blocked by the Code 0 flying on the starboard side of the boat, a bright red float, about the size of a human head. I joked to Renee, "look a red head in the water". Thankfully the float was bright and oddly out of place enough to raise my curiosity to take a closer look under the sail. To my alarm and horror, the float was attached to the anchor chain of the Mexican Navy ship, its grey steel hull towering above us only a hundred yards ahead!

Two actions immediately came to mind. The first and most obvious was to quickly alter course to avoid colliding with the navy ship and causing an international incident, not to mention great damage to Intermezzo while only leaving white fiberglass marks on the navy ship. The second was how to look good doing it, like I intended to get so close before turning. The first I executed with no problem and averted a catastrophe. As to the second, well, I kept a calm expression on my face, giving a casual and confident wave to the crew watching from the deck of the navy ship. I don't think I pulled it off though, given their expressions which ranged from amusement to derision and gestures that I did not interpret as being laudatory.

The lessons learned are obvious. It is essential to keep a proper watch, especially in areas of heavy vessel traffic and large ships. Keeping a proper watch means looking frequently in all directions, including under your sails. Confirm navigational information from a multiple data sources, whenever possible and especially when the data is electronic. The AIS target that I took to be the navy ship was in fact that of a tanker that was right next to the navy ship when I first scanned the waters ahead.  The navy ship had never moved, anchored in a strange location; the tanker had headed to port.

I find it interesting how the officers and crew of the Mexican navy ship acted (or didn't act) in this situation, especially compared to what would have happened had I sailed directly towards an American navy ship and gotten so close.  I'm pretty sure that the Mexican sailors were wishing that I would hit their ship and make their day. Really, they didn't sound their horn or hail me, they just waited and watched. What an excellent opportunity to ridicule and lambast a rich gringo yatista, obviously a drunk amateur sailor who doesn't belong on the water! What an opportunity to legally scold, seize property and imprison an American, people who think they are better than us and want to build a wall to keep us out and think we are stupid enough to pay for it...assholes.  I don't want to think about how big a pain in the ass it would have been to extract myself from that situation, even as charming as I can be to foreign officials.

Now, if I had sailed directly at an American navy vessel and succeeded in getting within a hundred yards of hitting it, you would be reading about these lessons learned written by someone else in my obituary. I'm pretty sure that American sailors would be wishing they could unleash their Phalanx "sea-whiz" close-in weapons system to turn Intermezzo, Renee and I into small pieces of harmless flotsam, perhaps launching a couple of guided anti-ship missiles for good measure and to justify ordering four more to the delight of a defense contractor. Nothing left to ridicule, scold, seize or imprison. A victory in the war on terrorism. Okay, maybe an American ship would have blasted its horn or siren, yelled at me and gave me a chance. Or sent out a launch or helicopter to intercept me and force me to alter course. But having worked with the military for 30 years, I know that would have been a great disappointed to the sailors at the triggers of the Phalanx, for once hearing the orders "Prepare to fire. This is not a drill".

After dodging the navy ship and getting back on course to La Paz, I banged my head with my hands for a little while for being so stupid, severely beat myself up mentally and then sunk into quiet embarrassment and shame, all of which was gracefully ignored by Renee, who honorably, but undeservingly, took on some responsibility for our inattentiveness. To be clear, I was in command, I was on watch, it was my responsibility...the buck stopped with me.

A few hours later, just outside the entry to the main La Paz harbor, Renee finally caught a fish that we would eat. She had been fishing diligently every day ever since leaving Puerto Escondido. She hooked a couple of trigger fish caught with a handline while at anchor in Agua Verde, but we typically don't like to eat the fish we find pretty and like to admire while snorkeling. She caught three skipjack tuna simultaneously as we sailed to Isla San Francisco, three big, fat fish that we, unfortunately, don't find very tasty and get tired of quickly. This time, she hooked a sierra (aka Spanish Mackerel) one of our favorite fish to eat. It's tasty, easy to prepare and cooks quickly.  We enjoyed eating it for dinner only a couple hours after she caught it. Delicious! Renee was so happy to have finally got her fish.

We got Intermezzo into her slip at Marina Palmira, a nice, clean, friendly marina about a mile and a half from downtown La Paz. We spent Wednesday and Thanksgiving Day cleaning up the boat and arranging for caretakers. We spent all of Friday on multi-leg air travel through Mexico City and L.A. back home, something I want to avoid next time. I have heard that one can fly from La Paz to Tijuana, walk across the border and catch the trolley to the San Diego airport, reportedly a quicker and less expensive route.

We arrived at The Ranch early Saturday morning and cooked and celebrated a belated family Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday.  Since then, Renee has resumed remodeling the cottage while we live in it and I have been spending my time complaining about the dust, launching a new business, resuming my yoga practice and brooding about life.

My plan is to spend the rest of the winter and early spring "commute cruising", splitting my time between land and sea, perhaps a two week on, two week off schedule, starting in mid-January.

I now have a pretty good idea of what I want to do with Intermezzo for the longer term. But I will save that to be the topic of another post.

Here are a bunch of photos taken during our journey from Puerto Escondido to La Paz:

Puerto Escondido anchorage at sunset

Natures beauty in the Sea of Cortez

View of anchorage at Isla San Francisco from atop its ridge

An osprey nest at the top of Isla San Francisco, nobody home.

Hiking the rugged terrain of Isla San Francisco
Hiking the non-rugged terrain of Isla San Francisco, its salt flat where we collected some nice salt.

Sunset at Marina Palmira in La Paz, just before dinner

Dinner, freshly caught sierra with onion-garlic-lemon-butter sauce, mashed potatoes and broccoli 

Intermezzo's current home

Monday, November 20, 2017

Isla San Francisco: Great Sailing, Rolling and Water Leaking

We enjoyed great downwind (yes, that's right, downwind) over the past couple of days. Yesterday the wind blew a steady 20 knots for most of the day which let the jib moves us along at a steady 6.5 knots of relaxed sailing. The wind dropped to 15 knots for a few hours, so we just rolled up the jib and unfurled the Code 0 to keep moving just as fast, just as easily. Our main sail sure has an easy time of it, resting in its stack pack while the foresails do all the work. The lines that hold up the stack pack are called "lazy jacks", an appropriate name for a lazy sail.

We spent the night before last (Saturday night) in Los Gatos, one of our favorite anchorages. The wind in the northern sea had whipped up a decent swell, making the anchorage very rolly all evening and all night. Even a catamaran can get uncomfortable rocking back and forth a foot or so every six seconds. It reminded us of the Thanksgiving we spent in this same anchorage in 2015, when we experienced the same rolling while we ate our roast chicken dinner.

Our starboard engine has been leaking salt water from somewhere. Every time I think I fixed it, Renee would crouch into the engine compartment to mop it out and wipe the engine down with oil. Then the leak would reappear, I would "fix" it, and Renee would mop and wipe again. I think I finally conquered the leak, after three rounds of fighting it. I don't know how Renee did all that mopping and wiping without complaining. Now we have a dry and very, very clean engine compartment and a thrice-oiled engine.

We spent last night at Isla San Francisco, after a nice long hike along the island's ridge and exploring its salt flat. We collected some nice salt from a small pond so that we can season our food with the local stuff.

Today we're heading to Caleta Partida, another favorite anchorage, our last stop before La Paz.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Agua Verde: We’re finally sailing!

We finally left Puerto Escondido yesterday afternoon after bending on the jib and Code 0. My son Luther will appreciate that we finally dropped the main pin for the Code 0 furled overboard after three years of being extremely careful with this unique piece of hardware for which we carry no replacement. I adapted a 10mm bolt and nylock nut to serve in its place until I obtain a new one and a spare.

What very little wind there was yesterday was on the nose, the recurring story of my sailing life, so we motored the 20 nm or so to Agua Verde. It was a beautiful day and it felt good to be moving through the water again.

Nighttime in the Agua Verde anchorage was delightful. Endless stars spread over a giant moonless night sky, with the occasional shooting one for entertainment. Bioluminescent plankton sparkling like thousands of shooting stars in the inky black still water. I laid out on the trampoline naked with all this beauty around me, a cool breeze blowing over me, on the verge of feeling chilled, refreshing me out of the dull warmth from the bottle of Merlot I drank with dinner. I could hear the tinkle of bells from goats roaming on shore and the frequent splashes of fish enjoying their nocturnal meals. I took it all in, fully and gratefully, feeling content, reminded of how much I enjoy this place and life on the water.

We have less than a week until our flight out of La Paz back home for the holidays. We'll be moving south with purpose, but I'm resolved to enjoy the journey and stops along the way as much as possible. Next stop is Los Gatos, one of our favorite spots in the Sea of Cortez.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Baja Ha-Ha Wrap-Up

I wrote a blog post for each of the three legs of the Baja Ha-Ha, but I don’t feel I wrapped up my reporting for that journey properly. It was a really enjoyable trip. Nothing broke on the boat, nobody was injured and no harsh words were spoken, a winning trifecta that in my experience is rarely achieved when sailing. It was fun to sail a monohull again, a good experience to serve as crew vs. captain, and Gary and Eric were great company.

I asked each of them to recount the best part of the trip for them, their biggest mistake and to summarize it all in one word.

For Gary, the best part of the trip was the 10 hours spinnaker run on Leg 2 and how well the boat worked. “We could have used more wind, but the spinnaker runs were worth waiting for.” He enjoyed the camaraderie of the crew. He also has “great respect for Dinty Moore”, the brand of prepared meals we ate for dinner almost every night. Gary’s biggest mistake was flubbing the set up for the  second spinnaker hoist, which was quickly resolved but didn’t look good.

Eric enjoyed the wildlife most. He liked the huge pod of spinner dolphins that surrounded the boat one afternoon and the half dozen of dolphins that played in our bow wave for an hour one night. He really enjoyed the show put on by the pelicans, seals and dolphins one morning while we were anchored in Bahia Tortuga and some local fishermen were netting sardines; all the animals wanted a piece of that action and it was surprising there were any sardines left in the net. “National Geographic stuff,” Eric called it. Eric also took honors for highest boat speed, surfing at 10 knots one night on a glorious broad reach. He also played a serious game of beach volleyball, not doubt emboldened by the tequila shots served at half time.  None of us could think of a significant mistake that Eric made, although he did lose his flip flops coming back to the boat after the party at Bahia Santa Maria and dropped a piece of his electric razor overboard. 

I enjoyed just taking each moment as it came, whether sailing or on land, with no expectations. I just let events unfold as they did and navigated them the best I could at the time. I think I sailed the boat really well, dialed in my spinnaker trimming, piloted skillfully into anchorages and taught Gary a useful thing or two about his chartplotter.  The three of us worked well together as a team, with little drama and few words spoken. I also enjoyed the dolphins, as I always do.  My biggest mistake was leaving the autopilot set to track the wind at the end of my watch instead of keeping a constant heading. As the wind blowed in all direction as it died for the night, the autopilot started turning the boat in circles, much to Eric’s surprise and displeasure.

I’m very grateful to Gary for inviting me to crew on Mustique and glad to have another Ha-Ha under my belt.

After this experience I’m thinking that I will look for more opportunities to crew on other peoples’ boats. It would broaden my sailing experience and I like the idea of sailing in different locations around the world on different boats.

Eric and Gary. The trip started of cold in northern Baja.

Sunset on the sail to Bahia Tortugas.

Bahia Tortugas Beach Party 2015...
...and in 2017.

Bahia Tortugas

The captain and crew of Mustique at Bahia Santa Maria with the Ha-Ha fleet in the background.

Eric and Gary on one of our spinnaker runs in much warmer weather than at the start.

After 11 days at sea...
...and all cleaned up.

Puerto Escondido: Pump Replaced, We're (almost) Ready to Go!

A big shout out to Pacwest Marine Industrial in San Diego for getting my replacement raw water pump to Loreto in just over 24 hours from when I called them.  They carried it to  Tijuana to ship it via BajaPack, an express delivery service that uses buses to deliver packages throughout the Baja peninsula. It only cost $60, including the carrying over the border. I picked up my pump from the bus terminal in Loreto this afternoon, had the pump installed in 15 minutes and now both engines are running properly.

That wasn't too bad, after all.

After replacing the pump, we bent on the main sail. It took the rest of the afternoon as we had to install the stack pack, slide in all the battens and rig the reefing lines and then make sure everything was right. It was getting dark and we were hungry, so we decided to call it a day and hoist the jib and Code 0 tomorrow morning. Once all the sails are on we'll be ready to leave.

Go figure, though, now none of the lights in the port hull work. We must of jostled something getting the battens out.  As I always say, if it's not one thing it's another. I'll fix it soon.

Our destination tomorrow is Agua Verde, a nice anchorage that we visited on our northbound cruise this spring.  The weather forecast is for light winds, but who knows, maybe we'll get lucky.

The new and the old pump. Can you tell the difference?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Puerto Escondido: Picture Upload

My recent blog posts have been without pictures due to limited bandwidth, but now I have decent connectivity so I'm uploading a few here from Puerto Escondido.

Good to be back on board Intermezzo, even if the decks were filthy.

The Boat Goats were glad to see me, too.

A cantaloupe we found in the produce locker after six months in the blazing hot Baja desert.

Launching Intermezzo, slowly, carefully, with only inches to spare on each side.

Bougainvillea loving the desert sun.

The Baja desert, greener than when we left it in May.

View from the stern of the boat at anchor in Puerto Escondido, wanting for my pump to arrive.