Friday, December 4, 2015

Sailing Across the Sea of Cortez, Ordeals and Adventures

We're leaving tonight to sail across the Sea of Cortez from the Baja peninsula to the mainland of Mexico. We're starting off from an anchorage and heading for a port that are both different from what we originally planned.

We returned to Puerto Escondido Wednesday night from our road trip to Santa Rosalia and San Ignacio. I wrote a bit previously about the mining town of Santa Rosalia. Our side trip to San Ignacio, 40 miles further north and inland was a spur of the moment idea. It was worth the time and effort as it is a very small, very pretty little town in the middle of an oasis with a large fresh water lake. The 18th century mission is simple but elegant and very well preserved, with a miniature desert botanical garden in its courtyard.

We spent yesterday morning returning the rental car, buying tortillas, postcards and stamps and having coffee (me) and doing laundry (Renee...thank you). We left the harbor around noon headed towards Agua Verde, an anchorage that we had wanted to visit on the way north but bypassed due to weather. It was a nice leisurely downwind sail in light winds, which we enjoyed a little longer than we should have as the sun fell below the hills before we reached the anchorage. We turned on the motors to get anchored before dark but were thwarted by a small dorado that decided to take Renee's hook trolling behind us. We were happy for the fresh fish, but by the time we made it into the small anchorage it was dark and filled with other boats. We probably could have anchored there if we could have assessed conditions in daylight, but it was impossible to do so in the dark. That was a bummer, because we didn't have a Plan B on the shelf, ready to go.

We motored slowly out of the anchorage through bouncy swells as I looked at the charts and tried to figure out our options. The most obvious option was to head to the next anchorage south and I started plotting a course to get us there. I entered GPS waypoints to get us through a pass between a point of land and an offshore reef. Then I entered GPS waypoints to get us around another reef and into the anchorage. Then I thought, "Not bloody likely." (Actually, I thought in American English, but I like the sound of the British expression better.) No way was I going to navigate Intermezzo around reefs and "rocks awash" in darkness with only GPS coordinates.

I could think of only three other alternatives. We could head back to Puerto Escondio and start over tomorrow. That would be safe but would mean motoring upwind through steep chop for several hours. We could head offshore and heave-to (park the boat under sail) for the night. Renee didn't like that option, bobbing around, feeling seasick and going nowhere. Or we could start sailing across the Sea to the mainland a day earlier than planned. I didn't like that because neither the boat nor we were properly prepared for an overnight offshore crossing. However, as a sailor, I like having sea room and I would rather be out in the middle of the sea with very little to crash into than close to shore with lots of hard stuff all around.

I was reluctantly moving in the direction of sailing across the Sea to Topolabampo, slowly motoring offshore, shaping a course, estimating arrival time and identifying the minimum we needed to do to be properly set up. I really, really didn't like the idea of doing this and was more than a bit worried. Okay, I'll admit it, I was just crossing into being scared. I looked at the chartplotter again, to make sure there wasn't a fatal flaw in my plotted route and noticed the purple line that indicates Intermezzo's track, the path she's previously sailed along.

Ahah! Another alternative! We could follow the track line back to the Los Gatos anchorage. We had "bread crumbs" that would lead us back in the dark to the exact spot where we had safely anchored on Thanksgiving and it would only take us a couple of hours to get there. What a relief. I altered course accordingly in much better spirits.

Along the way, another boat, Indigo, contacted us on the VHF to chat. We told them our story and they offered to lead us into the anchorage they knew very well and were heading to for the night. We were grateful for the offer and another option to consider. As we approached Los Gatos, we told Indigo we were going to nose in and see if there was room and, lo and behold, a boat anchored in Los Gatos overheard our conversation. They told us it was only them and one other boat and that they would turn on extra lights to help us orient ourselves. We ended up anchoring with no difficulty within about 50 feet of where we were on Thanksgiving. It was a rolly night in northeast swell, but we were safe and could spend the next day getting properly ready for our crossing.

Finding ourselves about 20 miles further south than planned and looking at the weather forecasts, we've decided to sail across to the port of Altata, which is between Topolabampo to the north and Mazatlan to the south. It sounds like an interesting place, with a new marina, traditional sailing shrimp boats and "famous" for its seafood restaurants on its malacon. The only tricky part is getting into the port, which requires crossing a shallow bar with breakers each side and constantly shifting shoals. If you know the South Shore of Long Island, it looks like Moriches Inlet. Purportedly, we can call the marina on the VHF and they will send out a panga to guide us through this treacherous passage. If that doesn't work, this time we do have a Plan B on the shelf, ready to go. We'll just continue sailing south to Mazatlan.

We're leaving Los Gatos at sunset tonight and we should arrive at the inlet to Altata early Sunday morning. Making the entrance into Altata seems like a pain in the neck, but there is a saying of which I am fond: "The difference between an ordeal and an adventure is attitude."