Friday, April 12, 2019

Approaching Punta Mala: Sharks and Currents

We motored along all day today in calm, benign conditions, save for a quiet two hour stint of (unforecasted!) downwind sailing.

I saw my first shark from onboard Intermezzo this morning, its fin slicing slowly through the surface of the smooth water. I got sight of its sleek four foot long body as it glided past the boat, less than 20 feet away.

Later this afternoon, the crew was treated to a show of marine life while I was off watch snoozing. Two pods of over a hundred dolphins each, mabula rays doing somersaults, and another shark that launched itself into the air.

From a sailing perspective, the fun started right after dinner when we met a strong westerly current that reduced our speed from over five knots to just over three. Even with both engines running at fast cruising rpms, we could not get above four knots. This was a problem, because we need to average five knots over the next 24 hours to make it to the Balboa Yacht Club anchorage before dark.

We decided to turn into shore and see if the current wasn't as strong in shallower water. That turned out to be a good move. About two miles off the coast in 100 feet of water, the current lessened (perhaps even reversed a little, an eddy?) and we were soon back to doing over five knots on just one engine at normal cruising rpms.

Interestingly, the paper charts show "Strong Currents Rep (1959)" in the vicinity and at the depth contour where we encountered them 60 years later. I normally don't pay much attention to notes like this on charts as they seem very general in nature and it seems like if something was reported in 1959 but never confirmed, it might not really exist now. Especially something as variable as a current. Now I know better.

The information about local currents in the Sailing Directions and cruising guides is confusing, different currents from different sources that go different directions depending on the season and then the effects of ebb and flood tides, to boot. It seems to me that reasonable guidance for rounding Punta Mala would be, if you are a small boat and have radar to navigate at night, stay close to shore where currents and tides aren't as strong. That's what we're doing tonight.