Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Taking a Break in La Paz

La Paz, Baja California Sur

We sailed from Isla San Francisco to La Paz in two hops, stopping in Ensenada la Gallena on Isla Espíritu Santo the night before last. There we were overrun by a swarm of bees who I feel took advantage of my good nature towards them. There were hundreds on the boat, maybe a thousand, landing on every source of moisture they could find.  One followed a drop of sweat down my back into my shorts. I slowly removed my shorts as I spoke reassuringly to the bee. I looked up and a tour boat of Mexican tourists had come by to admire Intermezzo. What they saw was a gringo with his pants pulled down seemingly talking to his perineum.  The tour guide quickly left at high speed.

After that, I didn’t leave the cabin until the sun went down and they flew off back to their hive.

Yesterday morning I got up at dawn when I heard a few bees buzzing about to get the hell out of Bee Town. By the time I weighed anchor, they were everywhere, on me, one in my ear, all on their never ending quest to find water. As they realized the boat was moving away from their home, they flew off, hovering for a moment above the boat as if to say goodbye. As much as they are a bother and took advantage of me, I still like them.

We arrived in La Paz late morning and dropped anchor in our usual spot.  I then set about trying to track down the stray current (ground fault, earth leak) that is eating up my propeller anodes at an astonishing rate. The testing procedure involves using a multimeter to measure voltage, resistance and current in circuits to find out if some electrons are escaping the boat into the water and, if so, from where. It took me a while to get my head around the theory and I kept on making mistakes while testing in the blazing hot sun.

This morning, I resumed testing in slightly cooler conditions and concluded that there was leakage from the engine electrical systems. Two possibilities eliminated.

Next I disconnected the two flexible solar panels that came with the boat and don’t seem to do anything so that I had one less device to worry about. Before I disconnected them, I measured their voltage output at only 1.5 volts. While  didn’t note the before condition, when I looked at the battery monitor after disconnecting the panels, the main solar panels were charging the boat at higher rate than I have ever seen before in similar conditions. It seems that the flexible panels weren’t just not generating any power, they were sucking it up. I’m glad to be rid of them. I’m hopeful that they might be the source of my stray current, though assigning any likelihood of this is beyond the limits of my knowledge of electricity.

Next I’ll measure the house battery system to see if I discover any leakage. That’s a more complicated diagnosis.

Meanwhile, Robin arrives this afternoon and I’ll be taking a break from my San Francisco Bash (and blogging) while she’s here for about a week.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Electronic Device Dependency

Isla San Francisco, Sea of Cortez

We’re anchored just off the beach of beautiful Isla San Francisco. I spent yesterday morning resting, after the overnight passage here from Puerto Escondido, and the afternoon doing boat chores and troubleshooting the not-working Multi Function Device (MFD, aka chartplotter). I had a nice swim in between.

The passage here was uneventful. Forecast westerly and northwesterly winds never materialized (surprised?) which would have allowed us to sail. Instead it was motoring, again. Particularly painful after shelling out $400 for diesel in Puerto Escondido to refill the tanks; 230 liters (61 gallons) burned getting there from Puerto Peñasco. Diesel fuel in Mexico is over $6 per gallon, thanks to a mostly nationalized petroleum industry, virtually no competition and price fixing, all of which are exacerbated at marine fuel docks.  If only the atmosphere would cooperate with my sailing plans, I would put far less CO2 into it and save money.

I had to navigate and pilot Intermezzo differently on the trip here due to the balky MFD. It wasn’t difficult or risky, just different, like borrowing someone else’s computer. It works fine, does the job, but isn’t set up like yours is. I supplemented the working MFD with the independent Navionics navigation app on my iPad. I had to transfer the positions of waypoints manually, but that was really the only difference and I got comfortable with the improvised system by mid-journey.

The funny thing is that I have sailed this route at least a half-dozen times. It runs between the Baja peninsula and off-lying islands, so lots of landmarks to navigate by and the few hazards are easily located and avoided. On top of that, a waxing gibbous moon was out and providing plenty of light by which to navigate. So I really didn’t need any electronic devices. I didn’t even need a compass. I could have safely navigated here with just a paper chart and my eyeballs.  My angst over one (of four) electronic navigation devices being down is clearly a symptom of Electronic Device Dependency (EDD), a diagnosis I propose be added to the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the infamous DSM).

The good news is that I diagnosed and fixed the malfunctioning MFD, providing symptomatic relief of my angst though not my EDD. Finding the solution was not a straightforward process. I’ll briefly summarize the steps I took to paint a picture of the winding path.

Intermezzo has two MFDs, MFD 1 and MFD 2. MFD 1 would not boot up and function, MFD 2 was working properly. Since I have a spare MFD, I swapped it in for MFD 1; it didn’t boot up either. So, I reinstalled MFD 1 to maintain constant conditions. The MFDs are connected to each other and the radar through a network switch. The switch was receiving data from all three devices. I plugged the network cables into different sockets on the switch; no change. I visited the Raymarine online tech forum and found  troubleshooting steps for the symptoms I was observing. Following these steps, I checked all the power connections to the devices and found no evidence of loose connections or corrosion. I unplugged the radar from the network; the problem persisted. I deleted track data; no change. The next steps would be to do factory resets on the devices; I wasn’t willing to take the risk of doing that and possibly messing up the working MFD 2 and radar. I put the troubleshooting steps aside and returned first principles of troubleshooting, basic logic.

I knew that MFD 2 worked by itself and with the radar. Would MFD 1 work by itself? I tried and it did, also playing nicely with  radar. So that meant the problem must be in the communication between MFD 1 and MFD 2. But the network switch connecting seemed to be working and MFD 1’s screen showed me that some data was getting transferred between the two devices, even if MFD 1 wasn’t working right. Hmmmmmm…What changed since MFD 1 was last working properly? I had started running Starlink for an internet connection while underway, while the MFDs were on; hadn’t done that before. The refrigerator was recharged with refrigerant; that can cause the compressor to have to work harder, causing boat-wide voltage fluctuations. And I had updated the Navionics chart chip that provides cartography for the MFDs.

I turned the fridge off; no change. I turned Starlink off; no change. I removed the Navionics chart chip; both MFDs worked properly! (Albeit, without any cartography with seriously reduces their usefulness!) So, the chip was the problem. I updated the chip contents via the internet (thank you Starlink…I can’t bring myself to thanking Elon Musk), inserted it into MFD 2 and, voilà, we’re back in business!

Who would have thought that a chart chip installed in one device (MFD 2) would prevent another connected device from booting up? It’s as if you opened a word processor document on your computer and it stopped your printer from turning on. But further research online (Facebook, of all places!) reveals that, indeed, Navionics chips can stop Raymarine MFDs from booting up. I am not alone.

So that problem is solved. But I have a new one. (Surprised?)

When I went swimming yesterday, I dove under the boat to look at the props and sail drives. To my astonishment, the sacrificial anodes on the props are 50% gone in just nine days of being in the water! Usually it takes three or more months for them to get eaten up this much. Intermezzo clearly has a stray current problem. Unfortunately I lack a reference cell anode to check this. So I will need to be resourceful to find the leaking electricity. I can’t think of anything that has changed since we were last in the water, so this is a real puzzle.

Meanwhile, I am enjoying my surroundings. The weather is hot and humid during the day, but made bearable by staying in the shade, fans in the cabin and swimming. It cools off nicely at night. Very light or no breeze. The boat is covered in dew in the morning, much to the pleasure of the bees who come on board to drink it. I’ve learned to coexist with bees on the Sea of Cortez, I actually enjoy their visits, though I’m careful not to step on them, the only time I have ever been stung. I put out water for them where they won’t get in my way and they seem to enjoy the gesture and don’t bother me.

The seawater is crystal clear, I can see stingrays clearly on the bottom, 20 feet below the boat. A big school of juvenile fish is sheltering under the boat. There must not be food for pelicans because they aren’t here, but a pesky seagull is trying hard to claim the solar panels as his territory. There are a few other boats in the anchorage, including a large, ugly “party yacht”, complete with a water slide, but everyone is keeping quiet and civilized. 

Today I’m going to head about halfway towards La Paz, stopping overnight in Bahía La Gallena at Isla Espíritu Santo, about four hours away. Less than two weeks left to enjoy the Sea of Cortez and then begin the Baja Bash. It’s going to be painful to say goodbye to this place that I love.

Friday, May 17, 2024

Marina Puerto Escondido

Puerto Escondido, Baja California Sur

El Gigante, the beautiful mountain that looms over Marina Puerto Escondido

If Intermezzo has a home port in Mexico, it's Marina Puerto Escondido. I really like this place. It is immaculately maintained and the surrounding scenery is gorgeous. Such quality comes at a price, however. I've been priced out of getting a slip here and even a mooring ball, at $42 per night is expensive compared to anchoring out. Still, I love the place.

I swapped out the malfunctioning MFD (see previous post) this afternoon. The problem persisted, so it must be a data network issue. I'm doing some research. I might try plugging the device into a different socket in the network switch. I want to be careful and not make the problem worse.

It's hot here. I hiked this morning and it was bearable.  I sweltered a bit this afternoon. It's very warm in the boat tonight as I write this. La Paz is supposed to be even hotter.

There is a fishing tournament taking place with over a dozen very expensive sportfishing boats up from Cabo. Not my thing, but impressive equipment.

Partying the night before the fishing tournament

I'll leave here tomorrow afternoon after refueling and sail overnight to Isla San Francisco.

I was lucky and secured a slip in San Jose del Cabo for the few days prior to the Baja Bash, convenient for crew rendezvous, fueling and provisioning. Marinas in Mexico are all at capacity and it's rare to find a slip for a catamaran.

I also signed the paperwork for my slip in San Francisco Bay. Right back where Intermezzo started, on F-Dock at Marina Bay Yacht Harbor. Full circle.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Bashing Level 2, Pranked

Sea of Cortez, en route to Puerto Escondido

We’re on our way to Puerto Escondido, one of my favorite stops in the Sea of Cortez and where Intermezzo has spent several hurricane seasons laid up ashore. The weather is pleasant, conditions are calm and the engine is pushing us along at over 6 knots.

Yesterday was a day of bashing against 10-15 knot headwinds and a decent chop from Punta Chivato to San Juanico. Since I’m going to be doing a lot of bashing on this voyage, I have established a metric, the Bashing Level (BL). The BL is a number from zero to five, zero being no bashing at all, five meaning a painful, boat-jarring, bone-rattling, spray-flying, we-want-to-get-off level of bashing. Yesterday was, at worst, a BL 2, with the boat pounding against and being slowed down by head seas, spray occasionally hitting the front windows. Unpleasant, but not uncomfortable.

I’m very happy to report that my repair to the starboard hull-deck joint, part of the “10 Year Refit”, seems to be a success. This joint has leaked a little or a lot ever since I’ve owned the boat, despite several prior attempts at repair. The worst leakage occurred when we were rounding Cabo Corrientes last year and the contents of the starboard lockers were soaked. We’ve always had at least a little water on the sole of the starboard head, a constant nuisance.  What I discovered was that when the boat’s builder was joining the hull to the deck, they had to install temporarily screws to hold the joint together until the epoxy adhesive cured. They then removed these screws and filled them with caulk. A combination of gaps in the joint adhesive and shrinking caulk resulted in several pathways for water to enter the boat. I epoxied the entire length of the joint, pulled out all the caulk from the screw holes (56 of them!) and filled them with epoxy. I also replaced the gasket for the hatch above the starboard head. I tested the repair with a strong hose stream at the boatyard and had no leakage. Yesterday was a real life test, albeit only BL 2.  I expect BL’s to be three and above during the Baja Bash. Then we’ll really know if I finally have a dry boat.

I have mounted the Starlink antenna so that I can be connected to the internet while underway, a blessing and a curse. I got a bit bored yesterday while bashing and started scrolling through my Facebook feed on my phone. Earlier, I had connected my phone to the boat’s stereo system to listen to music and had the volume turned up fairly high to overcome the noise of the engine. I stopped listening to the music, but never disconnected the phone audio or turned down the volume. As I was scrolling Facebook, all of a sudden it sounded like the boat was being attacked by orcas, or a propeller was falling off, or the boat was breaking itself into bits.  I was scared out of my wits  and just about started investigating when I realized that I had paused my scrolling on a video of a guy banging trash can lids (for a reason, but no need for me to explain here). The audio from the video was playing at loud volume through the boat’s speakers. The noise was not orcas, propellers, or boat disintegration. Banging trash can lids!  False alarm, quite a relief. It only lasted a few seconds, but I had been duly pranked.

Last night we anchored in La Ramada cove in San Juanico, a small, pretty and sheltered anchorage shared with two other boats. To have some distance from the other boats, I anchored a little closer than comfortable to an outcropping of rocks to the east. Last night the wind blew strong from the west, making the rocks a lee shore. I’m very confident in my anchor and ground tackle, but since there was only about 300 feet between Intermezzo and the rocks, I set an anchor alarm that would wake me up if we started dragging. I slept soundly.

Intermezzo has two Multi-Function Devices (MFDs), commonly referred to as chartplotters. One of them is clearly on the blink, requiring multiple cycles to boot up every morning. Once it boots up, it works fine, but I’m getting tired of waiting for it to wake up and am concerned about its reliability. Fortunately, I have a spare and it’s not difficult to swap out. That will be tomorrow’s project while hanging off a mooring in Puerto Escondido.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Wind Model Routing a Joke

Punta Chivato, Baja California Sur

Sunset at anchor in Ensenada El Muerto, Punta Chivato

The wind models and PredictWind routing turned out to be complete busts. I headed 10nm further offshore than the rhumb line between Bahía San Francisquito and Punta Chivato yesterday morning to catch afternoon westerly winds. No such winds materialized. I motored into light southerlies, looking forward to the 10-15 knot westerlies forecasted for the evening and night. All we got were some feeble 5 knot wafts. 

Just after midnight, likely due to a combination of boredom and fatigue, I decided that the mainsail had aired out doing nothing long enough and dropped it. Just after I got the sail and lines stowed, the wind piped up to 12 knots for a beautiful beam reach. A few swear words may have got mixed in to my lighthearted chuckling.  Up went the sails again, off went the engines and we enjoyed three hours of peaceful sailing. The winds lightened up and we sailed most of the time at under 4 knots, a perfect speed for arriving at the Punta Chivato anchorage after sunrise.

We dropped anchor here at 6:25am. I did some post-passage straightening up and had a snooze until 11:30. After coffee and a light breakfast, I got the boom gooseneck to stop its infernal creaking by shortening the topping lift, then tried to get the outboard to run right. No luck with the latter, but I think it will be good enough to ferry back and forth to docks in La Paz and San Jose de Cabo and to haul fuel jugs on the Baja Bash. That's all it has to do. Maybe I can get Sea Otter Jimmy, the local small engine guru,  to look at it in La Paz.

Intermezzo's track to-date. Follow at

We've sailed 303nm so far and have crossed the halfway point to Cabo. I'm enjoying being back on Intermezzo and in the Sea of Cortez. The weather is lovely, sunny and just-hot in the afternoons, cool enough for a blanket at night. I love the remoteness of this sea and the wildlife. As I keep pressing onward, I remind myself to take it all in, appreciate the beauty, acknowledge that I might never be back, be grateful for how lucky I am. 

Monday, May 13, 2024

Puerto Don Juan to Bahía San Francisquito

Bahía San Francisquito

Yesterday’s passage from Puerto Don Juan was an uneventful motor in very calm conditions at a steady 6-plus knots. An early arrival in Bahía San Francisquito at 4pm gave me the opportunity to rebuild the outboard’s carburetor and fuel pump. The engine is running better but not like it should be. I suspect an air leak between the carb and the intake manifold. So, more work to do.

By the time I had put the outboard back together, I was pretty tired. I made a simple dinner of potatoes, beans, broccoli and eggs. Strange combination, but perfect for my mood and a satisfying meal.

It is very peaceful in this anchorage, just one other boat with me. We’ve kept to ourselves. A pack of coyotes sang for us just before bedtime. There are no bobitos here! A few bees have come scouting for water, but not the swarms that have descended upon the boat in the past, so very easy to coexist as friends.

Today we head to Punta Chivato (Goat Point), about 99nm away on the rhumb line. I’m going to head offshore to try and catch some nighttime westerlies suggested by PredictWind weather routing. Choosing this route will add about 10nm to our passage, but half the time spent motoring. In my (and others) experience, the weather models for the Sea of Cortez are hardly never correct, but I figure the downside of adding a couple hours to the passage is worth the possible benefit of significantly less motoring.

I’ll report on how things turn out after I arrive in Punta Chivato tomorrow morning.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Puerto Refugio to Puerto Don Juan

Sea of Cortez, Leaving Puerto Don Juan

Puerto Don Juan

Puerto Refugio is one of the most beautiful anchorages in the Sea of Cortez, but I was glad to leave the huge colony of little flies (I call them "bobitos") behind yesterday morning, heading to Puerto Don Juan.

We motored in calm, little-or-no wind conditions until 1pm when the wind piped up and I hoisted the sails. Hard to believe, but we spent the rest of the trip sailing in a 10-15 knot breeze, downwind! I spent a pleasant afternoon cleaning the windows and the salon. Intermezzo is still grimy and dusty from the boatyard.

We anchored in Puerto Don Juan at 5:45pm last evening. I was pleased to find that the bobitos were very few in number, though enthusiastic about my presence. They don't bite, but like to land on you, crawl around on your skin so you notice them, fly off when you swat at them and then, infuriatingly, land in the exact same spot. They also occasionally find their way into you nostrils, their version of spelunking, I suppose.

I guess that the sailing, cleaning, sun and wind took their toll on my, because I was too tired to do anything than just make dinner, read for a bit and then go to bed early. A bit disappointing because there are a few things I would have liked to have got done, had I not felt so spent.

The outboard carburetor is fouled again, like it seems to be at the start of every year. I need to take it apart to clean and get it working before I get to Puerto Escondido, as I need the dinghy to get to and from the mooring there. 

Also, one of my multifunction displays (chart plotter) is acting up, taking several cycles of powering on and off to boot up. Fortunately I have two of these critical navigational devices at the helm, plus a spare in the locker. I hope I don't have to swap the malfunctioning one out. I have too many things on my list already.

Today's passage to Bahía San Francisquito has started out under clear skies, cool temperature, a light breeze and gentle swell from the north.  We have 47nm to travel today, so need to keep boat speed up. We'll motor unless the wind builds to 10 knots or more from a favorable direction.

Friday, May 10, 2024

Beginning of the San Francisco Bash

Puerto Refugio, Baja California

Middle Bight Anchorage, Puerto Refugio

I began the first leg of my San Francisco Bash yesterday, slipping Intermezzo's ducklings in Puerto Peñasco at 11am and heading south towards Los Cabos. a sailing distance of 570nm away. I need to get to Los Cabos by June 4th to meet my crew for the second and most difficult leg of the trip up the Pacific coast of the Baja peninsula. I'll be moving along with purpose over the next 10 days to meet Robin in La Paz and take a little break before more than a month of sailing uphill against wind and waves.

Intermezzo is anchored in Puerto Refugio, where we were exactly one year ago on the way north. We sailed 110nm yesterday and last night to get here. I'm single-handing, so no sleep on overnight passages requiring today to be a much-needed rest day.

As I have come to expect, the wind was on the nose most of the way here. Fortunately, it was a very light wind with calm seas. No bashing, but the newly serviced engines and sail drives got a good test run.

Three boats past me last night on a reciprocal course, all heading to the Cabrales Boatyard to haul out for the summer and hurricane season. The yard was already getting crowded when I left. I don't know how they are going to fit more boats in.

I enjoyed watching a SpaceX rocket streak across the night sky, but missed the descent of the re-usable engine because I had to dodge a fishing boat that seemed determined to intersect my course.

At 1am the wind shifted west, blowing at 10 knots. I couldn't pass up an opportunity to actually sail. I clambered up on to the cabintop to prepare the main for hoisting, only to discover that the topping lift was fouled in the lazy jacks and the two-part main halyard was twisted. I worked in the dark by myself on the mildly pitching deck getting things sorted out and 40 minutes later, raised the main, followed by unfurling the jib. The wind blew continued to blow for another five minutes and then, just like that, it was gone. I spent the next 20 minutes dousing the sails and cleaning up lines. It was chilly and damp out, so I was wearing foulies over a down jacket while sitting on watch. All my work getting the sails up and down resulted in me being very hot and sweaty. In my sailing past, I would have felt frustrated and angry. Instead, I just chuckled and accepted things being just as they are. I'm a much happier sailor now.

I spent today mostly resting. Tomorrow we push off early for Puerto Don Juan.

Intermezzo Sails Again!

Puerto Refugio, Baja California

Aloft in the Cabrales Boat Yard, Puerto Peñasco

I left Intermezzo on the hard in the Cabrales Boatyard in Puerto Peñasco last May. I began a major "10 Year Refit" project last September and substantial completed the work at the beginning of April. It was a lot of work!

I replaced the cracked front windows, repaired a transom crack, re-galvanized the anchor, repaired a leaking hull-to-deck joint, replaced sail drive oil seals, bearings and shafts, performed major service on the engines, replaced the engine mounts and replaced hatch seals. Those were all big, difficult jobs. There a many more small jobs still on the list, which aways seems be growing in length.

Puerto Peñasco is a sandy, dusty, gritty town and the best I could do was to manage the level of filth that collected on and in Intermezzo. I rented a studio apartment while I was working on the boat and the best I could do was manage the level of filth that collected on me, too.

The Cabrales yard is a great place to do your own work among others doing likewise. It is a great community of boaters, always ready to help each other out. I made some good friends while I was there.

Intermezzo finally went into the water again two days ago. I paid my yard bill, bid farewell to my friends, said goodbye to Puerto Peñasco and pushed off the dock yesterday. I felt happy to be leaving the dust and dirt, but with a touch of melancholy that comes from leaving a place I called "home", even if just for a spell.

Yesterday began "The Bash to San Francisco".

I'm bringing Intermezzo back to San Francisco Bay for a while. I'll be sailing the length of the Sea of Cortez south, turn north at Los Cabos and do the notorious "Baja Bash" against wind and weather along the remote Pacific Coast of the peninsula, and then harbor-hop up the coast of California, also against prevailing winds and waves.

I'm hoping to pass through the Golden Gate in mid-July, almost nine years after passing in the other direction and beginning my sailing life.