When we were busy sailing around Puget Sound in 1999 to 2006 - I always dreamed about being down in the warm waters of Mexico. I thought that by the time I got there, I would be a pretty good sailor. Surely going through the Broughtons, Desolation Sound, around Cape Scott, and down the west side of Vancouver Island would improve my sail handling skills, navigation abilities, and confidence. Washington, Oregon and CA are long, with tricky currents and winds. Cape Mendocino is the most dangerous point on the coast.
When I finally got to Mexico I would be a real sailor.
Instead, what I have found out is that the more you sail - the more paranoid you become. Any gust of wind, wash of waves or errant weather report sends you scurrying for cover. We pray to the gods, - all of them - Norse, Roman, and Greek - making offerings before every overnight passage. We visit catholic churches and always put ten pesos in the collection jar. I check the oil before every start, never leave on a Friday, and prowl the deck for loose lines, rigging, snaps, or anything else lying around that could lead to a disaster. I drink heavily.
We are no Pardees, Hissocks, Evans or Beth, or Rich and Sheri Crowe - or anything like all of the sailors so vigorously posting on CSBB or other cruising forums - these folks set out on thousand mile voyages at the drop of a hat, in the off season and the worst weather. Largely, the experience these folks have is nothing like our own - even though I have traveled 15,000 miles over the past three years - 3,000 of that was bashing busted boats back up the outside of the Baja for pay - I remain childlike and innocent in regards to sailing.
We have finally come to our senses and realized that we are coastal sailors. Like Jason and the Argonauts - we fear the offshore and unknown - there be monsters out there.
Our recent passage is a good case in point. We were in La Paz for three weeks getting our immigration status squared away, some sails repaired, getting an infected tooth I had cleaned up, getting coast guard certification faxed in, and resupplying. This took three weeks - they never tell you this in the books - its all about sail handing, boat preparation, offshore safely - etc - show me the outfitting guide that recommends a photocopier and scanner on board and I will eat it.
We sailed down Ceralvo Channel south of La Paz with about 15 - 25 knots behind us and finally got the sailomat self steering to work. I had installed the control lines backwards a year ago and finally figured it out. We left Muertos the next day for a 350 mile trip downwind to Puerto Vallarta. We had about 20 - 25 knots behind us - sailing at about a 90-110 degree wind angle. We also had some pretty big seas - for us that is - 6 to 8 foot rollers about 6-10 second apart. Some breaking a bit. They tended to pick the boat up on the top of them - we would then slid off to the side. The sailomat performed well in these conditions, catching the boat before it would broach off the waves and getting us back on course. This kept up for about 18 hours through the night. By morning it was flat calm and we were motoring.
By midnight it was starting to rain and we sailed into a low pressure system. Then it really started to pour. We dug into the storage and found the Malo cockpit cover and side panels and reinstalled them - they had nt been on for two years. This was in the pitch of night, rain poring in, sailing with wind in the low 20’s. We had disconnected the salomat because of the changing wind patters rotating about 30 degrees or so. But we still had a double reef in the main and 80 percent of the working jib out - we were doing 6 knots, but I had slowed us down from the 7.5 we had been doing during the early evening. It was cold and wet.
The wind kept pushing us closer to Tres Marias - the Mexican prison island.
This three island group forms a 30 mile corridor with the mainland you need to sail through. You cannot approach within 20 miles of this group, but the wind kept driving us there. I did not want to harden up and sail a 45 degree angle - so kept easing us off to 50 - 55 degrees. We had some pretty rolling conditions. Finally, I got Marianne up and we decided to jibe - opps - , wrong decision on my part, we were now sailing away from the direction we wanted to go. In the meantime, the wind had dropped to a 15 knots and was right on the nose. We turned the engine on and motored throughout the night.
We also motored through the next day. The wind dropped and died away. When it came back that afternoon it was right on the nose - we had about 20 miles to go - glad we rebuilt that engine.
We made a nightime approach into Puerto Vallarta - we had to use the radar since the charts aren’t accurate. We had a full moon and lots of lights. Nighttime approached are scary at the best of times. We made our way into the anchorage right outside of Punta Mita, It was about 10 at night. I went to turn off the engine and nothing happened - it just kept running - opps.
I had suspected that we may have some kind of trouble - the instrument lights would not come on, and none of that gauges were functional. It was like the panel was shorted out.
I opened up the engine compartment and tried covering the air intake - I read somewhat that the diesel would stop without air. Well - that would not work. Finally, I shut off the fuel, drained the primary filter, and let the engine die. This took two hours. A tough end to a tough trip.
The next day I figured out that I needed to open both battery switches to keep the starter battery charged while driving. The battery was dead - thereby no power to the panel to shut the engine off. I had relied on a fancy battery connector called the Eliminator to do this for me for seven years - but it had died that summer. A bit of breakdown in operating procedures. While there I installed a switching solenoid that opened and connect both banks when the engine was operating, fixing this problem.
So - the point to this post is that sailing a boat across 350 miles of open water can be a bit tough. it’s a short trip by any voyaging mariner’s standards - but long for us. Even after 15,000 miles you have to take each passage separately - you never know what hand the fates will deal you. We went from 25 knots plus to calm to rain to 25 knots plus - enough action to keep anybody on their toes. We were lucky we prayed to the gods for this one - even gave them the last of our Christmas See’s candy. Who knows what might have happened it we had not taken this common sense precaution - one that you will not ready about in the outfitting guides.
On second thought - perhaps I am not such a bad sailor after all….