Thursday, May 1, 2014

Leg 2—Mazatlan to Cabo San Lucas

March 31-April 5
We left Mazatlan late in the afternoon on March 31. The wind was up a bit and we had to rev the motor up to get across the small bar at the entrance. We motorsailed in the afternoon wind chop and then, as the evening calm arrived, took down the sail and motored through the night. 

Our new watch schedule makes better use of the girls' energy and the whole crew's natural rhythms. 

On a good day, if everything is humming along, a typical watch schedule looks like this:
8am-10am—Bethany (I usually wake about 6:30 or 7, but Bryan sends me back to bed for a few more luxurious minutes of dozing.)
10am-12pm—Meira (She typically wakes earlier than Hannah and likes to take a 2 hour watch and get it over with!)
3pm-6pm—Bryan (This gives the day crew a solid break before sunset, but it also give Bryan a chance to check on all the systems and adjust anything that needs it—sail set, course, etc.—before he's off for a while in the evening. It's also good for him to be on watch to fiddle with the sails if the afternoon wind picks up.)
7pm-8pm—Hannah (She likes the sunset watch!)
8pm-10pm—Meira (She loves a starry night watch.)
10pm-11pm—Hannah's last watch of the day
11pm-12pm—Bethany (If all has been going well, I may have been dozing on the settee during the girls watches, but they wake me at least every hour to talk over course adjustments or any concerns. This gives Bryan a few solid hours of sleep before his long night watch.)
12pm-8am—Bryan (He worked nights a lot in our early married life and loves the quiet solitude this long night watch offers. He listens to podcasts, dozes in 10-minute increments, or just stares at the stars.)
Of course, ultimately Bryan is the captain and if something goes wrong, we get him up to deal with it. But the girls and I can handle most things and so far, this schedule is proving much more sustainable than our watches on the way down the coast. For many reasons, we didn't have the girls taking regular watches on our southbound journey. And we needed to hand steer quite a bit, so the watches were much more tiring. I know there will be long days, rough seas, and uncomfortable hours ahead. There will be times when Bryan and I, or maybe even just Bryan, have to take a difficult watch, fighting the tiller. But with the girls each taking 4 hours of watches a day, Bryan and I will go into the tough times so much more well-rested. And in the easy times, we can sneak a little more fun into the long passages.
On our run from Mazatlan to Los Frailes, the point on Baja closest to Mazatlan, Bryan spent his afternoon watch curled up on the settee with the girls watching Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and hopping up every 10 minutes to take a look around the empty sea.
We came into Los Frailes a little after sunrise on April 2. 

It's interesting to watch how our shifting attitudes change our experience. On the way down, we were all about exploration, taking advantage of every opportunity to Go...See...Do! But on the way back, our focus is more on getting the boat (and ourselves) back home. So instead of pushing ourselves to drop the dinghy and take the long row to shore to explore, we puttered around aboard for the day. I made tortillas using our new tortilladora.
And Bryan got a flopper-stopper set up to help calm the motion of the boat in rolly anchorages. While we were in Oldtown Mazatlan looking for computer parts, we stopped in a small store filled with kitchen and household necessities. I'd been looking for a pepper grinder for months and we found one there as well as the tortilla press, some plastic drinking glasses, and a large plastic cutting board. 

Our friends from S/V Gratitoullie had given us some tips about making a flopper-stopper out of a cutting board (handy for cleaning fish on the side decks too!) so Bryan pulled out his drill and some extra line and rigged it up. He hung the board from some lines off the spinnaker pole and hung our dinghy anchor from one end as a weight. This helps the cutting board turn vertically and sink quickly as the boat rolls one way. Then, as the boat rolls away from the flopper stopper, the board flattens out and rises slowly through the water, adding resistance to keep the boat from settling into a pendulum-like rocking pattern. The swell was pretty light, but we think it really made a difference.
The next day, after a good night's rest, we motored the few hours into San Jose del Cabo. We hadn't planned to stop there, but we'd heard it was a delightful little town. We planned to spend one night, just long enough to get Bryan into Cabo to order our English laptop so it would be waiting for us on Monday morning. We got gas at the fuel dock, called the office on the VHF for a slip assignment, pulled in, and walked the 1/2 mile around the harbor to check in at the office. We wandered for a few minutes, trying to find our way.
When we finally located the office, I was so focused on our task, I didn't notice the group of people leaving the office area until I heard one of them call my name. My brain did a lightning-fast tally of the friends we'd met on our trip. Nope, none of them should be here now. I turned around wondering who could have recognized me. As it happens, the marina office is adjacent to a real estate office. And one of the agents and I share a mutual friend, who, when she heard we were going to be stopping in the area, encouraged us to meet. It didn't work out on our way down; the dinghy rebuild and busy holiday season conspired against a rendezvous. But apparently it was meant to happen. Toni and her husband, Bruce gave us a ride back to our boat and offered Bryan a ride into the computer store as well. Toni has been following our story almost since the beginning and she came aboard the boat, posed for pictures with us, and generally made us feel like mini-celebrities.
The girls and I hung out on the boat for the afternoon, while Bryan ran into Cabo. Meira took advantage of a burst of energy to wash some laundry and do dishes on the dock. While she was out there, a fellow sailor from a neighboring boat stopped by and offered to take us to the grocery store. We made tentative arrangements for the next day and I felt great about the hope of getting so many things crossed off our Before-Baja list. Late in the afternoon, Bryan came back with bad news. The Apple distributor for the area was out of English laptops and there was no telling when they would get more in. We'd thought we'd found the perfect solution to our computer troubles, so we took a few minutes to regroup and talk over our options.
Pretty soon, it became obvious that our first priority was dinner. We'd seen a little fish shack called "The Drunken Sailor" on the road near the marina so we walked up and splurged on some fish tacos, ceviche, and sesame fish and chips. The fish tacos were deliciously unique, with sesame, basil, pineapple, and cabbage, and the fish and chips and ceviche were superb as well. We came back with renewed energy for our technical difficulties.
Bryan finally verified that a Linux OS would run the internet from our TelCel stick. This is our most important functionality, as it will be our main source for weather forecasts on Baja. He moved the small hard drive from my old computer (the one with the broken keyboard) to the new laptop (the one with the dead hard drive) and got Linux up and running. The touch pad mysteriously didn't work, but we have an external wireless mouse, so we can limp along until San Diego. We installed important software—a word processor for my writing project, an off-line blog editor, a few games for long passages—and bookmarked the low-bandwidth interfaces for several weather forecasts.
The system is working so well that in retrospect, it seems like an obvious decision. But lately, I've been working on subduing the A+ student in me who wants to get everything right the first time. Life is not a True/False question. It is multiple choice, usually one of those tricky ones with more than one right answer.
The next morning, our kind neighbor drove Hannah and me to the MEGA for the last of the non-perishable provisions. We stopped at a Subway for lunch on our way out. What a treat! Ordering in Spanish was a bit difficult, and there are no foot-long options in this metric country. But the food tasted just the same.
Back on the boat, we ate our sandwiches and put away our haul in a hurry. 

Then Bryan and I walked over to the marina office to check out. The afternoon wind had picked up considerably, but we only had 10 miles or so to our intended destination and we thought the wind would be from a helpful direction once we got out of the harbor. So, with only a little bit of trouble in the wind and current, we pulled out of our slip and headed out to sea. We cleared the breakwater and turned west, but the wind stayed on our nose. We were only making 3 knots against the breeze in the steep chop and we started doing the math to see if we would get in before dark. We planned to stop in Santa Maria Cove, a little one-boat anchorage a few miles east of Cabo and spend a day or so there enjoying the reportedly fabulous snorkeling before heading on into Cabo San Lucas. But we didn't want to risk a night entrance in a strange place with questionable chart accuracy.
About the time Bryan and I were trying to come to a conclusion about the wisdom of continuing, we heard a noise. It came again regularly, but not rhythmically. I was trying to identify the source—animal? vegetable? mechanical?—when Meira poked her head up. "I hear a noise coming from the engine." Bryan throttled down and I took the helm while he went below to have a look. He quickly identified the trouble. The accessory drive, a pulley that powers the alternator, had lost its something-something and that meant that something-something-something, but we're OK for now.
I tend to have selective hearing in a crisis and Bryan knows I only want to know 1-If he knows what the problem is, 2-If he thinks he can fix it, and 3-If we're all going to die in the meantime. Reassured with “Yes, Yes, and That's ridiculous,” I stayed at the helm while Bryan raised our jib. 

The wind was perfect for a reach back through the breakwater and, though we could probably have safely used our engine for the last few seconds of docking, we didn't need it. The slip we'd been at the night before was empty and perfectly situated for an emergency dock-under-sail. The girls prepped the docklines and fenders and I reminded them, “We'll be coming in hot!” Bryan trimmed and released the jib sheet to keep our speed under control and, at the last minute, turned us a little upwind and backfilled the sail to spill off more speed and blow us close to the dock finger. On the bow, Meira ducked as the sail came over and then stepped gracefully down onto the dock. I followed a second later and fumbled the midline around the end cleat. “Gently, gently,” Bryan called, “we've got lots of room to slow her down.” Hannah stepped down when the stern swung in and we eased the boat to a quiet stop.
Bryan and the girls all looked to me, usually the most nervous of the crew. When they saw my wide grin, their faces responded in kind. We all agreed, “That was actually really fun!” We've practiced sail maneuvers many times, sometimes from desire, other times out of necessity. This time, the wind and slip configuration had been so perfect, the crew so reliable, I hadn't even gotten jittery.
We walked the long path over to the marina office again, stopping to play around the sculptures and study the art along the way. And then we took the deserving crew out for gelato.
Later that evening, Bryan dangled over the engine compartment, muttering. He has spares for just about every system on the boat—extra fuel pump, water pump, gaskets, wires, fuses. Even a spare engine head. But he remembers looking at the accessory drive before we left and thinking, “That's so straightforward. It's just a pulley. How could anything go wrong with that?” Thankfully, we didn't need the whole pulley, just an extra bolt. He stepped through the cabin to his spare-parts locker and fished out a couple. One was just the right size to fit the drive and he cleaned it up and reinstalled it with a little bit of lock-tite. He took a few extra minutes talking over engine specifics with his willing assistant, Meira. She asked great questions and soaked it all in.
The next morning, we got up early, tested the engine, and headed back out through the breakwater. 

We wanted to beat the afternoon thermal winds and get anchored in the bay before the tour boats arrived. As we approached the cove, a huge tour boat slipped in ahead of us and dropped anchor right in the middle. A line of snorkelers in bright orange life jackets waddled to the stern deck and dropped, flippers-first, into the water. We circled around in the entrance for a few minutes, considering our options. We wondered about the safety of anchoring with all those people in the water and peeked over the gunwales at the low-visibility water. Finally, we decided to just head on into Cabo San Lucas. We turned away, not really all that disappointed, and spent a couple of bouncy hours tacking into the headwinds toward Cabo. 

It's an awful lot more fun to be at sea in choppy conditions than to deal with them in a rolly anchorage.
We came into the marina in the mid-afternoon. Pangas, pelicans, and sea lions vied for our attention in the busy entrance. 
We'd e-mailed ahead to let our friends know we were coming, but were still pleased to see a familiar face on the dock as we pulled in. We tied up a greeted each other. “Marcilio!” He seemed surprised to be remembered but responded, “Bethany!” If he was surprised, I was shocked. I didn't expect to be remembered by name; hundreds of boaters come through each month. But I suppose, not very many build boats in the parking lot. We chatted for a few minutes, his English much improved, my Spanish a little rusty from our month with mostly cruisers. And then he shooed us on up to the office. “They're closing at 2!” (I'm not going to bore you here with the saga of our time-zone issues and how difficult it can be to figure out the correct time when some devices change automatically, others don't [or change, but not correctly], and US and Mexican Daylight Saving Time don't start on the same week. It shouldn't be this difficult, but it is.)
The office staff was so glad to see us, they almost forgot to charge us for our stay. We told stories of our recent adventures and assured them all that Rover was doing well. “No leaks!” Even behind-the-scenes personnel we barely remembered came out for hugs and greetings. It was a great way to wrap up an easy second leg.


  1. Glad you are enjoying your flopper stopper!

  2. "Yes, yes, and that's ridiculous!" The perfect answers for any crisis. :-)