Leaving Puerto Escondido, we headed north to Isla Coronados on March 31st. Highish winds were in the forecast again, this time 3 days worth. Rather than waiting it out in Puerto Escondido, we felt that we needed to get a leg up the coast and headed to the island the day prior to the winds. Had there been a forecast for 30 knots, we’d have stayed put, but only 20kts were scheduled. We can handle that at anchor as long as it’s blowing in the right direction. We would wait out the incoming weather and be ready to sail north the instant it passed.
“I love it when a plan comes together” (cue A-Team theme song)
The waiting part worked as planned. For 3 nights we parked the boat at the south anchorage on Isla Coronados and waited contentedly for the perfectly predicted wind to blow itself out. This is a truly beautiful spot. Most of the anchorage is 15-20ft deep with lovely, clear waters over a sand bottom attached to a reefy/rocky/shelly beach. We were here last year and find it one of the more easy places to set anchor since it is wide open with no rocks to avoid. Like Bonanza or Timbabiche, we could anchor here in the dark if needed. While we were plenty comfortable on the boat, we did not venture to shore…too windy (I’m sensing a theme here). But we were visited by more dolphins and rays and ducks, so we were never bored.
On April 3rd, we decided to leave and head north. Winds today were supposed to be light in the morning with no more than 10 knots in the afternoon. Our original plan (as of 3 days ago) was to stop 15 miles north at Punta Mangles (Mangrove Point), having never been there. But the wind would be coming from the northeast today and we felt the small land mass creating the shallow L-shaped bay would not give enough protection for this direction. So as of this morning, after looking at the weather, our new plan was to travel to San Juanico, 8 miles farther for a (supposedly) easy 23 mile sail. Plans change. Every second.
Sea Lesson #1: Don’t Cut Corners
After raising anchor, we travelled west and I hugged the shallow southern coastline of the island too close. There is a long spit of sand that juts out from the end of Isla Coronados to the southwest. The spit continues underwater as a narrow sand bar for several hundred feet and is actually pretty visible when the water is dead calm (it wasn’t today). It is also precisely delineated on our IPad charting software, Navionics. I KNEW this, had the IPad in hand, but was paying too much attention to our chartplotter, which does NOT show the spit.
I thought I was fine, until I wasn’t. I cut the shallow area too close. OK, I ran it over. Our depth sounder instantly went from 20ft to 8. Stomach meet throat. Brian nearly had a heart-attack. Luckily, it was only for an instant as I ran over the last little tip of it, the boat never touched bottom. Close call. But I should have been more careful and maneuvered farther away instead of cutting my line towards the channel so close just to save a little distance.
After that sketchy beginning to our day, things got worse…
We got an early start because the winds had been picking up rather early in the morning and calming down in the evening. We wanted to get a jump on our day heading up to San Juanico, 23 miles away. I am always suspicious about travelling the narrow channel between the Baja Peninsula and Isla Coronados. This channel forms a deep drop-off shelf diving from 40ft down to 900ft in the time you can say “Oh Crap”. Every time we go through it, I worry whether there will be some weird tidal surge or wacky wave pattern. We got neither. Light winds and no swell. Whew, easy peasy all the way to SJ, right?
Sea Lesson #2: The Sea Can Kick your Butt Whenever it Wants
About 8am everything was perfectly normal. Having passed through the channel without event, we were motoring due north and the light wind was coming from… due north. Standard. No point in sailing. Then, at 9am the wind picked up to 15-knots. Hmmm, this is new, a little early for so much wind, and not forecast. We had slowed considerably due to the massive current that always seems to flow in this area. Our typical 5-knots turned into 3.5 knots.
Whitecaps Dead Ahead
At 10am I saw a distinct line of whitecaps ahead, as far as I could see. Here’s my “Oh, Crap” moment. No getting around it, as soon as we entered the zone things degenerated quickly. This unpredicted 20-knots proceeded to kick us in the rear.
Suddenly, we were bashing. 4-5ft waves at 2-3 seconds. Slam and slam and slam and slam. As fast as you are reading that, that’s as fast as the boat catapulted up and down. Our bow crashed into each oncoming wall, slicing it clean in two. This is the great thing about Indigo, she slices and dices quite masterfully and we rarely have breaking waves over the bow come crashing onto the deck.
However, because we are on the small side, I think we feel these close-together waves a little more acutely than longer boats. They call it “hobby-horsing” as the boat pitches forward and aft just like a wooden toy horse. Don’t bother going below in seas like this, it’s unthinkable. No lunch today.
The longer we were out in this crap the more worried I became. Not only were we going directly into the wind and waves, and against an already strong current, each successive wave slammed us slower, and the big ones would cause us to stop almost completely. Our knot-meter showed us driving at 2 to 2.5kts average and very often slowing to 0.8 after hitting a wall of water! We’re going to get there… at midnight?
We tried motor-sailing out to sea for a while just to get away from the coast; maybe it would be better farther out. It probably would have been, eventually, but the crashing and the slamming and the pitching kept getting worse. To distract myself, I tried to take a video, just to see if it could capture the sheer angles in which we were being thrown about and Indigo plunging into these nasty short-period waves. The mere act of holding onto our pitching home one-handed while filming was a challenge. THIS is what it was like to be bashing headlong into buffaloes. And I didn’t like it, not one bit.
It’s actually pretty amazing that such a small amount of wind can create such a mess. We do everything we can to avoid sailing in 20 or more knots of wind, but sometimes you just can’t beat Mother Nature. Many west coast sailors think we’re wimps for avoiding 20-knots. But 20-knots here in the Sea of Cortez is a far different animal than 20-knots off the coast of San Diego, heading out for a day-sail or racing off the coast of San Fran. We spoke to one San Franciscan couple who purposefully crossed the Sea in 20-knots of wind thinking it would be just like back home – a piece of cake; for 24-hours they bashed in waves worse than this (accumulated waves are worse and higher) – a humbling experience, they said they’d never do it again.
We decided to forego San Juanico and instead turned inland again heading for Mangles (our original, original destination). We were hoping for some shelter, ANY shelter at this point. We could see it. It was right there. But still 7 miles away. Arggh. SO close, yet SO far. Luckily, our sail angle towards this new destination was much better and we gained some more speed, making it to the anchorage in a couple hours. Whew. Now, we can relax, right? Right?
The Sea is not done with me yet…
Sea Lesson #3: Fun with Wind and Anchoring
The high NE wind waves had thankfully abated inside Punta Mangles anchorage. We weren’t sure they would, we were really only crossing our fingers that we’d be better off in here than out there. Luckily, the far point provided just enough protection from the onslaught. Thank God. But the wind was still howling through the valley and across the short stretch between us and land making anchoring super-fun.
Speeding up Backwards
We motored around the small space, avoiding rocks and sea-grass areas. When we finally picked a spot, I tried to head forward into the windy frontal assault, putting the boat into neutral with the goal to slow us to less than 0.5kt before we get to the spot where we want to drop the anchor, like normal. Problem was… I sped up…backwards… and to the left.
As soon as I slowed even a little, the force of the wind blowing right at the nose of the boat caused our bow to immediately fall off the wind. Whoosh. Phooey. Now I’m essentially pointing 45-degrees to the left of where we want to be and being shoved back out to sea. With no steerage even at low RPM, I gun the engine and make another attempt.
Hand Signals Save our Sanity
Let me interject something here: I think after 2 seasons we have gotten pretty darn good at anchoring. We can even do it in the dark with minimal stress (turning our spreader lights on so I can see Brian at the bow). We use hand signals for forward, reverse, speed up, speed up more, stop, neutral, what’s our depth, etc. Aside from me shouting depths as we do circles like a dog before we decide where to plop, these signals save our marriage.
Why? Because we’re not yelling at each other the entire time. When one person is on the bow and the other in the cockpit 20ft away, you have to shout so the other person can hear. When it’s windy often you have to yell things twice. And when there are other boats around it just sounds really terrible….
”Go forward! Keep coming! Left! More left! Left, left, left!!! Now right! Straighten out. OK, Slow! Slower! Slow DOWN! What’s our depth? What? DEPTH! 20ft! How about now? 17ft! Are we stopped? What? ARE WE STOPPED? Yes, Drop it! (Drop chain) Hit the anchor watch button! (I go hit the button, we wait for the anchor to catch and boat to swing) OK, reverse! More RPM. More! OK, Neutral!”
Whew. I get all anxious just writing that exchange.
Now double that abbreviated conversation/shouting match for any normal day and quadruple it for windy days. And as women we don’t always differentiate between shouting to be heard or shouting from frustration. OK, maybe it’s just me. Shouting is shouting and doesn’t set so well afterward. So signals save sanity. 95% of the time.
…Back on the Boat
SO right about now Brian is frantically pointing to the right like a madman (telling me he wants me to go right) and the boat (because I can’t control it) is going left. Because there is no hand signal for “Hey, where u going?!”, Brian shouts it over the cacophony and throws his hands in the air like WTF? Like I was trying to do another silly circle. I couldn’t keep the bow pointed into the wind. Each time I motored up to my spot and slowed, the wind slapped me to the side, like it was annoyed at me for even trying. Good thing we were alone with no other boats to witness this clown show.
Ever motor at 3.5 knots in order to set anchor?
Frustrated, I finally realized (without any help, thank you very much) that I had to motor into the wind at a full 1500rpm JUST to keep the boat going at a half a knot and to keep the bow from being pushed to either side. In no wind 1500rpm means we are moving ahead at about 3.5 knots. That’s how hard I had to gun the engine to keep us from ‘falling off the wind’. Yet another lesson from the Sea of Cortez.
We didn’t go to shore… again, (4th day in a row, almost a record). Normally I would have been anxious to get off the boat, especially because this place looked pretty cool to explore. But I didn’t care at this point. We were exhausted from the day’s events: almost hitting a sand bar, then getting caught in an unpredicted bash and then my anchoring fiasco.
Can I be done with the lessons for one day? Dammit!