Our objective was San Juanico, 18 miles north by the rumbline. The day started out lovely: calm seas, light breeze of 2-3 kts; about an hour later it picked up to 4 kts and we started sailing.
At this point in our sailing career we decided if it was blowing a mere 4 kts of wind we would have to sail. Even if we were only moving along at 2 kts/hr… that’s OK. No fuel is available where we are headed, so we needed to be stingy on motoring, saving at least 15 gallons (out of 45) for the crossing.
This is the opposite mentality than the one we had from La Paz to Puerto Escondido, knowing we’d be filling up our diesel tanks in port. We sailed infrequently, only when the winds were right, often taking advantage of the frequent morning calm weather to motor to the next spot. This allowed us to successfully avoid typical afternoon winds and subsequent potential rough seas. Now, we are going to have to sail regardless of the wind direction, wave action….or current, yeah… forgot about that one.
The Tide’s Against Us
All day our sailing hull speed (meaning the speed the boat is running sans all outside forces) was about 3.5-4 kts/hr. Respectable…but the southbound current was at least 1 kt difference... and not in our favor. It never seems to be…rarely do I get to blissfully witness the speed indicator show our speed over ground (or “SOG”) is MORE than what we are really physically sailing. That would be like Christmas, once a year.
So we crawled north, against the southbound tide/current for hours at 2.5-3kts/hr. In other words, it takes us an hour to go 3-4 miles. You could literally walk that fast.
The wind became fluky off Mangles Point and it seemed the current got stronger. We thought the tides would switch around 2pm and start to flow north, helping us instead of pushing against us. But if there was a tidal switch, we didn’t see it; as usual Mother Nature was perpetually against us.
Horizontal tacking is not a sailing tactic to which one should aspire. I am sure there is a technical term for it… ‘tacking over and over whilst being blown backward resulting in zero sum forward gain’ should suffice as a quickie explanation. Needless to say the great sailors of our time, The Pardees, Webb Chiles, Dave Mancini (yes, I put you in that category), I’m sure do not get themselves in this situation. It’s just embarrassing.
So here we are. About a mile and a half from shore off Punta Mangles. Needing to go directly north but the wind is coming from where…? All together now…”Directly north.” Of course. And it’s NEVER supposed to blow from the north in May…but I digress.
So off this point we’re now sailing slower at about 2.5 SOG. Still tacking into the wind. Now with a 1.5kt current against us. And because the wind is lighter and keeps shifting 30-40 degrees, we can’t point high. (Pointing means sailing as close as you can to the wind without stalling.) The windier it is, the higher we can point (usually up to 30 degrees off the nose), but right now we can only go about 40 degrees.
It wasn’t until the second tack that we kept staring befuddled at our chartplotter track… our EFFECTIVE angle ended up at about 85 degrees. What??!! The current pushed all our progress backward, so practically every foot gained north by sailing was lost by current. Yet we gained easterly or westerly motion on each tack. In other words, both failed tacks ended up taking us out a ½ mile or so, but we remained perfectly horizontal to our course, MAYBE up farther north by a few hundred meters each time. Zigzagging back and forth, almost in a straight line, over and over without getting anywhere is a sailor’s idea of purgatory I suppose. Too bad I didn’t take a photo of the chartplotter – but maybe it’s best there’s no evidence.
Fortunately we didn’t do this for long… the wind picked up again and shifted to a better direction. But we got 5 miles out from the anchorage and it again kept dying. Maddening. We just couldn’t take it anymore. Plus it was late afternoon and we don’t like anchoring at dusk since you can’t see reefs as well…so we gave up and turned the motor on to get there faster. Our “new decree” of sailing as much as possible? Yep, out the window on day 1.
Eight hours and 26 miles later (to go a mere 18 miles mind you), with 8 extra miles due to tacking, we arrived just as the sun was setting behind the mountains.
Close Anchor Deterrence Tactics
Remember my blog a while back that included potential tactics one might use to deter boats from anchoring too close? Well, as we were poking around to determine where we wanted to anchor, an older guy on a nearby boat jumped in the water for a swim…sans trunks… and waves hello as we pass close by. Hmmm….was he trying to tell us something? If so, good tactic. Or are we just far enough away from civilization now that folks just don’t care anymore? Either way, it worked.
After our usual hour-long parade around the anchorage which held 5 other boats, we found a spot closer to the cliff. We jumped into the 84 degree, 12-ft deep water and it felt awesome – like bathwater. Although we had zero visibility, and it was quite choppy and mixed up from the wind waves and colored a dull green, there were no floaties/jellies to bump into.
That evening I made chilorio and refried beans, had added some onion, ½ serrano pepper, a half can of pinto beans and topped with cheese for dipping totopos (chips). Easy and good. Had the last of the cake… so sad to see it go... still moist after all these days. Watched Arrow.
June 1st San Juanico
We got up this morning and listened to the net for weather. We learned Hurricane Andreas was still veering off and Tropical Depression #2 would now be called Hurricane Blanca. It is sitting outside of Manzanillo, stationary, and they think it will go up toward the Baja but veer away outside of it about 150 miles off the coast. So while we are still watching it, we decided to stay here one more day. Yay, we get to explore.
The Cruiser’s Shrine
We got in the yak and paddled around what I called “cake” island. I think it looks like a birthday cake, at least one that “fell” as it’s a bit lopsided. High and straight on all sides, “cake island” is crowned in tall, cactus birthday candles. We cruised along a long sweeping sandstone formation jutting out of the land, alongside of which is a nice beach with hard-packed sand and lots of rocks and shells along the shoreline.
One of the trees along this beach is a “cruiser’s shrine” where people leave little mementos with their boat name and the year they arrived. The earliest boat arrival date I noticed was 1987. Shells and beads and various trinkets adorn the tree like ornaments, engraved rocks and carved wood pieces lie underneath, as does a painted cow skull, a wine bottle, a worn pair of shorts, someone’s underwear, etc. Whatever odd or end one can spare or scavenge.
We walked the full length of the beach picking up cool rocks and shells. Ok I picked them up, but even Brian found his own “shell”: a short piece aluminum tubing which he kept, just in case. (Shells are not practical; tubing is.) It was really hot that day. Parched, we had to go back to the yak for water. By this time the swell and wind waves were getting a little worse so we high-tailed it back to the boat for PB&J sands. Then we made water; we did not wash clothes or anything else for that matter, afraid of attracting our bee friends.
Afterwards, we got in the pool for a dip, expecting to go in later for another and therefore did not rinse. Instead we “air-dried”. This did not work well. I felt sticky and gross the entire time. My skin and hair never quite dried all the way; my hair matted and I’m unable to comb it - I may as well have been in dreadlocks for a month; and salt crystals continually fall off my skin like I’m shedding.
THIS is why I wanted a watermaker. I would NOT like to feel this way all the time, living by day in ram-rod stiff, salt-caked clothing that could stand up by themselves. Then transferring my daily salt intake to my bedding at night, trying to sleep in sweaty, salt-glazed sheets, with my face scraping a damp, salt-encrusted pillowcase, waking up itchy, my hair still wet the following morning. I don’t know how Steinbeck did it… but he did, and tons of people still do… kudos to them, but I don’t have it in me. Period.
At 4pm, Brian downloaded the weatherfax while I boiled eggs and potatoes for potato salad. We reviewed the forecast again, same story: the tropical depression was indeed a real named hurricane, Blanca, and was as stated earlier, stationed over in the same spot near Manzanillo with no real track yet.
I made a shell for the cruiser’s shrine that we planned on dinghying over to the beach later. I had found a small, bleached white shell with a hole in the top and one out the side, perfect for stringing a bit of wire to create an ornament. I guess it was meant for us.
After all our work was done, we yakked over to visit with the Mary T, who had earlier rowed over to invite us to tea. Somehow I just knew these were old salts of the sea when Sigmund came by on his dinghy. I told Brian this guy was like meeting Stan Lee, or Steinbeck, and he probably knew Nigel Calder or even Bill Crealock. Sure enough, they knew the Pardees (same thing) and are even mentioned in their storm tactics book due to a bad storm they’d survived in the Pacific. Very nice people, been around the world cruising for I think 30 years; Fiji, New Zealand, Singapore, Oman, Spain, you name it, they’ve done it.
We chatted on their boat until about 8pm - the sun had gone down past the mountain but it was still light out. Suddenly, Brian noticed our boat was riding sideways to the swell which had grown over the past few hours. It was rolling like a top in the now surf that pounded the cliff base just a few hundred feet away. Sitting on their boat we were jumping up and down with the increasing waves, but we hadn’t really paid attention too much since we’d been talking. Now we’re worried.
We have to move Indigo. Within 2 minutes we’d said our good-byes and were in the yak paddling in the now semi-hazardous conditions - definitely waves we would not go out in had we already been on our own boat. The swell pushed us back quickly and right towards Indigo, but the wave action made it difficult to grab onto our bucking-bronco boat; we almost missed it and slipped past.
We were in 12 ft of water and rolling side to side at what felt like a 30 degree angle each time, beam onto each increasing wave. Our anchor is not dragging, but it is not good to be in this situation up against a cliff. The Mary T was a bit farther out in 18ft and riding right into the waves at a much better angle, but still bucking furiously. At the very least we had to get into deeper water, maybe move altogether.
Pulling the anchor up was a harried event. We immediately started the engine. With me at the wheel and Brian at the bow fiddling with the anchor, I saw him slip and fall at least 4 times on the slick and lurching deck. One time he fell hard, splaying out flat on the deck, disappearing from my sight for a split second…his shoe had caught a line and it flipped off overboard. Then he tried to snare it with the boat hook without success. He called me to try and grab it; luckily it floated right by the rear of the boat and I leaned overboard and caught the darn thing. (Apparently, losing that shoe would have equaled major disaster.) Fortunately for us, Brian did not hurt himself, and everything was fine thereafter.
Brian got the anchor up in record time, despite the pitching deck, numerous falls and the shoe incident, and we started motoring into the waves. In deeper water and farther along the shoreline it was not much better, so we kept on going to the opposite south anchorage about a mile away. Luckily we had just enough light to get there…plus there was a full moon. That full moon over the fading sunlit sky was fleetingly beautiful as we were driving over there and I could see rays sticking their fingers out of the water as we went along. But I didn’t point any of this out. We were MUCH too anxious and tense, needing to concentrate on the task at hand, rather than gazing dreamily at the wildlife and the moon.
This bay is littered with rocks and reefs. Our chartplotter did not show the long, narrow, submerged reef that extended out way past the point towards which we were headed. Had we not possessed backup charts on the ipad, we could have easily slammed the boat into this reef. Knowing it was there, I could just make out a dark line in the dimming light and note change in water motion due to the major swell swirling over it. Had the rocks been fully submerged we would not have seen them at all. As it was, after anchoring, the GPS says we are .06 miles from them (that’s about 316ft – IF the GPS was dead on accurate). Pretty darn close, too close… and so Brian sleeps in the cockpit.
When we arrived around 9pm, the swell seemed a bit diminished over on this side. We were still rocking, but we were moving around our anchor in the fluky winds and not exactly beam on… yet. We even took showers in the moonlight, finally getting the salt off since we never made that 2nd pool dip. Lesson learned.
A Swell Time
But soon it got worse… it felt almost the same as when we left the north anchorage. We had faced into the swell once we arrived, seemingly sheltered by the lee of this reef finger. But now the wind shifted again and we were full beam onto the waves, rocking side to side. We were tipping so far over I had to take down the bathroom door pockets (one of those hanging over-the-door-shoe pocket organizers) as it was banging against the door every 3 seconds, something I never have to do at anchor, only if we are on a severe tack while sailing.
We never had time for dinner. I instantly abandoned my original idea of making potato salad and cooking kielbasa; there’s no way I’m chopping veges or using the stove in this crazy yawing motion. Our 10pm meal? “Corn pops! It’s what’s for dinner.” I’m just glad I could stand up to pour the milk.
The sky was gorgeous … but our attempt to sit and contemplate it while munching on our corn pops was negated by the constant, uncomfortable rocking motion. The swell was slightly longer at 2-3 seconds each angle but super annoying…worse than Agua Verde since we were yawing and not pitching. Definitely the worst we’d had this trip. This was going to be a long night.
Fortunately there was no wind… which means our anchor chain was not stretched out and we didn’t have to worry too much about hitting the reef. But unfortunately, there was no wind… which means we were rocking with the swell until it increased and swung us around, or until the swell died. Wind or no wind… you want it, yet you don’t want it…all at the same time. And you are infinitely at its mercy.
We both opted to sleep out in the cockpit, worried about the reef that we could barely see and had no idea as to its width. But I could not seem to sleep with the boat rocking so darned much. Below decks was worse: I felt hot as soon as I stepped down inside and sick enclosed in the stuffy bathroom. Resting in the cockpit was cool and refreshing, plus you didn’t feel the movement quite so acutely.
Ever so gradually, it calmed down. The wind waves were virtually gone and the sea was a smooth swell, still disconcerting and super rolly, but smooth. The wind shifted 360 and kept the boat moving around its anchor all night. (In the morning the anchorwatch looked like a neat little circle.)
While Brian slept, I watched the sky. The moon cast its silvery reflection on the rolling sea and if it weren’t so nerve-racking to be in this scene, it would have been a breathtaking one to behold. High vertical cliffs and peaked spires and the outstretched low-lying reef lined the shore blocking much of the surf. But you could still hear it breaking farther down on the sand with a dull, ominous roar that sounds a lot worse than it really is. I kept thinking it was getting louder, but your mind tricks you into thinking so when concentrating too hard.
Translucent clouds slithered past the stark white moon, like big puffs of factory smoke. Happy clouds normally, they now were filled with my anxiety of being bullied by the swell and turned into ominous creatures. The night sky became jam-packed with evil monkeys, Pac-Man ghosts, a skull with deep dark eye sockets glaring at me, Homer Simpson’s craggily old dad. I actually laughed at myself as I realized I could not stop seeing weird shapes. Seriously? Grampa Simpson? What would those Rorschach inkblot psychologists think of me?
Every so often, I heard the snap, crackle, pop of rays dancing again on the surface. I eventually became accustomed to the constant swish and foaming of swell breaking on the reef just 300ft to our starboard, and the surf crashing on the beach to our port. Finally, it calmed down enough that I went back to bed in the v-berth. (Brian surrendered a bit later, knowing we weren’t going anywhere.) I sleep better in the v-berth where it’s dark and quiet… why? ‘Cause I’m Batman.
June 2nd, San Juanico, south anchorage
On the Heels of a Hurricane
This morning, Tuesday, June 2nd, the hurricane forecast for Blanca noted she was stationary, only traveling at 1 mile an hour, but getting stronger. It is now predicted to turn into a Category 4, gliding right along the Baja coast on the outside later this week, rather than the initial path of 150 miles offshore. No Bueno. If that happens, we needed to be ready to make our emergency jump to San Carlos. We leave now.
We made the decision to skip our next stop, Punta Pulpito, only 8 miles away and motor all the way to Domingo in Bahia Concepcion, 46 miles north (there are no other anchorages in between). This will be our longest trek so far in one day on this trip. And so much for saving on gas (decree out the window again on day 2), but we will need to get there before dark. The weather in the sea is supposed to get much windier over the next two days so we decided to get up to Bahia Concepcion while the gettin’s good.
San Juanico had the best beach of the trip for its sheer variety: hard-packed fine sand, coarse sand with bits of shell, tons of unique larger shells and rocks, a sandstone spit, high majestic cliffs, islands and reefs, tall spires straight out of a Lord of the Rings movie, beautiful water, not a soul around for miles and only a handful of boats... everything to entice you to stay for 2 weeks. Sigh. No such luck. I never did get to hang my ornament….