Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The cruising sail boat

Boat designers and naval architects go to a huge amount of trouble to create a product that not only sails well, is fast and stable and has as much usable space as possible below but are also pleasing to the eye. Careful consideration is given to the lines of the cabin top, chine and top sides so the boat looks sleek and streamline, then along comes the serious world cruiser and ruins all their hard work by adding a wide selection of accoutrements. I believe there must be some correlation between the amount of experience, or time cruising, of a sailor by the amount of accoutrements a boat might have. A sailor new to cruising will probably have a Bimini or other cockpit cover and a solar panel or two but the list grows exponentially for the long term cruiser. For a start they have a large number of jerry cans on deck to carry extra fuel and water, additional gas bottles, kayaks, paddle boards, grills, fenders, life saving devices, complex tilting solar panels, possibly multiple outboard motors, spare main anchors, stern anchors, spare lines, wind vane steering, dinghy and even pot plants and dog pee mats and much more. Once all that equipment is on board everything is then covered with Sunbrella canvas to protect it from the harsh tropical sunshine along with extra cockpit protection and full length boat covers. After all that the original boat and it's sleek lines are hardly visible but it looks ready to tackle any weather or situation the long distance cruising sailor might find themselves in albeit their waterline has gone up a few inches. I personally like the look, I believe they look seriously utilitarian rather than the vain beauty and impracticality of many modern boats. I will be posting some more pictures of mega cruising boats as I come across them or if you see any send me a pic to post.

Check out the waterline...

Back on the hook

 Its seems like an eternity since we last spent  more than a night or two in one place on the anchor and we had been looking forward to doing it again for quite some time. It’s a whole different existence and requires us to settle in to an alternative rhythm. We are not totally confined but neither are we connected to a dock instead we are bobbing about and swinging around on the anchor at the mercy of the weather but normally with amazing vistas. We use the dinghy to get about and we have the kayaks to explore the coastline. So with much anticipation we did a quick food shop and left the dock and traveled just 9 miles to a Bahia Balandra where we spent the next 5 days having a wonderful time swimming in the clear waters, kayaking, exploring the beaches, snorkeling and generally lazing about taking in the beautiful scenery..

Great light at sunset

Jude and Katya kayaking

Jude reading in the hammock
This was the first time that I have had the chance to see how the solar panels perform since being moved from the side rails and up on to the arch. There is now less ability to tilt the panels but still some ability in their new place. With 5 days of readings we have been using about 90 amp hours over a 24 hour period at 24v (equivalent to 180 amp hours at 12v). With one panel tilted charging starts pretty much as soon as the sun comes up and stops when the sun sets and we seem to have the batteries fully charged by midday or before assuming we are about 40amp hours down just before dawn. So there is an effective 8 hours of additional charging capacity at this time of year in this latitude.

Profile with the new arch and solar panels
We don’t tend to use too much power when we are at anchor so the real test is when we are sailing as the autopilot is a big amp guzzler along with the electric winches, which we use if we are lazy, which mostly we are. We reckon our 24 hour AMP usage when sailing 24 hrs a day is about 210 amp hours at 24v so we would need to average about 18 amps / hours charging at 24v which might be a bit of a stretch on especially on a cloudy day. So we are going to have to work out some strategy for our long distance cruising, we either use the generator to top up the batteries, which we need to do occasionally at the moment to run the 40 gal/ hour water maker or hand steer for a while each day  - errrr no thanks – or look at other methods of generating electricity during long passages, such as a water-driven generator. Watch this space for more info if you are bored enough to be reading this and are still interested…       

Preparing for hurricane season in the Sea of Cortez

Our decision to stay in Mexico and visit the much touted Sea of Cortez means that we will have to endure a hurricane season here, which runs from 15th May to the 15th November, and be prepared for the consequences. NOAA have predicted that there will be 19 tropical storms in the Eastern Pacific basin, 11 of which will form into hurricanes and 3 of which will be classified as major hurricanes. Now, the Eastern pacific is a pretty big area but looking at the historical tracks of the tropical storms there is a good chance one could touch down whilst we are still in the Sea, and almost a certainty that we will have to endure a tropical storm.

Preparation for a tropical storm involves several elements:

Firstly we made sure we have good insurance cover. We had to change our policy provider to allow us to be in the Sea and to provide cover for named storms with a reasonable deductable. Naturally there is an increase in premium.

Secondly, decide on our strategy for tracking potential storms and where we will go if we are likely to be in the path of one. There appear to be only two “hurricane holes” on the western side of the Sea of Cortez: Puerto Escondido and Puerto Don Juan which are about 250 miles apart. Some people say that La Paz is a good hurricane hole but seeing some of the damage from the last storm that went through I would not fancy my chances of having a damage free boat at the end of it.

Third is the plan to secure you boat at anchor during the storm: Making sure to clear the decks of everything that might fly off or cause any unnecessary wind resistance such as sails, canvas shading, solar panels, kayaks etc. Make sure we have a good anchoring strategy with as much chain rode out as possible, multiple anchors, chafe resistance gear of any rode, which seems like a common problem and making sure that no other boats are likely to swing into you or you into them, again which seems like quite a common problem. We hear that some of the hurricane holes can get pretty busy so working out some sort of common strategy with other boats sounds like a must.

The more I think about it the less I like the idea of being in a hurricane. I experienced first hand what it is like to be in a storm when I lived in Hong-Kong. 5 days after first arriving there in 1983 to start a job Typhoon Ellen hit the territory with 125mph+ winds. I was in an apartment on the 7th floor and the whole block was swaying. Every single window in the apartment blew out and torrential rain flooded the place. I spent most of the storm cowering in a very wet and windy bathroom which had the smallest window. It was quite frightening and that was in a building. Being on a boat would be a very different experience I could do without.  

Historical storm tracks
So as we head off to the sea tomorrow our minds will be on not if a tropical storm comes but when and where we will go to ride it out. This seems to be the price for cruising her in the summer months.

On a positive note we are taking the boat out of the water and storing it for 2 ½ months whilst we come back to the UK to visit family but we will be back for the busiest hurricane month which is October.

Fingers crossed. It’s going to be HOT HOT HOT and windy……..

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

La Paz and drive to San Diego

Anchorage near La Paz

The main reason we came to La Paz is that it provides a relatively easy route for us to go back to San Diego, which we needed to do in order to renew our Mexican tourist visas which are for six months. Yes! We have been in Mexico for six months already. So we booked a hire car and drove the 1600 kms or 1,000 miles up the arid Baja peninsula, enjoying the changing scenery as we went. We did a marathon trip, travelling 13 hours in the first day stopping off at the well priced and good quality Cactus inn and then the final 3 ½ hours to San Diego where we had the usual shenanigans at the US border patrol. I won’t bore you with the details but the officials did live up to their reputation of being ill mannered, ignorant and petty.

Budget hotel
We checked into a budget hotel in San Diego that reminded me of a tenement block in Sheffield England, but it was cheap, the rooms were clean and it was close to the city what more can you ask for $60 a night. 

The next few days were spent dashing around all the shops picking up boat parts, new clothes and items of food that we cannot get in Mexico. We packed the car to the brim and worried about our border crossing back in to Mexico.

As it turned out the crossing back into Mexico was no issue at all, so much so that it was a problem, if that makes sense. For one there was no border officers on the US side so as green card holders we could not check out and on the Mexican side there was only one official who waved us on which meant that we did not get our visa renewals, the main purpose of our visit (although I now suspect shopping was the main aim). We therefore had to stop off in Ensenada and go to the familiar immigration office and get our Tourist Cards which was pretty simple given we had been there before and knew the procedure.

We set off south towards La Paz stopping off at the same hotel before doing the 13hour stretch the following day. The scenery is quite spectacular and the roads are great, despite being only one lane each way there is little traffic and you can do a steady 75mph. The landscape changes from fertile farmland in the north where strawberries grow, to wine country, large areas of sand dunes, and high sided cactus strewn canyon landscapes with red rocks.

We arrived back in La Paz at about 9pm, tired and hungry as we had only stopped three times for 5 mins each in the 13 hours since we left.

The following day Katya developed a nasty ear infection so we got on the morning VHF net and got the name of a good ENT doctor in La Paz and made an appointment. She was given medication and suggestions for altering her diet in what we thought was one of the best doctors’ consultations we have ever had, not that we have had many, so Katya is on the mend. The next day Jude lost a crown on her tooth so we found a dentist and all trouped off to get it fixed.

Our plans to leave La Paz and head north have been delayed a week or ten days as we have to wait for KJ’s ear to get better and Jude to get her teeth fixed but in the meantime we have headed out of LP to see some of the anchorages closer to the City.

We have enjoyed our short time in La Paz and I think overall we prefer it to La Cruz. It is larger without being too large. It has a less humid climate (so far) and the marina has a pool but probably more important is the fact that it has some stunning anchorages only a few hours away unlike La Cruz where you have to travel a significant distance to find a good place to escape.                                   

Mazatlan to Los Muertos on the Baja peninsula

Lunch underway

 We departed the depressing marina in Mazatlan in the afternoon on the long overnight passage to Muertos bay on the Baja peninsula, raising the sails as soon as we left the marina with 10-15knots of wind pretty much on the nose so we beat our way across the sea of Cortez towards our destination. We were in no hurry and I was determined to sail as much as possible knowing that our zig-zag course would be much longer. The winds shifted slightly to the north which gave us a better wind angle and then at 5am the winds died after drifting along at 2.5 knots for a while so reluctantly I turned the engine on. The winds picked up again later in the morning and we raised the sails again and continued our beat towards the anchorage. We all enjoyed the passage despite going to wind, the seas were only 2-3 feet so the ride was comfortable. The seas were crystal clear and there was a cool breeze that made being in the cockpit very comfortable. We finally arrived in Los Muertos at 8:30pm in darkness and dropped our anchor amongst 5 other boats and relaxed in the early evening. The passage was 217 miles.

Enjoying the new arch features..

Muertos was just a stopping point on our way to La Paz, which is the gateway City to the Sea of Cortez so we had a leisurely start to the day then upped anchor and made our way north to La Paz through the Isla Cerralvo Channel. The winds were a very pleasant 10-15 knots and we had one of the best sails of our trip in Mexico, flat seas, great weather and interesting desert scenery.

We checked into Marina Palmira at 7pm having travelled exactly 60 nautical miles. several pods of Dolphins escorted us down the channel to La Paz, playing on the bow with some ‘talking’ to Jude who was sitting on the bow. What a great greeting to this interesting town.