Log - 11/01/01 to 1/5/2002
Oceanside, CA to La Cruz & Neuvo Vallarta, Mexico

The long haul down the Baja peninsula was exhausting, but at long last we made it to the Sea of Cortez. Highlights of the passage included: a school of dolphins putting on a joyous show of leaps, splats, and tumbles; lobster for breakfast; taking off our foul weather gear; stunning sunsets; and glorious black starry nights punctuated by fireballs.

November 4, 2001
The month in Oceanside was filled with an incredible amount of boat improvement, and nowhere near enough relaxation. Btt, at long last I am satisfied with the condition of the the boat and our cruising equipment. We were ready to go, and cast off on a perfect morning. After motoring out of Oceanside harbor, a lovely 6-10 knot breeze let us hoist sails and turn off the noisy engine. In this light are we are generally content with speeds in the 4 to 5.5 knot range.

Katherine was experiencing her standard early passage "nervous butterflies", but after a day of extremely benign conditions, the butterflies were unable to muster enough of an argument to make us stop overnight in San Diego. By the next day Katherine's butterflies had subsided (the quickest resolution of her nervousness thus far).

November 5, 2001
After much consideration of how to reduce the blood bath associated with catching and butchering a fish, we deployed two hand lines with feathery squid-like lures. Within 15 minutes we hooked an Albacore! While pulling in the line, Katherine asked Alan how he was going to get the fish in the boat. Alan replied "just like Pierre". He partially gaffed the fish (with nowhere near the skill exhibited by Pierre), then held it by the gills as Kat gave the fish a generous dose of 90 proof Vodka. Alan suspended the bloody creature in a bucket & brought it over to our newly constructed fish filleting board. In a jiffy we had the fish tied down, decapitated and gutted (there were nearly intact squid in the albacore's belly). The cockpit still required a bit of cleaning, but nothing like the past bloody debacles. As Alan brought in the trolling lines, we hooked another tuna -- we let this one go. We had excellent seared tuna fish tacos for lunch. This left the rest of the day for snoozing and reading.

Before dusk, Katherine got a jump on dinner and whipped up some beef stroganoff. She used a can of Brickman's canned beef (not bad) a can of mushrooms, and the secret special ingredient - caramelized onion jam. Finished off with some seasonings & sour cream, POOF, dinner was ready in 15 minutes.

Squiz was slowly getting into the sailing groove. She occasionally comes out to visit or eat, but seems frustrated; her sea legs need definitely need improvement.

November 6, 2001
Katherine has not been able to sleep well, if it all. After getting off watch at 0830 she didn't fall asleep until noon; then it was only for about two hours of sleep.

November 7, 2001
Katherine has probably slept less than eight hours since we left Oceanside. Last night was the worst. Her senses were starting to become undependable and she felt like she depended excessively on the kitchen timer (set for 12 minutes) for watch duty.

Katherine denies it, but I think that her sleeplessness can be attributed to too many chocolate covered espresso beans. The beans have a long half-life.

November 8, 2001
T'was a dark and bleary night for Katherine; she discovered a squid on deck. They have amazingly big eyes.
We arrived at Isla San Bonito just before dawn. While we were waiting to approach the potential anchorage, we met our first Mexican fisherman in one of the ubiquitous pangas. We traded candy bars and a couple of sodas for some lobster. They asked us how many we wanted, I hesitantly replied "four" (worried that may come across as a little greedy). The panga fishermen put four in our bucket, then tossed their remaining six lobsters overboard, Aaarrgh!
The most protected anchorage south of Isla San Bonito was deep and filled with kelp and lobster traps. After a little poking around, we decided to not waste additional time hunting for a safe anchorage; because ,if we left promptly for Turtle Bay (a "guaranteed" safe anchorage on the mainland) we could make it there by sunset. This was not what I wanted to do, as I'm keen on isolated anchorages, but Katherine was worried about potential anchoring hazards. Since she was exhausted, wretched, and insistent, we headed for Turtle Bay. As the sun rose as we saw the bay was teeming with seals, dolphins, and birds. As we departed dolphins started leaping and playing near our boat. We breakfast on lobster as we headed for the Baja mainland.

[Two months later: With hindsight, we now know that leaving Isla San Bonito was the stupidest choice we have yet made. Nowhere else in Mexico we have seen another place with as much sea life and magical, primal, beauty as Isla San Bonito.]

That afternoon, passing near Isla Cedros, we tossed out the trolling lines and within minutes we had hooked another tuna. Katherine didn't want to get her clothes bloody, so she ascended naked into the cockpit to help. No big deal, but as she was reeling in the trolling line, a panga approached the boat for the other side. The fishermen's "Hola" sent the nudie cutie scampering below. The panga fishermen were delighted at the show. Unfortunately, they wanted cerveszas (beer) in trade for their lobster, and we had no cerveszas.

We anchored in Turtle Bay at Sunset. We were elated to see our friends from s/v Lady Galadriel here. We chatted with them a bit,then settled into a simple but great celebration dinner. Katherine started to unwind, went to bed at 7:15 PM, and slept for ten hours. The next morning, after the post-passage cleanup/cruising, we enjoyed watching the pelicans fish and the dolphins swim around our boat.

A kayaker (Carlos) paddled by and asked to come aboard. Carlos was from the local village and after a few minutes conversation lagged because of language difficulties. The experience was friendly but awkward. Many locals apparently expect to perform simple services for the cruisers (no matter how small) for a generous tip or gift. We were prepared to be independent for at least three weeks and needed nothing, not even a garbage service. So eventually we were able to make it clear, much to the amazement of Carlos, that we needed nothing and did not have any extra shirts to give him.

November 9-12, 2001
We started south from Turtle Bay on a calm morning, but soon we were able to raise our gaudy orange and yellow spinnaker for a beautiful mellow sail. We were stunned as a pod of HUNDREDS of dolphins passed by s/v Squiz.

The Mexican navy warship that decided to investigate The Good Neighbor.

In the afternoon we spotted a large Mexican navy ship on the southern horizon. Shortly thereafter, it was time to gybe the spinnaker (by snuffing the sail, turning the boat, and redeploying the spinnaker of the other side of the boat). Well, the Mexican Navy must have thought we were trying to escape from them (at a blistering 3 knots), because the warship immediately turned toward us and hailed us on the VHF radio. They instructed us to standby to be boarded. We took down the spinnaker down and got out the Spanish dictionary and our pile of official papers. As we waited for the navy vessel to deploy their motor launch, Katherine was as nervous as a rabbit at a dingo convention. The launch dropped off an inspector and two young machine-gun toting soldiers. The inspector was polite, formal, and spoke some English. He reviewed our vessel documentation, passports, and visas; took a quick look around the interior of the boat; and filled out some paperwork. Other than our own self-created anxieties, the boarding and inspection was nontraumatic and straightforward. However, I do wish the soldiers would be provided with nonmarking deck shoes, instead of black-soled boots.

Katherine was once again an insomniac and morale was low during the rest of the two-day passage to Bahia Santa Maria. We had to perform frequent sail changes to keep the boat moving. It also became rather rolly and all the associated noise made it difficult for Katherine to sleep.

After anchoring in Bahia Santa Maria we showered and were immediately rejuvenated. Katherine said that her shower was the BEST shower she has ever taken; it literally washed away her low morale. Bahia Santa Maria is described as wild and beautiful with miles of white sand beaches. We would describe it as austerely beautiful. In one way we want to go through the hassles of deploying the dinghy and settle in here for a bit and walk the beach, scramble up a mountain. But another part of us wants to get this passage down the coast of Baja over with. We were 173 nm (nautical miles) to Cabo and it was another 43 nm up the sea to Los Frailes (the first place with good snorkeling). Katherine really wanted the multi-day passages behind her; she said that it felt like we have been doing this pacific coast passage forever.

November 13-15, 2001
The final leg of our southbound trek was a boisterous rolling grind made wretched by compact, steep, irregular waves. Then at sunset we rounded Cabo San Lucas (on the southern tip of Baja) and we were rewarded with a sudden transition from the endurance contest to a smooth silken pleasure. Surprisingly, southern baja was covered with greenery -- thanks to the previous month's hurricane and associated rainfall.

We anchored at sunrise at Bahia Los Frailes, 43 nm up the sea of Cortez from Cabo San Lucas. At long last we could starting to slow down and savor life and warm water.

Sunrise at Los Frailies

November 16-18, 2001
We took the dinghy north, around the Los Frailes headland, for snorkeling on Pulmo Reef -- the largest patch of coral in western Mexico. It was pleasant, but nothing spectacular. The underwater visibility was only about 20 feet.

A south wind picked up as we returned to s/v Squiz; the change in wind converted our nice anchorage into a wildly rocking, dangerous lee shore. We loaded the dinghy, pulled up the anchor, and moved around to a more protected sandy spot near the Pulmo reef. Even though "Charlie's Charts" recommends our new location as an anchorage during south winds, the next day a local dive boat came by and informed us that anchoring was not permitted anywhere near the Pulmo reef.

Tired of playing the reanchoring game, we decided to do an overnight passage northward. Since the Leonid meteor storm was supposed to peak out between 2 am and 4 am, a nighttime passage was a good way of making certain we would stay awake to view the spectacle. The meteor shower was superb - the best that either of us have ever witnessed.

Just before dawn we had to pass through the San Lorenzo channel (between the La Paz Peninsula and Isla del Espiritu Santo). Much of the San Lorenzo channel is filled with boat-eating rocks, but charts show a navigable channel marked by a pair of buoys with red and green navigation lights. Unfortunately, when approaching the channel from the east only one light was visible, and it is white! After poking slowly around the shallows for over a half hour, we finally discovered that the red and green lights are only visible AFTER you pass the buoys and turn around to view them from the west -- aargh!

We anchored in Puerto Ballandra (about 10 miles north of La Paz) for a few days. This is a fine bay lined with nice undercut cliffs and beaches. Unfortunately, there were some stinging jellies in the water, so we had to wear dive skins while swimming.

November 11-26, 2001
On a calm morning, we motored for a couple hours down to La Paz. We caught a Sierra (a.k.a. Spanish Mackerel) as we entered the channel near Punta Prieta. This common fish has pretty golden spots. Smaller than most other local game fish (between 1 and 2 feet in length) the Sierra is worth catching -- it tastes like very good catfish.

The La Paz anchorage is large, but a sandbar separates the anchorage from the channel. After finding a 10' deep passage across the sand bar we set the hook in 20' of water.

The next morning we went through the long check-in process:

  1. Go to the immigration office and finalize our visas.
  2. Go to a bank and pay the visa fees (about $15 each).
  3. Go to the API (port administration) office and pay the port and daily anchorage fees ($10 plus $1 per day).
  4. Go to the Port Captain's office and fill out the boat check in paperwork.
  5. Go to the Banamex bank and pay the port captain fees ($16).
  6. Go back to the Port Captain's office and show the payment receipt and receive official checkin papers.
  7. Go to the Polka-Dot tree ice cream store and have a treat to cool off after the long, hot morning of trudging around La Paz.

Other than the long hikes for the check in process, La Paz is a very cruiser-friendly town. It has enough flavor of real, nontouristy Mexico to make it an interesting foreign country experience. A good diversity of goods and services, most within walking distance, are available in central La Paz; this makes boat maintenance, repair, and provisioning fairly straightforward. The only downsides to La Paz are the high cost of marina slips and the strong tidal currents in the anchorage.

We spent a week in the La Paz anchorage and two days in a marina performing maintenance, assembling and deploying our wind generator for the first time, refueling, cleaning, and reprovisioning. It is amazing how busy we continually are with boat maintenance and fixup. Rarely do we take more than a few hours off to relax and live -- I hope this changes soon.

November 27, 2001
We had a frustrating day of fishing as we traveled north to Isla Partida. First we caught a small sierra, decided to throw it back and search for bigger game. Next we had a beautiful Dorado (a.k.a. Mahi Mahi) on the line; but, while trying to land it, we lost the both the fish and our lure. Then we caught two skipjack tuna, that turned out to be "Black Skipjack", the only kind of tuna we do not care to eat. To top it all off, in the chaos Alan lost the gaff hook overboard.

November 28 - December 2, 2001
Charlie's charts does not have anything positive to say about the El Cardonel bay at Isla Partida, we found it to be a great anchorage. It has great holding ground and seems better protected from most wind and wave directions than the other anchorages on Isla Partida or Isla Espiritu Santo. Snorkeling was decent along the rocky shore and off the point at the entrance to the harbor. Fresh scallops were a delightful addition to a few of our meals.

We stayed a El Cardonel a week while Katherine recovered from a cold. During that time the first "Blue Norther" of the season hit us with gusts up to 35 knots. These common winter storms began just after we started mellowing out from our trek down the coast. Each Norther seems to blow (20 to 50 knots) for about a few days, with only a couple days break between weather systems. After the first Norther subsided, the water temperature seemed to have dropped several degrees; a wet suit was now required for snorkeling.

December 3, 2001
We started going north toward Isla San Francisco when another Norther kicked up. Katherine heard a clicking noise coming from near the engine as we were sailing. So, Alan went into the cramped lazarette to investigate. He discovered two problems: sea water was trickling in around the rudder post and the propeller shaft seal was wobbling and clanking against the propeller shaft. We decided to retreat back to La Paz.

As we approached La Paz we were putting away the fishing gear when we hooked a dorado -- these fish are powerful swimmers. Katherine pulled in the line as Alan worried about how to get it on board (since he had lost the gaff hook a week earlier). Alan went below and grabbed his new speargun. As the Mahi Mahi was pulled alongside the boat -- BLAM -- Alan speared the bugger from point blank range. It was the simplest, and most effective fish landing we ever had -- highly recommended!

December 4-14, 2001
In La Pas Alan investigated and addressed the issues with our propeller and rudder shafts seals and we waited out two more Blue Northers. Gusts of up to 50 knots were reported during the second Norther. In spite of the fact that we used 150' of chain in a water depth of 20', after one of the tidal current direction changes, our anchor started dragging. Luckily, we were able to move into the marina and wait out the gale.

December 15-18, 2001
The repeated barrage of Northers was a sign that it was time to head south. The Northers allegedly dissipate just south of the tip of Baja California. So we decided to head toward the Bay of Banderas (the Puerto Vallarta area) with a stop at Isla Isabella (a remote bird sanctuary island).

We waited for the waves to subside after one nasty Norther then cast off from La Paz. Soon after starting across the sea another Norther began. The wind was high, but not too bad (20-30 knots); unfortunately the waves became a steep jumble that made both Katherine and I turned green. Thirty hours of our Sea of Cortez crossing was plodding, yucky, tedium. During watch we wore three layers of clothing and huddled under the edge of our dodger attempting to escape the random sprays of salt water.

We sailed faster than normal in order to reach Isla Isabella before sunset on the third day. With only our staysail and two reefs in the mainsail (reducing it about 40% of full size) s/v Squiz was humming along at 6.5 to 7.5 knots (our normal cruising speed is 5 knots). Isabella -- a wild, primitive island -- was a beautiful sight to two weary sailors and a pissed-off cat. Unfortunately the waves made one of the two possible anchorages untenable. The other cove had a tiny sandy patch that made for decent anchor holding, and this small anchoring area was already occupied by two sailboats. We tried for an hour to anchor just outside the other boats, but our hook just keep sliding along the rocky bottom. With limited daylight remaining we reluctantly hauled in the chain and turned south toward the Bay of Banderas -- what a letdown. Luckily the waves subsided and we had an easy motorsail south.

A couple miles outside the bay, a wild looking guy in a rubber dinghy flagged us down. Lawrence had been out fishing when his outboard died (dinghy outboards are notorious for being the least reliable mechanical devices ever created). We gave him and the dinghy a ride back to his 44' sailboat where his wife and four kids were amused by his inauspicious return.

We anchored in the northeast corner of the Bay of Bandaras, just off the small town: "La Cruz de Huanacaxtle". Unlike tourist-oriented Puerto Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta (15 and 7 miles to the SE), La Cruz is a nice "real" town. It has dusty stone streets, real people (that don't mind the cruisers), a few affordable cafes, and plenty of good anchoring terrain.

December 19, 2001 - January 5, 2002
The Bay of Banderas was suffering from red tide. The water looked like dark tea & had a mildly unpleasant odor. So we could not do any local fishing or snorkeling. On Christmas eve the water started clearing up and the fish began to return.

On calm nights the La Cruz anchorage is a little rolly. We heard that the Nuevo Vallarta Marina is currently between owners and deteriorating, hence it is cheap (about $10 US per night). So we moved over to Nuevo Vallarta on Dec 26. We hung out at this pleasant but delapidated marina, fixed up the boat and explored Puerto Vallarate until January 4th. On January fifth we moved to the nearby Paradise Village Marina because Katherine's father (George) has a timeshare at Paradise Village. George, his wife Blanche, and our excellent friend Amy are arriving to vacation and visit us for ten days.