We left Nuevo Vallarta on March 23rd and travelled to Punta
de Mita (in the NW corner of the Bay of Banderas). Our autopilot
worked after the fluxgate compass has been repaired (leaking
capacitors & a broken wire).
From there we went on day day trip to Trés Mariettas.
I speared a couple of fish. The water is warming up, but the
visibility is poor.
On March 23 We closed reached with 10 knots of wind &
1-2 foot seas toward Isla Isabella. We didn't make a lot of
progress towards, but it sure was nice. It was swimsuit weather
all the way and Katherine began to understand why people like
sailing. The engine powered us through the night and we dropped
hook in the southern anchorage shortly after sunrise. The
bottom of this cove (rock and scattered sand) is known for
anchoring difficulties, as we discovered last December. Once
again, our first attempt at setting the hook failed. I decided
not to waste my time with and unknown bottom; I donned my
snorkeling gear, surveyed the bottom, and located an acceptable
patch of sand. Katherine drove Squiz (a.k.a. The Good Neighbor) up to me
and lowered the anchor; I swam down an moved the anchor into position
as she backed down the boat. The hook set, we smiled and began
to enjoy cruising.
Isla Isabella is a volcanic island is about 40 miles off
the coast between PV & Mazatlan. This kind of place is
the reason I came cruising. It is a bird sanctuary were zillions
of frigates, boobies, and gulls nest, squawk, and make spectacles
of themselves. Very primal.
The snorkeling is the best I have had so far in Mexico (good,
but not great). In spite of the presence of a fishing camp
on the island, there are enough fish around for me to succeed
at spearfishing to bring in some meat for dinner.
After a few days, we left lovely Isla Isabella and headed
northwest toward Baja on March 29th. As we motored north we
passed hundreds of sea turtles sunning themselves on the surface
of a clam sea. They are easily seen because each turtle usually
has a bird sitting on its carapace. Identified with a bird
taking a break on the turtle's back. A northwest wind picked
up in the afternoon, so we set sail and started beating. Unfortunately,
the wind picked up and clocked around to dead on the nose
- we were sailing with two reefs in the main and the staysail.
As the seas increased in size and steepness, our Tayana began
it's usual pitching and slowed to a crawl. Naturally Synergizer
could point higher into the wind than the Good Neighbor, so
they splashed on by us. In these miserable rocking conditions
Squiz (a.k.a. The Good Neighbor) is unable to make a course higher than 60
degrees off the wind. There is no way we could point anywhere
near our destination of Los Frailes on Baja. So we motor beat
on a long upwind tack to Mazatlan. Bashing the last sixteen
miles took almost eight hours. We anchored the in the old
harbor behind the Mazatlan headlands. It is not the prettiest
place in the world, but we didn't care - we were beat.
The seas settled down overnight and we had and easy sail
seven miles north to the man-made harbor created for pleasure
boats. The upper-end EL Cid marina was full, but we stopped
at their fuel dock, filled up with diesel, and wash the crust
of salt off the boat. We tied up at the cheap and funky Isla
Marina, as Marina Mazatlan is closed and in some sort of legal
limbo. Our slip had no power or water, but since the boat
was rinsed off, we felt downright civil again.
Haul Out Hell
We asked around about boatyards and took an excursion into
the bowels of old industrial Mazatlan to see if we could get
hauled out and have the bottom stripped and reworked. Astilleros
Malvinas said they could do the job - and they had two people
that spoke English in the office.
On April 4th, we passed hundreds of big steel fishing boats
as we made our way up the Mazatlan estuary toward the boatyard.
Mazatlan is the base for a huge shrimping and fishing fleet,
they are inactive in April and, appropriately, the boats are
packed like sardines along every quay and dock. Approaching
the area of the boatyard our senses were assaulted by filthy,
oily, water and a disgusting smells reminiscent of slaughterhouses
and burning garbage.
Our time at Astilleros Malvinas (the boatyard) began poorly;
they delayed hauling out s/v Squiz for a day because
the travel lift was supporting a fishing boat. In spite of
my requests/alerts to Mike (the English-speaking dude in the
office) they workers were not striping the bottom as requested;
instead, they worked hard to prepare the bottom to receive
additional bottom paint. Finally after two wasted days, we
got Leah (Mike's bilingual wife and yard manager) to communicate
the proper job to the yard workers. The delay was frustrating,
but the boatyard did NOT charge us for the time spent doing
the wrong work.
After the initial snafus we began having daily status and
communications sessions, and the work proceeded well. With
a little help from a carpenter and me, Katherine worked her
ass off removing all the old varnish off the teak and began
preparing it to receive Cetol. I was occasionally sick with
amoebic dysentery, but helped monitor progress, run errands,
and do the detail work that the Mexicans would overlook.
Staying on the boat in the dusty boatyard was wretched. For
eleven days we had to put up with the smell, dirt, and no
clean water. Using the toilet required climbing down the ladder
trudging 120 yards through the dusty yard to a toilet; often
there was no water in the plumbing, so we would have to take
a bucket over to a water tank to get water to flush the toilet.
The nighttime toilet treks were the worse - the scabrous,
scruffy watchdogs would think it was their duty to accost
you with barking and growling.
Eventually the troublesome bottom paint was removed, the
hull was sanded down to the old epoxy barrier coat, two new
layers of Hempel epoxy primer were applied, and two to three
layers of anti-fouling paint was applied. The result looks
great and we are confident that the new bottom layers were
applied well and had proper periods of drying between coats.
We paid about $500 more than we thought for the job than the
initial estimate, but I think we got our money's worth.
We returned s/v Squiz to Isla Marina. Alan took a
bus back San Diego for and week while Katherine stayed on
the boat and continued refinishing the woodwork.
The first-class bus from Mazatlan to Tijuana was slightly
worn around the edges, but comfortable. Typical of Mexico,
the plumbing for the sink in the toilet did not work and no
toilet paper was provided. But, I have learned to travel prepared.
After the first lunch break the driver returned to the locked
bus and discovered that the electric unlocking mechanism was
broken. Luckily, after ten minutes of fussing and prying,
a few men were able to wedge open the driver's window and
trigger the unlocking mechanism. During the journey the bus
had to stop several times at military or police checkpoints.
These stops varied in duration from 3 to 30 minutes, while
they inspected luggage or passengers. After 26 hours my sleepy
ass stumbled out of the bus into the Tijuana bus station.
Next, I purchased a ticket on Greyhound for San Diego; unfortunately
Greyhound abandoned me at the border. Eventually I met up
with my mother, who lives in Carlsbad. I had a very busy six
days, buying boat parts, getting a new Mexican visa, configuring
Mom's computer, visiting with family, repairing my computer,
and compiling information for my taxes.
Meanwhile, Katherine was in Mazatlan, doing a great job refinishing
the teak and applying lots of coats of Cetol Lite and Cetol
Gloss. She is able to make Cetol look as good as varnish.
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Oh my gosh, I can't believe I haven't written about all the
wonderful experiences between leaving Nuevo Vallarta heading
south and back to Nuevo Vallarta. Well, we're now leaving PV
again heading north and my pre passage butterflies seem drastically
abated. Maybe it's the Sturgeron (an anti-seasickness medication).
Or maybe it's the wonderful sailing conditions we've had. It's
been quite pleasant to have your home skimming across the water
like a dolphin, while just wearing a swimsuit for weather protection.
Punta Mita was a wonderful place to escape the city and regain
our sea legs. The daytrip to the Trés Mariettas was
nice, but once again the visibility wasn't great and I didn't
spend as much time in the water as I hoped.
We have a bit of a headwind as we progress towards Isla Isabella,
so we're going slower than our standard 5 knots motoring.
We're also doing a bit of pitching forward occasionally, but
having Amy with us it makes the overnighter much more comfortable.
As expected anchoring at Isla Isabella was a challenge, but
we were ready for it. Alan's free diving ability found us
the "sweet spot" in the southern anchorage. Our
anchor and chain is on sand, not woven through pinnacles or
rocks! We get to relax and finally enjoy this place, but there
is an inner nagging to move when the weather is right.
Alan has spent so much time free diving that he had to take
a break for a couple of days to allow his ears to recover.
I got in the water hours with my wetsuit) and enjoyed a couple
of hours of schools of fish, fan coral illuminated by the
noonday sun, and letting my body relax in the swells.
Once again we have a deadline (to haul out the boat) and
the urge to meet it beckons (but now I'm more resentful of
the deadline). Now that Synergizer has caught up with us and
has rested up, we are pulling out. We've had very mild southerly
weather the past two days and it seems to persist. If I can't
sail, having a flat sea to while using the trusty Perkins
diesel is the way to go.
Migrating turtles seem to form a channel towards our next
destination. As the day progresses, we begin to have a mild
wind that we can sail a close reach. Another chance to give
me hope of a smooth passage and sailing at its best. We enjoy
a few hours of taking pictures of Synergizer and s/v Squiz (a.k.a. The Good Neighbor) reaching.
The wind continues to freshen and Amy goes below to nurse
a "headache". Even though both Alan and I have asked
her to drink more water earlier in the day and later I ask
her to take something for seasickness, she declines. It is
painful to watch. Once again someone is going to learn the
hard way about life at sea. I remember my first passage and
how thought I'd be immune, but I was sick almost the entire
week. I wonder if the Good Neighbor should start MANDATING
fluids and preventative medications in the future. The headwind
and sea builds and we realize that we couldn't make Cabo San
Lucas (or anywhere on Baja) if we tried. Synergizer tries
to encourage us by telling us there is lighter air ahead,
but I don't buy it and my unspoken thoughts are sadly validated.
Alan and I agree to take a northerly tack and head to Mazatlan
to rest and regroup. During the night I had to change foul
weather gear twice for getting soaked. Alan and I took turns
sleeping on the cabin sole (Amy was sick in the lee berth).
We hove to for 15 minutes or so, to be able to go below and
get cleaned up, it was an improvement in the conditions in
the cabin. It was tempting to just stay hove to for a few
Unfortunately, with a second reef and the staysail up, we
were drifting downwind at almost two knots. We would have
to change the staysail for the small storm staysail if we
wanted to reduce downwind progress, so back to pounding we
went. What for the average cruiser is a 16-18 hour passage
is 36 hours for us. The last sixteen miles were emotionally
painful, as it took eight hours - as opposed to the versus
the three hours it would have taken on a nice day (without
bashing into the waves). We were so tired, I can't imagine
what demonic barter we would've bought to make a quiet harbor
come more quickly. I know s/v Squiz puts up with this
sort of abuse much better than we, but it is senseless.
After recuperating for a day and a half, I went on a mission.
I had decided that it was too early in the season to be crossing
to Baja and wanted to buy some time by hauling out here in
Mazatlan, instead of La Paz. So I had to help find something
quick or we were going have to to try crossing the Sea again.
I did my very best to cheerfully put up with the almost foul
conditions, compared with other boatyards we have seen. Being
sent to Saudi Arabia was like staying at a Holiday Inn compared
to this. But, using "polite persistence" we were
getting much needed bottom work done well, at a fair price.
I was disappointed with the carpentry help and it was my
own fault. The carpenter didn't thoroughly remove the varnish
(particularly on the underside of curved surfaces) and later
I had to go back over his work. I choose not to double-check
the work after the first day, since the carpenter seemed to
be getting a good result and I didn't want to offend an older
Mexican male. But his work deteriorated and he had no cleanup
My days have been filled with filth and stench with the highlight
being shower and bed. I haven't been as cheerful as I thought
I could be, but I certainly haven't been lazing around. Through
all of this, we've had our guest, Amy. A Mexican boatyard
is a terrible thing to expose someone to; but, she seems to
have tolerated the experience pretty well. Although the last
few days before leaving, she all but disappeared. I can't
blame her for not hanging around a boatyard and wouldn't dream
of asking her to help with this kind of work, but she hasn't
even called in 36 hours. Despite my repeated radio hails out
to s/v Ranger (with whom she was last seen), no one answers.
I'm torn between worry and the fact that she is a grown woman.
What are our responsibilities? She finally checks in after
a fellow cruiser volunteers to get in touch with the s/v Ranger
in person and we learn of her horrible dinghy accident (wait
'till my dad hears about this one). I'm relieved that they
are people on Ranger capable of assisting her with her minor
injuries. Amy gets ready to leave and I'm reflecting what
I could do better for future boat guests (besides having them
beat in a Tayana and go to a boatyard) to make things fun,
yet include them in on the responsibilities of cruising.
Finally we're out of the boatyard. There is something strangely
satisfying about having new bottom paint on your boat. Even
more so when 12 years of old paint are scraped off and you
have a fresh start. Most people in the USA avoid this task
as it is horribly expensive, or if you do it yourself, heinously
labor intensive. However, Alan and I are driven to do the
"right thing" (based on limited experience). We'll
do the best we can and hope we did the right thing.
Alan is off to the USA and I hope I will have a pleasant
surprise for him when he returns. We agree that I won't "work
too hard" and off he goes. My taking it easy includes
many 10-12 hour days, but I do hire a little help (just enough
to keep me on schedule). I want perfection on the woodwork,
but realize "this is a cruising boat", so I make
some compromises to what little I know of woodworking. In
retrospect, I would like to have changed masking tape more
frequently, sanded the teak eyebrow more, and removed a couple
more pieces of hardware. But, the end result is pretty good.
Now comes the hard part for me. How long will this Cetol last?
As I talk with cruisers, they say that they feel they need
to strip their wood after 6 years! I never want to strip the
wood again. The difference is that the other cruisers don't
seem willing to maintain the wood Cetol or varnish more than
once a year. I'm of the (novice) opinion that I should follow
the directions on the can - so I expect to do teak maintenance
every six months; or, if the weather permits, maybe three
times a year. Maintenance is SO much easier than stripping
the finish and going to down bare wood.
on Other Crusiers
During my indentured servitude, a several cruising boats
follow in our bashing footsteps. I know about four of the
boats and we all share similar tales of beating up from Isla
Isabella. I'm surprised to learn that a couple of the boats
took in saltwater during the passage - both through their
anchor lockers. They were annoyed by the cleanup duties, but
took no preventative measures. This is an area where Alan
and I are extremely conscientious. Even when conditions don't
seem to warrant it, we button up tight.
There has been a rash of broken autopilots. But as usual
after a day of rest, miracles seem to happen and our fellow
cruisers' autopilots were repaired efficiently and affordably
here in Mazatlan.
The dual siren songs of Loreto Fest and San Carlos are luring
many people into the Sea of Cortez, even when the weather
does not cooperate. Loreto Fest is an RV, music thing in Baja
that attracts thousands of people each year. San Carlos is
where many cruisers abandon their boats for the summer in
favor of cooler climates (at the risk of missing the best
time in the Sea of Cortez). So cruisers have huddles, share
weather fax info, Internet weather info, and even Pacific
Ocean buoy reports to validate their northward plunge.
Our friends Loncia are the first to depart, leaving at the
first sign of a favorable crossing. Five other boats start
monitoring their conditions carefully and decide via committee,
that they will go. They leave a little over 24 hours after
Loncia and have quite a different experience. I monitored
some of the progress (or it is better to say, I monitored
their lack of progress) as some had to fall off as far south
as Los Frailes and Muertos (when they were hoping for landfall
a hundred miles further north). I could go on about the details,
but the biggest points that were reinforced were: to leave
at the first sign of a good weather window, and that bashing
is inefficient in most cruising boats. Hopefully we can do
a little better.
My first week in Mexico was very busy. I spent the first
three days getting ready for the Banderas Bay Regatta and
the next three in the race. I was racing on a 28' Ericson
named "Synergizer". The five-person crew was made
up of the two owners, Larry & John, my friend Katherine,
Robert who flew down from San Francisco just for the race
& me. The three races all followed the same route so on
day one we were getting used to the course & each other.
On day two, everything was going great until we lost our spinnaker
(still in the bag) overboard. We managed to pick it up on
our first pass around but then we almost lost John, who was
trying to pull a sopping wet spinnaker bag back onto the deck.
It must have weighed several hundred pounds! We managed to
make up the time and finish with the rest of the fleet. It
had been a strange day of disasters. At least half of the
70 boats in the race had had one problem or another. On the
third day, we screamed around the course and came in first
for our division - it was very exciting! Overall, we took
a third in our division & were quite happy with that!
The highlight of the race for me was when a pod of dolphins
would swim along beside us. They are beautiful to watch &
very playful. It was hard to focus on the sailing since I
was so busy looking for the dolphins. I have missed the major
part of the whale season but you still see one or two if you
The social scene here has been hoppin'. There are always
cocktail parties, pot lucks, BBQ's, card games, etc... If
you get bored, it's your own fault! The temperature has been
in the 80's during the day & high 60's at night. Just
perfect. I finally have a nice tan! On the down side, I won
for most bug bites on a single body part - 10 bites on my
left arm! That was all from one nights worth of bugs. Most
nights it has not been a problem at all.
I have lousy dinghy karma. Several times now I have amused
my friends by getting stuck in the middle of the harbor without
a working motor. Luckily, I could see both marinas and they
could see me. On one occasion, I finished doing my chores,
tossed the big laundry bag into the inflatable dinghy and
went roaring out into the harbor. Everything was fine for
the first 3 minutes and then the motor just died. I tried
to start it several times with no success. No one had explained
basic dinghy motor trouble-shooting to me or I would have
known to check the fuel line connection to the gas container.
I had knocked it off when I threw the laundry into the dinghy!
After trying to paddle back toward the boat, while drifting
toward a huge dredging crane, a good soul came out and towed
me back to the dock. I am so happy that my fumbling can provide
hours of amusement to the hard-core sailors around here.
We spent a few days cleaning, repairing & provisioning
"The Good Neighbor" for our departure at daybreak
to La Paz, stopping at various sites of interest along the
way. "Synergizer" will catch up to us in a few days
at Punta de Mita and we plan on buddy boating for a couple
weeks before they head home to San Francisco.
Good Friday started out just fine. s/v Squiz and
crew left the anchorage at the beautiful Isla Isabella and
headed north. The seas were flat calm so we had to motor instead
of sail. Once we were a few miles away from the island, we
started seeing birds standing on the backs of sea turtles.
We must have been crossing right through a migratory path.
There were hundreds of sea turtles, each one with its own
bird. When the turtles would dive under the water, the birds
would just fly up in the air & wait for it's perch to
resurface. We spent at least an hour or more surrounded by
sea turtles. Since we keep hearing about how rare and endangered
they are, it was an amazing and wonderful thing.
Then the wind picked up, the waves started pitching the boat
& we were in the thick of a nasty ride. I was not thrilled
at all when our computerized navigation system displayed:
ETA (estimated time of arrival) = Never.
I had my first case of seasickness (stupidly brought on by
dehydration). While I slept, Katherine & Alan kept going
like troopers for the rest of the 18 hour trip. Because the
sea was so rough, we decided to stop in Mazatlan and not cross
over to La Paz.
We had been "buddy boating" with my friend (Larry)
on s/v Synergizer, but since Synergizer can point higher into
the wind than a Tayana, he was able to continue cross to Baja
and continue his trip back to San Francisco. I hope to meet
up with Larry again once we are both back in the USA.
The fancy Mazatlan marina, El Cid, was booked solid, so we
ended up at Isla Marina. It had no electricity or water for
us; but there were plenty of nice people and really good cookies
were served with morning coffee.
We spent the a few days exploring Mazatlan. It is an interesting
city with plenty of things to see and do. And it has a Baskin
I had what I hope to be my only experience with a bus accident
in Mexico. From what I could understand from the crowd, some
college kids had stolen a taxi and it collided with my bus!
No one was hurt but I'm sure they did not have the fun filled
Spring Break they had anticipated.
On April 4th, we sailed up the bay to the boatyard where
s/v Squiz will be pulled out of the water to have
the bottom repainted and the varnish removed. Katherine has
a lot of work ahead of her refinishing the woodwork. After
an overnight delay, s/v Squiz was hoisted up into
the air by an enormous crane. The boat was suspended by two
large canvas straps, which took a long while to position correctly.
Once airborne, we were driven over to the work area where
we were then lowered onto four little "kickstands".
Nowhere in the USA would they allow the crew to stay on board
during this process but we rode the boat like we were at Disneyland.
Unlike Disneyland, the boat yard is filthy & smells really
bad! Once we were settled, they gave us a rickety ladder so
that we could climb down from, and back up into, the boat
whenever we wanted.
Initially we were the only non-commercial boat at the boatyard.
The normal customer is from the shrimping fleet, of which
Mazatlan has one of the largest. The season has ended now,
so the boats are just tied up to one another in rows about
6-8 boats deep. There are hundreds of them!
Since I was not assigned to strip varnish, I decided to try
and find my friend - Captain Al - on s/v "Racy Ranger".
It is a 102-foot wooden schooner built in 1914. I thought
I had seen it parked at a different boatyard when we were
heading down the channel towards our boatyard. I figured "how
hard can it be to find a 102' yacht in a harbor filled with
shrimping vessels"? - WELL..., after walking for about
an hour and a half, stopping at every boatyard, finding out
how bad my Spanish really is, and saying "Hola"
and waving to about 700 fishermen, I finally found the right
boatyard and Racy Ranger.
This vessel is also out of the water and the crew was hard
at work sanding the hull and taping off anything that didn't
need painting. It's a big job on a 37' boat and a huge job
on a 102' boat. The crew consists of 2 girls and 2 boys, all
in their early 20s who got there by answering an Internet
ad! Very brave.
The boat is listed as an instructional sailing vessel, which
means they do not get paid while they crew, they just get
sailing experience. None of them thought sailing experience
would include sanding the entire hull to get it ready to be
repainted! The payoffs are the days spent sailing, scuba diving
& hanging out at the small, beautiful islands and harbors
between boat maintenance projects. The two girls are from
Michigan. One boy is from the French Alps & the other
is from New Zealand. Two of the four had never sailed before.
The girls are leaving next week, the boys hope to stay on
for several months. A new girl arrives today from Canada.
It is a very interesting boat and I had a great time chatting
with them all. The boat is owned by a Polish prince; he hired
Capt. Al to run things for him. Capt. Al is 29, has graduated
from law school and passed the California bar exam. He has
traveled all over the world, speaks several languages, is
a avid fisherman and sailor and has no immediate plans to
make his grandmother happy by returning to the States, marrying
a "nice, Jewish girl" and starting his law practice!
He arranged for us to get a tour of one of the shrimping
ships. Wow! They can pull in 25 tons of shrimp on a good outing
and the holding area can be chilled to 25 degrees below zero
in less than an hour so the shrimp are basically frozen right
at sea. The fishermen have limited themselves to a shrimping
season of only 8 months per year (any month with an "R"
After hanging out with the Racy Ranger crew, I stopped by
the trailer park that is the staging area for the Mazatlan
motorcycle rally. There were hundreds of motorcycles from
all over Mexico & the USA. This was another fun crowd
to chat with. Today, as I am writing this, all the bikes are
parading down the street in a very noisy procession led by
the police bikes. Maybe I can hitch a ride back to the boatyard.
(Just kidding, Mom!)
Wow, I have my first black eye! Yes, my bad dinghy Karma
strikes again. Capt. Al and I were returning to the boat Sunday
evening when we hit an unknown, object in the water [ed: an
unlit channel buoy]. The dinghy (a fiberglass Boston Whaler)
went flying and so did we. We managed to get back into the
dinghy and drive it back to the Racy Ranger. Al was holding
the broken steering console in his lap. It is a great dinghy
that takes quite a lickin' & keeps on tickin!
I have a cut over my left eye, which will probably leave
me with a scar I'll be able to talk about for years. I also
have a black eye and some minor cuts and scrapes. Al has a
few scrapes. We both were very lucky. When I finally saw the
dinghy in the daylight, I knew exactly how she felt. A bit
banged up but still functioning.
I spent a day recovering and took a night bus to Puerto Vallarta
so that I can fly home tomorrow. This has been an amazing
vacation with tons of adventures. I've had a great time! Amy.
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