Log - 3/19/01 to 4/27/2002
Neuvo Vallarta to Mazatlan, Mexico

Three separate descriptions are provided for the journey from Nuevo Vallarta to Punta de Mita, Isla Isabella, and Mazatlan. During this part of our journey we had a guest, Amy Kramer. Alan's ramblings are on the left, Katherine's description is in the middle, and Amy discusses her 'vacation' on the right.

Alan's log for this journey includes the following sections:

  1. Leaving Nuevo Vallarta
  2. Isla Isabella
  3. La Paz Mazatlan
  4. Haul Out Hell
  5. USA Errand Run

Katherine's log for this journey includes the following sections:

  1. Leaving Nuevo Vallarta
  2. Isla Isabella
  3. North to Mazatlan
  4. Haul Out Hell
  5. Refinishing Teak
  6. Tidbits on Other Cruiser

Amy describes the following highlights of her guest experience:

  1. Banderas Regatta
  2. Dinghy Trauma 1
  3. Windward Passage
  4. Mazatlan Misc
  5. Dinghy Trauma 2

Leaving Nuevo Vallarta

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.

Isla Isabella

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.

Baby frigate bird.

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.

Oops, Mazatlan

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.

USA Errand Run

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.

Top of Page


Leaving Nuevo Vallarta

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.

Isla Isabella

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.

North to Mazatlan

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 more hours.

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.

Haul Out Hell

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 sense.

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.

Refinishing Teak

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.

Tidbits 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 watch carefully.

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 Robbins!

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" in it).

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.

Top of Page