The Crossing – Week Three

Posted at Sea

We crossed the equator under sail a few minutes after midnight GMT on Thursday, April 27, 2017 (4 PM PDT Wednesday).

The week was characterized by some frustration at the lack of steady wind, especially since a current was doing its best to push us back north. Since we had run the center fuel tank dry unexpectedly the last time out, and had not determined the exact reason why yet, we were a little reluctant to run the engine for any length of time. Doing so would require switching to the center tank, and if we had a clog in the fuel line, we would run the risk of going through the whole Mazatlan-to-Banderas Bay exercise again. Since the center tank was refilled in La Cruz with almost the exact amount of fuel we thought we had used, it should not have been empty yet.

Finally, we spent a good part of last Monday disassembling things and determining that we could not suck any fuel (or air) from the center tank-the only reasonable explanation being that the fuel line to the tank was clogged. Once we got a bicycle pump (every boat needs one?) inserted into the end of the fuel line and gave a couple pumps, whatever was in there popped right out and is now floating around somewhere inside the tank. But, we were able to run the engine for 36 hours until the wind picked up some.

I woke up on Monday morning with the realization that we were a thousand miles from anywhere. This is an odd feeling. We check in on the Puddle Jump net every night, but otherwise have not seen or heard anything manmade for days; not even a contrail in the sky-except for a helicopter. Out of nowhere one evening, an unmarked helicopter came and circled us at close range a few times, once at a very low level, lingering around our stern, and then flew off. The whole thing was kind of creepy. One of the other Puddle Jump boats reported they also had a helicopter encounter, and assumed it was a spotter for a nearby factory trawler.

We are anxious to get to shore and walk on solid ground, but we still have several hundred miles to go.

The Crossing – Week Two

Posted at Sea

We had a good couple of days of wind, and then got almost too much. It wasn’t so much the wind, as the swells. The word swells doesn’t always describe undulating water so well; sometimes swells are like pyramids. Going across them tips the boat in all directions, slamming things, and people, first in one direction and then another, like gravity gone berserk. We don’t as much go across them as they move under us. We lost a package of eggs purchased at the La Cruz farmer’s market-completely crushed. We lost a bag of rice-ripped open and spilled down the cracks. We lost the plastic jug of distilled water for topping off the boat’s batteries-punctured and drained.

The combination of wind and relentless slamming also caused damage on deck. The mainsail topping lift, needed for reducing sail and keeping the boom from landing on our new solar panels, failed due to an unsecured shackle pin (how’d that happen?). The mizzen sail topping lift, needed to keep the mizzen boom off of our self-steering gear, failed due to extreme chafe somewhere inside the boom. Our mainsail lazy-jacks, for keeping the sail from flying away when it is lowered, failed due to being old and neglected. And in all this, my knee failed, somehow. It swelled up and could not hold weight for a day or two. It still hurts to bend it too much.

Then things changed. The wind went away. The swells got less confused. The Spanish chatter on the radio faded away to wondering if the radio was still turned on. We found flying fish on our deck every morning (What kind of games do they play in the dark?), and nervously watched lightning at night. With slow progress it will take longer than planned to get to Nuku Hiva, but that really doesn’t matter.

The Crossing – Week One

Posted at Sea

We checked out of Mexico in Nuevo Vallarta. Three officials boarded the boat-two Customs and one Immigration-and a fourth stayed on the dock looking important. One Customs inspector looked quite young, with braces on her teeth. Forms were filled out, documents signed and stamped, hands shaken, and then we were off. Our time in Mexico was over.

We started off in good wind, looking for our sea legs again. But then the wind died. We had a really nice wind on our third day and made 126 miles, but otherwise, with mostly light winds, we’ve been getting around 50 miles per day. That’s not good enough.

Our electrical power consumption has been higher than our power generation. That’s not good either. It’s also been difficult to make and hold a SailMail connection long enough to empty the outbox and download the inbox, so not as much communication as we would like.

On the sixth day we had both improved wind, and got our self-system working adequately. That let us turn off the electronic autopilot, improving on the power consumption.

Preparation for French Polynesia

Posted by John

Note: since we are leaving Mexico soon after this is posted and will be away from civilization for a while, we have set up a new tracking option with map. Please see our “Where are we Now” page for a map and details.

Once we were settled into the marina at La Cruz there was a strong sense of one thing ending and another thing beginning. Many of the boats that we’d met on the Baja Ha-Ha, and others whose paths we’d crossed the last few months, were here. Robyn ran into some of her friends from Turtle Bay and Cabo San Lucas. The owner of the Westsail 42 “Danika,” who we’d met at the Westsail 2008 Pacific Northwest Rendezvous in Port Townsend, stopped by to say hello. All up and down the docks, boats were preparing to cross the Pacific to the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia.

At the same time, with winter over and the summer approaching, many other boats were leaving to go back home up north or at least going northward into the Sea of Cortez. Some were preparing to be hauled out and put into storage for the season. There were many good-byes and see-you-next-years taking place. It all added up to a sense of change; an ending and a beginning, like a kind of graduation, maybe.

We had a long list of things to do while here, including figuring out how to leave Mexico. That sounds easy, but there is paperwork. Besides how to get us and the boat out of Mexico, we had to figure out how to enter French Polynesia. We signed up with the Pacific Puddle Jump for help with that. We are using an agent in Tahiti to process the documents and make our entry easier.

We also had several shopping trips to make before we left. The places we needed to go were spread along Banderas Bay and so to make it easier to get around, we decided to rent a car—if we could find one. We ended up taking a sweaty bus out to Punta de Mita at the north entrance to the bay to pick up a car. Once we were in the office, we had to sit around and wait for the car to be driven out from Puerto Vallarta. Why we weren’t directed to rent it there instead, well… we don’t even question those kinds of things anymore. In fact, we’ve been in Mexico long enough now that we usually don’t even notice.

We got the new solar panels installed that we had bought from Carlos in the laundry room of the El Cid Marina in Mazatlan. The two new panels produce more power than the four old ones. They work great with the wind generator, but the wind generator requires a shunt-type battery charger rather than a series-type, and that has led to some new electrical hiccups to work out because the engine alternator and AC shore power charger are series-type and the two types don’t work well together. It is always something.

Another project is to make new “stack-pack” sail covers for the main and mizzen sails. Instead of putting these covers over the lowered sails when they aren’t in use, the covers are attached to the booms and open at the top rather than the bottom. The sails are raised out of them and lowered back into them. For rigidity, we are sewing PVC pipe into the upper edges along the opening. It took a while to find the pipe and have it delivered to the marina (didn’t fit in the car). Now we are looking for an 18-foot zipper.

All of these searches, shopping trips and driving around are quite the little adventures. There are a number of stories to tell. I’m not going to go into them all now but, for example, we went to Home Depot (they call it Home Depot Mexico for a reason) and then took what we thought would be a shortcut to get us back toward Costco (which is freakishly identical to all other Costcos, right down to the free samples, and pizza slices you can eat while sitting at red and white tables under umbrellas). The word “shortcut” should say it all, but you’d also have to include ruts, potholes, mud, chickens and cattle. A few days later, after we drove all the way out to Punta de Mita to return the rental car, we flagged down a sweaty bus to take us back to La Cruz. The driver blasted loud music the whole way, while driving with his arm hanging out the window. You won’t see that very often on a public bus in the US.

A short list of things we’ll remember about Mexico:
1) The sometimes bizarre and stunning topography of Baja California
2) Boating among dry hills covered with cactus
3) A serious lack of rain
4) Watching Seahawks games on TV with Spanish play-by-play
5) Live Banda Music
6) Random fireworks displays popping up without explanation
7) Ever-present (and rarely landing) frigate birds and their nearly bat-like wing silhouettes
8) Dog sitting Rover in La Paz
9) The creepy birds that lurk around the docks at night
10) Mazatlan Pulmonias
11) “Mysticeti, Mysticeti; Slainte—got a copy?” Joe’s voice on the radio
12) Free outdoor movie nights at El Cid and La Cruz marinas
13) The daily radio nets and the information and assistance you can get from them, including ideas on who might have an 18-foot zipper

And of course, all the people we’ve met, boat names we’ve come to know, and the voices and faces we associate with them.

One big surprise in Mexico, for me anyway, was the number of Americans who live here either full time or part time, the communities they’ve built and the fact that many of them originally arrived on their own boats. Kind of gives some irony to the term “boat people.”

Highway signs in English are a sure indicator of Americans nearby.
Driving in Puerto Vallarta after buying a piece of wood from Home Depot and with a Costco run loaded in the trunk.
Some stores just call out to come inside, assuming it is a store.
A ubiquitous sight in Mexico: black plastic water tanks on rooftops.
Typical side street in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle with very rough stone paving. It’s usually just called La Cruz because, I assume, no one knows how to pronounce Huanacaxtle.
On the bus to Punta de Mita.
The Sunday market in La Cruz extends along the shore near the marina.
More of the Sunday market.
And even more of the Sunday market.