Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Crossing the Sea of Cortez

Crossing the Sea of Cortez is another one of those passage conundrums.  Every morning, all the marine nets spend a good portion of their broadcast reporting, predicting and considering, the weather conditions in the Sea.  In the winter, the Northerlies are the devil winds, blowing up to the 30+ knot range out of the great Four Corners basin in the southwest United States.  These winds barrel down the Sea, intensified by its narrowness and the mountains on either side.  The waves become treacherous and dangerous as they come closer together.  Of course, when one adds a dollop of tide and current, often counter to the wind, standing waves are common.  There are three common “crossings” – the extreme north, the midriff and the southerly route.  Each route has its own piccadillos and sailors crossing any of them look carefully for a window of opportunity to make the passage.  We took the southern route – a distance of approximately 190 nautical miles from Bahia Los Meurtes on the East Cape to Mazatlan in an ESE direction on a prediction of 10 – 15 knots and 6 foot seas in 10 seconds.  Perfect.

From La Paz to Mazatlan
We left La Paz January 5th on a falling tide and no wind.  We motored all the way out the bay and through the Lorenzo Channel before the wind picked up from the Northwest allowing us to sail almost to the end of the Cervallo Channel in 15 knots on an aft quarter reach under full sails.  As the sun set, the wind died, not picking up again until after midnight.  For the next 36 hours we made the crossing mostly on a beam reach with the wind consistently between 15 and 25 knots.  Although the waves were not high, nor particularly close together, they were erratic and bumpy.  It was not a particularly steady ride, but it was a safe one.  On my night watches I was able to reef both main and head sails up and down and trim to accommodate the rise and fall of the wind.  I could set and adjust the Monitor wind vane and, basically, make the decisions and take the actions necessary to run the boat on my own.  I am sure this enabled Doug to have worry-free off-watches!  Could it be I am becoming a sailor?

Competing for the helm with the local fauna
There was no moon on this passage and the first night was cloudy and inky black, though not too cold.  The phosphorescence glowed and bubbled along the hull and in our wake as Ka’sala coursed through the water.  I know of other sailors who hate these conditions, but I found them rather comforting.  I believe that we put way too much emphasis on our visual sense.  When we don’t rely on our sight, it is amazing how our other senses compensate.  For example, long before we could see the mainland we could smell it clearly – a loamy, somewhat woodsmoke and rotted scent that lingered for a few seconds in the cockpit before being blown away.  You can feel the wind as it shifts direction and increases or decreases in intensity.  You instinctively know where the lines are and where to reach to make your adjustments.  You can feel the graininess of the salt on the combing and the taste of it on your tongue.  Your ears are atuned to every sound and are able to instantly recognize that something may be changing or amiss.  The rigging creaks, the Monitor squeaks, the water swishes past the topsides while down below is almost completely silent, but for the occasional clatter of dishes as they shift in the rack.  I find it most difficult to do anything other than to live the moment when I am at the helm, as I am often overstimulated by all these senses. 

We arrived in Mazatlan at first light on January 7.  Rather than go directly into the marina, we decided to anchor off one of the two large islands facing the city. 

Isla Pajoras viewed from the Malecon in Mazatlan
We dropped anchor behind Isla Pajaros in 4 fathoms, tucked in behind a small reef and out of the reach of the prevailing wind and waves.  After a few hours rest, we went for a swim in the 24 degree water and Doug checked the prop and the zinc which were fine.  

We enjoyed a lovely evening watching the sun fade and the lights of the city twinkle on.  We spoke of my father who had died here a couple years ago and felt his presence keenly.  Later, we slept soundly.

Ka'sala with Isla Pajaros in the background

Looking at Ka'sala from the island - Mazatlan skyline in the background
The next morning we were eager to launch our kayaks and explore.  It didn’t take us long to realize that the conditions had changed and, instead of investigating the other island, we cut our kayak tour short and returned to Ka’sala.  We hoisted anchor and headed into Marina Mazatlan on a swell just forming a break in the narrow harbour entrance.  We surged through and were lucky enough not to encounter the dredger in the narrow channel and proceeded past El Cid and through the markers to Marina Mazatlan.

Tiny beach at Isla Pajaros - it is a bird sanctuary and going ashore is prohibited
This was our second visit to Marina Mazatlan, having spent a month here on our last Mexican cruise.  We were looking forward to recharging our batteries the same way we had done before.  The docks are still in good shape and we have been assigned a quiet place.  However, everything else about the place has gone downhill.  The place is about half full and about half those boats are stored or are for sale.  The staff are friendly, helpful and courteous, but the facilities are in bad repair – the showers barely functional, clogged drains and not very clean.  The internet is sporadic, the laundry facilities sparse (one washer/dryer), no potable water and the most of the shops along the waterfront are closed.  Tiles and concrete are cracked and the ramp to our dock seems to be missing a strut as it sags on one side making it interesting to use at low tide when we are pushing our bicycles to and fro.  When we consider that the El Cid resort marina costs 10 cents more a foot (after 2 weeks), it seems a better value, for in addition to better facilities, the yachtie is allowed to enjoy all the pleasures of a resort as well.  We will be moving over there for a few days before leaving Mazatlan for points further south.  

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