[040421, 1817 UTC, La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico; 24º 9.3'N/110º19.6' W]
We left Isla Isabela (an island north of Puerto Vallarta) a day before expected due to problems with our multi-stage alternator regulator which began to work only intermittently. This device monitors the charging amperage from the alternator going into the battery bank while the engine is running. Since the only other source for charging our batteries is our wind generator, we rely quite heavily on our alternator for generating electricity.
Leaving Isla Isabela earlier than planned was difficult because the anchorage at this bird sanctuary was both well protected and magnificent. Dominated by two, tall volcanic sea stacks (Las Monas, “the mannequins”) the east anchorage has (nearly) optically clear water and coral formations that provide the best snorkeling of any place we’ve been so far in Mexico. That, and the fact that the island is lousy with nesting blue-footed and brown-footed boobies as well as frigate birds, kept us in awe and made us want to stay.
We had a reasonably calm and uneventful passage to Mazatlan, except for dodging a dozen fishing boats during the last hours of the trip between about 1 am and dawn. Mazatlan is a special place for us. We had visited only 3 months ago and arriving back there felt a bit like coming home. The staff at Marina Mazatlan is warm, kind and generous with their time in order to help cruisers. Staying here we also got the opportunity to renew old acquaintances as many cruisers we had come to know on previous passages were also passing through on their way north to the Sea of Cortez. (Mazatlan is the closest port on the mainland from which to “hop off” to begin a passage across the Sea of Cortez to the Baja peninsula islands or to the city of La Paz.) Mazatlan has excellent public transportation, good provisioning opportunities and facilities for cruisers (if you know where to look).
Our arrival coincided with the Semana Santa (holy week) holiday and spring break for colleges and universities. We were surprised by how much this affected the atmosphere in Mazatlan from when we visited in January. The mood was much more frenetic and hedonistic which to us seemed incongruous with the religious holiday. Families and college students alike were flocking to the stores, beaches and restaurants and partaking in heavy consumption of cerveza (beer), loud rock music and exposing acres of skin to the tropical sun. (Oh, by the way, there were also traffic jams!)
While in Mazatlan we looked for solutions to solving our regulator problem. We had emailed the company (Balmar, Inc., Arlington, WA) while still at sea and then phoned them once we got to Mazatlan. They agreed our regulator was defective and would replace it under warranty. The problem was how to get the replacement as well as a spare shipped to Mexico. Any marine parts that are ordered from the states and shipped into Mexico face an uncertain future. We heard numerous horror stories of cruisers ordering parts only to find they reach the black hole of Mexico: Guadalajara. Mexican customs hold the parts there and request additional information and “fees”. Many parts are simply “lost”. We lucked out when other cruisers, Tom and Diana aboard Pegasus, told us their daughter (Gretchen) and son-in-law (Chris) would be coming to visit from Bellingham, WA and would be happy to deliver parts to us. Early on Monday we arranged to have the regulators as well as a remote microphone for our VHF radio shipped to Chris and Gretchen at their home. They arrived the next Thursday with the goods in hand. They explained that they were a little concerned about carrying the regulators on board the airplane since they have a very bomb-like look to them. Chris even went to the trouble of visiting the airline the day before their flight in order to get pre-approval.
Philip installed the new regulator in 15 minutes; we powered up the engine and found we were back in business! In gratitude, we asked Tom, Diana, Gretchen and Chris to be our guests for supper at The Purple Onion, a local palapa (open air) restaurant, where we had a great time getting to know these new friends.
While in Mazatlan we also attended another palapa restaurant close by the Marina where we enjoyed the musical talents of a Mexican band named La Flaka (“the skinny”). The lead vocalist was a young, diminutive Mexican woman with an incredible voice. (Every single handed male cruiser seemed to be in love with her and one-Jeff on the boat “Moon Me” (yep, that’s the name)-admitted to having proposed marriage four times!) She sang songs from Evita as well as “Time to Say Goodbye” as popularized by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Boccelli. The band was also very adept at performing rock music with many cuts that were popularized by the group Santana. In no time the whole audience was up and dancing. A day or two later we received an email from Jan, a cruiser who was thanking Leslie for a recipe. She had been at the palapa restaurant when we were there. Jan’s salutation to Les was: “Yo! Leslie, you little rocker you!” That may give you an idea of how much fun Les had that evening.
Since we were in a marina we also took the opportunity to get some sewing projects done, including a putting finishing touches on our sun cover and constructing some cat overboard prevention screening. Leslie designed and sewed the screens which are placed on the bow and stern to deter Jake from leaping to docks and to keep him aboard when we’re underway. While we were in Nuevo Vallarta, Jake had tried a leap from the boat onto the dock and was half successful, dipping his back end into the estuary. He climbed back onto the dock, dazed and meekly allowed us to scoop him aboard and towel him off.
We spent a week in Mazatlan and then decided to cross directly NW over the Sea of Cortez to La Paz on the east side of the Baja peninsula, a distance of 250 miles. The weather forecast was for light (<15 knots) northwest winds (on our nose) and we realized we would have to motor most of the way. Forty miles from our destination, the engine died of thirst. When we went back to our consumption calculations, we realized that our fuel tank holds closer to 23-25 gallons, not the 35 that was specified when we bought the boat. Luckily, we had an additional 5 gallon jerry jug of diesel which we poured into the tank. Philip bled the air out of the fuel injectors in order to get the engine restarted and then we motored slowly to Balandra Bay, 9 miles north of La Paz.
Balandra Bay was a delight; crystal clear turquoise water over sand bottom; rocky, red desert hills sculpted by winds and waves and dotted with tall cactus. Just outside of the bay the color of the water was what John Steinbeck called “tuna water” in his book, The Log from the Sea of Cortez: “a deep ultramarine blue-a washtub bluing blue, intense and seeming to penetrate deep into the water”. This description is so perfect that when you encounter it, it’s impossible to miss.
We were anchored in Balandra Bay two nights and each evening Carina was blasted by “corumels”; strong southwest winds blowing off the land that last from sunset until dawn in the La Paz area. While there we were contemplating how to solve our fuel problems (Balandra Bay is connected by road to La Paz and it made sense to us to bring jerry cans to town for diesel rather than risk going into a narrow channel with significant current while running on fumes.) Philip mentioned on one of the radio cruiser nets that he was planning to hitchhike into La Paz to a Pemex fuel station. A fellow cruiser, Jimmie on the boat “Dry Martini”, radioed back that he would be happy to drive his car to our remote anchorage and take Philip into town. Jimmie spends some time in Mexico on his boat and some in his home port of California. If he is in Mexico for an extended period of time he flies home and drives his car to Mexico to facilitate getting around town. We had talked to Jimmie on the radio but had never met him in person. His kindness is indicative of the type of support cruisers have for other cruisers. With 10 gallons of fuel in our tanks we motored the following day into La Paz.
We love La Paz, a truly Mexican city that is not dependent on tourism and one that has the highest standard of living in Mexico. (While going to get fuel with Jimmie, we passed a parked, fire-red Maserati on the street, a sight you don’t normally see since this vehicle costs about 50 times the average Mexican’s annual salary.)
La Paz reminds Philip of a scene from the 1950’s in any small U.S. city. Whole families get dressed up in their best clothes, possibly attend morning religious services, then have dinner and go for a drive down the malecon. They stop; park the car and stroll, often arm-in-arm along the paseo (walkway on the malecon), chatting with each other and greeting friends. Young lovers walk with their arms around each other or sit at any one of the park benches and gaze out to sea at the setting sun. It’s fun to people watch in Mexican. As anywhere, people run the gamut from plain looking to attractive. At the attractive extreme, Mexican women are stylishly dressed in form-fitting slacks or skirts and are stunningly handsome with a dark complexion, large, almost black eyes, long eyelashes, thick dark hair. The men epitomize the “Latin Lover” look; swept back, black hair and piercing dark eyes, muscular, broad shoulders…well, you get the picture.
La Paz suffered significant damage from two hurricanes in 2003, Ignacio and Marty. Marty was a stronger hurricane and destroyed much of the waterfront and marine infrastructure including the popular Marina de La Paz. Around town, you can still witness a taste of the devastation in the form of palm trees lying on the ground, homes leveled and sunken boats with only their masts still sticking out of the water. One cruiser remarked ruefully that the only useful purpose for the sunken sailboats is to make good tide markers. Other, more fortunate (?) boats abound awaiting repair to devastating structural damage. The marina is only just starting to get back on its feet as workmen struggle to repair and replace docks while the city has repaired most of the storm damage done to the malecon (the malecon, pronounced “MAL eh CON” is the main thoroughfare and walkway along the city’s waterfront).
One significant safety and communications resource that we’ve enjoyed during our trip are marine cruiser nets that are broadcast on single sideband radio at various times of the day. These are volunteer nets, manned (and “womanned”) by cruisers who act as “net controllers” in logging in the locations of underway and anchored yachts as well as passing weather information and monitoring any emergency radio traffic. Last month we heard an appeal on the “Amigo Net” (early morning) for someone to fill in each Saturday morning for the month of April for the boat Valerie Kay whose crew was going to travel home to California. We looked at each other and said “what the heck; it’s only one day a week for a month…” and agreed to do it. After the first week, Peter of Wanderlust V asked if we would act as net controllers for the “Bluewater Net” on Wednesday evenings at 0130 Zulu (1:30 a.m. Greenwich time). This was a more permanent commitment but we’ve agreed to that also. Now each Wednesday at 1930 (7:30 p.m., mountain daylight time), you can hear the dulcet tones of Philip or Leslie on 6516 kilohertz, upper sideband. So far it’s been fun, though a bit stressful, trying to coordinate multiple radio transmissions from cruisers from San Diego to the equator and the eastern Pacific.
We’ll be in La Paz another week or so as we’ve decided to have Carina pulled out of the water and the (underwater section of the) hull cleaned, sanded and repainted with bottom paint, an expensive and disruptive job. We expect to be “on the hard” (or is it “doing hard time”?) in the yard for 3 days. But it’s got to be done – we’ve noticed as we’ve snorkeled around the boat that we’re getting more and more flora and fauna growing on the hull.
It could be worse…there’s a fabulous ice cream shop on the malecon that offers homemade ice cream served in handmade cones or lirios (handmade cups made of sugar cone dough) whose various flavors we’re just beginning to sample! From here we’ll be heading north to explore the islands and small towns of Baja and hopefully stay well north of this year’s hurricanes.
Su amigos de la velero "Carina",
Leslie, Philip & el gato supremo, Jake