Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Santa Cruz Island and Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo


We weighed anchor in Smugglers’ Cove at 0600 on Thursday 15th June. The sun was rising over the east end of Santa Cruz Island. As we passed San Pedro Point an arch opened up in the cliffs.

Santa Cruz Island arch
The first hazard we encountered was a Maersk container ship coming south in the TSS (shipping lane) just as we were about to start our crossing. The morning fog cleared and the ship passed by safely. Once across the TSS motoring in calm seas, dolphins arrived to play in our bow wave. We noted many oil rigs quite close to the shore south of Santa Barbara.

Jeremy on Stearns Wharf
Jeremy called Harbour Patrol to ask if we could take on diesel and have a berth for two nights. We had to tie up to the fuel berth first, then move to the nearby Harbour Patrol dock, tie up and go to the marina office. The cost was $1 per foot per night and we had to have dye put in our holding tank so we could not flush in the marina – another first. By midday we were tied up in our berth. In the afternoon we made good use of the marina laundry.

Friday was a sight-seeing and shopping day, after we had washed our No.2 jib in fresh water. There was a shuttle bus which ran along the waterfront and up the main street called State Street. Rides for seniors cost only 25c each. We got off at the historic Stearns Wharf and enjoyed reading a plaque which told us how Sir Francis Drake sailed to Drake’s Bay north of San Francisco, nailed a flag ashore and claimed all the land for Albion.

Kathy and view from the top of the Old Courthouse
We had been told we should see the Old Courthouse and go up to the viewing area at the top of a tower. The advice was good and the 360 degree views spectacular. We were soon down to earth for lunch and for shopping at Ralph’s supermarket. The shuttle bus took us back to the marina.

Simon and Erin arrived about 10.30pm after a five hour drive from Sunnyvale. It was wonderful to see them again after two years and to give them big hugs. We celebrated with drinks in the cockpit, chatting until midnight.

Simon and Erin dolphin watching
On Saturday, we left Santa Barbara at 0710. We took turns steering, making 6 knots on the 25 mile passage to Santa Cruz Island. We saw whales blowing and diving, tails up in the air and had to alter course to avoid being too close. Soon afterwards lots of dolphins arrived to swim with SD. Simon and Erin watched these amazing sights from the bows. Jeremy was first to spot a baby dolphin with its mother – a first for all of us.

Scorpion Bay with Little Scorpion in the background
We anchored at Scorpion Bay. Our first choice, Little Scorpion Bay next door, was fully occupied. Our bay was quite busy with trip boats bringing out campers and kayakers. We had lunch in the cockpit, celebrating our reunion properly with a bottle of champagne. We decided to weigh anchor afterwards and head for Prisoners’ Bay, where Simon and Erin had been before (but not gone ashore) in a charter yacht with the Worrell family. Here, we anchored and went ashore for a walk along one of the trails. Almost immediately we saw a Santa Cruz fox. Simon warned us about some wasp-like insects called yellow backs that were flying around the stony beach area. It was very hot ashore. Back on SD, we enjoyed sundowners in the cockpit and pasta Bolognese for supper in the saloon.

Erin, Simon and Jeremy at Prisoners' Bay
Everyone had a more leisurely start on the Sunday. We left Prisoners’ Bay soon after 0800 and had a good sail back to Santa Barbara. We saw more whales and dolphins on the way. Jeremy made bacon and egg rolls for everyone for lunch, which we ate on passage. We tied up to the Harbour Patrol dock in Santa Barbara just before 1400 and said a sad good bye to Simon and Erin. They had a long drive back home and we had an overnight motorsail to San Luis Obispo.

Hiking on Santa Cruz Island
On the way, the smell of fumes from oil on the sea was overwhelming at times. It was very calm and distant oil rigs could just be seen in the worsening visibility. Soon after supper, just in time for my three hour watch, the fog closed in and I had less than half a mile visibility until 10 minutes before Jeremy took over. He saw us safely round Point Conception, the Cape Horn of the Western Pacific, and I took us safely round Point Arguello. It was hard to distinguish all the lights from an oil rig to port, various fishing vessels and shore lights. I called Jeremy up to help and together we found a safe passage through.

Misty oil rig
Thick fog descended again on our dawn approach to Port San Luis Obispo. We made good use of our radar, chart plotter and GPS until we could see the entrance buoys and those that marked off lying rocks. We asked permission to anchor between the Avila and Cal Poly piers from Harbour Patrol. No problem except the Avila pier was condemned so we could not land the dinghy. To go ashore, we had to dinghy two kilometres to Harford Pier then walk three kilometres back to Avila – aarghh!

Kathy with Avila Beach behind
We spent the day ashore on Tuesday 20th June, walking between piers, eating lunch in the only grocery store that sold bread, apples, eggs and small yoghurts (which cost $3.70 each), but little else. The sea was too cold in the bay for me to swim. Perhaps the seas and wind will calm on Wednesday in order for us to continue to San Francisco, 200 miles away.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Ensenada, Mexico, to Santa Cruz Island, California, USA

Sleeping sealions in Ensenada Harbour

All went well with clearing out at Ensenada. Baja Naval Marina prepared the papers we needed to take to the authorities. Immigration stamped our passports, we paid 270 pesos exit fee at the Port Captain’s Office and we were asked to return in two hours for our exit letter. We paid our marina fees and left Ensenada Harbour for a three mile choppy passage to Marina Coral’s fuel berth. After taking on diesel, we anchored outside the marina in a small bay and waited for the strong afternoon winds to ease.
Fuel berth at Marina Coral
Refreshed after a few hours’ sleep, we weighed anchor at 2350 and set off for San Diego, USA. The seas were sharp and bouncy, settling down by daybreak. Jeremy checked the engine after breakfast and was dismayed to find a fair quantity of oil in the bilges. An armoured oil pipe from our secondary oil filtration system had cracked and was leaking oil. We were close to the Mexico/USA border but still in Mexican waters near Los Coronados islands. The wind died away as soon as the engine was switched off, so we couldn’t sail. We drifted while Jeremy worked out a way to bypass the Filtakleen system.

San Diego waterfront
At 1400 on Friday 9th June, we tied up at the Harbour Police and Customs Dock, Shelter Island, San Diego Bay. Jeremy walked up the ramp to an outdoor computer terminal and informed Customs of our arrival. He booked us into La Playa free anchorage for the weekend at the same terminal. After a while waiting at the dock, and a phone call from Jeremy, two Custom’s Officers arrived and asked to see our cruising permit. We didn’t have one, but they were relieved to hear we had visas. Arrangements were made to go to the Customs Office in town on Monday morning. There was very little paperwork; our passports were stamped and there were no fees to pay. We were free to go to the anchorage, which we did after taking on drinking water from the tap on the dock.

Jeremy had been told that the best place to leave the dinghy if we went ashore was at a fuel berth. Finding one was quite difficult in the forest of yacht clubs and marinas that surrounded La Playa (weekend only) anchorage. On Saturday morning as we prepared to leave SD, we saw a man sitting in his dinghy attached to a yacht called Better Days. He happened to be the Commodore of Silver Gate Yacht Club and as we were members of the Western Isles Yacht Club in Tobermory, Scotland, we could tie up our dinghy at Silver Gate’s dinghy dock. Thank you Greg for your hospitality and for the advice of where to go to buy new oil pipes.
La Playa anchorage, San Diego
 We needed a USA SIM card and someone suggested trying Ralph’s Grocery Store. They only had top up cards but there was an AT&T cell phone shop about 3 miles away. A woman at the checkout overheard the conversation and offered us a ride to the phone shop. The people here are very kind and helpful. We felt blessed because by the afternoon, we had a data SIM card for the USA, several addresses and phone numbers of companies that might have oil pipes and bags of groceries from Ralphs. We’d also found out about day passes on public transport for $7 each.

After a rare, relaxing Sunday, we weighed anchor at 0800 on Monday morning and headed for the Municipal Police Dock, where we’d booked (online) a pontoon berth for the night ($1 per foot per day). One half hour walk, one bus and one trolley (tram) later, we found the Customs Office. Taking the elevator (lift) to the appropriate floor, it took about an hour for our cruising permit to be issued at a cost of $19.

New oil pipes in place
Another trolley bus ride took us to a transit centre within walking distance of Kaman Industrial Technologies. On the way we passed many homeless people pushing shopping trolleys or sitting on the sidewalk (pavement). Some tents were under trees along side streets; some were sleeping in old vans. It was a sorry sight and the biggest congregation of homeless people we have seen in our travels. Kaman made up new oil pipes and provided the special ends needed to fix them on to the engine, while we waited. Wonderful. To celebrate we had lunch in McDonalds, where Jeremy bought me a Happy Meal. As a friend once remarked to him, “You know how to give a woman a good time!” We bought groceries on the way back and that evening, Jeremy replaced two oil pipes and tested the system for leaks. There were none.

Smugglers' Cove anchorage, Santa Cruz Island
The next day, Tuesday 13th June, we left the Municipal Police Dock at 0620 for Santa Cruz Island, via Catalina Island, a distance of 150 miles. We arrived on Wednesday at midday and enjoyed a quiet evening on anchor, having scrubbed SD’s bottom. We were looking forward to meeting Simon and Erin in Santa Barbara on Friday night.
Fishing trip boat off our anchorage

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Bahia San Juanico to Ensenada

Pretty water fountains son et lumiere on our arrival in Ensenada
We became nocturnal motorsailers, arriving at an anchorage mid-morning and leaving when the wind decreased, which could be any time from 2000 to 0100. The Moon gave us some light. It was cold. We saw the lights of a few fishing vessels and around dawn there would sometimes be fleets of pangas heading out to sea to catch the early morning fish.

We anchored off the village in Bahia Ballenas on 1st June. We watched the returning pangas landing through the surf on the beach. My heart sank. We needed to go ashore for supplies, but would we remain dry? I put my beach shorts on and wrapped my rucksack in a large, plastic bag. We surprised ourselves and the watching fishermen by making a perfect beach landing, jumping out of the dinghy before the surf could break over us. Ashore, the villagers were used to tourists as there is a lagoon nearby that is a protected sanctuary for grey whales. All the roads were compressed sand. There were a few small shops and a supermarket. We asked directions to a cafĂ©/restaurant and ate in somebody’s kitchen extension. Three children were playing and watching TV in the next room. The food was good: tachos for Jeremy, quesadilla for me with rice and salad.

Kathy in Bahia Ballenas before her soaking
We had water and food. All we had to do was return to Sal Darago. We were not so lucky this time. We thought we were clear of the surf and climbed into the dinghy. Jeremy started the outboard and immediately, a wave reared up in front of us. It broke over us like someone throwing buckets of cold water at us. Another wave arrived and we got a second soaking. The outboard kept going, the dinghy was half full of water and I baled as fast as I could. We were cold and wet, but still afloat. Once on board SD, we found that all the food was fine and the rucksacks barely damp under their plastic bags. Jeremy decided to have a quick swim and hot shower on the stern. I opted for a hot wash down. Jeremy said the water was the coldest he’d ever experienced and he was chilled in a few minutes. It took a long time to warm up.

The wind kept blowing and it was 0130 when it finally decreased to 10 knots. We weighed anchor and left Bahia Ballenas, only to find stronger winds outside the bay, which eased by morning. We followed the advice of Jim from Sea Level, and “sailed” to our VMG (velocity made good for our non-sailor readers) and our level of comfort.
Noisy sea lions argue over sun beds
On 2nd June we anchored off Isla Asuncion. Jeremy heard the voices first. No, he wasn’t going mad; the noise was the distant barking of hundreds of sea lions ranged along the beaches. We arrived at 1.00pm and left at 10.00pm, having been offered a fish from two local men in a panga. Sadly, we had to decline as we had just bought supplies in Bahia Ballenas.
Costly fuel dock in Turtle Bay
After a difficult 8 hours, rounding Punta San Pablo, the seas calmed and we arrived at Bahia de Tortugas and anchored off the fuel dock. To cut a long story short, we were charged nearly double the forecourt price for 130 litres of diesel. We used the dock again to go ashore and have a look round the windswept, sandy village. Back at SD, we watched with interest as a pick-up truck was loaded from a trawler on to an amphibious vehicle.
101 uses for an amphibian
On Saturday, at 8.30pm we left Bahia de Tortugas and motored in pleasant, calm seas the 258 miles to Ensenada, arriving at 0700 on Tuesday, 6th June. On the journey, our GPS told us that we had completed 10,000 nautical miles since leaving the River Deben in Suffolk on 30th July, 2016. I spotted a grey whale blowing about 150 metres away. It surfaced 3 times before diving. We saw three sports fishing boats heading north in the calm seas. Since leaving Chiapas, we had seen less than 20 pleasure vessels at sea in nearly 2000 miles.
It is a long way to Ensenada
Misty morning, but fairly calm
We chose to tie up at Baja Naval, a small marina close to the town centre. By lunchtime, we’d completed the paperwork and by the afternoon the laundry was in the lavanderia. Ensenada is the most northerly port in Mexico. Cruise ships call here and several streets are full of stalls and shops selling souvenirs. Away from this, it’s a pleasant town, where I had my hair cut for 50 pesos (£2). Later today, we hope to clear out of Mexico and head for the USA. San Diego is only 65 miles away.

Our cruise ship dead centre, Ensenada

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Cabo San Lucas to Bahia San Juanico

Cabo San Lucas is a huge holiday resort. It has everything – sports fishing, horse riding on the beach, jet skis, banana boats, parasailing, snorkelling, diving trips, evening cruises, beach bars and restaurants. It’s all about tourism here. For us it was a welcome place of refuge. We anchored off the vast beach and took the dinghy into the marina, where it was safe and secure for 3USD a day. The British marina manager, Darren, was friendly, welcoming and very helpful to transient cruisers, especially to us, a couple of retired British people sailing a 42 year old Westerly. Thanks for all your help, Darren.
Hundreds of fish near SD
The marina was great for stocking up on diesel and water and the town had a large choice of eateries and grocery stores, including a carnaceria (butcher’s). We took advantage of it all while waiting for the weather to be favourable for rounding Cabo Falso and the 150 mile passage beyond to the next anchorage at Bahia Magdalena.

Having checked out with the Port Captain on Friday 26th May, we weighed anchor at 0240 on Saturday 27th May, announcing on VHF 16 that we were departing for Ensenada. The forecast wind of 10 knots reached 27 knots at Cabo Falso. We kept as close inshore as we dared, watched out for fishing vessels and relaxed afterwards in the wind shadow of the long bay north of the Cape.
Fishermen and pelicans, Belcher's Bay
We crossed the Tropic of Cancer, officially leaving the Tropics, at 1543 hours and the weather turned cold, windy and generally unpleasant. The sea was rough as we motorsailed, close hauled, with one reef in the mainsail and a small genoa. Shorts and vest tops were replaced with long trousers, shirts, jackets and woolly hats. UK duvets and sleeping bags replaced sheets and thin blankets.

At the end of this long passage lies Punta Tosca, described in one cruising guide as “blade-like”. It took us a long time to round the point in rough sea conditions with water coming over the roof. Unfortunately, conditions were worse as we tried to approach the entrance to Bahia Magdalene, tacking into and away from a rocky, inhospitable, lee shore. More water came over SD, slamming into the spray hood and flooding underneath into the cockpit. Jeremy put a second reef in the mainsail at my request.
Fishing shacks at Belcher's Bay
Nine hours after rounding Punta Tosca, we entered the large, calm and most welcome Bahia Magdalena, anchoring off a number of fishing shacks and the remains of an old phosphorous loading dock in Belcher’s Bay.

On Monday 29th, we motored the 20 miles in grey, misty and calm conditions to Bahia Santa Maria, another very large bay with a fishing village not far from the anchorage. We had a miniscule mobile phone signal, but it was enough to access the Internet and check the weather. As the forecast was reasonable, we decided to leave at 0600 on 30th May and head for Bahia San Juanico, 100 miles north.
Rocky exit from Bahia Magdalene
This time the passage was one of the best we’ve had in Mexico. The coast turned more northerly and we were able to sail with one reef in the mainsail and an almost full genoa. It was sunny but the wind was cold. I wore my thermal socks and wellies at night and brought out my salapettes, that had not seen the light of day for four months.
Tiny beach near village in Bahia Santa Maria
We anchored at 0155 today, the last day of May, and woke up to see a beautiful, unspoilt, curved bay lined with sand. The fishing village of San Juanico is nearby; pangas are pulled up on the beach and a handful of surfers are looking for a break. There is no mobile phone signal in the bay. It’s very peaceful, except for the sound of Jeremy doing jobs.
San Juanico
We leave at 1900 for Bahia Ballena and the anchorage off the vilage of Abreojos, a passage of 66 miles.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Bahia Zihuatanejo to Cabo San Lucas

Every time we went ashore at Zihuatanejo, we had to land the dinghy on the beach, haul it up the sand and park it near a row of pangas. Alphonso kept an eye on it for 20 pesos a day. We had heard there was a man with a panga who would fill diesel cans and bring them out to SD. Our paths did not cross so Jeremy and I decided to do it ourselves. We hailed a taxi in the town and bought 136 litres of diesel. Meanwhile, our laundry was ready, so we collected it and had a very full dinghy to launch from the beach.
Calm anchorage outside Marina Las Hades Resort
Having checked the weather, we weighed anchor on 18th May and motorsailed out of the bay. The wind was directly on the nose, so we tacked. Way out at sea in deep water, when Jeremy was on watch, I saw a 2 litre water bottle floating nearby. Unfortunately, it was attached to a long fisherman’s line which caught around the rudder. Jeremy dived over to free it. Almost immediately, a panga appeared from nowhere to check the line. A short while later we nearly became tangled again on another line but this time the panga was ahead of us and cut the line to let us through.
The handy fuel dock at Marina Las Hades, Manzanilla
A bright orange helicopter arrived out of the sun later in the day and circled SD, hovering close enough for me to see two persons, one of whom waved before they flew away to the south. The wind increased from 10 knots to 21knots and the sea became uncomfortable with stopper waves slowing us down. Jeremy put a reef in the mainsail and we tacked, flying a small genoa as well, motorsailing all the time.
M/V Easy aground at Punta Graham
Day two was a repeat performance with light winds to start, increasing to double figures by late afternoon and most of the night. Bahia de Manzanilla with Marina Las Hadas with its fuel berth was close by. Jeremy altered our course and we entered the bay in the dark using radar, chart plotter, GPS, AIS and depth sounder. In this way, we avoided ships, rocks, buoys and other hazards arriving safely at the anchorage. I went forward to anchor and pulled only one foot of chain up. The rest was jammed solid. Not even Jeremy could dislodge it. so at 3.00am in the dark, drifting,  with the sound of surf breaking alarmingly close by, Jeremy started emptying the front cabin to access the anchor chain locker and untangle 50 metres of twisted chain. It took a while before the anchor could be dropped and we could sleep at last.
One large seabird sitting on the pulpit....
It was a brief stop in Manzanilla but it enabled us to fill up with diesel, give copies of our papers to the marina office, check the engine, change the oil and filters, check the batteries, replace the ATF in the gear box and use the laptop to check the weather. Jeremy called the Port Captain for permission to leave and heard nothing. We left heading for Puerto Vallarta.
...and then there were two
The evening was very pleasant for a change until we hit an unidentified and unseen underwater object, which clipped the propeller. The bilges were checked for any ingress of water but, thankfully,  they were dry. Later, just as it was getting dark, I saw ship Easy, aground on the rocks at Punta Graham. It was still transmitting its AIS signal, but showing no lights. A shiver went down my spine.
Our neighbours left before we could invite them for sundowners!
The weather was settled so we decided to continue to Cabo San Lucas, accompanied only by visiting dolphins, passing turtles and a few seabirds. A couple of birds perched on the pulpit, taking a rest. That was fine until sunset approached, the birds told their mates and a flock of about 20 tried to take up residence on SD. They had no fear of humans so I had to chase them off by running forward blasting the foghorn.
More hotels at Cabo San Lucas
We saw beautiful sunrises and sunsets. The crescent Moon rose through the dark clouds with Venus visible nearby. Stars sparkled in the sky above the misty shroud at sea level.  The night air felt cold and duvets and sleeping bags were brought into service once again. Trousers and coats were needed at night.
Isla Cello la Bufadora and Isla Cello Blanco, Cabo San Lucas
Perhaps we became a little complacent, but with only 8 knots of SW wind when we were 64 miles from Cabo San Lucas, we thought we should round the Cape and make landfall at Bahia Magdalena on the west of Baja California. Jeremy put in a waypoint for Cabo Falso and we altered course. When we were 40 miles off the wind started to blow W at 15 knots and the sea became bumpier; by 18 miles off it was blowing 19-28 with waves breaking over us. Jeremy tried for a little longer recording 30 knots of wind and then abandoned the attempt and made for Cabo San Lucas. It was then that he remembered he’d left a porthole open in the stern cabin. All his bedding was soaked.
Playa el Medano, Cabo San Lucas
Once more we approached an anchorage in the dark, our efforts to see ahead hampered by a large, brightly lit, private motor yacht. We weighed anchor at 0100 on 24th May. This morning we have checked in with the Port Captain by VHF and by visiting his office ashore. We have permission from API to stay at anchor until Monday. On the way to the Port Captain’s Office, Jeremy took the rubbish out of his rucksack to dispose of it and noticed that oil from the filters had leaked through two plastic bags and through his rucksack. Fortunately, the boat’s papers were undamaged. Unfortunately, Jeremy has spent all afternoon trying to remove oil from his rucksack.
Lazy seal waits for fish scraps at the dinghy dock
Hasta luego, amigos.