We decided to take the boat away from the docks … though not far away. The goal was to test the vessel’s capacity to live untethered to the dock and marina for a week.
When you move away from the marinas of La Paz you leave the last 30 plus years of developed marina-style sailing aside and enter the realm of some 450 years of sailboats in the bay.
You literally move back to the past and out into history. Cortez and his men anchored here more than 400 years ago. The American fleet used the bay during the American Invasion of Mexico in the 1840’s, before our civil war.
One of the great enjoyments I derive from sailing is knowing that others have gone before me . So, Carolyn and I get a great deal of pleasure knowing we are anchored where many, many other sailing vessels from many other nations have anchored.
It is the first time since November that we have had the boat away from a dock for an extended time. The Bay and what is called the Mogote anchorage are the alternatives to the more modern lifestyle of a sailing vessel at a commercial marina.
The marinas of Ls Paz all date from after the 1970’s when the Marina de La Paz was founded. And most boats–new to the area–will be drawn initially to one of the very nice marinas that line the entrance and channel into the bay. A few others will decide to “anchor off.” The Mogote is defended by a notorious sandbar that has been the embarrassment of many who were unfamiliar with the harbor. The Mogote anchorage is generally about 18-20 feet deep at most stages of the local tide. It has two entrances and a sand bar barrier between it and the channel and marinas that is only three feet or less deep. The bar is shallow enough that at low tide my dingy motor (a short shaft) will hit bottom if I am not careful.
The entrance to the Mogote anchorage (although marked on your GPS) is a thing of local legend and many will tell you various ways to “find” it safely. There are several landmarks used to visually line up to enter it.
Once inside, you have to deal with anchoring for a tide and the evening Coromuel winds of 14-24 knots. Anchor “choice” and “how to anchor” are the topics of endless coffee conversations and the subject can provoke heated discussions–sometimes bordering on a round of fisticuffs– amongst the local sailing gentry.
What is unique about anchoring in the Mogote is that if you look one way you are right next to a city. Look the other and you are in another world …. But, after all, isn’t that what you came down here for?
Strangely, the move to the Mogote is one of a few hundred yards and a few hundred years. It is jokingly called the kingdom of “Mogotia” but you will not find a passport stamp for entering it. Perhaps it is more like a right-of-passage.
Day One May 21, 2013
Cleared out of Marina de La Paz. Turns out that even if you are just moving out to play in the bay for a few days, you need to go to the office and make a notice because the Puerto Capitania needs to know you are from one of the marinas so he won’t come and collect the anchor out fee (built into your slip fees at marinas). This is a very small fee you pay, which helps support the harbor administration. You can pay by the month at the Puerto Captains office or wait till they come by your boat.
I am used to sailing Spiritus solo as I did in Newport, Oregon, so having a bunch of friends tell me to let them know and they will help me cast off is always quite the change. You have to understand the difference in Mexican marinas and US marinas. First, (for example only) in the US, the first time I entered a marina with my sailboat (then a Victory 21), the beer drinking sport fisherman around the fish gutting stands which just happened to be at the landing for taking out the boat by trailer were literally taking bets on whether we and the boat would survive our first entry to a slip. No help was offered but plenty of comments and beers were passed around.
Most of this was occasioned by the fact out boat had no engine for maneuvering but depended entirely on sailing.
Later, after we bought the bigger Ingrid 38, other owners who understand the dynamics of moving a 29,000 lb boat with a full keel in 20 plus knots of wind would help. But another difference in US docks is that mostly they have empty boats moored to them with no owners or sailors nearby. So again, you learn to put the boat in a slip under most conditions without assistance. No marina I have ever used (till here) would respond to a request to help ‘catch’ your boat as you brought her in.
Mexico, or at least La Paz is different. Most people notify the marina that they are docking and dock crew routinely shows up to catch lines. People from other boats are just as likely to pitch in unasked. It is beyond courteous. It actually says something about the local sailing community and the marinas.
The first time you bring a boat into a slip and everyone runs to help you, it is unnerving … sort of “No thanks, I got it” moment. But after you have been here a while, you figure out it is just a kind of custom and gentle courtesy offered as a gesture of good will. Try to remember most sailed here so handling the boat is probably not the issue. It is good manners.
Out of force of habit, I always uncover and prep sails, even though I am using a motor on this trip. I just assume the worst and want sail power if I need it. Also prepped the engines this week by running them half an hour each day to make sure they were running well before setting out.
There is one more complication beyond the normal in the La Paz harbor, because some marinas like Marina Cortez and Marina de La Paz don’t have breakwaters surrounding the marinas (at least not in the sense we are used to in the US of A). The water flows under the docks of the marina unimpeded. The nearest thing I can compare it to is docking in a dock along a river with a current … you have to watch wind, time of day, tide for depth and tide for current under docks.
Anyway, we sneak quietly away from the docks and friends to make our way out into the channel and to the entrance of the dreaded Mogote sandbar passage. I say this with some humor as we had considered having a friend–who is anchored out–pilot us the first time, but after watching a boat enter it a few days before (while taking Spanish classes above the marina bathrooms), talking to others about the landmarks, and having discussed it while returning from one of the Valeros de Baja sailing races, we decided to take our chances.
We did put out the new downward-looking sonar .. (not exactly sure what upward-looking sonar would show) …. it is a little more detailed than just a fish finder or depth finder …. useful in showing bottom detail and depth (and FISH … more on that later).
Entered Mogote channel without problem using another anchored ship as an entrance marker coupled with the Fisherman’s Cross on Mogote side and two barber pole red/white striped markers on the municipal pier. I figured once we were in that all we had to do was stay inside the anchored boats and we would be in channel. It worked.
Anchored for first time since trip south from Oregon.
The only thing I will say about anchoring in the Mogote is you really do need to have the right sized ground tackle for your boat and you need to know how to anchor properly on a sandy bottom.
As in (1) drop anchor (2) back up till you have let out 5 x depth of anchorage (3) set anchor with at least 1/3 reverse thrust against anchor … does it drag?
If answer is “no,” you have at least exercised due diligence in your set of the anchor. Also extremely important is to have adequate distance between you and others. Try this without knowing if they followed the same rules you just did. You absolutely have to watch for the first couple of tide and wind changes to make sure all is well.
First thing we discovered after anchoring is that I had to figure out a new way to wing out the solar panels since old way (at the docks) was with tiller tied to one side. It was now necessary to have the tiller midships and available for steering. Will post pic to show you clever solution below.
Set out chicken in the solar oven for fajitas in the evening. Pretty uneventful day. Solar reading 14.04 volts in batteries at about 3 pm … life is good.
Late afternoon winds pick up, these are the Coromuels caused by the temperature differences on the Pacific side of Baja and the Sea of Cortez. Makes the boat feel 5-7 degrees cooler than in a marina. Actually, Marina Cortez gets this same effect because of their unique one-of-a-kind dock designs.
We try out the new “anchoring lights”. La Paz Port Capitan has asked required that boats at anchor in the Mogote use some form of at least two deck level white marking lights, one at bow and one at stern of boat. This is because the newer boats and boats with LED white anchor lights atop the masts look like stars at night and not like boats at anchor. By requiring a couple of deck level lights at night, local panga drivers can see it is a boat and where it is on the water. Like most sailboats, we have added solar power torches that do not use boats power. They power up in the light of day and automatically turn on at dusk. You can also use them to recharge your rechargeable batteries if you need another use. They will run all night on what they pick up during the day.
I am watchful and I always get nervous the first night of anchoring. This evening– after it was too late to do anything about it–I discovered the need for an anchor snubber. This is the line that takes strain off the anchor chain and transfers it from the bow roller and anchor windless to a deck cleat or, in our case, hause pipes with horns.
The way you know you need one is the anchor chain runs along the bob stay that holds the bow-sprit down and tensions the fore-stay with the roller furler on it. As it runs along the bob-stay …. the stay growls … then when it hits the end of the stay it bangs over the mounting hardware and sounds like someone is hitting the boat with a sledge hammer ….
It does this every time the boat changes orientation to the wind … or tide … or waves … or just because you are nearly asleep.
Made for a sleepless night for me … Carolyn slept like a baby …..grrrrrr.
Day Two May 22, 2013
Coffee and rolls.
Attach a snubber. I had read about how to make and use but had not done it yet. So, make up snubber from dock line, attach to chain with hook, make a loop of 20 feet or so of chain … lower from anchor windless til weight is on the snubber and not the chain … let out 20 feet for shock absorber. Wait and see if I did it right.
Hmmm sink is not draining. A little history here. Discovered last week that kitchen double sink was made like a home sink with household plumbing supplies and techniques.
Went to plunge it because it was plugged. Sink lifted up from counter. Also lifted out of t-junction, emptied contents of sink and continued to flow. Hmmm… flow is salt water … hmmm. Lets see, where does this pipe lead … to thru hull for sink drain. Salt water … thru hull …?
That is right, we were sinking at the dock! Perhaps I made that a little dramatic but you get the gist. This was a serious problem with a critical thru hull. So, after much soul searching called a marine plumber …
He was unamused with the whole under sink design and so we (1) attached sink to counter so it would not lift out of entire plumbing system; (2) replaced t-joint under counter with glued-on (not friction!) couplings; (3) added a ball valve pressure back flow … (thingy so water could flow out of boat but not back in).
Now back to a week later … the little pressure flow thing is the problem … it won’t let water in boat .. a good thing…. but it won’t let water out of boat or sink … not such a good thing for a kitchen sink.
I absolutely do not want to work on a plumbing problem out here if I don’t have to. So, solution is close thru hull to sink drains, do dishes as usual, siphon sink into bucket, throw over side of boat (waste water, not bucket). Problem solved.
We picked up a boarding/swim ladder at a swap meet that the fleet has each month to replace one of those emergency aluminum things that mostly fold up and try to drown you when you want to board the boat. Had to adjust and modify it to work with out boat … but it is old style and matches the wood on our boat perfectly. Just had to figure out how to attach it without making more holes in our boat.
Dove off boat and used “new” swim ladder to re board … works like a charm.
After a swim near boat … took a four hour nap to make up for not getting any sleep last night. Set up solar shower before nap. Woke up and mmmm… hot freshwater shower.
Carolyn made solar beans while I napped in the v-berth. By time I got up, winds were back up to 14-20 knots.
For the next bit, I will quot from a letter Carolyn wrote friends and family;
“And then began the night of the “dragging” boat fiasco — not ours, but one of the other boats (newly anchored in the Mogote). About 11:30 pm, a call went out over Channel 16 (open emergency frequency) for the owner of the boat, which was dragging, to please get his butt back to his boat and reset his anchor and secure her. Unfortunately the boat owner had gone to a party-hearty over on the (Mogote) beach — neither he not any of the other “guests” carried a hand held with then. No one, however, forgot the cerveza–booze–hooch—spirits–beer–rotgut— or a boom box.
Some good soul (who’d already had his boat hit three times in the last month by other dragging boats) motored over in his dingy and climbed aboard to keep it from dragging again (and to save his own boat from more repairs). By 11:30, he’d been boat baby sitting for 3 hours, was getting tired, and a bit cranky. (One of the problems of Good Samaritanism and boats is that do-gooders can leave themselves open to some very convoluted as well as sticky, icky, iffy litigation. Despite their good intentions, they climb aboard a boat without the owner’s permission, start or steer boat, reset anchor, whatever … However, legally, the boat hadn’t yet hit anything …. Now what do they do? If they leave the boat … and then it does hit something (including damages to itself) it is a BIG OOPSY. Owner can claim (and probably will) that the boat was just fine … the owner swears that he left if properly secured and it’s the do-gooders fault .. Do-gooder loses big time. So, … Do-gooder cannot leave until boat owner returns …)
The do-gooder’s call for help went out and some other good soul got up, got dressed, climbed into his own dingy, motored over to the beach, and found the owner. It was over in about 90 minutes. However, the lecture delivered over the radio net the next morning was a real ear scorcher … with phrases like “stupid idiot” and “irresponsible ass” being some of the tamer epithets applied to Mr. Party-Hearty. Turns out the guy had set anchor with a 20 pound anchor, where at least 40 pounds was needed. This info added to the lecture’s terminology, of course. Actually, one of the more educational and entertaining lectures I’ve ever enjoyed.”
This was all delivered over Channel 22, the local assigned fleet channel, with everyone listening. For 30 minutes or so, the fleet morning radio net was awash with advice from the seasoned salts and old timers about anchoring out in the Mogote. Not all of it was entirely polite.
Turns out that night another boat’s dingy had gone walk about. Not stolen, just the knot used had untied itself. Dingy, paddles, and motor all went to sea. Dingys are not that easy to come by in La Paz as you can’t just pop up to the local boat dealership and buy one … and you can’t use ebay or amazon or order it by mail or UPS or FedEx. But, you do not have the choice of not having one if you intend to anchor out or go to a beach from your boat.
Dingy has not yet been “found”. It may have joined the Puddle Jump based on local winds and currents.
Day Three May 23, 2013
Teaching Carolyn a new knot useful for tieing fenders and dingys to the safety lines along the sides of the boat.
Making sure all our long distance internet tricks are working. For those of you interested in being “off the grid” or anchoring out or just cruising, there are several internet tricks you will need in Mexico is you are not at a marina.
The first, easiest, and most readily available is the Banda Ancha Modem (USB) sold by Telcel here in Mexico and Baja California Sur.
This is a memory stick sized and shaped USB device that plugs into the side of your laptop and has 4G connectivity anywhere in line of sight of a cell tower. For coastal sailing, this means that most places along the coast on a highway with electricity that have a cell tower (thanks in no small part to Carlos Slim, Telcel’s owner and usually the richest man on the planet) also have good to very good internet connectivity.
You can buy the time in 3Gig (400 pesos) time or data blocks and use it as needed. the quality is usually enough to Skype but just barely. It is more than sufficient for most sailing uses like weather, satellite photos, email, weather downloads, etc.
The second device we use is an internet booster antenna that allows us to reach out and identify and connect to open networks at least a couple of miles distant. This worked great anchored out in the Mogote. You have to remember with these devices, most networks now have increased the security settings to include passwords and encryption so this option though useful is much less useful than it used to be but it will allow you to grab a commercial open net , subscribe and use from the anchored boat. We were able easily to reach the Marina networks for access. You just have to face the device in the general direction of the marina and ta-da connectivity.
Other communications, small Telcel cell phone similar to US Trac phones in that you buy phone and minutes. Gives you a phone number in Mexico. Works great where there is a cell tower.
Finally, when at anchor (unlike at docks), a small portable VHF is on scan at all times so that if a problem develops in the anchorage, we will know about it quickly. This is also uses for dingy to ship communications (in spite of that apparently being a no no .. don’t know what the ICOM people and FCC think we are all doing with the handhelds. Useful when crew-mate (or mate) is ashore buying ships supplies (groceries and ice and BEER) and needs a ride back to the anchored boat.
Today was dingy launch day. We have always been at the docks when prepping the dingy for use so this was first time to launch it from boat for Carolyn. We had added one piece of stainless to the rails to assist and let us launch without having to suspend the dingy from a halyard. Add the new webbing safety strap handles for the 3.5 hp Tohatsu four-cycle outboard and the launch was easy and low energy.
One of the goals here was to set up a method and equipment so that Carolyn could launch the dingy without my assistance if necessary. One person launch is very easy now. We inflated it on the cabin top under the main boom. Pushed over new stainless rail into water while holding a line to its nose, tied it up to the new swim ladder and ….. yeah …. dingy 101 complete.
Day 4 May 24, 2013
Putting it all together. Took Carolyn across sandbar to marina docks to go shopping. Gave her handheld. Agreed to monitor CH22 till she got back. We agreed to try contact several times throughout day to see distances handheld would work at.
This also involved buying some ice (we use it to help the Aldor Barbor icebox on the boat with the summer heat. So, we tried the new Coleman collapsible ice chest for getting groceries and bags of ice back to Spiritus.
As soon as I returned to the boat I managed somehow to switch radio off scan and to CH 16 so that Carolyn was no longer able to contact me. Duh!
Once she returned, she got the marina office to try me on CH16 and I went and retrieved her and supplies.
Got to watch a power boat with sport fisher types run aground about 200 feet from us in shallow water. Confirms that in Mexico just like the US I.Q. is inverse of engine HP. … the more HP the lower IQ falls. Have yet to determine is effect is temporary or permanent. Did note that they finally raised the outboards and put three people walking beside boat to lighten it. Got is floating, got it moving, all back on board … accelerated away. Quite the sight with the outboards still partially up … she would accelerate … high rooster tail (DUH) .. the transom would dive water would start to flood boat over transom … they would slow down .. repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Props nearly but not quite out of water … WTF …. what is wrong with my boats handling?
Hopefully the impairment was only temporary!
Tried solar shower as hot water heater for dish washing. Works good but you have to use it before dark. Had to remember that hot water heater on boat is 110 volt. I cannot run it from the inverter because it draws over 130 12 v amps. This is more than even the anchor windless draws at 100 amps and it is on a separate circuit with extra heavy fuses and instructions not to use unless engine is running. Our alternator puts out 120 amps at speed when engine is up to 2400 rpm.
Day Five May 25, 2013
Climbed mast of Spiritus to take some pics. Have wanted a pic like this for a while but did not want to do it at the docks because I wanted no other boats in pic.
This is also when we began paying attention to the little water taxi that we called “The African Queen”.
It runs ever 20 minutes or so back and forth from Marina Cortez where it docks to the palapa grass roofed landing on the Mogote side. This trip saves a 14 mile or so drive around the south side of La Paz to get to the Mogote. This water taxi operates from about 7 am till near midnight everyday and is (I believe free). Late at night it is full to the toe rails for the last few runs.
Tried to Skype with friends on Senta II, because they didn’t believe it was possible. Were able to contact and talk but insufficient bandwidth to do video, so not entirely successful using the Banda Ancha modem.
Paid bills electronically from the anchorage via internet connection as anchor. Successful.
Played with spyglass/telescope to get familiar with how to use it. In this modern works of high-grade binoculars … the spyglass has fallen into neglect like a sextant and paper charts have to the advent of GPS.
Made barbecued pork slices in the solar oven for dinner … mmmmm.
Dolphin family of 6 or so making its way through the anchorage during dinner to the squeals of delight from kids on boats nearby.
Day Six May 25, 2013
Did not go to church today as is out normal routine. To early 7:00 mass for the coffee and dingy ride to get us ashore.
But, did have dolphin family by for coffee this time. Beautiful way to have coffee watching the dolphins play nearby.
Launched tied up dingy to tour the mangroves of the Mogote … fun .. stepped on huge crab …. scared poop out of me .. thought it was stingray till I was it scooting away.
Day 7 May 26, 2013
We have been waiting till about noon each day when the batteries return to full amperage and voltage. Today we will up anchor about 10:00 am.
Boat starts after a week at anchor with absolutely no engine time without a problem. Make our way thru the anchorage in reverse from out initial course.
Grab the channel, let the marina know we are returning to our slip.
Successful shake down of all systems. Next planned outing, Bahia Balandra! (Maybe on my birthday in late June which will be a full moon again).