Ambassadors for all we America was. Apologists for all America is.

Sailing to Barra Navidad

This post was just an excuse to put up this new pic of Spiritus.  It is really the first one of her under full sail we have had in almost three years.  Last one was in Yaquina Bay in Newport, Oregon.  It is really hard to get pictures of your own boat under sail … this is what she looks like now.  Also the first one that shows her ‘new’ North Sail sails … now two and a half years old.

DSC_1760Photo Courtesy of Sven and Nancy on Senta II

Sailing Weather … or why do we leave perfectly safe anchorages?

This is a bit of a story about the sail and motor to Barra Navidad from Chemela.  It is a tale of surprises … enjoyable sailing … entering a new harbor … and why you should never say to your wife … “great day, it is only 45 miles or so … should be a walk in the park.”

It was a great day of sailing even in retrospect.  But great sailing does not necessarily mean … easy sailing.  For 7 or so hours, we alternately motored, sailed, played with the sail set up … even sailing with only a mizzen sail and part of the furled foresail for a while.  Great hands on for Carolyn in mild conditions.

We had time to take pictures of our friend’s boat, Senta II and they got some nice shots of Spiritus.  Big smiles all around.

The last hour is another story all together.  We have a small air leak into the fuel system we have been unable to isolate.  But, it is so slow that every three or four days of motor sailing or maybe 30 hours or so, the fuel in the Racor filter drops as air builds up in the filter.  Not a real problem, take a little fuel from the containers on deck and top off the filter and reseal, and we are good for another 30 hours or so. We stopped and did this early on this trip just as a good habit in case later we needed the engines under pressure or at speed.  Just in case!

This last hour also brings up the question of weather forecasting in sailing.  What is its function.  I will start with the premise that it is almost never accurate.  Add swell size and direction and Merlin himself could not produce a report that would come close to the day you individually find on the surface of an ocean or sea.

Last night, we dutifully checked all local weather sources including the new NOAA Mexico and Central America Coastal Report that is currently in beta.  It was relayed by the evening Picante net on the Marine Single Side Band radio we have. Picante net is (I believe) located loosely in Puerto Vallarta.   Forecasts of 6-10 knots of wind from the NW, 4-6 foot swells (direction not available), and clear skies.

Based on this and some weather grib files, we decided to set out no later than 7:30 am for Barra Navidad.  This would in any case put us into the harbor/bay by about 2 pm or so at latest.  Figured even if the wind prognostication was off, we would be nearly there before the winds could build.  “Nearly” turns out to be an important word.

The last hour or so, as we neared the bay, the wind was behind us at about 12 knots, a little higher than I wanted but still very comfortable sailing with just the main and a partial furled head sail.  We were on the engine as we neared the bay and set up to look for the jetty and inlet that marks the Marina entrance on the south end of the long bay.  Swell direction is now from the north west or behind us as we sail to the bay.  Following seas, what feels like 3 foot swell from behind and 12 knots of wind.  Spiritus is in her element in this kind of air.  Carolyn was mostly sailing the boat.

With 12 knots of wind and a full main up, I noticed we were having a small amount of weather helm in the swells as in Spiritus butt was being pushed around by swells passing us.  So, we decided to reef the main while running with the wind, in preparation for turning into the wind to drop both sails.  Reef was a workout but reduced the power of the boat immensely.  Not pretty but workable sail resulted.  Took in the furler most of the way so small head sail as well.  Further reduction in power of boat in wind.

Chop was feeling like it was building.  So I discussed with Carolyn how we would turn across the swells fast and put the nose of the boat in the wind to drop the main.  This was to be done under power since we were close to shore and an entrance to the jetty.

I told her to be prepared to hover in the wind while I went forward and dealt with the main sail.  I truly thought at this point and we discussed, “only using as much engine as necessary to hold us into the wind … probably idle will be sufficient.”

Famous last words.

When we turned her into the wind … boom .. suddenly the waves were breaking on the bowsprit, the point burying itself in each new wave.  The interval was just enough for the boat to nose into each new wave … so maybe 10 seconds or so.  And, the wind seems not at all like 12 knots.  We found out later from Sven on Senta that the wind was at 27 knots when we reversed course.

Hatch over forward berth was open partially (well prepared for a calm days sail) but no time to deal with that.  To hold Spiritus into the waves and wind now took full throttle.  And, we were barely making headway as each wave brought us to a shuddering halt.

I am now wet, and pissed, and a little worried.  The shore is near behind and it is now a lee shore with all the dangers that implies.  My brain is like “What do I do if the engine dies?”  Partial furler and run for the entrance with limited control and little ability to slow or stop.  Hope the still waters of the channel will allow us to slow.  I love furlers for this because the are like accelerators.  But, they are not like reverse power or breaks.  So, there is now an element of danger writ larger.

As the main is dropped, we radio Senta II to be aware that the bay is a little bit of a fist fight once you turn into the wind … and we give them wind conditions and sea state so they will not be surprised.  I didn’t think about the fact they could see our masts dancing in the waves and the large splashed of sea water being hurled skyward with each toss of the bow.

There is a short exchange here on Channel 16 because we don’t have time to change channels.  Senta asked us something and all we could respond (Carolyn) was ” a little busy here”.  The stern of Spiritus was coming up out of the water and the propeller cavitating as it had not water to push … unusual for this boat.

These are not conditions Carolyn has ever had the helm in so … she did not have a big smile for me.  For a 130 lb person, to handle a 1500 lb rudder, to steer a 28,000 lb boat in waves is a workout.  Guess we are not as old as we thought … or as smart.

Anyway, sail down we turn under power to the jetty entrance only to find a rather large power boat coming out.  You have to understand that this jetty and ‘harbor’ entrance is tiny .. I mean photos do not do it justice .. it is a mini marina … small slips … and a narrow channel.  All filled with large power boat … I am committed .. I cannot back up …

He takes on look at the wave state and turns in the channel using thrusters on his own axis and back he goes … “Thank you, baby Jesus!”

We are a little fast 7 knots as we enter the jetty but we need the speed to stay on the swells and have steerage.  Nice calm water …. breathe!

All of the sudden, a panga shoots under our bowsprit … we actually had to reverse engine to keep from overtaking it from the side.  It is full of mom’s and children whose vocabularies is forever enlarged with a nautical color of language.  Another panga is leaving the suddenly here entrance to the marina.  Both are traveling at speeds usually used on the Sea of Cortez for the open sea not the docks and channel. Ok … need to learn new panga customs.

As we are throwing fenders over safety lines … soaking wet … wife scared … boat kind of disorganized … we hear flute music and look up to see tennis balls flying like shuttle cocks on a tennis court next to the channel.  There are children sliding down water slides … people are having margaritas in the water bar at the pool over looking the entrance to the jetty. For some reason, this became a surreal moment in my memory.  I think if we had broached … been swept to the shore … put out a life raft and washed up next to the tennis courts .. neither the music nor the game would have stopped.

Felt like the climbers in the 1920’s movie Shangri La … where all frost bitten and nearly dead … they enter Shangra La through a cave to walk into a radiant … warm …. beautiful climate … while the ice is still in their beards and they are still shivering .. from fear, exhaustion, and surprise.

The conversations on channel 16 had alerted the cruisers at the docks that a boat was having some difficulty entering the jetty so they were (7 or so) on the docks to lend a hand.  Jesus, what a small marina.  I am in a single wide slip … that barely holds Spiritus … the waterway behind us is maybe 55 feet wide … and Spiritus is 47 feet with her pointy bowsprit.  And, while trying to insert her into the slip .. you guessed it … I had three pangas to deal with.  One was ahead of me, one wating just beside me, and one waiting behind me to go out.

Oh, and we still have wind to deal with at the slips.  Spiritus is nose light for some reason and the nose will always blow in the wind (down wind) if she is not moving smartly.  She backs rudely to the right because of prop wash.  If I did not already know all of this I would have had a disaster.  As it was, dancing around all the pangas … we made it into the back of the channel only to find that an open pair of slips was occupied by a dingy (inflatable) and a panga tied cross the back of the slips so both were not useable.  Thankfully my Spanish is not yet sufficient to clearly express frustration … so only the English speakers got an earful.

We hailed Senta II, now entering the jetty, and begged them to hover … turned Spiritus around in the channel and out into the entrance again.  Full circle … let the pangas (water taxis it turns out) clear out.  And, try again.  Got her in this time … no scratches to anyone .. thanked all for the help at the slip.  Asked them not to leave cause another boat was right behind us.

Told Senta II we were safely in and helped catch her lines …  drink  a freaking beer (might have been two)!

I am of the opinion that all weather forecasts do is (if good) give us an excuse to leave the comforts of a good anchorage for the hope of a days sailing.  If bad, the give us the excuse to go …. hmmm … looks like it will be bad out there .. better stay here another day … where it is safe .. comfortable …  non threatening … etc.

In both cases, the forecast will be wrong at some point, or at all points of the day.  Turns out the weather is just, what it is, where you are, till it is something else.

I am really enjoying the Earth Wind map … if you have not looked at it … you should … the illusion that you can see the winds is amazing … hypnotic … calming …

Later, Carolyn asked me if we were really in danger … my answer was ‘no .. but we would have been if the engines had stopped.’  We would have missed both a great days sailing and a very educational and exciting entrance to a new and unfamiliar harbor if we had stayed in Chemela.  We would have missed an adventure … note the small ‘a’ in adventure …. big ‘A’ Adventures are something all together different.

3 responses

  1. This is an open invitation for you guys to visit us here in Bahia del Sol, El Salvador on your way south. This is a welcoming and cruiser-friendly place and we are sure you will enjoy it here. If you have any questions or concerns just email us.

    March 17, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    • We are currently headed south towards the tehuanepec. Our initial goal has always been Chiapas. We are buddy boating with s/v Senta II. There is a distinct possibility that we will venture south when they head off to Europe at the end of May. Thanks for the invite. Will say HI as we get closer.

      March 17, 2014 at 11:46 pm

  2. Nola

    Would be nice to hear from you

    June 20, 2014 at 5:40 pm

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