Sailing isn’t always what you expect. As a matter of fact, no sail usually turns out to be exactly as predicted. There is a randomness about sail-powered travel that approaches ‘chaos theory’ at times. When you stare hard enough and long enough at what happened, it all starts to make sense. A pattern emerges. This pattern recognition is also sometimes called ‘rationalization’.
This is a story of two Christmas season sails into Banderas Bay from the south around Cabo Correntes.
It is important to the story that you understand that ‘Cabo Corrientes’, in Spanish, means Cape of Currents. Like most headland capes, there is a clash of ocean swell patterns, currents from Banderas Bay, and wind and weather patterns.
It is also the southern most cape that feels the effects of weather patterns from the Sea of Cortex to the north.
Back to the story of two sailing days.
One story is of a quiet day sail and moonlight cruise with fair winds and following seas. The other is of adventure, adversity, making do and working the problems as they arise. The events for both are the same.
We were south, about 90 miles or a bit more, in a bay called Chamela. We planned on staying there for a day and a night then sailing north to La Cruz, which is in the NE corner of Banderas Bay. It is, for Spiritus, an 18- hour day.
Watching the weather patterns, we saw that two days ahead of us were forecast20 knot winds in the face and, on the third day, something not common for the cape. On the third day, we saw a south wind no higher than 10 knots with a SSW swell of only 4-6 feet and an interval of 19 seconds.
For you non-sailors or for those who need refreshing, this is the very definition of ‘fair winds and a following sea’ which sailors often hope for others when they’re leaving on journeys.
We sat out from Chamela at daybreak which was about 7:30 am. It was sunny with an offshore breeze, which meant we had winds abeam for the morning. After motoring out of the anchorage, we could sail.
Around noon, the winds shifted to the South (meaning from the south, as predicted by the weather forecast). We had used every weather trick at our disposal to guess this weather window. Still, you cross fingers. We had waited two extra days for this weather. Still, you cross your fingers.
So far, so good.
We had not really tested Ripley, the auto pilot, since she had been repaired and this seemed the perfect conditions to see if she was still working right. She did. So far, so good. We let her steer while we had lunch.
Seas were maybe 7-8 feet from our stern, but Spiritus is a double-ender so it loves this kind of following sea.
Before leaving Barra de Navidad, I had completely rebuilt the Racor fuel filter. We had tested it. No problems. After leaving Chamela, it had by late afternoon maybe 18 hours of use with no signs of the niggling air leak that has plagued us for a year or more.
We were making good time, so we decided to motor-sail and let Ripley steer the boat. I wanted to stress her a bit and the larger waves were just perfect for about as much wave action as I would use her in. She did great.
With the engine comfortable at 14-15– RPMs, we were doing 7 knots. We did so well that we arrived off Cabo Corrientes about two hours early. We had decided to stay five miles offshore for the Cape turn into the bay. With the south wind, this seemed safe enough and a good distance from the cape’s north shore past the light house.
Just as a precaution, I checked the Racor one more time. Hmmm … air, not much but it was there after almost 24 hours since the rebuild. Good news, I have quadrupled the time it takes for the air to become a problem. Bad news, as always, we are on Cabo Corrientes when the problem rears its head.
Hey, work the problem. Slow the boat. Switch back to sailing. Pop top on filter and add some fuel till the air is gone. Done. Restart. Off we go. 45 minutes pass and no problems. We are gold.
The sun was gently setting, when we made the course correction to enter the bay and head for La Cruz. Once we turned, the swell was such that the boat had a period of hobby horsing and lazy, short internal rolls that was not unexpected. It was not as harsh as we have dealt with before.
Wind is now down to 4 knots in our face from the bay ahead of us. Water has calmed. We have the sails furled and down. Moon is up. Half-moon so we will have good visibility. Big smiles.
This may be the best passage around Cabo Corrientes ever. Big smiles. Sighs of relief.
Engine chug-a-lugs. Hmmmm. Maybe 30 seconds later it does it again. Awww…crap!
I fling myself down the stairs to check Racor, fuel’s clear, no air. I switch tanks. Engine evens out. Then chug-a-lugs again. Awww….Double Crap!
That both tanks have a problem at the same time is unlikely. One tank is full ,so it can’t be agitation of fuel. Racor is good. No fuel leaking. Work the problem.
But first make sure we can steer and move since we are off the north shore. Up sails. Engine still running.
We are unable to make headway as the wind is maybe 4 knots. We may have to turn for Punta Mita on the north shore of Banderas Bay just to make headway.
With the half-moon we can at least see things to gauge how far off the north shore we are.
Hey, we always wanted to have a moonlight sail on Banderas Bay. We had even talked about that when we left Chamela.
My mind is racing. What is the problem?? I am gradually beginning to think it is not the Racor and not the fuel supply. What?
I asked Carolyn to switch on a fuel pump we have that powers the Dickenson Diesel stove in the main salon for heat. We have used it, on occasion, to clear air from the fuel lines when working on the engine at the docks.
To do this you simply turn the petcock off to the stove and turn on the pump. It pushed fuel towards the engine instead in this configuration. Everything on your boat should serve at least two purposes!
I have never known if this is by design or accidental.
A few months ago, I had discovered that I have the wrong pump installed. It should be a 3 psi fuel pump and I had installed a 6-11 psi. We had talked about replacing it, because I cannot run the heater with this pump. But, as you can figure, with 90 degree days in December, replacing it was not high on the priority list of repairs necessary to sail safely to La Cruz.
When Carolyn flicked the switch for the fuel pump, I was hoping if we had air or something stuck in fuel line, we would literally blow it past what ever was making the engine stall and race.
Instead, the engine firmed up and ran at 1500 RPM again without a stutter.
We’re both holding our breath. I turn us away from the north shore, now only 3 1/2 miles distant to put some distance between us and it. So reviewing our situation, we have a mizzen sail up unreefed and the furler is out on the jib to 3/4. We are making 7 knots again. We are moving away from the only danger near us.
I may have installed the wrong pump, but the mistake is saving our butts now. Dumb. We love re-dumb-dancy!
The Hero of the story!
The Villain of the story!
This also becomes our final diagnostic tool. Since, when you switch off the electric pump, the boat starts to sputter, we now know it is the old manual fuel pump that is the problem.
We are replacing it and rebuilding the current one. This will give us a fully functional spare.
Moonlight Sailing on the Bay of Banderas!
Could anything be more romantic than a Christmas season moonlight sail in the tropics?
I mention to Carolyn what a beautiful moon. She is having none of it.
We are about three hours from the anchorage at La Cruz or two hours from Punta Mita anchorage. After 45 minutes without a stutter, we start to relax. Still, I will not change RPM or cut the engine until we are in the anchorage. We agree. We are still nervous that when we alter something, it will stop while we are anchoring. So, we talk about how to anchor it it stops. It is a really calm nigh,t so I am not terribly worried but we still need to know what each of us will do it the engine quits during the anchor setting.
Because our GARMIN chart plotter is useless in the La Cruz area( as it does not even show a marina), we simply navigate back to a GPS way-point from last year when we were at anchor. About 10 PM we can pick out a few anchor lights and the marina entrance red and green lighted buoys.
We decide to brave it and cut RPM as we enter the anchorage. We are having trouble with some boats not having anchor lights on. The moonlight saves us. And, them.
We find a spot in 26 feet of water (four fathoms) and drop the anchor. God bless this boat. She backs up well and sets the anchor. We kill the engine and turn off the fuel pump.
We are in La Cruz anchorage five days before Christmas. It took us just 15 hours so we averaged 5.1 knots or 6 miles per hour. Best passage to La Cruz ever.
Or more scary sailing.
Of course, a lot depends on how you look at it!
Spent the night in Tenecatita anchorage. Beautiful calm anchorage. We are headed to La Cruz for Christmas, so for us this is the start of the Christmas Season.
The story, I am about to relate, is true. I swear it. At least, the facts are as stated.
The stars of the Milky Way are still grand in rural Mexico. The sky is vast and no light mars your vision as you look upward in wonder. Pitch black space, obvious and easy identifiable constellations, the milky soft white of the Galaxy’s plane of the ecliptic.
Add the slow swaying of a sailboat deck in a gentle well-protected anchorage. Life is never better than this.
We had done some work on the engine and it had been eight months or so since we had Spiritus away from her dock’s electrical umbilical. So, like good mariners, we made an offering to the ancient gods. For Aeolus, god of the winds and for Neptune, God of the Deep Seas, we made a libation of two ounces of tequila- after a small sip in their honor–and poured the rest over the bowsprit to fall into the waiting sea.
Calm winds gentle, following seas! A mariner’s prayer.
We were sitting above a sandy bottom at 4 fathoms (24 feet) with 125 feet of chain out on a plow anchor. Gentle conditions, so no snubber was attached to the anchor chain. It was so calm that the boat was more or less directly above the hanging chain so no loud creaking rub on the bob-stay to break our sleep.
At 4:30 a.m. exactly, the oddities began. The chain started sporadically rubbing against the stay at waterline. Grind … grind … pop! Silence. Eerie silence. Wait a few minutes. Repeat.
Carolyn asked me to check the anchor to see if we were drifting. Modern electronic GPS based anchor-alarm says no. But, like most sailors, I have set landmarks. I check against the precision of the computerized alarm. Pop my head up. No wind, no waves. All the boats, that are near Spiritus are essentially in the same places. Hmmmm….?
I walk forward. I hear the rattling of chains. Very dark. Somewhere behind me, I swear to God I could hear heavy breathing. I turn. Nothing. Hairs on back of neck stand on full alert.
Senses, the ones God gave me, are now on-full. Since we have gentle solar anchor lights in both forward dorades, that cast yellow cat’s-eye shadows when we are at anchor, I can see the deck without a flash light to move about safely.
More rattling chains and a hushed breath, almost like someone took a breath and is holding it. Someone other than me, that is.
OK, this is creepifying and not Halloween! It is Christmas!
I reach down in the near darkness and grab the chain to see if I can feel it dragging. Odd. It’s moving in my hand. Dancing. Not dragging. Never have I felt anything like that sense of movement on the chain. Another freaking deep breath to my right. I spun to look. Okay, I am now hypersensitive, I admit it. Nothing. Pitch black. Moon is down. Anchor lights only.
I slowly feel my way to the cap rail where I can see the chain enter the water or, at least, try to see it. I peer over. Holy shit, the chain is bioluminescent. Cool. It is also dancing in wide six foot circles. Definitely not cool.
Then, I see him.
I see the ghostly outline of a giant dolphin. He shoots out from the darkness near the boat appearing, as if by magic, below me. He takes his snout and nuzzles the chain in circles. I hear the rattling chains. The air chills immediately to 88 degrees. I break out in goosebumps.
As if my Christmas story isn’t good enough, reality is even better. We had an 8-10 foot dolphin, maybe a fathom down, under the hull, in the dark clear waters. He/she was aglow in green phosphor. The chain was aglow as well. All of this danced before my eyes in quiet stillness, except for the occasional surface break and deep breath he needed to continue jerking my chain.
This anchorage has a history of boat visitations by a local dolphin named by the boaters ‘Chippy’ . One well-known cruisers’ guide states “his favorite past time is to use the boat’s anchor rode or chain as a backscratcher.” Shawn and Heather’s guide to Pacific Mexico for cruisers.
Our boat has never been visited before.
Was it ‘Chippy’ or was is the Father of all Dolphins?
Merry Christmas from Spiritus with a nod to Charles Dickens, Scrooge, Jacob Marley!
Merry Christmas from Barra de Navidad, Mexico.
We are getting ready to sail up to Banderas Bay and La Cruz for the winter months. It lets us get away from the docks and actually sail everyday or so. But before we left Barra, we thought we would wish everyone a Merry Christmas tropical style. The tree in the picture is in the town square, not exactly Macy’s but no one here knows that.
It is made from palm fronds. This is the same material used to make roofs on the palapas. Cool stuff.
It is lighted with twinkle lights and you can see the ocean in the background if you look closely. From the town of Barra de Navidad, Merry Christmas! Or as we say in Mexico, FELIZ NAVIDAD !
The local fishing and tourism businesses in Barra de Navidad are, if nothing else, incredibly flexible about making the most of opportunity.
We recently had a chance to see, up-close, the shipwreck from Hurricane Patricia. The pangas now ferry tourists out to see it and take pictures. When you only have lemons, make lemonade. Take the potential disaster and make a living from it. Interesting business model.
The actual wreck is quite impressive. Well worth the 500 pesos for the boat rental. Six of us, who live in the marina, shared the ride. The two lawyers who own S/V Karpesa paid and asked us all to come along.
Of course, if you are a cruiser, you don’t actually have to pay anyone to go see the wreck. You can always get around the local economy and see it yourself on the cheap in your very own dingy.
Thanks to the aftermath of Hurricane Patricia, we now have a new attraction. We have two heavy seagoing tugs, a very large barge just off the entrance to the marina, a helicopter making 5-8 flights a day from a landing pad next to the marina, and innumerable panga tours.
How long can the good times last?