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sailing and cruising

Fire-base Barra

We have spent the summer in Barra de Navidad in Jalisco, Mexico.

I shot this footage when I wrote the last entry about the wreck of the cargo ship from Hurricane Patricia.  It struck some memory from my youth so I thought I would explore it a little here.

Watch the video then read below.

How is Mexico Like Vietnam


The video was taken early in the morning as the helicopter approached the fuel dock area.  We now jokingly call that ‘fire-base Barra’.  It flew in over the lagoon with the sun and the anchored boats at its back.  I could hear the sound of its rotors from two or three miles away.

I realized as I took the footage that I have been in or near the Huey helicopter since I was 17 years old.  That is when I joined the Army as a volunteer and headed off to South East Asia. I am now 65 years old.  This is a remarkable fact.

I have spent 48 years of my life and the Huey keeps reappearing like some totem beyond.  I have seen them in combat settings in South East Asia in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

I have seen the news footage after I got home of them lifting the last people (except for the marine squad left behind) off the roof of the Saigon embassy.  I watched the evening news as navy and marine personnel pushed them off the end of an aircraft carrier into the ocean because there was no more room for them to land.

I worked in Emergency Medical Services in Southern Colorado where at times the Air National Guard would fly medivac missions to the San Luis Valley in weather that civilian flight services could not fly in.  We hot loaded then at night with the blades still running because of the altitude of a bit over a mile high at the local airport.

Seen them in movies like ‘Predator’, ‘We Were Soldiers’, ‘Apocalypse Now’,’Clear and Present Danger’, and ‘ The Matrix’.  I have played the Ia Drang Valley battle in a simulator called Armed Assault, with a group of hard-core game players called United Operations, reenacting the battle from the movie, ‘We were Soldiers’ based on the actual battle early in the Vietnam Conflict.

The helicopter is iconic.  It is now a part of a collective memory.  It brings visions, dreams, nightmares, sweats, racing hearts, and smell of aviation fuel and smoke and heat from its engine.

All that was missing was the sound of 50 cals firing out the doors.  Thankfully.

Makes me want to add the sound track from ‘Flight of the Valkyries.’



Cruiser Update on Hurricane Patricia Damage at Barra de Navidad (11/24/2015)

As we all watch Hurricane Sandra form in the waters southwest of us, I thought I would update everyone  to let them know where repairs and functionality are at in Barra de Navidad since many stop here or pass by.

The Lagoon

More or less back to normal.  Channel seems unchanged to enter the anchorage.  Keep in mind that the passage to the fuel docks and the passage to the anchorage are not identical.  There is a shallow finger between the two.  If you try to cross the finger at a low water mark … you will be aground.  There are currently three sailing vessels in the anchorage.  And, one waiting for the tide to lift it from the sand bar.

Tidal flow and water quality back to normal again.  Color of water normal again.

The Fuel Docks

The actual dock that had broken free has been returned to the other.  They are not tied together.  The pump for diesel has not been repaired/replaced.  This does not mean fuel is not available.  The actual station attached to the dock for fuel is still functional.  So, be prepared to haul fuel to your boat in Jerry jugs.  Or be prepared to have someone help you with that.  From the marina, it is only about 1000 feet to the still functional station across a field.

Diesel is available at Marina Isla Navidad as just described.

Internet at Docks (wireless network)

Intermittent in the extreme.  Down about a third of the time, now.  No reason or pattern of network failures.  What is more than a little frustrating is that the two available networks show up and allow you to connect at times.  Then you will get stuck at the identifying network stage FOREVER.  Problem seems to be with DNS server and the fact that the network supplies only two of the four necessary bits of information needed to connect .  But, even when all info is supplied and a connection is established and signal strength is excellent, you will get a ‘no internet’ notice.

This situation exists even if you have a good wi-fi extender as part of your system.  It will drive you insane.  You will be tempted to tinker with your computers and fondle slabs.  Resist the urge.  It is not your equipment.  It is the hotel network.

If it goes down on a Friday afternoon, it will be Monday morning 9 am before if comes back up.

If you walk up to the hotel lobby to connect to their network (separate but equal)  it will behave in the same way.

Have a good Banda Ancha or another means of accessing the internet if you wish to manage a blog, pay bills, or stay in touch with families and friends.

There are internet hot spots at restaurants and small internet centers in town across the bay.

Internet access at the hotel and marina is marginal.

Electrical at Docks

Available.  Most meter boxes were damaged but have been righted.  Not fully repaired, but functional.

Water at Docks

Water is available at the docks.  There have been several interruptions of a day or two for more repairs.  As always, potable water is not available at the dock faucets.

The water can be rendered potable with a simple two filter prefilter for your boat.  Readings at the faucet before filtering are in the 120-150 parts per million range.  Filters reduce that to  100 parts per million or so.  Taste is good after filtering.  Water is acceptable,as is, for everything but drinking.

If you prefer, you can order water in the blue five gallon water bottled delivered to your boat and slip.  They will come back for the empty bottles after you fill your tanks.

Marina Showers and Restrooms

Fully functional.  As always, not all showers have hot water but this is not a critical repair.  The ones near the Marina Office always seem to have hot and cold water.

Sewage Pump Outs at Slips

Don’t have pump outs of sewage.  Never have and apparently never will.  The disposal of sewage here is a mysterious and wonderfully misunderstood thing.

Short version.  Pump all sewage before you enter the marina, as you do at sea.  Some folks might tell you that everyone leaves the docks and goes to sea to pump out.  This is magical thinking.

The most ecological of us will simply not use on board for anything related to solid waste.  Urine is pumped into the waters of the marina at night when the tide is going out.

The Hotel Pools and Elevators

Yeah, I know, not hardcore sailor concerns.  However, believe me, you will appreciate the three pools of the Hotel Grand Isla Navidad.   All are clean and functional again.


Water taxi and its docks

Fully functional and operates on Channel 23.  24 hours a day.

Navigation Lights

Back to fully functional.

French Baker

Started deliveries to the Marina and anchorage two days ago.  I guess the season is here.  So, back to normal.


Small community next to the marina.  Just outside the security fences.  Well known for its fishermen and restaurants.  Restaurants fully functional. More than half a dozen houses still un-roofed as rebuilding continues.  They got hit hard.

Town of Barra de Navidad

Just celebrated a belated “Dia de Muertos” and a great Revolution Day (November 22) with parades of ” little revolutionaries”.




Below is a picture of the restaurant I showed you in the post on Hurricane Patricia.  Look what you can do with just a few hand tools in four or five days.  Nice restoration, huh?



San Antonio de Padua Catholic Church

Closed to weather.  Doors temporarily repaired.  Stained glass above entrance still damaged.  But, fully functional.  Mass at 8:00 am on Sundays.  Other times posted somewhere.

Boats in lagoon and Marina

Marina and all boats fine.  No losses.  Lagoon had a sail boat run aground when its furler opened in the storm and off it sailed.  It was unoccupied and tied to the mangroves of the small island off Collimilla.  It was floated and now sits with its sail flapping in the winds but at anchor again (tied in same location).

Freighter aground on Punta Graham

Salvage operations under way.  Support is now a heavy seagoing barge, a helicopter, two smaller tug-style boats.  Lots of activity.  spill boom is now in water around ship.  Some concern still for environment but there is an actual response now underway.



The currents generally on that point of land are southward.  So, maybe only the golf course would be affected and not the bay.  Cross fingers and hope for a north wind till it is over.  Makes it hard for those of us headed north.

The helicopter for this effort is based in the sandy lot next to the marina.  If a Vietnam-era Huey is your ‘thing’, it is a treat.  If the sound of those distinctive rotors makes you crawl under a table and scream ‘incoming’, you may want to seek help or another anchorage.


Bus Service to surrounding towns

For rides to Melaque for the bank and the Hawaii Store.  For rides to Cihuatlan  to the Bodegon Store.  For rides to Manzanillo for everything convenient (Home Depot, Mega, Sorriana’s, Burger King, Block Buster, and Wal-Mart, as well as Government stuff like immigration.

All routes back to normal.

Hope this update helps everyone thinking of stopping here.  Oh, and don’t forget ‘disaster tourism’.  You can see a really big ship aground as you enter the harbor if you just go to Point Graham and look before you head in.  Stay far enough away (which is pretty close) to stay out of salvage operation area.  It is very interesting to see.

We are headed to Tenacatita anchorage next week and will let you know if anything has changed.  But boats are going back and forth from there now.  Some restaurants in La Manzanilla have yet to reopen. This small community got hit hard as well. I do not know if all crocodiles are accounted for in the sanctuary.

If you swim or swim your dogs.  Just a thought.

The Wind, The Cross, and the Chachalaca

Barra de Navidad just survived Hurricane Patricia, the strongest recorded hurricane in history. There was a great deal of property damage, and a number of folks lost their entire homes; but, no one here died and that’s a miracle.

The news reports are saying we actually got 165 mph here; and I guarantee you that Friday, October 23, 2015, was one heck of a long day. But Saturday, we were all still here and so was Spiritus; and, as early as possible, we started moving back on-board. Between hurricane prep, Patricia’s fury and interminable waiting, it’d been a long 48 hour grind; but, we’d been blessed. Thank you, Lord.

On Sunday, we went across the bay (via the water taxi) to see our town, check on our friends, and attend services at San Antonio de Padua, a  Catholic Church. We’ve attended this small church ever since we started living in Barra de Navidad in the summers. The congregation has always welcomed us; we’ve got a copy of the Mass in Spanish; and, by now, we’re pretty comfortable joining in on some of the hymns.

The water taxi’s little dock had been hit hard and the roof had collapsed; so, they were using the dock next to them.

Barra’s streets were full of wreckage–tiles, glass, downed roofs, tree limbs; yet, what we saw walking toward the church was everybody working, cleaning, removing debris and rubble by-hand. People happy to be alive; congratulating each other, laughing, checking about families. No time for weeping or self-pity. Bunches of the guys had beers in their hands, while they were working. Why not, they’d all had little sleep, if any, and were exhausted; but, there was work to do and it was finally light again. Barra de Navidad still had no electricity.

As we walked to church, there were no buildings boarded up, no police, no soldiers, no looting. No violence whatsoever. The OXXO (Mexico’s version of a ‘7-Eleven’ convenience store) simply had a sign hanging in the window–‘Cerrado’ (closed).

Right across from the OXXO store stands San Antonio’s Church.

Anthony of Padua was a Portuguese friar of the Franciscan Order, a Doctor of the Church, and was canonized a saint in 1232. He is a patron saint of the poor, fishermen, mariners, shipwrecked people, and watermen (water taxi drivers and ferrymen). Probably a pretty good choice for a small fishing town like Barra de Navidad. This statue of Saint Antonio sets in an arched wall recess of the church.


The stained-glass over the doors at the front of church had blown out, but it’d been cleaned up; and, the church had lost the entrance door on the right.


Several pews were leaned up to fill the doorway to keep dogs and critters out.


Still there were lots of people waiting to get in, and Sunday Mass was Standing Room Only.

Barra’s church  is well-accustomed to its share of miracles.   It is known, throughout Mexico, as the ‘Church of the Christ of the Cyclone’.


Over the altar hangs a Christ figure, whose arms are no longer nailed to the cross.

The Christ figure’s arms hang next to his body.  It is very “non-traditional” for a reason.The explanation for this unusual configuration of the church’s crucifix lies with Hurricane Lily on September 1, 1971. Many of the people of Barra fled their homes and sought refuge in the church. While they were gathered and praying, the Christ’s arms suddenly fell down to his sides and the storm abated. San Antonio’s congregation chose to keep the arms in that position in a perpetual commemoration of Barra’s special miracle.


Superstition or miracle?????? I’m old enough to know that’s a question for theologians–not me. Personally, I don’t think it really matters what you call it, if such an event provides a source of hope and renews the human spirit in difficult times. On the other hand, I’m also an academic and tend to search for as much information as I can get on subjects. If you’re interested in a more rational explanation, I encourage you to read this charming and excellent web article:

Over to the side of the church is a smaller model of the altar Christ. It can be used on special religious feast days (such as Good Friday of Holy Week) for processionals around the town.

On Sunday following the hurricane, both of our guitarists were present– their wives and children singing and occasionally providing percussion accompaniment with tambourines. Both families love what they do, are gifted musically, and this mass was a real toe-tapper.

The priest’s sermon was short, sweet, and to the point. It began with a simple “Gracias a Dios.”  That is loosely translated as ‘Thanks to God’.

However, the  highlight of this particular mass had to be the fat, sassy, and fearless Chachalaca hen which wandered in during the Consecration and Communion.

Mortalis_poliocephala Chachalaca

The West Mexican Chachalaca (Ortalis poliocephala) A fine specimen of a hen, a veritable Grande Dame of Chachalacas.

That tough old bird had just endured a Category 5 hurricane just like the rest of us.  She was tired. She was hungry and she wanted something to eat. What caught her eye (she, being rather short and close to the ground) were women’s sandals, especially any Sunday-best sandals embellished with beads, baubles, or sparklies. Particularly tempting seemed to be those well-shod entrées garnished with beautifully pedicured toes, sporting fruit-colored icings of luscious red and delectable apricot.

¡Buen Provecho! Bon Appétit! Enjoy your meal !

During the Consecration the dowager calmly meandered through the crowd, like a seasoned socialite pretentiously checking out the quality of those dishes offered at a lavish buffet; then, as everyone stood up and proceeded to the altar for Communion, things got really interesting. Up the line came a successive series of jumps and wiggles! Yelps, grunts, and an occasional squeal!

Seems Madame Chachalaca was somewhat ‘peckish’.  Toes were on her menu.

It was a jollity, a holiday, and a delightful respite from the drama of the past 48 hours. Children laughing, adults smiling, and the line to the altar just kept moving. It was a grand moment; and I felt happy, grateful, and proud to be there. It was a wonderful way to start over, to begin again. It was about life and living.

When most of the folks were back in their places, one young man (with the help of one very young girl wearing no nail polish and plain sandals) quietly chased and caught the venerable matriarch.  She left our company in an outrage of squawking protest. Highly undignified, after her otherwise magnificent performance.

To his credit, the young priest never batted an eyelash–never lost focus–never cracked a smile. He managed the Mass with suitable gravitas and decorum.

Once more the waters of the bay lapped gently at the sands of Barra’s beaches, the wind kissed the swaying palms leaves of the coconut trees, and the tropical sun heated the cobbled streets under our sandals.

Thanking God for the day, the sunshine, and one fat and sassy Chachalaca.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

–Cecil  Frances Alexander’s Hymns for Little Children (1848)

Video Hurricane Patricia

Hurricane Patricia 2015



When you look into the abyss, sometimes, the abyss looks back!

In early April of this year, 2015,  we were headed back to La Cruz from Mazatlan by way of Chacala.  It was early morning or late at night–that time before dawn, as the light is just revealing the morning.

During the early evening and night we had been sailing, but the wind softened to the point of nothingness, so we reluctantly turned over the engine and proceeded at low rpm on towards the bay of Chacala.

The water was so smooth that at one point, as the light became stronger, I took off my glasses to see if they were the polarized lenses.  I’ve never seen water that smooth with small waves except in a computer simulation.  It looked like cold molten glass.  Unreal.

We were knocking off three to four knots at 800 rpm– not very loud by diesel standards.  Almost no wake, just ripples from the passage of a hull through the water.  Spiritus doesn’t leave much of a wake anyway … kind of like a ghost on the water.

Carolyn was below decks making some early morning coffee.

When, quietly, a not-so-small head emerged about 50 feet from the boat.  I’d been so busy looking at the surreal waters that I hadn’t noticed the approach of the small whale.

It was not more than 15 feet long.  Stuck its head straight up out of the water; and, I swear it held its breath as I held mine.  I whispered to Carolyn to “Get up here. . . fast!  No problems, but you have to see this.”  Her head popped up, too.  I pointed.

She saw it–it saw us–we saw it.  Wowzers!

Nearby a larger shape broke the surface.  Momma.  We cut engines.  Silence.

Everyone still holding their breaths.

“Do you want to get the camera?”  Always the question with whales.

“No, just stay and enjoy this.  I’ve never seen a baby this close, or seen one do this.”

Maybe thirty seconds passed at slooow time.  In slooow time, seconds seem like minutes.

Slowly . . . gracefully . . . the head slipped straight down disappearing below the surface with only a few ripples.  Cold molten glass again for water.


Makes you feel pretty insignificant.  And, a little grateful for life in all its forms.

You will notice, once again– as in all tales of whales–I do not have a photo.  But I can draw, so below I have sketched what it “felt” like.  The problem with whales and photos, and photos– in general– is that to take the picture, you have to leave the experience and fiddle with your instrumentality, the camera.  You only end up with a picture of the experience you missed.  (I think I said that right enough.)

Sometimes, I would just rather have the sensory memory than the photo.  It never captures the ‘muchness’ of the thing anyway.



Okay, is the quote from the movie, “The Abyss” or Friedrich Nietzsche?

Nietzsche wrote, “When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”  But, he was no doubt talking about metaphysics and not whales.

Snake(s) on a boat … what kind is it?

That is right, I have discovered ‘crowd sourcing’ identification problems.  So, it you are a kid who likes to name things or someone who likes puzzles or ‘what is this questions’, check back occasionally.

This one is recent.  Last week, one of our neighboring boats has a visitor.  It came aboard through a cockpit drain.  When the owners of a Chilean sailboat were preparing the boat for a short absence, they were washing out the cockpit when, up out of the drain came the snake pictured below.  He is about 24 inches long and the picture was taken after his demise at the hands of a rubber mallet.


So here is your KOAN .. kill it or not.  Came in through water, so swims, has triangular head, has ‘pits’ on nose.  You can see the color.

As Cap’n Jack Sparrow would put it … “There is only one question, you have to answer, can you sail with a ‘snake’ aboard, or can you not!”  I might have paraphrased that.


So, name that snake, anyone?


Attempting a Sea of Cortez Crossing … he says … she says

This particular “adventure” occurred in early February of this year.

We have crossed the Sea of Cortez before with a crippled boat; so crossing in a healthy boat should not a be a problem.  Right?

Sometimes, it ain’t necessarily so!

The Sea of Cortez or as the US NOAA likes to term it, the Gulf of California, is not a place to be casual about.  It is generally a ‘relatively’ calm, predictable body of water.  That is what makes it so popular.  But, it has its little quirks.  Winds are one of them.

Knowing this, we left from Mazatlan to cross back to Baja with intentions of returning to La Paz for part of the Winter 2014/Spring 2015 sailing season in Mexico.

Boat was in good repair.  And we watched for the appropriate weather window. Finally, we got it.

Predicted 10-12 knots on our beam all the way across the Sea from the North to Northeast.  Sweet!  Swells from the SSW at 3-5 feet( abeam but at intervals of 20 seconds –so widely spaced).  Should not be a problem.

We did our weather prep, as described in the article earlier about “Guessing the Weather Along Mexico’s West Coast”.  Lots of checks and double checks.

Early morning 9:00 am high tide at Marina Mazatlan and the dredge (which frequently sits in the middle of the channel) wasn’t blocking the channel yet …. sweet!  An open shot to the Sea.  Off we go.


Beautiful, uneventful day-sailing, motor-sailing, or plain cruising  the entire day. Same into the early evening …. wind picks up a little and moved to the Northwest … kind of in-our-face, but still 6-8 knots.  Motor on, so we are now motor sailing into the wind.


Dusk approaches and the wind isn’t dying but ‘freshening’–such an interesting term.  Means we decide to drop main, furl the jib-genoa, and take in the mizzen.  Now,  motor only.   Still making good headway.  5 knots average per hour, in progress.

This crossing is to Los Frailles, so it is about 160 miles.  Late evening and  almost midnight we are literally 79 miles or nearly exactly halfway there.

Wind picks up . . .  18 knots then 20, then you can hear it in the masthead … so  now it is above 25 knots.  This is not predicted and it’s in our face … we are now making 2-3 knots headway.  Slow going!   80 miles to go.

That is 40 hours, if you are slow at math.  We are now 16 hours in, and still have 40 hours to go.  We planned a 36 hour crossing.  Hey, we’re cruising.

Thunk …. or rather THUNK  … in the dark.  Carolyn’s head pops up. “What was that?”  At the time we thought we might have hit a sea turtle, because we’d been seeing them all afternoon.  Check the boat’s maneuverability … no problems.  Can’t see anything near prop … hard to see, but can’t see any problems.

Felt the thunk in the tiller attached to the rudder.

Half an hour later in the slightly heavier seas … the tiller pilot suddenly snaps … Our auto-pilot, affectionately named Ripley, looses her head literally as the small plastic attaching-head snaps in half … no pilot.  Harsher sea state … still not a big problem.

About an hour later … I’m manning the helm letting Carolyn get some sleep since the weird noise and the loss of the tiller pilot.  And the boat is requiring a little more upper-body strength to manage smoothly.  It is nearly Carolyn’s shift anyway.

She routinely does a midnight to 4-5 am while I sleep.

Engine misses.  Hmmm …. Carolyn’s awake immediately … her head pops up in the hatch like a prairie dog … “What was that ?”

“Take over  for a sec …”

Sputter …. sputter …. check Racor …. air ….

Stop engine, while she tries to keep the boat steady with no engine or sails.

Crack open Racor and top-off with fuel.  Restart …. running smooth … no problem ….. take a deep breath. Ok?

15 minutes later … sputter sputter …. Racor looks good.  Switch to other tank … sputter.  Cough ….. big sighhhhhh.

Silence. My favorite part of sailing is when you cut the engines and boat falls silent except for the sound of waves against the hull as you sail forward on sails-only.

Unfortunately, that is not what’s happening.  We are now tossing in moderate seas .. so much, that working in the engine room is getting hazardous.  Picture being tossed about against large metallic objects … like engines, desalination pumps, thru hulls, and  . . . Use your imagination.


I head up topside and we put out a minimal amount of sail on the furler.  So we can maneuver … though at this point, downwind only.

We add a mizzen sail furled, in order to get full control of the boat.  We turn towards the wind … 1-2 knots anywhere near our original heading.  Not good.

Carolyn swears at this point that, as we turned with the wind and the tiller became a bit harder to handle, I started saying “I love you”  way too much.  As a married person of forty-three years, I wasn’t aware it’s even possible to say that too much.

However, my  dear wife pointed out that–considering the silence of the boat, noise of the wind, the fact that she was tossed from the berth to the Saloon floor, and the fact I was so quiet except for my all too frequent litany of “I love you” — made her think perhaps–just maybe– we were in some little bit of danger.

“Is everything okay?” she queries.


“Are you sure?”


“Are you going to be able to restart the engine?” she probes.  This question is asked calmly and rather stoically.   She needs information, so she can start considering options–it’s just her way.

“I don’t know,” I tell her honestly.  “I don’t know for sure what is wrong with it, and I can’t work on it in these seas and winds.”

Long pause …

“Can I take over the rudder so you can look again?”

“I don’t think you can steer here like this.  I’m having to really work to hold course.”

Longer pause

“Are we in trouble?”

“… yes.”

“Are we in danger?”

“No.  I don’t think so.”

I am leaving out some of the “I love you”s for story-telling convenience.

“What do we need to do …?”  she asks from the companionway ladder in tossing seas.

“I think we need to turn around.”

“Okay.”  Simple answer and resolute.

At this point, several decisions get made in less than a couple of minutes.  We turn downwind.  We adjust a reverse course.  A guess initially.  Pick a line in the waves that, although they are across the other beam now … we aren’t bashing them or rolling wildly back and forth … just climbing and settling– though quite frequently.

Interval of the waves has shortened.

With part of a jib and a reefed mizzen, we are now doing almost 8 knots back towards Mazatlan versus headway of 1-2 knots if we’d tried for Baja.  10 hours back or 40 forward?

We quickly decide that, in Los Frailles, there’s no mechanical help of assistance other than that which another boat might provide.  So none.  But, back in Mazatlan, we have available everything you need to repair a boat.

We decide that, though the sailing was more challenging than the motor cruising had been, it is actually much faster and the boat is “easier” to control. We are actually able to sail faster than the swells so it feels like a much longer interval than it is.

We’re getting closer and closer to dawn.  So, we’ve now been sailing for about 24 hours. Near dawn–7a.m. or so … maybe a few minutes later.  Ten hours more or less to 5-6 pm, if we average 5 knots– which is the approximation I always work from.

Dawn.  Winds are lessening.  Boat is easier to control, but slowing to about 3.5-4 knots.  Still no chance to work on the engine.  Beautiful–but tired morning.

By about 10 am … I return the boat to Carolyn’s control after we make sure she’s confident she can handle the sea state well.

Sleep.  After 4 hours or so.  I can think better.  Boat is moving 4 knots or so.  On return-course.  I take the helm back and we have lunch.

We decide to head for the south harbor of Mazatlan– not the marinas– because, without an engine, we cannot navigate the entrance and channel of the Marinas safely.  South harbor should be relatively straightforward even with just sail, because we can slip into Stone Island anchorage under sail if we have to.

We also know that the charts for that area are both accurate and highly detailed.  A definite plus compared to the fact that the marinas’ entrance and location is not charted in our Garmin chart plotter at all.

“Do you want to take another look at the engine?” she inquires.

“Yes, cause I really want to have the ability to enter the harbor, even if there is an outgoing tide.  You okay with the rudder and sailing her for a bit?”


“I love you.”

I head below … brace open the engine room and start diagnostics.  Racor is full and no air is visible.  Manual fuel pump on the engine is working.  Fuel tanks have adequate fuel.  Switch to main fuel tank.  Hand-prime engine.

Try start … no start.  Turns, but does not fire.

Hmmm …. retrace fuel to fuel pump.  Vent … air?  Check line to injectors …. more air?

Okay?   Bleed … bleed.

Cross fingers.  This is always a by-the-book critical step with an older boat.

“Okay, we’re going to try to start her.  I love you, wife.”

Turn starter … cranks easily.  Fires and stalls.  Try again.  Fires.  Runs.  Sputter … flip on electric back up fuel pump.  Runs.

Sputter … cut electric pump… smooths out.

” Carolyn, put it in neutral and increase RPMs.”   Still smooth.

“Idle her and put her in gear.  I love you.”

Slows to idle and still smooth …. clicks into gear and still smooth.

“Don’t change anything.  I will be right up”

Shut engine room. And back to cockpit.  It is about 3 in the afternoon …. winds are now light … boat is moving at about 3 knots … and we have engine back.

“Okay. Give her some throttle and let’s see if she’ll run.”

Half an hour later and still running … a big sigh.

This time I hear the words from her … “Oh, Harper, I love you.”

We are now motor sailing … push her back up to 6 knots in the setting sun.  We need to make sure all is well before sunset, because we will be getting back about twilight.

It is getting dark as we near the entrance to the South Harbor of Mazatlan.  The Baja Ferry is just leaving. This a busy fishing port and while we wait for her to clear the entrance, night falls.  It’s dark before moon rise, lots of boats in and out.  Radar is your friend, as distancing in the dark is quite difficult without radar.  We pick our way in among the outgoing boats.  We are tired, but cannot afford to be sloppy in our seamanship.

It is just after full dark when we motor into the anchorage next to Club Nautico and Carolyn drops anchor.

It is definitely time for a beer.


(The following is an email, which Carolyn sent to our family and friends later in the week.)


Good Morning–And I do mean GOOD…………..

Well, it was epic, tried to go to La Paz on Tuesday morning–forecast: perfect weather…..Bah, meteorologists what do they know???????????

We  left under a beautiful sky; and, by nightfall, we had a full moon, motor running good, and as Chief Joseph of the Nez Pierce once said, “The peace treaty negotiations were going swimmingly, until the massacre.”


I got up around 5 a.m. Tuesday morning–checked email, weather, and stowed away all the breakables, which we leave out around the cabin while we’re in port.  Made coffee and got Russ up for breakfast.  Left at 8:30 in the morning.  Ate supper just before sunset out on deck, with the auto-pilot running the boat….By 7:30 p.m., I go down to sleep until midnight,when I usually get up to spell Russ at the tiller for 4 hours………Wind comes up way too fast–and seas 3-5 feet–Russ not worried—Ripley’s driving the boat….

I lay down and something–probably a sea turtle– hit the boat………..Ker-whap!  Get up.  Russ and I look for damage…..Sea turtles are rather large…We find nothing and motor is okay……..Back to bunk….30 minutes later, I hear topside, “Well, WTF!”

Ripley’s steering arm has broken….. so, no help with driving the boat. Okay, drive the boat on motor and cope.

Then….at 2 a.m.,the motor stopped running……….Seas now 5-7 feet. Wind a lousy 27 with gusts of 35………

Raise the mizzen sail and roll out the furler……….

The coup de grâce was the onset of my very first bout of sea sickness!  As you know, I am both philosophically and constitutionally opposed to retching….It makes me sick to my stomach, so I just don’t do it….or so I thought.  It’s certainly every bit as awful as I remember from my childhood.

No motor, bad seas, and a wife who’s no help at all……….Great……..

We were exactly half-way to La Paz (80 miles)…Options: Continue–(first two anchorages we will reach are small bays, consisting of a couple of restaurants and three bars on the coast of Baja–no help there, if we can’t fix the boat……..) or return to Matzalan: (we can get help with motor). Major conundrum at both places: arrival in the dark (except for the moon) and anchoring without a motor can be very problematical……….

Capt. Russ makes the decision to return….If we get to calmer seas, with the advent of morning we can try to fix the motor……..The notion of help available, assuming we get any place, is the tie-breaker.

I go downstairs and generally am miserable–but I start taking Bonine (similar to Dramamine)..and finally by 6 a.m. can, at least, pitch around in the cabin without tossing my cookies………..

Russ is cold, tired, wet, and definitely worn out……….

Finally at two Wednesday afternoon–30 miles from Mazatlan– we had a sea state that was still pitching, but manageable enough that I could go topside and give Russ some time to look at the motor…………….20 minutes later, his hope was that our problem was air in the fuel line…………..Answer: Bleed the lines and prime the Racor filter with more fuel.

40 minutes later…and 6 attempts….we finally got her to start……….Yippee……….

Soooo…we were back at Mazatlan’s south commercial anchorage at 8 p.m Wednesday… the dark (the moon at least gave us a visual outline of the many rocks and small islands, which surround the entrance. Lots of ferries, fishing trawlers, and the occasional cruise ship to avoid …  dropped anchor… I set the hook.

Supper consisted of pepper jack cheese wrapped in a tortilla, and Russ fell asleep talking to me…………

Spent the night in the Club Nautico anchorage and the next day.  Finally, got up here to the marina about 10 this morning………..Now we recoup and figure out what to do next–….both of us are too tired to have the brains right now for any responsible decision-making.


The Sailing Academy of Hard Knocks

This is one of those non-online courses in sailing.  We considered this experience a free (meaning: it all turned out okay) 40-hour sailing seminar on decision-making and improvisational sailing.

It certainly was an adventure.  (Incidentally, Carolyn hates the word “Adventure.”  As far as she’s concerned, the real meaning of the word simply implies that absolutely everything that can go wrong did go wrong; but, nobody died).

Anyway . . .

You don’t always end up where you were headed.  It is still all good sailing.

We talked a little about whether or not we could’ve have fixed the engine in Los Frailles … The answer in retrospect … “yes, probably”.  Weighing the certainty of Mazatlan with the possibility of Los Frailles, we chose to be careful sailors … too many possible failures.  Even if safely to Los Frailles … we would’ve still needed to know that we could get to La Paz thru the Cerralvo straight and the San Lorenzo channel north of La Paz where the wind is usually from the NNE or NNW in your face.

We chose to not risk the boat on possibilities, when she was fully capable of returning to where we started.

We stayed a day in Mazatlan’s Club Nautico anchorage checking out the engines and filter system and took her back to the north marinas two days later.

We found that we had thrown a shaft zinc which was the thunk.  We had broken the neck on the tiller pilot.  And the fuel we added to top-off the Racor was contaminated with water … add the air problem and. . .  Taa-Dahh!Time to turn around and run with the wind.

Lessons learned?

Lesson one.  Don’t tell your wife how much you love her … or at least don’t keep telling her when you both are under stress.  It is apparently okay to tell someone that after the danger is over.

Lesson two ... Don’t always stick to the plan … Be flexible.

Lesson three …. Have a plan B …C … D …

Lesson four …. Trust the boat … she wants to see you safely “there”.   And/or “back again”


This picture is slightly blurry,  that is what it looked like to me as we pulled into Mazatlan, so tired I cold barely see straight.