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!