It’s January 15th and we are having an early dinner with James and Dahlia from Rejoice at Bahia los Muertos. We are looking at weather forecast; wind and swell predictions from a variety of sources. From our seats, we can look southeast across the Sea of Cortez, 190 miles across lies our destination…..Mazatlan. There is a northerly brewing that promises to intensify as the week goes on, setting up a perfect scenario for sustained wind. We hope to get out in front of it, take advantage of the building winds to sail fast but before the swell builds too uncomfortably. The next 48 hours look promising, if we wait, we will likely be stuck for a days until the northerly blows itself out.
Two weeks earlier, we had left our Puerto Escondido and the town of Loretto. Our friend Riv had joined us and we spent five days sailing south, anchoring at familiar places along the way. We stopped again at Aqua Verde, Isla San Francisco and Espiritu Santos on our way back to La Paz. It was Riveka’s first experience on the open water and living on a boat. She had to find her sea legs, but she was a good sport and fun company for us. We arrived back in La Paz right on time, the day before she was to fly out. It had been fun having company on the boat, but we were glad to have our home back and ready to get moving again. It is cold on the Baja in winter and the mainland was calling to us.
The day after returning to La Paz, Rejoice had approached us to buddy boat with them across the sea. This was going to be their most strenuous passage on their own and, sensibly enough, they preferred to tackle it with company. Julie and I have had our share of dark overnight passages in heavy weather and were not anxious about the prospect of going it alone; but the sea is a serious body of water and should not to be taken lightly. We decided to buddy up and so, on the morning of January 13th, we started our motor and pushed off the dock. We motored down the narrow familiar channel saying our farewells to the town of La Paz. Our plan was to make it back to Los Muertos, 45 miles SE, which offers a good angle in N or NW wind to sail across the sea.
As we made our way toward La Canal de Lorenzo and prepared to turn south, we realized that our good friends on Agatha, were at anchor in Bahia Balandra. If you have read our earlier post, you know that we have had many fun adventures with Bill, Victoria and Rose. We had left them last in Puerto Escondido on our return from the north. We were only 10 miles out of La Paz and anxious to start our trip to the mainland, but we were not sure when we would see them again, so we decided to do a drive by. Besides, we had a couple of books for them that we thought we might be able to toss across.
We pulled into Balandra and made our way up alongside Agatha. We were all happy to see one another and our voices filled the space between the two boats as we peppered each other with questions about future plans and news from the sea. Unfortunately, in our enthusiasm to catch up with our friends, we had forgotten that we were pulling our fishing line! We had slowly passed up their port side and were turning across their bow when Bill (from Agatha) noticed our line. It was about to pull down their side and be dragged under their keel. It would create a real mess if it became fouled in the prop! The crews of both boats immediately erupt in problem solving activities. Bill, thinking quickly, grabbed a boat hook and rapidly began pulling the line around the bow as we tried to stop and reverse our forward momentum. The line was coming in fast and the little lure skipped across the surface of the water, a movement and pace that was both frantic and realistic. So natural and convincing was the image of the terrified lure that it proved irresistible to the 15lb Dorado (MahiMahi) that was taking shelter from the sun in the shadow of Agatha. The brightly colored fish rose up from the bottom and struck the lure hard, the hook sank true. Bill led the fish around his bow and we pulled it out and hauled it up on deck. And that is how Bill caught a Dorado from the deck of Agatha on Epiphany’s fishing line!
Our excitement wasn’t over for the day. The forecast had changed from a possibility of rain to a probability. As we left Agatha behind us and turned south into the Ceralvo channel the skies made clear that a squall was inevitable and imminent. A curtain dropped across the southern part of the channel and lightning began filling the sky if front of us. We were on a collision course. We could see and feel the weather rushing toward us, intimidating claps of thunder becoming louder and louder. We decided to turn tail and run. We back tracked 15 miles to the north and anchored on the outside of Espiritu Santos, off of Playa Bonanza. The rain overtook us along the way and we got a nice fresh water shower, but the storm moved northwest and we missed the brunt of it. We spent the afternoon and evening comfortably anchored, dining on fresh Mahi Mahi and playing cards. The next morning we awoke up bright and early and made our way down the channel under clear skies to Bahia Los Muertos. Rejoice had followed us a few hours after we left La Paz. They too had taken shelter during the previous days storm and soon we both lay at anchor. Which is how we came to be sitting at dinner, looking south east toward Mazatlan and planning our passage across the formidable Sea of Cortez. We were intending to spend two days at Muertos, the storm had set us back a day and the Northerly was not going to wait.
At 5am we are on deck and lifting our anchor. We lift our sails just out of the bay and forty minutes later we are gently sailing into the dawning light of the morning sunrise. As soon as we clear the shadow of Ceralvo island the wind fills in. Rejoice and Epiphany are well suited as buddy boats. The 39 foot Hallberg Rassy is longer and sleeker than Epiphany. But the mixed swell is mitigated by our canoe stern and the beam reach allows us to fly three sails to their two. The boats spend the majority of the day trading places as the wind continues to grow. By mid afternoon it is blowing a steady seventeen knots with gust in the low twentys. Amazing conditions for passage making on a capable blue water boat. We reef the sails as night falls and the Sea becomes more turbulent. The Northerly is picking up momentum, starting to find it’s groove. Twenty four hours from now, it will be blowing 35kts out here, as long as nothing unexpected happens, we have timed our crossing perfectly. So naturally, something unexpected happens.
It’s approaching midnight and we have three reefs in our main and just a sliver of our Genoa out. But fetch has kicked in and the seas have built significantly. We are surfing down waves at eight and a half knots. The mixed seas are turbulent, seemingly coming from all directions. It is loud and uncomfortable in the cabin. Looking back, I notice that we are running away from Rejoice. In different conditions at different times we may be able to get the best of them for a time. But not sustained. We shouldn’t be able to run away from them. We don’t want to lose sight of them or run out of VHF range, so we douse the headsail and run the rest of the night with just the triple reef in the main. By morning they have caught us up. Though they don’t tell us until later, Rejoice had developed some issues with their rudder in the night; they would later have to pull their boat out of the water to make the repairs. It is really scary to have boat issues in serious water in the middle of the night. We were glad that we had waited for them.
By mid morning, we are just 24 miles from Mazatlan. The wind dies and we start our motors to make the final leg, accompanied by a three boat fishing fleet. We had flown across the sea; we made 138 miles in one 24 stretch and for a quarter of that time we had just our reefed main propelling us!
The entrance to the marinas at Mazatlan is both narrow and shallow. We had to sit off the breakwater waiting for high tide, but we pulled into the Marina at El Cid in late afternoon. It felt great to have made a significant passage, we hadn’t done so since we arrived in Cabo back in November. Also….it was warm! The Marina at El Cid shares it’s property with a resort hotel and boat owners get full use of the facilities. There is a pool and a HOT TUB! It was time for some R&R.