Friday, December 21, 2012

Adventures in Anchoring and Death of a Spinnaker -- December 8 - 19

Our eleven day trip from Puerto Escondido south to La Paz included several anchoring skill-building exercises and three equipment tragedies (more than malfunctions – actual death in the line of duty).  As we consider our trip from the comfort of our dock at Marina Palmira, listening to the gentle sounds of Cuban danzon from the radio on the next boat, we can be philosophical: it’s all a learning experience!  

Bahia Candaleros – December 8:  We had a pleasant seven mile sail from Puerto Escondido to Bahia Candaleros where we were last seen having a Thanksgiving drink at the Presidential Suite of the hotel.  We returned to the beach bar of the hotel looking forward to the good (all things being relative) pizza served there.  What we had inconveniently forgotten was that cocktail hour in Bahia Candaleros might also be called the mosquito hour.  We were reminded of this when our waiter delivered a complimentary bottle of bug spray along with our cocktails!  By the time we had soaked ourselves down with bug spray and finished our cocktails night had fallen, the mosquitos had disbursed and we were able to enjoy the salad and pizza unmolested.  Next time we’ll start our evening fashionably late. 

Our first equipment tragedy was as we were anchoring at Bahia Candaleros.  To avoid mangling his toes in the windlass (note to non-sailors – the piece of equipment that feeds the anchor and chain out from the boat to the bottom of the anchorage) Bryce pulled back and in the process lost his grip on the windlass handle which proceeded to do a graceful, aerobatic flip into the bay.  Once again we were reminded that snorkel gear is not just for fun.  The next morning, after the sun was high enough to aid our search, we donned snorkels and masks and swam out to see if we could find the handle.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t spot it.  Bryce has now switched from wearing anchoring sandals to anchoring tennis shoes and is using the manual bilge pump handle as a replacement handle.  Lucky man, he’s been promised a new handle for Christmas. 
Bahia Agua Verde – December 9 – 13:  After giving up on our recovery mission, we sailed 17 miles south to Agua Verde and anchored behind a crowd of other boats. 

Abracadabra Anchored at Agua Verde

The first night was pleasant and we spent time in the cockpit with our “Star Maps for Beginners” book and I-Touch star program identifying some constellations.  We can now identify more than Orion!  On our second night a high wind in the Sea began sending waves wrapping around into the bay.  One of the boats in front of us had left so we had the opportunity (and were advised by others) to move further into the protection of the shoal.  Because the prior night had been so pleasant we didn’t think relocation would be worth the effort.  It would have been worth the effort.  The next morning, bleary eyed from having rocked-n-rolled all night, we were happy to see another better-situated neighbor departing, which allowed us to move further into the northern lobe of the bay.  Location, location, etc.

During our stay in Agua Verde, we made the acquaintance of Merry and Eric from Rhiannan who were kind enough to coach us on ways to cook fillets of sierra (Spanish Mackerel) that we had purchased from a local fisherman, provide directions for a hike and share weather information.  On our third day, friends from La Paz, Robert and Lucie on Grace, arrive with stories of their own adventures.
We followed Eric’s directions and enjoyed the hike past the old cemetery

Cemetery at Agua Verde

through a grove of date palms to another cove

Driftwood Art North of Agua Verde

and up a goat path along a hill to visit a cave.  Rather than leave our own red handprints at the cave (we’re not sure who first did that) 

Red Handprints at  Agua Verde Cave

we took “we were there” pictures:

Bryce Was There
And So Was Molly

The villagers at Agua Verde raise goats and the anchorage is known for the sound of goat bells on the hill in the evening.  During our stay a survival drama played out among the goat population on the hill above us.  A young goat was caught out on a ledge on the hillside, and for two days we watched anxiously as its worried mother looked for and called to it as the local vulture gang circled.  There was a happy ending -- we saw the mother escorting a young goat up the side of the hill one afternoon.  Success was confirmed when the vultures disbursed.  Who needs television when one has a heart-tugging PBS Nature special unfolding outside one’s door? 

We delayed our departure from Agua Verde because a southerly night wind was expected and Agua Verde is one of the few south-wind anchorages in the area.  On the morning of the expected southerly every other boat in the bay departed for the south side of the bay.  Fighting off our abandonment feelings, we decided to stay put because the weather predictions called for the wind to shift from the north later during the night.  We huddled below and listened to the rain and wind like Seattle sailors.  As it turned out, the wind shift came to pass and we sat as comfortably as those that had relocated.    

The exciting part of the “south wind kerfuffle” came at about 22.00 when we heard a boat approaching.  As we were the only boat left in the northern part of the bay, which can accommodate a number of boats at anchor, we weren’t concerned.  But then we saw the new arrival trying to anchor between Abracadabra and a (we thought) too-near rocky shore.  The clouds had obliterated any starlight or moonlight.  The newly arrived boat was a few lights in the dark and the sound of a motor – all very, very close to us, it seemed.

A polite exchange ensued between Bryce and the (undoubtedly exhausted) invisible single-hander trying to anchor near us:  “Are you comfortable with where I’m anchoring?  I’m afraid my perspective may be off in the dark.”  “Well, you’re plenty close.  There’s a lot of room in front of us.  Can we show you another suggestion?”  [In the background Molly was hissing things like:  “Holy f*^# -- if he sets there he’ll swing right on top of us!  Oh, cr@p!  He’s going to run into those rocks if he keeps going in that direction.  Jeeeezus, he’s close.”]

Fortunately, Bryce was able to talk the new arrival into a much safer place to anchor, though by the time he anchored Molly was positively vibrating – and not just from the night chill.  When we left Agua Verde in the morning we were happy to see his pretty little boat anchored comfortably in the middle of the bay, safe and sound.  Does he think we helped or does he think we were unreasonable?  We will never know!         

Southward Bound (returns to Timbabiche; San Evaristo; and Ensenada Grande on Isla Espiritu Santo) – December 14 – 17:  Our 21 mile trip from Agua Verde to Timbabiche was spent bringing out the sails and watching the wind die, turning on the motor and watching the wind come up; rinse, repeat.  By the time we arrived at Timbabiche we didn’t have time for adventures ashore.  The next day, from Timbabiche to San Evaristo (26 miles) we were able to sail . . . sloooowly . . . until we realized if we were going to make San Evaristo before dark (see above re: challenges of anchoring in the dark!) we would have to rely on the motor.  So, with winds at about 2 – 5 knots, we motored to San Evaristo.   
During the 28 mile trip from San Evaristo to Ensenada Grande (on Isla Espiritu Santo) the winds were brisk and from the north-north west which allowed us to sail the entire way.  Unfortunately, this was when we experienced the second equipment tragedy.  Fifteen minutes out of San Evaristo we put up the spinnaker and watched in horror as it shredded along the luff -- rrrrrrrrriiiiiip.  And our pretty little spinnaker was in two (or more).  Like much of our equipment it was not new when we got it, and we remind ourselves that used equipment should be expected to have a shorter life span than new.  But we are still saddened by the loss of our pretty little bargain sail. 

At the Dock in La Paz,Assessing the Damage

Ooooh, Baby, You Break My Heart

Ensenada Grande (where Bryce nursed his sinus infection with antibiotics five weeks before) was our home for two nights because the wind that made for a quick sail from San Evaristo strengthened, which suggested that we stay put in the ensenada’s good north-wind anchorage.  We sat at anchor in Ensenada Grande for two nights, listening to the wind howl in the rigging.  The wind wasn’t high enough to register in the scary-meter (the highest gust we saw was 20-knots) but it swept down from the hills surrounding the anchorage creating a howling sound that, as Bryce pointed out, was a bit like the sound track of Ice Station Zebra.        
On our last morning in Ensenada Grande the local rays put on a show at breakfast as though they were happy to have the scary night-time sounds over.  We drank coffee and watching them launch themselves four or five feet into the air and then land - slap – on the water, making a sound that brought back painful memories of childhood belly-flops.  Other rays would launch across the water like stones skipped by invisible giants.  Why the rays leap and splat like this is a mystery to us.
El Mezteño (Isla Espiritu Santo) – December 18:  We wanted to visit one more new place 
before returning to marina life so we motored in very light wind five miles south to El Mezteño, a pretty one-boat cove.  

El Mezteno

The sand was white and the water was warm-ish and startlingly clear.  We rowed to shore and scrambled over boulders until we gave up trying to call what we were doing hiking. 

So the Trail Would Be About Here . . . ?
Well, Maybe This Is The Trail . . . 

We walked the beach and watched the almost translucent crab run from our shadows.

When She Agreed To Row Back, The Shore Looked Closer 
We returned to the boat, had a beer and watched the crazy rays skip themselves across the water.  After dinner we identified a couple of additional constellations and commented on how the wind had shifted and was now coming from the west – the one area for which we had no wind or wave protection.  No concern, we told ourselves – it was only four knots.  No high winds were predicted.    

At about 21.00 the wind picked up and though it only rarely gusted to 20 knots, it was accompanied by swells of at least two meters (that’s 6 feet for the American readers).  Our little secluded cove had become a funnel for waves that were much higher than the winds warranted.  Abracadabra’s bow was bucking like a mechanical bull (to use an analogy you may be too embarrassed to admit you recognize – but we are old enough to recall that short-lived nightclub phenomenon).

Our first challenge was to determine what to do with the dinghy suspended over the side on its hoist.  Waves were splashing into it and could eventually make the weight too heavy for the hoist.  So we donned our PFDs (for non-sailors: personal flotation devices or life jackets), rode the mechanical bull in a dark only slightly relieved by the light of a bright quarter moon, lowered the dinghy and tied it off Abracadabra’s stern – hoping that we would find it attached in the morning rather than washed up on the beach! 

Cold, splashed and windblown we retreated below to discuss what else we should do to address this unfortunate turn of weather (something other than contemplating tossing up dinner).  As we discussed pros and cons of releasing additional anchor chain – a traditional way of addressing high winds – there was a huge BAM and the sickening sound of anchor chain running out uncontrolled --- clank-clank-clank-clank-clank.  We raced up the hatchway.  The sound stopped abruptly and the boat swung around like it was the victim in a rodeo calf roping event (ok… enough with the cowboy analogies, already!).  The anchor chain was taut again and the anchor was holding. 

The high waves had wrenched the snubber (for non-sailors: a hook on a piece of strapping that relieves the tension on the anchor chain) off the chain bending the snubber beyond repair (our third equipment tragedy), and then exerted enough force on the chain to pop off the windlass brake, which allowed the chain to dump noisily overboard.  The extra rope that follows the chain caught because Bryce had, as is his custom, cleated it at the bow.  Note to self: redundancy is a good thing in sailing.  Ha – no need to discuss the pros and cons of letting out more chain! 
Bryce let out a small amount of additional rope to give some stretch to the anchoring system.  Molly stood in the hatchway watching him ride up and down on the bow in the dark considering the best way of addressing his seemingly inevitable plunge into the six foot swell.  She decided his best chance was to grab onto the dinghy as he swept by . . . [Molly's note to self: make sure he ties on next time!]. 
Summary:  Bryce did not fall in, the dinghy stayed attached, and the anchor held.  We slept some (as much as one can sleep on an amusement park ride) and woke often.  The waves started to subside around 01.00.  There was a lot of energy expended in a very short time – by us and by the Sea.

Return to La Paz:  Fuzzy after from our busy night, we motored most of the way to La Paz, once again amazed that a night with so much wind could be followed by a morning with so little.  About five miles north of the start of the La Paz channel the wind came up and we were able to sail the rest of the way into Marina Palmira.  Sailing within the channel markers was like sailing a slalom run, and Bryce was a very Happy Captain. 

After the prior couple of noisy, active nights we were thrilled to tie up to a dock, have a hot shower and eat food cooked by someone other than Abracadabra’s galley wench.  Bryce is now on the internet ordering a windlass handle and an anchor chain snubber to be delivered by Santa Claus . . . and we're checking Santa's list to see if we've been good enough for a new spinnaker . . .

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