Wednesday, January 16, 2013

2013 Begins: La Paz to Mazatlán – January 10 - 13

Our 230 mile crossing of the Gulfo de California from La Paz to Mazatlán was a very “full menu” journey.  We experienced calm seas with gentle breezes and 23 knot winds with 6 foot swells.  We motored, then worked at keeping the big genoa full and finally zipped along double reefed.  We saw a whale that saw us too and had a couple of spectacular dolphin sightings.  The nights were both starry and pitch black.  The sea packed a lot into 48 hours!  Alas, we have no pictures of our trip.  Perhaps some well-meaning friends should take up a collection and send one of us to remedial nature photography school?

The Calm. 
We departed Marina Palmira in La Paz at 08.30, motoring into a very tranquil sea.  We motored . . . and motored . . . and etc. down the Canal de San Lorenzo and north of Isla Ceralvo in breezes too light to keep the sails full.  The serrated edges of the Sierra Gigante mountains receded behind us.  To the north the sky was filled with wispy, geometric cloud designs that looked like brushed Chinese calligraphy characters.  We tried to find comfort in (rather than be annoyed by) the sound of our now-faithful diesel engine. 

After lunch we spotted Ever Glean, a pretty little green hulled sloop that had anchored near us in Agua Verde.  We talked briefly by radio, but they were sailing to Puerto Altata some 50 miles north of Mazatlán so we didn’t expect to hear anything further from them on this trip.  [note: foreshadowing!] 

Our first night started out very dark because the moon was new and there were lots of clouds.  It is disconcerting to motor into such darkness.  Even five knots feels fast when you can’t see where you are going – imagine driving in the pitch dark without headlights.  The brightly-lit Baja Ferry passed several miles from us.  A few stars peaked among the clouds near midnight.
Around 01.00 we were finally able to sail in soft, 8-9 knot breezes.  Each of us had a night watch visitation by dolphins swimming through boat-side phosphorescence (greenish sparkles in water created when microscopic critters called dinoflagellates are disturbed by the movement of a boat).  The dolphins rushed by underwater, outlined in the shiny green sparkles.  Bryce called them “x-ray dolphins”.  Abracadabra trailed phosphorescence most of the night, prompting Molly to think of Peter Pan flinging open the shutters and inviting the Darling children to fly away into a starry night.  Since our trip we’ve seen Life of Pi – see it for some great movie phosphorescence! 

On our second morning, the wind began to build and Bryce put one reef in the genoa.  Dawn spread orangishly rather than rising red, due to increasing cloud cover.  The sky was a virtual sampler of cloud designs: bunched up cotton balls; wispy; grey trailing smoke; big billowing – all manner of clouds.  We were out of sight of land.  Abracadabra sailed on in 12 to 13 knots, accompanied by the sound of the filling sails, the swish and gurgle of small swells, and the occasional static of the radio.  It was as if the sea gods were making up for almost 20 hours of motoring!

The Not So Calm. 
In the afternoon the winds reached the low ‘20s and the occasional swell topped 6 feet.  Abracadabra began to rock and roll.  Bryce double reefed both sails to gain better control and to avoid arriving in Mazatlán before daylight and high tide. 

As we began to prepare for a less than tranquil night, we heard a radio distress call from Ever Glean (remember Ever Glean?).  They had run aground - we think on the entrance bar at Puerto Altata.  We radioed that we were at least 10 hours away and couldn’t be of any assistance, but that we would attempt to relay their distress call.  Bryce put out a radio call and received no response.  We were too far from Mazatlan to be heard.  It was a horrible time, thinking of running aground in rough seas in a place where rescue involves something more complicated than an expensive call to Vessel Assist.  Fortunately within about 15 minutes we heard from Ever Glean that they had been pulled off by some pangueros and no longer needed assistance.  We will keep our eyes open for them as we travel south, and wish them the best.
When night came it was moonless, starless and really, really black.  Our only neighbors were a sailboat represented by a tiny red light far to our starboard and something represented by a tiny white light far to our stern.  It was cold and the ride was rough.  Night watch was spent holding on to avoid falling down.  Our greatest concern was not that Abracadabra would let us down, but that we’d wrench a shoulder or lose our grip and fall, arriving with an ignominiously broken or pulled fill-in-that-body-part!

In the grey of day (there was no real dawning – only a lightening of the clouds) we could see Mazatlán in the distance.  We were not going to arrive too early but we still had to enter the yacht harbor channel in 20+ winds and rough seas.  It was not an appealing prospect. 
Nature decided to divert our attention by putting on a show:  a juvenile humpback whale jumping out of the water perhaps a mile or more away in front of the rising sun.  He seemed to spot us, raced over, and began spy-hopping some 100 feet to our starboard side.  Spy-hopping is when a whale raises from the water and holds a position, much like when a human treads water, in order to observe something.  Something like Abracadabra.  He (she?) swam closer, each time rising and peering at Abracadabra, finally rising about 70 feet from our stern.  A few more full body jumps followed near our stern!  Apparently realizing we weren’t going to engage in any fun type of play, he departed -- of course before we had wits enough to grab the camera.  Then came dolphins, perhaps a hundred of them, racing along beside and past us - a real Gulfo de California welcoming committee.  

Welcome to Mazatlán.
A couple of hours later we started the engine as we approached the breakwater.  The swells were setting us for the breakwater and we dared not think about what would happen if our (now) trusty engine failed.  When Abracadabra cleared the breakwater the crew let out an audible sigh of relief and Captain Bryce announced in his best fake airline captain voice:  “Welcome to Mazatlán, Ladies and Gentlemen.” 

Inside the breakwater was a different world.  The wind was still high but the swell was gone and on the dock were friends from Calliope and Two Pieces of Eight waiting to catch our lines.  They had been monitoring the radio and had heard our approach chatter with the marina.  That evening Maureen and Ted from Tarry-A-Bit and Lynn and Debbie of Dolphin Tales shared some of their wine, listened politely to our passage story and brought us up to date on some of our other Mazatlán friends. 

It was the perfect welcome to Mazatlán.  Friends - as good as dolphins!

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