Thursday, April 24, 2014

True North March 18 to April 30: Banderas Bay to Mazatlan to La Paz

March 18: Punta de Mita Layover
Looking back over the past month to mid-March, a good weather window had arrived for the overnight passage from La Cruz to Mazatlan, about 180 nm miles north, and as many as 20 boats left the marina under perfect conditions. However, we had hoped to visit with Seattle friends who would be vacationing in PV at the end of the week so instead went to Punta de Mita to anchor out for a few days. Good weather windows come and go but we would have just one day to be with these friends.
There were two dozen boats anchored at Punta Mita when we arrived. Not far from where we anchored was the yellow final race mark and committee boat for the annual San Diego-Puerto Vallarta sailboat racers. We saw a fast boat rounding the mark: the Seattle-based J/125 Hamachi. The next race boat we saw didn't come round until morning and others followed during the day. Every time a racer passed the committee boat, a triumphant blast of the horn signaled 1,000 nm completed and what surely must have been a thrill, coupled with relief.
Hamachi crossing the San Diego to PV finish line

The first morning in the anchorage, La Ballona Too dinghied over to us, a very pleasant surprise. They were the first veteran cruiser boat that we met at Costabaja Marina in La Paz after the Ha-Ha in November and we had spent several days visiting together, learning “the ropes”, and trading boat tips. We were cruiser newbies then! Shortly after, Roundabout II dinghied up and lunch ashore was proposed for further catching up.
Sunset behind True North at Punta de Mita
March 23: Day Sail in Banderas Bay
After 3 nights out at Punta Mita, we returned to La Cruz in time to meet Seattle colleague and friends John, Gayle, daughter Jacklyn and her friend Kayla. They made the trek over to La Cruz from PV for a day of sailing in Banderas Bay with us. We checked out the wonderful La Cruz Sunday Market with them, then headed over to the boat for a day sail.  The goal was to reach Los Arcos for snorkeling but we were more caught up with visiting. It was so relaxing to just sail for hours while the girls worked on tans. We didn't reach our goal but we really weren't trying too hard. That evening, we walked to La Cava in La Cruz for dinner.
Sailing Banderas Bay - Gayle, Gregg, and John
March 25: La Cruz to Mazatlan
The night before leaving an area is a time for good-byes. Friend boats would be moving south, some north, some doing the Pacific Puddle Jump and we would be leaving in the morning for Mazatlan. What began as a party of four in our cockpit expanded easily to a group of 12, sipping margaritas as quickly as Gregg could make them until the last of the limes was consumed, with discussions of destinations, boat storage, gadgets, weather, and so on into the evening.
Twelve people, a bunch of limes!
We got up early for an 07:00 departure, checked a couple of weather reports for the latest forecasts, then took off about 07:30 with some thick clouds forming a wall across Banderas Bay. Sun poked through the clouds, the sea was calm. The forecast for the next few days was for S-SW 7-9 kts with seas 3' to 5' at 15 seconds. A whale surfaced about 100' off starboard as we made our way out of Banderas Bay.
Humback close to the boat!
We passed over a couple of sunken fishing lines uneventfully. After several hours on the water we were once again “out there” (as in if it's gonna happen, it's gonna happen out there!) with no land in sight. After a morning of little wind, the sails went up around noon with wind increasing to 12-17 kts for seven easy hours under sail. By nightfall all was calm. We motored under a night sky of brilliant constellations and with a third quarter crescent moonrise at 05:00. Not a single other boat had been in sight through the night until 05:00. Around 04:00 on my watch and shortly after leaving Isla Isabela 5 nm to starboard, we were approaching a notation on the chart, “Rocco Blanca”, but showing no land form, leaving us (I woke Gregg up for a consultation) in doubt . Were we going to go thunk in the night or was it a chart misprint? We couldn't see a thing ahead on the water without more moonlight and while nothing showed up on radar, we detoured well around the chart notation and safely made our way into the Mazatlan harbor and El Cid Marina at 13:00 the following day.
Highly unusual clouds in Mazatlan
We took a day to rest and recover, wash the salt water off the boat, and check out the marina amenities. Nice! Three pools, one connected by a swim-through cave. We noticed a couple of friend boats: Winterhawk, Antipodes and Sea Otter, all nearby. On the second day, we took a bus ride to downtown Mazatlan to check out the city, first to the main plaza and cathedral, easily spotted blocks away by its twin yellow spires. From there we noticed a couple of opportunities to really stretch our legs and climb some hills. Climbing Cerro Niveria brought us through a neighborhood of colorful houses perched over the edges of a hill and overlooking the ocean. After a nice dinner on the Malecon, and the weather cooled off cooler, we made the 20 minute trek to the top of Cerro Creston, the hill to El Farro, the 2nd highest lighthouse in the world at 515' high. Lots of locals were trekking up to the top and in that way it reminded us of Pilot Butte in Bend.
Mazatlan from Cerro Creston
Winterhawk led us to Fat Fish for BBQ ribs and music and an evening to catch up on their travels. The next day, several boats got together for a walk to the Fish Market for dinner. After that, Resolution arrived. They are always up for exploring new places so we took a bus to see Old Mazatlan together.
Cathedral in Old Mazatlan
We walked over to see the famous cliff divers, climbed the stairs to their dive site and found one guy sleeping in the sun at the top. He quickly rounded up his 4 buddies so one could dive for us...not him but his buddy! He pointed out the exact area 45' below where the diver would enter the water, timing it with the waves sweeping over the outer rocky edge to increase the depth to just 5'9”. After much concentration and a serious prayer, one made the daring dive into a small triangular patch of water surrounded by rocks. Amazing precision! We happily tipped them and they called the day's work done.
Cliff diver in the air, nearing the water
Another evening, we joined Tammy and Mike from Resolution for a bus ride to Old Mazatlan to see Plazuela Machado, surrounded by colorful colonial buildings, palm trees, restaurants and old homes, and the striking old theater. We stopped for a rooftop drink, followed by dinner on the plaza and then along came the Sand Dollar family strolling by!
Gregg and Anne on the rooftop in Old Mazatlan
April 3: Mazatlan to La Paz
It was hard to leave beautiful Mazatlan. Besides being full of things to do and places to see there were a dozen friend boats scattered about in slips between El Cid and Mazatlan Marina for a few more days. No one wants to leave first or last! However, we found our weather window and left for the two-night crossing. We began by motoring and as a SW wind of 9-10 kts picked up on our beam we flew the spinnaker for almost 2 hours before the wind moved around to the NW where it stayed for the rest of the passage, right on our nose. It wasn't really bad, no pounding wave action; just annoying to have the engine on for so long.
The spinnaker out on the passage
While in Mazatlan we had purchased a couple of lures and a heavier line and reel so we could try for the big one. Within 3 minutes of casting the new line, we caught one! At first we were so shocked that we assumed we had snagged an underwater net or trash but, no...we caught a 7 pounder! Unfortunately, we ID'd it as a Crevalle Jack which isn't supposed to be good eating so we let it go.
Gregg with Anne's Crevalle Jack
Overall, the crossing was really nice. Along the way we spotted pods of dolphins and a couple of gray whales. I made a loaf of bread while underway to serve with meatballs prepared earlier. At one point we weren't sure what we saw until we were close enough to see that it was a school of jumping rays. They jump every which way as if being chased from below but that apparently isn't the reason they jump. Then we encountered our first fish boat at dusk and began watching the water intently for signs of his (and other) fishing lines. It was a larger boat and, lucky for us, we spotted and went around his black flag. Hey guys, how about using florescent flags?
Red sky at night...
On the second night we approached the north end of Cerralvo Island under a very dark and cloudy sky. The wind picked up to 25-32 knts, still on our nose. It wasn't as rough as one might expect but it sure did get the boat soaked with spray! Since our speed was down to 3.5 to 4 kts, we considered retreating in the opposite direction under sail until daylight but reconsidered. We were tracking to the proven "Shawn and Heather" way points we had used crossing the opposite direction, and were so close, so we continued on. By the time we got to Lorenzo Pass it was daybreak so the rest was easy. We encountered just one freighter moving swiftly as we approached the narrow channel so we slowed down to let it pass. By early morning we were tucked safely into slip J-10 at Costabaja Marina, washed the boat completely, and enjoyed the rest of the day doing absolutely nothing.
Ahh, back at the Beach Club at Costabaja
April 8-16 Seattle Visitors and the Sea of Cortez
We found our friends Julie and David from Seattle wandering the docks looking for True North, bags in hand. It's a little adventure getting here: flight to Cabo San Jose, shuttle to La Paz, bus or taxi to Costabaja Marina, then walk, walk, walk! They passed the test.

We took off the following morning for Isla Espiritu Santo where we had cruised in December. There are many protected anchorages on the west side, places to get off the boat and hike, and the most beautiful, clear water which is getting warmer by the day. The first anchorage was Ensenada del Candelero with its large reef extending from the edge of the beach to Roca Monumento, a snorkeling site full of colorful reef fish. We jumped right in to snorkel, never realizing until a couple of days later that this was David's first-ever snorkeling experience. He handled it with such ease, we never knew! The instructions were to bring snorkel, mask and fins and he did that.
Turquoise water next to Rocca Monumento
The next day we anchored in Ensenada Grande, about 5nm to the north. We found familiar boats there, Antipodes, Sand Dollar, Appa and Sea Otter. It is a beautiful anchorage! We dropped the anchor in 20' of crystal clear water rimmed with a bright turquoise ribbon of water. Our anchor was visible on the bottom in white, rippled sand...very enticing for an immediate swim! Sooo refreshing. Red and sand colored cliffs line the beach. The friend boats have been traveling together for months and share many common meals so with no fuss or bother, they invited the four of us to join the 16 of them for a pot luck dinner on Antipodes, a large and sturdy power boat. The theme was tacos but I had no food to offer that fit the theme! In fact, I only had the planned meals for the week aboard. But I did have provisions for an apple cake so that is what True North Julie and I made and brought. Someone served margaritas, Sand Dollar Shauna prepared a beautiful pork loin and shredded it for the tacos, Sea Otter Julie brought appetizers, Antipodes Nancy prepared the beans and other items, and Appa Jen brought a large casserole. 20 people: 6 couples and 8 kids. The guys talked fishing and boats. The kids, ages 16, 12, 12, 10, 10, and 3 were engrossed in Dungeons and Dragons. We made plans to go together aboard Antipodes the following day a few miles north to Los Islotes to swim with the sea lions. But first, there was a bluff to hike! We waited for the cooler morning and got to the top, overlooking all of our boats in the anchorage below.
The summit party at the high cross
In the afternoon, we boarded Antipodes for the short 4 nm ride to Los Islotes, known for its friendly sea lion rookery. What a thrill to swim with them! Randy anchored about 400' from the rocks while the rest of us jumped in to swim or take the dingy to the sea lions. There were also big fish, like the kind we've been hoping to catch, as well as tons of colorful reef fish. We made our way over to the the sea lions warily at first and then many of them left their rocks and joined us in the water, gliding easily around us and swimming upside down, coming quite close to stare at us! We were advised to keep our arms tucked near us so they wouldn't be alarmed. After awhile, one young sea lion made its way to 12-yr-old Kaley from Sand Dollar and nuzzled up against her! She pet its tummy.

Kaley petting a sea lion
When she swam away, it followed and gave her a hug. Even little 3-yr old Sammy from Appa swam with the sea lions. Meanwhile, David was out there snorkeling away with the sea lions. It was just after this that we learned he had never snorkeled before this trip. Great intro to the underwater world! 
Happy snorkelers on Antipodes
After everyone got back to Antipodes, Randy took us back to Ensenada Grande and we boarded True North for departure. We had to leave in order to empty our holding tank so proceeded to move out a couple of miles and then on to Caleta Partida for the night. We took the dinghy to shore where local fishermen were hanging out in their huts in between outings. From Caleta Partida, we moved south to El Mezteño for our last night out. The following day we sailed leisurely for hours while making our way back to Costabaja Marina. Then we had one day to clean up the boat and spend the rest of the day at the pool. We took the bus into La Paz for dinner and then the next day, Julie and David left for home after a very fun week together.
David and Julie on True North
April 27: More Visitors
New Mexico Friends Linda and Mike came aboard for a few days to check out the cruising lifestyle. We motored on a hot, windless day to Ensenada Candelero and anchored in the south bay. It was a time for some low-key visiting: swim a little, catch up a lot. We didn't even launch the dinghy for a ride to shore.
Mike and Linda at Ensenada Candelero
A couple of curious manta rays and a turtle swam near the boat. Fish circled us, too, finally enticing Mike to cast a line into the water...but no luck. Fortunately, we brought our own fish with us! On our way out the next day, we picked up enough wind to fly the spinnaker for a smooth ride south. We had a couple more good wildlife sightings, too: a few whales lob-tailing in the distance and a pair of playful dolphins at the marina entry channel. Once back, we settled on a road trip for the next day to see Todos Santos, with a short side trip to Il Triunfo along the way for lunch. These are two quaint, artistic communities that we had visited in December and an easy drive from La Paz.

Tomorrow, May 1st, we are leaving for three weeks north in the Sea of Cortez.

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