sailboatbliss

Cruising by sail in the Pacific NW


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Who Doesn’t Like a Kitchen Reno?

lori in the galley

Plastic laminate – Arborite – is a pretty amazing material.  Our galley is thirty years old, and until this winter, everything was still original and looked to be in reasonable shape.  A few chips, but no burns or big scratches.  Impressive for a thin layer of paper and plastic.  The fridge and sink not so much.  Both were showing their age and in need of an update.

The fridge was our main concern.   The freezer would frost up so badly that the lid would get frozen shut as the frost worked its way up and out past the lid.  The lids themselves were heavy and held up by a spring that would drop the lid on your head if you breathed too heavy while rooting around for a cold beer.  To add insult to injury, the freezer itself didn’t even work well – it refused to get much below freezing in the bottom.  Upon further inspection, we found that this poor performance was due to water making its way into the insulation from the fridge drain.  The whole thing really needed to go.

The sink was mostly just ugly.  We decided early on that we wanted an undermount to make clean-up a little easier.  I could’ve built a counter using plastic laminate and dealt with finishing the edge at the hole for the sink, but chose to use a solid surface – Meganite – instead.  This material is easy to work with but has a reputation for cracking if it is installed incorrectly…time will tell if this was a good decision.

I find that many seemingly easy jobs have a way of getting complicated as you start making decisions about details.  If you aren’t careful, one choice early on can push you into a corner that is hard to get out of.  The big decisions for this project all required more consideration than one would think.  Just finding a sink that would fit was a nightmare…

  • what, and how much insulation material?
  • what would the box be lined with?
  • how would I fabricate proper lids with a latch and two seals on each?
  • how would I mount the sink?

We decided to go with 5 – 6″ of polystyrene insulation – the pink or blue boards you can get at a home improvement store.  The other easily obtained choice – polyisocyanurate – is more expensive and has been shown to have an R value that decreases as the temperature decreases.  Not good in a freezer.  I lined the box with epoxy and glass and didn’t include a drain.  This one piece liner can’t ever leak into the insulation.

The openings for the fridge and freezer were the biggest challenge.  I replaced the massive teak structure that defined the original openings and the lid insulation with styrofoam assemblies covered in fibre reinforced plastic panelling (FRP).  I attached the FRP to the styrofoam with thickened epoxy.  The lid insulation rests on teak trim rings in each opening.  These rings support the lower seal and gas filled support struts.  The lid insulation is in turn affixed to the Meganite lids with silicone.  I added a small step around the top edge of each opening for a second seal. We’re super happy with the results – it all looks like it came from the factory.

I sourced the sink through Amazon.com and had it delivered to a friend in Anacortes.  Amazon .ca didn’t have it and the RV shop I called in the valley wanted double what I paid.  Sometimes shopping here really sucks.  The counter material is not designed to support the weight of a sink, so I build a frame to rest the sink edge on.  This also serves to support the counter as required by the installation instructions.

The counter itself was fairly easy but time consuming and stressful.  It required a huge amount of planning, prep, and travel to make sure everything lined up correctly.  The most important step was to build templates for everything.  Essentially, this meant building, testing and trimming an entire counter out of MFD before starting on the Meganite; working on the finished product using only the old countertop and measurements as a guide likely wouldn’t have produced the same results.  I did almost all of the fabrication work after hours in my shop…every test fit required driving to the marina and humping the piece in question out to the boat and back before proceeding.

The counter is held in place by a few blobs of silicone to allow the top to move as the temperature changes – not really the most secure method, particularly if we’re knocked down, but it’s the the only one recommended by the manufacturer.  Putting screws into the counter is a guaranteed way to induce cracks.  To add some structure to the assembly, I am adding a fairly substantial fiddle around the front edge edge and a moulding along the back edge that will be screwed to the cabinetry to clamp the counter down.  This should allow for regular movement and help secure the counter against irregular movement in the event of an “accident”.  I would’ve liked to use the original one piece laminated fiddle, but didn’t think there was enough meat to make it robust enough for a worst case scenario.

counter done

Aesthetically, we’re both really pleased with the results.  It looks new and fresh.  But more importantly, it is also functionally superior to the original.  The undermount sink makes wiping the counter down a treat, and the fridge should be far more efficient with dry insulation, a reduction of wood in the top assembly, and proper seals on the lids.

 

 


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Installing an ECHOTec Watermaker

panelLori and I have always maintained that a watermaker is completely unnecessary when cruising the BC coast – so what changed?  Well…we spent some time on a boat with one.  We still don’t think we “need” one, but the freedom of just using clean, fresh water whenever you want is very alluring.  Every swim can end in a fresh water rinse, dishes get a thorough rinse, and water shortages aren’t an issue like they were on our cruise to Haida Gwaii in 2015.  They come with a number of costs though: space, maintenance, energy, money – lots of money, and the effort of a significant install.  I tend to gloss over this cost over when I take projects on; this time was no different.

We started by doing tons of research.  I started by assuming that my search would lead inevitably to a Spectra simply because of their incredible efficiency.  But there are more things to think about than litres per amp hour.  After a lengthy detour to an AC system that we could design ourselves, we eventually decided on an 50 litre/hour ECHOTec DC system for a few reasons:

  • It will run off our existing DC system.  We didn’t want to rely on extra gear like a generator (ugh) or an inverter.  We normally have an excess of electricity, but will eventually upgrade our solar and alternator to ensure that we’re never short, regardless of the weather.
  • They are very simple – the system is essentially a DC motor, a plunger style high pressure pump as used on a pressure washer, and a membrane.  Nothing is automated.
  • They are a little less expensive than a Spectra – but not enough to be a major factor in the decision.
  • It should produce 100% more water in one hour of run time than we currently use per day when we’re being fairly liberal with our water use.  We figure a couple of hours of run time every second day will more than meet our needs, even if we turn into water pigs.
  • The vendor (Hydrovane) is local and well established.

We haven’t used our watermaker yet, so we don’t know for sure if we made the right call, but the logic and numbers still make sense to us.  We’re pretty confident that we have the right system.

The Purchase

We started by having Will and Sarah from Hydrovane visit the boat.  Not only are they the vendors, but they are also experienced bluewater sailors with experience living with the ECHOTec model we were considering.  We had a great morning talking about their adventures and our plans, along with a thorough look at our boat and the spaces we could use for the various parts of the system.  There are a number of large parts that needed a home:

  • The motor and high pressure pump.  The
    watermaker crate

    Pretty exciting – new boat toys are always fun to unpack.

    pump doesn’t reliably create the lift required to suck water – even with a boost pump to feed it water, it is best to locate it as low as possible.  The pair is also big and heavy.

  • Pre-filters.  These consist of a pair of domestic 10″ housings, plumbed in series.  This assembly is fairly large and needs to be easily accessible
  • The pressure vessel for the membrane.  It can go anywhere, but it’s long.

Will and Sarah brought a pressure vessel along as they believe that this is normally the most problematic component to fit due to it’s length.  We tried under our V-berth – it’s tight but it fit.  We measured out potential locations for the other major components and placed our order.  A month later it arrived in two large wooden crates.

The Install

We unpacked the crates and laid out all the parts on our living room floor to check them against the parts list.  Everything was as advertised, but the mountain of individual pieces was more than a little overwhelming.  Despite the simplicity of basic water making process, the addition of alternate circuits for testing, flushing, and pickling (preserving the membrane from biological growth for long periods of downtime), requires a significant selection of fittings and hose to figure out.  Thankfully, the relatively well written instructions helped to clear up some of the questions before we set to work on the boat.

I tackled the major components first: the high pressure pump and motor, pre-filters, pressure vessel, and control panel.  We originally planned to put the pump/motor assembly on the cabin sole in the V-berth, but this area was also a prime spot for the pre-filters due to its accessibility.  The filters won that tug of war.  We settled on sacrificing a difficult to access drawer and previously unused space under the v-berth for the pump/motor assembly.

This installation required that I replace the drawer with a strong shelf to support the substantial weight of the pump and motor and cut an opening for access to the space from above.  I glassed the shelf to the hull and painted the compartment before bolting the pump motor assembly in place.  I finished this step by using the old drawer front to cover the hole that the drawer used to occupy.  I cut a hole in the old drawer front to make room for the motor and provide ventilation, and hinged it to the cabinetry so that I could access the compartment from the side as well as from above.

 

 

I finished the pump installation by running a #2 wire from a breaker near the positive bus at the battery box all the way forward to a terminal block.  This run will power both the high pressure pump and the feed pump.

The pre-filters and pressure vessel were both easy to fit, requiring only a few holes for plumbing.

The control panel was another matter.  We paneloriginally decided to install it in a new cabinet on a small counter at the head of the v-berth.  I even went so far as to drill holes through the counter and fabricate a teak cabinet.  However, the number of wires and hoses connected to the back of the panel ultimately made this location unworkable.  We finally settled on sacrificing a small but useful storage space near to the cabin sole and adjacent to the pump / motor compartment.

Plumbing

I thought that the rest of the installation would be pretty simple – it’s mostly plumbing.  But there were also two more filter housings to install – one to filter chlorine out of a fresh water rinse circuit and one to house a water hardener – along with the boost pump and a water strainer.  Like the pre-filters, the rinse water filter housing and water hardener housings are both domestic 10″ housings and require accessibility and a bit of space.  The other issue we were starting to think about was how many spare filters we’d need to buy and store plumbingto fit in all of these housings; along with the domestic water filters under the sink, we were now 5 housing all requiring regular maintenance.  We thought about this for a while, and finally decided to re-plumb the pressure side of the entire cold water system in order cut that number by one.  This was a lot of work, but was worth it as it improved our existing system and cut the number of requires spares by 20%.

The rest of the water-maker plumbing was straight forward, but tedious.  Cutting the high pressure hose with a zip disk was easy, as was installing the fittings.  Much of the low pressure plumbing is routed from the control panel via 3/8″ hard plastic tubing and compression fittings – I used brass compression fittings and hose barbs to connect them to the boat’s systems.  The product water is sent to the tanks by tying the water-maker output line into the vent line – we’ll see how this works – and the raw water is teed into the wash down pump through-hull fitting, thereby reducing the number of needed through-hulls by one.  The water strainer and boost-pump are in the same compartment as the associated sea cock, and required a bit of wrestling to hook up.

hoses

The sea-cocks for the forward head sink, holding tank, wash-down pump and watermaker, along with the boost pump and strainer.  This compartment will have a shelf installed over the plumbing so that the through-hulls are protected and the space usable.

The test water line – you’d hate to inject bad water into your tanks – is teed into the foot pump spigot in the forward head with check valves in both lines to ensure the the foot pump and the watermaker can only send water out of the spigot, and not back into the system.

There’s more of course, but this covers the majority of the work required for the water maker to function.  For now, the feed water through-hull is still closed and, except for the membrane, the unit is dry.  I’m a little apprehensive about firing it up – there are tons of fittings and I’m sure some of them will leak.  I’m hoping for the best, and will post a report after we have some time living with the system.

 

 

 


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Working Through The Winter Blues

I’m a winter weenie.  Even in the lower mainland, which usually only has a wet stretch between fall and spring, I find it tough.  I think it’s the short days that are the worst, but the cold and wet don’t help.  There are fun distractions, but I spend too much time waiting for the spring.

Weeknights are the most difficult.  I have this really bad habit of sitting down, firing up the computer and surfing the internet or watching Netflix.  I kill precious hours doing essentially nothing, and then wonder where the evening went.  Not good.  Even worse, when the sun finally shows up again in April, I start working like crazy, trying to get all of the projects I want to get done finished before July.

I decided this year would be different – I would be productive during weekday winter evenings.  Hopefully this would also tick a few chores off the list earlier and restore some sanity to the spring.

So far, so good.  It’s still been cold and wet far too often for my liking, but I’ve been productive.  You’d think the list would getting shorter, but in normal way of boat jobs, it’s just changing as newly discovered jobs replace the original jobs.

I started with a re-build of the gooseneck.  After 30 years, the aluminum toggle was completely worn out, and the welds on the tangs were cracked.  After checking out the original supplier’s price I decided to get the tangs re-welded to the backing plate (thanks Pierre at Poco Marine – you’re amazing!) and machine a new toggle myself using an oversized chunk of  aluminum.   This was a small job that I got done before our cruise in November.   It eventually lead to a similar redo of the boomvang bracket too (thanks again Pierre).

 

 

The next job on the list was way more substantial.  When we bought the boat, I discovered rot along the bottom of the main bulkhead.  For anyone looking to buy a Sabre,  I think that this is a Sabre issue that is related to the design of the mast step – take a close look at the floor and bulkhead here before making an offer!

This bulkhead is also the wall of the shower stall in the forward head.  I cut the worst of the rot out right after we bought the boat, putting this shower out of commission for the whole time we’ve owed the boat.  Cutting the bottom of the bulkhead out revealed a seriously poor shower sump design that needed a re-work to be viable.  I fixed this by cutting all of the rot out and replacing the material with epoxy, woven rovings, and multiple layers of 1/8″ ply.  I also moved the sump pump plumbing and replaced the pump.

The shower was a big job, and I don’t really like fibreglassing, but it pales in comparison to the next item on our list: a watermaker.  I’ve written a post detailing the whole process, but suffice to say that it was a surprisingly complicated job that had a cascade effect on a bunch of other stuff: cabinetry, a complete re-plumb of the pressurized side of the cold water system – not a small job – and wiring..

I hate messy wiring – I understand the attraction to just running a new wire when installing new equipment, but unless it’s done neatly, labelled and tied up in a logical manner, it just makes dealing with problems later a headache.  There are always problems later.

While I started this task because of the need to run power to the water maker, it is really a completely new job that I tackled because it’s relatively easy, low on the stress scale, and makes me happy when I open the panel.  I pulled tons of old wire out – some of it burnt – straightened out what remained, installed a new ground bus to get wires off of the panel buses, and tried to label as much as I could.  I have identified the function of about half of the ground wires so far, and the panel is now much neater.

It’s still early in the year, but the days are noticeably longer, and the boat is definitely better than it was in September.  Even better, I’ve cut my “sitting on the couch time” way down.  Is it summer yet?

 

 

 


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Other People’s Problems or Why Boat Maintenance Means More Than Changing The Oil

Campania Island

Yes, the work is all worth it.

The guy who owned our boat for the 9 years before us either didn’t know or didn’t care. There are so many things – simple things – that went undone.    One of our talking points during the sales negotiations was the lack of cruising gear aboard – no solar power, watermaker, self-steering etc.   Based on the condition of the gear that was on the boat, this lack of fancy toys was a good thing – it means the list of things we’ve fixed or thrown away and replaced is relatively short.

garbage windlassTake our windlass.  We left it by the dumpster so it wasn’t hard to find.  It was a good piece of kit in its day, but we knew it had to go when we first saw it.  Our biggest complaint?  The lack of an integral hawse pipe; while the windlass seemed to work fine, the thing just dumped the chain onto the deck.  It had to go.

Then we took it off.  It’s surprising that it even worked.  We’re definitely very happy that we didn’t settle with the minor inconvenience the lack of a hawse pipe represented and dug further.  Starting at the top:

  • the capstan was seized to the shaft.
  • 6 of the 8 fasteners holding the contraption to the deck were broken.  Yes that’s right, it mostly stayed put because of caulking and gravity.
  • the gearbox was full of water.
  • a heavily corroded casting – part of the deck attachment assembly.
  • heavy corrosion on the entire motor housing.
  • An unsealed deck core that required replacement – I’ve been to this dance before and didn’t like it much.

In short, unless you are one of those people you enjoys bringing uncared for equipment back from the dead, it was garbage.

And then there was our headliner under our port-side deck.  Much like the windlass, it looked OK.   On our first viewing, there was evidence of a small leak below a window, and we just assumed that the drip coming from the headliner was a bad window seal. Wrong.

rotten headlinerThe leak took a break for a couple of months during a cold snap, but when it came back, it came back big.   Dogging the window tighter made no difference; it wasn’t a bad seal.   So I pulled the headliner down.   It’s didn’t go back up.

Why do people let things go?  Both of these issues – just a couple in a long list – are simple routine maintenance.  A windlass only needs some love once or twice a year.  Take it apart and grease it – 15 minutes if you’re wearing a blindfold.  The windows – all of them – needed to be caulked.  This took half a day and stopped the leak.  The damage from not doing these things is just under $2000 IF you can do all the work yourself.  The previous owner went on at some length about the frequency of his oil changes, but clearly, did nothing else.  Thank goodness the boat wasn’t filled with neglected cruising goodies; I’m not a big fan of fixing other people’s problems.


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Thoughts on Anchoring and Anchoring Etiquette…or lack thereof

Pirate's cove november

Pirates Cove without the crowds

I wasn’t really planning on writing about anchoring, but I like stories that come from our time on the water, and this one was a surprise no-brainer.  Why a surprise?  It was November.  Who goes out in November?  And with the lack of competition for anchoring spots, how could there possibly be anything to elicit a story about anchoring?

Cruising in the November…on average, it rains 21 days out of 30, and the odds of getting three warm, sunny days in a row on a weekend are not good.  Previous to this year, I crossing the strait novwould’ve claimed that it was a statistical impossibility.  This year, the stars aligned and we we were able to enjoy 3 amazing days cruising the Gulf Islands a month after we normally put the boat to bed for the winter.  We took the opportunity to visit a couple of places that we’ve missed over the last few years:  Princess Cove on Wallace Island and Pirates Cove on DeCourcy Island.

Princess Cove and Pirates Cove are popular places.   Princess Cove is one of the few places that we’ve abandoned in the summer due tobreakwater nov crowding.  Both anchorages are beautiful but exposed to North Westerlies – neither is bombproof.  To add to the mix are the stern ties that require that boats lie beam-to the prevailing winds.  Most of the time in the summer, the winds die overnight and issues are rare.  However, when the combination of crowding and boats stern-tied beam-to the wind is coupled with a fresh, unpredicted overnight wind, it creates a panic that has given both of these anchorages a bit a of a reputation.  Given the lack of boats and benign weather, there were no issues this time out.  But we were lucky that the weather held overnight as there were a few silly decisions made on other boats that put people at risk.  It’s not a wise thing to rely on weather forecasts for your safety – sound decision making, good gear and proper technique help keep us safe when the weather forecast is wrong, which is surprisingly often.  The following are our thoughts on anchoring safely, repeatedly.

Picking a place to drop your hook

Good practice is to pick a spot that won’t put others at risk if you drag – don’t anchor directly upwind of another boat.  Yes, it’s possible to choose well and then have a little shift in the wind put you upwind of a boat that was anchored before you, but you can use this idea to help pick good spots and eliminate poor ones, especially in uncrowded anchorages.  In the Gulf Islands, the winds blow SE or NW pretty much all the time, making following this rule even easier.

Rafting

Rafting is loads of fun.  We love rafting and do it frequently.  But…both of the times we’ve been involved in a dragging episode, we’ve been having fun rafted.  Dragging doesn’t make the fun better.  The first time, we dragged a couple of hundred feet through a very crowded False Creek at two in the morning.  We were ridiculously lucky to drag through the fleet and miss everything.  The second time, we were anchored in a very remote anchorage on the west coast of Vancouver island.  We weren’t even on the boats when they went walkabout and were lucky to escape with nothing but bruised egos.  We’ve learned this one the hard way: rafting is not without risk.  If you choose to raft, you’ve got to be extra vigilant and have a contingency plan for if the wind comes up.

centennial raft pirates

A club raft in Pirate’s Cove

Tying Ashore

It’s very common to tie a line ashore in BC.  It’s an easy way to increase the number of boats you can cram into a small anchorage, and the only way to anchor in a small nook with no swinging room.  If you do it poorly, it’s a great way to entertain your neighbours.  However, in many cases, as practiced in BC, it does not increase your security.

When they tie ashore, most boaters, us included, tie one lie ashore to stop the boat from swinging on the anchor.  In many anchorages though, the lay of the land and the shore-side anchor location result in your boat lying beam to the wind.  I’m not sure what the math is, but there is no doubt that wind on the beam creates far higher loads than wind on the bow.

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No swinging room here!

We hate stern tying.  In crowded summertime anchorages or tight spots it has it’s place, but generally we avoid it like the plague.  It’s a bunch of work that isn’t always easy and the whole wind on the beam thing is stressful.  If there is room to swing on the hook, we swing on the hook.  Still, we see people that tie ashore as a matter of course regardless of where they are – it’s a part of the routine that they follow for no reason other than that’s just what they do.   I suppose that leaves more room for me to swing in the middle, so…thank you?

What’s everyone else doing?

Often, this is an issue in places where people drop two anchors to reduce swing.  There are at least three other factors to think about.  The first is that if the wind is light, boats on a chain rode move differently than boats on a rope rode.  This has caused us grief in the past and now we try to anchor amongst other boats with an all chain rode.  The second is power vs. sail.  The windage of many powerboats coupled with the lack of a deep keel mean that they are usually more affected by the wind and less affected by current than a sailboat.  The last is that boats that tie ashore don’t swing.  The rule here is to try anchor and near boats that are similar in type and anchoring technique.

Not everyone uses these guidelines.  Anchoring on our cruise in November – Why, why, why…

We pulled into Princess Cove fairly early, and anchored just off the port quarter of one of three boats already there.  The boat downwind of us was a couple of hundred feet back, and tied fairly tight to the shore.  The third boat was 5 or 6 hundred feet behind us, deep in the bay.   We set the hook, and went for a walk, just as a power boat was dropping the hook upwind of the boat in front of us.  Not the best, but it what are you gonna do.

When we got back an hour or so later it was a different picture.  The boat we’d anchored behind was gone, and the lone power boat was now a raft of three, all on one hook, having fun directly upwind of us.  Why???  What was their plan if the wind came up?  How much fun were they planning to have?  Would they be OK at 2 am?  The forecast was incredibly benign, but I still wondered…why???  Did they even consider what would happen if they dragged?  Unlikely.  I definitely did.  It doesn’t take much wind to create problems with 3 boats on one anchor.

Things got more interesting at about 9pm when the last boat pulled in in the dark.  They also anchored in front of us, closer to us than where the boat that had left earlier was.  Then they tied ashore.  Why?  What was their rationale for all the futzing around in the dark?  No one else in our neighbourhood was tied ashore.  Did they even look?  What would’ve happened if we’d  swung to a SE wind or a drop in the tide?  I called over and told them that no one else was stern tied, but they were tired, busy, and not interested.  I shook my head and went to bed, hoping that no one was going to learn anything new about anchoring etiquette overnight. Thankfully it was quiet, and we didn’t.

poor anchoring

What are these people thinking?  Thankfully the weather cooperated and there was zero drama.

Anchoring well is probably the most important skill needed to cruise the way we do.  We’re lucky in BC – there are thousands of safe harbours with all around protection, most of which have good anchoring depths and a mud bottom.  This is not the norm in other places on the planet.  But even with our mostly easy conditions, anchor choice and technique can be controversial topics.  What do you think?  What are your favourite anchoring stories?  If you’ve spent any time anchored out on a boat, you’ve seen people having trouble on the steep part of the learning curve.  Please leave a note in the comments section.  Thanks!

 

 


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Ghosts

Do you believe in ghosts? I do. I see them all the time.  Sometimes I see them in the park across the street, in our backyard, or in a family member’s house.  Mostly though, I see them on the water.  Thankfully, they’re never frightening; in fact, the never seem to notice me at all.  They seem to congregate at the places that I’ve loved the best.  I think this is part of the reason that I like to see new places; the ghosts aren’t there yet. This summer, I saw them everywhere. While I enjoy seeing them, but they taunt me with the past, reminding me that it’s gone forever and that we only have the now.

The first encounter I had this summer happened at Princess Margaret Marine park on Portland Island. Lori and went for a short walk along the north shore to one of our favourite beaches, and there they were…playing in the water, watching the ferry wake roll in, and just chilling. It’s a beautiful, private spot and the ghosts seemed to be reveling in their surroundings.  The family that was using the beach didn’t seem to notice them at all, but the ghosts were there.  It’s possible that family is making their own ghosts…I didn’t ask.

I saw more in Tribune Bay, a young boy skim boarding and enjoying the carefree freedom of being a child on the perfect summertime beach.  He looked great: strong, confident and full of the promise of youth.  I desperately wanted to talk to him and ask about his day, but I don’t think that he’d have answered.  So instead, I just watched and marveled at his grace.  I’m pretty sure he’ll be there when I visit again.

Jedidiah Island is crawling with them.  All kinds, some of them older than the ones I saw at Tribune Bay, some of them much younger.  There was even a horse.  Gibralter, the high point of Jedidiah was particularly crowded, but maybe that because it’s so small.  They gathered close as we arrived at the summit, but were kind enough to let me enjoy the view.

Mostly, my ghosts are my young children, but sometimes they are friends. Occasionally I see me. I miss them all, but I’m here now. scan0009(2) Change is the only thing that stays constant. The ghosts remind me of everything that has come before, and it’s been good.


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Back to the Sea of Cortez: An Offshore Experience

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I took lots of sunrise and sunset shots.  Way too easy to get great colours!   These two booby birds hitched a ride on the bow pulpit for quite a bit of our crossing.

We loved cruising in the Sea of Cortez in 2016, so when Dennis asked if we’d like to return, we accepted without any hesitation.   Sailing in shorts and tee shirts is always appealing, especially in March.  Add in some adventure, good company, and Mexican culture, and the decision to go made itself.  A couple of significant differences meant that this trip wouldn’t be a repeat of our adventures in the Loreto area: our intinerary and the crew.

Dennis has been cruising in Mexico since 2015, Dennis and Gerriwith significant diversions ashore during hurricane season, first in the Sea of Cortez, and then along the west coast of the Mexican mainland.
In 2016, he found a partner to join him on these adventures.  Gerri’s home is now Ultegra, and she was graciously inviting us to share it based only on Dennis’ experience with us two years ago.  Wow.

Second – the itinerary.  This trip wasn’t to be the pleasure cruise of 2016.  Instead, Dennis and Gerri have been working their way north from their southernmost point of Zuhuatanejo to La Paz, and asked us to join them for the offshore portion from Puerto Vallarta.  As the crow flies, this is 360nm (648km), all against the prevailing NW winds.  With a couple of zig zags in our course, we could cut the longest leg down to 170nm – at least one night at sea, maybe two.  Speaking to those cruising in Mexico, this crossing sounds pretty routine, but for Lori and I, doing this trip would be it’s a step up in terms of length at time at sea and would be an opportunity to get some more offshore experience in a small, bite sized chunk.

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Chartplotter showing our track as far as Los Frailes on the Baja peninsula

We arrived in Puerto Vallarta on Wednesday, March 21, made our way by taxi 25km to the small town of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, and joined Ultegra as she swung on the hook in the bay just off of the beach.

La Cruz is on the north side of Bahia de Banderas, and is wide open to the Pacific, but the brisk thermal wind held the boat into the prevailing swell making the boat motion bearable.  We did our introductions, stowed our stuff, had a drink and headed in for dinner.  The town itself is ridiculously cute with narrow cobbled streets and good restaurants.  Our meal at a small cafe on the street – literally – was a highlight.

 

 

Thursday was very busy – provisioning, clearing out of the port, and moving to a quieter anchorage 10nm closer to our destination.  Lori and I love provisioning in new places – there is no easier way to get a feel for a place than to go grocery shopping with the locals.  La Cruz is too small for a proper market, but a short ride into Bucerias gave us access to a huge supermarket that carried everything from tires to Tequila.  The bus ride was a lot of fun too, but it was a good thing that Gerri knew what she was doing, because the buses in Bucerias don’t work quite the same as they do here.

grocery bucerias

Bucerias isn’t a big town, but it sports a huge, well stocked “grocery” store that also caries tires, BBQ’s and clothes.

While we shopped, Dennis cleared out of the port.  In la Cruz, this involved a trip to the port captain’s office with our passports in hand.  This process in not consistent throughout the country and one needs to rely on cruisers already in port to determine the procedure in each new place – we cleared into La Paz on the radio.

Friday began with a series of boat jobs including a good bottom scraping and the installation of the still broken hydraulic backstay adjuster.  We weighed anchor at noon and motored out of the bay bound for Isla Isabela, a small island 70nm north.`

The first night only confirmed our previous experience with exhaustion, and as we approached Isla Isabela at 2 in the morning, I needed sleep badly.  Unfortunately, the favoured anchorage – a small bight behind some pinnacles – was occupied by three cruising boats and a number of fishing lines attached to floats.   As we bobbed around looking for space to drop our hook, I began to hope that Dennis wasn’t just stopping here because Lori and I wanted to see the island.  I was so tired that I couldn’t find the will to say anything – we should’ve kept going but I just wanted to sleep.  In the end, we found a safe spot in the less desirable southern cove and grabbed a few hours of rest.

 

 

Isla Isabela is quite astonishing in the daylight.  In particular, the pinnacles on the eastern shore are very dramatic.  The underwater scenery is also supposed to be very good, but unfortunately, our schedule dictated that we move on without a swim.

The next 48 hours were almost everything Lori and I could have wished for: sailing, fishing and getting into the rhythm of being at sea.  Immediately upon leaving Isla Isabela, Dennis put out the fishing gear, and not long after, had a Yellowtail Jack on the line.  These are prized game fish with dark flesh and a mild flavour.  Box ticked.

 

 

The forecast winds were supposed to be out of the north, building up to 20kts for the days we’d be crossing.  We didn’t really get these winds until we were withing sight of the Baja Peninsula on Tuesday morning.  Instead, we got light, variable winds for the first two mornings, building to 10 from the NW in the afternoons. Despite these contrary winds, we managed some wonderful sailing, motoring for less than half the passage.  Our strategy under sail was to point as high as possible while maintaining boat speed.

Ultegra is a racing boat at heart, and sailing her in the light and variable conditions was an enjoyable challenge.  We followed some advice I’d read about passage making and focused on keeping the boat moving in the right general direction, not our rhumb line (direct course), figuring that eventually the wind would shift in our favour.  Our first tack took us north towards Mazatlan, and the second across the sea.  Our passage ended early on our third day out from Isla Isabella with our promised 20kts from the north: a favourable shift and strengthening winds on the starboard beam, giving us 8kts of boat speed and huge smiles all around

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Lori watching the sun come up on our last night watch, on a fantastic beam reach in 20 knots of wind.

We landed at an open anchorage not far from San Juan del Cabo called Bahia de los Frailes at 9 am.  The winds remained strong, but the anchorage was very comfortable with minimal swell.  The dinghy stayed deflated and stowed, but after a long swim with a challenging exit in the surf, Lori and I managed a short walk on the beach anyways.  The next day was another long passage to windward, bound for a bay called Bahia de los Muertes, but Ultegra was built for this kind of work, and despite the rough conditions, performed beautifully with a couple of reefs in the main and full 135 genoa.

We spent an extra night at Bahia de los Muertes, hoping the strong northerlies would ease.  The break meant that we could put the dinghy back in the water and go ashore.   Finally!  This is a beautiful spot with a sandy beach and a couple of beach restaurants.  The highlights here were a bocci ball game, drinks in a posh resort with the crews from two other boats, and a fine meal out at the restaurant at the other end of the beach.

The winds didn’t die early enough to make our next passage easy, but we were feeling a little pressed for time and left anyways.  This stretch, between the mainland and a large island – recently re-named Jacques Cousteau Island – has a reputation.  The pass has currents up to 2.5 kts and the wind can howl.  Fortunately for us, the high tides were in the morning, so the ebb current and northerly winds were going in the same direction.   Even though they were contrary for our direction, the fact that they agreed laid the seas down a bit and made the passage smoother.  As the day wore on, the wind gradually eased, and by the time we neared the northernmost point of our trip and stated to turn south into La Paz Bay, the wind had died completely.

The difference in the amount of marine traffic around La Paz compared to the rest of our voyage was astounding.  All of a sudden, we were worried about finding room in our anchorage.  We managed to find a place in one of Dennis and Gerri’s favorite spots called Caleta Lobos, and spent a quiet last night in the wilderness before returning to civilization.

A short sail the next day put us anchored off of La Paz at about 2 in the afternoon, thus completing our transit of 430nm in 8 days.

We’d pushed hard to get to La Paz on Friday so that we could explore the city all day Saturday before flying out Sunday afternoon.  It wasn’t quite what I expected.  It is a cruiser’s resource center, with tradesmen, chandleries, a sail loft and access to materials. None of this is apparent from the waterfront.  In addition, the downtown core is suffering from big-box-itis – as has happened in many other places (hello Nanaimo); the proliferation of big box retailers farther out of town has left many storefronts in town empty and in disrepair.  We saw evidence that this is slowly changing – there has been a large investment in the seawall path (The Malecon), along with services that cater more to tourists, such as restaurants and coffeehouses.  With its beautiful location, I can envision a day when the seaside is once again thriving.

Lori and I love sailing here, and this was a great trip to expand our experience.  Thanks for the invite Dennis and Gerri!

Lessons we learned:

Sleeping during the day, even with the engine running, isn’t an issue.  All it takes is a little sleep deprivation to get you in the mood, and then it’s lights out.  As for the engine noise, well that normally irritating dull, constant throb might even help.

We enjoyed being at sea for more than a day.  There was was plenty to do, and tons of wildlife to watch.

Comfortable watch keeping seats are a must.  My back was killing me after sitting for most of two days, and I hand steered almost all of the passage from Los Frailes to Los Muertos – 60nm – just to be doing something while standing.

Overall, Predictwind.com was only marginally better at forecasting the weather than using a “tomorrow will be just like today” methodology.  It was wrong all the way across the sea, but did accurately predict the wind going from strong to light as we neared La Paz.

Under sail, unless you are close to your destination, boat speed trumps a rhumb line course in light winds or head winds.  This has been borne out repeatedly on our trips.  The wind always shifts.