North from Zihuatanejo

We had a super time for the last two weeks in Zihuatanejo, a lovely small-ish bay with a vibrant local community but without the giant resort hotels; a most pleasant change in pace, as it were. Met quite a few cruisers out in the anchorage, sundowners ensued, walked around the “downtown” area, did some diving with Zihuatanejo Dive Center, and generally had a most pleasant time.

Today Beetle is making the hop up to the Manzanillo area, in particular aiming at Ensenada Carrizal. Alex on Sorcia reported snorkeling with Whale Sharks there, that would be a treat if they are still about. Alex mentioned that it was still too cold up in the Sea of Cortez for the fish, so they are along the coast further south and he ran into one there.

Some of the folks we met: Liz on Paso Doble (sp?) and her new boyfriend Mike (Mike sailed south from La Paz aboard Rusty’s Super Maramu Pitu, with the intention of meeting Liz on her boat in Zihuat, when that worked out Mike moved his gear bag across to her boat and Rusty continued on south), KC on Emmy Lou, Chris on his custom one-off motorsailer Golden Voyager en-route to the Panama Canal, Steve on Westerly (SSS TransPac friend of mine) was in residence, Pam (formerly of SV Precious Metal, now with her catamaran Rapscallion), Canadian Tim that runs the Cruiser’s VHF net (22A, 8:30AM, Monday-Saturday) who now owns the “red house” (Casa Roja) across the bridge and overlooking the bay – lots of people.

Also got to meet four large saltwater crocodiles that live in the creek next to a restaurant on the La Ropa beach, plus the iguanas that like to hang out in the trees above the creek.

Now it’s back out at sea where one gets to play dodge-em artisinal long line fishing – strings of plastic Coke bottles tied to green 1/4″ line that runs underwater between the floats. The Panga People will run out and set a line for the day, and as they have no way to find the line later they remain at one end of the line and float around for the afternoon. I doubt they have any sort of refrigeration or ice on their pangas, so the catch has to be retrieved and then delivered as fast as possible to the local restaurants with their palapas that line the beaches.

All is good on board! A fine afternoon, light air (variable to 5 knots) is forecast for the next 24 hours, should make for a pleasant 205 mile hop up the coast to Ensenada Carrizal.

– rob

A Few Days in Acapulco – much fun

Beetle has been happily attached to one of Vicente’s moorings here in Acapulco, having arrived in Bahia Acapulco Monday mid-day. This is a fabulous place to visit.

Arrival was straightforward, the entry is wide, with an exterior cove off to the right and a set of larger islands to the left. I’d placed on the chart the final leg of the intended route straight up the center of the entrance to finish in the middle of the bay. What you don’t know when planning a route, particularly in Mexico, is how accurate (or not) the cartography may be relative to where the coastline actually is. There’s a “roca” marked on the chart at the entrance, the chart shows it as having a light and perhaps being awash, definitely don’t want to hit that rock – and then finding it or the light structure against the backdrop of all the buildings surrounding Bahia Acapulco was difficult. Turns out the rock is way off to the left as you go in but I didn’t realize that until well past it.

And now Beetle is inside! – so where to go? Acapulco looks to have at least two parts to it: the “old” section to the east with a cruise ship terminal, the marina belonging to Acapulco Yacht Club, another marina (Marina Acapulco, I found out later), and a set of moorings that I was hoping to use but no indication as to whom operates them other than someone named Vicente, and the “new” section at the other end of the bay – the new section is filled with huge resort hotels side-by-side lining the beach along the bay around to the Mexican Navy base at that end. The “old” section is nestled up in a cove that is super-well protected from all directions, that’s where the moorings are, so I headed that way.

A VHF call to Acapulco YC returned no response, but there was a Beneteau 44 on a mooring and they were flying a Mexican courtesy flag – they were likely visiting cruisers. I pulled alongside and shouted over to “Silkup! Anybody aboard?” Up popped Diane and Bepo, they are from Switzerland and here on their boat. A short conversation ensued and Bepo mentioned he had Vicente’s phone number and he’d call Vicente immediately – which he proceeded to do. I circled a couple of times, Bepo called over, “Go to the square mooring, two over, take that one, Vicente will be out eventually to sort you out.” I was wondering if the translation between a Swiss person talking in Spanish over a telephone then translating that into English had resulted in an interesting case of “telephone” – I’d never heard of a square mooring, but there was one that looked like a beer keg painted white, it *was* different than the other spherical moorings, so I picked up that using the Happy Hooker attached to the boat hook, worked great. About an hour later Silkup departed for points north (they are cruising north from Panama headed to Puerto Vallarta, then will leave the boat there to fly home to Europe to re-up their Visas). With Silkup gone and no Vicente to offer suggestions, I moved Beetle over to Silkup’s mooring on the assumption that if it worked for them it would work for Beetle – their boat is similar length but heavier and I wasn’t too keen about the beer keg mooring ball.

Next morning I met Vicente, he’s a super fellow! He is the captain/boat guy on the Hatteras 80o in the mooring field, he manages the moorings, charge is 300 pesos/night, and acts as sort of a local yacht agent. Need diesel? gas? laundry? water? (yes, yes, yes, and no), direction to a particular store? He knows everything and everyone needed to help on your boat. In short order I emptied my three jerry jugs into the fuel tanks and handed the jugs off to Vicente and his helper in their panga and they were off.

The boats here are all med-moored, even in the marina (well, most of the marina, the smaller boats share a slip with their neighbor). There’s a rough seawall that encircles the bay along the malecon walkway, lots of 25-40′ sport fishers set on moorings off the bow and a pair of stern lines run to bollards on the malecon, the mooring line keeps the boats perhaps 6′ off the sea wall. Boats are packed in side-by-side, with lots of fenders on each side to fend off the neighboring boats. To hop on/off the boats from the seawall you pull hard on the bollard line and when the stern draws into range you step (or hop broadly) across to the boat. Not conducive to moving lots of stores across, but it must work. I’m much happier on a mooring.

By way of comparison to Cabo San Lucas, Acapulco Bay is calm, without the crazy loud booming party boats blasting their music while aimlessly motoring around. Such activity may occur down at the hotel-end of Acapulco, but not up here at this end. Here, the pangas are considerate, keep their wake down, the chatter on VHF 16 is minimal in the bay (as it should be, hailing and distress only), people wave at each other, and there’s an afternoon breeze that fills in from along the coast – that breeze helps to cool down the boats on the moorings. There are two “party” boats here, one lives on its mooring just behind of Beetle and they go out for 2 or 3 two hours runs a day, the other (the one with the giant lighted heart) lives on it’s dock near the cruise ship terminal, they go out at least twice an evening

The cruise ship terminal doesn’t look much used, its long concrete side-tie pier occupies one side of the mooring area and the bay’s two-lane ring road parallels the pier. The terminal has a military guard at the entry gate, plus a half-dozen rather fancy looking motor yachts med-tied stern-to at the terminal pier – perhaps these are boats belonging to folks with access to military facilities?

Vicente appeared early the next day with three big blue fuel jugs, 50 liters eaches, plus my three 20 liter jugs filled. He takes them across in his panga to the Pemex station located on the malecon, he and his helper lift the cans up to the walkway, the Pemex is 20 feet away. Clearly this is the fueling mechanism of choice for small boats, the narrow grass lawn in front of the Pemex has quite a collection of dinghies stored there. On board Beetle we siphoned the fuel from the jugs into the tanks and I found he’d brought back 15 liters more than needed, so he left one blue jug with me and took off with the two trash bags that have accumulated on Beetle. I eventually gave the extra fuel to a 52′ catamaran carrying four French folks delivering the boat southbound to Panama, the pulled in for a quick two-night pause on their run south and ended up on the mooring next door.

Later on I stopped at the big Hatteras Vicente works on, and brought my laundry with me – he has a friend ashore that runs laundry through her machine, so it was guaranteed I wouldn’t have clothes go missing at the laundromat. Vicente pointed out the dinghy landing, “very safe, no one will bother you or your boat”, and off I went. The landing is beyond funky, you pull up in your dinghy, tie the painter around an abandoned panga strung between a mooring ball and two brand new huge stern lines run to bollards on shore, pull yourself along the panga until reaching an orange stern line, pull aft along that towards the rough sea wall (this means you’re also dragging the heavy panga along with you towards the sea wall), and at the correct moment you clamber out of the dinghy with one foot on a protruding sea wall rock while hanging onto the orange stern line so you don’t fall backwards into the water while pushing the dinghy away from the rocks with the other foot. Makes for an interesting landing. Climb up the seawall (about 4 feet vertically), avoid the rusty jagged old metal bits poking out from the sea wall, to stand on the sidewalk with your dinghy’s stern line in hand, and at that point feel quite good about making it all the way up in one piece without damaging yourself or the dinghy. This place is definitely made for heavy fiberglass boats that can take a beating against the rocks, not relatively delicate rubber dinghies that get holes poked in them from sea urchin spines or barnacles. To complete the landing you take a turn around the 10″ diameter steel bollard set in the malecon with the stern line, after first attempting to decide if the tide is going out or coming in; get it wrong and you may find your dinghy hanging down the sea wall from the stern line. According to Vicente this is the good, safe landing spot. I’m not keen to find the bad spot!

Ashore Acapulco is a lot of fun; this is definitely the cheap-seats end of town, and as Beetle is the only cruising boat here (most boats stop up the coast at Zihuatenejo) I’m something of a peculiarity to the folks on shore. Not too many blonde haired tie-dye-shirt-wearing people walking about in shorts, white socks, white sneakers along the malecon. There has been some drug cartel violence in Acapulco, as a direct result the cruise ships dropped Acapulco as a port of call, refusing to deposit 2-3,000 visitors onto the streets for a day. The immediate effect is most everyone I see is a local, with a couple of ex-pat Americans tossed in the mix, and the sidewalks are wide and empty making it quite comfortable to go for a walk-about.

Vicente had recommended an Italian restaurant (Mi Paci) situated four blocks away in the Plaza Alvarez public square filled with big green Banyan trees (I think they are Banyan trees). Food was very good, voluminous menu was printed in both Spanish and English, which lead to the funny discussion with the waiter. I wanted a pizza with mushrooms, olives, and sausage – the menu lists “Aceitunas negras – black olives”, so I tried to say “Aceitnuas negras”, most likely mangling the pronunciation. He said, “Yes, black olives. Got it.” I then pointed at the Spanish and asked, “How do you say that?” He said, “that’s black olives.” I looked at him and said, “I *know* that, that’s English! How does it sound in Spanish?” “Ahh..,” he said, then told me I had it about right. Pretty funny here where the locals want to practice their English on you and you want to practice your Spanish on them – leads to conversations where nobody is speaking their native language which means things can get very confused very quickly.

The next day I went for a walk over to the Puerto Capitania’s office to check-in, as I’m supposed to do upon arrival as Acapulco is written as my destination from the Ensenada departure paperwork, but they were closed. Come back between 8:30 and 14:30 the sign on their locked and chained door said. OK, something to do tomorrow morning. So I walked around the area a bit, the streets are busy with car traffic, apparently traffic lights do not mean much so you look both ways twice before hustling to the center boulevard lane divider and waiting for another grap in traffic. The buses are amazing, the little white Collectivo vans drive around with the sliding side-door open – if you’re inside the van be careful not to be tossed out when they make a swerving left turn. The Blue larger more normal buses Vicente told me are for locals, I would not like it – blasting loud music, no air conditioning, they have the places they visit written in large white letters on the front windshield (might say, “WalMart”, for example), they do whatever the driver feels like doing and have super loud horns to announce their presence when they stop along the road to take people on or off. The yellow buses are better, quieter, drivers not so crazy, more defined routes. But – the bus I would want is a green one – those are quiet, no music, air conditioned, and very safe drivers, and use the bus stops so you know where to catch one. I watched the buses go whizzing about and Vicente is most correct, the different colors display different behaviors. There are also tons of taxi cabs, including a whole line of VW Bug hard-top taxis – they go roaring around from place to place.

On board Beetle an issue to solve has been preventing the metal mooring ball I’m tied to from clonking against the hull when the wind goes non-existent, usually late at night, and then the bumping sound wakes me up. I seem to have solved the problem by tying the mooring lines (two dock lines, one each around the mooring eye and back to a cleat) quite short, then adding a third thin line that drops down from the anchor straight onto the mooring ball. Judicious adjustment of the thin line prevents the ball from floating back to bonk the hull, in no wind, and when the wind fills mid-morning the dock lines take the strain and the thin line hangs there doing not much. I slept better last night following several adjustsments.

I asked Vicente after grocery stores in the area, there are two at this end of town: the Chedruai (not a Super), and WalMart (not a Super, either). In his opinion the WalMart was not very good, so I visited both. WalMart has by far a wider selection of foods and goodies and is roughly a half-size Safeway store, at least for a gringo’s taste it was just perfect. The Chedraui not so much and a bit of a disappointment.

I’m back on Beetle by dark or a bit before, so I haven’t seen any night life of Acapulco, can’t comment on that. I dived the hull with the hookah unit and the Remora Solo bush tool, the bottom looks good except for one good size barnacle that had attached itself at the aft port end of the keel – little bugger got removed with the plastic putty knife I dive with. How he got that big that quickly I don’t know, but he’s gone now. And then a dinghy full of divers came over and asked if they could tie to Beetle’s mooring ball as they wanted to dive down and go spearfishing on the sunken Mexican Navy ship directly beneath. I had no idea I was moored over a sunken boat, there’s none mentioned on the chart, I said, “Of course!” and they were in the water with spear guns. They would pull themselves down the mooring line to the wreck, then look about for fishes – it’s deep here, 69′, and they were free-diving to there – pretty impresive. Later I asked Vicente about the wreck and he said, “Si! There’s a big navy ship down there. Lots of good spearfishing on it.” No wonder the cruising books suggest not anchoring close in to this area as there’s a lot of stuff down there to snag with the anchor, particularly after 400 years of people dropping things in the bay.

On the small world front, Vicente had received notice of a 60 foot trimaran with a dead engine 250 miles out and they were pulling in to Acapulco, could he help out? He’s been waiting for them and has a mooring set aside for them, they thought they might arrive that save day, but didn’t. For a boat to go that fast I figured it was probably a race boat and turns out they did arrive two days later, it’s name is Defiant (ne’e Mighty Merloe, Group Ama 2), a carbon-built ORMA 60 originally campaigned by Franck Cammas which won lots of races, then sold and renamed Might Merloe and set the TransPac record at 4 days 6 hours LA to Hawaii, now sold again to Donald – whom I met when he and his wife arrived looking exhausted, the boat banged up, two of the jibs shredded on their furlers, the mainsail in a big pile on the trampolines, and some of the port ama hull coring exposed where the carbon skin is missing. There’s got to be a story in there but Donald and his wife took off with Vicente to get some much-needed sleep. Perhaps I shall see them today, I told Vicente to let them know I’d be happy to help drop and fold sails if they want any assistance.

That brings things up to more-or-less what’s been going on here. The mornings are super-pleasant, the sun climbs up over the hill and the swallow tail birds start flitting about the boat, I’ve got the sun awning up and it is great to sit under (70% sunlight reduction fabric), the wind fills mid-morning and I open up the forward hatch to get airflow through the boat. Then I’ll dinghy ashore and go for a walk, being the old part of Acapulco is great, cobble-stone (through actually brick) roads, or go visit the Fort San Diego overlooking the bay with its cannons (built 1616, then rebuilt1778), it gets hot mid-day so back to Beetle to do some work on the boat (about finished with the Balmar alternator testing), sunset and it’s been a most pleasant day.

One thing I intend to do, simply because it’s the Thing To Do in Acapulco, is visit La Perla restaurant and watch the cliff divers plummet down to the water below. This happens at the next cove over, inside the bay, all I need to do is catch the correct Collectivo (or Taxi) to get to La Perla. Also I visited Acapulco Scuba, the dive shop in Marina Acapulco, and Fellipe listened to what I’m interested in, such as take Beetle around to anchor at a dive site use the dinghy for the dive. He used to his dive map to point out the two best places to do that, both at Isla Roqueta just around outside the bay – he said the coves were safe for anchoring, had good structure for critters, there were 6 great dives right in those two spots, current conditions were a bit of swell right now, probably be much better on Sunday. He pointed out the various wrecks and other spots they dive (perhaps 40+ in all), but most of those require live-boating the dive and wouldn’t work for anchoring; if I wanted to go out with them on their boat he’d could make that happen. Great person to talk with.

Acapulco has turned out to be a great place to visit, good people all around, a most pleasant time. Time to go see what today brings!

– rob

5 Bobbies and a mid-ocean swim

Good evening, it’s been a particularly good day out here on the pond. Currently Beetle is south of Zihuatenejo, the sun set with a nice brief brilliant emerald green flash. In another hour we’ll make the turn in towards Acapulco, still tooling along under power, still with a Booby Bird not-so-stowaway perched on the now somewhat messy bow pulpit.

Last night and today have been a lot of fun on the water. Good stars through the night, another couple of significantly bright shooting stars, reading up on the constellation Crux (the Southern Cross) which is now easily visible to the south, and watching the Booby Birds balance all night long on the bow pulpit. Initially Beetle was transporting two Boobies, then two more arrived and spent a long time trying to hit the bow pulpit with their feets – mostly missing. To add to the angst of the incoming Booby, the others already perched were not pleased to observe an incoming birdie and immediately pointed their beaks at the intruder and made a landing as difficult as possible. Boobies do not land on bow pulpits well. They tend to miss both high (as in put their feet out and overshoot to miss the pulpit entirely) or, in the case of one particularly poor landing, undershoot and have the outstretched feets sail into the gap between the upper and lower rails, resulting in the Booby hanging on for dear life to the railing with his chin. The adjacent Boobie observed this for a minute or so, the hanging Boobie struggled to get a purchase with the feet (couldn’t), then tried to flap wings to climb vertically (couldn’t), so hung there considering the options. Dropping off meant a fall directly into the water. The adjacent Booby decided enough was enough, reached over and pecked him hard, and off into the water the chin-hanger fell. Eventually there were five Boobies all agreeing to share the pulpit through the night.

Come this morning there were will four Boobies on the bow pulpit, which is now looking a bit worse for the wear as regards Boobie poop. So is the anchor. Fortunately Boobies like to face inboard and most poop goes conveniently and directly overboard, leading me to believe in the value of a “poop deck” on board a boat. The ocean was again a rolling mirror that reflected the puffy box-car clouds floating above, a brilliant sunrise and the day has begun. I pulled down the morning weather, calm and more cal to Acapulco, and decided it would be a good day for a mid-ocean swim. Mid-morning I stopped Beetle, dropped the double-reefed mainsail (being used as a sort-of stabilizer), trailed the 100 foot floating line, put on mask, fins and snorkel and went for a short swim in 11,500′ of 82 degree water. Marvelous! I don’t believe I’ve had the opportunity to do that since 2006 in the Pacific High, though I might have done that on the way back from Tahiti to Hawaii. Visibility straight down is unknowable as there’s no reference – the light just seems to filter straight down into the cobalt blue water forever. There were three tiny fishes hanging out under Beetle near the propeller, there’s no chance those fish were swimming with the boat so they must simply be out there in the pelagic and looking for a shady spot. The zincs are in good condition, and some of the bottom could use another run around with the bottom cleaning tool – something I’ll take care of in Acapulco.

After the quick swim it was back up the ladder, rinse the saltwater off, on with the engine and continuing down the track. It was shortly after this that I saw what looked for all the world like an umbrella on its side, half sticking up out of the water, floating along near the boat. Then I thought it might have been a Frigate Bird’s wing sticking up out of the water – a large dark flat flexible sheet with sticks holding it up. Completely weird. Then the Sailfish woke up and moved a small bit to avoid Beetle going by, the fish has a long pointy bill and the dorsal fin is way up in the air above the water when the fish is at rest on the surface – first time I’ve seen one! This fellow was perhaps 6 feet long, shiny, with that dark dorsal fin looking just like the membrane of an umbrella. Apparently they like to hang out on the surface doing exactly what I saw.

Another new animal today for me as well: the Pantropical Spotted Dolphin appeared in enormous numbers, with a pile of Gannets and Boobies above that were diving into the bait fish the dolphins were pushing to the surface. At the sight of all the food the Boobies on Beetle flew off for lunch. Hundreds of dolphins were spread across the water, leaping out and splashing, birds swirling and diving, some dolphins came over to Beetle and put on a show off the bow. These dolphins are smaller and darker than what one sees in Southern California, and have a particularly noticeable lighter color underside and aft section that is covered in small white-to-grey spots. They are very fast and make lots of abrupt turns at full speed, often leaping over each other. Fun to find them!

So that’s what’s been happening here on Beetle. Watermaker has been run to keep up with usage, did some laundry that dried on the lifelines, goal is to arrive at Acapulco with full fresh water tanks as I would prefer not to run the watermaker inside the bay there. As it stands now I ought to be making landfall a bit after daybreak, which will be perfect for arrival with good visibility. This area is entirely new to me, should be most interesting to learn about the place.

Have a good night, it’s beautiful out here with all the stars.

– rob

Booby Bird Distribution Services

Good late-evening, it’s Friday night and Beetle is trundling along south of Manzanillo, under power in very light air and calmed-down seas. The fun part is there are two Booby Birds that arrived late afternoon and took up perch on the bow pulpit. It’s now 11PM and they are still there, one on each side of the pulpit and perched facing inboard towards each other. Allowing that the deck-level running lights are on (Beetle is under power, can’t use the tricolor light at the masthead), one bird is now red in color and the other is green. The birds don’t seem to mind, they are quite good at shifting their weight to remain upright as the boat rolls beneath them. They are brown in color, one has grey feets and the other has red feets, and they seem to like each other.

Quite a few other Booby Birds tried to join them on the pulpit, but the red-footed one would take umbrage at each bird attempting a landing and greet them with sharp bill spread wide and defend the landing spot. So only two Boobies despite there being room for at least two more. I wonder if boat riding by Boobies is an established dispersal method for the species; they certainly aren’t going to take off in the morning in the same place they landed!

Last night went well, though I did not gybe but instead rolled up the no. 2 genoa and pointed the bow DDW, letting the swell and light wind push Beetle along. This was a better tactic then gybing across and back out towards the initial planned track, as the gybe would have been essentially at 90 degrees to course and Beetle would be making angle but not miles towards the target waypoint. Better to let the boat go slow straight at the mark, as it were. Some time around 3AM I turned on the engine and we’ve been powering along since.

There’s been no moon out the last couple of days, this makes it really really dark on the ocean, with enough starlight to make out the horizon and the puffy clouds going by. Spotted a satellite in a west->east orbit tonight, that’s a fun orbit as most of the satellites I see are in polar orbits. With the lack of moon the squid rise to the surface, and there are tons of squids about. With the extra-dark sky making the water extra-dark, the phosphorescence has been strongly noticeable, and one can watch the squid shoot through the water in rapid jerky spurts as Beetle comes too close and they try to zip backwards out of the way. Many of the squids end up shooting up and out of the water, particularly poor luck for squids that have their posteriors pointed towards the water surface and then shoot out of the water and up onto the deck. They promptly ink the deck and then don’t last long after that. The flying fish are also zinging themselves on board – had a couple crash into the cockpit and go flapping about; if I can get to them quickly enough I send them back overboard before they expire.

And really fun tonight, the dolphins appeared and swam along with Beetle for a good half-hour, zooming around off the bow and leaving long running streaks of glowing green phosphorescent trails in the water. These dolphins would jump and splash and frighten squid that would shoot off in all directions, the Booby Birds perched on the pulpit didn’t seem to mind the commotion going on below their feets.

I’m running Beetle roughly 40 miles off the coast, turns out that distance coincides with the north/south Panama great circle routing across to Asia. I’ve had several ships play through in both directions, I can see them and they can see me on AIS; so far no need to talk with anyone on the VHF regarding passing intentions.

On the book front I’ve been reading a P.G. Wodehouse book, that’s lots of fun, getting in sleeps and naps through the evening to keep Beetle running along, and we’re through the halfway point to Acapulco. There are some moorings off the Acapulco Yacht Club, that’s going to be the intended destination for Beetle upon arrival. I have no idea how that will work out, whether any moorings would be available, etc., but people do talk about the moorings as being a good thing and apparently someone named Vincent is the person to see about using one. I don’t know Vincent, but I’m willing to bet someone at Acapulco YC will and hopefully the YC has enough English that a conversation over the VHF radio is possible.

All goes well out here!

– rob/beetle & two Booby Birds

Southbound to Acapulco

It’s Thursday afternoon, I’ve had a good daytime sleep, feeling well-rested, Beetle has covered roughly 30% of the distance to Acapulco since departing Cabo San Lucas yesterday (Wednesday) morning.

Departure was simple, raise anchor and go. Ran the engine for five hours to do two things: motor clear of the Baja peninsula wind shadow, and also to run the watermaker and fill up the tanks. I’d used a fair bit of water doing laundry while at anchor at Cabo, getting into clear water about 10 miles south of Cabo made refilling the tanks a good thing to do.

There’s a significant wind shadow extending south off the baja, the breeze we’re sailing towards is the northerly wind coming down the Sea of Cortez, that wind should propel Beetle along across the several hundred miles of open water between Cabo and Punta Corrientes on the south side of Banderas Bay. Also converging off the Baja peninsula is the prevailing NE tradewinds, these bring in the large Pacific ocean sawell, and the result is two sets of swells (Pacific and Sea of Cortez) and two sets of wind that form a dead zone south of Baja. I motored through the choppy water and goofy competing winds until roughly 30 miles out and that’s when the northerlies took over and Beetle was off.

Winds held through the night, roughly 15-18 knots on the port quarter, and Beetle was able to run down the track to an imaginary point 45 miles SW of Manzanillo. Speeds were up, the boat was running well, I put in one reef around dark to stabilize the boat and make life easier for the autopilot. The headsail was the no. 2 genoa sheeted to both the inboard track and a twing line to an outboard padeye – this arrangements makes it possible to position the clew between the inboard and outboard points the sail would otherwise sheet to.

Had good stars at night, no moon until early morning pre-dawn, no shipping traffic, nothing on the AIS – just Beetle trundling along through the night.

Come dawn had a fine sunrise, then it clouded over and we were will across towards Banderas Bay. The northerly wind coming down from the Sea of Cortez fans out over this area, from the west (Baja) side the wind is more on the beam, mid-way the wind is aft-quarter, on the east side wind moves aft and the boat is running deep downwind. The choppy seas were fairly chaotic therefore I had zero interest in setting up a spinnaker, instead I’ve been experimenting with different wind-following capabilities of the B&G autopilot to see how well it will track the wind and keep the sails full. So far the most success has been this afternoon when the seas quieted down and became more stable, and now the pilot is tracking a TWA of 123 degrees, boat speed pulls the AWA forward to a beam reach, and that keeps the genoa stable.

This also means we’re now reaching up to the east away from the planned track, and aiming more towards Corrientes than past it. Either there’s going to be a wind shift as we get closer, or I’ll be gybing back to the west before getting too close to shore.

On the critter front, Beetle has scooped up two flying fish that made it all the way into the cockpit, plus some small squids that hopped up as well. Also observed and interesting collecting of Booby Birds working a bait ball above some larger fish. The Boobies would dive on the bait fish, while hovering above the Boobies were the Frigate birds who just hang out until a Booby has a fish then they harass the Booby until it drops the fish and the Frigate bird can snatch it from the air as it free-falls back towards the water. Nature in action!

Now it’s a bit before 5pm, we’re continuing to trundle along south-east under sail, Beetle is much quieter than last night as the wind is lighter at 10-12 knots and the seas are down at 3-5′ or so.

All goes well on board!

– rob

Cabo ahead, off the Pacific Baja

It’s 9AM local time and Beetle is motoring along in very light air some 5 miles from Cabo Falso, should be there within the hour. Cabo San Lucas is just around the corner to east from the first bump out one sees upon arrival (that bump is Cabo Falso, the false cape) – and that will complete Beetle’s hoppity-hop down along the Pacific Baja.

It’s another excellent sunrise, there are 30-35′ sportfisher type boats running around chasing marlins or whatever else out here likes to chomp on lures being dragged behind small sportfishers. The swell has reduced to 3-4′, maybe, and the nasty choppy reflect wave energy from several hours ago has faded away.

Last night was a good run with nice breeze, at one point the wind rose to 20-21 knots and Beetle took off too fast, so I spent a bit and double-reefed the main, that slowed the boat back down to a more useful 6.5-7 knots.

I found an issue with the Balmar 618 charge controller – for an as-yet unknown reason it is not utilizing the full output of the alternator when bulk charging the house bank. That’s annoying and something to sort out. Could be a programming issue from when I installed the controller, could be something built into the software within the controller (which is not described in detail in the manual). Likely to be a telephone call to Balmar today to try and understand why it’s behaving the way it is. In theory a bulk charge on the 4x6v golf batteries should be 100 amps at 14.6/14.7 volts. What I actually see is something like 50 amps @ 13.7 volts, morphing slowly to 30 amps @ 14.3 volts, then the controller jumps over to absorption to float and that’s it. Upshot is I can charge the batteries (sort of) but it takes a long time to do. The fall back is to re-install the Ample Power alternator and retain the Balmar as the spare, but I’d really like to get the Balmar working as desired. Things to figure out!

Had lots of stars last night, swell from behind, we’d go whooshing along quite comfortable downhill. One gybe late evening from port to starboard to follow the wind shift around, and got in many good short sleep/naps so feeling well-rested this morning.

At dawn the cruise ship Disney Wonder tooled on by. They have a television screen on deck facing aft attached to the funnel that is so large I could see if from two miles away! Most bizarre. I expect to find the ship at anchor when I come around the point and into Cabo San Lucas.

My plan is anchor out in the flatter part of the underwater shelf out north (towards the beach) of the designated cruise ship anchorages. There’s a significant underwater canyon right at the Cabo marina entrance, and boats that try to anchor close to the marina find they are actually attempting to hang onto a cliff. It looks better to be 3/4 mile to the east on the flat stuff, though I suppose that could have more swell activity than tucked into the corner. Either way, plan is to anchor out as the IGY Marina that runs Cabo San Lucas marina told me they are all full and have no transient dock space available.

With hook down I’d like to clean up the boat, stow the mainsail, then organize the dinghy and run in to the marina to see a) if the dinghy dock really is there in front of the marina office, and b) find a market to pick up some munchies.

It’s being a great morning here, hope the morning is doing well for everyone else!

– rob/beetle

Southbound from Mag Bay

Good morning! We’re back out on the pond this fine morning, wind is 1-3 knots and shifting slowly to the west, the forecast calls for the breeze to fill this afternoon and hopefully hang around long enough to provide a nice sail through the evening towards Cabo San lucas. There’s a rolling 4-5′ swell coming in the northwest, sky is clear blue.

Departure from Man-O-War cove in Mag Bay was simple, pick up the anchor and go. I could see a thin fog bank forming off to the west, probably where the desert air flows out over the colder bay water. As I motored south through Mag Bay a light wind picked up and brought the fog bank across the bay; it was interesting to have good sun above and limited visibility surrounding the boat. A couple of pangas went by, the radar was good at picking them up, I could hear their outboard motors and see their wakes ripple across, but did not actually see the boats until I later caught up with them at the Mag Bay entrance. I went by a couple of pangas that were working, two people to a boat, they were hand-line fishing in 180′ off water, pulling the cord up hand over hand to land a fish. Ditto with the lobster pot pangas, they were hauling up the weighted pots by hand from 200+ feet. Those fisherman must have incredibly strong arms and well-caloused fingers.

The hop to Cabo is a nice distance, 170 miles, which means I should be able to have a nice overnight run offshore that will knock off most of the distance, and then come into Cabo Falso with morning daylight. As it is Beetle has already covered 14 miles so we’re down to 156 to go and it’s 10:40AM local time.

I’m enjoying a book about the Mars Lander EDL work done at JPL by Adam Steltzner, “The Right Kind of Crazy” – it’s a fun read, particularly if you’re into space exploration, which I am.

Enjoy the day! Beetle is off to see what’s happening on the Pacific today.

– rob & beetle

Monday in Mag Bay, headed to Cabo tomorrow

Good mid-day from the quieteness of Mag Bay, where Beetle is happily hanging on the hook with two other boats in the anchorage. Today is being a not-too-much-to-do day as I got my chores done yesterday and I get to do some reading and sightseeing today.

Yesterday was mostly about installing a set of four lift-the-dot canvas fittings onto the companionway insect screen I’d built on the sewing machine in Avalon. My design calls for four receiver fittings in the canvas, one in each corner of the screen around the companionway hatch – I obtained the fasteners while in San Diego, and yesterday decided to install them. The installation is fairly simple, mark the Sunbrella fabric, cut out the center oval where the stud enters the connector, and make four small slots in the Sunbrella where the connector’s feet go through and grab the fabric.

The studs are screwed into the raised teak frame surrounding the hatch, the studs are short and should not be in the way. The time-consuming part turned out to be that I couldn’t drill holes for two of the studs without first removing the cabin top winches. Rats! Once the winches were out of the way the rest way pretty simple, and now that little project is complete.

Tomorrow I’m planning to roll out south towards Cabo San Lucas, which means that today I’ll do another run ashore for a walk-around, then back to the boat to put the dinghy away and set up Beetle for up-and-out in the morning. It’s 175 miles on my semi-offshore route there (shorter if one were to hug the coast), with a plan to fetch up off Cabo Wednesday daytime. There are no slips available in the marina at Cabo, so I’ll be anchoring out on the sandy shelf off the beach. I did find that the IGY Marina (it appears they operate the entire marina at Cabo) has a dinghy dock in front of their office – that’s what the Baja HaHa folks were using as nobody in the HaHa fleet was able to get a slip in the marina so everyone anchored out. Hopefully that dock is still there!

Elsewise all is good here, tools & bits & pieces from yesterday’s work are all put away, lee cloths are in place, Beetle is pretty much good to go at the moment. Weather looks conducive to a slow start then a nice sail through the evening tomorrow.

It’s being a fine relaxing day on this end.

– rob/beetle

Sunday AM in Mag Bay

I did some reading last night as best I could about Bahia Magdalena, and it seems I’m more or less in the hot bed of the Gray Whale world – the large females should be on their way down the coast from Alaska, arriving here mid-January to give birth to rather large calves. The whaling ships discovered in the 1840s that there were lots of whales here that could be easily found and killed, and by 1860s had wiped out much of the calving population – to the point that it was no longer financially viable to send whaling ships here. The whales recovered a bit, and in the 1910s the whaling ships returned and wiped out the population again… and finally in 1946 the whales were protected, no more shooting them in a barrel, and the population has recovered to what we have today. And through all that the whales continued to arrive on the Pacific Baja for their winter calving season. They’ll head north again mid-March, back to Alaska. In the meantime the whales will be here, they are curious about small boats and approach them, they’re in a confined calm area, and therefore relatively easy to see.

No wonder there’s a significant whale-watching tourist industry in Mag Bay!

Yesterday (Saturday) was another fun day on board, I took the dinghy out and about for a tour of the anchorage, there are tall hills to the south and a stretch of barrier sand dunes to the north; the dune separates Bahia Santa Maria from Bahia Magdalena, and prevents any swell from reaching into Mag Bay. It can be rolling at 18′ breakers on the outside (which we had the other day) and inside there’s nothing, flat as a pancake.

The bottom is a uniform beige sand flatness spotted with the occasional bit of sea grass. Not much in the way of rocks seem to poke up through the sand/clay/mud bottom.

After the dinghy tour I switched to Teva shoes and swim trunks and ran the dinghy ashore at the foot of what was/should be the lighthouse – that’s where the Port Captain’s office was and I was hoping to sign in if possible. The landing is no issue, run in slowly with the beach wheels down, when they touch the bottom kill the motor and step out of the dinghy bow. If you step out at the dinghy stern you’ll discover you’re thigh deep in water, much better to step off to either side at the bow, it’s usually shallower and you don’t get so wet. With painter in hand I rolled the dinghy up the pebbly beach and set it down, then switched to tennis shoes for walking about.

From my exploration around the metal girder light tower and associated buildings, it appears the apparatus is out of operation and has been for some time. I haven’t seen the light lit in the few days I’ve been here, the adjacent structures are empty, vacated, dusty, some with broken windows – makes me think nobody is using them. Perhaps in the age of chart plotters and GPS the light tower is no longer needed to help boats locate themselves while traveling in and out of the ‘Z’ deep water channel up to Puerto San Carlos further inside the bay. Maybe there’s no longer a Port Captain here as the light isn’t needed.

I walked through the village, most of which is small single story buildings, sand or dirt roads and walkways, many rusted out vehicles without wheels set on cinder blocks, and piles of lobster traps out front or along the beach. Rather than use hard to find and expensive lead weights, each pot contains a bunch of large rocks – that will sink them to the bottom. Lots of pots all over the place.

One fellow waved at me so I asked, “Tienda?” (hopefully this means a small store) and he pointed down the way and gave me a lot of Spanish words describing something I did not understand – but apparently I wanted to head off where he was pointing, so I did. I think I walked through some backyards, maybe, as it was difficult to distinguish a yard from a walkway; the village is something of a uniform sand/dirt and you can tell where the roads are if you follow the tire tread tracks, but sometimes those lead into someone’s yard and then you get to meet them.

Perhaps 300 feet along the path I found what I suspect was (or used to be) the Whale restaurant, with the huge whale bones that used to be set up along the patio. The bones are now off to one side, kind in a group, and the building is painted yellow and a restaurant of sorts (and a tienda), with some picnic benches out front under a shade roof. I popped my head in, yes, she could sell some erveza to me (Pacifco? Si.) At the table were a Canadian couple and their dog, so we hung out and talked for a while. He’s Pascal, they spent the last two winters up in False Creek Vancouver (winter 1) and then further north anchored out at Desolation Sound (winter 2) and decided that for this winter it was way too cold up there, too much snow, so they departed southwards in August and are now here.

A good idea of what they were dealing with: it’s snowing, the boat (gaff-rigged ketch) has a wood burning stove, so they need wood to keep the boat warm. He’d go ashore with his chainsaw and be cutting dried fallen branches into smaller bits that would fit into the stove, then dinghy the haul back to the boat. While it’s snowing. She would take their dog out for daily walks in the snow, and pretty quickly started taking their big handgun with her as the wolves were out and about, lots of howling, the dog would then stay super-close to her. She never saw a wolf, but their paw prints were all over the snow and she could how close they had come to her. The bears were out in the summer, another animal to avoid running into accidentally. After the second winter they decided a place with sun wouldn’t be such a bad idea – and now they are much happier.

After my shore walkaround I was back to board Beetle, had a nice dinner, watched a bit of a movie, then off to sleep.

This morning (Sunday) I find that three boats have departed for points south, leaving three of us in the anchorage. And now a blue catamaran, has arrived and anchored out. So we’re back to four boats spread across the area. So far everyone has anchored well apart, keeps things most pleasant and quiet.

– rob

Saturday morning and calm in Mag Bay

It’s a clear blue sky under the dawn this morning in Mag Bay, the little village in front of the anchorage is quiet, the occasional rooster’s crow echoes out from the shore. It’s going to be a fun day to explore the area.

Friday (yesterday) started after a really good long 12 hour sleep in the aft bunk, I got the dinghy out and launched and fiddled with the idle adjust screw on the outboard motor. Adding a half-turn to the idle makes the engine want to idle better. I’ll need to pull the carburetor and clean out the jets – something to do, perhaps this evening.

Mainsail cover is on, had an excellent shower in the cockpit with hot fresh water (I ran the engine for a bit to charge batteries and the engine freshwater coolant loop travels through the hot water heater, making hot showers a possibility!), then dinghied over to visit with Makara next door, as it were.

The large surf pounding the coastline of the tall barrier island I’m anchored behind is impressive, you can hear the booming from the surf several miles away, even up and over the tall peaks. That’s big surf. I saw some pictures of issues up in Southern California due to the powerful Low that poured rain on California and according to the folks on Makara indundated Mammoth (up in the Sierras) with tons of snow. Some pictures show the decrepit docks failing and breaking up inside Channel Islands Harbor, apparently due to surge in the harbor. It’s fortunate that Beetle is not there at the moment, as flipped over broken in pieces concrete docks can easily damage boats.

The first Frigate Birds of the run have appeared, they soar way up above the water on rising thermals and are impressive. They should become more numerous as I travel further south into their range. They behave mostly like a kite, not flapping wings much but simply leaving their arms and fingers outstretched and let the feathers lift them in the breeze. Down at water level there are some other more gull-like birds, one of whom last night woke me up while trying to board Beetle in the dark. I was hearing splashing and clanking noises in the lifelines, maybe it was a seal trying to get on deck? I don’t know how one would do that, the deck is pretty high, but there was this repeated splash clang scrabble sound… on went the headlamp and I went out to observe a bird fly towards the deck, get caught up in the lower lifeline and knocked backwards, wings would hit the deck, then splash into the water – repeatedly. No idea what that was about.

I do keep the anti-panga white LED light running in the cockpit at night, that might have sufficient light to attract small fish (maybe?), perhaps the bird was interested in the fish, or perhaps it saw the deck as a convenient place to sit for the night but didn’t pick up on the lifeline wire in the way. At least I wasn’t confronted with a seal sitting in the cockpit.

There has been intermittent 4G internet and telephone access in the anchorage, it’s unclear if that’s coming in from Puerto San Carlos across the bay or if there’s a local antenna of sorts that works when the on-shore power generator is running. My guess is that I’m seeing San Carlos. Most email I’ve been working with is going through Iridium, as direct internet access, when it appears, is difficult to interact with.

In the village along the beach here is a central generator of some kind, or at least there are telephone poles with wires suggesting power generatrion, and the village has lights in the early evening. At some point all the lights go out and then I hear the small generators fire up and a few lights come on for folks that are busy in the evening. By late night everything is shut down except for three lights that are most likely running off batteries.

I had another good night’s sleep last night, being in the anchorage is darn close to having the boat in concrete – it’s that stable here when the wind isn’t raising small chop that boinks against the transom. Tonight is going to be movie night on board Beetle!

– rob/beetle