La Paz, Mexico

Sunday December 3, 2006

We are all ready to leave for the mainland. Have been delayed a few days by strong northerly winds, up to 40 knots out in the Gulfo (Sea of Cortez). The plan is to leave tomorrow for Isla Espritu Santo, 20 miles to the north, anchor for one or two nights, and then cross to the mainland 140 miles away due East, stopping at Altata. Then after a few days, south to Mazatlan. It seems we will be accompanied by Chetak, Southern Star and No Regrets. Stormcat is headed home to Canada for a month as they just sold their house. They will catch up with us in late January somewhere.

Isla Espiritu Santo, Mexico

Monday December 4, 2006

Left La Paz for Isla Espiritu Santo. Meant to leave by 10 am but it was after 11 by the time we got going. Still windy out there but supposed to be nothing more than 25 knots where we are going. When we signed out of the marina we were told the port was still closed (by the Port Captain). Seemed odd considering the conditions and they did say it was OK to leave for the island. Good wind for a while but then as we headed across the western edge of the San Lorenzo Strait the wind veered more and more onto the nose and the seas became real lumpy. Still the whole trip was only 16 miles so we started the motor and headed as close to the wind as possible trying to maintain over 4 knots.

Meanwhile Chetak and Southern Star left behind us after midday. Robin thought this was far too late for a 4 hour trip (which can easily get longer) considering it is dark at 6pm. Southern Star was delayed until well after 1pm because they discovered, quite late, a young Aussie guy who wanted to crew temporarily - Steve, once of Toowoomba. About 4pm they reported making heavy weather of it indeed across San Lorenzo and decided to turn back to Ballandra Bay. Michelle questioned whether we should also go back. Robin argued (none of you can imagine Robin arguing of course!) that by then we had only 3 miles to go before turning off the wind for the very safe anchorage of Partida Cove. He also figured that (a) it was going to be very rolly in Ballandra with the north swell coming straight in and (b) going thru' the shallow San Lorenzo Strait tomorrow morning could be nasty in the prevailing conditions. Besides we still had not decided whether to go East to Altata the next day or direct to Mazatlan (ESE).

We continued on and got into the flat (but still gusty) anchorage of La Partida well before nightfall. There were three other yachts already there tho' we did not get round to saying Ola. We later heard that Chetak & Southern Star did indeed spend a very uncomfortable night in Ballandra followed by a very rough passage thru' San Lorenzo early the next morning (no point trying to sleepin under those conditions). 30' Chetak plunged through the channel dipping the bow repeatedly in the chaotic short sharp waves.

Partida Cove by contrast was perfectly calm. It is the crater of an ancient volcano between 2 islands (Isla Espiritu Santo and the smaller Isla Partida - separated by a sand spit between them and accessable only by dinghy) and is almost completely surrounded by high hills and cliffs. It was quite spekky and we wanted to spend time exploring hereabouts, but winter had clearly arrived. We are definitely looking forward to a revisit when we come north next summer.

Not too many cruisers were moving about. We have found that when a "Norther" comes down the Sea of Cortez in autumn/winter they mostly stay securely tied up in marinas. These Northers can be half bad, with winds up to 35 knots and short lumpy seas, a combination which makes for unpleasant crossings of the Sea of Cortez, especially out in the middle. They are supposed to last 3 days so it seems obvious to hang around till they begin to drop and are replaced by 10-15 knot winds and 4 foot seas. But this Norther had already gone on for 10 days. The forecast was for up to 25 knots today in the middle and 20 tomorrow with seas around 8 feet. Then it was supposed to get worse again. So we had a small window and our great sea boat should not be worried by the expected conditions. Why hang on for who knows how many more days?! The wind would probably then drop entirely and we did not want to motor 250 miles to Mazatlan (unlike many of the cruisers, it drives Robin insane to motor a sailboat).

Tuesday December 5, 2006

Got up fairly leisurely and left about 8.30 am. No VHF from Chetak or Southern Star because of the high hills surrounding the island of Espiritu Santo. Anyway we pretty much expected they would be going thru' San Lorenzo Passage and we were going to circumnavigate the top end of the island. We left Partida Cove in pretty significant winds which were probably gusting around 20 knots and which were of course on the nose as expected, from due north. It was the first time we had been on our own for months and we were a little anxious. Robin did not mention that he saw one of the yachts disappear earlier in the direction of La Paz. But hey what can happen to a strong boat if its done right?

We raised the main sail to the 2nd reef. We had used the 3rd reef the previous day but Robin couldn't get the foot tight enough for the best upwind sailing so decided on a bigger sail area with a better foot. Michelle doesn't like too much heel (20 degrees max) but Robin figured we would be pointing as high into the wind as possible (so limiting heel) as we headed north around the top of Isla Partida, and then have a beam reach when we turned for the mainland. We had also put up the staysail with running backstays just as we had learned to do back in San Francisco Bay (seems a long time ago already).

It was only 5 miles to the top of the island. The first few miles were easy, NNW parallel to the island in low seas to get out of the major indentation of Partida Cove. Then the main swell began to hit and the true winds were felt. They really were only about 8 foot seas, but that meant some were larger and we regularly received a series of 12 foot waves which seemed to always arrive in threes - the worst aspect was that they were so close together. But the boat handled it nicely with lots of spray, no blue water over the bow (have yet to see that ever), and the very odd wave that dumped a little water over the side if thay happened to break just right (or wrong which view you take). It all just looked worse than it was and there was no company - zip, zero other yachts in a very crowded region. We switched on the motor to a comfortable 2,000 revs to maintain the tack as close to the wind as possible. Kept the tack until the top of the island was 100 degrees off the starboard bow. Robin figured we could tack at 90 degrees or less with the sails set as per above and the motor going and thus it proved to be. We were then a couple of miles off land so plenty of room to tack again (or we could always turn tail and head back to La Paz in complete comfort with a following sea). Robin figured it would not do much for our confidence if we did not follow thru' with these standard exercises in moderate conditions. So the next tack to East of North set us heading directly at two small islands known as Los Islotes just north of the main island, Isla Partida. As we drew closer we turned further east and raced thru' the little strait with the little islands a few hundred yards off on the port side and the main island a similar distance on the starboard side. Lots of breaking waves on both cliffy sides. The sharp swell disappeared for a few minutes behind the protection of the small islands, and then we were out the other side. A bit like a troublesome wine cork that suddenly comes free. It was only 10am so we had averaged 5 knots over the ground or 3.5 knots on a straight line directly up wind into moderately difficult seas. Robin was grinning like a chesire cat.

Los Islotes Islands Los Islotes Islands
Los Islotes - It almost looks like a calm days' sail in these pics

Robin's version: We had previously decided that if the weather was as forecast then we would head ESE to Mazatlan rather than East to Altata to escape the encroachment of winter. So Robin turned off the motor and pulled out the big jib and we were on a bouncy broad reach at 8-9 knots with 240 miles to go. Robin thought, "Perfect we will be there before dark tomorrow". Meanwhile Michelle had been suffering a little nausea and pleaded that we turn downwind thru' the Cerralvo Channel and then if things looked OK we could turn for Mazatlan there or anchor around the corner at Los Muertos if conditions remained rough. Robin was a mite loathe to agree. After all, unlike 99.8% of all the other cruisers hereabout, we had just gained the best vantage for Mazatlan and were speeding in that direction. On the other hand the Cerralvo Channel loses only 10 degrees advantage so having extracted a promise that sea-sickness medicine goes on the shopping list he opted for Cerralvo Channel. We turned downhill, the chaotic bounce became a semi-chaotic wallow and we did around 7 knots towards the channel. Later in the Channel itself we had to fully raise the main to maintain over 5 knots but were approaching the end at 4pm just before the tide set the current against us. It had been smooth enough in the Channel to cook a good meal and we had also caught a small Mexican Bandito (perfect for tomorrow's breakfast) and a large Pacific Bandito. Michelle had mostly recovered but did not fancy sashimi right then and we had decided that the Pacific Bonito was not worth freezing (kind of mushy on thawing) so the lucky guy was let go. That was the first fish we had caught in the Sea of Cortez - maybe the fish will start biting again.

Michelle had sufficiently recovered that she volunteered that we should head for Mazatlan and see what the conditions were like. Robin figured we would have to sail for an hour to get out of the lee of Isla Cerralvo to get an idea of the real weather in the Southern Crossing. So it was agreed we would sail from 5pm to 6pm and then decide. If we turned back it would be a little over an hour into Los Muertos and having been there before it would be easy to set the anchor in the dark.

As the afternoon wore on, the sky behind us had taken on a dark hazy look. We did not really want to hang around to see what that meant.

Michelle's version: After a few hours of waves hitting us beam on we decided to take a break and run back down the inside of Cerralvo Island, through the channel and we'd decide once we got down the bottom whether to head back around to Los Muertos and hole up there or keep on truckin..err.. sailing. Robin was just itching to go; he was standing at the helm grinning like a cheshire cat who got a whole bowl of cream. 4pm we arrived at the bottom of Cerralvo Channel, stuck our nose out from the lee of the island and found that the seas and wind were no where near as strong down here so headed out again for Mazatlan. Michelle, after having recovered significantly while sailing down the channel, spent almost the entire crossing seasick but we made good time in 20 to 25knots of wind, waves roughly 4 to 7 feet, a broad reach almost the entire way.

We tried hailing Chetak and Southern Star throughout the day but got no reply. Then around 5pm we got onto a boat called Tolerra with David and Melanie aboard. They had been a few miles ahead down the Channel and had gone to Los Muertos. They reported that Chetak & Southern Star were indeed in the Los Muertos anchorage and all passengers / crew were ashore at the Giggling Marlin (also called the Droll Dorado, Tipsy Tuna, Wise Wahoo etc). They would pass on a message for us that we were continuing on to Mazatlan.

By 6pm we had decided to continue. The waves were still short, sharp and chaotic but a little less than above Espiritu Santo earlier in the day. We had reefed down the main to 2nd reef and had taken in the jib leaving just the staysail with usual running backstays and mid-boom vangs on both sides for heavy weather sailing appropriate for the night hours. Everything was well set for a long beam reach. About 7pm Chetak hailed us and asked us if we were sure we didn't want to head back to Los Muertos. We said we were on our way and that if the weather got worse it would just chase us to Mazatlan - besides in our craft with everything shortened and tied down we should have little concen in anything under 35 knots. So on we went with the waves heaping up a bit more and the wind around 25 knots. We were mostly over 7 knots and sometimes well over 8 knots across the ground using half our mast height of sails. Robin did indeed consider this splendid. Michelle became a touch greener and retired - she found the best place was cross ways across the bed to alleviate the irregular minus 10 degree to plus 30 degree roll. Her retiring comment was that Robin would need to do the watch all night and he would get wet!

Robin planned not to get wet, although we were now back over the Tropic of Cancer and it was warm enough. So he sprawled just inside the stern cockpit door. The sea roared as it broke past the port stern corner. The cockpit was wet with spray. Every now and then a wave would break against the side and a little torrent would flow back along the side deck into the cockpit then disappear (no gurgle) silently down into the self-bailing scuppers. A good book and a tiny bit of spray kept him awake. Sadly he had to get off the couch every hour to look at the radar (just the wrong angle) and poke his head up outside the cockpit to look for any lights. No other yachts all night, just three car ferries within a couple of miles around mid-night. The wind veered around more behind our due east course, as did the waves, so by morning it was pretty comfortable and on we went. The wind had decreased enough by morning to unfurl the jib. By late afternoon we could only just remain on a broad reach without the jib doing its annoying flap.

Mazatlan, Mexico

Wednesday December 6, 2006

The wind died down to roughly 15knots about 40miles out of Mazatlan which of course meant an after sunset arrival.

We arrived at a huge rock off the coast took down the sails and slowly crawled our way to where we believed the marina to be, having no exact waypoint for the marina entrance. It was not on the old Mexican charts and anyway we had found these to be up to 2 miles wrong relative to true GPS postions. Trying to find the marina entrance lights against the thousands of lights of a city is a challenge at best of times, but when they're not working that makes things a little more challenging. We had hailed Mazatlan Marina earlier and they'd said come on in, but thay had failed to tell us that the red port light at the breakwater entrance was not working.

In the middle of all this we got a radio call from Southern Star, Chetak and Tolerra who were 195miles away, holed up in Los Muertos because they all decided not to brave the wind and wave conditions. We knew our radio was good but it was surreal to have it carry that distance. VHF is supposed to be line of sight so that was some fetch for a VHF transmission. They were not too comfortable back there with 30 knot winds blasting off the land thru' the anchorage. We figured we did the right thing and had that worsening stuff well behind us. Better to be sailing than sitting through that and the bonus was we had escaped back into the last of summer. They were stunned that we were at the entrance to Mazatlan Marina already, not believing that we'd arrived.

Finally we found the entrance: Just a black mass against a larger black rocky headland to port. But we could see a green starboard entrance light and there in the background was the El Cid Marina hotel which we knew from a guide book to be on the portside. So an act of faith and we headed in. Of course you don't see the actual entrance until the last moment since it is at right angles to the shore to prevent the swell from entering. Rolly at the entrance, depth gauge heading rapidly below 15 feet, can't watch that and steer too, more acts of faith, gunned the motor to keep the course in the swell, no auto pilot here, then flat calm as we round the corner and up the harbour channel. A huge dredge was pulled up to the side which made it a tight squeeze in the dark but the funniest was the directions we had to a dock. Just find the black boat and pull into any vacant slip along there. They are all 50 feet. Ok we thought that sounds simple. Except of course there's always an exception. We passed the first black boat and went ummmm, no docks, 2nd black boat and went ummm 25 foot slips and a 50foot boat is a wee bit too much of a mismatch.. 3rd black boat and heck this is the real part of the marina where people are assigned docks.. this can't be the guest dock.. and around we went again. Finally, being tired and hungry we went back down the channel and pulled up behind a white ketch which was tied up to some detached docks off to one side of the middle of the channel. Was a good call because we ended up getting a free night out of it. Marina Mazatlan didn't even own those docks apparently and weren't at all perturbed that we'd pulled up there for a night of R & R.

The Marina had encouraged us to come in at night. Later we found that almost no-one ever does, hence no-one had reported the missing light!

Since the top of Espiritu Santo we had done 250 nautical miles in 34 hours, averaging 7 & 1/2 knots with almost all of it double-reefed. Similar to an average Bass Strait crossing Robin thinks, tho' he figures the swell there would normally be more comfortable (higher but longer, however quite a bit colder). Thus ends the tail of the Sea of Cortez crossing and we are quite proud of ourselves.

Thursday December 7, 2006

Got up this morning and radioed in for a dock assignment, motored over and got settled in. Serge from Koleawas on the dock to greet us having heard us on the radio that morning. Was great to see him again since we hadn't seen him since Magdalena Bay. Hosed down the boat, tidied a few things up then headed on into a place which came highly recommended by the locals, the Minnesota Bar, and enjoyed a couple of cervesa's which were 2 for 1 and a couple of entrecote steaks which were also 2 for 1. Great deals. After that it was back to the boat and then to bed. Ok so maybe we are getting a bit old afterall.

Friday December 8, 2006

Went in to explore old town this morning, had breakfast in Plaza Machado, wandered around taking in the sights then hopped a bus back to the gold zone. We stumbled upon Joe's Oyster Bar and sat drinking a couple of cervesa's taking in the gorgeous view of the offshore islands. It was a truly rough day - of course not to be recommended.

View from a Plaza Machado cafe View from a Plaza Machado cafe
This view up and down the street came free with breakfast
Plaza Machado
Plaza Machado
Old Restored Building Old Restored Building Old Restored Building
Love the colors of these old refurbished buildings

Southern Star finally crawled in around 8:30pm after receiving appropriate advice from us about the missing light etc. Chetak and Tolerra hove to about 5 miles offshore waiting to come in during daylight hours. It was a good call since the entrance isn't nice in the dark and Pat's radar went out coinciding with a panga and a driftnet parked right across his path. (We are still not certain if this was yet another Pat hallucination due to lack of sleep - if you'll recall he had the giant wave attack him outside Turtle Bay)

Saturday December 9, 2006

Chetak and Tolerracrawled in at first light this morning. Michelle took Molly and Kendall into the Gold District for a look around the shops and then went on to an optometrist appointment; new long distance glass and sunglasses are in order. Then we headed to Joe's Oyster Bar for a snack, and entertainment provided by Kendall - she is currently deciding on whether to be a dancer when she grows up. While there the bead lady arrived so we decided to get Kendall's hair done. She sat like an angel through the entire process. Amazing for an overactive 3yr old.

Kendall dancing Kendall getting her hair done

Robin took the newbies Pat and Mark into the old port. Looks like a reasonable place to anchor for free. They climbed a steep staircase to a restaurant with the greatest view of port/river and then down into the old town. The youngsters weren't walking too well so they all had to stop occasionally for refreshment and ended up becalmed in Plaza Mechado. Michelle and Molly then happened by - holidaying minds think alike. The girls had hicked the entire way from the Gold Zone into town, about a 6 mile walk around the beach front. By popular census we all decided dinner would be at I love Lucy's .. a great little place which cost $17.00 for all 4 of us to eat. Robin had his first taste of Posole - a spicy soup made from beef or pork, chile, hominy and spices. It comes served with lemon slices, onion, oregano, avocado, and chile which you add to taste. And of course the requisite warm tortillas. We seem to be eating and drinking our way through Mexico.

View of waterfront, downtown
Downtown Waterfront

Sunnday December 10, 2006

Tonight we held another one of those dinner party on the dock events- here we go again eating and drinking! Somewhere during the course of the night the power had gone off in Marina Mazatlan so some vacuum packed meat we had bought in La Paz had half defrosted. Hence we decided to invite a dozen boats over for a snack. Robin marinated the meat in his special herbs and spices recipe (no sorry folks, he won't give out the recipe since its never the same twice and involves cheap tequila) and grilled it on our BBQ on the back of the boat. Truly excellent fair.

Monday December 11, 2006

Robin got up this morning and discovered that the oil discharge box under the engine had leaked during the rough crossing and had spread throughout parts of the bilge, so needless to say he wasn't a happy chappy. Michelle decided that prudence being the better part of valor she'd better go shopping while the tough mopped up the spill. Otherwise it was a quiet night at home with leftovers for dinner.

Tuesday December 12, 2006

The other night at the dock party the guys had reminisced about Robin, who after rescuing an umbrella across Los Muertos bay, sailed back using the umbrella and an oar for a rudder. So using this as inspiration they decided to initiate the inaugural dinghy race. Part of the rules were you had to use wind propulsion of some form that wasn't pre-manufactured for sailing. So out came umbrellas, towels and broomsticks, canvas bags being amongst some of the most ingenious tools. The course was layed out around Mazatlan Marina and a dozen dinghies took part in the event. It was hilarous, especially when the wind got up and almost capsized two of the dinghies as they became totally overpowered.

Robin decided today was the day to begin work on the new fuel filter system. We had ordered it in San Diego but have had no time to install it. It's truly an amazing system with enough bells and whistles to impress most. Has two filters so that if one gets blocked a vacuum gauge engages a warning light. Then its just a matter of turning two fuel taps to the 2nd filter. Can also be used to polish bad Central American diesel, so now was the time to install it. Of course having unpacked everything it was soon clear that the fittings did not match the existing fuel line couplings. Local advice from long term guests of the marina sent him off on a bus to a commercial area with little shuttered shops and he got most of what was needed with a 3-way fuel tap to be obtained overnight. Mark supplied 6 small stainless hose clamps which seemed unavaiable in Mazatlan.

Mark organised a shrimp-on-the-barbie dock party for the evening. Great local fresh prawns at good prices. You've never seen prawns disappear so fast.

Wednesday December 13, 2006

Today in Mexico was a National Holiday - Mother of Guadalupe day. It was amazing to see the children dressed up in immaculate fancy dress clothes, beautiful dresses, sashes, necklaces and jewelry, the boys complete with fake mustaches. There were probably over 1000 people just at the church alone and a lot of those with young children came into the church to have their photo taken in front of their favorite saint. The streets were filled with street vendors, taco stands, icecream carts, mariachi singers, dancing, and plaza Machado had arts and craft stands. We wandered through the festivities taking it all in, then stopped for dinner at Plaza Machado and supped on some Mexican appetizers then moved up to the place on the corner and listened to an up and coming sax player who didn't do too bad of a job.

 festival food stand
Festive Food Stand

Thursday December 14, 2006

Robin is still working on the fuel filter system. 3 days of work scrunched up under the main bed and he finally got it all installed and working. He was pleased that the bleeding system worked and had not sent air to the fuel injectors as the motor started immediately - painful business bleeding the whole fuel line of a 4-108 perkins which sits under the galley sink. That was necessary the first time he changed fuel filters a year ago and is the sort of thing you don't want to do in a tight situation at sea when the motor is suddenly necessary - another good reason for the dual filter system.

Robin resembling a bear with a sore head during this process, Michelle decided that shopping was yet again the ideal escape err solution. We have been chasing some good fishing knives and haven't been able to find any anywhere. However after walking several miles from store to store, and then cutting back to old town and still failing, she gave up and went home dejected and beaten. Maybe we can find fishing knives further south.

Friday December 15, 2006

Kendall's Birthday was today. She had a princess birthday cake and could have enjoyed a few more friends her own age at her party. However the cruisers all rallied together and spoilt her rotten with presents, while they enjoyed birthday cake and margaritas. Later that day Kendalls wishes were answered. Another boat named Magnum arrived from La Paz bearing four-year old Kara and the two girls have been inseparable ever since. Happy Birthday Kendall.

Saturday December 16, 2006

This morning Molly from Southern Star brought over the latest gossip magazine and a vacuum pack of Pete's ground coffee beans. Best Christmas present ever for Michelle. We finally got underway at 2pm from Mazatlan Marina and headed to the downtown old port anchorage for just one night. It will shorten the next sail by 10 miles and the anchorage is free. The dredge was working today thus blocking the channel and held us up until 2pm. Then it was very close to low tide - a bit odd that the marina dredge does not take into account the need for boats to leave with reasonable water under the keel. We crawled out with just 1 foot of water under Warrior's keel at the entrance bar. I guess 1 foot is better than no feet but it was slightly nerve wracking.

Had a lovely light sail down to the old port of Mazatlan where we headed in to anchor overnight in the old port area. Just pulled out the jib, not bothering with the main and wandered along outside the two large offshore islands and then between the two small islands close to the port entrance, watching Mazatlan slide by to port. Then close around the cliffs (supporting the highest - not tallest - lighthouse in the world so it is claimed) and into the port entrance. Other than the overwhelming sewerage smell from a nearby sewerage works it would have been an awesome spot. Fortunately the smell had gone by the time we had come back from a walk. We climbed the stairs to the restaurant at the top of the hill and enjoyed the view while downing a refreshing ale then headed on into oldtown where we had the most delicious dinner of fresh seafood. Robin decided to try a warm seafood coctail, the name of which we've forgotten, but which was supurb and Michelle ordered ceviche, an all time favorite.

Isla Isabella, Mexico

Sunday December 17, 2006

Left at 10am for Isla Isabell, an 86 mile jump. Caught a Dorado less than 1 mile out of the old port anchorage before we'd even managed to raise the sails. So dealt with that quickly tho' we still haven't obtained proper knives. A pathetic breeze had been forecast but the forecast was wrong because it blew 10-20 knots all the way either on a broad reach or running. Had expected to average only 4 knots so at 3am we reefed the main and hauled the boom in tight to cut down our speed to below 3 knots with the wind almost directly behind us. That way we arrived off the island at about 5.30am with daylight blooming. We knew the anchorage would be tricky so a night approach was not on the agenda.

Las Monas Anchorage, Isla Isabella
Los Monas in the dark - the very exposed east side anchorage

Monday December 18, 2006

Our guide book was totally wrong as it had recommended the east side anchorage in a northerly breeze. Made no sense in the book or in fact. There were two boats anchored there rolling all over the place. The southern anchorage was supposed to get some swell in a northerly and was supposed to have room for only one boat. We were the 4th boat in with plenty of space and it was almost flat. We heard from another boat (whose SSB radio is working unlike ours) that 25 knot winds were called for the day. We weren't at all worried about 25 knots of wind behind us so we decided to stay and check out the island. All 3 other yachts then left so we had the anchorage to ourselves which was wonderful. It's amazing how rare it is to actually be by yourself in an anchorage. There always seems to be so many cruisers around.

Warrior at anchor
The requisite picture of Warrior in the anchorage

Isla Isabella was made famous by Jacques Cousteau who, 30 years ago, apparently filmed the rare Frigates and Boobies nesting, along with a pristine underwater habitat. Today, the island is a National Wildlife Preserve managed by the University of Guadalajara. Volunteers built an unmanned observation shelter south-west of the panguero (fisherman) village on the south end of the island. Grad students spend their vacation here studying and protecting the over 500 frigate and boobie nests.

fishing village, Isla Isabella
The Panguero Village

Frigates are related to the Pelican family and sometimes called Man of War birds or Pirate birds, a name they earn from frequently attacking other seabirds. They cannot swim nor do they walk very well and cannot take off from a very flat surface. Their wingspan is huge, around 2.5 meters, the females often having a white head and chest, the males sporting a bright red throat sac which they inflate, especially during mating season. They can apparently stay in flight for over a week or more, generally only landing for any significant amount of time to breed. Breeding usually takes place in trees or cliffs.

Female Frigate Bird Male Frigate Bird
Frigates - female and male
Male Frigate with inflated throat sac
Male showing off - something new I know !

Courting takes place in October, which results in one or two eggs at the most. Both parents take turns incubating the egg(s)(40days) then feeding the hatched chick(s) for the first three months after which the male (smart lad) abandons the nest to the mother who continues the arduous task of feeding the glutton for another eight months. Since it takes so long to raise a chick, frigatebirds do not breed every year. It is typical to see juveniles as big as their parents waiting to be fed. When they sit waiting for endless hours in the hot sun, they assume an energy-efficient posture in which their head hangs down, and they sit so still they seem dead. But when the parent returns, they will wake up, bob their head, and scream until the parent opens its mouth. The starving juvenile plunges its head down the parent's throat and has a good chow.

Iguana laying in the sun
A sunbathing iguana which couldn't be bothered batting an eyelid when we walked around him.
They are plentiful on the island.

We arrived on the island to the Frigates already nesting, although we saw very few chicks, the majority of eggs still in the incubation period. There were literally hundreds of birds on the island if not thousands, nesting in trees, most which were just above head height and up to 10 to 15 feet max. We strolled around under the trees and were amazed that the birds seemed quite content to just sit there and watch us go by. None seemed overly concerned that we were wandering around a few feet below them.

nesting frigates
Nesting Frigates

The Boobies (I know what you're thinking but they are birds!) were the next stop. Unlike the Frigates, the Boobies nested on the ground. At first we thought we were going to find the rare blue footed Boobies but the only species we found were the common Brown Boobies, which have yellow feet not blue. Nevertheless they were worth visiting. These are large birds with long pointed wings and long bills. They hunt fish by diving from quiet a height into the sea and pursuing their prey underwater. This is quite a contrast to the frigates. These graceful birds fly down and neatly pluck a fish out of the water as they fly along. Only their beak enters the water. Very impressive. Ok I digress - back to the Boobies. (Always a far better topic). Oh just another quick digression - apparently their name comes from the Spanish slang term bubi which means dunce which they earned because landing on sailing ships, they were easily captured and eaten, having almost no fear of man. We certainly saw evidence of this, being able to get very close to the mother and chick to snap the photos.

Mother Boobie sitting on eggs Mother and chick Female Boobie
Baby Boobie
Baby Boobie

After having investigated the nests we decided to climb the hill and take in the view of crater lake, etc. then it was time to head back to the boat and head on out. We wanted to take advantage of the 20-knot afternoon wind to hop back to the mainland. We upanchored and got underway by 2pm. It was a 40 mile jump to Matanchen Bay (pronounced muttonCHAIN) just south of San Blas. We made good time until just outside a huge rock offshore known as Piedra Blanca del Tierra. Robin happens to go down and check the chart and does a double take at the depths which didn't seem adequate enough to go haring across at 8knots as the dark approached. So we detoured out and around Piedra Blanca, and thus heading straight downwind, effectively crippling the jib and slowing us to a 5knot crawl. Just after this Michelle goes down to check the chart and laughs.. Robin was reading the chart in meters, when in fact it was drawn in fathoms. No wonder he had a heart attack - slamming into 6 feet of water at 8 knots wouldn't have been pretty. By now it was quite dark with no moon to help light the way and our radar not really doing an adequate job of drawing the coastline. We later realized the we'd had it set on a setting to reduce wave height interference in rough seas and forgot to reset it. Anyway, it was slow progress down the coast into the anchorage at Mantachen Bay. Chetak who'd already arrived ahead of us turned on his spreader lights and guided us in, and we dropped the hook and crawled into bed.

panoramic view from the top panoramic view of the crater
View from the top

Chacala, Mexico

Tuesday December 19, 2006

We got up this morning and decided we would head straight to Chacala instead of going ashore in San Blas. We did however radio to Norm on Jama who had all the goss on getting up the tidal river into the anchorage at San Blas. We will make a point of stopping here on the way back up the coast in the spring. We left Matanchen Bay at 6am for the 40mile sail to Chacala Bay. Steve (the exAussie guy who'd crewed on Southern Star and was now travelling down to Puerto Vallarta with Chetak) hooked up with us for the day to see what it was like to sail on a real sail boat (sorry Chetak :P) Sadly the first few hours began with almost no wind - a typical phenomenon of travelling in the early am hours. Steve and Robin raised the sails, lowered the sails, unfurled the jib, furled the jib, put up the drifter, lowered the drifter, you get the picture. Steve did manage to catch 2 fish - the smallest Dorado we've seen and a small Mexican Bandito. Nevertheless it made his day. They were the first fish he'd ever caught. We also had another glorious whale sighting, this time a group of 3 whales. Robin swiftly demanded a tail dance and wouldn't you know it, one by one they immediately raised their tails and dove, performing an elaborate whale wave as each of them did it one after the other.

We arrived in Chacala at 3pm, the wind eventually freshening to about 15knots around midday which made for a few hours great sailing. It is a very pretty cove, half a mile long, full of mature coconut trees (a former plantation now run wild), a dozen palapa cantinas lining the beach and a couple of streets of shops and restaurants behind the row of palapas.

Everyone in the anchorage had bow and stern anchored, with their stern ashore and their bow pointing into the waves, which is far more comfortable than having the swell hit your boat abeam. Robin and Steve dropped the dinghy in the water and got the stern anchor set. Then we collected Pat off Chetak and went ashore to scout around. We finally decided to eat at a place filled with locals (many who turned out to be family down from L.A.) and had fish grilled over fire. Robin got called over to choose a fresh fish which would be likely to feed the four of us and then they butterflied it and placed it in a wire frame, the latter which was stood at 45 degrees over a smoking fire. There the cook extraordinaire proceeded to baste it with butter, and other secret herbs and spices and when it was done, aprox 40 mins later, it literally melted in your mouth. Truly a recipe to add to the repertoire.

Wednesday December 20, 2006

Got up this morning with the plan to head inland to Las Varas the nearest town with a bank, post office, internet place, doctors, pharmacy, etc etc. There is a famous fruit and vegetable stand there which looked totally amazing in the guide book and Michelle just had to go check it out. Las Varas was discovered in 1524 by Francisco Cortes de Buenaventura, and is currently an archeological, shrimping and tourist center that very few people know about. Does this make it a tourist center? I'm not sure. Anyway we took a communal taxi to Las Varas, about 6 miles away and about a 15minute ride for 10pesos (about one dollar). There were 11 of us in the van plus the driver, nice and cozy.

Van Driver in Chacala
Such a happy chappy

We turned off the beaten track from Chacala onto the highway and dammit there was the fruit stands along the highway, about 1 1/2 miles outside of Las Varas and we went flying past it. Damn!~ Ah well we would make do in Las Varas. It was interesting, with a lot of stalls set up with Christmas shopping in mind, but also with some really interesting butcher shops, panaterias (bread type shops), cheese shops etc. Michelle managed to escape with just the small purchase of some Stugeron, the seasickness tablets she's been chasing since Mazatlan and which she couldn't find. What on earth were they doing in the middle of a countryside town one can only wonder at since one's Spanish doesn't yet stretch that far to find out.

La Cruz de Huanacastle,Mexico

Thursday December 21, 2006

Left Chacala for La Cruz at daybreak, a 43nm jump. No wind so spent most of the day motor sailing. The shoreline is spectacular along here, very tropical and green. We had two more whale sightings but they were off in the distance today. Nothing as spectacular as the tail dance we saw the other day. After navigating a supposed rock in the passage between Islas Marietas and Punta Mita we finally turned off the engine and caught the late afternoon wind to almost the anchorage, where it finally died completely. Still, Robin at least got an hour of sailing in. Very important to keeping his soul happy.

map of area between San Blass and Banderas Bay
San Blas to Bahia de Banderas

This entire area of Bahia de Banderas (Bay of Flags) has at least 6 anchorages and 3 marinas. It's stunningly beautiful here, fringed with white sand beaches, soaring mountains, tropical jungle and thousands of palm trees. I can see why there's such a huge Canadian and American expat community here. They arrive and never want to leave. The Puerto Vallarta area is very developed with state of the art restuarants, resort hotels, condominums and shopping areas but the old town area still has a definite feel of the more authentic Mexico.

South shore which we have yet to explore is jungle-covered mountains with pristine bays. We're looking forward to heading over there later in the week. The North shore where we are currently anchored is more known for it's low rolling hills, surf beaches out at Punta Mita and wind in the 20knot range in the afternoons which, due to convection heating and cooling, creates diurnal wind changes during the afternoon and evening.

La Cruz has a wonderful feel about it. It's still a fishing village more or less at the moment but they have begun a marina complex which will totally change the area and thus it will become just another resort area which is sad. The streets at the moment are still old cobblestone streets, families still lounge in doorways and yell out Buenas Noches as you walk past.

We went ashore and spent the night at the local gringo cruisers hangout catching up on all the goss on the area. Ended up with a free pizza because they forgot to bring our order. Yes blush we ate a pizza but it was a gringo bar and we have been eating Mexican food for the last three months. It won't happen again.

Then heading home the guys just had to challenge the locals to a couple of games of 8 ball. Sadly the competition wasn't up to par.. the boys showed the locals no mercy and thrashed them 3 - 0.

Friday December 22, 2006

Took the bus into Puerto Vallara, a 45min trip. After walking about 7miles looking for various items, we stumbled upon a bar with draft beer (known as cerveza de barill) so we hunkered down to replace the water we'd lost through sweating and decided to order a quick appetizer. An order of Queso Cilantro arrived (cheese cilantro) which was amazing. It consisted of a lava bowl (literally a chunk of lava carved into a bowl shape) which was heated to fiercly hot and inside was string cheese in a green slightly spicey sauce. And it was literally bubbling it was so hot. Spooning a piece of cheese and sauce into warm tortillas with a splash of fresh salsa and we were in heaven. Great dish and another one to be added to the recipe repertoire from Mexico.

Caught the bus back to La Cruz and headed over to Ana Banana and took in the local talent in bands for a couple of hours then hiked over and said g'day to an expat Brit who's running a pub here in La Cruz. She managed to scrounge up 3 precious bottles of Guiness and was persuaded to part company with them. Wonders will never cease.

Between Anna Banana and the British pub we stumbled upon a Huichol bead shop which also does screen printing of authentic Huichol designs. The bead work is spectacular. Some very neat artistry.

ornamental bowl, huichol beadwork eggs, huichol beadwork mask, huichol beadwork
Huichol Bead Work

Sunday December 24, 2006

Worked on the boat this morning then caught the bus to the next town along the coast, Bucerias. It has a wonderful feel to it, and although being slightly touristy, it has a very definite Mexican feel to it, which is oftentimes lacking around the mega resort areas. Robin ran off down the road to an ATM machine to sequester some of the needed denaro while Michelle went shopping of course.. what else do girls do! In her defense it was for groceries but still. Robin arrived back with a tale of woe. He'd gone to the bank to withdraw cash and gone through all the machinations, standing there waiting for the cash to appear and nothing seemed to happen. Then suddenly he saw this flash down at the level of his kneecaps and suddenly saw his cash disappearing back into the ATM machine. He hadn't seen the money exit the machine below his line of sight and thus it completely vanished never to be recovered. No doubt this is going to prove interesting to reclaim from the bank as even in Australia you have to wait for them to tally the damn ATM machines in order to check if there is an error in it's balance. Imagine trying to explain all this in Spanish when the bank opens again after Christmas.

We found a thatched palapa bar on the beach and watched the sun set then headed on back to the boat and phoned the rels in Aus since it was Christmas Day over there. Merry Christmas to all those downunder. Hope everyone had a great relaxing day.

Monday December 25, 2006

Feliz Navidad everyone. We had a lovely Christmas. Michelle had finally managed to track down the elusive fishing knives and thus was Robin endowed with not one but three different knives, one a diving knife, one a filleting knife and this huge kill-a-shark-with-one-cut kinda knife. He was thrilled. Robin had managed to sneak back to the Huichol bead shop and purchase some beadwork for Michelle which is beautiful. We dinghied ashore around 11am and had brunch at Ana Bananas, then listened to a young group of teenagers playing some fairly decent Spanish music. The spanish guitar work and drumming were excellent. It would be great to see these kids in another 10 years; they're going to be very good musicians if they keep playing.

After that we caught the bus into oldtown. That was an experience. It's a long ride from La Cruz into El Centro of Puerto Vallarta - about a 45 min bus ride. Our bus driver was definitely having a bad hair day. He drove like a maniac and Robin swore every bump felt like his knee caps were rattling around inside his head. It was a bone-chattering exercise. Then, even though we'd made certain that the bus was heading into el centro, the bus driver saying "of course", he terminated his route in the Hotel Zone north of El Centro so we hoofed it from the bus depot along the beach to the Malecon. Still it was a nice day, the sun was shining and we explored a little of the old town before having to hop a bus back to Marina Vallarta to meet up with Pat and a friend of his who had flown in today, Wynnie. Turns out they'd overbooked her hotel so they were moving back to almost the downtown area. Fortunately this time the hotel taxi drove us back so it was a comfortable ride. Dinner turned out to be on the house since Pat and Wynnie had an all inclusive package which meant all meals and alcohol were on the house. We'd expected to pay for ours but none seemed to care we were there and furthermore there didn't seem to be any means of paying them. They had no cashiers anywhere in sight. A very nice Christmas Present indeed.

Wednesday December 27, 2006

Yesterday was spent mainly updating the web site by Michelle, and winch repair by Robin. Our winches are in sad repair of service as they're starting to produce a tired grinding sound on use.

Robin went back to the bank today armed with a handful of Spanish phrases that Michelle gave him to help with the explanation and of course they wouldn't help him. The reply was, "You need to contact your own bank". Yeah right I can see where this is headed. Moral to the story, always imagine you're a short Mexican and stare at your kneecaps.

After that little episode, Robin decided it was time to leave PV. La Cruz is too far for him from the city and marine supplies to be able to enjoy anything there, or do any repairs, and all the marinas closer to downtown area are full. The bus rides into town were sheer agony for him. Somehow we're going to have to toughen him up. The rest of the day was spent getting everything prepared to leave tomorrow. We will be out of internet contact for almost a week at least.

Tomatlan, Mexico

Thursday December 28, 2006

Made a liesurely start and headed up the middle of the bay to fill up on diesel at Marina Vallarta. While Robin was busy taking pictures of the enormous cruiseship anchored in the entrance to the Marina, he got a blast from a tug boat which decided to take off towards us at high speed. After that we had to negotiate the narrow approach to the fuel dock complete with power boats that kept pushing in first. One 20 foot power boat sat in the middle of a 100 foot stretch of fuel dock while we tried to stay in one spot in a stiff breeze waiting and trying to dodge a large piece of floating rope that kept snaking towards the prop. Robin finally had enough and bore relentlessly in waving hands, yelling, etc (you all can't picture that can you?) and one of the six guys on the boat summoned enough energy in his little finger to push their dinky thing back. Small boat owners seem to think that large ones behave just the same and occupy less space. The dock charged us a 10% handling fee even tho' they did not help at all to dock or get the fuel. Afterwards we did a quick loop up to the marina which was supposedly booked up for months. There were numerous empty slips so we tied up at one and washed the boat while trying to find out if there were any available overnight. Apparently not, all the empty ones were "under repair' even tho' they looked exactly like all the rest. PV seems a bit dysfunctional.

Cruise Ship in Puerto Vallarta Harbor Same Cruise Ship towering over <i>Warrior</i>
Know thy place little one!

Thus our plans for staying overnight in the marina thwarted, we headed across to the south coast (no wind to sail with) of the bay to the first possible anchorage, Tomatlan, a small cove. The coastline along the south part of Banderas Bay is impressive, with row upon row of mountains reaching inland, all covered with extensive tropical growth. It's so thick that there's been very little suburban indent along this part of the coast. The mountains come down to the sea along so much of the coast and there's very deep water right up close to shore so anchoring is not possible for 90% of the area.

Sunrays highlighting the cascading hills of South Banderas Bay Cascading hills along the south shore, Banderas Bay> Tiny communities along the south shore, Banderas Bay> South shore, Banderas Bay>
Views of the southern shore, Banderas Bay

Turns out Tomatlan was truly an awesome spot although from what we've heard and read we were really very lucky to be able to anchor here overnight. There was only room for one large boat and we were it, anchored bow (in 90 feet) and stern (in 60 feet) mainly to keep us well away from the shore on either side. Got to shore at dusk just in time for a last enterprising palapa restaurant to cook what they had left, a couple of big plates of fresh prawns, which were quickly scoffed followed by a few refreshing ales. Went for a walk up the small river emptying into the cove the next morning. It was a beautiful fresh water stream, much abused by the locals living along the edge who all do their washing and whatever else straight into the water. The plan this morning was to have brunch, but by the time we had returned the wind had picked up enough to drag the stern anchor, so it was a quick trip out and off to the next stop.

Yelapa, Mexico

Friday December 29, 2006

stop was Yelapa, just a few miles west along the south coast of the Bay, a place we had heard good reports of several times before. There are no roads from PV, so all the tourists are ferried in each day. Ugh what an anchorage! Maybe never again! It might be ok in a southerly swell but it really is a very difficult anchorage even in perfect conditions. As it was totally open to the NW swell we had to anchor bow and stern again. There were a couple of yachts already there so had to anchor close to them, again in 90 feet of water at the bow. Anything outside of that was just way too deep to anchor in. The ocean floor is very steep all the way along the beach, going from 10feet to well over 300feet in just a hundred yards. We finally got anchored semi securely, and went ashore for the afternoon. It was pleasant enough and we had planned to walk/horseback ride up to a waterfall the next day. Sadly the wind switched around off shore and gusted at least to 15 knots in the early evening, dragging out the stern anchor within 30 minutes. Robin was not too worried since we have never dragged the bow anchor and all its chain in much worse conditions, but Michelle was unable to sleep as the wind direction changed throughout the night rolling us sideways in the substantial swell most of the time. We left early, maybe to never return. One thing we know for sure, we will have to do something about our stern anchoring skills!

Ipala, Mexico

Saturday December 30, 2006

Traversed the rest of the southern coast of Banderas Bay in uncomfortable sloppy seas (cross swell) without enough wind to keep the boat stable. Motored some of the time so that we could get to the next stop in daylight. Rounded the major cape called Corrientes in similar conditions. Think this makes every major cape (which all have bad reputations) on the west coast of the america's we've done with virtually no wind. When you hear of boats getting knocked down or having a real rough time of it, we can count our lucky stars we strike it right although I think Robin would generally like a bit more wind than he gets on these major landmarks. Michelle being the chicken liver that she is, is more than happy to crawl around them. The swell settled down to a dominant one soon after and we were able to sail most of the time at 4 knots or so. Got to Bahia Ipala to find we were the only yacht there again and anchored cosily close in between two lager oyster pens. The guide book said Ipala was isolated with only 4-wheel drive tracks, but there were around 10 normal sedans parked near the tiny fishing dock. When we asked we were told that a major dirt road connected to Manzanillo. Mexico is progressing at a rapid pace. We had a nice meal (Robin recalls tender octopus) at one of the 3 palapa restaurants, and after a lazy next day shared a whole fish at another of the restaurants mid afternoon the next day.

Sunday December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve. We made a fundamental error that night. We'd decided to forgo New Years in order to leave around 3am in the morning for Chamela, a 48NM hop down the coast. What we didn't bargain for was the unbelievably loud as in vibrating the whole boat in the water loud, music which endured for 7hours leading up to almost midnight. Worse still it was the lower order of local music with a booming UmPaPa tuba beat and some of the songs were repeated many times over. Long term dementia threatened. We had tried to catch a few hours sleep but sleep was seriously not an option so at 11 we crawled out of bed, up-anchored and drifted away from the noise. We probably should have joined in - after 10 tequilas it no doubt would have sounded really wonderful but the thought of downing 10 tequilas to make the music sound better wasn't at all appealing. We are still wondering how long the party continued, as there was no sign of it stopping as we were leaving. Other yatistas have reported that it is a quiet spot so it seems it was just a New Year special. Maybe we can confirm this on the return trip back up the coast.