Friday, December 27, 2013

CROSSING FROM La Paz to MAZATLAN (Mainland Mexico)

At long last it is time for WORKNOT to make the crossing I recently completed aboard SeaFox.  Weather has kept us in La Paz for almost 3 weeks and finally the forecast is for ever improving seas starting on Monday Dec. 16th and getting better each day for the rest of the week.  

As mentioned before, weather dominates cruising in small boats and in open ocean conditions they are all small boats.   Trawlers can’t run from much, we celebrate anytime we overtake something that is moving, and we can’t speed up to get to a port ahead of a storm.  As an example, WORKNOT cruises very comfortably at 8kts.  It’s all related to hull speed and the inability for a displacement vessel to plane.  There is no amount of horsepower that can be added to a displacement hull to make it rise up on plane and run at speed much greater than its natural hull speed.   “Crossing an Ocean Under Power” provides lots of detail on this but simply put the longer the boat the faster but in small increments.  A 50 ft displacement boat is about  a knot faster than a 40 ft boat.   WORKNOT is capable of just under 10 kts under full power but at a terrific fuel penalty, (5 X fuel at 8 kts). Her natural hull speed is about 8 kts.  The formula is (1.23 x sq. root of the water line length). 

Back to the weather, wind is the key to power boat comfort as waves are driven by wind and impacted by current, duration of the wind, fetch and water depth.  Wind dominates this equation.  There a lots of weather sources and I’m learning to use OCEN’s grib file tools via sat phone.  The learning curve is steep for me but found a cruiser who has lots of experience and its beginning to make sense to me.   Here are a couple of samples from the weather forecasts information downloaded to make the decision to cross from La Paz to Mazatlan.  The colors are based on the wind speed key on the left, blue is good.   Red is a bad day at sea for everyone.

SUNDAY Wind Chart


We made the decision to leave on Monday, traveling with Salacia, N40.  Neil and Dianna were part of the FUBAR Fleet group and we all agreed it was of great comfort to look out the window and see another running light at 3 AM.  To make the trip shorter we also decided we would go to Muertos Cove on Monday and leave for Mazatlan on Tuesday morning unless the weather improvements did not arrive.  If it got bad we would wait it out on anchor for a better departure window.

The La Paz cruisers net reported on Monday the price of fuel was going up at the first of the year.  The BAJA peninsula has enjoyed a 6% reduction is sales tax to encourage tourism and activity.  This is being ended by the Mexican govt. at the end of the year.  Mexico is also reducing the subsidy for fuel, raising the price of diesel a few Pesos each month.  We took on 525 gallons at La Paz which delayed our departure for Muertos Cove until just afternoon on Monday.  

Off we went at last on a backtrack trip to Muertos Cove.  We arrived just at dark after a windy ride thru San Lorenzo channel and Cerralvo channel.  The weather was not as predicted and we were pleased to have waited to cross until Tuesday.  My wind alarm was set for 30 kts and it kept alarming and could not figure out how to turn the alarm off.   Reading a software guide in a pitching boat, looking at an instrument overhead is recipe for sea sickness, at least for me.   Finally got it stopped and will read the book in calmer conditions.   Anchor down at 6:48PM (23.59 X 109.49 W).    31.9 gallons of fuel burned 55 miles.  

Next morning we got underway with Salacia at 8am sharp.  Seas were calm but the wind was still in the teens and above the forecast.   We pressed on knowing the forecast was for improving conditions the farther east and longer we went.   The trip is planned at 190 miles and 25 hours.   This is about 45 miles shorter than direct from La Paz and almost 8 hours less making the trip easier for a 2 person crew.

The trip was very uneventful which is a good thing for ocean crossings.   Given all the excitement about “selfies” in the news tried to get on for myself but it did not turn out too well.   

Life underway on a crossing takes on a feeling of its own.  We take 3 hours turns at the helm, engine room checks, eat lightly but often and try to rest whenever off watch.  The weather was OK but it was lumpy almost half the way there.   We slowed to keep pace with Salacia saving fuel but adding to the time for the crossing.  The cabin starts off nice and neat but at the end of these trips seems everything we own or at least used during the trip is out on the counter top or stacked in the pilothouse.  Log books, cruise books, multiple binoculars, (tip of the hat to ESW who gave us a great set), cameras, cell phones, ipads, dog toys, dishes etc are all where they were used.   Always good to make port.


We arrived in Mazatlan ( 23.16.0 x 106.29W) 11AM on Wednesday, 27 hours runtime using 108 gallons of fuel.  Incredible for 190 mile trip moving 70,000 pounds.     The entrance to the harbor is right on shore and you can’t see it until you are firmly committed to the path.  My trip here on Seafox was of great comfort as we headed directly for the rocks in front of the harbor entrance.   After being in open ocean for miles it just seems unnatural to be so close to land.



Thursday, December 19, 2013


We have been in La Paz Mexico (24.13 N x 110.20 W) for much longer than we planned.    We arrived on November 19  and finally plan to make our escape on Monday December 16th.   Our next stop is Mazatlan (23.16 N x 106.29 W) on the Mexico mainland.  

La Paz is known as the best provisioning location in the Baja Peninsula and we made our way to a number of the popular shopping sites for cruisers.  There is a very active gringo community here, thousands of Americans either cruise here or have homes here.  Many came for a short visit and never got around to going home.   After our time here it’s easy to understand how it happens.  The local people are very accustomed to a stumbling Gringo trying to explain his wants in broken Spanish or worse.  Several times when lost, a local would try their best to help me find where I was going without being asked.  Club Cruceros ( hosts the cruisers net each morning on VHF radio, publishes a very helpful guide with dozens of useful contacts and runs a mail and package delivery service for items from the US.  Add to this warm weather, general cost of living about 1/3 less than San Diego and plentiful restaurants with stunning sunset views on the ocean.   Why leave?

Marina Costa Baja (resort where we are docked) makes it easy with a shuttle bus to town (about 6 miles) 6 times a day and taxis are readily available and the trip is about $8 US if the shuttle is inconvenient.  Our many shopping trips to town gave us a chance to visit major grocery stores, an indoor Mercado (farmers market), Ace hardware, City Club (Sam’s Club knockoff?), Sears, Radio Shack and other well established businesses.  We also found our way to some incredible bakeries where you simply can’t carry $20 worth of pasties.  Since they don’t have any preservatives in the pastries we were forced to eat them all each day and start over. 

One of our trips was to get Keela a trim and haircut.  After some web research Mary decided on a location about a couple of dozen blocks from the Church were the shuttle drops us off.   After a taxi ride to the street corner the driver insisted on parking and walking to the address I gave him.  He then explained to the folks what we wanted and made sure all was going well.   All this for a $10 fare.  As you can see below, no question we were at the right place!

Mary improved our pottery collection at Ibarra Pottery, a historic family run craft shop featuring signed handmade work since 1897.  The items are very light and colorful.

Seafox, one of the Nordhavn 55’s from the FUBAR fleet asked if Mary and I would crew with them from La Paz to Mazatlan.  The 33 hour trip would give us a chance to run a 55 and get to know Julie and Dennis Fox.  They have a long cruising history including the North Atlantic Rally (NAR‎).  The night before we were set to leave Mary stepped off a curb and jammed her back.  Worried a 230 mile ocean crossing would make it worse she wisely choose to stay in La Paz. 

Dennis, Julie and I left on board Seafox at sun up with plans to be in Mazatlan 33 hours later.  Weather was very favorable (Seafox was the boat that followed their weather router and avoided the rough ride on the last leg of the FUBAR) as predicted.  The crossing could have been done in a panga with enough fuel.   Traveling with 2 other Nordhavn 55’s  and another 3 Nordhavn’s making the same trip some 6 hours behind us provided lots of comfort and someone to talk with on the dreaded 1-4 AM watch. 

It was a great trip and always a learning experience to travel on an accomplished cruisers boat.  Lots of small tips and tricks to make the voyage safe and a bit easier.  My favorite was a simple egg timer, hand wound to alarm every hour on the hour.   Each time the egg timer rang we logged our position both on paper and electronic charts.  No sleeping thru a watch on Seafox.   The N55 is only 5 feet longer than WORKNOT but is really twice the boat.  The N55 weighs nearly twice as much as the N50, wider beam and much taller giving more protection from breaking seas.   None of this was put to the test in the very settled waters during our trip.  
About half way there we picked up some hitchhikers who would not leave.  At one point there were more than a dozen birds taking a free ride east.  

We did have a small challenge about 20 miles from Mazatlan.  It was mid morning, very clear and calm.  The passage was nearing the end and we were very relaxed when a buoy appeared to port in deep water.   Quickly it determined a long line was dead ahead.  A quick turn to starboard kept us from running over the floating line.  The long line was made up from ¼” polypropylene line (floating) with baited hooks about every 25 feet hanging down about 5 feet.  In Kentucky we would call it a trot line and use it to bottom fish for cat fish.   Poorly marked with clear water bottles every 50 feet or so, it was very hard to see.  After running 5 miles south to try and find the end we gave up and crossed the line using a boat hook to push it down below the stabilizers and prop.  Seafox is rare twin screw N55 and there is plenty to get a line hung up on.  Luck was on our side.   Since the N55 draws 6 feet, we were fortunate it was daylight and settled seas.   A local sport fishing captain told me the long lines are illegal and they routinely cut them.  The longliners are supposed to weight the lines to sink and provide crossing points. 

When we all got settled in Mazatlan Marina,  a dinner was organized at a local outdoor spot.  Getting there required a cab ride and the Mazatlan cabs are unique indeed.  Made from converted Volkswagens, they are closer to dune buggies than cars.   Some have doors; some have roofs but not both in most cases.   The open air ride added to sense of adventure and the weather was warm and food was great.

Next morning we went to Rico’s, located at the Pemex station across from the marina, for breakfast.  Surprisingly, it was great.   Fresh fruit, lattes, French toast, cheese blintz and more.  A real treat.   Soon conversation turned to me getting back to La Paz to retrieve WORKNOT, Mary and Keela.  Much to my surprise and Dennis’s shock, the next ferry ticket was 2 weeks later.  The ferry spokesman suggested I might get a ticket but should not expect a seat if I went to the landing and “found the right ticket agent”.  18 hours on a ferry, without a cabin, let alone a seat was not encouraging.  Flying was the only opportunity to get “home” but no direct flights available.  Found a flight to Guadalajara; spend the night and then an early morning flight to La Paz.  Not sure who was more relieved, Dennis or me.  

Neil and Lane on one of the N55’s we traveled with have a condo overlooking the beach in Mazatlan and invited us to come see the sunset.  They are from the Bay Area and have traveled by boat in Mexico for many years.  Again, great to talk to veteran. 

The trip home was very smooth, the airports were all very clean, the hotel in Guadalajara was about  200 feet from the airport lobby.  Clean, good breakfast and English spoken by the staff.  Aero Mexico flies commuter jets on these routes, all were fairly new, no charge for pillows, checked baggage, blankets or soft drinks.  

Our plan was to cross over to Mazatlan as soon as I got back but the weather had other ideas.  For the next 2 weeks we never got a suitable weather window to cross.  Strong northerly winds blowing down the Sea of Cortez pushed waves up to 8 ft at very short 6-8 second intervals.  Since we are headed mostly east this would put them on our beam.  Uncomfortable at best, dangerous if something breaks on the boat and very tiring for a two person crews since sleeping in that sea condition might not be possible.   So we waited, and waited.  And went to the bakery and waited…..

Nearby is the island of Isla Espiritu Santo.  Uninhabited and pristine, there are dozens of anchorages along the west coast of this island and its neighbors.  We managed to spend a few nights there and took a few pictures to entice you to come see it for yourself.  Fairly well protected from the prevailing North wind, open to a unique La Paz wind called the Coroumel.  It occurs as the Pacific air moves across the Baja penninsula at night creating 15-30 kt winds that help keep La Paz cool in summer and the Isal Espiritu Santo anchorages interesting.  At 7 pm one night the wind picked up from the Southwest  and blew steady until 2 AM.  A bit like San Francisco Bay in the afternoon.  Good news is it gets rid of the nosee'um bugs but makes the anchorage noisy.

We plan to head over to Mazatlan as soon as the weather permits.   La Paz has been fun and a good place to start the unwinding but it’s getting cooler and the locals warn of chilly, windy days with the port closed due to high seas.  Sounds like San Francisco Bay and a good reason to keep going south!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

FUBAR 2013 Completion

11/19/2013-The FUBAR 2013 is about to end, the final leg from Muertos (23.59 N x 109. 49.3 W) to La Paz (24.13.07 N x 110.18.47 W)  is only about 43 miles.  We have traveled 900+  miles as a group.  Almost all of us will make our way to La Paz and meet the wise ones who left a day early from Los Cabos.  A few boats are heading direct to Mazatlan or Puerto Vallarta.  

With only 40 miles left in the journey pulling out this morning is bittersweet.  It was great to travel as a group, the feeling of security and common goal provided much needed support for traveling in foreign waters, often miles from shore at night and into new harbors.  On the other hand, many of the typical decisions that go with cruising were made for us.  Weather reports, dock assignments, anchoring locations and when to move and when to stay were all provided or at least strongly supported by a group decision.  This masks the true responsibility and to some extend the feeling of accomplishment cruising a small boat offers.

We left Muertos this morning at sunup, just after 6 AM with a forecast of much of the same from yesterday.   Winds would be in 15- 20 kts range, mostly on the nose.  Seas would be short and choppy, augmented by currents as we passed thru the Cerralvo Channel, separating Isla Cerralvo from the Baja peninsula.  This 27 mile long channel funnels wind and seas and can reach currents of 2 kts or more.  Today was surprisingly calm with wind in the low teens and fairly flat seas.  Kept waiting for a repeat of yesterday but the faster boats reported improving seas most of the morning.  When we reached San Lorenzo Channel, a narrow pass between Isla Espiritu Santo and La Paz we were greeted with even better weather for the final miles.  This pass is about 3.5 miles wide but rocks narrow the safe passage to only 1.4 miles.  Its well marked and we followed the fleet around the corner and turned from  NW  to W and finally almost due south as we approached the well protected harbor of La Paz.
On the final leg of the trip we began to see the reason La Paz is a favorite of cruisers, both power and sail.  We passed half a dozen picture perfect anchorages, most with sheltered coves and all with a sand beach.  Only a few sail boats were seen and the experienced travelers say these locations are “just the beginning” of the Sea of Cortez. 


We approached Costa Baja marina around 2 PM in mild breezes, mid 80’s F and 1-2 ft chop.  Got a slip assignment in the back basin, while the larger FUBAR boats made their way to the front basin reserved for larger boats.  Up until now the Nordhavn 76 (Spring Day) has been the queen of the fleet.  She is now nestled in a slip facing some yachts in the 100+ ft range.  One has a helicopter tucked nicely on deck and about a 32 footer as a tender next to it.  Once again proving that no matter what you have there is always going to be a bigger, faster, prettier etc boat (substitute any object of desire here) in the harbor.  A lesson often overlooked by me but I’m committed to learning it in this chapter of my life.

Safely tied to the dock in one of the best hurricane holes in the Sea of Cortez, the journey is finally over with the FUBAR 2013.  The marina is hosting a dinner tomorrow to celebrate the trip and no doubt encourage us to stay longer.  Costa Baja is a major development, very upscale and boasts top tier restaurants, hotels, golf course and condominiums.  Located too far from the town of La Paz to walk (4 miles) they have a shuttle every few hours to the main part of town. 

Our trip from Ensenada Mexico to La Paz Mexico
Worknot Ensenada to La Paz FUBAR November 2013

Fuel reading (gal.)


Turtle Bay

Mag Bay

San Jose Del Cabo


Costa Baja




This table is based on Flow Scan readings taken in Ensenada and the end of the trip.  We ran slightly faster to stay with the fleet than we normally cruise given the total engine time includes warm up, harbor entrances etc.   Fuel per hour was also above our 4.5 gal/hr goal but we also enjoyed favorable currents.

Our return trip will buck this favorable current and add to both the time and fuel needed to return.  It’s know as the “Baja Bash”  as it is also against the prevailing wind almost the entire trip up the coast of the Baja Peninsula.  Before we have to face that we have many more miles to cover in the Sea of Cortez and dozens of nights on the hook in some of the best cruising waters in the Pacific.  

Dave, Lori and most importantly Mary were great support for this journey.  Each played a key role in a safe passage.  All except Keela took watches in the wee hours, slept in a moving vessel never more than 50 feet from each other, ate with one hand holding onto the plate and generally took responsibility for not only themselves but the entire crew.   Everyone stayed healthy, likely gained a little weight and met a wide variety of like-minded people all living their own dreams.

For me this is the beginning of a 10+ year quest to cruise under power.  It all started 15 years ago with a book called  “Honey, Let’s Buy A Boat”.   Things really got going when the book “Crossing An Ocean Under Power” was published based on the Nordhavn Atlantic Rally.   We all owe a great deal to the real pioneer of power cruising, Robert Bebe.  He was one of the first to execute the idea of cruising under power rather than sail. 

Mary has thrived and at times endured living on a boat since 2002.  A very different lifestyle than living in Scottsdale Arizona where we met.   We started on a 42’ Grand Banks, spartan by the standards of the current WORKNOT, in San Francisco Bay.  Every experience gained along the way has improved our skill set to make this trip.  From picking the right boat to selecting the gear onboard, it all matters.  Equally important is the ability to rely on each other and enjoy the close quarters, endure discomfort and occasionally fear while staying committed to our “dream”.  A few quiet sunsets and a peaceful cruise and all the hard stuff is quickly forgotten.  Without the commitment, hard work and love of Mary this journey would not have been possible.  We are now positioned to live our dream and will keep you posted. 

Here is a sample of the next few months and yes that is a UK flag flying from the bow!


Monday, December 2, 2013

San Jose Del Cabo to La Pax (with a detour to the Bay of Dead)

Today was scheduled to be the last leg of the Fubar 2013 with a trip to La Paz (24.13N x 110.18 W).  122 miles to the north west, La Paz is the best provisioning port in Baja according to the guides.  

For the second time during the FUBAR, Seafox (Nordhavn 55) got weather routing information claiming the next day to be difficult.  They left Mag Bay a day early to avoid bad weather and the rest of the fleet just missed the weather as reported in my earlier comments.  Again they left the fleet a day early to avoid bad weather. This time Seafox’s weather router got it right.  The wind was on the nose the entire trip.   While we where bashing our way north, they were in La Paz enjoying cool breezes and rest. 

Weather dominates the discussion of most cruising efforts.  When to move the boat, how far to move, crew comfort and above all, safety are all tied to the weather.  Getting good weather information is pretty easy in the US.  NOAA weather has a dedicated marine forecast.    Passage weather  is also very useful both in the US and outside if you can get an internet connection.    Many cruisers use a professional weather router who provides his best forecast based on the planned trip.  Seafox uses such a professional and he provides consistent weather advice tailored to your boat, trip destination and your level of comfort requirements.   For most of us, the boat is much tougher than the crew.  

We began our journey at 6:30 AM with just Mary, Keela and me on board.   Felt a little strange leaving the harbor with David and Lori on the dock waving goodbye.  Perhaps they subscribed to Seafox’s weather router.  Within an hour of leaving the port wind began to build from the north.  By 11 AM seas were in the 3 foot range but very close together.   This makes for a bumpy and wet ride.  The Nordhavn fleet ranged from 40 to 76 foot.  At lunch time all of us under 55 foot had spray or worse on the windows.  The 76 footer reported some mist but no water drops that had run together.  In rough seas “size matters”.

As common strategy is to have a bailout location in hand for any passage.   If the weather or something else crops up, a plan to shelter until things improve is critical.  For our trip this would be Muertos Bay.  Located about 80 miles north it provides good protection for the prevailing north winds.   With this as our new goal we kept moving in hopes of getting there in the daylight.   This cove gets its name for 6 train axles buried there in the 1920’s.  They are referred to as dead-man anchors or “muertos”.  They held barges carrying silver ore.  On a commercial note, developers are working on the area and given the name have renamed it “Bay of Dreams”.  Perhaps easier to sell than bay of the dead.

Seas continued to build into 3-5 ft chop, with an occasional sneaker much larger thrown in for fun, on the bow with 20-25 kt wind gusts.  No real challenge for the boat but uncomfortable for the crew.   First to feel the effect was Keela.  She gave back breakfast, (for such a small dog she apparently has a large stomach).  For the next 6 hours she was in my lap in the pilot’s chair.  As soon as we anchored she recovered and was eating and playing.  

ENDURANCE (Nordhavn 43) took some wonderful pictures of us while in the soup.   The first is WORKNOT launching off a wave at about 7 kts.  

Here is our landing!   You can just see a fishing rod on the lower left corner of the boat giving you a perspective of the spray. 

The fleet made it to Muertos (23.59 N x 109. 49.3 W) anchorage just as the sun was setting.  We were treated to a very lovely evening with mild breezes and settled seas.  For the first time got to watch my anchor set in about 15-18 feet of clear water on a sand beach.  Plan to repeat this treat often.  Within a few hours of sunset almost every boat was dark as fatigued crew, captains, dogs and cats turned in early to sleep in peace. 

80 miles, 51 gallons (heavy weather reduces fuel economy) 10 hours.

The FUBAR 2013 is about to end, the final leg from Muertos (23.59 N x 109. 49.3 W) to   La Paz (24.13.07 N x 110.18.47 W)  is only about 43 miles.