Across El Golfo

Mazatlan, MX
Roy / Dark and with sparse clouds

We had conferred at dinner on Monday night and all agreed on Friday’s proposed plan of attack for Tuesday’s commencement of the crossing of the Gulf of California. Including Wednesday all day and into Thursday morning, it provided for ten hours of sailing at an average of four knots, with the balance motoring at an average of five knots for two nights at sea and a dawn arrival in Mazatlan. Best of all, it contrived to give us a leisurely noon-o’clock departure the next day instead of the hustle of the four AM departure I’d envisioned. (The only way I can think to get Saturday and Sunday into this paragraph is this statement that I can’t figure another way to do it.)

We enjoyed a slow start while I worked on drafting up blog updates and Mitch went out in the dinghy to play with tropical fish. Sticking my head out the hatch an hour or so later, I saw two snorkels bobbing around Friday a hundred yards away, apparently Jared and Mitch scrubbing the hull or inspecting the prop. I donned my own gear and jumped in to go over and see what was up. It turned out that Mitch’s trip had been subverted into helping Jared replace the zincs on his prop shaft. I helped a little so that we could all go over to the reef and gape at the colorful little pesces.

We did have a good snorkel, but someone realized it was delaying our departure, so we hustled back to our boats, tied up a few loose ends, and hoisted our anchors and our sails about one PM. Our sail away from Los Muertos was sedate under main, mizzen, and genny. Around sunset we took in the headsail and started the engine, planning to maintain a steady 5 to 6 knots through the calms that we expected would most certainly blanket the night. It was a good thing that the seas were relatively flat and we were in a nice, controlled motor-sailing mode since half of Mabrouka’s complement had never stood a night watch. He did very well, though, maintaining the proper heading and handling the passing of the La Paz-Mazatlan ferry with reasonable caution. The point is, I got to sleep while he was on watch.

The next morning things started to get more challenging. The wind was rising enough from the port quarter to carry the genny nicely. It kept building as did the seas and in a few hours I began to twig on what all the Sea of Cortez sailors mean when they refer to the square waves experienced around here. They weren’t particularly large, but they were closely spaced and, being that we were sailing obliquely through them, we were rolling a LOT! Mitch had learned one of the first sailors’ lessons, though, and done an excellent job of tracking down potential wave-launched missiles, so we didn’t have too much stuff in ballistic transit to the low side of the boat.

We were making great time, averaging around six knots and surging up over seven occasionally. If we were uncomfortable riding Mabrouka’s full keel and sixteen ton bulk through this chunky sea, our friends in Friday were getting beaten up in their lightweight thirty footer, lurching and rolling violently. They searched for more comfortable headings and fiddled sails while we just plowed on, leaving our buddy boat farther and farther behind as the sun watched from ever farther west. Eventually we took down our genny, which slowed us to an average of about 5-1/2 knots and kept Friday in sight for a while.

We counted down the miles wave by jagged wave. There’d been over 190 miles to our waypoint off Mazatlan when we’d started, so halfway was around 100 miles off shore, just about as far from land as most sailors will ever be in their lives. I asked Mitch if this made him nervous, and he said no. Asking Jared the same question later, he expanded on why not: Once you’re beyond sight of land, what’s the difference? Agreed.

Our problem was that we were doing too well, …failing at deferring to the predicted four knots for ten hours, or even the proposed maximum average of five knots. That meant a night time arrival in a strange port. We discussed options on the radio, my preference being to proceed on into the relatively simple anchorage and Jared tending toward slowing down to wait for sunrise. Our present arrival time at this rate would be about one AM, so delaying even only to first light would mean killing a good five hours. That’d mean slowing to about two knots which, in these sloppy seas, would be a nightmare of pitching and rolling and I wasn’t sure we could even go that slowly. I hadn’t voiced these thoughts, but Jared soon came back with his own reasons to go for it. The passage so far had left them very, very tired and the lure of a calm anchorage and stationary bunks was too much to resist.

Twenty miles out and city lights that had only hinted of their presence with a reflected glow off the low clouds were hoisting themselves above a calming sea, congealing into a glittering demarcation between dark gulf and dark sky. More ships and boats were manifesting themselves around us, posing questions of how far, how fast, and what headings they bore. A brief chat with the most imposing of them, the Baja Ferry headed past us for La Paz at 23 knots, confirmed they had us on radar and would hold their course for a safe port-to-port passing a mere quarter-mile apart. What we think must have been a cruise ship tiered in lights like an incandescent wedding cake, sneaked by on the horizon, never coming close enough for us to discern her actual running lights.

Still five miles from shore, Mazatlan’s near-coastal islands looked near enough to threaten our course, evoking images of dark waves crashing on craggy stone. Relying on the trusty chart plotter’s advice, some might say foolishly, we held steady on a rhumbline that would take us to a waypoint just outside our anchorage. A herd of once distant lights converged to form a parade of shrimp boats that lined up for entrance into the commercial harbor right next to our destination, crossing our course at right angles.

We avoided conflict with them by delaying about three miles out, heading up into the wind and taking down our sails. Friday did the same, and we ended up timing our transit across the entrance channel through a convenient gap in the shrimper fleet, turning left into the calm of the bay nestled behind Isla des Las Chivas (which isn’t an isla at all and we never saw any goats), Isla Cardones, and the eastern breakwater of the commercial harbor. It was about 1:30 AM and we were all glad we hadn’t tried to wait out the night.

[Sorry, no pictures this time. My camera lens went on strike.]

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