Storming to Mazatlan

Making the crossing from La Paz to mainland Mexico isn't exactly demanding, IF you wait for a good weather. Thats a big if. Crossing the street can be demanding with enough wind and rain. The coming weekend presented a glowing weather report, but I had bigger issues besides the barometric pressure. I had no crew. Sure, I could single hand, but I am a social creature, and I couldn't find a Wilson volleyball anywhere to supplement my social tooth. I was spending much of my time with the boys from Saltbreaker. They all lived in SF bay (as I had), were about the same age as me, and also had the plan of cruising until they had no money. The company was easy and entertaining, and I appreciated the fact that not a single conversation ended with “you are too young to understand.” With four dudes packed on 32 feet of boat, Saltbreaker suggested I borrow crew to make the crossing over to Mazatlan with them, and then buddy boat all the way down the coast. Keep in mind this offer was established a day before they were leaving. This would be a perfect option, but by that point I had a college buddy (James) already signed on as crew. Saltbreaker lobbied hard for me to leave the next day, arguing that they were going to spend Christmas in Barra De Navidad (Christmas bay)! I mean, how perfect is that!? I reluctantly declined, and waited for James to finish law school finals. No worries, we planed to see each other further down south. Its a funny feeling to suddenly have concrete plans. I really had no serious commitments, and then like some light switch was flipped off in the free world and I had serious obligations to facilitate flight schedules. At a certain time, someone was going to rely on me, and the thought of this was a little overwhelming. There was no room for flexibility. I was now on a schedule other than mother natures, something every sailor should never do. The up side? I had crew. During my last week in La Paz, I watched a huge system move into the Sea of Cortez. From the GRIB files, it looked like James and I would just barely miss the bad weather. It was going to be close, but I believed we would arrive in Mazatlan for Christmas wearing smiles. Two days before my departure I opted to buy some used solar panels. I hated running the diesel engine for power. Its noisy, smelly and expensive, but my energy consumption requires me to run it almost every day. Currently, If I wanted to listen to music and leave my anchor light on all night I needed to feed the noise beast. Also, I am no diesel mechanic, so I prefer to keep the wear and tear on such a crucial piece of equipment to a minimum. Solar panels were the obvious solution. The wiring turned out to cost more than the panels themselves, and the installation turned out to take longer than expected. James landed in Mexico while I was still working on getting everything situated for the trip across. Our early departure turned into a late one. Finishing the solar installation prompted an oil change that prompted a fuel filter change. Now every boat has limited space compared to a house, but the spot where the fuel filter rested was down right perverse. I called Tony, the previous owner, and when I asked him about the fuel filter he just laughed and said “Yeah, I really fucked up when installing it in that spot. Just keep trying to unscrew it, it just takes some time and lots of swearing.” I ended up having to take the whole fuel filter enclosure out of the boat and ask a machine shop to unscrew it with a huge vice! It was now sunset, and we had been sitting at the Marina de La Paz fuel dock for upwards of 8 hours. Marina security finally came over to ask me why I was still there. A million apologies later, I told them it would never happen again and that we were off to Mazatlan. Ask for forgiveness not permission. Traveling out of the channel against the current was like climbing up an escalator moving in the opposite direction. Slow going and most embarrassing. When night took over the sky, the current eased and we started a slow beat to San Lorenzo channel. The wind was increasing, and by the time we hit the Channel, Panache was in a consistent 15 knots - good sailing. The sea state started to get a little ugly, and when we reached the end of the channel, 25 knots of wind was not uncommon. I struck the headsail, reefed the main and started an upwind port tack to round the north end of Cerralvo Island. The wind and waves kept getting bigger and bigger. I put the second reef in, but when I started seeing 30 knots on a regular basis I dropped the main all together. We had just started our crossing and the weather was rough. We would not beat the weather after all. With the noise machine on, Panache was only making 1.5 knots towards Cerralvo Island, and with the wind and waves smashing us in the wrong direction, I was doubtful we would even make it round the point. I was starting to feel nausea from the sea state but we needed to make some moves to get more drive. I put on my harness and clipped into the jack lines, and with the storm jib in hand clumsily inched my way to the bow of the boat. With every swell, the deck would rise and fall four feet. It was ugly. The commotion on deck, plus barf breaks, slowed the process to attach the inner forestay. I am a very functional while sea sick. Once up, the storm jib pulled us at a comfortable 4.5 knots and thankfully leveled out the boat. At day break we rounded the north point of Cerralvo Island and hopped on a broad reach, 110 degrees towards Mazatlan. James and I would work shifts of three hours on - getting rocked by the waves and wind - and three hours off, trying to sleep while the steal chainplates screamed under the intense pressure of the 30-43 knot gusts. All my foul weather gear was sitting in Oakland, so I used a trash bag and some rain pants James brought along for comfort. We would trade this soggy outfit at the beginning of each shift. You could never get dry, because waves would break over the stern of the boat filling the cockpit with water. This could be avoided if you could preemptively steer dead downwind with the exceptionally huge swells, but after the first day we were so sleep deprived that taking a wave or two or three was inevitable. At night the wind would wipe water across the sea, lighting up the bioluminescence. The sea looked like it was on fire. Its hard to be impressed by this when you are tired, hungry, and need to look out for waves crashing over the boat. I would look at my watch and it might read 3:00am, and when I though a considerable amount of time passed I would look at my watch again and it would still read 3:00am. I was tired. I was starting to hear things out in the ocean. Sirens from The Odyssey come to mind, seductresses calling sailors to their death. It was torture, and creepy. The sailing was so mentally and physically taxing my hand would be sore by the end of my shift from gripping the tiller so tightly. Physically taxing out of necessity to keep Panache pointed correctly, and mentally taxing out of the fear of broaching Panache or worse. By day three the wind had tapered off to the low 20s, and the sea state had started to flatten. I set the wind vein, put on my last set of dry clothes and stretched out in the cockpit for a morning nap. Just as I was getting comfortable a wave crushed over the boat turning the cockpit into a pool. Comfort was useless for the remaining miles. We arrived in Mazatlan on Christmas eve. Stepping on land was a true gift. James and I effectively had forgone sleep for three days and were among the ranks of the walking dead. Internet, food, lots of staring off into space and then back to the boat. We feel asleep around 7pm. James’ return flight to the states had put us in some compromising weather. A mistake I will not make again. We knew what we were getting into, we had the equipment to get through it, but the weather just made for a really uncomfortable (and unforgettable) three days. As crazy as those three days were, I am glad to have the experience. After all, a picture perfect crossing provides very little for bragging rights. Bloated with self confidence, James and I departed Mazatlan for Isla Isabella, The Galapagos of Mexico.

Monster waves pushing Panache off our port stern.

Anchorage in Mazatlan.

The sidewalks in Mazatlan could use some work

Can you find Pikachu?


Old man selling street snacks.

Da beach.

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3 Responses to Storming to Mazatlan

  1. tony says:

    Looks like you are having a wonderful time ,wish I was there . I hope you are getting a feel for panache ,she is a very good boat ,and will take care of you.In reading your blog it seems you are not using the small (storm )sails ,she likes to sail with a short rig (reefed main ,90%jib or storm jib set on thestaysail stay tryit you will be amazed .call or write anytime . Tony

    • Naisya says:

      Hola. The violence can be inntiidaimtg, but like I’ve been telling everyone, the chances you will get caught up in the violence is pretty slim unless you are participating in activities that bring up your odds (i.e. buying drugs, hustling prostitutes, or drinking so much that you pass out in an alleyway) There is also the factor of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.’ But seriously, that could be anywhere in the world, and its highly unlikely.You will enjoy your onshore activities without seeing any kind of violence. Being on a cruise ship instead of resort also increases those odds. Have a good time!

  2. Daniel says:

    I took the same cruise with my 7 year old dhtaguer last year and it was the most fun we’ve had!! We went snorkeling in Cabo (lovers cove is stunning). Also, my aunt and adult cousins just spent 2 weeks in Cabo last month, Jun 2011, they had a ball. There is military at the ports and when you arrive along with 3 ships of 4000 people at the same time you feel pretty safe. After snorkeling we went shopping and had an ice cream at the port. Another mother and dhtaguer pair we met on the ship went zip lining and horseback riding. They loved it.Mazatlan, is different story; we only got off the ship to roam at the port. We had an authentic Mexican lunch and purchased a huge awesome tile mirror for my home and other stuff. I didn’t want to take a taxi away from the port due to some of the news I had read on US Dept of State Government Websight. For peace of mind I will visit it anytime I visit another country.Puerto Vallarta felt super safe. We did however stay with our excursion group, took the shopping, tile making, Church plaza walk tour and tequila making bus excurion. That was fun. An uncle has a home in Puerto Vallarta and in August 2011 over 20 family members are meeting there for a family reunion. The state of Jalisco is safe. According to the US Dept of State Government Websight, most problems with tourist safety here involve alcohol related stupidities. TCO’s right now are causing havoc along unpopulated border highways and US in border cities in the states of Chihuahua and Baja California, hundreds of miles away. Hope this was helpful.

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