April 2010: La Cruz to Mazatlan

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Okay, this page covers a lot of ground, and nearly a month of time.

First off -- a correction. In my fish story, I said that all the local yellowfin tuna was boxed up in ice, and shipped out of the area. Naturally, two days later I walked through the fish place and saw a yellowfin tuna being cleaned, with a bunch of locals waiting to buy it.

I guess you just have to be in the right place at the right time.

 

Fresh shrimp was on our dinner menu for that night.

I bought a kilo (2.2 pounds) of fresh whole shrimp that had been swimming around in the ocean the night before.

Life is good.

 

 

 

And we bought some fresh Dorado for dinner the next night. Why not?

I can't seem to catch one any more, so I might as well buy it.

I feel sorry for people who don't know how to cook.

 

 

 

We were delayed in La Cruz, because my little Honda 2000 generator quit working. This is an essential thing for me. My solar panels only output 93 watts, which is putting about 50 Amp Hours a day back into the batteries. That covers the fridge and freezer plus 10 to 25 amps more.
At anchor, I'll end up consuming an extra 20 to 40 Amps every day,
just from lights, stereo and stuff. About once a week
I need to fire this thing up and let it top the batteries off.
It's easy pick a time when we'll be gone for the day, and let it run quietly on deck, then come back to a fully charged boat.
I can live without it, but would rather not.

It turns out that some old, dirty gasoline fouled the valves up, to the point where the seals around the valve stems leaked. Great. From now on I'll be very fussy about fresh gasoline, and will add both stabilizer and octane booster/carburetor cleaner to the mix.

 

March 30, 2010 -- We weighed anchor in La Cruz, and after a stop at Chacala Bay (nice) we anchored in Matanchen Bay, just around the corner from San Blas. The Semana Santa (Easter Week) holiday is in full swing here. Everyone in Mexico gets the week off, and lots of people head to the beaches. It's a zoo.

We had a great time. There were only a few other cruisers in the bay, and this is not a gringo tourist destination. In fact, I think there were only about a dozen gringos in the whole town.

 

With all the activity on the beach, children lost a lot of water toys, which blew away from shore. We started doing some 'Marine Mammal Rescue' activity in the dinghy, and I have a collection of toys on board to give to other children in the future.

This is "Ralphie" the seal. He's pretty happy tied to the back on the dinghy, or off the stern of Stella Blue.

He's not, however, easy to ride.

I think these things were made for smaller people.

 

 

 

We've been living on the hook (at anchor) for quite a while now.

Doing laundry on board is pretty easy, using salt water for the wash and rinse, then a final rinse with fresh water from the water maker.

I just like this picture. Mexicans were buzzing by in pangas and water craft, checking out the gringo yatistas and waving. So, either this boat has a woman who wears men's underwear, or a man who wears a bra.

Just making the day a little more surreal for the locals.

 

No mention of the San Blas area would be complete without a complaint about the bugs. They are serious. Even anchored nearly a mile off shore, we were attacked by no-see-ums.

I have a big "bed sized" net, to cover the cockpit, and screens to cover the hatches.

Good thing.

 

We also burned bug coils on the bow, so the smoke would drift back, and another in the cockpit.

The locals burn coconut husks on shore, twenty four hours a day.

 

There is an upside to the bugs. Shrimp thrive here. I guess bug larvae are a huge part of the food chain. Here's a picture of the shrimp boats in the San Blas estuary.

I think I had at least one bite per square inch of skin, and below the knees it easily reached five per square inch. The trick is to not scratch them, no matter how much you want to. They'll go away in a day if you don't scratch. It's a mental game, convincing ones self that the itch feels good, like cool running water or something.

 

 

I tried to catch some shrimp in my little trap, but only caught some blue crabs. They're too much work to eat, though, so I let these swim away.

 

 

In Matanchen Bay, like in La Cruz, Stella Blue became home to thousands of small bait fish, hiding in the shadow of the hull.

Every morning we woke to the sound of dolphin sounding and breathing beside the boat. A few hundred dolphin came in the bay every dawn to grab a morning snack -- fish or shrimp, or both, I don't know.

These pelicans decided to just sit by the boat and wait for the school of bait fish under the hull to come out. They'd also dive bomb the water about a foot away from the hull. Inside the boat, it really sounded like they hit the hull. They soon figured out that the best thing to do was perch on the bow, and when the school swam out from under the hull they'd just do a short dive into the water and grab one. Unfortunately, that also means that my bow is covered with pelican crap.

 

One day we watched a cool 'Nature Channel' moment, when a group of four frigate birds tried to steal a fish from a small booby. Frigate birds are famous for stealing food from other birds. If they see a bird flying with a fish, they'll body slam him in mid-air, and if the first bird drops the fish they'll catch it before it hits the water.

We watched this little guy catch a fish that was too big to eat quickly.
I think he had to just hold it out of the water until it stopped flapping around and gave up.

So he's just sitting there in the water with his fish, and these four frigate birds started to dive bomb him. The fish was big enough that they could try and grab it out of his mouth.

In the picture to the left, one of the frigate birds has a good hold on the fish, and is actually dragging the booby through the water. The little guy is screaming booby curses, while being lifted bodily from the water. He wasn't going to let go of that fish, though.

Eventually, he turned the fish head first in his mouth, and ate his lunch.

Hooray for boobies!
<VBG>

 

Obligatory sunset over Matanchen Bay.

 

 

 

There are some 'must do' tourist things in San Blas.

We took a panga ride through the mangroves. This is the source of all the bugs, of course. It's a huge swamp, with lots of bug eating birds and fish eating birds.

We saw a bunch of fresh water crocodiles.
Keep your hands inside the boat.

 

 

 

April was also Cricket's birthday, so we celebrated by hanging out
on the boat, playing dice games and skanky Mexican scrabble.

We drank a little tequila, too.

Something different.

 

Skanky Mexican scrabble is just like regular scrabble, except you can also use words that are in the Spanish dictionary, and words that are boat related (even if they're not in the dictionary,) and nasty, offensive words that are common knowledge but are not in the dictionary.

There's a 5 point bonus for suggestive or extra filthy words.

Oh, and there's a standing boat rule: Dice on the floor is a hurt-ya, and letters on the floor is a hurt-ya. So if you drop dice or a letter, you have to do a shot of tequila.

Something different.

This boat is so boring.

I won all the games. Sorry. (hee hee)
It was probably because Cricket kept dropping game pieces.

My killer word on the second game was 'quivers,' with a couple of double letter scores, and then a triple word score.

 

Obligatory sunset shot in Matanchen Bay.

 

 

 

 

 

April 8, 2010 - From San Blas, we went to Isla Isabella.

This is a tricky anchorage, because it's a volcanic island with lots of rock on the bottom. The first night, we anchored in sand about 150 feet south of Las Monas, the name of these two huge rocks.

In the morning, all the other boats left, and we had the place to ourselves. It had been really calm for the previous two days, but then the breeze kicked up, so folks wanted to get sailing while the sailing was good. We just got there, though, so we stayed.

We were getting a pretty good breeze out of the south, though, and I started to get neurotic about the anchor set. I dove on it, and decided that if the breeze got up to 15 knots out of the south my stern would be about 20 feet off the rocks. It was deep there, but I just don't feel secure in that situation because if anything were to go wrong I'd have no options before the boat crashed.

So, since we had the whole place to ourselves, we moved. And moved again. And moved again. I kept feeling the anchor fail to set, than catch hard, so I'd dive on the anchor and discover that it caught on nothing but a little rock ledge. That's not good, since it would be free if the boat swung around in the breeze.

Here's a bit of useful information to anyone who ever anchors here.

To the left is a picture of the south end of 'dog beach,' where some people walk their dogs. You're not supposed to take pets ashore here, but some folks need to walk the dog.

Note that at the south end of the shore there's a huge black basalt formation, with ugly breakers extending out from the beach.

Well, the shelf doesn't end when the water gets deeper, it keeps going. In fact, it extend out almost as far as the east end of the Las Monas rocks. Motoring the boat into shore, the bottom goes from 80 feet to 35 very quickly. It's steep, but it's sandy.

Suddenly one can see the depth sounder go from 35 to 23 feet. That 18 foot underwater cliff is the end of the rock shelf, and from there towards shore it's all rock. There may be some sandy patches on top of the rock, but holding is very sketchy.

To the north, off the beach, it's sandy between the rock and Las Monas, so that's the real anchorage. There isn't much room.

The tip of the rock shelf is at 21 50.857 N 105 52.704 W. I know this, because I dove on it. It's a beautiful underwater rock formation.
On my fourth time setting and diving on the anchor, I was set about 80 feet north of that spot, in 35 feet of water, with about 130 feet of chain out. As we swung at anchor Stella Blue passed directly over the cliff, and I started to watch the GPS as the depth sounder jumped 18 feet.

So, my preferred spot is halfway between that GPS location and Las Monas. That would give good holding in good sand. It's good to dive on the anchor, and check out the bottom of the anchorage.

After doing that, I felt safe to go ashore and walk around.

 

 

Isla Isabella is a wildlife sanctuary, because that's where all the boobys and frigate birds nest. The whole island is nothing but nests. Really. It's wild. Some of these small trees have 12 huge bird nests in them.

There also are lots of iguanas. We brought a bag of vegetable scraps for them. They really like lettuce and cucumber peels.

 

 

Here are two fuzzy frigate bird chicks, waiting for the adults to show up with food. They're just eight feet off the ground, in these little tiny trees.

I guess that there have never been any natural predators here, which is why they chose the island for a rookery.

It's funny to see the chicks as they get almost ready to fly away. They look full grown, and have huge wings, but don't know how to manage them yet and still depend on the parent birds for food. This one to the left is getting a meal. Yuck. Note that the chick's wings are all tangled up in the branches. It's nearly big enough to fly, but hasn't figured out how to handle those big wings. (That would be a teenager...)

You can watch them take the first tentative attempts at flight, only a few feet or so, to the next branch.

You can also see a lot of dead ones. Dead chicks are everywhere, either tangled up in branches, or laying on the ground, or sitting in nests.
Maybe the parents died while out foraging for food,
or the chicks were damaged trying to fly for the first time.

 

I like boobies. <VBG>

They nest all over the island, too.

When we sailed from La Paz to La Cruz, a booby hitched a ride on the bow all the way across from Baja, and hopped off as we passed Isla Isabella. Hmm. Maybe it was just getting a free ride to the rookery.

 

 

Then it's time for the last leg, to Mazatlan.

We sailed all night, with a nice 5-10 knot breeze from the north west, close hauled, doing 3 to 5 knots, only 15 degrees off the rhumb line.

Red sky at night, sailor's delight.

 

About 6:30 a.m. the breeze just died completely. We considered just bobbing around all day until it picked up again in about 7 or 8 hours, but decided to turn on the motor and get to Mazatlan by early afternoon. Else we'd have had to sail in circles to get in at dawn the next day.

You can see the sea was smooth as glass. When I say no breeze, I wasn't kidding.

About fifty dolphins joined us, and for at least an hour we had a rotating group of 5 to 10 of them surfing the pressure wave created by the bow of the boat. Standing on the bow, they were only a few feet way.

It was cool.

The other cool thing was sleeping leatherback turtles. We saw at least fifty. When they sleep, they fill up their lungs so they don't sink, and then doze off on the surface. Usually a bird sits on top. It looks like a rock, with a bird on top, out in the middle of nowhere.

We saw the first one a few days earlier, actually, when we were under sail. I didn't grab the camera, because I never thought we'd get close enough to take a picture.

But the guy didn't wake up until he was three feet from the boat, and as we glided past he suddenly woke up and tried to dive. But his lungs were still full of his sleeping air, and he couldn't dive. He just sat there on the surface, flailing wildly, trying to get underwater. It was pretty funny. Finally he stuck his head back up, took a good look at Stella Blue, exhaled, and disappeared.

 

Oh, hey. My four month dry streak for Dorados has ended. Hooray.

This is the smallest one I've ever caught, but it's actually a good size for two people.

They are beautiful fish. It's too bad they taste so good.

 

 

 

 

 

Here's the first view of Mazatlan from the south.

We're going to stay at Marina Mazatlan for at least a month, because it's time to leave the country for a day and get my six month visa renewed.

Mexico is changing the immigration rules on May 1, so I'm going to try to get my visa renewed for another six months before the rules change. Right now, everybody's a little confused about what the new rules actually are, but in six months it will all be clear.

Getting into the channel was a bit stressful. There was a mild swell, and the channel was blocked by a dredging barge. The dredge pulled aside and gave me about 20 feet to maneuver through, right at the entrance to the channel where you must make two tight turns through a little dog leg entrance. Naturally, a set of good waves came in right as I was at the point of no return, so I throttled Stella Blue to the red line and surfed sideways, spinning the wheel at the last second to slide through a 20 foot slot between the dredge and the rocks.

I don't want to do that again.

 

The Dorado tasted great. I made a Burre Blanc sauce.

I feel sorry for people who can't cook.

 

Speaking of cooking, I really like experimenting with local foods.

The head was a bit much, though, so I didn't buy it. What the heck do you make with a whole head? Actually, you make tacos! One day, back in Puerto Vallarta, we had street tacos at a small stand that was very far from the usual tourist destinations. The woman by the cart explained that I was eating cheeks, lips, eyes, brains, udders, and a few other things, all mixed together. It tasted great. Really tender.

Oh well. Enough for now.

April 16, 2010

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