Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Back home for some skiing...

"Hurry up... I'm getting cold standing around while you try to take a photo!"

Left La Paz yesterday (Jan 20th) for a couple months skiing back home in Whistler. Had a good day of easy skiing on Whistler today.

Thought we might feel too cold skiing after our months in Mexico, but -2 deg C felt fine. (It's all about wearing the right clothes.)

Based on the clothes, clearly we're not in Mexico anymore

Monday, 12 January 2015

A New Years trip to "the islands"...

Caleta Partida sunrise
Took off to the islands for New Years. Two nights at Caleta Partida (between Islas Espiratu Santo and Partida): not crowded, but the occasional charter power boats, with their many guests, personal water craft, all-night lights and generators tended to "take over" the anchorage. Their loud fireworks didn't help either. Both nights we had light Coroumel winds and somewhat cloudy skies. (It was pretty smooth/comfortable in Caleta Partida, but boats in Bahia San Gabriel reported a very lumpy uncomfortable night.)

Pelagia at Caleta Partida

Third night we expected a moderate/strong norther to begin so we moved next door to "El Cardoncito" (I. Partida), a small/narrow inlet where northerlies supposedly didn't gust do much. It was a beautiful little anchorage (we were the only boat) with a nice sandy beach (and a Spanish-era well) at its head; however, the northers did indeed gust strongly through (although, with little-to-no seas). As usual, with northers there were sunny, cloudless skies.

El Cardoncito

The well at El Cardoncito (there was water in it, but looked pretty dicey...)

Northers were still forecast, so we sailed south a few miles to Bahia San  Gabriel (I. Espiratu Santo). We normally stay away from "Gabby Bay" unless some north winds are forecast, as this bay gets very lumpy in southwest/west winds (being completely open to winds -- Coroumels -- from this direction). First night, we were treated to an almost still night waves wise, although the northers were blowing 10-15 kn in the bay (enough wind that a charter power catamaran with a local skipper dragged his poorly set/too short scope anchor 100 m to come within 10 m of us until David noticed and caught his attention).

Panoramic view of Bahia San Gabriel (from the beach)
The preceding night was so comfortable, the sunny weather so beautiful, we decided to stay a second day/night at San Gabriel. Bahia San Gabriel has a long, beautiful white sand beach, so we dinghied ashore. There is a good walk over to Playa Bonanza along a flat mostly-open arroyo, requiring about 1 hour in each direction.   Bonanza had two boats anchored and was windier and wilder -- although the anchorage seemed reasonably calm. An even more beautiful beach -- yes, bright, white sand  with clear turquoise water -- than Gabby bay.

Trail to Playa Bonanza (from Bahia San Gabriel)

Playa Bonanza (looking south to San Lorenzo channel)

Collecting shells on Playa Bonanza (anchorage in 15 kn northerlies behind)

Required selfie on white sands of Playa Bonanza
Of course, the tide was way out when we returned to our beached dinghy, so we had a bit of a drag/carry to get to it the water (of course, the dinghy wheels we have just for this purpose were back on Pelagia...). Not too bad, however, as we have a light dinghy and tiny motor.

Of course, later that afternoon the North winds picked up even more, so we had a somewhat more lumpy, bumpy night (albeit, with no worries about our anchor dragging).

Next day, we decided to use the Northers to sail south towards La Paz, perhaps stopping for another night at either Caleta Lobos or Bahia Falsa. To do so, we had to cross the San Lorenzo Channel. The channel is a gap for winds and swells from the Sea of Cortez to come through with greater strength, sometimes accentuated by currents. We debated whether we should stay put... the weather seemed no big deal for Pelagia and crew....

Well, not really a big deal, but for about 1.5 hours while sailing across the channel, we felt like we were in a washing machine, having to hold on tight as we were thrown around by waves coming from multiple directions. (And kinda wished we had stayed put....) Nothing at all dangerous, just uncomfortable (indeed, it would have been better if the wind had been 5-10 kn stronger so that we would have been thrown around less). We were just about to pack it in and head in to the closer Caleta Lobos for the night, when the seas became regular and the sailing comfortable and fun. So we continued on and headed to Bahia Falsa.

Winds were gusting 22 kn as we turned the corner of Pichilingue (the La Paz commercial port and ferries terminal) into the smooth waters of Bahia Falsa, where only 3 other crusing boats were anchored. We had a very quiet, wind/wave free sleep. Next morning, we left at 730am and motored back to our slip at Marina Palmira, arriving at 830am, before the northerlies picked up again.

Full moon rising over Bahia Falsa

Easy to access, beautiful white-sand, clear turquoise water anchorages so close to La Paz were a major reason why we returned to La Paz this Winter.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Northers in the Sea of Cortez: Anchors, anchor drag alarm, and watching out for other boats dragging

In the southern Sea of Cortez, there are many anchorages that seem to be well protected for Winter's northerly blows. Almost all the bays on Islas Espiratu Santo and Partida face to the southwest/west* with no opening to the north/northwest/northeast. When a "norther" blows, one usually sees no swells and at most only small wind waves when anchored in these most of these bays. However, strong winds still often come across the low-lying heads of the bays; in some bays (e.g., El Cardonal, Caleta Partida; Ensenada de la Raza) the surrounding mountains seem to accentuate the north winds and these anchorages can be very gusty (albeit, with no waves).

Last year, it took us a while to get used to anchoring in Northers in the Sea of Cortez. Very often, the boat is straining against the anchor rode and, when gusty, the boat yaws back and forth.  When really blowing, the boat is really "hanging on" to the anchoring system.

This is so different from our anchorages back home in British Columbia, where we usually have excellent protection (often from all points of the compass) from both seas and winds.

Happily, with northers here in the islands in Bahia de la Paz, there are no seas (waves) to pull the anchor out and the sandy bottom is good (so the anchor is well dug in).  With a good anchoring system, good anchoring practice, and a good anchor alarm (because dragging anchor can happen to anyone), there is little to worry about. We have all-chain rode and a 25 kg Rocna anchor. We always try to anchor with a scope of at least 4:1 (chain length let out is 4 times the distance of the depth at high tide plus the height to deck of boat), and often 5 or 6:1, if the winds are really forecast to blow. (Happily, with few boats here in the sea of Cortez in Dec-Apr, there is usually ample room for such scope). Our anchor alarm is the Vesper Watchmate 850 AIS system -- this is a standalone AIS system that uses very little power (<0.3 amp) which we've been very happy with as an AIS system. The anchor watch feature is a real bonus.

Our 25-kg ROCNA anchor

Vesper Anchor Watch/Alarm

Of course, once you are anchored securely, it doesn't mean others have done the same thing. Since leaving British Columbia in August 2013, we've had three boats near us drag 50-100 meters, with one boat at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay actually hitting us (luckily, we had a fender out so no damage). (Perhaps a coincidence, but all 3 boats used "plough" type anchors: 2 CQRs and 1 Delta.)

Why is this charter cat anchoring right in front of us? Answer: to drag onto us and snag our chain

The other day, anchored in a light  (~10 kn) norther in Bahia San Gabriel, we watched a large power catamaran, obviously a charter boat, drop anchor 100 meters directly in from of us (why do they always do that in a huge, uncrowded bay?). Normally, 100 meters away is an OK distance to anchor, but we we are always suspicious of charter boats. One hour later, we saw they had dragged at least 90 meters to now be within 10 metres of Pelagia. After we caught the Mexican charter skipper's attention -- we were yelling and waving our arms --  he promptly started both his engines and motored across our bows, immediately dragging his anchor across our anchor chain; he then reversed and upon pulling up his anchor, there was our anchor chain caught up with his anchor. It took him a while to get our chain off his anchor, all the while drifting only 3-4 meters off our bow. Lucky the northers were light! He then motored away, re-anchoring much farther away (a couple hundred meters). Nevertheless, we kept our radar on him until he up-anchored and left a couple hours later with his charterers for La Paz.

When anchored, it pays to keep an eye on others.

* These bays are open to winds from the Southwest/West; these "Coroumel" winds occur in Bahia de la Paz and can (and do) occur anytime of the year. For example, see SV Cadenza's recent Winter experience in Gabby Bay (middle part of