After enjoying a few weeks at Punta Mita, I felt the time was right to begin the slow trek north, back to Mazatlan, then back over to the Baja, and begin exploring there. I have certain memories of some of the small bays and anchorages between Cabo and La Paz, and I really want to visit them again. Granted, that was my first big trip, moving the 43′ Huntingford one-off ketch, Saramin, from La Paz to Cabo, and then to Hawaii. The Hawaii part didn’t happen as planned, but I got a beautiful, quick introduction to the lower half of the Sea of Cortez. We left La Paz, sailed to Ballandra, spent the night, then went to Los Muertos and stayed a night, and continued on to Cabo. The sea life was amazing then, as it is now, Now twenty years later, I know those particular coves have been developed, on a small scale or large, but I’d really like to see them again. On another trip down, I helped move a 37′ from La Paz up to San Carlos. That trip did it! I just need to go back, and I feel that need now…
I took Willow from Punta Mita to La Cruz to do a last minute boat wash, laundry, provision and get fuel. I got to visit with some old friends from Santa Barbara, and then say ‘hey’ to Ian. I got a few long paddles in, and felt the weather window was good, so I left early Friday morning.
Up before sunrise, I left the marina and motored the eight miles to the mouth of the bay. The Southern Cross was low in the sky and unmistakable. Songs have been written about this constellation, and the lore is that it helps mariners. I could easily see how as it was dead-bang right where it should be: south. I took that as a good omen. As the sun rose, there were humpbacks everywhere! The first one I saw was surrounded by dolphins, so that’s the second good omen. The whales were spy-hopping, blowing, fin slapping and breaching everywhere I looked. It was amazing, and a bit intimidating, as there was no safe shortcut out of there to stay out of their way. After about 25 minutes, everyone continued on their safe journey, including me.
Shortly after exiting the bay, I was hailed on the radio by another sailboat heading up to Chacala. I chose to make a straight trip on up to the outside of Isla Isabel to avoid the nighttime fishing fleet I was enveloped in on my Christmas trip down. I are smart, right? I spoke to this other boat for a bit, told them a little about Chacala, and we got off the radio. As I set my trolling jig out, I noted a trawler-type boat far off my stern. I watched as it continued my way. A few hours later, it was directly behind me, about a hundred yards off. I really don’t know why the operator chose to follow me, especially this close, as there is a big huge ocean out here. Just as I was getting ready to hail the vessel, I saw a longline right off my bow. Turning hard to starboard would have put me right in it, so all I could do was go to port, and hail the vessel. The operator sounded a bit put out that I called, and seemed bored with my traffic about the longline. He also sounded pissed about altering course to avoid me, but if he didn’t, he was gonna be wrapped up tight in a few miles of polypropylene. About a mile and a half away, I found the end of the line, rounded it and went back on my way. The trawler went on by without a word, and I was happy to see it go. Within 20 minutes, I caught up to him and found him wrapped up in another longline. I tried hailing him on the radio to see if he wanted me to standby until he could check his running gear and got no response. I hung out for a bit, and a woman hailed me on the radio, saying her husband had cut the line, and was waiting for me to pass by. I wasn’t clear how he wanted me to pass through as he was holding both ends of the line in his hands and above the water. I thanked him and his wife, and told them I’d just run the line until I found the other end. I was glad to get out of the area.
The altered course unfortunately set me onto longline after longline, frustrating the living daylights out of me. I was constantly heading off course by miles to avoid all of this gear. (What’s a longline? At least here in Mexico, it’s miles of about 3/8″ polypropylene, held to the sea surface by any kind of floating container you can imagine: soda bottles, dish soap bottles, detergent bottles, milk bottles, etc… Many of the bottles are clear, making them hard to see. Most have been painted bright colors, which is helpful. These bottles are spaced on this line about every 25 yards, with about a 6′ length of monofilament tied onto the poly, a baited hook on the other end, interspersed about every 8′. These longlines are 2-8nm long, depending on how many times they’ve been run over and broken. A nightmare to avoid when it’s dark or when the seas are up, the fishermen seem to love them, as they are very successful at catching fish, as well as a bunch of other things. I saw 4 sea turtles wrapped up and not moving at all, no longer at the surface…) I can’t begrudge a man working hard to make a living, but I admit to calling them bad names Friday as I worked hard to avoid 18 of these lines! I finally had to make a pee break, and don’t you know it, THAT’S when I ran through one. I heard a noise like a fishing line singing as it’s being run off the reel, then about 6-8 clunks near my prop, and then I was free. Crap! Time to go swimming to see what’s down there. I went in, saw a ball of line around the shaft, but the prop was free and turning easily. I opted to wait to cut it all away until I was in Mazatlan, since it was nearing sunset. Willow moved on easily, there were no funny noises, and I checked the engine compartment. Everything was tight, no water, and the dripless packing seemed intact. I dried off and continued on my way.
There would be no dozing on this night watch, as now I was nervous about the longlines, and then keeping another eye out for the regular fishing fleet. I couldn’t blame them for wanting to be out. The conditions were good for a few days of an offshore shrimping catch. Additionally, the chart has a label on it stating “The Tres Marias Islands have been reported to be 3 nm east of the charted location. And Isla Isabel has been reported 1.5 nm southwest of the charted location. These reports have not been verified.” Niiiice… My course was taking me well inside of the Tres Marias, an old penal colony, and the chart calls for a 20 nm safe zone in all directions. No problem there. But my course was going to send me about 5 nm west of Isla Isabel. Some legs, and night watches, are easy. This one was proving to be not so simple, and with little rest. Well, that’s what I signed up for, so I just got on with it.
I kept a careful eye out and dodged a few shrimpers during the night, but didn’t see or catch any longlines. Maybe I was out of longline country! Ah, nope! There were four more for me to avoid within 30 nm of Mazatlan, but twice, the fishermen zoomed up in their pangas and opened the lines up for me to pass through! What a gift, and I thanked them profusely and wished them luck. Once again fishing, I landed a nice fat bonito, but let it go as it’s not one of my favorites. Later in the morning, the clicker on the reel went off again, and there was a great deal of splashing and flapping in the area of my jig. A tern-like bird had snagged one of the barbs on the trebled hook. I slowed Willow, and very slowly reeled the bird in. Using my ‘cat-fish’ net, I brought the bird aboard and saw where it was hooked: right through one of the ‘nostrils’ in its beak. Yikes! And it had a long, sharp beak. I threw a towel over it to help it calm and got my needlenose pliers out. Just exposing the beak, I was able to back the hook out without any apparent damage. I cut the line wrapping it’s wing, and then of course, out comes Makani wanting his morning snack! A tern would do nicely, I’m sure he thought. No way, buddy, and down below with you. I was able to throw the bird up and out of his reach, and it flew away apparently none worse for wear.
Okay, maybe now I can get a short rest? Nope, the Mexican Navy is in the area, and I don’t want to be caught sleeping on watch. Time for another cup of coffee. Soon, the breeze began to build and freshened up to 20 knots. Reefed down and kinda bashing into it, I was 15 nm out of port. A boat was sailing on down to me, and once they passed, we spoke on the radio. I offered up the info regarding the longlines, and they told me of the Old Harbor and Stone Island anchorage closures due to the ever-increasing theft of dinghies, brazenness of the thieves, and lack of either funds or concern of the local law enforcement to do anything about it. Bummer. The breeze continued to build, and I was thankful I was nearing my destination. I rounded Deer Island and had the short wind chop now on my beam as I approached the El Cid entrance. A little center console runabout flew by me and into the channel. I noticed it reverse suddenly, turn, and exit on out again. What now? The dredge was across the channel so I turned Willow around and bashed for twenty more minutes or so. Finally, I made the entrance, found my slip in Marina Fonatur, and secured Willow to the dock. It was nice to be here!
I shut everything down, went to the office to register, and returned to Willow for a nice, quiet drink. The monsters were happy to be here, and Makani was giving the death-stare to another resident cat daring to be on the dock. It’s owners were aboard a Westsail 43′, working on some solar installations. It was good to talk to some nice folks.
I plan to be here for about a week, and to finally fix my leaking water tank. I can put no more than 10 gallons in it without water pouring out some holes the previous owner had unwittingly drilled into it. Additionally, I can run the watermaker all I want, but if I’m on a port tack, whatever water is in the tank will slosh out those holes, too. So it’s time for a final fix, once and for all. That’s the plan, at least! And, I’ll get a good paddle in each day, for sanity’s sake…
The homemade ginger ale is ready for tasting, so I must go now. I hope you all have a very excellent week, take care, stay warm (or cool, depending…), and have some fun. Know I think of you often, and love and miss each of you! Adios!