ON THE DOG WATCH
It has been a long time since I posted to this Newsletter and people have been asking if I am still doing deliveries. (At least I have been hoping they are still asking.) The answer to that question, whether you’re asking or not, is “hell yes, how do you think I get the stories I keep writing about?” Between the trips, writing, and marine surveying, 2010 has been a busy year for me. Yes, in spite of the mess that the world economy finds itself in, people still love their boats, and “I love people that love their boats.” One such owner is Desmond Ford Johnson and his beautiful sloop, a classic 1965 Alberg-Ericson 35.
After sailing down in the Baja-Ha-Ha, Ford and Natalie had made their way across to mainland Mexico and down to Puerto Vallarta to race in the Banderas Bay Regatta. He became friends with my sail maker son, Mike, who owns PV Sailing. We entered into a back and forth e-mail relationship, when Ford had questions about boat repairs and procedures in Mexico, and I developed an appreciation for his efforts to learn more about sailing and enjoy his boat. When it came time to take Natalie back north, Ford asked me to break my rules about “no boats under 40ft and never take the owner.” In a moment of weakness, I said, “yes.” With the permission of Ford, the following unabridged version of the voyage is from Natalies Log. Ford writes very well and the narrative will give you a good idea of what the “Baja Bash” experience is really like.
Climbing the Hill: “Rounding the Cape.”By Ford Johnson
Having exhausted the goodwill and spare time of my friends, I contracted with Captain Doug Danielson to get Natalie back to San Diego. I need the help. And since I am essentially self taught beyond the "Cruising Fundamentals" class I took with the Coast Guard, spending a week with an experienced mariner should be instructive.
Doug's family background is Danish and Norwegian; which manifests itself as a craving for sardines at breakfast and the occasional Ollie and Lena joke. Otherwise he is more or less just like the rest of us. Went to Cal Poly at San Louis Obispo, had an architecture practice in southern California, raised three boys. Now at 70, he lives in Puerto Vallarta, delivers boats for a living, and writes detective fiction.
Doug is doing me a big favor. First he usually does not take on boats under 40 feet; and does not typically want the owner aboard. Second he has abandoned his wife in a house whose water system (a cistern and pump under the house) has failed. Third he is currently in the middle of producing a writer's conference in PV.
Doug has brought along another Danish American, Scott age 30, who seems to be perpetually 19 in the nicest possible ways.
We have dinner at the marina and put to sea around 10pm. I'm on the first watch. Doug keeps an eye on me and the boat for an hour and then retires. A bit after 11pm I see a large vessel displaying red lights forward and amidships with a tall bright light to the stern. We are closing very fast. Convinced it's a tanker headed for the oil terminal at the head of the channel, I swerve to port which promptly brings Doug to the cockpit. He directs me to turn hard to starboard (right) in order to show my red running light.
As it turns out I have completely misread the situation. In fact, a large and very fast sport fishing vessel is headed into the channel. We correctly pass port to port, (Just like cars on the road.) Doug goes back to bed, and I get us through the Lorenzo channel which lies between Isla Espiritu Santo and the Baja coast. During the night Doug and Scott motor down through the Cerralvo channel.
We have a watch rotation which is very easy on the crew, or at least on me as I have the choice shift. Each crew member gets an 8 hour window to sleep, plus two 4 hour on watch periods. I sleep from 12am to 8am, with watches from 8am to noon and from 8pm to 12am. The other guys do the wee hours of the night and morning. Fine with me...
During my morning watch under warm blue skies, we are tracking a boat a few miles ahead. He's obviously fishing, moving on and off shore. As we get closer a couple of marlin begin breaking the water. For the next 10 or so minutes I'm locked in a game of "avoid the blood lust crazed sport fisherman". It is clear whoever is at the helm is paying absolutely no attention to us while wheeling the boat to and fro at full speed. Finally I just stop in the water and let the frenzy resolve itself. We don't see them land a fish, but eventually the craziness ends and we get a sheepish wave from the other boat.
There is no economic model for sport fishing…at least the way the alpha males go about it. The boats cost tens, even hundreds, of thousands of dollars. (I even saw a couple over a million). Additionally there are fuel costs, maintenance costs, and travel costs altogether making eating a fillet of wild fish slightly more expensive than digesting an equivalent volume of gold. Even at today's prices.
On Natalie we troll a line tied off to a deck stanchion with a bungee cord used to take up the shock of a strike. We don't land a lot of fish, but we do OK. We caught this Dorado (Mahi Mahi) later that same day.
We arrived in Cabo San Lucas just about midnight and were swinging "on the hook" by 12:30 am.
In the morning we motored to the fuel dock. Doug's agent who handles immigration and customs paper work met us dockside to collect passports and vessel documentation. While that was getting taken care of we stowed the fore sail in a deck locker. It had fallen to the deck twice under the pounding of heavy seas during earlier passages. And we wouldn't be using it to motor sail going north anyhow. Took on fuel, ice, water, some more food and a big wad of pesos to buy diesel and groceries on the trip up the Pacific coast. Chris, who grew up sailing on Natalie and now lives in Cabo (He helped us during the transmission failure.) had seen us from his house and dropped by to say hello and inquire if we needed anything. Good guy.
Altogether our chores killed the morning, and the breeze was beginning to build. This is a problem. There are several places on the Baja coast where macro topological features cause local weather effects, particularly high winds. Two of these, the stretch from Cabo San Lucas to Cabo Falso and the area just north of Isla Cedros are known as "break out zones". You need to make it through them during slack conditions in order to proceed. Kind of like the open and closing windmill gate on a miniature golf course that keep your ball from getting to the little putting green with the hole in it. (well not all that much...)
As we rounded the giant rocks at the tip of the cape, the ones in the post cards from Cabo, the wind and seas built immediately. We pounded into the waves for a couple hours only managing 3-4 knots. We could see Cabo Falso, but conditions looked the same even past the point. Doug had us jibe around to the south and we retreated back to the beach off Cabo. Around 6 am Wednesday morning we weighed anchor once more and cleared the tip of the Baja just as the sun was rising. It was already breezy, but the swell was down. Again it was slow going with the breeze on the nose of the boat, but we cleared Cabo Falso then hugged the coast following the 60' depth contour making steady progress for the next several hours.
In the early afternoon the engine began to lose power. Doug asked me to remove the Racor fuel filter, but it wouldn't budge. In the end Doug had to drive a screw driver through it then twist it off. It was full of sediment and there was water in the plastic bowl. Ford was seriously chagrined. I had skipped replacing it in La Paz. The bowl had looked clear of contaminants, so I had only replaced the secondary filter and oil filter. We lost a half hour or so, but got back underway without having gotten too far off course. This is an area with a strong onshore current, without the sail we could have been in a reasonably dangerous situation.
During Doug's watch in the afternoon a sail fish cleared the water a few times. Later as the evening turned to night, conditions eased a bit and we began to make reasonable speed.
Natalie had "broken out" and we were headed north.
Climbing the Hill: “Up to Mag Bay, then on to San Diego.”A couple a weeks have past, so all that follows is lies and false memories...
At the end of the last post we were off the Lusitania Bank. I'm with Captain Doug Danielson and his crewman Scotty.
This post takes us on up to San Diego some 700 miles along the Baja coast with really only two place to find fuel, and very little shelter in the case of storms. In 1971 Rod Stuart and Faces released their 3rd album whose title track was "Every Picture Tells a Story". This picture tells the story of the third leg of our Baja Bash adventure. "A bit of improvisation required." The explanation follows.
Actually the story was more "water, water everywhere and not a beer to drink". There was water in the fuel, water in the bilge, water in the salad bowl, and water in the in starboard clothes closet. Water soaking the wiring in the fuse panel, Scotty's sleeping bag and swelling the floor boards.
As I recall it from the distance of a couple of bottles of rum, the engine started to lose power again while I was still asleep in the V berth (forward berth shaped like a V due to the curvature of the hull at the bow) off watch Thursday morning. With the upward lurch of the boat into the oncoming seas, and subsequent drop, I was dreaming of trying to hold down an iron bed frame that kept leaping around the floor; like a scene of a bewitched dorm room in a Harry Potter movie. Since I was the only one who knew where the spare fuel filters were, Doug or Scotty rousted me with the good news.
While replacing the fuel filter (again) we captured a cup or so of diesel into a large zip lock bag. Examining the fuel there was an obvious milky layer of emulsified water and diesel separated from the translucent diesel fuel. Down to our last fuel filter, Doug had me blow back up into the fuel line to push out any contaminated fuel and sediment, then close off the petcock at the base of the tank. We pulled a jerry jug of fuel from the deck, poured out a bit to examine it. Clean as a whistle. Filled the new filter from the jug (much faster than waiting for the electric fuel pump to do the job) and inserted the feed line into the jug. That was only half the task. Diesel fuel is pressurized by a pump to force the fuel into the injectors, unused fuel in this pressurized system is returned via another line to the fuel tank. This line also needed to be routed to the jug. Obviously the return line enters the fuel tank at the top. UNFORTUNATELY the return fuel opening is on a side of the tank only accessible from the far end of the port lazerette (storage locker) through a small hole cut in the wall of the lazerette separating it from the engine compartment. Imagine a really tall coffin and having to climb into said coffin head first through the opening reserved for viewing the deceased. Then once your head is at the foot of the coffin you fumble with your hand through a 6" opening near where the wall of the coffin meets it's lid in order to loosen a hose clamp, and then pull off a rubber hose that has been there for 30 years or so. Got the picture? Know the line about the happiest days of a boat owner's life?
We were all kind of flummoxed about where we had taken on bad fuel. The La Paz fuel had burned for 20+ hours on the way down to Cabo. And the Cabo fuel dock pumps thousands of gallons of fuel a day in a very modern marina. What we decided is that water had surged up through the breather vent for the tank. When Natalie takes water over the bow, it sluices along the toe rail to the stern as she rides up the wave, on the down stroke the water reverses. Half dumps into the cockpit with it's undersized drains (another story and another project); while the other half tries to return to the bow, but is held up by the pillar supporting the main winches. As Murphy would have it the breather vent for the fuel tank is routed through the back side of this pillar. If a sufficient volume of water is sluicing back and forth the pillar acts as a dam, and the fuel vent becomes submerged (serious design flaw here).
What you may not infer immediately about the photo with the fuel jug is that this arrangement required that we run with the cover off the engine compartment. OK it's a little (lot) noisier below, but there are now no steps from below up to the companion way. You need to clamber monkey like up over the quarter berth and galley counter up through the companion way to the cockpit. I gained new respect for Doug (age 70) observing his agility in this maneuver. And Scotty for not losing his cool as we repeated trampled his bunk.
That night we anchored at Belcher's an old whaling station up the mouth of Magdalena Bay. A couple of shrimpers lay nearby with their lights on. I was so tired that that my eyes couldn't focus. They looked like electric (psychedelic) Mardi Gras parade floats.
Friday morning we motored up to Man-of-War cove to get clean fuel. The working port is San Carlos. A long and reputedly none too pleasant trip up a dredged shipping channel. But there is a deputy Port Captain at Man-of-War Cove so no need to make the slog. When we got cell coverage motoring up the bay Doug called ahead to arrange fuel. The Capitano del Puerto's name is Gregorio (note uniform in picture below). When Doug called he was in San Carlos, but would be returning around noon. Doug passed on our needs. We dropped anchor mid-morning doing various projects while waiting for Gregorio, who showed up in a panga full of his family. A half an hour so so later he returned with fuel. Using a small electric pump attached to a car battery we pumped out our contaminated fuel into an empty polypropylene barrel we had asked him to bring. It was JUST barely able to suck the fuel from the tank over the gunnel. Once the old fuel was removed we pumped a few liters of clean fuel into the tank, then drained them off for inspection. Looked good. So we took on the remaining fuel that Gregorio had brought out. Passed out Coca Cola to the natives (I'm a shareholder) and headed back out to the Pacific.
Familia de Gregorio
El Capitano del Puerto. A really decent and friendly guy
Saturday and Sunday were days of slow motoring into the swell. We anchored after dark in Turtle Bay (Bahia de Tortugas) on Sunday night. The nearly circular bay is carved out of a low laying piece of land. There was no obvious river. It would be interesting to know how this very sheltered harbor was formed.
On the morning the fuel barge came out. We took on fuel and arranged to go ashore for provisions at Puerto Bartolome. At the foot of the wharf, there is an abandoned cannery. Otherwise there are no signs of industry or other economic activity for the small town that lays to the northwest side of the bay. Fishing is still good. We were offered fresh yellow tail, but without refrigeration we had no way to keep or eat such a large fish.
After the shopping was done we returned to Natalie, stowed the provisions and headed up around Punta Falso, passing Isla Cedros and across Vizcaino Bay. (refer to map at top)
For the rest of the trip a low heavy marine layer came in (a high fog off the water). There was day and night, but otherwise little sense of the passage of time beyond the watches. The wind eased for several days and we averaged over 5 knots for the balance of the trip to San Diego. There was still a decent swell: the ocean a vast ceaselessly heaving desert of blue grey dunes, rhythmic and hypnotic. At times schools of many dozens of porpoises would play and feed around us.
We crossed into U.S. waters in the early evening Thursday. Doug called friends who work at Harbor Island West Marina in San Diego to arrange a slip. Around midnight we were tied up dock side. The next day we cleaned up Natalie, ourselves and our laundry. I cashed out Doug and Scotty. Scotty bailed to see friends on Friday night. Doug and I caroused a bit aboard Natalie solving (or dissolving) the world's problems with a bottle of Bacardi. Up at 5am to get Doug to an early flight back to Puerto Vallarta, his water system now repaired, his wife presumably mollified and his writer's conference needing his attention.
Near Ensenada I called an outfit Pacific Offshore Rigging that Doug uses in San Diego for rigging. I tell the guy named Fritz that I have an Alberg Ericson 35, single spreader rig that needs the standing rigging replaced (the bits that hold the mast up) He says "Is that the Mark I? What year?" I say "you know boats pretty well". Fritz says "I grew up sailing on an Ericson Mark 1 called Natalie." I say "What a coincidence, that's the boat". He starts the increasingly familiar "The Bakers were the most wonderful people" speech. Turns out he was introduced to sailing by the Bakers aboard Natalie going out to Catalina Island. It was a defining experience that led to his being a sail maker and rigger for a few decades. Fritz was great to work with. Patient in explaining the decisions that needed making, polite in doing business, and methodical in his craft. He not only replaced the standing rigging, cleaned up a few goofy things I had done on the mast, installed a new ProFurl roller furler for the headsail; he tossed in a used boom that I will rework to replace the one we bent during the Bandaras Bay regatta.
As of this writing Natalie is still in San Diego while a series of major storms transit the North Pacific sending large swells south along the California coast. I returned to the Bay Area to supervise a polling place as an Elections Inspector for the County of Santa Clara Registrar of Voters. The days are getting shorter and the weather more uneven. I'm beginning to feel trapped in the "Adventure that Never Ends".
ID1 = 40
- March - Rediscovering The Once Forgotten Middle
- May - Bringing The Boat Back From Mexico
- July - New Regulations for Private Vessels Moving From Port To Port in Mexico
- August - Six Yacht Deliveries
- October - 26 October to 3 November 2005, M/Y HERCULES, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to Ventura, California
- September - October - Sailing and Writing
- August - 29 July to 5 August 2008, M/Y ORIANA, Mazatlan, Mexico, to San Diego, California
- January - April - three very different yacht deliveries.
- October - Climbing the Hill: “Rounding the Cape.” and Climbing the Hill: “Up to Mag Bay, then on to San Diego.”
- September - SEFERINA: “Astoria, OR, to Port McNeill, BC.”
- December - BELLALOU: “Tortola to Florida.”
- May - ENSENADA, THE EASIEST PLACE TO CHECK INTO MEXICO
- May-June - WHAT A LIFE: “Newport Beach, CA, to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.”