Yes folks, another crossing is in the books. We recently made our way back to the Pacific Coast of Mexico, a 336 mile trek across the southern Sea of Cortez. We picked a weather window that held forecasts of 10-15 knot NNW winds, no convective activity (can you say lightning), and a gentle 3-4′ southerly swell at 12-15 seconds. In other words, perfect!
Well, that’s not quite what we got, but in comparison to our last crossing, this one was okay with me!
We left our calm anchorage in Playa la Bonanza, on the southeast side of Isla Espiritu Santo, at 5:00am under a setting full moon. It was a lovely sight having the yellow moon shining a path in our rear-view mirror as we pointed almost due east to clear Islote de la Reina, a rock which lies about 4 miles off the northern end of Isla Ceralvo. Once past the island we then set our course southeast to Ensenada de Matanchen, a mere 300 miles away.
There was a slight offshore breeze blowing down the heights of Isla Ceralvo, so we put out the mainsail and motor-sailed along at 7 knots as the sun rose. With Otto (the auto-pilot) driving, we settled in with some coffee and grogurt, and let the morning sun warm our bones. Only 50 hours to go!
The forecast for the first day was for light NW winds, but usually we can count on reality exceeding the forecast by 5-10 knots so we were hoping to sail. Nope, not this time. The wind was barely strong enough to keep the sail full as we motored, but it still gave us an extra 0.2 knot push. Every little bit is welcome on a long passage.
Motoring along at 6.5-7.5 knots does have its perks. The dolphins love a fast boat, AND you get a hot meal!
The other great thing about this crossing was that we had the full moon. It’s amazing how it lifts your spirits to have a full 360 degree view at night. Even though we always have the radar on in the dark hours, it’s still great to be able to see the waves, the rigging, and to be able to see your way around the cockpit.
There were a few bogie sightings the first night, and at one point we hailed a freighter to verify whether or not he could “see” us on radar. Our radar was showing him on a course to cross our bow with only 1/2 mile to spare; not something we like to do! When he came within a mile, we altered course to point at his stern and followed him through the arc until we were back on our course. Problem solved.
Day two was pretty much a repeat of day one, even with leftover enchiladas! We had another lovely sunrise and sunset, and the moon rose right on schedule. As we neared the mainland we started seeing lots of fishing boats and pangas zipping around, plus another freighter bow down crossing our stern. None of the boats were showing to be a problem, but we like to keep an eye on those pesky radar blips!
After two days of motoring, we were feeling the effects of 3 hours on, 3 hours off, so during the hours of night two we switched to two hour shifts. We were both pretty tired, and at one point Marty came on shift to find me snoozing in my chair…rutro…twenty lashes!
As daylight came up we started seeing more pangas and the dreaded long lines. Along the coast in this area the fishermen use long nylon lines that are kept at the surface by a series of buoys; usually just liter size coke bottles. Sometimes there is a flag or a larger buoy at each end, and sometimes the panga will be monitoring the line to make sure you don’t cross it. It’s crazy hard to see the buoys, even in a calm sea, so what usually happens is that we go over it, the line catches on the keel, we drag the entire set up a ways until we realize why we’re slowing down, then we have to figure out whether we can back off it and go around, or if it’s on the prop, or if we can cut it. Yikes.
As luck would have it, the one that we did go over was in the daylight so we were able to see immediately when a tiny red buoy went underwater and we started trailing yellow lines behind the boat. Crap! We put the engine in neutral, then tried reversing off of it so that we could go around it, but it appeared that the line ran off in both directions for miles. Sorry Mr. Fisherman, but we cut your line, freeing ourselves and getting back on course.
The next moment of excitement was only an hour outside the anchorage in about 100′ of water. Marty looked over the starboard side and said ‘something big just submerged, there’s an “oil slick”‘. Whoa, right then two logging whales blew, right on our stern quarter! We had just gone over two full size humpbacks without seeing them, and I still can’t figure out how we didn’t lose our rudder. The timing must have been perfect; we must have just crossed over their sleeping backs as they came up for a breath. Phew! They didn’t seem at all bothered by us, and as we drove off, they just kept bobbing up and down in the same spot, enjoying their whaley dreams!
So there you have it, another successful crossing of the Sea of Cortez. Here are the numbers; 336 nautical miles, 52 1/2 hours of motoring, average speed 6.4 knots, 3 sunrises, 2 sunsets, 5 whales, 2 long lines, 3 freighters, 10 dolphins, 1 turtle, and not nearly enough hours of sleep. We arrived in Ensenada de Matanchen, set the anchor, popped an anchor beer, and zzzzzzzzzz!