Magic Log #7: Guaymas to Cabo

In mid October Lisa and I drove our van to Guaymas to drop gear and food and so forth off at Magic, and do some recommissioning. We still had commitments in the US, though, and after a few days drove back. On November 10 we left our van in storage in Tucson, took a bus to Guaymas, and began the season. We had flexible plans for the next several months, with one main exception. In February we were planning on sailing to Isla San Benedicto in the Revillagigedos, a volcanic island 250 miles south of Cabo and home to some of the best diving in the world. We wanted to spend a few weeks there, and both ourselves and the boat needed to be ready for the trip.

Things got off to a slightly bumpy start. When we came down in October everything on the boat had looked good, but when we came down in November we found our outboard had been stolen in the interim. The outboard had been locked to the stern, and in October I had installed the blocks used to raise and lower it. Doing this apparently made things just easy enough for the thieves. This wasn’t a huge loss; the outboard was about 15 years old, and while a well cared for motor will last much longer it was still a piece of equipment we had thought about replacing before leaving for the South Pacific. The marina staff found us a Yamaha dealer in town, and a few days later we had a new and more powerful outboard delivered.

A couple of mechanical gremlins presented themselves as we continued recommissioning. The windlass motor was not working, and after putting the boat in the water the starboard engine would not start. We anchored the boat using the port engine and operating the windlass manually. I diagnosed the starboard engine issue as a bad starter solenoid, and figured out how to bypass the solenoid with a screwdriver and start the engine, but didn’t do anything else to fix these problems. We finished recommissioning and waited for our new outboard to be delivered. We were hoping after this point to head to San Carlos and spend some time at the anchorages there we enjoy so much, but the weather was unsettled — rain, lightning, some gale force winds — so we hung out in Guaymas a few more days and relaxed.

After about a week in Guaymas the weather improved and we had a great sail across the sea to Isla Carmen, averaging a steady clip of six knots. We anchored in Puerto Ballandra and spent several very relaxing days. We went for a few dives, did some paddleboarding and kayaking together, and had hunting needlefish and other predators swarm around the boat one night. It was great to be back on the boat and enjoying the water.

While in Ballandra we started getting concerned about a storm forming south of Cabo that was projected to become a hurricane. It was late November at this point, and hurricanes this time of year are extremely rare. The storm did not look like it would pass near us, but we decided to head to Puerto Escondido, a very well protected anchorage sixteen miles to the south. We left Ballandra the day before Thanksgiving, planning to spend a day at Isla Danzante before heading the rest of the way to Escondido.

On the way out of Ballandra, the port engine overheated. All season long (and most of the last season) it hadn’t been making much water, though the flow seemed adequate to keep the engine cooled. Now the engine’s temperature was quickly spiking and we weren’t able to use it. We started the starboard engine and got the rest of the way to Danzante, but I was dealing with a lot of stress over all the broken things on the boat and how things just kept getting worse. Our next major destination was La Paz, and I started referring to it as Shangri-La Paz with its promises of boat parts and mechanics and other resources.

Anyhow, Danzante was a nice place to spend a day. Lisa wanted to relax so I went diving at a rock near the island’s north end which has a nice wall.

The next morning we traveled the few remaining miles to Puerto Escondido and picked up a mooring to wait out the hurricane on. Lisa had been online and found out that two friends of ours from Utah, Carol and Greg, were just a couple miles away. This was a nice surprise; we knew they were in Baja for a kayaking trip from Loreto to La Paz and had been planning to meet them when they arrived in La Paz, but we were not expecting to see them so soon. They kayaked over to the boat a few hours after we got our mooring and spent the night, and the next day — still waiting out the hurricane, which wasn’t expected to affect us so far north — we went for a really neat hike up a flowing canyon a few miles from town.

The next day all threat from the hurricane had passed, but a norther was starting to pipe up in the sea which would generate strong winds for several days. Carol and Greg decided to stay aboard for another day as we sailed south. This started out mellow but later on the wind built and was nearly 20 knots as we rounded Punta San Marte and anchored. Magic was beam to the swell and the rolling was uncomfortable for everyone, so I put a kayak in the water and set a stern anchor. I left the kayak tied to the boat overnight, and the next morning it was gone, after a poorly tied, tail-less bowline (originating from when we purchased the boat, I swear!) unraveled. We launched the dinghy and looked around some nearby beaches, but no sign of it.

Even if it had been sighted on a beach, getting to it would have been a tall order, with large waves from the norther crashing down in all but the most protected spots. Carol and Greg had been thinking earlier about resuming their kayak trip here, but given the conditions and forecast that wasn’t really a viable option, and they stayed on the boat as we sailed all day to Isla San Francisco, arriving an hour or so after dark and shining a spotlight around the anchorage to watch for unlit boats. The next day would be the windiest of the norther, so we stayed put and went hiking and snorkeling.

We sailed a half day to Bahia San Gabriel, one of our favorite anchorages near the south end of Espiritu Santo. We went ashore and hiked, and later on went snorkeling. Before snorkeling we noticed a pelican nearby which was struggling in the water. There wasn’t anything we could do, and we left it there to die. Afterwards Greg paddled over and pulled a huge chub from its mouth. Between this fish and two the next morning which were given to us by some fishermen (their motor broke down, they spent the night in the anchorage, and Lisa gave them coffee in the morning) we were set for a while.

The next afternoon we traveled the rest of the way to La Paz, sailing part of the way. All in all, we sailed nearly 90% of the distance south from Guaymas, an unprecedented degree of sailing for us and a huge amount of fun. Carol and Greg left the next morning to continue their trip, while we would remain in the area for nearly two months, until the end of January. All told, we would spend about five weeks in La Paz and, over the course of three trips, three weeks at Espiritu Santo.

We quickly settled back in to life in La Paz. Lisa spent a lot of time with friends in town, going to her Zumba class most days. I spent most of my time holed up in the boat, working, but did do a few boat projects — getting the starboard engine into good working order, fixing some leaks in the dinghy, some odds and ends.

After a week and a half in La Paz we had a nice window to head to Espiritu Santo, so motored north to Bahia Candeleros. This is a very pretty anchorage which we hadn’t been to since just after purchasing the boat, and we’d been interested in diving here. We did a few dives on the island in the center of the anchorage, finding some nice dense schools of grunts. With strong winds from a norther we didn’t have much else to do, but after a few days the winds slacked and we went to Ensenada Grande, another favorite anchorage, for some paddleboarding and diving. After a day and a half the winds picked back up, and we left for a fast, rowdy sail back to La Paz.

Back in La Paz it was well into December, and after spending Christmas with friends in town we left again for Espiritu Santo, staying out about two weeks and using the rest of our time off work during the holidays to see more remote parts of the group. After a day in Bahia San Gabriel we headed further north, stopping to dive at the Fang Ming, a wreck that was scuttled to make a dive site two decades ago. This was an adventurous dive for us, deep and exposed but with lots of fish around and mellow conditions. With the windlass still broken we hauled the chain up manually from 75′, which went OK but was time consuming and reinforced the need to fix the windlass.

From the Fang Ming we headed to Caleta Partida, one of the most popular anchorages on Espiritu Santo and a spot we had never been to before. This anchorage is sandwiched between the two islands in the group and is sheltered from almost all directions. It seemed a good place to wait out the next norther, whose arrival was imminent.

While entering the anchorage we noticed multiple schools of mobula rays swimming around at the surface. We frequently see these rays jumping in the distance but had never had an opportunity to watch them up close. After anchoring we set out in the dinghy and both went snorkeling, swimming among the rays as they made way for us and cruised around feeding on the plankton. This was a wonderful experience; seeing how gentle and agile the mobula rays were got us excited for our trip to San Benedicto, which is frequented by much larger manta rays.

We stayed at Caleta Partida for four days. Despite the gusty intermittent wind we were able to get out each day to snorkel and dive at a wash rock to the west of the anchorage. To the west of this rock is a ridgeline submerged close to the surface, lots of fish and nooks and crannies to explore.

The norther eventually subsided and we had a few days of very calm weather in the forecast. From Caleta Partida we headed to El Embudo, a pretty and exposed anchorage just a mile from the sea lion colony at Los Islotes. We wanted to get more experience diving with the sea lions here. This started out great; we were in shallow water with lots of fish and good coral and terrain, clearly a cut above the diving we had been doing previously on Espiritu Santo. The sea lions came by a few times but didn’t pester us. Early in the third dive a sea lion started bothering Lisa, while I was twenty feet away in a tunnel photographing another sea lion. Lisa surfaced, I followed and we swam back to the dinghy. We had talked a few days earlier about me heading deep into tunnels; I had gone further in than I should have and she wasn’t able to signal me to come back to her. This was a wakeup call for me to not be so blase around these animals when I’m with Lisa, and we resolved to do better with hand signals and with sticking together.

We motored south to San Gabriel, and were promptly chased out by park rangers — apparently some idiot anchored on one of the coral reefs in the bay, so now anchoring is not allowed anywhere in San Gabriel, including the many sandy portions — so we headed to Ensenada de la Dispensa, a smaller bay just to the south. After a brief stay we went to Ensenada de La Raza to wait out yet another norther, doing some mediocre diving on Isla Gallo and some hiking ashore. I used a closeup lens on my underwater camera for the first time and found that the friendly and ubiquitous Sergeant Majors have creepy, human-like teeth.

We headed back to La Paz, in large part to get the boat’s mechanical problems under control. The port engine was still overheating, and the windlass was still broken. Our trip to the Revillagigedos was only a few weeks away, and the condition of the boat was stressing Lisa out a lot and was causing us to fight. I finally sat down with the windlass and did a couple hours of troubleshooting. The problem seemed to be an internal short in the motor — when removed and attached directly to our battery bank the motor was sluggish and got incredibly hot after just a few seconds, while the brushes looked fine. I ordered a replacement motor to my mom and her husband, who would be flying down to sail with us to the Revillagigedos.

The saga of the port engine’s raw water circuit is more interesting, and was certainly instructive for me. As noted earlier, for much of the last season the engine’s raw water production was pretty low, but the engine’s temperature seemed ok so we ignored the issue. After the engine overheated in Puerto Ballandra we didn’t use it again until La Paz. Trying there, I could get it to make water but it would keep climbing in temperature and get too hot after half an hour. Long ago I had looked over all parts of the raw water circuit I could access, and things seemed good. I thought the problem was with the saildrive leg — there is a long passage between where the water enters intakes on the leg and where it reaches the engine compartment itself, which could potentially get clogged and can’t be accessed without hauling the boat out of the water and taking apart the saildrive. While out at Espiritu Santo we bypassed the saildrive leg by running a hose to a bucket of water in the cockpit, and the engine made a normal amount of water. I thought this confirmed my hypothesis, and since we didn’t want to haul out before our trip we made plans to bypass the saildrive on the trip if the starboard engine failed, and wait until the fall to fix the problem for good.

Lisa wasn’t very satisfied with this plan, so we contacted a mechanic in La Paz, Colin, who we had talked to when we purchased Magic. After talking to Colin for a bit, he removed the raw water pump to bench test it, finding it was not forming a tight seal and was likely underperforming. After having the pump shaved down at a machine shop to improve the seal, he visited the boat again, reinstalled the pump, and flushed the saildrive with a muriatic acid solution to attack any clogs in there. The engine now made water just fine, which was almost a miracle to me. This was the first time we had a mechanic look at the boat since purchasing it, but I clearly need to be less stubborn about talking to them when facing difficult problems. Lisa and I have worked out a protocol for when exactly we should go and consult a mechanic, though we haven’t yet had a chance to try it out.

Meanwhile, we were spending a lot of time in La Paz. In the past I got pretty restless spending much time in the anchorage, but now I found a new outlet: kiteboarding. I’d been curious about kiting in La Paz in the past, but the town’s waterfront is a bad place for it, with a narrow beach, inconsistent wind and lots of people. In December I started taking the dinghy to the Mogote, a quiet sandspit with some mangroves across the bay from La Paz, a mile from the anchorage. On windy days it blows here pretty consistently, and I found it a great spot for kiteboarding; depending on where I was relative to the spit, I could either be in a protected spot with no waves, in the shoals out in front of town, or in bigger, surfable waves breaking on the outside. A much better variety than La Ventana, and almost no other kites or windsurfers out there, though there can be a lot of boat traffic and in the event of a problem you get blown back to town rather than to where you started. With all the northers in December and January I was able to get out about half the days, and towards the end started practicing with my directional board and reversing my stance during gybe turns (still a work in progress).

Late in January a friend from Utah, Everett, came to visit us for several days. The forecast for the trip was good, so we headed to Ensenada de la Dispensa on Espiritu Santo, hoping to see more of this new anchorage than we had earlier. This turned out to be a great little spot, with lots of coral and fish while snorkeling, a large and interesting shoal area, and some mangroves we were able to take paddleboards back in and explore. We also went over to San Gabriel in the dinghy to check out the frigate birds there, do some hiking and (very briefly) kiteboarding. A relaxed trip, lots of fun.

The day after Everett left, we departed La Paz and started towards Cabo. After 24 hours of motoring we reached Los Frailes and spent a night. I hadn’t been here since 2012 when I inadvertently dodged Hurricane Paul, and coming back was a treat. The weather and water were both warmer than around La Paz, and the water was much clearer. We did an amazing dive in a shoal of tens of thousands of Bigeye Trevally, the fish so thick they formed a solid wall and blocked out the sun below them. Afterwards we did some paddleboarding, but the next morning we needed to leave for Cabo and we resolved to return later in the season.

The wind came up not long after leaving Los Frailes and we sailed most of the way to Cabo, seeing several whale breaches and other activity but otherwise uneventful. In the afternoon we arrived, anchored in front of the hotels on the beach and relaxed. I didn’t expect to like Cabo; I’d heard the anchorage was precarious, crowded, and very rolly with the boat traffic and swells. This is in some respects all true, but I still enjoyed the anchorage. We anchored bow and stern to reduce the motion from the wind swells coming off a raging norther in the sea, enjoyed seeing the fish under the boat, even enjoyed taking the dinghy to the town’s marina and walking around the touristy areas. Our guests arrived and we did extensive reprovisioning at the nearby Costco and Walmart, the town’s water taxis making this a breeze compared to doing it in La Paz. We installed the new windlass motor and the boat was now mechanically sound, for the first time in over a year. We left for the Revillagigedos two days after our guests arrived, on February 5.

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