We got across the often-dreaded Sea of Cortez (also known as the Gulf of
California) and actually enjoyed a nice passage. Now we’re enjoying
beautiful old Mazatlan with lots of cruising friends.
Bahia los Frailes
First, though, we had to spend four days
waiting out a “norther” in quiet Bahia los Frailes at the edge of the
Baja peninsula. The fleet has begun to disperse throughout Mexico, some
heading north to La Paz, some straight south to Puerto Vallarta or beyond,
and many here in Mazatlan. There were about 25 other boats with us in los
Frailes, waiting for the same weather window. To cross the Sea of Cortez
you don’t want 30+ knots of wind and major waves hitting you broadside.
Or at least the Raven (a.k.a. ‘Chicken of the Sea’) crew doesn’t!
There was nothing in Bahia los Frailes
except a very primitive fish camp, a few US and Canadian RV’s wintering
over, and a four-palapa hotel. In four days, we managed two lunches at the
hotel and scored a NY Times magazine section and book review from visiting
guests. (Newspapers and reading matter are in short supply around there.)
We ended up creating quite the social life in our little community. Jan
and I took the Dinghy-as-Mobile-Library out one day, loaded up with
magazines and books to pass along. Many boats had decided not to inflate
their dinghies (or provision in Cabo), thinking that they would be making
the crossing soon. So they were very eager for entertainment.
The Margarita Mishap
They were also eager for a party. As the
Mother Ship (i.e. The Largest, at the moment) we invited everyone over. It
was a great scene and lots of fun, especially getting to know some of the
other Ha-Ha folks that we hadn’t met on the way down the coast. The only
downside was that the control panel of our generator took a full frontal
hit from a spilled margarita. Is that a quintessentially Mexican problem
or what? Being a German generator, and more used to beer and schnapps, it
still hasn’t recovered. We can charge up with the main engine, but it is
noisy, not as efficient, and Jan hates ‘using a 140 hp. turbocharged
diesel to cool the beer.’ So we are doing Parts Order #1 from Back Home.
Getting parts down here is so difficult that many people fly to the US to
pick things up. We are in a marina now with no power or water, but as soon
as we get to Puerto Vallarta, the charging problem will be temporarily
resolved until we are home for Christmas and can pick up the part
ourselves. Or maybe a kind friend will come for a visit . . . hmmm.
Crossing the Sea
When we finally got a clear weather
report for the Sea of Cortez crossing, it was for perfect conditions. The
wind blew ten to fifteen knots and the swells and wind waves had dropped
to about six feet. This was our first overnight passage with just the two
of us, so I was a little nervous. We started about noon, figuring that it
would be about a twenty-hour passage if all went well. The key was to
arrive in Mazatlan at slack tide since the entrance to the marina is quite
shallow, has a four-knot current, and can have breaking waves. At one
point, it felt strange to be sitting in the warm breezes in the cockpit,
whiling away the time by listening to Frances Mayes on CD, reading
“Bella Tuscany.” It’s too bad she had to give such mouthwatering
descriptions of the food they ate there. Peanut butter crackers at
midnight did not have quite the same allure! We sailed all night, only
having a moment of concern (Signe) when a huge cruise ship got within
about three miles of us. It was going slightly faster than we were, but on
a gradually converging course. Jan still hasn’t forgiven me for waking
him up an hour early for his watch.
As we got closer to land we could
actually smell the earth. We have read about this in articles about people
making passages much longer than ours, and it is really true. We also came
across two men in a panga (a small Mexican fishing boat with a big
outboard) who started waving to us and pointing in different directions.
After being in the Caribbean, we thought that they were the first wave of
“boat boys” wanting to guide us (for tips) into the harbor. Being
sleep-deprived, it took us awhile to realize that they we just warning us
not to get tangled in their fishing nets, marked on each end with flags
and empty plastic gallon jugs (the all purpose container in Mexico). After
we successfully navigated around the obstacles, they gave us big smiles,
waves and wishes of ‘Merry Christmas and Happy New Year’. They laughed
when I gave them back an equally cheery ‘Feliz Navidad.’
main reason we came to Mazatlan was for the big cruiser Thanksgiving
dinner sponsored by Marina Mazatlan. We had a wonderful day, beginning
with a mass and a blessing of
the fleet. Then there were tournaments in bridge,
cribbage, Mexican dominos, bingo,
and horseshoes. At about
2 o’clock, hungry
people (350 of them!) started gathering
under the tents (with Corona logos, of course) for the sit-down
dinner, white tablecloths, flower
centerpieces and all. Meanwhile a twelve-piece
band was setting up under another
tent for our after-dinner entertainment. (We had watched earlier as
“Hava Corona y su Orquesta”
languidly unloaded themselves from the bus.) We had
four hours of lively dancing after
dinner. The whole day was really
casual, lots of fun and — best of all — no dishes!
of Hava Corona y su Orquesta (1,342K)
Marina Mazatlan, where we are docked, is
one of many projects in Mexico that was halted by the last peso crisis.
Some of the docks have power and water, some have water only, and some
have nada. Nobody really minds, but it is sad to see such a great
place with so many unrealized possibilities. The services brought in from
outside are pretty wonderful, though. Monday, Wednesday and Friday the
fruit, vegetable, bread and egg man comes in his little truck. The first
day we bought a huge pineapple, a mammoth papaya, six limes, ten oranges,
four fresh rolls and a cucumber, all for about $9, which is considered
pricey down here. To me, it seemed like the best breakfast ever! There is
also an “agua” man who comes every day with five-gallon jugs of
purified water. The laundry man comes at ten o’clock each morning to
pick up, then delivers it all back clean and folded at five o’clock for
35 pesos ($3.70) a load. I’m personally very fond of this service.
Occasionally an itinerant fish and shrimp seller appears, but I haven’t
yet figured out his schedule. Best of all for some of the cruisers is the
arrival of the beer truck — every day! Some cruisers like it so much,
they never leave. The couple who showed us the ropes on the bus system
arrived here four years ago and haven’t moved since!
have noticed that the weather is a lot more hot and humid over
on this side of the Sea of Cortez. At least it was until the last
norther. It has been a trifle cooler the last couple of days — good
exploring weather. We took the bus
into the old part of town a few times, 40 cents for a very long
ride. Away from the main hotel strip,
there is lots of nice old architecture. There
is a restored 1870-era theater that interesting
pictures and smells; it was also
enough to turn the weak-stomached
into vegetarians. Prices were even
cheaper there, and we went back for more the second
day. This seems to be a much more Mexican
town compared to Cabo, which was a bit like Ft. Lauderdale at Spring
Break, but wilder. And expensive!
Perhaps the areas of more charm were
hiding there too; we just never found them. From all reports, San Jose del
Cabo and La Paz, a bit further north on the coast, are much nicer. We’ll
save that for our spring explorations.
Mazatlan street scenes: Smiles, cheery
waves, and ‘Holas’ everywhere. People crossing the street to offer
assistance as we study our map. Mexicans are very family-oriented,
traveling the bus lines and playing together. No window-washers at the
stoplights, but we spotted a man with a young boy standing on his
shoulders, while the boy juggled four oranges for tips! Best local drink
is ‘limonada’, fresh-squeezed and sweetened lime juice, often made
with fizzy mineral water. Delicious!
Jan has gone off with his tool kit to try
to help another cruiser with a malfunctioning alternator. It has been
interesting to see this “Cruisers Helping Cruisers” network at work.
Every morning on the marine radio network there are pleas for help on
various subjects, from directions to the store to fixing a watermaker. Jan
specializes in helping with electrical system and radio email issues,
while other boats have guys who are good with diesel engines, outboards,
watermakers, and so on. Everyone eventually finds help for his problem.
People back home who think cruising is all vacation ought to see the hard
work that goes into keeping these boats running!
Life is good.
Next stop: Puerto Vallarta.