It was a beautiful day to begin our journey south. Final destination unknown. We did some research, got the low down on a few good anchorages, and the skinny on the marina in Barra de Navidad. So we plotted our course and left the dock around 2pm. This would give us an arrival time of noonish at our first stop, Bahia Chamela which is a 22 hour passage for us if we maintain an average speed of 4.5 knots.
Earlier that week we had changed the fuel filters and had some trouble bleeding of the fuel lines. We felt we had solved the problem but we ran the engine off both tanks one more time just to be sure and everything was working great. Releasing the dock lines we motored away, grinning with gleeful excitement. There we were with our sails still tied to the boom or lashed to the foredeck, motoring out of the harbor when, you guessed it…. the motor died. Now, for whatever reason earlier that morning Steve and I had played the “what if” game in reference to dying engines and rocky harbor channels so when it happened we said a few ugly words and just kinda got to work. Just before the harbor channel there is a large turning basin and thankfully we were still in that basin when the engine died. Steve dashed below to see what the problem was while I coasted in circles all the while watching for the best place to dock the boat should the motor fail to restart. However, in a short time the motor was up and running again. Hooray!
I am certain that most savvy, experienced, salty sailors would have gone back to the dock to make sure that the problem was truly fixed….. but not us, no, no. We charged right out of the harbor mouth and into the bay and you guessed it…. The engine died again. At least this time we had some distance from hard things like rocks, docks, and boats. So we hoisted the sails and Steve again went below while I sailed around the beautiful Banderas Bay. After an hour or so we had the port side tank running, but could not run the engine off the starboard tank for more than 15 minutes. We assessed our fuel consumption for a trip of this type, we took mental and emotional inventory of our selves and decided to go for it. We would sail to Bahia Chamela and address the situation again once we got there. So away we went.
Once out of Banderas Bay we rounded Cabo Corrientes and pointed south. At some time in the wee hours while I was on watch I noticed the lights of boats ahead of us. Keeping careful watch and eventually adjusted course further offshore until I passed them. They were large commercial fishing vessels all lit up like christmas trees. Shortly after passing the three fishing boats we ran dead into a fog so thick I could barely see the bowsprit. I awoke Steve so that we would have four eyes on watch instead of two, but by the time he came on deck the fog began to ease. So he goes below and back to bed. Before ten minutes pass the fog lifts and there before me are, I kid you not, 20+ commercial fishing boats all with their nets in the water. I quickly adjusted course again to move further off shore and watched the boats as we glided safely by. The remainder of our journey was peaceful and uneventful with a beautiful sunrise and easy sailing. We arrived in Bahia Chamela around 16:00 and easily dropped anchor.
On the north side of the bay is the small fishing village of Perula, offering small aborrotes (mini grocery stores), a single store to purchase gasoline (most likely from a barrel), and at least 20 Palapa restaurants on the beach. There were so many empty chairs chairs under palm frond roofs along the beach that Steve dubbed it the bay of chairs. We watched the pangas come and go for the first day at anchor while we did further assessment of our fuel system and made no further progress in repair. Now all work and no play make for grumpy sailors so by day two we decided it was time to try one of the feats we had been dreading since the beginning of this Grand Adventure, landing and launching our dinghy through the beach surf.
You see, in order to go to small towns like this one you must land your dink on the beach because there is no pier or dock. While this sounds rather simple there is the issue of timing with the surf coming in and the pulling up of the outboard motor so that we do not bury it in the sand, causing severe damage. We had gotten advice from friends, we had read step by step articles, and we had spent way too much time watching others and discussing their technique. It was time for us to make our move. So we two brave souls launched Picasso off the deck, hoisted the motor onto the dinghy and made our way toward land. We crossed back and forth waiting for the perfect set of waves and “bingo” we landed smoothly onshore, where we were met by some sweet folks at the Palapa la Prieta who helped us drag our dinghy up and above the water line. Of course we felt the absolute need to celebrate so we sat and enjoyed a beer as we gazed at Pablo across the anchorage. Cheers to us!
We left Picasso under the watchful eye of these fine people and we journeyed through this small town, seeing perhaps only five other gringos. We had arrived in Mexico. Not a Mexican resort, but Mexico with all its culture, genuine pride and friendliness. We wondered the dirt roads, purchased some eggs, searched for non-existing wifi and eventually made it back to Picasso and the Palapa la Prieta where we ate the most incredible shrimp empanadas of our lives.
I would love to tell you that the launch went smoothly, but it did not. We walked Picasso into the water until we felt it was deep enough to start the motor. Steve jumped in, got the motor running and starting calling for me to jump in. I did the most graceful belly flop landing almost head first into the bow. Once upright I saw that our timing was awful. We were staring straight at a four foot wave. I started yelling… Go, Go, Go! Steve gunned it, I leaned forward to add weight to the bow and we crested the wave just as she was breaking, soaking us and everything we owned. There were no words, only laughter. We didn’t do it gracefully and it could have turned out badly, but we did it and for that we were joyous.
We stayed in Chamela for a few more days. However, on the third day we encountered electrical problems with our refrigeration system so Steve slyly hooked up the compressor to a new power source by tapping into the spreader light wiring. That was working great until the fan on the compressor died. Ugh! Not being so easily defeated, Steve quickly gorilla taped a 12v cooling fan which had yet to be installed to the compressor to provide cooling. And with that we left to go further south.
Our next stop was Bahia Tenacatita. It was an easy downwind sail until the last two hours when all hell broke loose. The winds suddenly rose from just a breath of maybe 5 kts to a screaming 15kts before we could blink. Our preventer snapped and we just managed to keep ourselves out of what could have been an ugly accidental jibe. We got ourselves quickly under control by reefing in the main, installing the backup preventer, and away we went. Sailing on a beam reach into the bay. Our newly gained experience was starting to show and we felt proud that we recovered the situation so quickly.
We dropped our anchor in an anchorage with about 15 other boats and settled in to our easy routine of dinner, sundowners, bird watching and relaxation. This large bay has pretty much nothing; A few hotels catering to Canadians, a town not easily reached by boat or dinghy, a campground (empty at the time), and an estuary through the mangroves. We wanted to go through the estuary but the tides were not in our favor. We again landed our dinghy ashore and had the same results, a smooth landing and a wet launch, still so much to be learned.
In the following days we fretted over the fuel situation and the fact that we could not get the motor to run off the starboard tank for more than 15 minutes. So we made the decision to head north back to Bahia de Banderas, where we were familiar with people and places to get some help with the fuel lines as well as the refrigeration system. Since we would be motoring directly into the wind and swell on our journey north, we had to get the fuel out of our Starboard tank to refill our Port tank. Steve, again proving his resourcefulness, rigged up some hoses and clamps and connectors and tapped into the fuel line on the starboard tank so we could syphon fuel into jerry cans. Just call him Steve “MacGyver” Brenner.
We caught a great weather window and had an easy 34 hour ride back up to Bahia de Banderas and docked in the Marina Nayarit in La Cruz. We have the fuel line issue solved, a missing bronze washer on one of the filters which acts as a gasket on the bleed bolt. We are attempting to solve both the electrical and broken fan issue on the refrigeration system, which I am certain will be completed soon. In the meantime we are enjoying this lovely little town with cobblestone streets, little tiendas, farmers markets, and marine services. We got to spend some more time with our friends John and Diane from s/v Konami. Our last bittersweet evening was spent dining and exploring downtown Puerto Vallarta, as they left to cross the Pacific Ocean this morning. It’s so wonderful making friends, it’s so hard to keep saying goodbye.
Soon we will begin the journey north. The weather is still quite cool in the Sea of Cortez, so we aren’t exactly in a hurry. We will take our time, maybe explore some new places as we travel up the coast. There is no real plan, just a basic outline.
All is well with my soul…..