In Part-1, I mentioned that our “plan” did not quite materialize as expected. For the record, none of the previous 4 crossings of the Sea of Cortez went according to plan either, so I don’t honestly know why I had high hopes for this one. After pulling GRIBs (weather routing information) repeatedly, we decided we had a window that, while not ideal for sailing as much as we’d like, would allow us to get to La Cruz by Thanksgiving with little predicted weather drama on a straight haul with no stops. The Thanksgiving deadline was one we put on ourselves. Our track record with Thanksgivings since we left the US wasn’t the best: one with my kids sleeping at the top of a panga ramp in the dark as we were stranded away from our boat and another on a dock that just felt “meh” in the midst of COVID-19, so I was feeling a need to succeed this year.
We left Baja behind and confidently headed out with the main and mizzen sails up for balance and who knows, maybe even a little forward propulsion. Eventually we were able to shut down the engine and enjoy the sounds of nothing but the water slapping on the sides of the boat – just glorious! As is the typical pattern however, the winds died and left us with lumpy seas. So, on the motor went and push through we did…side to side…side to side…for hours.
About halfway into my midnight to 0400 watch, after seeing the flashlight from below decks flicker on time after time as Chad went on a search for the clanking in a cabinet or random item rolling around in the dark, he came up to the cockpit. Neither of us had slept and the combination of a following sea in little wind with short choppy swell had us surfing down waves and rolling most uncomfortably side to side. There comes a point when you watch and hear your home pitching back and forth, then look at your uncomfortable kids and dog in the middle of the night, and wonder how much longer you’re willing to endure that state. We discussed options and realized upon widening the chart that we did indeed have options even though we were miles from land. 80 miles away was Mazatlán. Mazatlán is a common way to break up the crossing in either direction, we just hadn’t planned to stop this time. The stop would add significant mileage and time onto our trip, not to mention shoot down any hopes of getting to La Cruz by Thanksgiving (something the girls were looking forward to). Decisions on a course change such as this don’t come easy for us. There’s the risk assessment of trading a known, crummy but tolerable situation for an unknown situation being considered by those who are battling mental and physical fatigue, and let’s face it, a bit of pride in the darkness of the night.
Once entertained frankly, the decision was easy. We are reminded that passage making is not a race and we’re not after bragging rights for finishing time or time under sail. We’re after a safe and when possible, comfortable, dare I say “enjoyable” journey. We decide to make the hard left for Mazatlán to see if things improved and if not, we’ll continue our present slog south – it’s doable, just not comfortable. Taking the wheel and turning left was the best thing we could’ve done. Instantly, the boat is more balanced, Chad heads back to bed, and the lights and rattling below cease.
“Good morning kids…how would you like sushi for Thanksgiving?” The looks of both confusion and disappointment are evident on my girls’ faces. I attempt to make the argument that if we include shellfish, sushi is actually closer to the original Thanksgiving feast than our usual fare in late November. I receive eye rolls for that one. We had looked forward to cooking some of our favorite recipes from home plus or minus a turkey, ham, or whatever we could throw on the green egg. We leave the decision up to the girls: cook a big dinner in Mazatlán or head up to the swanky sushi restaurant with a view and cook a make-up Thanksgiving dinner when in La Cruz. Once again, the decision was easy – sushi it is and relieved I am!
The transit into Mazatlán takes the rest of the day with the motor humming to get us there before sunset. We arrive just inside the breakwater to our familiar old harbor, where we previously hooked an ancient sea anchor while trying to weigh our own anchor to head north. We steer clear of that last known anchoring point and drop the hook in the murky water. We see some of the same dilapidated boats from last spring, get buzzed by tourist ferries blaring the timeless classic “Macarena”, and breathe in the familiar waft of poop water from the nearby sewage treatment plant – YUP, this be the old harbor mateys!
Quincy gets a walk, we get a meal that is not cooked by us and we’re well rested for leg two of our trip – WINS ALL AROUND! We can tolerate the pungent aromas of the harbor for the eclectic scene. Not everyone chooses to anchor here for obvious reasons, but we enjoy watching the tugs head out to meet the heavy freighters, large ferries, and now – back in the mix- cruise ships. One day is enough. The morning of departure I hold my breath at the helm as I watch Chad on the bow raising the anchor, hoping not to pull up any ancient gifts from the sea floor. No whammies, no whammies….then I hear it…the final clink as the windlass pulls the anchor up to the bow – YES! We outta here!
This night watch is just glorious – a motor sail, but a much more comfortable one than the first leg. The excitement was trying to keep Quincy in the cockpit while the bioluminescent dolphins swam and jumped along with us….for hours. Please guys go away! I mean, I love you and this is truly epic, but my dog is a neurotic mess in the darkness of night hearing a familiar sound and seeing familiar movement, but trying to comprehend why it’s green and glowing! Night watch done, I crash for a few hours on the couch. Before I know it, I am awakened by the Pirates of the Caribbean theme music in the cockpit and smiles all around (Quincy’s expression is debatable). We’re back in Banderas Bay and will pull into the marina in another two hours – best feeling ever! The sunrise and tropical smells from land welcome us in, and so do at least 10 humpback whales during our long transit in. It’s great to be back here!
Having options: a blessing or a curse? Of course it’s not a curse, but coming from a lifestyle that was more structured, scheduled, and predictable we find ourselves sometimes overwhelmed with the many options that cruising offers. When do we leave? Do we go far offshore or close to the coast? Sails up, motor on, or both – and which sails? Which weather model is most accurate? Will a slight course change make things better or worse? Which cove do we stop in and where do we anchor in said cove? Do we stop for the night or push on through the night? The options are endless! The biggest question is where in the world do you want to go? That one will continue to engage us. For now, we agree “south” is a good start.
The trip into Mazatlan added at least an extra 80 miles to our trip but we both think it was worth it. While some aspects of cruising are serious business, we’re doing our best to look at more options as we move along. When this story is published, we’ll probably be close to getting under way for Zihua, (Zihuatanejo)…where we’ll do Christmas as we move south.
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Wanna read about that huge anchor we snagged last time we were in Old Mazatlan Harbor? Check out this link: Catch And Release In Mazatlan’s Old Harbor