This is our forty minute boat show talk. If you want more information, use the search feature of this blog. If you want us to come talk to you or your group, send us an email or comment on the blog.
Howdy. We’re Phil and Nancy Rink.
We’ve been boating in the Pacific NW our entire adult lives, starting with a 15.5 Hourston Glasscraft with a 65hp Evinrude in 1985.
We’ve had several boats since then, including a Bayliner 2452
and a 55′ Ocean Alexander Mark 1.
In 2001/2 we pulled our kids out of school for a year, bought a Beneteau Oceanus 400 in St. Martin, and cruised the Caribbean for a year.
In 2012, with our children grown and not yet making grandchildren, we bought a 46′ Cal 2-46 motorsailer,
renamed it “Bright Water,” and prepared it for an extended cruise of the Pacific Ocean.
The motor is much more important to us than the sails. We call Bright Water a trawler with a stick.
The boat was a bigger mess than we thought, and we ended up doing a top to bottom refit.
We ended up rebuilding or removing and replacing almost everything. We installed new tanks,
standing and running rigging,
soft goods, windows,
galley equipment, refrigeration,
engine, transmission, shaft,
We crammed a man-year of work into about four months, and escaped the Straight of Juan de Fuca in mid-September just before the fall weather closed in.
Boats that left two weeks later were hit by significant winds and high seas, but we motored to Coos Bay, Oregon in calm but dreary weather.
We anchored in the river just inside the bar for almost a week waiting for another weather window,
then motored in more calm but dreary weather to Drake’s Bay just north of San Francisco.
From there it was a series of small, controlled steps down the coast
to the safety of San Diego, where we anchored for about two weeks,
finishing projects and waiting for the end of hurricane season in the tropical Pacific ocean.
We left San Diego at the end of October, just ahead of the Baja Haha fleet, cleared Mexican Customs in Ensenada,
and continued to avoid the Haha-ers on our way down the coast, stopping twice on the way, and tucking into Turtle Bay to get GRIBs.
We finally arrived in Cabo San Lucas ten days after leaving San Diego,
and headed directly around the corner and north into the Sea of Cortes.
We ended up skipping the Pacific and staying in Mexico for the next four and a half years, exploring the Gulf of California and Pacific Mexico. We’re done now, and Bright Water is for sale and on a ship headed for the PNW. We’d like to tell you about our trip.
The Sea of Cortez is about the size of the Salish Sea, but the water is much, much more open and there are a lot less places to anchor.
The common cruising ground from Loreto to La Paz is about the same size as Puget Sound.
We went as far south as Tentacatita on the mainland, so we cruised an area comparable to the Seattle/SE Alaska trip.
Again, the water is bigger and the anchorages are farther apart. We had crossings and passages on pond-calm water, but we also spent more than a few days in winds considered “stormy” in Puget Sound.
We cruised the sea for five separate trips, ranging from two weeks to eight months. In between, we left Bright Water in Marina Seca Guaymas on the mainland, hauled out and on the hard. Guaymas is a 30 hour drive from Camano,
and the car was usually full in both directions as we continued to finish projects and refine our cruising equipment. We have never regretted staying in Mexico instead of cruising the Pacific.
The most important thing you need to know about the Sea of Cortes compared to the Salish Sea is that Mexico is big water.
The Sea is 100 miles across or more. Fuel stops and groceries are 120 miles apart or more, but both fuel and food are high quality and safe.
Anchorages are far apart, and very, very few are “all weather.”
You need to be both self-sufficient and you need to rely on your fellow cruisers for help when needed. You need to pay constant attention to the weather forecast and seek out the best information you can find. Safety depends on constant, active choices.
Charts in Mexico are mostly guidelines, like the pirate code. Paper charts are roughly useless. We relied on our electronic charts as general guides, the cruising guides for specific locations,
and radar overlay as crucial.
On our OpenCPN PC we could view GoogleEarth captures, which indexed correctly. The pictures were often great references, although there were still surprises.
The XXXX’s show an unmarked reef we discovered on this small island in the northern sea. We missed it, but not by much.
Anchoring gear is always crucial. We found ourselves in winds of over 60 knots for hours and hours as weather passed through,
but we knew that we could mostly trust our 30kg Claw, 5/16 chain, and water-line attached nylon rope snubber.
We drug anchor once after anchoring in too-shallow sand, but we saw boats drag many, many times.
We almost always avoided the “safe” but crowded anchorages. We feared other boats more than we feared nature.
Weather forecasting is crucial and problematic. Somebody reads their favorite forecast on the morning radio nets, mostly, but not always.
If you have cell service you can get any of the various weather products off the web. We prefer to harvest emailed GRIB files from sailnet, that we analyzed and track using OpenCPN, but problems with cellular and Iridium email made that less reliable in the recent past.
With reliable SSB/Pactor modem gear, you can get a daily GRIB files that’s as accurate as any other source. For sure, the more detail you have in your forecast, the more confidence you’ll have in your movements.
We like a lot of detail. There are plenty of people, though, that either use the morning nets, gossip, or nothing to deal with incoming weather. They cruise the sea, too, and seem to live to talk about it.
Baja California is relatively uncrowded and crazy crazy pretty. The climate in the summer is every bit as nice as the Caribbean and the Bahamas, and in the winter it’s very similar to summer in the Salish Sea.
The desert is red rocks
and rugged, brand-new tectonic and volcanic geology.
There’re coyotes on the beaches
Pelicans and cormorants and frigates and boobies in the sky.
There’re California Sea Lions and dolphins and turtles of every size and shape.
One day this year we saw seven Blue Whales in an hour.
There’s lot’s of fish and there’s no ciguatera, so you can eat almost anything you catch.
rock reefs to snorkel and fish on,
and hiking up a deserted arroyo is almost always an incredible way to spend your day.
In February, 2014 we took the boat back around the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula and a day and half up the coast to Mag Bay.
We spent a month as the only cruising boat exploring the bay, which is huge.
We had miles of incredible beach to ourselves,
we walked a mile across sand dunes to the roughly un-visited southern beaches of Bahia Santa Maria,
and we spent days in the dinghy waiting for oxytocin-laced mama grey whales to show us their babies.
We drifted in our tiny dingy with the motor silent,
and our life jackets on while the moms and their babies swam towards the dingy to have a look at us.
It was truly amazing.
We left Mag Bay and sailed straight for Tenacatita on the Mexican Riveria. The trip was relatively uneventful except for the remarkable fishing
and a small accident with a very large dorado that escaped by wiggling overboard after transferring the fishhook to Phil’s foot.
Tentacatita and nearby Barra de Navidad are the winter homes for approximately 100 boats that migrate south every year from San Carlos and Guaymas. Robert and the lovely Miss Virginia host a “Mayor’s Raft-Up” every Friday evening in Tentacatita,
with a potluck, lively discussion, and a sing-along.
It’s a fantastic, magical place full of great people and a daily swim-to-shore, beach boccie-ball, Mexican train dominoes, and beach walk.
After three weeks in Tentacatita, we moved north to Banderas Bay where we discovered the San Diego yacht club was setting up the finish line for the San Diego to Puerto Vallarta open-ocean sailing race right off our stern.
We appointed ourselves as the official spectator fleet and dinghied over to see what was what.
They put us to work and we had a great time helping with record-keeping
and passing out swag.
They even invited us to the closing dinner. It was an amazing event,
and the boats were completely astonishing.
One of the things that’s amazing about Baja California is how un-crowded it is. This year we spent 32 days on a two-mile sandy beach just outside of La Paz.
There was never more than three other boats in the anchorage, and we had the place to ourselves for a dozen of those days.
(We now open a slide show of about 150 pretty pictures, mostly from this blog, while we each discuss our three things we want you to know).
Nancy Three Things:
5 towns with Fuel and Food, space about 120 miles apart. Moorage is approximately the same as in the US.
Cruising Guides w/ GPS locations.
Discomfort = places to yourself
Good Holding Sand
Mostly Free, but Dinghy docks have a slight cost.
8 week provisioning plan on the blog.
You can get almost anything in La Paz that you like.
Mainland not as easy for American things.
Fresh is easier on the Mainland.
Costs about the same a here, maybe a little less.
VHF is local and important. There is usually a morning VHF net in every major anchorage.
SSB/HAM. There are two morning nets. This is how the cruisers communicate. With a pactor modem, this is the best way to have reliable communication and get weather (GRIB files).
CELL service is getting better all the time in Baja, but is mostly only available near Loreto or La Paz, as well as Guaymas/San Carlos. There is some service near Muertos/Frailes, and there’s service in Cabo and the East Cape as well.
Satellite phone should be better but was a problem for us. The Iridium “puck” based systems seem to be working now, maybe. Some support email and GRIBS, some only do SMS and proprietary weather. Satellite texting (SMS) is the most reliable contact with the outside world.
If we did it again, we would install a SSB/Ham Radio with a Pactor modem.
Phil Three Things:
We made our own water and had no troubles, but we constantly heard of boats and groups of boats dealing with diarrhea from contamination. We’re roughly experts at this subject, and want to be completely clear that chlorine is the only way to keep your water tanks safe. Filtration systems help, but they’re not enough. Boats with or without water makers do fine as long as they maintain a chlorine residual. Even if a marina or a community has RO water, they still don’t maintain positive pressure in their systems because Mexican power is not reliable enough. Once the pressure drops, water from outside sources can be sucked into the distribution system and contaminate the source. Then bad things happen. We also recommend carrying several cases of bottled water, at least in the early months of your cruise. It costs almost nothing and guarantees safe water if you have a problem early on.
In our opinion, once you get south of the border area, Mexico and especially Baja is safer than the USA and Canada. For our own comfort, we almost always tried to be back on the boat before dark (remember we almost always anchored out). In most remote anchorages, the only other boaters you see are local fishermen and other cruisers. In contrast to the Caribbean, we saw almost no derelict cruisers, and we never had a bad experience with the fishermen.
If there is a problem, it’s very difficult to recover in Mexico. They have no functioning national mail or shipping system. There are private companies shipping to and from the US from La Paz and other cities, but you can count on a week or more or never to get anything in from the states. Even on the mainland, small stores would have a guy that would drive the sixteen hours round trip to Phoenix once a week to pick stuff up. That worked if he got through customs cleanly. We lost an ATM card to the machine our first hour in Guaymas. We didn’t even try to get a new one. We weren’t worried about pick-pockets in any real way, but we kept very close track of our cards because replacing them would have been a nightmare.