Saturday, January 06, 2007

Dispatch 20 Screaming Blue Norther

December 19-26, 2006

Our travels are very much affected by the weather. We are hesitant to make definite plans to visit people (as some of you have noticed) because we never know if we will be able to make the rendezvous and don’t want to have to travel in adverse weather.

This week has given us a good example of this phenomenon and, as we are holed up on the boat for a few days, we’ll share the experience. We left San Carlos later than we had ever expected and had always sort of intended to get to La Paz before x-mas, but had no definite plans. We wanted to enjoy the islands on the Baja side of the Sea of Cortez as we have before and savor them as we don’t plan to come back up this way.

The winter in the Sea of Cortez is known for winter winds called “Northers” that we’ve mentioned before. There are several sources for weather information and we tend to listen to them closely when we are planning a passage. Most weather reports come on radio nets on single side band and one weather guru named Don Anderson is rather notorious among us Mexico cruisers for his weather reports. He is formerly from Great Britain, but, having lost much of his accent, he still retains some of his British figures of speech as you shall see. He’s a former cruiser with a comfortable boat, a Valiant 47, who lives in Oxnard, CA. He’ll often say about the weather, “I wouldn’t take my little boat there,” as he reports on 40 knot winds in the Tuhuantepec or some other hot spot.

Don is passionate about weather and his reports are often peppered with small teaching points that make us all better at looking at the raw data (weather maps). The situation that creates these northerly winds here is a high pressure system over Denver. A gradient develops between that high pressure system and lower pressure in the Sea of Cortez and the wind funnels from high to low pressure and right down the Sea of Cortez. Yesterday he predicted Northerly winds of 25-35 knots for the next 4-5 days with seas building to 10-12 feet in the center of the Sea of Cortez. He ended his report by saying, “Yup, it’s going to blow the skin right of the rice pudding.” On another report while describing Cerralvo channel (a funnel shaped body of water oriented NW to SE known for awesome wind surfing--!!--), he said it was going to blow 40 knots there, blowing the rice pudding right out of the bowl, “Yessir,” he said, “Cerralvo Channel will be a sight to behold” with his signature little chuckle.

Well, it’s no problem to sail in 25-35 knots, we’ve done it before in the ocean, but, as Don pointed out today on his weather report, the problem is the seas that build due to the wind. While the swells are big and far apart on the ocean, in a small body of water like the Sea of Cortez or, even smaller as our friends in the NW know, the Straits of Juan de Fuca, the waves become very steep and very tall and close together very quickly. It is the seas that make the travel uncomfortable or worse.

So, we are holed up in a very comfy spot, Puerto Escondito, known as “Hidden Harbor” because it is almost completely enclosed, thus quite protected. It is 15 miles south of Loreto on the Baja and is also very beautiful. As I write, the wind howls through in gusts that make the boat yaw and even heel over a little and anything that is not appropriately secured gets our attention by being blown out of place, like our dinghy that flipped over in a gust earlier today. We know we can’t compete with 100 MPH record winds in Seattle or the likely snow in other parts of the US, but it’s also cold here when the Northers blow, going down into the 40’s to 50’s at night. While we wait, we will write, read, cook and visit with some of the other boats here if any of us feel like having a wet dinghy ride. Christmas may come and go while we wait, but, so it goes when we are so dependent on the weather for our progress.
"A "Norther" hits the La Paz anchorage."

We wish you all happy and health holidays and will send more news as we can.

The late breaking update is that, after another weather system blew through while we waited in yet another anchorage, we made it to La Paz. We had a warm welcome from our friends here as well as some mail we expected. We visited Betsy’s (Denver) brother at his vacation home on East Baja for New Year’s Day and plan to visit here for about a week. Then we will head over to the mainland to continue our travels.

Happy 2007 to you all and may it be a wonderful year.

Dispatch 19 New Stuff on the Boat

Nov 8 to Dec 15, 2006

What could we possibly have been doing for a month plus in San Carlos many of you are asking yourselves? Well, we too have wondered how the time passed. Here are a few of the new features on Qayaq to explain our long stay in gringoville.

First, we commissioned a new table for the boat. She had a table when we bought her, but, somewhere around the time we went to Alaska we figured out that the boat felt much roomier without the table. We lived without a salon table for 5 years and then decided we wanted a surface to eat off of when we arrived in Mexico. Garth, our fishing expert friend also happens to be a woodworker and took on the challenge of creating a table for us that would be able to be tucked away to keep the roomy feeling of the salon, but could be erected for evenings of company or, for just the two of us, could provide two eating surfaces. Voila, the work of art created from an unusual wood, Silver Bali. The table is unique, custom and beautiful. Richard did a lot of the work on the table too, so that accounts for almost 2 weeks of the time in San Carlos.

We also purchased a new solar panel which we picked up in Colorado and now have installed on the side of the boat across from the other solar panel. When it was first hooked up we saw the batteries being charged by 4 amps. Then the refrigerator turned on and the electric panel showed 0 amps this means the panel was keeping up with the electrical use on the boat—perfect! We are thrilled. Give us a windy, sunny anchorage and we will be able to charge the batteries without using fossil fuels.

We carry jerry jugs for diesel and gasoline fuels. The diesel is for the boat engine and the gasoline is for our dinghy outboard engine and our little portable generator. We made boards to carry the jugs on deck before we left Seattle the first time. However, we’ve seen a design we like a lot better and, with the wood we brought back from Seattle this trip, we created new boards, epoxied and painted to be weather resistant and now installed. We like the look a lot better.

When we returned to the boat this fall, we found a leak coming from the deck down a factory installed drain that is 27 years old. Of course, as is true of most factory installed parts of the boat, removing and replacing this part required a lot more work than to just unscrew the old and install the new. In fact, the only way to remove the old drain was to break it. Then we re-designed the drain pipe, reinstalled the electronics that lived nearby that drain and voila, that leak is fixed—only 3 days, 2 marine stores and much cursing later.

Naturally, as planned, we had the broken fiberglass on the bottom repaired by the work yard (as they were the ones who broke it) and we had new bottom paint put on. We re-rigged the boat, put all the equipment back on we had taken off in June, had the outboard serviced. We inventoried every locker on the boat (about 20 different spaces) which was a good project for the x-mas season as we felt like we uncovered all kinds of “presents”, stuff we had forgotten we had. We cleaned all those lockers and re-organized spaces as we stowed the new and old stuff. We cleaned the outside of the boat, badly needed after months in dry storage and the time in the boat yard.

That’s all the excuses we’re going to give for our time here. Trust me that projects expand to fill the available time.