After most of the CUBAR participants left La Paz, we set off north into the Sea of Cortez for a few weeks. Several CUBAR boats also headed out and we spent time with them along the way. We didn’t get very far, perhaps a hundred miles north, but the cruising was spectacular. We came back over the winter, several times, the first time in February and the second time in April, for a total of about 12 weeks of cruising from November to May. We cruised a little further north on our later visits, as far as Bahia Conception, which is about 200 miles north of La Paz.
One of the first things we did though, after arriving, was to finish the engine room fan project. The Sea of Cortez is relatively hot, even in winter, and Ron was anxious to get our engine room temp down asap. Nordhavn engine rooms tend to run hot, at least the ones we have owned, so this project has been done before, by Ron and others. We are indebted both to Christopher on N50 Colibri and Clayton on N50 Tivoli for showing us the way on this boat. The addition of two 11 inch axial fans in the rear plenums of the engine room, one pulling air in and the other pushing it out, reduced the difference between the inside engine room temp and the outside air temp to a very acceptable 15-18 degrees Fahrenheit. This differential is referred to as a “delta t” and happens to be the name of the provider of our fan equipment: Delta T Systems. We also used their gear on our Nordhavn 46 and have been happy with it.
Lots of articles have been written on cruising in the areas we visited, so we won’t write another. We went to all the usual places, Espiritu Santu and Isla Partida, Isla San Francisco, the village of San Evaristo, Agua Verde, Bahia San Juanico, Bahia Salinas and Puerto Ballandra on Isla Carmen, Isla Coronados and Bahia Conception. All were special, with incredible views, and truly marvelous sunsets. Isla Coronados, in particular, when we were anchored on the SE side, sported a 360 degree panorama, featuring a sunset to the west on the mountains of the Peninsula, and a sunset reflection to east, on the western side of Isla Carmen. We’ve never seen anything quite like it.
The stars are also amazing, as there is almost no light pollution. We are slowly learning which stars and planets are which, and spent plenty of time gazing upward into the firmament trying to compare it to the map on our iPad. We even had several full moons while we were out cruising, which we really like, especially when we are making a night passage.
The weather is the tricky bit in the Sea of Cortez in the winter; northers appear on a regular basis as fronts work their way across North America. This weather pattern is similar to what we experienced in the Bahamas, so we weren’t really bothered by it. There is, however, a lot less weather information available in the Sea of Cortez than in the Bahamas.
For example, there is no meteorological service like NOAA, broadcasting four times a day. There are some local folks who kindly put together weather forecasts, from local info and internet sources. We didn’t actually use any of those, Ron prefers to access the raw weather data, or as close as he can get. As an aside, we use an Iridium GO to get email once we left La Paz, cellular connectivity is poor to non existent. The Iridium worked perfectly the entire time. We were fortunate in that NOAA was beta testing some great GRIB files which we could download via email. Those served as the basis for Ron’s daily weather forecast, and they only failed us once during three months of cruising.
The time the GRIBS failed us was pretty interesting. We were expecting, as usual, the wind to clock to the NNW and blow hard for several days. At that particular time, we happened to be at Agua Verde, which, while it has good northerly and westerly protection, is too small an anchorage for us to ride out a front. The anchorage itself, where the protection is best, is narrow, with a rock in the middle. This area is fully occupied by boats almost all the time. Larger boats, like Duet, anchor at the back of the pack, in deeper water. We are fine with shorter scope when the wind isn’t going to blow, but there wasn’t enough room for us get enough scope down to feel comfortable with high winds.
So we started looking for a place to hide. We normally start this process at least 72 hours before the front is due. We do this for several reasons. First, we want to be in our chosen anchorage before everyone else gets there. Second, we want to be sure that Duet is well settled, so we would like at least one night, if not two, on the hook before it starts howling. Third, weather forecasts aren’t an exact science, by any means, so we want some margin in case the weather shows up earlier than expected.
After some study of the charts and the cruising guides, we chose to ride out this particular front in Bahia Salinas on Isla Carmen. This bay is large, and has good NNW protection. It also has an abandoned salt processing facility, a hunting camp, and a truly gorgeous deserted beach nearly 2 miles long. Beach walks are something that Nancy, especially, loves, so that settled it, Bahia Salinas here we come.
Since Bahia Salinas is only about 12 miles from Agua Verde, the journey there was pretty simple. Once we arrived, we picked a nice place right up in the NW corner, with the best protection, and put out about 5:1 scope in 20 feet of water. We pulled hard and our big Rocna, as usual, held as if it had set in cement. At this time, the wind was light, out of the SSW. Bahia Salinas is wide open to the South, but we weren’t expecting much from that direction, so we weren’t too worried.
This brings up a point about anchorages in Sea of Cortez. Like the Bahamas, there are only a few completely sheltered anchorages. So you have to make a judgement call on where the worst weather will come from. Or you have to move the boat around as the wind shifts. In Bahia Salinas, getting out of the Southerly breeze would mean moving to the other side of the eastern peninsula of the island. On that side, there are two relatively small anchorages which are protected from the south and west. Both are, however, wide open to the north. Then, when the wind shifted to the NNW, you would need to move back to the main part of Bahia Salinas.
In addition to wind protection, we also needed to look for shelter from the swell. The Sea of Cortez is a relatively small body of water, and, as such, tends to get a bit like a tempest in a teacup when the winds crank up. The prevailing swell in the winter is from the NNW but it can switch around pretty quickly if the winds stay out of the South for any period of time. In all honesty, it is hard to find good swell protection in many of the anchorages. Duet has an at anchor flopper stopper rig to help smooth out swell at anchor. It works very well, but even it was challenged on occasion in the Sea of Cortez.
Dealing with swell in anchorages requires an understanding of how waves refract around points of land or other obstacles. They also reflect back and cause what looks like a nice sheltered bay to turn into a bumpy overnight stop. We learned quite a bit about this, mostly the hard way, in the Bahamas. Fortunately, Ron remembered many of these lessons, so we only got rolled around a bit.
In addition, around April, settled conditions become much more common, bringing more swells and light breezes from the SSE. Thus, anchorages that were great in winter are rolly in spring. A good example is San Juanico, Duet’s winter spot is shown up top and her spring spot is down the bottom.
Back to boomeranging around Carmen Island. As these moves in and out of Bahia Salinas for wind protection only involve distances of about 5 miles, you might think that moving makes perfect sense. Sometimes it does. But sometimes it doesn’t. Charts in the Sea of Cortez are some the worst we have seen. We use Coastal Explorer on a PC using C-Map charts. We also run iNavX on an iPad running Navionics. Neither of these are accurate, once you leave big ports like La Paz or Ensenada. We have heard that iSailor, running Transas charts, is better, but we have not tested it ourselves. The lack of good charting makes perfect sense, there is no money to be made in correcting remote charts in the Sea of Cortez, not enough people would buy them to cover the cost of the surveys.
The chart below is a C-Map of San Juanico, showing our path into the anchorage.
As an aside, we did later discover electronic charts that are spot on, namely the anchorage charts from the cruising guide “The Sea of Cortez” by Shawn Breeding and Heather Bansmer, published by Blue Latitude Press. We ran these charts on Nancy’s iPad, using iNavX, and they are great. All the charts shown in this blog, except as noted, are from this guide and are copyrighted by Blue Latitude Press.
You can also get all the waypoints mentioned in the cruising guide, but we didn’t buy those, we just entered them as we went along. We didn’t find out about these charts, however, until we returned home in late December, so they didn’t do us any good during our little circus in Bahia Salinas. They also only cover anchorages, so we were still on our own moving from destination to destination, but that can be safely accomplished using radar to back up the charts.
In the case of Bahia Salinas, the island is about 1/3 of a mile east of where the charts think it is. There is also a large sunken fishing boat in the middle of it, which is almost underwater at high tide. Since we confirm all our charts using radar, these issues didn’t present a huge problem. But the idea of moving about, in the dark, when the wind shift was to arrive, using only radar, didn’t appeal. We can do it, if we have to, but it involves more risk, especially given that the anchorages with southerly protection had unmarked rocks, which might or might not be visible on radar. So we decided to stay put and tolerate what we thought would be light Southerly winds in Bahia Salinas until the big norther came through.
Why didn’t we just move to the smaller anchorage in daylight, when we can see the rocks, and then follow our GPS track on the chart back out again in the dark, you ask? GPS is accurate up to about 50 feet, depending on the quality of the signal. 50 feet is a lot, when you are trying to avoid an unmarked rock you can’t see. While we have used some tracks in the past, it is only in situations where we have good visibility and plenty of wiggle room. In this case, we would have neither during our retreat to Bahia Salinas when the wind shifted.
So we stayed put, with a light Southerly wind blowing. As our readers may have guessed by now, the light Southerly decided to mature into relatively strong breezes, in the 20-25 knot range, after dark. We’re not sure why, but this kind of thing always happens after dark. So there we were, plunging up and down on a lee shore in winds that weren’t supposed to be there. Duet’s bulbous bow even started slapping in the waves, which was a first for us at anchor.
We had our flopper stopper out to provide some stability. It handled the conditions relatively well, but we could hear the twin stacks on the flybridge, which provide support, creaking in the bigger seas. We also confirmed that the base of the pole was definitely transferring the load to the side of the house, as we could feel the shuddering in our feet when standing on the flybridge.
All this storm und drang began around 8PM. We sat with it for a bit and then had a discussion about, first, whether we should try to recover the flopper pole, and, second, whether we should move to one of the anchorages with Southerly protection. We evaluate situations like this by considering whether the situation is merely uncomfortable or actually dangerous. In this case, we decided that, while there was some chance the flopper stopper pole might rip off the boat, it seemed to be doing OK, and there was a good chance we would damage the boat trying to recover it in these conditions. Worse, one of us could get hurt.
On the second question, namely should we relocate, assuming we we could safely recover the flopper stopper, neither of us felt it was worth taking the risk of moving the boat in the dark to a place we knew was poorly charted, with uncharted rocks that would be invisible on radar. While the boat was plunging up and down occasionally, as well doing some side to side rolling, the anchor was solidly set and the anchor gear was not showing any signs of chafe or strain. The latest GRIB files still showed that the wind would shift. So we stayed put. By around 3AM the winds started to come around, and by 4 we were able to get to sleep, as Duet settled into a comfortable protected situation while the wind began to howl out of the NNW.
The next day the bay was almost as calm as a pond, with a slight chop coming off the shore. Our flopper stopper was hanging limp, and our anchor snubber was not doing much. We had a good breakfast, put the kayak in the water and went exploring. We spent about 4 days at Bahia Salinas, and we really enjoyed it. The only disappointment was there was no hiking inland, as a hunting party was at the lodge and we didn’t want to be mistaken for a mountain sheep. We did manage to climb a hill and get a nice view of Duet and the anchorage, but other than that we stayed on the beach. Duet was the only boat in Bahia Salinas throughout our stay.
So what did we learn from this little experience? We got a better appreciation for how strong the flopper stopper system is and how well our redesigned anchor platform works. We revisited the idea of uncomfortable versus dangerous. And we had a great time exploring the old salt facilities, not to mention some wonderful beach walks.
Soon after this we departed for home, leaving Duet safely tucked into the Inner Basin at CostaBaja Marina. We returned on the first of February for a stay of about 6 weeks. During this second visit, we hoped to get much further north, as far as Bahia Conception, if possible. Duet looked just the same when we returned, although she was much cleaner, courtesy of our wash team, who carefully scrubbed her down every 4 weeks. The Inner Basin as CostaBaja, while sheltered, is also dusty, as the winds blow down from the surrounding hills, depositing dirt everywhere.
We spent a few days provisioning in La Paz before departure. CostaBaja runs a free shuttle to and from town, which we used extensively. We even managed to go out to dinner a couple of times, including a great visit to a tacqueria in town, followed by outstanding local ice cream cones and a walk on the Malecon. We really like La Paz. It is a Mexican town, not a gringo tourist town, and, as such is, at least to us, much more fun. Ron’s Spanish got a bit of a workout, as many folks do not speak English, so he was forced to communicate or we were going to starve. Taxi drivers, in particular, took him under their wing, and provided enthusiastic Spanish instruction.
Shopping in La Paz is an easy task. The markets are large and varied. We did some testing of food types prior to purchasing in large quantities. We also tried to boldly taste new things, even if we didn’t know quite what they were. This was a hit or miss process, with Ron enthusiastically finding new and extremely strong cheeses, while Nancy browsed in the endless fruit and veggie selections. We also found boxed milk, which doesn’t need to be refrigerated until you open it. This helped make more room in Duet’s fridges for Ron’s cheeses. Finally, we downloaded a cook book from South America, which was full of new kinds of sauces and other preparations.
While we were in La Paz in February, by sheer chance it was Carnaval. We had not been to a Carnaval before, and the one in La Paz was a good choice. It lasts an entire week, over 100,000 people come from all over Mexico and it has some some of the loudest parade floats we have ever heard. Music, any kind of music, and the louder the better, was definitely the rule of the day. We spent a very pleasant evening attending the festivities, returned to the boat sightly deaf and decided that, in the future, should there be a Carnival in any area we were visiting, we would definitely go.
We were impressed by La Paz’s ability to manage the event. The Malecon was closed each day starting about noon, and was soon covered in stalls selling food and drink and arts and crafts. A bandstand was erected every few hundred yards on the seaward side. But by early every morning, all of this was gone and the sidewalks and roads had been washed clean, the garbage toted away and all the parade floats parked neatly at the end of town.
As far as we know, there was no violence during the festival, and we saw no public drunkenness or bad behavior when we attended. Everyone was dressed in their best and friendly to a fault. The crowds were huge, it was hard to walk around on the street. We did see about half a dozen other gringos, but, other than that, the crowd was entirely Mexican. Police presence was significant, there were Federales with automatic weapons on almost every corner. They helpfully gave us, and other people, directions and kept the traffic moving on the side streets, but other than that they seemed to be enjoying the show like everyone else.
For anyone wishing to attend a La Paz Carnaval, you may read about the 2017 event here.
Having recovered from Carnaval and loaded everything aboard, we set off north again, traveling quickly up to Agua Verde and then on to San Juanico. We must credit our friends Brian and Lynn, and their dog Sally, for introducing us to some great anchorages. We met them in Alaska last summer and were pleased to see them again in La Paz. They have cruised their Selene, Salsipuedes, in Mexico for a number of years and are a great source of local information.
The weather on this second cruise was similar to the first, the key was avoiding blows from the north. It also remained relatively cold, compared to Mexico’s Pacific coast. We had a number of friends based there who were having a hot winter. We, on the other hand, had temperatures in the 70s during the day and in the 60s at night. Perfect for sleeping, no need for air conditioning. Water temperatures were warm enough for swimming. Fishing, at least for us, was not so good. We fished a lot, but didn’t catch much. Brian is an experienced fisherman, he took pity on us and gave us some fresh caught fish. We must look pretty pathetic on the fishing front, as a catamaran crew also gifted us a large quantity of freshly caught wahoo.
Fish or no fish, on we went to Bahia Conception. This huge bay, with multiple sheltered anchorages, as well as several restaurants, tiendas and RV camps, is about 200 miles north of La Paz. The key to getting there is to go when a norther is not blowing, or else you will pound into square head seas the entire trip. We managed to pick our way from anchorage to anchorage, without doing too much pounding, and enjoyed ourselves along the way. We spent several days at San Juanico, which is a stunning place, with lots of hiking. It is a larger anchorage than Agua Verde, and there is more shelter from the swell, in winter, so we spent a number of pleasant days there.
Anchorage at San Juanico
After we tore ourselves away from San Juanico, we finally reached Bahia Conception. There are lots of places to anchor. We set up shop in Playa Santispac, which is the main anchorage in Bahia Coyote. It was the most sheltered anchorage we had yet seen in the Sea of Cortez and we spent more than a week there. There were relatively few boats, even including the resident boats on moorings, so there was plenty of room.
Navionics of entrance to Playa Santispac C-Maps of same place
Radar image of where the boat actually is
Cruising guide chart of where we anchored
We were joined by our sister ship, the Nordhavn 50 Colibri, and her enthusiastic and friendly crew, Christopher and Diana. We had a great dinner aboard and were one upped when they showed us their pictures of the pictographs they had found on their hike. We had made the same hike the day before, with nary a sight of a pictograph, or even anything we could pretend might be a pictograph. We had found one bell rock, so we talked that one up, until Diana showed us her video of Christopher playing a tune on several bell rocks. At that point we shut up and ate our outstanding dinner. Bell rocks, by the way, are hollow, so if you hit them with another rock they make a tuneful sound.
After a week or so it was time to move south again, to be back in La Paz by the first week of March to catch our flight home. Colibri had barreled off a few days earlier, as Christopher, when he isn’t playing the bell rocks, helms Dent Instruments, and he needed to get back to his day job. We stopped for a couple of days at San Juanico again, and spent one day at Isla Coronados. We also stopped at Agua Verde, which is at a nice inflection point for a journey, being some 55 miles north of Bahia San Francisco.
We saw quite a lot of wildlife in the Sea of Cortez, including dolphins of various sizes, manta rays and many sea lions. We never got a picture of a ray jumping but we managed to photograph or video everything else.
Sea lions resting
We also saw, for the first time, a red tide, shown first on the radar and then in person.
Isla Coronados, scene of the best sunset
Bahia San Francisco is a special anchorage which is featured in all the pictures of the Sea of Cortez, and is known locally as “the hook”. The island of San Francisco is uninhabited, with several nice hikes to views over the classic bay. It is, however, not that sheltered to the NNW, so when the next norther raised it’s head on the GRIB files, we moved about 25 miles south to an anchorage on the island of Isla Partida, and it’s companion island, Espirtu Santu, are a protected marine park and have many stunning anchorages. Unfortunately, they are almost all open to the NNW.
Duet and Enterprise III hiding behind the cliffs at Isla San Francisco
One, however, caught our eye. It is deeply indented, thereby reducing the fetch from the NW, and it is quite sheltered from the notorious NNW Sea of Cortez swell. So Duet nosed into El Cardonal, as far as we could go and still have some depth under the keel. We ended up anchored more than a mile from the entrance, and it was calm as a pond, while the winds gradually built outside. We did note a comment in the cruising guide about the winds building up in the arroyo at the head of the anchorage, but we didn’t pay it much mind. We were surprised that we were the only boat in the anchorage, while several others we had passed were relatively full. The most popular of those, Isla Partida, didn’t fit our requirements, as our experience there on our way north indicated that the holding wasn’t that good.
The holding in our chosen spot, however, was excellent, as we demonstrated by pulling on the hook at 900RPM. We are still working through what wind speed a specific RPM replicates on this boat. Her engine is much larger than our Nordhavn 46, and so far we haven’t pulled harder than 1000RPM. The one time we did that we pulled the hook right out and had to reset. We then pulled at 900 and she held through gusts in the low 30s, so we figured that was enough for this particular storm, which was projected to top out in the high 20s to low 30s. What we didn’t realize was that the geography of this anchorage would create williwaws, or sudden blasts of high wind, barreling down the arroyo into the sheltered bay where we carefully placed Duet.
The winds started to build in the afternoon, which is common in the Sea of Cortez, as the pressure gradient changes when the land temperature rises. We were expecting this. What we weren’t expecting were williwaws which topped out in the low 50s. We have not stood to that level of wind before and it was quite an experience. The water around Duet remained almost calm, with little rivulets heralding the arrival of the williwaw. The main feature however, was the howl of the wind as it built up in the arroyo. It sounded like a freight train coming straight down the track at us. The first time it happened we looked at one another and said “what…”. Duet then leaned over about 10 degrees as the wind howled past. Calm was immediately restored and the winds dropped into the low teens, or even less. The water went flat. In another few minutes this performance was repeated, over and over, night and day, for the several days as the front passed.
The plus about this was it gave us a great chance to test our anchor gear. We had put down about 5:1 in relatively shallow water of about 20 feet. This set up, and our over sized Rocna (Duet sports a Rocna 70, which weighs 154 pounds, coupled to 400 feet of 3/8 HT chain) never budged.
Ron is shown testing our anchor when it was first installed in Seattle.
We did worry a bit about the snubber line. It was our daily snubber, not the oversized one intended for winds like this. Since we weren’t expecting winds in the 50s when we set up the gear, we hadn’t deployed the big snubber. Given the conditions, we judged it not safe to try and replace the smaller snubber during the storm. So we set up the bigger one as a back up, in case the smaller one snapped. We also decided to replace the smaller one at the end of the cruising season, as it was definitely using up a lot of it’s stretch during this episode.
The bigger snubber chain hook is seized onto the shackle before being deployed
First, some of the lazy loop of chain is retrieved and then the bigger snubber is attached as a back up. You can see the difference in the diameter of the snubber lines as they run forward over the rollers from the samson posts.
The biggest problem with this wind was it was hard to sleep. The noise was considerable, and intermittent, so just as your eyes were closing the freight train came down again and you felt the boat lean over. Despite the endless repetition of this during the two days the wind blew, without any problems with the gear, the little voice in the back of your mind, or at least the one in the back of Nancy’s mind, kept saying “are we dragging?”. Duet has a GPS drag alarm, and there is a wind speed repeater screen, with an alarm, by Nancy’s side of the bed, so she has lots of solid information about what was doing out there. Eventually, she got some sleep, but it was a tiring couple of days.
We did put the kayak in the water, in between gusts, and went ashore for a nice hike. We wanted to see the conditions on the other side of the arroyo. Ron wanted to determine whether the GRIB was wrong and it was really blowing 50 out there, or it was all the affect of the arroyo, in which case it should be blowing in the high 20s. The GRIB files came through again, we didn’t see anything approaching the wind speeds we had in the anchorage when we reached the other side of the island. While we didn’t have a windspeed indicator with us, we have enough experience to look at the surface of the water and make a judgement call. Our guess was the wind was blowing steadily in the 20’s, with occasional gusts into the 30’s. Those winds were then being translated into gusts of 40-50 inside the anchorage. Fascinating, from a certain perspective, but a bit of an inconvenience for us.
After this storm passed, we returned to CostaBaja, tucked Duet up again and flew home. As an aside, we kept our slip at CostaBaja the entire time we were in the Sea of Cortez. This was a new approach for us, but we liked it. We had somewhere to go if we wanted to return to the bright lights and the big city for a few days, or we wanted to ride out a big storm, without worrying whether the marina would have room for us. We also could change our schedule at will, and we did, coming back a week before we were due to fly out. Getting Duet ready to be left is a time consuming process, and coming back a week early allowed us to see friends, dine out and generally take it easy, as opposed to our usual fire drill when we leave the boat.
We did have an interesting new neighbor at CostaBaja when we returned. There are a number of mega yachts passing through La Paz on a regular basis. Some, like Alessa III, are too large to enter the marina and anchor out, but others, like the Lady Lola, spent most of the winter tied up at the mega dock at CostaBaja. The late Steve Jobs’s yacht, Venus, however, is a bit different. At 265 feet, she is a big girl. Some folks think she looks like an iPhone, we’re not sure what she looks like, but can only say that she does draw the eye. She remained on the CostaBaja fuel dock for several months, as Lady Lola was taking up the only other space for anything over about 200 feet.
Alessa III Lady Lola
After what seemed like a few days at home, we were back in La Paz again, arriving in mid April. The plan was to spend about 4 weeks cruising and then start north for Ensenada. Ron had to be back home by June 9, so we had plenty of time, or so it seemed. We did some provisioning, and then set off north for Bahia Conception. Several other Nordhavns, the N50 Colibri, the N46 Northern Ranger and the N60 Sea Level II were passing through when we were there, so we had plenty of cruising company. We also ran into N60 Daybreak, with whom we will be traveling from Mexico to French Polynesia next spring. Jerome and Karen invited us to a nice dinner and we talked through various strategies for the crossing and discussed cruising guides, bureaucratic formalities, etc. before parting ways.
Kind gift from Jerome and Karen
During this visit we had also signed up to be a research vessel trying out Christopher’s latest invention, a variation on the standard Racor vacuum gauge. Ron installed it, and we are now putting hours on it, to see how it does. So far, so good, we’ve put about 1,500 miles on it since we got it and it’s working just fine.
Throughout our winter down south, there were, as always, various projects that needed to be done. The most complex was probably replacing the generator’s high pressure fuel pump, which began to leak during our second trip down. Consultation with Lugger Whisperer Bob Senter revealed that changing the pump wasn’t actually that difficult. Armed with a new pump from Hatton Marine, hand carried down on the airplane, Ron waded into that project when we arrived back in April. It was made much easier by a 25 step written how to guide from Bob and the whole thing went off without a hitch. The generator is critical to our cruising, as, without it, we can’t make water. One thing the Sea of Cortez doesn’t have in abundance is fresh water, so the generator (and, incidentally the water maker) needed to be up to snuff all the time.
Generator high pressure fuel pump
Other than the fuel pump, various other things got fixed, replaced, or otherwise fiddled with, including the mounts for our diesel heater accumulation tank, which lives under the master berth. The mounts had broken loose, so we had a 25 pound projectile boomeranging around in heavy seas. Ron found it by mistake, while looking for something else. But once we found it, it needed fixing, so on went new mounts, this time made of steel, rather than the plastic ones used by the original installers.
Broken plastic mounts New tank mounts
Rusty refrigerator compressor, before, and after
Adjusting the Balmar regulator on the main engine 12V alternator
Soldering a new switch to incorporate the second autopilot into the navigation system
The other thing we did was test out our Brownie dive hookah. While we had this aboard for some time, this was the first time we were in water warm enough for Ron to want to go in voluntarily. He spent several hours, over a week or two, practicing with the Brownie, as well as cleaning off Duet’s running gear. We are now much more comfortable with the unit and it’s deployment.
The old wetsuit still fits!
Finally, when fueling, we proved what we always knew, that one day we were going to lose a fuel tank cap overboard. This happened to be the day, when Ron carefully hung the cap from it’s little chain that holds it onto the boat, the chain promptly broke and the cap disappeared into 20 feet of water. Our repair was a bit kludgey, we hammered one of our wooden bungs (intended to block a broken thru hull) into the tank fill and then covered the whole thing with duct tape. Then, on an unrelated trip to Lopez’s Chandlery in La Paz, we stumbled over a cap which fit perfectly. Another problem solved.
The funniest incident of the whole winter had to be the purple diesel fuel. In February, we loaded about 250 gallons of fuel at CostaBaja (which has good prices for slip holders) and set off north on our first trip to Bahia Conception. Duet has two aft tanks, in the lazarete, which hold about 125 gallons each, so we moved their contents into our central saddle tanks and refilled the aft tanks.
Several weeks later, after we had burned some of the fuel in the central tanks, Ron started moving the contents of one of the aft tanks forward. Our fuel transfer Racor filter immediately turned an odd dark brown color. Diesel fuel in the lower 49 United States, as our readers know, is pink or red, to differentiate it from road diesel. In Alaska it is clear. So we had a combination of pink, red and clear fuel, but definitely no brown fuel. The bowl on the Racor is an amber color, so the fuel wasn’t necessarily brown, but it definitely wasn’t pink, red or clear.
Before the fuel transfer and after
And it’s purple!
Consternation ensued. Was the fuel contaminated? It looked clear enough to drink. So Ron pulled off a sample, which proved to be bright purple, once it was removed from the filtering effects of the amber Racor glass. Not pink. Not red. Not clear. Not even light purple. But bright purple. Was it diesel, or was it some form of designer gasoline? Who knew? Ron tried various experiments, such as combining it with known diesel from an uncontaminated tank. It mixed just fine. But gasoline might mix fine too. So no joy there. Then he added water too it. It separated just as it ought to. Since we had no internet connection, we couldn’t look this stuff up, so we reached out via email.
We consulted with cruising friends with experience in Mexico, who all said they had never seen purple fuel, or even colored fuel, in Mexico before. Fortunately, as we actually needed to burn this stuff to get back to CostaBaja, Gabriel, Manager of CostaBaja, came through by sending us a spec sheet from Pemex, who supplies diesel all over Mexico, including at CostaBaja’s fuel docks. Apparently the fuel can be purple. It can be clear too. It might also be green or blue. Whatever, it was definitely diesel and Duet could burn it. So off we went, purple fuel and all.
Almost before we started, or so it seemed, we were headed north again. Ron and our weather router, OMNI Bob, identified a good window on May 9 and off we went, leaving the Sea of Cortez behind. We must say that we are looking forward to coming back this winter, as we have barely scratched the surface of the spectacular cruising available there. Hence the title of this blog, in the Sea of Cortez the sun always shines, the land is similar to the surface of moon, with miles of deserted desert and fantastic geological formations, and the stars are some of the most beautiful we have ever seen.