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November 14, 2006

Jacaranda Passage Note #10: Sergio the Spoiler

The last Passage Note was more of a summer synopsis but now we have a bit more to share along the lines of cruising. Our return to Puerto Vallarta and Jacaranda from San Diego on Oct  2 went without a hitch, especially when we got the green light at customs and sailed through the airport inspection line with our bags full of boat parts  (whew).  The boat survived the rains and winds of hurricane season in Paradise Marina in great shape and all the hard work we put into getting her ready really paid off….. especially the work that Linda did on the inside, cleaning and wiping the entire interior down with a bleach solution to combat any mold. We had left 12V fans running 24/7 with solar panels charging the batteries and we think that also helped eliminate the mold.


Early October in Mexico brought the heat on with a vengeance.  Mid to upper 90’s everyday with humidity in the mid 80’s was like a sledgehammer. By noon it was very tough to do any work and since it only cooled down to mid 80’s at night we had fans running all the time.  Projects seemed to be worked in slow motion and cold water was consumed in vast quantities. Our small 12V fridge that uses seawater to cool the freon was working overtime since the water was 92 degrees in the marina. Once we got everything put back together we moved from our D dock hurricane location out to A dock near the harbor entrance to try to get a little relief from the warm breezes.  Late afternoons we headed to the lap pool to “cool off” and do our 20 laps in 86 degree water. 


We were greatly dismayed to discover that our “repaired” injection pump was still broken!  It was leaking from a seal into the pan below the engine so badly that we had to close the fuel lever when the engine wasn’t even in use. The mechanic in PV confirmed the pump had to come out again for the fourth time since last April.  This time we removed it and sent it to Total Yacht Services in Mazatlan instead where the injection pump shop found it with old seals and old gaskets……….Grrrrrr.  Total Yacht Services completely rebuilt it and had it back in our hands within 5 days. That kind of turnaround timeframe is totally amazing in the Mexican shipping system!!!   The PV mechanic installed the pump once again, started the engine, and still a leak – probably from the pipes rather than the pump.  By this time the mechanic had washed his hands of the deal…..Grrrr   But the good news was the tiny leak was negligible and could be tolerated.  If it had not been for the pump we might have already left PV for Mazatlan but sometimes things work out for the better as the hurricanes keep forming and charging north (the average is 15 hurricanes annually and we now are up to 22). 


We headed out to Punta de Mita on the NW edge of Banderas Bay for a few days of life at anchor to make sure all systems were working.  It was like a breath of fresh air to actually sail and be swinging on the hook again - plus being able to jump into the water for a swim.  Much cooler than the marina and we enjoyed the cooling breeze and the 86 degree water!!


Back to PV for 2 days of provisioning, checking out with the Port Captain, fueling up and…. we were off for a quick trip 185 miles north to Mazatlan.  The plan was to explore the cruising grounds northward, see our friends in Mazatlan, meet with Bob (the mechanic in Mazatlan) to check the engine pump and discuss obtaining a new engine from him, and then sail back to PV to fly back East for our Thanksgiving family gathering on Nov. 20. Linda and I have been discussing repowering (installing a new engine) for months and in hindsight we should have removed our 36 year old Westerbeke in San Diego before leaving last year. 


The trip north was really great.  We did it in 4 stages: Punta de Mita to Chacala, Chacala to Matanchen Bay (water temp. 90 degrees), Matanchen Bay to Isla Isabela and then 90 miles to Mazatlan.  We were able to sail about half the time and motored the rest.


Isla Isabela was the highlight.  This national park, about 40 miles off the coast, was the subject of a Jacque Cousteau documentary film many years ago.  It’s the nesting site for Blue Footed Boobies, Brown Footed Boobies and Frigate birds.  We anchored by the dramatic Las Monas rock pinnacles in 20 feet of the most beautiful crystal clear water we have seen yet; schools of colorful fish and a black and white spotted leopard ray swam under the boat.  A short distance away around the base of the pinnacles was fantastic snorkeling with tons of fish and 80 foot visibility.  The sky over our heads was filled with tens of thousands of large black frigate birds riding the updraft off the island, swirling in the warm air like a swarm of ants there were so many.   They can’t walk or swim but they are fantastic soaring machines and look rather like huge flying batman insignias with forked tails. Sitting in the cockpit we looked up and watched a half dozen curious frigates hovering directly overhead pecking at the red arrow on top of our mast (the windex).  


We hiked ashore on Isabela for as long as we could in the intense heat.  Past the shacks of the small seasonal fishing camp, we entered the low scrub “forest” of the frigate nesting grounds.  The 8-10 foot tall trees blocked any breeze so we only walked a mile before retreating to the boat for a swim. But the path had taken us past the interior lagoon of this volcanic crater island and through vegetation where hundreds of frigate birds sat nesting at our eye level.  The birds were not afraid and we could pass within arm’s length without them flying away.  Many males sat in the trees with their scarlet`throat sacks inflated like red  balloons.  Isabela is truly a magical place that reminded Linda of her Galapagos Islands experience.

After 3 days at Isla Isabela we left in early evening for the 91-mile trip north to Mazatlan.  The forecast was to have the winds lighten and the swell drop down to 2-3 feet for the next couple of days. For the first 20 miles the wind was right on the nose (another  famous Mexican “noserly”) with a 4 foot swell and we motor sailed at times with speed dropping down to 3 knots.  Gradually the wind died off and the swell flattened out and we averaged 5 knots for the whole trip.  Happily the engine ran great for the whole 18 hour trip.  We kept a sharp eye out on our watches for the large shrimp boats that are based in these waters, Mazatlan being the shrimping capital of the world.


Mazatlan is a beautiful city and our friends, Susan and Dennis on “Two Can Play”, graciously drove us all over town and showed us the sights.  The older center of the city is charming with many of the older colonial buildings being restored and painted bright colors. The famous malecon (waterfront walkway) stretches for miles and miles, studded with sculptures and  providing a picturesque site for the city’s renowned Carnival celebration every February.  

One night we enjoyed a musical/dance performance in the Angela Peralta Theater, Mazatlan’s cultural pride and joy, built in 1860 and restored to pristine condition in the 90’s.  We took the local bus into town had dinner in El Tunel restaurant, an old hacienda style building across from the theater where the grandmother had relocated the kitchen in the downstairs courtyard and served great Sinaloan fare – we had the best Tortilla soup!   The theater was located on Plazuela Machado, a delightful plaza full of people, outdoor restaurants, music and booths selling jewelry. 

Plans do change in a hurry…after all, this is cruising.  We were prepared for an early departure for Puerto Vallarta this morning at 07:00 but after seeing the weather report online last night on the web and the newly formed tropical depression 22E we decided to wait for the weather forecaster’s interpretation.  Well 22E was quickly upgraded to tropical storm status and given the name “Sergio”.  Sergio was predicted to go to hurricane status with 24-36 hours, located about 300 miles SW of Manzanillo and tracking NNW.  Since we needed to head southeast we thought it best to stay in Mazatlan.  The 190 mile trip to Puerto Vallarta would probably have been fine with 20-25kt NW winds predicted but sometimes its best to err on the conservative side in this game and be prudent.    So now we’ll rearrange our plans to get to Puerto Vallarta by land so we can catch our flight to NY for the holiday. 

A Happy Thanksgiving to All!!

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