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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

June 13, 2018-In Puerto Escondido to Avoid Hurricane "Bud"

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Bar in Puerto Escondido

There is this bar at the marina in Puerto Escondido. It’s upstairs, totally open air, and here, as I sip my huge Pina Colada, I have a good view of Wings floating nearby and an astonishing view of the harbor and surrounding Baja scenery. The breeze is cool. The other patrons at the bar are mostly cruisers, many of whom we know, and are laughing and chatting quietly A couple of friendly bartenders are waiting on me. The fantastic Sierra Grande Mountains behind Puerto Escondido are slowly spreading their shade over us as the afternoon turns to evening.

I think this is paradise.

I could stay here forever except I couldn’t afford it. The reason we are here is because of Hurricane “Bud” which is coming this way. Puerto Escondido is one of the few hurricane holes on the Sea of Cortez. If it wasn’t for “Bud” coming we would be headed south towards La Paz, but the stretch of coastline between here and there is pretty open and none of the harbors offer good protection. It’s not that Hurricane Bud is so very scary, it’s rather a mild hurricane as hurricanes go (or will be as it hits the cooler water this far north), but “Bud” could fool us and turn violent. We’d rather be tucked inside Puerto Escondido than anchored in an unprotected place.

That’s why we’re hanging out here. And, since we’re here, might as well enjoy it. Hence the Pina Colada at the open air bar.

Humm, I wonder what this place will be like when the hurricane hits? My guess is that they will close it up and take everything inside. Drink on, closing time is coming soon.

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Puerto Escondido Marina

We’ve been here before. Twenty years ago, when it was an unfinished development with roads and little else (except clean, sweet, free, mountain water, which is why we came) and again two years ago when Fonatur had built a marina and finished some of the other infrastructure (and the water was still free). And we spent three days here last week. The place is pretty fantastic. There is a new owner and they’ve been on a serious upgrading binge. The facilities ashore are totally refurbished, everything clean, everything works, and there is a very complete and modern store and several shops. (And yes, the water is still sweet, cool, and free). The overall area is landscaped to perfection. It is all beautiful, very beautiful. And then there is the surrounding Baja scenery which is simply stunning. We love this place.

After our visit last week the threat of Hurricane “Bud” has kept us in a holding pattern at anchorages within a few miles radius of here and finally, today, we came back in just to be safe and, since several other boats are headed this way, to get a good mooring spot. Maybe the thought of a few more Pina Coladas had something to do with the decision.


Steinbeck Canyon Hike

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Rock Climbing

Since we first heard about Steinbeck Canyon, named for John Steinbeck who visited the Sea of Cortez in the 40’s, we wanted to hike it. Steinbeck Canyon is in the Sierra Gigante Mountains right behind the marina and the canyon goes straight up into those towering rock cliffs. We thought it would be beautiful to walk up a trail into the mountains so one morning we got an early start and headed west. A taxi took us back across the desert floor to the trail head. But it didn’t look too far, so we sent him back after he dropped us off, saying we’d walk back. Looks can be deceiving. What appeared to be a short distance from the marina to the edge of the mountains was actually a fair distance. Later, after our hike, when we walked back, it took over an hour.
It also turns out that the hike is really a climb. It goes straight up a boulder strewn gully.

After paying off the taxi driver, we started up. There was no easy going. It was climb up a boulder then down the other side, one after another. People who have gone the whole way said it took them 4 hours up and back. That’s two hours each way. Going that far rewarded those hikers with some beautiful pools of cool clear water way back up in the canyon. We didn’t make it that far. An hour into it we ran into a vertical head wall that looked passable but dangerous and besides, we were thinking, what about the abuse we were giving our aging bodies? An hour of vertical rock climbing was a lot for us and going down would be just as tough, so we turned back.

We got down okay and then managed another hour walk back to the marina. All in all a three hour hike in desert conditions was quite enough. Surprisingly we had no injuries or aches and pains. We did stop at the bar that afternoon.

It will take a couple of weeks to get to La Paz, assuming we can leave after Hurricane Bud clears out this weekend, and then we head back across to La Cruz.

Click here for more photos.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Puerto Escondido

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Monday, June 04, 2018

June 4, 2018-South of Coyote

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Fred Driving

I was supposed to be cooking but instead I sat on my haunches in the gathering darkness silently looking at the waves which were rocking us. There was a northerly blowing outside and we should have been protected in the harbor but the waves were refracting around the nearby point into the bay and, not only that, they bounced off the rock wall behind us and right back to where we were sitting, making them doubly big. The motion was not dangerous but uncomfortable. I like my anchorages quiet and flat, like a mill pond. I often say, “I’ll go a hundred miles before I’ll stay in a rolly anchorage,” but here we were. We’d been tolerating the movement all afternoon, waiting for sunset when the wind would slack off and the seas would settle down. But that was an hour ago and no sign yet of a let down. In addition to that, the wind was coming over the hill at the head of the bay and flogging the awning. I hated everything about this.

I looked at the bowl of marinating pork in front of me and my cooking utensils, to say nothing of my glass of scotch. I was all prepared to BBQ. Judy was already doing her bit in the galley below deck.

“Fuck it,” I said loud enough for Judy to hear, “Let’s move to the other corner of the bay. Now.”

We could have done this at 3:00pm, in fact Judy had suggested it, but I said, “No, it’ll calm down at night.” Right.

“What about your cooking?” Judy asked.

“It’s right here in front of me, I haven’t started yet.”

“OK, I’ll turn off the potatoes and be right up.”

“Turn on the running lights and the instruments, please.”

I started the engine and Judy came up and went forward to raise the anchor.

Fifteen minutes later we were anchored in the other side of the bay. It was totally still, motion wise I mean, the wind still came in over the hill and gusted down on us. We struck the awning. Then it was really nice.

“This is heavenly,” said Judy as we finished our cooking and settled at the table for a beautiful, peaceful, meal.

This isn’t the first time on this cruise we’d been surprised by a strong northerly which wasn’t forecast. It happened a week ago in San Juanico. Nor was it the first time we’d decided to move just as night fell. Once in Phuket we already had the steaks on the grill when the wind switched and the waves rolled into our anchorage. We upped anchor and motored a couple of miles and found our way into a protected bay using the chart plotter and our GPS and anchored in the dark wondering what it would look like in the morning. It turned out to be beautiful and the quiet night made the tension of entering an unknown place after dark worth it.

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Point Mercenarios-San Juanico

We’ve been on the move south since we last reported. After we left Coyote Bay we spent a couple of days at Punta San Domingo which was especially beautiful. We then sailed to San Juanico, also gorgeous.

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San Juanico

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Baja Beautiful

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Anchored in San Juanico

We sailed on south to Isla Coronado for a night and the next morning motored over to the town of Loretto for a meal out and grocery shopping. Presently we’re in Balandra on Isla Carmen where we first anchored 20 years ago with Rovia and Far Niente and our friend Carl encountered a mountain lion.

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Dingy Repairs in Balandra

This time we haven’t seen any mountain lions, but there are Big Horn Sheep here. We found some hoof prints ashore and saw one on the beach, but none close enough to photograph, unfortunately.
In a day or two we’ll head to Puerto Escondito for water, fuel, and propane, and continue our trek south.

Other Topics:

Fuel Usage:
The fuel situation is interesting; we’ve kept track of our usage and the tank we’re on should have been dry days ago, but we’re still running on it. I’m going to let it run out just to calibrate my consumption calculation which has not been correct since we changed the propeller over a year ago.

Dingy Repair:
We’ve had to totally re-glue the transom of the dingy. It was a big job over a 3-day period and I have no confidence that it will hold. Still, one of the air tubes is leaking somewhere and I can’t find it. Damn Zodiacs, won’t keep the air in or the water out.

Electrical:
Oh, then there is the heat/electrical situation. Over the past week the temperature outside has gotten gradually warmer, (hotter, some might say) and with the extra heat our refrigerator has been running more often, almost constantly, which uses more power. That and the fact that the sun and wind have not cooperated to keep our solar panels pointed to the sun and out of the shade of our big awning means we’ve been low on power these days. To compensate we’ve been running the engine longer. That’s a drag.

Bees:
Finally, Bees. There are a lot of bees at Isla Carmen. They cruise around inspecting everything. We keep them out of the cabin with good screens and shoo them away if they do get in, but out in the cockpit they are a constant nuisance. They are always around and landing on everything, including us. They are not angry and not out to sting us, after all these bees assumedly have their own agenda and it doesn’t, also assumedly, include committing suicide and stinging us. They are just looking for something, water maybe. Beer cans are really inviting so be careful if you have an open beer. Otherwise, just remain calm and gently brush them away if they land on you. But I’d rather they go find some clover.

Again, that’s cruising.

We haven’t been doing much, but we’ve got a few nice photos, click here to see them all.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Isla Carmen

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Thursday, May 24, 2018

May 24, 2018-Next Stop, Coyote Bay

Sailing.

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Sailing

The wind in the morning was right out of the west and blowing pretty good, 20 knots. As we got ready to depart I wondered where to put up the main and decided to do it in the harbor where at least there were no waves and the depth of the water was known. Outside who knew what hazards and difficulties we’d face.

“We’re going to put up the main in here. Drive straight to that wall opposite and then turn back into the wind when I’m ready or if you see any reduction in the depth of the water.”

Judy looked doubtful but took the helm and I want to the mast, pulling off sail-ties as I went.

“Turn now,” and I watched aloft for the windex to show we were dead into the wind. I pulled on the halyard and Judy tailed as she steered with her knees.

It didn’t go totally well; the wind blew the folded sail off the boom and the luff jammed.

“Down.”

She dropped the sail a few inches and I cleared the jam and resumed hoisting with all the speed I could muster. The jams happened twice more. The hoist was going slowly. I looked over my shoulder at the rapidly diminishing space left in the marina. I threw my back into it. Then the bow blew off the wind and the top of the sail caught under the check stay. We had to drop it again. Judy pressed on some power to bring the bow back into the wind and I resumed hoisting but it was too late; we ran out of room and had to bear away for the entrance of the marina with the main still not fully up. I’m sure it didn’t look very seamanlike but we got out of there and trimmed it up and then we flew out through the opening of Santa Rosalia Harbor at 7 knots. Good Bye, Adios, Auf Wiedersehen, nice stay, we’ll be back, although I don’t know when. Next stop Coyote Bay, 51 miles south.

“If we can go this fast with just the main I don’t see any reason to set a jib.”

So with the wind at our backs we set off to the SE on a course to clear San Marcos Island, the mainsail fully out, the wind vane steering and the boat surging.

The way the day was going to go quickly established itself; whatever breeze we had at the moment it seemed it was bound to change soon. The westerly of the departure turned within a half an hour into a north westerly and without a jib our boat speed slowed.

We adjusted to the changing breeze and put up the J2 jib, broad reaching. Our speed came back up.

But not long later, as we approached San Marcos, the wind changed again and by the time we swept by San Marco’s north point we had trimmed in and were close reaching.

And the then it began to drop, steadily.

By Punta Chivato we had only 8 knots of wind and our speed was a comparative crawl, 4 knots. It was already afternoon and we could stop at Punta Chivato for the night but the shoreline didn’t look inviting to me; too many houses. I didn’t want to turn in and anchor there.

I calculated our arrival time at Coyote Bay in Bahia Conception if we continued on. It would probably be after dark.

Not good.

“Ok, we’ll set the kite and see if we can get some speed out of this breeze.”

This time our set was tidy and we soon had the spinnaker up and drawing. After passing the island we could turn down toward Conception Bay. In the reaching conditions the speed went to 7.4. Outstanding!

But the wind was still veering and also increasing again. To try to make our course we came up onto a beam reach. We put the pole to the headstay and sheeted in. Now the steering was tricky. I took over kept the kite on a narrow edge.

“Gotta watch this closely, I don't want it to collapse.” It was 25 years old and tired. I could just see it blowing up in the next puff. The problem was sailing this close to the wind if we sailed too high it could instantly collapse and then refill and the shock of refilling with wind might blow it up.

The breeze didn’t cooperate. We kept the sail filled but the wind was still shifting. We had to keep turning. I watched our heading as it went from 190 to 198 then 203. We were going fast but the wrong direction. We were no longer making the entrance to Bahia Conception.

After an hour and a half Judy said, “I think we could do better with a jib.”

“Yeah,”

We doused the kite and reset the jib and then everything was good again. The veering wind had put us on a close reach and the wind speed still increased. Now we were going over 7 knots again and the right direction for a change. It looked like a daylight arrival might be possible.

At four miles out the wind dropped suddenly to less than 4 knots and we took down the jib and turned on the motor. It was 6:45 PM, no time to dawdle.

Almost instantly the wind refilled and shifted from NE to NW. We could have simply jibed if we’d been willing to wait 10 minutes but we didn’t know. Now the sail was already down and we didn’t feel like putting it back up.

We motored in to Coyote Bay and anchored at 7:36 PM.

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In Coyote Bay


The sun was still up.

Coyote Bay

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Posada Conception

Turns out we’d been here before. I didn’t remember but Judy thought we had. A look in the logbook confirmed that we were in on July 7, 1997. We anchored in the same anchorage, Santispac, for one night.
This time we stayed for four days, although we shifted to Posada Conception nearby.

Bahia Coyote is a really pretty place, we swam, cleaned the bottom of the boat, read a lot, met some new friends, and OF ALL THINGS, WE FOUND ANOTHER GLASSPAR SUPERLITE! I saw it in the binoculars.

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Glasspar Superlite in Posada Conception


I didn’t have our dingy put together but Ken, from the sailboat Linda Marie took me in and I met the Glasspar’s owners. Don and Nancy. Nice folks. They used the Glasspar to get out to their sailboat Bag End which was anchored in the bay.

You know, last thought I had about these Glasspars, a few weeks ago, was that it didn’t make sense to buy one, but now, after seeing a second one so soon, I began to wonder if someone up there was telling me something.

I talked to Don and Nancy about buying that boat (the Glasspar) and they seemed willing to listen, but there were problems: They still needed a dingy and how was I going to get the boat to La Cruz? We exchanged details and left it at that.

Another day or so we left Coyote Bay.

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End of the Day

Click here for more images.

Click here for the story on Glasspar Superlites.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Coyote Bay, Baja

PS Sorry if any communication from us seems sporadic; we only get Internet occasionally in the Baja.

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

May 17, 2018-Santa Rosalia

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Sailing Northward

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Santa Rosalia

We arrived in Baja, at the port of Santa Rosalia, on May 11 after a pretty decent 200 mile sail over from the mainland.

It was great to be back in Baja California, back in the hot, rugged, mountainous Baja, and great to be in historic Santa Rosalia which we have wanted to visit for years.

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Santa Rosalia

As Mexican towns go, Santa Rosalia is unique. Built by a French mining company around the turn of the century of wood frame buildings, with timbers imported for the purpose it has a look and feel of somewhere in Europe or Africa, certainly not Mexico. Compact, with narrow streets and covered sidewalks, scrupulously clean, and colorful, Santa Rosalia has a feel of its own.

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Judy in the park

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Eiffel's Church

We’ve walked all over Santa Rosalia, including up on both of the hills between which the town is pressed. The layout reminds us, on a slightly smaller scale, of Jamestown, on the island of Saint Helena, in the South Atlantic.

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Mining Machine

It’s quiet and cheap. We stayed for a week and mostly took a lot of photos.

Now we are heading south. We’ve got a month and a half to get back to La Cruz. We expect to have to plenty of time to enjoy a lot of nice anchorages in Baja and maybe some good sailing.

Click here for more photos.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Santa Rosalia

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May 11, 2018-Fred’s Little Dream Boat

All the boys at the beach where I spent my summers as a kid wanted boats of their own. We were too young for cars but a boat, well, that would be great.

One boy, Johnny, the coolest boy, already had one. Johnny’s Poky Dot was really a very tiny speed boat, hardly more than a bathtub, but a great boat with a good design and Johnny buzzed around that bay in it all the time, and usually with a teen age girl or two at his side. We had to have one too (the boat and the girl).

I got my dad’s old rowboat and converted it to a speed boat, a poor speed boat. The other boys followed suit with whatever they could put together, but the season was late and we barely got to use them before school was ready to start and we headed back to the city.

The next year we all worked in summer jobs in the Valley and the boats hardly got used. Mine even sank.

Glasspar Brochure
Glasspar Superlite in 1961

But I still lusted after a real cool speed boat like Johnny’s. I dreamed of a Glasspar Superlite, made in California, a 9’ 8” sleek beauty with a special hull shape (which few would appreciate but I did) which I would equip with a powerful motor and custom consol and seats just made to take a girl along. I sketched it on the cover of my school notebook many times.

I never got that boat. More summer jobs, then college, then marriage and kids. They all got in the way. I did eventually get a Glasspar boat, a bigger one for water skiing and camping, which was more practical and it was great; we used it all over Washington and California. But the dream of the Glasspar Superlite never left me even after the factory that made them burned down and they went out of production.

As an adult I searched the Internet for them but never found one for sale. I checked out every small white fiberglass boat I saw to see if it was a Glasspar Superlite. I found three. One on the beach in the San Juan Islands, tied to a log. I said, “I wish I could take that boat home and make my speedboat” but I didn’t. It was somebody’s dingy, I don’t know who. The next one was found, surprisingly, in Walvis Bay in Namibia, Africa. It was modified, but clearly a Glasspar Superlite. I thought, now this is strange, how did it get to Namibia?

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Glasspar Supelite in Altata

Finally, this spring, I found one in Altata, Mexico. It was beat up and two small boys were using it to toss a fishing net off the beach in Altata. I took some photos. It was definitely a Glasspar Superlite. Now this one called my bluff: This was one Glasspar Superlite which was definitely within my grasp. After we got back to La Cruz I could borrow a truck, drive up to Altata, and buy that boat. I am sure I could get it for a small price. Then I could take it back to La Cruz and do a full restoration, buy a good motor, and then…

Then what?

What would I do with a 9’ 8” speed boat? I’m no longer 15 and I am certainly not going to buzz around Banderas Bay and try to pick up girls. There aren’t even many places to buzz around to, not like Skagit Bay. And where would I keep it? Plus, I could better spend the time and money on maintenance on Wings, which always needs more work.

So, practicality wins out. I am not going to buy this Glasspar Superlite.

And I am going to stop dreaming about it. Sometimes we have to let our dreams go and anyhow, what is the good of a dream, which, when it finally can come true, you don’t act on it?

Click here for more photos

Fred

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Sunday, May 13, 2018

May 10, 2018-The Second Sand Dune

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Judy and the Sand Dune

We lazed around in the anchorage at Isla Santa Maria near Topolobampo for three days, waiting for southerly winds before resuming our trek northward, relaxing and enjoying the quiet, sheltered, waters and happy to sit on the boat and do nothing. One day we motored into town to buy fuel and top up our Internet, but we returned to the same anchorage.

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Boy! That Sand is HOT!

Finally, on the fourth day we launched the dingy and drove along the shore, surveying the area with a lead line. We also went to the beach to explore the dune, running around on the hot sand until it burned our feet and we had to splash into the water to cool off. We watched our footprints being erased by the blowing wind. It was fun.

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Motoring

But on Tuesday the wind came in from the South, unexpectedly a day early. The anchorage at Isla Santa Maria is protected from all westerly winds, including NW and SW, but it is open to the South where the wind was coming from and the waves grew big. We didn’t think the south wind would last all day, and I am sure we could have stayed and toughed it out, but we don’t like rough anchorages even for a short while. After breakfast we raised the anchor and moved four miles to Punta Copas, another sand dune. To my eye this anchorage is even more beautiful the Isla Santa Maria; it is a gently curving north-south sand bar with still, deep water right up to the shoreline. We’d seen this place as we passed at least four times and I always wanted to try it. It would poor in a northerly but perfect in winds from the southern quadrant. A fishing boat was there already and we anchored near them.

This was just an overnight stop as, we planned to leave on Wednesday, and we didn’t even go ashore, but we enjoyed sitting on deck that afternoon watching the peaceful surroundings. A pair of swallows immediately found us and started building a nest in our boom. I chased them off but they were persistent. By Wednesday morning there was a pile of stick and twigs on the aft deck where they dropped them if I was too close. This has happened in other harbors in Mexico during May. The swallows always find our boom with its good openings and cozy inside. Too bad for them we don’t stick around.

Wednesday the South wind was back and we departed at noon for Santa Rosalia, 197 miles away.

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Sailing North

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Night Running

Click here for lots more photos, including sailing onward towards Santa Rosalia


Fred and Judy, SV Wings, Santa Rosalia

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Sunday, May 06, 2018

May 3, 2018 Sailing to Isla Santa Maria

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Sailing to Windward

We stand at the navigation station on board Wings and review the charts and the weather forecasts. We plan an 11:00 AM departure from Altata Estuary.

First we’ll motor the 5 miles to the Altata ocean bouy, then make our departure NW up the coast to Isla Santa Maria, 97 miles away. We want to be at the ocean bouy by 12:00 Noon.

We plan a 24-hour passage and expect good upwind sailing conditions.

The flooding tide, with current is over two knots, delays us more than we expected. We’re at the sea bouy at 12:40, forty minutes late, but it’s not a problem; we have extra time built into the other end. There is no wind despite a forecast of 7-8 knots. It is calm. We turn to our course and continue to motor up the rhumb line.

By midafternoon a light wind arrives and with it a strange choppy sea. We look at the sea conditions and the sky and we both think stronger wind is coming. We set the number 4 jib and start sailing.

We clear the decks and prepare for rougher weather. The awning is stowed below. A reef line is led to the winch. Everything is made ship-shape on deck and below. Within an hour we have 15 knots of breeze and bigger waves but the boat is making great time upwind, going 6.8 knots. By nightfall the wind is blowing 17-18 knots and the waves are yet bigger. The boat is sailing fast but we’re taking a pounding in the waves. The noise of the hull hitting the water as we fly off of one big wave after another is loud. It happens about once every 30 seconds. We don’t like it. Heavy water lands on the deck and washes over the dodger. It floods the cockpit and a hatch which was not dogged down lets water into the aft cabin. Our bed is wet. We dog the hatch and straighten things out. It’s been a while since we sailed in these conditions. We’re rusty.

Now we settle in for a long night standing three hour watches and wondering whether the wind will continue to increase. It does not. 18.6 knots is the peak. Later the wind drops to 12kts and the seas flatten. There is a full moon. We’re still going fast and we like the conditions better than earlier. At 3:00 AM however the wind returns with a surprising suddenness; Bang! 17 knots, and a shift to the right which favors starboard tack. We tack over from port to starboard and settle in again. Now we are back into the pounding. If anything it is worse than before, but at least the boat is not taking as much water over the bow. Perhaps the waves are just a little different. The off watch sleeps uneasily in the pounding.

On my watch I notice the dingy fuel tank on deck by the mast is moving around. I harness up and go forward to secure it. While forward I look at the mast. It’s pumping a bit much for my liking. I return to the cockpit and increase the pressure on the babystay to hold the mast better. I wish I’d noticed it earlier; it must have been doing this for hours.

Later I hear a sharp “Ping” and then something metallic hits the deck. I look aloft with a flashlight, then forward. I see the babystay connection has broken. The baby stay is swinging wildly. I go below and find a heavier bolt as a replacement for the pin which failed, return to the foredeck, reconnect the baby stay and go back to the cockpit.

Through the night we’re going 6.5 to 7 knots and pointing 36 degrees to the wind, which is quite good and we don’t know many other cruising boats that could do this. We don’t particularly like it but we’re happy the boat can perform like this in these conditions.

Daylight finds us 20 miles out from Isla Santa Maria, near Topolobampo, and we make a final tack. We have overstood and can to crack off a bit to the entrance. The boat speed is now over eight. It looks like we’ll be pretty close our projected ETA of 12:00 Noon at the sea buoy.

12:15 we sweep past the sea buoy going in excess of eight knots. The wind is 17 and above, same as the last time we sailed into this port. Does it always blow here?

As we come abeam of Isla Santa Maria we round up into the wind and Judy pulls down the jib and ties it off. She is stressed because she is on the foredeck instead of being back in the cockpit where she can watch the chart plotter and depth instruments. Plus, it’s hard work. I am thinking about that and I don’t know any other cruiser woman who can do what Judy does at age 68. Or any age.

The wind is 19 – 20 knots now. We are sailing under mainsail alone into an unknown anchorage. The chart looks wrong. Now we’re both a little stressed, but we are sailing slowly with the main and the water is 36 ft deep, so we’re OK.

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Isla Santa Maria

We find a spot behind the big sand dune and drop the main. Judy pulls it down and secures it while we anchor under power. She goes forward and lowers the anchor. For 30 feet of water she lets out 150ft of chain. I back down hard, it holds. She signals that it’s good, we can kill the engine. I turn off the engine.

We are anchored at Isla Santa Maria, outside of Topolobampo. It was a hard sail, but a good one.

Click here to see more images.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Isla Santa Maria

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May 1, 2018-Altata

Altata


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Morning Fog

No matter how many photos you see or how much you read in a guide book you never really know what a place will be like until you get there.

From what we had read about the town of Altata it was going to be a sleepy little Mexican beach town with a few stores and restaurants and a bunch of pangas pulled up on the sand.

Instead Altata is a very nice Mexican tourist town undergoing a total refurbishment. It has a wide and beautiful malecon, nicely paved (decorative bricks) roads, many restaurants, and very few stores. It also has no gringos, no tourist hotels, and basically no bars. You cannot find a margarita here, or even tequila, in a bar (but they are in the stores).

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Malecon


Some mornings Altata it is quiet, but in the afternoons and on weekends it is packed with Mexican families and the scene often goes on all night. It seems like the Mexican tourists expect to hear music, loud music, all the time. Anyhow there is music, recorded and live, played at top volume, everywhere, all of the time.

Maybe it is worth it to describe the sources of the music here. First, some of the sidewalk stalls, of which there are dozens, have huge speakers set up, blaring Mexican music. Second, some of the open air restaurants, of which there are also several dozen, (in fact, this town seems like it is nothing but restaurants) have speakers set up with music playing. Then there are the panga tour boats which ply the bay taking tourists for boat rides. They ALL have loud music systems playing a variety of music at top volume. If you want to learn about loud music systems for a boat, come to Altata and check out the pangas. And finally, there are really wonderful sidewalk brass bands. They always have a tuba, trombone, a couple of trumpets and clarinets, and two drums. When they play, which is often, there is no melody or rhythm; they just pick up their instruments and wail away, blaring as loudly as they can, in total cacophony. It goes on for hours. It’s really all a very wonderful racket.

From our boat, while we were anchored off the town of Altata, we could hear it all, plus, it seems the voices of every person walking, talking, and laughing, on the malecon. And traffic noise, there were motor bikes and ATV’s cruising up and down the street every evening.

There are 6 or more cell towers in town and strong 4G cell signals, but only one puny church and no plaza and no taxis. This is one weird Mexican town.

Despite all of this noise and weirdness we loved Altata. Maybe we’d have liked it better if it was a sleepy little Mexican beach village, but we rather liked it the way it was. It has been one of our favorite stops. We liked strolling the malecon and watching the Mexicans relax and we liked going to the outdoor workout center in the park.

There is a marina, a small one, but it is way out of town, up a mangrove slough, and to us, there was no reason to go there and nothing to see or do. We visited by car.

Two other boats from La Cruz came here while we were here. They didn't stay in the town. They motored in, stayed one night in the marina, and motored back out.

We stayed 8 days.

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Water Fun


Why is Altata so busy, and undergoing all of this development? It has become a main ocean and recreational access for the large city of Culiacan in the state of Sinaloa. There is apparently a lot of money in Culiacan, mostly agribusiness I think, although I’ve heard illegal drugs contributes some, For miles up and down the shoreline on either side of Altata there are holiday homes of rich Mexicans from Culiacan, which they use for weekends and vacations. Like I said, there is apparently some money around here. The Sinaloan government has decided to develop Altata and they are pouring funds into the town.

Altata Estuary


We sailed out the estuary from the town of Altata today and anchored inside the mouth in the middle of nowhere. It is 10 miles from town.

It was a wonderful sail inside the estuary, like a beautiful blue lake, with nice breezes and flat water. The breeze lifted us to the course we needed to follow and we did only two tacks all the way. It’s really a lovely place to sail. The thing is, there are no sailboats here, and no cruisers visit, and if they did, they wouldn’t be sailing, they’d motor.

Out here it’s pretty and it is quiet, a relief from noisy Altata, but it feels remote. We know we are alone. The shoreline here is a mile or more away from us. Where the two arms of this estuary extend a dozen or more miles up and down the mainland coast and out the mouth of the estuary to the ocean no shoreline is visible, just a blue horizon.

The entrance to Altata is daunting. It is marked, but it’s easy to get confused about the actual channel. We missed it on the first try and had to go back out when we got into shallow water with breakers nearby. Once we found the actual channel it was easy, but it required vigilance.The othe two boats reported the same problem with the entrance.

Tomorrow we move on.

So that is the report from Altata.

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Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Altata

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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

April 23, Spring Break

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Tacking to Punta Mita

On April 13th, my sister’s birthday, (Happy Birthday Jan) we finally got out of Dodge. We’d been delayed for two weeks but it was beautiful when we did leave. The sail to Punta Mita was brilliant; brilliant sun, brilliant blue skies, brilliant white sails, and a great starboard tack lift up the coast. We fairly scooted to Punta Mita.

Sailing in Banderas Bay is the best.

The cruise we take in spring is like a Spring Break. It is meant to be a break from the hectic four months of racing season that is just finished and all that is included in that: logistics of keeping the crew positions filled, the constant work repairing everything to be ready for the next day’s race, the daily stress of racing, and not the least, the expense. We love the racing, we can almost say we live for it, but after four months we need a break. We need to get out of town, get out of the marina and its costly fees, find some nice anchorages and drink a little scotch and read a few books.

This year we made a plan to go north, to explore some places on the mainland side of the Sea of Cortez, some places where cruisers rarely go. Friends would go with us on their boat. We’d leave on April 1. April Fool’s Day. We didn’t leave on April 1st as planned (April Fool’s day, right?) It seemed that Judy needed a new tooth and the tooth fairy was late.

The thing we have learned about Spring Break cruises is that they always don’t go as planned. This one got off to a good start with our first day’s sail and our stop at Punta Mita. We loved traveling with Judy (the other Judy) and Mike from Honu, but the second planned stop, at a tiny cove called Caletta Cuevas, had to be aborted. The swell was up that day and the waves charged into the tiny bay that Nikk said we couldn’t miss. The place was a washing machine. Both Honu and Wings retreated to Chacalla. It was somewhat better.

Next stop was Matachen Bay, a calm place but supposedly teeming with No See ‘Ums. Didn’t bother us we thought, but after a meal on the beach there we found we’d been eaten alive. Well, it was a nice lunch for both us and the bugs, and we took a taxi to the town of San Blas to see what was happening, and along the way, next to the road, we spotted some very large, very wild, crocodiles. Wow!

Next we arrived at Mazatlan. At this point I should mention that sailing was not very much a part of this trip any longer. It was a motor trip. Some days in the Sea of Cortez you get wind. Some days you get a lot of wind. But on this trip we got very little wind. Fuel was consumed.

Pedro and Lola's in Old Town

Mazatlan has changed, all for the better. The whole town has been spruced up and the historic Old Town is completely redone. The streets and sidewalks have new bricks, the buildings remodeled and painted, beautiful night lighting everywhere, and new trendy street cafes, restaurants, and music venues filled with young beautiful people also everywhere. Mazatlan has come alive. And we met more friends there. It was a great time.

Except for one thing: Our friend Judy, on Honu, got an injury on her hand which required medical treatment and would keep them in Mazatlan for an extra week and then their schedule would prevent them from continuing north. We had to part ways for our budget would not allow us to spend all that extra time in the expensive Mazatlan Marina.

So much for that plan. On April 23 we said “Adios” to our friends and headed off north alone.

We’ll carry on and let you know how it goes.

Laphroaig Scotch Whisky from Islay

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Fred & Judy, SV Wings

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

March 25, The Fantastic Regatta-Banderas Bay Regatta, 2018

deborah webster image
Happy Owners

On the first race there was a moment, sudden realization, on the first part of the first beat, when I felt joy and satisfaction; when I realized we were fast. Definitely fast.

We had climbed out from underneath the Express 37 even before they were called back for being OCS and we had clear air and a lane. We had already started to put our bow out in front of the other boats and I felt it was time to make a move. The right looked to pay so I said, ‘I want to go to the right.’

Richard answered, ‘OK, we can tack when you want.’

‘I’m going…ready about.’

‘Ready.’

The crew scrambled and we tacked, and one by one the other boats followed.

The moment came after we tacked:

As we settled in on the long port tack, I got into a rhythm with the boat and the waves. I felt myself begin to rock back and forth with the motion of the boat as I worked the tiller. I glued my eyes to the tell-tales and I spoke to the crew,

‘Hike the boat.’

Twelve people moved farther out. The speedo showed 7 knots.

The water streamed past the hull and the wind was blowing through the rig, otherwise there was no sound. In the flawless blue sky the sunlight glared with a brilliance and the tell-tales on the jib danced, and the boat speed climbed to 7.47 knots. Very good.

Richard looked around.

‘We’ve got wheels on Bright Star.’ he said. The white boat was nearest and we all measured our speed against them. I took a glance. They were jogging along on our hip but I could see they were sagging down to our line and we were definitely faster. And Bright Star was faster than everyone else.

A year’s preparation had paid off. All the work and the pain, the successes along the way and the defeats, the setbacks…they were all worth it to feel the way I felt at that moment as we worked our way out in front. This was a good feeling, a very good feeling.

So Banderas Bay Regatta was underway and we were doing well.

Of course the faster boats eventually broke free but we held on and stayed close and finished close enough to win, a convincing win; minutes, not seconds.

I informed the crew. There was jubilation. Judy broke out champagne. A bit early I thought, after all it was only the first race, but it was OK. I let the crew enjoy the win.

I felt some confidence about the regatta; this was not a close race. If we could do this our prospects were good for the next two races.

Day two was tougher. Not the competition, the conditions. It blew like stink.

The course took us over to La Cruz, our old stomping ground, and the breeze was up: over 20 knots. We had the big carbon genoa on for the reach across and we stayed with it for the beat. Maybe the J-4 would have been better but the beat was short and we were ahead so I kept up the 1 not wanting to risk a change. The boat was on edge however, maybe over the edge. We were carrying too much sail. The main was flat and waving uselessly and still I needed it eased further to relieve the pressure on the helm. I called, ‘Traveler down’ and Richard pushed it down with his foot. The helm eased but the main flogged worse.

I told Richard, ‘Crank a little more runner on.’

It was already past the mark but he brought it in another inch and the main took on some shape and settled down. That was better.

The next leg was a tight, windy, reach back to Nuevo Vallarta and we set the A1 kite, like the boats ahead. The wind was too much and everyone was rounding up. The powerful sail we set began to round us up too, then it collapsed and refilled with a shocking bang. A few more times this happened then it blew with a bang louder than the rest and the boat suddenly stood up. I looked and the spinnaker was high in the sky off the side of the boat with no tack on it. That part was hanging in shreds on the bow.

‘Get the jib back up.’ It went up immediately as the blown kite was gathered in. We lost a little time, but not much.

After that we had a good run and a clean finish. We checked the times: it was closer, it had to be, but we had another win and we drank champagne again. We knew we were in good shape to win the regatta, we just had to hang in there.

The third race was more of the same. Lots of sun and wind. This time we only got a fair start, behind Bright Star but still ahead of the others, and good enough. We got clear of Bright Star who went left but as we felt the wind would go right we tacked and it paid off and we rounded the top mark first for the third time in a row.

The A1 had been hurriedly repaired overnight and we put it up. It blew again almost immediately.

Now we felt it was time to be conservative. With two wins we could ease off a bit. We had another kite but we held off and didn’t use it. We watched to see if Bright Star would make a move from behind but they didn’t threaten.

On the final run the Class A boats ahead had troubles with their spinnakers and we held off on ours. Maybe we were gun shy; maybe we just knew it didn’t matter.

This time Sirocco was ahead by enough time to beat us, though by only six seconds, but enough. So we were at least second. We watched Bright Star and all the others come in behind us, watching our clocks. We had our time on all of them so we had second place and that was enough to win the regatta.

It was a happy crew on board Wings as we sailed back to our marina.

So that was it. The race was in the bag. We’d won. We worked hard for this win, a year hard. There was money spent, plenty of it, and some long hours in boat prep, and, to be honest, maybe some hard feelings done, particularly about the ratings and class breaks on which I’d had more than a few blunt words with the race organizers and our competitors. And in crew selection. I’d made some changes, brought in some new people, changed some roles. But it all worked. And in the end, I have to say, it was worth it. Just that feeling on the first beat when I realized how fast we were made it all worth it.

I don’t know about next year, maybe we’ll never achieve this level again. I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, but this year, we did it.

lynne mazzie image
Clear Ahead

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Fred & Judy, SV Wings, La Cruz

Great Crew:
Paul Bailey and Carol Dabub, fordeck, steady, competent, always ready.
Kelly Mantis, Mast man, a tower of strength.
Carol (Bling) Dand and Robin Hirsh, Halyards, and all those ropes in the pit all got let in and out as they were needed. Great job.
Rod Dand, Dennis Mazzie, and Jimmy Roser, sail trim and grinding. These guys were awesome, grinding in the huge carbon genoa over and over and they managed the spinnakers and the lines like pros. Jimmy did his job and somehow managed to be instantly on top of every problem in time to keep it from being a problem.
Richard Hodge, Main and tactics, and runners and hydraulics, quiet and solid and called the start and every layline.
John Ryan, Navigator, coped with an extraordinarily difficult tactical computer and managed to keep it all together, called the lines, timed the starts, knew the rules and this year we never went to a wrong mark. Thanks John.
Judy and Lynne Britton, Runners, but more than that, watched the whole boat like a pair of hawks and prevented countless errors. Lynne joined Robin and repacked the kites.
A special word to John Ryan for tireless fight with the navigation computer, for his contribution, the MVP award.
And to Jimmy, for being everywhere when we needed him.
Most of all Judy, our foundation, our watchdog, our mom.
I love all of you.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

March 20, 2018-Random Leg Wednesdays


Our sailing on Wednesdays has been ‘anything goes and everything unexpected happens.’ We tell the story in four parts.

Part 1, Random Wind

I went to visit Mike on Tuesday and he asked me if I could set the race mark for Wednesday’s Beer Can Race. Not my favorite job but I said ‘OK, just get it down to my boat by 2:00PM.’

So that is how we became the Race Committee for the Beer Can Race.


Reaching in light wind, weight to leeward

When we got out of the marina we found the wind blowing straight offshore, direction 330 degrees. Setting the mark in its normal place, 2 miles up the shoreline, would result in another one of the boring reach, reach, races we get here too often in February, and with plenty of the wind holes that frustrate everyone.

I decided to change things up. I headed Wings off downwind straight away from the beach towards the deep water offshore.

I got on the radio.

‘Atttention all Beer Can Racers. This is Fred on Wings, your committee boat for today. We are going downwind to set a start line about a mile away from the marina. Please follow Wings to the new starting area.’

I thought it would be a great race: Upwind start, sail directly into the building NW breeze, round a channel marker near the marina, and turn downwind towards the start mark. Twice around would be four miles, just right for a beer can race.

Only the wind did not cooperate.

Once we got down there and set the start mark the wind totally switched around and blew from 130 degrees, making my upwind start into a downwind start.

Well time was passing and everyone had already trekked down to my fancy new starting area so we just said, ‘Screw it, we’ll have a downwind start.’

Only the wind changed again, twice more.

First it went to 180 degrees, then died entirely, and then filled in from 330 again. All in about 15 minutes.

This happened as we were all trying to sail the course. Finally, on the second downwind leg to the turning mark near the marina it came back out of the NW. On Wings we had the assym kite up, working downwind in a dying breeze. I saw the dark, wind-blown, water coming offshore again, right into our faces.

‘Drop the kite, right now, get a jib up…’ Then BAM! We had wind on the nose.

‘Paul, repack that kite, we’ll need it in a couple of minutes as soon as we round.’

We got around the mark, Paul frantically repacked the kite and got it on deck.

Now we were going downwind towards the finish, about half a mile away, and in second place. I saw that Double Take, the first place boat, didn’t have the breeze yet and there was hope for us. We finished the hook-up and re hoisted the kite.

BAM! Again, just as the sail filled, before anyone was actually settled into their positions, the wind hit us like a ton of bricks, twenty or more knots from behind, and we took off like a bat out of hell, swerving and rolling and trying to keep the boat upright and under that sail.

It was wild, briefly, and we surged across the finish line, unfortunately only in second place. Then the wind stopped again, and we had to wait 30 minutes or more for the other boats to finish. As Race Committee we were supposed to be on station to record all the finishers, so we stayed around.

It was almost dark when we finally picked up the mark and went back to the marina. I lost track of how many wind shifts we had that day, but they came randomly from almost every direction, and quite rapidly.

It was a random leg Wednesday, for sure.

Part 2: Blow Out

wingssail image-judy sawyer
Repairing the damage

The day before the Beer Can race Mike Danielson at PV Sailing again asked me if Wings could be the committee boat and to do race committee duties for the race. At least he didn’t expect me to set the mark since it was not holding air and we’d use a ‘virtual mark’ which was just a set of GPS coordinates that everyone had to go around.

Ok, we can do that, but on this Beer Can Wednesday that just added to the complications for us. We were already short four people, our Canadian contingent, who for a variety of reasons were going to miss the race. Now we had to run the race as well as sail our own boat. Well, OK, let’s go do it.

With our substitute crew on board we headed out to the race course only to find more complication: twenty knots of wind. Now, twenty knots isn’t too much wind, and we just went through a twenty knot puff last week, but it does put a premium on boat handling. Excellent boat handling without our top sailors would be unlikely. The day would be ripe for a foul-up. It gave me a case of nervous stomach. That seems to be the norm these days. I don’t know why.

In that breeze it was definitely number three weather and I called for the old Kevlar J3. Paired with the Aramid main, our mid-sized main, it would be the right call except for one problem, that old Kevlar sail didn’t have much life left in it, as we’d soon find out.

We got on the radio, organized all the other boats, and got the race off. Then we set out behind everyone else for the imaginary top mark. The boat actually felt good with the breeze up, and even with the new crew our tacks were excellent. We felt fast and we were soon passing the fleet.

I decided I would take it easy on the downwind leg. I had planned on some more practice with the symmetrical spinnaker but with new crew I knew using the asymmetrical spinnaker would be less risky.

So I called, ‘Set up the asymmetrical spinnaker.’

At the top mark we bore away, jibed onto port and hoisted the A1 asymmetrical, but not before we noticed some small tears in the Kevlar J3 jib as it came down. I made a mental note to check it out when we got back to the dock.

Now we were going downwind and flying, but the downwind leg was not without drama of its own. On our port jibe we were heading towards the shore off Point Blanco. The wind was shifting left and that pushed us ever further towards shore and the off lying rocks. I turned more downwind, away from the rocks, but it wasn’t enough. Now it was clear we needed to jibe but as much downwind as we were sailing now it was difficult to do the jibe. Time ran out, we had to go now!

‘Ready to jibe!’

We cast off the spin sheet and I turned the boat to the right. The kite collapsed into the fore triangle. The foredeck hands tried to get the sail around the front of the boat. It was slow to come and wanted to fold inside. Paul and Carol on the foredeck were struggling and I heard Paul urging the sail to come around,

‘Come on baby, come on’, he said.

I pushed the boat up a bit, back to the left, closer to the rocks, to get a little more air flow and with our speed and with the current we swept towards the jagged pinnacles. I asked Richard, ‘Are we OK here?’ He didn’t answer.

The sail popped around and filled on the new jibe and Richard threw the main over. I turned the boat away from the rocks.

Richard turned towards me, ‘You know, Fred, I don’t even swim that close to those rocks.’

‘Now you tell me.’

But we finished, and finished first. We dropped the kite and waited for the other boats to come down to the finish line, giving each boat a “horn” on the radio as they went through. Everyone agreed it was a fun day, but I knew it was also a lucky day.

Back at the dock however we took a close look at the Kevlar J3 Jib. It was a total blow out. It was ripped in dozens of places. The cloth was just weak everywhere and could not take the stress. I was surprised it held together for the whole beat.

The next night, after everyone left the clubhouse, Judy and I, with the help of two good friends, took the sail in and laid it out on the floor. Time for some major repairs. It took 5 hours and almost all of my spare Kevlar sail cloth but we patched it back together the best we could. Well, we won’t have much use for spare Kevlar once this sail is gone, and that won’t be very long from now, so I didn’t mind using the cloth. But it was hopeless. I figure we will be lucky if we can put that J3 jib up even one more time without a complete destruction.

It was a blow-out.

Part 3: Buy, Sell, Or Trade

Heard on the VHF radio net:

‘This is Fred on Wings. Wings is looking for two Barient winches, size 27 or 28. Our new main is too big and it takes two people to grind it in with our existing size 23 winches. Either we have to get a bigger mainsail trimmer or bigger winches. Since I am rather fond of Richard I’d like to keep him so we need new winches. It’s an all Barient boat so we’ll stay with Barient. Yeah, we know those winches are obsolete but so is everything else on our boat, including us.’

‘Contact Wings’

Part Four: Twenty Five Knot Winds for a Beer Can Race

We had a busy day Wednesday: Workout in the morning, a stop at the Mexorc race center, and racing in La Cruz in the afternoon, plus a few more items on the itinerary meaning we really pushed ourselves all day. In the gym, with Judy and I side by side on rowing machines, both of us going all out, I hit my best time ever and that’s going back 15 years but afterwards my body was jittery from the effort and I could feel it the rest of the day. Then we visited the Mexorc site. Mexorc is the big scene this week and we stopped by to check the results and take photos, but we didn’t hang around long. Time was short to get back to La Cruz and get the boat ready for the Wednesday Beer Can racing.

I honestly have to say that I was a tad nervous when we got out to the race course that afternoon. For the third week in a row it was windy. The wind was over 22 knots true as soon as we got out of the marina and at times it was blowing a steady 25. My plan had been to get some spinnaker practice in on the downwind leg that day but in that breeze I was doubtful that we could do it without a disaster. Even getting the sails up was going to be tense; our new main is huge.

On top of this we were acting as Race Committee again; another distraction.

But we hoisted the main without a problem and John got on the radio and announced the course and start times for the five boats which came out, and we got ready for our own start. With at least 22 knots of wind I knew the J4 was the right jib, called for it, and it too went up smoothly. So far so good.

wingssail image-Fredrick roswold
John Ryan center and from left, Paul, Dennis, and Carol
John Ryan, our navigator, ran the clock and the radio for all these races while I steered the boat and got us across the line without hitting anybody.

I should not have worried, everything went well. The boat handled perfectly with the full main and the J4 and other than a couple of niggles we had no real problems. The niggles involved the new main and included the fact that with just the main up, before we got the jib on, I could barely steer. The big roach of the main controlled the boat. I found that we had to ease the sail out a quite bit and keep our speed up. Once we got too close to the wind and got slow we couldn’t bear away and get going again without the motor. That was good to know if a bit disconcerting. We also discovered that sheeting the big main all the way in was going to take two people. Richard just couldn’t turn the winch handle by himself. With me sitting right next to him it was easy for me to put my hand on the handle with his and together we could do it. I’m going to look for a pair of bigger winches. And yeah, and we have to tack fast with this sail to avoid a lot of flogging of the leach against the backstay where it overlaps. There is a price to pay with this big new sail.

We had a perfect start and settled in for the beat. The conservative approach was to take longer boards and fewer than usual tacks as we beat up the shoreline towards Punta Mita and that is what we did. The boat was fast and pointing really well. We quickly overhauled the boats ahead. I saw the breeze lessening a little I announced to the crew, ‘If the wind goes below 20 we’ll set the kite, and it looks like it is doing that, so let’s get it ready.’ The S3 bag tumbled on deck and the foredeck crew ducked spray as they hooked up the sail. This was real sailing.

We tacked to starboard for the final approach and the wind was only 19.7 knots, so the spinnaker was a “go”.

‘Get the pole up’.

We rounded the mark.

‘Hoist!’

The big sail went up fast and filled. The boat surged but handled perfectly on the broad reach with speeds showing of 8-9 knots. We were flying. Halfway to the finish line in La Cruz I called for a jibe and talked the cockpit crew through the maneuver. The jibe went very well. The crew is getting practiced at this stuff. We were all pretty pleased.

The wind speed came back up as we approached La Cruz but the boat remained in control. I turned downwind to see how that would feel and called for the pole to come back. Going dead downwind in the resurgent breeze we hit 9.7 knots with the boat starting to roll, but not outlandishly. Controlling it with steering was not difficult. Over nine knots on this boat is exciting and the crew was thrilled with the speeds we were seeing. I was having fun.

We dropped the kite at the finish and sailed into the anchored fleet, then came around under main and waited for the other boats to finish. We sailed into the marina.

It was just a beer can race but it was a good sail.

We headed out for some socializing without putting the boat away so that night, four hours later, after a party and dinner out, we got home to a trashed boat, bushed, there were sails all over the cabin and a spinnaker to pack. We got through all that and crawled into bed, not saying much but both of us going over the day in our heads.

Finally Judy said, ‘It was a long day’

‘Yup’

‘Actually it’s been a long month.’

‘Yup.’

‘The boat can sail.’

‘Yup.’

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Fred & Judy, SV Wings, La Cruz

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Saturday, February 17, 2018

February 17, 2018-Racing Intensity

alarife images
Racing upwind on Bandera Bay

The racing season is now on and we’ve been going hard at it since the 12th of December when we began racing every Wednesday. Also there was the "Blast", a three-day regatta one weekend in December. By January we were up to racing twice a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays. This level of participation made the racing intense.

That intensity peaked on January 20 for the third race of the Vallarta Cup. We hadn’t won either of the first two races in that series and we wanted this one. We didn’t know if we could actually win based on the first two races where we sailed well but fell slightly short, but we knew we were going to try.

To win any competitive sailboat race you have to first get the boat handling down. There has to be a lot of close coordination and team work. Ten people working together like a machine. We’ve learned time and time again that when racing against top competitors there can be no boat handling mistakes, no foul-ups; nothing that can cost us even a few seconds. The other boats are ready to seize on any error we might make, as we are of theirs. For this, we practice. And practice. We treated Wednesdays as practice sessions and sailed hard in them and after each race we held debriefings to improve our boat handling. We prepared ourselves for the hard work and extreme mental focus it would take to win race three.

There is also the boat-speed requirement. Even if our boat handling is perfect we still need to sail the boat through the water as fast as is possible. That calls for perfect steering and perfect sail trimming. This is my job. I am the helmsman. I steer the boat and call the sail trim adjustments. Others on the boat, Judy or Richard, can relieve me for periods, but mostly it is my job as helmsman. In this role the demand for focus and attention is relentless. For a race like this it means three hours of intense concentration.

And on top of this there are the tactical decisions. Boat handling and speed isn’t enough; we need tactics too. We have to go the right way, position ourselves to catch the best wind shift, to counter our opponents’ tactics with our own, keep our air clean, and avoid traffic and congestion. These are the tactical decisions we must make, they are another layer on top of boat handling and boat speed. These decisions are required constantly. If you lose your situational awareness of the overall fleet and don’t make the critical move at exactly the right time, seconds or minutes can be lost. A lot of this tactical decision making also falls on me.
It shouldn’t. I’m not good at it and anyhow I should be keeping my focus on helming, but right or wrong it does. I have tactical help from Judy, Richard and John, but they all too often defer to me. Whether it is lack of self-confidence or lack of experience, or maybe my own opinions are just too strong for them to feel comfortable opposing. Whatever the reason they too often keep their tactical thoughts to themselves. I make a call, no one objects, and we do it, right or wrong. So I have to get it right.

All of this takes, for me, a lot of mental energy. I am determined to get to the level needed, to guide the crew through the maneuvers, to keep my attention on the steering, and to make good tactical calls. I need to do all these things for the whole race; for three hours.

To be at the level needed I put myself into a zone.

It happens before the start.

In the last minute before the start of the race, on the final approach to the start line, my mind and body seems to go somewhere else, into a zone. I am still there on the boat, but I’m not. I don’t feel aware of the deck on which I am sitting, of my hand on the helm, of the people around me. There is no thinking, Just intense focus. My intensity connects me with the boat, the sails, the wind. I stare at the tell tales, but I see the wind. My hand moves the tiller, but my mind is moving the boat. My crew talks to me, but they are just disembodied voices.

“Do you see the mark, Fred?”

“No, I can’t look for it. You watch it and guide me.” My answers are brief; my mind stays on the task.

Then I do have a glance around at the other boats, at the wind, where the mark is. I make a tactical call. We do it. As we turn the boat my line of sight to the sail tethers me to an orbit on the back of the boat. My feet find their own way around the back of the boat. Even while I move to the other side the connection with the sail and the wind is not lost.

Now a mark rounding is coming up. Some part of my mind splits off to maintain my steering while with another part I talk to the crew and describe the upcoming maneuver. The crew nods, or answer, or ask for a clarification. My focus shifts for the briefest time, I speak back to them, then I am again blocking out everything but my mental and physical control of the boat.

I have to keep that up for the whole race. Then, at the finish, I can throw down the tiller and walk away.

On that Saturday we did this and it all worked well for us.

We had a plan for the start but in the last few seconds the plan all fell apart and I had to improvise. By then my head was already in the zone and we were on my mental autopilot. Olas Lindas tried to take us up above the committee boat but I stalled and let them through. They were early and ran down the line and so we had a hole to leeward to accelerate into. There was no planning no logic, no reasoning, just doing, and somehow it came right and we won the start. We had boats underneath us but our air was clear and we were fast and sailing high and they could not tack and we drove them off to the left. When they were committed to that side we tacked and went up the right side, where we found more pressure.

We led at the top mark by two minutes.

Olas Lindas is faster than we are and we knew they would pass us but our plan was to hold them off as long as possible, and then stay close. If we did that, we could win.

And they did get by but they never really got away. We dogged them all the way on the long reaches. We stayed close at the second windward mark.

There was a tense moment for me, a long tense moment…several moments.

The decision on how to round the mark at the start of the first run made me nervous. Jibe set or bear away? To call it wrong would cost valuable minutes. I called for a jibe set, based on the wind direction I was seeing when we were still 15 minutes out. Then the wind gradually shifted, making the decision to jibe less definitive.

The nervousness I felt on those long minutes as we approached the mark was unusual. I don’t feel that way during a race. Once I get on the race course my nerves go away, I’m in my zone. But this time was different. We had a great race going at that point but I knew a lot was riding on the next leg. Call it wrong and we could throw it all away.

I stuck with my call; even with the wind shift I figured the jibe set was twenty degrees favored. But if the wind shifted more, well, anything could happen.

The Olas rounded. They did a jibe set and took off on a broad reach directly for the downwind mark. That confirmed my decision.Excellent! What a relief.

We ourselves rounded and completed the jibe set and took off powering down that next leg. Dick called that Olas had us by only two minutes. I knew they needed around eight minutes to beat us. Perfect, there was only 4.5 miles to go. We just had to follow them to the finish, not screw up, and we had them.

We went into conservative mode. Don’t push for that last second of advantage, don’t make any mistakes. Another windward leg, another jibe set, and coast to the finish; that’s all we had to do.
We won, by a good margin. We crossed 3:38 behind Olas Lindas, I knew we beat them. Bright Star was also back too far to be in the game but what about Mony? They were running forth but they could still win. We watched them come down to the finish. Their sails looked soft; light wind, good.

jldigital media-John Pounder
Finishing under kite

Dick called out their time: Nineteen minutes and five seconds. Yes, we had them.

Our hard work and extreme mental focus held up. We were jubilant.

I was exhausted.

“John, take the helm please.”

By the end of the race I am completely knackered. I give John the helm and wander around. I go below. I look at the computer screen and I see our track and I start to recap the race in my mind. On deck the crew is shooting Craken Rum and celebrating, but me. Well, I’m done. I put in the times of the other boats just to check and see that we have them by minutes to spare.

Slowly I come back to this world. I go up, I take a shot of rum myself, but funnily, I can’t savor it. My mind is still elsewhere.

In fact, I’ve lost the time for three hours, I don’t remember anything but the images which remain in my brain of tell-tales, of sail trim, of the race.

Each week, each race, we have to be ready to go through it again. It doesn’t always go was well as it did this Saturday.

The next Saturday for example, the fourth race, could have been the same as the third. A win in the fourth race would have sewed up the series for us, but it didn’t. We blew it. Or I blew it.

In fact we were doing exceptionally well. We had a better performance going right until the last run to the finish. We were ahead of everyone except, as usual, Olas Lindas, but we were even closer to them than before. Again, it was just hold on to win.

But I made the wrong tactical call. Like the previous week the wind had shifted south. The final run would be right-hand favored. Again I called for a jibe set.


Olas rounded and did a bear away. They looked right. My call was wrong. We were only seconds from the mark, too late to change the set-up.

Richard said, “It’s not a jibe set!”

“Too late, we can’t change now. We’ll jibe back as soon as we can.”

I could have, should have, held off on the jibe. I should have just borne away and held off on hoisting the chute until we could get it switched over. We were close to Olas, we had the time. But I didn’t see that option in the instant of time when we still could do it.

After the mark we jibed and swerved off on the wrong angle. The crew did it perfectly but I’d called it perfectly wrong. It cost us about 3 minutes and 17 seconds. Enough to lose the race. My zone wasn’t good enough. My calculation on the wind angle was wrong. Maybe I was too tired. Maybe the cold I was coming down with dulled my senses.

Whatever, we held up under pressure for almost three hours then lost it in the last three minutes, the three minutes that counted.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, La Cruz Hunacaxtle

PS:
We have a few more Wednesday races this year, then the big final in late March: Banderas Bay Regatta. After the Vallarta Cup Series, described above, was finished we’re taking a deep breath and we’ll re-set our focus on the BBR. It will be more tough racing, but we’ll prepare all over again, and go at it just as hard as we did this time.

PS, PS:
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Carbon MXL Main from China Sail Factory

The new mainsail finally arrived, after two months of flying air cargo around the world to the wrong destinations. It came Friday February 2. We put it on the boat, used it once on the Wednesday night race, and we’re happy. The race was a disaster but the sail looked great. Perhaps this will help us in BBR

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Sunday, December 24, 2017

December 24, 2017-Merry Christmas

wingssail images-judy jensen
From Fred & Judy

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Dec. 23, 2017-December Round-up


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Birds on the mast

Just woke up from a nap. Maybe I should write a blog; it’s been a while.

Holy cow! I haven’t written since October. Where did November and December go?

I guess we’ve been busy with boat projects and guests.

How about a short round-up?

Bad Bad Birds

In November the little birds return. We get swamped with these little birds, swallows, I think. They flock to the marina every morning during November and December. Hundreds of them. One thing they like to do is land on sailboat masts. Like this bunch on our mast.

I don’t like them on our mast. It’s not that they will damage it like the bigger ones do, but they poo-poo on our boat. In fact they poo-poo on the shade awning which we also use for a water catcher. One thing you don’t want on your water catcher is bird poo.

There is a way to get rid of the birds. You just go outside and, with the flat of your hand, sharply hit the shrouds which makes a big noise and a sudden vibration which scares the birds. So, each morning, when I get up, I look out the bathroom hatch to see if there are birds on our mast. If so, and in November and December there usually are, I go outside and whack the mast. They all fly away.


(Try Full Frame)

The birds are actually pretty smart. If you do this tactic for a few days they learn not to come to your mast. In fact I’ve watched them come flying in for a landing on our mast then swerve off at the last minute. However, if you go away for several days they learn that too and then they start landing on the mast again and you have to train them all over.

But, in the meanwhile, we’re drinking bottled water.

San Blas Haul-out

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Boat Work

This year we decided to do our annual bottom job in San Blas. The prices are better there than in La Cruz and it’s only 60 miles away. So, to save a $1000 we’ll take a little trip to San Blas, and have a holiday there as well.

Some really good friends of ours, Jimmy and Robin from Orcas Island, said they would come with us for the sailing and hang out in San Blas. That was great news!

So on Dec. 5 off we went to San Blas. The sailing was great (but sadly, we took no pictures of that) and on the morning of Dec. 6 we hauled out in the Fonatur Marina in San Blas and promptly got going on the bottom job.

There were two complications on this trip: One, we misunderstood the racing schedule back in La Cruz and we only had 5 days to finish the bottom paint and get back for the first race. Whew! We had to hurry. The other was that we found the water depth coming into the river in San Blas was quite a bit shallower than expected. We got in OK but getting out wasn’t going to be easy because of a lower tide on the day we expected to leave.
The first problem we solved by hiring a fast worker and encouraging him to get done according to our schedule, which he did.

For the water depth issue Jimmy came up with a good idea, “Lets hire a boat and go out to the river mouth and survey the channel. Maybe we can find a deeper route.”

That’s what we did. For $600Pesos we hired a panga and driver for an hour and we set out on a little Lewis and Clark style (updated with modern equipment) survey. Jimmy had his GPS and a notebook and I had my leadline. Forty minutes later we’d checked out the whole entrance and had our deep water channel located. Back on Wings (in the boat yard) we updated our electronic chart with all the new soundings.

Two problems solved.

Nothing left to do but hang out at the hotel pool and do some exploring.

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Hotel Hacienda Flamingos

San Blas is a historic Mexican colonial town and once was one of the most important ports in the Mexican galleon trade. Some of the old structures still exist, such as the “Contradura” or fort at the top of the hill. We went there and looked at the old buildings and the view. We also saw the old church (from 1773).

And we sampled most of the restaurants and bars in the town. It was lots of fun and re really enjoyed re-connecting with Jimmy and Robin. Robin was a great hostess in their hotel suite, Jimmy was a huge help on the bottom job, and there were some fun scrabble games in the garden each night. The trip home was uneventful except that while the river channel we surveyed was deep enough, the travel lift was not. We stuck our new bottom paint in the mud when they let us down. Shoot!

Click here for images of San Blas from our previous trip.

Monster Spars

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Monster Spars

There is a shortage of racing marks in the La Cruz area so for our local races we have to use temporary marks. Sometimes an inflatable mark is set but this has to be taken in after each race, and that, plus setting it, is an onerous task. Often a home-made spar buoy mark which can be left on site for a few months is used and both last year and this year I made some spar buoy marks for that purpose.

To make a spar buoy like this you buy a long piece of PVC pipe, 200cm (10 inches) in diameter and 4 meters (12.5 feet) long. You fill the bottom with concrete and hang a anchor chain off the bottom of that, put foam in the top, and slap in some red paint. Eureka! You have a spar buoy. However, a 12.5 foot, 200lb spar buoy is really pretty big. So we call them, “Monster Spars”. I made them bullet proof tough and they should be unsinkable, but as we’ll see later, there must be some design flaw. Read on.

As soon as I finished these two I donated them to PV Sailing and told Mike Danielson they were his now.

But, just as last year, the first one he set only lasted a few days. In less than week it disappeared. We have no idea where it went. Did it sink, get stolen, or drift away? We just don’t know. But for sure, it is gone. Well, we have one more and if that one goes, I’ll make more.


Racing Season

I’ll do another story soon about our racing season which kicked off the day after we got back from San Blas. Suffice it to say however, that we’re doing OK so far. We’ve had four races and got four first places. (Well, four first-in-class finishes. For overall, we’ve got three firsts and a second. Still, not bad.)

We’ve been sailing with an older Dacron mainsail because our new mainsail got lost in shipping. We’re hoping that is resolved soon.

So, stay tune for an update.

Meanwhile, Merry Christmas

Click here for more photos from December.

Fred & Judy, S/V Wings, La Cruz Huancaxtle

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