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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.

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
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.

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Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Isla Santa Maria

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