Posted by: Sailing Camelot | December 11, 2010

The Overnighter – Wednesday December 8th

Ok, no more excuses. It’s time to get to the other side of Mexico and there’s a Sea to cross, 192 nautical miles to cover, destination Mazatlan. We’re ready to go at 6 am, there’s not even light yet but up comes the anchor and we’re on our way again. It’s much windier than we’d like and the sea is choppy, but heck, we’re sailing fast. We’re not totally alone during this crossing, a couple of boats left in the middle of the night and are a few hours ahead of us and two more boats are about an hour behind us. Every now and then we get in touch via radio to check on each other, to compare notes and weather. The wind gets stronger, the sea gets angrier, the waves taller. It’s a bumpy, rolly and a little uncomfortable ride, the guys ahead of us report the same conditions. We shrug and keep going, it can’t always be perfect. It goes on like that for a good 8 hours (and there’s about 22 more to go), not too much fun but Tom is really happy to see his boat reach high speeds. I’m just waiting for the day to end, as usually the wind abates at night and the sea should calm down too. Merlin The Autopilot (God bless it, I don’t know what we’d do without it) is doing a splendid job steering in these rough seas, but we start noticing a creaking, grinding noise every time the rudder has to steer hard in these big waves. Tom investigates as best he can and diagnoses damaged rudder bearings. We just don’t know how bad in a shape they are… They sure need attention, though, and soon.

 So now we have the added worry of the damn rudder (I spare you the worst-case scenarios that ran thru my head), and it’s getting dark. Tom is calm and doesn’t look concerned, but he’s quiet and I know him too well. I’m sure his mind is in overdrive and he’s already coming up with a plan B and C and D just in case of the worst happening. We’re not talking about the autopilot quitting, Merlin is going strong. We may end up losing the capability of steering the boat. I don’t even want to think about that.

Around 7 o’clock Tom goes down in the cabin to try and sleep a little, I take on the first watch. The seas have calmed down a little, the waves are finally smaller and the wind is blowing at a more acceptable level. We’re still sailing! The rudder, not having to fight as hard, is making less ominous noises. But I still throw a prayer out, just in case… I’m munching on trailmix, nuts, chocholate and dried fruit, and I’ll even admit to chain-smoking. At about 10, Tom comes back up after a decent nap, ready to give me relief. I really don’t feel like sleeping, but my body gives up as soon as my head hits the pillow. Just an hour, I say to myself… At 1 in the morning Tom is shaking me awake, I was in a deep coma-like sleep. “I need a break” he says, and he does look tired. Man, I didn’t even hear him turn on the engine! The wind died, so we motor-sail after 121 uninterrupted miles of sailing. Once on deck, eyes adjusted to the total darkness, I resume my watch. Nothing is going on, I see the lights of a boat a few miles ahead of us, I play with our electronics, checking out traffic around us –almost non-existent-. My mind wanders, I look at the fabulous display of stars above me, listen to the waves rushing past the boat. I get entertained by little groups of flying fish. I noticed them when it was still light earlier in the day, they look almost like a bunch of small birds, flying a few inches above the water and disappearing into the waves after a 40, 50 feet of flight. They’re as small as my fist, with a wingspan (finspan?) of maybe 8 inches, silvery blue in color. They fly just like birds, turning all together, following their leader. In the dark they appear a fluorescent greenish, and they really like to fly around our navigation lights on the bow. I wonder if I’ll get hit by one of them… At about 3 in the morning I exchange information on our position with another sailboat, share some jokes, then back to staring at the blackness. I’m keeping an eye on my radar, everything is quiet. There’s a cruise ship about 40 miles ahead of us called Amsterdam and a cargo ship about 25 miles behind us, the San Guillermo. We’re all traveling in the same direction and I’m keeping an eye more on the cargo ship which will catch up with us in less than two hours, I’m thinking of giving its Captain a call in about an hour to make sure he knows we’re here. Somehow time flies, I should be waking Tom up at 4 am but I’m not tired and decide to let him sleep a little longer. I quite like night watches! When I go down to get some water I hear him snoring softly. Wow, he must really trust me if he’s able to fall asleep so deeply!

But his shaggy head pops up just a little before 6 am, complaining that I shouldn’t have let him sleep that long. After exchanging information on our surroundings it’s my turn to go down below for some rest. She who wasn’t tired falls asleep in maybe 45 seconds, dead to the world for about an hour and a half, until the Captain comes down to play on his High Frequency radio. It’s daylight, another beautiful, warm and sunny day and we’re getting close to Mazatlan. I make coffee and assume command of the vessel while Tom yaks on the radio. After a few minutes he comes up with great information from some of his radio buddies (bless ‘em all!) about which boatyard to call in Mazatlan and who to ask for specifically in order to organize repairs. By 8:30 am phone calls have been made, connections established, parts ordered and we both feel so very relieved and optimistic! Besides, we’re maybe a couple of hours from the chosen anchorage of Isla de la Piedra (Stone Island for us Gringos), in the southernmost part of Mazatlan. We did it! We crossed The Sea! I’m exhilarated and all smiles. And right there and then Tom all of a sudden roars “shit, shit, SHIIIIT!” , jumps behind the wheel, turns off the autopilot and puts the engine in reverse at full blast while I’m looking at him yelling “what, what, WHAT?”. Then he turns sharply, a 90 degree angle to the left, I look ahead and see an empty, floating milk jug. Then another one, maybe 60 feet after that. And another one, until I see a small black flag on a floating stick, barely visible in the distance. Shit, indeed. It’s a big fishing net, we could have gone right thru it and wrapped it around the propeller with serious complications. Thanks to Tom’s prompt reaction, we missed it by maybe 5 feet. We finally figure out where is safe to go and slowly proceed, passing the small fishing boat with three fisherman aboard, owners of the net we were just about to destroy. Tom yells an apology (I think it was in Spanglish), they wave in return and all is fine. But I have a few new grey hair on my scalp, thank you very much… We keep a low speed now, and it’s a good idea because there’s another net barely visible. Some more maneuvering around it, then we get closer to the coast where there’s only a few big fishing boats operating. Man, it was like a videogame. Dodge The Fishing Boats Of Mazatlan.

Mazatlan Coast

We won, at least this time.  As we approach our anchorage, we hear our boat name hailed on the radio in good English with a strong Mexican accent. Tom responds, a little puzzled. It’s the local Port Captain, saw us coming on his electronics (yes, we’re very visible and it’s on purpose!). But even without modern technology, of course he sees us, he’s sitting in his lighthouse on the top of the hill, the second tallest one in the world at 159 meters…

Mazatlan Lighthouse

He greets us, welcomes us and asks us our plans. After receiving information on our destination and provenience, he thanks us and wishes us a pleasant stay and a great day. It was so cool! Touching, almost.

Isla De La Piedra Anchorage

We finally tuck in safely at La Piedra, a very cute and small anchorage, there’s only another boat beside us. Mission accomplished, one more time. Now we can give Camelot her well deserved shower and relax!

Current view from the "back porch" of Camelot


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