Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thoughts on Cruising Equipment for Pacific Coast

I wrote this post while underway to Cabo San Lucas. While I was preparing for this trip, I read countless blogs and articles and books about what kind of boat equipment is necessary, but I never found a "middle of the road" breakdown of what was most important and what was optional. There are some people who rant about how one must keep it simple and swear by having practically nothing (like the Pardy's who literally crap in a bucket), and there are others who rant about how important it is to have everything including backups for your drogues and EPIRB's mounted to your forehead. So this is my "middle of the road" list based on my experience going down the Pacific coast of North America:

Equipment one should not leave without (in order of importance):

1. Radar -- I never used radar on Puget Sound. There wasn't much need for it. However during night passages, and in the fog down the Northern section of the coast, it was absolutely indispensable. Radar is the only reliable way to see when we cannot use our eyes. Our radar is a separate 12 year old Furuno system (Furuno 1622) that came with the boat. If I had to do it over again, I think I would go for a new HD radar system. Do not attempt an overnight passage down the coast without a reliable radar system, and of course, know how to use it.

2. A reliable engine -- We decided at the very last possible moment before leaving Seattle to get a new engine (a Yanmar 4jh5e), and boy are we happy we did. We put over 330 hours on the engine in just three months! It turns out that good sailing conditions are rare going down the Pacific coast. Either there is too much wind, or there isn't enough. Mostly there isn't enough and getting to the destination before the sun goes down requires assistance from the engine about 9 times out of 10. Our old engine would have been a huge pain and a constant worry. In addition, three out of the four other boats we cruised down Baja with had the exact same engine block, just different versions of it so we are all able to share spare parts.

3. Chartplotter with AIS -- On Rhythm, we use a little Garmin touch screen chartplotter capable of displaying AIS targets. The chartplotter is a Garmin 740s and although it has a small screen, we love the touch screen which makes it easy and intuitive to use.

4. AIS -- Being able to record the location, speed and direction of other ships from 10, 20 and even 50 miles out is a big stress reliever. Although we only receive AIS on Rhythm, we are now considering broadcasting a signal because the cost has come down enough to justify installing a transmitter. We believe all registered vessels going out in the ocean should transmit AIS. It would certainly make overnight passages safer.

5. Autopilot -- I can't imagine hand steering for 50 - 70 hours straight (our typical long passage length). The thought of not having an autopilot makes me want to cry. It needs to be strong and reliable as well. An autopilot that can't steer in heavy weather is as good as no auto pilot.

6. Life raft -- We never had to use ours, but in those moments when one starts thinkimg about the what if scenarios (what if the wind continues to build, what if that thing in the water is an unmarked rock, etc.), it was comforting to know we had a brand new raft ready to go.

7. Charlie's Charts for the West Coast of the US -- An excellent guidebook describing all of the anchorages and ports down the coast. There is no way we would have been able to know which ports to pull into and which ones we should pass by without this resource. It also came in handy when we encountered heavy weather and need a "place of refuge" as the book calls them. It was a crappy anchorage but I was extremely happy to throw the hook down the for the night and I would have never known about it without Charlie's Charts.

Equipment one should seriously consider (in order of our preference):

1. LED lights -- We like to have a bright interior on Rhtyhm and because the dark mahogany wood really soaks up the light, we have extra bright LED lights on board. We also don't think twice about turning them on because they use so little power. We found that Dr. LED lights didn't have the right "warm white" color, but the LunaSea and Imtra lights do.

2. VHF remote access mic/speaker -- It is very handy to send out a 25 watt signal from the top of the mast right from the cockpit. It's also very handy to hear what's going on over the radio from the cockpit. For whatever reason, most boats have the VHF mounted inside the boat where nobody can hear it from outside the boat, so a little remote mic solves this problem.

3. Battery monitor -- We have a little unit made by Victron than was purchased through Boat Electric in Seattle. It is extremely helpful to know how many amps are going in or going out of your battery bank, how full the bank is in a percentage, and how many hours you have left at the current rate of depletion.

4. Stereo with Bluetooth and good speakers -- We have a little Sony car stereo I purchased from an Internet retailer for $100 that has Bluetooth which connects to our iPhones and iPad without wires. I also installed 5.25" speakers (from a new company called Helix from Germany) that sound phenomenal inside the boat, and some smaller Fusion water resistant marine speakers for the cockpit. We listen to books on tape and music during passages which has been great since it's hard to do just about anything else but sit there.

5. Satellite phone -- There are many anchorages without cell reception and we found it comforting that we could still make an emergency call, or receive emergency calls. We actually used it twice; once when we canceled our US cell phone plans and were headed to Mexico when we suddenly needed to call an engine mechanic and arrange to meet them at the public dock in San Diego, and another time when we were anchored and it was my dad's birthday. We also have a single side band radio (our boat came with one), but never use it. Maybe we are from a different generation... The sat phone is easy and much cheaper than a good SSB setup. Maybe we will get on the cruiser nets more and the ssb might bubble to one of these lists, but for now I would say an SSB isn't needed at all, and not even in the nice to have category.

6. Mexican cell phones and the Banda Ancha -- We canceled our US cell phones and got some cheap pre-paid Mexican Telcel phones, and we also purchased a Banda Ancha which is an excellent 3G wireless USB modem that works on our Mac's and in any port which a cell signal (which is most ports). Pretty nice for downloading weather on

7. Honda 2000 generator -- So sweet to charge the batteries and have 110 volt whenever we want (day, night, no wind, wind storm, any condition) without running the engine. This unit is quiet, fuel efficient, and super compact. So glad we have one and we use it almost daily when anchoring.

8. Three way valve for the head -- One way goes to the holding tank, another drains the holding tank, and the last one pumps direct overboard. It's nice to have options when dealing with crap.

9. Freezer -- Not only does a freezer come in handy for keeping meats and vegetables, it's important to freeze fish that you catch directly after you pull the guts out and chop it up because it kills the bacteria. On Rhythm, we didn't have a built-in freezer, so we found a great spot in one of our top opening cabinets for this portable freezer.


10. iPad -- Kathy purchased an iPad for me while we were in San Francisco at the flagship Apple store. I love it sooooo much! We play music from it, play games together on it, read books, watch movies, watch lecture series from universities on iTunesU to keep our brains going, and lastly, use it for navigation. The Navionics app is WAY more accurate than the Garmin BlueChart charts and they even have detail of marinas in Mexico with the dock letters so we know exactly where to go when we get a slip assignment over the VHF. We also connect our iPad to a small bluetooth GPS from Dual.

11. Solar Power - Silent, no maintenance power. Can't beat it. We have barely enough to keep up with our fridge and freezer if we aren't on the boat so that we may leave it for a few days without our food going bad. The more solar power one can accommodate, the better.

Equipment that shouldn't have to be mentioned, but just to cover all the bases I will:

-Galley with a propane burning stove/oven-Electric refrigerator
-VHF radio
-Hand held spotlight
-Battery charger/inverter
-Wind indicator
-Wind instrument (very helpful to know how much the wind is to help make decisions about sail plans)
-Hot water tank heated by engine
-Shower/faucet with cold and hot water in cockpit or stern step
-Spare halyards
-Storm jib (preferably hank-on and one can use a spare halyard to hank it onto if there is no spare stay)
-Floating ditch bag with water, food, emergency supplies and a handheld VHF
-Fans inside the boat
-75 gallons or more of fresh water, or a water maker, for two people
-75 gallons of diesel, either in tanks or tanks and jerry cans strapped to the side of the boat. We never used more than about 50 gallons between fuel stations, but it was good to have an extra 50 just in case (we carry about 100 gallons).
-Propane solenoid and fume detector
-Carbon monoxide detectors
-Spare engine parts such as fuel filters, belt, oil filters, impellers
-Shop manual for the engine
-An oversized anchor (we have a 45 lb. CQR) with at least 300 feet of rhode, all chain if possible. We have 150' of chain and 150' of rope rhode. We have never deployed more than 125' of chain, but it's nice to know we have extra.
-Spare anchor/stern anchor -- we had to use this once and it saved us from going up on a reef during a sudden wind storm at night
-Depth sounder
-I'm sure there is more, but this covers most of the obvious stuff

Video clips from our journey...

Sailing from Seattle to La Paz Mexico from Tim McDonald on Vimeo.
This is a quick video of what the sailing has been like down the coast of North America. I'm thinking of putting a longer video together later showing more highlights from the entire trip, not just the sailing parts.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Cabo to La Paz

...And everywhere in between.....

While on this journey to Cabo San Lucas (aka "Cape St. Luke") and then to La Paz (aka "Peace"), we've had very little internet, if any. The internet we did have one night, for 10 minutes, was from one of our buddy boats who boosted the signal from the local resort (aka stole it!) so that we could all use it. Unfortunately, because of the high winds, it only worked for a very short period of time - 10 minutes? Alas, we are finally in La Paz, with internet. It's the little things...

So, where have we been?
Turtle Bay to Magdalena Bay to Cabo San Lucas to Los Frailes to Los Muertos (aka Los Suenos) to Caleta Lobos to La Paz (where we are, finally)!

Here are some pictures from Turtle Bay that I wasn't able to post (due to slooooow or no internet).

Leaving Cruiseport Marina in Ensenada. We originally were at Hotel
Coral and then moved to Cruiseport before departing to Turtle Bay.

A moon rising in the wee hours
 of the morning...

We found tons of these little squid on our deck every
morning while out at sea. Not sure how they got there!

Me, filleting the tuna that we caught!

Bag o' sushi

Sunrise entering Turtle Bay

Turtle Bay, dirt roads, not too much to see

A view of the mountains from one of the main roads
in Turtle Bay

View of Turtle Bay and Enrique's Pier from the beach

Panga boats in the bay

Close up of the pier, birds and bird crap everywhere,
beautiful background

We left Ensenada with 2 buddy boats:
s/v Dazzler (Dan/Kim near the xmas tree) and
 s/v Lady Carolina (Carolina, Steve and their two boys, Kyle and Joel)
This is us enjoying our langosta (lobster) dinner!

After Turtle Bay, we headed to Magdelena Bay, which took us another 2.5 days at sea., again experiencing some amazing star gazing, shooting stars galore and 2 moon risings.  After staying in the Punta Belcher anchorage at Mag Bay for an overnight, which is at the opening of the very large bay, we realized and learned from another boat that the Man of War Cove was just a few nautical miles north in the bay with a town and fishing village; apparently not to be missed and we missed it! The fishermen were trading freshly caught langosta (lobster in English), for AAA batteries. That’s right, we met another boat who traded 5 AAA batteries for 7 large lobsters. Sounds like a deal, ‘eh?  Our anchorage was ok, nothing spectacular, panga boats with fishermen zipped by all night causing a rolly wake. We woke up the next morning and headed out to Cabo. Our fleet, now including the fun s/v Chara (Joyce & Bob), continued on our way.

Sunrise on our way to Mag Bay

At Punta Belcher anchorage in Mag Bay,
I took this one from the beach. From left to right,
s/v Dazzler, s/v Lady Carolina, s/v Rhythm

Sunrise, departing from Punta Belcher
s/v Chara (left) with s/v Dazzler (right)

s/v Chara (left), s/v Dazzler (right)

A cool one of s/v Chara

Our fleet (from left to right):
s/v Dazzler, s/v Lady Carolina, s/v Chara

Finally, we made it to Cabo after 2 days at sea. We stayed right in town at the fabulous Cabo Marina, central to everything. It was quite pricey for moorage, but worth the location in gold. We felt right at home with Luxury Avenue right out our window and I was able to score some sweet swimsuits next door at the swanky mall. Tim and I were missing home and our land life, so this was a very welcome stop. We hit up some local favorites, including my sister Krissy’s favorite watering hole – The Happy Endings Cantina, she is a regular there as Cabo is her and her friend’s second home. We also hit up the Cabo Wabo Cantina, since when in Rome, we may as well visit Sammy Hagar’s spot. We have a reservation there for New Year’s – the place is huge, but with an intimate vibe where the stage area is (kind of like the Showbox in Seattle), though we’re not sure we will make it back to Cabo for New Year’s given how fabulous everyone is saying La Paz is! Cabo experienced a torrential downpour while we were there – of course, we get out of Seattle only to experience a flash flood in Cabo! It rained for 2-3 straight days, and we’re not talking about a light misting, it poured cats and dogs, and thus the town flooded. Floating cars, flooded streets, a smell like you couldn’t believe (or maybe you can, if you’ve ever been to Mexico when it rains!), etc...

Sunrise entering Cabo (on the left)

Cabo, Pacific side, yep those are hotels & condos!

More Cabo, Pacific side, beautiful beaches and scenery

We turned left and went around "El Arco" (aka The Arch)

A sailboat and tourist boat visiting the Arch

Entering Cabo, head straight, through those boats, to the marina!

s/v Rhythm, s/v Dazzler & s/v Lady Carolina
@ the Happy Endings Cantina, enjoying a frosty beverage

Ahhh, the view of Luxury Avenue outside our cockpit at
the Cabo Marina

The Cabo flood.
s/v Lady Carolina (Carolina & Steve) make their way
across a flooded street in a bike-powered cart.
For $1, you can have a ride across too!

Adios Cabo! Heading to La Paz! Picture taken as we sailed away.

View of the beach across from the Arch

Another view of Cabo as we were leaving and heading out to La Paz.

 We decided to head out to make our way to La Paz ("Peace" in english) as a weather window opened up, but only in time to let us get to Los Frailes (in english meaning The Friars), where we were ‘stuck’ for 3 days, no internet or cell signal and a 25-30 knots of wind, which really tested out our anchor. A ‘pineapple express’ weather system blew in, which was a royal pain in the ass having a rolly anchorage and the boat rocking back and forth, but not a pleasant baby-in-a-crib-type-rocking, winds whipping around like a blizzard, but no snow, though the sound effects were the same, etc.  Again, our fleet was together, and then after Los Frailes, we all headed to Los Muertos (in english meaning The Dead), renamed by the locals to Los Suenos (in english “Dreams”) to make it more touristy friendly. After all, saying you live in “Dreams” vs the Dead is a bit more cheery.

T hiking at Los Frailes, our fleet + others in the background

More hiking, awesome views!

The beach at Los Frailes, warm, crystal blue water.
You can see the row of palapas to the right, perfect
for setting up camp for the day

s/v Chara: Kate, Joyce, Bob

s/v Lady Carolina: Carolina & Kyle

Ok sorry, I had to! 

Los Muertos/Suenos is a beautiful anchorage with a super nice resort, Gran Sueno, and El Cardon, a small watering hole and restaurant. We hit up both places and also the beach and did some snorkeling with s/v Lady Carolina, though not much because the water here was a bit colder than Los Frailes. Another weather front came in and we were again stuck there, it could be worse J

Los Muertos/Suenos, pristine beaches, clear blue water

T on the beach

Peanut likes long walks on the beach, pina coladas
and getting caught in the rain. 

Gran Sueno Resort

The restaurant at Gran Sueno, T and I enjoyed this place!

View of the water from the Gran Sueno restaurant

And then came La Paz.....after our weather window opened up, we headed to Caleto Lobos, a beautiful anchorage just outside of the Bay of La Paz where we stayed for one night and then headed in to La Paz...finally.....La Paz is known for it's "stickiness" - people arrive and never leave, like "Hotel California"... we'll see what we do next :)

Happy Holidays!!!
--K & T

Us at the Costa Baja Resort & Marina in La Paz on Christmas Eve...
Wishing you a wonderful holiday season! xoxo!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Turtle Bay

We made it to Turtle Bay! 320 nautical miles, we are half way in to our trip down the Baja coast and can.not.wait. to get to Cabo. We are with 2 other boats: s/v Dazzler and s/v Lady Carolina. The trip has been fun chatting on the VHF and checking in with each boat, plus the security of having a small fleet with us has been helpful.

We went 90 nm offshore, the first time we weren't able to see land in forever. It was scary, exciting, fun and every emotion you could think of at the same time. During our night watches, the stars were out, we could see the Milky Way, experienced 2 'moon risings' (incredible!) and I couldn't help thinking how small we were in our little boat, sailing the big ocean, like a speck of dirt in the world....(more on that later)...... The trip really got exciting when within an hour of each other, we all cast our fishing rods and caught tuna! I actually reeled in a 15-20lb tuna, with only a little help from Tim, I felt like such a fishing diva - lol.  I used a 'cedar plug' lure with a yellow sparkly jelly worm/squid on the hook. The fish was a beauty, however I started to cry when I saw how badly he was hooked, and then when we gaffed him. Dazzler guided us to cut the gills, string a line through him and let him 'bleed out' while being towed behind our boat.  We had an issue with cutting the gills that I won't explain here, but it looked like bloody hell before we got the fish in the water. We are such fishing rookies. When we realized that the poor guy was still alive, we took out rum, and poured it into his gills, which gently put him out of his misery. I felt so horrible and though that PETA was going to fly above us in a helicopter, shouting things from a megaphone like 'You are an awful person!!!'.   Horrible guilt. Tim tells me it's the circle of life, but boy, to me, it's a sad circle. After that emotional roller coaster, I filleted the fish in our cockpit (thank you youTube videos for the lesson!). We have tons of tuna now in our freezer.  When we arrived to Turtle Bay, we got together with Dazzler & LC, and had a bbq on the beach with all of our tuna. Good times! I thanked the fish for our food, kinda like in the movie Avatar.

On another not so pleasant note, I was horribly seasick for a good portion of the trip. I didn't take my typical 'Nauzene' motion sickness medicine early enough and the swells were kicking my butt (they were huge and broad-siding our stern hind quarter - in English, the back corner of the boat ) and thus I puked my guts out, twice. Our friends recommended Stugeron (aka Cinnarizine - a pill given to help with nausea, motion sickness, vertigo and needs to be taken with care). I picked some up at Costco in Ensenada - 60 tablets for $3! yes, $3! for generic brand (normally $35 or $40 for non-generic), and took 1/8 of a tablet (it's so strong, you don't need much) and I was back in business. That stuff is a miracle motion-sickness drug for sure though is shown to be a leading cause of Parkinson's if taken regularly in high doses - yikes!

Turtle Bay is a very small, dirty/dusty, poor town. Not much to see. There are dirt roads, dust everywhere, tons of stray, dirty, sad, little doggies looking for a home, and even dust/dirt on the packaging in the grocery stores. It's like going back into a time machine for sure. The town used to have a cannery which was the main source of employment, however it has long since closed and the town is feeling it. According to Tim - "One day in Turtle Bay, is one day too many"

There are two places to get fuel - Annabelle's and Enrique Jr.'s.
Per Dazzler, we opted for Annabelle's, since it is clean fuel and the people are so nice. Annabelle's was also nice enough to bring us several large jugs of purified bottled water for $2 per jug, so that we could top off our tank. We don't have a water maker, so the need for clean water is always on our minds, since we got 'bad water' in Bodega Bay, we don't want to deal with that again, especially cleaning out our water tank, which is a pain in the ass.

We all went to dinner at Annabelle's/Rubin (The owners) restaurant and had a delicious lobster dinner for $15 per person, can't beat it! They pay about $400 pesos (~$40 USD) for 4 lobsters, or depending on the size - that's $10 USD per tail, expensive for a small town in my opinion, and then have us for dinner for $15 per person, which includes chips, salsa, rice, beans, and salad. Good value for us, not sure if for them?

On the Peanut/Oldsmobile front, he's been such a champ. Poor guy was so sea sick on this passage, first time since we've left Seattle, so I think we're going to hook him up with Dramamine for this next passage to Mag Bay, another 2 days at sea. (Yes, you can give dogs Dramamine! very cool, our vet gave us the doseage guidance). He's back to good health now though.

The Banda Ancha broadband stick is so slow here in Turtle Bay, so no pictures for this post. Will get some up when we hit Cabo for sure. We are heading out today for part 2 of our trip, to Mag Bay. Here we go again....


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Heading to Cabo & Current Itinerary

Cabo San Lucas, here we come!!

We have about 700 nautical miles to travel to Cabo from Ensenda, where we are currently. There isn't much to see going down the Baja peninsula, lots of anchorages and maybe one or two small towns, so we're going to try to get down there as quickly as possible.  There are a few boats leaving on Monday morning with us, so it'll make the trip feel a bit safer knowing that we can radio them and do check-ins on our way. It's nice to know someone is out there at sea with us when we're sailing and doing overnights!
A very small Mexican flag

Currently itinerary and where we've been:

10/30 to 11/25: San Diego, CA
11/26 to 12/2: Ensenada, Mexico (where we are currently)
12/3 to 12/6: Ensenada to Turtle Bay (Bahia Tortuga), Mexico
12/8: Turtle Bay to Magdalena Bay (Bahia Magdalena), Mexico
12/9: Mag Bay to Cabo San Lucas (Sammy Hagar, here we come! (for New Year's!))
12/10 to ??: Cabo/Los Cabos
12/?? to ??: La Paz in the Sea of Cortez

Here's a map of the area, where we are currently (Ensenada, north, just over the border) and where we're going:

Baja peninsula & inland Mexico map

More detailed map of Baja

A few fun facts about Ensenada:
- Ensenada means 'cove' in Spanish
- Is the 3rd largest city in Baja
- Is a popular cruise ship destination, can get here quickly from LA or the west coast
- Has a 'wine country' like Napa
- Has a very active/athletic community - people love to mountain bike, hike etc here
- Is a university town, home to the University of Baja California
- The Sierra San Pedro Martir mountains make a beautiful backdrop to the city
- Like San Diego, the average high temp annually is 70 degrees (F)
- The tres leches at the Calimax (local grocery store) is awesome! and only $2.50 USD/ 250 pesos

T, in line at Tel Cel, this wireless store operates like a bank, with
tellers. We got our new cell phones and our Banda Ancha
wireless USB stick, which I'm on right now and it works
like a charm; $40 for 3G!

Just when we thought we were missing the states, we ran into
a little piece of home :) and it wasn't the only one,
we soon found out!

"The Whale Man" statue, made out of
whale bones, complete with cape,
 at Ensenada harbor

A picture of Cruiseport Village Marina, where we are now

A Carnival cruise ship came in today, huge

A close up of the lines holding this giant ship steady to land

Wish us luck,
--K & T