Splashed a hundred feet off our bow. Thick black smoke poured from the funnel of the WWII vintage ship as she pushed thru the seas at her full speed of 18 knots.
Which was still double the speed this Kadey Krogen could do. In fact, the only time we would ever see even 15 knots, would be if we went over a waterfall.
My little imagination had to settle down; returning to reality, I knew why we were being stopped. An hour before, a panga had crossed our bow about one half mile ahead. Seeing our paravane stabilizers deployed, I’m sure he reported that we were fishing or trawling. We do look like a trawler after all.
Therefore, I was not surprised an hour later when the grey shape of a warship appeared on the horizon.
Watching the radar track, they were aiming for us, so I was ready for their call. They hailed us as “the fishing vessel”. We changed to a working channel on the VHF and they requested that we stop for an inspection.
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From this start to finish, the Mexican Navy was the epitome of professionalism and courtesy. It’s simply the nature of Mexicans as I’ve experienced in all my encounters these last months. No matter where or when, even in New York.
The ship was the ARM Farias, P110, a minesweeper built in Alameda, California in 1942 as the USS Starling (AM-64) and sold to Mexico in 1973.
Asked to heave to, making no way, our ride became very rolly, as the paravanes need to be moving to stabilize the boat. So, I asked to make some way and that request was granted. Larry and I then watched for the next half hour as the Farias deployed their skiff (an 18-foot panga), which then motored over to us.
We had retrieved our lee side paravane pole and bird, so the panga could offload on that side. The boarding party consisted of about 6 and the lieutenant in command spoke good English. He proceeded to tell us the same boiler plate language that had been said when we were initially stopped, essentially that since we were in Mexican territorial waters, they requested that we agree to an inspection (yes, it was a request that could not be denied, but it’s still nice to be asked, even when we all know what the response must be, “Yes, of course”.
Obvious as soon as they were aboard that we were not fishing, the lieutenant then proceeded to go through an inspection checklist. This did take more than 40 minutes, as they recorded serial numbers of many of the electronic devices on board, even cell phones and radios. I got the impression that this recording of such information was to demonstrate that the inspection had been carried out.
He also did look in our living areas, in the drawers under the bed and in various storage compartments. Almost everything is stored in large plastic containers and tubs. He asked me to open one that was stored in the passageway, under the washing machine. It contained my winter coats. That was the only and only container I had to open, which I was grateful for since we’d probably still be there if I had to open the 20 odd containers of spare parts in the engine room.
I asked if their ship was a minesweeper and they confirmed my guess, adding that is was built in 1942.
I told them they should ask Trump for a new ship. They thought this was very funny. I was serious. If we can spend billions for a wall, the least we could do is give the countries the tools they need to stop any illegal activities. That we don’t, just shows what a farce this whole secure the borders act is.
At the end of the inspection, they did ask, phrased as, “our commander asks if you have a new Mexican flag? As the one you have is too frayed”
This also didn’t surprise me, as having decent national or courtesy flags can be an issue worldwide. And in fact, I did nave a new flag (remember, on a boat, if you need one, you need two) and they were pleased when I replaced it.
So, ended our stop by the Mexican Navy. Very nice, polite and friendly, I thanked them for keeping us all safe.
As the winds finally let up after 10 days to let us get out of the tourist hell that is Cabo San Lucas, I was optimistic that having a functional dingy would give us increased stopping opportunities.
One of the key factors in deciding to burn money staying at the marina in Cabo for $100 per day was the lack of a serviceable dingy. Though, the reviews for anchoring outside the harbor, were mixed at best.
Leaving Cabo, the plan was to get a few days up the coast to wait out the next forecast period of strong northwesterly winds that preclude any movement north. Our goal was Magdalena Bay, a very large bay, similar to San Francisco Bay.
We had decided to bypass the anchorage off the Magdalena Bay entrance, as it did not look as protected as San Carlos, point another 12 miles north through a meandering, narrow channel. We were also looking forward to getting the taste of Cabo out of our systems be visiting a real Mexican town again.
Thus, the die was cast for Puerto San Lucas.
As we were passing the anchorage, heading up channel, we heard a call on the VHF, weak, but readable, in Spanish, telling us something. Again, my Spanish stinks, so I wasn’t sure what was being said, but I guessed it was about Puerto San Lucas and we’d figure it out when we got there. I’d already made the decision that the anchorage at Magdalena Bay was too open for my likes.
12 miles and two hours later, as we approached Puerto San Lucas, we got the call again. This time, it was loud and clear that the port was closed due to the anticipated high winds. I suspected that, so we told them we were going to head a couple miles further north to anchor in the lee of the mangroves. That was met with happy approval, since it was clear in the tone of the conversation, that the port captain didn’t like telling us the port was closed to us.
We proceeded north another few miles which put us right on the edge of the charted area of both the C-Map and Navionics charts. Going very slowly as the water shallowed, at one point, I did let us get out of the channel and had to rapidly reverse to avert the 17th grounding of my career (but who’s counting?)
Video of us approaching out anchorage
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Anchored in about 10 feet of water, with 100 feet of chain and snubber for the anticipated winds, we were quite content. The winds were already 15 to 20, gusting to the high 20’s, but with no fetch, the seas were very small, less than half a foot, and Dauntless was rock steady.
We did swing around overnight due to the current, but my 55-pound Delta anchor has never dragged since I got it 4 years ago. I don’t even bother with an anchor alarm anymore, but I admit that’s because I have given up on Drag Queen probably because it turns itself off due to poor reception in my cabin and more importantly, I don’t anchor off lee shores.
Having sleep like a baby, the previous two nights having been spent underway, we woke up full of piss and vinegar. Time to take the dingy to Puerto San Lucas and check out the action, well more like, check out the food.
Now, not being totally stupid, I decided to go upwind for a bit to see how well the dingy and its puny 5 hp outboard could handle the conditions. As you can see from the video, all looked great, though the winds were blowing 20 to 25 knots.
Did I do the math? No. Puerto San Lucas was about 2.5 to 3 miles away; downwind.
But we set off with the winds to our back, the only concern was where we could land the dingy. Not knowing that location was mistake number #1.
Mistake #2 was I have two handheld VHF radios. The primary one, the ICOM, battery could no longer charge, so that was on the list of things to replace. The secondary one, the Chinese whatever, would take real rocket scientist to figure out how to use, thus it was relegated to some storage container someplace where I put things I don’t feel like dealing with.
Video of our test lap
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Besides, why would we possibly need a radio.
Twenty minutes later, zipping right along, maybe a half mile upwind of town, wondering where we could land the dingy. We see a man cast fishing, standing in about 1 to 2 feet of water maybe a few hundred feet from shore. Let’s head there.
As we get closer, we finally realize we are running of water. Umm, those rocks look so close. I reach to unlatch the outboard, so it can tilt upwards and as I fiddle with the lever, ge-clunk, the prop hits a rock or two and we are in half a foot of water.
We get out the oars, yes, I remembered to take them, only to realize we are hard aground, as the wind continues to push us towards shore.
I jump out, to get us turned around, Larry starts to row. Some minutes later, we are in deeper water, enough to start the outboard.
Rule #1, when running aground, follow the same route out as you followed in. Mistake #3, not following Rule #1. We were further to the west than our track in.
Getting the outboard started we decided to head back to Dauntless. The outboard had a bad vibration; I’d bent the prop. That, the 25 knot headwinds with the now 1 to 2-foot seas it produced, along with a heavier dingy and two people, meant that our downwind speed of probably 5 to 6 knots, was now about 2 knots.
Every minute we would be splashed by a breaking wave. We couldn’t see Dauntless at all. I knew where she was, but clearly, we were more than 2 miles away. That meant, we had an hour of this.
That’s when we went aground again. This time coupled with a belching of very black motor oil, like the Exxon Valdez had passed through. I thought I had totaled the outboard, as in the prop hitting a solid object was enough to break a connecting rod inside the motor.
But the motor started up and we seemed to crawl northwards. I didn’t know where the oil (about a cup worth) had come from, but I expected the motor to quit at any moment. The winds and seas were too strong to row again. Even with the outboard still running, we were doing at best 2 knots.
We discussed contingency plans.
We decided to head north until the boat came into sight and hope the motor lasted long enough. I kept on asking Larry if he thought we were making any progress. That guy fishing was still quite visible, while Dauntless was no where to be seen. This went on for the next 30 minutes, until it was obvious that we were making progress. Though I wondered for how long. The outboard was clearly on its last legs, shaking itself to death with no oil.
We decided that if the outboard quit, we would have to head west to the shore, about 1 mile away. We could not go upwind, but if we angled across the wind, we should be able to make shore. At that point, we would get out and walk along the shore in deep enough water to drag the dingy north. Once NW of Dauntless, we would row to her.
We were cold and wet, but having a plan that was at least feasible, made me feel slightly better. Though I was feeling miserable that I was subjecting Larry to this fiasco. That was making me feel worse. When I’m alone and fuck up, I deal with it. But I hate for others to suffer because of my actions. This is why I like being alone many times. I don’t feel stressed nor responsible for anyone else. If I torture myself, so be it, I deserved it.
The Kadey Krogen came into sight after about 40 minutes since we stared heading back. She blended well into the background. The outboard sounded worse than ever. I pictured it quitting within feel of Dauntless. With these winds and waves, no way could we have rowed to her. Even if we were 100 feet away, we would probably have to row to shore, a half mile away, and do our drag up the coast to get upwind of her.
I crossed my fingers and toes.
About this time, we saw a panga heading south. But it was about a half mile to our east and by the time we saw it, it was well south of us. Had I seen it earlier, I would have waved it down. He could have towed us to Dauntless in 10 minutes. But it wasn’t to be. I was reminded how stupid it was, especially under such conditions, to venture forth without a radio.
For 30 minutes we watched Dauntless get bigger and bigger. I prayed to Poseidon, Circe and whoever would listen to just get there. Finally, as I bumped into the swim platform and Larry grabbed ahold, I breathed a sigh of relief. We’d made it.
Getting the dingy rigged to the winch line, I decided to see if the outboard would start. No, it was done. I was grateful it kept on going that last hour.
I’ve written before about the “having two keys”. There have been countless times when I have lost a key but had duplicates someplace. Whereas I can never remember having lost a key when it was my only one. I wondered if I was more careless than usual because I knew I had another outboard in the future? My friend Mike had promised to give me his spare 15 hp outboard when I got to Southern California.
One never knows, but everything is connected, even when you think it isn’t.
The following day, leaving for Magdalena Bay anchorage, to give us a better head start the next day.
It’s hard to believe that I have 5+ years and 20,000+ miles under my belt. I don’t.
Why, you wonder?
Oh, the routine things, those daily tasks or almost daily takes, are easy. It was in Germany when I lost my bow thruster. That was at the beginning of our 2015 Baltic Adventure. Seems like ages ago.
So, I’m pretty good at back and filling now. I can turn Dauntless around in a 180° in two boat lengths or 85 feet. It also gives me the excuse to Just Say No. When a marina, like recently at Dana Point, gave me a slip that I thought that I may be able to get in, but never get out again, I was able to easily say no, without guilt.
They found an end “T” dock for me.
I can also change the Racor fuel filters and prime them in less than two minutes. But now, I have the wisdom that I don’t need to rush. That’s the advantage of having the two dual Racor filters in parallel. Also, by only feeding from one fuel tank at a time, it a problem or issue develops, I immediately change the tank feed and filter and then diagnose the problem. This came in handy a couple of weeks ago when I sensed a change in engine pitch. I immediately asked Larry to take the helm, while I went to the engine room. Sitting on the stringer in front of the engine, I could tell the rpms were not steady, but slowly rising and falling.
That meant a fuel or air problem.
The Racor bowl looked good, but I immediately changed to the other Racor. No change. I switched fuel tanks. The surging continued and got a bit worse. But now I thought I understood the issue. I talk Larry to increase the throttle. After a moment’s hesitation, the engine started running smoothly and normally again.
What was the problem? I’d run the fuel tank empty!
But I didn’t kill the engine because I acted immediately by changing both the filter (that at that point, probably had some air in it) and the tank. The Ford Lehman can be a PIA if you run it totally out of fuel, but I do have an auxiliary electric pump which I use just to prime the Racors and the engine mounted filters if need be. It works great, within seconds, system is pressurized and no more f…ing with that lift pump on a hot engine.
But the dingy, why that’s another matter. In 2016 we only used it a few times. Sitting in Cabo San Lucas with nothing to do, waiting for the head winds to die down, I figured I may as well make one last attempt to get the dingy going.
I spent an hour in the hot Cabo sun pumping it full of air. I’d already used another tube of 5200 to seal the back transom to the pontoons. The dingy looked pretty good. No need for a new stink’in dingy. I had looked at the local Costco the day before but saw no sign of any. (My observational powers leave a lot to be desired).
Then in yet another moment of inexperience, I decided to lower the dingy to the dock, without checking the outboard.
I was feeling pretty good until the next morning. That sad picture tells the tale.
I decided that we could survive without the dingy. And in hindsight, we would’ve, could’ve, should’ve done without one.
Returning to Costco to stock up on required supplies like Danishes for yet another attempt to head north, I spotted the dingy that had eluded me the last TWO visits. They had it displayed standing vertically, on it’s tail. Of course, I couldn’t see it like that. They may as well have hung it from the ceiling. But remember, that this point, I had decided to go without. How was I going to get it to the boat in any case, so, I just bought my Danishes
Walking out of the store, I noticed these guys, presumably taxi drivers, and with my 20-word Spanish vocabulary, I never found out, but they did point me back to the store and I understood that Costco delivered.
When businesses make it easy to spend money, I’m all in. In 10 minutes, I had my dingy bought and they would deliver the next day.
Another hour of foot pumping, my new dingy was good to go. Now, to get the outboard working. Of course, after The First and Nearly the Last almost a year of non-use, it was a no-go.
I realized I had to clean the ports in the carburetor again. No biggie, except in my inexperience, I had not done this while the outboard was on the boat or even on the dock. It was now sitting on the transom of the new dingy. I debated trying to take the carb apart while hanging off the end of the boat., but realized it was a sure way to lose a critical part. My back would have to pay the price for my brain not thinking about this before.
Another hour later, I finally was good to go and thought it would be good to take the dingy down to the fuel dock and fill up the gas can.
All went as planned and I was left with a confidence that I did not deserve.
The video of the first and nearly the last dingy trip
Only day’s away from completing this 2,000-mile, two-month journey, I found myself breaking yet another of my hard and fast rules I made for myself 5 years ago. Entering yet another harbor at night, and having to anchor by radar, avoiding darkened, moored boats and mooring balls.
But like most hard and fast rules, I had to weigh the circumstances against various risks. In this case, anchoring at night was the least risky option. I’d left Channel Island Harbor at 04:00 for the 120 nm voyage to San Luis Obispo harbor. I’d planned on 19 hours. Thus, to arrive before sunset, would require me to leave the Channel Islands at midnight.
Leaving anyplace at midnight means a total disruption of my sleep cycle. I’d be starting a long trip tired and already behind my personal power curve. By leaving at 04:00, I’d be able to get a reasonable 6 hours sleep and 03:00 is on my natural wake up curve (though normally, I’d go back to sleep for another 3 hours).
Therefore, anchoring in a strange harbor at night seemed for me to be the lessor of two evils.
Let’s talk some basics. Four years ago, I hated my Raymarine E-80 Radar. I felt (and still do) that it was 1980’s technology, dressed to look like the 21st century. It was on my lest to replace at the earliest opportunity when money allowed. I had wanted a radar that I could integrate into my Coastal Explorer and C-Map chart plotter, navigation program.
Using the “Auto” settings, the E-80 will show you if the Exxon Valdez is bearing down on you, but otherwise, it either filters too much or not enough to be useful for close in maneuvering. As the miles and time increased under my belt, I learned how to best fine tune the radar using the manual settings for gain and sea state (which is basically a filter) to make it an effective tool.
Whenever I start the engine, I also turn on the: radar, navigation lights, auto pilot, VHF radios and horn.
For the first lesson in using the radar is that you must use it when the visibility is ideal, to be able to effectively and safely use it when the visibility is impaired, whether due to darkness or weather conditions (mainly fog, rain is another issue).
While underway I’m constantly checking and identifying any radar contacts visually, as well as on the navigation charts (for navigation markers, buoys, etc.).
As soon as I spot something the radar does not see, I adjust the radar, fine tuning so to speak. Normally this is just a matter of adjusting the sea state setting, though sometimes I also must fine tune the gain. E.g. I may see a fishing skiff a half mile off my starboard quarter, but it’s not showing up on the radar. I’ll have to lower the sea state setting, maybe only a few points, until the skiff shows up, but not the countless wave tops around it. Sometimes, I’ll have to adjust the gain also.
My goal is always for the radar to show me potential hazards, without showing me wave tops. For the last couple of years, my tuning technique has been good enough to do exactly that. Forget the “auto” settings, they are hopeless.
Since I don’t get many false alarms, this also allows me to maximize the use of the two zone monitors. For coastal cruising, like I’ve done since entering the Pacific Ocean, I set up a ring at ½ mile, that’s an 1/8 of a mile thick. Thus, if anything enters that ring you get an alarm. If you just put a circle around your boat at ½ mile, the radar will see some clutter very close to the boat and thus render the alarm, ineffective at best and annoying at worse. I make this ring go about 220° to 300° around the boat. That way it will see something approaching from the stern quarters, but not directly behind, as the radar will occasionally see a reflection of the mast, again making it ineffectual.
The second zone I set up 1 to 1.5 miles from the boat, in a much more 20° arc.
On the open ocean, well away from land, I’ll basically double these distances.
If I do get any false alarms, I adjust again. Usually it happens as the sea state gets worse (bigger seas).
For my set up, I find values of both the gain and the sea state in the 70’s to work best. In flat seas, I can lower the sea state to just above 50, but again, even changes of 1 or 2 can make a significant difference.
On this night, entering San Luis Obispo (SLO), as the seas calmed as I entered the bay that is protected from the NW through the East, I readjusted the sea state, lowering the filter values. From my charts I knew there was a mooring field, presumably with some moored boats. I adjusted the E-80 so that it would pick up objects as small as the mooring balls. Had the seas been above 2 to 3 feet, this would have been an impossibility, but if I had such seas in the harbor, I wouldn’t be stopping in any case.
This night, with strong NW winds, the harbor was well sheltered and the seas where maybe half a foot or less. Under those conditions the radar will do well.
I open and secure both pilot house doors, so that I can have quick access to looking out. I also go to the bow to scan the approach with binoculars (7×35), which I find very effective a night in poor light conditions.
Thus, I have that visual picture in my head, while checking the radar to ensure it’s seeing the same things. Again, because I am constantly doing this in the daytime in good visibility, I have the confidence to know what the radar is telling me at night, when I must trust
Here is a short video of it of me getting ready to enter the harbor:
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Here are some stills made 2 minutes before the above video:
Three years ago, going through the main shipping channels of the Kattegat to the Skagerrak over the top of Denmark, I was terrified by what my brain perceived as the massive ship about to crush Dauntless. I was outside the channel, marked m red buoy, I knew the ship had to stay in the channel. The radar told me the buoy and this massive ship were ¼ mile distant, but my brain, every time I looked at the ship, I could swear was less than 50 feet away.
My mind was so convinced this ship was towering over us, that even as I checked and rechecked the positions of the markers on the chart and the ship and marker on the radar, all showed the target as more than a quarter mile away, but my mind would just not accept it.
I only calmed down when the ship was past. In the daytime, my mind would not have been fooled, but at night, the perspective of distance, becomes very difficult.
I realized then that if I was going to continue to travel at night and not die of a heart attack, I had to make sure I knew exactly what the radar was telling and what it wasn’t and once done, accept what it showed.
So, this night, almost midnight, as I pulled into SLO bay, the radar guided me to a large area with a diameter of about half a mile with no mooring balls, though there were a couple of boats anchored on the west edge.
No fuss; no muss,
I was anchored in 25 feet of water at 23:20 having done 120 nm in 19 hours and 30 minutes, at an average speed of 6.2 knots.