Log #62n Topolobampo to Mazatlan

February 26, 2019 in Logs by Series, Series 62, The Logs

Log #62n Topolobampo to Mazatlan

La Cruz, Nayarit, Mexico

March 2, 2018

On Feb. 12, we were finally ready to leave San Carlos after a delay of seven weeks for engine repairs (We returned to Veleda on Dec. 17.), and had a good forecast as the winds had turned northerly once more, the predominant pattern, and we were heading south. We anchored out in Bahia San Carlos for the night, and actually departed next day at 1745 for an overnight passage beginning our two day sail down to Topolobampo, 195 miles away. We motorsailed SE all night until 0615 when the winds came up a bit from the northwest, allowing us to sail wing on wing all day and into the next night.

Night passages can be beautiful, especially in light winds with the engine off, quietly gliding through the ink black sea, with the phosphorescence sparkling in our wake. There was no moon, and the stars provided a glorious panoply of diamonds in the night sky. My favourite star cluster is the Pleiades, a faint grouping adjacent to Orion’s belt and sword. It is interesting on the long night watches to follow the Big Dipper as it rotates counter clockwise around the North Star, while the Pleiades dip below the north western horizon.

I was entranced not only by the phosphorescence of Veleda’s wake, but the misty sheets of glowing illumination from the schools of small fish undulating beneath the surface. Ghostly apparitions darted through the waters, the phosphorescent wakes of dolphins checking out Veleda’s passage through their liquid night-time domain. Calm night passages are an ethereal experience of the cruising lifestyle. Other benefits of night passages are the glorious sunsets and sunrises that can be observed across the open horizons. 

However, heavy winds at night can be a trying tension-filled experience as the height and direction of the wind driven waves cannot be anticipated until the boat is overtaken by a phosphorescent roar of a cresting roller surging the boat ahead then wallowing it in the trough, or crashing into an oncoming wall of angry water, pounding the bow drastically off course.

At 0330 the second morning the winds shifted more northerly requiring us to gybe the sails. When sailing wing on wing, this is not an easy manoeuvre, especially in the dark. Our procedure, starting with the main on port and the genoa on starboard, is to furl the genoa with the whisker pole still attached, then gybe the main to starboard. I then go forward to release the pole from the starboard sheet (the line that controls the sail) and reattach it to the port sheet. The genoa is now ready to be wung out to the port side of the boat. This procedure of furling the genoa before releasing the whisker pole makes grabbing the port sheet easier as it is not flogging around. Judy then hauls the genoa out with the port sheet, while I stay forward to manually adjust the pole so it holds the sail out right at the clew (the outer corner of the sail); all this in the dark in a following sea. However, I am attached with my safety harness to jack-lines we have running the length of the boat. At night we do not get out of the cockpit unless we have our safety harnesses on and clipped to the jack lines.

By 0800 the second morning, Feb. 15, we furled the sails and turned the engine on as we approached Topolobampo. The entrance is a long buoyed channel through the shallows to enter the sheltered waters to the town. Rather than going in to the town marina, we took the channel past the commercial docks into the large inner bay, Bahia Ohuira.  During much of this 10 mile transit into the bahia we were accompanied by harbour dolphins.  We came to anchor off Isla Pato (Duck Island), a bird sanctuary for herons, egrets, cormorants and pelicans (25° 36.991′ N, 109° 09.928′ W) after a 41 hour, 194 mile passage, our first this season.

We dropped the dinghy into the water and slowly motored the island’s shoreline, unable to circumnavigate the island as half the shore was too shallow even for the dinghy. The low shrubs on the island were alive with birds nesting. We saw a couple of sailing shrimping pangas, their crews resting along the rocky shoreline. 

 These interesting boats have long bamboo poles extending bow and stern, and use a colourful triangular mainsail from the mast to drift downwind dragging a trawl net for shrimp. At night we saw dozens of these boats, their white lights extending along the visible horizon from the tip of the island to the mainland. Quite a sight at night. 



A collision at sea can ruin your entire day

Next day we weighed anchor at 1130, accompanied by a small flotilla of bottle-nose dolphins. We were exiting on a falling tide as we made our way 10 miles out past the town and into the dredged outer channel for another four miles of heavy wave action accentuated by wind against current, as we were going out with the ebb tide.

We were pounding quite profoundly with steep three metre waves at short intervals, pounding Veleda and especially our dinghy on the dinghy tow to the extent I tied a line as additional support for our stern rail holding the dinghy. 

After we finally exited the channel we were sailing down wind, relieved of crashing into the waves. We set the main to port with the preventer secured to guard against an accidental gybe, and the genoa wung out to starboard with the whisker pole, sailing down wind in 15 to 20 knot winds, over hull speed at 6 to 7 knots. A great sail!

After we got the sails squared away, we were now on our long course leg of 130° for about 100 miles by about 1400 (2:00PM), two and a half hours since weighing anchor. We relaxed in the cockpit.

 At 1435 I thought I heard a strange tinny noise, and looked forward from the port side cockpit bench. My heart almost stopped! There in front of us only three boat lengths ahead (less than 100 feet) was the bow of a large (fifty metre) fishing trawler head on and we were pounding down on it at 7 knots! I bolted to the auto helm, putting it on standby and turning the wheel two full turns to starboard hoping to avoid a head on collision. Veleda responded well, and swung 90 degrees to starboard narrowly avoiding the trawler’s bow. I then had to alter back to port to avoid a gybe. As we surfed down the port side of the trawler less than 10 metres off its semi-wung out trawl arms, I realized the fishing boat was at anchor, out here, three miles off shore!

It was my fault totally, for not having kept a continuous lookout!

Had we collided, we would have lost Veleda, tangled up in the trawler’s rigging, and if we were pitched into the heavy wind driven sea, we may not have survived. Incidentally, Veleda is not insured. We have coverage for any damage Veleda may do to others, but not for herself.

(The arms of the one we just missed were up more at 45 degree angle.)

Lesson learned which we should have known; keep a regular lookout!

Within a 25 minute period we went from a clear horizon to a near collision with an anchored vessel! Thinking of the remote possibility of a collision, what are the chances that a steady course three miles off shore would put us on a head-on collision course with another vessel with a footprint of only its beam and side rigs for about a total of a twenty five foot wide target? Very remote, but it happened!

I shiver as I write of this experience. What if … I had not heard the noise and did not look up and react at that moment? Catastrophe!

We continued sailing above hull speed with 15 to 20 knot winds astern of us. A gybe the next day Feb. 17 was rough in that our traveller was not fastened down in the jam cleat, and when the main gybed it swung violently across in a larger arc than planned and broke the seizing on the main sheet. However Judy was able to re-reeve the line and temporarily knotted it in place so we could continue sailing with no problems.

We calculated for this 220 mile passage at five knots that if we left Topolobampo at noon that we would arrive in Mazatlan shortly after dawn two days hence. However we averaged over six knots and were faced with hanging around outside Mazatlan for a few hours, or trying a night entrance into a strange harbour with 15 to 20 knot stern winds. We could not slow down.

Near sunset the second day I wanted to put the engine on before sunset to reduce the wallowing we were experiencing, but it was not pumping water! The pounding had drained the water bowl, and we had to open it, pour some sea water into it and close it rapidly to ensure water was trapped in the bowl and would pump through the engine. It worked, and we left the engine on for the rest of the night to ensure it was operational. By 2130 the wind had died to a light breeze of about five knots, and we furled the main and genoa to motor the rest of the night.

We were still faced with a night time entry into Mazatlan. At least the winds were dying down, but the waves were still heavy following seas. As we approached the city, I saw several fishing boats to starboard. Seeing at a distance, the red port light of one, as I watched it, the light pulled forward of us. Then I realized it was closing on us and we were on a collision course! I did a 360 degree turn to port to avoid it and returned to our course astern of it. We then turned on the radar to identify any other boats that might cross our path.

 Shortly before midnight on the 17th I had to make our night time, first entry, into the Marina District of Mazatlan. This involved a diagonal course of 120 towards the breakwater, then a 90 degree turn to port to enter between the red and green lights of the entrance, careful not to go beyond the entrance as there are shoals 100 feet (30 metres) south of the opening. We were wallowing in the following waves as we rounded into the opening. The wave action died rapidly, but we had another 90 degree turn to starboard once inside the opening and had to look out for a dredge that was alongside the channel to our port side. Whew, we were inside the channel. 

 We had originally planned to go up to the fuel dock further inside at Marina Fonatur. However, I was so nervous about our entry I decided to go to the fuel dock at the first marina, El Cid, an expensive resort marina, I thought. When we were coming alongside the fuel dock, a gentleman waved us off as there was a cross channel ferry using it. He waved us across to another dock and actually came over to help us alongside. When we were there and secured, he indicated we could stay the night and check in in the morning. We were alongside and secure and exhausted, after a stressful 36 hours and 217 nautical miles, and just went to bed. 

In the morning we went along the dock towards the office. On the way we saw Shannon Spirit, a boat we met in La Paz the previous Christmas of 2017. We knocked and had a good conversation with Carolyn and Cathy, who had owned of Shannon, Ontario 32 Hull #1, and who had been in Marina El Cid for several weeks.

We decided to stay in the marina rather than going up into Marina Mazatlan, our original destination. We are glad we did as the luxurious Marina El Cid with full access to its resort facilities was actually cheaper at 75 cents per foot per night than Marina Mazatlan at 95 cents a foot, without the facilities of the resort.

More about our time at Marina El Cid in my next log.