July 7 – 25, 2022
As had largely been the case since leaving Costa Rica, our final push for Puerto Vallarta and the Sea of Cortez was a blur of foregoing potential stops in favor of continual forward progress.
Recently, we had begun to notice that the certainty of turtle traffic was giving way to the certainty of cargo ship traffic.
At one point, despite being in three thousand feet of water fifteen miles offshore, we found ourselves surrounded by no less than seven cargo ships, all parking in the middle of the ocean while they awaited their turn loading or unloading ashore.
We had been motoring for five hours after setting out from Marina Ixtapa. Kris was at the helm. Below deck, I was startled as Kris yelled out and threw Exit into an emergency full stop.
Stretched across our path was a fishing longline. Kris had spotted the floating plastic bottle that the line was attached to just as we were on top of it. Standing on deck, I could just see the florescent orange monofilament line running under our hull. We had not crossed completely over it, which would have inevitably resulted in the line getting tangled in our spinning prop.
Exit has a line cutter attached on the propeller which more than likely would have sliced right through it, but then potentially you have a very angry fisherman on your hands. We had heard stories of irate fishermen demanding money for damages – even a first hand account from a family who inadvertently became entangled in a fishing net while underway in their sailboat. They had actually been boarded by the fisherman during the ensuing altercation.
We didn’t see any fishing boats at the moment, but one has to assume they are not far away.
Slowly backing up, our worries were confirmed. Though we had avoided fouling the prop, the longline was hung up on something underneath Exit.
Thankfully, at that moment conditions couldn’t have been much calmer… because I was going for a swim.
A quick inspection revealed that it wasn’t the florescent orange long line that was hung up. Attached to that line were endless smaller clear monofilament lines, each that had numerous hooks attached. One of the hooks had gotten caught somewhere in the centerboard mechanism. I couldn’t get it free.
Easy enough to cut the smaller line. The main line would remain undamaged, and there would only be a handful of small hooks lost. No foul. The effort would probably even be appreciated by the fisherman.
What was concerning was the amount of tension currently on the main longline attached to the hooked lines attached to us. I was quite fearful that, when I cut the hook free from Exit’s centerboard, I could be snagged by one of the other hooks as the longline snapped back. Literally hooked like a fish, I would be still be attached to the longline as it pulled away from Exit.
It did not paint a positive picture as far as potential outcomes. But neither did being boarded by angry men in rubber boots smelling of fish.
With a knife, I sliced through the clear fishing line hooked to our centerboard, holding my body in such a way as to try to create as small of target as possible. The tensioned line shot away with an audible twang. Mercifully, as the undamaged longline disappeared into the blue, I was not hooked to it.
A short time later we were back underway. In the distance, we could now just see the small fishing boat. We were glad we had sorted out our shit and could continue without fear of fallout.
An otherwise uneventful two hundred twenty nautical mile passage brought us to Barra de Navidad at 3:30am, prompting us to drop anchor in Melaque on the far side of the bay, awaiting the light of day to enter the Barra de Navidad lagoon.
By mid-afternoon, we were sitting inside the lagoon with lake-like conditions all around us, blue skies above us, and iced Kraken rum in front of us.
While we more confidently awaited what we hoped would be a bit of sailing wind to continue north, we got some projects done and tried to relax a bit.
However, an intended day of sun, food, drink and relaxation at a nearby resort turned into a stressful and depressing fiasco after a combination of communication failures and differences in interpretation of resort policies between a very pleasant and unconcerned desk clerk and one of his colleagues, an authoritarian and ill-mannered prick who took his pool policing duties ridiculously seriously.
Though one resort Nazi is hardly reason to pick up anchor and leave, a constant awareness in the backs of our minds that, weather-wise, we were sitting on borrowed time the longer we hung out here was, on the other hand, quite motivating.
Five days later, another overnight passage carried us the hundred and fifty miles we needed to travel to reach La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, which shared a bay with Puerto Vallarta.
We expected no wind at all, but by mid-afternoon found ourselves moving along at five knots of speed under power of sails alone with a full genoa and mainsail.
As the light of the day began to fade, the horizon implied that the evening’s sunset could be rather mundane. But sometimes it’s not only the colors that contribute to an unforgettable sunset.
With no earlier hint of its presence, a single dolphin leapt clean out of the water just off Exit’s starboard side.
Immediately after that, we began to see small dots appearing in the distance in every direction. Before we knew it, we were surrounded.
Another magical dolphin experience.
This time, a huge pod that seemed to converge upon us from all different directions…spinner dolphins and they provided quite a show. Not a super-pod. Still, we had never been surrounded by so many at once. Incredible!
Sunrise the following morning was spectacular.
Puerto Vallarta / Cruz de Huanacaxtle:
We were finally at the doorstep of where we needed to be. And though we felt we could breathe a bit easier now, our comfort level would increase dramatically more after we had crossed the threshold and actually entered the Sea of Cortez, or Gulf of California.
And then, within twenty four hours of our arrival, we had our first hostile incident with locals. Returning from a dinghy trip ashore to town, we found three locals sitting aboard Exit.
They quickly left as we scrambled aboard.
Fortunately, it appeared they had not taken anything. However, it also appeared that they had left something. Giant runny splatters of pelican shit! On deck. On the solar panels. On the windlass and anchor chain. Everywhere…
That day, our love for pelicans was truly tested. How rude!
Aside from the unprecedented pelican squatting incident, and a few nervous weather moments, we found Cruz de Huanacaxtle to be a perfect location for us to relax a bit.
Wandering about and people watching…
And an incredible view…
Still, we kept reminding ourselves this was only a rest stop.
One week later, we lifted anchor and set out. From La Cruz Huanacaxtle, the door to the Gulf of California was wide open. We left three primary options on the table.
Mazatlan, 175 miles or thirty four hours away; Cabo San Lucas, 285 miles or two and a half days away; La Paz, 365 miles or a bit over three days away.
For slightly less than three days we continued pressing forward, experiencing everything from completely becalmed seas and clear skies to a midnight deluge complete with thirty-three knot winds accompanied by deafening thunder and lightning.
Offshore storms at night can be particularly terrifying. A torrent of rain being pushed sideways into the cockpit by over thirty knot winds in pitch blackness, occasionally punctuated by a distant flash or, even worse, nearby explosion of electricity, combined with the unpredictable and sometimes violent motions of storm seas can make for some rather interesting evenings.
On the other hand, those same seas and skies create unforgettably magical experiences as well.
Sunsets under sail. Alone for as far as you can see in every direction. There’s something indescribable about being the only witnesses to such an unbelievable display of colors in nature. A private show for those fortunate enough to be at that particular location during those fleeting moments.
Sometimes you only think that you’re alone.
Offshore, when you do receive visitors, they are usually unanticipated guests arriving unannounced, but they are almost always welcome.
When we eventually dropped anchor nearly three days later it was 1:25 in the morning. We had just completed a three hundred fifty five nautical mile jaunt across the mouth of the Sea of Cortez, or more properly, the Gulf of California.
We had arrived at the Baja peninsula, not quite a hundred miles north of Cabo San Lucas and less than fifty miles from La Paz.
It had been exactly one month ago, to the day, that we had departed Marina Chiapas, Mexico. In that time, we had travelled one thousand three hundred fifty miles aboard Exit.
Since passing through the Panama Canal six months ago, Exit had made good on nearly three thousand miles of Pacific coastline.
Inside the Gulf of California…finally.
We had made it!
And, though it seemed as though we had found paradise once again, experience told us – things are never simple on a boat…