Blog 1st Feb

8th January 2024

So another year starts and the toilet is leaking again. It’s only salt water but needs attention. In fact I think I may have caused the problem by not knowing how to use a screwdriver properly; you would think at the age of 65 I would have got it by now, but no, there’s a special thing to do with self tapping screws in plastic that you have to turn the screw backwards first. Well you learn something every day.

Anyway all the best to you all for the new year and I hope you have a good one. It’s certainly going to be an interesting year in the USA and the UK and probably in many other parts of the world too.

Fireworks in Barra for 2024

We arrived in Barra without any issues and I set about fixing the two main problems. Firstly the DC-DC charger that wasn’t working, on closer inspection I found a 60A fuse that looked in a bad way, it had a melted case and I assumed it had blown. This was the feed to the DC-DC. I presumed it blew because I had accidentally shorted the feed when I was swapping the DC inputs and outputs around, but on removing the fuse I found one of the nuts that clamp it down was loose, very loose. Either it had worked its way loose with vibration (unlikely) or I had never tightened it up properly (much more likely). With it being loose it might have generated a lot of heat. On checking the fuse, it hadn’t blown. I replaced it anyway, tightened it up, checked it was tight, asked my nurse to check again and then tested it out. It worked great, and charging was restored. 

Next I looked at the water pump; it had stopped dripping. After running the engine for an hour, the area under the pump was damp, so I’m guessing the salt has built up around the hole and is reducing the water flow. As it’s belt driven, I’m going to leave it a bit before I attempt to change the seal. I’d like to buy some new seals anyway, so will probably do this job after we visit the next big city of Manzanillo.

Barra is lovely, it has pretty much everything we need, fresh bread, 2 artisan bakers if needed, and a French baker who motors around the lagoon announcing on VHF Ch22 that he has baguette, croissants, cakes, wine, coffee etc for sale. There’s lots of fresh fruit and veg, a lovely street market every Thursday, where I bought a new hammock to replace the one the moths took a liking to. There’s also a water taxi that will take you from your boat to the town jetty for $6 return.

Town square – Barra

Every week we are also entertained as a new boat gets caught out by the sand bank on the way into the lagoon. As someone who has run aground more times than I care to admit, I won’t  scoff

They floated off the next day

Last week we walked along the beach to the next, slightly bigger town of El Malaque. Lunch on the beach and a bit of shopping before we took the short taxi ride back. 

The lagoon between Barra and Malaque

I have also tackled some of the other boat jobs. I’m currently fixing things at twice the rate they are breaking, which gives me some hope. The outboard engine has a problem with fuel leaking from the fuel cock (tap). Isaac brought me out a new tap and I finally got around to fitting it. Sadly it didn’t solve the problem. I bought a new tap in La Paz a few years ago, but ordered the wrong part. So far I have spent £100 on taps trying to fix this, and finally I realised it’s the rubber hose that connects the tap to the carburettor that is leaking. I can’t see how, but it appears to have become porous at the end. The hose has a specially preformed shape and I did try to order one, but they aren’t available, hence a google for ‘how to make pre-formed hoses’ had me thinking I could make my own. Unfortunately I don’t have any spare 6mm rubber hose on board but had a go with some PVC hose, I was really impressed at what can be achieved with some basic tools and the boat’s cooker. I managed to make a replacement part which not only bends in two dimensions, but three!. Unfortunately, that type of PVC isn’t really suitable for petrol, I’m sure it would work in a pinch, but I’m on the lookout now for some new rubber hose which I can practice on.

Now the boat seems to be in a reasonably good state, I’m turning to playing with the computers again. I brought out a new Raspberry PI 4 with me in October and I finally got it wired into the system. It is running a SignalK server and I’m going to try and get it talking to the BMSs on my new Lithium batteries and the Victron solar MPPT and Battery shunt using Bluetooth. I have never really done anything with bluetooth, but there’s bluetooth libraries for python that work on the PI operating system, so that should be fun.

I removed this hatch to work on the mounts
Here a typical boat disaster, stainless bolt into an aluminium frame
It’s not coming out, ever, especially now I rounded the Allen head
Beach bar at Barra/Malaque
Typical Mexican village setup

Friday 12th Jan.
We motored/sailed from Barra for 3 hours north to the bay at Tenacatita, mostly so I could swim under the boat and clean the prop and give some of the hull a clean. It’s also a lovely spot to chill. The DC-DC charger performed well on the way and the hull seemed not to slow us down much. On diving I found the prop to be very furry and quite a few barnacles taking hold on the hull, I’m a little disappointed with the antifoul and wonder if I will get two years out of this application. I caught a black skipjack tuna on the way here and I almost threw it back in as I don’t really like the taste, it’s a very dark, gamey meat type. I’m going to give it a try tonight as I hate wasting fish.

The beach opposite us at Tenacatita

Monday morning and …
It’s Monday morning and time to leave the delights of Tenacatita and head back to Barra de Navidad for supplies, except ,when I start the engine there’s a terrible squealing noise. It sounds very much like a fan belt slipping so I immediately think alternator belt, I guess this goes back to my early days of car ownership, when this would be a common issue. I yank the engine box off and stare at the alternator belt running around, I’m wondering if there is anything I can do with the thing running to diagnose the problem, I’m thinking pushing the belt with a stick or some similar mad idea when I notice smoke coming from the back of the engine!.  Crikey, this could be a fire, I leap into the cockpit and stop the engine. Jumping back down I’m refreshing my memory as to where the fire extinguishers are but realise there’s no need as the smoke is coming from the belt driving the raw water pump. Feeling around I see the pulley wheel (that can’t be the right name) on the end of the camshaft that drives the water pump belt is really hot, I soon deduce that the water pump is not turning freely and that the belt is slipping at the camshaft end, hence the smoke and heat.

So basically my previous idea that I could ignore the dripping from the water pump was a very bad idea. The sea water had got into the pump’s bearings and they were seizing up. Now I do have spare bearings and seals, I also have a spare pump, but it leaks as well, so I had options. Anyway the rest of the day was spent rebuilding the water pump.

Spare pump will now need new bearings as well.

Firstly I had to disassemble the pump and that meant removing the shaft that sits between two bearings that are pressed in. The manual is clear, it is removed from the pulley end. I assumed that meant it travels away from the pulley end, wrong, it wouldn’t go the way I wanted and the puller tool I used managed to wreck the threaded end of the shaft making it unusable. I explained to Kathy that I’m just not a mechanical engineer, if I was any good at this I would have known that that amount of force on the puller was crazy, anyway I managed to get it apart eventually, cleaned it up, replaced the seal and bearings and put it all back together. I had to cut off half the threaded end as I had misshaped it so badly it was a millimetre wider than it should be and no nuts would go on. Once back on the engine I was feeling confident it should work but was very unhappy to find it was squirting out water worse than before. However it was pumping water around the engine and not making any fuss about it. 

By now it was too late to leave for Barra as I didn’t want to arrive in the dark there, it’s not the easiest of anchorages with depths generally around 2-3 metres.

New Lip Seal, and old bearing

Tuesday 16th 

We depart Tenacatita again, this time I have wrapped the area under the pump, including the starter motor, and the electrics box in tin foil and I have Primark’s (Uk version of Target for very cheap clothing) finest t-shirts stuffed into every crevice under the water pump to catch the leak. Every 15 minutes I swap the t-shirts for dry ones and all works out well. We anchor in Barra at lunchtime and find ourselves inbetween two other Baba 40’s , Greg and Kristen on Sonrisa, and Geoff on the famous Sailors Run. Geoff wrote a great book about his solo non stop sail around the world a few years ago in his Baba 40.
By now I have worked out that something is amiss with this water pump malarkey.  The spare pump was rebuilt but leaked when I first tried it back in La Paz a couple of years ago. The engineer who rebuilt it said he wasn’t surprised as the shaft had a lot of wear. However I was confused then as it was quite a bad leak. Now this current pump was dribbling water out and slowly rusting the bearings, but with the new seal water was gushing out (slight exaggeration for dramatic effect).  The first pump the engineer fixed had worked well, I had provided the seals and bearings, but the second pump he repaired, he had provided the seals and also bought extra seals for me, one of which I had just used. So off to the internet to research, and it’s very difficult to get details for the Volvo pump’s components. Volvo give them special numbers and special prices, the pumps are made by Jabsco, who very kindly also don’t give any details of the parts used for their pumps they supply to Volvo. However I eventually find a site that supplies seals for Volvo pumps which gives dimensions of 16mm for the inside seal that goes on the shaft. The seals the engineer gave me as spares, and presumably the one he used on the leaking pump are in fact 17mm. I’m excited and have concluded that the amount of water pissing out the seal is exactly 1mm’s worth.  However the bearings are for a 17mm shaft, so perhaps that’s what led to the mistake on the seal purchases. So I have ordered a stack of 16mm seals and 17mm bearings and I will be chilling here in Barra until they arrive, hopefully next week. A pain in the arse that all these troubles may have been caused by a very simple mistake of 1mm a couple of years back, but an interesting exercise for me in mechanics. How these lip seals work is another mystery to me, it’s just a sliver of rubber on a rotating steel shaft. Somehow the rubber and the sea water must produce a lubricating surface, clever stuff me thinks.

I decided to do something I’m more capable of, mainly wiring up some sockets. Kathy remarked on how our devices, phones, kindles, iPads etc, are very much like tamagotchis, we seem to spend all our time running around feeding them electricity. and changing their charging cables for fear they might die.

I use my iPhone as the anchor position alarm, so hate it whenever it dies as I have to re-enter the anchor pos. So I added a few more power outlets, some USB, and a higher power charger (SAE) to drive the Starlink system.

Part of this task required me to add some fuses. I took advantage of the time we now have to get Kathy with her eagle eyes to help me sort the fuses out, I find it very hard to read the values stamped on the end with my failing eyesight. between us, and with the help of a magnifying glass we got them all sorted.

This really is the high life eh! at least it’s sunny here.

I ordered seals and bearings from a store in Manzanillo, but also ordered them online from a local ebay type supplier which quickly arrived at the marina.

I figured the seals and bearings at the ‘seals and bearings shop’ in Manzanillo might be a better quality, and as I have learned, you can never have too many seals and bearings, so I took a coach ride to town, to pick them up. It’s a one hour trip there and took me through some wonderful countryside including many banana farms, and a coir warehouse which had hundreds of thousands of coconut husks stacked up in fields ready for processing.

Palms trees amongst the banana fields

Back on the boat the foot operated salt water galley sink pump had started leaking again. I fixed this a few times, but the plastic casing has cracked as the screws rusted and expanded. If you pump slowly, it doesn’t leak much and only leaks when you pump (or so I thought).

The trip to Manzanillo went well except for the fact they wouldn’t let me on the bus home without providing photo-id, which I didn’t have. I explained that was a bit mean as they had been happy for me to take the same coach to the city. Was this a secret plot to repopulate the city I wondered. On production of the morning’s bus ticket they had sold me, they relented and said ‘just this once’ I would be allowed to travel without ID. I pondered for a while on this, and the best explanation I had was from Arturo, who thinks it is related to the large numbers of migrants arriving on the southern Guatemalan border heading north to the USA. I had hoped they were looking for gangsters, cartel members, or maybe international terrorists, but was disappointed they wanted to know I wasn’t an illegal migrant from Columbia or some other struggling country.

new bearings

So with 14 bearings, and 14 seals I set about fixing the pump.

Putting the new 16mm seal in the current leaking pump solved that problem and the engine was up and running again. The shaft itself did not seem too badly damaged in the seal area.
Looking at the other repaired pump that leaked, I found that the engineer had in fact fitted the right seal and was correct that the leak was caused by excessive wear on the shaft. I’m hoping to find a workshop that can fix this, so I will have a spare.

Worn out shaft

So with the engine back and the rest of the boat in decent shape we started to make plans to head south.

A sunset drink at one of the bars we walk past each time we go shopping was called for first.

A couple of days before we left we were seeing quite strong afternoon winds, so much so that a green boat not far ahead of us started to drag. I spotted him as he came alongside the boat right next to us.

I hailed the boats on the VHF but it turned out they were both away. The green boat only had a very small amount of chain out and it eventually caught on the white boats anchor chain. This caused it to come to a stop perfectly alongside the white boat. After a bit of VHF chatter with other nearby boats we decided to head over and see what could be done. In the end we tied the boats together with a stack of fenders in between and laid a second anchor to try and pull them apart a little. Later I found the green boat owners number on the internet and called him. He was on a bus an hour away, but was quick to sort things out when he arrived. He had a few gouges on his cap rail but the white boat suffered no obvious damage. I watched the green boat try to re-anchor several times, but he couldn’t get his anchor to hold at all, not surprising given the small amount of scope he was laying out.

Manglito Restaurant, Barra
Moonrise from the anchorage

We took a bus ride to Cihautlán to provision for our next leg, and also just to see an inland town. A lovely spot with some great little shops.

Cihautlán Bus stop

So with some extra food and drink on board we checked out at the port capitanias office and set sail for the little cove at Carrizal. Here I planned to do a bit of snorkelling and clean the hull as the water is lovely there. We motored out of the Lagoon with no wind at all, but once we cleared the harbour wall we picked up some wind and managed to sail the whole way. About half way, I had reason to look under the cabin sole (floorboards) and noticed they were full of water. I checked under the engine, and the water was very high. I mentioned to Kathy that we were sinking and she asked if I was joking, when I said no, she seemed a bit more concerned. She asked how bad out of ten, and I said I didn’t know yet, but it could be bad, but not to worry, we can see the shoreline.
Normally the automatic bilge pump turns on when water enters the bilge, this was now 3 foot under water and I couldn’t tell if was running and not keeping up, blocked or just not working. I had tested it before Christmas, but perhaps I should test it more often.
Next I powered up the emergency bilge pump and we waited to see if the level dropped. I had run around the boat pulling all the floor covers and couldn’t see any water rushing in, so was feeling a bit more relaxed. Within 30 seconds we could see the level had dropped and pretty soon the bilge was empty of water and I couldn’t see any more coming in.
So after a bit of head scratching I came to the conclusion the problem had been the sea water foot pump that had been leaking. The previous day I noticed some water underneath it, and given that neither Kathy or myself had used it in a day, I decided to turn of the seacock that supplies it. Up until that moment, I presume it had been filling the bilge up.

We arrived safely in Carrizal cove after a lovely gentle 5 hour sail. It’s quite rolly here, so I dinghied out and laid a stern anchor. This pulls the boat so we are pointing into the waves. this makes the boat rock up and down lengthways, and is much much better than the nausea inducing sideways rolling the swell can create.

Location on Mexico’s Pacific Coast

Thursday 1st Feb 2024: Water Water Everywhere

We wake to a lovely morning in Carrizal, however the fresh coffee tastes a little salty. Since the salt water tap is out of action, I rigged up a large bucket of sea water on the stern for cleaning dishes, and Kathy suspects thats the problem. So I dispose of a cafetière of expensive coffee and start again, same problem. I pour a cup of fresh water from the tap and drink some, yuk, it’s salty.
So the fresh water tank has sea water in it. This is annoying, as I paid good money for maybe 8, 20ltr garrafons and carried them from the shore to fill up that tank, and the whole lot are wasted now. Further checking and the starboard tank is good. For comparison, the starboard tank has a reading of 20 parts per million of salts, and the port tank 3500 parts per million. Sea water has over 35000 ppm so the tank has about 10% salt water in it (or so google says). We will continue to use it for washing dishes and cleaning, until it’s empty, then flush it out and refill. In the meantime I have to work out how the water got in to the tank. I presume it must be related to the bilges filling up. There is a connection from the salt water wash-down pump to the fresh water system, but it’s protected by a one way valve, perhaps this opened. This mornings work means that that connection no longer exists, the only person ever to have used it was Tim, when he visited me in Malaysia and used the deck wash pump to shower with after swimming and insisted on using fresh water. Since then it has only been used for cleaning the anchor and deck with sea water, so no great loss there.

I had a lovely swim, great coral and many species of tropical fish here.

Tomorrow we will probably leave and do the 90 minute trip to the Hadas Resort where we can anchor, and visit all the big box stores of Manzanillo.

Paul Collister
1st February 2024

Ending 2023 in Mexico

Christmas Day 2023.
While waiting for the Christmas dinner to cook in the oven, I thought it’s time to get started on a blog update. Apologies for such a long delay, but it’s been hectic. Things will slow down now and I will have more time to catch up on writing, reading and hopefully I can do some of the more pleasurable jobs on the boat.

October: The launch and problem solving.
The launch went well, sadly the primer hadn’t dried fully before. the antifoul was applied to the areas under the stands, so the antifoul was gooey, it seems to have settled now, but I also picked up a load of blue paint from the slings. Still, it was free paint, mustn’t grumble. The engine fired up, there were no leaks, and once the travel lift departed, I was able to re-attach the mast stays and the yard crew were ready to turn me around, however at that point the wind picked up, so I waited an hour, then in a lull the crew returned, we swung the boat around with some long warps and I motored off doing the 2 mile trip to the other side of the bay, and a slip in the government run marina there.

Launching at Gabriels yard into 8ft of water

Onno, who had launched a few days earlier, and who I had made friends with, was there and took my lines. Dwayne from ‘sipsi môr’ was also there, which was nice.  

Sister Midnight safely tied up at marina Fonatur in Guaymas (2nd from right)

Guaymas is still very run down, but I enjoyed my time there, the Day of the Dead events where just about to start and I saw a much more sombre version of things here than in La Paz last year. People refer to it as a festival or celebration, but really it’s closer to a remembrance service and not a party event, and definitely not an event put on for tourists. There are many days where different people are remembered and even a day for pets.

I had lots of work to do in Guaymas, one of the jobs was repairing the solar panel mounts, rewiring some of the battery systems for the new Lithium batteries. I also had a lot of cleaning to do. The boat needed to be smart, in time for the arrival of my son Isaac and his partner Holly in just a few weeks time.

Below is a GPS antena, it was ripped of its mount by the wind generator spinning around and the rope that normally calms it, got caught around the antenna and ripped it off. I had chucked out the Garmin chart plotter some time ago so I took the the cutters to this guy and freed up some space on the pushpit rail. A few days later I couldn’t figure out why the AIS couldnt get a gps fix, I also couldn’t figure out where its antenna was. Eventually it dawned on me that the Garmin I threw out had an internal GPS antenna and this guy was actual a spare I had used for the AIS. I had to make an inline coax repair to reinstate service. Another job to be done properly later.

After refuelling I said my farewells to the friends I had made and headed out into the sea. I had decided on a direct run over to the Coronados on the other side of the sea.

This was an overnight sail of around 120nm or 24 hours at 5 knots.
The boat performed well as you would expect with a perfectly clean hull and a polished propellor. I managed a day in the main bay at the Coronados swimming and snorkeling before the wind picked up from the north and I had to take shelter on the southern side of the island. Some of the nicest anchorages are only comfortable in certain wind directions and at this time of the year the wind becomes increasing stronger and from the North.
From the Coronados I headed south taking in Agua Verde next for a few nights, then San Evaristo for a night followed by a few nights on Isla Esperitu Santo in my favorite cove, Bahia Candeleros.

Not touched up, just dodgey iphone software I suspect

Super Yacht mentioned later

Now it was only a week until Isaac was due to fly into La Paz, so I scooted on down there and anchored off Marina La Paz in my usual spot. I took the dinghy into the Marina and asked in the office about a space, of course there was no space available, however the young ladies there seemed genuinely pleased to see me back and one of them even fished out an envelope with money in it for me, apparently I had left some deposit with them they hadn’t returned last year. It’s a great marina, but sadly some parts were damaged and La Paz as a whole took a battering from hurricane Norma. I believe around 40-50 boats were ripped from their mooring and ended up on the beach, most of which were unable to be recovered before either being damaged beyond repair, or as was more likely to happen, being stripped clean by thieves. Many boats sank in the other marinas and several docks were destroyed.

This boat has a wild story, SV Disperser.

The Disperser again. Many will be glad to see the end of this

Nov 11th: Isaac & Holly arrive
My son and his partner Holly arrived into La Paz airport and I took a cab out to meet them, they stayed in a boutique hotel in La Paz on their first night, I figured a night in a rolly anchorage might not be great after a long transatlantic flight. It was a really nice spot I wouldn’t mind staying in myself. The next day we headed out and got them kitted up with hats from the local market, and snorkeling kit from Ferre mar, the very reasonable chandlers here.

Supporting the local Sombrero industry
Enjoying a drink at one of our fave spots, Harkers bar

Later we dinghied out to their new home for the next two weeks. They settled in quickly. They had spent a week living on our baba 30 in Barcelona once, and Isaac had spent many summer holidays saling around Greece on our 28ft sloop ‘Oracle’. Spoilt kids or what, but then perhaps my dad thought we were spoilt having our own caravan on a farmers field in north wales back in the 60s.
The next day we headed back into town and did a big provisioning run to Chedraui as we wouldn’t be seeing ay more supermarkets on this trip.

The following morning we headed north back to Candeleros, on the way we passed a very large luxury super yacht that had sunk during hurricane Norma. I’m keen to know the story to this as I had heard the captain was holed by another boat colliding into him in Marina Costa Baja, (the posh one) and had motored out to let it sink in the bay.

We anchored in Candeleros and the fish immediately started to entertain, with one large fish snapping a smaller one in half leaving the fishes rear half flapping around while it munched on the head! Turtles, sea lions and other aquatic forms appeared and seemed to please my guests.

We did a bit of rock climbing in the valley at the back of the cove.

Candeleros beach had been somewhat reshaped by Norma and now their was quite a large lagoon now behind the beach.

From Candeleros we headed up to Isla San Francisco, now the northerly was picking up and I wasn’t sure we could get further north, but Isaac and Holly were keen to try, so after a short trip over to San Everisto, we headed north up the channel, it was a very boisterous ride, but to their credit they handled it well, the bow was bouncing from very high to going down to sea level. We pulled into Los Gatos and with the help of a stern anchor to keep us pointing into the swell, we had a very pleasent stop. Isaac loved the huge schools of fish there. They had both taken to snorkelling.

Los Gato

In the bay at Bahia El Gato we met up with a couple who were kayaking along the Baja coast, everything they needed, food & water, tent, cooking gear etc had to be stored on their kayaks, we let them use our Starlink so they could get weather and update their social media feeds. They were in touch with a guy I had met earlier who was paddle boarding the length of the sea. There’s no end of crazy people out there! but hats off to them for taking on a challenge like that.
The next day we left for Agua Verde, another rough sea, but we bashed on north. Agua Verde is a favourite for myself and many other cruisers here, it offers protection from every direction if you pick the right one of the three beaches. We did some fun snorkeling then took a walk out to the caves with the ancient hand painings, passing a small palm oasis.

The cave requires quite a climb but you are rewarded with great views of the sea. The hand paintings are quite small, and perhaps of dubious origin, but it was a fun trip.

Small handprints in the middle

More cacti

We spent a couple of days in Agua Verde before pushing on to Loreto. We tied to a mooring buoy in Puerto Escondido and hired a car to explore the area. I’m feeling a bit like a tour guide having done this three times now. We did some shopping in Loreto then had lunch there before driving up the mountains to visit the old Mission at San Javier.

Sea Lions in Loreto

A great restaurant in Loreto

San Javier Mission

The next day it was time to head back to La Paz, we drove there in the hire car, The ten day trip from La Paz to Loreto was completed in reverse in about 4 hours. We stopped halfway and found a back street eatery where I practised my Spanish and we had some lovely Huevos Rancheros for lunch.

I dropped Isaac and Holly off at the airport around 4 pm and with it being too late to drive back to the boat, I went online and booked a room in La Paz for the night. They call the roads here ‘free range’ because the animals, cows, horses etc roam freely over the roads at night and cars are often written off after colissions on the unlit stretches of road.

The next morning I headed back, after a delightful stop in a little hotel where my room had a nice kitchen and I cooked my dinner and made a nice packed lunch. I hit some kind of horsey event on the way back and was stuck in a very slow queue for an hour or so.

Nov 25th Back to Escondido and sailing to Maz
Back on the boat I headed to the fuel dock, Refueled and I filled both water tanks with some of the most drinkable water available on the Baja, it comes from a spring nearby, that I believe was actually mentioned in Steinbeck’s book chronicling his trip around the sea here (The log from the Sea of Cortez).
For those of you who follow sailing blogs, you will probably know of Tally Ho, but maybe not a similar build ‘Salt & Tar’ who I have followed over the years from tree to ship. Well I took these snaps of her moored just across from me in the bay. They had gone back to California, but it was great seeing the boat here, I also met up with another blogger couple here, ‘Sailing Sitka‘ who I got to know as they were hauled out next to me in Guaymas, funnily enough, they have just dropped anchor next to me here in La Cruz. Finally I bumped into Nelson and Terey here who I had met a year earlier in Topolobampo just as the trouble kicked off with the arrest of the son of El Chapo Guzman.

Salt & Tar

Striking sunsets

We are getting more days of cloud and strong northerly winds now, winter is here, but the water was still good for swimming and temperatures still close to 30c.

29th November 2023
So as November came to a close I slipped the mooring ball and headed directly to Mazatlan, where I would be leaving the boat before heading to the capital at Mexico City to meet Kathy.

The trip was great, it was around 310 nautical mile (nm) or 64 hours, so I had two nights at sea. I have become very comfortable with setting the alarm clock for 15 minute snaps, I wake up, check the engine gauges, if it’s running, check the sail trim and wind direction, check our course track against the desired route and then scan the horizon for objects that might bump into us. I can do all of this in under 2 minutes, then I’m back asleep again. by sunrise I’m ready for a full day awake without feeling tired.

Some Dolphins who came to visit

I sailed into the old harbour at Mazatlan, dropped anchor and had a chilled time for a couple of days.
I went ashore and took advantage of the fantastic mercado, I especially liked the Atun Ahumado (Smoked Tuna) they sell. I also bought a lot of boat bits from a great chandler they have here up by the tuna factory. One of the jobs I did here was to replace the main hose feeding the holding tank. I won’t dwell on it, but it was an awful job to have to do, I’m glad it’s over.

Sailing towards Mazatlan with the Yankee polled out
Waiting for the cruise ship to clear the channel before I can enter
I was sure this was in my home town.

For Sale, So tempting
They are very proud of their engineering here, I suspect a marine crankshaft
Nautical/Marine college
Unloading Salt
I bought some shrimps here, fresh and very tasty

You don’t normally have to wait this long for a taxi.

Nelson dropped anchor next to me, he had followed me down from Escondido a few days later, and we had many good chats about boating and Mexico, He speaks the language fluently and has been visiting here for a very long time.
After a week or so in the old harbour I motored around to the fancy marina at El Cid so I could get fuel, clean the boat with fresh dock water and get her ready for Kathy’s arrival. I also felt safer leaving the boat on a slip while I flew to Mexico City. We have had two very bad experiences grounding on the way into El Cid, but this time I went at high water with a calm sea and it was a doddle.
Things have been so rushed and the three months of leaving the boat n the dessert means that the varnish is stuffed, I slapped a coat down on the port cap rail, but it’s all going to have to come off and I need to go back to bare wood and start again. So not having time for that, I focused on the stainless, and at least got the boat sparkling in the bright sun.

Dec 11th: Off to Mexico to get Kathy
With Kathy’s flight arriving late in CDMX, it meant a hotel for the night, rather than paying over $100 for a hotel room at the airport, I opted for an apartment (Airbnb style) 5 minutes from the airport for $50, this was great, it was near a supermarket, so we also saved on food as I cooked dinner and breakfast for Kathy. What I hadn’t banked on was the apartment being on one of the main routes to the Basilica of the virgin of Guadalupe and that day being the festival of the virgin, where literally hundreds of thousands , if not a million people walk to the church on a Pilgrimage. The crowds were amazing, many had paintings of the virgin on their back, some even had life size statues strapped to their back. Many were bringing large quantities of food to offer up.
The main problem for me was taxis couldn’t get near the apartment, we managed in the end. I met a very frazzled Kathy at the airport around 11pm she had had a rough flight with Air France, which had done nothing to help Anglo-French relations. Then she had to endure long queues at baggage and immigration . Still she relaxed back at the apartment, and it was great to have her back. She also brought me loads of boat goodies.
The next afternoon we flew back to Mazatlan, took a taxi to the boat and proceeded to start the next leg of our pacific voyages.

Lot’s of these guys at the El Cid hotel/marina
Kathy adjusting to the slightly better weather here.
Mazatlan old town centre

After a few days of chilling and provisioning at the local Walmart, we moved the boat back to the old port. from there we made a few trips into the old town and had a nice vegan dinner with our new friends Terry and Nelson who were still there waiting engine and steering parts.
I repaired two shrouds, these are the wires that hold the mast up. They should last for at least ten years, but two had cracks as shown below, and they are only 7 years old. The type of crack indicates it could be crevice corrosion, which can be very serious, in fact the whole fitting could be just rust underneath the shiny steel and could fail any minute. I used fittings called Sta-Lok to repair them, these are re-usable and I had been very nervous about fitting them, worried I might not get it right and risk losing the mast. As it turned out it was very easy and the second one I did in 5 minutes.

The small crack
Preparing the Sta-Lok fitting

21st Dec: Off to La Cruz for Christmas
We left early on the 21st for La Cruz, an overnighter, there was no wind so we motored the whole way. I managed to snag a fishing line on the way and found myself towing two large marker buoys. I saw them the same time as a panga appeared with the fishermen owners. They managed to extract the line from my bobstay where it had snagged and no damage was done, so we waved goodbye and sailed on, just ten miles further on I spotted a line just as we ran over it. No harm done, but this is the first time we ever actually snagged a line in many years of sailing the seas in Sister Midnight. (I’m excluding reversing over my own lines)
We arrived the next afternoon into La Cruz, dropped anchor and rested. I had now developed a cold and Kathy wasnt feeling 100%, so we took it easy. The next day we went off to get the final ingredients Kathy needed for the Christmas dinner she was looking forward to cooking. We went to a ‘La comer’ which is a bit like a UK Waitrose, very posh. Spent a small fortune, but got some great items hard to find elsewhere, like Kathy’s plant based butter, vegan sausages etc.

Lovely old ketch in the anchorage in La Cruz.
La Cruz, Sunday Market.

Now we have finished our Christmas meal and feel suitable bloated, ready for more eating and resting before we sail south, Barra de Navidad is next and possibly we will return to Zihuatanejo as we liked it so much earlier this year

28th December: Barra De Navidad.
We have just arrived in Barra De Navada, Jalisco State and I’m able to finish the blog. Our departure was delayed due to having a flat engine starter battery, I had to be ingenious in finding a way to charge it, but we managed it after an hour. However on our trip down, the DC-DC charger stopped working, so that’s a new job. Also I noticed the raw water pump is dripping, so that will have to be repaired or replaced. It never stops. Still we had a fast overnight passage here with quite a lot of decent sailing. Some big swell is predicted for La Cruz tomorrow so we decided to do a runner. It’s lovely and calm here in the lagoon and we will stop here for at least a week.

Paul Collister

Leaving Gabriels boatyard

5th October 2023
Taxi to the Manchester airport, short flight to an airport in Europe (probably Amsterdam, can’t remember, they all look the same), then onto a 12 hour flight to Mexico city. Because of a last minute flight change, 6 hours of hanging around Terminal 2 at CDMX where I manage to lose my glasses. Then a short 2 1/2 hour flight to Hermosillo, an hour wait for a taxi to the coach station and then a 90 minute bus ride to Guaymas, then finally a 20 minute taxi ride to the boatyard where they are waiting for me to remove the forestay on the boat and load it into the travel lift and move me from the storage yard to the work yard.

I thought I was getting a cold the day before I left, and possibly unwisely took up an offer of a winter flu virus jab the morning I flew out, the end result of all of this was I arrived at the boat feeling pretty ill, the intense heat, high 30’s didn’t help. So as soon as the boat was chocked up I crawled into bed and slowly cooked for a few days until I had enough strength to drag the Air con unit out from under the v berth and throw it on the coachroof pushing icy air into the boat. Phew.

The boat being loaded into the travel lift for its move to the work yard

A few days after arriving Josh, a boat dealer and importer delivered my batteries which he had organised to be shipped from San Diego for me. This was going to be my main job inside ther boat. There are 8 LiFePo4 cells (3.5v @ 280Ah lithium Iron Phosphate) plus a spare that make up 2 banks of 4 cells, giving me a total of 12v @560Ah. Equivalent to around 800-900Ah in Lead Acid. For thse of you not literate in Ampere Hours, that’s a massive amount of power for a small sailboat, if I had space I could install a dishwasher, washing machine / dryer, Stannah stair lift etc.

Makes me think of 8 bits plus parity for some reason (8/n/1/e)
Sorry to non nerdy types

The views from the boat are pretty cool, and of course the yard has dozens of really interesting sailboats around. A few deserted, but many old ones in the process of being given new life. I soon make friends with other yachties preparing their boat for the season. The heat is really too much to be working so life starts around 6:30am when it’s a little cooler. I’m having all of the old antifould removed and a new primer coat applied. It’s a bit over the top, but I want to ensure a get a good adhesion with the new paint and I get a consistent coverage over the boat. I am able to employ a local called David to do the work, however he hardly turns up and it seems he has rather overstretched himself by agreeing to take on far too much work. It seems to be very difficult to get staff here, much like many other countries post covid. Now there is a long waiting list to get paint jobs done here. So I resign myself to a long wait and decide to get on with other jobs like building the new battery banks.

Once the Aircon was working I donated this fan to another sailor who claimed it became a life saver for him.

My cracked Apple screen before it went black

Now I mentioned how I paid £750 for a new screen on my macbook when I returned home, well guess what, I may be doing the same pretty soon. I don’t want to talk about it any more or I might get upset. 🙁

So in between building batteries I have to service several of the seacocks and thru hulls, these are things that let water in and out of the boat. If they fail the boat can sink, so they all need checking over.

Cleaning and repairing the one way valve that stops the shower sump filling the galley sink

Port side well on the way.

Sadly there had been a big storm that passed through while I was away and it had ripped one of the solar panels off its frame, the panel was intact, but gouged a little, the frame was twisted and snapped in several places. It’s hard to be sure but I think about 90% is still working ok. However I had to pop off into town looking for an aluminium tube supplier. I think most towns in the world have one, I just had to find it. I figured if I could find one in remote Borneo, Guaymas should be easy.

Damaged panel and snapped support frame

The elusive aluminium shop

It took a while walking around town, but I enjoyed exploring and practising my directions in Spanish. Eventually I found a place and bought a 4 metre length which they happily cut into the desired sections I needed, short enough to fit into a taxi for a ride back

The main high st in town is getting a big makeover
A famous wooden boat I am told
Workers hard at work.

Suddenly David turns up with several assistants and in one day they strip the boat and get a coat of primer on! the next day they finish and I’m only half way through the batteries job.

Batteries in situ ready to rock and roll

So I get the batteries installed, in each box there is a 300A BMS (Battery Monitoring System), which is a computer that monitors each of the 4 cells, that’s what the thin wires are for. if any individual cell is acting odd, or under stress, the BMS shuts the whole system down. I’m hoping by having the two batteries in parallel I have some redundancy. Once again my carpentry skills were somewhat lacking and my first box had to be binned as it was 3 cm to short, don’t ask how that happened, I measured three times!

Clouds gather

2 weeks have passed and at this point we are close to being ready to launch. However ‘there’s a problem’, Hurricane Norma is heading up the coast in our direction. It’s most unlikely that it will reach us, that’s why we’re here, but I decide to delay launch until it’s gone so I finish the jobs and schedule the launch for Tuesday 24th October 2023.

A bargain if you have $20,000 USD spare

It looks like Norma will hit Cabo San Lucas at the bottom of the Baja peninsula and might track over to La Paz before dying out as it crosses over to Sinaloa. So while waiting I decide to clean the topsides. I can’t remember it actually looking this good before.

Topside deep cleaned. Needs polishing/buffing now
Does my bum look big on this

So the day before launch, the crew arrive with the travel lift and hoist me up, the blocks are moved along with the props/stands so that the covered areas can be painted.

The straps are joined under the boat with big pins
Then we are hoisted

Once in the straps the travel lift remains here overnight and tomorrow morning I will be lowered into the sea, backwards and will have to do a difficult 180 deg turn to be able to leave. The channel is very narrow.

The Hurricane passed through Cabo as predicted and hit La Paz much harder than expected. Sadly two of the marina saw big losses, Marina Cortez in particular is full of sunken boats, many others have large chunks of hull missing, I expect the damage to boats will run to the millions, but that’s very much a first world problem. I expect many Pacenos (locals) will have lost their homes in the flooding, many vendors had to close, and the town was still without electricity as I write. Part of the Malecon was ripped up, but for me the worst was losing a friend during the Hurricane.
Bob had lived on his sailboat Adios and was moored next to me for the year I was in the Marina, I got to know him well and had a lot of respect for the man. As a young man working in SF as a insurance estimator, he watched the sailboats entering and leaving the bay and decided that was the life for him, he quit his job, bought a small sailboat and sailed to Hawaii and back solo as his first offshore passage. In those days there was no GPS s he did it all by sextant. He was 90 when I last saw him and still went out kayaking most days. I was looking forward to seeing him again in a few weeks. Sadly he was found dead in his boat after the storm had passed, it is presumed he had a heart attack, his berth was close to the outside of the marina and quite exposed, although the boat was undamaged it must have been quite a wild ride for 24 hours. It’s very sad, but then I expect he would have much preferred to go quickly onboard his own boat than in a nursing home or hospital.
RIP Bob.
I’m off to bed now and will be launching at first light tomorrow. I have a space booked in a little marina just 20 minutes away in the centre of Guaymas, where I will stay for 2-3 days getting the sails on and generally preparing the boat for passage to La Paz where I will be meeting my son and his partner in a couple of weeks, then we are off to explore the Islands.

Paul Collister

Mazatlan to the UK

12th August 2023.
I’m writing this on a Pendolino train from Liverpool to London Euston. I’m off hoping to see some Perseid meteors with my good friend Dominic and other friends I haven’t seen in a while. We will be outside of London in the Oxfordshire countryside, but right now it’s looking very cloudy.
I left the boat hauled out in Guaymas at the end of June and flew home. It’s always a bit of a worry leaving the boat alone for a few months. I think this is the longest I have been away in the seven years since I bought her. The trip up to Guaymas from Zihuatanejo was just shy of 1000 nautical miles, so a decent solo passage for me, and by the time I hauled out and secured the boat on land, both the boat and myself were quite tired.
I have detailed the trip in a bit more detail below.

24th May 2023, Arrive in Mazatlan
The passage to the old harbour at Mazatlan was good, and this time I felt confident enough with my Spanish to call the port traffic control station on the VHF radio. They usually talk in Spanish and are very busy with the tourist boats that constantly ply their way from the harbour to the nearby islands. No response, disappointing, but at least I refreshed my Spanish.
This harbour is great, I planned to do some shopping for boat bits I will need for the relaunch which are best purchased in the big city, however I managed to strain some back muscles and was basically crippled for a week. I couldn’t get ashore and just moving around the boat was difficult, so I just rested for a few days.
Eventually I ventured ashore, I was still in a lot of pain, but was hoping some exercise might free things up, which it sort of did, along with a lot of soreness.
I found a few great chandleries not far from the harbour, and a plumbers merchant where I could buy 25 metres of clear plastic hose to redo the fresh water lines. I also picked up the correct shackles for the Spade anchor. I restocked at the supermarkets and bought a stack of smoked tuna from the main market known as ‘Pino Suarez’. As good as La Boqueria on the Ramblas in Barcelona, but half the price, and fewer tourists like me.

There’s no shortage of visiting cruise ships
The overnight ferry from La Paz
Lovely houses on the walk to the chandlery
Weird stuff too

I found that everyone was selling ciruela, it must be the season, but I didn’t know what a ciruela was, so avoided them, however a local had made me try one in La Cruz and they tasted great. I now realise they are very similar to plums, something I had never been fond of, although like many of my childhood food hates, I may never have tried one, but rejected it as a child because of its colour. Anyway they tasted great and I bought loads here in Mazatlan from street stalls.

Hose and Tostadas, there’s no stopping me now
The nightly trip around the harbour by the locals enjoying the on board Banda band complete with very loud Tuba.

Leaving the old port of Mazatlan I saw several of the tour boats that were constantly moving in and out of the harbour, actually taking their guests around the big rock islands that are scattered throughout the main Mazatlan bay.

6th June
I move the boat to the El Cid marina for a few days for some fuel and to get the hull scraped. A local diver and his father come out in a panga to the marina and cleaned the prop and the hull. The boat really needed it.
El Cid has the harbour entrance that made me swear and Kathy get frightened for her life the last time we visited. The entrance is very shallow and has sunken lumps of sharp concrete that will pierce the hull should the waves push you off the exact centre. Big party catamarans coming out can make navigation a challenge. I was careful not to try it at low water again. This time the tide was high, but there was also a fair amount of current flowing. I approached the entrance with trepidation, here big rollers travelling across the Pacific build up into waves that could ruin your day, however it didn’t look too bad. As I approached the entrance a huge wave arrived out of nowhere and would have been a problem if that had caught me. I backed off and started counting the seconds between the waves so I could time the entrance. I thought I was ready when a voice came over the radio ‘Sailboat at the entrance, come in now, it’s safe’. I assumed this was one of the staff of the El Cid resort, who has a good view from the breakwater. So I throttled up and managed to get into the channel and over the shallow bar just before a big wave broke. Feeling like an accomplished hardened sailor I then motored to the fuel dock where I made a complete arse of myself by trying to go alongside the fuel dock with 3 knots of current pushing me off. A fellow sailor came to my rescue and on my second approach to an adjacent dock, I managed to tie up. From the fuel dock to my berth I managed to screw up again and completely got the turn into the slip wrong and had to reverse out and do a 180 degree turn, head out the marina and return for attempt two, which was textbook and gave me a little bit of cred when I explained to the onlookers what freak tides we were having 😉
I have refuelled here several times before, but I was assured the hotel/resort was great, and it was not expensive. They have a stack of pools and eateries so I decided to chill for a few days at the pool while I prepared for the last part of the season’s sailing.

Boats needing some TLC on the entrance channel to Mazatlan Marina
El Cid Marina, Mazatlan
Marina/Resort Lobby
Chilling by the pool.

Walking along the Malecon, I came across this group of Banda musicians messing around after a day’s work on the beach, they played some great music, and I felt privileged to hear them. No one I have played the music to agrees with me, but I still think it was great.

Just feel that brass!

8th June. Leave to El Cid marina for Topolobampo
I had planned to stop at Altata on the way north, but the high swell that was building put me off, so off to Topolobampo with two nights at sea before I would arrive. There were a few big fishing boats on the way, but nothing very eventful.

Approaching Topolobampo

Shrimper fleet in Topo

11th June Arrive at Isla Maria Sand Dunes
To get to Topolobampo you have to follow a channel that extends out into the Sea of Cortez for several miles. It’s very shallow either side of the channel and for large parts of the route you can see and hear thousands of birds on the sandbanks. I usually travel just outside of the buoys that mark the channel, as I don’t want to have to deal with the harbour master who controls the channel. Once I pass the first headland that juts out from port, I turn, right next to the sunken shrimper and two miles to the north I anchor in 10ft of clear beautiful water. I catch up on my sleep here before heading into the Marina right in town.
There, like everywhere else, things are quiet, with a definite out of season feel. I provision for the next leg and enjoy a fish meal on the Malecon.
One of the reasons for coming here was to refuel, however I have managed to sail so much that I don’t really need any, and after a couple of days I leave for the last leg north to Guaymas


I visited the museum at Topolobampo as it was open. Their main exhibit is this biplane, along with many photos from when the plane was operational.
I think the plane is famous for the ‘Battle of Topolobampo’ which was the first naval-air skirmish in history.

They seem very proud of their plane (Photo courtesy of the Topolobampo museum)

14th June Dept for Guaymas.
I leave the marina and again return to the sandbanks to anchor overnight. This allows me an easy and early start from the anchorage.

The dunes before Topolobampo
More dunes before Topolobampo

The wind blows perfectly and I make a great passage to Guaymas. I had expected to arrive late, probably in the dark and had decided to anchor out at one of the many bays a few miles from the town. However, as I approached I realised I could make it into the town with plenty of daylight left, so I phoned the Marina manager and checked if they had a berth, which they did, so I motored straight down and into the slip. Job Done.

Sailed past this guy on the way in

16th June Marina Fonatur
This Marina is downtown and walking distance from the shops. It’s also directly across the bay (10 minutes cruising) from the shipyard I am hauling out in. In a few days I will cross over to Gabriels boatyard and motor into their travel lift slings and that will be that for this season. But first I must get all the sails off the mast and furling systems. Everything needs to be prepared for the possibility of a hurricane. The hurricane season has started and at this point there are many views on what will happen. It’s a El Niño year (The Boy) and this causes a vast belt of hot water and air to spread across from the Panama area extending far out into the Pacific. Often this heating will cause hurricanes to form easily, however this year, for reasons not fully understood, the water north of the Baja and off the Californian coast is much colder than normal. I think this causes a lot of wind shear, and wind shear kills hurricanes. So far the hurricanes haven’t been up to much, mostly heading west off towards Hawaii, however August/September is the time to really worry.
This boatyard doesn’t have to worry about the sea, but it does suffer from flooding and I believe a recent hurricane caused so much water to flow through the boatyard that several boats were toppled.

Probably the headsail being stowed

20th June Haul Out at Gabriel’s boatyard
Crossing the bay to the haul out was fun. I didn’t have the location of the travel lift, but I did know I had to approach it at right angles to the shore, and line it up straight from some distance out. Much of the bay is only a few feet deep and a narrow channel allows access to the lift. I had some tracks left on Navionics from other boaters, which proved useful. Once I was close, I couldn’t see the travel lift, and my expected destination looked like a deserted bit of coastline. However with the binoculars I saw a couple of Mexican marina staff standing at the end of the dock waving at me. A few minutes later I was tied up organising the slings for the lift.
I had been warned that the lift was quite small and that I would need to remove the forestay to fit in the slings. This is a pain, but I have done this before, however here they wanted the next sail stay, the inner forestay (Staysail) removed. I haven’t had this off for seven years and I knew it would be a struggle with the corroded screws. Anyway I eventually got it free and we were in the slings and chortelling along to our new home in the storage yard. Here you cannot stay onboard overnight so when it is time to return and launch the boat, I will be moved to a ‘working yard’ where I can clean/paint etc.
I spent the rest of the day packing and putting the boat to bed, and the following day I grabbed a taxi to the bus station and took a bus to Hermosillo, the nearest airport I can fly to Mexico City from.

Here you can see why both forward stays had to be taken off
Sister Midnight in the storage yard at Gabriel’s yard, Guaymas

I wonder why I left that fender out? will it still be there in October?

As you can see from the picture above it was getting really hot. In the boatyard away from the water it was very hot, this year hotter than normal and the yard workers were complaining. Fortunately I had plenty of water bottles on board and handed them out to the workers who really seemed to appreciate them.

I had hoped to spend a few nights on the boat putting it to bed for the next 3-4 months, however with the heat and the management keen for me not to stay on the boat, I quickly closed her up and grabbed a taxi into town to the coach station to get my bus to Hermosillo.

21st June. Bus to Hermosillo.
I think there’s an airport at Guaymas, but it doesn’t seem to have any airlines operating there, so I had to take a coach to Hermosillo, quite a large town a couple of hours to the north.

Very hot, but nothing a Mango Raspado can’t cure

Town square/centre

I had two days to kill in Hermosillo so I took in some of the highlights.
This imposing building below is basically the town hall, and has amazing murals inside, as do most town halls

Town Hall

Huge murals all over the place.

23rd June 2023:
Time to head home, I left the hotel around 7am and had a crazy taxi driver take me to the airport. He was cursing at screaming at every other motorist, but amused me no end with his taxi driver talk, aimed against the Mexican government, the council, the police etc. A bit like an angry London cabbie on speed.
I flew home via Mexico City, Paris Charles De Gaulle then Manchester. All went very well, flying AeroMexico right up till Paris.

26th June
Great to see Kathy again, who was waiting for me at the Lime St train station. The next day was not so great as I head down to the Apple Store and pay £750 to an Apple genius to get the cracked screen on my MacBook Pro replaced. Genius is the right word I suppose, getting people to pay that much for a $75 part is genius.

29th June
One important task on this trip home is to head to the USA embassy in London and get new visas for us both. We need these to enter the USA with the boat.

Back in Little Venice, London. An old watering hole of mine
A scary swimming pool next to the USA Embassy
Battersea Power Station (Post Floyd)

While in London we visited friends and also saw Isaac’s (my son) workplace. He works for a very hi tech company with offices in the centre of Soho. They have so many goodies for their staff we were quite amazed. Things like a bar, games room, pool tables, cinema and all the food and drink you can consume.

Kathy at the V&A Cafe.
London’s Borough market
Tower Bridge

5th July
Visa applications were processed and soon we were back in Liverpool. I took advantage of the various tests that our health service provide for free, Aorta, bloods etc. Seems I might live a little longer.

12th August.
Our visa arrives which is great. Soon I’m back off to london to hook up with lots of friends and family I haven’t seen in ages.

Back in Liverpool I settle down to various chores that have been waiting. I have some programming to do, and I start ordering lots of bits for the boat I plan to fit when I return.

My Office in Liverpool

August 2023:
Just six weeks until I return to the boat now. There’s going to be a lot to do on my return. My son and partner will be visiting for a few weeks, then in December Kathy will join me and we will sail down to the Barra area for Christmas. Later in the year I’m hoping to host more friends and meet up with old sailing buddies before next Spring when I think we will be sailing back north. Nothing is finalised yet, but instead of heading into the South Pacific, we may be heading back to Canada and onto Alaska.

Paul Collister

I lost my anchor! (And various other mishaps)

Tuesday 23rd May
I’m finally back in the Sea of Cortez, or at least at the entrance, anchored here in Mazatlan old harbour.

It’s a few weeks now since we finished our trip south ending in Zihuatanejo, before I left I took in a local festival of young people performing traditional song and dance.

I also lugged a starter battery across town to make sure I would have a way to start the engine should I need to after the sun went down and my batteries were depleted.

One of the 5 dead batteries on board

The view of the bay at Zihaut with Sister Midnight centre stage.

It was around this time that I dropped my MacBook (Laptop) in the cockpit. Not a big drop, maybe a foot onto the wooden deck. and not in a violent way either, and it seemed to survive, however a few days later when I turned it on the display was black. No visible sign of any damage at all to suspect I had cracked the display. However as the days passed a bigger and growing crack appeared. Fortunately I have an external screen I can use, and after many hours of trying to enable it blindly, I got there. This was the first of several gutting and expensive failures. It seems this is going to set me back £600-800 to repair, more than most laptops cost. My iPhone is also playing up, it’s an iPhone8 and getting on, normally my phones are on the seabed by this point, so I could think of that as a positive. Much as I love Apple products, the expense will be the ruin of me.

Off to Barra Navidad.

Here in the protected lagoon I can finally relax and get some boat jobs done, there’s a small leak from the saltwater foot pump at the galley, taking it apart reveals a broken rubber diaphragm. I have an old one I can use to fix it, but I don’t know how to reassemble it, the big spring must be clamped down somehow, and I give up.

Salt water foot pump. (destined for the tip)

An attempt to use the monitor windvane on the way here caused the chain to come off, this actually broke on the N pacific crossing and has been operating under paperclip power ever since, I have a spare chain, but not the will power to dismantle the whole thing and fit it. I will wait until the boat is on land where I can pick up the bits I will drop in the process.

There’s some nice walks around Barra de Navidad and I followed the beach to the busier and very pleasant seaside town of Melaque, this poor puffer fish should have known better than to mess with the big waves crashing on the beach here.

My European/American neighbours I met in Barra
Frequent visitors to the boat, looking for a possible nesting location?

So after a very chilled week in Barra doing some research on how to fix the boats ailments I proceeded onto La Cruz, to take a place in the Marina for 2 weeks. This will be the first time the boat has been tied up to the shore for over 4 months, and my aim was to give the boat a big clean with fresh water.
I arrived just as a festival was starting, fireworks every night and lots of activity in the town.
It was also great as I met up with Clay & Brenda on the yacht Sanssouci, We first met them around San Francisco in 2019 and travelled together down the coast and around to La Paz on our trip here. They were on their way to the South Pacific and when covid hit, they instead headed back to Canada, quite an eventful bash back, involving rescuing a family in a mayday situation. They had waited until this last year to try again, and they were here in La Cruz awaiting their Visas for French Polynesia having sailed down from BC Canada for a second time. Sadly due to boat issues and the late arrival of their visas, they decided to give it a miss again, the weather forecasts aren’t great now, and they are now in Ensenada heading back to Canada. I hope they get to do the passage one day. I enjoyed a couple of lovely vegan meals on their luxurious big Beneteau.

Party time

The fish market in La Cruz is quite a site, it’s always busy with a wide variety of fish on sale.

One of my objectives since arriving in La Paz has been to buy one of the buckets that most Mexican men seem to carry around. I finally found one, it was not easy and I began to wonder if I was not allowed one, being a foreigner. Now. I could soak my lines that had become salt encrusted, and even do some clothes washing when on passage.

I managed to slap a bit of varnish on

One of the things you can’t do when at anchor, is anchor work. With the new windlas the chain has been jumping out of the gypsy (See pic below), I noticed it was also very twisted in the locker and wondered if that might be the cause, of course I knew it was going to be the gypsy, but grasping at straws I laid the chain out on the dock, removed all the twists and took the time to clean it and replace the markers. The chain is 60m long and the first 30m , the part most used, has lost its galvanised coating and is starting to rust, the other half not so bad at all, so on somebody else’s suggestion, I reversed the chain so the rusty bit is in the locker and the galvanised end is now on the anchor. I’m thinking now the rusty bit will rust faster and it’s only when the wind picks up and I need to put out more chain will I remember that the rusted away chain is supposed to save me from the rocks. Watch this space.
Anyway the whole exercise ruined several t-shirts, a bit of the dock, some skin on my hands, and made no difference to the chain jumping out of the windlass. An email to the firm that I bought the windlass from 5 years ago, confirmed I had bought an ISO standard 10mm Gypsy, and I measured my chain and discovered I had a DIN standard chain, this is the problem, checking with Lofrans, a new Gypsy will set me back nearly £300, not cheap this boat fixing lark. Fortunately I found one on eBay for £70 which is now waiting for me in Liverpool.

The old and new gypsies, side by side

While cleaning the boat and polishing the steel, I found that two of the lower shrouds, these are the steel wires that hold the mast up, had cracks in them. They are meant to be good for at least ten years according to most boat insurers, and these are about six. No problem, just a few thousand pounds more and I can get new ones shipped over. There are cheaper options I can explore.

Punta Mita
Finally it’s time to start heading north in earnest, I have stocked up on food, fuel, had the hull cleaned again and I plan to sail to Mazatlan in one overnight passage. I leave the marina for Punta Mita, a little bay within Banderas bay which makes a good overnight stop before popping out into the ocean propper.

At Punta Mita I drop the anchor. My beloved Spade Anchor, The anchor pictured below, that is one of the most expensive, but also most effective having a unique lead filled tip.

I feel it bounce along a rocky bottom and not find any sand, it’s mostly sand here so I pull up the anchor thinking I will motor a few boat lengths away from the shore and try again, except up comes the chain, no anchor to be seen anywhere. This is a new experience for me, and I’m about to go into shock when I think, quick, slam a GPS waypoint into the chartplotter, if nothing else, this will be a reminder of where it all went wrong. The wind is gently pushing me out to sea so I sit on the bow platform and try to think this through. No amount of thinking makes the anchor re-appear so I look at the spare CQR anchor sitting next to the empty home of the spade and think, well it’s showtime CQR, I have never used this anchor before, and it can’t be deployed from the port side of the boat where it lives due to problems to do with chain, the gypsy and the fact it’s mostly on a rope rode. So I move the sad lonely (ex spade) chain around to the CQR and shackle it on. 15 minutes later I drop it to the seabed, where it quickly sets. We had a CQR on the Greek boat we used to share with our Irish friends Tim and Paul, and in all the years I used it, I don’t think it ever set once, it was just 35lb of iron lying on its side on the seabed, so I’m mightily relieved to have it set so well. I jump over the side with my snorkel on to find visibility to be about 1 metre and the anchor is 7 metres down.

I’m able to examine my GPS track using the GPX files created by the navionics chart plotter and work out the exact point where I dropped the anchor and where I pulled up the chain, and the boat traveled a curved path between these two points which were about 40m apart. Of course the GPS can be +- 10m, but is usually more like 2-3m on the open sea.

You can also tell the speed of the boat increased at a certain point which could be a clue.
I dinghied out to the spot later and put some buoys down at the area I needed to search and tried my hand at freediving down, but as I can’t free dive, this didn’t go well. I spotted some tour guides preparing boats for the guests of the luxury hotel I was anchored off and dinghied over to them to see if they knew of any local divers. It was with a little trepidation, as cruisers often go on about being chased away by hotel staff, and not welcome anchoring close to the resorts in case we spoil the view for their guests, or something. Anyway, these guides couldn’t have been more helpful, two of them jumped into my dinghy with snorkels and started diving in the area. I asked what I should pay them, and they wanted no money, just to help me find the anchor. They couldn’t see either and said they would try again tomorrow. I waited overnight but the next day the water was no clearer so I set about researching where to buy a new anchor. I put a post on a facebook group for local sailors and a man in La Cruz offered me a very good deal on an anchor he didn’t need anymore. Marty on the power boat next to me suggested I ask a proper diver to come and scour the seabed, and that he had seen pangas with compressors in the local fishermen’s port, a small port surrounded by a large breakwater that housed about 40 pangas and was a mile away, so the next day I dinghied down there and asked around. One man understanding my situation immediately grabbed a snorkel and said let’s go, again he wanted no money, just to help. I explained I wanted a scuba diver and so we walked over to a guy who was up for it, once he finished his Huevos Rancheros breakfast. The three of them then followed me back to the scene of the crime and they spent an hour searching but again the visibility was too poor. They thought in a few days things would be better and I should call back and seek them out then.

Hero Fishermen/Tour guides

Disappointed, I decided to go back to La Cruz and pickup the anchor on offer, stay the night there, restock on fresh food and return, hopefully to clearer water.

La Cruz Days festival
Wednesday street market
The view from La Cruz Fish Market
New rope for the snubber
On the docks at La Cruz.

I bought the 44lb Bruce with chain and 200ft of heavy rope from fellow cruiser Brian for about £100, these are fine anchors, not an easy fit for my bowsprit, but manageable. This was a great deal, and I figured that should I get the Spade back, I would have no trouble selling this setup.
The next morning I headed back, there was a strong wind blowing from Punta Mita to La Cruz, so rather than battle and waste fuel, I sailed out into the bay away from Mita then tacked back, It was great fun with the rail almost in the water, and making 8 knots, I had too much sail up really, but it wasn’t for long, as I’m hanging on to a very bouncy boat, a call comes in from Martin, the Mexican tour guide who found me the scuba diver to say they had been back to the site and had recovered the Anchor. Just F’ing Amazing, I hadn’t left the marker buoys, so they had taken transits from the first dive a few days ago and remembered where I said I thought it was. I was so pleased. I dropped anchor outside the panga port and dinghied in. I got the anchor, pushed lots of $500 peso notes into their palms and headed back anchor in the dinghy. By now the swell had built up and big waves were breaking across the harbour entrance, there was no way I could get through there without the boat being flipped over. I would have to get my timing just right to get out between the big waves. I tied everything down in the dinghy, I didn’t want the anchor falling out again! When there seemed to be a gap/lull I went for it, wishing the motor would just go faster, I could see the approaching swell building, but I only had to travel maybe 80 ft to be past the worst of it and then I was out and safe. All went well

So below is a picture of a new shackle, this is what the shackle looked like that joined the anchor to the chain.

This is what my shackle looked like when the diver found it!

You can see the corrosion is extensive, but mostly it is internal. I saw no problems the week earlier when I undid it and refastened it to the other end of the chain. I expect I didn’t inspect it very well, that’s a lesson learnt.
Also one should not use stainless steel shackles for this job. The spade has a galvanised shackle on it now.

On the corrosion front, when servicing the head pump out system, I noticed corrosion on the nuts that hold the seacock together. These are old cone type seacocks, and the two nuts that hold the top plate on had corroded and there was nothing stopping the cone popping out and causing the boat to fill up and sink. Not good!
I tapped the seacock to test my point and to my horror the cone not only popped out, it shot out, hit a bulkhead, bounced and disappeared into the bilge. Leaving me with a fire hydrant type situation pouring water into the boat.
Now each seacock has a big wooden bung attached to it just for this circumstance, so I grabbed the bung and rammed it into the whole, but somehow the water continued to pour in, I think the bung maybe oval in shape. I was able to reach down and find the bronze cone, shove it in, and tie it down while I worked on a proper repair.

So finally with my anchor back on board, I headed off to Mazatlan. I wanted to use the Spade when I arrived so killed the motor when I was en route and the sea was calm and transferred the CQR onto the deck and replaced it with the spade. This took some careful planning as there was no way to get the anchor back from here if I dropped it in over 100m of ocean.

Mazatlan ahead

I dropped anchor in the old harbour and the spade set instantly. A big sigh of relief. I will stay here for a week or so.

PS This has been doing the rounds on Mexican Social Media, it’s the American Maths team finally celebrating beating the Chinese in the world maths contest after 30 years. (I don’t know if it’s true at all, but it made me chuckle)

US maths team beats China for the first time in 30 years

Paul Collister

24h May 2023

Heading north to Guaymas

It’s nearly 2 weeks now since Kathy boarded her flight at the small airport of Ixtapa. I’m about to start my leisurely trek north to Guaymas, back into the Sea of Cortez. I plan to haul out in a yard known as ‘Gabriels’ as it is he who runs it. I understand it’s basically a fenced of bit of desert where the boat will be propped up for the 3 months during which the hurricanes may or may not whiz by. Another section of the desert is separated for those who want to work and live on their boats, I will have mine moved to the work area in October when I return and get the hull antifouled. This will be the first time I have left Sister Midnight alone on the hard and I will have to remind myself about what’s involved. Guaymas is in the Sonoran desert and will be very hot and dry, but with it being hurricane season, it could also face some serious downpours. 

Before Kathy left we took a trip over to the resort at Ixtapa to see the Crocodile sanctuary, boy they are big crocs, and they are so still most of the time, scary. There were also lots of Iguanas and impressive white vulture type birds, I’m not very good at species of anything.

After seeing the crocs we had a drink on the beach then got the bus back to Zihuatanejo.

Great decoration

One morning as I was re-anchoring I was forced to reconsider where to drop the hook, which was swinging over the bow ready to go due to a mussel diver suddenly surfacing in front of me, we waved at each other, to make it clear we were both aware of the danger, when I noticed the Hallberg Rassy yacht below sailing towards us as it was leaving the anchorage. I thought this wasn’t the best time or place to be showing off your anchoring skills whilst under sail, and I worried that he might not have seen us or worse, the diver, as he was tearing along and heading straight for us. I waved and gestured at the diver, and I think he saw and changed course away from the diver and more towards me, I thought best get out of here quickly so I motored away from everything quickly. I went round the block as the HR raced past, the diver was further away now and I re-anchored safely. The HR Skipper dropped by later in his dinghy to apologise and explain he has engine problems and had to use his sail to get out. Seemed like a nice bloke.

Later that day Kathy and I enjoyed a last meal at a wonderful restaurant on the northern hillside overlooking the bay, they did a lovely vegan dish for Kathy and a fine fish steak for me.

The view of Zihuat bay from the restaurant
Casa Bahia

So in the 2 weeks since Kathy left, quite a lot has happened. 

Mon 3rd April: Kathy flies home
The main event, after getting the bags ashore in the dinghy was the first taxi wanting 350 pesos to take us to the airport, I offered 200 for a laugh, he countered with 300, I said it was two much and he laughed and walked off, the next taxi in the rank had already agreed 250 with me the day before so in his cab we jumped and sped off. 

The fare back is more like 800 pesos as they have a monopoly over who can collect at the airport, so after Kathy went through security, I walked to the road at the edge of the airport and flagged down the next taxi leaving the airport, who was happy to take me back to Zihuatanejo for just 200 peso (£8) rather than have an empty cab.  My friend Arturo says the English are the meanest when it comes to money, don’t know what he means 😉

Back in town I started provisioning for a couple of months back at sea. Mostly dry goods and cleaning stuff.

I decide I may as well clean the port water tank now Kathy has gone, getting to it is quite a chore, but in the end it works out well. I do need to source new gaskets.

Table Removed and inspection covers off. Cushions need a deep clean

Having cleaned the tank, I contact Ismail the local fix it up man, who brings me a load of water, plus I use him to get 140 ltrs of fuel and a bottle of propane refilled. This works out to be quite expensive, but it saves me a lot of hassle.

More liquid supplies

Now we start with the first of the expensive jobs
I spot a crack in the rigging, I inspect the rest of the rigging and find a crack in another shroud, both lowers, and both unlikely to bring the mast down should they fail, but bad enough to require me to change them ASAP, I also need to go aloft and check the other end of the shrouds, also the fittings inside the two headsail furler drums aren’t easy to access but must be checked. I can replace the two faulty shrouds for a few hundred pounds, but in reality, the whole rig should be replaced, last time, just 6 years ago, this cost me around £6000, so not cheap.

Probably crevice corrosion

Thursday 6th: I try to clear out
I headed ashore to clear out with the Port Captain, but hadn’t banked on them taking the whole week off due to Easter.  Instead I did more provisioning and had another chilled day.

Monday 10th
One of the problems with Zihuatanejo is sewage, for a while I thought I had a problem with our holding tanks, as I would wake up in the middle of the night to a strong smell of sewage, however it turns out to be the town discharging into the bay. We were anchored very close to the Town Pier, a mistake I think. Perversely I think the excess of organic matter causes there to be a lot of life in the water, and a lot of growth. So I was having to haul the anchor chain every few days and give it a scrub down. Every few days we would motor out of the bay into the big ocean to dump our holding tanks, and on the last trip I had noticed we were struggling to make 4 knots, at quite high revs, it seems the hull is very badly fouled, too much in fact for me to be able to travel north, unless I could arrange in transit refuelling, like the fighter jets do. So I arranged to have a local couple come out and clean the hull, I had to collect them from a dock I hadn’t been to before, and realised as I approached in the dinghy, that it must be very close to the said sewage outlet. Yuk, anyway we all dinghied back to the boat where they spent 90 minutes scraping and scrubbing. They did a great job, but they, and the dinghy, ended up covered in what I at first thought was grit, but in fact turned out to be very small critters all wriggling around. 

After dropping them back at the dock, I cleaned up and went back to the capitanias office and managed to clear out. I find them to be very helpful and efficient, unlike several gringos who seemed to resent the whole business of clearing in and out. If they find it hard here, I hope they don’t ever sail to SE Asia. The problem for one of the sailors was that this office requires you to bring copies of your documents as unlike other offices they say they can’t copy them. One particular gringo angrily pointed out the copier in the corner of the office and was insinuating they have this rule just to make things hard for us poor sailors. I don’t know why, but I expect they have their reasons, and Sailors should always have copies anyway, it’s not a big deal.

From the captains office I walked out of town a little, in what turned out to be around 35 deg C blistering sunshine to buy some oil. I have to do an oil change real soon. With the oil I headed back to Soriano, a Hyper supermarket and filled a trolley with liquid refreshments, and fresh goodies, bread cakes etc. A taxi back to the dinghy and then back to the boat and away to the far side of the bay to the La Ropa beach so I could swim and check out the cleaning job.

That should get me to the next supermarket

Las Ropas means ‘the clothes’ and the beach got it names after a Chinese ship was wrecked here and its cargo of clothes wash washed ashore in 1910. Presumably it was known as ‘la noname beach’ before then. As I hauled the anchor up I was hosing down and scrubbing the chain with the deck wash hose when it suddenly stopped working. A check at the pump showed that there was a blockage at the water intake side, related to the recent cleaning I presumed, so I got a bucket of sea water and slowly continued the job.

Tuesday 11th
The engine refuses to start, nothing when I flick the switch, I rummage around with the wiring harness, just in case there’s a bad connection, but nothing, I pull the engine box off and flick the hot start solenoid override switch, only to hear a whimpering noise from the starter, looking at the batteries, they’re showing a very low voltage and I twig the batteries are flat. 

I have been waiting for this day for a while now, the batteries were bought as a temporary measure in Japan, almost exactly 5 years ago, to replace the previous batteries that had lasted 5 years. However we have taken to discharging these more since I plumbed in the 3kw Inverter and we started making toast with the electric toaster most mornings. The addition of Starlink and the watching of BBC until late at night hasn’t helped. So I wait for the sun to charge them up then around 10AM I have enough charge to start the engine, that will then put a lot of charge into the batteries, except it doesn’t. On closer inspection I see the alternator isn’t doing any charging. I’m not big on coincidences, and two engine electrical faults both happening at the same time means they must be related. I measure the feed voltage to the alternator and it’s zero, so that’s easy when I wiggled the wiring harness behind the engine control panel, I must have disabled this wire somehow, except I didn’t. Very odd. It’s getting hot and I want to get going, the engines running so I think I will fix it later, but realise without the engine giving me lots of amps, the batteries are still quite low and using them on the anchor windlass in their poorly state will be a bad move. So like hot starting the starter, I hot start the alternator by connectingg a little 12v bulb I have on a pair of wire tails between the + and the 61 terminal, the alternator fires up and I have an extra 35 amps flowing into the battery. Things are good to go, but I’m getting that horrible feeling that big things are breaking faster than I’m fixing them.

I head over to Isla Grande (Ixtapa) which is only 8 miles or so away, I can’t wait to be in lovely clear water so I can do some swimming, it’s been getting hotter and hotter every day. Once there I set about fixing the deck wash, it turns out a shrimp has decided to climb into the recently cleaned thru hull fitting and was sucked into the system. I have to take a few pipes and fitting off to find the little bugger, he’s turned to rubber now and doesn’t look much like  a shrimp anymore. I decide as I have it all in bits I will clean the grocko  filter on that system as it’s bound to be clogged, the lid won’t come off, after an hour of battle, and a bit of lost skin, I win, only to find the filter 95% ok. Cleaned up and reinstalled, I get back to hosing down the bow area.

Wednesday 12th, I need to fix this charging problem, and set about checking all the connections on the panel, I decide to replace a few older connections and replace the buzzer with a better one I have had on board for a few years waiting its turn. Everything is looking smart there, and it’s feeding the voltage down to the alternator just fine. However it’s not arriving there. The cable goes to a junction box at the back of the engine, and from there to the front where the alternator lives. To get to the back I have to do a lot of cupboard emptying and dismantling, when I reach the box I’m thinking it’s a pain to dismantle it, it all looks solid, lets just check the alternator connections again. I follow the wire from the 61+ terminal on the alternator and it weaves its way up to my starter motor override switch. And there it terminates in another switch, installed by the previous owner in order to disable the alternator, and some idiot has knocked it to the off position by accident. A measured amount of cursing at full volume ensues, the switch is flicked, the engine starts, the charging charges, and another byproduct of this is that the taco (Rev counter, not the edible type) starts working again. Will I miss these four wasted hours of my life I wonder.

The mess created just chasing down a bad connection.

Looking at the engine in all its glory, with the covers off I think it makes sense to do the oil change now. So out with all the bits and off we go. Now I wonder if anyones knows if Einstein had anything to say on the matter of Oil changes, It seems to me that gravity works differently during an oil change, Oil never flows down onto the rag under the source, but always just misses it, as if it bends towards the thing you really don’t want to get oil on. Then you have the weak force, the strong force, and the get oil over Pauls shoulders and forehead force. All unstoppable.

Thursday 13th, Wake up on the sofa last night at midnight having fallen asleep watching a YouTube boat building video. I see the battery voltage is down to 11.5 Volts. Very bad. I also had problems earlier with not being able to charge the Mac using the 12v-240v 300W inverter. So I empty the Quarter berth and dismantle the bed to access the battery bank. There are 4 house batteries in parallel, giving me about 400AH and a separate 100AH battery, from the same batch for the engine starter. I normally have them all in parallel giving me one 500AH house bank which I use to start the engine. I have gone back to splitting them up so that I can flatten the house bank, but rely on having a separate engine battery to start the engine in an emergency.
Going through each battery, I find one of the house batteries is in very poor shape, falls to 10V with a small 5A load, and the starter battery isn’t much better. I disconnect the weak house battery, and set the switch to keep the house and engine batteries separate. Tomorrow I will see what happens with the batteries. No internet at night now.

Having put everything away, in a much neater manner I book flights home, confirm my haul out date with the yard in Guaymas and jump into the Kayak. I land on some rocks in some swell, I wonder about the wisdom of this, but I’m rewarded by snorkelling with some amazing fish, sea snakes, rays and I find the biggest bestest shell ever, looks brand new and has a slimy thing living inside. I want to take it home, but I leave it there as it would be mean on the resident.

I have scribbled down a rough itinerary for my trip north, I will leave this Sunday 16th or the day after, depending on how this norther, further north plays out.

Paul Collister 14th April 2023

Topolobampo to Zihuatanejo (part 2)

March 2023
A bit of background on my sailing trip around the world. The relevance will become clear soon enough.
If you are wondering what made me hit the oceans and leave a comfy life ashore, I have a philosophy that if you head one way when everyone else is going the other, you will end up in interesting places not often visited. In reality you often end up in dead ends, however I combine this with seemingly random reasons to visit places, and it has proved to be very pleasing.
My initial thoughts to sail around the world started as a kid when I heard about people called ‘Master Mariners’ and others who were known as ‘Yacht Masters’. I didn’t think I would ever get to university, but these titles seemed something to aspire to. I got my Yacht Master certificates a long time ago, Master Mariner is not something I’m interested in anymore and likely way beyond my skills . But my interest in circumnavigating the globe initially came from two sources, the famous ‘Sunday Times Golden Globe Race‘ race and Joshua Slocums trip in ‘Spray’.
Now for the almost random part, My uncle moved his family to ‘Malaya’, back when it was occupied by the British, and I was a kid. I was always intrigued if that country was as exotic as he described, so when Sister Midnight appeared for sale there, it seemed like a good enough reason to jump on a plane and visit. Next a book about ‘The Inside Passage’ in British Columbia was enough to inspire me to cross the North Pacific to sail around Vancouver Island. Finally a film I saw around the same time gave me a reason to head to Mexico, in particular the beach where the two main stars meet at the end, in Zihuatanejo. Despite the fact it wasn’t filmed here, and was fictional anyway, didn’t put me off as choosing it for a destination. I’m so glad we came here on such a flimsy whim, I really think this is turning out to be one of my favorite cruising destinations.

This is wrong in so many ways, he needs to stop water getting in through the window before fairing the deck

In case you didn’t see the film, it’s the Shawshank Redemption.

Forgot to post this last time. The track when the autopilot failed! This track was very useful in the fault diagnosis

7th Feb – La Cruz / Banderas Bay/Bucerias/Puerto Vallarta

Banderas Bay

Arriving into Banderas bay we made straight for the first tenable anchorage at Punta De Mita, just at the top NW part of the bay. Here we could rest before heading to the main cruisers hangout at La Cruz. From the somewhat remote anchorages we had been in before, we now had access to several huge hypermarkets like La Comer, Soriano, Walmart etc. An inexpensive one hour bus ride would take us into the big city of Puerto Vallarta with more big box stores. We did think we would get a spot in the Marina in La Cruz, one of the few marinas in the area, however it looked a bit rough, wasn’t cheap and in reality offered little versus being at anchor. It was also full up with cruisers, many, like the 70 boats at anchor, were waiting for a weather window to sail off to the the South Pacific. This is one of the main departure points for boats arriving from the north, or heading up from the Atlantic, via the Panama canal.

La Cruz Marina

There’s a very active sailboat community here and the small town of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle was buzzing with activity. We made the most of the stores for provisioning, and enjoyed the vast Sunday ‘Farmers Market’ where Kathy took advantage of the many Vegan stalls.

The Cross as in ‘La Cruz’
The next town along with the big shops and a great beach
Buskers !
Sunday Market at the La Cruz Marina breakwater
There’s a good music scene at the bars in La Cruz (the green tomato)
We did this ‘Water Run’ 5 times, each Garrafon holds 20 litres
It took a while to realise this is real and very alive
No shortage of Public Art in Mexico
Diver below cleaning the hull, not sure how the beer keg works with the compressor!

18th Feb – Ipala
We spent about 10 days in La Cruz and really enjoyed it. To continue south, one has to get around Cabo Corrientes, this is a cape, or point of land sticking out into the Pacific that sort of separates the waters to the south from the Sea of Cortez to the north. This protrusion into the sea has been known to cause dangerous seas to build up in this area, opposing currents and weather systems can create dangerous conditions for small boats and it has to be taken seriously when planning your passage. However at this time of year, in relatively calm conditions, and combined with the fact that we tend to go 2 or more miles offshore I didn’t expect, or in fact encounter any problems. I did hear from another sailboat having a very difficult time going north around the cape the next day, which surprised me. Sister Midnight is quite a heavy old boat and we are quite used to a bit of a rough sea. Once around the cape, we pulled into a small indent in the coast at Ipala to break the journey up so as not to need to do an overnighter.

20th Feb – Chamela
An early start for the 10 hour passage to Chamela, Another lovely beach with palapa restaurants. We managed to find a few basic shops to get some bread and fruit & veg here. The town is called Punta Perula.

23rd Feb – Tenacatita
Tenacatita provided a lovely break, first we stopped near the entrance at the western end of the bay before moving to the very popular anchorage just behind an outcrop that provides some protection from the Pacific swell.

You can make out the route/track we took through the mangrove river that actually joins the two anchorages. We took the dinghy down this 5 mile round trip and it was quite stunning scenery, with baby crocs basking on tree trunks at the water’s edge and lots of birdsong all around. All was great until on the way back when a caterpillar dropped from above onto my shirt, let’s say this is not something that pleases Kathy and we had to get out of the mangroves ASAP.

26th Feb – Barra de Navidad – Lagoon
The next leg was less than 20 miles to the lagoon at Barra de Navidad.

The tight entrance to the lagoon

A luxury resort/marina was built and can be seen in the pictures below. As often happens, resorts and marinas don’t mix. Different skill sets?. This marina was rather run down and couldn’t really decide if they liked cruisers or not. I remember in Malaysia, huge new waterfront property developments would often be advertised with a small marina attached, artists impressions, of beautiful people with new luxury yachts adorning the docks, the reality usually was that the entrance and slips silted up in record time, and the docks fell into disrepair and were removed by the next typhoon.

An older aerial picture,from the Capitania’s office

It’s hard to imagine but Barra was once, hundreds of years ago, a very busy Spanish navy port. The expedition to colonise the Philippines was launched from here, although we saw no mention of it when we were in the Philippines 😉

The lagoon is a very safe place and the entrance in is very shallow and very narrow. Also there is only a smallish area within the lagoon deep enough to anchor, it can handle a good few boats but one has to be careful to avoid the shallows as the boat below found out.

It floated on the next tide.

Barra is such a delightful town, very laid back, mostly based around tourism, and full of American and Canadian visitors and residents. Not many Brits.
There is a famous, at least in the cruising community, French baker, who loads up his panga with fresh croissants, baguettes, pain au chocolat etc and tours the lagoon visiting boats with his wares. He can be hailed on VHF ch22 and special orders placed.
For a small fee you are supposed to be able to leave your dinghy in the Marina and take advantage of the luxury resort facilities, I had promised Kathy a proper massage at the resort as part of her Christmas present, but on touring the place it seemed a bit sterile and soulless, so instead we went to a lady in town, who spoke no English but seemed to know her stuff and Kathy had a good experience I believe.
Another advantage of the lagoon is that there is a 24/7 water taxi service, £1 each way from the anchorage to the town. Very nice.

I had to climb the mast to retrieve the snapped signal halyard in the lagoon
The water Taxi
This guy had an impressive array of fresh produce
Did the Romans come here?

Another interesting aspect here is that three canals were channeled into the town and very pleasing homes built to look over them.

One of the canals

We could have stayed longer in Barra but after a few days we pushed on south towards Zihuatanejo.

9th March – Manzanillo (Carrizal, Santiago & Hadas)

Bahia Manzanillo

There are three possible stops on the northern part of this large bay. The south east is home to a large commercial port and Navy base and although you can anchor there, it is more exposed to winter wind and swell.
We went straight to the first anchorage at Carrizal, a deep protected cove, which turned out to be a bit dull. The next day we went to Hadas, which has an odd Marina, again it’s part of a very impressive resort and the owners don’t seem to like boaters. There are no finger slips, where you tie up alongside, instead you med-moor, which entails dropping an anchor and reversing to the dock. I’m very comfortable with this from my time sailing in Greece, however it’s a hopeless solution for a boat like ours with a pointy bit at both ends, on Lady Stardust, we could jump off the bow platform onto the dock, not on SM, you would break a leg, the stern has so much crap on it, that’s not an option either. The solution would be to use the dinghy to get the few feet to the dock. Again we decided to stay at anchor and dinghy in, they don’t seem to like that either and charge $USD 14 for the privilege of tying up your dinghy, not bad if the resort pools and facilities were included, but they’re not. No matter, the resort looked lovely and we enjoyed some great food there, it was also a good place to walk to the local supermarkets and later we got a taxi to Manzanillo for a day out.
For a few days we moved to anchor off the beach at Santiago, just a few miles to the west. A huge expanse of perfect beach lined with restaurants.

A ship that didn’t get out of the way of a hurricane in time
Time to clean the hull (wetsuit needed because of jellyfish)
Hadas Anchorage / resort
Is Blackpool tower missing?
Manzanillo old town
The Municipal market
More street art
A very old hotel
Built to mark the big Marlin fishing events held here
In case you’re not sure where you are
More of the Hadas resort
More Hadas

When it came time to leave, we scooted over to the city and followed the southern coast out, this meant getting quite close to the docks, however this ship left the dock and made a beeline for us, I assumed he was heading the same way as us, yet he changed course to overtake us on our port side, instead of continuing his previous course to our starboard side, then just as soon as he cleared us, with no more than 100 ft between us, he turned back to starboard and crossed our bow. I have no idea why he did this, I’m going to assume he wants to brag to his fellow master mariners that he sailed past Sister Midnight, maybe he was bored, or maybe he just wanted to freak me out. It was safe at all times, but I can’t say I was relaxed about it.

overtaking at around 10 knts
Turning across my bow now.

16th Mar – Cabeza Negra (black head)
It’s 180 odd miles to Zihuat from Manzanillo and very few places to shelter, so rather than do it over two nights we decided to do a day trip to Cabeza negra, which can offer some respite from the swell, then an overnighter to Isla Ixtapa, then a last hop into Zihuat.

SV Rebecca Leah heading North
We bought this Basil (Albacha) plant in Barra, I’m determined to make it last, we use it for our Sunday poached egg special breakfast.

17/18th Mar – Isla Ixtapa
Now Ixtapa is interesting to me. Most people will have heard of Cancun, it’s a big resort in the Gulf of Mexico (Caribbean side) and was built as a major tourist project by the Mexican government starting in 1970. I had to change flights there once on my way home from Cuba, I hated the place. Well Ixtapa is the equivalent, but built on the Pacific side, a small unknown stretch of coast with a sleepy fishing village of Zihuatanejo, which was transformed into mile after mile of high rise hotels and apartments. Isla Ixtapa is an island, a 5 minute water taxi ride from the resorts and exists solely to provide holiday makers with an island beach/lunch experience. amazingly it’s actually ok.
Now back in 2000 I had to visit Mexico city representing the technical side of our business as part of a UK Government trade mission. I loved Mexico City and decided to extend my stay by a week and have a holiday. Locals advised me to get a cheap hotel in Ixtapa, at this point I had never seen the Pacific Ocean so I flew here and booked into a hotel for a very lazy week. Now I was going to sail past the hotel having arrived here by crossing the North Pacific and being in the same spot (give or take a mile) that I had visited 23 years ago via the North Atlantic. Not sure why, but I liked that. If I was a weirdo, I’d be thinking Ley Lines, and cosmic orders, thankfully I’m not.

We anchored here for a few days to get over the overnight passage. Dinner ashore one afternoon was very pleasant. My Spanish skills have reached the point now where I can order food and drink like a local, however they assume I can understand them like a local, so the conversation usually goes downhill very quickly. This was one of those moments, when I think they wanted to say, “Just talk in gringo language like everyone else here, it will be easier all round”

Isla Ixtapa
Isla Ixtapa, (SM in the background)
Isla Ixtapa (Coral bay side)

20th Mar – Zihuatanejo
We made the short 2 hour trip to Zihuatanejo passing the Marina at Ixtapa. The plan had been to go there for the week before Kathy flew home, easy to get ashore, facilities etc, but by now we had become so used to living at anchor we decided to see what Zi was like and skip the Marina. Also the Marina has gone downhill I hear, and the entrance is badly silted and need good timing with tides and surf to get in safely.
Zi has turned out to be a fantastic place, the bay is sheltered, an easy dinghy landing on the beach, with help from the locals. The town has a very safe laid back feel, but also very lively around the markets and high streets, lots of music and bars, a great food court that reminds us of SE Asia. We can walk to the big Soriano hypestore which even has Vegan food for Kathy, we found a great Vegan restaurant and also an Indian place too.
One problem we had was that we ran low on water, we last filled up in La Cruz and when I ran the tap, a very brown water came out. I later twigged that the tank level was low, but we had also just been bouncing around a lot in the sea and the sediment in the tank had been mixed up. Time to clean the tanks, not an easy task. There are three inspection hatches on the starboard tank each one big enough to get in and clean but the angles are difficult. Anyway once the boat had been still for a while we used the remaining water in the starboard tanks for washing and the like and then I ripped off the hatches and got to work. It wasn’t great inside, some yucky sludge along with the rust, but it cleaned up well. I had 20ltrs on deck from La Paz I keep for emergencies I could give the tanks a bit of a flush with, then we ordered 10 garrafones (20 ltr bottles) from a passing Panga and we were back in business, I will do the other tank when I reach a Marina.

After, and yes the welds are suspicious?
My water man
Not your typical mermaid
Oh guess what, they have a sign, but couldnt afford all the letters?
Every morning on the beach
I think leftovers from the Carnival week
Another sign
Food Court (Penang style, with chillies)
With a live band

It’s now just a week before Kathy flies home, then I have to get the boat to a safe place, I could sail north to Guaymas or San Carlos, many do that, but it’s a long way. Mazatlan might be better. I’m leaving the boat all alone for 3 months, encompassing the worst of the hurricane season, so I need to find a safe place, if such a thing exists in a direct cat 5 hit.
I will do one more post I think before I return with my final plans.

Paul Collister
27th March 2023

Topolobampo to Zihuatanejo (part 1)

(Pronounced: Zee-what-ah-nay-oh)

Wed 22nd March 2023
We are now in Zihuatanejo and will remain here until Kathy flies back to the UK in 2 weeks and I will move the boat to somewhere safe where I can haul it out before I return to the UK for the hurricane season.

Our Route (Not to be used for navigation.)

I will expand on the trip below, but basically we have traveled through various levels of paradise, ending up at anchor in Zihuat which is definitely in the running for one of my favorite towns ever. As we left the very dry desert vistas of the Baja and traveled south, the land got greener and greener, with that comes more humidity, and also more bitey things. Along the way the waters filled up with more and more interesting creatures, now we have to watch out for Crocodiles in the water and it is not recommended to dive on your hull in the Ixtapa marina because of these guys. While it is in the mid 20’s (77 f) in La Paz now, we are often in the high 30’s (100 f) here.

The boat has performed really well, but it wants some attention. The last time we were in a marina or tied to a dock was a few months ago and the topsides could do with a good washdown. An oil change is due, and the hull needs some antifoul. We are low on fresh water. These warm waters cause the hull to foul very quickly, i.e., in a few days a clean hull will be covered in a light growth, after a week it’s really bad. I have been paying local divers to clean the boat at various stops along the way, but the antifoul is now missing in a few areas.

This is our first voyage with Starlink for our internet access and I had decided to only connect it for an hour at most each day to get the weather and check emails. It’s quite heavy on the batteries. Guess what, we need bigger batteries. We have spent many an evening now watching the BBC, comedy and documentaries. we use it on passage, when the sun is shining or the engine is running and read tweets instead of looking out for fishing nets or whales. I hate the often used phrase ‘game changer’ but it really is for long distance cruising. I no longer need to worry after a few days out of cell phone range if the weather is turning bad, I can contact people ahead, marinas etc from remote anchorages, and I easily provide some customer support for my old work while in very remote areas. I had a great 30 minute video chat with a friend back in Liverpool on Skype when making 6 knots in rolly seas a few dozen miles offshore. Nice one Elon, you’re great with cars and rockets, why not just stick with them eh?

The trip south
I have left it a bit late to document our trip, we did hope to make it to Acapulco, but decided to take in as many places as we could heading south, and even being lazy about it, it still seems like a roller coaster of a trip. We had lots of amazing experiences along the way, but I will just mention a few with pictures below.

6th Jan – Los Mochis
From Topolobampo we took the local mini bus service to Los Mochis and met up with Arturo who lives there. A clown joined us for a few stops and visited everyone on board looking for a financial contribution to his somewhat complicated personal & social condition. While passing the hat around he was jabbering on in some crazy deranged squeaky clowns voice. Given that just yesterday cartel gunman had been controlling these roads and stopping vehicles, he wasn’t the most calming of entertainers, especially if you’re like Kathy who has seen far too many scary clown thrillers.

Los Mochis is a big city, and we wandered around the main park before our bus was ready to leave and take us to El Fuerte.

Great carvings

El Fuerte
Arturo joined us on the next bus route to El fuerte, where he spends a lot of time with his girlfriend and her family. We found out later that one of the Cartel members also shared the journey with us. He kind of stood out, but everyone ignored him.

The town hall grand staircase
The hotel pool & bar

We stayed in a posh hotel, very old and grand, but not at all expensive. El Fuerte is a small town out in the country on the banks of the river Fuerte (Strong river). It has thrived on the lush agriculture and mining in the area. we are close to the copper canyon railway here.

Arturo took us to a local refuge for animals where we enjoyed feeding them. Unfortunately Kathy ignored Arturo’s very strong warning about ‘deeting up’ (The application of insect repellent containing DEET) and she really suffered for that.

Town hall
The hotel dining room

This hotel claims to be the birthplace of El Zorro, and each night he does a performance in the restaurant, fortunately we were able to be in and out before he had cloaked up.

I presume this is connected to the copper canyon railway

After a couple of days we headed back to Las Mochis, took advantage of the Walmart there, then took the next boat back to the boat, bought a dozen Garrafones (20ltr bottles) of water and headed back out to sea.

16th Jan – Altata
We had a great sail south from Topolobampo to Altata, in a previous post I describe how I did this journey on my own and couldn’t find the entrance to the lagoon at Altata, huge breaking surf seemed to cover every possible way in. Since then a few people have told me it’s really easy so armed with more confidence, we had another go. This time it worked out well, however when the channel seems very narrow and it’s dropping from 20 meters deep to 4 meters in just a few boat lengths, it can get quite scary. I saw two fishing boat that looked like they were heading in so I decided to follow them, bad move. They were going to fish off the side of a big bank. A quick course correction and we made it back into the chanel and into the lagoon.

The most striking thing for me was seeing the fishing boats in the bay/lagoon. They fly a sail, a bit like a spinnaker from a rig that has a mast and two poles one extending out over the stern and the other over the bow, making the three corners for attaching the sail. it then fills and just skims the surface of the water. I think their net is dragged over the other side of the boat and they slowly drift the length of the lagoon, several miles at a fairly slow pace. I expect this is a very traditional setup, however I don’t suppose in the old days when they reached the end of the lagoon they would fire up their 250hp outboard motor and scoot back to the start upwind. Still the 40-60 boats make quite an amazing spectacle.

Still cold up north it seems
No point wasting an old boat when it can become a diner

20th Jan – Mazatlan (Old port)
We stayed a few nights in Altata before heading off to Mazatlan. This would be another overnighter and Kathy and I prepared for our 4 hour on / off watch system. Unfortunately we had to motor at the start and as soon as we cleared the sand banks a dense fog descended on us, with very poor visibility and a night passage to handle, we fired up the Radar, praying it would work, it hasn’t been used for years. It did work, but I needed to get Kathy up to speed on how to use it. Along with the AIS we hoped to be ok. It was in the middle of the night when a target I had been tracking seemed to be deliberately aiming for us. These waters are full of very large (200ft ish) Shrimp and Tuna boats, some of them have helicopter pads on them for quick crew changes. Fishermen can be quite worrying with their seemingly random courses, I often wonder if boredom causes them to come and look at the little sailboat from England sending out its AIS beacon. This one was starting to freak me a bit, I turned off the autohelm so I could steer and take avoiding action if it got any closer. The radar had it as being under 0.1 mile from us, I could hear its engine, but no visible contact as the fog was very dense now. The next thing it appears out of the fog, I could see the crew on the deck, lit by the huge working lights that created big globes of light in the fog. I had been sounding a fog horn, but I doubt they would hear that with all their engine noise. They changed course quickly and I presumed they hadn’t expected me to be there. I checked my AIS setup and realised we were not transmitting our signal, just receiving theirs. This is a power saving option I sometimes turn on. Oops. Being a plastic boat, we don’t always make a great radar target so it’s possible they didn’t know we were there.
Come the morning the wind picked up, the fog lifted and the autopilot failed. Fortunately we could put the sails up, the wind steering went on and we happily sailed all the way to Mazatlan. We spotted several whales on this passage.

The big city of Mazatlan
The old harbour, our favorite
Cruise ships also like it here
Typical Tuna ship

We anchored in the old port, we are reluctant to use the marinas in the northern part of town, especially as we hit bottom trying to get in last time and I thought we might lose the boat after the surf lifted us up and slammed us back down on the sea bed. The old harbour is also easy to walk downtown from and we had a few chores to do. On our first provisioning trip we found ourselves in the middle of what looked like a carnival parade, but we learnt later it was the parade to chose the Carnival Queen.

A very cool shop for things that defy definition

So I had to fix the autopilot, there was no way we would get to Acapulco hand steering. I had a plan B, using a tiller pilot, but that was complicated, however I should try to fix that up anyway. My guess was that the remote rudder indicator was not working, it looked ok and we usually get a ERROR 67, which means the remote sensor isn’t working, this has been an issue since we bought the boat and the error never stopped it working. So out came the sensor, it was a sealed unit but on measuring the resistance I guessed the unit was faulty, I pulled the wires apart and they broke apart in the process making me expect that was the problem.

I was only left with about 1 cm of wire sticking out of the unit after I had stripped back the faulty connections, so had to be very careful attaching new wires, I managed it and added a splint to the connections to hopefully give it some ongoing support. It all went back together and we upped anchor and did a waltz around the anchorage, testing it. Thankfully it worked. Also since then we haven’t seen the ERROR 67, which had been popping up every hour or two for the last 8 years now. I presume this connection was always flakey. Looking at the tracks on the chartplotter makes me think the course is even straighter than ever, but that’s probably just wishful thinking.

Not for me thanks
Wonder what he does with the ones he doesn’t sell?

We got some laundry done, stocked up on food from the mega superstores and the Mercado Municipal, Mazatlan has the best smoked tuna I have ever tasted, and we headed back out to sea and south towards La Cruz.

30th Jan – Isla Isabela
It was an overnighter to Isla Isabela. This island is very special, it has a huge colony of Blue footed boobies, frigate birds and no end of Iguanas. It’s a national park and also has nowhere to anchor easily. The small partially protected bay is mostly rock and many people have had to leave their anchor there as it gets caught under the rocks. This is one of my worst nightmares, we have a very expensive anchor, it’s brilliant, and I don’t want to lose it. Fortunately I had been given the GPS coordinates for a small patch of sand amongst the rocks, it wasn’t much bigger than the size of the boat so we crept in with Kathy and I hanging over the side staring into the water to see if we could find it. We couldn’t, so I launched the dinghy with my snorkel mask and a length of rope and a small buoy. I took my dumbell as an anchor. (It needed using). I put the mask on and hung over the side of the dinghy scooting around until I found the patch. I tied the rope to the dumbell and the buoy to the other end and threw it over, this was in about 30 ft of water. I headed back to Captain Kathy who was motoring around the small bay waiting and we headed back to my mark and dropped the anchor. Next I snorkeled over to the anchor to see it had in fact set in the sand, but right next to a big rock that was also there. Not great, but I hoped the anchor would not drag under the rock, it was fairly calm weather so ‘fingers crossed’.

Isla Isabela

1st Feb – San Blas
Many people had said to avoid San Blas as it has a bad reputation for noseeums (invisible mossies) that leave bad bites, however it sounded interesting so we headed there and up the river to anchor. It had a pleasant town square and a very laid back feel to it. We had hoped to maybe get a place in the state run marina, but as is often the case, due to very low fees, it was full.

We stayed one night then pushed onto to Mantanchen bay.

2nd Feb – Matanchen Bay
Matanchen Bay was getting a lot of flack on the radio nets and on Facebook for dinghy thefts, I’m always surprised by this, having sailed for 8 years from SE Asia to Mexico, we have never had anything stolen, we always take precautions, and would never tempt fate by leaving a expensive outboard dangling of the back of a dinghy in the night in a poor area, in fact we always lift the dinghy out of the water. Also these dinghies are often found on the beach downwind of the boat, with their engine missing. The bay made a pleasant stop, but the next morning we pushed on to the resort bay of Chacala

4th Feb – Chacala

We spent a couple of very pleasant days here, the fact that one of the beach restaurants did decent vegan options for Kathy helped. A lot of RV’ers seemed to like the camps here.

Our next stop would be Banderas bay, the bay of flags! Here is one of the biggest and popular marinas on the mainland coast, it’s also the place where many boaters gather before heading off to the South Pacific. We arrived at the peak of this, and there were many boats there preparing for their first serious offshore journey. More on this and our trip to Zihuatanejo in my next post, this one is getting too long.

Paul Collister
Thursday 23rd March 2023

Farewell, Sea of Cortez

It’s been a while…well, just over two years to be more precise since I last posted an entry on our blog. As for so many others, our lives and plans have been interrupted by the disruption and uncertainty brought about by Covid 19. Sister Midnight has remained in La Paz instead of sailing across the South Pacific which was the original intention, and Paul and I have hopped back and forth from the UK to Baja California for the last couple of years, making the most of The Sea of Cortez and its beautiful islands. 

It seemed apt to bid a final farewell to La Paz as a new year began. We had just enjoyed a blissfully stress-free and relaxing Christmas there – our third one in La Paz – just the two of us, with as little fuss as possible but with lights, a tree, festive food and a few gifts we’d had a great time.

We left our berth on New Year’s Day to begin crossing the Sea of Cortez before continuing south along Mexico’s mainland towards Acapulco. Our neighbour Bob helped with our lines and wished us fair winds as we departed the marina that had been our base for three years. It had become something of a home from home for us, in that we’d become familiar faces to locals and fellow cruisers alike and we knew the town’s streets and locations so well. It was there, also that we had made the acquaintance of our dear friend, Arturo, who has himself moved on to pastures new. 

Preparing to leave
1st January 2023

Some of the stops along the way will be places we (or Paul alone) have visited before but others would be first sights for both of us. This is one of the aspects of travel that I enjoy most: exploring new destinations. That first walk ashore to see ‘what’s there’ creates quite a thrill. Internet searches and travel guides tell you so much but they can’t account for a particular vibe a person can pick up from a place. As La Paz gradually faded from sight behind us, I counted the months since I had last been at sea and was surprised to discover it had been seven months. It was a warm, sunny and clear day and it felt good both physically and mentally to be back on the water. Our first stop, Isla Partida was only a short journey to an anchorage we’d been many times before. The cove, with its high sloping walls of volcanic rock provides ideal shelter. It is in fact the crater of a large, extinct volcano with an abundance of seabirds and we love to watch the pelicans diving as the sun begins to set. They position themselves above the water and descend rapidly, their bodies’ vertical when they hit the surface with a resounding splash, and scoop up fish with admirable speed and skill. It’s also a great area to dinghy around looking at manta rays and puffer fish in the clear shallow water. We spent two nights there, enjoying leisurely walks on the beaches. The familiar row of fishermen’s sheds, all locked up and deserted, appeared almost eerie. Tables and chairs outside them held knives, weighing scales and other paraphernalia, while fish skeletons littered the ground around them. It conveyed an impression they had abandoned the place in a hurry but that’s probably more to do with my imagination. 

Isla Partida

The delightfully-named town of Topolobampo, could just be glimpsed in the distance from where we anchored a few days later in Isla Santa Maria. We were in no great hurry to go ashore, however. Paul had been to this anchorage before and had pronounced the surrounding beach as the best he had come across on his travels so far. It was easy to see why as I stared at what looked like more than a mile of golden sand encircling us, its edges decorated with lines of seabirds. Closer inspection revealed them to be pelicans, gulls and some that we couldn’t identify, but they were all positioned ready to catch fish. We were the only boat in the area and apart from their cries and splashes it was blissfully peaceful. We had arrived a little too late in the day to explore the beach, and inviting as it all looked it would have to wait until we returned after our trip inland. 

A typical night view while at anchor

We had decided against a plan to book places on the famous El Chepe Express, the train tour where passengers can see the spectacular copper canyons across Sinaloa. After mulling over the cost, the logistics and the fact that it wasn’t permitted to take your own food on board (essential for vegans and veggies), we concluded that the cons outweighed the pros. Moreover, we had been lucky enough to visit The Grand Canyon last year during a three week trip in Arizona. Instead, we arranged to meet Arturo the following day to spend a few days with him in El Fuerte. His girlfriend’s family live there so he would be staying with them, while Paul and I would stay in the nice-looking hotel recommended by Arturo’s girlfriend Katia, who unfortunately had to work so was unable join us on the trip. 

We motored into Topolobampo Marina the next morning and had hardly finished securing our lines when one of the cruisers who had come to help, informed us that the town was more or less in lockdown. It turned out that the son of former drug lord El Chapo had been arrested the previous day in Sinaloa’s capital, Culiacan. As the leader of his father’s cartel, the action sparked a wave of violence and protests from armed cartel members across Sinaloa. The authorities had deemed it dangerous for civilians to be out on the streets and we were told to stay in the marina for our own safety. Some welcome(!) yet also rather exciting in a ‘Breaking Bad’ kind of way. Since meeting Arturo was out of the question that day, we mooched around the marina, which didn’t take long, and read up on the towns of Los Mochis and El Fuerte. Apart from Mexico City we hadn’t really been inland in the country and I was looking forward to seeing these new places, especially with the aid of Arturo’s Spanish and local knowledge. 

Catch of the day 😉

Luckily restrictions were lifted the next day and we were able to venture into the town for my first look at it. It was quite a contrast from the seaside elegance of La Paz. The short walk from the marina began by crossing a wide road and railway line that leads to the commercial part of the harbour where cargo ships and ferries are accommodated. From there, the streets become narrower and dustier with old sofas, broken down cars and makeshift stalls outside some of the houses. Every person who saw us greeted us with a friendly ‘buenas tardes’ and there were chickens, dogs and cats running free in the road. The main shopping street was very busy with pedestrians and cars. I noticed that despite the dilapidated appearance of some of the buildings they were all painted with very bright pastel colours as if to offset the condition. It was remarkably effective as your eye can’t help but be drawn to the vivid blues, pinks and yellows that adorned the shops, businesses and homes. 

The waterfront, or malecon, is a lot smaller than La Paz’s. It was lined with tour operators offering fishing trips or tours of the bay, and stalls selling the usual souvenirs and sun hats. We walked up and down it, taking in the fabulous views of the bay before setting off to meet Arturo, who had travelled from Los Mochis to meet us. We spent a pleasant couple of hours with him in one of the seafront cafes, catching up and making plans for the next few days.

Friends reunited

One thing we all wanted to do was to have lunch at the acclaimed Stanley’s Bar and Grill which is situated at the top of a hill with sea views in three directions and a great birds’ eye view of the town. We opted to take a taxi up the hill with the intention of walking back down afterwards, as a way of avoiding the peak of the sun’s heat. Stanleys is a restaurant specialising in seafood and Mexican fare which is hardly surprising. It’s never a problem for me as there are always salads available and of course French fries. As the pictures show, the views, as well as the food, didn’t disappoint. The serving staff were smartly dressed old-style fashion in crisp black and white uniforms and the wine waiter insisted I try the wine before committing to a glass.

We took a slow walk back down the hill, all the better to appreciate the narrow, vibrant and colourful streets and the views from the trail. 

After a couple more leisurely days in the marina we set off for our trip to El Fuerte on the 10th January. This meant getting the bus to Los Mochis, just 11 miles from Topoplobampo. It’s a regular and efficient service with several stops along the way. For this reason, it’s not uncommon for sellers and people down on their luck to board offering tissues and gum for sale or asking for financial help for sick relatives via printed notes. We were not, however, prepared for the sight of a clown climbing up the steps and grinning its way down the aisle. I presume he (or she) was telling amusing stories for the entertainment of passengers but someone needs to point out that clowns today are viewed more as harbingers of horror than of amusement. 

Don’t have nightmares…

Arriving in Los Mochis, a town much bigger than I expected, we met up with Arturo and discovered we had a bit of time to kill before our bus to El Fuerte. We decided to walk to a park he recommended, and I managed to get another picture in front of the town name structures for my ever growing collection, as shown in the pics below, along with our hour in Parque Sinaloa. 

Several trees and fallen trunks had these delightful carvings

The bus to El Fuerte was thankfully free of clowns. It was full though and Arturo, always up for conversation with strangers, encouraged Paul to engage in a chat with the young boys in the seats behind us. It’s a good way to practise informal Spanish and Paul’s been making great progress since I’ve been away. 

Fun on the bus!

It took just over an hour to get to El Fuerte, a town which on first impressions, certainly seemed lived up to its guide book description of ‘a tranquil, verdant town of handsome colonial architecture and lush mango trees’ as we walked in the sunshine from the bus station to our hotel near the centre. Checking in, we were glad of Arturo’s help with some of the more convoluted questions at reception. Apparently there was a hard sell for us to book places for that evening’s Zorro show (for a hefty sum) in the restaurant and I think they thought they’d succeeded when Paul asked for the show times. We booked our table for the slot that avoided the time when the performances began; I swear their faces dropped. 

We knew the hotel made much of the character of Zorro. It’s claimed the legendary character had been ‘born’ in the building. Zorro, renowned for carving the letter Z into the clothes or bodies of his adversaries, was a fictional character created by Johnston McCulley. His story was the inspiration for tales, TV series and films about a masked bandit loosely based on real-life character Don Diego de la Vega, who is alleged to have been born on the site the Posada de Hidalgo is built. Merely the site then, not the actual building. You can’t really blame the hotel or indeed the town for capitalising on the association. It’s always interesting to have context when visiting a place. We just didn’t fancy watching a mini pantomime while eating dinner (especially as it looked like audience participation might be required). The statue is impressive though.

The hotel is beautiful. It was originally an old colonial mansion and was transformed into a luxury hotel with rooms tastefully fitted out in wood and marble. Ours had a high ceiling, large wooden double doors and long wooden shutters on the windows. A small balcony overlooked the leafy side street and a games court. Some pics below of the opulence and style we enjoyed there. 

The door to our room
Our room

After unpacking we headed to the bar for drinks and guacamole by the pool before taking a walk along the River Fuerte with Arturo, who has come to know the town well during his visits from Los Mochis.  

Nice, but not as good as Paul’s guacamole

Dinner in the stylishly decorated restaurant was entertaining enough without the Zorro reenactments. Our waiter, keen to practise his limited English on us, discovered that he and Paul shared the same name and made reference to it every chance he got. This led to excitable mentions of Liverpool, football, and anecdotes about his wife – all while laughing and exclaiming as if this was turning out to be one of the best evenings of his life. With the tip we felt he had worked hard for, Paul said it was quite an expensive dinner…and we only just managed to escape before the unmistakeable sounds of the Zorro show reached our ears.  

Arturo arrived the next morning in his girlfriend’s car. We had made plans to visit the local museum before driving a few miles out of town to see a wildlife rescue park. The museum, handily situated next to the hotel was created in and around an old fort and the pictures and exhibits typically depicted historical figures and events connected to the area. The views from the top of the fort were spectacular on such a sunny and clear day.

In the museum grounds

The day had grown hotter by the time we reached the park at La Galera early in the afternoon. Set in woodland, next to the Fuerte River, there are picnic areas, nature walks and boat rides nearby, but to get to the animals you have to walk across the suspension bridge spanning the river. Before we did this, Paul and Arturo applied liberal amounts of insect repellent. Despite repeated entreaties and warnings from Arturo who had been bitten there before I chose not to, thinking myself immune to them as I hadn’t been bitten since my arrival in Mexico. That was a decision I would come to regret bitterly. The bridge was a bit rickety but we lingered a while on it to look at the fast-flowing Fuerte River rushing below us. 

As well as the very reasonable admission fee, the man who took our money encouraged us to buy little sachets of food and bottles of milk for the animals, which we did. This man runs the place himself and all the animals that are brought to him are treated, rehabilitated and released back into the wild whenever possible. It was delightful. We had a fantastic afternoon walking around and feeding goats, donkeys, parrots and even a raccoon, who slid the offering from the palm of my hand into its mouth with surprising gentleness – as did the parrots who picked the peanuts from my fingers with their beaks very courteously, as if fearful of hurting me. Now and again I felt slight ‘fly-like’ movements on my bare legs but just waved them away, too intent on looking and walking and petting the animals to notice that mosquitos were indeed feasting on my legs and ankles. No apologies for the amount of pictures we took from the afternoon.

It wasn’t until a full day later that the itching began. I had noticed the red bite marks on my legs, but still convinced myself they wouldn’t bother me. Just after we’d left the hotel  and had a final walk around the town before getting the bus back to Los Mochis, my trousers began to rub on all those red marks and I made the mistake of scratching my calf. That began almost 10 days of trying to resist the urge to scratch the intense itching. There were so many of them my legs felt like they were pulsating at times. I found a cream that provided relief – for the 10 hours advertised on the tube. I could almost tell the time by when it wore off and I had to reapply. Needless to say that was a valuable lesson learned. The pic below shows them at their worst.

Absolute torture!

At Los Mochis we bid farewell to Arturo. It might be a while before we enjoy his company again but we are certain that we will. 

Back in Topolobampo, we left the marina and spent a relaxing couple of days anchored in the lagoon. Now, we had the time to walk along those golden stretches of beach and sit in the cockpit watching the birds while enjoying the delicious guacamole Paul makes. During one afternoon walk, we were surprised to come across three cows grazing in the rough, bushy landscape. We hadn’t seen any cows at all in Mexico up to this point and to see three of them there seemed a bit incongruous. We spotted them again the night before we left, ambling along the sand by the shore.  

Beautiful Isla Santa Maria’s lagoon in the evening

Our next stop along the coast was Altata. This meant an overnight passage. We’ve got into a comfortable routine with these now, whereby I take the 8pm until midnight watch and Paul the midnight until 4am (depending on conditions I can cope with of course). Dinners on these occasions are always simple, and in the comfort food style such as pasta or veggie burgers. For this trip I made empanadas with ready-made pastry circles we’d bought, and various vegan fillings I had created the day before. Checking the instructions, I was surprised to discover they should be fried in a little oil instead of baked in the oven. They turned out well (Paul had four!). We had thick fog on this passage but the radar on the iPad in the cockpit alleviated any anxiety about not being able to see other vessels and hazards. Swirling fog gave an eerie atmosphere to the night watch, especially when the book I was reading was about a haunted lighthouse. 

There was a notoriously tricky entrance to navigate before we reached the anchorage. Only a small break in the bay, which has almost landlocked protection provided by narrow barriers of sand beaches, allows boats through. Paul had tried once before to get in but the shallowness and breaking waves all around had put him off. From afar it looked to me as if the boat would have to skim over strips of land to reach the lagoon! With careful planning regarding tides and by closely watching the depth as we got close to the sandbars, we dropped the anchor and I breathed a sigh of relief (one of the very few fears I have on the boat is going aground).  

Altata’s waterfront

Our customary walk around a new place was marred a little by the limitations caused by the bites on my legs. They were so sensitive to anything touching them, that walking set off unbearable itching spasms. It wasn’t quite warm enough for shorts so I resolved to grit my teeth and bear it rather than miss out on an evening walk around the seafront. Altata is known for the unique design of the shrimpers’ boats. Colourful spinnakers are rigged on the pangas as they slowly drift in the shallow water with their nets alongside the boat. They make quite a striking sight when the fleet is out fishing. 

After getting a few essentials in one of the small shops in the town, we headed back to the waterfront to find somewhere to eat. The short row of bars and restaurants on the malecon were fairly empty and we chose the one which had a few tables occupied. We had the feeling it would probably be more busy at weekends and further into the season. We were approached during the meal by a man selling things. Discovering we were English, he urged us to buy some green beans he produced from his sack. They looked good and we agreed to have some. I didn’t realise we would get the entire big bag of them he was holding. Still, they kept well and lasted for a few meals. We spent a couple of days in Altata catching up on rest and chores. I found it a quiet but charming place, as the pictures show. 

It was cold when we weighed anchor at 8am on January 19th. Accustomed as we were to shedding layers as the day went on, it was unusual to find ourselves adding them. Paul ended up at the helm with a full set of oilies and a lifejacket! 

Another overnight passage saw us leaving the Sea of Cortez and entering Pacific Coast Mexico. I was looking forward to seeing Mazatlan again. I had really loved our visit there the year before. It had that vibe that appeals to me but which is impossible to describe objectively. No fog on this leg but the cold temperature remained and the sea, although not rough, was choppy enough to cause rolling. Luckily the wind was in our favour and we sailed most of the way – always nice because it’s peaceful, saves on fuel and is obviously greener. The autopilot broke a few hours before we reached the old harbour at Mazatlan and Paul hand steered for an hour or so when we needed the engine on. It would need to be looked at and assessed during our planned week in Mazatlan before we could consider moving on from there. 

Our week in Mazatlan was great. We did the laundry, tidied the boat, ate out a few times, visited places we hadn’t been to last time, had lazy days on the boat and made several provision visits to supermarkets. More importantly, Paul successfully fixed the autopilot. We also watched a carnival procession the first night we were there, that played out a bit like a beauty contest on wheels. Its purpose was to choose a carnival queen and the women were perched atop cars and vans, each dressed lavishly in the colour they represented. Crowds of supporters followed behind the vehicles, dancing and flag waving and banging drums. Entertaining to watch but the music (very trumpet heavy) was excruciating to my ears. 

Inside a gift shop, Mazatlan
A visit to the city market
Outside the museum of archaeology
Afternoon drinks, Mazatlan
Cruise ship leaving the bay
The old harbour, Mazatlan. This boat was always full of birds

Our time in the Sea of Cortez now done, and I think we did it justice during our time there, it was now time to navigate the uncharted waters (for us) of Pacific Coast Mexico and to explore the coastal towns of Mexico’s mainland. February promised to be exciting. 

Bye Bye La Paz

12th Jan 2023.
The lighted boat parade was shifted until after I collected Kathy from Mexico airport, so I decked the boat out in cheap xmas tree lights and made plans to take it out with Kathy and join the parade, however bad weather arrived in the form of strong northerly winds, and the parade was cancelled by the Capitania de Puerto.

So on the 11th December I flew to the capital Mexico City and met Kathy at the airport. Just before Kathy landed I got a txt msg from American Airlines saying they were “sorry that Kathy’s bag had missed the flight. It would be sent on on a subsequent flight”. She had changed flights at Atlanta, and even though there were no significant delays, her bag had not cleared customs in time and had been sent on to Mexico, but via Detroit. We couldn’t wait as we had a flight back to La Paz to get, so after many hours of failing to breach their customer service firewall, “Press one if you are happy, press any other number to return to this menu”, we got the bag forwarded to La Paz and collected it a few days later.

Kathy soon settled in and we were off on our supermarket tour to collect the various ingredients to make the Christmas meal(s).

A diversion from shopping to take in some local culture.

We spent Christmas on board SM and had a great time, very relaxing, Kathy prepared a fine meal and pudding. I worked off a few calories by taking the Kayak out for a ride.

Jesus has arrived to the Malecon

I got my dates mixed up and we were meant to leave for the islands and spend New Years Eve at anchor, however we left a day late and instead saw the new year in, in the marina. So on the first day of 2023 we sailed out of La Paz (Literally) and went to spend a night at anchor in Caleta Partida, 20 NM north of La Paz. We had great winds and flat calm seas. We sailed almost from the marina exit to the spot we dropped anchor.

Breakfast during our last visit to the islands off La Paz

I was very pleased to be back on the water properly, Carlos the diver had just cleaned the hull and we sped along. I really have noticed how a clean hull is essential to getting the top speeds. I also caught a dorado on the way, which was nice.

The following morning was fun as the windlass failed after 5 seconds of effort. The windlass has a sealed gearbox, full of oil. The motor is bolted to the aluminium case and has to be removed to gain access to the gearbox and the solenoid. Just a few months after we bought the boat in Malaysia, the solenoid failed. In trying to replace it I found the corrosion between the steel and aluminium was advanced and the cast case had a crack, which meant the unit was doomed to fail soon. So 6 years ago I had a replacement windlass shipped out to Malaysia from the UK. It cost me £900 then, the cost today is around £1600. Of course the shift in the cosmic balance caused by this act, meant the failure of the old windlass would now be delayed by six years.
For now I hauled the anchor up by hand and we made the overnight passage across the Sea of Cortez to the ferry port of Topolobampo on the mainland.

The old windlass dripping oil

We sailed out of our anchorage and continued to sail, past the huge Sea Lion colony at Isla Islotes and through the night arriving inside the protected waters of Topolobampo early the next morning. We anchored 4 miles away from the port in a beautiful quiet spot and relaxed before heading into the Marina the next day.
I took the old windlass apart in case it might have a simple fix, but as the cover came off the motor a cup’s worth of lube poured out from the motor. I think the gearbox seal might have failed. I could be wrong but I don’t think motors are generally flooded with oil.
So I swapped the windlass out for the new one. I was able to drill some holes in the base plate that allowed me to fit the new one in just the right spot. Very lucky really to get it to line up with the bow roller and the chain hawse so well. I did get through an awful lot of drill bits making just three holes in a 4mm SS plate.

New windlass, mostly fitted. Routing of the chain will have to wait.

A tip for anyone else new to this sort of thing, either wear footwear all the time, or be very careful to clean up all the steel swarf from the drilling. I was removing shards of steel from my bare feet for a few days after the job ended. Hosing the deck down didn’t remove them!

Another job I had to do was replace the 110v shore power plug on my cable. This is a sure way to start a fire. The existing plug was rated correctly, but for some reason these often overheat and this sets off a chain reaction of making the connection worse, which causes more heating.

Uh oh

From the anchorage I hauled up the anchor with the new winch, which seemed to work ok.

We motored into the Marina and were warmly welcomed in by Nelson and his staff. Unfortunately there was trouble waiting for us. If you know anything about Mexican drug cartels you will have heard of El Chapo, A man in the same league as Pablo Escobar. Well Señor Chapo (Guzman) is in jail in the States, and the morning we arrived the security forces had arrested his son Ovidio, because of this all hell had broken out in Culiacan, the capital of this state we were in, and also in the town of Los Mochis, where Arturo lives and where we were hoping to visit. There had been street battles and the cartel had taken control of the highways and airspace around these towns. Roads and airports were shut. A passenger jet had been fired on, no cars, trains or ferries were moving, people had been told to stay indoors, all businesses had closed, and we were advised to stay on our boat until things calmed down. It didn’t worry me too much as a similar thing had happened three years ago, and once the police had realised they were outnumbered, they had simply handed the prisoner back to the cartel, in order to avoid any more trouble. This time, the prisoner was whisked away to Mexico City and may even be extradited to the USA at some point.
By the end of the day, the street battles between the cartel and the military had ended, between 30 and 100 people may have been killed, and the suburb in Culiacan where he was arrested remains sealed off by the security forces.
The following morning I took Kathy for a coffee in town and we did a bit of shopping, everything seemed normal.

Such colourful buildings
Every Mexican home needs a boat

The next day Arturo joined us and we had a lovely lunch in a hilltop restaurant overlooking the bay here.

View of Topolobampo from the restaurant
Plenty of Dogs, Cats and chickens roaming free

So Arturo returned to Los Mochis, he had left us with interesting information about the troubles.
We had planned to go into the mountains on what is known as the ‘Copper Canyon Route’ on the famous ‘El Chepe train’ but it was very expensive and presented us with a few problems around our timetable. So instead we opted to get on the local bus service and head into the heart of El Chapo land. changing buses in Los Mochis where a lot of the fighting had been. We were heading for ‘El Fuerte’ a very pretty town some way inland, and we would stay in a historic hotel built in the 19th Century as a huge family home. This trip would prove very interesting. A real insight into the darker side of things here. More in the next blog post.
As I write this, everything is calm but that may well not last. We leave here tomorrow and head south towards Mazatlan, several vehicles were set on fire there, but generally it’s going to be a safe destination, and I have no concerns about our safety. More on Ovidio here

Paul Collister