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