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