Cheated death again!

Posted by Admiral
Dec 10 2009

Well.  We set out Monday and headed toward the beautiful little cove called Puerta Balandra about 7 miles north of La Paz.  We arrived about mid-afternoon in a cove of exquisite beauty and flat calm.  As we arrived, a catamaran was leaving from his anchoring spot in the north end of the cove close to the beach and a well-known landmark there called Mushroom Rock.  Our friend Rod of Proximity, who was already there, hailed us on the radio to say that he had just paid this guy 200 pesos to leave so we could have the best spot in the anchorage!  LOL.  Well, we anchored closer to the north end than Proximity, but not as far north as the cat had been.  We wanted more depth. We anchored in about 15’ of water in a sandy bottom.  We put out 75’ of chain.

There was not enough daylight left to go snorkeling.  Rod and Elisabeth of Proximity had been there already for a while.  Elisabeth was in the water, but she said it was getting a little too cold already.  So we launched the dinghy and rode over to their boat for a little chat.

We returned to our boat and made dinner – a treat of fresh fried potato slices, asparagus, and very small hamburgers (from leftovers.)  Cookies and milk for dessert – Heaven!  By now it was dark (after 6:00 pm).  Larry wanted to play some backgammon, so we got the traveling backgammon set out and read the rules.  We understood about 80% of them, so we proceeded to play. 

Our backgammon play was actually kind of silly and fun.  We had finished three games (I think) when we heard a sound outside that sounded as though someone was moving the dinghy around.  We had left the dinghy inflated, with the engine attached, but we had put the halyard on the bridle and raised it about two feet out of the water.  The sound didn’t make a lot of sense, so we went up to look.  We saw nothing unusual, so we went back down.

I proceeded to wash the dishes.  We heard the sound again a short time later, and Larry went up again.  He still saw nothing, but now he stayed up there.  By the time I finished the dishes, you could hear the wind in the rigging.  It had been coming up very slowly, and we had been (stupidly) unaware of it.  Sometime soon after the start of the wind and waves, we put the halyard on the dinghy and raised it up onto the deck.  We took the engine off and hung it on its mount at the starboard aftdeck railing.  We replaced the halyard on the dinghy and tied it off securely.  Smartest thing we did all night.

Now Larry turned on his gps so he could watch and study our anchor tracks.  Until this time, he had been certain we were not dragging, but it was becoming impossible to be sure.  We had the additional challenge of nearly complete darkness.  There was no moon, only the ambient light of La Paz over some low hills. 

We had both noticed that a boat that had started the evening north of us had moved and re-anchored west of us.  Since the cove opened to the west, this put him between us and a direct exit path out of the anchorage.  His lights were initially confusing (he eventually corrected them).  He had two sets of colored lights – the deck level running lights and the masthead tricolor.  Only one set of these lights may be on at a time.  He had his anchor light on AND his steaming light.  (The steaming light indicates that he is underway and using his motor.)  And he had his spreader lights on.  These would have been OK IF he was at anchor and trying to work on his deck.  We used our spreader lights to good effect before the night was out, but they went off as soon as we started making headway.

Anyway, the cove was not oversized and we were all at a minimum distance from each other.  It took about fifteen more minutes of increasing winds, now big, rolly waves, and finally the tracks on the gps before Larry decided we were, in fact, dragging.  This was a tricky determination to make in the dark.  We decided to haul up and reset the anchor.  We had walkie talkies we had used in the earlier part of the trip, but they stopped working around Turtle Bay (and, yes, we changed the batteries – more than once).  So we decided to use our pair of hand-held VHF radios.  We put them on a conversation frequency, channel 68, tested them, and they worked well.  At this point, the bow of the boat was starting to spring up and down, not as violently as it would, but it was getting our attention.  (This is called hobby horsing.)  This is in addition to the back-and-forth rolling which was considerable.  The waves and wind were coming from the southwest.  The waves came in directly through the cove opening, plus they were deflecting off the south point and rolling in on top of the other waves.  It was fast becoming a mess.

Larry went forward – he always does the deck work, I handle the helm – and, I later learned, he had to deal with the snubber chain popping off PLUS the chain itself hopped its track, so to speak – it came right off the bow roller.  The boat was pitching forward violently, and we were getting green water (the phrase used to describe more than white water spray) on the foredeck.  Larry told me on the radio, “We are going to leave the anchorage. ”  I had become momentarily disoriented because of the violent vertical motion combined with the side-to-side motion.  I realized that we were headed straight for Proximity, ready to T-bone them.  Larry said, “Hard Right.  NOW.”  I did that, and we did clear Proximity without colliding, but we were very close – probably less than a boat length.  Later, Larry told me the only thing I did wrong was to not give it more throttle.  The boat needs a little push, so to speak, to respond to the rudder at low speeds.

Larry came back to the helm when he had stabilized the situation at the anchor.  He got us safely out of the anchorage without endangering any other boats, and we both breathed a big sigh of relief.  I made the amazing (LOL) observation that our slip at the marina was probably empty, and they would probably be happy to see us slip back in in the middle of the night to retake it, so that is what we did.  We returned to La Paz using that afternoon’s gps waypoints. 

The waves were still fairly rocky-rolly as we headed back.  We were getting them square on the beam now.  Our forward vision was severely constrained by the dinghy.  We needed to get the hull pontoons deflated.  That meant a trip on deck on a boat that could still roll fairly violently.  BUT, the dinghy was directly in front of the dodger, so I didn’t have far to go.  First thing I had to do was to clean the salt spray off the dodger – Windex and a rag quickly found.  Then, I had to figure out how to secure myself to the boat.  In our trip preparation, we had neglected to set out the jacklines.  I am actually embarrassed to admit this, but there it is.  We didn’t plan for the worst, and it became a serious problem.  BUT, I did know where the lanyards were – right there in the cockpit where they did me the most good.  I tied myself directly to the dodger frame with one lanyard and then to a handrail with the second lanyard.  Problem solved.  I hoisted myself up on the cabin top so I could reach over and into the dinghy to open the air valves (a feat that I am unable to achieve at the dock!).  As I opened each side’s valve, the hull immediately deflated – Wow!  Worked like a champ.  Now we could see forward.

Next challenge was to find the channel buoys for La Paz Channel at night.  We eventually found two pairs which were impossible to distinguish (which was closer, which was farther) until we were within about 50’ of the near pair.  No harm done – we kept our path inside the path defined by both sets.  As we proceeded down the channel, at one point Larry said to me, “Honey, is that a boat in front of us”  There was a shadow about 60’ away with a dim light on it (maybe) – hard to be sure.  Then I realized it was the red buoy we were supposed to be leaving to our starboard!  We were headed right for it, so  now it was my turn to say to Larry, “Hard left!  NOW.”  We passed the buoy, leaving less than 30’ clear between us.  Way too close for comfort.

We found the marina easily enough and made our way to our old slip (actually one over, but a who’s counting).  A security guard saw us coming and ran down the dock to help us.  We got all tied up and, voila!  We were safe!  There was no sign of wind or waves inside the marina, by the way.  Flat as a pond on a hot, still, summer day.

We stayed two nights, including Monday, at the marina and have now moved out into the anchorage of La Paz.  We have several bits of business to take care of, and this event took more out of us than we probably want to admit – at least emotionally.  We have decided that for the immediate future, we don’t know when and where we will go next.  There is a wonderful community of cruisers (and lots of other ex-pats) right here in La Paz.  If we wanted to, we wouldn’t have to leave here at all.  But that is not what we want to do. 

Last night, we had fun with a couple we knew from Alameda Yacht Club – Jean and Roger Wise.  We went to a nice restaurant with great Mexican food, and then to a different place with a jamming band of about 8 ex-pats.  The band was pretty good – the review on the singers was mixed.  If we go back there, we will give you further reports.

Until our next report, this is Muggs and Larry of sailing vessel Peregrine, signing off.

One Response

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Dang and you thought you were going to have a quiet retirement. WRONG!!!! Glad you both are safe. We are already missing you at Xmas. Received your Mom’s invitation today Larry! We’ll party for you and Muggs :)

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