Our engine is running again, so we get ready for take-off once more. We head to the US for last-minute errands and devote ourselves to a few more projects while the predicted wind is still too strong. But then we finally manage to leave Puerto Peñasco. But our maiden voyage with Milagros turns from champagne sailing into a hell of a ride.
We were happy that our burrito (as we affectionately call our engine) was purring like a kitten again. We immediately took advantage of this to take Milagros for another test drive. This time Doug from SV Cat’s Paw accompanied us. At the same time, we decided to change marinas again. The Fonatur Marina only brought us bad luck! In addition, strong winds from the northwest were forecast, against which one is not very well protected in Fonatur Marina. This wind also prevented us from leaving Puerto Peñasco at all.
So, we turned our attention to the other projects on our list. For example, David serviced our Jabsco pump toilet. He took it completely apart, cleaned all the parts and installed new seals. We also removed the remains of our shaft brake and changed the oil filter and oil in the engine twice. Also, we took care of Betty, the yard car. We were convinced that she was still roadworthy. So, we fitted the spare wheel and took her back to the yard.
Now that the engine was running again, we started it every morning to make sure it still was. But we were still not completely satisfied. It was difficult to get it going, especially in the morning. Sometimes it took several attempts before it started. Since we had already installed a new starter battery, a voltage drop in the cables or problems with the starter motor were possible. Together with our electrical consultant Cavu Dave, we took various volt measurements at different points in the starter system. We found a total voltage drop of 1.3 V in the thick cables to and from the battery.
A trip to the USA
We cleaned the terminals of the battery cables but found no improvement thereafter. In discussions with other sailors, we also found that the cables were too small. So, we decided to replace them. Since you couldn’t buy these cables in Peñasco and it simply took too long to order them, we decided to make a spontaneous trip to Phoenix. The next day, we packed what we needed and went to the nearest car rental agency, hoping that there was a car available for us. We were not disappointed. A short while later, we were on our way to the US. We had 360 km or 4 hours of driving ahead of us.
Beer and rest
Phoenix is not exactly a cheap place, but we found a hotel in Scottsdale that didn’t look too bad, and the price was still reasonable. And after all, this was our first holiday in half a year. By cvhance, the hotel was only a 5-minute walk from a brewery in the “old town”. We really enjoyed the peace and quiet, the cleanliness of the streets and the craft beer on offer!
On a shopping tour
We had a big shopping trip planned for the next day. The most important stop was at WestMarine, a shop for boat’s accessories, where we wanted to buy the cables. Apparently, there was a big demand for electrical cables at the moment, as we bought up the last metres available. Luckily, they still had exactly as much cable in stock as we needed. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough cable lugs of the needed size left. We left the shop a little depressed. The many wonderful things that can be used to improve the boat just cost an insane amount of money. The cables alone cost us$200…. We consoled ourselves with beer and chocolate from Trader Joe’s and 3 kg (6.5 pounds) of Skittles from WinCo.
We also didn’t miss the chance to stop at a classic diner. We were not disappointed – every cliché was fulfilled: heavily bleached hair, a thick layer of make-up and ornate fingernails on both waitresses, watery filter coffee à discretion, burgers for breakfast, the Vietnam veteran who thanked David with “thank you, young man” for holding the door open, and so on. And after the breakfast we were ready for the booster shot we had organised online at Walgreen’s the day before. Speaking of clichés, we also visited a gun shop where you could try out any weapon you wanted for $80 and up. There was even a Valentine’s Day deal for couples for $125. We didn’t shoot anything, though.
Back in Penãsco, we installed the new gear we had bought in Phoenix. Now we have CO2 and smoke detectors in both bedrooms (so none of us can die unnoticed underway in case we have an exhaust leak). We also cut the new battery cables and pressed on cable lugs using SV Liquid’s hydraulic press. The start-up and testing of the engine were successful, and we felt that it started more smoothly now. In preparation for the big voyage, we also sealed the mast where it goes through the deck into the boat.
Getting the boat ready
We prepared the boat again for leaving Puerto Peñasco: we provisioned water and diesel, fruit and vegetables and everything else we needed. We had chosen a weather window that promised little wind. The new departure date was set for Friday, 11 February at 12:00 pm – 2.5 weeks after our first attempt. Like last time, the harbour master wanted to document our departure. But as he was off that day, he sent a deputy to be on site at 11.50 am sharp.
Where is he?
Fortunately, I had asked for the deputy’s number the day before and was able to call him when he still wasn’t there at 12.00 pm. Not that 10 minutes usually matter, but it was a flat tide that day and we didn’t want to get stuck at the harbour exit. On the phone he asked me which marina we were in – so he didn’t really have a clue where to go. Thirty minutes later, he was finally there. And David already had a bad feeling when he saw him: neatly polished black leather shoes in combination with a uniform are never a good sign.
And so it happened that he spent about half an hour asking us about the boat (fire extinguishers, signalling systems, life jackets, horsepower of the engine, etc.). We were starting to get nervous, and even the few Cabralians who had gathered to see us off were wondering what was going on.
On our maiden voyage
Just when the harbour master had finally finished and wanted to hand us the departure documents, we realised it was still the old one from our last leaving attempt. He still had to rewrite it and go back to the office to make a copy. We mentally prepared ourselves to postpone our departure to the next day when he said it would only take 5 minutes to do so. But lo and behold, 10 minutes later we had the document in our hands and could leave – with just over an hour’s delay. Accompanied by cheers, we cast off. The time had come – we started our maiden voyage!
We sail Milagros
As soon as we were out of the harbour, we hoisted the mainsail and set our tiller pilot on course for Santa Rosalia. On the way, a light breeze came up and we immediately unfurled the genoa and switched off the engine. WE SAILED MILAGROS! David took the first shift until 2:00 am and I the second until 8:00 am. So, I experienced my first sunrise on Milagros. It was a special feeling to be alone – just David, Milagros, and me – gliding over the glassy water in the middle of the ocean. Just a year ago we could not have imagined sailing the boat alone. At some point, sure, but not right away on our maiden voyage. But we were well prepared and had confidence in the strength of Milagros.
Right of way?
The first night was uneventful and the morning was also quiet. I took the opportunity to whip some line ends that were beginning to fray. During the day, the wind picked up, and we had to reef for the first time. We also had to dodge a large fishing boat that cared little that we were under sail and therefore had right of way.
As we had the wind from behind, we had to sail downwind. This is quite a difficult course, especially when there is swell. And the danger of a chinese gybe, the unintentional turning of the stern through the wind, is high. The Chinese gybe is dangerous because the boom slams from side to side, describing an arc of about 180°. Many sailors have been gravely injured when hit in the head by the boom, and the forces involved can cause great damage to the rig. Therefore, we have installed a so-called boom preventer, a line to hold the boom in place.
We were happy
Normally, on the downwind course, the headsail is stabilised with a spinnaker pole, for example, so that it doesn’t collapse in the lee of the mainsail. However, we didn’t know how to do that and therefore had to settle for a collapsing sail once in a while. We found that it collapsed less if we reduced the sail area a little. Overall, we were happy with the sailing and the speed. If the wind were a little weaker, we could have hoisted a light wind sail on this course. But we only had one, which we would have had to exchange with the headsail, and we clearly didn’t want to do that.
The second night
Towards the evening we decided to take down the mainsail and sail only with the headsail. The wind had picekd up, and we didn’t want to be surprised by stronger winds at night. The foresail is quickly furled from the cockpit – for the mainsail someone must go forward to the mast. A Chinese gybe with the headsail is not too bad – the sail is then just backwards (on the wrong side of the boat) and you can steer onto a correct course and let it come back to the other side. As the waves also got bigger due to the wind picking up, it became more difficult to maintain the downwind course and we started the engine to help.
The wind picked up
As the night progressed, the wind got stronger and stronger, reaching up to 7 Beaufort in the morning. According to the Beaufort scale, that’s about 50-60 km/h of wind. The scale ranges from 0 to 12, with 12 being a storm with a wind force of more than 120 km/h. The sounds of the boat below deck were sometimes eerie, creaking and scratching. And we were a bit worried as our rigging was not yet 100% tuned.
The swell was also increasing, reaching up to around 9 feet around noon. In the meantime, we steered by hand and had no more sails up, because the course to Santa Rosalia was not very favourable, since on a good course the waves were at a weird angle to the boat, which made the movements of the boat uncomfortable. And we didn’t want them straight from the side. Nevertheless, every now and then we got a wave over the bow.
When Santa Rosalia came into sight, we hailed the harbour to find out about the wind situation in the harbour basin and if there was a place for us. But no one answered. We began to wonder if we would even make it into the harbour in these conditions and if we could dock. We decided to go a little closer and have a look at the situation. As before, no one answered our radio query, and we began to doubt our radio range. And we were not sure what to do. Try or go somewhere else?
The disaster happens
When we were still about two nautical miles (about 3 km) from the harbour entrance, the engine suddenly stopped. There was brief panic on board – what should we do? Did we run out of diesel? But we should have been able to motor at least 60 hours with our tankage, which means 30 hours per tank, and we had switched tank 19 engine hours ago. It was 2:00 pm and we had been underway for 48 hours at this point and had covered 160 nautical miles. We were tired and all we really wanted was to finally arrive. All we knew was that we could not lose speed. Because no speed means no manoeuvrability.
We immediately unfurled the headsail and changed our course away from the harbour. We remembered what Carmen and Iñaki said: you can also sail a downwind course with just the headsail. In the meantime, Milagros was briefly up for sale, again. Fortunately, we had mobile phone reception and were able to contact other sailors who immediately offered advice and assistance.
Weighing up the options
Over the next few hours, we weighed up various options together. Should we anchor in a bay on a small island nearby? But what if we had no mobile phone or radio reception there and were stuck without an engine? And was it sheltered from the predicted westerly wind coming up in the next couple of days? Or should we sail around the island close to Santa Rosalia and anchor to the south, where there was a boat going back and forth to Santa Rosalia? Would we still arrive in daylight? Were there actually diesel mechanics in Santa Rosalia? And how do you anchor under sail anyway? Or should we just sail on for another night? Because there was enough wind according to the forecast. And as long as we could sail, we were safe.
Our new destination
In the end, we all agreed that we should go to a place where we wanted to be, where we were sheltered from the wind and where there were plenty of resources and services if needed. Puerto Escondido proved to be the obvious choice. It was about one hundred nautical miles from Santa Rosalia, had a marina and mooring field and we knew two boats there. There are no words to express how grateful we are for your support: Mike and Katie on SV Alegría, Dave and Marla on SV Cavu, Marc and Laura on SV Liquid and Marga on SV Dogfish!
We sail on
Sailing into yet another night that we had not planned for was special – our night shifts had dissipated. We were both tired and just took turns sleeping without a fixed schedule. But we treated ourselves to a homemade pizza, which turned out surprisingly well considering the conditions. The next morning, the wind had dropped a little and we were able to take care of our engine. While David sailed the boat, I prepared a diesel bypass below deck. Because we hoped that the engine had just sucked in air in the strong swell, and we could make it happy again with diesel and venting. Unfortunately, Burrito wouldn’t start even after the 5th time of bleeding. And we mentally prepared ourselves for having to organise a tow.
A perfect sailing day
Sailing under these conditions (approx. 20 knots / 35 km/h) was fun! Within a short time, we learned to reef (reduce sail area) and gybe with Milagros. The best crash course you can imagine. We also learned how to set our Hydrovane, our wind steering autopilot correctly, so we didn’t always have to steer by hand. If we hadn’t had the broken engine in the back of our minds, it would have been a perfect day of sailing.
The towing is organised
When we had mobile phone reception again, we contacted Merijn from SV Dappere Dodo and Pete from SV Mazu and described our situation. We also called the marina in Puerto Escondido and informed them of our situation. A little later Merijn got back to us with the good news that they had organised the tow into the marina. But about five nautical miles from Puerto Escondido, the wind died. Fortunately, we were in the middle of the channel, so there was no immediate danger of trashing Milagros on shore anywhere. After an hour of rocking back and forth and trying to be as comfortable as possible (unfurling a little bit of headsail gave us the best angle to the waves without the sail chafing against the rigging), word came in that they were on their way to us.
A happy ending
They had organised the dinghy of a superyacht, which with its 1’000 hp would have no problems with our fifteen tons. To tie Milagros to the dinghy, it suited us just fine that there was no wind. So we chugged leisurely towards Puerto Escondido. And with the last ray of sunshine, we picked up a mooring ball. Phuuuuu, what a maiden voyage! It took us about 75 hours to cover the 380 nautical miles (700 km). At the end of the evening, we were invited to dinner on Dodo and then fell into bed dead tired.
At this point, we are convinced that Milagros simply did not want to go to Santa Rosalia. She knows very wells that she is a sailboat and not a motorsailor and that we should sail her accordingly. Serves us right!
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