After our long crossing from Ensenada to Bahia Santa Maria, we spend a few quiet days at anchor in Mag Bay (Bahia Magdalena). These are no less peppered with exciting events. We explore the small fishing village of Punta Magdalena, eat like kings (and queens) in the truest sense of the word, and have “problems” with our diesel engine.
Our first night at anchor
We deserved this quiet night. After four and a half days on the open sea we enjoyed the morning sun with a coffee. The anchor had held perfectly on the sandy bottom. That gave us a good feeling. We hadn’t arrived in Mag Bay yet, but now we were able to inspect our anchor bay Bahia Santa Maria in daylight. It was much bigger than I expected. In the north, stony hills protect the bay from northerly winds. There are also a few fishermen’s huts there. Besides us only one large motor yacht was at anchor. The southern half of the bay is characterized by a sandy beach stretching as far as the eye can see. The pelican that had kept us company when we arrived wasn’t alone. Dozens of pelicans and many other sea birds had taken up residence in the bay.
A pelican-show just for us
We liked the fact that we almost had the bay to ourselves and were surrounded by impressive wildlife. Therefore, we decided to postpone the trip to the neighbouring Mag Bay and enjoyed a whole day without rattling dishes, without cooking as a tightrope act and without liquid background noise in the bunks. We were rewarded when all the pelicans went hunting around the ship at the same time. Dozens of pelicans tried to get hold of a fish in the evening light. What a great spectacle.
Let’s go to Mag Bay
The next morning, we started to our actual destination. The entrance to Mag Bay was about 4 hours away. There was no wind, so we made the trip using our diesel engine. The track took us along a barren moonscape. Again, sea lions were on the hunt jumping dolphin-like, rays performed belly smackers par excellence. As in the days before, the sea creatures around Mag Bay were not stingy with entertainment. But where were the dolphins?
Engine problems at the stupidest time
While in the passage into the bay we expected (according to Navionics) a slight current from the open sea into the bay. But the opposite was the case: We had the current against us, and it was also a little stronger than expected. As a counteract, we powered up the engine. Instead of an increase in performance, however, this resulted in the engine almost dying. What was going on? Fortunately, the engine did not stop and we were able to chug on. Nevertheless, there was a brief red alert.
There is hardly a more stupid time for engine problems than in a passage. In situations like this you simply have no leeway. Space is limited and depth is fairly tight. Then there are current and waves and we were surrounded by rocky banks with stony foothills. Of course, we could have just let the current drift us out of the Mag Bay Passage. But what then?
Taking a break in front of Punta Magdalena
After all the thrill, we arrived safely two hours later. The anchorage “Man of War Cove” lies in front of the tranquil fishing village of Punta Magdalena. But first things first: A cold beer. Mag Bay is huge – we couldn’t even see the east bank opposite our anchorage. The only major city near the anchorage is San Carlos. From there, the two huge chimneys of the diesel power plant spewed dark, yellowish-brown clouds of smoke across the entire bay in an extremely inviting way. A stale aftertaste to our after-work beer.
Culinary tour in Mag Bay
Well rested, we watered our dinghy to explore the village the next day. We strolled through the village, where we met all kinds of friendly faces. In the end it got so hot that we had no choice but to settle down in the pretty village restaurant and order a couple of cool Cervezas. In the hot sun, the beer quickly showed its effect and we got hungry. When the owner of the restaurant offered us three plates of freshly caught crawfish tails, we couldn’t resist. Should we have asked about the price beforehand? We should have!
Let’s get out of here quickly!
The food was great, the beer ice cold and the bill left a salty taste in our mouths. Over 1500 Mexican pesos, almost 75$, were scribbled on paper. We could hardly believe our eyes. Even persuasion in fluent Spanish by Iñaki didn’t help. We hadn’t expected such prices at all, so Carmen and I had to go back to Milagros in the dinghy to get some extra cash. Yet another Mexican lesson. If there is no price shown, ask for it. Finding a sea turtle cemetery behind a few fishing huts in addition soon after was too much for us. Au revoir Punta Magdalena.
Iñaki wanted to practice anchoring manoeuvres in Mag Bay with us anyway, so we seized the opportunity and moved to a quiet corner far away from the village. Our new anchorage was along the main traffic artery from Punta Magdalena to San Carlos. Pangas crossed back and forth. These small, elongated fishing boats can be found everywhere on the Mexican coasts and were out and about from early morning until night. Even the ex-harbourmaster of Punta Magdalena stopped by for a chat with his Panga. He had recognized Milagros, as her previous owner Brent had also stopped in Mag Bay on his Tour de Baja California.
Diesel Engine problems everywhere
On our trip to Mag Bay, we picked up two stories of engine problems. On the one hand, Steven and Susanne had reported engine problems during their visit, and on the other hand, the captain of the local Diesel Panga told us about an 83-year-old man who was stuck in Mag Bay for over a year with a broken diesel engine. Our engine issue was just one of many. There must be a curse upon the bay.
Easy come easy go
When, after a few days of rest, we wanted to set off for the 300 nautical miles to La Paz in the morning, the curse of Mag Bay struck. Our diesel engine suddenly stopped. Therefore, an emergency anchor manoeuvre was immediately practiced under real conditions. We sailed back to our well-known spot in best Lake Thun conditions and set anchor under sail without any help from the engine. Everything went very well. We rolled in the foresail rather early and controlled our speed with the mainsail. We continuously reduced speed until we could finally lower the anchor into the water. Our capricious anchor windlass did not fool around and worked as it should.
Avid readers on Milagros
We dug all our books on diesel engines out of the bookshelf and began researching. It quickly became clear that the problem had to be with the fuel system. With a process of elimination with the kind help of the great book “Troubleshooting Marine Diesels” by Peter Compton, we were able to isolate the problem. Possibly we had to deal with clogged diesel filters. This may also have resulted in the drop in revolutions of our engine in the passage. So, we inspected and changed the filters, and with the fuel pump switched on, we noticed rising air bubbles in the sight glass. Our diesel lines sucked in air somewhere.
The Mag Bay professionals
Carmen had the idea of the day. What if the connected diesel tank was simply empty? After a quick check it was clear – it was empty. Great job! No wonder our engine just sucked in air and stopped working. The curse of Mag Bay turned out to be a mistake on our part, at least in this case. But how could the tank already be empty? Our tank capacity was 117 gallons (approx. 440 litres). Compared to our engine hours thus far, our diesel engine must have consumed nearly 2 gallons (ca. 7 litres) per hour. The normal consumption of this engine on cruising speed (1500 rpm) should be about half of it. Was our diesel engine simply consuming too much fuel? We should be able to solve the riddle soon.
Question after question
At least we now knew where the problem was and switched the feed to the full starboard tank. We now had to bleed the diesel system before we could perform a test run. Of course, air had now accumulated in the tiny fuel lines which would have prevented the engine from starting. We used our books and instructions for our Perkins 4-154 to locate all of the bleeding screws. These were of course attached in various places on the less accessible side of the diesel engine. When our engine started without any problems after bleeding, we were happy. Again, despite an avoidable mistake, we had learned a lot about Milagros. Always take the positive with you.
Dolphins at last
In the end, it all turned out well. Mag Bay also seemed to have noticed that its curse had been broken. Just as I was wedged in the engine compartment, our dolphin alarm called Carmen went off on deck. A large group of the marine mammals had gathered near the ship to hunt and jump. Could we ask for anything more? We had our engine back and the dolphins finally granted us an audience.
Mag Bay Munchkin Party
An eventful day had come to an end. We treated ourselves to a few cold beers and played a game of Munchkin. This extremely fun card game targets the fantasy genre. We played it for hours and hours on our Cape Verde trip.
The next morning, we would finally continue our journey towards La Paz. What other surprises would this trip have in store for us?
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