My hand and brain were throbbing. With a freshly patched avocado hand (actually it was a mango hand) I was still mentally exhausted from our crossing after a few days. What had actually just happened? The passage from La Paz was so eventful that even now there’s still a maze of memories coming up every time I think about it.
A maze of memories
The 41 hours from La Paz to Mazatlán were beautiful, extremely arduous, fascinating, scary, extremely easy, extremely difficult. It was up and down and up and down and up and down. I have noticed that this is what I struggle most with since living on Milagros. The constant changes in mindset, morale and level of happiness and comfort. Nothing is ever constant on a sailboat. Everything can change within short periods of time. A lot of people say that that’s where the beauty of cruising life lies for them. Not for me.
A storm of thoughts
What we have both noticed on our crossing to Mazatlàn is nothing new, really. We still don’t like being underway at night. Once the sun sets and the night covers the boat, we feel like we just have to give up a little too much control. We both feel that way. Sometimes, even in daylight, I have the feeling that I’m constantly pushing the limits of my comfort zone, and this is even more noticeable at night. Even the smallest occurrences or unusual things stress me out and my reaction to them is not always the best. I quickly degenerate into a grumbling bundle of nerves that just thinks everything is shit. Boating sucks, the sea state is horrible, waves are the worst, fuck sailing in particular, all is crap.
Change in mindset
Just as quickly my mindset can change in the other direction. It only has to be a shooting star crossing the sky at night or a fish jumping out of the water during the day and I’m completely zen. And it’s been like this for more than two years now. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. The constant swings can be exhausting. I feel that I’m exhausted a lot. Not physically, but mentally.
Next stop – Isla Isabela
All of us were exhausted after our trip from La Paz, not only me. The fact that I also slit my hand the next morning only helped to a limited extent. But what the heck – show must go on, after all we wanted to arrive in Panama at some point, so we started the passage planning. The next stop was going to be a very special one, one that was highly praised by every single visitor. Isla Isabela.
Yet another nightly passage
Located almost 85 nautical miles southeast of Mazatlán, it is a breeding ground for hundreds of thousands of seabirds. There were hymns of praise for the place from all sailors who have visited. But what was the name of the visit? A passage overnight. Argh. It takes almost 17 hours to reach the island from Mazatlàn. The skippers and crew almost went crazy with anticipation. Not. But we had no choice.
Next stop – not Isla Isabela
While on the phone with my parents I was just about to announce our departure while Pati was checking the oil on Burrito in the engine room. She came back with a sober expression on her face. “We’re not going anywhere” she said. We had oil dilution. What that means is that an unfamiliar substance has found its way into our oil. In most cases, this is diesel or cooling water. Departure cancelled. There are many causes for oil dilution, one of them being a leaking cylinder head gasket, which would involve a lot of time and work. We really hoped it wasn’t the gasket because we wanted moooooove. But the cause was quickly found: we had diesel in our oil, because our BRANDNEW lift pump broke. Now we also knew why the engine didn’t want to start during the crossing. After our ordeal back in Peñasco, at least we knew what we had to do.
Pulling our hair
It was just horrid. After months of our engine purring wonderfully, our confidence in it was back to zero within a few days. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. The pump was quickly bypassed with a piece of diesel hose with a suitable connection that we still had aboard. And with the addition of a small electric diesel pump, we were able to temporarily fix the problem. After an oil change and a 3-hour test run of the engine to see if it worked, we were able to start our journey towards Isla Isabela with a day of delay.
On the way in the dark
The crossing went smoothly. We set out in daylight and a good wind, set the sails and had fantastic weather. The waves were moderate, the wind was steady at around 15 knots. Just like Milagros and we like it. Unfortunately, all the fun was over in the evening and Burrito had to go to work. This time he started up smoothly and moved us through the night to the southeast. The most exciting thing that happened? We moved passed a sailboat that was sitting completely still with its sails set and flapping, and we passed the buoy of a fishing net way too close for comfort. Those kinds of threats are simply invisible in the dark. So much for night time passages and giving up control.
There she is – Isla Isabela
At the crack of dawn and with the first light of day, Isla Isabela National Park appeared. And wow, we weren’t promised too much beforehand. The place is often called «the Galapagos of Mexico». The sky was full of frigatebirds, blue boobies, pelicans and many other bird species. They circled overhead over and around the island in the warm morning light, and their “talks” could be heard loudly from the shore. Unfortunately, we had already seen from afar the many anchor lights that lined the island.
Easy Come Easy Go
It quickly became clear that a stay would not work out. We wanted to make ourselves comfortable on the east end of the island. The closer we got to the island, the more anchor lights from other boats appeared along the shores of the rocky island. At the east end, three boats were already gently rocking over the sandbank that would have been our target anchorage. We still tried to find a spot, tough. However, we didn’t feel 100% comfortable dropping our anchor ultra-close (by our standards at least) next to another vessel in 12 meters of water with no idea of what to expect of the seabed. So, we called off “Operation Visit Isla Isabela”. But not without a little sightseeing tour around the island.
In the main bay at the southern end of the island, which is known for its rocky bottom with only small sandbanks, there were a mere 8 boats at anchor. Maybe all the anchors had found sandy bottom, maybe they had found boulders. Who knows? But we didn’t want to anchor there anyway, we’ve heard too many stories of snagged, broken, fouled and lost anchor gear. So, we embarked on a leisurely cruise around the island and are now even more interested in visiting it. Then we turned back to the southeast and thus to the bay of Chacala.
And then I stabbed myself again
And guess what happened on the way there: I stabbed my wrist with a knife. Great, right? I did that when I wanted to kill a fish that we had caught on the way. The big unlucky animal that bit the rubber squid was a beautiful Pacific Crevalle Jack. The other big unlucky animal who now had two holes on the same arm was me. It wasn’t deep or big, but I must have pricked a tendon. Now I couldn’t use my right hand anymore at all and Pati had to make use of the fish. I was so fed up, you cannot even imagine.
Luckily, we arrived in Chacala soon after. A sandy beach, palm trees, beach bars and the good side of sailing life awaited. However, we also had to be prepared for possible uncomfortable nights. In our navigation program sailors wrote of swell, which could roll undisturbed into the bay. So, it was time for yet another first time: We had to make use of our stern anchor. A stern anchor prevents the boat from turning unfavorably in wind and current, possibly putting your boat sideways to incoming waves or getting too close to possible obstacles. With the use of a stern anchor, you can thus move the bow and stern of the boat in the desired direction and prevent the ship from moving around too much. This keeps the ship aligned at the right angle to the waves or keeps it away from dangers in small, sketchy or crowded anchorages.
Said and done. We wrestled our big stern anchor and anchor rode into our dinghy and took the equipment towards the beach. Flo gradually let out line from the stern of Milagros and when we found a suitable position, we dropped the anchor. Everything worked like a charm and soon we were able to enjoy the view comfortably rocking in the cockpit.
Discovering the beauty of Chacala
Chacala is a small village on a beautiful, long, picture-postcard sandy beach lined with many small restaurants. Behind the village, lush greenery borders the hilly landscape. It was very nice to look at and of course we had to see it up close right away. After a quick zoom ashore in our trusted deflatable dinghy we stood barefoot on the beach and sipped on three ice cold margaritas. The next few days we spent with everything that makes life on a sailboat beautiful. Balm for our battered souls.
We were especially looking forward to the vegetation after two years in the desert. So of course, we didn’t miss the opportunity to go for a walk in the forests that surround the cute little town of Chacala. We were accompanied by a friendly doggo, which we quickly christened “Schoggi” (which is swiss German for chocolate), because of its brown coat. She accompanied us all the way up into the forest. We were only stopped by the guard at a pompous entrance to a private property. Back on the boat, we met up with friends from all the boats we knew that were also anchored in Chacala, enjoyed tacos made with the fish we had caught, or walked through the village, where, among other things, I was finally able to have the threads of my knife cut removed at the local health center.
Florian gets the full range
Our good friend and crewmate Flo got the full range of highs and lows on a sailboat. The dark clouds had lifted again and we were sitting on a palm-lined beach, sipping alcoholic beverages of all kinds. Where Flo had recently been seasick burying his head in the toilet, he now buried his feet in the sand. Our idea that we could continue from Chacala to La Cruz only met with limited approval from him. He would rather stay in Chacala a little longer. Enough of the sailing adventures for now. Enough of the constant Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down.
This is also Flo’s conclusion of his sailing adventure with us on Milagros. Highlights for him were visiting Chacala, meeting other sailors, experiencing bioluminescence, spotting whales and dolphins and being adventurous with friends. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the technical issues we encountered, the moral lows, seasickness and David’s hand accidents – I would say it was a 360° experience for him with all that entails the cruising life. It’s not just summer, sun, sunshine and champagne sailing.
We continue to La Cruz
The time we had together was short and soon we were getting Flo to the early morning bus that was supposed to take him to the Puerto Vallarta airport. We also packed our belongings, raised both our stern and bow anchor and motored comfortably in the direction of La Cruz. At anchor there we had to prepare the ship again for the next visit of two friends from Switzerland.
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