Shaken and stirred
As desiccated Cedros Island disappears behind our stern, we’re about to make our first substantial mistakes on this trip. Although the sun is already low on the horizon and the darkness of the night about to creep in, we decide to press on to reach Turtle Bay about 28 Nautical Miles from our present position…
As soon as we leave the lee of Cedros Island, the wind from the open ocean fills our sails and we can feel a burst of acceleration. We are now surrounded by whitecap waves as far as the eye can see, a sign for strong winds. To avoid navigating the narrow Canal de Dewey between Isla Natividad and Punta Eugenia after nightfall, we decide to head out to the open sea.
Soon enough the wind builds up to 35-knots. Naturally the high winds also bring substantial sized waves with them. As we are sailing westward, the waves hit us broadside from the North. Our boat begins to roll wildly in-between the massive swells and every now and then an especially big one hits us on an angle that results in cold water splashing all over the rails and into the cockpit.
A wake-up call!
With cold salty water dripping down my face, I realize that there is another sound that is becoming even louder then the gusting winds. Our wind generators on the stern davits are going crazy! With every minute the sound of the fast spinning propellers is getting louder and louder. I’m already expecting the whole rotors to take off when the smell of melted plastic finds its way into my nose. In the heat of the moment we had forgotten to turn off the generators after the battery bank was fully charged. With no more resistance, the wind generators are free spinning out of control.
But we have bigger fish to fry. The sea state is getting so uncomfortable that we soon agree to turn around and anchor at Cedros Town. On our way back into the bay, we try to steer away from the waves in a 45° angle to avoid the boat from dipping into the water to deep after coming down each wave.
It takes only a few minutes until we take the next blow. While our bow is catapulted into the air with every wave before smashing down into the ocean again, the anchor chain has gotten loose. That results in the anchor lowering a meter or so before the windlass catches it again. Luckily the reinforced windlass attachment is not being pulled out of its steel fittings by the impact of our 120-pound anchor falling off the bow. In the process the anchor chain also jumps its roller, making it nearly impossible to retrieve. While the anchor is swinging around wildly, it knocks over the dolphin striker, a metal pole under the bowsprit that helps tensioning the rigging by altering the lead of the bobstay (which connects the bowsprit to the stem). With the bobstay now being slack, our whole rigging basically loses its stability because there is no counter weight to the headstay anymore (which is anchored on the bowsprit and leads to the top of the main mast). What all that means is that we have to take in all sails straight away to avoid losing the entire rig!
While Kristian and Kent deal with the sails and turn on the engine, Heidi and I head onto the bowsprit to deal with the anchor situation. With every wave we get thrown into the air before crashing down into the water with heavy impact. We get completely drenched with seawater straight away. I realize that we are in a real state of emergency by now and reassuring thoughts about having a life raft on board cross my mind every now and then. With Kristian’s help we rig a few lines to pull on the anchor manually with a winch, when I hear Kent shouting my name.
A bilge alarm is going off inside the boat as I return to the cockpit. “Do you feel comfortable taking the helm for a few minutes?” Kent inquires. “Sure… What do I need to do?!” I ask hesitantly. He directs me to steer the boat away from the waves to minimize the dipping of the bow for those working forward. I assure him to do my best and take the steering wheel. It’s the first time that I’m steering this boat and we are in high seas while the fading daylight makes it hard to even tell the direction of the waves. Confused I steer back and forth for a while until Kent returns to the cockpit. He has found a leak in the anchor locker from underneath the windlass.
I return to the bow, where Kristian finally manages to pull the anchor chain back onto the roller, using the momentum of a wave pushing up the anchor. We are now able to pull the anchor back up and lash it down with ropes. I guess one could say that we were still lucky not to cause more damage. An anchor of that size could have probably torn a hole into the hull itself, therefore flooding the boat starting with our very own V-Berth in the bow.
With Kristian and me back in the cockpit, Heidi and Kent go back below decks to fix the leak in the anchor locker with Splash Zone, an underwater epoxy. Heidi ends up lying upside down in Kristian’s bunk working on the leak for about a half hour, an exposure to the movements of the boat that pretty much leaves her seasick for the rest of the night. When she finally comes up on deck to apply more Splash Zone from the outside, she looks as pale as ale. Not long after that she is spilling her guts over board, a sad tribute to Majesty King Neptune, ruler of the oceans.
With numerous bilge alarms going off we continue our odyssey. Mostly they turn out to be false alarms caused by small amounts of water sloshing around in the heavy seas and lifting up the float switches. We don’t have any serious leaks anymore, but still someone needs to check every time to make sure. While we’re heading towards Cedros’s port for commercial vessels, Kent complains about the steerage not working properly. He can barely steer anymore, the rudder only moving occasionally while he is turning the wheel from one side to the other. Without our sails, that pretty much leaves us completely disabled. To anticipate the seriousness of our situation Kent pulls a real classic, saying something like “We are not going to die today! Let’s get to work!” What might sound a bit extreme in hindsight, shows the mindset we were in at that stage.
At least another hour goes by with us floating around, trying to make contact with another vessel before we finally get an answer from a big container ship anchoring near the harbor. The captain talks with Kent over the VHF but can’t really help us himself. He ends up contacting someone in town to tow us to the anchorage. Before that, Kent had sent out numerous Pan-Pans to alert nearby vessels of our state of emergency. In the meantime Kristian and I try to find a leak in the hydraulic plumbing, therefore taking apart half the boat and moving enough canned food to last six people till Tahiti. At the same time Heidi, who is still far from feeling well, takes on the challenge of putting together the emergency tiller to be able to steer the boat manually. The working conditions under decks can safely be compared to a constant 8.0 on the Richter scale earthquake with random clatter flying around at any time. When at some point a bag of Jelly Beans turns up, I realize how hungry I am and swallow two mouth loads of “sugar pills” like an addicted broker would have dropped Quaaludes on a crazed out Wall Street party in the nineties. Everyone is running on their last reserves when suddenly a patrol boat of the Mexican Navy turns up and the soldiers offer to tow us. Obviously, we thankfully accept.
The crew on the patrol boat manages to pull us into the harbor, but the process leaves our boat with even more dents and scratches. In the harbor we raft up with the patrol boat on the military dock. After a few pieces of paperwork have been handed over to the commanding officer, they leave us to get some rest. We are told that we can stay there until the boat is fixed up and ready to go. All free of charge! It’s another great example of Mexican hospitality, especially in times of political hardships between the States and Mexico.
We start cleaning up the boat a little bit, because it looks like a bomb went off below decks. Tools, rubbish, cloth, food and all other things imaginable are all over the place. We basically couldn’t even reach our bunks if we wanted to. Even though it’s already 2 am and it has been over 8 hours since we first got into trouble outside of Cedros Island (making it over 20 hours of total sailing without rest), Kristian and I need a few beers to calm our German nerves before the adrenaline finally fades and we can fall into our bunks exhausted.
We spent the next two days fixing up the boat temporarily. In the process the dolphin striker gets reinforced by Martingale Stays, which could have prevented the damage caused by the anchor. Obviously the biggest oversight had been the missing anchor lashings though! The steering problem turns out to be an easy fix. A bolt connecting the hydraulic rams had been sheered off and thus left us with little steerage. We agree on a few other repairs that need to be done before the Pacific crossing and also recap the events of the unfortunate night. Everyone is shaken up over the events but as the shock fades we all agree that it was a good time for this to happen and it will enable us to be more prepared before leaving Mexico.
Soon we say goodbye to the friendly soldiers and get back on our way. We further anchor in Turtle Bay, Baja Santa Maria and Cabo St. Lucas, before crossing the Sea of Cortez towards mainland Mexico. By the time we arrive in the Marina La Cruz near Puerto Vallarta, we have a gigantic list of repairs and jobs to do on the boat. It ends up taking us about 5 weeks of hard labor to get the boat ready for the upcoming crossing. On April 27, a bright and sunny day, we are irreversibly on our way, ready for the big adventure ahead…