Monday, May 14, 2012

When a Bash is Not a Bash ...

On my last trip south Kathryn's brother, Tom, and I took the ABC bus to Ensenada, then checked out of Mexico at the Port Captain's office.

ABC Bus Station in Tijuana

Customs, Immigration & Port Captain

Getting our Zarpe

We'll miss Marina Coral

Agave Azul ready to sail to San Diego

On my first trip down the coast a few years ago, I didn’t get very far.  I crewed on the Coastal Cup and we lost our mast in the middle of the night 30 miles off Monterey.  So when we bought Agave Azul, and decided to sail to Mexico, we did a lot of research to determine the best time to transit the coast.  We worked with Commander’s Weather and left with a good weather window in September for a non-stop shakedown sail from San Francisco to Ensenada.  We had 15 – 25 knot NW winds most of the way, with reasonable swell and seas.  We made excellent time … at least until the Navy requested that we take a detour off San Clemente Island.  We made it to Ensenada in 75 hours, sailing most of the time.

Fast forward 8 months, and it’s time to return to SF Bay.  Our research told us that April wasn’t the ideal time for a return trip north, but we have some retrofits to complete before we start serious cruising and we hoped the weather wouldn’t be too bad.  Commander’s weather preview said “it looks promising”.

Ensenada to San Diego ... My brother-in-law lives in San Diego, so he crewed on the first leg from Ensenada.  We left at midnight on April 17th, with clear skies, no wind, calm seas and unusually warm weather.  Within a few miles we were in thick, wet fog that stayed with us most of the trip and we were able to avoid several vessels using AIS and radar.  When we turned north toward San Diego, the sun came out, the wind picked up and we sailed into the bay – a great way to end the first leg.  At the Police Dock the customs team was just finishing up with another boat and before we finished tying up they were onboard for a quick search and paperwork.  Ten minutes and $27.50 later we were on our way to the San Diego YC for engine maintenance and provisioning for our trip to San Francisco.

Typical visibility, wind and seas from Ensenada to San Diego

Dana Point

 San Diego Police Dock & Customs

Just before we departed San Diego on the 20th, we received the Commander’s Weather forecast.  Although I am steadily improving my weather forecasting ability in preparation for cruising next year, I’m at a loss to understand how a “high amplitude upper level trough on the East coast leads to a steep upper level ridge on the West coast …. resulting in low clouds and light SE-S-SW winds”.  But our timing seemed perfect so we left at 1:00pm for our second leg to Santa Barbara.

Leaving San Diego

San Diego to Santa Barbara ... Since we sailed outside the Channel Islands and Catalina on the way down, we decided to sail inside this time.  The wind never got over 8 knots so we motored in the same cloudy, foggy, wet conditions we experienced on the trip from Ensenada.  We had lots of ship traffic and the entire crew became expert at avoiding weather buoys, fishing boats, towed barges, freighters, cruise liners and mystery ships that turned their lights off as we sailed nearby.  To augment our visual watch, AIS and radar were our good friends for the entire trip.  The clouds lifted and the sun came out when we got close to Santa Barbara.  After 22 hours we tied up at the Santa Barbara YC guest dock, got some lunch, topped off our fuel tanks, took a short walk on the beach and were on our way again by 5:00pm.

How many sailors does it take to .... ?

Oil Platform just south of Santa Barbara

Agave Azul at the guest dock in Santa Barbara

Linda & Kathryn beach walk

Checking alternate courses for our trip north

Santa Barbara Harbor

Leaving Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara to Monterey ... One of the highlights of both trips was Point Conception.  On the way to Ensenada we were well offshore when we passed Conception at 5:00pm with 15 – 20 kt. NW winds and the chute up.  We felt very fortunate to experience such an uneventful rounding.  On this “bash” north, we passed just 4 miles offshore at 11:00pm with heavy fog, no wind, a gentle swell and no waves – water skiing conditions!  This stretch of the coast was quiet all night with no vessel traffic or VHF communications.  A couple hours south of Monterey the sun poked through the clouds and we put the chute up in 15 kts.  Unfortunately I didn’t alert the galley crew who were preparing dinner – I won’t make that mistake again!  When the wind got up to 23 kts. we were surfing well over hull speed so we decided to take the chute down.  I have to remember that this is a cruising boat.  Dinner in the cockpit was easier without the chute anyway.  This was the only typical wind we saw during the trip, although it was from the opposite direction – SE instead of NW.  We motored into Monterey Harbor about 9:00pm after 28 hours, and celebrated with margaritas and every snack in the galley.

Heading North with 20 - 25 kts of wind from the SE

Windex Watching

It was odd to sleep for 8 hours with no boat motion.  We had breakfast at Loulou’s Griddle on the wharf, which was a great way to recover from Agave Azul margaritas.  We rented bikes and enjoyed the day being tourists.  We stayed in Monterey for 24 hours so we would enter the SF ship channel at slack. 

Loulou's Griddle - Robin, Kathryn, William, Linda, Byron & Dan

Play day in Monterey

Point Pinos Lighthouse

Monterey to San Francisco ... When we departed at 10:30pm the weather was calm, but the trip across Monterey Bay provided our most challenging conditions.  The wind picked up to the teens after midnight, but we couldn’t find a sail combination that would eliminate the side-to-side roll.  After pretending to sleep for a couple hours we chose to find humor in the situation and just stayed awake until we got out of Monterey Bay.  We were north of Point Año Nuevo when the rolling finally stopped and our crew were able to get some sleep.  We had just enough wind and sun for our sail into the Bay.  We sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge in light air with the chute up.  The wind picked up and we had a beautiful sail past the city front and under the Bay Bridge to return to Westpoint Harbor where friends from Sequoia Yacht Club were there to welcome us back.

Kathryn in the SF entrance channel

Sailing into San Francisco Bay

Linda at the Helm

Crossing the Tide Line


All in all, we had a great trip with a very unusual weather pattern.  We know we’ll experience a real bash someday, but this was a nice surprise for our first pseudo bash up the coast.  We had a great crew of bay sailors … many thanks to Dan Lockwood, Linda Ryan, Byron Jacobs, William Levin and Tom McCormick (Ensenada leg).

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Birthday in Ensenada

Spanish Lessons ... Our next trip to Ensenada was an extended two week trip to complete a Spanish immersion class.  Our instructor, Dey Lopez, came to Agave Azul every morning for 10 days.  Kathryn studied Spanish before we went to Patagonia on a backpacking trip so she was very well prepared.  I recently tried Rosetta Stone and the Coffee Break Spanish podcasts, but I had lots of trouble understanding verb conjugation.  Fortunately, that was the focus of this class.  Although I didn't learn much conversational Spanish, I feel that a second attempt with Rosetta Stone and Spanish podcasts will work much better when I try again.

Our Instructor, Dey Lopez in Agave Azul's Classroom 

Lunch Break

Birthday Splurge ... The first week in March was a big birthday for me ... the one that typically signals retirement for most of us.  I wanted to get a light lunch at a restaurant that had been highly recommended by a local sailor we met.  It's a small place on the pier where the fishing boats come into port.  It seats only about 20 people and it's only open part of the week.  We  had a couple appetizers, but that was the perfect snack and we were determined to return to sample their full tasting menu.  Chef Davida Martinez Garza previously worked with Benito Molina at Manzanilla.

Muelle Tres

Ceviche at Muelle Tres

Manzanilla ... The main event that evening was at Manzanilla restaurant.  Manzanilla is located next to the Port Captain's office in an industrial area of the Port of Ensenada ... you have to do some searching to find the place.  It was also highly recommended and was also an excellent food experience.  Chef Benito Molina got his start at Maxim's Mexico City and graduated from the New England Culinary Institute.  I only included a few photos of the restaurant and the food ... after starting our meal, I was more focused on eating rather than picture taking.  Happy Birthday to me!

Manzanilla's Bar


Tiradito de Pescado 

We did get out for a short sail on my birthday.  It was one of the most mellow days we've been out sailing the whole time we've been in Mexico.  I was pleased that a pair of dolphins came out to wish me a happy birthday ... a nice way to end the day.

Birthday Dolphins

Birthday Sail

Weekend Chores ... We did have some chores to do on the weekend between our Spanish classes.  One was to check out my new wetsuit & snorkel gear.  I didn't spend the big bucks for the waterproof back zipper, so the cold water seeped through pretty quickly.  I also need to get some weights.  When I tried to swim under the boat to get close to the rudder and prop, I floated up to the bottom of the hull.  That was a bit claustrophobic and I need more time in the water to practice.

The whole outfit

I can already feel the water seeping in the back of the suit ... 

Our primary propane tank ran out on this trip, but it gave me an opportunity to practice my beginner's Spanish.  It worked!

The propane fill-up station is just a few miles north in El Sausal.

The BBQ tank was almost full, but the stove tank was empty.

Back to Muelle Tres ... Manzanilla was awesome, but I was anxious to get back to Muelle Tres to try their tasting menu.  And it was reasonably priced at 300 pesos for the 5 course Menu de Degustación (tasting menu).  There are a lot of great values in Ensenada, but this is one of my favorites.  We'll be back!

A nice afternoon by the fishing pier.

Ceviche de Almejas

Meijillones al Vapor y Papas Fritas

Camarón Quesedilla y Almohaditas de Camarón

This was Kathryn's final trip to Ensenada.  It has been a wonderful experience for both of us and we're looking forward to another long visit on our next trip down the baja coast.

One more trip across the Border

On the way to San Diego airport, we stopped at the San Diego Yacht Club, where we will bring Agave Azul for a few days when we come back into the US.  We'll be here for engine maintenance and provisioning before sailing back up to San Francisco.  This is the nicest yacht club either of us have ever visited.

San Diego Yacht Club

Visitors from Home

Kathryn's sister, Lynn, and Lynn's husband, Thom, visited us in Ensenada in January.  As soon as we arrived we sailed out toward Punta Banda to look for whales.  We saw one whale spouting off in the distance, and we enjoyed a warm, sunny afternoon sail.

Agave Azul sailing off Punta Banda

Thom, Lynn & Kathryn - Ensenada Harbor

Shopping stalls on the Malecón

One tourist stop we really enjoyed was the cultural center in Ensenada.  This was originally opened as Hotel Playa Ensenada with a popular casino, Riviera del Pacifico.  

Museo de Historia de Ensenada

On opening night in 1929, Bing Crosby and the Xavier Cugat Orchestra entertained the crowd.  A local singer named Margarita Carmen Cansino joined the orchestra—and later changed her name to Rita Hayworth.  

Mural over the Riviera del Pacifico bar

The resort thrived for a few years until the repeal of Prohibition and the onset of the Great Depression sent most of the gamblers home.  Management tried reopening the hotel as the Riviera del Pacífico, but by 1938, the doors had closed for good.  It now houses the Museo de Historia de Ensenada.

One afternoon when we were returning to our slip we were surprised to see our friends from Westpoint Harbor in Redwood City, Lee and Serena, waiting on the dock to help us with our lines.  Their boat, Solent, was just a few slips away from ours in Redwood City and is just a few slips away here at Marina Coral.  We celebrated their arrival with Lynn and Thom, Serena's sister, Katie, and Katie's husband, Lewis.  The foursome have taken a year off and are headed to the South Pacific.  You can follow their progress at 

Serena, Katie, Lee & Lewis

Celebrating Solent's arrival with Agave Azul margaritas!

After Kathryn, Lynn and Thom returned to San Diego to fly home, I took Lee & Serena and Katie & Lewis to a few of my favorite fish taco spots.

Tacos Don Zefe

El Chopippo

A couple parting shots from Ensenada.

Standing Watch

Sunset at the Hotel Coral Pool