Saturday, December 28, 2013


Shrimpers & Humpbacks - The 150 mile sail from Mazatlan to Chacala was our second double-handed overnight. There was very little traffic when we crossed the Sea of Cortez, but the route from Mazatlan south from 5 to 15 miles offshore was the territory of commercial shrimp boats. Several times during the night we saw their lights in the distance and later their images on radar. We made our best guess at their direction and made obvious moves to keep out of their way. At one point there were 10 shrimpers within a few miles of us.  

We saw whales, too; spouting, breaching, tail slapping and sometimes doing an aggressive maneuver where they seemed intent on creating the biggest possible splash. Possible reasons for that behavior include fending off a challenging male, females agitated with an escort, or a whale not comfortable with a boat's presence. We kept our distance when they were aggressive, but what an amazing display.

Humpback breaching

Chacala - We had several stopover options for our sail to Puerto Vallarta. Chacala sounded best and we weren't disappointed. This is a fair weather anchorage for just 5 or 6 boats … the weather was fair and there were just 5 boats anchored here. The anchorage is well known in the cruising community, but Chacala is not yet a major tourist stop, a bonus for us.

Chacala's restaurant row

Anchored just off the beach

Cobblestone streets and the minisuper

Kathryn shopping for her nieces 

Best pancakes I've had in Mexico!

Chacala beach

Chacala was beautiful and a very relaxing destination.  We'll be back!

Monday, December 23, 2013


Crossing to MazatlanAfter sailing 2,000 miles in the past 3 months, Kathryn and I had yet to complete an overnight passage by ourselves. The 175 mile trip from the coast of Baja across the Sea of Cortez to Mazatlan was our first. We downloaded our weather data, practiced what we learned in our weather courses, and came up with a good forecast for our crossing. We sailed with our buddy boat (Bill & Sandy on Wavelength) and the trip was just about perfect. We had 12 - 17 knot winds and moderate waves on the beam that made for a very quick and pleasant trip.

Sunrise on the overnight crossing to Mazatlan

Our buddy  boat, Wavelength

I'm always a bit anxious entering a new port for the first time and the charts for the area weren't the best. The entrance channel was narrow, but plenty deep with minimal current, so no problema. The marina gave us good slips and we had access to all the facilities at El Cid resort. El Cid marina was an excellent place for our two week stay in Mazatlan.

El Cid breakwater

El Cid marina - Agave Azul & Wavelength

We spent several days exploring and especially enjoyed the older historic French and Spanish architecture. Near where the photo below was taken is Plaza Machado, known as the cultural center of Mazatlan. While we were in town, Teatro Angela Peralta hosted two performances and we had our choice of Dvorak's New World Symphony or a Flamenco dance company.  The New World Symphony was always a favorite when I was in band & orchestra in high school, but the Flamenco dancers won out, and it was excellent.

Restaurant research

Cathedral in old town

Kathryn did some research to find a Mexican restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner and the one she found was great. Below our waiter at Topolo's preparing the best salsa I've ever tasted; roasted roma and tomatillo tomatoes, roasted serrano chile, juice from the roasted tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, garlic, salt and pepper … yum!

Freshly made salsa

Thanksgiving at Topolo's

We walked almost the entire malecon.  Well not the entire malecon since it runs along the beach for for 21 kilometers, the longest in the world.  We'd heard about the cliff divers and eventually we found them.  If you pay, they will jump!  It wasn't mucho dinero and it was impressive.  It was so windy that day the diver was getting blown around just standing on the railing getting ready.

Mazatlan cliff diver

We see pangas everywhere we go in Mexico and they come in all shapes and sizes.  This photo was taken on a Sunday and they were all parked on the beach, but the smell of fish was strong as we walked by.

Pangas on Bahia Puerto Viejo

Not much graffiti in Mazatlan, just art painted on the walls

We decided to venture out from Mazatlan for a day with our friends on Wavelength so we rented a car and headed for three small towns in the foothills; Concordia, Copala and El Rosario.  The center of all the towns we visited was dominated by a church and all were 300 - 400 years old and beautiful.

San Sebastian church, Concordia

These towns were not serious tourist destinations, so we walked the length of town looking for breakfast. It was Monday, so the few restaurants in town were closed. We finally found a house that also served meals.  The family was eating their breakfast on one side of the room and we were on the other - cool.

Breakfast with Bill & Sandy

Our favorite stop was Copala. Both Concordia and Copala were silver mining towns that thrived until the mines stopped producing in the 1800s. The cobblestone street town was tiny, just one square next to the church with a population of just a few hundred.

San Jose church, Copala

Local transportation for the tourists

Even in the smallest towns, most of the children wear uniforms to school, and the kids don't seem to be too traumatized by their inability to express their clothing individuality.  This enterprising youngster approached us and laughingly asked us for some pesos.  Bill asked him why, and he just laughed again when he couldn't come up with an answer.  So Bill asked him to sing a song for his pesos … and after lots of encouragement from us and his two schoolmates, he did!

Sing for your pesos

Friday, December 20, 2013

La Paz

La Paz - We've asked other cruisers about the best location to berth Agave Azul during hurricane season, and La Paz was always highly recommended. So before sailing across the Sea of Cortez to the Mexico mainland, we wanted to check out La Paz, 135 miles up the Baja coast from San Jose del Cabo.  

This was our first long trip by ourselves and we enjoyed a beautiful 2 day sail with a stop at Ensenada de los Muertos (Bay of the Dead), also known by developers as Bahia de los SueƱos (Bay of Dreams). We arrived just after sunset and didn't see any development. It was a remote peaceful stop.

Dorado on the line

We left early the next morning, sailing between the Baja coast and the islands of Cerralvo and Espiritu Santo. We wanted to stop, but we knew we would be back to spend more time visiting the islands in the spring.  We saw lots of dolphin on the trip up and even caught a small dorado on the way. But with a freezer full of fresh fish, we let this one go.

Marina Palmira was the most recommended, although our plan for the week here was to check out all the marinas in La Paz.

Marina Palmira

We called the marina for a slip assignment and headed toward our dock. It was a tight fit to get into our slip however, as a dredge was actively working just a few feet away. Dredges are necessary to maintain enough depth for boats such as ours, but they are really noisy! So we requested another slip and moved halfway down the dock the next morning.

Dredge at work next to our slip

Although we were now 150 miles north of Cabo San Lucas, the long arms of the Baja Ha-Ha reached to La Paz for a party, and it was a well attended event. Too well attended in fact, since there were twice as many Ha-Ha'ers as there were meals! We stayed long enough to sample the margaritas, then headed to the best burger joint in La Paz with long time cruisers Bill & Julie Martinelli, who also have a Catalina 470. Their boat and cruising recommendations have been great, and their burger recommendation was too.  

Baja Ha-Ha party in La Paz

Kathryn with Mike & Linda, Wavelength crew

La Paz has sculptures all along the malecon and throughout town. We'll include more sculpture photos when we return here next year, but here are a few we enjoyed.

Sculpture on the malecon ...

… in a small square … 

… this one was appropriate since the Weber's are known for prominent noses!

We did accomplish our objective to explore all the marinas in La Paz and decided we will have Marina Palmira as our home base when we return to explore the Sea of Cortez in the spring. La Paz is the 4th largest municipality in Mexico with a population of over 200,000, so there are plenty of services available, especially for cruisers. But it has a very relaxed, small town feel, and we look forward to spending more time here.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

San Jose Del Cabo

Visiting neighbors in San Jose del Cabo - When we started planning our sail to Mexico, our neighbors in Redwood City told us we should visit them since they were building a house near Cabo San Lucas. So our first stop after Cabo was in San Jose del Cabo, just 20 miles up the coast.  As you can see in the marina photo below, it's a beautiful spot.

Puerto Los Cabos

Onagh & Bill were welcoming and generous hosts, not only to us, but to some of the other Ha-Ha cruisers. Onagh spends her time working at a two foundations that support children in the local community.

Katie, Bill & Onagh

They call their home Casa Kokomo. I asked why and they said when they were first married they enjoyed the Beach Boys song and hoped one day to have their own Kokomo … "We'll get there fast and then we'll take it slow, that's where we wanna go, way down in Kokomo."

Relaxing at Casa Kokomo

Bill took us on a ride up the coast to Punta Gorda to see the sights. He really enjoys driving "Wild Willy" - his dune buggy, on the sand as fast as it will go. We only got stuck in the soft sand once.

Wild ride to Punta Gorda

There were a few houses on the beach, but it was mostly deserted and beautiful as we rode up the coast.

Crowded beach

The cape and the east coast of Baja are known for excellent sport fishing, so Bill and I went out for a day to try our luck.  Here Bill is bringing in a large dorado that Kathryn and I enjoyed for 3 dinners onboard.

Bill reeling in a dorado

I've been fishing since I was 5 years old with my grandfather and my dad. In recent years it has been using ultralight tackle for trout on backpacking trips. Catch fish or not, its always fun just being out there. So I was shocked to see a marlin doing a series of leaps behind our boat. Bill said, "you're up" and wow, what an amazing experience!  I never thought I would catch a billfish and this striped marlin was pretty big, especially for a first-timer.  It was quite an exciting day for me. Unfortunately, we weren't able to revive and release it, but the skipper and mate were able to feed their families quite a few meals.

Robin's striped marlin on No Big Deal

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

2013 Baja Ha-Ha

Baja Ha-Ha Kickoff Halloween Party in San Diego - San Diego hosts a number of Ha-Ha seminars and events in the weeks prior to the start. The final party on Halloween is the day before departure. The theme for the 20th edition of the Ha-Ha was "Platinum" so we donned tinsel wigs and blue face makeup to match our Agave Azul shirts. Here's Kathryn with the Grand Poobah, Richard Spindler, the founder, editor & publisher of Latitude 38 magazine. Richard works hard during the entire trip to earn his Grand Poobah title and he seems to enjoy every minute of it.

Baja Ha-Ha Grand Poobah & Agave Azul Smurf Kathryn

Agave Azul Crew: Robin, Linda, Kathryn & Byron

When we were in Ensenada two years ago, we became friends with Bill & Sandy, the owners of Wavelength, a Beneteau 46. Bill and Sandy will buddy boat with Kathryn and I during our longer passages; La Paz to Mazatlan, Mazatlan to Puerta Vallarta and back up to the Sea of Cortez in the spring.

Wavelength skipper Bill, mate Sandy & their son Zac

Leg 1: Ensenada to Bahia Tortugas - The Baja Ha-Ha is a 750 mile sailing rally from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas. Kathryn and I wanted to spend a month in Ensenada to ease back into Mexico living before the Ha-Ha, so we joined the fleet as they approached Ensenada. It was an unusual Ha-Ha start with cloudy skies and very little wind, but after two years preparing our boat, selling our house, storing our stuff and moving onboard, we were excited and ready to go, along with 140 other sailboats.

We're on our way

The first of many beautiful sunsets & sunrises

One of our final boat prep projects was the addition of a whisker pole, giving us extra sail selection options. This is the second time we tried it and it worked just like it was supposed to.

Sailing wing on wing with our new whisker pole

After two days to get used to our watch schedule and night watches, the 300 mile first leg of the Ha-Ha ended at Bahia Tortugas, a well marked bay and an excellent anchorage. Our first navigation challenge was about 50 miles from the bay, sailing between San Benito's Islands and Cedros Island in the middle of the night. There was plenty of room between the islands, but with no moon and Ha-Ha sailors and fishing boats nearby, we were focused on staying in the middle of the channel. When the sun came up, these remote islands appeared with dolphins everywhere. The wind picked up and we had a great sail to the Bahia Tortugas entrance.

 Agave Azul at anchor - Bahia Tortugas

We arrived around noon, just in time for a visit to one of the two beach restaurants for cervezas and fish tacos. Bahia Tortugas is a small fishing village with a population of about 2,500. There is a small town, a couple tiendas to pick up a few provisions and a fuel dock. Part of Bahia Tortugas' charm is that it is definitely not a tourist destination.

Pelican Power

Antonio's Place

Warm weather & cold beer

One pleasant surprise on the trip was running into one of our friends, Bruce Ladd, from Sequoia Yacht Club. Bruce crewed on Sea Level, one of the faster boats in the fleet, a 49' catamaran. Its a bit disorienting to sit and have a beer with a longtime friend, 1,000 miles from home base.

Linda, Bruce, Robin & Kathryn

Bruce wasn't the only Sequoia friend we sailed with on the Ha-Ha. Ron Brown, sailed his boat, Hazel Rose, with us to Cabo. Here's Kathryn, Ron & Byron at the pot luck beach party.

Kathryn, Ron & Byron at the Bahia Tortugas beach party

One of the annual events - the women won the tug of war

Leg 2: Bahia Tortugas to Bahia Santa Maria - I read that cruisers do a lot of motoring in Mexico, so I didn't expect 15 - 25 knot winds for almost the entire 2nd leg. The wind built throughout the day and night; we flew the chute, switched to just a poled out jib, then as the sun set, reefed down to about a 60% jib. No matter what sails we put up, the wind continued to increase and we maintained about 7 knots of boat speed ... speedy for us but comfortable.

 Linda at the helm at the start of leg 2

During the daily single side band radio role call there were many comments about what fish were caught. We caught lots of Skipjack Tuna (Bonito) which we released. The Yellowfin tuna in this photo provided a couple helpings of sushi and two dinners. Other cruisers caught dorado, wahoo, yellowtail and, believe-it-or-not, a great white shark.

 Our 1st Yellowfin tuna

We were on track to arrive in Bahia Santa Maria before sunrise, so we reefed the jib more and slowed to 3 or 4 knots to arrive just as  the sun came up. The Mexico coast received a lot of rain this year, so Bahia Santa Maria looked a bit more like Ireland than Mexico.

 Dawn arrival at Bahia Santa Maria

 Byron relaxing in the cockpit

Although Bahia Santa Maria has no town and no services somehow the locals cater a beach party for about 500 Ha-Ha participants with a band and a luncheon with fish stew, rice & salad. The music was great, the stew was excellent and the beer was cold! The approach to the beach is notorious for flipping dinghies in the waves, so we took the easy way and rode in on a panga.

Panga shuttle

Kathryn, Sandy & Linda sampling the margaritas

Bruce & Robin sampling the Pacifico

The fleet at Bahia Santa Maria anchorage

Leg 3: Bahia Santa Maria to Cabo San Lucas - This was the shortest leg at 180 miles, so we had just one overnight, but an early 7:00am start. The wind was light, but enough to fly the chute. With the light wind all but a few boats had to motor part of the way to Cabo.

Blue / Blue / Yellow - Water / Sky / Sun

One of my high school classmates encouraged me to stop at Bahia Magdalena (Mag Bay), where he goes fishing. I took this photo to show him how close we were to one of his favorite fishing spots. Sorry Clark, I didn't catch anything. As you can see it was quite a parade heading to Cabo.

Rush hour at Bahia Magdalena

Rounding the cape into Cabo San Lucas

After the remoteness of Bahia Tortugas and Bahia Santa Maria, Cabo San Lucas was quite a change. The party the first night at Squid Roe was the place to let loose. The Grand Poobah does a great job getting the cruisers amped up. There were quite a few hangovers in the fleet the next day.

Poobah at Squid Roe

Cabo is commercial, but its a beautiful spot with incredible beaches.  

Its surprising how much fun a group of cruisers can have trying to catch a water balloon. Catch a balloon and win a slice of pizza.

Water balloon toss

At some point in the 20 Ha-Ha's someone came up with the idea for a contest to see who could do the best imitation of the Burt Lancaster / Deborah Kerr beach kissing scene in From Here To Eternity, a steamy bit of film at the time.  

From Here To Eternity

Well not quite as steamy since we were laughing too hard and choking on salt water, but it was fun to try. We definitely need more practice.

The party continued all afternoon, as did the 2 for 1 drinks, so the fleet had fun at the last beach party.

Mike, Linda & Bill from Wavelength

The Ha-Ha award ceremony was the final event. Through some mysterious formula, there were awards for the first three places in each of the 14 cruising divisions and we won the prize for 3rd place! Of course so did 8 other boats in our division. First and second place awards were awarded to those who sailed all the way on one or more of the legs. Other awards were for biggest fish (the great white shark, of course), biggest bruise (there were a lot of great entries for that one - Kathryn had one of the best),  oldest cruiser (87 - amazing), best snoring imitation, the most talkative cruiser on the radio, etc.

Thank you Agave Azul crew!

Cabo was actually a lot of fun and we enjoyed our short time there. We departed early the day after the awards ceremony to sail just a few miles up the coast to San Jose del Cabo. More on San Jose in a couple days.

Adios Cabo