Thursday, April 3, 2014

Finding a Weather Window

"Red Sky at Night"

When cruisers move up or down the coast or across the Sea of Cortez, a frequent topic is finding the best weather window. In general, conditions in Mexico are mild, but on overnight passages where there are few places to hide, it pays to take some time to develop a forecast. Some forecast info comes from the morning VHF cruiser's net or Single Side Band Ham Radio nets. The moderators can give excellent insights into what might happen along a particular stretch of water or they may just read a weather summary. If you are in range of a good WiFi signal or have an SSB radio or Satphone you can download the weather files and make your own forecast. Kathryn and I took of bunch of weather classes before we left, so we use anything and everything we can find.  

The weather window was excellent, so we departed early with two other boats on our way to the Ipala anchorage, just south of Cabo Corrientes.  

Kathryn relaxing

With the calm water, we saw dozens of turtles sleeping on the surface, sometimes with one or two birds resting on their backs.  

Tortuga sleeping

When we got close, they woke up and quickly dove deep enough to stay safe.


In addition to watching for turtles, we had to watch for whales. We're always excited to see whales, but the humpbacks can get a bit too close at times, so when we had enough warning we kept our distance.

Humpback Spouting

We also had to look out for fishing gear, especially "long lines". Long lines are heavy fishing lines connected by plastic bottles and an occasional unlighted buoy. The 1/8" lines sit just below the surface and if caught in your prop will definitely ruin your day. They call 'em long lines because they are miles long. Kathryn saw the long line in the photo below on our passage to Mazatlan. We sailed alongside this line for about 6 miles until we found the end and could continue on our course. You can't see them at night so you have to take your chances.

Long Line Buoy!

With the lack of wind and waves, we were ahead of schedule, so we decided to stay 8 - 10 miles offshore skipping the anchorage at Ipala, and go to Punta de Mita, about 35 miles north. The wind was supposed to pick up, but not much, just to 8 - 10 or 12 knots. At least that's what the Sailflow forecast said.

Sailflow Forecast - the red circle shows our position when the photo below was taken.

Forecasts aren't always accurate, however. They are based on computer models that aren't interpreted by weather experts. So our 8 - 10 or 12 knot forecast was off by a factor of 2.

Decision time once again - do we turn toward the coast to the Ipala anchorage, or do we stick it out and see if the weather changes? We decided it couldn't be any worse than an average day in San Francisco Bay so we decided to keep going. We could always turn around and bail if the wind strengthened near the cape. After another half hour, the seas seemed to be getting smaller. Not long after that, the wind was down and conditions improved.

20 knots on the nose

One bonus of the calmer conditions was that we could sail close to Cabo Corrientes. On the way south, we passed the cape around 1:00am so we didn't see much. It was quite beautiful on this journey, especially in the nice weather.

Cabo Corrientes Light

Other than turtles and whales, we didn't see much traffic on this trip. When we got to Banderas Bay, however, our AIS said our course would pass too close to a cruise ship. We increased our speed to allow us to pass at a safe distance.

Norwegian Star Cruise Ship

We knew we would arrive at Punta de Mita shortly after sunset, but we had anchored there before so we felt it would be OK. It's amazing how dark it gets at night! We felt our way around the anchorage and the 25 or so other boats anchored there (some with no lights!). We have a big anchor that sets very well, but not this time. We tried twice with no success. We moved to the other side of the anchorage and finally it set. We had a great trip from Chacala to Punta de Mita!

Tres Marietas Sunset