Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Happy New Year!

We are away from the dock and are anchored out at Caleta Partida for New Years. Expect to be out 4-7 days.

Happy New Year!


-----
At 12/31/2014 5:26 PM (utc) our position was 24°31.97'N 110°22.86'W

Friday, 26 December 2014

Our Christmas in La Paz (2014)

Although we miss being with friends and family back home for Christmas (it would have been especially nice in the snow at Whistler), we managed to fill up our time here in La Paz Christmas eve and Christmas day.

Christmas eve started with a "white elephant" gift exchange for about 20 of us, mostly from dock 3 here at Marina Palmira. Rather fun with some "interesting" gifts. This was followed by caroling, which was when, in our tradition, Michelle and I slipped away to Pelagia. For good reason, as Michelle had prepared and excellent short-rib stew for dinner for five of us.

Christmas morning was sunny and the north winds had stopped, making for a rather warm potluck breakfast on dock 3. After breakfast, Michelle and I took off on our bikes for a swim at El Coroumel. Sea temperature was a comfortable 23 deg C.


El Coroumel beach

The creature from the turquoise lagoon emerges...

After swimming, we went for a short hike up to the cross on the hill behind the marina.

Marina Palmira and La Paz beyond


Christmas day ended with a very good turkey dinner at the "Dinghy Dock" restaurant, followed by a Flor de Cana nightcap in Pelagia's cockpit.

Monday, 22 December 2014

La Paz is decorated for Christmas!


Last year, we were pretty impressed with the Christmas decorations in La Paz; but this year the decorations have really taken off!

Christmas village/Santa's workshop (across from Marina Palmira)
Yes, that's snow on the hill with Santa's sleigh and reindeer coming down (sort of)


Further down the Malecon


Unusual countdown clock for Christmas...
Live goats!

Goats are Michelle's favourite...
This elf looks familiar...
This Santa is a little scary
Not sure how happy she is with this Santa...

Even the Aramburo cow (the Aramburo grocery store on Madero is affectionately known by cruisers as the "cow store", for obvious reasons) has a totally new set of clothes, boots, and gift bag! (compare with the photo from last year: http://sailing-pelagia.blogspot.mx/2013/12/merry-christmasfeliz-navidad-from-la-paz.html

New clothes and new this year: boots!



 Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2015!

Friday, 19 December 2014

A short trip to the islands (of Bahia de la Paz)

After a week or so in La Paz, we were hankering to get out and anchor in the islands of Bahia de La Paz.


Pelagia in El Mezteno

El Mezteno

The first two nights, we anchored in El Mezteno, a small indentation on Isla Espiritu Santo. The cove has a beautiful sandy beach with a small pond behind. There was water in the pond with hundreds of small fish providing a yummy treat to a heron.

Heron fishing at El Mezteno

El Mezteno (Pelagia on left)
 
Water temperature was 25 degrees C, so swimming was great.  We were the only boat on the first night (2 boats on 2nd night)

We then moved next door to Caleta Partida -- again, only a few boats anchored.

Looking East into Caleta Partida

However, a power boat anchored nearby insisted on running his generator 24 hours/day as well as lighting up the ocean with its blue underwater lights -- so after one night, we decided to move over to Ensenada Grande (Isla Partida).



Pelagia anchored in the North Cove of Ensenada Grande (behind catamaran Ascension)
 As before, the anchorages were pretty empty -- seems most of the boats have "headed south" (Puerto Vallarta, Barra de Navidad, etc).

Next day, on the way back down, we saw many humpback whales, including one that breeched only about 30-40 meters from Pelagia -- that was a "WOW!" moment!

Humpback "spying" near Caleta Partida


We decided to spend one more evening in the islands, anchoring in "Ensenada de la Raza" (Isla Espiritu Santo), an inlet that feels like you are anchoring at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. With a little imagination, one can see many faces (of the Raza?) in the cliffs.

We were the only boat.

Dropping the anchor in Ensenada de la Raza



See the face?


On our last evening of this 6-night trip, we anchored in Caleta Lobos on the Baja peninsula, making it a short 2-hour trip into Marina Palmira.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Arrived "home" in La Paz


Our route from Mazatlan to La Paz


It feels great to be back in Baja and La Paz. The "islands" are beautiful.



Playa Bonanza (Isla Espiritu Santo)


A couple of nights ago anchored at Bonanza Beach (Isla Espiritu Santo), we marvelled at how clear the water was, how we could see our anchor and chain along the bottom.

White sand beach, beautiful turquoise sea, fish everywhere,  rays jumping, etc.Beautiful.

Nexy day, we did a short hop to Caleta Lobos for one night, then went in to Marina Palmira, our "home base" for December through April.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Hasta la vista Mazatlan; Hola Baja




Finally "escaped" Mazatlan! Left 1030am Thursday and arrived 6pm Friday here in Bahia Los Frailes in Baja Californa Sur. (We were last here in December 2013.)

Arrived just as it became very dark -- lots of other boats anchored -- glad we've been here before and  the weather forecast was benign.

A rocking, bouncy (and sometimes uncomfortable) sail across -- but we sailed sailed ALL the way (well, 150 of 160 nm). Close-hauled upwind, Finn our Hydrovane did a fantastic job.
 

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Waiting, waiting, waiting in Mazatlan...

Pelagia is all cleaned up and looking beautiful.

We have been ready to leave Mazatlan for several days. (We have decided
to return to La Paz.) Unfortunately, we have to wait until a cheque
clears (payment for our upgrades/repairs as well as for a survey);
something that is taking far too long!

Then there's the weather. Early next week a "norther" is forecast for
the Sea of Cortez, bringing unpleasant (rough) seas and winds, all "on
the nose".

So, we wait.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Pelagia back in the water...

Pelagia "splashed" Tuesday. 

All went well until we tried to start the engine. Nothing. Yet we had brand new batteries. Looked for a loose wire but saw none. So, we called Rafa, who had done all the work on the engine over the Summer and last week. 

Indeed, his shop had left off a wire. Bingo, engine started easily. But, now, no water out of the exhaust. (We had worried about this possibility, and David had looked for any blockages before going back in the water, finding none.) After going through the same things plus a few more, and a lot of head scratching, Rafa and colleague discovered a gear had gone on our just-rebuilt raw-water pump. No problem, it is "guaranteed". All this after we had to be towed over to a dock at the marina.

Next day, re-rebuilt water pump back in and engine running well and spitting out water as it should.

On the positive side, the new windows look great, the welding looks great (new system holding the anchor and additional bracings for the pushpit railings), the hull has a smooth newly painted bottom (all the old bottom paint had been removed and a new barrier coat added), and above the water line nice new blue stripes and waxed hull.

But, elsewhere, Pelagia was a mess, we had a LOT of cleaning inside to do. Decks still need cleaning. And to top it off, David has the flu or something -- and cabin temperature reaches 35 degrees C by mid afternoon.

So, we are working out problems, suffering in the heat. (No, there is no swimming pool.)

Loving the life....

Friday, 7 November 2014

Bus/train trip to Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon)

Posada Barrancas: Michelle loved these dropoffs along the canyon rim
While Pelagia was being worked on, we headed out on the bus to Los Mochis and then to El Fuerte for a trip to the Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon).

Our first stop was the cute colonial town of El Fuerte. Once the capital of Sinaloa, this old town on the river is highly recommended. Unfortunately, we arrived a little late to see much (the main square was quite lively). Also unfortunately, our pre-booked hotel was a bit of a dive.

Next morning, we caught the "El CHEPE" train. The schedule on the CHEPE website was confusing and incorrect. We wanted to take the "economico" train which runs only a few days per week (about 60% the price of 1st class, which runs daily). According to the website, it also came an hour later. NOT SO! The 1st class and economy class "trains" are the same train, same stops (on days when both are running), and same schedule as 1st class. Lucky we didn't arrive at the later, incorrect, time and miss the train.

Sitting in "economico"

El CHEPE chugs north -- one of many tunnels
The "economico" class was quite full but pretty comfortable. Air-conditioned cars and comfortable seats. The "snack bar" car left much to be desired (recommendation: do as the locals do and bring your own food).

Scenery along the way got better and better as went further inland and higher up. Mind you, nothing that "knocked your socks off", but pleasant. At the stop in Divisadero, everyone gets off to see the view of (one of) the canyons, as well as to buy some decent and cheap food ("gorditas"). Pretty decent views here. We stayed on the train until the town of Creel.

Tarahumara woman looking down canyon...
Our posada in Creel (Posada del Cobre) was a nice little hotel. The town had a decidedly frontier/western feel to it: dusty, with men on horseback and many indigenous (Tarahumara) people. The high-plateau terrain seemed very much like the interior of British Columbia. Weather was fantastic: sunny but not too hot (in the low-mid 20s Celsius, and quite cool at night). The next day, we rented mountain bikes and made a long but enjoyable (albeit tiring) ride through Tarahumara lands, seeing the "Valley of the Mushrooms and Frogs", the "Valley of the Monks" (used to be called the "Valley of the Penises", for obvious reasons), plus some overland single-track mountain biking (easy riding; flat terrain) to Lake Arareko, then back to Creel. When we first arrived in Creel, there was a lot of pressure to sign up for tours. We're glad we did this self-guided "bike tour" instead, rather than sitting in a van on a tour. We decided to stay a second day in Creel, to recover, and to do a little walking.

Valley of the Mushrooms ("Hongos")

Valley of the Frogs (but we could only see one. Climate change?)
This used to called the "Valley of the Penises"... wonder why?

... now it is called the "Valley of the Monks" ... hmmm
Next stop was a short (1 hr) bus trip back through Divasadero to Posada Barrancas, where we had reserved a room in the very expensive "El Mirador" hotel. It would have been nice if the bus driver had remembered to stop and then let us off, but he was too busy chatting up a female attendant, and went several kilometres past our dropoff point until we figured out something was wrong. Bus driver then flags down a passing "bus" and we transfer into it. Only, it is not a public bus, it is a "personnel transporte" bus for a mining company. I think we made their day -- they certainly had a good laugh at and with us. They then missed our stop, but turned around when this was realized. It was funny to see the miners all pile out of their bus to take pictures of the canyon -- something they could not have done if it wasn't for the detour they took to help us. Mexico is full of such nice people!

Posada Barrancas El Mirador Hotel, at C$240 per night (including meals) was a little pricey for us, but the view from the room balcony, hanging over the canyon was indeed "knock your socks off" material. We enjoyed our one night there. The food was pretty decent ('til we saw that the meals were the SAME each and every day, with NO choices...) although the staff, at best, unenthusiastic and the hotel totally lacking in any amenities (WiFi? forget it). A real treat, though, was the excellent hiking on top of/around/ down the canyons (one does NOT need to stay at the hotel to access these trails).
Many other guests took tours, went on the world's longest ziplines, took the ($65) cable car into the canyon, or went horseback riding. We simply hiked -- and enjoyed ourselves.

Looking up at El Mirador Hotel

Sunset view from our hotel room
Next day, we caught the CHEPE ("economico" class again) back down to El Fuerte, staying in a better hotel ("La Choza"). Unfortunately, the train was late arriving, so we only had time for dinner, no sightseeing. (Too bad -- it is a nice town.) Following morning, we took a local bus to Los Mochis (another act of kindness: the attendant and bus driver drove out of their way and dropped us off at our long distance bus depot) and then a first-class bus back to Mazatlan.

All-in-all, a good trip, albeit a little long on the land travel. Almost all travel was comfortable and, except for the bus driver missing our stop at Posada Barrancas (and that led to a fun experience with the miners), essentially hassle free.

Highlights were: mountain biking around Creel; the view from our room at El Mirador Hotel; hiking the canyon, and yes, the miners.


We have posted many photos for this trip on FLICKR:

Pelagia's FLICKR photo album for Mexico's Barrancas del Cobre

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Wednesday morning: VANCE fizzles out just before Mazatlan

As predicted (and as hoped for),  conditions were not conducive for Vance to remain a storm.  It fizzled to a tropical depression by 2am.

Go to here to see Vance's history:
http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/archive/2014/graphics/ep21/loop_5W.shtml

The heavy rainfall,  however,  sure didn't fizzle!  Camaron Sabalo,  the main street here in the Zona Dorada,  had many parts that resembled lakes or rivers. 

Quite a bit of water leaked into Pelagia yesterday before they put new tarps on her.  Hopefully they did the job for last night's heavier rain. (Update: the new tarps did their job.)

Monday, 3 November 2014

Hurricane Vance watch: as of Monday morning



Vance is now a Category 1 hurricane and headed straight for Mazatlan.  However,  Vance is forecast to rapidly decrease so that,  hopefully, it will only be a tropical depression (winds less than 35kn) by the time it reaches Mazatlan


Tropical depressions still bring A LOT of rain.  And Pelagia still has her windows out.  Hopefully they will go in today - -  fingers crossed!

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Hurricane Vance watch: Will he stay or will he go (away)?



Returned last night to Mazatlan (more on Copper Canyon trip to come).  Currently watching (and, of course, worrying about) Tropical Storm/Hurricane Vance.  Predicted to head right at Mazatlan,  but hopefully, by then, diminished to a "tropical depression".  

Pelagia still on the hard....

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Road trip to Copper Canyon

While Pelagia is on the hard,  we are on a road/rail trip to/through Mexico's Copper Canyon.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Back to Mexico (Mazatlan)

After three wonderful weeks in our home at Whistler, we are now back in Mexico. At the Mazatlan airport, Michelle got the "green light" at Mexico Aduana (customs), so no issues there (wouldn't want them to discover all those Red Rose tea bags...).

Hauling Pelagia (at Fonatur) tomorrow morning (October 21st) for bottom-work and other miscellany, including some minor welding (to strengthen bimini/solar panels, and to better-secure the Rocna anchor), boot-stripe repainting, and new portlights (5 of 7). Unfortunately, we discovered that the new pilot house windows we had installed over the summer (while we were away) are totally inadequate. So, we will also have these redone with thicker, more-appropriate windows. More time (and money) required....

On the positive, the engine is all shiny with new or overhauled parts, the teak shiny, the boat clean, and there does not appear to be any mold/mildew. Oh, and the tacos and margaritas are pretty good.

Will likely be here for 2-3 weeks -- may take a road trip.

Haul out at Fonatur yard, Mazatlan

Haul out at Fonatur yard, Mazatlan

Friday, 17 October 2014

Provisions in Mexico: Hard-to-find items

Updated: October 22, 2014 & November 3, 2014

As boats congregate in San Diego,  preparing to head south to Mexico,  it seems timely to comment on provisioning in Mexico. 

By and large,  we were very pleasantly surprised at the variety and quality of food items available in places such as Cabo San Lucas,  San Jose del Cabo,  La Paz and Mazatlan.  Fruit and vegetables are better tasting and better priced than we see north of Mexico (although some vegetables/fruit often look a little "blemished", they are fine inside).  Meats are good (especially chicken!)  although cuts are smaller/thinner than up north (but,  you can always ask butchers behind counters for a thicker steak,  and many of the larger stores do put out thicker cuts). Liquor (especially tequilas and rums) is inexpensive and available everywhere. 

For the most part,  there is NO reason to stock months of provisions in San Diego -- Mexico is good for provisioning. 

HOWEVER,  some of our favourite food/drink items proved to be difficult (or impossible) to find in Mexico. We wished we had known before leaving San Diego.

Some items one can't really stock up on either due to practical (how much cheese can one store in one's boat fridge?) or legal (there are only so many bottles of wine/alcohol one is allowed to bring into Mexico -- though they don't really check boats) reasons. Still, some are easy to stock and even bringing a little extra would have been nice.

Here is a (very incomplete and subjective) list:

Orange Pekoe Tea (or other decent black tea): for many this may not be a big deal, but getting decent black tea (such as Dilmah, Tetley's, Red Rose) in Mexico was impossible. (We were always on the lookout, and occasionally found a couple of black tea brands, such as "McCormicks", but they were terrible.) So, for those tea lovers (listen up Canadians!) about to head south, stock up on decent tea.

[On the other hand, herbal teas (including Roibus -- "Rojo" -- tea) are plentiful and easy to find in Mexico.]

Aged cheddar cheese: One can find Joseph's Farms "suave" (mild, tasteless) cheddar cheese in many stores in Mexico. But good luck trying to find decent "old" or "aged" cheddar. There is one place we found this in Mexico: Costco. (But note: on the Pacific Coast, Costco is only in Cabo and Puerto Vallarta.)

Update October 22, 2014: Surprise, surprise, we found plenty of (small size) Tillamook Aged Cheddar (pretty decent cheese) at the Mazatlan Gran Plaza Mega store. 

Update: November 3: Unfortunately, no more Tillamook cheddar! And our hopes are dashed.... Aged Cheddar is very hard to find (even harder in La Paz)

 
Greek "Kalamata" olives: Stores in Mexico often have an amazing variety of olives, many of which we like very much. But Kalamata olives (for greek salad) were very rare.

Natural Peanut Butter:  We could only find hydrogenated "Skippy", "Jif", and "Alladino"  peanut butter.  

Bisquick: Great for making pancakes and quick biscuits,  we couldn't find Bisquick anywhere. UPDATE: We found Bisquick in La Paz!

Muffin mix: In Canada we have excellent brands of muffin mixes for many types of muffins.  These were hard to find in California and very rare in Mexico

Pine nuts: If you like to make your own pesto,  you'll search high-and-low for pine nuts,  to little avail (although we did find pine nuts in their shell -- seemed like a lot of work to use them). 

Beers other than lagers (e.g., Pale Ale): Lots of lagers,  and a very good dark lager (Negro Modelo)  are available,  but pale ales are hard to find.  (However,  San Jose del Cabo has a good micro-brewery producing great brews.  In La Paz,  go to "Harker Boards"  on the Malecon for great pizza and micro brews.

Wine: Leaving California,  you leave behind good inexpensive wines.  Decent wines ARE available in Mexico,  but at a higher price.  We became very fond of Ensenada wines: the L.A. Cetto Private Reserve Chardonnay ($14) is excellent; the L.A. Cetto basic Chardonnay quite drinkable ($7). Easy to find L.A. Cetto in La Paz -- not as easy in Mazatlan.

Maple syrup (the real stuff): (for Canadians) once you have real maple syrup, it is rather difficult to accept "Log Cabin" or "Aunt Jemina" "maple-flavoured" syrups. Only place we've found real syrup was at Costco.

Molasses: Still have not found molasses in Mexico.

Dental floss: OK,  this is an odd one,  but there only seems to be old-style thin and shredding dental floss available in Mexico. 

Update October 22, 2014: Another surprise, we see new varieties of dental floss  at the Mazatlan Gran Plaza Mega store. (Did they read our blog post?)

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Back home in Whistler (B.C.)

Quick note to say we are now back home in wonderfully temperate (temperature-wise)  British Columbia. 

Bali (Lovina & Ubud) and Thailand (Hua Hin) provided a wonderful rest after Nepal.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Hurricane Odile hits Baja hard

Hurricane Odile hit Baja hard.  Lectronic Latitude had been posting updates:


The Cape area (including Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo)  was hard hit with significant damage.  Surprisingly,  little damage to cruising boats in the marinas.

La Paz and Puerto Escondido were also hit hard,  with many anchored or moored cruising boats aground or sunk (at least 25 in La Paz)  and the deaths of at least three cruisers (including the iconic Gunther on SV Princess). Boats in the La Paz marinas did fine. Numerous boats in the Atalanta boatyard were blown over.

The older marina up in Santa Rosalia was swept away and destroyed,  carrying boats with it (no information available yet).

Untold number of Mexicans with lost or damaged property.

Very, very, sad.

Although we are glad Pelagia is "safe" over in Mazatlan,  we realize that Odile (or some later hurricane) could easily have veered East and hit Mazatlan instead -- it is all a bit of a crapshoot.  (In the case of such an event,  we are glad we have removed everything from Pelagia's decks,  including all sails,  dodger,  bimini, and solar panels,  and have a boat management company looking after Pelagia.)

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Watching the weather (in Mexico) while we travel...

We may be off trekking in Nepal or near the beaches in Bali (where we are at present), but our attention is never too far away from the weather in Pacific Mexico: it is hurricane season.

Just a week ago, Hurricane Norbert hit the Cabo area, and, especially, Magdalena Bay area. At the beginning of a tropical cyclone, it is often not clear the direction it will travel. For Norbert, it turns out Pelagia was safe in Mazatlan.

Norbert's track

Now we have Hurricane Odile heading up the coast, packing gusts up to 135 knot (250 km/h). Current projections suggest Odile will miss mainland Mexico (and Mazatlan) and again hit Baja California Sur.

Odile..





Odile's projected track

Marina Mazatlan is well inside of the estuary; Pelagia has all its sails and canvas off and is well tied down. Importantly, we are relying on Tony's Boat Management to keep Pelagia as safe as possible. 

Fingers crossed!

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Pokhara and Kathmandu


Macchupuchare, from Mountain House


Pokhara was, as usual, very relaxing. Our hotel (Mountain House) very comfortable.  Our favourite restaurant (Sweet Memories) still our favourite.  The monsoon seemed to be abating as there was not much rain.

After 4 days rest, we took the Greenline bus to Kathmandu. A little more expensive than the other tourist busses, it was a comfortable ride with a quite good lunch provided.  Sure not like our recent ground transport experiences....

Kathmandu is, well, Kathmandu (noisy, dirty, crowded... or so it seemed to us after trekking and Pokhara). Our hotel there was very accommodating but continues to have problems with their showers (overwhelming ammonia fumes, due likely to some additive -- "medicine" -- which they have added to their water tanks). They had promised to fix it but they did not; much to our surprise, they became quite unfriendly to us. (After >10 stays there since 1990, we'll not stay there again.) Thamel is starting to fill up with tourists and the smog is getting worse. DEFINITELY time for us to leave!

We fly to Bangkok tomorrow then Bali the next day.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Monsoon Trekking: Nar-Phu valleys and Annapurna Circuit in August


August is monsoon season in Nepal.  We've been to Nepal many times but never during the monsoon.  Stories abound about torrential rains, heat, and leeches.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Trek finished...

A spectacular albeit tough (two passes over 5000m) trek now finished.  Making our way Muktinath to Pokhara by various land transportation.Will  update in a few days.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Arrived Kathmandu... off for trek

Arrived safe but tired, after missing connection in Seoul. No problem, Korean Air took care of us.

Katmandu is hot and humid. Today we head out for 19-21 day trek (Annapurna Circuit with Nar-Phu valley add on).

Of course, pissing rain right now!

Offline for duration of trek.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Off for a monsoon trek in Nepal...

We leave in a few days for another trekking adventure in Nepal; this time a trek during the monsoon (a first for us). 

Plan is to start the Annapurna Circuit, divert a few days later for a 7-day camping trek in the isolated Nar-Phu valley, then return via the Kang La to the lodges of the Annapurna Circuit and go over the Thorung La. All going well, the trek should be 19-22 days.

After Nepal, we will relax in Bali and Thailand for a couple of weeks, then return home to Vancouver and Whistler.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Decisions, decisions, decisions...


Whistler, BC
As our Summer in Vancouver draws to a close, we find ourselves making significant (for us) decisions.

The biggest decision? We've decided we wanted to live in Whistler. In the mountains so we can ski, hike and all those things we love (in addition to sailing). Also, as much as we loved our Summer in Vancouver, we also found it to be a little too hectic and noisy; Whistler is quiet (excluding the "village").

Next decision? Well, if we are going to move to Whistler, why not get a place now? That's what we have done: no longer "homeless", we have found and moved into a beautiful (to us, at least) one-bedroom recently renovated townhouse condo with a great view of the mountains (including the ski runs); it is located <10 minutes walk to the ski lifts and even closer to the village, but is across the highway in a quiet residential area. We are now living in it and love it.

We've also decided we will get Pelagia back to Vancouver some time next Summer (2015) -- which route still be determined (sail via Hawaii? Marquesas? or "direct" via freighter?).

We return to Pelagia in Mazatlan in the 3rd week of October.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Information for cruising Mexico (charts, guidebooks, weather sources & communications) – Pelagia’s experience (2014-2015)



When we left Vancouver in August 2013, we had (what we thought) was a reasonable inkling of the various guidebooks, communications options and weather sources for Mexico.  After a season of cruising Mexico from Ensenada to La Paz, the southern Sea of Cortez, and Mazatlan, we now have a more critical (and detailed) view of options. It seems appropriate to share this with those cruisers planning to sail to Mexico this Fall (2014).

Note that these represent our experience and opinion – your mileage may vary.


MEXICO CHARTS
All cruisers heading to Mexico have heard about the notoriously inaccurate/incomplete nautical charts in Mexico – with some cruisers suggesting many (most?) date back to the 1800s or early 1900s. While certainly true for a disconcerting number of charts, depending upon format, many regions have charts with excellent detail. Furthermore, accurate/up-to-date official charts (paper and electronic) are available from the Secretaría de Marina Armada de México (SEMAR) (see below).

Cruisers heading down the West Coast to Mexico typically have two or more of the following chart options:

  • Paper charts (most common seemed to be chartbooks based on NMA charts)

  • Electronic charting for onboard chartplotter (C-Map; Navionics; Garmin)

  • Electronic charting for computer for use with freely available (e.g., OpenCPN) or for-purchase (e.g., Fugawi; Nobeltec; Navsim) software using raster or vector charts. These charts may be the same as the C-Map, Navionics, etc chips, or may be the older vector CM93 charts that many cruisers trade with each other.
     
  • Tablet-based charts for IPad or Android (available for relatively low cost from Jeppesen/C-MAP or Navionics)

The USA "Defense Mapping Agency (DMA)"-based chartbooks were the only paper charts covering Mexico we could find while in San Diego; so, we purchased them. They are decades out-of-date, and for most areas, show far too little detail. We did not find them useful -- don`t waste your money.
 
We had an up-to-date C-Map card for our chartplotter (and computer), and also Navionics charts for our Android tablets.

[We also had older CM93 electronic charts (used in OpenCPN) and the DMA-based chartbook – neither showed acceptable detail or accuracy for coastal cruising/gunkholing. NOTE: make sure you have the latest version of CM93 charts -- approx 2010/2011 seems the latest date for Ver 2 CM93 (Ver 3 does not work in OpenCPN). There are major improvements between pre-2007 and later.]

Both C-MAP and Navionics have major areas lacking accuracy/detail. Some cruisers suggest one is better than the other – this may be the case for some specific areas, but for Mazatlan and the Southern/Central Sea of Cortez, we did not see significant differences. (Still, at little extra cost, having the “alternate” data set on the Android tablet was comforting.)  Unfortunately, none of the above charts had acceptable accuracy for the Pacific Coast of Baja. [Update: C-MAP 2014/2015 has reasonably good coverage for Ensenada and Turtle Bay.]

Last Winter, we overheard a cruiser stating that there was no use in purchasing chart card updates (e.g., C-Map) as their Mexico data had not been updated in decades (I think he said since the 1800s). This simply is not true. Our C-Map cards show clear changes over several updates (e.g. a few years ago, the C-MAP card did not show the “new” marina at San Jose del Cabo; our new (2013) card showed it clearly and accurately), and had considerably better detail (e.g., compare DMA paper versus C-MAP charts for La Paz). A quick check of the latest C-Map update (June 2014) shows substantially increased detail for Altata (north of Mazatlan) and, importantly, San Blas (south of Mazatlan); probably other areas too. Nevertheless, there were many areas with similar detail/accuracy (i.e., little) as the terrible DMA charts. 

UPDATE: The detailed charts in the Blue Latitude Press guides are available as GPS-accurate charts for PC, Android, IPad and Mac. The charts are the same price for all platforms; however, software required to view these charts is expensive for PC and Mac, but quite reasonably priced for Android ("PathAway") and IPad ("INavX") tablets. See Blue Latitude Press and Fugawi X-Traverse websites.

UPDATE 2015: C-Map updates show good detail for Altata, San Blas, and Loreto. Navionics charts do not show these updates [see this post]

Waypoints: The Blue Latitude Press cruising guides – the best guides (see below) – give waypoints for important routing, anchorages and dangers in the Sea of Cortez and for “mainland” Mexico from Mazatlan south. We have found these waypoints to be accurate and extremely helpful for navigation (of course, they are labelled “not for navigation”), especially when the electronic charts are lacking detail or accuracy. All of these waypoints are available for download from the BlueLatitude Press website  for a nominal (low) cost. We use the “gpx” format so that we can load these waypoints into OpenCPN (with CM93 charts) as well as transferring these to our chartplotter. (We’ve found the “GPSUtility program to be very useful for converting/transferring between differing formats/systems.)  Unfortunately, the Blue Latitude Press guides do not cover the Pacific coast of Baja (they hope to do so in the future).  Charlie's Charts and Rain's Mexico Boating Guide provide waypoints/anchorage coordinates for the Pacific coast of Baja.

OFFICIAL MEXICO CHARTS ARE AVAILABLE: The Secretaría de Marina Armada de México (SEMAR) produces its own series of charts, and these are available directly from SEMAR in both paper and electronic (raster) form for the same price. The SEMAR website  has a full listing of these charts, indicating their coverage, scale, and date produced/revised. I have seen some of these official Mexican charts and, at least the charts I viewed, they are considerably more accurate/up-to-date than the various electronic charting cards. Unfortunately, these charts are priced individually, not as a package. At 369 Mexican pesos each (plus tax) – about C$31 for either format – a full set for Mexico would be rather pricey. Another problem is that these charts are a little complicated to obtain: one has to contact a government chart seller (for example, in Ensenada: Estacion de Investigacion Oceanografica de Ensenada, B.C.,  Boulevard Costero y Agustín Sangines (A y B), Ensenada, B.C. 22800 Tel. +52(646) 172 57 43   EMAIL: oceanografia_eda@hotmail.com digadhicar@semar.gob.mx).  We plan to purchase some specific charts when we return to Mexico in October. [Update 2015: We borrowed a friend's SEMAR charts, but did not purchase any, as we had decided to return to the Sea of Cortez.]


GUIDEBOOKS FOR PACIFIC MEXICO
Before we proceed on this topic, we have to be clear: Without a doubt, the Blue Latitude Press cruising guide series (two books) stand head and shoulders above the other guides:

Sea of Cortez: A Cruiser’s Guidebook (2009; 2nd edition)  [UPDATE 2015: a 3rd Edition is now available]



Pacific Mexico: A Cruiser's Guidebook (2010; 1st edition)



By Heather Bansmer and Shawn Breeding, Blue Latitude Press LLC, 

When we arrived in San Diego, we wanted to ensure we had the right cruising guides for the west coast of Mexico. After all, the navigation charts were "notorious" for being either/both inaccurate or lacking significant detail. We had already purchased two guidebooks – those by Heather Bansmer & Shawn Breeding (referred to above). These beautiful guides with beautiful photos are very detailed, with excellent chartlets and accurate waypoints.  However, the most recent edition was 2010, and they did not cover the west coast of the Baja peninsula. So we felt we should find other guides.We found two additional guides we hoped would fit these requirements:

Charlie’s Charts Western Coast of Mexico Including Baja California (2013; 13th edition)   http://charliescharts.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1&products_id=31

Rains’ Mexico Boating Guide (2013; 3rd edition)  http://mexicoboating.com/books/

[There are also USA National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) Sailing Directions covering the Pacific Coast of Mexico, available free to download. We had this but found them of little use.]
  
Those familiar with Charlie’s Charts, will know that these guides contain hand-drawn chartlets. The Rains’ Mexico Boating Guide contains smaller drawings/chartlets of harbours, etc. Neither book's chartlets could be considered, in our minds,  “charts". Nevertheless, we did use both going down the Pacific Coast of Baja; however, neither gave us confidence when navigating within sight of shore. 

When we rounded Cabo Falso (by Cabo San Lucas), we entered into the region covered by the Blue Latitude Press “Sea of Cortez: A Cruiser’s Guidebook”.  From thereon in, we had excellent guides with detailed chartlets. Combined with their downloadable waypoints, we felt much more comfortable navigating and gunkholing. At first (and occasionally later), we often “double-checked” information by also looking at Charlies’ Charts and Rains’ Mexico Boating Guide. However, we did not find these latter guides to be very helpful. Indeed, occasionally, their information seemed to us to be out-of-date, despite being published in 2013. By the end of our first cruising season, these latter guides were usually left on the bookshelf.



MEXICO WEATHER

When we came down the Pacific coast of Baja (November, 2013), we felt uncomfortably limited in our weather sources for  Mexico. Used to "official" frequent, detailed and accurate forecasts for Canada and the USA, we could not find similar official forecasts in Mexico. (Occasionally, we would hear a Mexican Port Captain, such as in San Carlos near Mag Bay, read off a forecast – in Spanish, of course – but they were few and far between and hard to understand.)

We learned to rely on amateur forecasters, especially Geary of the Sonrisa Net, who provide daily forecasts via HAM (or any single-side band receiver) radio as well as via the web. These forecasts are easily available via Saildocs if one has a Pactor modem and either HAM or Marine-SSB Sailmail (see below). Also, many morning VHF nets (e.g., La Paz) provide forecasts, although I was never sure of their sources.

In April 2014, this situation looked like it would finally change for the better: NOAA (USA) now provides frequently updated text-based forecasts for reasonably/usefully small areas all the way down from the USA-Mexico border to Central America (and, to Ecuador, as well), including the Northern, Central and Southern Sea of Cortez. Currently, these forecasts are “experimental”, with limited or no human input -- essentially text summaries of GRIB file data;  nevertheless, they are very helpful.

[UPDATE 2015: they were scheduled to become official at the end of 2014, but this has now been delayed -- apparently indefinitely.]

NOAA Eastern Pacific Zones


Weather sources:

VERY USEFUL: Single-side band radio (voice):   

  • Sonrisa Net (3968 kHz LSB HAM; 7:30am Mountain time; weather at 7:45am)      
  • Amigo Net  ( 6212 / 6217 kHz USB Marine-SSB; 1400Z Daily; weather at 1415Z)
  • Southbound Net (8122 kHz at USB Marine-SSB; 0000Z Daily). [UPDATE JAN 2016: according to https://southboundnet.wordpress.com/ , the Southbound Net, which has been out-of-action for awhile, has started again. Now as an evening net.]


Single-side band radio (weather fax): less useful

Weatherfaxes do not provide detailed information for small areas of the Mexican coast, but they are excellent for seeing the big picture (and they DO involve a human forecaster). We did not use them often while in the Sea of Cortez. They would be useful for forecasting hurricanes (if internet access not available).


Easy to obtain with either the Airmail program or a program off the web such as JVCOMM32. A Pactor moem is not required. See NOAA for frequencies/schedules:  http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/marine/radiofax.htm (download “rfax.pdf”, which contains weather fax information for the world).

A complete set of relevant (to West Coast of Mexico) up-to-date weatherfax images can be downloaded very easily/quickly from the web.


VERY USEFUL: Single-side band radio (pactor modem) TEXT Forecasts: 

April 10th 2016 update: After not being updated for a while, the SONRISA NET Weather website is now fully functional,


Updated November 2014: Saildocs and Airmail now make it easier to obtain Sonrisa and Solmate weather forecasts. Both sets are now available in the Airmail "Text-Weather" window.


!! Airmail has an easy method to have text (i.e., small size) forecasts sent by Saildocs
  • Send an email to: query@saildocs.com, with line(s) in body of message requesting forecasts [no subject]. “Send” sends one time; “Sub” subscribes.    For example:  Send Sonrisa.Sea   [this sends Geary’s daily summary plus additional forecast info for the Sea of Cortez]
  • Sonrisa forecasts: see http://sonrisanet.org/Saildoc_info.html (Geary provides how to "subscribe" to his forecast using Saildocs and the full web URL. One can receive a  one-time sending of a forecast by using "send" instead of "sub".
  • NOAA (experimental):  http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/experimental/epoffshores/data/WRKOFFPZ7.   Via Saildocs: "send http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/experimental/epoffshores/data/WRKOFFPZ7"
  • Solmatesantiago (Stan, Amigo Net):Fore info see:  http://www.weather.solmatesantiago.com/fcstemail.html [we found these forecasts less accurate for the Sea of Cortez]  
  • Other pages: In general, one can request Saildocs to send a text version of any page on the web. However, Saildocs will strip all images etc, and one might have to rename the text file received to xxxxx.htm and read the file into a web browser such as Firefox or Chrome

USEFUL: Grib files: 

For a warning about GRIB fioles, send an email to: GribWarning@saildocs.com

These relatively small-size files provide computer-generated weather forecasts – they are very useful but one must be cautious as they have no human (forecaster) input, and do not show shore effects. They can be downloaded from the web or via HAM or Marine SSB (Sailmail) from Saildocs. The Airmail program has a particularly easy-to-use Grib-request window.




Summary:
Here is an example email sent to Saildocs to obtain information for the Southern Sea of Cortez: 
Line #1: Grib file; Line #2: NOAA forecast; Line #3: Geary’s Sonrisa Net weather summary; and Line #4: Stan’s solmatesantiago “southern crossing” forecast.  This email may be sent by regular web-based email, or by HAM/Sailmail SSB and pactor modem.

send GFS:34N,10N,126W,102W|2.5,2.5|0,6..96|PRMSL,WIND,WAVES|4.0,102,2014042515

send http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/experimental/epoffshores/data/WRKOFFPZ7

send http://sonrisanet.org/Saildocs/Sea.html

southerncrossingforecast




COMMUNICATIONS


We depended on four communication methods:

  • Cell phone: we obtained a TelCel SIM card in Ensenada. (Ask for an area code for somewhere south, where you expect to spend more time – we chose a La Paz area code).  Amigo Plan: If you purchase 200 MXN each and every 30 days, there are no long distance charges within Mexico, per-minute rates are the lowest, and long distance to the USA & Canada is very reasonable. However, one has to be sure to do this every 30 days. We found we did not use up 200 MXN each month, so ended up with somewhat more expensive rates. Note: no charge for incoming calls or texts.

  • Cell data: we initially purchased a “Banda Acha” data stick and SIM card, so that we could access the internet while cruising. We subsequently found that our Android phone with TelCel SIM card provided at least as good connection as a “hotspot” (allowing computer and tablets to connect via the Android wifi; IPhones do this too). So the banda acha stick is no longer needed. After a little research, we found it was easy to top up the data plan by web.

Cell phones worked often down the Pacific Baja Coast, in the Cabo area, and La Paz. Between La Paz and Loreto, cell coverage was nearly zero (OK at south end of Isla Espiritu Santo; very poor signal at Puerto Escondido).

[UPDATE: Cell coverage in front of  Villa del Palmar Beach Resort at Bahia Candelario/Ensenada Blanca, just south of Puerto Escondido is good]

  • WiFi: We found the WiFi at marinas more-often-than not to work poorly while on the boat. Purchase of a WiFi amplifier antenna helps substantially.
WiFi amplifier
  • !! Single-Side Band (voice and email): We especially found the combination of Single-side band radio, pactor modem and Sailmail made communication (by email) very easy, and possible almost anywhere. We would not want to be without it. (We found Sailmail to be much faster and easier to connect to than HAM Winmail.) We are not big “talkers” on the net, but we do enjoy hearing boat reports on the regular nets.
Of course, we also talked a lot in-person with other cruisers, often at sundown with a cold drink in our hands.

[We will update and revise the above, as necessary.]