Cabo to Puerto Vallarta Part II: Everyone Takes A Dive & Violeta Breaks the Wind Barrier!

By Portia Leigh

It was the first full day into the next leg of the journey and after our toilet victory (see last post), the rest of the day was all about relaxing— truth be told most days on the boat, other than a few wild curve balls thrown by the sea, have been about relaxing; regardless, we chilled harder that Friday than we had in the three weeks since we left Marina Del Rey. And it was glorious.

As we crossed the Sea of Cortez we instantly began feeling the heat of the tropics at a little over 22° N and just under 108° W. It was like night and day compared to the weeks spent in the Pacific Ocean to the west of Baja California—when, like clock work, we were layering ourselves in snow clothes from the time the sun went down until it was high up in the sky the next day.

Thankfully, it doesn’t look like we’ll be doing that again for many, many, many months! (Did I say many? Man is it hot here…)

By 11 a.m. that day everyone had stripped down to their bathing suits; and with mind bogglingly calm waters and little wind, the only logical thing to do was go swimming. Francisco turned off the engine, put out the swim step, and tied a few ropes to the port-side winches so we’d have something to grab onto if we started floating away.

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The five of us stood aboard looking over the edge, all primped and ready to swim, but nobody made a move… It’s a bit unnerving diving into something so vast for the first time. After some back and forth deliberation over who was going to take the plunge, I flung myself overboard before I could think about it any more. I plummeted into the still waters with surprising force. Within a minute I was back clinging to the rope threatening to scale my way up the rope if someone didn’t join me—my feelings were equal parts bliss and fright—it was eerie being alone in such a massive body of blue.

Francisco, then Tawnya, and after much coaxing, Ella jumped into the ocean. It felt cool as you entered, the force of your body pushing the cold water to the surface only to abruptly settle back down and allow the few feet of warmth that naturally rested on the surface to return. It was perfect. We splashed around in awe of the water’s silky calm beauty.

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Diego shook his head at us as if he wasn’t going to come in, and then he disappeared below deck. Right as we were crawling up the ladder, he remerged suited up with fins, snorkel and mask, and a knife strapped to his leg.

He and Ella jumped in together while the rest of us chilled aboard. They didn’t last long though, soon enough all of us were on board basking in the sun. Ella grabbed the purple wind inflatable couch my mom got me for Christmas and flung it open on deck, and Francisco put on Yo La Tengo’s “Summer Sun,” the perfect tune for the day’s vibe.

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The wind decided to bless us with a gentle breeze, so Diego and Francisco broke out the spinnaker. It was the first time she had been up on the trip (and only the second time since Francisco bought Violeta several years ago). In spite of its 80s tracksuit style print, the kind that brings to mind over exposed chest hair and a gold chain necklace, the spinnaker’s Sea of Cortez debut was a momentous event. It looked glorious the way it stretched from the bow to the front of the cockpit enveloping the wind like a kite.

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We kicked it up a notch with Jamiroquai’s “A Funk Odyssey,” and soon everyone was moving and grooving around the boat, never tiring of the warm tropical sun and smooth waters. Ella helped me wash my hair in a bowl, which felt surprisingly luxurious (probably more so considering I hadn’t showered in two days).

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We cruised slow and easy at 3 knots. Nobody felt the need to rush and motor to our destination, everyone felt happy just being, patiently going with the flow and seeing what the ocean wanted to show us; and boy did we see a lot. We saw a plethora of dolphins, a few red jellyfish, a whale’s tale and a sea turtle the size of a small tire.img_5298

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The following day was just as peaceful—calm waters all around. We put the spinnaker up again, this time with the mizzen, and that’s when we saw a bit of action, we were seriously cruising! Francisco called out, “Violeta broke the wind barrier!” It was true, we were sailing nearly two knots faster than the wind was blowing. Incredible!

I began to feel a bit of melancholia the closer we got to our destination, I just didn’t want to go back to land. The peace that comes with being surrounding by miles of ocean, with nothing solid in sight (aside from the boat), is one of the most freeing experiences I have had. The magnificent beauty of the sunsets, sunrises and star-filled nights, and their impermanence, filled me with a rare and simple joy– bringing into perspective all those that I’d missed because I was too busy doing something else with all the “luxuries” and distractions we have on land.

I told Ella about the magical moonlight and the way the clouds had turned into faces as I sat on my shift the night before, and she was so intrigued by this that she convinced Tawnya to let her stay up with me that night. We set up to cushions on the bow, watched the clouds and listened to a Norse mythology audio book— and she told me a story of creation, and how whales, dolphins and elephants are sacred animals because they made the earth. Needless to say, the last night sailing across the ocean aboard our lady Violeta couldn’t have been more perfect.

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Moon Rise over Sea of Cortez
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Mast in the Moon Light

The following morning we nearly stumbled into a perilous disaster, one that easily could have put the whole trip to an end! But we’ll tell you about that in Cabo to Puerto Vallarta Part III, coming soon! 

 

Ensenada to Bahia Tortugas!

By Portia Leigh

Our time in Ensenada was brief, but delightful. We woke up Saturday morning and spent several hours cleaning the salt off Violeta as she had been thoroughly drenched from bow to stern the day prior by the rough seas. It was a major team effort to get the salt out of all the nooks and crannies, but the experience of working together to accomplish a task is both uniting and rewarding— a recurring theme any group of sailors inevitably encounters over the course of the journey, and one that makes life on a boat that much more fulfilling.

We made friends with several of our dock neighbors, and enjoyed some delicious local dishes at Muelle Tres on the marina boardwalk and La Jiba in town. Ella especially enjoyed playing with Bobocita and Barnacle, two of our neighbors’ dogs. She had fun running around the dock in her bathing suit hosing things down, including herself, and the dogs, and me! One of our neighbors even paid her to clean their dinghy. I’ve never met a kid who likes to clean as much as Ella, and she’s a pro!

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Ella and Tawnya enjoying some Ensenada tacos at La Jiba

On the journey to Ensenada we incurred a small rip in the jib sail. As our luck would have it, we stumbled across a couple old sailors hanging out in the marina pavilion on a Sunday afternoon using their Sailrite sewing machine. We hung out with them in the pavilion for a while, shared a few beers and stories, and they were kind enough to let us use their machine to patch the jib– a fateful coincidence that made the following days at sea that much smoother, and noticeably more beautiful as we cruised full sail with the Jib guiding the way.

After making it our home for four days, we departed the Ensenada Cruiseport Village marina the morning of January 31. It was a lovely Tuesday, and we were excited to be cruising again. Diego caught a fish right off the bat, our first one, a beautiful Bonito!

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As we got further from the bay the moisture over the ocean began to thicken and we found ourselves immersed within a serious fog bank. We couldn’t see more than a few hundred feet in front of us so we all kept a careful watch. We didn’t know what else to do. We knew there was a small island about 10 miles from Ensenada bay, and while we mark our coordinates and have GPS, it’s still a little unsettling to not be able to see a thing. Eventually the sun came out and burned off the fog, bringing the island, and the breathtaking mountainous landscape surrounding Ensenada, into view.

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The cruise was exceedingly pleasant, no puking this time (that is except for one of us, but that’s a story we’ll get into later, but no seasickness!). Ella and I spent hours playing board games, and cuddling up on the bowsprit listing to audio books. She’s recently discovered her passion for photography, and while it makes me a little nervous watching her run around the deck with my camera with the 75-300mm lens fully extended, her shots are phenomenal. She definitely has an eye for it.

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Shots by Ella Jade
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Shot by Ella Jade

It took us about three full days to get to Bahia Tortugas in Baja Sur and we saw nothing but ocean for two days. We passed the beautiful Isla Natividad late Thursday afternoon as we approached the bay of Tortugas. Tawnya spotted a few spouts of water shooting out of the ocean and screamed “Whales at 9 o’clock!”

We had been praying to see them since we left Marina Del Rey the week before, and now we finally had our chance. Everyone sat on deck, eyes glued to the ocean in search of more spouts, fingers crossed that one might breach. All in all we saw more than 20 or 30 spouts, and we were lucky enough to see a couple breach! Tawnya told us a litany of whale facts that she learned from our trusty sailor friend Captain Kerstin, who she’s been visiting in Maui every year since Kerstin relocated there after leaving Venice back in 2011. Some of the interesting facts we learned about whales include that they sleep half of their brain at a time (cool! Can I do that?), their skin is significantly more sensitive than ours, and their gestation period can range between 11 to 18 months depending on the type of whale.

We arrived in Bahia Tortugas around 6 p.m. with a neon pink sunset lighting up the sky behind us, but by the time we pulled the sails down, we found ourselves deep in the middle of a foreign cove surrounded by darkness. Just off the shore to our right was a line of lobster trap buoys, and a few boats anchored ahead in the bay, but our physical point of reference (as described in Charlie’s Charts)—a ragged steel pier jutting out from the center of the beach, was nearly invisible.

As we tried to find a suitable spot to anchor the depth meter started to go crazy oscillating back and forth between 20 ft down to as low as 2 ft! Perilous! Tawnya jumped to the helm and steered us to deeper waters, Diego and Francisco grounded themselves firmly at the bow, using their muscles to free the anchor chain as Ella held the flashlight over the water and I kept an eye out for rocks.

We spent the night on board and woke up bright and early Friday morning on a mission to restock supplies and hopefully find a shower. We lowered the dinghy into the ocean, hooked up the propane engine and set off to shore. It took two trips to deliver the five us safely to the pier. “Bienvenido Bahia Tortuga”- Welcome to Turtle Bay, and Baja Ha-Ha was painted in big block letters on the neighboring walls along the beach.

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The town is small and everything is quite limited so if you’re on your way down the coast and looking to restock supplies there are probably better places to stop. It’s definitely a fisherman’s town, one that is probably best known as a stopping point for the famous cruisers rally that comes through every November.

Once ashore, we walked to Maria’s Restaurant, but there was no Maria in sight, we were greeted instead by Tom and Heather, an old sailing couple from Canada, who made the beachfront shack their home while in town working on their disheveled ketch sail boat, Magnolia. They ended up inviting us in and cooking us dinner later that evening and told us where to find a local hotel that offered hot showers for 60 pesos ($3 each), as well as directed us to the choice markets in town. Unfortunately for us the supplies at each market were quite limited, which meant we had to make several stops in order to get what we needed. Tawnya and I both had work to catch up on, so we stayed at Tortugas Restaurant, a small family run restaurant attached to the owner’s house. Alisa, the owner, had two beautiful grandchildren, who Ella spent hours playing with despite the fact that they didn’t speak the same language. As Tawnya and I worked on the computer they watched movies in English and Spanish, and braided each other’s hair.

Diego and Francisco made several trips back and forth between the markets, eventually loading everything into the dinghy and taking it back to the boat, before we all reconvened for dinner at Heather and Tom’s house. The meal was incredible, full of nourishing vegetables and greens, which was exactly what we needed.

Everyone was exhausted by this point, but we still needed to refill our water tanks—an interesting and tricky endeavor as the water had to be transported to our boat, which meant we couldn’t just put a hose right into the tank and fill her up as we would on land. Francisco and Diego found a local fisherman, Geronimo, who had a big water tank on his blue fishing boat, and they paid him to bring the water to Violeta, but the mission was not over. Diego spent the next hour using a hand pump to suction the water out of the big tank and transferring it into a small canister that Francisco and Geronimo walked back and forth emptying into Violeta’s massive water tanks. We were victorious, and beyond thankful to have water, but we all agreed that it would be better to start brushing our teeth with bottled water just the same.

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Geronimo bringing us water

 

 

 

 

Who Put Water in the Diesel Tank?! and how we bounced back…

We woke up Wednesday morning at 3:30 a.m. with a voyage to Mexico burning bright in our minds. Francisco turned on the engine and let Violeta run for about 30 minutes as I (Portia) cooked breakfast and Diego topped off our water tanks—we were all itching to get out there, but today would not be the day— without warning, the engine abruptly shut off. Francisco tried again and again to no avail to get her engine to turn over; so we all decided it was better to go back to bed and reconvene in the morning to figure out exactly what had gone wrong rather than keep trying and wear out the starter completely.

Francisco called our trusty marine mechanic Tim, a knowledgeable and all-around friendly guy who knows how to put a smile on your face, even in the most dire of situations. He showed up immediately. By the time I woke up around 8:30 a.m. Tim was already elbows deep in diesel, tinkering away in the engine room.

Ella yelled from the aft, “Someone put water in the gas tank!” I groggily moved from my comfy bottom v-berth bunk thinking Wtf? Who would do that? – I learned the answer several hours later and it came as an alarming surprise, it was me! The intake holes for the diesel and water tanks on deck are quite close to each other, so I guess it’s an easy (rookie) mistake to make—just not one I thought I would make; and that in no way removes the overwhelming guilt.

(Thankfully) Tim said he had managed to bleed the water from the second tank and she was up and running again by late morning; but to my horror, the consequences of my faux pas were far from over. With a new plan set to embark later that evening I left to do our remaining laundry. I came back to the dock just in time to watch Francisco, Diego, Tawnya and Ella aboard Violeta heading to the gas station to fill up the second tank (with DIESEL) to replace the amount of water we had emptied that morning!

I sat on the dock awaiting their return for a solid two hours, but instead of my boat family, I was greeted by a sheriff who jumped off of his boat and onto our dock slip. After a short conversation he informed me that his team was towing Violeta back to the slip. “Her engine is broken, it’s shot,” he said calmly.

Incite internal panic NOW. My guts literally sunk out of my soul. Oh my god, I’ve destroyed our engine, the journey we’ve been planning for months is caput and it’s all my fault! Okay, calm down, breathe, I can sell my truck quickly and that will pay for a new engine, it will be okay, it will be okay—I said to myself desperately trying to console the building panic.  In the video below they arrive back to dock in tow of coastguard vessel and getting hooked up to side of sheriff to be directed back in to our slip.

Violeta and crew came into view shortly after—Ella on the bowsprit smiling and waving— in fact, everyone is in good spirits, as I stand there thinking: Really, you guys aren’t ready to slit my throat? Apparently they had attempted to motor out past the breakwater after filling up the gas tank to test the engine and work out any left over water, but the engine had shut down and wouldn’t restart. They quickly raised the sails, as they were dangerously in between the breakwater rocks and a huge rigger boat, but the wind was not in their favor and they were still too close to land to have no engine quite yet. The currents proceeded to pull the boat dangerously close to the Venice Beach shore, until the coast guard and sheriff came to the rescue and towed her home. Well that’s it, there’s no way we are leaving today I thought to myself, but Tim came back that evening and bled more water from the second tank and Violeta was up and running once again. Whew, that was a close one.

I learned a lot from this mistake—and albeit mortifying, to the point of wanting to stick my head in the sand, put my tail between my legs and never admit this to anyone ever—my mistake might just be helpful for others who make this mistake so now I’m going to explain how you can recover from this perilous error. However, before you go too far to the point of your engine dying completely, you can prevent this by paying close attention to the racor, where you can see the diesel gas that’s about to get sucked into the engine—here you’ll see a line between the diesel and the water when water is about to be sucked into the engine, if it’s all pink in the racor, you are fine, but when you see that line between the two liquids you’ll know it’s time to unscrew the valve below the racor and let the water drain out before it gets sucked into the engine…

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Racor

If you do not get to the engine in time and your engine dies this is what you do to recover (All measurements for the nuts and bolts are from our engine, which is a Marine Diesel Ford Lehman):

Unscrew the two white knobs (drain caps) at the bottom of the two fuel filters next to each other and the bleeding screws (9/16th nuts where my finger is pointing) on top of each one and let water drain out. Then tighten the bottom white knobs and leave the top nuts loose. Go to the control panel and turn on the fuel transfer button until clean fuel comes out the top of the screws—tighten the top screws and turn off the transfer fuel button.

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Now loosen 1/2 inch washer below fuel injectors (picture below) and run pump until clean fuel comes out (only a little will come out) and tighten the washer again.

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Washer below fuel injectors

Then loosen all 6 injector nuts (5/8ths) and have someone above board turn the engine over, about three times until they start spitting out fuel. Tighten the injectors, and now move over to the air filter and as someone is turning over the engine spray the air filter with starter fluid, this will take about three times but now you should be good to go.

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six fuel injectors

Anyways, although I’m super embarrassed about it, I hope my error proves helpful to someone out there. And in the next post we actually make it out to sea, so stay tuned!

Violeta’s Nearly Ready for the Mighty Pacific Ocean

Flashback to November and we thought we’d be all settled into Sayulita, Mexico and enjoying warm 80F temperatures and sunny skies by Christmas, but December came and went and we found ourselves ringing in 2017 from Marina Del Rey, CA. Sure, we are itching to get out there, but Violeta is more than a means for getting from point A to B, she’s our home and like any trusty vessel, she requires a lot of tender love and care in order to get her ready for an extended journey like the one we’re about to embark on.

Over the past month we’ve made a lot changes and upgrades, most are necessities, but we splurged for a few luxuries, like our new hot water heater! For weeks I cherished every hot shower I took on land, believing that this sweet luxury would soon become a memory. Ella was so excited about the hot water heater that she decided to pamper Tawnya and I with a foot scrub and massage the night it was installed!

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A lot of our work has been dedicated to sanding and varnishing Violeta’s hand and toe rails from bowsprit to stern, 7 layers to be exact, each one requiring us to sand down the varnish before adding another layer, which means waiting a day for the varnish to dry.

Over the last two years Violeta has made several short voyages to Catalina and around the Santa Monica Bay, but she hasn’t been out for more than a few days at a time in quite a while. Some of the repairs we’ve made in order to make our upcoming voyage as seamless as possible include installing a new jib sail, as the previous one was pretty old, and a rolling furler, which means we’ll be able to easily roll the jib sail around the stay and hoist it up as opposed to having to manually hoist it up and god forbid, wrestle it down in the wind. We’ve added a second reef line to the main sail, because after testing it in a storm we quickly discovered that one was not enough, so now if the wind goes above 30 knots (about 30 mph) we can call upon the second reef line to help us out. Violeta’s oil has been changed, and we’ve also made a vital adjustment to our two diesel fuel tanks– as before we were unable to isolate them from one another, a necessity if we ever happen upon bad fuel, a sticky situation that could easily become perilous if the tanks mix and we aren’t able to switch from one to the other.

We also installed a new aft head (back bathroom), because with 4 to 5 people living aboard, having two toilets is going to be a major bonus; and reconstructed the mounts for the galley stove so it has more room to swivel back and forth without crashing into the back wall when the boat is heeling over.

All in all it’s been a lot of work, but thankfully we’ve had several helpers who have lent a hand and sped up the process. Next up is preparing galley!

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Diego (upper left) painting, Andrew (upper right) working on the aft head, Tim (bottom left) working on the engine room and Scott (bottom right) reconstructing the stove mounts