Velella's Drift

An account of Velella's voyage from Seattle to New York via Panama, 2009-2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

23 17.47’N
107 44.22’W

We waited in Cabo San Lucas for several days, somehow avoiding for four days in a row the tarrif to anchor in the large bay, and then decided we’d best scoot before our luck ran out. Eager to get to Mazatlan, and also eager to beat out the Norther predicted in the Sea of Cortez, we departed at about 9am on Thanksgiving to cross the Sea to the mainland.

After getting out of the peninsula’s shadow, we were confronted with winds that had a much stronger easterly component than we would have liked, and putting our nose into it with a steep fetch on our beam felt unsustainable. So we decided to be true “by the wind sailors” and wait for more favorable wind. At about 8pm we turned the boat North towards Los Frailes anchorage, 20 miles distant.

The problem with going to Frailes was that, although we didn’t have far to go, it was rather ugly getting there. Huge steep wind waves that had 600 miles of Sea of Cortez to build confronted us head-on. The boat felt like a hobby horse, turning on a horizontal axel nose to stern, nose to stern, then a violent heel to the side as a wave grabs the keel. In the dark with that kind of motion, it didn’t take long for me to get sick (for the first time on this trip), which is probably the most exhausting scenario I can put together. Prescott took the helm and at one point I think he said “now you HAVE to marry me.”

The dark hulk of land loomed ahead, representing shelter, peace, and sleep. We clawed our way toward it, bucking the wind and a fierce current, making a frustrating 2 knots per hour, sometimes less. It’s dark on that stretch of coast with few lights to mark promontories, so instead of hugging the coast to gain shelter from the lee as we would have during daylight, we stayed at least 5 miles off of where we understood land was. I say “understood” because at this point, we were sailing INLAND according to the chart plotter. Mexican charts are not accurate, so if you’re a chart plotter navigator, forget sailing Mexican waters. Things are up to two miles off in places–including the entire southern tip of Baja. It’s pretty unnerving to look at the plotter and see your GPS blinking that you’re ON land, especially in the middle of the night. However, we have other tools–radar, depth sounders, and our eyes.

So, with the chart plotter showing we were well over land as we approached Frailes, we were left to blindly sound our way in, understanding where we were only by following depth fathom lines and watching our position on the shifting black-and-white radar. We may not have chosen to make this landfall except that we knew of several boats anchored in Frailes, so as we drew near, sure enough, we could see a small grove of masthead lights twinkling in the dark cove. The bay stretched its arm around them like a mother duck gathering chicks to her soft sandy breast. We made our way in as silence thankfully replaced the cacophony raging outside.

It’s continually amazing how much difference 24 hours can make on the water. We spent a day in Los Frailes catching up on sleep, and left this morning at first light. As the sun came up over the Sea of Cortez, we could see what looked like large swell silhouetted against it, so I took a double dose of Stugeron. It was forecast that by Sunday it would lay down to dead calm (the other end of the worst case scenario spectrum). Still, we had 48 hours to get 160 miles to Mazatlan before another strong and ugly Norther hit, so we took our window, even if it meant using the good ole “iron genny.”

After spending the day on a beautiful beam reach, making 6-7 knots under a double reefed main and staysail only, the wind eased, just as predicted, and we shook out all sail. Then it died completely. We wallowed about for a couple hours, hoping. Finally, after hearing the weatherman stress again that anyone left out there Monday afternoon would be in for “some gooood honkin stuff” we started the engine a little after sunset, prepared to motor all the way to Mazatlan if we had to.

When I woke up for my watch though, I could feel a breeze on my face coming through the portholes. We throttled down, and sure enough, a midnight gift of 8 knots angled perfectly on our beam with no swell. The moon is half full, tipped right side up like a bowl full of electric cream, and I can hear our gurgling wake leaving the Sea of Cortez behind 5 knots at a time. Nessie is chasing the moonlight over the decks. My light wool hat has grown too hot, and we no longer need a sleeping bag, hand warmers, or tea to keep warm at night. It’s painfully beautiful–I only wish my camera could capture it.

So there you have it. Two nights ago was ugly, tonight is good. Overall, it’s not too bad.



  ogm wrote @

Meg~Your words take us all onboard with you two. Thank you for sharing them.

Sail on silvergirl.

  Lucie wrote @

Love this — and all the rest. Just been catching up a bit. Meg, you’re writing makes me feel like you’re telling me these stories in person. So much imagery and so beautiful!

Love you both!


  Jacqueline Newbold wrote @

Clawing your way toward the dark hulk of land does sound ugly! I like your title. One of my classes that I teach is called “The Good, the Bad and the Beauty of Color”.

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