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January 19, 2008

Out of Touch

As faithful readers can tell from my lack of posts, there really are no Internet connections available north of La Paz in the southern Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) – or at least I haven’t found any yet. We haven’t been to any villages which might have Internet cafes; but, of the only two possible villages on our itinerary, one is famous for its single satellite phone for rent by the minute and has no electricity and the other is perched on a rock and is known in the cruising guide for its enterprising fishermen’s wives who supplement diminishing fishing income (blamed on Japanese and Korean factory ships) with sales of shell-based home-made jewelry. With twenty-two kids in school, the latter is the second largest settlement on an island in this Sea so maybe, maybe… Tomorrow we’ll find out unless the wind is blowing too hard and the seas are too high.

[update at posting time. No Internet access there; no kids or shopping either. Kids and women are on the mainland during the week. Three fishermen live there alone other wise and sold us some very fresh fish. They live on the rock because there are no mosquitoes there, they say.]

Which brings me to the weather and communications. Wise sailors in this region get their weather forecasts daily at 8am on VHF channel 22 where a local net links liveaboards together. But the forecast is broadcast from La Paz and we’re now forty miles north under the horizon even for our masthead mounted antenna. Didn’t get the forecast yesterday either because we were in a cove with high blocking walls. But the weather’s not supposed to be very interesting this time of year anyway; one of the reasons we booked now. The wind blows from the north or northeast between ten and twenty five knots, can get a little blustery and uncomfortable when a dry cold front trails through hanging from a low in southern California.

That’s why we were surprised at the 10 knot wind from the southwest this bright and clear afternoon. Also a little disconcerted to see the anchorage we’d shared with four other boats last night deserted when we came back to it late this afternoon. It’s known to have great protection against northerly winds and swells; not recommended in the summer because it’s open to the southwest.

We anchored in the spot we’d coveted yesterday but come to late to claim, nestled up against a cliff to the north and with a salt flat protecting us from waves if not wind from the east. Just as it was getting dark, the gentle rollers from the southwest steepened and sometimes even broke under us where the water shelved rapidly to fifteen feet. The wind accelerated to 20 knots with higher gusts. Uncomfortable.

Brother Billy used the dingy to discover that the southern part of the bay was smoother but just as gusty.  Should we pull anchor and move in the near dark? Risk is we don’t get it set well or make some other mistake. Now the lack of weather information makes a good decision tough. Why’s there a southwest wind anyway?

We try calling other boats on both channels 16 and 22 to see if anyone else has the weather forecast. Not a peep back. Have I mentioned that we don’t have Internet access?

Sister Pam calls her super Internet literate son on our satellite phone (see picture in last week’s post). As we knew he would be, he’s back with us in five minutes with the morning forecasts for both northern and southern Sea of Cortez. We’re south middle but an interpolation makes sense.

Two lows moving through the north will cause very strong northerlies there starting tomorrow and moderate northerlies in the south. Today mild south to southwest winds were forecast for the south. The barometer (analog) has been dropping. With interpolation it all makes sense.

A cold front is approaching. It’s strong enough to induce southerlies ahead of it even against the prevailing northerly flow. We’re north of the moderate southerlies so we have mildly immoderate southwesterlies. Answer: don’t move the boat!

Why? Because the anchor is holding (we did let out some more chain). It’s almost a certainty that the northerlies which trail the front will be stronger than the southerlies that proceed it – especially since they’ll be reinforced by the seasonal flow rather than diminished by it. If that happens, our anchor has to hold against much more force if we go to the currently calm the southern bay and leave the protection of the cliff to the north of us. Didn’t want to move anyway and now it’s truly dark although there’s a half moon illuminating some mares tails high in the sky.

Both the depth gauge and GPS say the anchor is holding. Almost on cue, the wind starts to drop: 20 knots, 16, 14, 15, 12, 14, 12, 10, 13, 8… until the wind direction indicator is spinning directionless around its dial. The barometer is now steady.

Now can we go to sleep?

Some of us can but we’ve got to take turns standing anchor watch. The northerlies are certainly coming. We should have good shelter but  we’ll be pulling the anchor in the opposite direction from the way which it was initially set. If we pull hard enough it’ll flip over and no longer be dug in. It SHOULD reset in the sand but there’s some slippery grass below us as well.

At 0200 the wind out of the northwest, even in our sheltered location, is over 10 knots. No big deal but it does hold us sideways to the persistent swell so our rocking becomes a more unpleasant rolling (we’re in a catamaran). My watch, obviously, or I’d be sleeping instead of writing.

Tomorrow morning we WILL get the new forecast even if we have to call the place we rented the boat from on sat phone.

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