2015 FEB – SEA OF CORTEZ crossing

PREPPING
I am having work done on the boat to fix or replace all the stuff that has broken so far. In order to do that I had to move FASTALLEY off the mooring where she was floating free, and bring her into Marina de la Paz and tie her to a dock. And hook her up to shore power because the installers need 110v power to run their tools. And they want a stable deck to work from. The mooring is a bouncy place to be in high winds and choppy seas.

It has been 5 months since my boat was last tied into shore power. Last September, as soon as my new solar panels were installed, I immediately went off the grid. So even though I was still tied to the dock, I was living on solar and wind generated power only. I needed to find out if the two produced sufficient energy for my needs.
So now, five months later I am tied to a dock again, and tethered to shore power! I expect the repairs to be completed by the weekend, and then I will take off for Mazatlan, weather permitting.

My intention is to stop at Mazatlan, and take a bus ride to the historic city of Durango. I have heard the trip up the mountains is spectacular; a real sensory overload. I will spend 2 days there and bus back to Mazatlan. Then I will up-anchor and head South again.

SINGLEHANDING
I browsed the Internet for tips on sailing alone. Here are the tips I gleaned:
1) Don’t follow the GPS route. The suggestion is that everyone else sets the common waypoints, syncs these with their GPS, and let’s the autopilot take over. Thus, you stand a good chance of running into more boats on these common routes, thereby increasing your collision risk.
2) Sleep during the day.  Your body clock naturally wants to be awake during the day. so go to sleep knowing that big ships with multiple staff members will most likely spot you even if you don’t spot them.  They are awake even if you aren’t.

3) Sleep in 20 minute intervals. Seems that scientific sleep tests show that lots of short naps leaves you more alert than a longer snooze. Also it takes a large ship just 15-20 minutes from the time it appears on the horizon, to run you down, so taking timely evasive action is good for your health.

4) Don’t sleep between 6:00-8:00pm. Apparently sunset is the witching hour and if you try to nap during this timeframe, you will most likely do a lengthy snooze instead. Also it’s harder to see you while the sun is setting so being awake and alert is recommended.

5) For newbies, set sail on a waxing or full moon. Being able to see the surroundings, albeit by moonlight, will make one feel more comfortable rather than sailing blind.

COPING MECHANISM
When I am prepping to leave the dock, for some days before I leave I am terrified at all the ways I could die out there. The most awful way being anything shark related, which presupposes that I went overboard and FASTALLEY continued blithely on her way leaving me paddling in her wake.

So while I am prepping, I experience waves of terror that almost paralyze me and I complete my preparations in a zombie state of fright.

As humans, when we encounter more stress than the brain can handle we go into DENIAL. Denial is a necessary and critical component of the human coping mechanism as we deliberately push our fear away and focus on those trivial factors that we can control. It’s an instinctive reaction. It’s how we cope.

I think it was Buddha that said something like… You can’t dwell on the past, or dream of the future. Just concentrate the mind on the present moment. I have found that this applies very aptly to sailing singlehanded.

So once I leave the dock, I cope by ignoring the worst case “what if” scenarios that have been plaguing me every night, and I focus on those things I can control – my direction, how much sail to put up, whether I should sleep now or later, whether I should eat now, or drink more water. These trivialities keep me focused on my goal, my next destination, and my fear leaves me. Or at least it abates. It is how I cope.

Also my desire to succeed is greater than my fear of failure.

I also find when singlehanding that when something goes wrong, I instantly leap into action to correct the problem. When alone I surprise myself at how rapidly I think and move when faced with a potential disaster, whether big or small. And so far every issue is a brand new one that I have never experienced before. Prior to the newest “event” I have had no chance to think through a solution because it never occurred to me that this piece would snap, or that component would collapse, or that line would unravel.

I feel sometimes like I am going from failure to failure – without the loss of determination to succeed.

But once everything is back under control, if not actually fixed but maybe just lashed down, then the relief of surviving another crisis hits me. And I burst into tears! I hate that. It’s so girly but I can’t help it. It’s another coping mechanism, I suppose, that gets rid of the excess adrenaline in a flurry of tears? I don’t know, but I do know that I feel much better after a good cry.

I really miss my prayer warrior Mom at these times. It was always so comforting to call her and ask for prayer, and listen to her talk Tongues. I always felt that God paid more attention when she spoke the angelic language.

MONDAY 2/02
The electrician finished installing my windlass and watermaker around 4:00pm. I had been in La Paz long enough and was ready to go. I readied the boat and set off at 10:00pm. The wind has been gusting the past month but I noticed that most nights around midnight it became very calm and still. Only the strong current posed a challenge to getting FastAlley off the dock. But Monday night it was not only calm, it was also slack tide. And a full moon.
Eve of AUNTIE and another passing sailor helped shove me off the dock, and I was away!
The forecast good wind never materialized and I motored all the way thru the night. By 2:00am I was sleepy and got out my timer and set it for 20 minutes and fell asleep curled in the bean bag. I worried that I would sleep thru the timer alert, but I was awake by the third ring. I did a 360 lookabout, checked all the engine gauges, and snuggled down for another 20 minutes. I managed a good 4 hours sleep before the sun rose.

Just the tiniest sliver of land still visible as I set out over the Sea

Just the tiniest sliver of land still visible as I set out over the Sea

TUESDAY 2/03
At sun up on Tuesday morning a small breeze started and I raised the sails enthusiastically.
The forecast was for 10-15 knots of wind and 2 foot waves from the North. But the breeze was at most 5 knots, and all FASTALLEY managed was 2 knots. I calculated that I would take 5-6 days to reach Mazatlan at that speed so after sailing for an hour I admitted defeat and turned the engine back on. The sea is flat and oily looking.
I woke after one nap to see the Baja Ferry off my starboard. It had passed me while I napped. Two hours later after another nap I woke to see a large ship with smaller boats on it deck which had also just passed me. Obviously a 20-minute nap was too long so I changed it to a 15-minute timer. 15 minutes seems to go by much faster than 20 minutes, but it’s safer I think.
Tuesday’s sunset showed the last tiniest sliver of land as I started across the Sea of Cortez. As the land disappeared behind me, a huge moon rose in front of me over the sea lighting my way eastward.
This was my second night at sea.

And a rising full moon guiding me eastwards

And a rising full moon guiding me eastwards

WEDNESDAY 2/04
The forecast for today is 20-25 knots of wind and waves from the South. I woke around 3:00am to large waves with whitecaps but no wind? As I puzzled it out I realized that the forecasted winds had not materialized but the waves from the south had. However, no one told the prevailing waves from the north about them and the two wave sets were crashing into each other, with FASTALLEY in the middle. The confused seas were such that for the first time ever I shut the companionway door and pulled down the hatch. I didn’t want a wave slopping over the side and into the cockpit and flooding the cabin. I also tethered my PFD, another thing I seldom do in the cockpit because I have a deep cockpit and as I walk around I am chest deep. I feel safe in my cockpit and have never tethered while sitting there. But I did tonight.
I couldn’t sleep with that rocking and rolling so by sunrise I was sleep deprived! I hadn’t seen a single soul out there since yesterday morning, so I set an alert on my radar and slept for 3 hours. It’s not like I was going to whack into an island while I slept, I was in 6,000 feet of water and had the whole sea to myself.

MARINA MAZATLAN
By Wednesday evening, around 6:00pm, I was still 20 miles away which at 5mph meant I was still 4-5 hours from a dockside sleep. It also meant I would be docking around midnight. This would be my third night singlehanding and the charm of it was wearing thin! I napped for 15 minutes and woke to the sound of surfing. There were little swells going in the same direction as us and FASTALLEY was joyously surfing them.
As I approached the GPS point for the entry to the Marina channel, I chickened out. It was so dark, and there were dark shapes all around, and I didn’t know what was dangerous and what was a building on land. So I turned and headed for the open sea again!
I argued with myself for the next 10 minutes about returning. After all, if I wanted to wait for daybreak to do the approach, that was 10 hours away. I would have to drift around at sea till sunrise! Eventually I talked myself into trying again.
I don’t recommend ever Ever EVER entering a strange harbor at night, negotiating a badly lit, very narrow Marina channel, and then trying to find slip #228?! I reached the Marina but didn’t know the numbering system, so I declared defeat and just sat in the turning basin waiting for help. Eventually Security came out and stood on a dock and waved a flashlight. I approached gingerly, threw them my lines, and they tied me down. It was almost midnight.
Security was amazed to see a woman alone and upon my sign language request, they drove me to the showers. What bliss. I have noticed that the first thing to disappear when singlehanding is hygiene! But I was so sleepy the whole trip, and since I was alone, I didn’t care if my deodorant was working or not.
As I left the showers and started back to my dock, the Security chap spotted me and drove up in his golf cart and offered me a ride. I gratefully climbed aboard. To my amusement, we had to make a few stops so that the night shift could shake my hand. Apparently a singlehand woman is a rarity. Alfonso in the restaurant insisted loyally that he would personally accompany me if I needed crew for any return trip. He would even pay his own flight back to Mazatlan, he declared. They were all so sweet.
Of course, back on the boat I was so overtired that I couldn’t fall asleep, so I typed up this blog instead. I have decided to explore Mazatlan for a few days instead of rushing on down the coast. It’s not like I have to be anywhere at any specific time or place, so I will explore Mazatlan and Durango while I pluck up the courage for the next stage.

From La Paz to Mazatlan - at 5 mph

From La Paz to Mazatlan – at 5 mph

 

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