Cruising with Playpen
Leg 2 - San Diego, CA to
Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico

Installment 3  - Plus Captain's Notes

1/11/03-1/12/03 LaPaz to Mazatlan 23 16.14N 106 27.90W 240 nm 29 ¼ hrs.

Ah to be back at sea! We had a stressful, hectic, but fun visit home for the holidays—lots of time with the grands, Kate & Jack; a beautiful wedding of our nephew, John to Sarah, time with our son, Fred, not enough time with our moms (thanks to a snowstorm), and barely enough time to straighten out business from the past 4 months and set up for the next 6 months. Traveling from the cold January wind in MD to the balmy January breezes in La Paz was delightful!

We spent 3 days in La Paz putting the boat back together, fighting with the computer, chatting with other cruisers, and eating lots of delicious ice cream! It’s a good thing the ice cream store was a 3 mile round trip walk.

We left La Paz at daybreak, 0700, under clear sunny skies with a course set for the 240nm trip to Mazatlan. The stabilizers worked on the beam seas (some 6-8’), and the autopilot stayed the course ‘til we had to dodge a ship.

We entered Marina El Cid 6 miles north of Mazatlan Harbor. The tiny inlet led past the fancy El Cid Marina, past a "virtual" Marina with a dock and slips in the middle of the channel—no tie to land, to a marina-in-progress with some finished slips and a trailer for office and facilities. El Cid was our choice. It’s part of El Cid Mega Resort, and the marina includes 2 pools, a hot tub, beautiful grounds and facilities, a beach club with thatched cabanas and comfy chaises, and "room" service from the restaurant to your boat. Cost for our boat including taxes and electric was about $50. The other part of the resort is in town and has several pools, tennis courts, and shops. The city bus runs frequently, and we took it to town for dinner and some sightseeing.

A word about the Mexican sense of humor …

After dinner is a famous Mazatlan restaurant we were discussing how stuffed we were and how after a huge sangria and 1 ½ brown cows, Fred wasn’t sure he could make it home. A few minutes later the waiter appeared with a hand truck and said he had "2 fat guys" who could carry Fred upstairs to a room.

A few days before, in La Paz, I was walking back to the marina with some groceries when Lorenzo appeared out of nowhere. He said he was Capitan on a boat in our marina and had ridden the shuttle in with me. He offered to walk back with me and carry some groceries. I didn’t see where I had much choice; so I handed him some bags and we started the 2-mile jaunt. We were talking about boats and fishing, and I mentioned I really like the people of La Paz. Lorenzo said, " Oh yes, eez very nice place. Only one bad hombre in town. He keels American women." When I queried where the bad hombre was now, Lorenzo cocked his head, grinned at me and said, "Eez me." I threatened to pelt him with my eggs. We had a nice walk back, and I found out he was a legitimate Capitan.

Back to Mazatlan, a day in the big crowded noisy city was enough for us. At the marina we caught up with Carolyn and Tim on the trawler Saratoga. We’d first met them in Funter Bay, AK. After a month at El Cid they were ready to head toward Puerto Vallarta (PV). We decided to tag along.

11/14-15/03 Mazatlan to Isla Isabella 21 50.41N 105 53 00 W 90nm 14 hrs.

A Krogen 48, An Hai, Saratoga, and Playpen left at sunset for a s-l-o-w 90nm trip to arrive at the anchorage in Isla Isabella at sunrise. It was another beautiful moonlit, starlit cruise. The preferred anchorage at Isabella has a bottom littered with rocks and abandoned anchors. There were already 6 boats there when we arrived; so we decided to try the secondary anchorage. We anchored easily off the beach with moderate swell and napped. During lunch after our naps we watched the hundreds of frigates and pelicans flying overhead. Isla Isabella is a bird sanctuary with blue and yellow-footed boobies, frigates, etc, nesting and hatching. I decided to snorkel over our anchor before we launched the whaler, and discovered that our anchor was lying upside down on top of the sand while the chain was caught under a rock—that’s what was holding us. If we’d swung we’d either wrap around the rock or come loose and drift into a rock islet. There were no visible sand patches to relocate to; so we weighed anchor and headed for San Blas.

1/15/03 Isla Isabella to Matanchen Bay 21 31.01N 105 14.36W 40nm 5 hrs.

What a perfect ride! The sea was calm, the breeze light, the temperature 80, the sun bright. We passed 3 humpback whales and a shark as long as our Suburban. Locating Matanchen Bay was a bit difficult as the actual land doesn’t match the charts very well. Isla Isabella was 2 miles from its charted position, and San Blas also seemed about 2 miles off. We anchored just as the sun set and enjoyed cocktails on the fantail before the invasion of the no see ums. Our screens worked well through dinner, but by bedtime the tiny critters had found their way in—so had a moderate swell. We hooked a fan up to DC power and covered up with sheets to sleep. It reminded me of the mosquitoes in the California Delta, but wasn’t nearly as bad. No see ums don’t buzz. I read that the no see um problem is so bad here the President of Mexico had to abandon an outdoor speech he was making. He hasn’t been back. I also read that the beach in Matanchen Bay holds the Guinness World Record for the longest surf wave—1-½ miles at 20’! The boating guides didn’t mention world class surfing waves in the anchorage.

Captains Notes 

San Blas, Mexico anchorage 21 31.01N 105 14.36W

Sharon & I arrived back at Playpen 1/7/03 after a great Christmas with our one and two year old grand children, Jack & Kate; their parents, Tricia & Pete, and our son, Fred III whom we hadn’t seen in a year. All the other relatives were great to see also.

The eight days we’ve been back have gone by so fast! I want to warn cruisers about La Paz. If you stay more than a day or two you may not want to leave. Town lies between the two marinas, Marina de La Paz on the south side and Marina Palmira 2 miles north of town. We ate at the Argos Hotel 3 times (Chateaubriand -$16 for 2), the Perla Hotel twice, and a great Italian restaurant near Marina de La Paz. The ice cream store, La Fuente, was 1 ½ miles from the boat and is marked by a white painted tree with multi colored polka dots. There were many flavors including corn. Sharon liked the strawberry cheese. I preferred pina-coco while sitting on the bench viewing the beautiful harbor which was edged with a beautiful tile and decorative concrete promenade, sandy beach with thatched roofed palapas, and small parks on the city pier. Then I had a 2nd pina-coco for the walk back! I could go on about La Paz. It’s a wonderful place for cruisers—safe, friendly, pretty, and affordable.

We stayed at Palmira and left the boat for 30 days while we went home. We felt perfectly at ease leaving the boat because the pier gates were actually kept locked and there was 24-hour security, armed with radios, not weapons. To date, we have not seen any guards with weapons. The majority (90%) of the boats were from the U.S. or Canada. The local maintenance people for the marina and the boats were very nice as were the people of La Paz. La Paz population is about 20,000.

Cruising people make up their own sub-culture wherever they go. Communication goes a long way out here, literally. One of my great moments of the trip was when we left San Diego and the cell phone was turned off. We had not been without at least some cell coverage since we arrived in the northwest 8/99. Have no fear; there is VHF, SSB, Sat phone, and email. Sideband is used by cruisers who set up "nets" and by "ham" operators either on land or sea. We met Peter on Wanderlust V in the CA delta. He runs the "Bluewater Cruisers Net." The net convenes at a specified time each evening. Roll Call is taken by boat name of those participating. You give your location, any pertinent information i.e.: weather, items of interest or safety. It’s a great way to have a general idea of where people are. Tonite members were spread between San Diego and Zihuatanejo, Mexico. The VHF is used as a net at 8AM at the harbors for info exchange, i.e. where to go for parts, swap, social activities, and local assistance. Email is used vessel to vessel or vessel to land. This is accomplished by Sat phone in our case at $1.19 per minute. It can also be done thru the SSB via Sailmail. A modem is used to send to a service on land, which forwards to providers. The only cost is the set up (around $1000) and a yearly fee ($200-300). Our Sat phone (Tracphone) costs us $60 a month plus the $1.19 a min. We send and receive our email in about 3 minutes and check it every other day unless something comes up and we need to check it more frequently. It’s convenient for keeping up with cruisers too. We met people 2 months ago who are going to FL. We’ll email them and try to transit the canal and cruise North together. Because of business I would not be able to be here without the phone. I use it very little, but when I need it, I have it. It’s also the easiest way for home to get us if there’s an emergency. So far it’s worked perfectly from Glacier Bay, AK to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We are very happy with our KVH Tracphone 50.

Lots of Pictures



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