March 18 Friday “San Francisco here we come” – WRONG – return to La Paz
I awoke at dawn disappointed not to find the glassy waters needed for local exploration and snorkeling. Might as well move on to my next stop, Isla San Francisco, 20 nm to the north. When I turned north outside the caldera I was pleased to adjust sails plus motor to achieve 5 knots.
The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry
adapted from Robert Burns
Then tragedy struck Raven Dance in the heart. She was bleeding oil profusely, and I shut the engine down immediately. Now in my earlier years (prior to reading the pragmatic (Self-sufficient Sailor by Larry and Lynn Pardey) plus its spiritual equivalent (Living in the Now by Eckhart Tolle) I would have been unnerved. But I remained so calm in the moment that I didn’t even swear. Besides I was becoming accustomed to surprise engine stoppages. I just checked my course and went about my scheduled agenda — making and slowly savoring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the sun.
Then I put on my stethoscope and examined the patient in detail, thought about my options, wondered if I had missed something I should know, and then called my go-to guy on all things RD, Donn, on the satphone. He offered some options — some of which I had already tried, some of which I would double check, and none of which appealed to me to operate on the patient at sea.
Now when you are a pilot and the engine coughs you are required both by good sense and legal requirements to return and land at the nearest airport. Applying this training, I should return La Paz. Indeed all signs pointed there: (1) it would be more likely a downwind sail (2) it was closer than Loreto by 50 miles, (3) parts or a mechanic would be available there and (4) I was familiar with the port. At our present speed (which I did not expect to hold) we would be there in the middle of the night, but no matter. Anyway, soon the wind petered out, and by 1930 hours we were going nowhere with sails limp and floundering helplessly for most of the black night. Initially it’s a bit disconcerting being so helpless and vulnerable; and then it eases into acceptance as your new norm.
March 19 Saturday
Some wind arrived after sun up and I prepared for an all day plus an all night plus a second day sail to reach La Paz. My work load was light and “Otto” did the steering, and I settled in to reading in the cockpit. Night fell and I pressed on, checking for ships every half hour on the RADAR (and finding only one and no visual contacts all night) and staring into the black wilderness, fighting the “sleepies”.
Unpredictable light head winds showed up. So I tacked back and forth every hour to remain well offshore, and arrived in the La Paz environs at 3 am. I’m capable of entering ports at night, but I prefer not to. There is additional risk, and I like stacking all the cards in my favor. So I set my holding pattern of sailing back and forth, waiting for daylight, and favorable winds. Here is what my sailing track looks like on the chart-plotter.
By 1030 the winds had become somewhat favorable. I poured the last gallon of oil into the engine (knowing I would need to use the engine briefly for docking), and I ghosted past the channel’s outer buoys, and down the long harbor, to my destination, La Paz Marina. I arrived dazed, relieved, and satisfied with my skill in adverse circumstances. Hour after hour hundreds of little decisions must be made correctly, and one wrong one can spell trouble or lead to disaster. The sea devil is relentless and unforgiving of any misstep, or lapse of attention or incapacity. He was eyeing me and licking his chops, but he couldn’t get me (this time). However I find no glory in the success, and it is a challenge I don’t want to repeat. In retrospect the trip went smoothly and the proof is safely “made fast” to a dock.
It is day’s past time to get some sleep.
March 20 Sunday
I slept long and soundly, and awakened in the morning to Sunday, a day when everything in La Paz is closed. This is a Catholic country. This is the Lord’s day to rest, and in sharp contrast to the American culture, no one takes advantage of the profit from being open for business.
In my home country, the richest nation in the world, where consumer spending is the national pastime, all the stores in are open on Sunday. While the desperately poor shop keepers in Mexico would not sell their souls for profit on Sunday. I don’t think the Catholics have a prohibition against blogging on Sundays (although I am less certain about the Jews). So I can abide by the local culture and blog today and buy oil manana, because I have no choice.