Getting underway should not be such a big deal. After all, it’s not like we were getting ready to head up the Pacific coast, or crossing the Tehuantepec, or even cruising up to the islands. No, we were just getting ready to move from Marina Costa Baja down to Marina del Palmar, a distance of maybe 5-6 miles. But, the fact is, whether you’re starting an around the world cruise or just motoring over to the fuel dock, the first step is the same: getting out of your slip, hopefully without incident.
Our paid-for time at Costa Baja was up and our reservations for del Palmar started on November 1st. We were really looking forward to getting into a marina that was more centralized. Marina Costa Baja is way the hell and gone out of town. Not routinely walkable, even for us. They do have shuttle service but you have to arrange your trips accordingly and the last shuttle from town runs at 7:30. After that, it’s a $100 peso cab ride back to the marina. We missed being able to go to the store any old time we felt like it.
So, it wasn’t remorse that was keeping us in our slip long after we should have left. It was the freakin’ wind! Even in well-protected CB the wind was blowing a steady 10-12 knots with frequent higher gusts. It had been blowing for a couple of days and was actually supposed to get a bit worse over the weekend as a result of a tropical depression headed more-or-less our way. The wind was hitting us on the nose and just to starboard of the nose. Under the best of conditions Siempre Sabado can be a bit of a handful to back up. To get out of our slip the “normal” way we should back out to starboard then turn left and proceed out the fairway. Piece of cake, right? Well, no, not exactly. Backing to starboard is not Siempre Sabado’s chosen way to go. Unless, of course, you don’t want to go that way. Then she’ll turn and back up just like the family car. Why won’t it go that way? Has to do with something called “propwash”. A rudder can’t steer until water is flowing across its surface. When starting from a dead stop, there’s no water flow so no steerage. However, the twisting torque from the spinning prop is more than happy to pull the boat to one side, generally to port. I should say it will always swing to port but I’m not about to make a crazy declaration like that.
The fairway between the slips at Costa Baja is a little narrow. There were boats in most of the slips behind us. Besides the propwash, there was no way I’d be able to back out to starboard as the wind would hit the new solar panels and send the stern right back to center if we did manage to begin to turn to starboard. The solution seemed obvious to me when I had lain awake thinking about it the night before. All I had to do was use the wind and the propwash to my advantage and simply back out of the slip turning to port, and then continue backing out into the main fairway where I would shift to normal, turn left as needed and happily motor on out of the marina.
Actually, looking at the image date, that is us in the photo. However, since that shot was taken a boat tied up on our port side. A boat that stuck out past the end of the dock by several feet. This narrowed the gap we had to work with but it still seemed pretty do-able. At least it seemed pretty do-able during the exceedingly rare calm-ish periods between gusts. The wind blowing through all the rigging of all the boats didn’t help matters at all as they made it sound like a hurricane. If the wind and the current were stronger than our motor, I wasn’t sure what would happen. There definitely were a lot of boats to potentially bounce off of. I recruited some helpers from neighboring boats to act as dockside line handlers but, by the time we were ready to make the move, the wind had really piped up. I decided to postpone the move until later in the afternoon when, if it was anything like the day before, things would calm down considerably.
So we had a little lunch and visited friends and read a little and I kept an eye on our Mexican courtesy flag to judge the wind strength and direction. A couple hours went by and it sure didn’t seem like much was changing. The wind would abate for a couple of minutes and then come back with a vengeance. I was beginning to think about aborting the mission for now. The only problem was that we were supposed to get more wind over the weekend until the tropical depression got past us. We really wanted to get down to del Palmar and did not want to stay another 2-3 days at Costa Baja. But I didn’t want to bump into other boats either.
Somewhere around 1:30 I fired up the engine in anticipation of taking advantage of the first lull. But the wind blew and blew while I stood around listening to the idling engine and running scenarios over in my head. Let’s see, we could walk the boat out to the end of the dock and then hand-turn the stern to starboard, jump on and go straight out the fairway. No, that wouldn’t work. The end of the finger is way too narrow for us both to try to hold the boat broadside to the wind long enough to jump on and get underway. More likely that the wind would catch the stern and turn the boat around in such a way that our bowsprit took out our neighbor’s stern rail. Okay, what if we kept a line tied on the boat and then let the wind take her out into the fairway, then we could take up on the line, swinging the boat end-for-end and putting her in a great position to be able to head out in forward. But once she was out in the fairway, we’d have no control other than that one single line. WAY too much room for spectacular error that way. No, the only logical move was the original plan to back out to the main fairway. But did we have the needed horsepower? Would the boat track correctly in reverse once we got way on? Would a sudden gust screw up our plans? All of these thoughts kept me pretty much paralyzed. I was freaking myself out and couldn’t seem to make a move.
Finally I convinced myself that conditions were as good as they were going to get today and, if we didn’t make a move soon, we’d be stuck there until conditions were perfect (no wind and no current) because I’d have scared myself into accepting nothing less than complete calm.
Tom, from s/v Seazure came over to handle dock duties. I warned Lulu to be sure and get on board in plenty of time as I wouldn’t have time to worry about whether or not she had made it. Tom’s job was just to keep us off the neighbor and to swing the bow around when we got most of the way out of the slip. With that, I put the tiller hard over to starboard and shoved the engine controls into Reverse. Away we went.
All of my attention was concentrated on what was happening behind us. If we got too close to the boats across the way, I’d have to abort and head back into the slip. But Tom did a great job of swinging the bow around and we backed nicely towards the opening into the main fairway. I just assumed Lulu was on board as I hadn’t been able to divert my attention enough to see for sure. As we entered the fairway, I swung the tiller to port to start our turn to starboard. But, nothing happened. We continued to go more or less straight, right across the fairway. Quickly I shifted to forward and swung the tiller over. But the wind and the current were working against my making a nice smooth turn. I was getting way too close to another boat. Now I could see that Lulu was indeed aboard as she was up forward fending us off. I started doing the back and forth moves that will allow our boat to turn a circle in an area not much bigger across than she is long. However, this circle (due to propwash) is clockwise which meant we ended up turning almost a complete 360 degrees before we were finally lined up to head out. Tom yelled over from the dock, “Sometimes when I’m out there I wish I had a full-keeled boat. But at time like these, I’m glad I don’t.” We waved goodbye and headed out of the marina, a little freaked out but happy that we didn’t hit anything.
On a boat with wheel steering, the engine controls are usually mounted on the steering pedestal. You stand behind the pedestal steering with the wheel and operating the engine while maintaining good visibility. On a tiller-steered boat, the engine controls are down in the cockpit sidewall. You have to reach down to operate them. With solar panels or weather cloths on the rails, each time you reach down to make a change, you temporarily lose sight of what’s out there. To me, it’s a very awkward setup. Some folks claim to operate the engine controls with their toes while standing up on the side deck steering. However, our controls have a detent to keep you from going from forward to reverse without a stop at neutral. You’d have to have talented monkey toes to operate the little switch that gets you past the detent.
But, at any rate, we got out OK. The channel into La Paz was pretty rough from the wind although it calmed down nicely once we got behind El Mogote. We wound our way through the anchored boats and entered Marina Del Palmar. We were supposed to be in slip #9 but it was obvious that it was already occupied. We headed for an empty slip to tie up temporarily but got screwed up at the last minute and had to abort the approach. Got turned around and pulled into another empty slip. Lulu was saying we should just anchor out and then row in in the dink and get things straightened out. But, knowing this marina, I knew that if we were anchored, they may choose to let us just stay anchored until our slip was vacated in a few days. However, if we were in a slip already, they were much more likely to accommodate us somehow. So, we pulled into slip 17 and headed up to the office. As it turned out, slip 17 was temporarily empty and it would be fine for us to stay there. Later on, if something opened up closer in, we could move. Score!
I asked Roxana, in the office, if there was a discount if we paid for 4 months today. She did some calculations and, I’m pretty sure did come up with a discount. Hard to know as the prices aren’t posted or anything but at one point she showed me the monthly cost if we paid for 4 months in advance and, I think, the monthly cost on a month-by-month basis. If so, we got at least 10% off and maybe more (I can’t remember what the month-to-month number was now). This also assured us of having a spot for the next 4 months for sure.
It’s good to be back at Palmar. There’s much more swell here and we’re certainly more exposed to the wind than we were at Costa Baja but it just feels better to us. Much easier to remember that we’re on a boat as it never quits moving.
Getting out of this slip is much less of a problem. Oh, it gets shallow out there but at least there are no boats to bump into.
We were so glad to be back down here that we decided to have dinner out. First we walked downtown to the ATM to get money to pay for our slip. Then we stopped at Stella’s on the beach to have a pizza as suggested by our friends Rick & Jasna (s/v Calypso). The pizza was excellent. They had some sort of problem with the oven so it took longer than usual but we weren’t in any hurry. When they brought us our pizza, they also brought us a big green salad. I remarked that I didn’t realize that salad came with it and our server said that the lady in the kitchen felt bad that our order took so long so she made us a salad on the house. That was pretty nice. The salad was great. Several kinds of lettuce, some cabbage, peppers, mushroom, green olives, etc, all in a balsamic vinegar dressing. With the pizza, instead of the little shakers of red pepper flakes and parmesan cheese that we get in the States, they served three sauces. One was a pepper cheese sauce, the next was a chili oil (red pepper flakes in olive oil) and the other was basil and garlic in olive oil. Drizzled on the pizza, they were all superb. The pizza was the very thin crust style that is so predominant here. Fully sated, we walked back to the boat enjoying the fact that we were no longer tied to a shuttle schedule.
Now we really feel like we’re home.