Friday, February 13, 2015

Cruiser camaraderie

It may not be obvious from our blog posts just how many other cruisers are out here doing the same thing we are.  On the Pacific coast of Mexico, at this time of year, there are hundreds of cruising boats (mostly Americans or Canadians) having a wonderful time touring around.  Most of us fall into a few basic categories: 1) came down the California coast in the fall, and spending the winter season in Mexico before departing for the South Pacific in the spring; 2) brought the boat to Mexico some years ago, and spend the winter messing about here and there, until it gets too hot in May or June, then put the boat in storage some place until fall when they do it again!  Of course there are some exceptions -- like folks travelling down through Central America; proceeding through the Panama Canal to go to the Caribbean; or heading back uphill to California after a few months here in Mexico.
 It's fun to compare plans, and to try to remember who is doing what.  And, no surprise, we bump into some people repeatedly at the different places we go, since many of us are doing more or less the same things.

Our radio setup -- VHF on the left, used for local
communications (like the Channel 22 local net); and the
SSB radio on the right, used for long-distance
communications (hundreds or thousands of miles), email,
weather faxes.  There are also SSB nets, which are a great
resource for weather while on a long passage,
 and also as a safety -- the net controllers actually keep track
 of boats as they cross large distances.
One feature that helps everyone keep in touch are the morning radio "nets".  In each of the major boating hubs here in Mexico there is a get-together on the the VHF radio at an appointed time in the morning.  Here in Barra de Navidad, the morning net starts at 9am (a little late for our taste, since Tessa is usually waking us up about 7:30!)  Everyone who is interested tunes in at 9:00am on Channel 22, and a volunteer on one of the boats (or sometimes in a marina office) will be the net controller, running the net for the day.  First they ask if there are any emergencies (which almost never happens); then they ask for check-in's from boats in the various nearby areas.  We were are currently located, there are 4 different anchorage areas and two marinas within radio range (about 20 miles), and between all those places there are probably 50 boats that will check in.  The controller will also asks for any new arrivals or planned departures, for which you get to provide some more details about who you are and where you are coming from or going to.   Next is typically a run down of the weather and sea conditions for the next few days, hopefully by someone who is a bit knowledgeable.  Then there are other standard topics like General Announcements, Lost & Found, Local Assistance, Stuff for Sale/Trade. The "Local Assistance" category is often a good one -- typically, someone is looking to buy something, go somewhere, or get something fixed.  Often, the response will come from someone who has been in the area for many seasons and knows just where to find the required thing.  We learn a lot just by listening to the Q&A.  The other day, I called in to ask for an opinion about how the nearby anchorage would feel in the unusual winds that are predicted for the coming weekend -- we were considering to move to that anchorage for a change of scenery, but not if it would be uncomfortable (we were reassured by two different boats that it would be fine).

At the end, sometimes the net controller will ask for a volunteer to run the net on the next day; or sometimes the same person will do it for weeks at a time (as long as they are in the area).  The whole net affair takes about 30 minutes here in Barra, and was a bit longer is some other areas we've been in.  After the net, Channel 22 remains open for use by all the cruisers as a local "hailing" channel.  So if you want to contact another boat, you can first try them on Channel 22, and then you agree to switch to some other channel for your conversation.  The official hailing channel is Channel 16 -- that is what is monitored by the Coast Guard (in the US), and all boats underway typically monitor 16.  But in the marinas and anchorages, at least here in Mexico, we all use Channel 22 to talk throughout the day.  And it is sort of like an old "party line" phone, in the sense that you can listen in to other peoples' conversations!  When other people agree on channel to switch to for their conversation, if you are particularly interested you can just switch over to that channel as well and listen in!

We made great use of the fact that people monitor Channel 22 throughout the day when we came into Barra de Navidad two weeks ago.  If you look at the "How I Wonder Where We Are" map, you will see that we are located in the Barra back lagoon -- is it a back-water area, open only through a narrow passage.  When we came in, we were totally confused about where to go -- we knew that the water depth back in the lagoon was low in many places, and that the channel is not marked!  At one point we ran aground, but we were able to back off before getting seriously stuck!  We flagged down a passing dinghy, and they suggested we call for assistance on Channel 22.  Within 20 seconds, we were talking to another boat who was already anchored in the lagoon, and who could actually see us.  He basically talked us in the whole way!  At one point I remember him saying " no no, don't go any farther to starboard, you're gonna run out of water!"
Navionics chart display on the chartplotter at our helm.  You can
see the trace of our path -- first getting confused, running aground
and backing up (in upper left), then coming straight down the actual
channel with the help of a local cruiser who guided us in.  Thanks to
him we avoided going down the nice white channel depicted by the
software which would have landed us on a sand bar!

I think one big reason that new arrivals run aground here is that one of the most widely used navigation softwares, called Navionics, actually shows the deep-water channel, but it is off place by about 200 feet to one side of the actual channel location!  Earlier this week there was a trimaran stuck for most of the day, right in the location of the Navionics presumed channel!

The boat 'Lovely Rita' firmly affixed in the sand bar at low tide.  Over the radio
they sounded quite OK about the whole situation -- they said they were doing
shots of tequila, waiting for high tide... because, what else are you gonna do!?
Another great thing about the network of cruisers is how almost everyone is interested in helping out whenever possible.  Last week, a boat departing the lagoon ran hard aground on the sand bar -- it's a relatively easy mistake to make, even if you did fine when coming in!  They had the misfortune to hit the bar on a high falling tide, which meant that as the tide went out throughout the day, they were digging into the sand more and more, and the boat started to tip over!  By the low tide at about 4pm, we heard them say over the radio that they were heeled over at 30 degrees, with five inches of water over the edge of the deck!  Over the radio, one other boat organized a rescue effort -- when the tide was coming back toward the high mark later in the evening, several dinghies got together to push the bow of this boat around to help dislodge it from the sand bar.  They worked at this from about 8pm until finally succeeding around 10pm!  It's a great example of the support network out here among cruisers.

We have been informed that in order to qualify as an
Official "Life Aboard Bliss" blog post, there must be a picture of Tessa!
So, her she is happily explaining to me how, instead of napping, she got out all her puzzles
and arranged them nicely in her sleeping area!


  1. Jerry and I enjoyed this blog very much-so informative for those of us with no idea about all of this. However, there were no pictures of Tessa! Dad says to enjoy the weather-it is zero degrees here so think of us as you bask in the sunshine.

  2. How are Shawn and Heather's waypoints for this channel?

    1. Hello crew of Pelagia, we don't kow as we (unfortunately) don't have their book for this area.

  3. Yeah no photos at all. What's up with that????

    1. Hi Don and oma, oeps how could we forget?? More pics in newer post :-)

  4. Ok, ok! I have relented and added a picture of Tessa! Cute cute cute! Geesh ... you would think that she's the only reason you guys are looking at this! ;-)


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