Night Watch

On December 23, we left the Baja coast and the Sea of Cortés for the final time.  We crossed 238 miles of ocean to the Pacific coast of mainland Mexico.  The trip took almost 38 hours, and we arrived just before midnight on December 24 in Mazatlán.  Our friends, wearing Christmas hats, welcomed us by catching our dock lines and handing us beers. 

Ocean Crossing at Night

For overnight passages, we keep a watch schedule, allowing us to take turns sleeping.  Rob prefers the evening and early-morning shifts, while I prefer the middle of the night.  The ocean is different at night.  It is both quieter and louder.  It is lonelier but also more familiar.  And, while usually peaceful, it always seems on the edge of releasing something terrifying.

This most recent night watch (December 23-24) was comfortable and sparkly.  The water formed gently rolling hills, and the breeze pushed us (with the help of the motor) at 7 knots per hour (a brisk pace for our boat). After Rob retired to the settee (couch) inside of the boat at 1 a.m., I listened to a book from the captain’s chair, keeping an eye on our radar screen for unexpected boats crossing our path, and occasionally standing up for a direct look around.  Those looks were futile, because the moon had set, making it nearly impossible to tell where the dark sky stopped and the black ocean began, let alone whether any pangas, longlines, or stray crab-traps lay in wait to interrupt our trip.  But that same darkness allowed more stars to shine.  The sky was filled with bright pinholes, and I watched several asteroids splash across the sky, while bright blue-white bioluminescence spiraled across the water as the boat stayed her course. 

Sounds are much louder at night and the thud of the water hitting the hull was distinct, like a bass drum in a marching band.  My tether’s carabiner clanked against its attachment when I shifted my weight.  And a pitch change in the motor’s drone caused an immediate Pavlovian reaction, as I recalled our engine struggles over the past year.  But the pitch change this trip was merely the alternator turning on to recharge the boat’s batteries.   

Night Visitors

I thought about our last overnight passage from the Baja coast to mainland Mexico (that time, to Puerto Peñasco).  On that trip, I started my first night watch at sunset.  During that first shift, our radar screen showed a large blob eight miles ahead of us.  The strange thing was the blob’s size—it was 30 times the size of our friends’ 38-foot boat, which the radar screen reassuringly showed three miles to our port (left).  No land masses existed in front of us for 60 miles.  I assumed the radar was faulty, possibly seeing a reflection from the water in the humid air, or a group of boats fishing close together.  Still, I redirected our course to avoid the blob.  Rob took over at the helm at 10 p.m.  His shift brought us past the mystery location.  The redirected course allowed our boat to pass half of a mile from the blob.  As the boat passed, a massive glow of bioluminescence quickly rose from the depths underneath the boat.  Rob braced for a collision with a whale, but nothing happened.  Then he saw 10 other large glowing lights under the water.  They all disappeared along with the blob on the radar screen.  The image that had maintained at a location for two hours completely disappeared from the screen as if it had never existed.

I took over for my second shift at 1 a.m.  Rob described the glowing encounters before retiring to bed.  I kept a pensive watch, half hoping I would see the large glows and maybe that they were giant Humboldt squid (which live in the area), and half hoping I would not.  Then, streaks of bioluminescence shot through the water, like underwater missiles around us.  Dolphins!  I recognized the sound of their splash as they leapt around the boat.  I whistled at them, and they responded with more leaps.  On the lonely nightshifts, the sight and sound of dolphins are a welcome comfort.  It feels as if they are looking out for us in the darkness, reassuring that we are going the right way and that no obstructions are in our path.  The dolphins disappeared, leaving a trail of green glow behind.  The air was heavy and sticky, it smelled warm almost like a campfire without the smoke.  Just as with the most recent passage’s night watch, Mapache and I floated along through space, with the stars above and bioluminescence below blending into one sparkling blackness.  

New Day, New Year

I always know that my night shift is nearing its end when I see the sky on the horizon softening.  It starts an hour before dawn, and it looks like an eraser is smoothing and lightening the ocean, spreading from a single point on the horizon to circle the entire thing, and leaving stars and the dark sky in only the center, directly above me.  The approaching sunrise burns orange into the horizon and the water changes from black to a silvery blue, like the body of a Bonita fish, which thrive in this Sea of Cortés.  I hum the song that, as a kid, my dad would wake me with—”Here Comes the Sun.”  Then, Rob walks up the companionway to take over, and I take a morning nap.

Now, after a week at a marina that is joined to a resort, where we have all the pool, buffet, and spa amenities, it seems appropriate that it is a new year.  We have had a relaxing (and luxurious) reset here.  And this is the starting point for the next portion of our adventure—exploring the Pacific coast of Central America, as we track toward the Panama Canal.  The trees, weather, animals, and food are already markedly different from our Baja experience.  It’s tropical here.  There are palm trees instead of cacti; humidity instead of the blow-dryer heat; slow green iguanas and soaring frigate birds instead of small sand-surfing lizards and stalking buzzards.  The streets and plazas are lined with colorful colonial buildings and filled with vendors and people in search of those vendors’ wares and food.  There is an energized pace here, as compared to the laid-back Baja vibes we enjoyed last year.  

We loved Baja, but we are ready to experience this new part of the world, and we will do our best to bring you along in the boat log.  Salud to 2022! 

Sarah at the helm

Our last look at Baja

A hitchhiker–this little squid jumped on board during my night watch. I’m glad he was not the Humboldt squid I was half-hoping to see.

A look around as we get closer to mainland Mexico

A bird taking a break on a turtle’s back in the middle of nowhere (sorry for the poor camera focus)

Land-ho! Mazatlán as we approach at night

We made it just in time to celebrate Christmas

And we did celebrate…with friends and food…

…and the appropriate hats and shirts!

A giant green iguana

The Mazatlán Cathedral

Rob strolling the streets of Mazatlán

Inside Mazatlán’s central market

The plazas are brightly decorated

El Faro lighthouse–the tallest natural lighthouse in the world

The view from the Observatorio 1873

Our marina-resort

Pool-side office at the marina-resort

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