Topolabambo, it must be a great place to have such a great name. It just rolls around on your tongue and tumbles over the lips. But it would be a quite a journey to Topo from Maz land. Dois's Aunt Katie used to say “it ain't an adventure until you've made a couple of U-turns”. Under that definition, we have had a great adventure.
We set off from Mazatlan on the Fourth of July, under grey skies and threatening thunder clouds. “We may get our fire works from God today, Dois” I joked. I'm not sure he saw the humor in sailing into a storm. With a forecast of light winds in the afternoon and sunny skies, Dois replied “it wasn't forecast, so it will probably hail”. He was close; we had nasty squalls chasing us all day and night. But the lightening didn't get us (score one for Ashika) and the rain was fairly moderate. The dawn brought a promise of that forecasted sun.
Our plans to skinny on over to La Paz have disinatgrated with the persistant threat of storms and hurricanes. This would be the first in a line of U-turns. It was widely surmised that this would likely be an El Nino year and that would increase the bad weather along the Pacific coast. Hell, we had just avoided the 5th named storm this season and it look likes 6 and 7 are working it up and it was only the beginning of July. One month in to the season and we were pretty sick of rain, not to mention the fear based tension of named hurricanes. Instead of La Paz, we decided to head north, straight up the mainland and get the boat to Guaymas as soon as the weather windows would permit. We had a spot reserved in the dirt for Ashika and we were looking forward to rubbing some of the aches out of the old girl from her Central American adventure.
Our first stop was Altata. We had it on good authority (our dear friend George on Albion), that we could make the opening into the estuary and we had his waypoints loaded into the iPad. It was an estuary and we expected waves on either side of the entrance channel, but seeing the waves from behind is a very difficult way to judge them. As Dois inched us ever closer to the first waypoint we thought we could see large waves across the entrance. “Lauri, I'm calling an audible” said the Captain. We were traveling in the company of one of our Panama buddy boats, Windsong with Andrew and Anne. We radio'd them and admitted our chicken jibe. Andrew also went to Albion's waypoint just as a panga fisherman was coming out. “You don't want to do steep 2 meter (7') waves in that shallow entrance” the fisherman called out to Andrew. “Not today” said Andrew. It was our second U-turn.
We were really tired from the overnight passage, but a new plan was needed. We all voted to travel overnight to Topolambo. Topo is an estuary entrance as well, with waves on either side too, but large ships use this port so we were confidant that the channel would be fine. Wouldn't you know that an unfavorable forecast, one that would send 15 to 20 knot north winds at us and bounce us around like the worlds largest hobby horse, would be a forecast that was spot on?
Dois and I tried to take turns cat napping during the day, but the winds started picking up and there wasn't a comfortable place on Ashika. Pretty soon we had a large south swell rolling us from rail to rail to add to our hobby horse act. Around 10 pm I was headed for a bunk when Windsong called to tell us they had come uncomfortably close to a large shrimp boat. That's when we started seeing them pop up around us, a large aggressive netting operation. Dois got us around about a dozen of them and I laid down on the settee for a quick nap. I woke up at midnight and glanced over at the radar screen. I figured the wind must have picked up again because there were wind wave “ghosts” all over the screen. But that was not the case, as I climbed the stairs and poked my head through the companion way, I couldn't believe my eyes. There were shrimpers everywhere; each lit up bright as day. Miles of them and Dois was weaving Ashika through them like a pinball wizard.
The wind was indeed still howling and yet I could hear the grinding of the huge winches as they dragged in their nets and see the nets releasing the catch into the waiting holds. Another of the shrimpers started flashing a light at us, obviously wanting Ashika to go another direction. But we were going in so many directions, making u-turns and circles and could find no way out of this huge field of bottom scrappers. I've never seen Dois so angry. He grabbed his 1500 watt personal search light, pointed it at them and the first trigger click turned on the work light, blinding himself. FLASH FLASH FLASH “Damn them” he said, “where the hell am I supposed to go?” FLASH FLASH FLASH... He was in the middle of a flashlight war. Another shrimper pulled out of the group and took off across our bow, just missing our bowsprit. FLASH FLASH FLASH... At one point I yelled at him to go around this shrimper that was flashing his light furiously at us, FLASH LASH FLASH. “Dois, you need to turn around” but first he was going to make that fisherman really nervous. He got really close and; FLASH FLASH FLASH... “got him” he said. About 3 am, after Dois had gotten us through the obnoxious crowd, he went down for a nap. As I sat there in the cockpit, feeling thankful we were in the clear, I suddenly got a feeling I wasn't alone. I looked back FLASH FLASH FLASH... there was the first of a very long line of shrimp boats, coming home from work headed for Topolambo. I think they thought I would move out of their way. They were mistaken, I grabbed Dois' discarded weapon and fired; FLASH FLASH FLASH. A long string of boats devided up, some taking my port side and others my starboard. I had no idea where Windsong might be in this crowd, and worried I might run into him. As I watched the first of 2 dozen boats go by, I spotted Windsong, just a mile off our bow. With all of those u-turns, both boats ended up in virtually the same spot. Amazing.
Dois took over again at about 5am and took us the rest of the way to Topolambo. There was still a fierce wind blowing and a large south swell. Andrew had been here before and elected to “show us the way” through the channel. We could only see the backs of large swell lining the coast with frothy spray. We gladly threw Andrew under the bus, I mean let Andrew lead the way through. The channel was long, about 12 miles to get to the anchorage, but almost 7 miles through breaking waves lined on both sides. The swell was still enough to roll us around, but the breakers stayed just outside the buoys. Windsong started suffering a fuel problem in mid-channel, but Andrew limped her all the way in, only to discover the high winds had caused a very large diesel consumption and they were simply out of gas.
We made it safely into Topolambo as the main channel was well marked and safe in the large swell and windy conditions. The channel to the marina and anchorage is marked, but I wouldn't want to try and find it at night. We've made a lot of u-turns on this journey and I think Katie would be proud.
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