Leaving La Cruz (for REAL This Time)

Posted:  August 9, 2023
👁 2925   11

The Final Push

Our Perkins 4.108 after the rebuild

The HPFP was our ticket out of La Cruz

Chris isn’t new when it comes to working on engines. After spending his childhood working alongside his late father in the garage, and building a 1963 MGB from the frame up in his pre-teen years; but despite doing everything by the book, our newly rebuilt Perkins 4.108 just wasn’t firing. As if that wasn’t frustrating enough, we didn’t expect the culprit to be the brand new high pressure fuel pump (HPFP) that Chris had just flown to California to retrieve but alas… it was.

There it was; our smoking gun. So wtf!? Well, apparently the reputable company we bought it from doesn’t bench test their products before sending them, let alone makes sure they are sending the right piece for your engine because after more investigating we discovered that the actual unit they sent was wrong as well. We were back at square one with two useless pumps, so we decided to take the gamble and get our first pump rebuilt, again, in Mexico. 

Thankfully we were turned on to a mechanic in Puerto Vallarta by Richard aboard SV Sourdough. After a taxi ride into the depths of PV we met with Maneul, the mechanic, who assured us that he could rebuild our old pump and it would be “no problema.” We even called Karen to translate and make sure we weren’t missing anything. Manuel looked at us with a mix of tenderness and pity in his eyes as he laughed and assured us once more that it was “no problema” before we left his shop and the remnants of our pump behind. 

When we had the pump rebuilt in California it took a month, and two tries to get it back actually finished, but here in Banderas Bay Manuel had the pump back to us on Monday, hand delivered to us by his friend. In the cockpit, Chris and I carefully unwrapped the fuel pump that was inside a plastic bag covered in glitter – pixie dust, I told Chris. Because sometimes all you need is a little faith, trust and pixie dust. With the glitter dusted off Chris dashed inside to install the engine’s missing piece then we went through the motions of firing her up again. 

Perkins High Pressure Fuel Pump

Pesky pump…

“Ready!” Chris yelled from down below, watching carefully over his work as I sat in the cockpit with the ignition key turned over, my thumb cramping on the “start” button as I held it down. Thankfully, unlike our prior 24 times, the engine fired up within seconds and we heard her low and steady rumble once again. After a few happy yells, we listened a bit more intently. She wasn’t perfect yet, with a slight knocking sound due to the timing being off, but after a day of adjustments we were ready to go… which meant our time in La Cruz was coming to a poetic end. “Summer camp” was over and all of our friends went home besides our “camp councilors,” Max, Karen, the PV Sailing crew and a few other notable members of the La Cruz community. We didn’t know who we would see around the “camp fire” next season, but we looked forward to making more memories in this special place soon. 

The Last Supper

If you walked outside it felt like wearing a wet blanket as the humidity was on the rise, only becoming bearable in the later hours of the day. After cleaning up the boat (and ourselves) Chris and I made our way over to Max and Karen’s where we would rendezvous for dinner. But first, we needed to cool down in their AC and get some Baby Carlos cuddles in. Our last supper was at Ala Braza – one of the last places we had yet to dine at and it was truly delicious. Chris ordered the biggest thing he could (a full sized cheeseburger, 12 wings, fries and grilled pineapple) which made the waitress question his choice. “?Para dos?” She asked looking to the rest of us as if we would assure her that we had any help in the matter. Chris smiled, pointed to himself and said “No, todo para mi” which gave her a good, skeptical laugh as she walked off to input our orders. Chris didn’t leave a single fry behind.

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“You guys just feel like La Cruzians, like you belong here” our friend Curtis said. As a real estate agent and bartender he has seen all walks of life roll through town, so his compliment in regards to belonging definitely resonated within us. As we sat around Max and Karens new apartment table (aka Lusty on Land) digesting our dinners in the cool AC, we played Farkle and let the sound of dice rattling fill the solumn space created by the announcement that we would be leaving in the morning. 

We had been through this before; leaving La Cruz behind in an attempt to sail north, but that was before the engine failed. Before we celebrated Max’s birthday and celebrated the town that became our homeport away from homeport. We spent a total of three wonderful months in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, enjoying all it had to offer and making friends and memories along the way. People came and went, but we stayed, watching the town transform from peak busy season and party central to a quiet fishing village with seldom a gringo in sight. The seasons were changing, and with hurricane season on our heels we were at peace with our plan to leave. Afterall, you can’t come back unless you leave, and I am sure our La Cruz “home coming” in 2024 will be spectacular. 

We hugged our friends good night and farewell, then walked down the cobblestone streets under the veil of darkness with the sound of chickens clucking and dogs barking. Tears slowly rolled down my face as we walked up to SV Lusty, that would be sailing off with a new family as Max and Karen focus on their land based business for a bit, with the plans of buying a catamaran in the Med later. Winglet waited for us besides Lusty in the space we jokingly called the parking lot. As we pulled away I felt pieces of my heart trail behind us; crumbs created by the love I have for the place and people of La Cruz. We would be back, but first we had to create some more stories to share. This little town we had come to know like the back of our hands would be sorely missed, but we were ready for the Sea of Cortez

Into the Sea

It was 6:15 in the morning on April 7th, 2023 and Chris had just finished checking the oil for the ninth time. The sky was overcast, but the sun was bright, welcoming us into the new day. There were only seven boats left around us in the anchorage, which was a huge difference from the 70 we had anchored with when we first arrived back in February. I wondered how many we would cross paths with in the Sea of Cortez… assuming we actually would make it there this time. Our course was set for Isla San Francisco, a small island beneath Isla San Jose 383 nautical miles northwest of Banderas Bay. With steady winds and a functioning engine keeping us at a speed of 5 knots we could anticipate making landfall approximately three days later. 

Chris Neely, SV Avocet

Sea of Cortez Bound

“You sound like Jay” Chris said as he handed me my tea. It was true, whatever demon tree decided to bloom was attacking me with its pollen, rendering me as useless as Jay around sweet Cleocat. Sneeze after sneeze I tried to keep my eyes open, but they continued to swell so, at the advice of Chris, I finally took some allergy meds and slept it off. I took watch in the afternoon, but after dinner experienced another flare up so Chris sent me to our stateroom where Cleo kept the bed warm. I slept hard until my watch at 0:00. 

Avocet was sailing strong with a bone in her teeth, on a course between 30 and 50 degrees. The glow of the bioluminescence scattered across the water as Avocet sliced into the sea. It was noticeably colder, and wetter, feeling reminiscent of coastal California. In fact, I went below deck to pull on extra layers including my ugg boots that hadn’t seen the outdoors since we left Catalina Island. Cleo snuggled under my blanket, purring as I gazed up at the stars listening to The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouack – just soaking it all in. 

Individually wrapped saltines are a b!tch. We had meant to buy the normal ones in the long sleeves but accidentally bought a box of 200 envuelto individualmente crackers. A big blow to our low-waste egos, but hey, no one is perfect and we all make mistakes so I continued to munch on my eco-nightmare crackers while stuffing the wrappers in my jacket pockets. It was almost 4:00 am and my first night watch of the passage would be over. It was weird, to be back out on the ocean again but I welcomed the strangeness with open arms as the full moon lit our way and the occasional whale breached in the distance. It felt good to be back. We had jumped back into our old timezone, and lost an hour because of it. Meaning although the clock said 3:00, it was most definitely 4:00 and I was due for some rest. I woke Chris up, explaining the aforementioned, and he nodded in understanding before pulling his jacket on and crawling up the steps. Cleo followed me, curling up in bed with the biggest purrs I have ever heard.

Day Two

The morning light cascaded through our stateroom portlight, prying my eyes open to witness the birth of a new day. Chris was bundled up in the cockpit, right where I left him, with his signed copy of Bull Canyon by Lin Pardey in his hands. One of her best works, I must add. He closed the book softly with his hands that adorned the wool gloves gifted to him by our friend Tom in Ventura, a staple of his night watch attire, then motioned for me to come and sit by him. 

Days at sea sort of blend together and when I think back on them I feel like they are just placeholders for the excitement that always seems to happen at night. However, I believe it was on day two that we were joined by a flock of Brown Footed Boobies looking to hitch a ride on the bow. Sea birds were thought to carry the souls of dead sailors, so we welcomed the funny looking birds aboard with the understanding that if they pooped on our bow they would be asked to leave. We wondered what souls chose to sail with us that day… Chris’s dad? Previous owner? Who was the third? On Isla Isabel, we learned that boobies are very territorial birds… but that seemed to change when they became our stowaways. Chris was able to get up close and personal with our new feathered friends for a photo opportunity. 

Somewhere around 100 miles into our journey the wind absolutely died, so we prayed to Poseidon and turned the engine on. We had a new appreciation for her low rumble that has now become music to our ears. The sound of perseverance, determination, and tenacity. That evening we were treated to the most spectacular sunset with dolphins escorting us into the Sea. I sat on the bow and watched them scratch their backs against the boat before darting off in various directions. It was a Kodak moment for sure, and a memory we will cherish forever.

The sun melted into the night sky and I volunteered for the first watch, excited to finish my audiobook and watch the moon rise. Chris didn’t protest the offer so quickly scurried off to bed with Cleo close behind him. Truth be told I was a bit offended that she didn’t choose me like she usually did, but moments later her little yellow eyes popped up in the companionway and she carefully made her way over to my lap. “I thought so” I said as I scratched under her chin. She really is the best cat. 

Star gazing; not bad for iPhone

Boots of Spanish leather by Bob Dylan is my Nightwatch theme song. I listened to it on repeat when we left Ventura in September of 2022 and it always seems to find its way back to me when I am feeling big emotions and longing for the friends I have made along the way. For a moment, in between songs, I thought about being productive and writing or editing a video but then decided it was the perfect time to practice doing *nothing* at the advice of our dear friend Quincey who leant me a book titled “How to do Nothing”. I have yet to read more than a chapter, so I suppose I am succeeding at the sentiment of “nothing” to some avail. 

A breeze drifted across my face, strong enough to unfurl the headsail and turn the engine off. As the wind built, so did the swell (or, chop) and our smooth sailing became a bash as Avocet would dig her bow into the 6’ walls of water, spraying the hard dodger. The time was 10 ‘til 4:00 so I decided to go below deck and get a head start on my bedtime routine. I left the helm for ONE minute to brush my teeth and the wind lightened enough to flog the sails, simultaneously waking Chris up. It was his turn for watch anyway, so he turned the engine on and I was lulled to sleep by the rumble of the Perkins 4.108. 

Day Three – Hola, Isla San Francisco!

You can tell by the layers that the Sea of Cortez was much colder than mainland...

You can tell by the layers that the Sea of Cortez was much colder than mainland…

My phone screen was bright in my sleepy eyes, but the time showed 7:00 am – Chris let me sleep in. My face was still slightly congested but I was hoping that it would resolve itself in the following hours as I chugged the Nalgene water bottle that Cleo was curled up around and popped another allergy pill. I joined Chris in the cockpit to see the tiniest spit of land off our bow – we were approximately 2 hours away. As the little island got bigger with every nautical mile gained our sense of accomplishment grew. Not only had we officially crossed from Mainland into the Western Sea of Cortez, but we did it with an engine we just rebuilt partially on the hook with limited resources. It was a great test for our engine, considering the winds were either right on our nose or non-existent, and she performed wonderfully, restoring our confidence in the ol’ gal.

As we approached the island we reviewed the incoming weather and decided to anchor on the East end, which seemed a bit more quiet in comparison to the crescent shaped west side that hosted numerous rowdy charter yachts. With our hook down in the clearest water we have ever seen, we settled in and popped open a bottle of champagne to celebrate everything leading up to that moment. Good friends, the highs and lows of boat life, and the opportunities for adventure our life afloat brought us. Isla San Francisco would be home for the next two days, but we managed to squeeze a lot out of our time there including some daredevil-action-sports-stuff that took place on the islands ridge trail… but that is a story for the next post. 

Isla San Francisco

Isla San Francisco

Fair Winds, 

Marissa (and Chris and Cleo)

I would like to dedicate this post to the community of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. Without your support during our lowest of lows we would have never made it. We are eternally grateful! If you would like to help give back to the La Cruz cruising community, please consider donating to our friends at PV Sailing (Cruisers Comfort)  who provide resources for wayward sailors like us! PayPal: @pvsailing


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  1. Steve

    Rebuilding a Perkins at anchor is next level impressive. I have done my share Perkins work but you two are amazing.

    Cheers, Steve

  2. Ed Lecco

    Great to hear you were able to get the engine up and running and depart La Cruz. Chris seems like quite the boat guy, a true jack of all trades :-). What a great adventure the two of you are embarked on. My boat, Voyager, is sitting in Marina Village. Reading your blog has me excited to return in November where Liz and I will then make our way slowly South.

    • SV Avocet

      Thank you so much for reading, Ed! It really has been quite the adventure. Chris is definitely handy and I am eternally grateful to have him in my life.

  3. Ken

    Chris’s Mom taught him well… Eat everything on your plate. But I can’t believe that was all. Grilled pineapple isn’t dessert….

  4. Steve Hunter

    Hope you folks are safe and south of the hurricane. I have been consulting with Mike Owen aboard Argo which lies in Santa Rosalia. He is charging across the Gulf to San Carlos. Leaving at 4 AM Friday 8/18. Has a slip booked.
    Best to you.

    • SV Avocet

      We know Mike! We are safe, Avocet has been in Penasco since June.


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