Tres Amigos: A 1000 Mile Odyssey
Tres Amigos: A 1000 Mile Odyssey
October 3–9, 2004
Narrative by R.A. Greninger
An overcast and damp Sunday morning along the Oxnard coastline. Jack Williamson, proud new owner of “Tres Amigos”—American Tug 34' hull number 42—and his step-brother, Bob Greninger begin their day with a filling breakfast at the Channel Islands Marina restaurant and last-minute provisioning for the trip ahead. By 3 pm they embarked on our journey southward aboard the tug, a new line of leisure trawlers from Tomco Marine Group, Inc., a 34 footer with 13'3" beam. It was designed to handle comfortably in all types of seas and weather conditions. The big Cummins 370 diesel would easily push Tres Amigos along its course. With a 400-gallon fuel capacity, the boat would make the first leg, a 220 nautical mile run, with ample reserves. Other legs of the trip would require more precise fuel management. A late afternoon departure was agreed upon to insure arrival at their first port, Ensenada, Baja California, around 9 am the next morning. The afternoon sun broke through the clouds as Tres Amigos pulled away from the dock, cruised past the breakwater and headed out into the four-foot following seas. A SSE course was set and the 1000-mile odyssey was underway.
With an initial speed of 12 knots agreed upon and the first waypoint set to Catalina Island on the Raymarine Chartplotter, Jack and Bob quickly settled into their shipboard routine of skippering the vessel, Jack taking the first watch. Tres Amigos slid easily through the water and soon the craft moved past Port Hueneme and Point Mugu, heading towards the Los Angeles ship channels. Ship traffic was light as Tres Amigos kept to her course, that was until entering the Los Angeles and Long Beach shipping channels where there was a noticeable increase in freighter traffic. As Tres Amigos continued southward, the fading sun revealed the glowing lights of Avalon on Catalina Island. It seemed that hundreds of boats were bobbing gently in the Avalon harbor. The seas remained calm, the weather very mild and the craft easily cut through the minimal swells.
Jack and Bob agreed on three-hour watches, with Jack taking the first watch beginning at midnight. At about 1:30 am the peace of the night was disturbed by radiance of the first of several large cruise ships lit from stem to stern, passing to the starboard. The second waypoint was set to Ensenada, the first major port in Baja California and Tres Amigos’ first stop, and the wheel adjusted itself accordingly. Nighttime travel was pleasant, with Tres Amigos maintaining a steady 12 knots.
The overcast morning of yesterday was just a memory as dawn broke on a beautiful day. By 7:30 am the Port of Ensenada was quickly coming into view, and the decision was made to stop at Marina Coral for refueling before heading to the reserved slip at the Cruiseport Marina, two miles farther south. By 9 am Tres Amigos was tied at “B” Dock in Cruiseport, where the ever upbeat Jose Silva was waiting to greet them. Jose was a deck-hand, fisherman, and as they would learn an excellent cook. After checking in with the marina and port officials and requesting all the necessary documentation be completed for entry into Mexico, Bob, Jack, and Jose headed to the Hotel Cortez for a long awaited breakfast.
In spite of what you may be thinking Bob, Jack, and Jose are not the namesakes of the Tres Amigos, rather Jack’s three Chihuahuas Salsa, Dos, and Nacho hold that honor.
After idling away the afternoon among the various marine stores in search of the ever elusive Baja nautical charts, purchasing Mexican fishing licenses with the accompanying paperwork cha-cha (filling out forms, finding a bank to pay the fees, and then returning with authorization before being issued the proper licenses), picking up fresh food and drink (the alcohol was already onboard), a stop was made at a bookstore where a detailed map of the Baja peninsula was finally acquired. In the mean time the boat was cleaned by a local entrepreneur, Ysidro, who left it looking like new. That night was spent enjoying a meal at El Cid's, their steaks were among the best in Baja, and resting for the day ahead.
Tres Amigos was underway at 7 am, cleared Punta Banda and headed south along the Baja peninsula towards Cabo Colonel. The day was perfect: clear skies, warm sun, calm seas and a very light breeze. What a day to be on the sea! The morning's travel was uneventful, with time spent behind the helm, preparation for some preventative maintenance by reading the American Tug equipment, engine, and accessory manuals and snooping around the engine room.
In the early afternoon, Tres Amigos passed about 5 nm west of Cabo Colonel, with the bow cutting the water towards Isla San Martin, just north of Cabo San Quentin, the next waypoint. Tres Amigos was alone on this part of the sea... only one ship passed within view, another two were picked up on radar some 12 nm west of Tres Amigos’ course.
As the sun slipped below the horizon, Bob charted the next waypoint, Isla Cedros, approximately 100 nm South. Jack was at the helm, Bob enjoyed the salty air, and Jose began dinner. The galley on Tres Amigos is very well equipped, with the most modern conveniences, including microwave, range and oven, refrigerator, freezer, ice maker, double sink, and cutting board. Jack’s wife, Diane, outfitted the galley with a full complement of dishes, pots, pans, utensils, and silverware. Jose had little trouble working in the well layed-out galley. In their haste at Gigante, Bob and Hose simply forgot the most important of all condiments: ajo! The French say "a meal without wine is like a day without sunshine"; Mexicans (and Bob) swear that a meal without garlic suffers equally. Regardless, Jose worked magic with his first effort as chef. Dinner was completed and cleaned up around 8:30 pm, Bob retired to the stateroom while Jack and Jose watch The Silence of the Lambs on DVD.
The stateroom on Tres Amigos, along with the full bath, is snug but well laid-out. There is ample closet and drawer space, with all available space efficiently utilized. It seems that every nook and cranny has a door, behind which one can find plenty of storage room. The bed is a bit larger than a standard double bed, and quite comfortable. The portholes and operating hatch/skylight provide sufficient fresh air. The head, if one can call a full bath a head, has a good-sized shower, lavatory, and well-located commode. The sound-deadening panels and materials were appreciated, as were the courtesy lights, properly positioned in passageways and on stairs throughout the boat. The addition of a stateroom TV enhances the comfort of this “first class cabin.”
8:30 am and Tres Amigos entered the bay at Bahia Tortugas on Cedros Island, where the trio were quickly met by a panga, a Mexican outboard skiff, skippered by a local sailor who apparently had a very rough night. After informing us that his fuel dock was the only place to buy diesel, the trio noticed another panga with two young men holding a sign indicating diesel fuel at a reasonable, for this isolated location, price. As we headed for the competitors, "Señor Cruda" (Mr. Hangover) became incensed, shouting that their fuel was contaminated and could not be trusted. Regardless, we liked the looks of the floating refueling boat, and pulled alongside to begin the process. After inspecting the first few gallons for the alleged contamination without incident, the lengthy refueling began. Estimating two hours until full, Jack and Jose opted to venture into the nearby, isolated, dusty town while Bob remained onboard to assist the refueling. Jack and Jose returned within an hour. The refueling was uneventful, the weather was dead calm, so it was decided to simply allow Tres Amigos to drift in the open bay. After a short time of rest it was decided to get under way, as the next leg was a long, open ocean jaunt of approximately 24 hours.
A southerly course was plotted, which would take Tres Amigos past Punta San Pablo, Punta Abreojos, and on south toward Bahia Magdalena (Mag Bay) some 250 nm distant. In an effort to conserve fuel, and with a 400 plus nm run to Cabo San Lucas ahead, Jack determined that an average speed of 8 kph would allow the trio to make their destination with fuel to spare. With the course and throttle set, Tres Amigos cleared Cabo Tortolo, pointed south through calm seas, a light breeze and a beautiful, sunny afternoon... another glorious day on the Pacific.
Bob was “baggin’ some rays” when Jose spotted a pod of dolphins off the port side. There were about 40 dolphins in the group and they made a straight-line run towards Tres Amigos. They criss-crossed the bow, did some wake-surfing, some made leaping twists out of the water and quickly, as they had arrived, all were gone.
Through the clear gentle night Tres Amigos maintained her southerly course, as the eastern sky grew brighter with the gradual rise of the moon. The orange hue of the moon seemed to track along Tres Amigos’ course, causing a eerily beautiful phosphorescent glow in the boat's wake. What a great night!
Jack steered Tres Amigos southwest, and then, around 9 am, northeast past Punta Hughes, into Bahia Santa Maria. This time with a slight southerly breeze it was decided to drop anchor, so Jose released the keeper, stepped on the foot switch and let the anchor go. The next leg would come some 200 nm with an anticipated arrival time in Cabo around 8:30 am the next morning. At about 11 am it was anchor aweigh; the blue tug eased out of the bay, past Puerto Magdalena, on a SSE course.
Jose had worked on a number of fishing boats in the La Paz area, and while his culinary prowesses exceed his fishing experience, he was an apt fisherman. Listening to short-wave broadcasts of a number of fishing boats it was determined the boat was in the area of a fairly good dorado run. Since Tres Amigos was already traveling at a good dorado trolling speed, the trio decided to wet their lines. Jose rigged two poles with a lure he guaranteed would catch the blue-green and gold, tasty Mexican fish.
Jack and Bob were in the wheelhouse when the whine of the starboard reel was heard. Jack cut the engine's speed to idle, and Jose called for him to take the rod. As Jack fought the fish, a streak of gold and flash of green about thirty yards out told all it was indeed a dorado, but not a large one. The fight with the estimated 15 pound fish was quickly over, as Jack brought the dorado over the swim step and Jose hauled it into the boat through the convenient transom gate. A few well-placed smacks with a hammer ended the event, and Jose cleaned and gutted the prize.
After several small strikes and throwaway fish, something big hit a lure. Jack fought with the fish for over half an hour, as the sun began fading over the open water, when a loud snap pierced the air followed by Jack's curt reply "Damnit!" According to Jack the fish was in the 45 to 50 pound range and gave him one hell of a fight. Disappointed the three repaired to the salon to toast the “winner”; in this case a very lucky fish.
As they prepared for the evening meal there occurred an impediment, the generator kept shutting down, and with no electricity no cook top element for cooking. A quick check of the error message on the generator panel said there was a water flow problem. A quicker check of the equipment manuals suggested a sea-strainer was clogged or there could be a impeller problem. It was decided to totally such down the generator until it could be checked in Cabo.
Short-wave broadcasts had begun arriving the night prior so the morning was spent preparing Tres Amigos for refueling. The tug moved toward the Cabo San Lucas waypoint, now only a bit more than an hour to the North of Cabosouth. As they neared Cabo, Jack took Tres Amigos closer to shore. All agreed the development north of Cabo was amazing; lots of new condominiums and hotels on the beach and private homes perched on the hillsides. At 8:30 am they passed by Los Arcos and headed for Marina Palmira to refuel. The harbor was quite busy from the tourists departing the two large cruise ships headed to the dockside restaurants and shopping mall.
Jack eased Tres Amigos alongside the fuel dock, and the trio headed to the marina office. While there they learned that the Mexican entry clearance papers and tourist visas had not been completed at the Cruiseport Marina in Ensenada; ah, yes, this is Mexico. With the paperwork complete Jack made arrangements for an overnight slip in the marina and a marine electrician was contacted to look over the generator. By 9 am it was already 90 degrees with humidity to match. Tres Amigos only took 192 gallons of diesel; Jack’s fuel management scheme worked well on this long leg of the journey.
When Pablo, the electrician, arrived it must have been 140 degrees in the engine compartment. Following the service manual, Pablo checked for the source of the problem, a damaged impeller. Fortunately, Jack had brought a number of replacement parts, including two new generator impellers. With impeller replaced, the generator started and hummed, bring to life the much-needed air conditioning units. Charge for the repair was a gallon and a half of Gatorade and $65; what a relief to have the air conditioning back on.
After cleaning up and having a lobster dinner in town, the trio decided to make another run at bagging that dorado that got away. According to the radio, another good dorado run was between San Jose Del Cabo and La Paz. After some much needed sleep Tres Amigos departed the marina at 3 am for the town of San Jose Del Cabo, approximately two hours and 25 nm away.
Keeping to a steady 8 kph, Tres Amigos easily flattened the 3 foot swells off the tip of Baja California. Shortly before 5 am, Jack saw the twinkling lights of San Jose Del Cabo on the northeastern horizon. Shortly after passing the lighthouse the sun broke the horizon and started climbing the eastern sky. Earlier Tres Amigos had passed the unseen boundary denoting the change from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of California.
Shortly after 8 am lines were dropped as the trio had thoughts of hook-ups shared by the pescadores. It did not take long. Almost immediately and simultaneously both poles bent and the reels whined. Bob and Jose took to the poles. Bob knew that his was too light for a decent fish, which was quickly proven by the silvery glimmer of a needlefish as it broke the surface 25 yards off the stern. Jose's luck was no better. This unfortunate set of circumstances continued for the better part of an hour: hook up, reel in, return junk fish to the sea. Frustration.
The decision was made to forget this day's fishing and head north to Tres Amigos’ ultimate destination, Marina Palmira in La Paz. With gear stowed, Jack eased the throttle forward. Tres Amigos' bow rose slightly, her wake broadened as Jack ran the speed up to 12 kph, about 2500 rpm. By now the blue tug was about 25 miles from the southern tip of Isla Cerralvo, with the marina at La Paz another 30 miles from there. Jack pushed the throttle, taking Tres Amigos' rpm to 2800 and a speed of 16 kph, ultimately to 3200 rpm and a top speed of 18 knots. He stayed at this speed for five minutes, before backing off to a running speed of 15 kph. In fact, a similar routine took place each day, simply to vary the engine speed somewhat over long runs.
Once again, Jose hollered “dolphins,” and sure enough another pod headed to Tres Amigos to play in her wake. The dolphins playfully tracked the boat, doing zig-zags, spins out of the water, disappearing then resurfacing in ballet-like leaps. After about 10 minutes, the dolphins splashed away, quickly moving out of sight.
A calm sea and light breeze complemented the sunny day, in fact, the trip had been blessed with extraordinary weather. Daytime was hot this far south, but not uncomfortable while underway. Soon, Punta Coyote came into view and the trio knew they were close to the final course changes, taking them through Canal de San Lorenzo, just south of Isla Espirito Santu, into the Bay of La Paz, and to Marina Palmira. With the Pemex storage facility in sight, Bob and Jose made the boat ready for arrival at the marina. With gear stowed, bumpers dropped, and lines readied for the cleats at the slip, Jack radioed the marina office to announce Tres Amigos’ approach. The slip assigned turned out to be two boats down from another boat Jack co-owns with Vick a friend from Simi Valley, CA.
As Tres Amigos neared the dock, Vick and his wife Ava called out to “smile for the camera.” Vick’s ever-present camcorder recorded the end of the Tres Amigos’ odyssey. Jack used the bow thruster to back into the slip and the dock workers secured the lines to the cleats. Jack cut the Cummins diesel; the voyage was over.
In seven days, Tres Amigos traveled some 1000 miles, from Channel Islands Marina in Oxnard, CA to Marina Palmira in La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico. The engine-hour meter registered 101 hours since the start of the trip. Bob and Jack congratulated each other, and thanked Jose and the three stepped through the transom gate and off the boat.
American Tug 34' hull number 42 is a remarkable vessel. The hull is designed for smooth going, easily leveling seas for comfortable travel. The big Cummins 370 diesel provided ample power, and the convenience of engine room access and setup for simplified maintenance. The tug's layout, inside and out was one of convenience and comfort and the boat’s appointments were of high quality and exceptionally functional. Throughout the trip, the crew felt comfortable, safe and secure on the sturdy tug, even a little pampered.
At the end of the trip, at a celebratory dinner, Jack surprised Jose by offering him a permanent position as Maintenance Supervisor and Mate of Tres Amigos. Needless to say, Jose quickly agreed to take on his new responsibilities, and today oversees the maintenance and cleaning of the boat.
Jack and wife Diane will spend Christmas on Tres Amigos, probably taking friends north, in the Sea of Cortez, to fish. In early spring Jack, Bob, and Jose plan another lengthy voyage traveling from La Paz to the Mexican Riviera, with stops at Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, and Barre de Navidad. With the comfort, convenience and sturdiness of Tres Amigos they expect another carefree trip.