Topolobampo to Pueblo Mágico Álamos

March 2023

We had a great sail from the islands off Puerto Escondido, Baja, to Topolobampo, Mexico. This crossing was bittersweet as we bid goodbye to our dear friends Bruce and Gina on Dreamcatcher. Over twenty years ago we met while both sailboats circumnavigated. We had a wonderful month cruising north in the Sea of Cortes with Bruce and Gina. Now it was time to head to the mainland of Mexico.

Bruce and Gina from S/V Dreamcatcher
Sunset on our crossing to Topolobampo

Sailing into the entrance of Topolobampo was intimidating. Surf was on both sides. Fortunately with very well marked waypoints and buoys it was fine.

Crossing into Topolobampo’s channel
The colourful town of Topolobampo

The town of Topolobampo looks like the Easter Bunny came through and painted it. It sits on a hill overlooking the marina. The town’s fishing fleet is well-matched.

We had googled a recommended restaurant Don Gato so we set off to the town to find it. Google Maps took us to the left around and to the top of the town hill. When our destination appeared there was no restaurant. We checked our directions and we had followed them correctly. An hour and a half later we arrived at the waterfront Malecon and there was our restaurant. What we didn’t realize was had we gone right instead of left on our walk, the restaurant would have been 15 minutes away! Well we got a tour of the town and some exercise so all was good. The food at Don Gato was delicious.

We received a warm welcome to Topolobampo marina. The marina is located north of Mazatlan and makes a great stop for boats transiting the area. Nelson, the Marina Manager went out of his way to ensure we had everything we needed and even arranged our ride to pick up our rental car. Located next to the marina is a concrete fuel dock. It might be tenable at high tide. We chose to jerry jug the fuel. Laundry can also be sent out.

Once in the Topolobampo Marina Dave arranged to pick up our rental car from the Los Mochis airport – a 15 minute drive from Topolobambo. The Topolobampo marina manager, Nelson, had one of his employees drive us there. At the airport rental car booth there was a flourish of Spanish which Dave and I desperately tried to understand. The rental agency person looked at our faces and realized we didn’t understand anything she said. She came out of her booth and took us outside to meet two other employees. We got into the car –I thought it was our rental. It was dirty, dented and old! Well, if it is mechanically sound I thought – that’s what matters. Turned out this wasn’t our rental (phew) it was how we were getting to our car! It soon became apparent we had to pick up the car from the heart of Los Mochis – a 40 min drive away (even though we booked it to pick up at the airport). Once at the other rental location we were motioned to sit down. Again questioning faces. Preguntas? Questions? They wanted to wash our car before we took it.

Two hours after arriving at the airport we were on the road- in a beautiful Nissan red rental car! It was 3 hours to Alamos on a good highway. We went through 3 military check points. A little intimidating with the well-armed military folks. Each time we rolled down our window and Dave would start with “lo siento, no hablo espanol” (I’m sorry I don’t speak Spanish), and they waved us on. US has warnings in these areas re the cartel but we felt safe. People said travel during the day and all will be ok. Policia or military appeared to be searching only the semi trucks pulled over at each stop. By the last checkpoint when Dave rolled down his window and the policia saw we were gringos, they just waved us past! The rest of the drive was uneventful. Along the way there were vendors hawking their wares as well as two toll booths. When we couldn’t understand how much to pay the toll booth woman held up a 100 peso bill with a smile.

We stopped at a restaurant in the city of Navajo (sp?) for lunch and then drove onto the Pueblo Magical Alamos- meaning magical town. It truly was magical, sitting in a valley with houses all adjoined, cobblestone narrow roads, and white concrete and brick Spanish style casas.

We met Kelley 24 years earlier in San Diego on our first sailing trip. I had just hung up from an emotional call with my Dadprior to leaving Mexico for the South pacific passage to the Marquesa Islands. It was going to be a big passage of 3000 miles and I truly thought we might die on the trip. Kelley was there and when I shared my fears,edhe hugged me and said, “Mary the ocean is safe. More people die every day on the highways.” Somehow this did comfort me and to this day I still remember his hug and words of assurance.

Approaching The Colonial, the hotel our friends owned, Kelley and Janet were standing outside. It seemed like no time had gone by as we embraced our friend Kelley and his wife Janet.

Kelley and Janet

Entering their home, I felt like Cinderella. A large open courtyard filled with huge plants, flowers, antiques and paintings is surrounded by 10 hotel rooms, each with their own bathroom. Beautiful Mexican tiles lined the bathrooms. The rooms had fireplaces and sitting areas. Sadly, it was too hot for a fire!

At the one end of the courtyard a spiral staircase led up to a two-level terrace where you could look over all the town rooftops and hills. Kelley designed and built the spiral staircase – a true work of art.

Looking up at the top of the staircase
A rooftop dinner was a delight, with a gorgeous view of Alamos

At the other end was a grand ballroom complete with an 1865 square grand piano. The ceilings were over 20’ high with matching arched windows along one side that opened to a huge coffee roaster – they sell their coffee. Kelley is an expert at making cappuccinos

The ballroom with a 1865 Hallet Davis & Co. square piano
made in Boston

Our friends had their own separate suite next to an indoor pool and commercial kitchen. Everywhere I looked were beautiful artifacts and Spanish architecture. I learned that the hotel had 15 bathrooms, 10 rental rooms and 10 fireplaces (all wood burning but one). Janet had first bought the mansion when it was in ruins.With Kelley, extensive renovations were done to bring it to the magnificent place it is today.

Courtyard Fountain
The Main Entrance

We did a lot of reminiscing on this trip about our past sailing days. It was truly a special visit seeing Kelley after so many years and meeting Janet, who we instantly loved.

After a quick 2 day visit we drove back to Los Mochis Airport to return the car. Or so we thought! There was no one at the Alamo rental agency. We tried calling the number on the business card we were given, with no luck. We waited 3.5 hours. We noticed there were more staff than passengers at the airport. Finally, we talked to someone from another car agency who phoned Alamo. Thirty minutes later they arrived. The agent felt bad because she didn’t start until 3 pm but no one told us and the car had to be returned at 10 a.m. At least she drove us back to the boat. Mexican time

Leaving Topolobampo we chose to anchor just inside the entrance up a side channel. This gave us a good jump off for an early start the next day for the long run down to Puerto Vallarta.


Life Through the Eyes of our Crew- California to Mexico

Learning and development professionals say that you really know and understand something when you can teach it to others. I was reminded of this when our dear friends Pam and Rick joined us for the trip from San Diego to Mexico. They were both new to sailing, and we wanted them to have an enjoyable experience.

It was both Dave’s and my job to introduce our friends to the world of sailing and all Synchronicity’s ins and outs. I didn’t realize the benefits of teaching our friends the ropes on Synchronicity.

Questioning my knowledge and ability sailing is something I do regularly. I knew I could show our friends some basics. For instance I always feel like I have it together when it comes to provisioning (that’s figuring out what food to buy and prepare for our trip). Yet I think I lack in the sailing category and all things to do with running the boat.

Pam on the 3:00 a.m. night watch
Rick on a day watch

What I learned this leg is that I really do know more about Synchronicity and all her systems, quirks and idiosyncrasies than I give myself credit for. Teaching Rick and Pam how to use the stove and head, what the different boat names are – like the galley for the kitchen (why is that?), sheets not ropes, what to be aware of on the 3 hour watches when underway, anchoring and alot more. It was definitely a boost to my confidence showing our friends what our life was like sailing. My inner saboteurs once again were quieted as I taught our friends each new thing.

Seeing Pam and Rick experience their firsts sailing, reinforced how special this lifestyle is. Sun rises and sun sets reignited my passion for nature’s incredible beauty.

Sunset in San Carlos, Baja, Mexico
Moon rise on passage between Isla Cedros and Magdalena Bay

Watching the antics of pelicans made me laugh. Seeing the stray dogs in the Mexican streets brought back memories from 23 years ago when Jess wanted to bring every stray back to the boat.

Stray pup
Pelicans at Isla Cedros

Through the eyes of our friends we learned the humour of the sailing life. Pam would crawl into the aft cabin remarking the bunk was like a one person sleeping bag for two! She added she felt like she was a butterfly going into its cocoon. After struggling with seasickness in rough conditions Pam remarked, “I left my stomach in San Diego.” Pam added that the best of sailing was hitting 9.2 kts under a full moon with flat seas. And the worst of sailing? Leaving San Diego harbour and feeling like you were being tossed around in a washing machine.

Just before we hit 9.2 kts

Watching Pam and Rick share in experiencing first hand our lifestyle makes me appreciate all over again how fortunate I am to be on this adventure, and how grateful to Dave for being my partner in all of this. Oh ya… and I’ve got this!

Coronado, California

Chula Vista, California

It’s 24 years later and somehow Dave and I expected things to be the same at Chula Vista Marina. Right? Nope!

Gone is the RV park across from the marina which had our beloved pool and jacuzzi. We were so looking forward to a soak. Offshore sailing does a number on your body. Aches and pains from bracing against the constant movement and wind, with Synchronicity lurching and dancing on top of the waves. The RV park is being replaced by a 1600 room hotel and conference centre. At least Dave can eye up the construction site.

The New Reality

What are you doing all day? This question was posed by several people.

1. Fixing Boat Parts It started with the Windvane that Dave rebuilt prior to us leaving Canada. The Windvane lovingly know as “Windy” steered us many offshore miles when we circumnavigated. She is like the crew member that never tires, doesn’t need breaks and eats nothing – well maybe a little WD40 once in a while! For some unknown reason it didn’t work on the trip here. We decided to buy a new Monitor Windvane. Dave just installed it.

2. Installing New Equipment We ran out of time to finish installing equipment before leaving BC. We both swore when we sailed again we would have a water maker. Now we have one installed. Still to test… excited to have.

3. Boat Maintenance Anyone who owns a boat knows that maintenance takes up a good part of your time. Synchronicity’s motor is located in the galley. Dave had the nasty job of replacing the mounts and aligning the engine.

4. Trying New Recipes I’m in my happy place when I’m baking. We have friends coming who are gluten-free so I tried out a gluten free bread recipe.

Gluten free bread. Heavy but good!

I also did a photograph workshop which was fun.

Now looking forward to Christmas with family. ❤️


Looking Back to 1995 and Forward to 2022 – San Diego

It was 1995. We had spent 3 years building our sailboat Synchronicity, a Fraser 41, in our backyard. Today she wasbeing delivered by truck to North Vancouver, BC and launched in Mosquito Creek Marina. What a day it was. With the girls tucked away sleeping in the v-berth Dave and I sat looking at each other on the settee. Silently I thought, “What have we done?”

We had sold all our possessions including our house and now moved on a sailboat. With our two young girls, ages 3 and 8.Were we crazy for doing these things? Neither set of our parents ever voiced disapproval (or even approval for that matter), ofour plans to sail the world. Not that we needed approval since we were well into our 30’s. But does seeking approval from our elders ever go away? Looking back, we decided to accept their quietness as approval for our own sakes. 

Jessica, Dave and Leah

Fast forward to 1998. We had lived aboard in North Vancouver through three dark, wet winters, and it was finally time to wavegoodbye to our friends and family. The emotions I had were mixed excitement with fear and anxiety, not knowing what it would be like to sail offshore. 

We decided to do a straight shot to San Diego. We received a decent forecast and went for it. My confidence built as I took my turn on watches with Dave. By the time we arrived in San Diego, 9 days out from Vancouver, I was elated. I had managed my seasickness and been a part of our first sailing voyage from Vancouver to San Diego. San Diego was just the first of many passages that took us all around the world. Four years later we returned to Vancouver, sailing under Lion’s Gate Bridge feeling elated that we had circumnavigated the globe, and curious to see what would be next for our family. 

Time hop once more with me. It’s now 24 years later, and here we are setting sail once again. This time it’s just Dave and I. Our daughters are both married and have their own lives. Leah, age 35, has her own sailboat (1’ bigger than her parents’, she’ll proudly tell you) and is raising our grandson with her husband aboard. Jess has a thriving baking business and just got married. This time Dave and I will be doing this trip without them, taking family and friends as crew from time to time. 

People ask how it will be different. I ask myself that question too. At age 61, I feel less confident to sail on a big adventurethan I did 24 years ago. Even after 37,000 nautical miles and a lifetime of cruising memories, I struggle with my inner critics. As a life/career coach, I know them only too well. My inner critics have been screaming into my ears: I’m not fit enough, I don’t know how to sail, I’m not strong enough, What if I mess up? What if I can’t do this? But then I think, “Dave is depending on me” and work on hushing those inner voices. 

As we neared our jump off date in early September, my anxiety was over the top. My cousin Val was coming with us on the first leg to San Diego. She was excited…and I just felt dread. I woke up most nights with heightened anxiety. My brain felt scrambled. Wondering… can I do this? What will it be like without our girls beside us all the way? Am I up for it? Can I REALLY do this again? Am I too old? 

I sought the advice of my friend and personal coach, Pam. She sent me texts saying, “You’ve got this.” Searching for the confidence, I kept wondering why is it as we get older that we lose our confidence? Does everyone go through this? Daughter Leah helped me get in touch with what I liked about cruising – the people, dolphins, sunsets, stars and visiting new places and cultures. I weakly held onto those thoughts. 

Our “to do” list was never ending.  Dave was busy with boat projects and retiring from a construction career of over 40 years. With help from Val and another friend, I got the boat provisioned. We had set a date for leaving and it was closing in… Sept 5, 2022

Sept 5th arrived, and we left amidst tearful goodbyes with our girls, their husbands and our grandson, and a few close friends. The first few days we motored and cleared into the US. That was the easy part.

The first night passage was rounding Cape Flattery. Val keptwatch with me. She struggled with seasickness. The motion was all too familiar. Washing-machine like waves coming from all directions hurtled Synchronicity around. We learned later the cross-swells were the remnants of typhoon Merbok. While Val puked, I maintained my 3-hour watches, looking at the amazing starlit night, remembering one of the reasons I really do like sailing. As we started down the Washington coast the swells became a little more regular and my body slowly got used to it. Sturgeron was and still is my best friend at sea. The seasick meds worked. Phew!

Dolphins at Sea – My Favourite

With the weather not improving and the winds increasing, Captain Dave decided we should stop at Gray’s Harbor in Washington, a small fishing port. We spent a few days there waiting for improved weather.

Dave, Mary and Val in Gray’s Harbor, Washington

Back out sailing a few days passed and my anxiety slowly reduced. Then off the coast of Oregon the winds once again built. This time both our autopilot and monitor self-steering system failed. The windvane which Dave rebuilt had too much flex in it and would not steer a course. The new heavy-duty autopilot which had steered us so far started to make screeching and grinding noises until it finally quit working altogether. Of course it was the middle of the night…

If ever there was a time I should fall apart, it was now in the dark of night when I was faced with hand-steering. Our compass light was out as well so we literally had the stars only to guide us. My tears appeared as Dave woke me for my watch and explained the circumstances. “I don’t know if I can do this,” I said to him, knowing there was no choice but to suck it up and take the watch. Val was still struggling with seasickness, so it was up to me. 

Blinking back my tears, I heard the voice of my coach Pam once again, “you’ve got this,” she whispered in my ear. I dug deep that night to steer in winds from 25-30 knots, gusting 35. And then a wonderful thing happened. As the waves crashed and the self-steering sat useless and our crew was immobilized with seasickness and it all started to get really intense, this Grandma’s confidence came back! Not all of it, but enough to hand steer my two night watches, safely guiding Synchronicity and her crew through until Dave took his watch at 6:00 a.m. Enough to know I was going to be ok. “It’s like riding a bike,” I heard in my head. And indeed I felt that I could do this again.

The rest of the trip to San Diego went without too many glitches. We chose to stop in Bodego Bay, the Channel Islands and Catalina. On Sept 29, 24 years later, we landed once again at Chula Vista Marina, just before light gave way to darkness.

Anchored at the Channel Islands, California
Vancouver to San Diego September 2022

A small sense of warmth came over me, a knowing that I can and I will do this. As we prepare for what’s next on our adventure, my inner critic is still there but quieted by a tiny new knowing of what I am capable of.

Feeling Triumphant

Saying our goodbyes

Our family and crew Val

The hardest part of leaving is saying goodbye- and then getting off the dock. We have done it!

A few stops have worked out some kinks and found a few new ones! Depth sounder is now installed. Wind instrument no longer works! Hopefully that is temporary.

We stopped in Steveston, Point Roberts and Bellingham for checking in, boat parts and fresh produce. The CBP ROAM app was brilliant for checking into the US.

Today we are entering Juan de Fuca. Feeling those familiar swells. My butterflies are turning to excitement and I had my first good night’s sleep in more than a month! Here we go…

Captain Dave
Crew Cousin Val
First Mate Mary
Point Roberts, Washington
Bellingham, Washington night sky


20 years later…

Twenty years ago we were arriving home with our two daughters after circumnavigating the globe on our sailboat Synchronicity. I remember the feeling when we first set sail as a family. Excited, anxious, nervous, curious what life would look like on a boat with our little family. Facing our first passage. We spent 4 wonderful years with our girls visiting 37 countries.

Hanging out in Bora Bora
After our first big passage to Chula Vista/San Diego

Fast forward and now Dave and I are once again setting sailing- this time without our kids. The same feelings are there.., though for me I think there’s more anxiousness and less confidence. Now older I’m not sure what to expect. I’m working hard to bring out the coach in me, practice my Positive Intelligence/Mental Fitness. I’m looking forward to time with Dave, the beauty only the sea can bring, dolphins and sunsets and getting that feeling back that I can and will do this! Today we leave!!


And we’re off!

D-day is fast approaching, and a new prop is the cherry on top!