Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ups and Downs of Cruising

Our 3 day stay at beautiful Bahia de los Muertos included several long beach walks and snorkeling on the nearby coral reefs. One afternoon, our group of 8 took our dinghies ashore to a charming, modern hotel and restaurant. Before treating ourselves to a delicious lunch on the hotel patio, we toured the facility’s mezzanine that featured, of all things an enormous model train layout with scale model towns complete with working lights. We all felt our “inner child” surface as we stared in awe at the amazing display. After lunch, and before another snorkeling session to burn the calories we consumed, we had a nice conversation with 4 friendly folks in the restaurant lobby. Dennis, Susan and Bill were cruising sailors from La Paz and Brian was a La Paz resident who owns both a helicopter and Cessna Citation jet. They have flown in for lunch and a tour of the beautiful bay. We had a nice conversation with them about sailing and flying. We shared with Brian the fact that we were retired airline pilots and happy to have left that part of our lives behind. In a few days, this chance encounter would prove to be quite fortuitous for us.

One afternoon, an impromptu late afternoon beach party was organized and couples from most boats in the anchorage dinghied ashore to share appetizers and drinks. While meeting new friends and engaged in lively conversation, the subject came up as to the date of Anne’s birthday. Not wanting any special attention, she tried to bluff her way past the subject but our friend Lynn put 2 and 2 together and asked Mark to confirm that it was April 19th. When Mark glanced at his watch and realized that it was already that date and that he’d forgotten it, he became the subject of some good hearted ribbing. The next morning, Lee, Kathy and Bob from the boat “Sirocco” came by with a David Letterman “Top 10 List” of things Mark should do for forgetting the event. In the Letterman style, they had managed to come up with suggestions that made us laugh out loud like “ standing Anne’s watch (lookout) during passages for a whole year”.

We left Muertos later that day bound for our next stop, the anchorage at Puerto Ballandra, not far from the city of La Paz. Ballandra was another beautiful place with dramatic terrain and long, white sandy beaches. We enjoyed our time there snorkeling in the clear water and paddling our SUP surf boards. Ballandra, like many areas near La Paz is often subject to fierce southwesterly winds called Coromuels that can blow during the night. They are most common in spring and early summer when the waters on the Pacific side of the Baja peninsula are still cool and the interior deserts begin to heat up. The temperature differential can fuel the extreme winds. These winds blew hard through our anchorage both nights that we spent there. Even though we were protected for the wind-driven swell, the gusts sent us swing to a fro and caused one of our snapped-on, cockpit sun covers to blow away during the night. The next morning, we were disappointed to see the important piece of shade gone and spent over an hour snorkeling around the bay looking for it. Knowing how strong the wind had blown and the potential for the fabric to fly a great distance, we eventually deemed the search futile.

From Ballandra, we motored the short distance to the city of La Paz and took a slip in Marina Palmira. This gave us the opportunity to give “Blue Rodeo” a fresh water bath and provided a base of operations from which to explore. Many of our cruising friends joined us and we shared dinners in the local restaurants and many long walks through town. We also took advantage of the opportunity to re-provision at what will be our last large shopping venue for a while.

It was here that our chance encounter with Brian, the helicopter and jet pilot proved fortuitous. A call for “assistance needed” went out one morning on the cruiser’s VHF radio “net” (sort of like an audio news paper/ want ads) for a commercial pilot to help fly a jet to California. Mark responded by radio and within moments, he and Brian remembered their previous meeting. After a brief discussion, it was agreed that Mark would fly as co-pilot and Anne would come along for the ride. This gave us a perfect opportunity to make a quick trip to the States to visit Mark’s family and pick up some boat parts and supplies. The trip north began in style when Brian picked us at the marina with his helicopter and gave us a scenic tour of the area on our way to the airport where the jet was parked. 4 friends of Brian joined us there for the first leg to San Diego where we cleared customs. The flight was smooth and enjoyable and Mark had a great time sharing memories of his corporate flying days with Brian. As it turns out, they had a number of common friends and acquaintances from those days From there we flew the remaining 40 minutes to the Van Nuys airport, just 8 miles from Mark’s mom’s house. After parking the jet there, Brian kindly drove us to the house where we arrived feeling a bit like we’d just be featured in an episode of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”.

After returning to La Paz and finishing provisioning and projects, we topped-off our fuel tanks and headed out of the bay toward the spectacular desert islands to the north. Unfortunately, we had gone just 5 miles when Anne commented about a subtle change in our engine’s sound. Mark went below and quickly discovered that a threaded stud on one of the four motor mounts had broken. Disappointed, we had no choice but to return to the marina where Mark quickly removed the broken mount and set off into town with the help of a friendly, local sailor to try to find a replacement part. After 2 unsuccessful stops, they located a threaded metric bolt that was long enough to cut off and be used as a replacement. After 3 hours of sweaty labor, Mark had the motor mount repaired and we headed for the showers and a trip into town for dinner. As we write, we are preparing to depart La Paz once again and will be in remote areas for a while. Hopefully, our next blog will feature photos and stories of swimming and diving with the diverse marine life that the Sea of Cortez is know for.

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