Sunday, November 21, 2010

San Quintin to Cedros Island

We left Bahia San Quintin on a beautiful clear morning with the plan being to sail just a short distance to a protected indentation on the coast called Punta Baja. Mark remembered his surfing friends having talked about it as a place to surf, kiteboard and windsurf. A short time after getting underway we were joined by dolphins that approached the boat from every direction doing the kind of tricks for us that one would normally expect at Sea World. We could see them jumping 10 feet out of the water and doing flips. By early afternoon we were passing abeam the bay and with little or no surf showing and a steady wind beginning to build we decided to continue on toward another overnight option, the small island of Isla Jeronimo. As we neared the island we recognized a steel hulled Canadian boat that we had shared moorage with in both San Diego and Bahia San Quintin. The islands only anchorage looked like it offered reasonable protection from the ocean swells but with perfect sailing winds we decided to continue once again and aim for Bahia San Carlos. If we were able to keep our speed up we should be arriving just before dusk. We sailed along with 12-15 knots of wind from behind and nearly flat seas. Conditions couldn’t have been better! As the sun sunk toward the horizon the winds eventually lightened and we fired up our trusty diesel engine to help push us the last few miles and we entered Bahia San Carlos and anchored as darkness fell upon us. With a desire to keep moving south toward warmer water and more interesting anchorages we decided to leave at 3am for our next 80 mile leg to Cedros Island. Fortunately, skies remained clear through the night and as we raised anchor at 2:40am an almost full golden moon was still shining on the waters around us. Once underway, we motored until 6am when the first zephyrs of a building northwesterly breeze were felt. Mark had taken the first watch and when Anne awoke after sunrise we decided to hoist our spinnaker to take best advantage of the breezes. With our beautiful multi-colored spinnaker set and filled “Blue Rodeo” was happily pulled south toward Cedros Island. The day seemed to go by quickly and by late afternoon we passed abeam the north end of the island and began looking for our place to anchor for the night. A guide book mentions a spot off a gravel beach near some rocky pinnacles just south of a simple fishing village with a dozen white stuccoed houses and a church. As we dropped anchor in calm conditions we were immediately amazed by the variety of sounds made by the seals and sea lions that lived on the nearby rocks. We sat in the cockpit and giggled at the almost comical barks, grunts, growls and moans made by our furry neighbors. Fortunately their bedtime seemed to coincide with ours and we slept peacefully through the night. On Friday we motor sailed the 18 miles down the islands east shore to Cedros Islands only real town. After anchoring north of the harbor we gathered up our paperwork and took our dinghy ashore to check in with the Port Captain. We were a bit unsure as to the requirement to do so but as a courtesy and also to cover our rear ends we figured it best to go through the formality. The half mile walk through town to the Port Captains office gave us the opportunity to see what the little town offered in the way of markets and restaurants. We entered what appeared to be the largest grocery market and satisfied our curiosity by examining their inventory. Although the store was not much bigger than 7 11’s in the US it contained a reasonable selection of canned and packaged goods and some vegetables of questionable freshness. When Anne noticed that most of the produce was completely covered with fruit flies she decided to make do with what we had aboard. I’m sure that over the next few months our acceptance of this type of fruit and vegetable selection will likely increase to some degree as we adjust to this life. We do know though that the bigger cities have selections and quality on par with the US and several even have Costco’s and Walmart’s. Like most cruisers we’ll do the bulk of our shopping there and fill in from time to time in the little out of the way places. The town is quite simple with few paved streets but we’ve been told that the Japanese corporation Mitsubishi operates an enormous sea salt refinery a short distance away and the community there is quite modern. From a distance, during our sail down the island we could see the refineries enormous cranes that are used to load its product onto ships. We are finishing our day with dinner on board after watching local fisherman cast their hand lines from the breakwater and beaches around us. One gentlemen in a small wooden rowboat who is fishing nearby seems to be having great luck bringing in 14-15 inch sole on almost every cast. When he returned to the beach his family greeted him warmly and will no doubt be enjoying fresh fish for the next few days. As we write this blog we’re already yawning and thinking about an early bedtime. After another day of perpetual motion we find ourselves tired and happy and looking forward to drifting off to sleep as “Blue Rode” is gently rocked by the ocean swells.

Ensenada to Bahia San Quintin

We had planned our departure from Ensenada for sometime near noon so as to arrive at our next destination, Bahia San Quintin the following morning. The distance to be sailed was approximately 120 miles and based on an average boat speed of six knots in the forecasted light winds we could expect to arrive well after sunrise at approximately 8 am. During the first several hours we motor sailed under brilliant blue skies with unlimited visibility and very light winds. By mid afternoon though a northwesterly wind began to build and we soon found ourselves sailing at close to 8 knots. Quick mental calculations revealed the disconcerting fact that if we continued to make the same speed for the remainder of the trip we would find ourselves entering an unfamiliar anchorage in the dead of night. Even with the proper charts and modern electronics this is often an unwise scenario. Our concern shifted later in the evening when the clear skies and favorable breeze were replaced by nearly calm conditions and dense fog. In fact, the air was so saturated with moisture that it felt as though it were raining as drops of water continually fell from the sails and rigging. Motoring ahead in total darkness with visibility less than a few hundred yards meant close attention to our radar and the usual straining of our eyes as we frequently peered into the darkness around us. After a warm dinner, Anne offered to stand the first watch and Mark climbed into our bunk for a nap. We had agreed that rather than set a formal watch schedule Anne would stay awake as long as she could and wake Mark when she got to drowsy. At about 2am Anne was ready to get some sleep and Mark took over. We continued to motor sail through the inky night and dripping fog only occasionally seeing the light of a star overhead. Our radar revealed 3 other vessels that passed near us without visual contact. Its well known that the charts of much of Mexico do not correlate exactly with the modern GPS electronic charts. We have the ability to electronically overlay our radar images on top of our electronic map display as a means of cross checking accuracy. Mark noted during his watch that certain prominent landmarks clearly visible on radar varied almost a mile from their position as depicted on the charts. The approach to Bahia San Quintin involves skirting a number of reefs and submerged rocks. So we planned giving them a wide berth when we entered the bay. With our speed reduced to near what we had originally planned we no longer had to worry about anchoring in the dark but the reduced visibility due to the fog made it seem almost as bad. For the first time ever, we entered the bay and dropped anchor solely by reference to our radar, charts and depth sounder. When our anchor was finally set we sat shrouded by the fogs gray curtain with no idea what the shoreline around us looked like. It wasn’t until awaking from a morning nap at about 10:30 am that we caught the first glimpses of the rocky hills and sand dunes that line the shore. We had a special treat when we climbed out of the cabin into the cockpit rubbing sleep from our eyes when we saw a gray whale spout and surface just a 100’ from “Blue Rodeo”, we watched in awe for several minutes as the enormous creature lazily swam about us. We spent the remainder of the day aboard relaxing and working on a few boat chores with the plan being to spend another day here and go ashore for some serious exploration. The next day was spent hiking the deserted beaches and dunes and checking out the local Sea Lion rookery on an offshore rock. As we hiked Mark was noting the occasional small breaking waves that peeled into the bay from a rocky point. He pronounced them surf able and after a quick lunch back on board where we were further entertained by a pod of gray whales feeding around us, we dingied back to the beach with Marks stand up paddle surfboard where he managed to catch a few of the waves and get a better feel for his new water toy. The enjoyable day concluded with a great dinner on board and a quirky movie watched on the DVD player. Lounging comfortably in “Blue Rodeos” cabin we found it rather surreal to consider how comfortable and familiar the inside of our floating home is and how wild and remote are our surroundings. Life is good!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Catalina to San Diego to Ensenada

It’s Saturday evening, the 13th of November and “Blue Rodeo” is tied safely to a marina dock in Ensenada, Mexico. The previous weeks have been filled with activity starting with a pre-dawn departure from Catalina’s Avalon Harbor. We spent 4 days there enjoying the quaint town, sampling a few eateries and taking long walks. One afternoon, Mark donned his shortie wet suit, mask, fins and new 50 foot hookah air hose and slipped into to clear water where we were moored. He took the opportunity to change the sacrificial zinc anodes on “Blue Rodeo’s” propeller, strut and prop shaft. The water is colder than normal this year and Mark was soon chilled to the bone and shaking like crazy as he attached the last of the zincs. He took comfort though in knowing that the next time he’ll do the job will be in 85 degree water.

The trip from Catalina to San Diego was pleasant with smooth seas but no wind so we motored through the darkness and later watched the first signs of light appear in the east, followed by a brilliant sunrise that bathed the horizon in shades of orange and gold.
We rounded Point Loma and entered San Diego Harbor in mid-afternoon amidst a flurry of navy ship activity including a submarine on the surface doing training exercises. As we motored through the string of buoys marking the ship channel, the sub decided to head our way and, although it was still a ways behind us, a Coast Guard escort boat was speeding around shooing boats in the area, including us, out of it’s path. Since 911, Homeland Security is requiring a clear zone around military ships and pleasure vessels must stay a significant distance away. We guess our 50 foot sail boat is quite the threat for an armed nuclear submarine.

Our first stop in San Diego was the Harbor Police dock where moorage is offered to transient boaters at a reasonable rate for up to 10 days. The docks there were bustling with activity and most spaces were taken by other cruising boats headed for Mexico. Before long, we had made a number of new friends and were exchanging stories about our trips down the coast and sharing our plans for the months ahead. Some had sailed to Mexico before and provided a wealth of information about the check-in paper work process and their favorite stops. Others, like us, were first timers who were anxiously looking forward to sailing south of the border.

While in San Diego, we were able to reconnect with Mark’s friends Paul and Jeanne and their son Robbie, first with a visit to the boat and dinner out, followed by an enjoyable dinner at their home a few days later. During the stay we rented a car and drove up to the Los Angeles area to visit Mark’s mom and family and retrieve some mail that had been delivered there for us. Several boxes of boat parts had arrived but unfortunately, a replacement refrigeration compressor we had ordered from Florida had not yet shown up. This meant a second 6 hour round trip drive just a few days later to pick it up.

We had hoped to have more time to relax and explore San Diego but the days were filled from dawn to dusk with numerous trips to the local chandleries for parts and back-breaking work on boat projects and repairs. Mark certainly felt the stress of our imminent departure for an area where boat parts would be difficult or impossible to find and did his best to stock up on spares and things needed to complete unfinished upgrades to “Blue Rodeo’s” systems. Anne continued her provisioning and spent hours on the internet downloading forms and documents needed for entry into Mexico.

Once our replacement refrigeration compressor arrived and the system serviced (a two day affair that involved rebuilding it’s mounts and a water cooling pump) we were finally ready to head to Ensenada. Planning for a mid-day arrival in order to clear customs, we chose to depart San Diego at 12:30AM and motored quietly away from the docks and into the dark channel leading to the open sea. We carefully followed our charts and strained our eyes looking for buoys, obstructions and other boat traffic. Before long, we were at sea and already seeing the lights of Tijuana ahead on our port side. We rejoiced to a warm breeze that blew from the land and, with our sails up and engine shut down, quickly began ticking-off the miles to our destination. When the moon set, our wake left a glowing, bioluminescent trail behind us that was augmented by the torpedo-like tracks of dolphins playfully tagging along. By about 11:00AM we dropped our sails and motored to a marina dock deep inside Ensenada’s busy harbor. We wasted no time tying up to the rickety docks, gathered our pack full of papers and documents and hurried off to find the offices of Immigration, Customs and the Port Captain. The paperwork shuffle and clearance procedure was a challenge to be sure and will be continued in our next blog installment.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ventura to Catalina...the conclusion of last blog

This unanticipated repair delayed us a bit but we eventually got underway and sailed around the far end of the island to the picturesque town of Avalon. Avalon's harbor and waterfront resemble that of a Mediterranean seaport and are a favorite escape for many tourists from the world over. Just before sunset, we tied up to a mooring and went ashore for a stroll and dinner. This time of year is definitely the "quiet season" and we were fortunate to enjoy the town at it's best. Later, back aboard "Blue Rodeo", we watched a rented copy of "Little Miss Sunshine" on DVD and howled with laughter. After the movie, sleep came easily as we drifted-off, remembering all that we'd seen and done that day and looking forward to what adventures lay ahead.