Monday, December 12, 2011

La Paz to Banderas Bay

Our drive from La Paz to Idaho went well and before long we found ourselves back in the mountains making final preparations for our return to Mexico for the winter. We took care of administrative chores, said “so long” to good friends and, after getting a ride down to the Boise airport, joined the southbound geese on their winged migration. Our flight schedule allowed a few enjoyable days in Los Angeles visiting Mark’s family before continuing down to La Paz.

We arrived back at the boat in Marina Palmira and were immediately impressed by the number of new arriving cruising sailors including our good friends Howard and Lynn of the vessel “Swift Current”. It was such a pleasure reconnecting with them and sharing all sorts of activities around the town. New friends Mark and Wendy from the vessel “Wendaway” were docked next to us and we were so happy to have the opportunity to get to know them better.

Our plan had been to finish a few boat projects and head out as soon as possible to enjoy some of our favorite spots in the Sea of Cortez before sailing across to the mainland. Well, as often happens, things always take longer than planned. Paint work on “Blue Rodeo’s” deck was delayed by strong winds, and a new antenna mount that Mark had designed came back from being bent, welded and polished looking beautiful but with mounting and cable routing holes drilled in the wrong places. Mark would spend hours and hours making corrections so it would fit properly. With projects slowly being checked-off the list, we found that Thanksgiving was rapidly approaching so the decision was made to stay in La Paz through the end of November. This gave us time to share a few more evenings out with our ever-increasing circle of friends including Bill and Dianne of the vessel “True love”. Their good company was always appreciated and
Bill’s computer charting wizardry helped Mark with issues he was having running a new program on his Mac computer. While we worked and socialized, another period of strong, northerly winds came and went and finally it was time to cast off the dock lines for the first time since coming to the marina in late July.

Once underway, we set our sails and steered a course for Bahia de los Muertos, a lovely bay with a beautiful sandy beach and a resort development that is struggling due to the economic downturn. There are several spectacular homes within the complex that have been completed along with a hotel, golf course and two restaurants. We had a great three-day stay in the bay except for one night when, after the wind quit, we found ourselves lying at anchor crosswise to strange and lumpy swells that caused the boat to roll unmercifully. That night, despite our best efforts to silence tools, pots and pans and anything else that wasn’t screwed down from clanking, creaking and banging, we found sleep nearly impossible due to the noise and the motion. It’s often said that “misery loves company” so, at least, when we looked across the anchorage at Howard and Lynn’s boat and watched its wild gyrations, we knew that we’d get a good laugh the next day while comparing the awful night.

From Muertos, we had a fast and pleasant downwind sail to Bahia Los Frailes, our planned jumping-off point for the crossing to the mainland. We arrived there in the fading light in building northerly winds that would keep us pinned-down aboard our boats for most of the next 4 days. At times, we noted wind gusts as high as 37 knots in the anchorage but, the wind blew almost directly offshore and we remained comfortable.
Despite the strong winds, we managed to do some swimming and snorkeling in the clear water that, at 78 degrees was almost ten degrees warmer than the air. Finally, the winds subsided giving us and the “Swift Current” crew the opportunity to dinghy ashore for a strenuous hike to the top of a rocky crag overlooking both Bahia Los Frailes and Cabo Pulmo to the north.

With the weather forecasts obtained from the daily SSB radio “net” conversations indicating favorable conditions for a crossing, we set out for Banderas Bay on the Mexican mainland’s jungle-covered “Rivera”. By 4:20am the next morning, we had raised anchor and sails and we sailing swiftly across the Sea of Cortez. “Swift Current” followed closely behind and we remained in sight of them for the entire 38 hour crossing. Conditions could hardly have been better. The wind remained brisk in the 15 to 20 knot range from just aft of our port beam allowing us to sail effortlessly at speeds up to 10 knots. Sea conditions, although somewhat lumpy, were moderate making the ride comfortable and a nearly full moon lit the seas around us during the night with such brilliance that it almost seemed like daylight. By the following evening, as we entered Banderas Bay, we parted company with Lynn and Howard and anchored at Punta de Mita as the sun slipped below the horizon. Lynn and Howard continued the remaining few miles to the anchorage at La Cruz.

Our time on the Baja side of the Sea of Cortez had been magical with clear water and beautiful beaches framed by the back-drop of spectacular desert scape and rugged mountains. Arriving back on the mainland side reminded us though how much there is to appreciate here. Sure, there are more people, bigger cities and more hustle and bustle but beauty is everywhere and the communities we visited last year were welcoming, the people friendly and the food delicious. Uh oh, there go our waistlines!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Season Three...Return to Mexico

Season three of the “Blue Rodeo” adventure started off in a way neither of us planned. In preparation for our winter cruising in Mexico and next spring’s South Pacific crossing, we purchased a gasoline powered scuba compressor and a 14’ long, carbon fiber whisker pole. With “Blue Rodeo” already in La Paz, near the southern end of the Baja Peninsula, getting these two large items to the boat presented a challenge. The use of a truck transport company was a possibility but we had heard horror stories about items being held-up in customs for weeks and excessive importation duties being charged. Due to size and hazardous material limitations, flying the items down on an airline flight was also ruled-out. Ultimately, we decided to make the 4800 mile roundtrip drive from McCall, Idaho to La Paz and back and personally insure that the items arrived safely. Once the decision to drive was made, it also gave us the flexibility to load-up on some of our favorite foods from Trader Joes and huge cases of US quality paper towels from Costco. The trip proved to be a splendid adventure. We left McCall on the morning of the October 12th, driving Highway 95 most of the way to our first overnight stop in Fallon, Nevada. The next day we continued to Chatsworth, California where we spent two nights with Mark’s family. From there, it was on to Oceanside after first going to San Diego for last minute shopping at the many boat stores there. We spent both that night and the next with sailing friends Cathy and Lee from the J-130 “Sirocco. Prior to continuing south, we shared a wonderful evening of friendship and excellent food with Lee, Cathy, Dave and Marisa from “Pacifico” and Mike and friend Michelle from “So-Inclined”. The next morning, we left before the sun was up to meet with three other sailing friends from Mark’s days in Ventura, California, with whom we’d caravan down to La Paz. Jeff and Anne from “Outrider” and Ken from “Bungee”, many-time veterans of the Baja drive, were also driving back to their boats and we were happy to have the opportunity to tag along and learn from their experience. After rendezvousing with them, we headed for our border crossing point, the small town of Tecate, about 30 miles east of San Diego.

Having secured a Mexican temporary import permit for “Blue Rodeo”, we should be allowed to bring boat related parts and accessories into that country without paying duty. But, since the rules are often interpreted differently by various officials, our biggest concern upon reaching the border was that our overloaded car would be thoroughly searched and we would have to pay duty on the items we were bringing in. This could potentially amount to a tax of many hundreds of dollars and so we were greatly relieved when the customs inspector, on the Mexican side of the border, allowed us to pass through even though we were given a random, red light to stop. We breathed a huge sigh of relief and felt like we had dodged a bullet. After a fairly brief and straight-forward stop in Ensenada for our tourist visas, we continued on the four-hour drive to the town of San Quintin enjoying the unique scenery along the way. For the most part, the road conditions were very good but there were a couple of places that roadwork was being done and we found ourselves having to leave the pavement, bouncing along through the desert dirt and sand like we were participants in the Baja 1000 off-road race. We stopped for the night at a cute little hotel just off the main highway where we paid just $35.00 for our comfortable room. We were all tired and the hotel’s restaurant was closed so, after checking -in, we volunteered to drive back into town and pick up some chicken “al carbon” (grilled) with tortillas and salad and bring it back for everyone’s dinner. What a feast!

The next morning dawned cool and crisp as we climbed into our vehicles for a full day of driving. Our goal was to reach the town of San Ignacio where we had reservations at the Desert Inn. The drive, although quite long, proved to be breathtaking. It was amazing how much the landscapes changed along the way. Each valley and range of hills had its own unique topography, vegetation and lighting. We were particularly impressed with an area named Catavina with its boulder-strewn landscape and beautiful cacti. In Catavina, the soil is scarce and the landscape is littered with rounded rocks varying from marble-size to bigger than a house. The boulders are shaped by blowing sand that gives them a smooth, rounded appearance. Nestled in and amongst the boulders are hundreds of species of cactus, many found nowhere else in the world. The largest, the Cardon, is the world’s largest and often mistaken for the Saguaro found in the U.S. desert southwest. The Cardon can grow to 70 feet tall and weigh up to 25 tons while storing up to 1 ton of water at any given time. They can live as long as 300 years and are very slow growing. Another unusual cactus, found only in the Sonoran Desert is the Elephant cactus of which there are two types. The Boojum, which look like upside-down carrots and can live up to 500 years, dividing in two after 100 years and the Cirio, similar to the Boojum but living only 20-30 years. On our way home, we took time to stop and take lots of pictures of this colorful region. We found the small towns and settlements along the way also fascinating. It is hard to imagine that people live year-round in such an inhospitable climate. During the drive, we encountered another rather long area of roadwork and had to drive along the side of the road for several miles, once again, bouncing over large chunks of gravel and occasionally feeling our car transition into 4 wheel drive when hitting a particularly soft patch of sand. All in all, the driving took lots of concentration but was quite entertaining. After what seemed like forever, we arrived in San Ignacio, a small town famous for whale watching tours in the nearby lagoon. On the way back, we would spend another night there and walk from our hotel into the tiny town where we enjoyed an evening having dinner and an ice cream while watching boys and young men playing volley ball in the town square with a soccer ball. They turned out to be surprisingly good players. While in town, we also walked through, and photographed, the impressive cathedral that dated back to the 1700s.

Day 3 ended up being the longest drive of all because we elected to continue on to La Paz rather than spend an overnight in Loreto. After departing San Ignacio, we followed the highway as it climbed over a tall and rugged mountain range and descended to the Sea of Cortez side of the peninsula offering spectacular views of the beautiful areas we explored by boat in the spring and early summer. We stopped for a late breakfast at “Bertha’s” Cafe in Bahia Concepcion’s El Burro cove where we had eaten several times while anchored in the bay. We also hoped that we might see Lynn and Howard of “Swift Current” who had e-mailed us the night before that they would be arriving there late that morning by boat. Alas, our rendezvous didn’t happen then but did in Loreto a week later on our way northbound, when we had lunch with them and excitedly shared plans for the cruising season. After breakfast at Bertha’s, we once again continued south and found ourselves enthusiastically exclaiming about the majestic scenery, especially with the Sea of Cortez views. Since there had been recent rain from summer thunderstorms, the landscape was, in places, more lush than most areas we had traveled through. The terrain along this section was quite rugged, bordered by the Sierra Gigante Mountains to the west. Along this stretch, the driving became more of a challenge as the road was often quite narrow and without any shoulders or guard rails. Passing the occasional semi truck was rather harrowing and its easy to see how a small lapse in concentration of either party could result in tragedy. One of the things that got our attention was the number of the roadside memorials to loved ones that had perished along the way. They varied from primitive crosses with flowers to masonry houses and marble plaques. We wanted to photograph a few of them but to do so would be to risky as they were often in the most dangerous places along the roadside and nearly impossible to get to. One thing we forgot to mention was the military checkpoints along the highway, five in all, from just south of the border to just outside of La Paz. At the checkpoints, the road was barricaded so vehicles had to stop and submit to inspections for weapons and drugs by the Mexican Army. The check points were manned by young men, toting automatic rifles and sidearms. We would later learn that they were often not provided with ammunition. They lived in encampments along the side of the road that were poorly equipped and primitive at best. Apparently, Mexico requires its young men to serve for a year in the military to earn full citizenship and be eligible to procure a passport to travel outside of the country. At the checkpoints, one may or may not be searched depending on how you are perceived (profiling). We submitted to cursory searches each time, as did the travelers in front of us. Typically, this entailed searching the glove compartment, floor mats and the occasional bag.

The final leg of the day transited a broad agricultural basin with the dusty cities of Insurgentes and Constitution before climbing over another range of hills and descending
toward La Paz. The last narrow and twisting stretch was made all the more interesting by a semi truck speeding along in front of us while shedding chunks of tire from a retread that was coming off. By the end of the day, we arrived at Marina Palmira where “Blue Rodeo” waited peacefully. We are so happy to be back at the boat but we couldn’t relax yet as the whole car and our precious cargo had to be unloaded. After numerous trips with a dock cart, everything was unloaded and we breathed a happy, if overheated sigh of relief.

We would spend the next five days toiling in the heat and humidity, stowing gear and working on projects before “saddling-up” for the drive back to the States. We were anxious to take the car home and button-up our house so that we could return to the boat and feel like “real cruisers” once again.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Isla Danzante to La Paz...end of the season

After a two day re-provisioning stop in Puerto Escondido where Anne was plagued each night by bites from noseeums, we motored a short distance to Isla Danzante where we found the picturesque anchorage at Honeymoon Cove to be unoccupied. Due to shallow water close to shore and rocky cliffs that line the anchorage, there is normally room for just one or two boats and we had to pass it by on our northbound leg. We carefully maneuvered “Blue Rodeo” into the cove and set our anchor while marveling at the majestic desert scape around us. Shortly after anchoring, we heard a disturbance in the water nearby and were amazed by the sight of dozens of large Moebli Rays chasing small bait fish that schooled while seeking protection in our boat’s shadow. The rays put on quite a show that lasted for 15 minutes or more before herding their prey into other areas of the bay. The next two days were spent snorkeling in the aqua marine water and climbing to the top of one of the mountains adjacent the anchorage. The views from above of “Blue Rodeo” nestled into the island’s tiny cove were simply amazing. While hiking ashore, we came across a pattern of small rocks carefully laid out to form the words “Will you marry me?”. We knew from having read a short note in the online version of our favorite sailing magazine, “Latitude 38”, that cruising acquaintance Byron had proposed to his girlfriend Jessica on that spot a few months earlier. We met them in Sausalito on our way down from Seattle and again in San Diego before crossing the border to Mexico. We can’t imagine a prettier spot for a proposal and wish them a long and happy marriage.

From Isla Danzante we continued down the Baha peninsula to another small and narrow anchorage called Candaleros Chico. Once again, we found it unoccupied and smiled at our good fortune of having the beautiful place all to ourselves as we dropped our anchor facing into a light southeasterly breeze. After a quick lunch we donned our snorkeling gear and eagerly swam the perimeter of the cove checking out the underwater scenery. Back aboard, while relaxing in the cockpit, we both drifted off to sleep and enjoyed pleasant, but short, naps. As we awakened, the winds were beginning to shift to the northeast and soon we experienced building, wind-driven chop entering our anchorage and swinging us around toward the shallow water near the beach. Even though we were safely anchored, we knew that if the winds continued to build from that direction the anchorage would become quite bumpy and we would be in for a miserable night. With regret, we opted to raise our anchor and continue another 20 miles down the coast to Bahia Aqua Verde, a larger bay with protection from more wind directions.

We found five other cruising boats already anchored in the north part of Bahia Aqua Verde. We spent a comfortable night there watching goats traverse the steep and rocky cliffs around the anchorage and watching another DVD movie before bed. The next morning, with the forecast of strong southerly winds, we opted to follow several of the other boats about a mile down the coast to another small bay that offered better protection from that wind direction. “Champagne”, one of the boats owned by new friend Larry King (not the creepy one) whom we had met a few days prior at Bahia Ballandra, organized a pot luck dinner aboard his boat and shared, as main course, a sizable yellowfin tuna that he had just speared. It was a fabulous feast and we especially enjoyed meeting three other couples who are veteran Mexico cruisers and friends of Larry from Puerto Escondido. When we returned to our boat after dark and prepared to raise our dinghy out of the water, we were surprised to find a large pelican sitting on our foredeck. After taking his picture, Mark had to give him a gentle, but assertive nudge to help him through our lifelines and back into the water. He certainly didn’t seem too concerned about us sharing his deck space. Amazingly, the next afternoon, while under sail, a pelican would again come aboard for a visit. Could it possibly have been the same bird? Or, could the first bird have passed the word that we were a pelican-friendly boat?

The forecast for southerlies was accurate and we spent the next 48 hours listening to winds in excess of 25 knots howl through “Blue Rodeo’s” rigging. After the winds subsided, we took the opportunity to hike and explore a nearby canyon before moving our boat to another cove closer to the village of Aqua Verde. This gave us the opportunity to snorkel in the clear water near an offshore rock and to re-visit the village where Anne stocked up on fresh tortillas and a few vegetables. While anchored there, we were pleased to see friends John and Pat arrive with their boat “The Rose”. They had 3 guests aboard and, after a morning snorkeling excursion, we joined them aboard their boat for brunch.

An afternoon sail down the coast took us to Punta San Telmo where we anchored alone just a few yards from a rugged, rocky point. After setting our anchor, we took our dinghy out to the point where we snorkeled looking for a suitable fish for dinner. The fish were not cooperative and we used our onboard provisions for dinner that night with plans to try again another time. The next morning, while Anne helped look for the big ones and tended the dinghy, Mark was able to spear a good-sized Leopard Grouper that would yield delicious fresh fish for several dinners. After our fishing trip, we took our dinghy ashore and went for a long hike over a ridge to a neighboring cove. Like Los Gatos, just a mile farther south, this bay was surrounded by magnificent orange and red colored sandstone cliffs. After a long hike in the midday heat, we stopped for a quick skinny dip to cool down before returning to our boat. As we approached our anchorage , we noticed another sailboat anchoring near ours and, although happy to share the space, we opted to raise our anchor and motored south to the next bay where we could, once again, have the place all to ourselves. We have enjoyed the camaraderie of the many fine cruising friends that we have made this season but also find being alone at anchor quite a treat.

The next day was another travel day down the coast to the southwest corner of Isla San Jose where we anchored just off the beach. The deserted beach showed promise for an exploratory walk and possible shell collecting. Within moments after dragging our wheeled dinghy onto the beach, Anne was rewarded with the find of a near perfect Paper Nautilus shell. These beautiful and intricate shells are prized by collectors and we eagerly continued our beach walk hoping to find more. Alas, no more were found that evening, nor the next morning at another stretch of beach a few miles away. Although disappointed at not finding more, we feel that our find is all that more special. The next day, we sailed 5 miles west to the village of San Everisto where we anchored just long enough to dinghy ashore and make another quick provisioning stop at a small tienda. We managed to find a head of lettuce and a few potatoes and cucumbers to augment our stores of fresh produce. From there, it was across the channel once again to Isla San Francisco, a favorite stop of ours on our northbound leg. We managed to find adequate protection from the southerly winds that continued to blow and spent two nights there swimming, snorkeling and hiking to the top of the rocky ridge overlooking the anchorage. We were also entertained by the antics of owners and guesta from several large motor yachts that anchored nearby. They seemed to be really living it up water skiing, wake boarding and inner tubing behind high speed launches and wave runners. While not exactly our style, we were happy to see that they were having lots of fun and not just sitting aboard watching movies in some resort marina. Our next stop on the way back to La Paz would be the Ensenada Grande anchorage on Isla Partidida. While sailing toward the island, Mark saw what he believed to be the dorsal fin of a Killer Whale. Not quite sure if they were found in these waters, he assumed that it was probably that of another species until moments later when we clearly saw first two, then four Killer Whales rise up under our dinghy that we were towing just 12 feet behind “Blue Rodeo’s” transom. Anne quickly grabbed our camera and we were able to film some video of the encounter as the whales playfully rolled on their sides and seemed to scratch themselves on the dinghy’s bottom. One even disappeared under our hull and Anne believes she felt a slight bump as it may have made contact with us. It was a bit disconcerting but a thrill that we’ll remember always! Before long, the creatures departed, probably in search of their next meal or something more fun to play with.

The next two days were spent anchored in Ensenada Grande trying to stay cool in the near 100 degree heat. We lost count of the times we went for a swim, often treading water on the shady side of the boat seeking relief from the intense sun. At one point, we took the dinghy to an offshore rock about 2 miles away where we planned to do some snorkeling. While approaching the rock and anchoring our dinghy, we were greeted by several huge bull sea lions that didn’t seem pleased by our intrusion into their space. On our northbound leg, we had snorkeled with sea lions at nearby Isla Islotes, a place frequented by tourists, but these sea lions seemed less comfortable with human contact and made it clear that we were unwelcome. Rather than disturb them to the point of them becoming aggressive, we chose to pull up our anchor and go elsewhere for our afternoon of snorkeling. Later that night, we welcomed the arrival of the evening Coromuel winds that brought relief from the intense heat. “Blue Rodeo” is well equipped with a fair number of cabin and cockpit fans but, until the winds arrived, we felt as though we were slowly being cooked.

The next morning, we departed early and raised our sails to take advantage of a fresh southeasterly breeze. As we pointed the boat toward Puerto Ballandra where we would spend our last night at anchor before entering the marina in La Paz. By late morning, the wind had died and we were forced to start our diesel engine and begin motoring to our destination. Before long however, the steady song of our engine changed note and we observed a small fluctuation in rpm. With fuel flow being Marks first concern, he quickly entered our engine room to examine the pressure gauge on the engine’s fuel filters. Everything seemed normal so we relaxed for a bit until the rpm fluctuations worsened. As a precaution, Mark switched to another fuel tank and the engine operated smoothly for about another 20 minutes until it quit completely. At this point, despite a lack of significant wind, we were very happy to be aboard a sailboat knowing that we could make it to an anchorage or into port under sail power alone if necessary. While Anne busied herself adjusting our course and trimming sails, Mark went below to assess the fuel situation knowing that it was possible that our tanks did not get filled completely the last time we had added fuel and that we had simply run out of fuel. He decided to open the tanks’ inspection ports to visually determine how much fuel remained. The port side tank, the one being used when the engine quit, was showing only about one and one half inches of fuel left at the bottom. We knew that with the boat sailing along at a slight angle of heel, that fuel may be unusable. Inspection of the starboard tank revealed a similar amount of fuel but it seemed to be contaminated and about the color of black coffee. This was the only tank to which fuel was added during our last fuel purchase and we began to wonder if we had taken on some bad fuel. With restarting the engine unlikely, we made a plan to sail to Bahia Falsa near the La Paz ferry terminal where we could anchor and travel by dinghy to the fuel dock at Marina Costa Baja to purchase fuel in our plastic jerry jugs. The plan worked well and, with a cooperative 10 knots of northerly wind, we arrived in the bay by late afternoon and smoothly dropped and set our anchor while dropping our main sail. Once the anchor was set, Mark jumped into the dinghy and hurried to the fuel dock, purchased 10 gallons of fuel and returned to “Blue Rodeo”. Before long our engine was purring once again and we backtracked a few miles to our original destination for the night of Puerto Ballandra. After the afternoon’s trials, we enjoyed a relaxing evening at anchor and awoke early the next morning to give the boat’s bottom a thorough cleaning and replace zinc anodes on the propeller, shaft and strut. Having accomplished those tasks, we concluded our cruising season with a short trip down the bay to La Paz’s Marina Palmira. We had made a reservation there for a slip until mid October and, after securing our dock lines, gave “Blue Rodeo” a well-deserved fresh water bath. Over the next 5 days we would work like dogs in the 100 degree heat and high humidity prepping the boat to leave there for the hurricane season. Sails were removed and bagged, extra fenders and dock lines installed, halyards and running rigging removed, all canvas was stowed below and the boats interior and galley were thoroughly cleaned and prepped to repel visiting critters. At several times during the exhausting process, we felt that it probably would have been a lot easier to sail 1000 miles back to San Diego instead of going through all of the effort in the nearly unbearable heat. Finally though, we were satisfied that we had done all that we could to protect our floating home from possible hurricane damage. We then boarded a flight back to the States feeling completely spent and a bit overwhelmed by all that we had accomplished.

Our season in Mexico had been an outstanding adventure and we will cherish the memories of the experience for the rest of our lives. We have met and befriended dozens of wonderful cruisers, seen spectacular and amazing natural wonders and have been impressed by the friendly, honest and hard-working Mexican people that we have had the pleasure to interact with along the way. We are already looking forward to our return to “Blue Rodeo” this fall and the new adventures that await us.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

El Burro Cove to Puerto Escondido

After a hot, hot night in Bahia Concepcion’s El Burro Cove, we continued south down the east coast of the Baja peninsula to a small bay, just north of popular San Juanico, called La Ramada. We motor-sailed the entire way into winds from the south-southeast. Sailors speak of winds relative to the direction from which they blow such as northerlies, southerlies etc. Another cruiser here in Mexico this season referred to the winds he usually encountered as “noserlies”, meaning that no matter which direction he intended to sail, the winds seemed to frequently be on his nose making progress under sails alone rather slow and challenging. With northerly winds forecast, we had hoped for a good day of sailing but were greeted with “noserlies” instead.

La Ramada turned out to be another beautiful spot with good protection from southerly winds, a long sandy beach and trails connecting the cove to nearby Bahia San Juanico. We shared the anchorage with three to four other boats, met new friends and reacquainted ourselves with others that we had met earlier in the season. We spent several days hiking, swimming and snorkeling there. Peggy, a friend of ours from the vessel “Interlude” snorkeled with Anne one day and showed her how to catch tasty “chocolates”, or chocolate clams, by looking for their siphon holes in the sandy bottom and diving down to scoop them out by hand. They are named thankfully, not for their taste but for the color of their shells. She returned to “Blue Rodeo” with about 20 in her mesh bag and left them hanging in the water overnight to expel the sand that is often found inside their stomachs. By the next morning, soft hearted Anne was feeling a bit guilty for taking the creatures so she set them free to do whatever clams do. Soft hearted as she may be, it’s doubtful that she would do the same if she ever catches a good-eating fish like a dorado or a tuna. With an unsatisfied craving for fresh sea food, we took our new spear gun and traveled by dinghy about a mile up the coast where Mark dove into the water with snorkeling gear and managed to get a decent-sized fish with his first shot. That turned out to be the easy part as filleting it on our transom swim step proved more difficult and messy. Mark’s opinion of the hassle involved seemed to evaporated that evening when Anne prepared delicious, fresh fish tacos with spicy mango salsa. Yum, yum, yum.

Soon it was time to continue south once again and we enjoyed a pleasant day of sailing with light but favorable winds to Isla Coronados, a beautiful volcanic island that we passed on our way north. While there, we joined Cindy from the vessel “Bravo” for a hike to the top of the island’s cinder cone. The trek proved to be strenuous due the steep jumble of rocks that had to be traversed and the searing heat. As we ascended, the views of our boats anchored in the beautiful bay and the surrounding mountains and sea made the climb worthwhile.

From Isla Coronados, it was on to Isla Carmen where we anchored by ourselves between the dramatic cliffs of El Refugio on the island’s north side. We snorkeled there and explored the many sea caves alone the rocky shore. Later that evening, we found the sounds made by air escaping from caves as the ocean swells passed by to resemble that of playful, spouting whales.

Wanting to see more of the island’s special areas, we motored first to the west side where we spent a night in scenic Bahia Ballandra then reversed course the next morning and sailed around to the east side to Balia Salinas. We anchored there off an abandoned salt refinery and “ghost town-like” village. A trip to shore and a waking tour of the remaining structures was quite a treat as our imaginations took us back to the days when the small town housed many families and featured, a school, church and several stores. The large salt pond nearby remains but apparently, the economics of the operation no longer made sense. The high point of our overnight stay was the opportunity to snorkel on the wreck of a 120 foot tuna boat in the center of the bay. We made two dives on the wreck marveling at the quantity and diversity of fish that make the wreck their home. We were, at times, completely surrounded by hugh schools of fish of all sizes, shapes and colors.

From Isla Carmen, we had a pleasant three hour sail to Puerto Escondido, a nearly land-locked bay, eleven miles south of Loreto, with a small marina and a large number of moorings. We dropped our sails, motored into the bay and secured “Blue Rodeo” to one of the moorings for two nights. This gave us the opportunity to use the marina’s internet access, do some minor re-provisioning at a small market down the road and do two loads of laundry. When we leave here today, we will, once again be traveling through fairly remote areas and won’t have much contact with the outside world until we reach La Paz on July 15th. We look forward to stopping at a number of coves and islands along the way that we enjoyed last month. The days and nights continue to get hotter, and sleep is difficult at night, but we can’t complain too much as this means the water temperature continues to rise and we are able to swim and snorkel for hours without getting chilled.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Santa Rosalia to El Burro Cove

Upon arrival in the French built mining town of Santa Rosalia, we secured a slip in the small marina for three days in order to do some sight seeing and re-provision. On our first night there, we made a bee line to a street vendor’s hot dog stand that was recommended by many other cruisers. While ignoring our common sense about healthy eating, we happily devoured the delicious dogs served with various peppers, onions and sauces on fresh buns from the nearby French bakery. While not something we would do on a regular basis, the meal allowed us to indulge our guilty pleasures. After dinner, our group of cruising friends walked to the nearby town square where we watched a dance exhibition put on by local children. We couldn’t help but smile as we watched the cute kids do their best to stay in time with the music while clad in traditional costumes.

The next day, friends Howard and Lynn joined us for a whirlwind tour of the town’s landmarks. Having been built in the 1800’s by a French mining company to extract copper ore from the surrounding hills, Santa Rosalia features architecture and construction unlike any other place in Mexico. Rather than brick and concrete, most of the structures are made from either steel or wood brought in by ships. The town even features a metal framed church designed by Eiffel of the Eiffel Tower fame. We toured the two locations of the mining museum and gazed with interest at the old machinery and artifacts from the mine’s early days. Part of another day was spent shopping at several markets and a fruit stand to restock “Blue Rodeo’s” stores. While in the marina, Anne did several loads of laundry and Mark spent the better part of a day rewiring our boat’s instruments due to the failure of a seventeen-wire connecting plug that suffered from years of exposure to the salty environment.

On our last evening in town, we shared a restaurant meal with friends Howard and Lynn who would soon be heading across the Sea of Cortez to San Carlos as we begin our southbound trip back to La Paz. We have grown so accustomed to their company that it was a little bit difficult to say farewell for now. We do look forward though to crossing paths with them again in the fall as the winter cruising season starts once again.

We had budgeted about thirty days for the trip back to La Paz so that we would have time to visit a number of places that we skipped on the way north. After departing Santa Rosalia, we sailed back over to Isla San Marcos, this time heading down the east side to a small cove where we would spend a lovely evening all by ourselves. Unfortunately, soon after dropping our anchor in the picturesque bay, Anne’s sweet inner self attracted a renegade bee that promptly stung her on the back of a thigh. Even though Mark quickly removed the stinger, Anne would suffer from pain, swelling and itching for several days. Our evening at anchor was pleasant and far cooler than what we experienced in Santa Rosalia and we both slept well until four am when the evening breeze died completely and we found our boat lying sideways to short-period, steep swells rolling into the anchorage. We make a habit of raising our dinghy out of the water each night and, as “Blue Rodeo” rolled with the incoming seas, the dinghy began swinging wildly and we had no choice but to hurry on to the deck to re-secure it. With the anchorage now bumpy and uncomfortable, we decided to raise our anchor and begin motor sailing back toward Bahia Concepcion where we planned to spend a few more days.

Rounding Punta Chivato, we spotted the boats “Phanta Rei” and “Taking Flight” belonging to friends Larry and Karen and Dave and Anne anchored in a bay. Knowing that they were northbound, we motored slowly by them to say a brief farewell and learn more of their plans for the summer. After wishing them well, we continued to the entrance to Bahia Concepcion where we anchored once again in the shallow bay known as Bahia Santo Domingo. The bay is open to the north and west but provided shelter from the light southerly that was blowing. We spent two nights there snorkeling and beach combing before continuing to El Burro Cove where we had seen the whale shark on our previous visit. Sadly, the whale sharks were no where to be found. What we did find though was hot, hot weather and very warm water. Daytime air temperatures approached 100 degrees fahrenheit with water temperature was in the high 80s. Shade became a very precious commodity and, after anchoring, we quickly erected the three awnings we use to cover “Blue Rodeo’s” deck. Just prior to bed time one evening, we noted that our cabin thermometer registered 97 degrees. Needless to say, sleep was difficult that night, even with all of our cabin fans running at full speed. Anne even resorted to sleeping outside in the cockpit until 3AM. We are slowing acclimatizing to the intense heat but a mid afternoon walk down the road from the anchorage to small restaurant with internet access was almost unbearable. It was so hot on the surface of the paved highway that the laminated soles of Anne’s Teva sandals began to separate.
The “death march” was made worse by our discovery on arrival that the restaurant was closed for the season. Thankfully, a small market nearby was open providing much needed cold beverages to fuel us for our return hike. Once back aboard, we quickly donned our snorkeling gear and swam to a nearby reef for some site-seeing and cooling-off. We would find though, the water to be too warm to provide any relief. We did have dinner ashore that night with cruising friends Hugh and Anne and Tom and Lori in the shade of Bertha’s Restaurant. As the sun set behind the nearby mountain, galvanized buckets containing ice water and 8oz beers were passed around the table. The great company, cold beverages and the spectacular scenery around us quickly made us forget about the heat and savor another wonderful evening in the Sea of Cortez.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bahia Concepcion to Santa Rosalia

After a comfortable night at Bahia Santo Domingo we continued deeper into Bahia Concepcion and dropped anchor off the beach at Playa El Burro. Sailing friends Howard and Lynn aboard “Swift Current” had already arrived and we were soon joined by our friend, and solo sailor Mike, from the vessel “So Inclined” who was waiting for an appropriate weather window to cross the Sea of Cortez to San Carlos where he would have his boat trucked back to Southern California. Several friends of ours had already started south toward Cabo san Lucas and were were about to begin sailing from there back to South California for the hurricane season. The 850 mile passage is known as the “Baja bash” because it is often miserable due to having to fight strong, northwesterly headwinds and rough seas. For a single hander, Mike’s plan made a lot of sense considering the savings of time and wear and tear on both boat and body.

Playa El Burro and the neighboring coves feature a scattering of simple, thatched roof and plywood shelters and more elaborate vacation homes. The area has easy access to Baja’s highway 1 with the towns of Mulege to the north and Loreto to the south. Many of the part time residents are from the U.S. and Canada and a few hearty souls remain here year round, even during the intensely hot summer months. We learned from several people in the area that whale sharks were being sighted almost daily so we kept a constant look out for the magnificent creatures. As the days grew hotter, we spent hours swimming, snorkeling and touring the area by dinghy. In the evenings, we joined cruising friends ashore at nearby “Bertha’s” restaurant where we feasted on fish tacos, enchiladas and good old cheeseburgers. On our third day there, we were treated to quite a thrill as an 18 foot whale shark swam near our anchored boats. We were returning by dinghy from another bay when Anne spotted the fish’s tail fin and we quickly sped off in pursuit. As we approached and shut down our engine, we could clearly see the enormous shark swim beneath the dinghy. Mike and another friend Les followed our lead and, as they neared, Mike tossed a scuba mask to Anne so that she could swim with the shark. Even though fully clothed, she didn’t hesitate for a second and was quickly in the water swimming alongside it. As she returned to our dinghy with the mask to give Mark a turn, the shark slowly descended and vanished from sight. Alas, his chance to swim with a whale shark would have to wait for another day.

From Bahia Concepcion we continued north past the town of Mulege to an area known as Punta Chivato where we anchored near a hotel and a number of private homes. The area also features a gravel airstrip so providing easy access for aviators. After a night at anchor, we went ashore with Howard and Lynn to a long, crescent shaped beach completely covered with an amazing variety of sea shells. While Howard and Mark explored, Anne and Lynn scoured the beach collecting bags full of unique and ornate sea shells. Mark and Howard joked that if their wives collected any more shells, the additional weight was likely to sink our boats. After collecting, we all took an exploratory walk examining the private homes and hotel and treating ourselves to lunch at a small hotel/restaurant adjacent the airstrip.

After a second night at Punta Chivato we sailed further northwest to the island of Isla San Marcos where we anchored in a lovely spot called “Sweet Pea Cove”. We would spend two nights there exploring that area and meeting new friends Don and Peggy from the vessel “Interlude” and Bill and Kat from “Island Bound”. One afternoon, two fisherman from Colorado motored by and offered to share some of their catch. We were thrilled when they gave us a plastic bag containing a giant fillet of dorado (mahi mahi). We shared half of it with Lynn and Howard that night and the other would go toward a pot luck dinner for eight the next that we hosted aboard “Blue Rodeo”. Unfortunately, while in Sweet Pea Cove, we again did battle with bees that came to our boat seeking even the tiniest droplets of fresh water. That night during the dinner party, Anne was stung several times on her feet by already dead bees that had been swatted or zapped with our electronic insect swatter. Though not allergic to bee stings, she did have a significant reaction and was pretty uncomfortable due to the swelling and itching caused by the stings.

From “Sweet Pea Cove” we would sail back across the Craig Channel to our most northern destination this season, the town of Santa Rosalia. While making the short crossing, we had a few moments to reflect on that fact that it had been over a year since we left the dock in Seattle to begin this sailing adventure and that “Blue Rodeo” has safely carried us across over 5,000 miles of ocean. We are having the time of our lives and look forward to what grand adventures the next year will bring.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Loreto to Bahia Concepcion

Heading north from Loreto, we continued up the east side of the Baja peninsula to a lovely bay and cruiser favorite known as San Juanico. By early evening we anchored there behind a reef that offered some protection from the wind driven choppy seas coming from the southeast. We shared the spot with Lynn and Howard from “Swift Current” and one other boat. Shortly before dark, our friends Dave and Marisa from “Pacifico” rendezvoused with us after sailing down from points north. With a brisk northwesterly blow forecast for the next day, Dave and Marisa chose to anchor that night in the north end of the bay that provided better protection from those winds. When we awoke the next morning, the winds had indeed switched direction and, although safe, our anchorage had become uncomfortable. So, by 7am we raised our anchor and motored through the chop to the north side of the bay where we anchored in the lee of a hill and rocky islets. “Swift Current” soon joined us and we all spent the day aboard our boats checking the security of our anchors and listening the wind howl through our rigging. At some point during the day, our instruments recorded a wind gust of over 27 knots (30 plus mph), nothing too significant but enough to produce rough water in the anchorage. The choppy water however did not discourage Anne from a swim to one of the islets and a nearby sandy beach. Mark stayed aboard, feeling a bit under the weather from some sort of stomach bug that he had picked up. He did however watch Anne swimming away through the rough water and thought to himself what a powerful swimmer she is and how she looked like a Coast Guard rescue swimmer heading out into stormy seas to save a life. That evening we hosted a dinner aboard “Blue Rodeo” as “Pacifico” was planning to head south the next morning and it would be our last opportunity to share an evening with Dave and Marisa. Everyone contributed to the delicious meal and emotional hugs were exchanged when it was time to call it a night. The next morning, we watched them weigh anchor and continue south. We have spent so many good times with them this season that it was hard to see them go. Later that morning, we took our dinghy to shore and hiked a few of the trails and dirt roads surrounding the bay. We continued to be so impressed by the stark, desert beauty of this area. It is made even more so by the contrast with the shimmering blue water and white sandy beaches. The vegetation is limited to but a few thorny bushes and enormous, gnarled cactus.

While in San Juanico, “Blue Rodeo” suffered an electrical short that could have been very serious. While running our auxiliary motor, the entire DC electrical system suddenly died. After some trouble shooting, Mark determined that a shunt (a device connecting large battery cables and used to measure current) had burned through due to a short circuit. More trouble shooting revealed the location of the problem as a place in the engine room where a positive cable’s insulation had chafed through allowing contact with a metal mount which was part of the ship’s negative ground system. Fortunately, Mark had the supplies aboard to repair the cable and, by the end of the next morning, we were back up and running. Whew!! After the repair, another pleasant day was spent swimming and snorkeling around San Juanico before we were again bit by the urge to see what lay beyond the next point of land.

Shortly after an 8am departure from San Juanico, we sailed through an area of fish activity in the water and, before long, Anne had two fish on lines that she was trolling behind the boat. After bringing in one to release the unwanted bonito that she had caught, she began struggling with what felt like a whopper on her rod and reel. Both Mark and Anne struggled trying to make progress reeling in the catch but soon had to actually turn the boat around in order to lessen the drag on the line. As we fought to reel in whatever was at the other end, we noticed a large group of pelicans diving into the water and feeding on other fish in the area. Soon, to our horror, we realized that a pelican had swallowed the fish that we caught and was being dragged to its death behind our boat. With no alternative other than to continue reeling in the line, we finally brought the now dead bird and the still flopping bonito up to the stern of “Blue Rodeo”. In amazement, we noted that the pelican had not actually been hooked but had swallowed our fish and couldn’t disgorge it before drowning. Never the less, we were saddened by the incident and Anne chose to pull in her lines for the rest of the day.

By mid morning, the breeze had freshened so we shut down “Blue Rodeo’s” diesel engine and had a delightful sail for the remainder of the 44 mile leg to Bahia Santo Domingo, just inside the huge Bahia Conception. In this area, would spend at least a few days hopefully interacting with some of the whale sharks that are known to frequent the area.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Puerto Escondido and Loreto

Puerto Escondido is a nearly landlocked harbor fourteen miles south of the town of Loreto. “The hidden port” features a small but modern marina and a large number of mooring balls that can accommodate over one hundred boats. It provides excellent protection from the winds and the seas that can make many portions of the Baja peninsula rolly and uncomfortable. The marina complex also features a small store, restaurant and cruiser club house with a large lending library and DVD exchange. We booked a one week stay on one of the secure moorings giving us the opportunity to catch up on a few boat projects and tour nearby Loreto and the surrounding area by rental car. Anne and friends were pleased to hear of a large, open-air produce market that operates every Sunday and a group of us combined a shopping run there with lunch at one of the town’s quaint restaurants. A few days later, while sharing a rental car with friends Howard and Lynn, we drove for nearly two hours up a steep road into the nearby Sierra Gigante mountains to visit a large Spanish mission built in the 1600’s. It was from this impressive facility that missionaries ventured north establishing the many missions that are currently found north of the border in California. Little else of interest was found in the small community near the mission and we found ourselves amazed that such a rugged remote location would have been chosen so many years ago. The next morning, Howard and Lynn joined us for an exploratory hike up a canyon near the harbor written about in John Steinbeck’s “Log of The Sea of Cortez”. What started as a hike quickly became a rock scramble and then a more serious climb requiring careful hand and foot placements. At times Mark wished he had brought one of his climbing ropes that he keeps aboard “Blue Rodeo” for ascending its mast. The beauty of the canyon was truly amazing and, even though it was the dry season, we could clearly imagine the raging torrents of water that sculpted the canyon during the summer thunderstorms.

One of the unexpected pleasures of our stay in Puerto Escondido was the opportunity to connect with three of Mark’s old friends from the Ventura marina. Anne and Jeff aboard “Outrider” and Ken aboard “Bungee” have been cruising Mexico for a number of years and were happy to answer many of our questions about their travels and favorite places. After an enjoyable stay in the area, we topped off our fuel tanks and headed east across the channel to the Bahia Marquer anchorage on Isla del Carmen. There we found the clearest, warmest water to date and, unfortunately, hundreds of pesky bees. While lounging in “Blue Rodeo’s” cockpit, we had to laugh at the irony of the first bees arriving while our stereo played the Beatles song “Let it Be”. From now on, in our minds, the word “Be” in the song title will always be spelled with two “e”s. The next day, after listening to weather forecasts that warned of possible strong northerly winds within two days, we studied the charts and agreed on a strategy to move along to another anchorage better suited for north wind protection. As we conclude this blog entry, we are anchored off the town of Loreto itself where we will visit the produce market one last time tomorrow morning before continuing up the coast. The wind is currently blowing from the south and we find ourselves rocking and rolling a bit with no protection from that direction. We’ll see what the rest of the night has in store for us.

Isla San Francisco to Agua Verde

While at Isla San Francisco we joined forces with other cruising couples for a climb up a rugged ridge overlooking the picturesque anchorage. In places the arete narrowed to just a few feet in width with precipitous drops on both sides. Even though it was hot and arid, Mark said the view of those climbing ahead of us conjured up images of Mt. Everest’s Hilary Step. We were rewarded with spectacular views of the sea around us and our boats anchored peacefully a thousand feet below.

With so many recommended places to visit still ahead of us to the north, our wanderlust prompted us to move on after our second day and motor sail across to the Baja Peninsula and the quiet, little fishing village of San Evaristo. The little community there is inhabited by about twenty full time families and has a school, desalination plant and a small tienda (market). Even though we did not need much in the way of provisions, it was fun visiting the small store. Housed in a tiny concrete block building, the market had an ample selection of the basic needs including a few boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables. We even found Best Foods mayonnaise, an item on our short shopping list. We visited the store with several other cruisers and we all discussed the need to be conservative in our purchasing so as not to deplete the stock for the local families. Across the peninsula from the anchorage is a small cattle ranch and salt evaporation ponds where sea salt is harvested. As our group hiked over the hill to explore that area, we came across numerous grazing burros and skinny cows. The ranch itself was located in a small canyon with a water source and many large date palm trees. We could only imagine how hard the ranchers must work to tend to their livestock and make a living.

From San Evaristo we continued up the Baja coast to Bahia Los Gatos, another incredibly scenic spot that features red sand stone and pock-marked, volcanic rock formations. After settling in at anchor, we felt a little like we had sailed “Blue Rodeo” into Utah’s Lake Powell. It was here that we were first bothered by what would become a pesky nemesis. Before long, dozens of honey bees began swarming our boat in search of even the tiniest drops of fresh water. Fortunately, the bees had no interest in us and, even though they covered the stern of our boat near our exterior shower, any articles of damp clothing left out to dry and even our sink faucet and sponges in the galley. We did our best to co-exist peacefully with the critters but eventually closed the screens on all of our hatches and took refuge below. The next day, after exploration on foot along the rocky shore and some snorkeling in the crystal clear water, we chose to continue our journey in hopes of escaping the bees.

Another short sail brought us to Bahia San Marte, an anchorage protected by a reef that extends well off shore. As we approached, we used our GPS to carefully monitor our progress and proximity to the reef. We have often commented about how modern electronic navigation aids make adventures like this so much easier and safer than just a few years ago. Howard and Lynn, our friends from the vessel “Swift Current” joined us in the anchorage and, anxious to cool off and enjoy the cool, clear water we all inflated our swimming pool-style lounge chairs and drifted about the anchorage with adult beverages in hand. The company was splendid and the scenery around us sublime. What a great way to end the afternoon! Before leaving the next morning, we took our dinghy to a portion of the reef about a mile away and snorkeled among an array of multi-colored fish. Mark carried with him his pole spear and managed to get a shot off at a fair sized candidate for our dinner but sadly, the wily fish was too quick and the spear bounced harmlessly off its gill plate as the fish darted away. Though not as bad as Los Gatos, fresh water-seeking bees prompted us to leave the anchorage early and continue to our next stop, Bahia Aqua Verde.

Aqua Verde is a lovely spot and cruiser favorite that features a protected bay, a shoreline mixed with rocky cliffs and white sandy beaches and clear, emerald green water. We anchored there with added excitement over the news that cruisers had the opportunity to swim with a large whale shark just the day before. These amazing plankton feeders can approach 30 feet in length and, though resembling other carnivorous sharks, are harmless to humans and seem unafraid of sharing their watery world with us. The next day, we joined friends for a trip ashore to explore the village. What a treat! Although less populated than it once was, the community of Aqua Verde features many simple homes, two schools, two tiny markets and a cinder block police station with a tiny jail cell. As we explored the town, the guys in the group took great pleasure being photographed behind the jail cell bars while being guarded by the local sheriff. It appeared as if the sheriff had as much fun posing for the pictures as did the guys. After buying a few things at the small markets, Anne led the way to the home of a women who made fresh tortillas to order. While some of the group waited outside the small house, Anne visited with the woman while she worked just a few steps from where her fisherman husband napped, fully clothed on a simple bed. As we have experienced everywhere in Mexico, the local people were charming, warm and friendly. The high point of our walk through town for Anne was seeing the numerous goats, cows and pigs. In fact, the town is known for its two goat milk dairies and we were able to buy a large chunk of fresh cheese from one of the tiendas. Later that evening, while relaxing in “Blue Rodeo’s” cockpit, Anne became aware of the bleating of a goat coming from a shoreside cliff. Being the animal lover that she is, she feared that it was in distress and sped off to the rescue in our dinghy. She returned to our boat after determining the cries were coming from one of three goats high on a cliff and it appeared to be in no danger. In fact, it’s probably a nightly occurrence as the goats venture around the area nibbling on tiny plants that somehow manage to grow in the inhospitable terrain. Our days at Aqua Verde were filled with snorkeling, swimming and socializing. One evening, couples and families from most of the nearby anchored boats gathered on a beach to share snacks and beverages. Its hard to imagine a better life than to be sharing such an adventure with so many great people. Our next stop would be Puerto Escondido, another cruiser favorite, where we would be able to explore the town of Loreto and the surrounding area.