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.