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.