Sunday, November 29, 2009

Isla San Francisco - Thanksgiving Day and more

[GPS: N 24° 49' 17" W 110° 34' 20"]
Thursday morning we moved on to Isla San Francisco. We sailed most of the 20 miles there alongside Laura, beating against the northern wind. About halfway there, Reel Summertime came motoring past us. We anchored in “the hook” at the SW end of island. There were at least a dozen boats in the anchorage – half of them powerboats, including a huge (170’?) “Time for Us” that we had seen in La Paz.

We had Thanksgiving dinner aboard Laura with Michael & Laurie. What a feast! Michael cooked a whole chicken, with fresh green beans, and potatoes au gratin. Cathy cooked dressing (with sausage, celery, onion, apple, etc) and a cranberry jello. Laurie baked an apple pie (and we found one last small container of ice cream deep in our freezer to put on it). Doug brought some Chardonnay and his appetite.

Friday we walked across a salt pond to the “agate beach” on the east side of the island, where we just walked along the beach looking for interesting stones, and Michael did some snorkeling.

Cathy went back to the boat and Michael, Laurie, and Doug did a hike up to and along the ridge on the SE corner of the island, overlooking our anchorage and the agate beach.

Saturday we took our dinghies for a ride for about 2 miles along the western edge of the island to a small island, Isla Coyote, just north of Isla San Francisco – between it and Isla San Jose. There is a small fishing village on the island. We pulled our Porta-Bote dinghy up onto the rocky shore next to the fishing pangas, while Michael and Laurie anchored their inflatable dinghy just off the beach. We watched some of the fisherman filet their catch on wooden tables on the rocky beach. The blood dripped off the tables onto the rocks, and when the fishermen had finished excising their filets, the carcasses where thrown into a pile by the edge of the water. They mostly had large sting rays and manta rays, but also some hammerhead sharks. They excise the barbs from the sting rays and take them way out to sea to dispose of them since they have children on the island and don’t want to take any chances on them getting hurt. They also had some beautiful chocolate-colored clams that we watched them shuck. We walked up the hill to the covered porch of their dwellings, where a lady was selling shell earrings, necklaces, etc. and made a few purchases. At the top of the hill was a small chapel building, but some of the ceiling had collapsed and there was debris all over the floor. We also bought some tortillas from the lady in the cook shed.

We got back to our dinghies and motored over to a beach on the north side of Isla San Francisco that was advertised as the shell beach. Our beachcombing turned up a few specimens, but nothing much more than what we had seen on the beach where we had anchored. Cathy found some interesting crabs.

We got back in our dinghies to head back around to the anchorage. As we passed the NW point of the island and turned south, we were hit with 12-15 kts of a SW wind in our faces and a building chop. As we pushed the dinghies through the chop, we realized this direction would be going right into our anchorage. We saw several boats fleeing out of the anchorage, and listening in on our handheld VHF found they were all going over to the mainland to seek shelter at San Evaristo about 9 miles away. We contacted them to make sure our boats were still securely anchored. We finally made it back to our boats. Michael & Laurie decided to move around to the east side of the island (anchor off the agate beach). We decided to just stay put – we felt better when we saw a yellow-hulled boat come in that we had seen in Caleta Partida and had been sailing the Sea of Cortez for over 25 years – local knowledge is a comforting thing.

We had been expecting to wait until Monday to leave for Mazatlan rather than Sunday because our grib files had been showing a weak low spinning across the south end of the sea. But now our gribs were showing that the low had weakened and pretty much dissipated – and that these westerlies that we were getting were not just coromuels – that they would continue through Sunday. So we decided to check the weather again Sunday morning – and probably leave for Mazatlan.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ensenada Grande (Isla Partida)

[GPS: N 24° 33' 37" W 110° 23' 57"]
After a breakfast of scones and fresh fruit, we decided to move north to the southern lobe of the 3-lobed anchorage at Ensenada Grande on Isla Partida. It took us longer to secure the kayak and pull up the anchor than the journey to that anchorage. The winds were 15-18kts on the nose for the short motor north. They quickly dropped as we got further into the anchorage into shallow aqua water behind the high red sandstone cliffs. We anchored close to some carved sandstone cliffs on the northern side:

The winds broke our string for the burgees – between the Mexican flag (which ended up stuck by the spreader) and our BYC and HaHa burgees, which we saved just before they went into the water. Once we got anchored, Cathy stood up on the boom to try to get the flag down – and succeeded, but managed to strain her left shoulder in the effort. Get out the Motrin and ice! … and rum!

Tuesday afternoon, we dinghied over to the white sandy beach at the eastern end of the cove and set up our beach tent. We spent the afternoon just hanging out and reading. Our cruising guide indicated there was a trail up the arroyo from this beach, so Doug set off on a hike. After a hundred yards, there was no discernable trail – and was just scrambling over the rocks. When he came down over a ledge and saw a couple dried up snake skins, he decided this maybe wasn’t the greatest thing to do alone and headed back down to the beach. Here is our boat taken from under our beach tent, and a picture of the anchorage from Doug’s hike:

Wednesday morning Michael & Laurie came on up from Caleta Partida and anchored nearby. We went to the more pebbly beach on the southern side of the cove. Michael, Laurie, and Doug took a hike up this arroyo – this time with companions Doug made it farther. We went up to the top of a ridge between the two beaches. The only fauna we saw were lizards and small chipmunks – though we did see some fairly fresh scat from what must have been a larger mammal. The flora is fairly abundant this year – they had more rain than usual this summer with the tropical storms that came over this area.

While on this beach, we met two families – one from Journey (a HaHa boat) with Craig & Melanie and their 2 young sons; and another from Reel Summertime (powerboat) with Kip & Kit, their son, 4 daughters, and exchange student from Italy. Kip and Kit invited us over for drinks later, and Cathy suggested we all meet back on the beach for a bonfire and marshmallows that evening. We stopped by Reel Summertime for a glass of Merlot – it’s a beautiful 80’ powerboat – large living room, kitchen (not a galley) with side-by-side refrig/freezer, etc. Very nice family from Utah down for Thanksgiving week on vacation – they keep the boat in La Paz.

Once it was dark, we headed over to the beach to start a fire. Michael did the boy scout job, including propping his dinghy up with a paddle as a windbreak. We cooked sausages in the fire, and Cathy pulled out marshmallows and Hershey bars for everyone (we didn’t have any graham crackers to complete the smores). After the marshmallows, Cathy introduced the kids to a game of flashlight tag on the beach. This was one of our most enjoyable evenings so far in our journey.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Caleta Partida

[GPS: N 24° 31' 53" W 110° 22' 38"]
Caleta Partida is the best protected anchorage on the island. Lying between Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida, its geologic history stems from being the crater of a large extinct volcano. It is still a bit open to the west, so we got some chop, but it was much better than Ensenada del Candelero. We stayed two nights – having dinner aboard Laura (with Michael & Laurie) on Sunday night, and aboard Jabiroo (with John & Jan) on Monday night. When we were ready to leave Laura, we shone our light down into the water, attracting a lot of fish. We threw a line down, and pretty quickly caught one – it looked like some kind of mackerel with an interesting frog-like pattern of green and gray pigmentations on its dorsal surface. We threw him back in. On Monday, we took a long (yes, Doug pushed us to go too far) kayak trip. We paddled through the channel separating the two islands, then turned right to go down the eastern side of Isla Espiritu Santo towards some sea caves. As we would reach one point, Doug would look beyond to the next point and say “oh, that looks good, let’s go on to the next point”. When we finally turned to go back, we had the wind and chop on our nose - at least it wasn’t blowing too hard yet. On the way back, we dawdled for a while in the channel, watching a group of a pelicans diving for fish. They were doing short quick dives compared to what we saw e.g. in Morro Bay – perhaps because the water was so shallow.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ensenada del Candelero (Isla Espiritu Santo)

[GPS: N 24° 30' 23" W 110° 23' 21"]
We left La Paz for the islands just north. Isla Espiritu Santo lies 20 miles north of LaPaz, and on the north end is connected to Isla Partida with a small channel dividing the two islands. The islands lie near the fault lines, and expose colorful layers of various rocks – oh to be a geologist!

Most of the anchorages are along the western coast of the islands, with good protection from the northers that blow down the Sea of Cortez, but not so good protection from the nighttime coromuels that come from the southwest.

With light north winds, we only were able to sail for about ½ hour out of the 4 hour trip. We poked our heads into Bahia San Gabriel and Puerto Ballena before deciding to drop anchor in Ensenada del Candelero (Candlestick Cove). We put the kayak into the water for Cathy to take a trip to the beach, where some people from a Baja Expeditions group were camping. And the next morning we paddled around the Roca Monumento in the center of the cove and did a little snorkeling around the reef that leads from there back towards shore. We paddled over to Evergreen where we met Dennis, Carol, and their 11-year old son Josh (busy doing math “home”work).

When the coromuels blow against the tide it can create a square chop, so we spent a very uncomfortable night of pitching/hobbyhorsing. We slept in the sea berths with lee cloths deployed. In the morning, we decided to move on to the next anchorage.

Friday, November 20, 2009

La Paz

[GPS: N 24° 09' 18" W 110° 19' 33"]
Here it is Friday evening – we’ve been in La Paz for just over a week, and will be leaving tomorrow morning for the islands just north of La Paz, and then crossing to Mazatlan around December 1 with the full moon. We had only intended to stay here for 4 nights – doubling our time is not as extreme as some people. Our dock neighbors on one side (Dan and Leigh aboard Afroessa) came here for a month – 6 years ago. La Paz is a very cruiser-friendly community, and people talk about the "La Paz bungie" that keeps bringing you back.

Coming down the channel toward La Paz last Friday, we decided to try to get into the Marina de La Paz which is closest to downtown. We thought it would be nice to be able to clean the boat well, and there was a norther predicted to start Sunday evening - northers are the winds that blow down the Sea of Cortez from the north when there is high pressure in the Arizona/New Mexico area and low pressure at the southern end of the Sea. We weren’t too hopeful, since we had heard the marina was booked for November – and there were a LOT of HaHa boats heading to La Paz. However, when we called in, they said they thought they could move boats around a little and to call back in an hour. We anchored temporarily just beyond (south) of the marina. While we were waiting, several flotillas of brown chunks came floating by in the water ??? (maybe we were near the sewer outflow?) – so we were happy when we got in touch with the marina again and they said we could have a slip.

It’s hard to know where a whole week went, but here are some of the activities:
There were of course the chores. Laundry – but at the laundromat here at the marina, Polly would do a load for you and fold it for 50 pesos ($4) – or you could use the machine yourself for 40 pesos per load… no brainer! Grocery – a couple trips to CCC, the local big grocery, which was a hefty walk, or an 8 peso bus ride or a 50 peso cab ride. Doug went to the main Telcel store and got a 3G data card. So now we should have decent internet connection whenever there is decent cell phone service – works well from the marina – much better than the marina wifi! And then we redid about half of the teak on the boat. We (Doug) lightly sanded and put 4 coats on the forward half of the toerail, and we (Cathy) totally stripped one eyebrow and put teak oil on it. If the oil does well, maybe we’ll switch over to it totally. The oiled finish is flat and looks like a nice piece of Danish furniture. Peter from Delphis stopped by to help us with our broken wind instrument; we did find and fix a bad connection – hopefully that will fix the problem. We went to a shop we had heard about in town where a lady (Katty) makes one piece full-body lycra suits – they protect you from the small jellyfish and other creatures in the sea. We got two custom-made ones for 450 pesos each – completed in one day! Cathy picked a bright fabric because she doesn't want to be mistaken for a seal by any sharks down here. Doug looks delicious in his navy blue suit. Stay tuned for a picture of the 2 newest action heros....that's what we look like with the suits on!

And then there was socializing and dinners. We had Michael and Laurie, and Phil and Katie over for popcorn and a movie (“Captain Ron”). We ran into Kathy and Rick on ConsumMate – right across the fairway from us - We knew them from Berkeley/Danville (small world!). Knowing La Paz well, they introduced us to 2 wonderful dinner spots – Rancho Viejo (delicious Papas Asaderras – potatoes with marinated/grilled beef - the Mexican version of Shepherd's Pie) and Bandidos (great onion rings and hamburgers at an outdoor patio where the grill was installed under the hood of an old car). Alan and Christine from BYC, having lunch at the dock cafĂ© at Marina de la Paz, noticed our boat as they looked over the marina. We saw them and walked up to have a beer and later a pescado dinner with them at La Fondas. They had just gotten back to their boat in Marina Costa Baja where they had left it for the summer. We had John and Jan from Jabiroo (another IP that did the HaHa) over for dinner – they were working on refinishing their toe rail as well and we walked back and forth to each other's boats to conpare the progress and outcomes. And another visit to Rancho Viejo for more Papas Asaderras – this time with Michael and Laurie.

We ended up staying long enough to go to the La Paz HaHa party Thursday evening – at the beach location of local business Papas & Beer. It was a great party sponsered by the National Tourism Board and many local busineses! We sat at a table with Michael & Laurie, and Russ & Roz (who had just gotten back in from the islands and were staying 4 miles north at Marina Costa Baja). Only $7 per person – and the first 50 HaHa’ers (including us of course) got in for free. From 4pm to 7pm there were free margaritas and beer, and a plate of 4 fish tacos for each attendee. And entertainment – two kid dancing groups, a mariachi band, and a young adult dancing group. And prizes raffled off. When we all sat down Cathy had warned everyone that she had very good luck with raffles, so everyone should expect to win something. Out of the 6 tickets at our table, 4 were winners! We won a hand carved wooden whale tail (the symbol for La Paz), and 1 hour free electrical/refrigeration consulting. Then starting at 7pm there was a rock band and dancing.

And then today, November 20, was the celebration of the Mexican Revolution – on this date in 1910 the war to overthrow dictator Porfirio Diaz began. There was a parade down the Malecon (the main street along the waterfront), with bands and groups of dancers, martial arts, baseball, etc. Afterwards, people stayed around the downtown area, continuing with a street fiesta. The town is not really as we had expected – it never really was a fishing town so the waterfront is not that developed. But they have now lined the shore with a nice sidewalk with public art statues all along it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Puerto Balandra

[GPS: N 24° 19' 17" W 110° 19' 53"]
Wednesday morning we slept in a little – anchor up at 6:45 am. Well, when it’s dark at 6pm and when it’s 8pm it feels like midnight, so we go to bed early, it’s not too hard to get up early. But we slept in for 15 minutes this morning. The winds were light all day, so we motored north through the Cerralvo Channel, west through the San Lorenzo Channel, and then turned south towards La Paz. Just after the turn towards the south, and still 12 or so miles from La Paz, we pulled into an anchorage at Puerto Balandra.

This is a beautiful spot. Clear blue water (we could see our anchor down 20’), several smaller coves around the anchorage where the water shoals to a green color for as much as a hundred yards up to white sand beaches. The beaches are separated by rock formations –one has a rock on the point called “El Hongo” (the mushroom) – perhaps 12 feet high with a stem and then a large cap. Unfortunately, it actually fell a few years back, and some engineers raised it again and reinforced it with rebar.

In the evening a southwesterly coromuel blew up to about 12 Kts and blew all night until mid-morning. These coromuels result from low land southwest of La Paz which allows the cool air from the Pacific Ocean to flow across Baja peninsula towards the warmer sea of Cortez. We decided to stay another night in this anchorage. There were only a few other boats anchored here. Each day one or two large power boats would come in for the day, dinghy people to the beach or El Hongo. We took down our kayak and paddled around the bay, stopping for a while on the beach to sit under a palapa near El Hongo. On the way back to the boat we stopped by Avalon another boat in the anchorage and visited with Phil and Katie. Cathy cut Doug’s hair in the cockpit – a good first effort . But the hairs were not as easy to clean out of the cockpit as we thought, so we’ll have to do it on land in the future.

The second night was a bit less comfortable. The coromuel was blowing 16-18 Kts and there was a boat that had anchored next to us, that when the winds picked up and shifted was almost right in front of us. With only about 12 miles to La Paz, we got up really late (7am) Friday morning, had breakfast and put things away (including pulling the kayak back up on deck), before pulling anchor at 8am.

We have been so pleased with our new 60 pound Manson Supreme anchor. We're not sure if it's the sandy bottoms or the new anchor, but it sets each time and you better be holding on to the boat when it does. We usually drop the anchor to the bottom, then slowly pay out a 4 to 1 scope, and then back down at about 3kts to straighten out the chain and set the anchor. When the anchor grabs the boat suddenly stops, while the engine strains against the load. This is very different from our experiences in the SF bay with a Bruce anchor in mostly mud and eel grass bottoms.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ensenade de los Muertos

[GPS: N 23° 59' 16" W 109° 49' 38"]
Tuesday morning was another early (6:30am anchor up) departure for the next 45 miles to Ensenade de los Muertos (“Cove of the Dead”). Again the winds were light – or in the afternoon on our nose – but we were able to sail about half the way. Again the wind instrument worked for about 6 hours and then stopped working again. We pulled into Ensenade de los Muertos near Laura. We put OUR dinghy in this time and went to shore with Michael and Laurie to a restaurant on the beach – the “Beach Club at the Bay of Dreams” – for margueritas, chili relleno, and tamales. We had heard that the name of the Bay had been changed - presumably “Bay of Dreams” is the new name.

It was dark as we headed back to the dinghy. As we were wading the dinghy out, the women got in, and Cathy shown the light into the water. Swimming right next to us in 2’ of water was a large moray eel (4’?) with its mouth open and teeth bared, trying to bite the beam of light! The women squealed. And when Michael and Doug understood why, they QUICKLY! jumped into the dinghy and we took off to find our boats, now nestled amongst 24 boats in the anchorage.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Los Frailes

[GPS: N 23° 22' 49" W 109° 25' 16"]
We got up early Monday morning, raising the anchor at 6:30 so that we could make the 45 miles to the first anchorage and try to get in before the crowds – we had heard of a LOT of HaHa boats planning to go next to La Paz – and for those doing it in day-hops, Los Frailes and Los Muertos are the natural stopping places. Laura had the same idea – we had not seen them at anchorage off Cabo (they had also moved out to anchorage on Sunday), but as we pulled away from our anchor spot, we saw them right in front of us. The winds were fairly light – so we sailed some, but motored a good bit as well. We were shocked that our wind instrument seemed to be working (though the angle was off by ca 30-40 degrees) – but then it crapped out again after 6 hours. At one point we counted 21 large sportfishing boats along the horizon – they must know where the fish are running.

When we pulled into Los Frailes there were only about 8 other boats there – but by nightfall there were 28 boats in the anchorage – all but 2 were HaHa boats. We dinghyed to shore with Michael and Laurie and took a long walk along the beach. We spoke to a couple of Canadian guys, sitting on ATVs that looked like they used them to pull fishing boats down to the water. They spend 6 months in the winters living in a trailer on the beach at Los Frailes. As the sun set, we dinghyed back to Galatea for drinks, dinner, and movie.

Los Frailes is the easternmost point of the Baja peninsula. It is so named (“The Friars”) for the rock formation on the point at the entrance that looks like friars climbing up the hill:

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cabo San Lucas

We arrived in Cabo San Lucas Thursday noon to a hub of activity in the bay, including 3 large cruise ships anchored out. We had opted for a slip in the marina (for $120 per night!) to be able to wash the boat down and more easily do check-in, laundry, provisioning, and partying. The owner had come back to the slip we were originally assigned, and we could not contact Profligate to get our new assignment. So we spent some time going on in to the fuel dock and filling up on diesel – until we got our assignment on the end tie of “J” dock, right at the end of a dock full of well-supplied sportfishing boats:

It turned out to be an ok slip, even though it was on the main fairway and the fishing boats started going out a little before 6am every morning, some throwing their wake up and making us bob a little. At least being on the fairway, there was a bit of breeze going through, and the large fishing boat next to us shadowed us some from the hot afternoon sun.

Thursday evening was laundry and a gathering of HaHa people at Squid Roe – a bar with dancing just a couple blocks from the marina:

Friday morning Doug and David walked around to check us into the country, while Cathy washed the boat. The check-in involved a walk to immigration (which wasn’t open yet despite being just after the 9am posted opening time), across to the bank to pay the money for our tourist cards, then back to immigration with the receipts to get the tourist cards and stamp on our crew list. Next stop was the Port Captain – about a 15 minute walk across town. There were a number of people waiting in the small office – and the officials there said their system was down so they couldn’t process anyone – should be back in a couple hours. Michael (from Laura) and I stayed while all the others left. Insisting that we needed to check in, since we were leaving Sunday and needed to check out as well, eventually the official started processing my papers, and then somehow produced the sheet I needed to take back to the bank across town to make their payment. A walk to the bank and back, and we got our stamp and signature on the arrival crew list, as well as a new crew list showing just the two of us staying on. It was shortly after noon. The afternoon was a relaxing beach party with all the HaHa folks – mostly just sitting under umbrellas on the beach drinking beer.

Saturday, Cathy did provisioning with Laura and Worrall Wind (Costco plus a local supermarket), while Doug worked on the blog. Since the wireless did not work at our dock – we sat in the marina office to work on the computer. Even though it was slow and often dropped the connection, at least it was air-conditioned in the office. Saturday evening was the awards party, with beer provided by the marina office. We were shocked to place 2nd in our division! In each division they give a 1st and 2nd place, and everyone else gets 3rd. They give priority to boats that sail more – you turn in your total time and engine time for each leg. It’s not clear what formula they use – if any – to penalize you for engine time. The boat that placed first in our division had sailed all the way. So with us using the engine about a third of the time, we were surprised to take 2nd.

Sunday morning David and Dick left for the airport to fly home. It was great having them on board for the trip down Baja! We cleaned the boat, finished uploading what we could to the blog, checked out of the marina, and headed out to the anchorage off the beach just a few miles outside the marina for the night.