Sailing away with Nikk and Jan

Archive for November, 2012

A Week of Contrasts

The past week began in beautiful Bahia de Santa Maria and ended anchored off the golden sandy beach of Cabo San Lucas, at the end of the Baja California peninsula. 1900 miles since we left Portland in September. Our time in Bahia Santa Maria created a deeper connection with the world of rocks, sky, plants and animals in this land of contrasts. Paying attention to small creatures, birds and unexpected plants is one of the joys of this journey for me.

The least strained and most natural ways of the soul are the most beautiful; the best occupations are the least forced. Michel de Montaigne/blockquote>;
It is especially fitting that the author of that quote is “of the mountain”, because we faced hills that rose up out of the sea to a height of 1500 feet.

On Saturday Nov 16 our friend Jane from Midnight Blue joined us to paddle across the bay in our kayaks, and up the estuary, viewing birds in the mangroves, grasses and mud flats. Many pangas were heading up the estuary too, to deliver their lobsters to the cages where they grow before being harvested. Fishermen/lobstermen make the estuary home for part of the year, and live in little plywood homes, sometimes with family. We waved to some of the children and greeted the men in pangas as we paddled up the estuary. A very primitive, sandy road went by the fish camp, so we pulled out our kayaks and walked up the road. On the driving map of Baja, this road is called a “dirty road”, the lowest classification of types of roads, and Hurricane Paul, which dumped a lot of rain here in early October, didn’t help it’s condition. But the desert was profusely blooming; periwinkle blue morning glories, tiny shrubs, long tubular cacti with bulbous red fruits growing sideways, and huge agaves with brilliant yellow flowers on huge stalks that look like century plants. We saw a little Costa’s Hummingbird gleaning nectar from the yellow flowers.
And at the top of a rise, we saw the ocean, and an old wreck in the water, so had to go another mile or so to investigate. By the time we returned to our sailboats we’d been gone for six hours!
Some birds seen: Little Blue Herons, both slate blue mature and white immature forms, Great Egrets, Reddish Heron, Green Heron, Belted Kingfisher, and an unidentified vireo.

Sunday Nikk needed to drain the water and gunk out of the fuel, then top off the tank, a long project. I scouted the rocky cliffs looking for a way to land the kayaks so that we could go explore inland. We enjoyed another fabulous dinner on Midnight Blue, Tim and Jane cooked bouillabaise (sp?) with Wahoo and we contributed lobster for the pot, bought with 100 pesos and a Snickers Bar for the lobsterman’s children (the tails were about 3-4 inches long).

Monday Nov 18 was another cloudy day, perfect for exploring, and we found a way to land the kayaks safely on a little beach at the mouth of an arroyo, although I got a bit wet when the kayak tipped as I got out. We followed the arroyo, marveling at the profusion of plants blooming pink, orange, red and white. Lots of butterflies but no birds. We came out at the top of a ridge to see the Pacific Ocean breaking at the foot of steep cliffs and rocky headlands. We were happy to explore and enjoy the peacefulness of the remote places we visited on foot, and the beauty of the anchorage at Bahia de Santa Maria.

Balance sailed out of Bahia de Santa Maria Tuesday afternoon, it was sunny and the engine sounded fine as we motored while pulling up the anchor. We hoped that leaving in the afternoon Tuesday would time our arrival in Cabo for Thursday morning. We found some good winds after we got out of the slack winds at the mouth of the bay, but Midnight Blue followed us about an hour and a half later, and turned back due to lack of wind. We missed our buddy boat, especially when lightening was striking all around us after dark, and we were trying to decide whether to continue or retreat inside Bahia de Magdalena. When we saw lightening inside Mag Bay, we nervously continued on down the coast, watching bolts strike from ocean to cloud, and at the same time send bolts shooting horizontally through the clouds. I finally went to bed at 10, and when I got up at 2 am the sky was full of stars instead of lightening. All Wednesday we sailed further SE, and finally crossed the Tropic of Cancer, 23 degrees and 27 minutes. We celebrated with glasses of ginger ale, and I celebrated because I’d found the wrist bands with the little plastic bead just before we left Bahia de Santa Maria. The bands are supposed to press on a point on the inside of your wrist and lessen motion sickness. They work! Even though we were definitely rocking and rolling, I could be below, cook, and only had one moment of queasiness when cooking lobster for dinner, and that might have happened even on land. Both nights we needed sail changes due to shifting winds, so Nikk didn’t get much sleep, and stayed up with pots of coffee. We sailed into Cabo Thursday morning at sunrise and were surrounded by fishing boats, mostly power boats, leaving the Cabo Marina. We knew that coming to Cabo, the tourist mecca, after weeks of relative solitude would be a shock, dodging dozens of power boats was just the beginning of the intense contrasts.

The Cabo Marina is surrounded on three sides by a long malecon, a walkway with both high fashion shops and little wooden booths selling trinkets, blankets, dresses and pottery, many restaurants, marina offices, showers and laundry, and the men, women and children peddling toys, cheap jewelry, “Cuban” cigars, and drugs (whispered). Nikk pointed out that if someone was foolish enough to buy the drugs, the policia would probably be right around the corner watching.
We also found out that it was Thanksgiving Day, when we were offered a Thanksgiving dinner at our breakfast restaurant, Alexander’s. I was very happy to be able to talk with Jesse and Lucy and Deva, because our phones were working for the first time since Turtle Bay. Nikk once again caught up on sleep after we checked into the marina and finally took long, long showers washing away the accumulation of ten days. Sponge baths and a swim in Bahia de Santa Maria were not enough. After many days on the boat, the shower floor was rocking, a strange sensation indeed.

If you want peace and quiet, don’t stay in Cabo Marina, but if you want to dance to loud disco, party until 2 am, or watch boats leave at 6 am, it’s your place. The first night Nikk was in bed by 8 pm, and me shortly after. At 8:45 the little schnauzer (we later found out he was only 6 months old) in the boat across the walkway from us started barking. He was still barking continuously half an hour later, so to prevent Nikk from getting up and strangling him, I went over with a bucket and doused him with water. He was quiet after that. Someone about three boats down the row applauded when I walked back to the boat. The next day he was excited to play with me while we chatted with his owner, so I don’t think he suffered any trauma, but maybe he’ll have a fear of tsunamis? His owner went out and bought him a crate the next day.

Midnight Blue arrived Friday morning, we met them at La Casa Country in the afternoon for beer, guacamole, burgers for them and fish tacos for us, and good times catching up on our sails to Cabo. They anchored out off the beach about a mile from the marina, and we joined them for two nights. Hotels line the beach above the golden sands, the hotels have domes that make them look like something from Istanbul, and are white or ochre colored. The daytime temperatures are in the high 80’s, the water is also in the 80’s, perfect for swimming. Today (Sunday the 25th) we paddled over to the rocky area at the tip of the peninsula, and went snorkeling around the rocks with Tim and Jane. We saw fish of every color and size up to about two feet in length, a garden of fishes in the green water. Another paddle, and we were at Tabasco’s, a little beach restaurant in the middle of the huge hotels, consuming beer, nachos and guacamole. Because it was Happy Hour, all that food and beer only cost 170 pesos with tax and tip, about $14 US. We said goodbye to Tim and Jane, we’re leaving tomorrow the 26th for La Cruz, near Puerto Vallarta, where we’ll stay for at least a month. We’ll see them again, though because Tim and Jane will sail Midnight Blue across on Tuesday, to stay in Punta Mita for the winter, which is only about 10 miles from La Cruz.

As I type this, I’m listening to the sounds of drumming and loud cheering from one of the hotels onshore. It’s almost 11 pm, and we get up at 5:30 am to pull up the anchor and hopefully sail away. If it’s clear, we’ll see Venus and Saturn in the eastern sky before sunrise. I’m marveling still that we are here in Cabo, the end of the long peninsula, which seemed so far away when we began the journey in September. I have some beautiful photos taken in Bahia de Santa Maria and Cabo that I’m going to wait to post when we’re in La Cruz and hopefully have an excellent internet connection in the marina. Thanks to everyone who posted the positive comments, I don’t always have time to reply, but I love reading the comments and knowing that you are entertained and inspired. The next chaper of life in mainland Mexico begins in December.

South Along the Baja Coast Part II: Bahia de Tortugas to Bahia de Santa Maria

Nov 12: Turtle Bay to Asuncion, a little fishing town only ten hours away, sailing with three other boats, Encore, Gold Dust and Midnight Blue. Gold Dust continued on to the next anchorage. Dolphins and a humpback whale traveled with us. It was cloudy and windy, so we were bundled up as we sailed by beautiful mountains that still reminded me of Death Valley, one of my favorite places on earth. Gold Dust left us with a piece of the yellowtail tuna that they caught, so it became curried tuna, cooked in a pan with olive oil and garlic, then mixed with curry, pickles, and ranch dressing. We discovered that the venturi tube for the gas to the propane barbeque was gone, probably shaken off by the motion of the ocean, so no barbeque until we get to La Cruz and hopefully can get a replacement in Puerto Vallarta.

Nov 13: Asuncion to Abreojos, another fishing village with many, many pangas. The pangas harvest lobster traps as well as the nets of fish, all of them hang from floats attached to lines of yellow plastic rope. Cruisers dread these floats, because they mean the possibility of fouling the propeller with the rope. The nets also trap dolphins and sea lions, sometimes you can see the body of a dead dolphin or sea lion as you pass over the nets, very sad. The fishermen are harvesting lobster and fishing vigorously right now, because as soon as the whales migrate past shore and into the bays, fishing nets are prohibited, and the whales should arrive by December.
Abreojos means “open your eyes”, the coastline is treacherous for mariners, with many rocks and shoals.

Our first night’s anchorage was offshore near the village, with Encore and Midnight Blue nearby. We joined TIm and Jane on Midnight Blue for a delicious dinner and good conversations. Their home base is the US Virgin Islands, although Jane sometimes works in Seattle. They have sailed through the Panama Canal, across to Hawaii, and down to the Fanning Islands 900 miles south of Hawaii. Midnight Blue is a 40 foot Camper Nicholson sailboat, down below it seems very roomy after being in 30 foot Balance for all this time. We had to sleep in the next day until 9am, the large swells from the south kept the boat rocking all night. So we moved to another anchorage one and a half miles into the bay, past a little rocky outcrop, where gringos have established large homes on a stretch of wide, sandy beach that still contains a few little Mexican beach shacks too. Desiring produce and beer, we kayaked to the beach, then walked about two miles across sandy desert to the town. Abreojos has three long streets, osprey nests on telephone poles that contain an amazing amount of human detritus woven into the branches and twigs, a church with stained glass and a huge bell tower, larger homes with larger yards, a curious amount of SUV’s and large trucks, and an airport that looks like the Bonneville Salt Flats. We found the little tienda, with produce and tortilla chips, but no cerveza. We were directed down the street and found two shops that sold beer, both closed, even though it was only 4pm. Was Nov 14 a Mexican holiday?
Back along the malecon next to the beach, with its garbage cans sporting plastic replicas of marine life on top, then down the wide, curving beach, across the desert dunes, trying to avoid stepping in sandy holes created by little desert rodents or maybe snakes? Successful birdwatching spotted a Le Conte’s Thrasher on a bush, it has a very downcurved bill, and runs along the ground like a roadrunner. Back to our anchorage at sunset, just in time to cook dinner for Tim and Jane on our boat this time. Shrimp from a panga boiled in beer (we had to dig out stored Mirror Pond Ale from the hold) with garlic, saffron rice, and sauteed onions and green peppers. Trader Joes dark chocolate covered cherries for dessert.

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Nov 15: Away into the golden sunrise, now we’re sailing SE down the curve of the peninsula, and on this morning, near the entrance to Bahia San Ignacio, one of the famous lagoons where grey whales give birth after traveling all the way from Alaskan waters. Still sailing at dinner time, yellow split pea soup with corn meal muffins. Here’s the split pea soup concoction: sauteed half an onion, two cloves garlic, one cup chopped cabbage in two tablespoons olive oil until soft. Added one cup vegetable broth, one cup yellow split peas, and turmeric, cumin, paprika, fenugreek seeds and salt. After cooking for a few minutes, added one small can of green chilis and one can of stewed tomatoes. Ate out in the cockpit watching the sun glow yellow in the west, and pale pink clouds spreading over the eastern sky. A perfect end to another day spent on the ocean, with memories of more dolphins swooping and gliding in the bow wake, and a few young ones cavorting boldly until they realized that mother dolphin was not next to them and then back they’d go to swim next to her. This was the peaceful part of the sailing.

In the night we picked up one of the lines to the fishing nets on the propeller. After reversing and slowing down it seemed to come off, but then the engine began sputtering, a very bad sound to hear. We were down to about seven gallons remaining in the tank, and must have had some water or gunk in the diesel. Nikk changed the filter but the engine was still not content, so we turned off the engine and sailed slowly, at 3-4 knots, towards Bahia de Santa Maria.

On Friday, Nov. 16 we finally sailed past the mountains at the head of Bahia de Santa Maria, with Midnight Blue close to the surprisingly green hills, looking for potential surfing sites.

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Hurricane Paul came through here in early October, and the torrential rains created a fantastic profusion of greenery on all the hillsides, very different from last year, when the hills were stark reddish rock and bare, with the desert plants dry and only occasionally blooming. Back to the saga of the dirty fuel and balky engine, Nikk managed to drain the engine separator three times, hoping that the engine could run and save us from being swept onto the rocky point after we rounded the headland. At almost the last moment the engine caught and we safely motored to our anchorage among half a dozen sailboats and powerboats. Many pangas were coming and going from the fish camps on shore, busy harvesting lobsters and fish from the traps and lines. We both got on our bathing suits and dove into the water, what heaven to finally be swimming in warm, salty water, washing away a week of grime that washcloths can’t quite remove.

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Nikk loves to hold his breath to dive, so he dove to check the anchor in the clear water. No problem. Then he dove to check the propeller. Big problems. The yellow line was hooked on the bolts which held the zinc to the propeller, and the zinc, which prevents the propeller from corroding in the seawater, was completely gone! Many diving trips with the knife later, the propeller was free. Here is Nikk’s new crown, he earned it.

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Now my time to blog in Cabo is running out, we’ll be heading across the Pacific to La Cruz tomorrow morning. Our stays in Bahia de Santa Maria and Cabo were memorable, for very different reasons, so the saga continues in the next blog.

South Along the Baja Coast: Ensenada to Bahia de Tortugas

Away from the city, out on the ocean, sailing and motoring farther and father south as the waters become warmer and the need for jackets and insulated pants becomes less.

Many blogs back I wrote to stay tuned for how my stomach adjusted to the motion of the ocean. I’d thought that I was getting used to the rocking and rolling, pitching and yawing motions, until the journey from Ensenada to Turtle Bay Nov 6-8. We started out in the afternoon to sail across Ensenada’s bay, and down the coast a short way to Bahia Todos Santos to anchor for the night, but the anchorage had winds over 20 knots, and masses of kelp floating around waiting to snag on the propeller, so we continued on to Turtle Bay, two nights and days away. Even with Vontrol, a Mexican dramamine, the washing machine action had me sick four times in 40 hours, until we finally passed Isla Cedros and were out of the waves caused by NW winds for the 20 miles along the island coast. After Turtle Bay, the stomach did fine, I think once the seas get rough I must reach a certain level of non-tolerance. Many of the other sailors on that particular leg commented on feeling seasick, even the experienced ones, but not Nikk, luckily.

And how are we doing living in close quarters? Very well, I think. We do an interesting dance sometimes when we’re both trying to brush teeth, or dress, or move about without bumping each other. When we’re sailing, we’re both in the cockpit during the day, but take turns sleeping at night so that one person is always on watch, which lessens collisions both with other ships and ourselves. When we’re anchored, we’re busy with repairs, cooking, reading, or going exploring on shore. How are we doing avoiding chaos aboard? Really well, although sometimes in order to do repairs Nikk needs to pull almost everything out of the secluded quarter berth behind the nav station, and pile it up on the settees, then the cabin looks really messy. And out in the cockpit all the boxes and boxes of parts, tools, rope, cans and bottles of solvents and other chemicals get deposited on every level surface so that Nikk can work or go down into the hold. Then it all gets put back and order is restored after the project is completed, and we can enjoy being able to move around in a cabin that’s tidy.

Despite the rebellious tummy, this section of the journey surrounded us with the beauty of the present moments. At sunset the first day dozens of dolphins came by to frolic with the boat and then get back to their feeding frenzy. At night the stars came out, the Pleiades rising first, then Jupiter, followed quickly by Orion, out on the ocean even the Milky Way was visible, I realized on this voyage how much I’d missed the night sky, living near Taos at almost 8000 feet elevation, the night sky was a constant presence, each night I’d take the dogs outside at about 10, and look at the profusion of silver stars in a jet black sky. In Portland just seeing the BIg Dipper, the moon and planets, and maybe Orion on a clear night was all that was possible. Lightening appeared on the second day, and at night many shooting stars, and a very unusual occurrence, a sighting of Mercury right before sunrise, a faint orange object barely above the horizon.

Of course, when it was my turn to be on watch the second night, with Nikk really needing sleep, the radar showed a boat getting closer and closer, when it was about half a mile away I turned on the bright spreader lights to show the sails. It looked like a tugboat, which could change course much easier than we could, since we were sailing wing and wing, with the mainsail out to starboard, and the headsail out to port held there by a pole attached to the mast. But on it came on the same course, so I had to wake Nikk up to change course and adjust the sails, looking to see if the tug was towing a dark black object, which would be the barge. We’ve agreed that I don’t go up on deck to change sails, and adjust what I can from the cockpit. Finally after much effort we changed course and then got the ship on the VHF, and it turned out to be a sailboat, Gold Dust, a 42 foot Islander, who wanted to keep the course they were on, but agreed to fall off until we were by them and in front. Nikk stayed on watch and I slept until 1 am, when Gold Dust was no longer even on the radar. Later we met up with the three guys on Gold Dust at a restaurant in Turtle Bay, the captain, James, said that they thought we were a fishing boat!

Isla Cedros has “cedars”, which are really junipers, and also a kind of pine tree only found there. We could see these trees on the highest ridges as we sailed by in the morning. On the eastern side of the island the hills rise steeply from the ocean, with almost no anchorages, and thus no habitation. Early Spanish explorers encountered natives living on the island, mostly inland, except for the southern tip, where the land slopes gently. Of course, there is a town there now, with a huge facility that stores salt from the lagoons across the water on the peninsula, where they process seawater into salt. The lagoons are so shallow that big ships can’t dock there, so the salt must be taken to Isla Cedros and dumped into huge piles, before being loaded into huge container ships to go to Japan and the US. Once past Isla Cedros, we motorsailed through the Dewey Channel, a narrow, 4 mile wide section with fairly shallow waters, watching the extensive sands of Isla Natividad on one side, and Punta Eugenia, a rocky promontory, on the other. Soon Kelp Point appeared, along with several rocks that we needed to avoid, and then we were anchored in 28 feet of beautiful green water in Bahia de Tortugas, about 200 yards from shore, at 4 pm. We quickly ate leftover mac and cheese with green beans and stewed tomatoes, a staple that we first began eating while sailing the Baja HaHa a year ago, and Nikk went to bed at 5 pm! I stayed up for a little while, and was visited by an official looking boat with two Mexicans dressed in slacks and white shirts. Thinking that they asked me where I was from, I said “Portland, Oregon, USA”. Then they seemed to be asking me if I wanted any potatoes or candy? All of us were thoroughly confused, so I told them I was tired and needed to sleep, and bid them Buenas Noches. They went off to visit another boat. The next day, another boat said that they asked them for their papers, but because they looked suspicious, the other boat sent them away. Nobody else ever came to the boat to ask for any documents. Being tired and blonde must have worked in my favor?

Bahia de Tortugas (Turtle Bay) is a large, SW facing bay which provides some protection from the prevailing NW winds, however the anchorage faces the town, which has almost no hills, and lets the NW winds funnel into the bay, as we experienced Sunday morning when the wind was howling and the boat really rocking. The east end of the bay has a long, wide beach, where the HaHa had a picnic and party last year. Turtles probably laid their eggs on that beach long ago, but no turtles have been seen in the bay for a long time. It’s not just the meat, eggs and shells that are prized. A college friend lived in Columbia in the 70’s, and was severely burned all over her legs in a kitchen fire. While recuperating, a neighbor told her to rub turtle oil on the scars. She did, and six months later there were only faint scars, so she was able to model in New York and Miami for several years after that. I was glad to read in one of the books about Baja California that the Mexican government is now attempting to protect these endangered turtles.

The town of Turtle Bay has about 3000 inhabitants, a school, several hotels, restaurants, little grocery stores, and a Pemex gas station. It also has an airport and medical clinic, and is the largest port on the Pacific side in this part of lower Baja after Magdalena Bay. It’s located 135 miles from Hwy 1, the Main Transpeninsular Highway, known as the MTH, on a road that was just recently paved. Income from all the cruisers who usually stay there several days is important. Like many of the small coastal towns we have anchored at, the homes are small, made of wood, with tiny dirt yards, sometimes some flowering trees or shrubs, and often a new SUV or truck. Kind of reminded us of a ghetto stereotype. I’m including pictures at the end of this blog, since pictures don’t load until I have internet service.

We loved being in Turtle Bay. The first thing we discovered was that Turtle Bay, being below the 28th degree of latitude, is in the Mountain Time Zone. When we woke, the sun was coming up at 5:30am, until we discovered the need for the time change. A panga came out to take us to shore, which involved getting onto the lower dock, jumping across to the steel ladder painted blue, and then up to the rickety long upper dock on wooden pilings, and then the beach. A short trudge along the beach and we were at Maria’s Restaurant, where we had a wonderful reunion with Dolores, our waitress, who remembered us from last year. We also had Huevos Rancheros and an Omelette Jamon, with cerveza at 10 in the morning. Fortified, we found a few groceries and an internet hut which also had a shower. Unfortunately no one came to open the shower and take our money, and the internet didn’t work (I think it was because there were too many people in there on the internet already). Finally we heard that showers were available at the Hotel Morocco up the street, and we wound up in Room 4, taking a shower for 100 pesos, about 8 dollars. Little did we know that it would be our last shower for several weeks.

That evening we paddled our kayaks to the dock in the dark, with our headlamps brightly glowing, in order to eat dinner at Maria’s, and found the three men of the Gold Dust sailboat, who were very entertaining conversationalists. We also left our laundry with Dolores. Coming back our headlamps shone on all the pelicans surrounding the large fishing boat like garden art. We met Tim and Jane of Midnight Blue, a beautiful 42 foot Camper Nicholson sailboat. They came by after a surfing jaunt in the afternoon to meet us and say hello. Another stroke of luck, because the next morning we couldn’t get a panga to come get us, it was too windy, so Tim and Jane called us on the VHF and came by to pick us up in their dinghy. We all needed to check out the little markets (tiendas) and then on to the Hotel Veracruz for a very late lunch at 3pm. After lunch of Pescadero de la Veracruz, fish with tomatoes and peppers in a mild sauce with rice and beans, the owner/waitress treated us to meat tamales and then tamales dulces (sweet filling). No need for dinner that night. Beautiful Maxfield Parrish clouds at sunset, with forecast for winds abating by the next day.

No winds abating, all day Sunday the winds blew and blew. This was good for drying the clothes that had been washed by Dolores and hung on the line at her house. I remembered that we’d been carrying a small pumpkin all the way from Newport under the sink, and thus the Pumpkin Pie Project began. I peeled the pumpkin, scraped out the seeds, cubed it up, brushed it with oil, and then roasted it at 350 for 45 min. Made pie dough, mashed the pumpkin, mixed 2 c pumpkin with evaporated milk (and part soy), 2 eggs, 2 t cinnamon, 1 t cloves, 1 t pumpkin pie spice, and 1/2 t ginger. Into the oven it went. Unfortunately the boat was rocking so much the the filling sloshed out and onto the back wall of the oven. The heat ruined the red bottom of the little Ikea baking pan that I put underneath to catch any spills. The pie turned out great, however. Got it done just in time to get picked up by Tim and Jane to go into town for diesel, shopping and a long lunch at Maria’s. We took many pictures of us with Dolores, and even a picture of Nikk’s plate of food as art. Cleaning the oven when we got back took another 45 minutes, to end the Pumpkin Pie Project. Nikk fixed the preventer deck plate to keep moisture from coming down the bolt and into the cabinet with my books. Luckily only the Sudoku book got wet! Nikk’s other work was readjusting the anchor bridle line, fixing the wheel adapter for the wind vane and reorganizing the anchor chain locker.

Monday the winds were even stronger, 25-30 kt gusts, the boat was rocking, lines were banging, the boat slewing all over. Not much sleep that night, so we overslept in the morning, then Nikk had a flashback and called on the VHF identifying himself as the boat he owned 30 years ago. Saw Midnight Blue, Gold Dust, and Encore leaving at 7 am, so we skedaddled too at about 7:30am for Bahia Asuncion, 48 miles away, saying goodbye to Turtle Bay, our haven for three days. Goodbye to the cumulus clouds and Death Valley scenery, goodbye to the friendly people of this little town, goodbye to the cute little dogs, and goodbye to any internet connection until we get to Cabo San Lucas. It’s not really going back 30 years, though, we still have radar and VHF. There will be more time to read, but I’ll miss the ability to connect with family and friends.

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Where the Death Valley-like scenery meets the sea

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The rickety dock leading to the leap to the blue ladder in Turtle Bay

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Maria’s Restaurant in Turtle Bay<;

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Nikk’s favorite house in Turtle Bay complete with whale bone house ornament

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One of the five squid that landed on deck during the rough water episode

Manana

Balance crossed the US/Mexico border about 6am November 1, the sky was beginning to shade from dark grey to a pale grey above the lights of Tijuana, and we could see the border fence lights marching up the hillside over on shore. Leaving San DIego was much easier than entering, we decided to hop from Pier 32 Marina down the Bay to Point Loma Marina, near Shelter Island and a bit west of downtown Oct 31, in order to get a very early start the next day. We left Pier 32 Marina at the perfect time, just before sunset lit up downtown San Diego as we motored by.

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Pier 32 Marina and Point Loma Marina are owned by the same company, so it was easy to arrange a mooring berth. We arrived in the marina in the dark, following the trusty chart plotter on the radar, and found ourselves berthed in a 60 foot slip, between two 50 to 60 foot sailboats. Balance seemed like a toy sailboat berthed among behemoths (there are sailboats up to 200 feet long, but we haven’t been next to any of those yet). After a very short stroll up to the waterside walkway we immediately found Jimmy’s Restaurant and Bar glowing invitingly. Inside we were greeted by a young woman dressed up as Waldo, two waiters and bartenders dressed as Hasidic rabbis, and another waitress looking like the Swiss Heidi. This year we weren’t dressed up for Halloween, but we got treats anyway. Fish and chips, a huge salad of greens, cranberries, feta, toasted pecans with raspberry vinaigrette, and a Grapefruit Mojito gave me a festive mood. Here is the recipe for the Grapefruit Mojito, kindly written down by our Hasidic rabbi:
2 oz silver rum
1 oz St. Germaine liqueur
lime juice
simple syrup
grapefruit juice
soda water
Mull some mint and add to the glass before the other ingredients and garnish with mint.

In the somewhat wee hours of the morning, 4:30 am to be exact, we cast off to try our luck at getting across the border. Nov 1 must have been a lucky day, because we saw no cruise ships, almost no fishing boats, and pretty much had the Bay to ourselves right until the last buoy, when a tug pulling a barge was coming in, but easily avoided. Soon enough we were in Mexico, and as the daylight arrived, we motored and sailed our way down the coast only about 3 miles offshore, watching hillsides covered with houses and hotels all the way down the coast to Ensenada. Before the economy tanked, many Californians and others drew their dream home on a paper napkin, then had that home built between Tijuana and Ensenada due to a lack of housing regulations. (I got that information from a book about sailing the Pacific coast of Baja.)
Just before the entrance to Bahia de Todos Santos Balance sailed right through a pod of about one hundred dolphins, flashing silver and white as they leapt, dove, and arced through the water. About ten surfed our bow wake for ten minutes, just as we thought the show was over, back they came. I’m going to try to attach a video, the marina here has incredibly slow internet.
(The video attached, but below the next paragraph.)

Cruiseport Marina on the waterfront had a berth for us, and on a Thursday was very quiet. We met many other cruisers on their way south or staying months and years in Ensenada. The town has been cleaned up considerably since the 60’s when it was a filthy destination for college students looking for a long inebriated weekend. No, I wasn’t one of those, but heard about it from fellow college students who lived in California or went to Ensenada on a break between terms. Ensenada and alcohol go back to Prohibition, when Jack Dempsey and perhaps some Mafia contributors built the beautiful Pacific Hotel in downtown Ensenada. Frank Sinatra sang at the opening, as did a female singer from Baja who became Rita Hayworth. Since the Spanish land grants of the early 19th century, the Ensenada area has been famous for also producing a wide variety of olives. The climate here is very similar to the climate near Ronda in southern Spain, where I saw miles and miles of olive groves from the window of a train.

Friday we checked in with the Mexican authorities, it took two hours with the help of Enrique, one of the employees at the Cruiseport Marina office, it might have taken all day without him! Forms to fill out, about us and about the boat, insurance, crew list, duplicates and triplicates, and then paying money, more forms, more money and then customs (luckily this was all in the same building, it used to involve going to three different buildings when Nikk sailed here in the early 80’s). Ensenada was cold until Sunday, the Ensenadans were wearing parkas, because the temperature only reached the high 60’s. The sun was shining, though, so we walked a lot doing errands and finding food. Nothing special, except for the huge papaya and pineapple at the market, and the wine bar where we sampled four wines from L.A. Cetto, a local winery up in the hills, and bought two bottles of their cabernet sauvignon, not as complex a blend of flavors as South Australian cab sav, but a good mix of fruity and deeper tones like chocolate or maybe coffee. We’re saving them for a special dinner somewhere, alone or with friends.

Sunday the sun shone brightly, it felt warmer, so we grabbed the two marina one-speed bikes, complete with huge tires and wire baskets, and set out for the estuary about five miles away. The route we followed took us along the malecon, the wide paved sidewalk, then up to Hwy 1, a rather too busy highway with three lanes in each direction, and finally the turn-off down a long street to la playa, accessed through a trailer park. We found a little taco shop, got delicious fish tacos, made with fried yellowtail and condiments of tomatoes, onions, cilantro, salsa and shredded cabbage.

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The beach was a combination of trailer park, small beach cottages, larger homes beautifully landscaped, and a large hotel. The public area has a park, small swimming pool, and estuary beach, from what I’ve read Ensenada is a place like La Paz where Mexican couples and families vacation, but the Mexicans spend a little time in Ensenada shopping, and more time relaxing at hotels with beach access and restaurants, probably to avoid the hordes of tourists from the cruise ships. Cruiseport Marina has two huge outside slips where cruise ships dock. One came in Friday night, another Saturday morning, and another arrived Saturday night as the first one was leaving. By Sunday morning they were all gone! When they arrive and disgorge their passengers, the area near the docks where there are two long streets full of small shops selling merchandise, and vendors accosting you in a friendly manner, gets really crowded. When the ships are there on the weekend we also saw a lot of indigenous parents sitting on the sidewalks while their children hawk little trinkets, to add some money for those families with so little. This seems to be common in every place where gringos congregate.
Of course we tried to find a different way back, wound up in the barrio, cycling along dusty streets, with only a few little dogs running out to chase us, yapping but not biting. After riding into an arroyo and back out again, weaving through more streets of homes, we were back at the highway and then the boat. Altogether a four-hour jaunt.

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I’m including this next picture for my brother, who rides his bike into unknown territory too.

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Feeling the wind strengthen as we pedaled our tired selves back to the marina, stopping so Nikk could reattach the chain, which kept coming off, getting redder and hotter by the minute, we were looking forward to casting off and sailing across the bay to the Marina Coral. By about three we were sailing in 15 knot winds, feeling the breeze, listening to the shush of the water slipping by the hull, finally with no motor, but only an hour of sailing brought us to the fuel dock, and then the marina. Staying here is twice as expensive as any marina we stayed at in the US, but we have the bonus of the use of the luxurious hotel’s pool and spa.

This is our last luxury before sailing south, anchoring in the shelter of bays and coves, perhaps seeing whales, and exploring the areas where the desert meets the sea.

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