Sailing away with Nikk and Jan

Archive for January, 2015

Sailing and Hiking in the Sea of Cortez: Puerto Escondido to Los Gatos

November 27, 2014, Balance gleefully left the bay at Puerto Escondido and sailed across to Honeymoon Cove on Isla Danzante, a tiny distance of only 3.7 miles. We anchored in the beautiful shallow NW cove and gave thanks on Thanksgiving Day for a break from the wind and a peaceful anchorage. Our thoughts circled around our families so far away: living the cruising life this fall meant missing all the excitement young grandchildren generate at the holidays. Many cruisers fly home for the holidays, then return to the boat in January. Instead we ate a simple dinner and gazed up at the stars shining brightly overhead, while Balance gently rocked at anchor.

After a short paddle to shore the next day Goat Woman and Nikk enjoyed some exhilarating hiking. We conquered the small hill overlooking the other side of the island, then set our sights to the highest hill, a steep, zig-zagging scramble on loose volcanic rock. Thorny trees and spiky cacti often blocked the way. At the apex cliffs plunged steeply to the Sea in front of us, and as we looked across to Isla Carmen a pod of about 20 dolphins swam by, too far away to photograph, but close enough to enjoy with binoculars. Luckily neither one of us stumbled on the way down. We discovered 8 kayakers with Baja Adventures paddling into the cove. Back in Puerto Escondido we shared the dining room with them at the Hotel Tripui where their trip to the islands was stalled by the ferocious winds. Three days later they finally arrived at Isla Danzante.

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The next morning it was time to check the internet from the “office”; a sturdy rock on the hill with a view of surf, sea and the tower in Loreto. We wanted to be sure that another storm was not due for a few days, and with internet reassurance we headed to Bahia Salinas up at the NE end of Isla Carmen. At the tip of Isla Carmen we looked for Blue Whales, the largest whales in the world at 90 feet, but to no avail. We later learned that the Blue Whales wouldn’t swim into the area until January. Bahia Salinas is named for the huge salt ponds just behind the beach. The machinery and buildings looked old and rusting, we saw no piles of salt ready for harvest, and there were only a few Mexicans at the formerly busy operation.

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As we carefully tiptoed across the mushy salt pan, we spied a Loggerhead Shrike perched on some rusty machinery, waiting for a tasty dinner morsel of vertebrate or invertebrate. It’s a striking bird, with a large black bill, white, gray and black plumage, and a few black whiskers on either side of its bill. It prefers desert habitat where it skewers its prey onto thorns or spines, and then dines one bite at a time. (see photo at the end of this blog, after further text is typed, photos can’t be inserted, arghh)

On Sunday there was still no wind and Balance motor sailed with a reefed main down to Isla Monserrat and the Playa Amarilla (Yellow Beach, or Yellowstone Beach, as it is sometimes called in cruising guides). The shallow turquoise water with soft sand became the perfect place to anchor. When the only other boats left we once again were alone to explore the rocky shore and the striking yellow cliffs. Instead of the usual volcanic rocks, these cliffs are sandstone, and once again I want a geologist to tell us why the cliffs are so brilliantly colored yellow.

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Sweating and wilting, we continued in the heat of afternoon, from the beach to the yellow cliffs behind, and found an opportunity for one of us to pose partway up the cliff face. Can you see which one is posed on the cliff face?

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On Isla Danzante, and again on Isla Monserrat we found hundreds of black and yellow butterflies washed up on the shore. Why they wind up beached dead or dying is still a mystery to us. It reminded us of the fragility of all life, no matter how beautiful or precious the life may be, death comes for us all.

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While we searched the beach near the kayaks we found an iridescent wasp, it’s colors reminded me of the dichroic glass that I used to use to create fused glass art.

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White gypsum cliffs at the top of the hills on Isla Monserrat looked like snow as we sailed southwest late in the day. Dolphins came to play in the bow wake, gliding alongside Balance, then swooping off to surface, blow and breathe, before once again joining in at the bow. From a perch way out on the bow, you can look down at the dolphins cavorting.

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We’ve visited Agua Verde twice before, you can read about it and view some gorgeous pictures from a previous blog in 2013 The Magic of the Sea of Cortez . This time in the fall of 2014 we thought the calm, tranquil little East Cove to be the perfect spot. We pulled in near Solitary Voyager, a Valiant 40 which is a cousin to Balance. Sometime in the night the winds came, kicking up wind waves in the anchorage and by 8:30 am, after a very bouncy night in the V-berth both boats got out of Agua Verde. Solitary Voyager disappeared around the north side of the sandy island Arrecife San Marcial, while we motored east through the passage with our mainsail up for stability once again. As we turned to the south the northerly winds kicked up four foot waves that overtook us from behind. Balance sailed with main and headsail, but Helmer the autopilot failed to keep us on course and Nikk took the wheel for the next two hours until we arrived in the little protected north cove of Los Gatos at noon. Nikk placed Balance in only 11.5 feet of water, as close to shore as we could get to avoid the pounding waves wrapping around the headland. Last spring the bay was filled with boats, now we were the only boat once again until we saw a sailboat far to the east, making its way towards Los Gatos. It was Solitary Voyager! We thought they were sailing for Mazatlan, but their skipper, Kai, just wanted to sail farther out and down to islands to the south. The huge chop, with waves 3-4 feet high coming one after the other every 4 seconds made that a really uncomfortable ride, and the safest thing to do was come into Los Gatos to anchor. We got on the VHF radio to let them know it was OK for them to anchor right behind us to avoid being tossed around by the waves. Their skipper, Kai, paddled over on his surfboard on his way to the beach. Little did we know then how many adventures together awaited us.

It was a dark and stormy night…..oh wait, it was dark and bouncy, not stormy. I bounced and rolled in the forward V-berth before finally getting up and settling down on the settee with the lee cloth keeping me from pitching onto the floor when we rolled. Before dinner I had baked some chocolate chip cookie bars and after getting up in the morning, kayaked over to Solitary Voyager to deliver the treats, since I could tell that the captain and crew were pretty young. In fact, they were 24 or 25 years old, two Kiwis and a Canadian with a Kiwi father. They met at Uni in Dunedin on the South Island of New Zealand, and were traveling together in the Sea after Kai bought the boat in San Carlos and spent several months fixing her up to sail in Mexico and then across to New Zealand in the spring. Nikk paddled over to visit, too, and with lots of laughter and stories, we started getting to know this fun trio. After Solitary Voyager took off for San Evaristo Nikk and I paddled to shore to explore some more of the area, promising each other not to scale the highest hill and try to bushwhack through cacti and scrub like the first time we were here.

The geology of Los Gatos makes it look like the Southwestern United States, with red and cream sandstone bluffs, easy to climb. I wouldn’t want to try climbing them after a rainstorm when I bet they would be a slick ride.

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The last picture shows a Hermit Crab we found, maybe a relative of Pepe, the famous Hermit Crab who lived aboard a sailboat for a short time.

In the next installment we travel from Los Gatos to La Paz, with many epic hikes and beautiful anchorages.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Serenity at Anchor

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Serenity.”

Serenity.  Boats wrapped in moonlight.  Safe at anchor.  Peaceful dreaming

of voyages to come.

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(more…)

By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea

By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea.

By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea

Hola Amigos. Much pondering has occurred these past two weeks in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, trying to decide how to summarize our three weeks of traveling in the Sea of Cortez from Santa Rosalia to La Paz in late November and early December.
We discovered sailing in the fall over on the Baja side to be very different than sailing in the spring. In the fall the strong northerlies blow for three or four days, then there will be a day or two of calm before the next blow hits. Not at all like the calm seas we experienced most of the time in the spring. We escaped from Santa Rosalia Nov. 19. After checking out, saying goodbye to Isabela in the office, then provisioning with fruit, vegetables and fish, we finally untied the lines and began sailing at a little past noon, a late start for us. Balance captured the remaining north wind with her mainsail and head sail, giving us a good run at over six knots down inside Isla San Marcos and through the shallow Craig Channel, with Moo (the wind vane) steering. Turned past Punta Mezquitito and into Bahia Santa Ines just as the sun set over the low mountains to the west. Because the beach there is famous for its beautiful shells we went beach combing the next day.

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Here are a few of the former homes of the mollusks we found there:

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The following day we planned to go down to Punta Pulpito. Last spring we found some sea caves with emerald green water, a giant obsidian cliff, and a stunning little cove there. Unfortunately for us, the wind decided to blow from the south, making the Punta Pulpito anchorage way too rolly, and even the little cove north of Bahia San Juanico was not protected enough, although we tried it out, and then left to anchor overnight in San Juanico. We had company traveling down from Bahia Santa Ines. Another sailboat, Calypso, with new friends we met in Santa Rosalia; someone to talk with on the VHF and someone to share trying to decipher the changing winds and currents.

I’ll include a picture of Nikk kayaking at Punta Pulpito (pulpito means octopus) in calmer waters last spring:

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Bahia San Juanico filled with boats getting away from the northerly predicted to blow for the next two days, as well as campers occupying the beach, there for the winter from Canada and the US. Hurricane Odile in September churned up so much sand onto the beach that it blocked the little estuary that stretches back from the bay for about half a mile. Now the water will evaporate, providing lots of food for the birds until it goes bone dry. Maybe another storm will fill the estuary next summer or fall with enough water to carve another channel to the bay? We hiked along the estuary after paddling to shore, then up a hill above the obsidian-collecting grounds to capture a view of the anchorage at sunset. The bay looked so calm, when outside the bay the waves were foaming and rolling.

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The temperatures in the Sea were a lot colder than we expected them to be, the cold weather to the north, and the winds blowing the water south, caused the water to be in the high 70’s, which meant wet suits for snorkeling. I’d forgotten how tight my wetsuit is….I think it took me ten minutes of pulling, tugging, stretching, and sucking in my breath to pull up the zipper before I was ready to go explore around the little island in the bay. Between the island and the shore stretched a very shallow rocky area, with corals and fish. We carefully navigated in two feet of water and captured some Sergeant Major fish swimming past the rocks and coral. Can you find the one rainbow wrasse?

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The next day Balance sailed out of the anchorage, one of Nikk’s favorite “skipper tricks” when the wind cooperates. A little weather window gave opportunity to travel down to sheltered Puerto Escondido, one of Baja’s most protected harbors, with an inner bay and anchorage about a mile wide surrounded by hills and two “windows” where the beach is built up like a levee. Hurricane Odile and the storms of October created a shallow sand bar at the far northern end of the anchorage, where we usually sit during northerlies. We somehow missed the sand bar while sailing across to anchor, then suddenly the water went from 22 foot depth to 10 as we backed down to set the anchor. Hijole! Maneuvering back and forth we finally found a safe spot to anchor and settled down for the night to wait for the winds. This time the forecast was accurate. By the middle of the night the winds were howling up to 40 knots from the north, and although we didn’t get jostled by wind waves due to the protection of the nearby hills, we did get spun around, and then back, and then around again all night long while the wind howled in the rigging.

In the morning we paddled 3/4 of a mile over to the marina Fonatur dock, using our spray skirts to protect us from the waves sloshing over the top of the kayaks. All the Fonatur marinas have the same construction, with a short dock which doesn’t leave much room to get the kayaks snugged up to the dock in between the dinghies tied off in the small allotted area. The marina still doesn’t have a restaurant after raising the rent so much last year that the restaurant owner left and set up in Loreto. There is a new tienda at the marina, with snacks and a few supplies, where we could use the internet. And there is a bathroom with cold showers, just like at the Marina Fonatur at Santa Rosalia, but no tienda up the road next to the Hotel Tripui like existed last spring, it’s been bulldozed to create additional parking for the trailer park. We did connect with Daniel, who managed the Hotel Tripui last spring when we were in Puerto Escondido. He came down from Nopolo with a friend who teaches yoga, to meet us at Hotel Tripui for drinks, and it was fun to hear his plans for studying yoga and teaching.

We were surprised to find that the wind had died down to almost nothing by the time we walked back the half a mile to the marina. We forgot our flashlight, and the night was very dark, with no streetlights but many many stars above. Somehow we managed to stay on the road and not wander off into the cactus and scrub. We foolishly left our spray skirts in the kayaks to paddle back to Balance, and halfway across the wind kicked up, hurling wind and waves straight at us. The paddle took a lot longer, and a lot more muscle, and we were fairly “knackered” when we returned (thanks to the Brits for that great expression).

The winds blew all night, and blew Nikk’s kayak paddle off the boat. By the next morning we knew that paddling the kayaks across the bay to the dock was going to get us completely soaked from the chest up, so our friend Jerry on Calypso volunteered to come get us and take us to the dock in his dinghy. He and his wife were supposed to share a rental car with us that day, but the waves were getting so strong that he worried about capsizing the dinghy (and almost did, returning to his boat from the dock). He was also worried about dragging his anchor in the bay, so they stayed on board for the day, and we went to Loreto in the rental car. His premonitions were correct, they did drag anchor due to the winds, and were able to re-anchor the boat, but the dinghy flipped over, with the engine attached, so Jerry had to drain and repair the poor engine. These are the moments that a cruiser will remember for years.

The winds created eight foot waves surging onto the beach in Loreto, surrounding the beach palapas and coming through the openings in the sea wall that normally let rainwater from the streets out into the bay. We drove through a foot of water to get to our favorite little coffeehouse.

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Before going to Lays to provision we decided to take a trip up into the mountains west of Loreto to visit a little mountain town, San Javier, about 37 km away. The roads had been seriously damaged by Hurricane Odile, and there was still a lot of water flowing across the road. We counted seventeen crossings in thirty-seven km. One crossing was so deep that Jan waded across up to her knees to test the depth, then took a shot of Nikk gunning the engine and blasting through the water, sending up a wave that really washed off all the salt we collected from the seawater on the roads of Loreto.

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Jan kept a close eye on these two critters getting a drink and cooling off.

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The huge, cross-shaped church in San Javier was built in the 18th century, and the olive groves planted by the Jesuits are still there, with large gnarled trees four or five feet in diameter.

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Nikk was feeling frisky, so decided to ride a bull.

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All the way up and back from San Javier there was evidence of monstrous floods coming down from the steep-sided mountains. Heavy moving equipment like track hoes must have been working for days and days to make the road safe for travel.

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The journey to La Paz will be continued in the next blog, I am late to meet friends for a special dinner to celebrate our current visitor Ken’s birthday.

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