Sailing away with Nikk and Jan

Archive for the ‘Sea of Cortez’ Category

La Paz in December 2014

When John Steinbeck visited La Paz in 1940, on the expedition with his buddy Ed Ricketts, he called sleepy La Paz “beautiful out of all comparison”. Almost 75 years later it is still lovely, a true Mexican town, but with a population of over 200,000 that sprawls away from the historic downtown area with its shops, hotels, restaurants, markets, and marinas.

Hurricane Odile pounded La Paz September 15-16, 2014, with winds howling up to 124mph and huge surf crashing into the shores. All but five boats in the anchorage broke loose and either sank or were washed ashore. Three people on boats died. Most boats in the marinas fared well, except for boats out of the water in storage at Marina Palmira, blown off their stands and piled like kid’s toys discarded after play. Unlike in Cabo San Lucas, where looting of big stores raged for days, La Paz (which means “peace”) saw little damage to businesses caused by greedy or desperate people. Several business owners told us that some homes and businesses were without electricity for over a week, and some businesses were not able to open for almost a month. A month without income is a serious liability to anyone, so we did our best to spend money in La Paz during the two weeks of our visit.

For ten thousand years before Hernan Cortez sailed into the long, protected, shallow bay in 1535, Neolithic hunter-gatherers wandered the peninsula that is now southern Baja California. They left multi-colored rock paintings which have been preserved. El Museo de Antropologia e Historia in La Paz showcases the paintings and dioramas of reconstructed Neolithic life.
www.tripadvisor.com/museodeantropologiaehistoriadebajacaliforniasur

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Cortez wanted to name the sandy shore Santa Cruz, but Sebastian Vizcaino declared the future name of La Paz in 1595. The Jesuits came, the Spanish plundered and pillaged the land, sea and peoples, and the natives succumbed to disease by the thousands. It’s the same ugly picture wherever the Spanish conquerors landed. By the time John Steinbeck arrived in 1940 the church of Nuestra SeƱora de la Paz dominated the town tied to the wealth of the sea, and superstition and supernatural beliefs vied with materialism and pragmatic progress. Steinbeck’s novel The Pearl uses these themes to tell the parable of the poor fisherman who desperately dives to find a pearl that will pay for medical treatment for his tiny son stung by a scorpion. When he finds a supernaturally grand pearl his troubles begin. The book and the movie made in Mexico debuted in 1947, both already a chronicle of a bygone era because by 1940 the oysters were mostly dead, and with them the pearl industry.

One of the many sculptures on the new 5km malecon (walkway) is a huge metallic pearl.

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Our Marina de La Paz lies at the southern end of the malecon. We strolled it several times each day, finding restaurants, ice cream stores, marine supplies and places to browse. I would need another blog to list all our favorites, so I will just show the view of the malecon looking south towards our marina with my favorite mermaid/dolphin sculpture.

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Since it was the season of Navidad, Santa Claus rode a paddleboard near shore, a Katrina dressed up for the season, and some of the boats in the marina decorated themselves.

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La Paz would be seriously difficult for anyone with mobility issues, here is why:

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Of course, there are always taxis, but if you want to walk to the markets like Mercado Bravo, the indoor market with dozens of shops, or to the church and plaza, or the uptown eateries, you need legs for strong climbing and descending. Along the way street artists decorated walls with artistic inspiration.

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We managed to tour La Paz for two weeks without any breakage or spraining of limbs, and too soon our time in one of our favorite Mexican towns came to an end. On Christmas Day Balance left La Paz and sailed all the way across to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle in one three and a half day voyage of 397 miles. A new bird appeared out in the middle of the trip, a Pomarine Jaeger, that breeds way up in northern Canada and Alaska and then winters out on the ocean in the warmer latitudes.

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Before the winds came up and the seas got pretty rough for the last 24 hours, we motorsailed with calm seas and spectacular clouds. It was a Vermilion Sky instead of a Vermillion Sea, another name for the Sea of Cortez.

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Being in the midst of the stunning beauty of the sea and sky, sailing under the spangled silver stars, we came to the end of 2014, another year of adventures in Mexico and time with family and friends back in the States. Someday I may catch up in this blog.

Journeys

We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and intruded depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.
John Hope Franklin, .

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hope_Franklin

This week saw many cruiser friends leave La Cruz, some traveling north into the Sea of Cortez, some traveling across the Pacific Ocean to the islands of the South Pacific. We said a heart-wrenching goodbye yesterday to Kai, Eddie and Ellis on Solitary Voyager, and watched their boat become smaller and smaller as they started the journey to New Zealand. Their leaving has finally kicked my brain into writing gear, to reflect on the journeys of last December in the Sea of Cortez. Many of the adventures and explorations of this segment included Kai, Eddie and Sarah.

The journey from Los Gatos to La Paz gave us many opportunities to “go out into the bypaths and intruded depths of the wilderness”.

As we sailed into the anchorage at Isla San Francisco memories of the cracked ribs of last spring didn’t deter me from the anticipation of more exploration, but I did vow to check each step, handhold and embedded rock very carefully. This December all the boats anchored close together in the far northern part of the bay to stay sheltered from the still-blowing northerlies.

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Hidden behind the beach lies a large salt flat. Instead of the level, white expanse of our past two visits the ground was spongy, wet and orange, with minerals leaking out of the ground and Semi-palmated Plovers in their winter grounds hunting insects on the salt pan.

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Huge cliffs of green, pink, cream, tan and ocher rise from the far side of the salt pan, perfect for following faint trails alongside the bottom of the cliff, with the pounding surf nearby.

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American Oystercatchers waited for the surf to expose a tasty morsel, they are one of the more common birds seen on the Baja coasts, but only found on the southern and eastern coasts of the U.S. They are also very skittish, so it was a challenge to get them to pause long enough for a picture.

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While I waited for the Oystercatchers to pose, Nikk scrambled high above, ready to “fly like an eagle”, or actually a vulture, which soared high above on the currents of air sweeping up the cliffside.

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The next day Sarah and Eddie joined us to hike the ridge above the southern cliffs. Once again it was a brilliant blue-sky day, perfect for a hike down the long beach of white sand, up the winding trail to the top where huge boulders perch with drop-offs on both sides. Climbing through areas like this requires focus on each step and handhold, stopping to enjoy the view, take pictures, and watch your fellow hikers move through the maze, before once again carefully working yourself farther along. One of the many things I like about climbing is the necessity of keeping your thoughts in the present, where the richness of experience is undiluted by the mind dwelling on the past or future. And on this hike came the reward of vistas of many-layered cliffs, deep blue sea, and a little trail leading to further spectacular views.

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Balance sailed further south and once again we anchored in Callita Partida, the cove in between Isla La Partida and Isla Espiritu Santo, one of our favorites. Of course we visited the hidden cave with Kai, Eddie and Sarah.
I think we’re like agile hippie grandparents to them, since they are only 25 years old.

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One night we paddled over to Solitary Voyager for a shared dinner, to once again admire the results of the five months that Kai spent restoring and upgrading the Valiant 40, preparing it for the journey across the South Pacific. After listening to a few songs, we realized that Eddie had put together a sound track of 60’s music for us.

Together with ten other boats Balance anchored in the stunning emerald water of Bahia Ensenada Grande, a perfect place for snorkeling and hiking.
Unfortunately the Go Pro pictures of the snorkeling have disappeared, but not the pictures of the epic hike that Nikk and I started too late in the day.
From the beach, the trail began to climb up an arroyo, as it steepened the rocks became larger. No worries about losing our way, though, the government had pounded rebar with direction signs into the rocks. We felt like we were in the city, with left, right and straight ahead arrows posted every 40 or so feet. This was not an exploration into true wilderness. We also found information signs.

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Along the way we found a deep well, dug to supply miners, then a stone walkway that reminded me of Zion National Park, and 1500 feet above sea level another amazing stretch of steep cliffs.

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One of the reasons I write these blogs is to encourage everyone to explore the natural world, especially the places more remote. I don’t encourage anyone to go exploring late in the day, and to turn around as the sun sets.
Nikk knows I have to get to the top of wherever we’re going, but this time Goat Woman and Nikk had to hike the last mile in the dark. There was no moon, but just enough ambient light to keep us from plunging into the open well and twisting our ankles on the rocks. We were very happy to reach the last stretch of trail alongside the mangroves which had been marked with white rocks. Nikk just rolls his eyes whenever that hike is mentioned.

After Bahia Ensenada Grande it was time to sail down to La Paz, where we spent two weeks in marinas and our hiking was done on the malecon, before leaving Christmas Day to sail the 397 miles to La Cruz. A short blog of La Paz and the holiday sail will follow.

Once again, one picture got “lost”. I’ll try again, since I love this shot.

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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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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.

Leaving San Carlos for the Sea of Cortez

It’s been a strange five months for Balance, left with hundreds of boats in dry storage in San Carlos, Sonora, up on the mainland side of the Sea of Cortez. Two and a half weeks ago we came back to Mexico, Balance went out into the work yard, and several days later was proudly sporting a new coat of bottom paint and finally back into the water in the marina. It is a strange feeling watching Balance on a giant trailer heading out onto the highway, and then being slowly backed into the water at the marina. Nikk and I did a lot of projects on the boat while she was in the work yard. Of course, when she was back in the water we were very happy that there were no leaks, the engine started right away, didn’t quit (!), and she slid safely into her slip at the marina.

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We were lucky to be able to stay with Theo and Marion, cruising friends on Marionetto, in their new home on land in San Carlos while Balance was in the work yard.

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San Carlos is definitely worth a visit. Only a few hours from Nogales and Arizona, it’s a booming retirement community, with Mexican culture still intact. Up on the hill above the marina, gringos have built many vacation and retirement homes, some quite surprising.

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We’ve had a good time here during these two weeks, despite Nikk having lots and lots and lots of boat projects. When not occupied with boat projects we’ve had a good time visiting with cruising friends, getting to know the good spots for breakfast and dinner, hiking, and finally getting the kayaks in the water to spend a couple of hours working our rusty paddling muscles going out to circle some islands in the bay.

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In the background of this picture you see the Tetas de Cabra (“goat tits”).

The first hike we did resulted in some great bird sightings, including two Green-tailed Towhees, and this little buddy just hanging out on the road.

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Today we’re leaving the marina to head up north a little ways to San Pedro, a nice little cove for anchoring and snorkeling, then up to Las Cocinas (The Kitchens) for even more snorkeling, and before big winds come up in a week’s time, we’ll sail (or motor) across the Sea to Santa Rosalia, a formerly French town on the Baja side, and then work our way back to La Cruz by the end of December. No telling whether I’ll have good internet until then, but glad I could squeeze in one more post before we leave.

Steinbeck Canyon Descent

Up in the Sierra de la Gigantica west of Puerto Escondido on the Sea of Cortez side of Baja California Sur, lies a steep canyon filled with huge boulders, pools of water, palm trees and wild geology. John Steinbeck explored this oasis in 1940, with Ed Ricketts, the biologist from Monterey, CA, three wealthy Mexicans, and two native guides. I read about this canyon in The Log From the Sea of Cortez, and in the Sea of Cortez cruising guide, and knew we had to go explore this place if at all possible.
One day last May we began our hike up Canyon de Tabor (it’s other name) on a day of shimmering heat. After hiking and wading, and finding our way past boulder-choked obstructions, we came to a seemingly impossible stack of gigantic boulders in a narrow part of the canyon. Looking up, we spotted John, a fellow hiker, already on top.

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We used his shouted instructions and squeezed beneath a boulder, used a knotted rope to help us up the steep chimney, stepped onto a branch wedged between the wall and boulder, and shimmied over a protruding rock to gain the last obstacle, a tree trunk wedged as a ladder, with a helpful rope. Whew. Now we were in the oasis.

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After lunch and some exploration of the oasis, it was time for DESCENT. I was nursing a cracked rib, from a hike on Isla San Francisco two weeks before, when a suitcase-sized rock detached itself from a ridge as I pressed on it, so I wanted Nikk to go first and spot me as I downclimbed. Here he is.

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That last step took a lot of courage and trust in the fixity of that branch.

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Two Rescues

In the history of sailing tales, there are many stories of epic rescues from danger, and just in case family and friends got worried by the title of this blog, we did not capsize, run aground, get run over, hit by a tropical storm, or otherwise endanger ourselves in the Sea of Cortez. However, we did participate in two rescues.

After leaving La Cruz April 2, only three days after getting back from Copper Canyon, we once again mostly motorsailed in a headwind or no wind up to Mantenchen Bay near San Blas to overnight, then across the 40 miles to Isla Isabel, the island of thousands of nesting birds. ( See the post Island Mystique to see how we viewed Isla Isabel during our eight-day stay a year ago.)
One afternoon Nikk and I were sitting on Balance, watching the island, pinnacles, sea and shore, when we saw a female Magnificent Frigatebird struggling in the water. Frigatebirds have huge wings which don’t have the oils needed to resist waterlogging, so they can’t land in the water and fly off again like many seabirds do. We watched the bird flapping, hoping she would drift over to shore, but instead she was only being taken near shore by the current, and soon would be past the island. Nikk hopped into my kayak and paddled to effect a Frigatebird Rescue, and was soon joined by Ian from our buddy boat Freyja.

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It looks like the bird is struggling, but according to Nikk she was so tired that she just let Nikk fold up her wings and stow her between his legs in the cockpit of the little kayak. He did face that long beak away from this body, in case any readers were worried about Nikk’s delicate parts being in danger. Ian towed Nikk, kayak and bird to shore with his dinghy, and the bird was carried to a small tree, since frigatebirds nest in trees on the island. The poor bird was so tired that it soon fell out of the tree, and it got too dark to see her on the ground, but the next day she wasn’t there anymore. There are no predators except humans on the island, so birds can safely nest and rest on the ground. During our five days anchored at the island we watched many frigatebirds soar, and wondered if we were watching the bird we saved from a watery grave.

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On April 8 the voyage of the “vagabundos” continued across the Sea of Cortez to Baja California Sur. Ian received a weather report on his SSB that the next few days would see NE, and then light SSW winds. So much for weather reports, we had 15-20 knot winds NW on the nose, and had to motorsail first west, then north towards Mazatlan, going way out of the normal sailing course for La Paz. Instead of taking a little over 2 days to reach Puerto Ballandra, 12 miles north of La Paz, it took 2 days and 18 hours. Freyja kept falling further and further behind, due to babying their engine which had problems with fouled fuel filters. Balance had to anchor at Puerto Ballandra in the dark at midnight, surviving somewhat ferocious headwinds the last 10 miles. We kept in touch with Freyja all the way across the Sea, and they were only about two hours behind us, but the next morning they were not in the anchorage, and were without their motor, which had conked out in the middle of the night, forcing them to tack back and forth in the strong headwinds. The next morning the winds died, and they couldn’t reach the anchorage, so we headed out to tow them in the last mile to Puerto Ballandra.

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Puerto Ballandra was the perfect place to begin our weeks of traveling to desert islands and sheltered mainland coves; white coral sand beaches and clear turquoise/jade green water for snorkeling, mangrove estuary for paddling and birdwatching, rocky cliffs for hiking and scrambling, and all overarched by the blue sky, hot sun and high clouds during the day, and myriads of stars at night. Nikk helped Ian fix his engine, we enjoyed four nights at Puerto Ballandra, and then continued on our way, with no internet, no phone, and only the iPad to remind me that we had not traveled back in time at least twenty years.

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Now it’s May 2, and we are spending three days in Puerto Escondido, an anchorage with a poor excuse for a marina (no tienda, no restaurant, no friendly guards, no marina lounge). We are half a mile away at the Hotel Tripui, in the middle of the desert, we walked here today to get internet where we didn’t need to sit on metal steps while checking email. I know, I know, I’m sounding like a spoiled whiny #@*ch, Marina RIviera Nayarit spoiled me. I’ll try to be more grateful that we have a secure anchorage in the protected bay, and that it was easy to rent a car yesterday to go get provisions in Loreto, about 15 miles away. Tomorrow we are going to hike up Steinbeck’s Canyon a ways, if you read The Log From the Sea of Cortez, you can read about his camping trip with Mexicans and mules up this very canyon to see petroglyphs in 1940. The giant cardon cacti are starting to bloom, just like the Saguaro, which look similar, do in Tucson in late April/early May. I hope some will be blooming up in the canyon, drawing birds and lizards.

Nikk’s Blog #1: Las Cuevas (The Caves)

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After a ten hour blustery motorsail with 30 plus knot winds on the nose at the north end of Cerralvo Island, we were taken in by a friendly cove of flat water. Winds were still gusting over the spit of land which broke the wind chop so we could get some much needed sleep after a two-day crossing from Mazatlan to Baja California Sur. The cove is formed by a narrow “S” passage between Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla La Partida islands north of La Paz.

The next morning it was still blowing from the southwest so we launched kayaks and headed through the shallow channel, in some places with only a few inches of water under the kayaks at low tide. The canyon and cave was calling me back after 28 years. You can’t see the cave from the boat anchorage across the isthmus in Partida Cove. We landed on the beach among hundreds of small fiddler crabs ranging in size from one half to three inches, which scurried away when we approached. We offloaded our dry bags into our backpacks, with binoculars, cameras, water, energy bars and our Keens and Tevas. Boy we should have had hiking boots and socks.

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Here in the land of cacti, not in the tropics any more.

There was a sign that showed the trail leading off across boulders, not the arroyo. So we boldly hiked up the arroyo wash coming down from the mountain, and I think Hurricane Paul, the previous fall, had something to do with trail building.

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We climbed over huge boulders, rip rap, and washed-down scrub trees. Jan looked up and said “Is that the cave?”. Sure enough, behind the stone pinnacles, cactus and scrub trees was the mouth. It was quite a scramble up to the main entrance, tall enough to walk into standing up.

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The area is about twenty-five feet in diameter with a high ceiling and lots of round coves with shelves where candles and shells sit as offerings. To the left and up about eight feet is a small cave that opens to a view of the bay, and is hidden from sight by an old tree. This is my favorite spot.

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On the other side, facing up the canyon, is another side room accessible from the inside or outside. I asked “Jan, is this not as cool as all the times I told you about it?” She agreed it was, but replied, “Let’s find an easier way down”. To a Goat Woman, the obvious easier way down has got to be up. There had been a few landslides leaving some thin areas below the rimrock of the mountain that we delicately picked our way up and up. Remember the socks and hiking boots we wished we had? Finally we crossed over below the top of the canyon and found a way down to the bottom. Pretty strange plants and trees, like the big fig trees with tiny black figs. They say they are only good for birds and children. You figure that one out. One of the coolest sights as we came down was a couple of short-eared owls which flew from perch to perch as we descended.

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As we got to the bottom, out popped one of the island’s big black jackrabbits. Look at those ears! Back to the boat from a magic day on Isla La Partida.

The Magic of the Sea of Cortez

From March 16 to 25 Balance took us north of La Paz up to the desert islands and the coast of Baja in the Sea of Cortez, and then back to La Paz, where I’m writing this in a hurry so we can do chores, provision, refuel, do laundry, and begin to sail (hopefully) back across to mainland Mexico tomorrow. This segment of the adventure was pure magic most of the time, though with its moments of breakdown and minor injury. We said goodbye to friends on the 16th and motorsailed up to El Candelerio Cove on Isla Espiritu Santo to spend the night. Calm seas soon turned rough as a SW wind began to build swells that made us “hobby horse” all night. We tried to sleep on the settees, but had a rough night, so we left the next morning at 7am to motor the 2.6 miles back to Partida Cove between Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida, where we explored before. On the way we realized that the chart plotter/radar wasn’t working. It’s our way to see depth, location and at night locate other vessels. Nikk tore it apart, hoping it was just a connection to the switch, but the fault lies in one of the boards of electronics, and will have to be sent back to RayMarine for fixing. Back to handheld GPS and paper charts, although we do have a sextant just in case all the electronics fail. Luckily Partida Cove was much calmer, as the winds blew outside the cove for two days straight. Paddling along the volcanic cliffs, snorkeling, hiking arroyos to caves, visiting with fellow cruisers and some sea kayakers, relaxing on the boat and reading, then cooking some delicious meals. What did we eat? On this part of the trip we ate red snapper cooked with olive oil, garlic, onions and Papa John’s seasoning, accompanied by salad; lasagna with spinach noodles and homemade sauce with salad again, (the salad is a real treat); fish tacos with lettuce, tomato, onion, black olives, sour cream and salsa, with pear pie for dessert (given to us by our friends on Brainstorm); BBQ bonita tuna (sold to us by fisherman Arturo in Partida Cove) with coconut rice and more salad; stew of pinto beans (cooked in the pressure cooker), carrot, yam,cabbage, onion, cumin, vinegar, salsa and salt, (a picture is at the end of this blog) with blueberry muffins for dessert; pinto beans with carrots, poblano and red peppers, olives and goat cheese in mole sauce with coconut rice and BBQ steak for Nikk. Of course lots of guacamole most days made with avocado, garlic, lime, salt and tabasco sauce. OK, I’m getting really hungry and it’s almost 11:30am with no breakfast yet, so I’m going to go pick up the laundry and head over to the Mercado Bravo, the indoor market, for fish, meat, vegetables and fruit, and some pastries. Hopefully this blog will be continued tonight.

We saw all the birds mentioned in other blog posts, plus a heron rookery in fig trees on the cliffs of Isla Partida, many nesting Yellow-footed Gulls, bunches of little “families” of Eared Grebes diving way deep to get fish and crustaceans, the males were just starting to get their orange “ear” plumage and it contrasted nicely with their red eyes. There were Phainopeplas and Northern Cardinals at Agua Verde where the trees, bushes and palms were still very green, probably from last fall’s Hurricane Paul. There were also Reddish Egrets at Partida Cove and Isla San Francisco, when they hunt they do a hopping, skipping dance on their long legs, very hilarious to watch. Most islands had Ospreys nesting too, we’d hear their keening cries as they flew. We got lucky on this part of the trip and had few bugs, no sand flies, fleas, or jejenes, and only one bite from a horse fly, of all things, at Partida Cove. Still, there must be enough insects to support all the lizards as well as birds. We mostly injured ourselves on the scenery, Nikk banging his head on the overhangs at the caves, Jan slashing her legs on thorny bushes while hiking at Agua Verde. The most spectacular animal sighting was the pod of hundreds of dolphins that we sailed through while heading back south past Isla San Jose. They were leaping, some doing back flips and even one double back flip! Because we saw even more the next day, also heading north, I think that maybe the season of spring leads to some sexual frenzy, perhaps, or maybe just a feeding frenzy. They weren’t interested in playing with the bow wake at all, just determinedly swimming and doing acrobatics. From the internet I learned that the gestation period for dolphins is about a year, with orcas it’s 17 months, and the females only breed about every 3-5 years. I guess if one only got to have sex once every three to five years there might be a reason for the frenzy. We also heard that Orcas have been seen in the Sea of Cortez this spring, but we didn’t see any. While we were gone from La Paz a juvenile humpback whale thirty feet long was stranded on a shoal at low tide, and many residents and cruisers came out to help get a rope around the tail and tow it to deeper water, which took about two hours to accomplish. After seeing the videos I’m grateful that there were so many people with compassion willing to help a stranded whale. www.grindtv.com/outdoor/nature/post

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Partida Cove from the cave

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Beautiful Side-blotched Lizard at Partida Cove (it’s name sounds like it has a disease).
It is only about 4 inches long.

On Saturday the 20th the winds died down as promised, we sat out in the cockpit enjoying the calm, until the lure of future islands became strong enough to get us going to up anchor and head north to Isla San Francisco. The knot log wheel below the water line almost always gets fouled with growths of barnacles and refuses to turn, which we discover when underway. Then Nikk gets to shed clothes and jump into the water (after slowing the boat down, of course) to knock off the growth before we continue on. We need to invent a way to knock off the growth from the comfort of the cockpit. The water temperatures have been only in the high 60’s or low 70’s, I need a full wetsuit to go snorkeling, so Nikk gets pretty chilled while freeing the knot log wheel.

After motorsailing for three hours in almost no wind and three to four foot northerly swells, we viewed Isla San Francisco; the southern end has hills of red, green and gray volcanic rock, and the anchorage is in 25 feet of water off a beach of brilliant white sand.

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The brilliant white sand was an illusion, when we paddled in to the beach, we found ground up coarse particles of gray, red and white shells, coral and rock. Behind the beach is a salt pan, and behind that on the east side is a beach with big boulders of red, green and gray, the green of the rocks making the water a striking emerald color.

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One of the lures of the desert islands is climbing the hills, the mostly irresistible desire to see the view from “up there”. Luckily Nikk loves to climb and scramble too.

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On Isla San Francisco there are elephant trees that grow along the ground, but only in certain places.

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Balance motorsailed again the next day to San Evaristo on the coast of Baja, a little village with lots of fishermen and also some huge salt pans where salt is heaped and bagged for shipping to La Paz. I wondered how many of our meals in La Paz were flavored with San Evaristo salt? After a short while in the village we’d seen four burros, several friendly dogs, some doves, a small school (where we wondered why the children weren’t in school until we realized it was Sunday, it’s too easy to lose track of time, days and maybe even weeks while sailing), a little tienda, and an open air restaurant with a very limited menu and selection of drinks. We purchased groceries at the tienda, and fish tacos at the restaurant, then back to the boat to study Spanish, play the accordion, finish Steinbeck’s Log From the Sea of Cortez, and get a really good night’s sleep in a quiet anchorage. Steinbeck chronicles the avaricious collecting expedition from Monterey to the Sea of Cortez in 1940 on an Alaskan purse seiner, led by his friend Ed Ricketts, the biologist and owner of Pacific Biological Laboratory, which provided specimens for schools, labs and universities, including paying boys to bring him cats, which he then euthanized and injected with colored latex to show their blood vessels. Nikk is reading it now, and I’m interested to see what happens when he gets to the parts where Steinbeck undertakes some stiff theological pondering and probing. My favorite part of the book this time through was his attempt to describe Ed Ricketts, who died after his car was struck by a train in Monterey in 1948, eight years after the expedition. Steinbeck writes an aching tribute for his friend, turning his powers of analysis on Ricketts complex personality, given that not one of his acquaintances or friends saw him the same way.

Our last stop on the northward jaunt brought us to Agua Verde, another little village on the Baja coast just south of Puerto Escondido. Beautiful little western cove for anchoring, off a smooth, curved beach.

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The first afternoon we hiked the arroyo right off the beach, following hiking paths and goat trails, after seeing a herd of about 20 goats and two dogs negotiating the rocky shore and moving back into the hills while grazing. On the hike we met a man with his pit bull searching for the goats to bring them in for the night as protection against coyotes. We paddled in to the village the next day, and found that most of the homes had wooden fences, probably to keep out the goats and cows. Most of the homes, the church and the school were made of concrete blocks, and were fairly new, because a devastating flood came through in 1983 and one guide book described the place then as mostly deserted and only occupied by goats. Here is one more primitive home:

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The next day we hiked with some fellow cruisers to an old cemetery and found two pictographs left by Indians on large rocks near a cliff and cave. More snorkeling near the rocks, and a party on the beach with fellow cruisers from about eleven boats completed our delightful time at Agua Verde. Ah yes, and the sunset and moonrise the last night wove their peaceful tendrils of magic into our hearts and minds. Almost every day at some time we look at the other and say “pinch me, I must be dreaming this amazing scene”.

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This should go into the first paragraph with the food descriptions. Yummy stew.

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