Sailing away with Nikk and Jan

Posts tagged ‘Agua Verde’

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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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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