Sailing away with Nikk and Jan

Posts tagged ‘Baja California Sur’

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

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

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.


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.


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.


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


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.



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.



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.


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.




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)


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.

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