Sailing away with Nikk and Jan

Posts tagged ‘Hurricane Odile’

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.

El Viento (The Wind)

Fairies, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the disheveled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.
W.B. Yeats, The Land of Heart’s Desire

The wind can be the sailor’s delight, but in the Sea of Cortez this fall the wind was more like the mariner’s curse, blowing for three or four days straight, and whipping up wave chop of 3-5 feet with only a 4 or 5 second period between waves. “Helmer”, our autopilot attached to the wheel, struggled to keep us on course, and Nikk often had to take the wheel and steer. Of course, if those waves are coming abeam or anywhere near that, the boat is rolling and pitching, the recipe for Jan’s disequilibrium to begin.
Yet “running on the top of the disheveled tide” is exhilarating, with Balance responding to the force of wind and waves. Often we were tucked away in a marina or anchorage with many other boats waiting out the blows, instead of venturing out to sail on the “bounding main”.

We left San Carlos November 9, with slight winds, as we motorsailed past the outside of the Tetas de Cabra (Goat Tits), the famous backdrop for many paintings and photographs of San Carlos.

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The sunset spectacular that first night revealed two “islands” to the north of Isla San Pedro Nolasco, which was mighty puzzling, since no islands exist on our charts. The mystery was solved three days later when we began sailing the 75 miles across the Sea of Cortez to Santa Rosalia, when the “islands” became the huge peaks of the Tres Virgenes volcanic complex, with one peak over 6000 feet.

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Several new birds appeared on this leg of the journey: Craveri’s Murrelets, that look like little flying penguins, Black-vented Shearwaters, and in the lagoon of Los Concinas, two White-winged Scoters among all the little Eared Grebes. I’d wondered if we were ever going to see a Scoter (there are three kinds), since we saw none on the Pacific Coast on our way down, and now we saw them in the Sea of Cortez.

The winds kicked up, we were rocking and rolling in the anchorages, but having fun watching the surf from our kayaks.

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The little Eared Grebes were entertaining us too. At a beach with rather large waves, the grebes were fishing in the surf, something we’d never seen before, usually they are paddling around and diving in much calmer water. Every once in a while a grebe would get lifted so strongly by a wave that it would go flying off the top of the wave, airborne like a windsurfer.

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This stretch of coast is mostly deserted so it was surprising to see signs posted on a dirt road informing us of future development; lots for homes and a huge, water-sucking golf course, right there on the volcanic coast in the middle of the desert of huge cardon cacti and rocks.

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At the north end of Las Cocinas there is a little bay, which protected us from the north winds and waves the last night. On the west side of the beach are the homes of fishermen, one a small shack, one a larger home with screened porch, guarded by a posse of about seven dogs, so we didn’t go ashore. On the east side of the beach, about 100 yards away, is an airstream trailer, and some new construction (real estate office? restaurant?). The airstream is occupied by an old guy who goes over to visit his fisherman friend in the afternoon, maybe to share a cerveza?

We hauled anchor and sailed across the Sea to find almost calm blue waters by the time we passed Isla Tortuga and were 20 miles from Santa Rosalia. We spotted spume, and a pod of five Pilot Whales appeared. Very exciting. They look very different from Humpbacks and Greys, especially the sturdy-looking dorsal fin, and they mostly cruise along the water’s surface.

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Santa Rosalia began as a French copper mining town, and evidence of its mining history sprawls next to the waterfront; old smokestacks, huge machinery, rotting buildings, railroad engines, and many buildings constructed of wood from Oregon and Canada in the late 19th Century. While wandering, a song by my friends Paul Korsmo and Mike Roberts, written in Australia in the early 70’s when we were teaching there, kept running through my mind.
Oliver Sachs calls this a “brain worm”, but it was a wonderful brain worm. You can check out Paul Korsmo and his lovely songs and voice on Sound Cloud, but the song, Oregon isn’t there. Also take a look and listen to Mike Roberts 18 at SoundCloud, or at Mike Roberts Music on FB.
My house is made of Oregon, it’s walls contain my dreams.
My bedposts guarded rivers, another place, another scene.
From skyline hooks to floating brooks, then stockpiled on the docks,
They’re leaving home to build a home for someone who knows not
How many eagles nested there
How many times, without a care,
I wandered through their majesty.
Did I know then that they were there?

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I wonder how many people think about the giants who gave up their lives so people could live inside a home of wood?

Santa Rosalia has one building made of metal, the Iglesa Santa Barbara (the Eiffel Church), designed by the same Eiffel who designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but built in Brussels, Belgium, and then disassembled, shipped to Santa Rosalia, and reassembled in 1897. It is still in use today, and has some beautiful stained glass windows inside.

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Santa Rosalia was hammered by Hurricane Odile in mid-September. About eleven inches of rain fell there. It is a hilly town, we probably climbed over 200 feet of elevation to some of the homes in the old section of town. From what we could see, a wall of water about four feet deep came rushing down the streets and into the bay. A car with two people in it was swept into the bay and the unfortunate people drowned. The old marina with boats moored there broke loose and boats sank. We are following the progress of one boat Gold Eagle whose owner Ron has her pumped out, but with much damage to the boat and contents. Really sad.

Because Santa Rosalia is on Hwy 1 that runs down the length of Baja, many vehicles a day drive through, right by the Marina Fonatur, where we stayed.
Crossing the highway to get up into town at night gave me a scare a few times, hoping that the vehicles would actually stop when we wanted to get across. We enjoyed our lengthy stay, though, going up into town to explore, shop, get a meal at one of the three or four good restaurants, and then going back to the boat to relax. Isabella and the other people at the marina were helpful and friendly, and they are doing work to try to restore the second floor with its pool and bar. All Fonatur marinas look alike and are falling into disrepair, unfortunately.

Somehow the osprey nest on the tower managed to survive the winds, I wonder if they had to rebuild after the hurricane?

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Santa Rosalia is where we first met s/v Good as Gold, and s/v Calypso, and here we are in La Paz in the same marina. But before we got to La Paz many more winds did blow, scenes of beauty came and went, and the two explorers on Balance had a good time sailing, kayaking, snorkeling and hiking. Those adventures will be told in Parts Two and Three, to be written as we sail across to La Cruz, 300 miles away. We leave the day after Christmas, and tonight, Xmas Eve, is the big Cruiser’s Potluck at the clubhouse here in Marina de La Paz. Time to start cooking! Feliz Navidad y Prospero Ano Nuevo to all!

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