Sailing away with Nikk and Jan

Posts tagged ‘Isla la Partida’


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, .

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.




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.


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.



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.


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.

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.

Partida Cove from the cave

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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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:


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”.




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

Three Coves, Two Hikes, and One Wild Ride

Sailing across to La Paz from Mazatlan got off to a very good start. The port captain closed the bar on Friday April 5 due to large breaking waves, so we waited and snuck out Saturday morning. One of the cruisers at the marina took a video of Balance crossing the bar and posted it to You Tube. Go there and search Balance Timing the Waves to see it. After crossing the Columbia Bar in much wilder conditions Nikk says this was easy, but we sure bounced around a lot.

Saturday and Sunday the sun shone, gentle rolling waves made life grand on Balance except for a lack of wind to sail. The mainsail always stays up to steady us, but every time Nikk rolled out the headsail to catch some wind it died back to two or three knots, so the crossing was mostly motorsailing. We did have some company, we saw many Olive Ridley turtles paddling along, and manta rays jumping. When the rays get five feet above the water they crash down with a sound like someone bellyflopping in a pool. Must not hurt them that much. Here’s another common sight, what I think may be a Least Tern riding on a turtle, waiting for it to catch a fish.


We ate sandwiches and spaghetti, cooking was easy without the stove wildly gyrating back and forth like it does when we’re sailing, and at 2am on Monday morning all that changed. I was on watch when Nikk got up after only sleeping an hour and said those dreaded words “I think it’s getting rough”. He’d been bouncing up in the V-berth, but in the stern of the boat the motion wasn’t bad (yet). The winds continued to build as we were about ten miles off Isla Cerralvo which is almost to the Baja mainland. Soon the winds were 25-35 knots on the nose, and we were pitching into 3-5 foot wave chop, augmented by long northerly rollers. When the two came together we got water over the boat and into the cockpit. All the water began to find it’s way into the cabin, drip, drip, drip. In the next ten hours we used up every towel on the boat and it was almost time to start using the dirty clothes when we finally made it to a little cove right at the juncture of Isla la Partida and Isla Espiritu Santo at noon the next day. Nikk and I had on our foul weather gear that we hadn’t worn since November coming down the west coast of Baja. We were lucky to see a boat anchored at the little cove and know it was a safe anchorage, since most of the east coast of the islands is not fit for anchoring. There are no pictures or video of our wild ride because we were afraid a wave would splash the cameras if we brought them out. Even though we hadn’t eaten in 18 hours we just hung out everything wet and crawled into bed to sleep for four hours with the wind still howling but the waves only about a foot high in the cove. After a quick dinner of red snapper fish tacos it was back to sleep again with the wind still howling in the rigging.

Tuesday morning brought a brilliant blue sky, less wind, and the perfect opportunity to put the kayaks in the water and paddle through the winding channel between the two islands into the cove on the western side. We passed by two fish camps with pangas on the beaches of the channel, and barely made it through with the kayaks at low tide, but when we exited the winding channel we were in one of the most beautiful lagoons I’ve ever seen. Turquoise and emerald water over white sand, with cacti and other desert plants marching up the steep hillsides. We beached our kayaks and carried them up to what we hoped was an area above high tide, then set off for a sign marking a trail.


Imagine a trail up an arroyo filled at first with medium-sized rocks, then as the trail steepened the rocks becoming larger and larger, boulders of pink sandstone conglomerate packed with chunks of quartzite, slick basalt chunks, and sometimes reddish pumice. On up we toiled, being careful to avoid the cactus spines, past fig trees with octopus roots growing in the rock cliffs, and views of the cove which were more stunning with each ten meters of elevation gain.


Those little dots in the cove are sailboats, we will be anchored there in about two days time, waiting for some strong winds that are coming Thursday and Friday to abate. Our climb up the arroyo led us to the cave Nikk remembered from 28 years ago. I can imagine the ancient peoples of the island sheltering there, and we did too, the sun was strongly parching us.


Despite the heat we continued on above the cave to the base of a steep cliff and were surprised when we returned to the arroyo, two short-eared owls flew out of the arroyo and perched on the rocks to watch us. They are large owls, and are awake in the daytime more than other owls.


Six hours after we left the boat we were back, luckily still with the kayaks, they were only two feet above the water line when we returned. And we were so parched, our quarts of water were long gone, and we drank a really large variety of fluids back at the boat. Wednesday we sailed up around the north end of the island, listened to sea lions out on Los Islotes, and came back down the west side of Isla la Partida to anchor at El Cardonal, another stunning cove with a trail onshore past mangoves, a lagoon, and an easy hike this time to the other side of the island. We spotted Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Verdin, Black-throated Sparrows and an unidentified hawk, all desert birds. Tiny desert flowers bloomed near forests of organ pipe cactus, which resemble the saguaro of the Arizona deserts. Here is an old man organ pipe:


In a cartoon he would be wearing a sombrero.

The beautiful weather held, perfect for hiking and exploring, or just lazing about on the boat reading and eating. I made a fish stew with the last of the snapper from Mazatlan, added garlic, onion, potatoes, and carrots to a broth of mole, cumin, and chili sauce. The new moon was on Wednesday, so we had inky black sky with thousands of stars to gaze at while sitting in the cockpit at night. It did get chilly, though, I wore the crocheted hat and layers of sweatshirt and fleece jacket outside at night. And the water was only 70 degrees, instead of the 80 degrees in the ocean over by the mainland of Mexico. Too cold for swimming and snorkeling.

Thursday we motored down to Puerto Ballena, on Isla Espiritu Santo, seeing many tourist pangas from La Paz, and some sea kayakers out with a touring company, heading for the white sand beaches. We anchored in shallow water in the northernmost cove, and paddled to shore to do a little more exploring.



The arroyo we investigated was unexpectedly in bloom. Deep green geranium plants, bushes with flowers like impatiens, and then a mother goat and her all white kid on the hillside above. We are going back there now after four days in La Paz. I’ll cut this blog short so I can help Nikk get off the dock and out into the bay. We’re sailing to many desert islands over the next two weeks before heading back to La Cruz. Perhaps I’ll be able to share a few stories of La Paz and those desert islands when I’m finally back with internet connection again.

Here is one more picture of a hungry desert island denizen, a gigantic grasshopper.


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