Posts tagged ‘Sea of Cortez’
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.
Here are a few of the former homes of the mollusks we found there:
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:
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.
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?
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.
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.
Jan kept a close eye on these two critters getting a drink and cooling off.
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.
Nikk was feeling frisky, so decided to ride a bull.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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!
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
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.