Our friend Sandy likes to remind me that “boating plans are written in sand at low tide”, always subject to change. We’ve certainly found that to be true of our plans! Last year in September we took a course to help us pass the written test to get our Captain’s licenses from the Coast Guard. The final requirement was to log up to 2 years of sea time – and neither of us had enough time officially “on the books” yet. The course completion certificate is good for up to a year, so we have to submit the application packet before early September. We’ve been planning to fly to Portland in August to take care of that. However, when we tried to figure out the logistics of traveling from the Sea of Cortez, it turned out that the easiest way to do this is on our way north, rather than after we’ve gotten further up. So we moved our plans up to July. Then weresearched flights from Loreto, the only airport north of La Paz, and realized that renting a car in Loreto and driving to San Diego would be less expensive and much more fun! So we’re on our way…
In the meantime, here’s how we got to this point: we left La Paz on a Saturday and thoroughly enjoyed 10 days sailing up the Baja coast, passing some really beatiful terrain. We sailed virtually the whole way, starting the engine only to pull in and out of the anchorages. We spent one or two nights in each place, since we’re enthusiastic about getting north. We are looking forward to spending a few weeks in one place, but I guess we’re not yet ready to do that.
We retraced our steps out of La Paz, and then headed north along the western coast of the islands Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida. We started to see a lot of wildlife along there. We saw several turtles popping their heads up to take a breath of air, only to quickly disappear again. It took us a little while to figure out what we were seeing. Seeing them is sort of like seeing a shooting star, because as soon as you can point it out to someone else, it’s already gone. One popped up in front of our dinghy as we were moving, looked very startled and dove back down barely in time to avoid being hit. Whew! One night just at sunset we were eating dinner and heard a continuous sound sort of like a train moving down the tracks. We came up on deck to find that the sound was a large pod of dolphins moving up the channel. We have a short video of them – but unfortunately you can’t hear the sounds.
Our guidebook described the cliffs of Ensenada Grande as being “lacy”, which seemed a little silly or strange, until we got there and saw it. One layer of rock looks like it was poured over another, extending towards the water in sheets. It seems to be softer than the lower layer, because it’s eroding away, forming lots of holes like swiss cheese – or lace! There are many layers of rock throughout the whole area, and this is where we really began to enjoy rock-watching. Each anchorage has its own unique character, partially because the geology is so varied.
The water clarity is much better out in “the islands”, and we’ve been enjoying a swim or a snorkel most days. This anchorage is where we first got a taste of the small tropical reef fish. Kathy is working to remember all of the names of the fish she once knew so well, and Dan is enjoying making these new acquaintances. We took the dinghy out of the bay and around the point a couple of miles to some nearby rocky islets that provide a well-established nursery for sea lions. The park service had installed some mooring balls so it was easy to tie off while we went for a snorkel. We were interested in seeing them, but also a bit nervous because the bulls can get to be 800 pounds and territorial. For better or worse, although we saw – and heard – quite a few sea lions of various sizes, we didn’t have any close encounters in the water. We didn’t stay out long, though, because we got chilly, and while we were taking a break we noticed that the wind had picked up quite a bit and we decided that we’d better get back to the protection of our anchorage. On the way back, we passed by a huge archway in the cliffside that we hadn’t seen at all on our way out. It was fun to pass underneath it and feel like we were exploring new territory!
We met some folks in this anchorage who had chartered a sailboat from La Paz for a week. We had dinner together and decided to run back out to Los Islotes to swim with the sea lions in the morning before sailing further north to the next island up the coast (Isla San Francisco). There were quite a few sea lions in the water, but in ones and twos, and away from the rocks. We’d heard stories about them playfully interacting with divers, including swiping gear, especially fins, and we’d heard warnings to stay away from the big bulls because they are territorial and could be aggressive. As we got in the water we all had some excitement and a little apprehension, but of course it all turned out fine. We each spotted one or two sea lions in the water, but none of them came closer than about 15 feet. For such odd-looking creatures, they are amazingly graceful in the water – and fast!
After our visit to the sea lions of Los Islotes, we returned to Lungta and set sail. We had a lovely sail up to Isla San Francisco, keeping our new friends in sight the whole way. The bay we stopped at has a looong crescent-shaped white sandy beach and we couldn’t resist going for a walk almost immediately. Our new dinghy is MUCH faster and so much easier to land than the old one; we’re really enjoying it! We hiked inland from the beach, and crossed a fairly narrow section of the island to another beach which faces the open Sea of Cortez. This second beach had pebbles instead of sand, and was much rougher. Our guidebook promised agates here, which kept us looking, and then wondering just exactly what agates were. 🙂 We saw a sea eagle’s nest on a cliff overhead, and watched one of the parents feed the babies and then fly off for more. We found a few areas where people had arranged rocks, shells, driftwood and even bits of bone, into artistic arrangements.
The next few days we sailed up a channel in between the peninsula and a series of islands. This portion of the Baja peninsula is perhaps the most visually stunning terrain we’ve seen (yet). The coastline is right up against the backbone of the Sierra de las Gigantes mountain range, which is dramatically striped with layers of rock of varying colors and textures. There are tall cliffs against the water, and cactus on those cliffs.
A few of the anchorages are nestled amid a section of red sandstone. Sandstone weathers into beautiful smooth curves and interesting shapes that just dare the imagination to see faces, buildings and creatures.
We enjoyed a nice hike one evening among these features, and then back amongst the cactus. There are so many types of cactus which we don’t know the names of! Tall cactus like telephone poles, tree-like cactus with many branches but no leaves, bushy cactus with flat-bread leaves or segments that look like grenades, barrel cactus with long bright red thorns… And every hill rises to another incredible view of the world around us. We frequently wonder why there aren’t more people doing what we’re doing, and how is it that we’re so lucky to be the only ones in a given anchorage or sailing a given stretch of water.
One night we saw a distant lightning storm, with flashes coming every second or two. There’s a weather phenomenon here in the Sea of Cortez called a chubasco which has us a bit apprehensive. It’s basically a squall that comes up at night, forming over the mainland in the hot summer months that gets pulled out over the Sea because of the warmer water. They’re hard to predict more than a few hours ahead of time, and by then most sailors have gone to bed. Because they’re small and nocturnal, they often go unnoticed until they’re upon you. The winds can get quite dramatic, and lots of boats have been ripped off of their anchors or had their awnings or sails torn up. We buttoned things down as best we could and went nervously to sleep. We each woke up a couple of times during the night and went up to monitor the progress of this storm, and fortunately it never got anywhere near to us. Hopefully that’s all we’ll ever need to report on that subject. 🙂
There’s a small town in the bay of (Bahia) Agua Verde, where some local fishermen make their base. While we were in this bay, we purchased a fish from a panga returning from a day of fishing. We enjoyed some amazing fish tacos! We’re still trying to perfect our fishing skills. It was so easy in Alaska that we got over-confident, and now we find that we really don’t know what we’re doing. We change our technique or equipment every day or two, but have only caught a few small fish since we rounded the corner of Baja last December. But we’re still hopeful: the fishing in the Sea of Cortez is supposed to be quite good! We enjoyed some nice snorkeling in this bay, and saw all kinds of tropical fish. Dan spotted an eel swimming free during the day, which is unusual; usually they stay in holes until they are ready to hunt at night. We saw a group of young men hunting octopus who offered to sell us some, but when we looked in their little rowboat and saw the tightly stuffed sack with writhing tentacles we decided that we weren’t ready cook calimari.
The end of this section of travel was in Puerto Escondido (Hidden Port), which is aptly named. It’s a large bay that’s almost completely enclosed, which would of course make it a lake. Instead there’s an opening just wide enough for boats to pass through, though they almost certainly have to keep dredging it to make sure that it stays deep enough. In our case it’s just barely deep enough; we had to make sure to pass through at high tide so that we wouldn’t get stuck in the sand at the bottom. Several years ago, the Mexican government’s Tourism Development agency had a grand scheme to build up the Sea of Cortez for foreigners, mostly American, to visit and leave their money. The scheme included perhaps a dozen marinas with lots of facilities, some of which also included housing projects. Most of them got mostly completed, but “phase two” never happened. Puerto Escondido is a marina almost in the middle of nowhere. There’s a town about 10 miles away which has shops, restaurants, etc, but here there’s nothing but the marina and an RV park just down the road. To get to the nearby town, Loreto, one must walk perhaps a mile and a half out to the highway and flag down a regional bus traveling from La Paz or Cabo San Lucas to points further north. There are about 4 a day, so it’s a real pain in the neck if you miss it! Fortunately it seems that lots of people around here are friendly to hitchhikers. Because it’s not a regular stop, you have to be sure to remind the driver on the way back to stop.
Once we got into the bay, we hooked up to a mooring ball. We spent a few days touching up the paint on the hull and painting the pilothouse the same shade. One evening we went to shore to try to get a better internet connection, and ended up having houseguests. A couple of hard-core cyclists had come into town and were talking with some friends of ours. We joined the conversation and learned that they needed a place to spend the night, so we invited them to stay on Lungta. We all had a wonderful time talking together, and they ended up staying a second night. James and Margit are cycling from Southern California all the way to Tierra del Fuego. Wow! We exchanged life-stories and compared notes about traveling the world, doing yoga, growing up in the 60’s, etc. We spent a lazy day together, going for a little tour of the bay in our dinghy and taking a dip off the side of the boat. It was a very pleasant interlude.
After they left, we packed up our bags and prepared to head north for a bit. Because we’ve never left the boat alone disconnected from shore power, we found someone to check in on it while we’re gone, making sure that the power-hungry refrigerator & freezer don’t bleed the batteries all the way down. After we’ve done this a few times, we’ll have more confidence in our systems, but this is a major test for us. We’re posting this from on the road, and we’ll include another posting of our trip north soon.
>> Kathy & Dan