7-30-2013 – Puerto Refugio, Baja California, Mexico

We’ve found our way back to paradise.  It seems that we are the only cruisers in the northern Sea of Cortez.  We pinch ourselves daily in wonder.  We’ve seen no other cruisers for months, since we headed north of Guaymas on our way up to Puerto Penasco in April.  We rarely even see a fishing panga up here.  From our conversations on the morning ham radio net, it sounds like there may be no cruising boaters within 40 miles of us.  Go figure!

We left Puerto Penasco mid-day on a Saturday, escorted by the Cabrales family on Salvador-the-Younger’s sailboat, ‘Jenny’.  He’s enthusiastically learning all about sailing this salvaged boat, and might, just might, one day become one of our number.  They sailed out the harbor entrance with us and alongside us for an hour or so, before returning home.  We were touched by this friendly send-off, and hope that our paths will cross again some day.

We couldn’t have asked for a nicer day to sail across the Sea to the Baja side, although the winds did peter out before we arrived in Willard Bay the following evening, after a 36 hour sail.  Willard Bay is on the north side of Isla San Luis Gonzaga, and protected from winds from almost any direction.  We dropped anchor and happily dropped into bed.  🙂  In the morning, we hopped in the dinghy and poked around our surroundings, finding the bay ringed with small homes, a tiny town along an estuary, and a tide-dependent sand-spit connecting the island to the mainland.  We squeezed over the sand-spit in the inflatable, and toured down the coast of Gonzaga Bay, a much larger and less populated space than Willard Bay.  Because the view suited us better (fewer man-made structures and more beautiful natural vistas), we moved Lungta 6 miles to the southern side of Gonzaga. 

As we arrived, we were greeted by 4 (not 1, not 2, but 4!) whale sharks lazily circling around the bay.  What a beautiful sight to behold!  These large animals are dark gray on top, and speckled with strings of pale spots that look like sunlight dappling through the water.  They have very wide mouths to bring in as much water as possible for them to strain out the plankton that they live on.  We watched them on-and-off for the entire afternoon.

We spent just over a week in the southern portion of Gonzaga Bay, and we totally loved it.  We went ashore a few times, to walk along the beach.  On one of the beaches, the pebbles were collecting in interesting arrangements.  It turned out that these pebbles were super-light pumice, and had been easily shifted into any hollows in the sand as the tide receded.  Later during high tide, we saw these same pebbles floating on the sea!  Who knew that rocks could float?  Makes us feel less precarious about our cement boat. 🙂

One day while we were playing on the beach, we saw a couple of small fishing boats tuck into a nearby cove and disappear out of sight.  We later took a dinghy ride and poked into that cove to see what there was to see.  It turned out to be a long skinny body of water which ended in a sandy beach that shallowed out very gradually, so the width of the beach varied dramatically depending on the level of the tide.  The little boats we’d seen previously were still there, and turned out to be a private party and not a commercial venture at all.  A local land-owner and several guests were enjoying the afternoon in this cove, pulling clams out of the muddy sand with their toes, then prying them open and garnishing them with a dollop of hot-sauce and a squeeze of lime – yum!  They showed us how to harvest some of our own, and we enjoyed a quick and easy clam chowder later that night.  There were three coyotes scampering around on the beach that afternoon. 

One of the locals told us that he viewed the coyotes as a nuisance because they gathered in packs to kill the bobcat cubs, which upset him.  Later that night, and every day afterwards, we noticed coyotes on the beach near our anchorage, including at least two families with a couple of pups.  We really enjoyed watching these guys running around on the beach, foraging and playing together.  One night we even heard a chorus of coyotes yipping and howling in the hills!

While here, we continued our push to have a freshly painted boat.  Our pilothouse now matches the hull, which to us goes a long way towards making her look “finished” again!  We’ve still got a long list of painting projects for the remainder of the summer, but the size of the items on the list is shrinking dramatically!  The one large area left is the deck, and we don’t have the paint for that yet so it may be delayed a while.  🙂

There was one other, distasteful chore that we took care of while in Gonzaga Bay.  We had picked up a stowaway while in the boatyard: a rat that was leaving cute little footprints in all the dust that we accumulated, hard dark pellets in holds and on surfaces throughout the boat, and ragged holes in bags containing food.  Kathy saw him one night while we were still in Puerto Penasco, rounding a corner on the deck.  Ugh!  He was about 6″ long, plus a tail slightly shorter than that.  We had a hard time imagining that a rat could have gotten into the boat, propped up as it was in the boatyard with a nearly vertical steel ladder connecting us to the ground.  But we figured out that we had also left a rope connected to a bucket several nights, which was used to raise and lower tools, groceries, etc, and it seems likely that he could have climbed that.  We purchased a few traps before we left town, but it took nearly a week to catch him.  First we tried sticky traps like fly-paper on steroids, but the rodent just stepped one paw in and then smeared it across the floor as he left.  Then we moved up to the classic mouse-trap style with the spring-loaded wire.  This was a disturbing technique – even more so for the rat, I acknowledge! – but it was successful after a few nights of trying to find an interesting enough morsel of food to use as bait and a way to secure it to the trap.  (A slice of apple was our best solution, which could be tucked under the flange on the trap.)  We set another morsel out without the trap the next night, to make sure that we were only dealing with one beastie.  I guess we’re collecting all of the classic boating experiences, some better than others.

From Gonzaga Bay we sailed 40 miles south to the northern end of Isla Angel de la Guarda, to an anchorage named Puerto Refugio.  We’ve heard this place glowingly described for years, and have been looking forward to making it up here.  It bears a lot of similarity to San Juanico, our favorite spot from last year.  It has a rough, craggy, multi-colored rock coastline, with a few small beaches sprinkled here and there.  It also has a number of rocky reefs, which are great for snorkeling, diving and fishing.

One day we walked a beach covered with fist-sized smooth stones, and collected a few beautiful shells – but, for the record, we want to be sure you all know we’re *not* collectors!  🙂  There were also a number of sun-bleached bones on this beach, including a 9-foot whale rib.  What happened to the rest of the skeleton?  Nearby were a couple of unfamiliar artifacts that Dan suggested might be a (part of a) baleen; they consisted of a roughly 12″ triangular lattice of something like cartilage, with a thick fringe of 2″ bristles along the edges.  We snorkeled here and saw more small stingrays than we’ve seen anywhere else – there must have been a convention!  They were almost all searching along the sandy bottom for food, and many of them had a school of small fish eagerly hanging nearby to snap up morsels that the ray flushed out but didn’t consume.

There are a few outlying islands, one of which, Isla Granito, is a sea lion rookery.  We heard them barking continually at all hours of the day or night.  Although we haven’t yet learned how to communicate with them, we enjoy their language, especially when we’re sailing at night and one comes alongside letting out a call.  We occasionally respond, and the conversation that ensues is pleasant if not exactly communicative!  We spent a few hours one afternoon at Isla Granito, communing with the sea lions.  We took the dinghy over along with our snorkeling gear, intending to swim with them, but there were a number of large bulls around who seemed to be threatened by us and the dinghy, which made us a bit nervous.  So we dropped our small anchor and just watched.  Dan pointed out that it isn’t every day one gets to live a National Geographic episode.  We hung around 4 different groups, trying to make out the stories of the different characters.  Each group consisted of anywhere from 5 to 20 adult female sea lions many of which had a tiny pup nearby.  There was invariably one big male bull with a neanderthal brow swimming back and forth, braying his intention to protect the females and pups from any threats (that would be us, apparently).  A few of the males had serious injuries to their tail flukes, which we interpreted as a sign of quarrels with other males.  One of the males was missing one of his “feet” (half of his very prehensile tail).  On shore, the pups endearingly clambered over the rocks and other sea lions, while the females lazily enjoyed the late afternoon sun.  After we moved on down the coast a few slipped into the water, leaving us to wonder that our presence was disturbing them.  At the end of the island was another group that appeared to be less organized.  We determined that these were the single males who had no “harem” of their own.  By contrast, as we approached many of them jumped in the water and began cavorting all around us.  Although they were interacting with each other, it seemed that our arrival on the scene initiated all the activity.

We’ve had more encounters with the Mexican sweat bees that we met last year.  Unfortunately Dan has had a few miscommunications with them and has racked up three stings in as many days, mostly because he stepped on or bumped up against one that he didn’t know was there.  The resulting welt is painful and then itchy for 3 or 4 days.  These guys are quite persistent in their search for water, and they can smell it around our boat.  One day we left on a dinghy trip and returned 2 hours later to a boat filled with the buzzing of bees.  It didn’t take long to usher two dozen of them out the windows – they are pretty docile little fellows.  We’re now living with the screens back in all our windows, and rarely have more than 2 or 3 bees in the boat at any time.  But if we’re out on the deck during the day we need to be vigilant, because they’re constantly poking around all the corners of our “stuff”.  They disappear when the sun does.

At night we’ve been enjoying sleeping outside on the deck.  As the moon wanes and rises later each night, we get nice views of the amazing celestial show.  The Milky Way is clear as a bell, and the stars bright and glistening.  I’m certain there are more there now than we had last year!  We’ve seen satellites and planes go by, and we’re starting to see quite a few shooting stars.  Apparently there are three meteor showers coming up in the next few weeks.  One of the planets (Venus?) is extremely bright on the western horizon, and we’ve watched it set many nights.

In Refugio we spent some focused time on repairing some leaks on our dinghy.  We had a slow leak in one of the inflatable pontoons, and were having to pump up every few days.  We also had a leak of water through the floor, which was getting much worse and we had to bail every time we used the dinghy.  The motor was finicky and we needed to do some more work on the carburetor, and one of our tires had gone flat (again!).  The air leak turned out to be a tiny pin-prick, probably from a fishing hook before we even made the chaps.  The water leak took a few tries to get under control, but is now manageable.  The engine is working much better, thanks to a new set of carburetor gaskets.  And we’ve come up with a fix for the wheels that we hope will protect them from future trouble.  We’ve had three tires go flat now, and it seems that the weak point is the fill stem, which must be breaking free from the rubber under some form of pressure.  Dan’s theory is that it happens when we get mired deep in sand.  So we crafted some wedges from some scraps of wood, which fit into the wheel base and surround the stem.  Hopefully this will help protect them and we won’t have to deal with this problem again!  We love our Danard dinghy wheels!  They’re sturdy and easy to use.  And now, hopefully, ours will be even more reliable for us to bring our dinghy ashore.  It feels good to make changes to our surroundings, even relatively minor ones, that improve our quality of living.  The cruising life offers lots of opportunities for this.  🙂

So that’s the news for now.  We’ll post again when we’re back in range of the internet.

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