After leaving Santa Rosalia, we did a few longish hops, broken up by some nice stays. The first hop down to Punta Chivato, just at the entrance to Bahia Concepcion, took about sixteen hours.
Punta Chivato is well-known as having a spectacular shelling beach, so we had to stop. As advertised, it’s a very long sand beach completely covered in sea-shells perhaps two feet deep. It drops off fairly steeply to the water, which may be part of the reason that it gathers so many shells. At any rate, we did a bit of beachcombing but were surprised that we didn’t come home with many treasures. There are perhaps half a dozen types of shells found here, some fairly large, but nothing that struck us as spectacular. It seemed like a good place for someone to come who wants to make some art with “classic” sea-shells. Also, there is a long string of beach homes, mostly unoccupied during the summer months, which made it less appealing for us. We’ve been spoiled.
We did watch a nice bird-fall while we were in the area, and perhaps this video will convey the scene to you. Sometimes when there’s a large school of fish near the surface, the word gets out in the bird world and dozens or hundreds will quickly gather and begin feasting. If there’s enough birds diving into the water, it starts to look like a continuous stream of them, and Dan coined the word “bird-fall” for the phenomenon. The diving birds circle around until they find a target, then angle downwards and pick up speed. Just before they hit the water, they fold in their wings and form a bullet shape. They hit with a big splash, and pop back out of the water several seconds later. When there are many birds in an event like this one, the splashes form a cluster, which takes on a life of its own. As the birds come back to the surface, they take flight again, almost always in the same direction (upwind?). With large quantities of birds, this stream of birds also takes a life of its own. They fly along the water’s surface until they get enough speed and then they rise and circle back to join the crowd above. The whole event can last for several minutes, but it drifts and stretches and is continually evolving.
As we continued our way into Conception Bay, we had a small pod of dolphins join us for a while, taking turns playing in the wake at our bow. It’s fun to look down on them from the bowsprit and imagine them looking up at us, each of us wondering about the other’s experience, almost but not quite reaching across the divide between worlds. We could hear their chittering communication as they danced in and out of the stream. We also had a string of good fortune on the fishing venue, where we caught three dorado in a row. These beautiful fish never cease to delight the eye – and the palate!
Bahia Concepcion is a very large bay, sometimes called a “sea within a sea”. It’s more than 20 miles in length and 2-4 in width. Because the water doesn’t mix as widely, it warms up and forms a whole micro-climate of its own. It’s frequently 5-10 degrees warmer than the neighboring region in the Sea of Cortez – which in the middle of summer is not always welcome! The water temperature was just under 90F, which we found delightful for swimming, and we swam several times every day during the week we were there. Our refrigeration, however, uses the water outside to cool the freon inside, and it was less pleased with the warm water. It should cycle on and off as the heat is removed from the freon, but we found that here it was running nearly 100% of the time. This is causing us to give some thought to redesigning our refrigeration systems, before we head further south into the equatorial zones.
While in Bahia Concepcion, we paid a visit to a local celebrity. Geary, the weather guy, collates all the relevant weather information for the cruisers in the Sea of Cortez, and whoever else might find it of interest. He gets up at 4am to begin his day’s work, and presents it to all of us on the Sonrisa ham radio network at 7:45, so it’s a non-trivial pursuit which he does 7 days a week out of the goodness of his heart. He touches dozens of lives daily, and can’t be told enough how much he’s appreciated. It turns out he’s just another guy, not really a saint, but a very nice guy nonethe less. 🙂 He lives on a sweet little beach in a palapa he built for himself almost 20 years ago. Although there are a couple dozen other homes on this beach, they’re almost all empty much of the year, so he (almost) has a private beach to himself. His business card says he’s a “Beach Bum Extraordinaire”, and that about sums it up – except that he’s also part of the local community. While we were there, he was helping to build a fire station in which to store their newly-acquired 1969 fire truck. He’s also been instrumental in maintaining a medical and dental clinic in the nearby town of Mulege for more than two decades. What a pleasure to have met this great guy!
We had Geary and his girlfriend Sonia over to the boat for dinner one night. Sonia is a very interesting woman: although she grew up in Mexico City, her ancestry is Jewish and she speaks both Hebrew and Yiddish – in addition to Spanish and English, of course! She is bright and inquisitive and has a warm heart. We all enjoyed the conversation, the dorado and, of course, the chocolate fondue! The next morning, bright and early, we went for a nice hike with Sonia in search of some petroglyphs which we’d heard of but had been unable to find on our own a couple of days earlier. With Geary’s advice, we were able to find the cluster of carvings which had been tossed aside when the construction crew was building Mexican Highway 1. We saw more than a dozen of them, and I’m sure there were more for the careful eye to discover. We also poked around a couple of decent-sized caves nearby and imagined how they might have provided shelter to the indigenous people who had made the carvings however many generations ago. Each cave had two or three areas which might have been like different rooms in a house. Elsewhere on the trail, there are some rocks which “ring” like a bell when struck, reportedly because of the high iron content. We encountered these when we’d gone hiking previously, but weren’t able to find more to share with Sonia. We did, however, enjoy the view of the cove from our vantage point.
After we left Concepcion Bay, we continued further south to reconnect with our journey from last year. We spent nearly a week in Caleta San Juanico, which had been our favorite place from last summer and the furthest north we’d gone. This year has been a very different experience, and we’re very glad that we decided to spend some additional time in the Sea of Cortez! The water in San Juanico was breathtakingly clear, pleasantly warm (but 10 degrees cooler than Bahia Concepcion), and completely empty of other boaters! A couple of days we spent some time snorkeling in different corners of the bay. This may be the best diving we’ve yet encountered in the Sea of Cortez. The terrain was varied and interesting, and provided nooks and crannies for an amazing assortment of fish to duck in and out of. We swam through schools of tiny silver fish with super-reflective blue stripes. We watched a dozen or more jacks feeding on these very same baitfish, and wondered at how every one of them has a strong sense of the space around them: you never see fish run into rocks or other fish because they weren’t paying attention. 🙂 We saw triggerfish and parrotfish and rabbitfish and grouper and cabrilla and angelfish and damselfish and … and … and … The whole scene was a riot of color and movement, and we were completely entranced.
While in San Juanico, we experienced another of the “weather events” that people are always talking about. This one is called an “elefante” because of the characteristic clouds that often accompany them, which look like an elephant’s trunk. The event is a period of high wind, coming over the peninsula into the Sea of Cortez from the Pacific Ocean, and it’s caused by the difference in water temperature on either side. We pictured the long cloud running in the direction of the winds, perhaps funneling along a canyon. But what we saw were bands of clouds running parallel to the coast in very long streams. Dan initially compared it to a snake rather than an elephant, but we weren’t here soon enough to have naming rights. 🙂 These winds blew strongly (averaging 20mph, with gusts over 30) for about 2 days, and then petered out. If they’re really driven by the water temperatures, we’re not sure why they come and go so quickly. Life is full of mysteries!
Although we enjoyed the water and the beach in San Juanico, we also used the time to do some boatwork, running power tools to fashion some planks of wood into light fixtures and trim for our forward stateroom, in preparation for our guests who are arriving in Loreto any day now. We left a little reluctantly, but are confident that we’ll be back. Now we’ve sailed one more leg to Islas Coronados – the southern island of that name, with the volcano cone that we climbed last year. As we pulled into the bay and began to drop our anchor, the windlass was set to pull up instead of down, and Kathy pushed it a little too long – just until a loud bang signaled that something wasn’t right. She was able to get it to lower our anchor, but the brass key that connects the motor and the shaft had snapped and wouldn’t be strong enough to haul the anchor back up. Drat! Ron and Ashley will remember this scenario: they were visiting us just about this time last year when the same thing happened. Fortunately we had the parts and the know-how to make a repair. It cost us a couple of hours slaving away in the hot sun and cool breezes of paradise. This sure is a rough life, but we’re proud to say that we’ve stepped up to the challenge!
We’re winding up another segment of travel, so this seems like an appropriate place to wind up this blog posting. By the way, for those who are following us regularly, we have set up a Yahoo group, to which we send an email whenever we put up a post here. That way you’ll know when there’s a new posting and you don’t have to check the blog to see if there’s something new. If you’re interested, respond to this posting and we’ll let you know how to find it. Our next posting will probably come from our “winter grounds” on the Pacific coast of mainland Mexico. Talk with you soon…