Summer has begun, and we’re excited to be heading up into the Sea of Cortez! We ended our passage across the Sea in La Paz, because we wanted to say goodbye to our friend Bernard. His boat was still out of the water while he finished up a few last minute projects, so we hung out in La Paz for a day while he wrapped up. We ran into some now “old friends” who we first met in San Diego when we were coming down the coast – two and a half years ago. Tommy and Susie on Ariel’ hosted us for dinner one evening, and we all really enjoyed each other’s company once again. We’re hoping that they’ll come up to the Sea this summer too.
The next day, with Bernard’s boat back in the water and ready to go, we both left the anchorage early in the morning and sailed up the La Paz channel. We spent nearly a week together, traveling the first half and staying put in Nautilus Cove the second half. We had several great days of sailing together. Bernard has many years of sailing under his belt, from racing in San Francisco Bay to cruising in Mexico, and we often learn quite a bit from him. This time he gave us some pointers about trimming our sails which was very helpful, and Lungta’s performance has unquestionably improved since. We began talking about ways to get better performance in light winds, and how we might go about adding a spinnaker to our sail inventory. We went dinghy fishing a few days, and he showed us some things he’d learned recently about catching rock fish. We went for a walk along the beach and spotted a roadrunner, the first we’ve seen in Mexico – and the first we’ve even heard of here! It was running along a path a ways up the slope, and its distinctive run is what clued us in. We expected Wiley Coyote to come trotting along right behind. 🙂 We had a dinghy raft-up one evening with all 5 boats that were in the anchorage. We started out in the shade of Lungta, but after the sun went down we drifted around the cove for a while, meandering where the current carried us (with an occasional push from one or more outboards). Because this anchorage has high cliffs on both sides, the sun was out of sight long before sunset, and the moon didn’t come up until quite a bit later. But we all waited until the full moon presented itself before we made our various ways home for the night. What is it about a full moon that moves the heart?
It was wonderful to spend this time with Bernard – and to make some new friends, especially Carol and Sigmund on Mary T, who have already traveled around the world, have many tales to tell, and are moving towards the next chapter of their lives back in the States. It was with mixed feelings that we left Nautilus Cove, wondering if/when we would see any of them again. Bernard has expressed interest in joining us on Lungta at some point down the road, perhaps even this summer while we’re up in the far northern Sea of Cortez. He’s been our closest friend since arriving in Mexico, and we look forward to that day.
We left that Monday because we had a schedule to keep. 🙂 We prefer life without schedules, but find that they creep into our lives when we decide that we want to travel off of Lungta: planes, ferries, or car rentals are the usual culprits. This time it was because we had reserved a car for a “quick trip” up to San Diego, primarily to pick up the new anchor chain that we had ordered. We have done this trip once before, and loved the drive up the Baja peninsula, so we were looking forward to doing it once again. We got some good winds to bring us to Loreto, so the trip we anticipated would take two days only took one. That meant that we had time to run an experiment: to verify that our solar system was up to the task of supporting the batteries for a full week without assistance from the generator. We tried to spend a full 24 hours without using an appreciable amount of power, checking the battery level at either end of that period to see that the level was the same. We went into town in the morning, and spent most of the day running errands, including a visit to the car rental place to confirm that they could deliver our car to Puerto Escondido, 15 miles away, where we would be leaving Lungta while we were gone. Although the power levels weren’t exactly equal, the difference was less than we calculated our usage to be, so we tentatively declared it a success. Then we popped down to Puerto Escondido, paid for 10 days of moorage time, and packed our bags.
We got off to a slow start, though, because they are doing some construction on Mexico Highway 1, the one road between Loreto and Puerto Escondido (actually, it’s the only road that runs the 800 mile length of the Baja Peninsula). We had heard that sometimes the wait could be 45 minutes, because traffic can only pass one direction at a time. The project is a big one, and they are making remarkable progress, but it does impact the lives of people in the area. And as a matter of fact, they were completely done with that stretch of highway when we returned less than a week later. Once we passed the construction zone(s), it was smooth going – except that we very nearly ran out of gas! The car arrived with a little less than half a tank, and we should have filled up at the first station we passed, but we waited until the second town, which turned out to be quite a ways up the road. Although we were both nervously spinning fantasies about walking through the desert in the heat of the day to get fuel, we were able to coast downhill into a gas station while there were still some fumes left in the tank. Our little rental car kept trying to catch our attention with alarms and blinking lights and for the last 5 miles it had a clear display telling us that there were 0 miles left to travel on this tank. After that we were much more diligent about topping the tank off whenever it got below half-full.
We spent the night in a wonderful little hotel in the town of El Rosario, perhaps the best $25 we spent all week. As before, we both marvelled at the scenery, the interesting rock formations, the quirky plant-life. We always enjoy joking about signage and other marks of human foibles. Just past Ensenada we turned off onto Mexican Highway 3, which goes to Tecate where there is another border crossing. People have told us that this crossing typically has much shorter waits and that it ends up being worth the 50 additional miles of driving off the direct route into town. Unfortunately our experience did not confirm those hopes, and we ended up sitting an hour and a half in a very slow line to meet up with a border agent that was not as friendly as we have met elsewhere. Much of the wait was on the downward slope of a hill along the border fence, so we were entertained by watching lots of street vendors selling various items, mostly food, to the dozens of cars in line ahead of us. One odd observation was that a significant number of these people were on crutches or in wheelchairs; we even saw a blind man with a cane holding onto a younger man’s elbow as they walked from one vehicle to the next – is this a dangerous job, or does having a handicap make one more successful at selling snacks and trinkets?
Back in the States, we were overwhelmed at the contrasts between the two sides of the arbitrary line we call The Border: the difference in road and building maintenance, the landscaping, the variety of products available, the cost of those products. We searched diligently for an inexpensive hotel, but found (again) that San Diego has a dearth of hotel rooms and is completely booked up on weekends when conventions come to town. This week the convention was for the nation’s Jehovah’s Witnesses, some 80,000 of whom descended upon the town. A hotelier told us of the Comicon convention in July which brings in 1.6 million attendees, causing hotels up to 150 miles away to fill up. Yikes! Fortunately we were able to find a room in a suburb that was not too far away. We originally planned to spend 4 days in Southern California, and actually ended up spending 5. Sounds like quite a bit, but it turned out to be just barely enough. Our list was rather long to begin with, and seemed to get longer as time went on, yet we still managed to get almost everything we came for. In addition to the chain, we also ended up purchasing a used spinnaker, a backup inverter/charger, a new wind generator, a replacement motor for our dive compressor, a new speargun, numerous items for smaller projects, and a few delicacies for our future dining pleasure.
On the last full day of our stay, we went up to Hollywood to have lunch with Dan’s son Jesse. It was good to see him again, and see the changes that he has made to his life. A number of years ago he threatened to run away and join the circus, and has since really thrown himself into the training it will take. He’s been bartending for years now, but his heart is in acrobatic performance. He was just beginning his training when we passed through the area on our way down the coast three years ago, and it’s amazing how far he’s come in just a few years. His body, his confidence level, and his life style have all changed, and he seems happier for it. He’s now putting together an act of his own, and beginning to make the contacts that will be needed to find a great job. It’s an exciting time in his life and a testament to the power of dreams!
The last stop on our itinerary was the primary goal: the chain. We got 300′ of 1/2″ high-test chain, which weighs over 750 lbs. We had specifically looked for a rental car that had a high payload capacity over 1000 lbs, nonetheless we ended up exceeding it (as we knew we would 🙂 ). Although the suspension felt a bit softer than before, and the rate of acceleration and deceleration were detectably decreased, the car still handled just fine; if it wasn’t for the comparison with its handling before we loaded it up, we wouldn’t have known that it was working at capacity. Hooray for Volkswagen! As we crossed the border heading south, though, something caught the eye of the border guard – perhaps we were sitting too low to the ground, perhaps it was the sail in its bag coming almost to the ceiling in the back seat. At any rate, we got singled out for special attention, and then told that our understanding of the import policies was not quite accurate. 🙂 We had thought that replacement parts for the boat were exempted from import duties, because of the import process we went through when we brought the boat into Mexico. Unfortunately, the border guards had a different interpretation of what was exempt and what was not (we think that they would only count items that are being repaired and not those being replaced), and we ended up paying an additional $500 in import duties. The border agents (we talked with half a dozen over the course of the process) were all polite and friendly, and spoke varying amounts of English, almost all of them better than we speak Spanish – although our skills have increased to the point where most of the conversation took place in Spanish. Eventually we got cash from the ATM on site, paid our duties and were on our way again.
When learning a new language, you may originally assume that words will just translate one-to-one, but in fact you’re actually interacting with a different culture as well. The people have a different history, a different environment, and it’s not always easy to know what a word really means if you don’t have a deeper knowledge of the context. When we were driving up the Baja, we saw two signs over and over that were confusing to us for quite a while. They were both telling us that a “vado” was coming up. This one made us think of a mustache or a worm crossing the road. As it turns out, a vado is a low spot in the road where a stream or river might cross if there have been recent rains. There are lots and lots of these, and since it’s usually dry it is prohibitive for them to build bridges or put in culverts for all of them, so they just put a dip in the road and repair it when it gets washed out.
Although we had another late start, we were able to make it to the same hotel that we had stayed in on the way up – and the woman at the counter recognized us and gave us the same room. We arrived back in Puerto Escondido in the early evening, and bummed a dinghy ride out to the boat. We were delighted to find when we got back to Lungta that the batteries were completely full, proving that our solar panels are up to the task – at least under these specific conditions (if the water temperature was hotter, causing the refrigeration to run longer, or if there had been cloudy days, there might still have been a deficit). What a relief! The new wind generator that we came back with is intended to give us a little more leeway in that balancing game. We stopped in at the marina office, and got permission to use the fuel dock for an hour in the morning to transfer our load of chain to the boat, avoiding the necessity of overloading our dinghy. After ferrying a couple of loads of “stuff” from the car to the boat, we relaxed on the back deck and called it a successful day. The next morning we got up early and moved Lungta over to the fuel dock so that we could drive the rental car up close and load the chain with far less handling. It was a breeze, and within half an hour we had all 750 lbs of chain stretched out on deck. We also offloaded the rest of the stuff that we’d bought, including the huge bag with our new spinnaker. We went back to the mooring ball and spent a few hours marking our chain, removing the old one and loading the new one into the chain-locker. The old chain had rusted away to where the links were no longer sized properly for the windlass, causing it to skip and jam frequently. What a relief to have new chain: the ground tackle system is such an important safety system for the boat, and now we can sleep better. Before leaving Puerto Escondido, we also took advantage of the fact that we were attached to a mooring ball instead of at anchor to paint our anchor with some of the new zinc paint we brought back with us. This will help keep it from rusting away, until we get it regalvanized next. More sweet dreams!
We had a few wonderful days of sailing north from Puerto Escondido. We went up to Conception Bay in time to join in the annual 4th of July party thrown by Geary, our local ham radio weather guru. Geary rented tents and provided beer, hot dogs and fireworks for everyone, and the cruisers brought lots of tasty things to keep us munching all afternoon. This year “only” about 25 boats showed up, and we were surprised at how few of them we had already known. We met a few new friends, including some cool campers that happened to be staying in the area, who expressed some interest in crewing with us some time in the near future. We also made a connection with a couple of young men who were bicycling down the peninsula, using an internet tool called Couchsurfing. This is an interesting social experiment made possible by the recent proliferation of internet access. It’s a free service that lets people find others who are in the same area, one side is in need of a place to spend a night or two and the other happens to have just that. Because there is a profile page and a feedback loop, both sides have an opportunity to do a little research about the other before agreeing to give it a try. We just signed up for it when we were in San Diego, and this was our first meeting. Although we’re a moving target, we think it might be fun to host other travelers, and also to stay in someone’s home rather than a hotel when we are on the road.
We arrived in Bahia Conception at the beginning of an unusual weather period, where we had lightning and strong winds at night and even half an inch of rain one night, according to our official weather bucket. Some of this was caused by the remnants of Tropical Storm Douglas, and more of it was caused by huge convection clouds that build up in the heat of the day on the mainland, then blow across the Sea towards the peninsula. This is a daily phenomenon in the summer, but the storms rarely make it all the way across the Sea, especially this early in the season. We were in this area for almost a week, and almost every afternoon these clouds blew up on shore and then drifted out over the water, often bringing thunder and lightning with them, and sometimes a big burst of wind for an hour or two. Then they dissipated in time to produce great sunsets.
We took advantage of this time to work on the projects that we had brought back for ourselves from Southern California. We installed the inverter/charger (but discovered that the manufacturer had included the installation guide for the wrong model, so we haven’t completed the wiring yet) and the wind generator (and are so pleased with this addition that we’re already planning to add a second one). Dan spent half of 4 days on the heavy framework to support these – cutting, welding and grinding the 1 1/2″ pipes into shape. Now we have a wind generator helping to top off our batteries whenever the wind gets over 7 knots. While it won’t cover a huge part of our power need, it does help to bring some power in during conditions when the solar panels aren’t enough: cloudy days or when we are underway and the panels are shadowed by the sails. We also installed some of the rope that we purchased, to replace a few worn lines and install a new halyard for our spinnaker (which we haven’t tried out yet). We’ll need to make (or purchase) a sleeve to bundle it up to help make it easier to deploy and retrieve, the most difficult part about using a spinnaker. Kathy has a few sewing projects starting up. She’s replaced the screen cover for the main companionway entrance, making it much easier to use, and hence more likely to be used. Dan’s thrilled with the improvement, declaring it 1000% better than the old rigid frame that we had before. (That’s a pretty big improvement, don’t you think?) She’s also recovering the throw pillows for the pilothouse and galley, both to update the color scheme and because a few of the old ones were showing serious signs of wear. And there’s a quilt that was begun a few years ago which is still calling for attention. Not to mention all of the minor repair jobs that always need to be done around the house: missing buttons, tears in various fabric items, replacing sail ties with more sun-resistant webbing. (Oops, now we’ve gone and mentioned them!)
We’re posting this from Santa Rosalia, about halfway between Puerto Escondido and the Bahia de Los Angeles (which is where we plan to spend the bulk of our summer, for those who haven’t been keeping up). The best hurricane hole in the entire sea is near Bahia de Los Angeles (‘BLA’ for those in the know). We’re making frequent stops and enjoying ourselves along the way. Summer is here and the water is warm and clear!