7-29-2014 – Bahia de Los Angeles, Baja California, Mexico

We’ve finally arrived at our summer haunting grounds, Bahia de los Angeles (BLA), which we’ve been anticipating for the last several months.  Hooray!  We spent the last few weeks on the approach enjoying the journey.

Shortly before reaching Santa Rosalia, we stopped for the night in Sweet Pea Cove, a smallish indent on the western side of Isla San Marcos, which is less than 15 miles from Santa Rosalia.  We’d heard good things about this place, and weren’t disappointed.  We took the dinghy around the corner from Sweet Pea Cove for a snorkel and a bit of exploration.  Our friend Ron from IntimaSea and Ken & Danita from Odyssey were already there, playing in some swim-throughs in a cave that was just big enough for about dozen dinghies.  The rock in this area has lots of huge bubbles, creating caves, blowholes, and numerous other features that are intriguing.  Based on the snorkeling, which was some of the most interesting since arriving in Mexico, it’s certain that the fishing here would be great!

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Both on the way in and on the way out we passed close to a pod of pilot whales.  We hadn’t seen these guys before, and at first we thought they were just another (ho-hum) pod of dolphins.  But they behaved slightly differently, which puzzled us and kept our attention.  They were creating white waves, visible from quite a ways away, but there was no leaping or frolicking.  Their dorsal fins were cutting through the surface in slightly more of an arc, and the fins were much larger than a dolphin’s, somewhat like an orca but completely dark. 

Pilot Whales

We stopped in Santa Rosalia for three or four days, to get some errands done before heading north into the more remote areas that we would be calling home for the summer.  We had dinner one night with folks from half a dozen boats, all of whom will be up in the BLA area with us this summer.  We’re just starting to form the relationships that will color our summer.  There are fewer people in our life when we are away from cities and towns, and the relationships formed tend to be deeper.  We’re all feeling around for who will be significant, perhaps forming friendships that will be with us for years to come. 

We were anchored near the commercial pier, and noticed that a particular boat came and went daily, carrying a distinctive load.  We’re pretty convinced that it’s gypsum from a nearby island where they have a big operation removing gypsum to supply the world market.  This boat carried about 20 big sacks, perhaps 8 feet in diameter.  It has a crane arm built in which can lift one bag at a time onto a waiting semi truck.  They load one bag at a time, 10 or 12 per truckload, then the truck carefully backs to the end of the dock and maneuvers slowly up the ramp.  The second load is pulled out of the hold while the truck makes its delivery, and then they do it all again.  One day we also saw them deliver a pickup truck.

Off-Loading Gypsum

We provisioned, did a few small projects around the boat, and picked up a Couchsurfing guest.  Aleeza had hitchhiked down the Baja peninsula, and was working her way back north again.  Although she initially only pictured a couple of days with us in Santa Rosalia, we suggested that she come with us up to BLA and continue her land journey from there.  She happily accepted!  She’s a 24-year-old from New Jersey, who has been living in San Diego for 5 months (but says that’s already WAY too long!)  She’s light-hearted and enthusiastic about learning new things.  She’s never been sailing before, and had fun finding her sea-legs.  She’s learned to tie a bowline, taken a short ride partway up the mast, and has now been snorkeling for the first time.  She’s been thrilled at every pod of dolphins we’ve seen, and curious about the instrumentation, the weather, and the life in general.

The first hop north from Santa Rosalia was an overnight trip to Bahia San Francisquito.  We saw some whales for the first time that Dan thinks might have been fin whales.  They didn’t show much above the surface when they spouted, but they had the right general shape and proportions – they were BIG!  We spotted perhaps 8 of them, although at different times so it’s impossible to know how many individuals that actually was.  Hard to say for sure, but this might have been more exciting for us than for Aleeza. 

Sunset

We agreed to split the night into three shifts of 3 hours each, but this was one of those situations where the plans don’t end up suiting the reality.  Somewhere around 4am the winds and waves picked up to uncomfortable levels and it didn’t make sense for our new crew to man the helm.  We had winds around 20 knots for 4 or 5 hours, which stirred up short choppy waves of 3-4 feet.  Not terrible, but quite unexpected.  When we mentioned it on the morning radio net conversation several people told us that this is a common weather pattern for this particular stretch of coastline.  Hmmph – we never got the memo!  Although Aleeza got her first taste of seasickness, it was pretty mild, and things worked out fine.  We caught a 36″ dorado late that night, and were pleased at how smooth our fishing process has become.

San Francisquito is a very large bay with a small cove off to the side that has a narrow and shallow entrance.  There were four boats in the small cove and one outside near a large sandy beach.  We arrived late the next night, and joined the one boat near the beach.  When we got up the next morning, our neighbor had already moved into the small cove with the others!  We enjoyed a hike that day, following a ridge of smooth yellow sandstone riddled with numerous caves and dens.  There was no sign of habitation, either human or otherwise, but we did spot a few animals along the way, including a jackrabbit, a coyote and innumerable lizards.  When we were here last year, we were chased away by mosquitos, causing Kathy to dub this place “San Fran-mosquito”.  This time the insects were much less voracious, although the name was still apropos.  That night we heard coyotes yipping on shore, and we had fun howling a bit to get them going.  We had a nice snorkel the next day, introducing Aleeza to the use of a mask, snorkel and fins.  Although the water was not crystal clear, we did see a good variety of sea creatures including rays, angel fish, and sponges.  We crossed paths here with our friend Dave on Free Spirit, who is heading south to Puerto Escondido.  He bakes bread frequently and in fact shared his techniques with us the last time we saw him a year ago.  We had dinner with him, and he made cinnamon rolls and a tasty loaf of bread for us to take when we left the next morning.  What a nice guy!

San-Squito Vista San-Squito Towers San-Squito Portrait

One evening while underway north from San Franciquito, we enjoyed watching a lightning display from 3 or 4 weather cells 100 miles away on the mainland.  We considered the likelihood of their coming our way, and concluded that it was low.  These storms are often sucked out to sea by warm water, but the water where we were was a cool 81 degrees.  Later that same night we had a different sort of light show when we watched a few dolphins swimming in and out of our bow wave, highlighted all over by bioluminescence.  They were leaving a glowing trail as they criss-crossed in front of the boat.  A beautiful sight to behold! 

The following day as we approached BLA we went through a patch of light winds and decided to play with our newly acquiredspinnaker.  We figured out a temporary way to secure the front corner and played with a couple of placements for the sheet, the line that controls the loose corner.  The winds were very light, but steady, so we could see the effects of our changes.  We didn’t go very fast, perhaps not even as fast as if we had all of our normal sails up, which has us wondering why not!  But we did move directly downwind, which is a direction that is difficult for us to do normally.  The sail is BIG, about 50% of the total area of the five other sails, and the bold colors are striking (even though there was some bleeding between panels, which is why we got it for a great price!).  We need to make a sock to make deploying and retrieving it easier and safer, and there’s still plenty for us to learn about using this sail, but we are pleased with our successful first try.

Spinnaker

Bahia de los Angeles is a large, partially protected bay over 10 miles long and 6 miles wide.  There are dozens of small islands and coves to explore here.  The winds are squirrely and sometimes intense, but the fetch is limited so the waves never get very big. Our first stop inside of BLA was the La Mona anchorage, a big beautiful cove with a sandy beach fronting a lagoon to the south, some impressive cliff walls on the east side, and the twinkling lights of the town (also called BLA) to the north.  This seems to be the favorite place for the region’s whale sharks to come out to feed.  Almost every day one boater or another reports having seen anywhere from one to a dozen whale sharks in this area, and it’s not unusual for the report to include a very close encounter.  This group of whale sharks are fairly young and apparently pretty curious.  They are smallish, mostly between 15 and 25 feet long, and slender.  When fully grown they will reach 40′ or more.  When we saw a couple of whale sharks circling a half mile away from the boat, we took our dinghy out to see if we could get even closer.  We slowly approached them, and then cut the motor and slipped into the water with them, wearing our snorkeling gear.  From the surface it was easy to see their fins cutting through the water, but it was hard to see them through the water unless we were very close to them because the water was a bit murky.  It was filled with the plankton that the whale sharks were feeding on.  Although we’ve heard tales of people touching these gentle beasts, we did not want to scare them away.  We were all awed at just being near these huge creatures!  A couple of whale (shark)-watching boats came out to see them too, snapping away at their cameras but no one got in the water with us.  When the  sharks moved on, as did all of their human observers.  We headed over to the beach, and walked up and over the berm separating the lagoon from the sea.  The lagoon must be several square miles in area, and generally quite shallow, which means that the water inside heats up quite a bit over the course of a few hours.  The tide was just turning, and the warm water was beginning to flush out the narrow mouth further down the beach.  We floated around for 30 minutes or so, scooping at the sandy bottom to see what we could dig up.  We were surprised though that there wasn’t a lot in there.  We found a few clams and a lot of live sea biscuits, which were difficult to identify at first.  They are fuzzy, almost prickly little globes that easily fit in the palm of your hand, and they have some faint markings on them that remind us they are closely related to sand dollars.  Sorry, no photos of these guys.

Whale Shark

The final stop on Aleeza’s journey with us was the village of BLA.  We stayed there two nights, because we wanted to visit the little museum in town.  Unfortunately the day we arrived was one of the days when its regularly closed – sometimes it does pay to stay aware of the day of the week!  We met a guy while trying to get an internet “fix” at a local restaurant hot-spot, who joined us later that evening for a lazy swim near the point at the outside of the anchorage.  Brad is a college photography and graphic arts instructor in Yuma, AZ who spends much of his summertime exploring the Baja peninsula.  It’s got a large collection of interesting objects, ranging from sea shells and whale skeletons to manmade artifacts from several periods throughout history.  Unfortunately there is not a lot of interpretive text to go along with the collection (yet), although there are short labels on almost everything.  It’s just a step up from poking through someone’s ancestral attic, wondering what’s in the next corner and what its significance was.  The schedules worked out well for Brad to be the next hop in Aleeza’s journey north, so we bid her a fond adieu after visiting the museum.

After waving goodbye to Aleeza & Brad, we headed 5 miles north to the La Gringa anchorage.  Here we got to work for a few days.  Dan spent his time sanding and painting the rubrail on the hull, and Kathy worked on re-covering our large and mismatched collection of throw-pillows and then re-upholstering the galley just for the heck of it!  The fabric that we had used just two years ago to cover the galley cushions had faded badly in the sun, and we were pleased to discover that we had just enough fabric left over from the recent pilothouse upholstery project to fit the galley as well.  Dan also spent an hour or three polishing up the brass poles, and we can’t remember when the galley looked so nice!

New Galley New Rub-Rail

La Gringa is another large sandy-beach ringed anchorage, north of the village, which has a smallish lagoon chock-full of clams.  We spent 15 minutes one evening harvesting some of these lovelies for dinner the next day.  Now we’re working on a hearty pot of chowder – yum!  While at the lagoon, we saw a couple of coyotes combing the low-tide beach for other tasty morsels.  We had a nice evening with Ron on IntimaSea, who had caught a yellow-tail tuna and had plenty of meat to share.  When we returned to our boat, the winds had picked up a bit.  We decided to sleep inside instead of on the air mattress on the front deck where we had been planning to spend the night.  Although Dan had put a small anchor on the air mattress to keep it in place for the day, somehow it had gotten out from underneath the anchor and blown away during the evening.  We grabbed a super-powerful flashlight and hopped in the dinghy in the dead of night, for a trip to the beaches downwind of Lungta.  We saw some local guys fishing from a panga with nets, and we saw some largish crabs swimming around in surprisingly deep waters, but we didn’t see our air mattress anywhere on the beach.  Finally we went home to bed, sad that our nights of sleeping on deck might be over for the summer, or at least would be far less comfortable.  🙁  But Dan woke up VERY early the next morning with a renewed energy to go on the search.  So we launched the dinghy again and retraced our steps from the previous night.  We still didn’t see anything on the beach, but wondered whether it was possible for the 15-20 knot winds to blow a queen-sized air mattress up and over a sand-dune ridge into the lagoon.  So we beached the dinghy and walked around the lagoon a while.  Finally we spotted something in the distance that “could” have been our air mattress.  Dan went back to get the dinghy while Kathy went on to check out the possible recovery.  There wasn’t a single moment which struck Kathy as “aha – that’s it!”, but the likelihood just slowly grew larger as she walked.   Dan had a happy moment when he saw Kathy deflating the object though – hooray, we found it!  There was a fire-ring nearby, containing ashes that were still warm.  We’re curious whether someone else enjoyed our mattress for a few hours on the night it went on walk-about.

Life is settling into our summertime rhythm now, spending a few days to a couple of weeks in a beautiful anchorage somewhere within a couple of day’s travel to Puerto Don Juan, our hurricane hole, followed by a quick trip into the village to catch up on email and reprovision our refrigerator.  We’re looking forward to reconnecting with some friends we met last year and making new friends this year.  We’re anticipating more wildlife sightings, more spectacular sunsets and shooting stars, and many projects to check off of our to-do list.  🙂  Hope your summer is as delightful as ours is shaping up to be!

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