It feels like we just arrived here in the far northern Sea, and already the end is within sight. We enjoyed our journey up here, and we have some plans for the journey back south, so the part in the middle has gotten somewhat compressed. We’ve really settled into the wonderful rhythm of summer in the Sea. We’ve already visited all but one of our favorite anchorages in the area, and a few new ones to boot.
Isla Angel de la Guarda (Guardian Angel Island) is the second largest island in the Sea of Cortez, about 40 miles long and 5 miles wide. It’s about 20 miles off-shore from the rugged northern portion of the Baja peninsula, and as a result remains virtually untouched by man. We visited two corners of this largely unexplored island this season. The first location is called Este Ton (we haven’t found a translation of the name, perhaps it’s a colloquialism of some sort). It’s a tiny little cove enclosed within two rocky points that wrap around it something like embracing arms. Our guidebook gives no information about it except for a named dot on a map. We really felt like we were off the beaten path! We encouraged some friends to go there with us, and they expected to follow us the next day, but it turned out to be too small for us to feel comfortable with two boats in it at the same time! So we suggested that we meet up a few days later at a different anchorage which was much larger. Meantime, we took a nice hike up into the hills, enjoying the sense of isolation and adventure – and the sweeping views. We also did a little exploration of the nearby coastline by dinghy, but didn’t go ashore. The anchorage is protected from winds in all directions except for the entrance, which is about 100 feet wide and faces southwest. Unfortunately, the second night we were there, the wind (and corresponding waves) came from exactly that direction, making for a somewhat uncomfortable experience, mostly because of our worries that we might swing around into the nearby rocky outcroppings. These worries did not materialize, but we decided to move on after only two nights. This island displays many of the layers of colorful rock that we’ve come to love about the Baja. The sparse desert vegetation allows them all to be quite visible. We were particularly awed by a section that had bright green rocks right next to some cliffs of red, making a very striking contrast. Not for the first time, we wished we had a geologist on board to make sense of the cacaphony of geologic formations.
The other area of Isla Angel de la Guarda that we visited is called Puerto Refugio, and it’s located at the northern tip of the island, about 40 miles away from the BLA village. By contrast, this is a fairly large area, and the guidebook identifies 4 different anchorages, each with different features to explore and each large enough to safely harbor dozens of boats. When we arrived, the winds were blowing from the north, so we were relieved to pull into an area that was essentially a channel between two islands with a third one capping off most of one end. We spent a few days in this very protected place, until the winds moved around to come from the southwest, making a different spot more attractive. There were 5 other boats with us in the region, providing a fairly active social climate in this extremely remote location. Potluck dinners on the beach are a frequent affair in this life, and this time was no exception. These events give everyone a chance to meet each other and compare notes – and recipes! We went snorkeling one day, off the far northern point where a reef extends out to a couple of pinnacle rocks. There we saw a huge number of scallops had been recently harvested, leaving the pearly white shells open on the sea bottom. Because of the depth and quantity, we were convinced that this was the job of a commercial dive team, illegally over-harvesting even this remote region. It’s always sad when a portion of the environment comes in contact with a short-sighted (and likely under-employed) group of people. Another day we enjoyed a long kayak exploration along the shore, poking our noses into some of the innumerable caves in the area that are characteristic of one of the layers of rock. It’s funny how intriguing a cave can be, drawing us inevitably in to see what mysteries it contains – not to mention ideas of previous inhabitants!
After returning south to the BLA area we revisited the La Mona anchorage in early August, in order to participate in another beach potluck for the whole fleet of cruisers in the area to attend, planned annually in commemoration of the full moon. Nearly 20 boats showed up, most of whom we had never met. It was held in a corner of the anchorage that we hadn’t visited before, and we took the opportunity to play around in another small lagoon, riding the current formed as the tide withdrew. Guys from two of the boats had built potato cannons from ABS plumbing, and entertained the crowd by firing potatos and marshmallows out over the water. Bang! Pow! Splash! The next day a half dozen boats had an epic adventure in the big lagoon, bringing floats, kayaks, canoes and dinghies to ride the current there. Unfortunately this event was not as well planned, with some confusion as to exactly when the high point of the tide would be and a misunderstanding of the topography of the lagoon. We had expected something like a swiftly flowing creek winding through the desert flat, but what we found was a shallow lake with deep channels that became apparent several sun-blasted hours later. It turns out that the river ride for this lagoon is not best during the highest tides, but rather at the mid-range high tides. Who knew? (Not us!)
We’ve also spent some time in another off-the-beaten-path anchorage this year, near a tiny rock of an island called Isla Alcatraz. The cove is huge, able to host dozens of boats, but not well-protected from easterly winds. We’ve stopped in there three times now, exploring different facets of it each time. There’s another off-lying rock/islet which is home to a sea lion population. One day we joined three other boats on a day-trip around this islet and into a nearby cove. As we passed the sea lions, word seemed to go around quickly and almost all of them stumbled, hopped or slid into the water. The rock seemed to writhe for a few moments as the chaos bubbled up and the once large rock shrank considerably! Then the nearby waters were full of small dark heads bobbing around. The mass exodus brought a chuckle to all of us. We went for a few small hikes in the area, exploring a few of the lagoons. One day we hiked up a big sand dune that was sandwiched in between rocky cliffs. This countryside is full of surprises! The wind was whipping at the top, causing the sand to blow like snow at the top of a ski lift.
We’ve had some good luck fishing recently, and learned a few things about the activity. The hardest lesson is that fishing poles and our new wind generators don’t mix well. We have two holders for fishing rods on the very back of the boat, on either side of the davits, which we use when we’re trolling a line behind the boat while we’re underway. When we’re putting the poles into these holders, we need to be careful not to get the line tangled in the spinning vanes of the wind generators. We’ve both been caught by surprise when the vanes suddenly grab the fishing line and whip around a few times before we’re able to flip off the switch. Kathy has gotten good at unwinding the 10-20 wraps, but it’s not something we necessarily recommend. 🙂 More on point, we’ve learned a new technique of jigging while the boat is at anchor. It uses 4-6 tiny hooks on the same line, and often results in bringing up multiple fish at once! The fish that we catch most often this way are locally called firecrackers, but seem to be what our book calls rainbow runners. While trolling, we’ve caught several dorado (aka mahi-mahi), including one that was over 40″ long, currently our largest fish to date. We also recently caught a fish that a friend was convinced was a yellowtail tuna, which set our mouths to watering. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a black-sheep cousin called a crevalle jack. This fish has fairly red flesh, and is just not as tasty as the white-fleshed tunas that we were hoping for! There was a whole school of them stirring things up in the La Gringa anchorage one day, so we hopped in the dinghy and tossed out a line. Within 5 seconds Dan had a BIG bite on the line. He played that fish for about 20 minutes, while Kathy steered us back to Lungta to get our gaff, which is used for larger fish. After pulling our fish aboard, we took our gaff over to our neighbor, Ron on IntimaSea, who was standing on his own deck with a similar fish on the line but no idea how he was going to get it on deck! We’re playing with a variety of ways to process all this fish, and the latest batch is going to go into the smoker. After that comes a batch of ceviche. We’re not going to go hungry!
We have some friends from Arizona, Harlan and Denise, who we met here last year. They have a small sportfishing boat and a trailer-home in the BLA village. The drive from Yuma is about 11 hours for them, so they come down here whenever they can get a few days free. Theoretically they are both retired, but she seems to be fading out of her teaching career rather than quitting all at once. We’ve spent a handful of days with them on three of their visits this year. They’ve taken us out twice for a half-day of fishing on their boat. The contrasts between their style of boating and ours on Lungta are profound. There’s a joke about sportfishermen spending all their time figuring out where the fish are and then going there, while cruisers expect the fish to come to wherever we are. 🙂 We spent our time with Harlan & Denise zipping around to various places where the fish are often found, and managed to snag a few. (Denise in particular did very well!) But a lot of gas is consumed in getting to those places, and Harlan has been heard to say that the fish he catches end up costing $600/lb once you work in all the costs of keeping up the boat. We catch fewer fish per day on Lungta, on the other hand, and they are often smaller and less dramatic, but our costs per pound are at least an order of magnitude lower. It’s been fun to get a taste of how the other half does things, but I think we’ll continue to let the fish come to us!
On our last day with Harlan & Denise, they took us for an exploratory drive in their enormous air-conditioned, four-wheel drive diesel, air-conditioned truck. (And did we mention that it has air conditioning?) They had noticed a sign at an intersection off the highway on their drive into town that pointed off to “San Borja” and they wanted to find out just what it was indicating. So we all drove 15 miles up the highway and then took a left onto a dirt road. Two miles up that dirt road, there was a fork, and another sign with an arrow pointing to “Mision San Francisco de Borja”. The only problem is that the sign was halfway in between the two forks and we couldn’t agree on which fork was the intended one. So we started up the road to the right, reasoning that it looked slightly more travelled than the one on the left. A few miles up that road we spotted a tiny but very tidy house which had recently been added on to. Nearby were a swing tied in a tree branch and a windmill pumping water from a well. The road seemed to come to an end here, although it just might have switched back and continued up the ridge. We turned around and returned to the fork, then followed the other road. This beautiful track took us across a plain covered by a forest of cactus and boojum trees and then between two steep ridges with interesting pockmarked features. At times the ‘road’ nearly disappeared into the surrounding desert, but the four-wheel drive truck was undaunted. Five or six miles from the fork we came across another sign, but instead of telling us we were at San Borja, it was announcing cave paintings, “pinturas rupuestras”. We excitedly stopped the truck by the side of the road (you never know when someone else might come along, right?) and we all piled out to wander along the base of the nearby ridge, where we quickly spotted dozens of markings at eye-level, and then more and more in the shallow caves above our heads. A number of the cavities had black soot on the ceilings, indicating fires, and we thrilled to imagine the small community of indigenous people that must have called this place home centuries ago. Most of the paintings seemed to be rather abstract designs, but there were also a few that showed animals and mountains. It was amazing to us to think of a historical treasure like this being left so accessible to the public, so that anyone could climb right up to the paintings and even touch them. Then we realized that just getting here was a pretty significant deterrent to most, and the lack of publicity also helped protect this site. We felt quite privileged to have stumbled on something so cool and off the beaten track! On our way back to the village, we made one more (unscheduled) stop: at an amazing overlook, from which we could see the entire Bahia de los Angeles. The late afternoon sun created a beautiful glow on the islands, but also an interesting visual effect: the islands appeared to be floating in air. It was a spectacular sight which we will remember for years to come.
Harlan and Denise were our most recent couriers, bringing with them items that we couldn’t live without. 🙂 We always appreciate when our friends and family help us out by toting along delicacies, household items or repair parts when they come to visit. This time the big wins were a second wind generator and some seals and hydraulic oil for our steering system, which has been leaking, whining and refusing to play nice for several weeks now. It turns out that it is good practice to replace the O-rings and seals in a hydraulic steering system at least every 45 years. 🙂 Now our wheel and auto-pilot are much more responsive and effective – hooray! It’s also really nice to have the wind generation system, because it helps bridge the gap in keeping our batteries charged whenever it’s windy, even when it’s overcast or the sun has set. In addition to carrying down the items that we had purchased, they gave us some fishing equipment from their own collection, including a rod and reel, which will help us to put fish in our freezer for years to come. Thanks, Harlan & Denise! We really appreciate your generosity!
Another project we accomplished this month was to paint the masts. While Kathy was aloft attending to this paint job, Dan was down below painting the rubrails our new burgundy color. The boat is really starting to shine! During this project, we solved a mystery – and then addressed the problem that it reflected. Dan had noticed that the shrouds (the cables providing side support to the masts) for the mizzen mast had been loosening up quickly after being tightened. Were the half-inch steel cables stretching? Not likely! It turned out that the stainless-steel cuffs that they were attached to at the top were slipping down the masts, presumably because the masts have shrunk recently in the hot, dry desert air. The worst offenders had slid down 2 inches, but we found three others that had slipped about a quarter of an inch. It took some effort to lift that cuff back up 2 inches, but we managed by using a combination of removing the downward forces, pulling upward with a halyard (a line going through a block up above), and a bit of percussive persuasion (smacking the crap out of it with a hammer). Then we tightened the bolts holding all of those cuffs in place, to prevent additional downward sliding. Hercule Poirot and MacGyver would have been proud. While Kathy was aloft, she was able to watch several whale sharks swimming around the anchorage. We learned that these beautiful animals do not always break the surface, and that they are sometimes very close by!
There was one more notable event this month, a personal accomplishment for Kathy. We have a strong commitment to being equal partners in this life, not dividing the jobs up into “pink” tasks and “blue” ones as many cruisers choose to do. Although Dan has quite a head start on the sailing and equipment maintenance/repair skills, Kathy has learned a lot in the last few years and is slowly closing the gap. This month she demonstrated a level of progress by singlehandedly sailing Lungta on a 5-mile passage from one anchorage to another, raising the anchor and all 5 sails, and then lowering them all again without any assistance or advice. (Perhaps this should be considered a personal accomplishment as well for Dan.) It was a familiar place and a calm day, and all went smoothly. Although Dan has been living on Lungta for over 15 years, he never actually sailed alone until this time last year. Kathy has been contemplating that milestone since his accomplishment, and working up the confidence to follow in his footsteps. Of course, there’s still lots to learn, and we are continually doing so. It’s one of the wonderful things about this life!
(Although this posting was written on 8/29, it’s taken us more than a week to get to a good enough internet connection to post it. Sorry to keep you hanging! 🙂 )