We’ve moved south another 200 miles in the last month through some really spectacular countryside, and spent time with lots of good friends and family too. We’re no leaving La Paz, where we stopped for a few days to reprovision, reconnect with the internet, and say goodbye to a few more friends before continuing across to the other side of the Sea of Cortez. This is what the cruising lifestyle is all about!
We spent five days getting from Santa Rosalia to Loreto. It was fairly slow traveling, and our guest Mary was surprised (and perhaps disappointed) to find that even big boats like ours have periods of slow travel. We need more wind to fill our sails than a smaller, lighter boat – but we like to think that our advantage is that we’re more comfortable during these times. The American mindset keeps us always moving, searching for whatever is around the next corner, rarely being comfortable with just where we are at the present moment. But sailing can test the patience of that perspective. Mother Nature doesn’t work against a schedule (although there are certainly weather patterns that sometimes require us to set a schedule, such as getting out of the hurricane zone during the most active parts of the season!) When there is no pressing circumstance, life is much more enjoyable if one just works with what is there. We had light winds, generally allowing us to make progress in the right direction. We arrived at our first anchorage well after dark, maneuvering into place using several types of instrumentation to show us what our eyes could not. We use GPS all the time, along with an electronic chart system, to continually show us where we are. We have a depth gauge that helps alert us to dangers below the surface, and radar to help us identify those above, especially land and other boats (but we’re occasionally tickled to see that birds can show up when conditions are calm, and we’ve been fooled once or twice by a low-flying airplane). It was an anchorage we’d visited before, wide open with no obstacles to cause trouble, so we were comfortable with the situation while Mary was shocked that we would approach shore in the dark. Needless to say, it all went smoothly. We had a calm peaceful night at anchor and moved on the next morning.
We hopped across the bay to visit our friends Sonia and Geary in El Burro Cove one last time as we leave Mexico. Geary is a local celebrity, being the main weather guru for the region. Sonia is a (Mexican) Jewish attorney from Mexico City; her Yiddish accent makes Dan feel right at home. There were a few other boats in the area, and a group of us went out to dinner in a nearby palapa restaurant. The specialty of the house was a clam meal cooked and served in the shells, which were wrapped in aluminum foil. Yum! A good time was had by all, and in the morning we departed again. We enjoyed a couple of days of nice weather as we sailed down to the Loreto area. We were somewhat surprised that we had no large animal sightings, whether whale, dolphin, turtle or sea lion. Perhaps it was simply that we were more inwardly focussed, chatting with Mary rather than looking out at the water as much as usual. We spent our last night with Mary anchored outside Loreto (not really an anchorage, but just a shallow enough spot that was close in).
After losing her boat to Hurricane Odile, she was understandably pretty stressed during the time she was with us. A friend in Puerto Escondido, Connie, had told her to come on down and they’d work things out together, so our role was to get her that step of the way. But as we approached Puerto Escondido, the uncertainty started to loom and Mary was fretting about what the next chapter of her life would look like and just how she would overcome all of the obstacles currently facing her. Several people had sent her leads on boats that were for sale in Mexico that might fit her needs, and she was actively engaged in email conversations with at least one of them. But communication with Connie was difficult in the aftermath of the hurricane, while repairs were made to the washed out highway and downed cell tower. Mary finally focussed on getting her things packed up, and this seemed to help diminish her stress level. We loaded everything onto the dinghy and drove her to a beach location that she was familiar with, and she arranged for a taxi to take her the last few miles to Puerto Escondido. There was time for a hug and one last goodbye. Two days later we heard on the morning radio conversation that a cruiser who was in Puerto Escondido sold Mary their gray van, along with a bunch of camping equipment. She was last seen heading north. 🙂
Meanwhile we spent a couple of days cleaning up from one guest to prepare for another. We managed to get the place back in reasonable enough shape by the time Kathy’s sister Jean was due early Saturday afternoon. We checked that her flight had departed on time and grabbed a taxi out to the airport. We waited and waited and waited, but the plane never showed up. So we asked an airport employee if it had been delayed, and were told that the flight had been canceled. Hunh?!? A visit to the Alaska airlines desk confirmed that the flight had been turned around in mid-flight and was rescheduled for the next day. (It turned out that the plane’s radio had failed, and halfway there they turned around. Go figure!) When we got to the airport on Sunday, Jean’s rescheduled flight arrived at nearly the same time as the usual daily flight. So the airport was full and lively. We met some folks from a boat in Puerto Escondido who had been cruising the Sea of Cortez since the 80’s. It was really fun to hear how much things had changed! When Jean finally emerged from the customs zone, we whisked her off to a taxi.
We went straight to Lungta and put up the sails to begin our week-long adventure. We sailed the whole way to San Juanico, about 26 miles, stopping overnight at one of our favorite anchorages, Islas Coronados. The scenery along this route is gorgeous, highlighted by the tall, striated cliffs of the Sierra de la Gigantes. The size and colors of this range have fascinated us for years now, and it’s cool to share the sights with people that we love. The entrance to the cove of San Juanico has some beautiful pillars that reflect warm golden hues at sunrise and sunset. We usually manage to see the sunset show. 🙂 There were three other boats in the anchorage when we arrived, and several people later commented about the beautiful sight that Lungta made as we sailed in.
We spent four days in San Juanico, and packed them full of fun and socializing. One night the folks on the power boat Maitairoa hosted a potluck dinner, and it was fun to have Jean meet some of the diverse people that we’ve been calling friends for the last few years. We spent a good bit of time snorkeling in the wonderfully warm and clear waters. We introduced Jean to the art of finding scallops. They are tricky to spot, but she got the hang of it. We combed the beach for some pretty shells and enjoyed a fancy meal by using the shells as serving bowls and stuffing them with scallops, portabello mushrooms and parmesan cheese. Yum!
One afternoon Jean and Kathy swam halfway across the bay to the pinnacle rocks and back again. Another morning Dan and Jean took the dinghy out fishing. We all went for a dinghy explore along the shoreline, stopping a few times to walk the beach and clamber over some rocks. We saw some prints in the sand and made up a silly story about a rancher named Jose who was searching on horseback for some of his lost cattle that had clearly wandered this way. Although we never saw any roses, we took time to smell the flowers that day. Jean found a beautiful egg-shaped rock of red and white swirled sandstone which she decided to put on her porch step to remind her of the trip. (Unfortunately it was confiscated by customs officials on her way home!)
We all loved our time in San Juanico, but decided to spend our last full day together at a new location, so on Wednesday we had a full day of sailing back south towards Isla Carmen, across the channel from Loreto. Caleta Ballandra is cozier and greener than San Juanico. That night we were surprised to see a 4′ green moray eel swimming among the myriad of night fish that typically gather around our hull in the halo of our lights. The next morning Dan pulled out the wind-surfer that was loaned to us at the beginning of the season, and we all learned a bit about wind-surfing. The conditions were perfect, with moderate winds coming ashore and calm waters. We all spent more time *in* the water than *on* it, but it was loads of fun! An important observation is that it’s not about using strength to overcome anything, but rather being part of the system and steering the various forces, using our bodies to produce movement in the intended direction.
Back in Loreto, we were surprised to see a cruise ship anchored just outside of town, along with at least 6 tender boats ferrying passengers ashore. We haven’t ever previously seen a cruise ship north of Cabo San Lucas. The town was *alive*, with every vendor in town open for business. Lots of people were strolling the streets, clearly tourists in a new place. Many were carrying bags advertising the cruise line, some had ship’s towels draped over their swimsuits. Every restaurant was full. There was a live band in the town square and a few tourist information booths set up around town. The taxi stands were well attended, so we had no trouble getting to the airport. It was sad to see Jean go, but oh-so-sweet to have had her with us for a week of warm conversation and fun. We know that she will come back again, and look forward to that day. After we took her to the airport we went back to Lungta and immedately set to putting up the sails to continue our travels south. We waved as her plane passed overhead, hoping that she was watching out the window and catching the good wishes coming off of our prayer-flag (lungta) sails!
That evening we stopped in Pyramid Cove on Isla Danzante, about 18 miles south of Loreto. It’s a pretty nook in a fairly small but beautiful rocky island. The water was spectacularly clear and once again we felt torn about leaving such a beautiful corner of the world. The next morning, we popped over to visit our friends on Ariel, in the next cove to the north. We met Tommy and Susie in San Diego as we began our journey in 2011. Although our cruising paths have looked quite different, we still feel a strong connection with them. They have not moved from place to place as much as us; instead they have traveled in bursts and then stayed (gotten stuck) in one location for months at a time. We’ve stayed in touch though, and enjoyed it when our paths have crossed each year (for much the same reason that a broken clock is correct twice each day).
As we continued south, we saw a power boat heading our way extremely quickly, throwing up a huge plume of spray. We joked about whether he could see us with all our sails up. He turned off just moments before a collision, and circled our boat, revealing that it was the Mexican navy. Kathy went below to retrieve our documentation while Dan established radio communications with them. Typically they want to board the boat, visually verifying the hull number with the documentation, but this time they simply asked us questions over the VHF radio. There was a little confusion when they asked where we were going (south towards La Paz, then Puerto Vallarta and Zihuatanejo), and then where the boat would be while we were there. When we said it would be in the same place as us, they seemed to get the idea. They took our photo as they turned around and zipped back north. We have been stopped several times by the navy, but it has been a couple of years. I guess we were “due”. 🙂
We stopped that night in Nautilus Cove, just outside of Agua Verde, where we had heard that dengue fever was becoming a problem. On the way we tossed out a stale box of bread crumbs, hoping that the bread crumbs would show us the way back someday. The next day we had a short sail down to Los Gatos, which is marked by dramatic red sandstone cliffs. There was an eco-tour of kayakers setting up camp on the beach. They set up seven identical tents, and we watched as the kayaks trickled in from around the point over the next hour or two. We dinghied the other direction and went for an interesting hike. The rock was composed of lots of fist- to head-sized smooth river rocks held together with a sandy mortar. The whole cliff face was crumbly and formed lots of indents and caves and pinnacles. A couple of times we were startled when a flurry of the large dark moths that we call “vampire moths” flew out from a dark hole or crevice. The nearby desert was hardly recognizable as such, because of all the greenery that had sprouted up in the month since the big rains that came with the hurricane. After tiring of our rambles, we returned to Lungta – but at Kathy’s instigation we squeezed in a snorkel before sunset! 🙂 It was a good place to snorkel, there was large variety of fish and invertebrate life, although the bottom surface was not very interesting: mostly blocky rocks piled on a plain sand bottom. We did see some small-ish colonies of coral, though, which were beautiful.
The next couple of days of sailing we were accompanied by huge numbers of yellow butterflies, all traveling solo. At times we would pass lots of them floating dead on the water. We woke up in the morning to find dozens perched on the lines and sails of the boat. Some of them were solid yellow, while others had bold black lines outlining their wings. Occasionally we also sighted a monarch crossing the Sea of Cortez. At the next couple of places we stopped we were plagued by biting no-see-ums (locally called jejenes) and mosquitos, so we didn’t stay long even though we’d hoped to enjoy a little more hiking or snorkeling.
Our last stop before La Paz was a very popular anchorage called Caleta Partida, which we’d somehow managed to avoid to date. It turned out to be a magical place. The water was very blue, and the rocky cliffs were populated by osprey, soaring overhead or perching on the arm of a cactus. We were glad to catch up with our friends, Bob and Sherry on Nirvana. The morning before we left we took an amazing jaunt in the dinghy. The anchorage is in what was originally a large caldera. Although it’s hard to tell from any distance away, it is actually nestled in between two islands (rather than a cove in one) which were originally one. There is a 100 foot wide, 4 foot deep passage snaking between them, though, with a couple of fishing camps built on the banks. We saw perhaps a dozen pangas in various stages of morning preparations for a day’s fishing efforts. The cliffs on the back side are steep and colorful. There are a few sea caves and arches as well that were fun to poke our dinghy into. There aren’t any good anchorages on this side of the islands, though, so it’s got less boat traffic. We really enjoyed our morning’s putt, but it was time to get going. So we turned around and retraced our tracks through the passage between the islands.
We had a great sail all the way to La Paz, and even sailed all the way up the narrow 7 mile channel into town. Just as we approached the channel, our fishing rod made the sound that makes our mouths begin to water. So we slowed the boat down to begin reeling it in, but quickly discovered that what we had caught was not dinner, but rather a blue-footed booby. 🙁 His foot was snagged on the hook and we had to bring him on-board to free it. He did not enjoy the upside-down maneuver! We wrapped his head and wings in a towel to help calm him down, and then removed the hook. It was lodged pretty firmly, and it was heartbreaking to hear him squawk a few times as we tried to twist it free. Finally it came loose and we could set our small charge free. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve caught a booby – an apparently lucky streak, and not because they are growing any smarter. 🙂 We resumed our journey up the channel. Along the way we noticed a boatyard that had a number of boats up on stands which had toppled over during the hurricane. We were once again reminded of how lucky we were and how many lives were touched by this event.
When we arrived at the end of the channel we easily found a place to anchor and settled in for the evening. We enjoyed almost a week in La Paz, mostly just visiting with friends. In particular, we were there to hook up with Janet and Phil on Cantem Para Mi. They are in the middle of having their boat painted, so they couldn’t go anywhere, but we really wanted to see them before we left the area. We had a very nice visit with them, over 3 or 4 days, and although we’ve now said our goodbyes we hope that our paths will come together again soon. We also spent some time with a new friend, Jerrid on Salvation. We just met him in June on our way north, but he couldn’t come with us because he was just beginning a major boat repair project. We had dinner with him our last night in town, along with a few other new friends, one from Spain and two from Italy. It was a wonderful, international evening full of intense conversations! The other big event in our week involved another opportunity to help someone out who had been caught in hurricane Odile. Seamentress is a big cement boat (sound familiar?) that was at anchor in La Paz before the hurricane. During that fateful night a derelict trimaran came loose from its anchor and plowed into her, breaking Seamentress’ anchor chain and setting her adrift into the turbulent night. Paul and Philly were aboard but were unable to keep their boat from being blown up the channel and beaching nearly 10 miles away. They incurred some damage, but not enough to be a problem in and of itself. The big problem is that they are high and dry on an extremely shallow grade – and inconveniently far from town to just think of it as a condo on the water(front). We joined a work party that was formed to try to dig a trench to allow the boat to float out at high tide. Unfortunately the high tides are getting progressively lower for the next few months, meaning that the longer the task is delayed the harder it will be. They need to move the boat about 400 yards until they are in 6 feet of water, and this will require removing sand and shells to form a trench about 4 feet wide and 2 feet deep. Paul rented some super-sized pumps to help remove sand from around his boat, and a local marina owner loaned him a dock-sized float to help move them around and position them. The good news is we had more than a dozen people out there for most of a day, and we moved a lot of sand; the bad news is that there’s still a *lot* more sand to move (and the boat hasn’t really moved at all yet). It’s time for us to move on, though, and we wish them all the best in this monumental undertaking!
Now we’re resuming our southward passage one more step, 300 miles southeast across the Sea of Cortez to La Cruz. We have several good friends there to whom we have to say goodbye. We will also spend two weeks around Thanksgiving with Dan’s family in New York. Should be another great month!