Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Heading north into the Sea of Cortez

We plan to leave La Paz in the next day or so, heading north toward Loreto, Bahia Concepcion, and Santa Rosalia. We will probably be out of Internet range for at least a week, so there will be no blog posts until we can find a connection. Bye for now.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Road trip - south Baja loop

We rented a car to drive our friends to the Los Cabos airport for their flight home. With the boat safely tucked into a marina, we had an excuse for a short road trip. Conveniently the route between La Paz and the airport can be covered as a loop.

We started down the eastern side of the loop, which is shorter but more winding. We slowed down to see the old mining town of El Triunfo, and took a breakfast stop further on. The "check engine" light came on in the rented Dodge Attitude, but it turned out to be a non-issue. We dropped Karen and David off with plenty of time to spare, then headed south to San José del Cabo.

Our first stop was the recently-opened Los Cabos marina. It was a bit hard to find because the road leading to it is still under construction. It was filled mostly with sportfishers and large power yachts, but we made our way to the one dock with a few cruising sailboats tied up to it. We were surprised to find that you can stay here for only about $1/foot/night if you don't mind going without electricity. This is only a third of the cost of the other slips in the marina, and we had given the place a miss in December because we didn't know about the low-cost alternative. We spoke briefly with the crew of Orca, whose southbound trip had sadly been delayed when they were struck by another sailboat in Newport, Oregon, and had to sort out the damage before continuing.

After we left the marina, we headed into town. The center of most Mexican towns is the church, and we arrived at San José's church just as the Palm Sunday service was winding up.

Outside the church, a number of vendors had created a myriad of palm-based sculptures and ornaments for worshippers.

A block away, we discovered a really nice French bakery. The confections were amazing, and the prices weren't too bad.

From San José, we drove along the "gut" of tourist development that has almost completely obscured views of the coastline all the way to Cabo San Lucas. And still there is more development planned.

We didn't bother to stop in Cabo, having seen enough during our 3 days there in December. We were longing to see the natural scenery, which came into view again a few miles outside of town. Unfortunately, non-existent shoulders and heavy traffic made it impossible to stop and take any pictures. We carried on to Todos Santos, where we planned to spend the night.

Todos Santos has a long history of its own, and only recently has it started developing as a tourist destination. It was easy to see why people like it. It looks a bit like an oasis in the desert, with farms and nurseries on the outskirts of town. It has a number of beautiful beaches nearby, popular with surfers (but rather dangerous for swimmers). And it has a district of old buildings that makes it seem more like a town on the mainland of Mexico than a tourist hangout. But real estate development is in full swing here, and we found the restaurants here to be pricier than almost anywhere we had been in the last several months. We did find a good deal on a motel room, and we enjoyed our typical street taco lunch even more than the "Asian fusion" dinner.

The last section of highway leading from Todos Santos back to La Paz was the most modern, and strangely, the least crowded, of our short trip. Still, we were glad to get the rental car safely returned, and to get back on the water (even if we are still in the marina).

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Back to La Paz

Its been a great week with David and Karen aboard, but its finally come to an end. We had a great sail in the morning from Ensenada Grande back towards La Paz.

As we neared the entrance channel, we decided we had time to look for whale sharks in front of El Mogote. We got lucky and spotted swimmers in the water with a whale shark. We stalled the boat, and David, Karen and I took turns swimming over to the whale shark. It was a fairly small one, perhaps 20-25' (they can grow up to 20 meters in length!). It swam slowly along, allowing us a very close look. Once I dove down to look at it from below, and it turned on its side to keep its eye on me! A magical encounter.

After returning to a slip at Marina Palmira, David and Karen helped us with boat cleaning and other chores. We could not have asked for better crew! We will miss the ukelele playing, meal preparation, and other fun activities we shared this week. Tomorrow we'll drive them down to the Los Cabos airport and visit Todos Santos on our way back to La Paz.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Los Islotes

After 5 days of fairly continuous winds, we finally awoke to a calm morning in Ensenada Grande. Good timing to backtrack a mile or so to Los Islotes, where you can swim among a colony of sea lions.

Its a popular day trip from La Paz, and we were able to pick up a mooring buoy instead of anchoring. Once in the water, the sea lions come right up and check you out.

One sea lion became somewhat aggressive and chased Vicki and Karen for awhile. It actually bit Karen on the upper arm and punctured her wet suit. Other than that, it was a joy to be close to these animals!

Ensenada Grande

After two days at Isla San Francisco, it was time to turn back toward La Paz. We had another downhill run, this time thanks to the more typical north wind. We tucked into Ensenada Grande, the first sheltered anchorage we came to on Isla Espiritu Santo. More great snorkeling (we saw a manta ray) and desert hiking with David and Karen. More gusty winds - it blew 20-30kts in the anchorage during part of the night.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Isla San Francisco

From Bonanza, we explored the eastern side of Isla Espiritu Santo, helped along by a rare south wind.

We sailed most of the 25 mile passage north to Isla San Francisco, where we spent the next two days. SF is a small island, but with a very nice sheltered anchorage. Even though it blew about 20 knots most of the time we were there, the anchorage remained calm. We enjoyed hiking several trails, and snorkeling the northern edge of the anchorage.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


I'm catching up on the past week's sailing adventures with friends David and Karen aboard, as we had no Internet connection while we were out.

Our first stop was at Playa Bonanza, on the southeast side of Isla Espiritu Santo. We selected this anchorage as it is one of the few to offer some shelter from nighttime coromuel winds (more on that later).

After setting the anchor, we snorkeled around a nearby reef, where we saw all the usual suspects, plus a generous helping of large leopard groupers.

Later in the day, we hiked inland to a ridge separating our cove from Bahia San Gabriel on the west side of the island.

And yes, the coromuel winds did blow during the night, establishing a pattern of nighttime winds that lasted all week.

Friday, March 19, 2010

La Paz

This was a full day! We went ashore right after breakfast, and walked downtown to see a children's parade. This was a typically Mexican feel-good family event. The kids were dressed in elaborate costumes and face paint, and for the most part seemed to enjoy the parade almost as much as the adult onlookers!

After the parade we had some excellent shrimp tacos from a stall near the dinghy dock. At 15 pesos these were quite the tasty bargain, compared to the 30 peso hot dogs we had yesterday.

Once back on the boat, we decided to explore the peninsula (El Mogote) which shelters the La Paz anchorage.

We dinghied out to it and took a short walk along the beach.

Then we decided to head out into the bay beyond to see if there were any whales nearby. Sure enough, we soon spotted a pair of gray whales (well, what we spotted were the whale-watch boats following behind the whales).

You're not allowed to swim with whales in Mexico, but we had heard you can swim with whale sharks. So when we spotted a guy in a wetsuit getting ready to dive over the side of his boat, we asked him how to spot whale sharks. With his advice, we had soon spotted two whale sharks. Unfortunately, when I got into the water and tried to swim with them, it turned out that they were swimming too fast to catch up to. But it was cool to see them, a first for both of us!

As if we hadn't had enough excitement for one day, we are headed into town this evening to catch a Edith Piaf cabaret at a small French restaurant called "La Boheme." The cost for the dinner and the show combined are less than we would pay for appetizers at the French cafe back home!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Muertos to La Paz

We had another layover day in Muertos, waiting for the strong NW wind to abate (it seems that the winds are always the strongest from the direction in which we intend to travel). So we walked over to the Gran Sueño luxury hotel, strolled around the grounds, and had lunch.

The restaurant is famous for its enormous collection of train sets, and the waiter happily agreed to run them for us.

Wednesday morning, the wind had dropped, and five boats all left at first light. Our intended destination was Playa Bonanza on Isla Espiritu Santo, about 35 miles to the north. We had a nice sail the first part of the way, tacking across the Cerralvo Channel, and getting a slight boost from the flood tide.

Wind abated later in the morning, and we started motorsailing to clear Punta Coyote. Nearing San Lorenzo Channel, seas and winds increased. About half way across the channel, our engine suddenly rumbled to a stop. Being heeled over in rough seas, with very little fuel left in the tank, is a perfect recipe for any dirt in the fuel tank to clog the fuel filter and kill the engine. We had plenty of spare filters, but trying to change them in rough conditions was too difficult. We knew we could probably sail on into the anchorage, but with the wind forecast to go light the next day, and a date to make in La Paz, we decided to change course and head on into La Paz. We let our buddy boats know what was happening, and Murray Grey recommended the fuel dock at Costa Baja as the easiest to approach without power, so that is where we went. After filling the tank and changing the fuel filters, the engine still wouldn't start. I headed up to the marina office to see about getting towed over to a slip for the night. When they told me it would cost $89 per night, I just about had a heart attack. We've never spent more than $38 per night at a marina since leaving Ensenada. The marina manager heard the shock in my voice, and came out of his office to tell the receptionist to give me a free night's berth on an end tie, in consideration of our emergency. Meanwhile, a mechanic who happened to be in the office said he would come down and take a look. After about a half hour of bleeding the fuel lines, he finally got it to start. With enough light to reach the downtown anchorage, we cast off and headed back out of the most expensive marina in La Paz. We put the hook down right next to our friend Geoff on Verdia. We'll be here for the next few days, with friends flying in to join us for a week of sailing around the islands.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ensenada de los Muertos

We had a safe and pleasant overnight passage from Mazatlán to get to this anchorage on the Baja Peninsula. After a very windy week, there were a number of boats waiting to cross, and after getting a favorable weather forecast, 4 boats left the El Cid marina at around the same time: Murray Grey (the only boat we know named after a cow), Windward, and Victoria Dos. Our friend Geoff on Verdia also left the old port at about the same time; and Summer Wind overtook us along the way.

Although we were traversing a large and seemingly empty patch of water, we had surprisingly close encounters with a drift net and three ships. Using VHF radio, we helped each other navigate safely around the net; radar and AIS protected us from the ships. Prevailing winds are out of the northwest, and our track to Muertos was west-northwest, so we were glad to not have very much wind against us. On the other hand, we ran the engine for the entire 33 hours, the longest continuous time we have ever had to motor.

Its hard to imagine the contrast between Mazatlán, a bustling tropical city of half a million, and Muertos, a lonely isolated outpost in the desert. While we will miss the friendly people, fresh shrimp and other cheap eats in Mazatlán, it is refreshing to be floating in crystal-clear water at the edge of a serene and mostly unpopulated mountain landscape.

Although things are changing here, as everywhere. For our first walk today, we were drawn over the hill to an opulent personal palace being constructed by a Texas tycoon. There were literally a hundred laborers and artisans at work on this single home. Although I was put off by the extravagance, it was hard not to admire some of the construction details, drawing strongly on Mexico's architectural heritage. And at least it is providing much-needed work in a down economy.