Friday, December 30, 2011

ashore for the holidays

Upon our return to La Paz, we booked a month's stay at Marina Palmira in anticipation of some land-based travel and visits from friends. Its a pleasant home base. Here we are with neighbors Paul and Judy from Grace.

This poor old Turkish-built schooner has been abandoned since the death of her owners several years ago, and at this point it looks unlikely that she will be successfully raised.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

back to La Paz

After the norther died, we enjoyed several days of re-visiting a few of our favorite anchorages, and exploring one new one. First stop was Amortajada, where we enjoyed dinghying through the mangrove lagoon with its rich bird life.

Unfortunately, we decided to spend the night here, which was a mistake, and one that we should have known about. Anytime you have mangroves and no wind, you will find jejenes (no-see-ums), especially at night. We awoke to a familiar itch, and were soon moving along to nearby Isla San Francisco. Here it was calm enough to go up the mast for some minor repairs.

After that we hiked up the south ridge,

and collected sea salt with our friend George from s/v Susie.

Our last stop was El Cardonal on Isla Espiritu Santo. We saw a number of sea turtles in the bay

and enjoyed a short hike with the crews of Susie and Ladybug.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Isla San Jose

We had a great sail south, intending to wait out the next norther in San Evaristo. However, we noticed a beautiful and sheltered bight along the northern half of Isla San Jose, and we enjoyed 2 days here by ourselves, with miles of deserted beaches, beautiful sunsets, and good protection from the norther.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Old places, new faces

The winds piped up from the south during the night, putting us on a lee shore, so we pulled anchor before dawn, and enjoyed a brisk sail back to mainland Baja. The most sheltered anchorage in a southerly is Agua Verde, which we knew well from previous visits. This time around, we met some new boating friends, fellow Oregonians Hugh and Victoria on a unique motor vessel named Kaizen.

The next morning the winds had veered to the west, so we sailed around the corner and down the coast to another familiar anchorage, Los Gatos. Here we met a local fisherman, and an Alaskan on a small "trailer-sailer".

The next morning brought a colorful sunrise and a forecast of strong northerlies, so we reluctantly said goodbye Los Gatos.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Isla Catalina

Leaving Ballena, the seas and winds had finally calmed, so we decided to head out to Isla Catalina.

This remote island is noted for its "rattle-less" rattlesnakes, and for its lack of secure anchorages. We gingerly felt our way into a small cove, moving dead slow, and still nearly clipped a rock with our keel.

We knew we might have to leave in a hurry, and that's just what happened, when fresh winds and waves piped up from the south during the night. However, we first enjoyed a snorkel around "Elephant Rock"

and a dinghy ride out to the SE point, where dolphins cruised along close to shore.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Monserrate and Ballenas

We left Salinas the next morning, intending to sail out to Isla Catalina, one of the most remote islands in the southern Sea. However, the sea was still rough from the norther, and there wasn't enough wind to keep us from rolling in the troughs, so we altered course for Isla Monserrate, where we found good shelter in the SW bight.

There was also some nice snorkeling and a good canyon hike here, which made for an enjoyable stay. The rocks along the beach were embedded with seashells, and their fossil imprints.

The next day we continued a short ways south to Bahia Ballenas. We anchored in the lee of an enormous cliff

and to the south we could see an unbroken line of mountains.

Here we explored a sea cave by dinghy,

and had another excellent beach and canyon hike.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bahia Salinas

The norther finally stopped blowing on December 8th, and we quickly finished our business in Puerto Escondido and headed for the islands. Our goal for this trip was to visit some places we had not yet seen, so we took advantage of some nice winds and headed for Bahia Salinas on Isla Carmen. When we got there, the only other boat was mv Kodiak.

After a nice beachwalk

and exploring the ruins left behind by an old sea salt operation,

Ron and Carol kindly invited us over for drinks and fish dinner. Turns out he and I had worked for the same aerospace corporation several decades ago.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pinned down in Puerto Escondido

Cruising the Sea of Cortez is delightful – at least part of the time. At this time of year, you can count on spending about one third of the time pinned down by strong winds called “northers.” Fortunately these are quite predictable. As long as you follow the weather forecasts, you usually have ample time to find a secure anchorage ahead of time. In this case we were already in Puerto Escondido, a near-perfect natural harbor, so the decision to stay was easy.

We moved the boat, from a mooring far up in the bay, to our own anchor, set closer to the dinghy dock. This was for convenience in getting to and from shore, and because we don’t trust a mooring unless we have inspected it. The water is 65F and murky, so the idea of diving the mooring did not appeal. Our own ground tackle consists of a 25kg Rocna anchor and 200’ of 5/16” hi-test chain, and we always sleep soundly when it is deployed.

We are on our third day of this particular wind event, with at least one more day to follow. Most of the time the average wind strength has been about 20 knots. The strongest winds came yesterday evening, when we had a few gusts over 30. This is a relatively mild norther. Later in the season we will expect to see gusts of 40 or 50.

We went ashore each of the last two days; I am grading papers and exams for my job, and need Internet access on shore. Today we’ll stay on the boat, as it has gotten more lumpy in the harbor. Traveling to and from shore in the dinghy isn’t too bad in these conditions. The hard part is mounting and de-mounting the outboard, and raising and lowering the dinghy. Our cardinal rule is to never leave the dinghy in the water at night, not only to prevent theft, but because we have had it flipped over once, with the outboard on, by a high wind gust.

Puerto Escondido, despite its natural beauty and superlative weather protection, is far from my favorite destination. I won’t go into the reasons here. But it is the only choice on this part of the coast. The nearest other yachting facilities are Santa Rosalia, 125 miles to the north, and La Paz, about the same distance to the south.

This facility, like all of the “Escala Nautica” (Nautical Staircase), has been financially unsuccessful and is now for sale. If a buyer is not found, and this facility closes, Puerto Escondido will be an even less attractive stop.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Still moving in the wrong direction

At a time of year when most yachts are moving south along the Mexican coast, seeking warmer air and water, we are still moving north. With a forecast of southerly winds, we decided to make an overnight passage from Isla Espiritu Santo towards Puerto Escondio, roughly 100 nautical miles north. While we don't normally make overnight passages in Mexico except when crossing the Sea, we had several reasons for doing so this time:
- there are not many anchorages along this section of coast that provide protection from southerlies.
-there is no Internet along the way, and I need to stay in close contact with my work for the next week or so.
- we had wanted to go north and revisit some of our favorite anchorages in the Loreto area, but we didn't have time to gunkhole our way in both directions. With prevailing winds from the north, this seemed like a "free ride" that would buy us more time for enjoying a leisurely trip back towards La Paz later in the month.

Having satisfied ourselves with the rationale, and checking that we had enough food, water, and fuel for the next few days, we merely had to wait until late afternoon, so that we wouldn't arrive in the dark. The northerlies died down as predicted by our weather guru Don Anderson (Summer Passage).

By the time we reached Isla San Francisco and the southern end of the San Jose passage, it was a calm and moonlit evening. We only saw two other vessels, a large motor yacht heading south, and a large sailing yacht overtaking us from the south.

Don had also predicted the development of southerly winds from an approaching front, but they never materialized. We did get enough offshore land breeze to allow us to sail once we were north of Nopolo. It was a bit fluky, going from zero to 20 at times. We sailed with only the genoa, which we could easily roll in or out according to wind strength. This was much easier than reefing the main, and we didn't need to make optimum speed. Most of the time we were moving about 5 knots.

There were literally dozens of meteors during the night, some blazing brightly all the way down to the horizon. As we approached the reef-strewn Punta San Marcial, the moon sank below the horizon, leaving me feeling a bit lonely. But along came a pod of dolphins, their chuffing exhalations providing a welcome sense of camaraderie and cheer.

We carefully double-checked our waypoints, doused the genoa in the failing wind, and motored our way between the headland and reef at San Marcial. As we reached the open water beyond, the first light of dawn had appeared behind us. Still no southerly breezes; instead, we were soon bashing our way into a steep chop, with gusts of 20 knots out of the west.

We decided to duck into Agua Verde to see if the wind would die. If we had not been in need of Internet, we would have been glad to stay here a few days. But after a few hours, we raised the anchor and headed out again towards Puerto Escondido. We still encountered steep chop and winds up to 25 knots, making this one of the wettest rides we've ever had.

We also had an unlikely head-on encounter with a boat riding downwind. We didn't see him until he was quite close, due to our large deck-sweeping genoa. Although we were on port tack, and technically the burdened vessel, I expected that he would recognize "racing rules" because a boat heading downwind has a lot easier task of changing course than one beating to windward. He finally veered away, but I sensed that he was probably not pleased at our failure to yield right of way. Oh well, I think our boat name was below the waterline because we were heeled over so far!

As usual, the wind became completely chaotic as we approached the Candeleros, dying one moment and springing up from another direction the next. Back on the engine came, and we motored the last few miles to Puerto Escondido. We'll be here for the next week or so, while I finish grading papers.