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Cruising Season #4 – San Carlos to La Paz

This post was written in April 2017 from our slip at Marina Palmira in La Paz where we sat without a motor for four and a half months. It was then edited and added to on May 24th from San Carlos at the end of our season.

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We passed a fine summer on Lummi – and took a couple of road trips; one to Cortes Island and one to a family reunion in Alberta. Al had surgery on his left shoulder – very successful thanks to a great surgeon and Al’s amazing diligence with his P.T.

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A visit to our old hometown, Whaletown on Cortes Island.

CS#4 Lake Louise

Quick stop at Lake Louise on the way to the family reunion.

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Part of the clan at Sylvan Lake.

After 10 weeks recovery from his shoulder surgery, Al carefully started back to work. He and Zack created some more beautiful furniture for happy clients and we enjoyed being on our property, seeing friends and family.

We set off again in September; cruising in the land-yacht, headed for San Carlos and Enchanté.

CS#4 L&S

Hiking at Mt. Spokane.

First stop was Cheney for an excellent visit with Shoshana and Maxwell in their new apartment. Next we stopped with Richard and Pam in Boise and did some bike riding with them. We took an unexpected u-turn to visit our friend of 37 years, Kathy Galvin, and her wonderful family in Bellingham. (We are so grateful to have had that last time with Kathy. Her four-and-a-half year-journey of living with glialblastoma came to an end on March 18th.)

On our drive south, the highlights were hiking in Zion National Park and in the Sierras outside Tucson with our friend Steve. After a couple of days in Tucson for various errands and provisions, we made the hot, seven-hour drive on the Gringo Highway to San Carlos, back to Marina Seca. It was wonderful to see friends there again! We worked hard to get Enchanté ready to sail across the Gulf of California, back to the Baja.

Getting launched;

We had hoped to launch on October 27th but there was a delay. Al had recently cleaned the exhaust-elbow and heat exchanger and then reattached them to the motor. We had to wait 24 hours for the glue to cure. The next day when Al finally got our Volvo-Penta (aka Desi) started in the work yard, there was a leak at the exhaust-elbow. Silicon to the rescue, overnight cure and started it up again – no leaks. Good to go for Friday morning launch.

While we waited for the glue to dry Al repaired the salt-water wash-down pump for the anchor chain (yay!) and worked on the prop and shaft. I got a ladder and washed Enchante’s top-side hull, printed out proof of Mexican boat insurance and got the Enchanté binder updated, ready for the marina check-in.

Launch day in the work yard was a bit hectic as usual. Once we were in the water it felt wonderful to be floating again – bobbing gently instead of propped up on dirt and concrete. It was a hot, hot day in the marina. We were feeling some heat exhaustion after running around with last minute preparations in the yard. The extreme heat in the marina finished us off. We discovered the hotel pool nearby and the cool water revived us deliciously, a real game-changer.

CS#4 B SC

Enchanté back at anchor in Bahia San Carlos.

CS#4 Al:B SC

Commuting to “town” from the anchorage.

At anchor in the Bahia;

After 4 days in the marina we moved out to the anchorage. What a lovely difference – no need for bug screens or fans when the wind-scoop funneled the near-constant breeze through the cabin. At night the temperature dropped into the 60’s, so nice for sleeping. Our floating home was feeling very comfortable!

After a week in the bay we were looking for good weather to cross over to Baja. We missed a great window because of a computer glitch plaguing me. I was trying to set up my new ham license email account (winlink) on our new laptop. This would bring us weather forecasts and email using our SSB radio. Thank heavens for Juan from XPro, a computer shop in San Carlos. Between marathon computer sessions I went for a delightful paddle on my board in the bay. The breeze was brisk and the water choppy but all my practice from last spring in Matanchen Bay came back to me. Paddling around the cove was a great antidote to being bent over the computer frustrated. What an amazing anchorage – the nearly land-locked bay nestled in rugged red-rock hills.

On November 19th it all came together; the weather looked decent and we were finally ready. Last minute chores; stowing provisions and soundproofing cabinet contents. After a quick shower on the swim-step I connected to the SSB to attempt to send a couple of winlink messages. Success!

By mid-afternoon we were ready to weigh anchor. The bridle and top 40 feet of chain were slimy and grotty with marine growth after sitting at anchor for a couple of weeks. The wash-down pump worked like a charm and eventually all the chain was up, fairly clean and in the chain locker. Our friends, Chuck and Karen were anchored beside us on the lovely Katie G. We circled them to call out our farewells and waved as we motored out of the harbor, hoping we’d see them again. Little did we know how that would play out…

Leaving San Carlos – crossing the Gulf of California;

As I motored us out of the bay Al got the dinghy strapped down on the foredeck. As soon as we were past Martini Cove (just outside the bay) the waves were white-cappy and frisky. Within the first half hour, down below closing through-hulls and dog-downing hatches, I knew I should take some seasick meds. I popped a Cinarazina (Stugeron) and went back up to the fresh air. We flew the double-reefed main and full genoa.

The unfamiliar pitching and rolling when powerful waves pushed us around was unsettling but we had known the Sea might be rough as we set off. The forecast called for good wind and lower seas later in the passage. The Gulf of California was famous for steep, short-interval “square” waves when the wind blew and these were definitely considerable. Our most comfortable ride in those big seas (still rough but better) was straight down the Sea of Cortes – not where we wanted to go. We discussed the wisdom of crossing at that time. Neither of us wanted to go back to San Carlos but we discussed our options. I figured in the unlikely event the seas continued to be challenging we could hove-to. And so we continued.

The wind was in the high teens, the waves at least 4 or 5 feet. We had furled the headsail a bit and set up our wind-vane, Vinnie, to steer. About 4:00 I lay down in the cockpit and a short while later decided to try lying in the sea berth down below while Al was on shift. I was able to rest comfortably there while we pitched around until my 8 pm shift.

In those rough waters on the crossing, I was basically in one of two places; up in the cockpit on watch or down below on the sea berth. I made 2 or 3 trips to the head in the 24 hours, making my way across the lurching cabin, always one hand on the boat. When I swung open the door to the head I was mindful not to leave any appendages in the door-frame (easily reached from one’s perch on the throne) because the heavy door would usually slam shut on the next roll.

My 8:00 to midnight shift was good – the stars were amazing. By then the seas were noticeably less and our course was taking us either to Isla Coronados off Loreto or Isla Carmen just south of there. I was tired and sometimes lay down comfortably on the cockpit settee . I kept warmish in my merino wool long-sleeved top, fleece pants and puff jacket. This was a big change from shorts and t-shirts day and night in San Carlos. By 9:00 the wind eased to low teens. Later it came back up into the high teens and hit over 20 knots a time or two but the seas were not problematic. Around 11:00 I watched the old half-moon rise behind us, above the lights of Guaymas.

I was on shift again as sunrise approached. The wind dropped, and I shook out the third reef, then the other two and unfurled the jib. Our full sails made the most of the dwindling wind as we headed for the barn, yearning for the intense pleasure of being at anchor after sailing over 100 miles.

Arriving on the Baja;

We motored into the beautiful protected bay at Ballandra on Isla Carmen. There was just one small red sailboat flying a Canadian flag, its dinghy trailing half way to shore. An upscale panga with a nice dodger was on the gorgeous white sand beach. The pangero was very welcoming calling, “Hola amigos!” as we circled by. His two clients were walking the beach, holding hands, hanging out.

We got the anchor set, feeling a bit rusty and running on fumes. After a quick bite and some coffee I cleaned up the cabin. It was amazing how trashed it could get in 24 hours! Al got the awning set up and took a catnap in the cockpit. I wrote in my journal, hydrated a bunch and then the hot, hot, still air of the Baja enveloped me. I lay down on the other cockpit settee and passed out. Air temperature 82, water 82; it was great to be back on the Baja!

We fell into a nice rhythm in the days we spent in the anchorage there, its beauty revealed more and more with every passing hour. It was so peaceful with the lapping of small waves on the nearby shore. A small creek estuary nearby flooded at high tide and little waves broke on the shoals at the entrance. We dinghied in to shore and scouted out the trail to Salinas, a bay on the east side of Isla Carmen, our destination for the following day. Then we back-tracked to climb up the small hills forming the northern boundary of the bay. The view was wonderful looking up the mighty Gulf of California; blue-green sea filled with choppy white caps, a steady norther blowing. Occasionally we would see a gust when skittering wavelets swept across the sea’s surface, the wind strong enough to lift the salty liquid in arcing swoops.

Amazingly, we had good internet there in the mornings and could use our phone to text. Loreto, the source of this bonus, was off in the distance. It was only visible at night – a charming string of lights on the western horizon in the inky blackness of our moonless nights there.

The hike to Salinas, across the very large island of Isla Carmen, was listed in the guidebook as a long hike. We didn’t get going until noon. Al checked the Navionix chart and it looked like about three-and-a-half miles each way to Salinas from Ballandra. We walked up the dry riverbed in fairly deep, sandy gravel for a good part of the way. This required more effort and frequent stops to dump the little pebbles and sand out of our shoes. Next time different footwear.

The rocks were beautiful, pale gray and rose; the inland hills were covered in greenery with handsome russet-brown rocks emerging in spines and outcroppings. Our trail took us up the continuous arroyo. At a flat area the arroyo fanned out and we found cairns marking a small trail that ran alongside and slightly above the flood plain. Sometimes the arroyo ran through narrow, pretty canyons, sometimes more barren, wider areas. There were ruggedly carved, fine-grained boulders; pink, silver gray, and some arrestingly green rocks.

In one of the twisty canyons of rugged and handsome rock, our “trail” led us under a large, steep hillside. I heard a noise, saw movement and realized the clattering on stones came from a Bighorn sheep. It was quite a specimen; chocolate–brown with haunches of solid muscle, carrying heavy spirals of pale, dense horn aloft as it leapt and pounced across loose gravel and steep rocks. My view of the hillside was perfect for tracking the three Bighorn sheep that came along after the first. The ravine rang with the clattering of hooves and stones.

Another discovery on the walk; a flash of red in one of the tall bushes and I saw the classic cardinal ruff, brilliant red body and tail. Then the female appeared, much closer than the male. She had a red tuft on her head as well, with muted peachy-brown body, red in her tail feathers and a red beak. I watched them for a couple of lovely minutes. (Back on Enchanté I looked them up; Northern Cardinals.)

Lots of time to meander mentally – we were out on our exploration for over 4 hours. I started to tire, unsure if I wanted to continue or whether we’d actually find Salinas Bay. There was some allure of finding the eastern shore and possibly digging chocolate clams. Each twist of the arroyo brought both disappointment and the renewed possibility of discovering the final approach around the next bend. A thin scrubby vegetation covered the hills and a perfect breeze kept us cool. Eventually we headed back to Ballandra with hopes for success next time – definitely bringing the GPS.

The next morning I was pleased to still be mobile after our big excursion the day before. Got the water-maker going after pancake breakfast and then paddled around the bay with my snorkel gear strapped on the board. The waves were a bit choppy but I was pleased with how my balance was. I circled the large bay and decided to snorkel by the estuary mouth – an interesting and satisfying outing. Easing myself over the side of the paddleboard near the outflow of the creek, I put my mask in the water. About 10 feet below me there were lots of fish milling around what I realized was a small dead tree on the ocean floor. There were several more tree “skeletons”, all washed out no doubt in some mighty flood. The fish congregated there – perhaps there were some delicacies growing on the rotting wood.

I kicked back to Enchante and got set up to clean the bottom of our dirty-hulled boat. A loop of string kept the wide-bladed scraper on my wrist. With my head down, breathing through the snorkel, I worked my way along the water line, scraping green slime off our copper brown hull. There were patches of little white creatures (krill) like tiny quinoa grains that floated off in clouds when I passed the scraper under them. A few dark-purple seaweeds, a couple of inches tall, sprouted impudently on our bottom, and an unsettling settlement of small barnacles tenaciously gripped the hull. There was a very satisfying scraping sensation as the blade cut them loose. With my snorkel gear I was able to dive down and get to most of the bottom as far as the keel junction. The incentive for these efforts was it would help Enchanté go faster.

 

CS#4 Carmen

At anchor in Ballandra on Isla Carmen after our crossing.

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The fleet of NOLS sailing boats coming into Balandra.

This was the second time we had encountered this group of hardy outdoor enthusiasts.

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The NOLS crew with boats anchored and camp set up.

 

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Al heading off to fish.

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Sunset in Ballandra

CS#4 sailing to danzante

Sailing to Honeymoon Cove.

 

We left the next day for Danzante Island. (Farewell to internet and text messages.) We had a lovely sail from Puerto Ballandra to Honeymoon Cove – broad reach or running in variable winds.

We had heard glowing reports of Honeymoon Cove for a couple of years and it was lovely to finally experience it. We dropped the hook beside Aries in the main lobe and set well back from them. It was a busy anchorage. A commercial catamaran was anchored in the north lobe when we arrived and another one with a dozen people and kayaks pulled into the south lobe of the bay. A short walk later revealed more of the charms of this popular bay. We could appreciate why many people prefer to anchor there than go into Puerto Escondido.

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Honeymoon Cove on Danzante.

 

Oh oh…

The next morning was a really hard start on the engine. Al had been unhappy about it for some time but this was the worst yet. At 5 a.m. that morning he was reading Nigel Calder‘s Diesel Motor book and had performed the steps to get rid of sea water introduced with excessive cranking.

Our plan was to leave that morning and head south, bypassing Puerto Escondido. Our route would take us through a reef-strewn area. As we motored out the RPMs started dropping – what? Got the sails up. The motor was definitely acting weird. RPMs dropped again, then it died. Restarted but it didn’t sound good.

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Morning departure from Danzante, Los Gigantes in the background.

We realized it was probably a mistake to leave the Puerto Escondido area where there were resources; phone, internet, close to Loreto. Where we were headed was a remote coast, not to mention those scary reefs. So we turned towards Escondido. The wind was dying and Al put in a call on the VHF to ask assistance from our friends who keep their boat there. No response from them (they were on shore walking the dogs) but Barney, from Sand & Barnacles, offered to get us with his 25 hp dinghy. We hip-tied him to our quarter-stern and he motored us across the channel, through the narrow entrance to this natural “hurricane hole”. The impressive Sierra Gigantes towered overhead to the west, we dropped the hook near the dinghy dock and thanked Barney profusely.

 

CS#4 Barney

Barney from Sand & Barnacles giving us a push into Pto. Escondido.

 

Diagnostic testing of Desi’s ailments began with a phone consult with our favorite mechanic, Rob Cross, in La Paz. He recommended adding Stanadyne fuel conditioner to the spin-off fuel filter. Then our friends, Dave and Merry, introduced us to a retired mechanic from another boat in the harbor. He agreed with Rob. The fuel conditioner would hopefully dislodge any particles that might be in the injectors.

The procedure resulted in the “best start of the season” according to the captain. Unfortunately, that was followed by a god-awful metal hammering sound. Quickly shut it down. Later the mechanic in the bay listened to it and agreed it was VERY loud but probably just a fuel knock, unlikely to cause damage. Al wanted to check the various injectors so he would have that information when he talked with Rob later. He restarted it, cracked the nut on the #1 injector – motor faltered, he retightened the nut. Cracked #2 – it faltered, cracked #3 – it exploded!! I was up at the helm and Al had his hands on the motor. It sounded unmistakably (and felt to Al) like a fatal blow. There was no restarting Desi.

There was only one person we wanted to help us in our situation. We decided to get ourselves to La Paz without a motor. After all it was a sailboat.

 

CS#4 Dave:airops

Dave from AirOps assisting us out of Escondido, his wife Merry driving AirOps behind us.

We realized our best course of action was probably to go out “the cut” between Danzante and Carmen and head for the open Sea. Conditions still looked good for Monday and Dave and Merry were on their way north that morning. Dave came over in their dinghy just after first light and Merry drove AirOps. The wind was blowing nice and steady and after Dave released us we got our sails up and set off. It was a bit bouncy and I noticed a queasiness early on so I took a Cinarazina.

 

CS#4 sailing to La Paz

Sailing to La Paz, hoping the wind won’t quit.

We sailed up the north side of Danzante admiring the turrets and cliffs in the rock formations. Past that we saw the long, long southern coastline of Isla Carmen which blocked a little of our wind, but we made way out towards the more open waters of the Sea of Cortez. We had a good steady NW breeze taking us towards Santa Catalina island. There were some reefs of concern but we passed by with no difficulty.

And then our steady breeze started to subside, as predicted. By the time the wind died we were sitting in a pretty good spot – the area in fact that Al, on previewing our course the night before, had hoped to be when the afternoon lull arrived, as far as possible from reefs and islands.

 

CS#4 Lindy to LP

Slowly making way.

On my afternoon shift, as we sailed along Isla Santa Catalina, I saw what looked like a boat off the south end. This was the first vessel we had seen since watching AirOps motor north. But on closer examination and looking at the chart, I decided the far away, small white shape was a light tower. When Al came up for his shift he said, “Hey, there’s another boat up ahead.” I said “No it’s the light at the south end of Catalina.“ But I looked again and it was obviously a sailboat.

That morning, on the Sonrisa ham net we had heard Chuck from Katie G saying they had crossed the Sea from San Carlos and were abeam of Agua Verde on the Baja. It seemed really unlikely but we wondered if that could be Katie G on the horizon. A couple of hours later we decided to try hailing them. What a surprise for both of us when Chuck answered immediately and sounded like he was next door. He could see us and it was wonderful to chat for a good long while. We agreed to stay in touch and they hoped to catch us in Ensenada Grande in a couple of days. They planned to be at Isla San Francisco the next day and offered to assist us if need be. We were very happy we’d be in the same neighborhood with them again!

CS#4 Al: to LP

Captain strategizing…..

For two hours we drifted. We started a Baja Rummy game (I won). It was pleasant out there but after two hours we were ready to sail again. We’d been looking at the southern coastline of Santa Catalina for a long time, very conscious of the fact that without wind we could drift too close to the shore or drift towards the reef that was not far enough away to feel completely safe. About two-and-a-half hours into the lull we felt some breeze. That started an hour-and-a-half of very frustrating attempts to sail on virtually no wind.

The sun went down, there was no moon and the stars were brilliant but gave us no visibility or perspective on the inky black water – it was pitch black all around us. And then we entered a crazy-making kind of twilight-zone. I was down below trying to get some rest and I could hear Al trying every kind of adjustment with the sails to get some movement going. Then he started making sounds of great puzzlement. Eventually he called me up to look things over with him. Our chart plotter seemed to be messed up. In the dark it was impossible to see which direction we were pointing. We had 0 knots of wind and the chart plotter had the icon of our boat pointing north and traveling at up to a knot – in the wrong direction! We checked the compass and saw our bow was pointed south, just as we thought. Eventually I got the iPad charts up and the GPS to cross-reference with the chart plotter. They agreed. After some time of perplexing thoughts, becalmed in the pitch-dark, we realized we were being pushed north by current – towards danger. We were frightened, frustrated and felt powerless. I joked with Al that when the wind finally came up we’d probably have to put a reef in.

The wind did come up but from a southerly direction. We were tremendously relieved to have wind (from any direction) and to be traveling south again, away from the reefs and Santa Catalina. I was wrong about having to put a reef in the sail though – we had to put in two! The wind went from nothing to 16 and 17 knots pretty quickly, right on the nose. After getting the mainsail set up I sent Al down to rest. He had been stressed to the max and I was feeling fine to be up on watch. We had Vinnie steering and once again we were on our way to Ensenada Grande.

Al had been resting for a while when I saw the anenometer climb up to 18, then 19 knots. I thought I should probably get him to put in the third reef but I waffled, not wanting to disturb his much-needed rest. Within five minutes conditions were getting stronger and I knew I had to get him. He was asleep on the sea-berth but popped up instantly when I touched his leg.

It was howling as we hurried up to the cockpit. I clipped in to the tether on the jack-line, made my way carefully up to the mast and slipped the reefing hook into the third reef-point of the partially lowered sail. It was done quickly and helped smooth things out but we decided to furl the headsail a bit as well. When that was done and the lashing jib sheets tamed again, it felt manageable.

Al went back down below. Fifteen minutes later the wind climbed into the 20+ knot range and Enchanté was straining in the high winds and big seas. I waited only a minute or two before going down to rouse the captain again. He could feel the boat shuddering, assessed the conditions and said we needed to turn around and run with it. We furled the headsail to a mere hanky and turned downwind, going back over the hard-won ground of our recent progress!

It was still blowing hard but running with it was so much smoother! We sailed back northward for almost an hour until the wind eased and changed direction. There was no rest for anyone during that time – all hands on deck. When it settled down into the high teens we happily unfurled the headsail and started back towards our destination. Quite a night – and it was only midnight…

I felt wiped out and tried resting in the cockpit but it was really cold and eventually I knew I had to go below for some better rest. It was heavenly to take off my jacket, headlight and PFD and crawl into the sea berth, snuggled beside our rolled-up paddleboards. I drifted off, woke a time or two in the dark and went back to sleep. It was still dark the next time I woke but I felt energized and jumped up to give Al his long-overdue break. He was happy to give up his watch and down he went.

Thirty hours after leaving Puerto Escondido we were sailing along beautifully on a promising breeze, approaching Isla San Jose, on target for a 4:00 arrival at the large, protected bay of Ensenada Grande on Isla Partida (just north of Espirtu Santo). We were already strategizing of course, how we would enter under sail, hoping to have enough wind to power us to a good place to drop the anchor.

And then the wind petered out. Again Al went through elaborate adjustments with the sails trying to milk some speed out of the dwindling wind. This was of course the time we would ordinarily shrug, bring in the jib and start Desi to motor to our desired destination. Over the next five hours we covered only eight miles; it was painful! We were nearing Isla San Francisco (shades of the broken transmission saga from two-and-a-half years earlier) and our sails were doing nothing except driving us crazy. Ensenada Grande had become unreachable in the daylight. And so it was that we dropped the mainsail to give us a break from the slatting of slack Dacron as we rocked over slight swells and chop.

As soon as we dropped the main the wind filled in. Al was like, “You’re kidding me!” Once the main was down it was hard to get it back up again without the motor to assist in getting us pointed up in the wind. The breeze stayed steady so we unfurled the head sail and made excellent progress towards our new destination, a favorite anchorage at the lovely Isla San Francisco. We hailed Katie G to tell them we’d be anchored in the same bay that very night.

We sailed close to the southern coast of Isla San Francisco figuring out how we would anchor under sail in the familiar bay. The wind was robust which was wonderful but this would be only our 2nd time anchoring without a motor, After several practice runs with lots of tacking and jibing we were on the right course with the right velocity and I let the anchor go and 120’ of chain. And then we were there – a great relief!

It was great to have a “rest” day (busy doing this and that) followed by a fabulous happy hour and calzone dinner with Karen and Chuck.

 

CS#4 enchante:gigantes

Enchanté sailing from Isla San Francisco – photo by Katie G

Raising the anchor takes on a whole new meaning without a motor to power the windlass! In the morning Chuck came over in his 15 horse dinghy to offer assistance for our departure.  When it was my turn to crank the chain up with the unpowered windlass I gratefully accepted his efforts. He hauled up on the chain from his dinghy taking all the work out of it. When we had 60’ of chain still out we raised the main and finished hauling up the chain and anchor. We had a perfect NW breeze to sail out of the bay.

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Enchanté near Espiritu Santo. Photo by Katie G.

CS#4 sailing

Sailing, sailing… photo by Katie G.

All was looking good until the wind started getting fluky. Spinnaker was lovely until the wind got weird. We dropped it, put it back up later and finally doused it. The main sail was up then down, back up, jib unfurled… Katie G left after us, passed us, then “treaded water”, waiting. We spoke on the VHF and compared wind in our respective locations. When it became obvious we wouldn’t make it across San Lorenzo Channel, Katie G came back to us and pulled us with the ingenious stern lines and blocks Chuck had engineered. They moved us easily at our usual cruising speed. Another delightful evening with them in Bahia San Gabriel.

CS#4 Katie G towing

Tow by Katie G, photo by Enchanté

 

CS#4 San Gabriel

Anchoring without a motor, photo by Katie G.

December 2nd; Pulled the anchor up easily on our own and sailed away in a promising breeze. It was excellent until around noon. Wind died pretty much and on Rob’s lunch break he came out in the Trophy with Carlos. They tied a line to our bridle and pulled us easily to the wide spot in the channel where we hip-tied the speed boat to our port side and they brought us into slip 304  at Marina Palmira.

CS#4 Trophy towing

Rob and Carlos towing us in to Marina Palmira with the Trophy.

To be continued… (-:

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Mazatlan to San Carlos

March – April 2016  (posted from La Paz, April ’17)

maz-to-sc-inside-enchante

 

Just after first light we pulled anchor and left Deer Island (Isla Venados) with its amazing view of Mazatlan. We were headed into the harbor at the north end of the big city, in anticipation of a storm coming. As always, the narrow entrance was only visible when we got quite close. Surf crashed on both sides of the bar but the passage was fine and the barge dredging the channel just inside the bar wasn’t operating yet. We tied up at the fuel dock at Marina El Cid and waited til they opened to top up our tank. When we hailed Marina Fonatur on the VHF they said they had a slip available. Antonio and another guy were there to catch our lines and soon we were settled on the dock. I went to the office to register and was happy to see Miriam and Eunice working there still.

The storm came in and our friends, Doug and Lyneita on Ka’sala, arrived from Barra de Navidad just before the Port Captain closed the port. We watched the weather forecasts for five days from our slip at Manina Fonatur, looking for a good opportunity to head north. Our friends on Ka’sala were staying at Marina la Isla, a charming little marina nearby. They invited us to the Chill and Grill Restaurant for music and drinks. The next day was the 38th anniversary of when Alan and I met in Chiapas, at the Mayan ruins of Palenque. Lyneita and Doug sweetly offered us use of their bikes for the day.

In the morning, after a few boat chores we hopped on our loaner bikes and rode from Marina Fonatur to the malecon. It was tricky riding the streets in heavy traffic – no shoulders – and the sidewalks were crowded; lots of stop and go. But when we finally got to the malecon it was wonderful. The magnificently wide sea-wall stretched for miles along gorgeous beaches with big surf rolling in. It wasn’t a good day for swimming but we watched some really good surfers catching waves.

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Hotel on the malecon, Isla Venados in the distance.

We rode the whole malecon, past the many lovely statues, down to the area we knew from staying in the Old Harbor. It was a refreshingly different perspective on the bike. We rode by the panga basin near El Centro, our first time there. We were keeping an eye out for a 15 h.p. Honda outboard that friends had had stolen a few nights before in the Old Harbor. There were a lot of pangas in the basin but almost no motors. Riding back to the marina seemed easier (even on the streets off the malecon) and we were so pleased to have had the bikes for the day!

Maz statue on malecon

Statue on the malecon, Old Harbor in the far distance, miles away.

We had a reservation for dinner at El Presidio, a restaurant recommended for special occasions. The old mansion appeared to take up a good chunk of the downtown block. We walked into the grand entryway; dark, polished wood and glass presided in the spacious foyer and we were greeted by several well-groomed waiters, handsome and friendly. We were passed to a young woman who walked us past the indoor seating and out to the huge courtyard where our small table was waiting. There were only two other parties there and it felt like we had the place to ourselves.

The courtyard had several areas partially separated by pillars and trees. On closer inspection it seemed to be a grand house that had fallen into disrepair – as evidenced by the hosts of trees and vines that had volunteered – and was now part ruins and part sumptuous reclamation.

The food was amazing and in between dinner and coffee we walked through the building, discovering stairways to nowhere and whimsical rooms with fascinating views from the rooftops and balconies. Our extravagant meal cost less than $70. We were whisked back to Enchanté in one of the charming open-air taxis, zooming along the malecon in the warm night air.

Maz Mar La Isla

Marina La Isla

We moved over to Marina La Isla on Saturday morning and right away appreciated the low key, inexpensive moorage. We went for a walk with our friends to Cerritos in the afternoon. Six of us trekked from the marina along the bus route and then on to the gorgeous long sandy beach. It was a good discovery; this cool area north of “marina-land”, with beautiful rock formations at Cerritos. When we arrived at the palapa restaurant way down the beach, we took a table set up in the sand, under an umbrella, and ordered beer. When the waiter said they only had Tecate we almost left. But then he said “No, no” and walked across the sand to the fancy restaurant next door and brought back some Modelos and Dos Equis – problem solved.

We watched kite-boarders while we chatted in the shade. They were literally flying off the waves at times. Then the kite took them right back out for the next wave, almost effortlessly it seemed. After our beer we walked up the hill and around to a “mini-mall” of stalls selling items for tourists. There were some red pick-up trucks – “trockas” – with a roof over seats in the back of the truck – like taxis. Eventually the six of us climbed into the rustic seating in the back of the trocka and paid for a ride back to the marina.

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We were still waiting for favorable weather to leave. We made plans with Doug and Lyneita for a trip to Concordia., a town recommended several times to us because of its reputation for furniture makers. The four of us caught a pulmonia Sunday morning to the Centro d’Autobus (bus depot). We got out, paid the driver and without breaking stride, walked right on to the departing bus to Concordia. We were the only passengers on the big comfy bus. But as we drove out of Mazatlan, more and more people got on. Soon the bus was more than half full. I loved being on the bus; checking out the other passengers, watching the scenery and getting there slowly. It was over an hour ride and cost 40 pesos (about $3 US then). After several attempts to get off too early, we finally disembarked at the bus depot in Concordia.

door in Concordia

It was a sleepy Sunday morning up in the foothills of the Sierra Madres, in the historic city of Concordia. It felt so different from the ocean-side culture we were accustomed to. We walked along in the hot sunshine and enjoyed the fresh mountain breezes in the shade. The town seemed to be built of cantaloupe-colored concrete; the shades ranged from buttery yellow to pumpkin, most of it freshly painted. It was tranquil with not many people around. In the square I bought a couple of thick zorilla bark / wood carvings from a fine young fellow who did the carving.

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Lyneita and me in the giant chair in the square.

We wandered around and found a furniture-maker half a block off the square. Al chatted with him for a bit and then followed us into the Museum next door. There we met Vicki. Her animated, generous face, full of enthusiasism and humor, was framed by black and silver cork-screw curls cut below her ears. She spoke of the history of the town for a good while before we toured the six rooms in the old jail-cum-museum. Each room was dedicated to a certain period of history; indigenous people, la conquista, mining and industry, etc. – informative and well done.

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Cathedral in Concordia

About 3 blocks north of the town center we found a high point to enjoy the view of rolling foothills and mountains in the distance. On our walk back (one block over) we found another furniture shop with a much higher level of craftsmanship than the first shop we’d seen. It was in a yard behind a house. As we walked past the house we saw through the open kitchen window, a man (maybe Al’s age?) chopping tomatoes for salsa fresca. We chatted with him through the window a bit, about furniture making and other topics. When his daughter overheard that we were from Washington she came out to meet us. She had lived in Arlington and Stanwood (near Lummi) and loved it there! Eventually seven family members came out onto their veranda and we had a lovely connection with these incredibly nice people! As we walked away we felt so grateful and satiated with our encounter and our visit to Concordia. When we arrived at the bus depot there was a bus departing in five minutes to Mazatlan – smooth.

SAILING AGAIN;

Finally we had a clear weather window. On March 15th at first light, we left Marina La Isla, just after Ka’sala. We chugged along the calm canals to exit the harbor, then close by the dredger crew who were eating breakfast on the barge at the harbor entrance. They returned our greetings of “Buenos dias.”. The bar was easy; the rollers only about two to four feet tall and not too scary. And we were off on our journey…

We motor-sailed away from land for a few hours and then shut the motor for the next five, sailing a moderate breeze with low seas. Al was concerned about the motor because the temperature gauge and the hour meter both quit when our tachometer (aka Taco Lobo) took a break. We had become used to the tach going offline when the batteries were absorbing but had never had all the instruments go down like that. Electrical gremlins? And the motor was running a little hot. I lowered the RPM from 2200 to 2050 to cool it down for the last 2 hours of my noon-to-four p.m. shift. That worked fine in an okay-but-not-great kind of way.

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Sunset the first night.

On my four-to-eight a.m. watch the next morning, light started stealing over the eastern horizon around 5:30. The half moon had set long before and only the brightest stars remained as day dawned. Darkness huddled to the west and northward. On our starboard side the sea reflected silver from the brightening sky. On our other side the water was dull, dark gray. The dome of sky became a starless pale blue-gray with a gorgeous peachy glow in the east.

Birds circled sometimes – boobies and frigates – looking for a landing place it seemed. I chased a brown boobie off the top port-side spreader (the metal crosspiece coming off the mast). A large bird sitting in the rigging was not desirable especially if it let loose some guano – nasty to clean up! The boobie was apparently not impressed when I snapped the spinnaker halyard by its bill. But my guttural shout of ownership finally chased it off.

During our time in Mazatlan we had a couple of interesting critters on Enchanté. At Marina Fonatur I moved my yoga mat in the aft cabin one day and felt a dry skittering sensation on my arm; an almost weightless bit of pressure from miniscule gecko feet gaining traction on my forearm. In a blur of movement the delicate tiny lizard zipped back into the yoga mat which I then passed carefully out to Al. The gecko was still hiding in the mat and Al shook it gently off onto the dock.

On March 15th, after we left the dock at Marina La Isla on our way north, I was straightening things up under the dodger and discovered a strange, slender, stick-like creature on a piece of fabric. Joy and wonder when I realized it was a praying mantis. It was delicate, possibly very young and a light brown color. Manny (as I started to call him) stayed on the piece of baby-blanket rag for over 12 hours. In the morning I looked for him and he was gone.

I had recently read an excellent book about some Kalihari bushmen who revered praying mantises. Perhaps that and my concern that this inadvertent stow-away was somehow my responsibility, had me checking around for him – or perhaps I just had too much time on my hands…. Hours later I spotted him on the birdseye-maple fuse-box panel down by the nav station. I made a home for him in a clear container with some broccoli and celery leaves and a few drops of water. I was so stoked to see him take a bite out of the broccoli stalk. He was riding up under the dodger and I hoped he had what he needed.

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We motored for a good long while. When the wind picked up we happily shut Desi down for a well-deserved rest. We sailed and then motor-sailed, north, north on low seas,  getting into the rhythm of it. We were close enough to see the topography of the land – lots of mangroves and estuaries, low hills in the background. We had only two or three options for harbors to get out of foul weather along the Sonoran Passage from Mazatlan to San Carlos, all of them with lengthy and challenging approaches. We kept an eye on the weather and opted to keep going.

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On day three, north of Topolobampo, Alan was on watch and saw a disturbance in the distance, a kind of boiling action in the water. It turned out to be a dolphin “rodeo”. At least 200 of them were playing in a tide rip. They traveled across our bow and continued their leaping and cavorting off to the southwest. It was an amazing sight! We watched them, fascinated and delighted until it seemed we’d lost them. And then, there appeared to be a reversal of direction. Sure enough, they were headed back towards us. It was exhilarating watching them approach; countless sleek gray bodies glistening in the sun as they erupted out of the water. What a treat to witness!

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Weather conditions had been excellent and we traveled, non-stop, up the coast. On the last morning (about 24 hours from San Carlos) we listened to the net and heard an announcement that the sailing vessel, Sea Boa, had been struck by a whale and sank, 35 miles out of Guaymas. The owner, Allen, (from Duncan, B.C.) was fine – he reportedly stepped aboard his dinghy (with his life raft in it) and was rescued soon after. Holy shit! We were headed for Guaymas! We had also seen In the Heart of the Sea (the Moby Dick movie) not long before. Images of a deranged whale had Alan scurrying around Enchanté, assembling a proper ditch bag – we had become very lax with our coastal cruising. After a brief discussion I got involved as well; we now have a much better emergency evacuation plan. We kept a very watchful eye out all day (for whales of course) with varying levels of anxiety.

Just before sunset, we were closing in on Guaymas. In the serene, calm waters, I saw long dark ripples that seemed like maybe they weren’t ripples. Indeed, after watching the area close off our port bow, it became clear that it was the backs of two whales. As I lowered our RPM I called to Alan who was down below checking on the motor. We were motor-sailing at that point and Al came up, a little shaken. Both of us were anxious to be unobtrusive near the giant beings. In the past they had always inspired awe and appreciation but now we were keen to get some distance away and to calm our racing hearts.

We turned the motor off but we had essentially no wind, hence no steerage, and we were at our closest point (on the whole journey) to land – only four miles off the deserted coastline. In the gorgeous dimming light of sunset, mauves and peaches were reflected in the silky mirror of the sea. Long dark ripples were the only contours on the otherwise glassy surface. None of these turned out to be the whales although you can bet we were paying very close attention, trying to determine where they had gone. No spouts were seen. How long could they stay down?

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Eventually we fired the motor up again and made our way nervously north in the falling light. We were able to laugh (a little bit) about how different the experience would have been if we hadn’t heard the morning net.

We arrived to the lights and dramatic contours of the hills near Guaymas. There was almost no traffic or evidence of other AIS vessels in this often-crowded port city. Entering Bahia San Carlos in the first light of day was such a great feeling; so beautiful! We were at the end of our longest passage ever; ninety-six hours.

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We had the rest of the day and night at anchor. As soon as I had wi-fi I googled-up “caring for a praying mantis”. Manuel was still alive and had been transported several hundred miles from the lushness of Mazatlan to the Sonoran Desert. I found out they are wicked predators and started putting bits of ripe banana on the screen on top of his cage to attract fruit flies. They showed up in a matter of minutes it seemed and provided Manny with some fresh protein. His agile foreleg front pincers were lightning fast and would pin the flies to the screen so he could pull them through. Eventually I released Manny at Marina Seca on one of the trees in the parking lot. I hoped he would eat some of the many ants available and figure out where the water was. The tree bark was great camouflage for his sandy brown color.

(Side note; I had never seen a praying mantis there before releasing Manuel, but six months later when we came back to Marina Seca I saw not one, but at least two praying mantis’.)

From the anchorage in the Bahia we took a slip in the Marina. Al washed off the deck and we washed and dried the sails. The jib got folded up and packed in the sail bag. Two days later we were hauled to the work yard. The main sail was left on the boom until after a couple of days in the yard, We worked away at the tasks to prepare Enchanté for the long hot summer in San Carlos.

Just when we thought we were ready to head homeward in our newly-painted Sprinter, we had engine problems with the camper van. The battery wasn’t being charged and quickly lost power when it was driven – Al had to get a jump four times in 45 minutes. After a couple of false starts out of town and several trips to the mechanic we felt confident that we would make it to Tucson. Once we got there, we had the name of a mechanic there who maintained the fleet of Sprinter vans for FedEx.

We said adios to San Carlos after another lovely cruising season. Home to Lummi for the summer….

La Cruz to Mazatlan (FEB-MARCH ’16)

(Published from La Paz, December ’16)

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Fireworks at Punta Mita.

On Feb. 15th we fired up the motor, cast off our lines and left the dock at Marina La Cruz where we’d been tied up for 2 weeks. We pulled in to the fuel dock, topped up and motored out of the harbor. The tragic sight of the sailboat, Rage, lying on her side on the reef was heart-wrenching as we left the basin in La Cruz. On the VHF cruisers’ net that morning we heard that the team of competent local volunteers were finalizing the salvage operation. Less than 24 hours earlier we had helped haul loads of salty wet items up the sandy beach until dark.

We continued our exit, through the fleet at anchor outside the harbor, and pointed the bow towards the northwest point of Banderas Bay. Two hours later we were anchored at Punta de Mita, a well-known surf spot, with eleven other boats. Al was very keen to surf again and worked hard at it most days we sat at anchor there.

Just two weeks earlier we had spent time at Punta Mita and the waves were big and powerful. I had a couple of outings on the paddleboard to try to surf then. One of those times, the surf was quite big and I paddled to a spot I thought would be good to just sit and watch for a good wave; I have almost no clue about how to read the waves yet. Then quite suddenly, a huge one was breaking right on top of me!!! This was not supposed to happen. But it did – two more times in that set! Dang – I wasn’t supposed to be getting Maytagged just sitting there. On my last tumble I saw something dark floating in the water below the board and wondered if it could be something of mine. I could feel the croakies on my sunglasses – that was good. Then I looked down; it was just the croakies holding the  arms of my sunglasses. The wave had ripped the lenses right off!

 

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Unexpected meeting with Jon and Shannon on S/V Prism at Punta Mita; first met in Neah Bay in 2013.

After seven days we left Punta Mita, bound for Chacala. We ran Desi for the first couple of hours then Al set up the sails and we were nicely making way on a lovely westerly. The full jib was a pleasing arc off the forestay and was echoed by the arc of the mainsail. The water was that gorgeous deep blue that reminds me of blueberry jello. Far away folds of green and brown hills stretched out, hazy in the marine layer. Partial clouds rose up above long stretches of deserted sandy beaches; a tan stripe at waters edge, miles away. We could see Rincon Guayabitas in the foggy distance up the coast.

While I was at the helm I looked up and briefly saw something in the water that didn’t look like water – kind of white and bulbish – off our port bow. A short while later I heard what sounded like an explosion. My initial thought was a bomb had gone off in the water. Then I saw a very large patch of disturbed water just a hundred yards or so right ahead of us. It was slightly raised and spread wide, all white bubbles and light-colored water, an up-welling of water that remained for a good minute or more. A whale was the only logical explanation and soon we had visual confirmation with it spouting off to our left (the first we’d seen in weeks). It must have been an amazing breach! Our course took us right to the place it must have exploded out of the water and we sailed (slightly apprehensively and quite quietly) through the bubbly water as we made our way north.

It was a cloudy afternoon when we arrived at Chacala and the westerly took us right in to the charming beach town. There were five sailboats in the small anchorage facing the beach and the rolling swells were considerable. Al immediately thought it would be too rolly to sleep that night. I was very unattached to staying at Chacala and a bit put off by the challenges of anchoring and stern-anchoring between the other boats. So after a quick tour we headed out to sea again, bound for Matanchen, the next good anchorage. Even though we knew we’d be on the water for at least four more hours it felt like no big deal. The open arms of Matanchen Bay waited so reassuringly, even in the dark.

We had motored through the anchorage and we quickly got the sails up again. The sun set and night fell; it was very, very dark. Black clouds reared up over the huge hills on the eastern horizon and completely obscured the full moon. Eventually the moon passed a ragged hole in the heavy bank of dark clouds, producing an eerie orange glow in the sky.

One of the only hazards on the water (besides breaching whales) was getting the propeller tangled in lines that might be strung between fish traps. The local fishermen didn’t use this technique much but there was a possibility, so we kept a close eye out. When the wind eased off and we needed to motor, I stood on the bow for quite a while staring at the dark water. I spotted 3 or 4 individual plastic “floats” (often milk jugs or large pop bottles), some with a black plastic garbage bag “flag” on a pole to mark them, but no line was visible between the floats.

Al took the rest of the shift on the bow. Visibility was limited and distance was very hard to judge. Two times we saw a couple of pangas fishing together, unlit and unseen until they were quite close. The low ocean swells almost erased their profile on the water and it seemed that at the last minute they turned on their small lights. We didn’t know if they had lines in the water so we cut our engine to idle and listened for yelling in Spanish as we passed close by them. When we heard nothing we called out “Buenas noches” and resumed our speed.

The moon finally rose above the clouds for several long periods and we arrived at the calm Ensenada de Matanchen with only one other boat there. We dropped the hook in our usual place, happy to be back. The only surprise was the ferocity of the no-see-ums. We found out later they’re worst at the full moon. Thank heavens for our bug screens.

The next day as we walked the sandy road beside the estuary, we saw elegant white egrets massed along with gorgeous pink roseate spoonbills, visible through a break in the dense vegetation lining the waterway. At the crossroads we bought organic bug repellent and then caught a cab to San Blas.

There was another passenger in the taxi when we got in; a very old, tiny woman in the back seat. Silver-gray and black hair was pulled gently back from her long angular face, regal and still beautiful. She might have weighed 80 pounds. She had lived in Aticama (the small town on the far side of Matanchen Bay) her whole life. She had seen many changes and had two sons in Los Angeles. About 15 minutes later she got out at the church by the square in San Blas; I felt privileged to have met her.

The driver, Ezekial, had fun with us, especially when Alan called me the boss. Ezekial made some sign with his hands like making tortillas and he used an expression we didn’t know; lots of laughter. We continued on to the marina along the bone-jarring “cobble-stone” road that fronted the harbor. It was unbelievably rough as a passenger – jolting along even at slow speed – but it felt good to get back to Marina Fonatur.

We walked down the dock and found our friends, Mel and Larry, on their boat parked in the primo spot on the inside of the first slip. The breeze coming in from the channel was lovely, and it kept the bugs away. They invited us onboard and we settled into their comfy cockpit with beanbag chairs and cushions. We had a good visit; catching up, telling stories and relaying cruiser community information.

A funky catamaran came into the marina, somewhat sketchily, with engine problems. It was tricky for them maneuvering in the strong current and we all got up to help with the docking. Once the transition was made and they were secured to the dock we said goodbye to our friends and headed home.

 

We slipped into the relaxed life in Matanchen like a comfy old slipper. For eleven lovely, laid-back days we paddled in the bay and practiced surfing. We spent some wonderful time with our dear friends, Marion and Theo, who sailed Marionetto into the bay and later introduced us to new friends, Millie and James and their darling little boys, on Jean Marie.

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Millie, James, Gavin.jpg

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The bay was the beginner slope for surfers; perfect for learning. One of my first days there I had a productive session, learning to paddle and to time the waves. I caught a few baby lift-offs and one nice but short ride. I paddled a lot but for the most part I was not in the best place to catch the waves. There was a beautiful young couple hanging there, in the sweet spot. She was on the surfboard and he stood on the hard-packed sandy bottom; the warm, clear water up to his chest. He steadied the board while they talked and watched and waited. When the right wave came, he gave her a push, just at the right moment. In an instant she was up on the board, water-borne. It was inspirational.

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After my surf session, I paddled towards Playa Hermosa, the palapa restaurant that was our home-base. We left our paddleboards there whenever we went ashore and gave them our business when we wanted to sit in the shade and enjoy a beer or mineral water, maybe some guacamole. The view of the bay was lovely and we became very friendly with the waiter, Baro, and the owner, Alicia. Occasionally other cruisers showed up but we were almost always the only customers. To keep the bugs away Baro would burn coconut husks in a metal pail and walk around our table, swinging the bucket to smoke them out.

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Playa Hermosa was just one of a collection of sleepy little open-air seaside restaurants on the peninsula that formed the northern boundary of Matanchen Bay. We were told they made almost all their revenue for the year during the week of Semana Santa (Easter) – one of the biggest holidays of the year – when almost every Mexican family goes to the beach. Baro didn’t seem concerned about the lack of business and tips while we were there. He enjoyed the tranquility and said Semana Santa was completely crazy; so many people!

I was ready for a break and paddled into the beach, picked up my board and ploughed through the hot, white sand to park the paddleboard. I continued up to the fresh water cistern near the kitchen and doused myself with the bright red plastic dipper. It felt so good to rinse the sand and saltwater off! Then I plopped my wet self down at the white plastic beach table and watched the waves coming in just a dozen yards away.

As I watched, the young couple started to surf together, on the same board. He would pop up first then adjust to her weight as she rose. They would fly along on the wave and sometimes he would gently reach out to stabilize her with his relaxed outstretched arm. What a vision it was to see the profile of their bronzed, healthy young bodies skimming along on the water. Poetry in motion!

On March 1st Matanchen Bay was calm with little ripples on slow, low swells, a somewhat disappointing lack of surf. But we were excited about our plan to take a taxi with Marion and Theo to San Blas for Larry’s birthday celebration at Marina Fonatur. When we got there we found a dozen people gathered on the shaded wide walkway that looked out at the dock and the river. There was a fine selection of potluck food, beverages and birthday cake. Several instruments were on hand and Cynthia (an internationally-known Mexican harpist) treated us to the amazing sounds of her harp.

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Mel with mandolin, Cynthia with harp, Marion on the right.

One day, six of us plus the two kids took a fun outing to Aticama – a chance to explore the small town on the far side of Matanchen Bay and a change from the usual San Blas town outing. We walked down the road to the junction and took two taxis – (buses were few and far between). Al went with Millie, James, Gavin and Colin in the first one and I rode with Marion and Theo when another taxi finally showed up. I liked seeing the southern shoreline of Matanchen again – the private residences and various resorts; campgrounds, RV parks, motels and fancy hotels.

When the taxi pulled up to Aticama’s central plaza I asked if he would take us to Lucy’s Cenadaria where we were meeting the others for lunch. At first he said no, but when we gave him 25 pesos each he said sure. Al and the crew of Jean Marie were comfortably ensconced in the super-clean, brightly-painted, casual eating establishment that is open 365 days a year. It even has good internet! The prices were cheaper than I remembered – 10 pesos for an enchilada, 15 pesos for shrimp enchiladas and 15 pesos for an awesome milk shake with fresh fruit – we’re talking less than a dollar for each of those. We spent a nice long time there; enjoying the food, each others company and the comfortable space.

After a couple of hours we wandered down the three blocks of cobble-stone streets to the main road along the water-front. Aticama has a pleasant, relaxed vibe and we all did a little shopping in the clean, neat tiendas along the way to the square. Some old guys hung out in the plaza with a small pile of clothing for sale. There were small seafood restaurants along the waterfront and near the square. From there we had a great view of the grand bay. Far, far across the water we could see our sailboats sitting at anchor near Playa Hermosa.

When we were ready to go back we started looking for taxis. Al pointed out one parked opposite the square, empty. We walked over and called out “Taxi!”. Soon a big, friendly young guy walked out from the open door of the house there, dressed in a bright yellow polyester shirt and over-stuffed blue jeans. When we told him how many people he whistled. We asked how much to Playa Hermosa – 70 pesos. Cool. But when we asked for another cab we found out there were none. He was willing to take us all if we’d fit. So Marion and Theo sat up in the small front passenger seat and the six of us squeezed in the back. The driver was a lot of fun and he loved that there were two babies! He couldn’t quite believe we all fit in his small car.

He drove a back “road” out of town along the beach, skillfully driving the bumpy sand ruts  without bottoming out. When I told him it was our first time on this road he said it was a “full tour” ride. He cracked up, with his hilarious high giggle, when I said “cinco estrellas” (five stars). We all piled out at Baro’s restaurant, a little stiff and happy to be home. The driver wished us well, pleased with his 110 pesos and we waved goodbye.

When we returned from our outing there was a Mexican family set up at one of Baro’s tables. They had backed their car under the shade of the palapa roof, into the seating area, and set up a picnic. Their two boys, Patricio and Javi, were about the same age as Colin and he played with them in the water.

Colin was invited to have a snack with the boys. The beautiful young mom sliced oranges in half, cross-wise, and then cut away a one inch rim of the peel, exposing the juicy delicious orange segments.  The boys had a half-orange in each hand and bit into the juicy fruit to suck out the juice. They walked to the waters edge and sat down in the shallow water; a perfect place to eat a sweet juicy orange.

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One morning I walked barefoot on the meandering sandy road on a quest to find groceries at the little tienda/bakeries at the crossroads. They were famous for pies, banana bread and dried fruit but with any luck I could buy some eggs and veggies. A little yellow taxi drove past me slowly. I smiled and waved him on. He drove slowly a little further then stopped. At the open passenger window I told him I was just going to the crossroads (in Spanish). He said “I’ll give you a lift…” (in English) and turned out to be another super nice guy. I told him we were from Bellingham and he told me he had worked for Trident Seafoods in Mt. Vernon! He dropped me off and I found a few good groceries to add to our provisions for our upcoming passage.

The peaceful, relaxed days at Matanchen had come to an end. Strong weather was predicted and we had a haul-out date in San Carlos coming up. On March 5th we got up just before 5:00 and prepared for our early morning departure.

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We sailed north to Mazatlan, cruising along smoothly for the most part. Big gentle rollers came along at times, then some slight chop and tiny white caps. The fringe of coastal palm trees and low vegetation stood out along the shoreline a few miles away; handsome hills rose up hazily in the far distance. As the sun slid down to the horizon we saw Isla Isabel, visible in the shimmering waters to the west. No whale sightings, no fish nibbles, only a few birds.

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We passed the familiar entrance to Mazatlan’s old harbor where we often stayed at Club Nautico. The conical hills stood proudly at the mouth of the basin and our favorite lighthouse, El Faro, rose up to the north of the entrance, above the rugged rocks where surf crashed constantly in  vast waterline caves . We continued past, a little downcast to be bypassing this place. There were two reasons; fear of robbery (because of several reported incidences nearby) and concern that the predicted storm might trap us there. We continued towards the new harbor at Mazatlan.

There are two islands that lie off the Gold Zone coast, on the way to the harbor where all the marinas are situated. We opted to anchor behind Isla Venados for the night. It was a busy Sunday afternoon and there were several party boats, rental sailboats and a few jet skis zooming around the bay. People played on the beach against the backdrop of the pristine, large island. We anchored easily and rested comfortably there.

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The view of the Gold Zone from Isla Venados (Deer Island).

 

After 5:30 the people pretty much disappeared and we had a most unusual anchorage to ourselves (except the power boat a little south of us). On the port side of the cockpit we had the massive, unspoiled  island rising up in the sky, wild and tranquil. The almost- white rock bands at the top of the hill  looked almost like snow.

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On the other side of the cockpit, after dark, we had an incredible vista of the lights of the Gold Zone stretching as far as we could see – El Faro at the far end of the glittering lights.

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We were very pleased with the anchorage there – a good transition to city life after our time in Matanchen. In the morning we hoped the dredging barge would not be blocking the narrow entrance when we crossed the bar and entered “marina-land” in Mazatlan.

 

 

 

SISTERS IN LA CRUZ DE HUANACAXLE

Posted from San Carlos, Sonora/ November ’16  (Thank you for your patience – busy summer.)

 

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Feb. 2nd

We motored through the still morning waters of Banderas Bay into the harbor at La Cruz and the slip waiting for us at Marina Nayarit. It was a good slip, with a view of the breakwater where locals strolled on the lovely stone walkway. We scurried around doing boat chores and getting ready for the arrival of my sister, Erin, at 4 p.m. in Puerto Vallarta from Vancouver.

At 2:30 I walked up the sun-drenched street and caught the collectivo at the top of the main street. It was a joy to be on the familiar mini-van with easy-going, handsome and healthy Mexican people. Some of the women getting on said Buenos Tardes in greeting to the passengers and driver. The wind from the open window whipped my hair as the driver zoomed along the highway. I was stoked to see one of our favorite restaurants (El Coleguito) was still in business. When I got out at the airport stop, I paid my 18 pesos for the collectivo ride. (Somehow the drivers remember where you get on and know exactly how much you owe when you get out!)

I was so excited to have Erin coming for a visit! She texted to say she had landed and when I texted her back, she was happy to hear I was already at the airport. Her next text said customs might take a while. I stood at the outlet doors where the trickles, and sometimes streams, of arriving passengers walked past. The PV airport was an amazing place; it was my first time there and there were so many tourists arriving! There was some chaotic activity as locals tried to lure the gringos to their taxi or bar or hotel.

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Finally I saw my sister; tall and athletic, her friendly face framed by long blond hair. Huge hugs and heartfelt gazes morphed into laughter as we realized we were really together in this beautiful foreign land. We walked outside to get a taxi and Erin noticed how hot it was. She had started her day in the wee hours in Whistler, and was wearing socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. I suggested she change before we left the airport – we weren’t in a rush and she’d be so much more comfortable. So we back-tracked to the cool, clean, white-tiled restroom. Five minutes later she stepped out of the stall in shorts, tank top and sandals. All right – we were ready for the heat.

While I was waiting for Erin I had checked the “Authorized Taxi” prices in the airport and was scandalized and slightly amused when the lady checked her official-looking schedule and said 2 people to La Cruz would be 785 pesos. Wow! The cabbie I spoke to in La Cruz that morning told me 300 pesos to the airport but he couldn’t drive us back (the Puerto Vallarta airport is in a different state than La Cruz de Huanacaxle and requires a different license I think).

Outside, we talked to the gentleman at the “Authorized Taxi” stand and again the same price. So I said to the nice man, in my rustic Spanish, it’s only 300 pesos from La Cruz to here. He pointed across the road and told us to get a yellow cab. So Erin rolled her big suitcase as we walked along the airport sidewalk, up the ramp to the overpass and back down to the bus stop on the other side of the highway. We checked the buses and then walked back to where the yellow cabs were parked.

And there we met and hired the handsome Mexican taxi driver I had hoped we would have. He and I agreed on 350 pesos for the fare and we got in the cool, comfortable car. It was so lovely gliding along the good road to La Cruz. Our driver lit up with a huge smile when I asked him how long he had been driving taxi – for 10 years. He had three boys and seemed very nice.

On the drive I pointed out the tall, shapely domes of huge huanacaxle trees on either side of the highway – so beautiful. When we got to the marina, we thanked our driver and tipped him 50 pesos. Erin and I walked down to the gate at Dock 9 and on to Enchanté. Al had done a nice job of getting her cleaned and tidied and it was wonderful to welcome Erin to our floating home.

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I loved looking around the marina (at the boats, palm trees, people walking and hanging on the breakwater) trying to see it through Erin’s eyes – her first time to mainland Mexico. We made fresh guacamole and sipped some tequila. We went for a walk on the malecon and enjoyed the sunset. The next day we strolled along the quiet streets together, absorbing the sights and smells, greeting people along the way. We ate guacamole, shrimp tacos, salsa fresca, refried beans, eggs, tortillas – such good food.

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Sisters are amazing; we tended to roll out of bed at the same time. We’d have our coffee, then grab our yoga mats and set off to class to stretch and wake up. When we took our showers we would walk out of our separate stalls a heartbeat apart. It was a fine tonic for us to have this special time – time together in the relaxed vibe of the sweet seaside town of La Cruz.

When I registered at the Marina, they gave me three free drink coupons for the restaurant at the marina. On our 2nd night with Erin, we went up the stairs and up again to the bar on top, to enjoy the view, the sunset and the free beverages. We were the only ones in the large square space with huge windows exposing gorgeous views on 3 sides. Jaime, our waiter, brought three very strong margaritas and we ordered some guacamole.

Over the course of the next hour we got to talk to Jaime and Gustavo, a shy young lad from Guanajuato with pretty good English. They were so nice! Jaime‘s English was amazing. He had had a photography and videography shop in Los Cabos, quite successful. Then Hurricane Odile took it out. He lost equipment in the storm and later to looters. But he had such a good attitude – working as a waiter to make money for new equipment. He told us about a trip to the US he had taken. He and a friend drove from California to Florida and up to New York and loved it.

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Jaime took some very nice photos of us and we joked that he probably knew more about our camera after 5 minutes than we did after a month. When it came time for the bill we realized we were in the wrong restaurant for the coupons. Oh well… 420 pesos – we gave him 500 and called it a very good night. We all agreed it was so worth it to strike up an acquaintance with these fine Mexican men and enjoy the fabulous views and ambiance.

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The second time we went for our free drinks, we went to Frascati’s – the right restaurant this time. Our friends, Doug and Lyneita decided to join us even though they didn’t have coupons. So up we went to enjoy a drink at the charming bar that overlooked the marina. When we showed our waiter our coupons he said they were only good with a meal. Dang! Oh well… we all ordered margaritas and had a fun time sitting under the palm fronds of the gorgeous palapa roof. After we paid the bill we realized our “free drink” coupons had cost us 800 pesos for 6 margaritas and a couple of appetizers! (This pretty much sums up my luck with coupons.)

One morning we set off for an outing to Sayulita, a popular and charmingly funky surf town nearby. Al, Erin and I walked up to the bus stop and waited a couple of minutes for the mini-van to Bucerias. Once there, we got off and walked across the road to catch our bus to Sayulita. The big white bus, with destinations printed in white letters on the windshield, pulled up and we got on. The drive was beautiful as I remembered; jungle forests, the road curving along small drainages in the lush greenery, then opening to cleared land with small ranchos or shops along the road and sometimes a field with a huge huanacaxle tree.

Besides sight-seeing in Sayulita, we planned to meet up with our dear friends from Cortes Island, Ruth and Roland. They were staying at a beautiful place in Sayulita for a week with their adult children. When the bus pulled into the “station” in Sayulita they weren’t there so we started to look for their place. We attempted to communicate with Ruth by text and there ensued a fairly hilarious series of messages; some forgotten, misunderstood and others not delivered. As Al, Erin and I walked along the main street we decided to stop at a little stand for a fresh-squeezed orange juice. OMG! The flavor was so amazing, so fresh and delicious!

Thus fortified, we started up off the road, Al following the online directions he had. It was unclear if we were on the right road but we decided to go a little further, walking up the dusty road in the heat. We passed a funky yard with some guys hanging out in it. I noticed a table-saw and lumber and eventually realized it was a “shop” producing furniture, mostly outdoors under a huge huanacaxle tree. Al entered the yard and started chatting with the men. We followed and had a fun conversation about furniture-making. Five minutes later we were back on the road and followed it up to the main road to Punta Mita.

It was a lovely morning and not much traffic as we trotted along the little foot-path beside the road. There were a few restaurants set back from the road, with the ubiquitous palapa roof and palms and banana trees for shade. We came to a bridge, which was promising with regards to the “directions”. We turned right onto the road after the bridge and entered a residential neighborhood. We were overjoyed when the young couple walking towards us turned out to be Sierra, Ruth and Roland’s daughter! We hugged and met her boyfriend, Mike, then turned around to walk back to find Ruth & Roland. Sierra showed us a back trail to the bus stop. It was a cool walk along the small ravine full of lush vegetation. No sign of Ruth and Roland at the bus depot so we walked towards town. There we found Ruth finishing a fresh–squeezed o.j. at the same stand we had stopped at earlier. Roland was posted on the other side of the bridge, watching for us. Ah! Reunion was sweet! We wandered together through the main square. There were Huichol people set up with their art and handicrafts in the square; Erin and Ruth perused and purchased some bead work and I found a hat I liked.

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We walked the beach, absorbing the scenery and the scene. The surf was stacked up, short and steep; hard to ride and not inviting for swimming. We walked around to the other side of the bay (town side), up into the streets of another neighbourhood, then down to the beach by the cemetery – Playa Los Muertos. We sat in the shade at the quiet beach, enjoying shelter from the sun while we chatted and caught up with each other. After a good break we went back up to the town, pausing to buy some excellent fruits and veggies to add to the lunch menu at Casa Om – the house where they were staying.

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Wow! What a place! So gorgeous – tiled and spacious, with elegant painted concrete archways and windows, surfaces smooth and rounded. The kitchen easily accommodated 5 of us preparing the feast. Erin heated tortillas, Roland and I assembled guacamole, Al squeezed fresh orange juice and Ruth cooked refried beans.

The bedrooms were handsome, open-feeling rooms with fine large doors and windows opening out. The bathroom was a whimsical shrine to water, rock, tile, glass and wood. Outdoors, we showered off the sweat and town dirt, then swam in the glorious blue-tiled pool; so cooling and with a great view up to the palapa-roofed yoga studio upstairs and the beautiful terra cotta main floor. Young palm trees graced the wall on the far side of the yard and there was a small pool-side stone fountain, with artfully-stacked round river rocks for the crystalline water to burble over…

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It was a treat to spend time with our good friends in such a fine place, and an added treat to spend time with their kids and their partners and friends.

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We caught the bus back after a very satisfying visit. It was crowded on the bus – Alan and Erin stood the whole time. A nice Mexican man offered me his seat and later sat down beside me. He spoke great English and had lived in La Cruz for 30 years. He talked about how La Cruz used to be before the marina; he was still ticked off because the locals aren’t allowed to fish in the bay where the marina is anymore.

The bus stopped at the junction to La Cruz and Punta Mita and we got off along with three Spanish-speaking people; an older blond woman, a 20-something woman with tattoos and a young kid. There was no traffic on the road, the temperature was perfect as the sun neared the horizon and the breeze cooled us off. We walked in our two clusters down the quiet off-ramp, the vista opening to the north and west. Banderas Bay was on our left and the road to Punta Mita stretched towards the right, through open flat land, a few clumps of jungle growth and several gorgeous huanacaxle trees. It was a short walk to the main road and a couple of minutes later a collectivo swerved to the shoulder and stopped for us. So we all got in and rode to the only stop light in La Cruz de Huanacaxle, about 5 minutes away.

We were back in time for the free movie at the amphitheater on the breakwater beside the marina. We assembled quick shrimp tacos on board Enchanté and then joined the procession of people on the breakwater. Movie-goers were easy to spot with their seat pads and snacks in hand. The divine scent of popcorn wafted to us on the walk to the venue. Lo and behold, the marina was offering free popcorn! There was also a food truck set up serving Thai food. We ordered a shrimp pad thai that was delicious!

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Our days were relaxed and full; yoga, snorkeling, paddle-boarding, walking to the fish market for fresh shrimp – sold to us and cleaned by the handsome young man with the flashing white, wide grin, usually followed by a shy duck of his head.

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Ruth and Roland came to visit us in La Cruz and we enjoyed a lovely meal at Las Palapas restaurant on the beach and then headed to Jardin del Pulpo, a beautiful and tranquil restaurant/cafe with an amazing collection of Huichol artwork. As we walked, we passed a man with a 5 gallon bucket in each hand. He asked, in  excellent English, if we wanted to buy coffee. At first we said no thanks, but then Al asked if it was organic. The guy says “it’s beyond organic!” I was skeptical but Al asked, what does that mean? And Ryan proceeded to explain how this coffee was grown in a native forest that needs no chemicals. It smelled amazing and the price was great. We asked where he was from and he replied, Tecuitata.  Wow! That was the village by El Cora and the waterfalls! We became fans of Cafe de Ryan (cafederyan.com).

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The beach at La Cruz with Puerto Vallarta visible across the bay.

One morning near the end of our time with Erin we took the bus almost to Punta Mita and got out at the Pemex station. We crossed the road and entered a trail beside a small estuary. There was hurricane fence directly adjacent to the trail with big Zona Federal Propiedad Privado signs. I wondered if we should be concerned? But our guide book clearly indicated this was the “trail head”. At the end of the day, on our bus ride home, we saw the signs that we hadn’t seen when we started; the signs warning of crocodiles and other hazards.

Al and Erin started down the small dirt trail that wound around tree roots and rocks. We walked along the excellent shady trail, near the trickle of water in the stream and joked about cocodrillos. Erin and I saw three large, hairy tarantula-type legs in a three-inch hole in the ground. After about five minutes we crossed a small sandy drainage, ducked under some branches and emerged onto the blindingly bright, white sand beach. The turquoise water and frothy surf were gorgeous. There were surfers peppering the breaks and sometimes a victorious rider rode a wave towards the shore.

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For many kilometers we walked along the hot sunny shore, so grateful for the breeze. A few rocky points, wave-washed with the high tide, required timing our transit to leap between waves. By the time the palapa restaurants were in sight we were very ready for shade and a cold beverage. When we sat down, a guy with a silver jewelry display box came by. Erin was happy to shop while we waited for our beer and mineral waters. A rotation of vendors cruised through the open-air restaurant showing their wares. After cold beverages and guacamole we continued down the beach, much to the disappointment of our waiter. He tried very hard to get us to stay.

We walked the beach by the panga lagoon, the boats floating in a big half-ellipse around the bay. There were several short breakwaters on the waterfront and the surf was pounding beyond them. We passed a guy renting paddleboards and started talking with him. Al headed home – worn out from the long, hot beach walk and too much sun. Erin decided to rent a board for 45 minutes.  I sat at the corner table watching her, getting some good shots with the camera and having a beer. Erin’s sense of balance, determination and athleticism had her figuring it out and catching some waves; very cool…

 

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After the 45 minutes we got ready to go catch the bus back to La Cruz. We rinsed our sandy and salty feet from the large basin of fresh water (often provided by beach side restaurants)  and walked out to the tiny street. Vendors’ colorful wares spilled out onto the wide sidewalk. We climbed the steep road from the resort up to the small town and along to the bus stop. The bus to La Cruz was leaving in 4 minutes – excellenté.

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Our friends, Lyneita and Doug, from Comox at Sunday market.

We went to the Sunday market – the explosion of bright colors, local vendors, tons of (presumably) wealthy gringos and cruisers crammed into the walkways. A myriad of foods were available; hot samosas, chutney, tacos, French baked goods, probiotic vegetables, organic produce, natural health products, coffee, high-end jewelry, classic Mexican weaving and pottery. A yoga class was going on in the park under the palm trees. After the session, mats were rolled up and a couple of musicians set up bongos, a conga, a couple of mikes, stools and amps. It was lovely to sit on the low rock wall in the shade of the coconut palms listening to live music, visiting with our friends and people-watching in the diverse crowd.

We were so delighted that our young friend, Jesus, was able to come to our boat for a visit. (We had met him in 2014 and became very friendly during the month that we were on the dock in La Cruz.) He wanted to make margaritas for us and came loaded down with 100 Años tequila, Courvoisier, naranjita, (from Chapala, his birthplace), some Chapala habañero sauce, a blender, a large bag of limes, an orange liquor (for when the Courvoisier ran out) and a huge bag of ice. They were great margaritas and it was wonderful to have Jesus on board and a chance to catch up.

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On a Friday night when Erin was with us we went for a walk on the breakwater after dinner. Not quite ready to go back to Enchanté, we decided to walk to the square. I had seen a group of brass instrument players tuning up there just before dinner. As we got closer we could hear the music. There was a gazebo-type stage in the park and we were amazed to see the ten musicians and their instruments all crammed into the small space. A tuba player stood at the back of the group, the gleaming, bulbous brass so oversized. Just in front of him were the trumpet and trombone players. There were drums and clarinets, guitars and several singers. It was quite a melieu of instruments and energetic musicians. They made a lot of sound and we were quite swept up in the event. Some Mexican couples were dancing in the walkway near the front of the stage. We joined in for a bit but I felt more comfortable watching the dancers from the sidelines. There were several classy older couples, and my favorite was a pert and lively young woman, plumply filling out her stretch jeans, silver embellishments on her back pockets. She had a cheeky, open grin, and was smiling and grooving on the music, shaking her lovely body in response to the music and her partner.

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Erin making sushi in the cabin.

On the day of Erin’s departure we took the collectivo to the stop directly outside the airport building – crazy convenient! We were there in plenty of time and made our way through the masses of new arrivals who were spilling onto the wide sidewalk. There was a cacophony going on as we traversed the congested area in front of the Arrivals terminal. We proceeded along the sidewalk towards the Departures area and finally we could talk again, away from the crowds. When Erin was all settled with her boarding pass we said goodbye; great love and appreciation for our time together beamed back and forth between us. Then Al and I walked away, my heart full and my eyes brimming.

We had arranged to meet Jesus and his wife, Mayra, for lunch after we got Erin to the airport. There was a special seafood “restaurant” they wanted to take us to. They picked us up across from the airport and drove us to a tiny little place tucked into a back street in Bucerias. There were four tables set up on a sloping concrete driveway with white plastic chairs with the Corona logo. The golden-brown skinned waiter had silver in his toothy smile and an Ottawa ball cap on his head. He knew Jesus and Mayra and they joked around a bit , then he took our order to the “kitchen” in the large concrete enclosure at the bottom of the driveway. It was amazing seafood. OMG! The octopus so tender – the chopped carrots and onion so tiny and uniform in the coleslaw. It was really fun talking (mostly Spanish) to Mayra, finding out about her plans to set up a clinic as a nutritionist.

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Breakwater/ malecon in La Cruz harbour.

We delayed our departure from the marina mostly because of indecision and because my back was bothering me. It was Valentine’s Day and I was curious if something would come up during the day that would inspire the thought “oh, so this is what we stayed for”. At mid-day I was inspired to turn on the VHF radio and within a few minutes started hearing traffic about a sailboat named Rage, which had gone aground on the reef outside the La Cruz harbor. It was impressive hearing the local community and cruisers in the anchorage and the marina come forward and formulate a plan. At 4:00 we started the long walk around the harbor, past the fish market and along the sandy beach fronting various hotels and apartment complexes, towards the surfing ground and the rocky point where Rage lay on her side, impaled by a rock. The salvage operation was underway. Alan waded out to join the crew in the thigh-deep water; the waves swelled and surged around the fatally wounded sailboat; it lay on the rocks, the decks almost vertical. People inside the boat were gathering everything they could pass to the crew waiting in the surf; soggy, salty items were loaded in the three plastic kayaks that transported the salvage, passed along from person to person in a line of a dozen or more people to the shore. I was at the beach, helping to haul the kayaks ashore to unload their wet and sandy cargo, sobered by the heart-breaking situation but heartened to be part of the salvage operation. Eventually we heard almost everything was salvaged except the hull – the exemplary operation even included the removal of the fuel and other toxins in an ecologically sound manner.

That was our last day in La Cruz. We had wrestled with the decision of whether to head south for a “quick trip” to Barra de Navidad and Tenacatita or just point the bow northwards. In the end that seemed the best option;  we realized that going south could present a stressful situation if the weather was uncooperative for our return north. So preparations were made to leave Marina La Cruz in the morning – the plan was to anchor at Punta Mita for a couple of days and get some more paddle board surfing practice. Adios to one of our favorite towns on the Mexican Riviera and such a special place to spend time with Erin.

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Washed veggies ready to be packed away for the voyage north.

 

 

LA PAZ TO THE MEXICAN RIVIERA

Published from Mazatlan – March / 2016

BP sunset Matanchen

SAILING FROM LA PAZ TO THE MAINLAND

On January 14th, we motored out of Marina Palmira before sunrise, seemingly the only ones up on Dock 3. It felt great to head out to the channel markers, stripping dock lines and bumpers, making ready for our big crossing. Our destination was Isla Isabel, 312 miles away.

I ran the water-maker for 3 ½ hours as we set out to top up the tanks. When we were half way out of the bay, just at the dog-leg, Al said “Come up! Dolphins!” They were lazily feeding and their movements seemed effortless in the peaceful waters of the still, early morning.

At 8 a.m. we tuned in to our last La Paz Cruisers’ Net on Channel 22. While we were thinking about maybe chiming in for Arrivals and Departures, Alan saw a whale breach, close off our port bow. A smallish humpback breached repeatedly, splashing 2/3 of its body on the calm water. After a half dozen of these, it began to just blow its spout. The long black back would appear, then the characteristic hump, followed by the slow elevation of the huge, classic whale’s tail and its gradual disappearance. What a wonderful way to start our journey!

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Humpback whale

 

Leaving Bahia de La Paz we headed east into Canal San Lorenzo; Isla Espiritu Santo loomed large on the northern horizon. The channel was fairly calm, no bites or even nibbles on the fishing line. We made calls to family and friends before losing our cell signal.

As we motored down Cerralvo Channel there were big rollers that knocked us around a little on the beam – a bit uncomfortable but not bad. I went down below for my midday nap. While I was sleeping, the breeze picked up. Alan opened up the jib, throttled back the motor and we were still doing 6 knots. When I got up at 2:00 for my 4-hour shift, there was a stiff breeze and it was time to get the main sail up. Soon we were zooming along without Desi Diesel.

I saw an amazing sight on my watch that afternoon. As we rounded the southern end of Isla Cerralvo I was looking at some large waves approaching us from the north (where the Sea of Cortez meets Cerralvo Channel) and I saw, unmistakably, a gray-brown streamlined body (seal or dolphin?) surfing under the water, zooming along past our stern. The light penetrated the water enough to illuminate this water-borne being, several feet under, riding the clear, surging water. Another mystery of the Sea!

That night the moon was a tangerine smile hanging low over Baja California as we sped towards the mainland. The sky was dark gray and the sea an inky black. The big dipper was standing on its handle – actually, the last star of the handle was on the horizon, swallowed up by the blurry line of dark sky meeting black sea. True north of the pole star always made me feel nostalgic when I was down south.

On my night watch, Enchanté rode smoothly, sometimes with a syncopated gait. A fresh, warm breeze ruffled the pages of my notebook and caressed my face as I sat in the cockpit. I enjoyed the quiet space, bundled in my wool touque, puff jacket and life vest. With a cup of hot, creamy chai I was feeling pretty cozy. Being on watch for four hours, I would stay awake by reading, writing, watching for other traffic and checking our speed and course.  When Al came up to spell me it was a palpable pleasure to dive  onto the starboard settee. I would usually fall fast asleep in our tight little sea-berth, held securely between our  paddleboards (deflated, rolled-up and wedged between the table and settee) and the back cushion on the settee.

The wind was under 10 knots during the night. I shook out the 2nd reef and we sailed very comfortably with just one. The starry jewels in the night sky were washed away as we sailed towards the rising sun.  We continued to roll along gently as the sun mounted the sky; the waves ridged and rippled, with occasional small whitecaps and an underlying, undulating swell. Again I was struck by the ease of this travel when conditions were good.

Sailing across the Sea of Cortez, soon to be in Pacific waters, was deeply pleasing to me. I was very excited about the upcoming visit with my sister, Erin, in La Cruz and it felt so good closing the distance to where we would meet. What a treasure to have this fine ship to take us to the mainland where warm water and air temperatures awaited us – the Mexican Riviera.

The next morning, we had covered over 130 miles in 24 hours, most of it double-reefed; we sailed conservatively for a comfortable ride and to save the gear. The wind had been constant from the north or NE, almost always under 13 knots and the seas had been relatively flat. We saw almost no other vessels.

Al saw another humpback as we were approaching the mainland but even when I watched closely right after, there were no more sightings. Apparently it had just come out of the water to wave its mammoth fin at Al.

In the late afternoon of our third day, we jibed for our final approach to Isla Isablel – our first course change since Isla Cerralvo. At first, the island stood out as a dark tower on the horizon; as we got closer it separated into 2 dark triangles. We sailed along in the day’s last rays. The Pacific coast of Mexico stretched along the eastern horizon, hazy in a heavy marine layer.

Our arrival at Isla Isabel would be after dark – not optimal for anchoring in the rocky cove. If conditions allowed we were keen to stay there. Our back-up plan was to continue on to Matanchen, 42 miles away, where we knew we could anchor easily at night in the big sandy bay.

We made the long circuit around the western side of Isabel with just our main sail, running with the wind on our last tack. We sailed as long as we could to minimize any possible encounters with fishnets (not good for propellers). By then it was full dark. As we approached the anchorage we saw a vessel anchored, with blinding lights turned toward us. From what we could tell, it was the only vessel in the harbor and they were anchored out quite a ways.

The inky waves with quicksilver ripples of moonlight were hard to judge distances by. The anchorage was notoriously tricky and doing it in the dark after 62 hours of travel was challenging. Thankfully, when we got close to the sport fishing boat, he turned his spotlight off. Al had marked our previous anchor positions on the chart plotter, so that helped greatly.

Al had also gotten the anchor buoy ready (it’s highly advised to use one in this rocky bay) and attached to the Rocna. I just needed to toss the line and pink float over before dropping the hook. At first the anchor dragged along the rocky bottom for a couple dozen feet or so but then it caught and held well. So there we were – anchored at Isla Isabela. What a wonderful passage – we had sailed 54 of 62 hours!

BP II the whole enchilada

We woke to the glorious feeling of being in a beautiful place with no agenda and lots of time. The coconut oil was liquid and the water was 83 degrees – heavenly! The FUN ADDICT, the big boat with bright lights, was gone and there were only 3 pangas that came and went all day. A shrimp boat anchored a ways out but no other sailboats.

BP Isla Isabel shrimper

We had a relaxing day and caught up on sleep. It was a joy to sit in the cockpit, lovely and warm, as the sun went down. Al played guitar with the sound of the surf thundering in the cave nearby. The western sky glowed with sunset colors, birds circled and called.

BP II pounding surf:anchorage

The next day, just before we loaded our walking gear into the dinghy (first time ashore in 4  days), I remembered that the bilges had a few inches of seawater in them. Drat! Forty-five minutes later we had pumped and sponged three or four gallons into the bucket, rinsed the saltwater-soaked cans of Modelo and wiped down the plastic tubs. We left floorboards off and settees open so the bilges could air out while we were off on our excursion.

Side note- we’re still trying to figure out how the salt water gets into the bilges. It seems directly related to taking waves on (or up near) the bow, and seems to be only after a passage. At this point it’s a minor inconvenience in the greater scope of things.

We motored the dinghy in to the inner harbor, in front of the deserted fish camp. No pangas, no anchors out front… It was mysterious, possibly tragic. The other two times we had anchored here the fish camp was quite busy.

BP II fish camp

Two of ten fishing shacks lined up along the beach.

We had an easy dinghy landing and pulled it up on the sandiest part of the steep little beach. There were tiny coral bits, small polished rocks and shell fragments strewn over the tan sand. Al produced his usual bottle of water to clean sandy feet and a small towel to dry off. We got our shoes on and trekked off through the spookily quiet camp.

Magnificent frigate birds were everywhere (that’s their full name), populating the scrawny trees overlooking the camp, winging around the small “lagoon” of opaque, brackish (or worse) water lying in the mucky soil behind the shacks. The huge birds wheeled close by, their vulture-like vibe and appearance unsettling, their wing spans impressive, feathers rattling and wing beats audible. They looked so strange, dwarfing the stunted trees they hulked in; sometimes a male displayed a bulbous, bright red throat.

 

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As we climbed the stone steps towards Crater Lake, I was enveloped in the stench of frigate shit. We climbed through the forest of small, scruffy trees that looked like victims of acid rain, the dull green wilted leaves were specked with guano. The huge birds clacked their sharp bills and smacked their wings as we walked under them. Gary Larsen would love this place and Alfred Hitchcock sprang to mind.

We emerged from the frigate forest and reached the open grassy area along the northern coast. There we encountered the blue-footed boobies. Throngs of them populated the rocky terrain, in evenly spaced territories, often standing sentry-like on their chosen rock.

BP II bfb

The coastal zones of Isla Isabel were my favorite. The interface of the gorgeous blue-green water, frothed with lacy white foam, and the dramatic landscape was breathtaking. I was mesmerized by the surf that surged and slammed onto the island . The air was fresh and maritime, free of the reeking guano.

Along the water’s edge we saw the brilliant orange crabs again, mincing along on their stiletto heels across the rugged rocks. I was impressed with the tenacity of their grip after a huge wave pounded onto a rock where a half-dozen of them were perched.  I thought they must have been dislodged and pulled out to sea. But no – when the water retreated, there they were – clearly their high heels gripped very effectively.

BP II crabs

 

BP Isla Isabel: Las Monas

We walked along the coast towards the implausible monoliths of Las Monas. When we got close enough to see their full height, memories of excellent snorkel expeditions with Alison and Randall flooded back – and our very fun snorkel excursion with Holt, Winnie and Robin.

The lovely blue-footed boobies, with their quiet whistles, seemed every bit as numerous as before along the eastern shore. I never got tired of watching the adorable foot-lifting display; one bright-blue-webbed foot held up shyly, for admiration, then the other.

 

BP Isabel bfb

We found a good route to the beach that avoided any close encounters with nesting birds. A shady spot on the rocky beach provided a good rest spot; we ate oranges while we cooled down, enjoying the view of the water and Las Monas. Close by in the bay, I watched frigate birds steal food from the blue-footed boobies on the water – meanies!

BP ISla Isabel bfb

BP II LIndy at LM

Alan reveled in the unique weirdness of Isla Isabel and the awesome accessibility for rambling through this prehistoric place, a.k.a. Jurassic Park. Our walk back through the frigate forest was better for me. I felt more at peace with this esthetically-challenged terrain (IMO), when I thought of it as the frigate birds’ uncleaned nesting box. Frigates are an  ancient, iconic and fascinating bird. Watching them soar overhead through the open hatch was one of my first memories of waking at Cabo San Lucas our first morning there.  I felt more at ease walking back through the forest that had supported countless generations of frigates and their odious excrement.

BP II baby frigate

Baby frigate

We saw humpbacks at least a couple of times a day at Isabel – lots less than two years ago but reassuring and wonderful still.

I was very keen to go snorkeling; so one afternoon, even though it was a bit rough in the bay, I prepared to leave on my trusty pink paddle board. I lowered myself onto the board, tethered to the side of the boat. The waves and swells were tossing me around a bit but I got the snorkel gear strapped on securely.   I headed off on my knees, paddling into the wind and waves, aimed for the reef Robin and I had explored exactly two years before. I stopped near where I remembered seeing some beautiful underwater canyons and tons of fish. I straddled the board and watched the reef as the water pounded and pulsated. When the waves surged seaward huge holes opened up and water rushed in to fill it; waterfalls poured over the large rocks.

I released the snorkel gear and strapped the paddle down with the bungie. Riding up and down on the swells, I got myself assembled – mask, snorkel, fins. I slid off my board into the slightly cool water, ready for a look. I saw only cloudy water with suspended white particles in the shafts of light coming through. I kept kicking in towards the reef. Then I saw the mottled white stone bottom, at least 10 feet down. Cool!

I started seeing fish – first a gang of skinny barracuda-type “hoodlums” lurking near me. I hid my rings (some fish like shiny things) and kicked along. More and more fish appeared in the steep canyons. I saw Moorish idols, one of my favorites, and then some black and white fish with yellow tails. I watched as bright-colored fish, suspended in their watery world, were pushed one way by the surges, then sucked back the other way. In a large underwater canyon I saw a really big school of tuna-type fish – maybe hundreds. Then another huge group joined the first and I found myself in the middle of a school of maybe a thousand! It was so cool…

On the way back I only had to paddle about three times. The current swept me back to Enchanté as I sat on the board, pleasantly tired and sated. I watched whales spout in the distance and the white triangle of a sailboat on the horizon.

BP II LIndy: walk

On our last day at Isabel, we went ashore for a walk in the late afternoon. The human population on the island had gone from zero to about 30.

BP II fishermen:dinghy

Fishing panga with poles and black garbage bag “flags” to mark their traps.

There were at least 3 fishing pangas and 4 boats that had brought a group of university students from Mexico City. The university group stayed in the big concrete communal building, and they were cooking oysters on the patio when we walked by. They kindly asked if we’d like to try some, but we declined and continued past the building up to the light on top of the hill. Our walking sticks were useful for hiking the steep, uneven ground and as a detractor if any birds came too close. Not that they were aggressive – there were just so many of them! On the top of the bald-rock hill, the air space around us was amazingly crowded – frigates and boobies were zooming every which way and often coming in for a landing. They seriously needed some air-traffic control at times!

BP II waders:Enchanté

On the way up we could see some of the Mexico city group wading in the water at the nearby reef. It was fun to see other people enjoying the water and appreciating the amazing environments of Isla Isabel. From the top of the hill we saw 3 pairs of whales and the dramatic brick-red, white and ochre cliff that dropped to the pounding surf of the Pacific in the next bay.

BP II the other side

BP Ii overview

The fish camp in the lower left corner, anchorage to the right of the photo.

 

We stayed five days at Isabel. Our last night was a rolly one but I slept pretty well, unlike the captain. We waited until after sunrise to take our leave. The anchor came up ever so easily – yes! We motor-sailed the offshore breeze until noon and saw lots of shrimp boats as we approached San Blas. As we sailed past the town on our way to Ensenada de Matanchen  we downloaded 250 emails. (In the anchorage, internet access was infrequent and unreliable  although the cell phone worked quite well.)

We arrived at the peaceful bay in the late afternoon. The view from the anchorage was my idea of a classic tropical paradise. We were stoked to be in one of our favorite places with lots of time to enjoy it and calm weather forecasted.

BP II:Matanchen sunset

The next morning we practiced paddle surfing and it was wonderful! Such an amazing place to find one’s balance and attempt to ride the power in the waves. And what a lovely environment to get tossed in – warm, shallow water and hard-packed sand bottom.

On January 24th we woke to an uber-tranquil morning in Matanchen Bay. Sadly there was no surf ; it was a languid, silent place, good for resting, filling the water tanks as our solar panels soaked up the sun and our awesome new battery bank stored it for later use.

That afternoon the bay was choppy with some swell and it was excellent practice to paddle in to shore. I slowly made my way from Enchanté to where Al was riding the waves right at the shore. He was somewhat constrained by a few waders and wanna-be surfers in the shallow bay and occasionally had to bail off his board to avoid hitting someone. The surf was very low most of the time but I watched him catch a wave and ride it and keep riding it.

We paddled ashore for a walk and maybe a snack. At Restaurante Playa Hermosa (the easiest place to park our boards) the friendly waiter, Baro, encouraged us to sit down. We opted to walk the beach first – we hadn’t been ashore since Isla Isabel four days earlier. It felt good to walk the hard-packed tan sand, along the almost-deserted sweep of beautiful beach. Later we enjoyed a beer and mineral water with some guacamole at Baro’s place.

We were keen to go to San Blas for some supplies and to revisit one of our favorite towns. Just before we loaded ourselves in the dinghy, while I was still down below, a kayaker from a nearby boat came by. He and Al chatted for a while, then his wife showed up in her kayak and I could hear Al giving them our names. I heard her say, “I know Lindy!” and I burst out of the cabin saying, “Lyneita!” They are good friends of our Dutch friends on Witte Raaf and Lyneita was a regular at zumba in La Paz. How fun! We would get together with them when we got back from town.

BP Matanchen:going to San Blas

We parked the dinghy on the beach and walked to the crossroads along the sandy road. Charming, open-air palapa restaurants lined the road and catered to the many tourists who came to enjoy the beautiful beaches of Matanchen. The first taxi at the crossroads pulled over for us. He charged us less than a dollar and chatted with his front seat passenger for the whole 20 minute drive along the narrow highway to town.

BP San Blas: fruit vendor: xmas tree

My favorite fruit vender in front of the square – note the Christmas tree still up.

BP San Blas other favorite vendor

My other favorite fruit vendor.

It was lovely to see the somewhat disheveled little town again. I bought fruit from my favorite vendor outside the Mercado. Al got a delicious smoothie of fresh local fruit at the stand inside the Mercado while I shopped for staples from the 2 main kiosks there. While we were walking through the square, we ran into some friends of friends from San Carlos. We had a fun catch-up chat and planned to look them up in Marina Fonatur the next time we were in town.

 

BP San Blas

BP san blas woman and child

On several afternoons at Matanchen, we hung out at Playa Hermosa for a snack of guacamole and our usual – one beer and one mineral water. It was a nice way to thank them for keeping an eye on the dinghy when we went to town or our paddle boards when we went walking in the bay.  Baro, the waiter, was a pleasant, earnest man who did a great job keeping the jejenes (no-see-ums) away with the smoke from burning coconut husks. This traditional bug deterrent works quite well and afterwards my clothes smelled like we’d been sitting around a campfire. Matanchen was famous for the  jejenes and mosquitos – we were very pleased that our new bug nets on the boat were working well!

 We had Doug and Lyneita over for happy hour. They kayaked over with a bottle of wine and two of Lyneita’s freshly baked banana muffins for a treat the next morning. It was a fun evening. Before they paddled off in the dark, back to their boat, we arranged to meet early for coffee and then try to find a hike Al had read about. The Moon Pacific Mexico Guidebook said you could hike to a big waterfall near El Cora and we were going to try to find it.

The people on the other boat in the bay, Rick and Mary Alice, and their dog, Harley, met us on the beach to join the expedition. The tide was super high when Al and Lyneita and I rolled out of the dinghy onto the beach, almost in the palapa restaurant. Unfortunately Doug couldn’t join us that day, but the 5 of us and Harley, the white labra-doodle, started off down the road, in search of the waterfall hike.

Two guys pulled up in a black pick-up truck and asked if we wanted a ride. We all piled in the back of the pick-up, standing around a big empty water jug they were hauling, holding on to the high sides of the truck bed. The fresh breeze was good as we rode slowly down the sandy road to the crossroads. We got off, thanked them and wished them well. They flashed big grins and waved as they drove off.

A taxi came by shortly after and we waved him over to ask how much to the waterfall hike. He gave us a price of 200 pesos. We said okay. But first, he had to deliver his fare to the bay – a few minutes wait. No problem. Lyneita and I wandered over to one of the many stands there selling the ubiquitous pan de platano (banana bread) and other baked goods. She bought some natural repellent (citronella, lavender and coconut oil) for the bugs.

When our taxi came back he was a very pleasant man who was fine with Harley riding up front with Rick (the biggest) while the three women and Al squeezed in the back. We drove along the eastern and southern part of the huge Ensenada de Matanchen with many picturesque vacation spots. We got to the town of Aticama and our driver, Elias, told us about the town a little. He spoke well and not too fast, a little English too. He was from Zihuatanejo – a surfer – and had been in San Blas for three years. He had a lovely vibe about him; a regal, tranquil bearing, jet black hair, dark-brown toffee skin and a strong curved nose in profile.

We left Aticama and drove and drove, up and up on winding roads through dense forests and agricultural areas; banana plantations then yaka (jack fruit) – a huge, yellow/green, pendulous and lumpy fruit that hung low from small trees. I first tasted yaka in San Blas 2 years earlier. Inside the lumpy fruit are slightly sticky, golden pods of fruit that are extremely sweet, like a date crossed with an apricot.

The drive was long, much longer than we thought it would be but it was beautiful and cool up in the hills, no bugs. Finally, after perhaps 45 minutes we got to Tecuitata. Elias pulled off the road about 5 minutes out of town, up to a large sign with a swimmer icon and an arrow towards a waterfall. Hmm, it didn’t seem right. I told him we weren’t sure that was the right place.

So we drove back to Tecuitata (tek-wee-ta-ta) to ask. We were very encouraged when we got the same directions to the trail head from 2 different people – one in Spanish to Elias and one in English to Al. We drove back to the “summit” at the edge of town where a small road to El Cora was marked – 8 km. The road snaked along a twisty ridge that climbed steeply. We started seeing huge tracts of mango plantations. Elias said it was ejido land (community-owned).

The narrow paved road climbed the convoluted ridge in a series of tight, steep curves. Beyond the ridge lush green, steep hills rose in the distance. When we got to El Cora, maybe 20 minutes later, we found a charming, clean, simple village. There were two single-lane “paved” roads in town that paralleled each other. They were one-way streets, one for each direction, about 3 blocks long,. The paving for these main streets was the labor-intensive rock-laid cobblestone. Along both sides of the north-bound main street, wide concrete sidewalks were raised several feet above the road bed. There were many “vados” in the concrete curbs. It looked like the road was an arroyo of sorts and pedestrians and cyclists would be able to travel easily on the elevated bike path/sidewalk even if there were flash floods. Elias asked directions 3 times. We drove slowly through the narrow streets in the well-swept neighborhood of colorfully painted, single-story homes. We drove out of town on the bone-jarring stone road right to the end. Elias parked the taxi. We agreed that we would hire him for the day for 800 pesos and he decided to walk with us to see la cascada.

The trail became flat stone steps that mounted a narrow ridge with gorgeous views of verdant vegetation on steeply rising hills. Then we saw the waterfall far below – it looked a bit surreal. The well-engineered trail descended steeply, constructed with solid concrete steps or securely placed rocks. Down, down we went, enjoying the smooth rocks and the feeling of antiquity on the well-used trail.

The trail flattened out and we approached the giant blue-green pool being pounded by sheets of water dropping well over 100 feet.  We could feel the fresh water vapor hanging in the forest as we got closer.  A small stream exited the effervescent pool and ran through a glade studded with large rocks.

BP Matanchen:waterfall hike

Approaching the waterfall, Lyneita on the trail behind me.

The waterfall (la cascada), was a chute of water that shot out from a notch at the top of a cliffy hillside. The solid arc of water spread into sheets that plummeted the distance and crashed into the pool. Vivid green moss covered the gray rock, constantly misted by the plume of water that fell with such force to atomize in a froth of white water at the far end of the clear pool. The entire small gorge was enveloped in the refreshing mist.

BP cascada.jpg

I had worn my swim suit and quickly got out of my clothes. The cool, delicious water felt amazing!! It felt kind of holy swimming towards the falls only 30 strokes away; the pounding effervescence was very alluring. A significant current from the falls pushed me gently back. It was such a privilege to swim in the pristine tropical paradise.

The hike back up was easy; not too much sun and the smooth, well-worn steps escalated at a very manageable pace. When I stopped at shady hair-pin turns on the trail, the view was magical. The hills folded into clefts and valleys, the picture of a healthy ecosystem.

Back in the taxi, on the ride out we could see the ridge-top road all the way back to Tecuitata. We passed again by the colorful cemetery on the way back to El Cora. We asked Elias to stop for a photo. The amazingly large and beautiful tree there was a Huanacaxle. The graves were lovely and bright with many many wreaths and arrangements of mostly plastic flowers.

BP Matanchen huanacaxle cemetery

Elias asked if we’d like to go eat at a good restaurant in Aticama. A resounding yes from the crew. As we drove into town he made a right hand turn near the edge of town. Three or four blocks down we pulled in to LUCY’s Cenaderia. Brightly painted concrete walls framed the open air seating inside. In front was a big-ass black truck with Policia written in large white letters on the front, sides and rear of the truck. Sure enough, inside there were 3 tables seated with large Mexican men in uniform, obviously enjoying their mid-day meal.

We took a table on the other side from them – the 6 of us plus Harley. The place was spotless! A friendly-faced woman, pink apron over her pink t-shirt, took our order with help from Elias. We had delicious licuados (like fruit milkshakes) with yaca, banana and strawberries.

The enchiladas were delicious and unbelievably inexpensive! Small, lightly-fried tortillas rolled around a filling of shrimp in one and chicken in my other one – topped with a thick blanket of chopped lettuce, tomato, cream, slices of cucumber alongside. So fresh, tasty and satisfying. Twenty pesos for two enchiladas.

When the police left their tables and prepared to load up in the big black truck it was an amazing production. The number of arms that were strapped on and holstered on the 7 black-suited men was unbelievable, then the heavy looking padded vests (bullet proof no doubt). Large ominous looking rifles slung at the sides of the guys riding in the back. Several of them pulled the black identity-hiding balaclava over their faces (self-protection from the “narcos”. The amount of weight and the heat absorbed in the black uniforms was staggering to imagine. Rick went outside and asked if he could take a photo – he got an enthusiastic affirmation and the guys struck macho poses. Al jumped up with his camera and got a couple too – one with a peace sign. Elias said they were probably from the nearby city of Tepic.

BP policia.jpg

 

In touristed areas in Mexico there can be a very visible police presence. In San Carlos there was a lot of driving up and down the roads by the local police. They never bother the gringos that we’ve heard of and are there supposedly to inspire confidence in the tourists that the bad guys won’t be around with so many cops… It has taken a while to become accustomed to the sight of a police car and not wonder if I’m doing something wrong.

The next morning I woke up with a new appreciation of Ensenada de Matanchen; the communities to the east and south and the rich agricultural land surrounding the area.

We motor-sailed to Punta Mita, leaving at 4 a.m. to cover the 52 miles. We had light winds with low seas. The highlights of our 10 hour trip were three pods of dolphins and seven turtles, their large, gray- green shells standing out in the flat seas,  in a small area south of Punta de Mita.

Bp turtles near mita

We arrived in the near-dark and dropped the hook for our two day stay at Punta Mita. The surf was up at the well-known surf spot and Al got pummeled a bit as he persistently practiced his new passion.

BP Pta mita Al:surf

Al checking the surf.

 

We had an easy motor-sail to la Cruz and slipped into our slip on Dock 9 at Marina Riviera Nayarit, ready to enjoy the sleepy little Mexican town in Banderas Bay.

(Next post- Al and the Early girls in La Cruz.)

 

 

La Paz / December & January

Posted from Punta de Mita near La Cruz/ February ’16

La Paz marina str

 

On December 15th we arrived at our usual haunt in La Paz – Dock 3 at Marina Palmira. The weather was chilly – the Northers had been cooling things right down. We sat around the cabin in the evening, hatches closed, bundled up in jeans, wool socks, 2 shirts, and a hot water bottle. I baked something for dinner every night so the oven would warm up the cabin a bit!

But daytime was usually sunny and, if it wasn’t blowing, it would get hot. Al and I had loaner bikes from Rob and Kim again which was wonderful – La Paz is so spread out and Marina Palmira is at the far end of town. On the Monday after we arrived I attended my first zumba class, thanks to my friend, Joanneke. I started many of my days in La Paz with a bike ride on the malecon to zumba. It was wonderful to see Joanneke every morning and I loved the beautiful Mexican women doing salsa-type workouts, music blaring. A few of us gray-haired gringas struggled at times to keep up but it was a great work-out and took me back to jazzercise days on Lummi.

 

BP La Paz MP DK 3

 

We were delighted to be invited to a holiday feast in Todos Santos with our good friends, the DeBari’s, from Glacier (near Mount Baker). We had the use of a friend’s car and the new highway made it a lovely and fast ride from La Paz to Todos Santos. Arriving at the opulent accommodations of the Hacienda was always amazing. It was great to spend a couple of days with the DeBari clan and Kathy and Mike; listening to waves crashing on the beach, hanging out with our friends, eating great food, drinking good beverages, watching whales spouting…We went to the surfer beach at Los Ceritos a couple of times and watched clusters of people in the waves, bobbing on boards, attempting or actually riding the power of the waves.

A miracle of sorts happened during our time in La Paz; a good example of the cruising community network. One morning we were listening to the Cruisers’ Net on the VHF radio. When the Net host introduced the topic of Lost and Found, a guy came on the radio and said he had a camera that was found in Agua Verde (at least 2 days sailing north of La Paz). He thought the boat name might be Andante, from Lummi Island. Alan quickly got on the radio saying we had lost a camera in Agua Verde two weeks prior and we were from Lummi Island.

After the Net we talked to Wes, who had sailed to Mexico from Duncan (where Reed and Nadeane live). He had been visited by the cyclists who found our camera – they were friends of his son. By looking at the photos on the camera, they deduced it belonged to someone on a boat. Zooming in on a couple of photos of Enchanté they found our home port and parts of the boat name visible. Voila! Wes was confident he would find the owners in La Paz and thankfully we were listening to the radio when he announced it – connection made and camera returned!

BP La Paz camera return

Holly and Karl (who found our camera) on their way from the Yukon to Panama on bikes.

It was really fun to meet the cyclists, Karl and Holly. They  had ridden their bikes from their home in the Yukon to Mexico on their way to Panama. They said it was a challenge to ride the sand and dirt road to get to Agua Verde off the main road, but they made it. They camped there, went for a hike and discovered our camera. We were so grateful they had been willing to add it to the pile of stuff on their bikes and bring it to La Paz!

When we lost lost our camera in Agua Verde we searched intensively  for two days. We left the anchorage without it and figured end of story. We felt the loss and started to strategize how to get a new one. Alan remembered that a couple we met on our way south, Eric and Vandy, would be in La Paz and were flying to California for Christmas, returning January 3rd. Al asked if they’d be willing to bring a new camera back if we had it shipped to where they would be. No problem. So a week before we heard Wes on the morning Net, a new camera had been delivered to us by Eric and Vandy. So now we have two cameras… our small, older one and the new one that has great image stability, even on the boat – a good upgrade (thanks for the recommend, Bert).

 

BP La Paz birthday boy

We went for the big hike behind the marina on Al’s birthday – up to the cross on the hill, across the ridge to a descent into the gully above the water slides.

BP La Paz: view from hill

View from partway up the hill above Marina Palmira, the Mogote anchorage in the distance.

The trail from just past the cross was marked with dribbles of white paint on the dun-colored rocks. We became very fond of “la pintura blanca”, the white dribbles that led us safely between cacti and other prickly plants. Then the paint disappeared. We tried valiantly 3 or 4 times to discover a continuation of the paint to lead us to a good trail down but no luck. So we “bush whacked” across the ridge and then picked our way down the steep jumbles of big rocks, sometimes across patches of small flat rocks layered loosely on the steep slope (shale perhaps?) ever mindful of keeping our balance and maintaining a respectful distance from the many prickly plants. At one point a piece of dead cactus bit into my left calf with several spines embedded. It hurt and I was wishing I had brought a comb to pull it off with. (Thanks to Sue DeBari for that bit of desert travel wisdom.) I tried tentatively to pull the spiny hitch-hiker off with my finger nails. That resulted in a sharp sensation in my fingertips and a tiny broken cactus spine in my finger. No good. I found 2 small flat rocks nearby and used them to pull up on the underside of the spiny, sausage-like chunk of dead cactus. Ah, much better – and I continued down the gully to the road.

BP La Paz walking back to MP new malecon

We walked back from the water slide park along the malecon, appreciative of the easy, flat walking and the cool perspective into the harbor.

Al had some projects going for a couple of boat owners (fattening up the cruising kitty) and suggested it might be a good time for me to take some Spanish classes. I love learning languages and we both figured it would enrich our experiences in Mexico if we could communicate better. So, on January 4th I biked to Se Habla (the language school Shoshana attended for 3 weeks last year) and registered for private lessons with Yolanda – 2 hours a day for 5 days, starting the next day.

se habla

Se Habla language school in La Paz.

And just as a reminder that it’s not margaritas 24/7 in the cruising life, I biked home, cleaned the boat, polished the stainless arch, flushed the water-maker and replenished our water supply with four 5 gallon jugs of reverse-osmosis water purchased from the marina store. This involved loading the big jugs in the dock cart, hoping it was a sturdy one, then navigating the locked gate, the steep ramp…it was definitely not a good idea to do this at low tide. Alan came by at just the right time to assist. I got emails sent, laundry done, and washed the cockpit chairs.

When I went for my first session at Se Habla, I rode up from the malecon to the beautiful terracotta-colored concrete house and opened the tall entry gate to the bricked courtyard. I parked my bike under the tree and climbed the stairs into the charming and tranquil collection of small rooms on all different levels. All three of the women I interacted with raved about Rosa (aka Shoshana) from the year before– so sweet!

BP La Paz Se Habla rooms

I was directed to La Chimenea, the room at the top of the stairs, where Yolanda was waiting. Yolanda was such a treat! A lawyer for 34 years, she taught law at various universities in Mexico. She was born and raised in Guadalajara, one of 10 kids. She spoke so beautifully that my comprehension was pretty good most of the time. We chatted for a while, almost all in Spanish, and she decided that the past tense was where we should focus. I left feeling energized, positive and informed. I could see that practice was key; my tongue didn’t stumble as much after speaking for a while. Over the course of our time together she taught me Spanish through conversation; we got to know each other a little and she taught me about Mexican history and culture. It was one of the highlights of my time in La Paz.

Al was wearing his dusty carpenter’s apron around the marina for about two weeks. I could usually find him by the big open doors of #13 in the line of storage sheds lining the north side of the parking lot. The crowded little shop with funky tools was just a little different than his shop on Lummi.

BP La Paz #13 :subaru

Al’s “shop” and Lance’s Subaru

One of the great things for Alan during our time at Palmira was developing friendships with some of the marina employees and with Mauricio, the other woodworker he shared the “shop” with.

We had our new friend, Allen Casey, over for dinner and had amazing discussions with him about his work as a micro-biologist. A lot of his work isolated various chemical compounds in plants and then exposed certain kinds of cancer cells to those compounds to test efficacy of response. They have been trying to come up with antigens that target specific cancers. He said there are more synthetic compounds these days but in the past they were all plant-based and the majority still are. This was a topic that had occupied my brain quite a bit over the past few months and it was exciting to meet someone like him.

One evening I biked the length of the malecon to meet our friend Lourdes and her youngest daughter, Alejandra, at Marina de La Paz. Our first time in La Paz, in November 2013, we were going grocery shopping one Sunday morning and the buses didn’t seem to be running. We met Lourdes when Al started hitchhiking  and she picked us up.  I was amazed that a middle-aged woman with her 19 year old daughter would pick us up. She dropped us off at Mega and came back later, after we were done shopping, with her youngest daughter to drive us back to the marina! She was so sweet and we’ve kept in touch ever since. It was wonderful to see her and Alejandra again .

The next day we got an invitation from Lourdes to come to her home for dinner and to meet her family. It was one of the other highlights of our stay in La Paz.

 

BP La Paz better Lourdes' fam

Our wonderful evening with Lourdes’ family. Lourdes is 3rd from the left in back, her husband to her left.

 

The family was amazing; first we met her husband Alvaro (an electrician), then her sister Rebeca (special ed teacher), and Rebeca’s husband, Gustavo (a psychologist). We had met Andrea and Alejandra (Lourdes’ oldest and youngest daughters) back in 2013. It was fun to see them again and lovely to meet Berenice, the middle sister. Rebeca’s daughter Ivonne was lovely and a talented violinist and her 9 year old son Adolpho was adorable. He has a great desire to go to San Francisco. Then Lupita, Lourdes’ mother came and she was wonderful too.

We chatted and Lourdes brought ponche (hot, slightly sweet hibiscus tea with apples and fruit). A while later she came out of the kitchen with plates of sopes – little fat tortillas (like gorditas) with beans and chicken and lettuce and cheese and media crema. Ivonne was vegetarian (pescatarian) and she helped prepare vegatarian sopes for Alan.

It happened to be Shoshana’s birthday and Lourdes’ family sang the Mexican birthday song (El Manualito?) to her voicemail. We all sang Cielito Lindo together, Ivonne played her violin and and the girls took turns playing Andrea’s brightly painted guitar. It was a most enjoyable evening, almost magical the way we were able to sit with these wonderful people, eating, singing, talking. What a treat!!

While we were in La Paz we needed to get our health insurance renewed. We took Lance’s Subaru and found the building. It was all going smoothly until we had to walk the 4 blocks to the bank where our payment needed to be made. I misunderstood which direction to go, so we backtracked the 4 blocks in the midday sun, went 4 blocks in the correct direction and finally found Bancomer. There was a long line for the tellers but eventually I paid the $125 (for both of us for the year). Official receipt in hand, we went back to the health insurance office at the hospital and got our cards renewed. Que bueno!

I dropped Al off at the marina and went provisioning. Four big bags of groceries and $100 later, I had most of the things on my list. Back at the marina I wheel-barrowed them down the dock, into the cockpit, down our steep steps into the galley and started the lengthy process of washing produce, stowing and organizing.

Our last day in the city we had a full list of chores to do; laundry, cleaning Lance’s car, filing end of the year taxes, and a lot of phone calls to make before we headed off to places without phone or internet service.

There is a strong gravitational force around La Paz and yet, we were feeling very ready to leave; ready to head for the warmer climate on the mainland and some of our favorite haunts. We got up at 5:15 after a short night. It was a lovely calm morning. After tending to last minute chores, like tying down the newly filled fuel cans on deck and stowing everything securely down below in case things got rowdy on the passage, we motored off with our course set for Isla Isabel.

 

NEXT POST – SAILING FROM LA PAZ TO LA CRUZ DE HUANACAXLE

 

 

 

 

SAILING ACROSS THE SEA (winter ’15)

posted from La Paz, January ’16

BP Cruise winter 15-1

On the way to the boat launch at Marina San Carlos.

 

It was exciting when Enchanté left the work yard, heading down the road to be splashed in Bahia San Carlos. We took a slip for 3 nights at the Marina, cleaned the work yard dust off (again) and got our systems operational after 6 months in storage.

 

BP Cruise winter:15

Leaving Marina Seca, Guaymas in the distance.

Provisions were loaded on board for our upcoming explorations of remote areas in the Gulf of California. We left the dock, bound for the anchorage to wait for good weather to cross over to the Baja side. We looked for our friend Garth’s mooring, not an easy task in a veritable mine-field of mooring balls scattered in the bay. We were pretty sure we had the right one but it had an incredibly slimy, growth-encrusted, yellowish tag line and didn’t look too trustworthy.

There was an empty mooring ball nearby and it seemed easiest to just tie up to that one, although that was none too easy. Both of us strained our arms and backs during the awkward process of holding the ring on the mooring ball with our boat hook and trying to lead the bow line 5 feet down through the ring and back up to the deck for the bridle. But we got it done and bobbed happily in the peaceful bay.

Three days later, we were about to go ashore for an early dinner at Garth’s. We were ready to load up in the waiting dinghy when suddenly the wind picked up enough that we agreed we should wait a bit to see what it would do. We called our friends to tell them we were going to delay our departure and watch the weather for a bit. The day before, Alan had spoken with a friend about the construction of the moorings in the bay and was feeling apprehensive about the condition of the one we were on. He went up to the anchor and got it ready to deploy, just in case…

When the wind picked up to 20 knots we were glad to be keeping an eye on things. Our Dutch friends on Marionetto had arrived in the bay just an hour before, after sailing 17 miles from Guaymas. Al was talking with them on the VHF about how lucky they were to have made it in before the blow.

BP Cw15 San CArlos anchorage

San Carlos anchorage, storm clouds brewing, Marionetto in the foreground.

Suddenly I noticed we were adrift – broken off the mooring! We were being blown towards the shallow part of the bay and the wind was howling. I shouted for Al, still on the radio. He threw it down, went to start the engine and I went forward to the bow.

We circled the anchorage, looking for a good place to drop the hook in the crowded bay. In some of the stronger gusts Alan struggled to control Enchanté. We ended up at the far side of the anchorage and as we circled in to look it over I noticed there was a clump of stuff floating in the water behind us. It slowly dawned on me – it was our stuff! Alan’s shoes, the dinghy repair kit and our excellent yellow pump were all bobbing together in the white caps. The wind had flipped our dinghy and we were pressure-washing our propane outboard, also upside down. Yikes!

We didn’t want to lose the stuff from the dinghy but with just a boat hook it was very challenging – a net would have been great. We made 3 passes, the wind howling most of the time and the water a bit rough. On the 4th and final pass I hooked the pump, our most important item and the easiest to grab. A few minutes later we got the anchor down and were finally able to relax and decompress.

We got the dinghy righted and Al was keen to take the motor apart and hopefully revive it. He flushed it with fresh water, took out the spark plug and kept pulling on the starter cord to spit more water out. He drenched it with WD40; the outside, the inside, and into the cylinder. A half hour later he was so stoked when it started! It has been running great ever since.

I saw 36 knots on our wind instrument at one point, the most ever for me on a boat. We heard several reports of 50 knots in the marina and 70 knots up above the marina. Someone’s sliding glass door blew in and in Marina Seca there was a terrible dust storm / cyclone that blew all kinds of stuff around for 10 minutes.

BP Cw15 Bahia

All in all, we felt incredibly lucky that our only loss was a few items out of the dinghy. If we had been even 5 minutes away in the dinghy (as we were supposed to have been) Enchanté could easily have gone aground and filled with water, probably putting an end to our cruising season at the least.

 

BP Cw15 bahia wide

At anchor in Bahia San Carlos.

Being securely anchored with our Rocna was a great relief. We examined the piece of chain that came with our bridle when we broke loose from the buoy. The chain was so rusty and the links above the break were very thin and weak. We realized how foolish it was to tie up to a mooring we didn’t know; sheer laziness and complacency – the year before we had taken a mooring and not had any problems.

BP Cw15 sunset SC Bahia

Sunset in Bahia San Carlos.

During our time in the anchorage we had a chance to get to know our new batteries; four 6 volt Trojans that Al had wired in series and in parallel (that’s right Edison, Tesla did it himself!). The aft cabin battery compartment had been reconstructed earlier in the month to make room for the slightly bigger batteries – a nasty job of cutting fiberglass and gel coat, but then simple wood work to complete. With the help of El Rey Solar (aka Kelly K.) we got to understand our system better and how to take good care of these workhorse batteries.

 

 

BP Cw15 batteries small

We left Bahia San Carlos November 22nd  after 10 days in the bay. The Northers had been blowing quite regularly and Al had been watching the weather carefully for a couple of weeks. Finally it looked good for our crossing – a passage of about 20 hours .

Our crossing was a bit of a Mr.Toad’s Wild Ride! We left the anchorage around 2:30 p.m. to time our arrival for approximately 9 a.m. As we got out of the bay we started to see a brisk wind and the waves were sufficiently big that we asked ourselves – do we want to continue?  The answer was yes. We knew we would probably deal with lumpy conditions but we’d have enough wind to power through the biggish seas and we were so ready to go cruising.

We started with a double reef. Once the sails were up we smoothed out of course, but over the next 18 hours we were zooming, and sometimes careening wildly, on big powerful waves on our aft starboard  beam. A few times things flew around in the cabin and even Alan felt a twinge of mal de mer briefly when he was working on the engine down below. I had taken a Stugeron when we set out but still had no interest in being down below for most of the trip, unless it was for sleeping.

The north winds were blowing steadily in the 20’s for most of the crossing. In the wee hours Alan woke me up to help him furl the jib, trying to slow us down so we wouldn’t arrive in the dark.  It helped, but we didn’t slow down much – our speed averaged 6.5 knots on our 18 hour crossing. We opted to further furl the genoa and put the 3rd reef in the main. That slowed us enough that it was just after sunrise when we arrived in San Juanico.

BP Cw15 light on rocksSnJnco

We motored into the tranquil bay, 4 other boats at anchor. It was very beautiful  and we eyed many good hiking possibilities. It felt so good to be back on the Baja!  We anchored and started to feel the great relaxation that comes with being safely in port after an overnight passage. A short while later I felt inspired to clean the cabin, polish the stove, clear the clutter, sweep and wipe the floor. Then I settled into the fo’c’sle with my book – Maiden Voyage by Tania Abei – which led to a delicious nap.

BP Cw15 Al:SnJnco

That afternoon we got the dinghy off the deck, into the water, wheels put on and the motor lowered onto it. We went to shore and found the cruisers’ shrine, festooned with mementos from boat people. Then we hiked up the cool trail over the low saddle and onto the road that goes down to the other beach.

BP Cw15 Cruisers shrine

Cruisers’ shrine in San Juanico.

 

BP Cw15 overview Sn Jnco

The next day  we took the dInghy in to shore; our mission – to try to hike up to the high hill that was visible from the anchorage. We landed on the beach where 4 lovely dories from a NOLS class were bobbing together at anchor. A charming collection of young adventurers, in various stages of dress, appeared salt-water-soaked, relaxed and happy in this paradise for a classroom.

We found the road we had seen from the boat and tried to find an easy access to the big hill,  but no go. So we revised the plan and ended up walking down to the next beach where we found a trail up the hills that overlooked the water. We had tuna fish sandwiches on top and an easy stroll back down on the road, then on to the beach to our waiting dinghy.

 

BP Cw15 Lindy:NOLs minis

By my right shoulder you can see the dories anchored together at the beach.

BP Cw15 NOLS boats

Dories out sailing.

BP Cw15 Sn Jnco

 

BP Cw15 sunset SNJnco

 

BP Cw15 Ench:SnJnco

Enchanté at anchor in San Juanico.

BP Cw15 A&L SnJnco

Enchanté at anchor in the middle distance and El Pulpito on the horizon above my head.

BP Cw15 crazy rocks SnJnco

We left San Juanico on November 25th, a calm day in the Gulf. We motored past gorgeous green and brown hills. Mountains rose majestically in the west behind Loreto and to the east, Isla Carmen stretched its impressive length of jagged peaks and sculpted rock.

Near Loreto we had phone service and I had a lovely conversation with our friend, Kathy. Conditions were optimal for anchoring in front of the town of Loreto, but we decided to keep going to Puerto Escondido. We wanted to be snug in harbor before the predicted strong winds started happening.

We made our way through “the waiting room” and past “the ellipse”, at the entrance to Puerto Escondido, checking out possibilities for anchoring. We proceeded through the shallow, narrow entry channel; we could see the bottom clearly but it was plenty deep for Enchanté.

We liked the look of the first bight in the right side of the bay and had just put the anchor down with 60 feet of chain, when the people from our closest neighbor boat, AirOps, dinghied over in a hurry. We thought – Oh no, maybe there are derelict moorings to tangle our anchor! But Dave and Merry just informed us the mooring buoys were all new last year, constructed with top-of-the-line materials, very trustworthy. We explained our recent problem in Bahia San Carlos. Merry laughed and said she could understand that.

We decided to pull up the anchor and do what everyone else was doing (it was the same price to anchor or to take a mooring). The muck coming up on the chain and glommed onto our anchor was very unappealing. Sadly the pump was out of commission on our saltwater wash-down hose, so we used a brush and a bucket of salt water to try to remove the stinky muck from the chain and anchor as we brought it up.

It was the easiest mooring we’ve ever taken; user-friendly and clearly well-built. After dinner I baked a fresh batch of Mandelbrot but the oven heated up the cabin a lot. We should have used the wind scoop in the forward hatch or the fans to cool us down before nighttime – it was too hot to sleep with covers.

In the morning we woke to see Witte Raaf next door. Hurray! This was a boat I had been hoping to run into ever since meeting the Dutch couple, very briefly, in San Carlos. Joanna and I had an instant connection and we felt certain we would see each other again. I called her on the VHF to tell her we were parked nearby and later she motored over. We were very happy to know we would be in the same bay for a few days.

BP Cw15 Witte Raaf:gorillas

Witte Raaf (White Raven) in the foreground – see the Dutch flag on the stern and on top of the mast?

We had a lovely day with Joanna and Jan and Dave and Merry, who were all good friends already. Unfortunately, Merry couldn’t join us for the hike up the gorgeous, rugged canyon nearby but the rest of us really enjoyed it. Dave drove us in his car and told us how floods have changed the course of the river that springs up in the deep gorge. In places the river bottom was now 8 feet lower than it had been and all the gravel and rock that used to be the bottom of the canyon was carried, in what must have been a torrent, down to the flat area near the massive new bridge. The construction of the bridge and new riverbed was amazing. Huge rolls of large steel-wire mesh “netted” the rocks used to construct the enormous rampart; to solidify, stabilize and support the structure.

It was a beautiful hike through boulders and rocks very much like those in Canyon Nacapule near San Carlos.

BP Cw15 canyon:Escond

That evening we had our 4 new friends over for drinks on Enchanté.

We spent 9 days in Puerto Escondido, waiting for the Northers to stop. The winds were getting up in the 30 knot range and the seas outside the bay would most likely be the bone-shaking huge “refrigerator” waves the Sea of Cortez was known for when the winds blow hard.

It was a challenging place for me – tantalizingly close to actually having internet but seldom satisfactory. It was overcast quite a bit and our solar power generation was down. Half the computer battery was often used up just trying to get online, usually with limited success. Apart from the fridge, charging the laptop was our biggest draw. Sometimes I opted to turn off the fridge so we could charge the computer. There was no phone service and the vibe in the marina felt formal, not friendly to me. In some ways it was a luxury to have this protected place, and yet….

Puerto Escondido is in a gorgeous setting. The hiking potential seemed vast but access was not easy. We got out on the paddle boards twice. Every time I planned to go, right on cue the wind would blow up, over 20 knots sometimes. In desperation to make some calls, one day I paddled all the way to the first cove across the bay with the phone in the dry bag; no dice. It was rumored that some of the buoys in the bay had good reception. I suggested we motor around while we ran the water-maker and look for a good cell signal (which would also give us wifi), only half-joking.

We met Jan and Joanneke at the dock one day to go to Loreto with the use of Dave and Merry’s car. We were going to see Antonio, the healer. Merry had passed along his name to us after he cured her completely of her sciatica after 2 visits (she had had all kinds of therapy in the states). Jan was having great success with Antonio’s treatment of his back (but not lasting results for his shoulder so far). I wanted to see him for my neck and left thumb.

After Jan and Joanneke emerged from the room, Antonio greeted me. I engaged with the small man with kind, intelligent eyes, skin the color of strong tea and quintessential Mayan features. I felt transported somehow from a small town in Baja to the Mayan highlands. We spoke simple Spanish and some English.

The treatment room was a tiny one that opened off the courtyard in a large concrete house. About 80% of the square footage was taken up with a small twin bed and a vintage-looking white plastic chair. There was a gorgeous old, hand-woven, lace-type wall hanging (possibly a family piece?) covering the wall facing the bed where I sat.

Antonio was very gentle and yet, when he found some tight, sore places he was confident and strong. He checked my neck and shoulder while I sat in the rickety plastic chair. Then he had me lie face down on the small bed. My head was turned to the right side, no bolsters… but it was fine. He found sore places in my back and legs and then somehow “erased” them. For several high-tension areas he did rapid massage and jostling. Then he would recheck the tender spots – no pain!

He had me sit back on the chair while he worked my neck and shoulders. Then after a noticeable softening of tissue he worked on my left arm, hand and thumb. I sat on the bed and he sat beside me on the chair. He told me the elbow area was the origin of problems in the hand and thumb. He found exquisitely tender places in my forearm near the elbow. He got out his jar and candle and did some “cupping” in a few places. At one point he bent his head over my left mid-forearm, pursed his lips and blew (or sucked?) on a small area, making a bit of a hissing sound. He finished up with more massage and checking of points. He gave me self-massage instructions for my upper-trapezius. It seemed like I had been in the room with him for quite a while but it was only a half hour. I paid him his fee of 300 pesos (about $17) and he told me he liked my Spanish.  My neck felt better than it had for months.

BP Cw15 Dave:Jan hike

I dropped Alan off at the dock one morning so he and Jan could go hiking with Dave.

BP Cw15 Escond canyon

Jan hiking

Jan hiking.

BP Cw15 Escond canyon2

BP Cw15 Airops

AirOps on a quiet day in the bay.

I stayed ashore to use the internet and then motored out to AirOps to join Merry and Joanna for coffee and cocos, the local version of macaroons. It was delightful to be in the company of fun and creative women.

We finally left Puerto Escondido at 8:00 on December 4th. It was so good to get out of there and be moving south on a coast we had only seen going the other direction. We motored, I made water and enjoyed the scenery when I wasn’t down below. I cued up the SSB (another power-hungry system) and sent sailmails before we entered Agua Verde. Five boats were already anchored in the small bay. We saw our friends’ boat, Sand & Barnacles,  parked near Barney’s satellite dish on the beach as we pulled in to the bay. Then their dinghy zoomed by, the two of them in wet suits, headed for Roca Solitaire.

We were invited to a gathering on the beach that afternoon and paddle boarded over with beer and peanuts. We met the friendly folks on Carola and Impulsive, re-met Vandy and Eric on Scoots – all of them hoping to Puddle Jump this spring. Delicious salsa fresca, guacamole, tostadas and foccacia were served on a small portable table. Our friends, Sandy and Barney (and dog Zippy) arrived at the party with oh-so-fresh, spear-caught reef fish, deep-fried in tempura batter. OMG! So good!! Just as it was getting dusky we saw a small fox run across the beach to the nearby rocky out-cropping; so well-camouflaged, with a big fluffy tail. It was a lovely evening of cruiser camaraderie.

In the morning, Maricela and Felipe, a couple from the town of Agua Verde arrived in a panga, selling hand-crocheted, embroidered tea towels and goat cheese. We asked about fish and they said yes, tomorrow. We ordered flour tortillas as well. Maricela told us about a child (I thought it was her child …) who had burned their arm badly with hot water. She asked if we had antibiotic cream so I fetched the tube Alison had given us last spring.

In the morning we watched Maricela and Felipe walk along the beach and then take a panga from where it was parked at Tio’s palapa nearby, to bring us the fresh cabrillo and tortillas – 125 pesos for everything. I asked about the child with the burn – not good. Then they motored off to the other boats to try selling their wares.

Alan had been scoping out hiking routes and we decided to walk up the ridge just east of the anchorage. It was a good ramble up the hot, dry hills that rose abruptly from the beaches, populated with spiky plants and a lot of goat pellets in places.

 

BP Cw15 Lindy:Agua V hike

There seemed to be no way up the last of the hills so we back-tracked to the next-to-last high point on the peninsula. Saw another fox as we climbed up to that vantage point. We admired the view of the huge beach we had walked with Shoshana last year, now looking so much smaller. The next big sweep of coast arced up to where San Cosmé lay, with islands rising in the middle and far distances.

BP Cw15 AV hike viewSan Cosme

While enjoying the mandarina that Alfonso so cleverly brought along, we saw that there might be a passable route up to the last high point. Down we went and skirted to the left (north) on a sometimes-sketchy trail but clearly well used by goats. Traversing close to a couple of large caves, the smell of goat was very strong and the layers of goat shit were impressive. We scrambled up to the top, only slightly anxious about getting back down. Thank heavens for our walking sticks! It was hot, intense sun up there. I was sweating and fogging up my sunglasses under my hat.

BP Cw15 Agua Verde anchorage

The anchorage in the north cove of Agua Verde, village in the left corner.

We picked our way back along the rocky ridges to the beach. It had been a good adventurous hike. I took off my hiking boots and got on my pink paddle board. It was heavenly when a little chop or swell in the clear aquamarine water would edge over the board and cool my hot dusty feet.

Back on Enchanté, I stripped off my sweaty clothes, donned my swimsuit and joined Al for a swim – the first of the season for me! We had been in the water to clean the hull – Alan at least three times and I had helped  a couple of times – but it was a treat to just go swimming. (Side note – the day before we scraped a LOT of little barnacles off the hull – definitely disappointed in the new copper bottom so far!)

That evening we realized we couldn’t find the camera. Al paddled in to check the beach – no sign. The next day he took off to go look for it and hiked up all 3 summits with no luck. Bummer!

We had been given a bag of school supplies that Garth asked us to deliver to Julio Romero in San Cosme on our way south. Conditions weren’t good to go to San Cosme when we went through but in Agua Verde we heard that every Monday a woman came from San Cosme to sell handmade jewelry to the tourists off the mini-cruise boat. Maybe she could take it back to Julio?

On Monday, sure enough, the Safari Adventurer was anchored in the bay. A couple of launches full of tourists had been transported to the beach for kayaking and mule rides. I paddled in with the school supplies in the dry bag. I had seen a lot of local people arrive at the beach earlier in the day. They were sitting in the shade of a large tree with a table beside them displaying jewelry. I greeted them and asked about San Cosme. Eventually it was revealed that Julio Romero was one of the guys out on the mule ride excursion. His wife and sister were the ones selling jewelry. The school teacher was also there and several of the students. It was such a good feeling to be able to give these much-needed supplies directly to the people they were intended for!

BP Cw15 AV Lindy:beach

North beach in Agua Verde.

When Al got back from his search for the camera, we walked over to Tio’s  palapa to chat for a bit. We told him about the camera and he said he would spread the word. We walked the beautiful natural walkway sculpted into the rocks along the beach to Agua Verde. On our way through town we met some boys, one of whom was 13 year old Carlos, who had been out at our boat on a paddle board with his friend, Israel. I greeted Carlos and told him and his buddy that we had lost a camera and there was a reward for its return.

Then we walked out of town, up the sandy, dry river bed with beautiful rounded river rocks. It was hot but there was shade frequently from the large trees growing in the “islands” between the river channels and a cooling breeze played through the valley much of the time.

Up and up we walked, arriving at an amazing box canyon that looked to be transported from the Grand Canyon. A small dam, crafted mostly with local materials by the looks of it, was built at the foot of the stunningly gorgeous, steep cliffs. The river was bone-dry but when the water was flowing, the waterfall erupting off the top lip of the canyon, so high above us, must be incredible! Magnificent cliffs rose up from the valley; fortress-like formations, clad in some parts with verdant foliage (prickly no doubt) and naked, rugged rock in ochres, reds, browns and tans. We were really missing the camera up there! Next time…

We found the trail that went up to the saddle – no bush-whacking necessary – and the view from there was stellar. Santa Marta to the south-east and the Gulf of California in the northern distance, behind the gorgeous treed river bed that curved on to the salt flats in the town.

When we got back to the edge of town we met a young girl who seemed to be waiting for us. She was maybe 10 and started talking quite fast and pleading. When she showed us her arm, burned badly from elbow to wrist, we realized this was who Maricela was talking about. Camila took us to her small house there and we met Teresa, her mom, who explained that they had seen the medico in town who told them they needed to get Camila to the city of Constitucion for proper care. There was infection and the tube of triple antibiotic cream we had given Maricela wasn’t cutting it. Camila’s arm was a dull purplish-red and a few spots seemed to be welling up, not good. They had no car, no money for gas – her husband was a fisherman and there were so few fish lately – she didn’t know how they could get to the city, a couple hours drive away.  It was heart breaking. We gave them 290 pesos (less than $20) and I bid them good luck through my tears. The next day I saw Maricela and she said the family had gotten a ride to the city – yes!

We met some fun, world-traveling Canadians, Margaret and John, on Cahoots, before we left San Carlos. We were just leaving Agua Verde when they limped in, using their dinghy to maneuver their boat into the bay and set the anchor.  We had a good catch-up on the VHF hearing about their crossing and where they had been since leaving San Carlos.  There didn’t seem to be anything we could do to help with their over-heating problem so we  figured we’d continue on our way 9 miles south to San Marte and they could hail us on the radio if we could be of assistance. Otherwise we’d just see them down the line.

We liked San Marte – lots of walking possibilities and good snorkeling  according to the guide books – and we were the only boat in the wide bay. We paddled to shore and Al went in search of the saddle we had accessed 2 days before from Agua Verde. He was very curious about the lay of the land; the point of land separating the Agua Verde and San Marte anchorages was very complex terrain as it turned out.

I walked with him part way, but the combination of no trail and lots of little bits of grass and seeds getting in my shoes inspired me to find a big rock with a good view. I had a lovely solitary sit on a gorgeous boulder and watched tiny hummingbirds with iridescent, forest-green backs and shimmering blue throats sipping nectar from the many tiny flowers growing in the wide valley. I saw butterflies galore in different colors and sizes and a couple of mystery birds. I picked my way back down to the beach, found a couple of treasures there – shells and some elegant sun-bleached bird bones, so light, slender and strong. I paddled the whole way back on my knees through the swells and back at the boat, settled in with my book.

Early morning departure from San Marte, motoring over flat seas with gentle swells, charging electronics and making water. Got to Los Gatos and had it all to ourselves for my inaugural anchoring at the helm – smooth.

BP Cw15 Los Gatos area

BP Cw15 Los Gatos2

Looking west in the Los Gatos anchorage to the mountains on the Baja.

BP Cw15 Los Gatos1

Famous red rock formations at Los Gatos.

We snorkeled at the nearby reef, the water pretty clear and the fishes familiar. I practiced diving a few times to try getting closer, and just to practice. When I got back to the dinghy I saw Al’s spear gun on the bottom and him looking baleful in the dinghy. His ears were hurting too much when he tried to get that deep. I tried several times to dive down; moved the anchor thinking I could pull myself down with the line – that didn’t work. Then I tried to “hook” the spear gun with the lip of the mushroom anchor – no luck. Eventually I tried again – it looked so enticingly close, and I got it!  I felt victorious bringing the prize up from the depths!

Left Los Gatos around 7ish with me at the helm. After we left the bay I went down to start the water-maker. Over the next 7 hours I drove periodically as we motor-sailed south into Canal San Jose. Our course took us up close to the rugged cliffs and canyons that rose from the western shore of the great Sea; so immediate and gorgeous in their inaccessibility. The views were stellar, the water hundreds of feet deep and the current and sea state more benign than in the center of the channel – Captain Al’s good thinking.

BP Cw15 from bow

Heading south to San Evaristo.

BP Cw15 A lookin

BP Cw15 heading south:pdlbrd

Isla San Jose on the left side of the channel. The paddle boards are inboard, ready to be deflated if need be…

 

BP Cw15 San Evaristo passage

 

We anchored in San Evaristo with the 3 other boats tucked up to the south shore (strong southerlies predicted) in the south lobe of the bay. The wind picked up, we were stretched out on our chain and pitched quite a bit during the evening. It turned out to be not the best anchorage with the wind that showed up, a robust south-easterly. Many times I woke in the night to the sound of strong gusts whistling in the rigging and our bridle lines tugging on the deck cleats directly above our heads.

We left the next morning around 7 a.m., not sad to leave. We put the dinghy  on deck because we thought there might be boisterous seas when we crossed south of Isla San Francisco to Ensenada Grande on Isla Espiritu Santo. We remembered Christmas 2 years ago when we were caught in the “washing machine” on that crossing.

A breeze popped up right away but it was fickle and ended up dying, then clocking around to the other direction. We motor-sailed with the wind at our back, sometimes strongly. The wind revved up and we weren’t interested in a long crossing with increasing wind and seas, so we opted to go to one of our favorite places, Isla San Francisco to wait for better weather.

When we got there the wind was blowing a gale. We had to move the dinghy away from the anchor locker before we could set the hook, challenging in the strong wind. But the anchoring process went smoothly. It was disconcerting however, that it was so stormy in the bay we had chosen for shelter. After an hour or two the wind moved around to the north so we had the protection we were looking for.

The next day the northeast wind was blowing quite consistently and gusting strongly at times. We were stretched out on the chain and the bridle was stretching too at times. The gorgeous aquamarine green water below the red cliffs was churned into white caps off the beach east of the cliffs where the Norther blew across the salt flats.

We were ready to go in to shore for a walk but just after we took the dinghy off the foredeck the wind started to blow. So the dink was in davits and we revised our plan. As it turned out, we didn’t go ashore at all while we were at Isla San Francisco. We did however, have some great Baja Rummy games.

BPCw15 Al:cards

Based on the weather reports we’d been getting from the SSB radio and on our Sailmail, it looked like a “go” on the 14th of December. But that morning, Geary’s usual report was interrupted and when I downloaded Sailmail, the Sonrisa forecast wasn’t there. Hmm…It would have been nice to have some current weather since conditions were so changeable.

We set off and the seas were mellow as we crossed to the northern end of Espiritu Santo. We didn’t know how far we’d get that day and we needed to know which anchorages to consider, based on wind predictions. The wind was from the southwest for the first few hours – not what we were expecting and not good for protected anchorage on the west side of Espiritu Santo. We had some anxiety about where we would spend the night.

We put in a VHF call to the anchorage in Caleta Partida to get weather information. Two calls came back to us – the first from a young woman named Shana on a sailboat near Los Islotes and the other from sailing vessel True Love. The woman on True Love (who runs one of the SSB nets in the morning) gave us the complete weather forecast and told us that Geary had had a power outage that morning. Ah ha!

We sailed various combinations in the varying conditions;  main with motor, just main, motor with jib hanky (for stability in the chop), main and jib, spinnaker. Very disappointed when the wind, which finally came around to a west-north-west, fizzled out pretty much after the spinnaker was up. But we had phone and internet for the first time in a long time! Alan called Sho and we got caught up a bit. It was great to hear her voice!

The conditions were fine for travel and nine hours after pulling up anchor we arrived in tranquil Bahia Falsa, just 6 miles north of La Paz. Cahoots was sitting there so we invited them over for margaritas. We hadn’t seen them since they limped in to Agua Verde. We enjoyed our last 2 avocados, the next-to-last limes and polished off the last 3 beers. Margaret and John went home after a fun evening with lots of great travel and wildlife stories.

We had pretty much reached the end of many of our staples. It was Day 2 of instant coffee, we had a half teaspoon of butter, half a banana and had eaten the last tortillas and cheese for dinner the night before. There was a slip waiting for us at Marina Palmira on good old Dock 3 where several friends were parked. It was time to go back “home” to La Paz.