Baja and the Sea of
Heading north again
May 3, 2001
from Bahia Aqua Verde in the Sea of Cortez where we are sitting out a
weather system that is bringing wind gusts to 30 knots here in the
anchorage, no sun and no warmth either. I can just hear you all saying,
“ Aw, poor babies!” But this is an ideal opportunity to catch you all
up on our adventures for the past few weeks.
We are backtracking on our steps a bit,
but also discovering some new territory in the Sea of Cortez. We dragged
ourselves away from Puerto Vallarta on April 6th after watching
many of our friends leave for the Marquesas. At least 50 boats left from
Puerto Vallarta, and many more went from Acapulco, Mazatlan, La Paz, San
Diego, and so on. The word on the radio nets is that at least 150 boats
left to cross the Pacific this year.
It was quite emotional seeing people we
had been sailing with for ten months sailing off on The Big Adventure. We
have continued to receive emails from them all the way across and listened
to them on the radio networks. They have all made it, including our
friends Ken and Cathy on one of the slowest boats, Felicity, who made it
to Hiva Oa (the first island you come to in French Polynesia) after
‘only’ 25 days at sea (they expected it to take 30 days!). Here is
Cathy’s top-ten list of things they were looking forward to after 20
days, with five days still to go before they had any hope of attaining
10. Ice cream and cheeseburgers
9. Not having a safety harness as an
everyday wardrobe accessory.
8. The end of the daily inspection of
rotting, fuzzy, and smelly produce we're trying to keep fresh
un-refrigerated in the tropics.
7. Being able to place something on a
counter and be relatively secure in the knowledge that it will still be
there if you turn away for ten seconds.
6. Sleeping for more than four hours at a
5. Having the ability to throw out
plastic garbage, instead of washing, drying, and storing it.
4. Being able to walk through the boat
without holding on to every handhold like a brachiating chimpanzee.
3. Allowing the bumps and bruises to heal
from not religiously adhering to #4.
2. Ability to sit in the head without
using advanced Yoga positions to remain stationary and avoid being
launched from said position.
1. Dry land
And Jan wonders why I’m not jumping
onto the crew list for the Marquesas!!!
So back to our own Little Adventure.
Outside of Banderas Bay we spent a few nights anchored off the beach at
Chacala. When we were there in December, it was a sleepy little fishing
village with a few hundred residents. Someone mentioned at the time that
it comes to life during Semana Santa, Holy Week before Easter.
Guess when we were there? They were expecting 10,000 people to hit the
beach during the holiday weekend. There are no hotels, no paved roads, one
tienda (small store) and a couple of palapa restaurants and that is IT. To
make up for that lack, each family brings a tent and they build a dense
wall-to-wall tent city, tapping into the overhead power lines if
necessary. Then to provide food, beach balls, T-shirts and other life
necessities, vendors come from miles around to set up small palm thatched
structures. They sell everything from roasted corn and chicken to beach
sandals, to souvenirs made of shells, to tortillas to toilet paper.
On the beach, all the kids were in the
water in big waves that would have made any American mother flinch. Forget
lifeguards! Beach vendors had set up shop to provide for the snack craving
that was definitely going to hit all those bathers. There were pineapple
and mango sellers. They put the mangos on a stick and carve them to look
like flowers. The pineapples are cut, hollowed out and filled with drinks.
The coconutman whacks off one end of the nut with his machete to get to
coconut vendor 1 (358K)
and then he gives the customer a straw to drink it.
coconut vendor 2 (443K)
is finished, he cuts into the inner meat and puts the pieces of coconut
meat into a baggie with salt, lime juice and chili pepper. We always think
of coconut meat being sweet. They serve it piquin or spicy.
Actually, it was quite tasty that way. Next we watched the candy and nut
seller trundle his cargo down the beach in an orange wheelbarrow. Farther
down the beach, some teenagers had set up an impromptu dance club. If you
think US teens have raging hormones, it is even more overt in Mexico. We
just had to sit at a beach palapa with a Corona and watch it all
San Blas and Isla Isabela
Ever northward, we pushed on to San Blas,
a new harbor for us. We had avoided it before due to rumors of biting bugs
and a complicated check in process with the port captain. We avoided the Capitania
by staying less than 24 hours. We foiled the bugs by putting up all our
screens, sealing all the Dorade vents with rags, and staying “locked
down” after the sun set. Not a very exciting way to go, but those
“no-see-‘ems” are vicious. One cruiser took his dog ashore for a few
minutes and got 68 bug bites. Yow!
We made a brief, rolly stop at Isla
Isabella, the nature preserve we had explored last fall. The seas were too
wild to go ashore, but we did have the added adventure of having the local
fishermen surround our boat with their nightly set of nets. After a short
discussion and gifts of cervezas, we got the idea across that we
would be leaving early the next morning. “No problema, amigo!”
said the pescadero. And there wasn’t. The cerveza and
friendly discussion had worked. The floats, nets, and anchors made of
rebar were all gone by the time we woke up at 6 a.m. The Mexicans are
We were able to harbor hop up the coast
due to Raven’s fine speed, an asset we have grown to love. Other people
are doing overnighters and we can get to the next port all in the same
day. We had a bit of a thrash as we approached Mazatlan with six-to-eight
foot seas and seventeen knot winds with a reefing down of the sails, but
it was nothing Raven couldn’t handle easily. The First Mate, though,
just wanted to get there, pleeeez!! When we finally got to the entrance to
the marina channel, there were rollers breaking across the entrance, not a
good sign. We had heard radio reports that it was calm once you got past
the entrance bar. We took deep breaths and went for it, having to make a
hard left turn immediately inside the breakwater, and then squeeze past
the dredge that, mercifully, had quit for the night. It wasn’t our
calmest arrival, but we made it to the dock safely.
Mazatlan was also enjoying Semana
Santa. This time there were even more hormones raging, this being the
Mexican version of Spring Break. In fact, there were pickup trucks full of
teenage guys cruising the streets with mega-boom boxes playing salsa
music. Good music, mind you, just loud! They were trying to attract the
girls simpering along the sidewalks in their best skimpy, tight,
come-hither garb. Well, we felt obligated to sit and watch that parade for
a while, too. Great anthropological research!
After a day or two of all this
excitement, plus a few fun dinners in town with cruiser friends, a good
weather window suddenly opened for sneaking across the Sea of Cortez.
Knowing The Captain as I do, I had insisted that we do a spot of extra
provisioning to be ready for any occurrence. Remembering the fun time
we’d had on Thanksgiving, we’d planned to attend the big cruiser
dinner and dance Easter Sunday. But when calm weather beckoned, Raven and
a dozen other boats took off immediately for the 200+ mile crossing to La
There was a small moment of excitement at
the departure from Marina Mazatlan when Jan left me on the dock! We were
both intent on avoiding a big, dangerous, rusty steel bracket that stuck
out of the dock, and I stood on the dock to push the Raven out far enough
to miss being damaged. Then the wind took over and pushed her out just far
enough that I couldn’t do my usual death-defying leap to get aboard.
There I was, all alone on the dock. I figured Jan had finally had enough
of my cooking. There was no way he could bring Raven back in to pick me up
because of The Rusty Object, the wind, and two major pilings blocking the
route. But friendly cruisers are always ready to help, and a neighbor
couple delivered me safely back aboard Raven in their dinghy. I clambered
up the side, just like a ship’s pilot climbing on the big freighters at
sea. I’m sure they are still talking about those amateurs who should
never be allowed to have such a big boat.
Crossing the Sea of Cortez
We made the overnight 240+ mile passage
across the Sea with nice, steady 8-to-15 knot winds from the north. We
motorsailed all the way, making an average speed of 8¾ knots. It was a
long passage — 28 hours — but we made it without doing two
overnighters, which most of our friends had to do. My only problem was
that I was comparing it to our lovely November crossing in the other
direction, not factoring in going against the wind and going farther
across to get to the islands north of La Paz. I was ready to be there
after 18 hours, so I was definitely cranky after 28.
The big activity of the crossing was to
chase away the Blue Footed Boobies who were trying to cadge a ride. Every
time Jan would chase them away, they’d circle the boat a couple times,
make a very delicate landing on the moving target of the life lines, do a
little projectile pooping on deck to let us know who was boss and wait for
Jan to reappear. At least it gave us something to do! We also had one
determined fellow who decided that our masthead wind indicator really
looked good to eat. You should have seen him trying to grab it as it
whipped past. It is a fairly key piece of equipment, so Jan finally had to
chase that guy off with an air horn. They don’t call ‘em boobies for
Finally we arrived at Caleta Partida on
Isla Partida on Easter Sunday. We couldn’t get over the dramatic change
from the mainland. The huge bay is a collapsed volcanic crater, with rock
walls of a continuously changing palette of colors, very much like being
anchored in the Grand Canyon. The water was brilliant turquoise. All of a
sudden we were in hot, dry desert conditions, after months of jungle and
Caleta Partida has no town, no houses,
and just a few deserted fishing shacks. Our big activity was watching The
Pelican Artillery. (Admittedly, we were catatonic after a nearly sleepless
overnight crossing.) Hundreds of them spent their days dive-bombing the
fish in the shallows. The pelicans fly in a big circle over the water, and
when each one comes into range, he folds his wings and drops straight down
into the water at high speed. There were so many birds that it sounded
like a waterfall crashing into the sea. How do they spot the fish
underwater? How do they avoid breaking their necks plunging into the
shallow water? How do they avoid colliding with each other? How do any
fish survive? It’s all a mystery to us.
We were able to assist some panga
fishermen camping in very rough conditions in the bay by filling their
water barrels from our tanks. This has continued to happen as we cruise
the islands of the Sea. We’re not sure whether word is passed via the Pescadero
Grapevine that Raven has water to share, or whether they just know the big
boats have watermakers. Whatever, we’re happy to have something we can
give these nice people.
After a few days, we decided to go into
La Paz to explore and make some phone calls. On the way in, we suddenly
realized that there was an airport in La Paz and, with a little bit of
luck, I might be able to fly out and go to the April 23rd
wedding shower in San Francisco for Paul and Michelle. I was afraid to get
my hopes up on being able to get a ticket for a flight the next day, but
we did it! I had to fly Aero California (who?), stopping in Hermosillo
(where?) and LAX with another flight to Oakland, but it was definitely
worth it. I got to spend some quality Mother of the Groom time, seeing the
invitations, the bridesmaids dresses, the flower girl dress, the ring
pillow, Paul & Michelle’s friends at their shower and just enjoying
having such a wonderful son and future daughter-in-law.
Meanwhile, there was a big storm expected
in La Paz, so Jan stayed with the boat, doing messy projects all day and
going out for dinner with friends. He finished a zillion little projects
and did a few he knew I wouldn’t tolerate being around for, like
changing the sewage hoses (Yuck!), and pulling up all the floor boards for
three days to get at the leak in the bilge. His consolation prize was
discovering the Super Taco Baja California Hermosos Gonzalez street
stand with “ the best fish tacos in Mexico,” plus fabulous shrimp and
lobster tacos. He found the famous ice cream store that all the cruisers
talked about too. The zarzamora (blackberry) cone even won out over
chocolate. Happily, he shared all this bounty with me when I got back.
La Paz is Cruiser Central for the Sea.
There are lots of boats here that use it as their home base, and some who
never even leave the town. It was a whole different fleet of boats that we
had never met or heard on the radio. All the necessary services are
available — lots of marine chandleries and hardware stores, grocery
stores, US newspapers (Jan was thrilled), laundries, even dock carts. The
supermarket had things I hadn’t seen in ten months. It was very
reminiscent of searching Paris for peanut butter, when I found bagels,
English muffins, cherry pie filling, and Breyers strawberry ice cream. OK,
I know we should be going fully Mexican in our diet, but sometimes there
are a few little goodies that we crave.
Islands North of La Paz
After my return from San Francisco, we
headed north to the islands. There is lots of good snorkeling, hiking,
exploring little coves by dinghy, shelling etc. We are wishing we had
brought our little red kayaks, but Jan thinks it’s too dangerous to have
them on deck at sea.
At Isla San Francisco, the seagulls were
in full nesting mode. We had to endure some serious dive-bombing to walk
past them and their nests and chicks. Because there are no natural
predators on the islands, they just set up housekeeping in any old
indentation of sand and line it with weeds. They blend into the beach so
well that the brown speckled eggs are almost impossible to see until you
are right next to the nest, or the gull dive bombs you, whichever comes
first. I don’t think we did any serious environmental damage, but it was
quite an experience. On the same island we found a shell beach with
Papershell Nautilus and even a weird Half-Naked Pen Shell (I am not making
this up. That’s what it’s called in my shell book).
We dinghyed out to little Isla Coyote,
ten houses on a rocky outcrop in the middle of nowhere. The fishermen were
cutting up a big manta ray that they had caught. It was a spectacular
location, but a long way to go to get even the most basic of services,
like water and food. We took them two five-gallon containers of water,
which seemed to be appreciated.
In Puerto Los Gatos, Manuel, the local
lobster fisherman, greeted us in his panga. All the cruisers know
this guy, and true to form he asked how many lobsters we wanted for
dinner. We got a bit carried away and ate lobsters for three meals
straight. Had to invite guests the next night to finish them off. It’s
tough out here, but somebody has to do it.
We continue to have plenty of potluck
dinners with other cruisers. Last night, some cruisers bought red snapper,
huachinango, from the fishermen and we had barbecued fish on the
beach, followed by guitar music and singing. It was pretty idyllic. One of
the best songs was called “Three Days Out and Forty-five Knot Wind
Blues.” (We’ve all been there!) Then there are always games of Mexican
Train Dominoes if things get slow. They don’t usually, except when
everyone is sitting out a weather front, like we are today.
We’re on the home stretch now. We will
be in the Sea of Cortez for a couple weeks more. Then on May 18th,
I will fly from Cabo San Lucas to Tacoma via San Francisco (Do you sense a
trend here?). Meanwhile Jan and a crew of cruising friends will take Raven
on the Baja Bash, a nasty slice of water from Cabo to San Diego, going
upwind and uphill all the way. He is already charting it all out in
preparation. Hopefully they will get some good weather windows and not get
too bashed on the Bash.
PS. The rain finally came, or at least
what passes for rain here, leaving a strong smell of Eau de Damp Desert
and a very dirty boat. There is a big black line of clouds moving away
from us and there is sun shining on the rock formations, so perhaps the
weather has passed. Maybe we will be moving on to Puerto Escondido (Hidden