Tuesday, May 14, 2013

From Cabo to La Paz

In the last posting, I covered our trip down the Cabo San Lucas, with photos of us entering Cabo harbor, and a photo of the town. I mentioned how I radioed in to the marina and found out it was only going to cost us $42 a night to stay there, a lot less than we thought it was going to be, so we decided to stay there a couple of nights.

We had three great days at Cabo San Lucas. We did three loads of laundry, filled our water tanks with the excellent drinking water at the dock spigot, washed the boat down, fully recharged our batteries, bought lots of fresh food and ice, ate Hagan Das ice cream, visited with Lane and Vicki, and got some much needed rest. I persuaded Lane to go to the marina office with me to get a quote for what they would charge him for his 42 ft boat. Turns out it was only about $65 per night, so after one more night anchored out, he bought his boat in to the marina. And just in time! That night a rare rain storm blew in from the south, and it was absolutely torrential. I’ve never seen it rain harder. Within 20 minutes the streets were flooded, and where they came close to the harbor, huge rivers of water were empting into the bay. We were visiting Lane and Vicki on their boat at the time, and they were sure glad to be in at the dock! Turns out Inkatu arrived that afternoon, and anchored out during the storm. They said it was the worst night they’d ever spent sailing. A few years ago a southerly storm had swept many boats anchored there on to the beach, where they were wrecked. This time, though, the wind was not so strong, and the boats anchored there were OK, even if it was scary for them.

One other thing that happened in Cabo is that we finally got internet access for the first time in nearly two weeks, and received a series of increasingly concerned emails from my father and brother, ending in one saying they had contacted the Australian Rescue Service, who had contacted the Mexican navy, reporting us missing at sea! I Skyped my father and brother straight away, and they contacted the Rescue Service saying we had arrived safe and sound in Cabo. Still, I kept getting concerned emails, for a couple of months after this, from cruising friends who had heard that we might be missing at sea. Strangely, though, the Mexican navy never caught up with us. I had a talk with my father and brother, which I really should have done before I left Ensenada, about how the anchorages in Baja often don’t have internet, and one might want or need to stay at a particular one of them for a while until the right weather window opens up for the next leg of the trip. I’m confident they understand this now, and that they'll give me quite a bit more time in the future before reporting us missing. It is good, however, to know that they are keeping track of us when we are out at sea. When we went back to Ensenada to pick up my car, one of the places where it was announced that we were lost at sea, one of my friends from there joked: “We had a wake for you, and spent $200 on food and entertainment. Now that you’ve shown up alive, we think you should refund us the money.” I said, “Email me some photos of my wake, and I’ll send you the money!”

We headed off ahead of Adesso for the “Other Cabo,” San Jose Del Cabo, which was a very pleasant short day sail away in a gentle breeze. The sea was smooth, the sun shining, and all along the shore between the two Cabos were miles of luxury apartments, built very tastefully in dessert yellows and reds to blend in with the landscape. Casey and Diane on Inkatu were already at San Jose Del Cabo, so we docked right next to them at the marina. We only stayed one night, though, as they charged $45 per night for a slip with no power, and no bathrooms! A full service slip there would have been $65! There was a great restaurant there though, that had amazing fish tacos — with big juicy pieces of grilled fish and wonderful salsas and salads and other trimmings to go with them — by far the best fish tacos we’d ever had. After one round of these, I thought that even if they were pretty expensive, maybe we could do with a second round anyway. Turns out they were only 12 pesos ($1!) each. You can be sure we had more of those fish tacos!
Next day we set sail for Bahia Los Frailes. This was a long day’s sail, tacking into the wind most of the way, and we didn’t arrive until after dark. It was the first time I’d attempted to anchor in the dark, but other boats there helped me find a good spot, radioing their directions. Next morning the most gorgeous anchorage we’ve ever been at revealed itself to us! Here we are on the beach at Los Frailes:

There is a trail up the 750’ high headland, and here we are, about a third of the way up, looking at the anchorage. The Witch is the third boat from the left:

Then here we both are at the summit. What a glorious view it was!

The next bay north of Los Frailes, that you can see in the above photo, is a marine sanctuary containing the only remaining hard coral reef on the whole west coast of the Americas. The reef actually continues around the corner into the north end of Bahia Los Frailes. On this photo taken from near the summit of the headland you can see the reef as a darker area of the bay closest to the headland we are on:

We snorkeled on this reef, and saw very nice coral, and huge numbers of a wide variety of brilliantly colored tropical fish. That was amazing.

We met new friends here too. Two men single-handing their boats. One was an Australian, Pitt. He also had an electric motor in his boat — only the second other such boat I’d run into, and the other was still in the process of conversion. Pitt was also quite the character. We were at Los Frailes for the end of the Mayan Calender, and the people camping ashore held an “End of the World” potluck which they invited us to. Pitt performed a fire eating, fire breathing, fire twirling act that he has done around the world to help keep him in funds on his travels. Here is Pitt swallowing fire:

Here is one of the campsites of people who come down from Canada to spend the winter there:

Here is a hole where a clutch of turtle eggs hatched, and the turtles crawled out and swam out to sea:

We were able to buy fresh food in Los Frailies. Twice a week a truck comes to sell food to the campers. Here we are just after having done our shopping from this truck:

Inkatu also stopped at Los Frailes and loved it. We went snorkeling with them, and had a meal of fresh caught shrimp aboard their boat. But Adesso sailed right on by, and spent time at Los Muertos.

We  spent a week at Los Frailies, and loved it, but finally we left for Bahia Los Muertos. We left about midnight at the same time as Pitt, and had to tack into the wind all the way to Muertos. But the Witch is good at sailing into the wind, and we got there about noon the next day, just as the afternoon wind came howling in. It was a sheltered anchorage, but not nearly as nice as Los Frailes. Our other friends arrived that afternoon except for Pitt. He had some trouble with his boat, and had got caught by an unfavorable wind change after having gone way out to sea. He didn’t arrive until a full day later. We were getting worried about him, and were sure glad to see him finally sail in. We stayed in Muertos five days while a howling northerly blew through. It was a slow five days, though we did do some visiting with friends and had a big driftwood fire on the beach one night.

Then, in the narrow window between when the wind calmed down a little, and when it disappeared altogether for a few days, we headed off on the final leg of our trip — to La Paz. It was Christmas Night, December 25. We left at dusk to sail though the night. Instead of going through the Ceralvo Channel, between Isla Ceralvo and the Baja peninsular, I plotted a course outside the island. Since we had to tack (zig-zag) into the wind either way, I decided it would be easier and safer to do just one big zig and one big zag, way out to sea, rather than doing many many little zigs and zags in a narrow channel and risk running aground if I happened to nod off to sleep for a moment. Because of all the howling wind the previous few days, there were five foot high short, steep waves on the Sea of Cortez that night, and the wind, which was meant to be about 12 knots was more like 20 knots. With a single reef in the mainsail, the boat was leaning over quite a lot and powering into these short steep waves. We’d go smoothly over one, then crash with a huge thump into the next, so that the boat shuddered, and gallons of sea water came flying back into the cockpit. Bashing into these short, steep seas soon made me terribly sea sick. I thought I well and truly had my sea legs — I hadn’t been seasick the whole way from Winchester Bay in Oregon! I discovered the hard way that having your sea legs for the long rolling swells of the Pacific Ocean, doesn’t help you much when you get into the choppyness of the Sea of Cortez! Also, I’d had somewhat too much to eat for lunch, earlier in the day. Fortunately, Karen was not sick, and was able to keep watch while I lay there in agony on the leaward bunk and glanced up at the GPS every now and then to make sure we were still on course.

Fortunately the wind kept a steady direction, and the autopilot was able to steer the boat through a night of this unnerving thumping. We kept up a good speed of five knots, despite the thumping of the waves, until we were past Ceralvo Island, and could go about onto the tack that would take us into La Paz. Somehow I managed to drag myself out into the cockpit and bring the boat about onto the new tack, and set the autopilot to sail directly to the next waypoint. This was important, as we had to sail between the north end of the island, and a dangerous reef to the north of it, and we didn’t want to risk running into either one! As soon as we went about, the waves were coming from our side, and lurched us over, alarmingly, each time one passed. But not having to thump into the waves, and being able to ease off the wind a little (it was beginning to shift around a little to the north form the NNW it had been earlier), the boat raced off at six and a half knots — the fastest it can go if it’s not surfing down a wave. As the first light of dawn appeared we raced by the top of Isla Ceralvo, right on course between the island and the reef. I was beginning to feel a touch better now. We reached Lorenzo Channel, the entrance into La Paz Bay, just as the sun was rising — good timing, because the presence of reefs to the north and south of that channel makes it unwise to traverse it at night. It was also good timing because the wind was already beginning to die down to nothing, as forecast. Soon the sea was calm with only a breath of breeze, and I started the electric motor to take us the last few miles to the first marina in La Paz, Marina Costa Baja, where Lane and Vicki on Adesso had been for a few days. They had left Muertos a few hours before we arrived there. With the calm seas, my sea sickness suddenly went away, and I really enjoyed these last few miles. We steered in close to the various anchorages on the way in, and even saw Mushroom Rock at Balandra. It was such a relief being here! Finally we were at La Paz! It had been our destination for two years! And now, on the day after Christmas, we were here.

Despite the rough night, Witch of Endor had actually performed very well. Few sailboats can keep up five knots while bashing into such big steep waves. Part of achieving this was to keep rather a lot of sail up for the wind strength, so the boat would have the power to plow through those waves and not be slowed down much by them. And, with all these forces working on the boat, nothing broke! Good work, Witch!

We stayed a week at Costa Baja, then spent four months at Marina de La Paz, right in the heart of downtown La Paz. It’s been a busy blurr of Spanish lessons, working on my writing, boat repairs, sight seeing and sailing out to the nearby islands. Now I am up at Marina Palmira, half way between the other two marinas, where it is quiter, and the air is fresher. We hope to sail up into the sea of Cortez in June, where there are many more beautiful anchorages.

And now, to finish off this post, a few photos, with captions, from our time in La Paz:

Mi amigo Lane and I at a restaurant in La Paz

Mis amigos Casey and Diane on one of the fairly
common stepped sidewalks in La Paz

Rocks and cactuses in the dessert, while driving
up to get our car from Ensenada

The deck of our hotel room in Bahia Los Angeles, where we
stayed while driving our car back to La Paz. It had a kitchen,
too, and the free use of kayaks to paddle on the bay!
All this for only $50, since it was the off season!

A whale skeleton on the beach at Bahia Los Angeles.

Wild horses on Mexico 1

Bahia Conception, which has many gorgeous anchorages,
including this one, is at the far end of the trip up into the sea
we are planning for June.
San Javier Mission up in the mountains of Baja, the second
oldest mission in all of the Americas

One of many over-100-year-old, gnarled olive trees at
San Javier Mission. A cooperative called "Living Roots"
is again producing olive oil from these trees. This mission
is in an oasis, where there is plenty of water.

A rancher in the mountains who I had a wonderful conversation
with in Spanish, and from whom I bought a jar of the most
delicious fig-like fruits soaked in cane syrup from sugar cane
he grew himself. He also gave as pieces of sugar cane to chew.
The road south through the mountains. I found out later that
this road was used in last year's Baja 1000 off-road rally.
Our Subaru Outback, fortunately, had no trouble with this road!

The famous Hotel California sung about in the popular song, in
Todos Santos, where "You can check out but you can't leave!"

Inside the Hotel California

A Mexican conservation poster in the Hotel California. It says:
"Our Mother is happy when you care for Our Planet."
One of the many life-sized bronze statues on the Malecon in La Paz

The Malecon, in La Paz, at night

Bird in the mangroves at an anchorage near La Paz.

A famous surf beach south of Todos Santos at Pescadero
On the beach at paradise! The Witch is anchored out in
the distance.

Pelicans taking off

A blue starfish on some coral

Another piece of coral

A La Paz sunset

Anchored out in La Paz Bay just after sunset.

The Witch was at Marina de La Paz for 4 months, but her new
home, and mine, is Marina Palmira. Here is the view ashore
from the Witch at Palmira. There are birds in the trees that
chirp in the morning, and the big tree gives me shade for a while
in the morning. And there is a good swimming beach nearby!
Greetings to all of you who are following this blog, from Karen and me!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Finally to Baja

My apologies to everyone for taking so long to post to this blog the last part of our trip — our time in Ensenada, and our voyage down the Pacific coast of Baja and up into the Sea of Cortez to La Paz, where I am now, soaking up the sun in paradise, and attempting to learn a little español.

We stayed in a very friendly marina in Ensenada called Cruiseport Marina, since it was near the docks the cruise ships pulled in to twice a week.
A view of the marina common area where we cruisers
met for morning coffee, potlucks and parties.

A street stall that made the best ceviche, topped with avocado,
for less than a dollar. For another dollar you could buy
a great ice cream cone at the shop on the corner.
One of our bikes on the dock near the boat,
showing how we went shopping.
A view from the marina towards the town
and the enormous Mexican flag there.
The local swimming beach a short bike ride down the Malecón.
I swam there quite often.

A local vinyard in the winery district near Ensenada.

Growing food in the desert, just south of Ensenada.


After a while in Ensenada, we traveled back to Oregon for the summer.

An eclipse of the sun as seen through the coastal
gloom at Huntington Beach near LA.
Camping by the Trinity River in northern California
on our way back to Ensenada.

Karen swimming in Whiskey Town Lake in northern California.
It’s like a tropical island, only fresh water! So perfect!

Me on an air bed on Whisky Town Lake.
One dirty car, after some off-roading through some
incredible mud after rain in Baja, south of Ensenada.
Lucky not to get bogged forever in one long, deep pool of mud.

Hauling the boat for a bottom job in Ensenada,
just before sailing south.

One dirty bottom!
All clean again and painted

Early last November, we sailed out from Ensenada to finally make the voyage south to La Paz. Cruiseport marina let us keep our car there free of charge until we were able to come back and get it. I put a car cover over it to protect it from all the dust in Ensenada.

We left a day before our friends Lane and Vicki on Adesso, to take advantage of favorable winds and seas. We sailed well out to sea so there would be wind during the nights to keep us going. Close to the shore the land effect generally causes it to be calm over night. We had two days and two nights of fair winds from behind, and made a good passage. Unfortunately Karen was rather sea sick, as she hadn’t regained her sea legs yet after some months in port. When dawn broke on the third day, we saw the San Benito Islands ahead of us off to port. We had planned to sail past them on to Turtle Bay, but they looked so inviting after two days out of sight of land that we decided to anchor there and get some rest. On the way in to the anchorage, we got our first experience of the Mexican charts being inaccurate. According to the chart on the GPS plotter, we traveled over land to get to the anchorage, though in fact we went right down the middle of the channel between the two islands. Then it showed us anchored on the land! You can see this in this photo I took of the GPS at the time, where the fine dotted line shows our course, and the triangle our boat position at anchor:

We anchored at San Bonito at about 9 am, and though it was breezy there were no waves, so the boat sat still in the water, and it was sunny. We slept for a while, and Karen quickly lost her sea sickness. That afternoon we had a good cooked meal and soaked up the sun. In the evening, just after dark, we sailed off, much refreshed, under a beautiful moon and a gentle breeze for Turtle Bay. We arrived at Turtle Bay just after sunrise, and anchored in its very protected anchorage along with many other boats. It was total dessert there – not a green thing to be seen. It was like a moonscape, but beautiful in its own way. We stayed four or five days, rowing ashore to buy food, ice, have a shower, eat at a restaurant, and explore the town. After a couple of days, Lane and Vicki arrived on Adesso, and there was another boat there, Gemini, that we knew from our last days in Ensenada. Les and Diane on Gemini are very experienced cruisers, and were very kind to us. They invited us over to their gorgeous boat to have a very enjoyable sea food dinner with them. Here are some photos from Turtle Bay:

The Pier covered with bird droppings at Turtle  Bay.
After tying up the dinghy at the dinghy dock,
we would walk down this pier to get ashore.

Pelicans on a panga
Adesso at Turtle Bay

Swimming off the boat at Turtle Bay
Les persuaded me that it was worth stopping at Bahia Asuncion, just south of Turtle Bay. He was carrying spare parts for friends of his, Casey and Diane, on Inkatu, who had been waiting a couple of weeks at Asuncion without a working engine for these parts. We left two days after Gemini, but did go to Asuncion. There we saw them again, and met Casey and Diane of Inkatu, while having a meal with them on their boat. Just before Les and Diane sailed off again, Les came past my boat in his dinghy and asked, since I knew something about electrics (having an electric auxiliary  motor system in my boat I had designed and installed), whether I could help out Bill and Vicki on Matowi, who were having major electrical problems. I agreed to do that, and was able to get their generator up and running so they had electricity on their luxury million dollar sail boat. Out of gratitude they had us over to dinner, and offered us the use of their washing machine on their boat. That was a boon for us, as our laundry was beginning to pile up! Asuncion was cleaner and greener than Turtle Bay, and we were also able to buy fresh food and ice there. The folks on Inkatu and Matowi thought there was an electrical vortex there that had created havoc with their beautiful, expensive boats and left them stranded there! That had me spooked, since I had an electric motor, and I have to admit to checking that my electric motor was still working, half way through our time there. Fortunately it was!
Inkatu at Asuncion
Then there was another double overnighter to Santa Maria Cove, just before Mag Bay. All went well with this part of the voyage, as Karen had her sea legs by now, and didn’t get sick from then on, all the way to La Paz. We approached Santa Maria Cove just after midnight, but didn’t want to go in in the dark, since we didn’t know it at all, and couldn’t rely on the charts being accurate. So we heaved to, which steadied the boat, and moved us slowly (at about two knots) out to sea on a course that kept us about the same distance from our destination. I got three hours of uninterrupted sleep while heaved to, so I was in good shape at 4.00 am to reef down the sail, as the wind had kicked in, and sail in to Santa Maria Cove just as the sun rose. Just as I awoke at 4.00 am, our AIS showed that a cruise ship was going to pass very close to us in about 15 minutes time. The AIS told me the name of the ship, so I was able to radio them and ask if they would change course slightly to avoid us. The officer of the watch on the cruise ship was very nice, said he could see us on his radar, and had spotted our navigation lights visually, and agreed to change course to pass further away from us, which he did. Even with the course change, the cruise ship still passed within a mile of us, and was a very impressive sight in the night, with all its lights.

Santa Maria Cove was the most beautiful anchorage so far. Just after we had anchored there, a panga (an open Mexican fishing boat with an outboard motor) came up to us and offered us lobsters. I asked how much: “¿Cuanto Cuesta?” They replied “Batteries” Turns out they wanted the very small AAA batteries, of which I had four to spare. I also gave them a couple of AA batteries. For these we got seven huge, very alive lobsters thrown into the cockpit of our boat. I think that after seeing the shock on our faces at having the first few lobsters crawling around us on our boat, they threw a few more in just for the entertainment of seeing us react! We got our act together, though, and had two wonderful meals from these lobsters, as you can see from the following photos:

Ashore at Santa Maria Cove, with the Witch anchored in the distance.
We found this little harbor within a harbor where we landed the dingy.
There were lots of beautiful flowering plants growing here,
not at all like the complete dessert at Turtle Bay.
In the next photo I am at the nav station on the Witch, receiving a weather fax on my computer, via the short wave radio above the computer. The single-side-band weather fax transmission sounds just like a fax does on a phone. The headphone jack on the radio is connected by cable to the microphone in jack on the computer, as you can see in the picture, and software turns the all the clicks and screeches into a series of weather maps for the coming few days, one of which you can see scanning in, line by line on the computer screen:
Next stop was Mag Bay itself, just a short day’s sail away. We left just before Inkatu and Adesso, but the wind was light to start with, so about half way there they motored by at five knots, while we were sailing at three. Once we entered Mag Bay the wind piped up from the north (of course!) and we had to tack (zig-zag) into a stiff breeze for about five miles to reach the anchorage off the little town on the bay. But we got there well before dark, and earned the admiration of our friends for putting on a display of actually sailing all the way there, rather than motoring when the wind was not perfect for sailing.
Matowi arrived the next day, so here we were, four sail boats with eight people who were all sailing down to the Sea of Cortez for the first time, all together at Mag Bay (Bahia Magdelena). We decided we should celebrate that, and did so by having a meal together at the little part-time restaurant under a palapa (thatched-roof open-air structure) on the beach. The guy who ran it got together all the sea food delicacies he could for this banquet, including some excellent octopus. Parts of the beach at Mag Bay are strewn with sea shells, as you can see here:
The following photo of our GPS plotter shows the course I plotted from Mag Bay to Bahia Los Frailes, with Cabo San Lucas right at the bottom of the peninsular. You can see we are just over half way down where the little black triangle is. On the right you can see we had done 105 nautical miles already on this leg, and are at latitude N 23° 26.43’, just crossing the Tropic of Cancer. So, after many months of voyaging south, “Sailing to Sunshine,” as this blog is called, we had finally arrived in the tropics! It was quite a thing to celebrate! Also note how close we are to La Pa, as the crow flies. The previous night we could see the glow of the lights of La Paz to the east of us.

The rest of this day we had very little wind, as we drifted along toward Cabo San Lucus. And the same through the night, as we ghosted along in a very light breeze, with our electric motor ticking over and the generator going to give us three knots. Here we are sailing along with the spinnaker up to help catch every bit of the light breeze we could:
We rounded Cobo Falso, just before Cabo San Lucus, just as dawn broke on the third day. We hadn’t planned to stop at Cabo, as we’d heard it cost about $150 a night to stay at the marina there. But after over two days on this trip, and over two weeks since we’d been at a dock and had a proper shower, Cabo looked very inviting. We sailed in to have a look, and saw Adesso, which had left Mag Bay a day before us, anchored off the beach, and called Lane and Vicki on the radio. It was great to see them again! I decided to radio the marina to see just exactly how expensive the marina was going to be for a little 30 ft boat like ours. When they said they’d recently dropped their daily rates, and it would only cost $42 a night, you can be sure I jumped on the offer, and headed straight for the marina. Lane said they’d be coming in by water taxi later in the morning, and would find us at our dock. Here are motoring in to the harbor at Cabo:

Looks like this is as much as I can post. More soon.