Monday, May 26, 2014

Living in La Paz

After our sojourn in the Central Sea, Finisterra spent a couple of weeks at Marina Palmira in La Paz where she underwent a thorough cleaning, had her motor serviced and was reprovisioned. When that was done we had some time to explore more of the city of La Paz and the East Cape region of Baja. But first some news:

About a month ago we decided it would be better to sail Finisterra back to California for the summer instead of leaving her here in Mexico. The reason for this change of plans is that after having lived aboard for six months and cruised over 4,000 miles, we have a pretty long list things we want to do to the boat, and it will be much easier and less expensive to do the work in sunny California instead of broiling Mexico over the summer. Some of the items on the list include replacing the teak in the cockpit and transom step, expanding the bimini and dodger, rebuilding or replacing the watermaker, etc. Of course we could do all this here in Mexico but we'd have to spend the summer here.  We took a vote on that and agreed that it's too bloody hot here in the summertime. So within a few weeks we'll head south to Cabo San Lucas, or more precisely Puerto Los Cabos, where we'll make final preparations for the long passage up the Pacific side of Baja to California.

In the meantime we've been getting to know La Paz. A couple of months ago I bought an air conditioner for the boat which has greatly improved our quality of life aboard. Outside temperatures recently have been in the 100-107 degree range with the sea temperature hovering around eighty degrees, so it can easily be a hundred inside the boat. The AC unit is just a little thing but it keeps the boat fairly comfortable during the day.

A few days ago we rented a car and took a drive around the East Cape from La Paz through Los Barriles and Cabo Pulmo, and on to San Jose del Cabo where we had a nice dinner. From there we headed west through Cabo San Lucas and then turned northward back toward La Paz.

There is a new marina under construction near Los Barriles that I wanted to check out. It took a while to find it but it was worth a look. The jetties and channels are all built, and there are a couple of floating docks with a few fishing boats, but aside from that it's still desert. The master plan includes luxury homes and all the amenities that wealthy fishermen and vacationers expect, but by the looks of the place they are still a few years in the future.

Marina Ribera near Los Barriles has a few boats in it. Notice that there are no sailboats here.
The luxury hotels and condos are still a twinkle in the developer's eye at Marina Ribera.
Unbeknownst to us, the paved road ended at the marina and for the next 51 miles it was dirt. Our little Nissan rental car handled it well for the most part, we only high centered it twice and returned it to the agency with the oil pan and suspension intact. We got back onto a paved road about five miles outside of San Jose del Cabo and cruised into town around 5:30. After a meal at a restaurant we used to frequent the last time we stayed in San Jose, we got back on the road and headed back to La Paz.
Usually the wild burros we've encountered in Mexico have been pretty skittish, but a few miles outside of San Jose we came across a half dozen of them on the road. There wasn't any skittish in these fellows except for the little guy pictured above.
Lisa wanted to take this one home but it wouldn't fit in the backseat.
After a few days in the marina we headed out to a place called Caleta Partida. It's a cove formed by the islands of Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida. The two islands are separated only by a narrow channel that is deep enough for a dinghy to pass through.

Caleta Partida is the cove to the west of the channel that separates two islands. We anchored a quarter mile west of the channel near the southern shore of the cove.
We arrived at 1400 and spent the afternoon swimming and exploring the channel between the islands. Later in the day a couple of sailboats entered the cove and anchored nearby. We are always careful about how we anchor, and whenever possible I'll swim out to the anchor and visually check that it's well set. Knowing that a Coromuel wind was likely to arrive sometime around midnight, I made doubly sure about that. I hate having to get up in the middle of the night in 30 knots of wind to find that we're towing our anchor across the bay.

Sure enough the wind showed up a little after midnight, blowing a steady 25-30 knots out of the southwest, with gusts up to about 38 knots. The boat that had anchored nearest us stayed put throughout the night but at dawn it began to drag. It was headed toward us and crossed our bow about fifty feet away moving stern-first toward shoal water which was another hundred yards or so to leeward. I was on the foredeck yelling at the boat and just as they passed by the owner came on deck and got the engine started. If they had dragged any further their anchor might have snagged our chain and taken us with them. By then we had our engine started and were ready to take evasive action. Fortunately they got their boat under control before there was any harm to themselves or us. They tried to re-anchor but couldn't get their plow type anchor to hold in that much wind. They eventually gave up and headed out to sea with the wind still blowing 30 knots...not a fun morning for them. We had seen the boat in Ensenada back in January. The owner told me he and his wife had been working on it for eight years and were finally ready to sail south and fulfill their cruising dreams. Like many boats we see cruising, they had added a whole lot of stuff on deck including four large solar panels on a big stainless steel arch, and lots of other toys on deck. All of this stuff adds weight and windage so though they probably had an anchor of a size that was recommended for that boat, it may not have been adequate for the way the boat was set up. We were fortunate that they didn't hit us and they were fortunate not to have run aground that morning. With all the money they had invested in their boat, they should have spent a bit more and gotten a ROCNA anchor.

Later that day we moved further north on Isla Partida to Ensenada grande where we spent a couple of relaxing days swimming and exploring. Now we're back in La Paz and beginning preparations to head back to California.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Bahia de Concepcion to La Paz

Bahia de Concepcion is dotted with rocks like this. 

On our way north, we were headed directly into the wind for nearly all of the distance between San Juanico and Concepcion, so I had hoped that we'd have a fair wind for the southbound passage back to San Juanico. But it was not to be. We rounded Punta Concepcion and headed southeast toward our destination only to find the wind dead on the nose again. I needed to run the watermaker anyway so we motorsailed and over the next few hours refilled our water tanks. By noon the wind had backed around so we could sail and we arrived at Caleta San Juanico around 1700, anchoring just off the beach in the far southeast part of the bay. Earlier in the day we had picked up something on the prop and it vibrated a little when I put the engine in gear. The anchor had barely hit the bottom before Lisa jumped in the water and pulled a clump of seaweed off the prop.

The next day we were up early and cleared the rocks that lie off the southern end of San Juanico at 0900. Naturally the wind was out of the southeast, exactly the direction we were headed. So we motorsailed most of the way to Puerto Escondido, slowing down a bit as we passed the town of Loreto to grab some Internet time. This would be our last chance to download weather until we get to La Paz several days hence.

We arrived in Puerto Escondido in mid-afternoon and anchored in the lagoon. Loreto Fest was in full swing when we arrived so we went ashore to give it a look. It is hosted by the Hidden Port Yacht Club and some local businesses. It's a cruisers' event with a few seminars,  bocce ball tournament and a few other games. There was a silent auction and swap meet, a band and plenty of beer and margaritas. It looked like the event was geared toward the permanent or semi-permanent denizens of the Sea of Cortez. Anyway, it didn't appeal to us and we were out of Puerto Escondido at 0700 the next morning, bound for Puerto Los Gatos.

It's always fun to explore the rocks of Los Gatos

With a 2-3 knot headwind, we motored all the way and were anchored in the north side of the bay around 1300. Los Gatos is a beautiful bay, about a mile long in the northeast-southwest direction and a bit less than half a mile deep. The high bluffs to the north offer good protection from winds from that direction but the bay is wide open to southerly and east winds. There is nothing here except pristine beaches, fantastic rock formations and crystal clear water. There was only one other boat anchored way over in the other side of the bay so we were all set to have a quiet evening aboard. But just about dusk I noticed that the other boat was under way. At first I thought he was heading out of the bay but then he turned toward us. Okay, I thought, he just wants to swing by and say "Hi" before heading out to sea. But no, he came right past us and anchored about halfway between us and the beach, his bow not fifty yards from our stern. I'm not sure why.

Earlier in the afternoon a two fishermen came by in a panga and offered us a couple of live lobsters so we had an excellent grilled lobster dinner. The next morning they brought us three more bugs. We're living like kings out here in the boonies! During the day we hiked the shores of the bay.
The rock formations here are incredible. As far as I can tell, no one has ever lived here, and the land seems to be untouched by humans.

And yet, Nature toys with our imaginations. As the sun moved westward the shadows shifted to reveal a man and woman that have been sunbathing here for ages.

Finisterra in peaceful Los Gatos. The Sierra de la Giganta Mountains are in the background.
We departed Los Gatos early in the morning on May 5th, bound for Isla San Francisco. Our course was southeast so naturally the wind, what little there was of it, was coming straight out of the southeast so we puttered along all day and anchored in the beautiful cove called The Hook, on the southwest side of the island at 1600. The water was crystal clear and 80 degrees. Perfect for a swim. It was also about time to scrub Finisterra's bottom so we got masks, fins, snorkels and cleaning utensils and gave her a good scrubbing. There were quite a few small barnacles that popped off with a plastic putty knife.

Another view of the majestic Sierra de la Giganta Mountains

Isla San Francisco is a popular place and there were half a dozen boats already anchored there when we arrived. Then around sunset the Safari Voyager came into the bay. It's a small cruise ship with a capacity of 64 eco-tourists. We were thinking it was going to be mighty crowded on the beach tomorrow morning but the ship left at dawn and we thought we'd seen the last of them. So we got up early and went hiking, thinking we had the island pretty much to ourselves. But as we set off across the low isthmus that bisects the north and south parts of the island we spotted a line of tourists trekking across our path. The Voyager had simply gone around to the other side of the island, where there was less of a swell for the tourists as they came ashore in a pair of large inflatable boats.

Safari Voyager

Eco-tourists on the march. This is the view we were greeted with when we topped the first rise on the west side of the isthmus.

We spent a couple of days at Isla San Francisco then with a northwest breeze in the forecast we headed south to La Paz where we plan to stay for a couple of weeks. Once outside the bay, I was all set to hoist the mainsail when the wind suddenly turned around and blew out of the south against the prevailing northerly swell which made for a bumpy ride to La Paz. On the way we spotted "Venus", the mega yacht that was built for Steve Jobs anchored just outside the harbor.
Venus is 256' long and the interior styling was done by Philippe Starck, who also did the interior on our last boat, Honcho. Venus is reputed to have cost $100 million Euros.

As we approached the harbor entrance I radioed the harbor master at Marina Palmira that we were a few minutes out. She gave me our slip number and some other info and signed off. So we're coming down the narrow channel at the marina entrance with a fifteen knot tailwind and a dinghy in tow when we noticed a man on the jetty waving to us. Lisa is the sociable one among us so she waved back. Then he started waving harder and she said "I think he's trying to tell us something", but we couldn't make it out, so she went up to the bow to try and get a better understanding of what he was yelling and then suddenly noticed a 15" dredge pipe laying all the way across the channel. So she started waving and yelling at me to "Stop! Back 'er down! Your gonna hit a pipe!". So I slammed the engine into reverse and managed to keep from hitting the pipe, but with fifteen knots up the bum and a dinghy in tow, we were in danger of getting sideways in the channel, which would have been a bad thing since we had rocks on one side and big motor yachts on the other. But I managed to keep the boat lined up in the channel and they moved the dredger enough that we could squeeze by it with three or four feet of clearance on either side.

After we got the boat in the slip, we went up to the office to check in. While we were waiting another boat radioed that they were coming in. I could hear their entire conversation and the nice lady told the skipper what his slip number would be, gave directions on how to get there and signed off without ever mentioning the dredger blocking his way. I told her it would be a good idea to advise the unsuspecting sailor that the channel was blocked. She agreed and made a halfhearted attempted to hail him on the radio, but by then he was most likely in the midst of trying to keep his boat from slamming into the dredge pipe and he didn't answer. You never know when sailing in Mexico is going to become an adventure!

Anyway, we're enjoying la Paz and expect to be here for a couple of weeks. We plan to take in the sights, maybe catch a glimpse of the Mexico 1000 off-road race and tour the East Cape. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Bahia de Concepcion

Finisterra at anchor off Posada de Concepcion

We had a great time in the Bay. The first thing we did after getting the hook down was to head over to the TKT restaurant on Playa Santispac, where we met up with our old friend Senor Paloma. To get there from the boat is about a fifteen minute dinghy ride around Punta Posada to the beach at Santispac. The waves at the beach are usually nonexistent unless the wind blows out of the south. With a 20 mile fetch, they can get big enough to make the landing a bit dampish at times. The TKT is a palapa on the beach that serves excellent seafood and margaritas, and we had dinner there several times while we were anchored in the bay. Anyway, we were having dinner with Jerry (Sr. Paloma) and a couple of friends when we met up with the folks on a boat anchored not far from us, they in turn introduced us to another couple, Tom and Sylvia, who it turns out had sailed with us aboard Tivoli in the Banderas Bay Regatta three years ago. So for the next week or so, we did a lot of socializing, took care of some business at home and did a lot of exploring of beautiful Bahia de Concepcion. Tom and Sylvia own Cinnabar, the beautiful red Schumacher 52 that was anchored not far from Finisterra.

Superbly built and meticulously maintained. Cinnabar is a beautiful example of a high performance cruiser.
The last time we were in Bahia de Concepcion we were surrounded by whale sharks. This year they seem to be hanging out further down the bay. We took a couple of dinghy rides into some of the other coves south of Posada Concepcion in search of them but didn't find any. Birds, however, are always plentiful in Concepcion. Pelicans, Frigates and Osprey have rookeries here so instead of whale sharks, I got some interesting photos of birds.

These are Brown Pelicans. They have a wingspan of six to eight feet and weigh up to twelve pounds.
Pelicans gather on the islands in Bahia de Concepcion to breed and hatch their young.

Poetry in flight

A pelican lifts off.

Another comes in for a water landing.

Ospreys are sometimes called fish hawks. They are different from the Pelicans, Frigates, Boobies and most other sea birds in that they capture prey with their talons instead of their beaks. Osprey have a wingspan of about six feet and weigh up to about 4.5 pounds.

A pair of Osprey survey their domain from a cactus on top of Isla Pitihaya inside Bahia de Concepcion.

Lisa shot this photo of a young Osprey flapping its wings trying to fly while its mother stands by.
Osprey guarding its nest.

With a wingspan of almost seven and a half feet, Frigates weigh only about four pounds. They are incredibly agile fliers and often use their aerobatic skills to snatch prey from other birds in mid-flight. A Frigate will often swoop down on another bird from behind and snatch a fish dangling from its beak.

He looks a bit like a pirate to me.

On final approach.
We had planned on spending only a few days here but on April 28th the wind piped up to about 30 knots out of the north and stayed that way for three days, so we were content to sit tight in the anchorage safely in the lee of the bluffs to our north while the wind howled out on the bay. At 0830 on May 2nd, we waved goodbye to our friends ashore and headed out past Punta Santispac and northward toward the mouth of the bay. Once clear of the bay, we turned southeast and headed once again for Caleta San Juanico.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

La Paz to Bahia de Concepcion

Ensenada Grande with mainland Baja in the background.
On Saturday, April 13th we went grocery shopping at the local Mega, took a long swim in the pool and had dinner at Steinbecks. The next morning we checked out of Costa Baja and headed north to Isla Partida. In the Sea of Cortez the wind generally blows up the sea or down the sea. Today it was blowing down the sea so we motor-sailed directly into a 15 knot headwind and lumpy, choppy seas as we passed up the west side of Isla Espiritu Santo toward our destination of Ensenada Grande on the west side of Isla Partida, arriving in the late afternoon. There were a few other boats in the anchorage, but it’s a big enough bay that we were able to anchor in a fairly secluded spot close to some bluffs on the south side of the bay. The water was clear enough that I could see the anchor send up a cloud of sand as it hit the bottom 22 feet below the surface. This made the snorkeling great, and we saw lots of tropical fish and healthy looking coral. Later we took the dinghy around the southern end of the bay, past Punta Tijeretas and into the tiny cove of Las Cuevitas where there is a blue footed booby rookery. It’s not the nesting season now, but there were still a lot of boobies around. That night I set my alarm to wake up at 0200 so we could watch a total eclipse of the moon. There is something awesome about seeing a lunar eclipse from the deck of a sailboat where there is no light pollution from any nearby civilization.

Sunset is a perfect time for a paddle in Ensenada Grande.
I have no idea how these unusual rocks were formed but they are fascinating to explore.

While there, we hiked up the hills behind the bay and explored the strange rock formations that line the north side of the bay. When we got restless we sailed north again toward the fishing village of San Evaristo on the mainland of Baja.

With a nice breeze out of the southeast, we had a pleasant sail for about twenty miles then about six miles from the anchorage, the wind died and we began to motor. We had been trolling all day without a bite, but about four miles out, the reel lit up and we caught a 20 pound dorado.  This was our first fish of this kind and as soon as we got the anchor down in Evaristo I had the BBQ out and we had a fine meal of grilled dorado, wild rice and a fine bottle of pinot grigio, supplied by my friends at C1. Thanks guys!  We spent a couple of days in Evaristo then departed for Puerto Los Gatos, about thirty miles up the Baja coast.

We caught him just in time for dinner.

A dorado's beautiful colors quickly fade when they die. After giving him a couple of shots of rum this fellow relaxed and died peacefully.

It was a beautiful starboard tack reach, with about 12 knots of wind out of the east under a hazy, somewhat overcast sky. I like the overcast because it provides some relief from the sun, which can be brutal here in the Sea. We approached Los Gatos from the southeast and saw a boat anchored in the far northern part of the bay, which is about half a mile wide. We anchored in the southern part of the bay, about as far from the other boat as we could get and were looking forward to a beautiful, quiet evening.  But within an hour three other boats came into the bay and anchored close enough that we could hear them talking as they enjoyed their sundowners.  A couple of them left early the next morning so we were able to explore this beautiful bay pretty much in peace and solitude. Different voyages have different flavors. The last time we were here, three years ago, we were delighted to have lots of friends from other boats around. This time, we have been inclined to seek the solitude of empty bays and quiet nights. 

Our dinghy is a speck on the beach at Los Gatos.
On Saturday, April 19th we got the anchor up early and headed for Bahia Agua Verde, about 13 miles north. With three knots of wind out of the southeast, there was no point in trying to sail, so we fired up the diesel and a couple hours later we anchored about a hundred yards off the beach in Agua Verde. Since it was the day before Easter Sunday, the beaches in the fairly large bay were crowded with Mexican vacationers here to celebrate the holiday. The next morning we hiked into the country behind the little settlement. Aside from fishing, the locals raise goats, pigs and a few cattle. There is a school and church, along with a couple of small tiendas and a restaurant or two, so Agua Verde, though it has no cell phone or internet service is fairly cosmopolitan compared to most other places in this part of Baja California.

Later in the day we raised the anchor and continued north 22 miles to Puerto Escondido.  We arrived around 1700 and passed through the narrow channel into the lagoon that makes this place an excellent all weather port of refuge. The lagoon is over a mile long and half a mile wide and until recently had over a hundred moorings. Now there are only a few moorings left, and they don’t look well maintained. Ashore, things have declined from the last time we were here. There is still a boatyard with a Travelift and a floating dock and a few boats hauled out here, but the place is pretty desolate. The restaurant has closed down and so has the little tienda. Puerto Escondido should be a thriving community, but apparently there has been a lot of disagreement within the local business community and with the government which has had a bad effect on the village. We had hoped to stock up on fresh food and use the Internet here, but instead we spent one night in the lagoon tied to an iffy looking mooring and left the next morning for the town of Loreto, about 14 miles up the coast.
Puerto Escondido sunrise. Regardless of the business situation in the village, the scenery remains awe inspiring. 
There is a tiny harbor at Loreto but it is for the exclusive use of the local fishermen, so we anchored outside and took the dinghy into town where we had a nice meal at the Hotel La Mision, checked email and wandered around the town a bit before heading back out to the boat. While ashore we visited a unique museum of sorts, with the skeletons of whales and dolphins on display.  Back aboard Finisterra, we spent a peaceful night anchored outside the harbor, then left early the next morning for Caleta San Juanico.   

 The distance from Loreto to San Juanico is about 27 miles and with scant wind, we motorsailed the entire distance, arriving in the early afternoon. There were four or five boats anchored in the north end of the bay and a couple more at the south end, so we chose a nice spot just off the beach in the middle part of the bay, anchoring in about 15 feet of water. With a light breeze coming out of the southeast and crystal clear water, the swimming was delightful. Later we grilled the last of the dorado I caught a week ago for dinner. The next morning we were underway early for the 50 mile passage to Bahia de Concepcion.

Caleta San Juanico is dotted with rocky islets.
 The wind blew out of the northwest, exactly the direction we wanted to go, so we motored toward Punta Concepcion until we were a few miles out. Then the wind shifted to northeast and piped up to about 20 knots and we had a fast sail around the point and about six miles down the bay. Then we furled the sails and picked our way through the pass between Punta Piedrita and tiny Isla Pitihaya, toward Playa Santispac. There were several boats already at anchor there, so we bore away toward the little cove at Posada de Conception where we anchored in about 20 feet of water in the lee of some tall bluffs which offered good protection from the strong northerlies that sometimes blow down the Sea of Cortez. Finisterra was to remain at anchor here for the next nine days.