Sunday, June 29, 2014

Home For The Summer

Finisterra left Avalon at 0900 on June 23rd for the short trip to the Isthmus, or Two Harbors as it is called on the charts. We picked up a mooring there at 1130 and sat back to enjoy the view of one of our favorite places in the world. Though we've anchored in many beautiful coves and harbors in Mexico, there is something about the Isthmus that makes it more special to us than anywhere else. In the afternoon we hiked over to Wells Beach in Cat Harbor. It's a beautiful walk with views of the surrounding hills and the broad bay below. It was nice to be back.

The following day we hiked three or four miles up the road toward Avalon until we reached a peak that overlooks the Isthmus and out toward the west end of the Island. Catalina, like the rest of California has been suffering from a prolonged drought and the vegetation along the way was pretty dried out. But compared to the sere landscapes of the islands we visited in the Sea of Cortez, Catalina still looks fairly lush.

The superyacht Attessa IV was at anchor off Avalon when we arrived. We've crossed paths with this well traveled yacht in Cabo, Puerto Vallarta and La Paz.  For more info on this magnificent vessel visit:
After the shark, the next fish to come aboard was this plump little perch, which we released after taking its portrait. 
Two Harbors. The coves on the far side of the bay are called Fourth of July and Cherry cove.
This pretty little schooner's home port is Dana Point. Ship Rock is in the background.
Another schooner passes by Ship rock.
Walking back to the harbor, we stopped and chatted with a couple of people chipping golf balls in a little clearing near the village. Turns out they cruised in Mexico a few years earlier aboard their Morgan 44, "Missteak" and will be heading south again about the same time as us. They had found this little makeshift chipping range, so the next day we went back and I spent an hour or so learning how to hit the ball with a wedge. Fun. The following day we hiked toward the west end, passing Fourth of July cove, Cherry Cove, Little Geiger and Big Geiger Coves, and Howlands Landing. It was great to get back in touch with what we consider our home island.

When we left Long Beach back in January we had no intention of coming back, so we gave up our slip in Alamitos Bay. Of course that marina is full now, so we were forced to look elsewhere for a place to keep Finisterra. We had once kept a boat at California Yacht Marina in Wilmington and after checking with the folks there, we took a slip on gangway E. The location is not quite as upscale as Long Beach, but the people are really friendly and it's a great place to get work done on the boat. We'll probably stay here until we head south again next fall.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Catalina Golf

The harbor was fairly full when we arrived at Avalon so we were fortunate to get a mooring near the Tuna Club. We had arrived just in time to relax in the cockpit and watch the sun set over the hills behind the town. The next day we went ashore and visited some of our favorite places in town.

One of my goals when I retired last year was to learn to play golf and we actually took clubs with us to Mexico, but we never got around to playing, and to this day I still haven't played on a regular course. So we made a point of playing a round of miniature golf in Avalon. Lisa is an experienced tournament golfer, with a handicap of 22, so I need to work hard to catch up. The course in Avalon is not like the typical miniature golf course on the mainland, with rotating clown faces and castles, etc. It is more like a botanical garden with artificial greens. Anyway, we teed off around 1:00 pm and Lisa played the front nine pretty well, with two birdies and couple of bogeys to be even at the turn. I stayed close with two birdies and three bogies until the eighth hole, a tricky dogleg fairway and a fairly rough green. I was on the green in two, then blew up and four putted the hole. On the back nine Lisa scored two holes in one while I struggled, with a couple of birdies and three bogeys. Now I know how Tiger Woods feels. After golf we retired to the 19th hole where we spent an hour or so relaxing and people watching. 

Here's a link for more info on the mini golf course:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Back in the USA

Arriving in Ensenada after the long passage up the Baja coast is always fun. The hard part of the voyage is over and we are rewarded with hot showers, good food and plenty of friends around.  Ensenada also marks the end of the long, cold overnight passages which for a two person crew can be tiring. Fortunately we had good conditions for most of the trip from Cabo so we arrived in good shape and after a hot shower and a good night's sleep we spent the next three days enjoying Ensenada.

Big new tugs in Ensenada
The weather was perfect for long strolls along the city's bustling Malecon. When there is a cruise ship in port, it's full of foreign tourists, mostly Yanks. On other days Mexican vacationers come to breathe the fresh air and feast on street tacos. Mexico has enjoyed strong economic growth in the last couple of years and the tugs pictured above are an indicator of that growth. With the increasing likelihood of a west coast longshoreman strike in the US later this year, we can expect more US bound cargoes to pass through the Mexican ports of Ensenada, Manzanillo and Lazaro Cardenas.

The Carnival Inspiration calls at Long Beach and Avalon as well as Ensenada.
Even with a bit of haze, the San Diego skyline is beautiful from the top of Point Loma
A sailboat picks its way through the vast kelp beds off Point Loma

On Monday, June 16th we cleared the breakwater at 0100, bound for San Diego. It was a calm and uneventful 65 mile passage up the coast and we arrived at the customs dock in San Diego at 1130. We were met by our good friends, Tom and Mary Ellen when we arrived and we shared a toast to a voyage completed before the customs officials arrived. By 1330 the paperwork was completed and Finisterra was tied up at Southwestern Yacht Club's guest dock. We stayed in San Diego until Saturday, June 21st, then departed for Finisterra's home port of Avalon on Catalina Island, arriving at 1830. We often drop a hook over the stern when conditions are good in hopes of catching dinner. On this day, about 15 miles southeast of Avalon, we caught something else.

We couldn't figure out what it was at first. This was Lisa's fish so she was reeling it in while I went for my camera.
She said, "I think it's some kind of shark." We guestimated that it was about 40 inches long and weighed roughly 12-15 pounds.

One look at those jaws and we knew we had a baby great white on the hook. 
This was just a baby, but it looked dangerous enough to me.
I'll never forget the sound those jaws made as he snapped and bit at the hook in his mouth. It didn't take long for him to bite through the 40 pound test nylon leader, which was a good thing because there was no way I was going to bring this bad boy into the boat. Unlike other fish, Great White sharks are born live after a gestation period of 11-18 months (different sources claim various gestation periods). While in the womb, the baby shark apparently feeds on its siblings. Once out of the womb, the baby shark is on its own. This fellow had to be very young, which means his mama was probably not far away.
In this closeup you can see two rows of teeth, the large eye and the olfactory sensor near his snout. Even as a pup, this was one scary looking fish!

After that bit of excitement we arrived at Avalon at 1830 and took a mooring just off the pier, where we stayed a couple of days before moving up to Two Harbors.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Homeward Bound: Bahia Santa Maria to Ensenada

Finisterra remained in Bahia Santa Maria all day waiting for more favorable winds, and by 2200 the strong northwesterly had died down to about ten knots. We got the anchor up and slipped out of the bay at 2330 under a beautiful gibbous moon and rounded the south-facing Punta Hughes around midnight. From there we headed northwest toward Turtle Bay, about 225 miles up the coast. We headed offshore a couple of extra miles as we passed Cabo San Lazaro, giving it plenty of room. The last time we passed this way, in 2011, we watched a large sailing yacht that had strayed too close break up after it was stranded on the rocks there.

Once past San Lazaro, it's a straight line to Turtle Bay and we motored comfortably into the northwesterly wind and swell, which remained mild until the next morning. By 1000 we were punching into a fifteen knot headwind and a short, steep swell. Fifteen knots of wind on the nose translates to 20 knots of apparent wind, which is enough to send spray flying across the deck. These conditions stayed with us well into the night, then eased around midnight. The next morning we were greeted with the same lumpy conditions, which finally eased about ten miles out of Turtle Bay.
Finisterra's route to Turtle Bay. Notorious Cabo San Lazaro is the point just north of Bahia Santa Maria

We made the entrance to the bay at midday and were tied up to the fuel dock at 1245. We took on about sixty gallons of fuel and checked the weather forecast. It looked good for us to continue north, so we headed out again at 1330. From Turtle Bay, we could go inside Cedros Island, which is roughly the size of Catalina Island,or head further out to sea and pass to the west of it.  We chose the westerly route and headed well out to sea, passing to the west of Cedros and its neighboring islands of Natividad and San Benito. This turned out to be a good decision because that night we passed well to the west of a very large fishing operation instead of threading our way through it. We could see the bright lights of a dozen or so large fishing boats and many smaller lights around them. Throughout the night we could hear the radio chatter of other sailboats that were dodging their way through the fishing fleet. I was glad have a few miles between us and the fishermen, which were most likely after squid. Commercial squid fishing operations use "light boats" and purse seiners. The light boats are fitted with very bright lights that are shined into the water to attract large schools of squid. The purse seiners deploy a net around the school and reel it in close. With the net drawn up close to the boat, a pump is lowered into it and the squid are pumped aboard. I love calamari!
Turtle Bay to Ensenada

The passage from Turtle Bay to Ensenada is about 280 miles. It was all upwind and into seas that varied from easy swells to vicious lumps that we slammed into, making life aboard something less than comfortable. We had those lumpy conditions until we were about 40 miles from Ensenada, where conditions eased and we had a smooth ride between Isla Todos Santos and Punta Banda, and on into Ensenada harbor where we secured a berth at the Cruiseport Marina at 1230 on June 12th. Total distance traveled from San Jose to Ensenada was 824 nautical miles in six days and three hours.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Homeward Bound: Los Cabos to Bahia Santa Maria

We stayed about a week in San Jose del Cabo at the luxurious and expensive Marina Puerto Los Cabos. Actually it’s not really luxurious. It doesn’t have a pool or much in the way of amenities for cruising sailors. Instead it caters to sportfishermen and mega yachters, a totally different type of clientele. It is very well maintained and has a nice little open air restaurant where you can get a hamburger for only about $13.00. That’s dollars, not pesos. The marina is beautifully landscaped and the docks are perfectly maintained, while the staff is mostly quite friendly and helpful. On the other hand, it has a sterile, soulless ambience along with plenty of security. I credit this to the mostly absentee ownership of the boats that call this place home. Of the hundred or so boats in the marina there were only five or six sailboats, most of which had people living aboard who were, like us, simply waiting for a weather window to head north to the US.

While we waited for the window to open, we spent a little time preparing the boat for the arduous 900 mile trip up the outside coast of Baja, but there really wasn’t much to do, as Finisterra was pretty much ready when we left La Paz. I had the bottom cleaned, changed the fuel filters and gave the engine a thorough inspection because we expect to be motoring or motorsailing for the nest 900 miles. There are very few places on the outside of Baja that have fuel or any kind of marine services so we want the engine systems in tip top shape. We also want the sails and rig to be in top form. There was nothing to do in that respect except give it all a thorough once-over. The only thing on the to-do list was to make a set of sail ties for the reef points. With all that done, we spent the rest of our free time checking out the beaches and hanging out in the very upscale environs of San Jose. It really wasn’t a very fun place to be and I confess that I checked the weather forecasts several times a day, looking for the first opportunity to get out of San Jose.

One of the new “attractions” at the marina is a Dolphin Discovery exhibit. It consists of three or four large pens next to the marina where they keep a half dozen or so dolphins in captivity. Tourists pay for the experience of getting into the pens with the dolphins for a personal encounter. We walked past the place several times in the early mornings, before the customers arrived and watched the captive dolphins swimming around in the pens while the “trainers” got ready for the day’s show. The poor dolphins looked pathetic compared to the exuberant ones we always see in the wild, and the whole concept of keeping these animals in captivity for profit disgusts me. I hope you never pay to pet a dolphin.

My primary sources for weather information are Predictwind and GRIB files. GRIB’s provide a good overview of winds in the region while the information from Predictwind is more detailed and specific. By Monday, June 2nd, the forecast started looking good for a Saturday departure, but as the week wore on, the forecast for the area around Cabo began to worsen. So we could either leave on Friday morning or wait for the forecasted adverse winds to pass by, which could be another week or more. We decided to take advantage of the current conditions and quickly checked out of the marina and got underway at 0930 on Friday, June 6th, bound for Bahia Santa Maria.

The wind was light when we left San Jose but quickly built to 20-25 knots on the nose as we approached the Cape. In the twenty miles between San Jose and Cabo San Lucas the sea temperature plummeted from 83 to a surprising 68 degrees and we prepared for a chilly passage. But after rounding Cabo Falso, the last point of land before we could turn northward, the wind began to ease and the sea temperature rose to a much more comfortable 77 degrees. For the rest of the day and throughout most of the night we motored in balmy seas and a light wind. It was still on the nose though.
Finisterra's route from San Jose del Cabo to Bahia Santa Maria

That night there was a waxing gibbous moon amid scattered clouds until around 0200. After the moon set the overcast sky cleared and we were kept company by the vast Milky Way, with Polaris, the north star off our starboard bow. The next day we continued in lovely light conditions until around noon when the wind and seas built. By 1500, when we arrived at Bahia Santa Maria it was again blowing 20 with a bumpy sea throwing spray over the dodger.

We are anchored in the northwest corner of the bay now. The wind is still blowing hard outside the bay, but I expect it to lie down a bit this evening. If it does, we’ll get underway around midnight, and head toward Turtle Bay, 220 miles away.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

La Paz to San Jose del Cabo

Finisterra's route from La Paz to San Jose. Ensenada de Los Muertos is to the right of the "286".  Cabo Pulmo is the easternmost point on the peninsula.

Finisterra departed La Paz on the morning of May 30th with the temperature hovering at 92 degrees and about three knots of wind out of the north. The plan was to transit the San Lorenzo and Cerralvo channels in daylight and anchor at Ensenada de los Muertos around sunset. The forecast was for northerly winds and a nice 12 knot wind arrived around noon. We had been motoring until then and I was about to set the mainsail when the breeze veered northeast, then east and settled at southeast...exactly the direction we were headed. On top of that, once in the Cerralvo channel, we found ourselves bucking a southeast current of about a knot. So I left the mainsail on the boom and we settled down to a long motor to Los Muertos.

We got the hook down around 1730 and had time for a sunset swim in the 85 degree water. We were up well before dawn the next morning and were underway by 0430. Our next destination was Los Frailes, where we hoped to explore the coral reef at Cabo Pulmo. This reef is the northernmost coral reef in the eastern Pacific and is now a Mexican National Park. You can learn more about it at

Cabo Pulmo National Park

Unfortunately the unfriendly southeast wind continued to blow and brought with it a hefty south swell, making the anchorage unsuitable. So we reluctantly continued on toward San Jose del Cabo, where we planned to stay until a good weather window opened for us to work our way around Cabo San Lucas and northward to Bahia Santa Maria on the Pacific side of the Baja Peninsula.