Friday, May 29, 2015

Southern Sea of Cortez

Isla San Francisco

We didn't spend as much time up the Sea as we would have liked, but we savored every minute of it. Our travels took us from La Paz to Puerto Balandra, Isla Partida, San Evaristo, Isla San Francisco, Bahia Ballena and then back to La Paz by way of Puerto Balandra again.

Puerto Balandra.
The southwest cove offers good protection from Coromuels and has the best rocks and reef for snorkeling.

Puerto Balandra is our favorite place in the Sea. It's only a few miles from downtown La Paz but we have anchored there many times in tranquil isolation and enjoyed spectacular sunsets, great swimming and snorkeling, and fun exploring its beautiful beaches and mangroves. We anchored in the southwest corner of the bay on May 11th and spent a couple of days by ourselves swimming, snorkeling and exploring. Later we were joined by friends aboard Telitha and Ali'i'Kai, so the evenings were spent aboard one boat or another for sundowners and socializing. After a couple of days the other boats headed out toward Ensenada Grande while we stayed behind and had another day of solitude before heading north ourselves.

We had a beautiful sail from Balandra to Ensenada Grande, with 10 knots of breeze on a close reach and a flat sea. By early afternoon the wind had veered to the northwest, so we sailed into the bay on port tack and anchored not far from our friends aboard Telitha and Ali'i'Kai. The next day the beautiful Schumacher 52, Cinnabar joined our group in the north lobe of the bay. That evening the party was aboard Finisterra. In the late afternoon the wind backed around to the southwest, a sure sign of a Coromuel, so by 2130 our friends reboarded their own boats and we secured for what could be an interesting night. We had anchored on the north side of the bay because the forecast was for northerly winds. But the north side offers no protection from the southwest, which is the direction that Coromuels blow from. By midnight the wind was blowing about 20 knots out of the southwest accompanied by short, steep southwest swells. I stood a midnight to 0300 watch in the cockpit, ready to get the anchor up and relocate to a more protected spot further inside the bay if the situation worsened. But by 0300 the wind was down to about 12 knots and the only discomfort came from the lumpy southwest waves that lasted until dawn.

Ensenada Grande is on the west side of Isla Partida. We anchored in the northern cove for a couple of days, then moved to a spot just outside the small cove in the southeast part of the bay. You can see that the wind in this photo is blowing out of the north, which is the usual condition for springtime in this region.
Telitha at anchor in Puerto Balandra. 

The next morning we moved the boat further into the bay where we had some protection from the Coromuel winds. Later that day Cinnabar joined us and Tom, co-skipper of the boat dove into the water with his spear gun and shot a snapper and a goatfish, both of which Sylvia, the other co-skipper, served blackened that afternoon. I pulled my last bottle of Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio out of our wine locker for the occasion.  After four days in Ensenada Grande we got the anchor up and sailed for San Evaristo, about 28 miles away on the Baja mainland.

Dinner aboard Cinnabar.

Around midday Cinnabar, which had started half an hour after Finisterra rolled past us and anchored with our other friends in the main part of the bay. There was room for us to anchor near Cinnabar when we arrived half an hour later, but instead we chose a spot where we've anchored before in the northeast corner of the bay next to Punta San Evaristo. This is a snug little cove with steep hills coming down to the water's edge. The snorkeling here and around the point is excellent and the surrounding hills offer good protection from all but south and southeast winds.

Cin rolls Fin on the way to Evaristo

Bahia San Evaristo
The white area is actually salt pans. In southerly winds its safe to anchor off the gravel beach north of the pans.

We stayed in Evaristo a few days then it was time for us to part company with our friends. Telitha and Ali'i'Kai were headed north to San Carlos for the summer. Cinnabar planned to spend some more time in the central Sea and we were headed south to beautiful Isla San Francisco. We usually shy away from buddy boating, but hanging out with Joe & Kitty (Telitha), David & Toni (Ali'i'Kai), and Tom & Sylvia was really a lot of fun so we were a bit sad to part ways with them.

Isla San Francisco is only about nine miles from Evaristo and, with hardly a breath of wind out of the north, we motored to another of our favorite anchorages, the Hook on the south side of the island.
Isla San Francisco
We anchored in the south part of the bay about 100 yards NE from the tip of the hook.
Finisterra shares the anchorage with the 163 foot M/V Calex. It was interesting to watch the crew back this mega yacht into the shallow water and anchor bow and stern about 100 yards from the beach. 

The beautiful 82 foot R/V Martin Sheen spent a night at Isla San Francisco.
This vessel is operated by the Sea Shepherd organization and is in the Sea of Cortez on a mission to help save the endangered Vaquita dolphin.

We stayed three days at Isla San Francisco hiking, snorkeling and exploring. There were a couple of other boats in the anchorage when we arrived but they left and we thought we'd have the place to ourselves. But before long the Calex and Martin Sheen joined us. A rather incongruous assembly of conservationism, conspicuous consumption and cruising sailors.

The hiking on Isla San Francisco is spectacular.
Lisa poses before conquering the summit.
Dramatic cloud formation at sunrise.
We departed Isla San Francisco on May 22nd, bound for Bahia Ballena. It's a pretty set of three small coves on the west side of Isla Espiritu Santo about 20 miles away. There was no wind so we motored over a flat sea and anchored in the shelter of the bluffs on the northern side of the bay. No sooner did we get the hook down than we were swarmed by flies and bees. I quickly fitted bug screens over the hatches, but it was obvious that we would find no refuge from the insects at least until sunset, so we raised the anchor and proceeded another 12 miles south to bee-free Puerto Balandra.

At Puerto Balandra we relaxed and swam and enjoyed the afternoon and evening in solitude. Around 0400 the next morning, KABOOM!, we were awakened by a massive thunderclap.  And for the rest of the morning we watched as a thunderstorm rolled over us close enough to make us put phones and I-pads in the microwave. One bolt of lightning struck close enough that it stunned our wireless wind instruments, but later I was able to restart them, so no damage was done. By noon the rain had stopped and the lightning had moved off the the east and we got the anchor up and sailed the last few miles to Marina Palmira, where we've been slowly planning and provisioning for the long trip up the Baja coast to California.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Three Weeks in La Paz

Finisterra took a berth in Marina Palmira on April 24th where I had planned to do some routine engine maintenance, the most important of which was to service the fuel injectors. Rob from Cross Marine did the injector work and gave the engine a complete inspection while I replaced filters, tightened belts and generally puttered around the engine. In the course of his inspection Rob discovered a slight leak in the raw water pump. Fortunately I had a rebuild kit in my spare parts cache and within a day or two that job was done.
La Paz  with Marina Palmira in the foreground. It's a nice hike up a rocky trail from the marina to the top of the hill where these pictures were taken. 

La Paz is the only city on the gulf coast of Baja California. It boasts a population of around 250,000 including nearby suburbs. Mulege, Loreto, and Santa Rosalia are also located on the Sea of Cortez side of the Baja Peninsula, but I categorize them as towns or villages with populations of  4,000, 15,000 and 12,000 respectively.

Because of its location La Paz is the place where cruisers gather before heading up the Sea. Of course there is a fairly large contingent of cruisers who have become more or less permanent residents of this area, some of whom anchor out in the channel between the city and the El Mogote Peninsula, which lies between La Paz and the Sea. Hurricane Odile ravaged the Baja Peninsula last year, passing just to the west of the city and wreaking havoc ashore and among the boats in the anchorage. As we sailed down the channel on our approach to Marina Palmira, we could see evidence of Odile's fury in damaged buildings and torn up docks in the marina. Odile did almost one and a quarter billion dollars worth of damage in Mexico and took over a dozen lives.

The pilings in the upper left are all that's left of the docks at the entrance to Marina Palmira. Notice the boats in the storage yard.

One day I helped deliver a boat out to the Tramper, a heavy lift ship that was anchored in the bay. The Tramper was on a voyage delivering yachts from one place to another. After its stop in La Paz, it was headed to Ensenada, then British Columbia.

As far as I know, the Tramper picked up three boats in La Paz

This 40' racer/cruiser was picked up before our boat.
The boat comes alongside the ship, a couple of handlers descend the jacob's ladder and the slings are lowered aft of the boat. Then a pair of divers, which you can see holding the slings in this shot, align them under the boat, making sure they aren't touching the shaft, prop or rudder. 
Before the boat is hoisted aboard the ship, they do a test lift to make sure it hangs in the slings the way they want it. If all is good, the boss gives the order to load the boat.

Our little boat was up next. It has spent many years cruising in Mexico and is headed home to Canada for a rest and refit. It got shoe-horned between the dark hulled C&C and the white boat with the black stripe.
With the job done, we climbed aboard a panga and headed back to shore.
La Paz is usually a hot place this time of year, with average daytime temperatures of 92 degrees under a usually blazing sun. But over the last couple of weeks we've enjoyed temps in the low eighties with cool Coromuel winds blowing almost every night. It's made hiking and exploring the city quite bearable and we've enjoyed the place more than ever. Of course, friends are what really make a place enjoyable and we've spent a good deal of time socializing with great people.

With Finisterra well provisioned, fueled and ready to go, we're heading out tomorrow for the islands to the north of us. The rough plan is to spend a day or two in Puerto Balandra, then a few days in the coves of Islas Espiritu Santo and Partida before heading further north to Isla San Francisco and beyond.