SEPTEMBER 3, 2008

Jacaranda Passage Note #27: Sea of Cortez/BLA

Isla Ventana, Bahia de Los Angeles, Baja California

We had recently started having problems with our SSB HF radio  the ICOM 802 had a known design flaw and after 3 years of flawless operation, ours began showing symptoms of clipping as well as shutting down while in use (possibly caused by the same clipping problem). Not being able to transmit or receive sailmail was unacceptable to us so we made a sudden decision to go to Santa Rosalia where there was a safe marina to leave Jacaranda and take the bus back to San Diego in order to send the radio to ICOM for repairs. Besides, we had an ulterior motive  we would now be able to attend nephew Brendans wedding in Newport Beach, which we had disappointedly thought we would miss.

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So the morning after Garys Fourth of July Party in El Burro Cove, we pulled the anchor up at 06:30 while all the friends around us were hardly starting their day. We had a terrific sail north to Isla San Marcos arriving in a beautiful cove (north of Sweet Pea anchorage) in the late afternoon. Early on July 6th we headed for Singlar Marina in Santa Rosalia and the very next afternoon we were riding one of the luxury Mexican buses headed for Tijuana with radio and antenna tuner under our arms. Fourteen hours and four B movies later, we arrived in Tijuana, caught a local bus to the border, walked across through customs, and caught a trolley to downtown San Diego where brother Bill picked us up.

Ten days later  after the fantastic wedding and having received the repaired radio from ICOM, we were back in Santa Rosalia once again, busily installing the radio and tuner in the sweltering heat of the marina. Santa Rosalia has to be one of the warmest places we would visit: very little wind and HOT stagnant air. We wilted. A good thing about the new marina is it has a small swimming pool but even so the water approached 90 degrees. We often traipsed up to the pool at night before bedtime to sit in a plastic chair in the water up to our necks to cool off.

Santa Rosalia - what an interesting place - is a former mining town developed by the French and is very unlike any other Mexican town. Night fishing for the Humboldt Squid  the Red Demons  is the current economic activity, in conjunction with a Japanese cannery there. Linda will tell you about it in a separate passage note.

We so enjoyed nearby Isla San Marcos that we decided to go back for a week of fishing, snorkeling and cooler temperatures. Our plan was to return to Santa Rosalia the following Friday (for the weekly shipment of fresh vegetables arriving in the Fruteria) to stock up on food and pesos (this is the last bank and there are no food markets of any size further north where we are going). Isla San Marcos turned out to be one of our favorite spots. We anchored by our selves just to the north of the light tower in crystal clear water teeming with fish and a nice breeze each day to take the burn of the heat off the boat. The sunsets were spectacular. And we were treated to a real show of jumping manta rays. We raved about it so much to friends that they started calling this unnamed anchorage Jacaranda Cove. It was hard to leave but Linda learned that the town of San Ignacio near Santa Rosalia was having their annual patron saint festival and we decided to take a short road trip to attend. So we arrived back in Santa Rosalia a little early and jumped onto the same bus we had taken to the U.S. border for the 2 hour trip north to San Ignacio. We had a ball and Linda will also do a separate write-up on our experiences there.

Both of us were exhausted from our overnight in San Ignacio but we made a last minute run to the veggie store and bank and departed early the following morning heading further north into the Sea. This leg would be our longest day trip (78 miles) since leaving La Paz. The forecast was for a southerly of 15-18 kts and we departed a day earlier to ride the nice breeze north to Bahia San Francisquito. The wind filled in from the quarter and we sat back with a cool drink and watched the miles click off at 6-8 knots (gaining 1-2 knots of boat speed thanks to a northerly flowing current going with us). These great conditions held until about 5 pm (12 miles S of San Francisquito) when the boat speed abruptly dropped to 3 knots and the sea started to get a bit lumpy. We were suddenly bucking a southerly tidal current which slowed us right down. After a few hours of this, we turned on the engine and arrived in Bahia San Francisquito about 9 pm in the pitch black using radar.



San Francisquito is an interesting anchorage consisting of a tiny land locked inner harbor and a larger outer harbor where we anchored. The three boats in the inner harbor had moved there the morning we arrived, having experienced a 35kt Chubasco the previous evening and an uncomfortable swell at anchor; the inner harbor would still get the wind but no waves. We spent a week anchored in San Francisquito fishing everyday for dinner, snorkeling and exploring the numerous bays around the area. Luckily we had no Chubascos but we were always ready to run into the inner harbor if we woke up to one in the early morning hours.

From San Francisquito we sailed 9 miles across the Lorenzo Channel to the Midriff Islands and Isla Animas (north anchorage) where the fishing was fantastic (usually only 10 minutes to get dinner). The weather was still in the mid 90s during the day but the water was a refreshing 84. We spent about a week anchored here, most of the time by ourselves. This anchorage was also home to a large pelican rookery and we were always amused by the antics of the large juvenile pelican population as they practiced their newly acquired fishing (about 1 in 10 dives to catch something) and flying skills. The anchorage teemed with small fish and it was a safe place for the youngsters to figure out how to become master hunters and survive. At night there were strange noises coming from the rocky shore, like what you might expect banshee cries to sound likeand after all, Isla Animas means Island of the Spirits. An exploratory hike up a wide valley revealed hundreds of empty pelican nests in low shrubbery and on the rocky ground; a few large but unfledged babies still remained, waddling off as we approached and making the strange banshee-like screeches (kind of like a cross between a tiger cub meow and a donkey). Guess the ghostly noise was their protestation about disturbances - from us and from other pelicans in the hood  since they couldnt fly yet..or more likely they were hungry and calling mom & dad for their next meal.



The next jump was 9 miles further north to Isla Partida Norte where we spent another week anchored by ourselves, occasionally visited by a Mexican Floatel from San Felipe. Like a floating motel, this large boat had two levels of sleeping rooms arranged side by side for gringo fishing fanatics and an aft deck equipped for cleaning and storing fish and filled with fishing rods. It rarely stopped more than a few hours, launching their guests off to fish in the small 8-9 pangas that dragged behind it, retrieving them and then setting off to another location. Here in the anchorage we found the young tasty yellowtail that we called pan sized. Fishing was excellent and again we were able to provide a fresh fish dinner everyday. We dove both ends of the bay and the north end, a large rocky point with a wall drop off, had 35-40 foot visibility with tons of small to medium size fish including a turtle. This spot remains one of our favorite snorkeling sites in the Sea of Cortez.

From Isla Partida we motored a short distance north to Isla Estanque near the SE corner of Isla Angel de la Guardia , looking for an anchorage protected from the forecasted northerly winds. We anchored in the lee of the island, but later as the wind switched back to the more typical SE direction, we moved around and anchored in a small unnamed cove on the SE corner of Isla Angel de la Guardia (this is the largest island in the Sea). It was shallow (less than 18) and the wind blew very hot over the large expanse of land. By 9 pm we knew it would not cool down at all and it felt like a blow torch. We also experienced many insects (mainly flies and moths), probably due to the close proximity of a lagoon. Sleep was difficult in such uncomfortable temperatures and we both slept outside in the cockpit to try to gain relief from the hot winds. At 8 am we had enough sleep deprivation and left.

We moved 12 miles across, back to the Baja peninsula, and stopped in Ensenada Alacran (Scorpion Bay). We had anchored here years ago when we visited with friends Jack & Hermy on s/v Iwa. Now this picturesque spot sported 6 fancy Yurts on the beach, part of an all-inclusive wilderness camp reachable only by boat that is active in the winter whale watching months. Linda was excited to snorkel with a school of 13 small manta rays in the turquoise water right near the boat. We then dinghied to a reef on the south side of the bay to swim with the large colony of sea lions that call it home. Although several of the large bulls swam all around us to check us out, it was the large gangs (20 or so) of cautious but curious adolescents that had us enchanted. As we swam toward them they would move away, as we turned away, they swam toward us, and when Linda stood on the rocks in neck deep water and looked out of the water at them, they all stopped and strained their necks to look back at her. As I sat in the dinghy, Linda returned with a report of spotting a large shark near the sandy bottom at the edge of the reef  an unusual sighting since most of the sharks have been killed in the Sea from over fishing.

Due to a wind switch and swells, we left Alacran, bypassed the lovely but rolly El Pescador anchorage, and dropped the hook in Ensenada Quemado, about 10 miles north. We stayed for a few days, enjoying the large bay and good fishing although our attention was somewhat distracted now we were keeping a vigilant watch for news of tropical storm Julio, currently smacking Cabo San Lucas- the first named Pacific tropical storm of the season to track into the Sea of Cortez.