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NOVEMBER 1, 2008

Jacaranda Passage Note #28: We Survived the Summer in the Sea

Santa Rosalia, Baja California

When we last left you, tropical depression Julio was moving into the Sea of Cortez, the first named storm of the season to do so. We were located in the Bahia de Los Angeles (BLA) area - a deliberate choice based on a strategy of safety during the hurricane season because here is where you find the best hurricane hole in the northern Sea of Cortez  Puerto Don Juan. Don Juan is almost totally enclosed with protection from about 340 degrees with room for lots of boats, close to BLA village for provisions and fuel, and near lots of cruising destinations in the islands and on the Baja coast. So its easy to run to if need be. The only issue is its a bit too deep at 30-40; with the recommended anchoring scope of 10 to 1 during a blow, the proper anchor scope is difficult to achieve for most vessels.

So we ran into Don Juan (with about 20 other boats) in anticipation of riding out the forecasted storm. While we watched Julios track and prepared the boat, we caught up with friends not seen since the Fourth of July party and did some great fishing and clamming (love that linguine and clam sauce with more clams than pasta)! Luckily, Julios course veered way to the south and turned into a non-event for us: one day of 25kt winds and about 15 minutes of light rain (not even enough to wash the boat). The town of Mulege to the south was not so fortunate as they took the brunt of the storm and experienced severe flooding, winds of 60 knots, and a few deaths.

After Julio dissipated, all the cruisers began to go their separate ways again. We sailed over to BLA village to so some badly needed provisioning  we had been anchored out for one whole month and had not spent a single peso  our first Zero-Dollar Month!! We had done very well with boxed milk (its as delicious as fresh and needs no refrigeration until opened), canned vegetables replacing fresh ones, Lindas homemade bread (or not) when Bimbo loaves and tortillas were gone, and fresh fish supplementing our frozen chicken and meat.

During the next month we hung out in the Bahia de Los Angeles (BLA) area enjoying some of the beautiful islands close by. There are at least 2-3 dozen great anchorages all within 15-20 miles of the village giving us lots of choices.

A few highlights were:

Whale sharks! These unusual plankton-eating creatures can reach the length of 40-50 feet and return to the B of LA every summer. About 8 or 9 were sighted this year, more than in the past, and some folks even got a chance to swim with them (we did too when we were here a few years ago visiting friends on IWA). Their size is daunting but they are very gentle giants. This year we saw a young one (15-18) and sat in the dinghy as it swam around us, coming right underneath. Black with white spots that looked like large freckles, they swim along the surface with their mouths wide open like a huge cave, taking in thousands of gallons of water and filtering out the small plankton and krill.

Full Moon Party: The September full moon party really happens during the afternoon. Most of the boats in the area (18-20) gathered at La Gringa where a salt-water lagoon offered e-ticket rides out of the entrance when the high tide started to ebb at 2 p.m. Hours spent floating out of the lagoon at up to 4 knots was a kick with people (and a few dogs) on colorful boogie boards, rafts, kayaks, blow-up lounge chairs, noodles, and all kinds of inflatables. The partying continued into the next several nights with it culminating in a dinghy raft up at HIPNAUTICAL for a special music concert featuring Bobby Jo on flute, harp (fullsize!), vocals, and guitar, and husband Roger on guitar and vocals (no piano but they do have keyboards). They need a large boat for their traveling symphony!

Good Fishing and Eating from the Sea: Once again we had a terrific time in the dingy dragging a tasty looking Yo-Zuri lures. What fun catching dinner every night - - it was yellow tail season (our favorite), as well as trigger fish, grouper, cabrilla and sierra. We had fish grilled, sautéed, pan-fried, fish sausage, salads, ceviche, poisson cru..but the best was the sushi and sashimi made by Jo on MILAGRO!!! In Este Ton on Isla Angel de la Guarda, the yellow tail was abundant and catching dinner took 10 minutes! Boy did we eat well during our week here  especially when you add the lobsters and scallops from some local fishermen. And on the way from San Francisquito to Santa Rosalia we finally caught our Dorado for the season  a nice 4 footer!!!

Snorkeling: Even though we would rate the diving in the Sea of Cortez as fair compared to places like Fiji or Australia, this year the water clarity was the best it had been in at least 6 years. Visibility in the 30-35 range was not uncommon. So we spent many hours each day bobbing around enjoying the various tropical fish, corals, and sea fans. Lindas standard for a good snorkel, among seeing the usual suspects, is to at least spot a king angelfish, Cortez angelfish, and a golden grouper or two.

Water temps: Most of the time the water temperature was in the mid to upper 80s. That suited us just fine, as we have quickly become major whimps when it comes to cool water. Lindas kids always teased her about needing bathtub temperatures to go swimming.and we sure had them in the northern sea.. it even hit 90 degrees in shallow San Felipe!!!

Puerto Refugio: We loved it here! Located on the north end of Isla Angel de la Guarda, this wild and scenic area offered numerous small bays to anchor in and protection from every direction. We had it all to ourselves and spent each day exploring, hiking, snorkeling, fishing and relaxing. We harvested mussels and found scallops and oysters. It was hot but the water was refreshing. One day a school of 100 yellowtail swam right by us as we were snorkeling around Cave Island. Sea lions from nearby Isla Granita kept us entertained as they hunted around the boat at night. We even endured no-seeums in order to stay in this gorgeous place!

While we were in Bahia de los Angeles (BLA) we received a sailmail message from our oldest son David that he had injured his neck and was going to need surgery on a herniated disk. We couldnt return to San Diego to be with him from BLA  no bus service (50 miles to the major highway), no rental cars, no banks, no where to leave Jacaranda. We had two choices: (1) go south to Santa Rosalia (putting us closer to potential hurricanes that normally track closer to mid Baja) or (2) head north 150 miles to San Felipe to the brand new Singlar marina there. We decided to go to San Felipe. Few cruisers go this far north in the Sea but it is an interesting place of shallow water (near the Colorado River Delta) and 22 foot tides. Shrimping season had just begun and the large fleet of 100 pangas (and 5-6 shrimp boats) left early every morning and returned at sunset to a crowd of waiting friends and relatives who eyed the days haul from the rocks and pier above the water.

It was quite a lively social scene. Tons of shrimp were retrieved from their nets and a kilo of jumbo shrimp could be had for $10. While we were there, we also had a chance to meet the members of an international scientific expedition who were studying the Vaquita  a small dolphin found only in the northern Sea and the worlds most endangered cetacean (only 150 left). We rushed to put the boat to bed and jumped on a 6 hour bus to Tijuana, then across the border to SD.

David had the operation a few days later and it went very well  his pain was alleviated and he was quickly back on the road to recovery. The timing was good for brother Bill and wife Sue: they were leaving October 27 on the Baja Ha Ha rally (180+ boats heading together to Mexico) so I was able to help them cross a number of projects off their long list. And a bonus - our old friends on IWA happened to be in town from Ecuador so it was a fortuitous timing to see them again!

We returned to San Felipe just in time to prepare for hurricane Norbert, forecasted to come across the southern Baja and move across the Sea of Cortez. Being so far north we were not too concerned except that the harbor is totally open to the NE and any wind or swell from that direction would not be fun. The next day we started to get a breeze of about 10-12 knots from the NE and with a 80-100 mile fetch the swell started to roll in making the 10 boats at the marina look like a herd of bucking broncos. The concrete docks undulated and walking on them was a challenge - like those crazy rope bridges at a fun park. We had 10 docks lines and 4 fenders trying to keep JACARANDA from destroying herself. Many boats broke mooring lines, ripped out deck chocks and other fittings, and in some places the docks started to break up. One small boat had a 6 crack in the hull where it slammed up against the dock. Once it settled down we got the first Norther of the season. The air temperature dropped 30 degrees and the water temp dropped 15 degrees (from 90 degree water to 75). Even though the North breeze did not blow directly into the harbor just the 30-40 knots across the harbor caused the waves in the harbor to break over the marina docks and once again we bucked around like a crazy horse. We would have left San Felipe for a brisk sail south but we were trapped by the fuel dock and harbor rock wall which were too close to us to allow us to maneuver safely in such high winds. We would have to wait for the winds to die down a bit.

Finally, we departed San Felipe at 3am with winds forecast in the mid to upper 20s and had a rollicking sail south arriving in Gonzaga Bay in the mid afternoon, sailing all but about 3 miles. The next day we headed back over to Puerto Refugio on the north end of Isla Angel de la Guarda just in time to have an elegant dinner aboard MYSTIC MOON with friends from PANCHITA. The following day we motored south to the tiny anchorage of Este Ton, on the west side of Isla Angel de la Guarda, where we stayed for a week.another beautiful anchorage to add to our favorite list. This tiny bay with its south-facing opening had room for 1-2 boats and we shared the space with John and Sandy on MASQUERADE who arrived later in the afternoon. The towering pink and red mountains rose almost from the edge of the anchorage changing color as the day progressed. Fishing was almost too easy  the yellowtails just jumped on the hook (so did the barracudas which we threw back). We watched with interest as two fish camps sprung up on the beaches near us  these hardy pangueros from Bahia Kino were after sea cucumbers (pepino in Spanish). They would dive with hookahs in the evening and in the morning they would gut these slug-like animals and throw them into vats of boiling water. Sea cucumbers are a delicacy in Japan and there is a big market for them. The men would sleep in the heat of the afternoon and repeat the process for a few days until they had collected enough to justify their trip. They were short on drinks so we were happy to oblige when they came by and asked us if we wanted four lobsters in trade for four sodas! We also rescued one of their pangas when we saw it drift away dragging its anchor  I hopped in the dinghy and took one of the fishermen out to retrieve the wayward boat. The next day, after packing up their camp, they stopped by on their way home to thank us with a big gracias and a bag of 8 huge scallops. We were in seafood heaven!!

The week went by quickly, MASQUERADE had already departed, and it was time to head south again. We stopped overnight in BLA to do a little provisioning (its too expensive to do a full shop here), get some fuel - and most importantly: Linda wanted to see the BLA Natural History and Cultural Museum and meet our local friend Lois there on Friday afternoon during her shift as volunteer. This Museum, begun by a gringa who has lived in the town for many years and assisted by the San Diego Natural History Museum where Linda had worked, has an incredible collection of land and sea flora and fauna, several whale skeletons, mining and vaquero items, and archeological artifacts. It is an amazingly impressive resource for such a remote and off the beaten track community.

From BLA we spent two days at Isla Salsipuedes where we watched sperm whales playing in the distance, an overnight in the inner harbor at San Francisquito, and then arose at 2 a.m. for a long day sail to Santa Rosalia. We arrived in the Singlar Marina late in the afternoon.

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