July 29, 2009

Jacaranda Passage Note #33: Summer in the sea 2009 Begins

Our last note was sent last April after we left Mazatlan on the mainland and crossed the Sea of Cortez to La Paz on the Baja peninsula. During May, Linda returned to San Diego for her annual visit to do taxes, celebrate son Davids birthday, see friends, and then drive to Tucson to visit son Joe and family and friends down there. Instead of her normal 2 week visit, she stayed for a month to help son David (who is moving to South Korea to teach English) renovate his condo in Mission Valley to rent out  painting, cleaning, new carpeting, packing, repairs, furniture donations, property manager, paperwork, finding tenants. The housing situation remains bleak in San Diego  property values have taken a nose dive, home sales are off, For Rent signs abound from owners not wanting to sell at a loss (making it a renters market) and finally and sadly, foreclosure notices posted on too many a door. Luckily the property manager found good tenants and got everything squared away so she could return to La Paz with peace of mind on June 12.

I stayed on Jacaranda to do boat projects and save the budget from expensive marina fees. The day after Linda departed in mid-May, I went to nearby Isla Espiritu Santo to hang out, swim, fish and do boat projects. Complaining to my friend Gary from Santa Cruz about how I wasn't catching much fish, he wrote back: Just a secondhere Linda has gone back to SD to slave away painting and cleaning the condo, do yard work at the LJ house, taxes, etc and youre complaining how tough the fishing is? It is a mans world after all!

We were united less than 24 hours after Linda returned to Jacaranda from her hectic stateside schedule when I left to do a boat delivery from mainland Mexico to La Paz for an owner whose transport company offloaded it there instead of Baja. With Dennis from Two Can Play and Casey from Radio Flyer, I flew to Puerto Vallarta and then took a bus down to Barra de Navidad to bring back a PDQ 44 catamaran. It was a quick one week trip north. The only excitement was being chased by the first tropical depression of the year - 1E - which uncharacteristically swung east and clobbered Mazatlan with 60kt gusts, doing some damage to boats and condos lining the marina.

On June 19 - with both of us back on Jacaranda once again - it was time to begin our "Summer in the Sea" cruising season of 2009! One of our goals this year will be to explore as many new anchorages as possible while returning to a few of our favorites from last year. Linda and I just love Baja and think its the best cruising that Mexico has to offer. Great anchorages, good diving, great fishing and in the summer months hardly any boats. We even get to sail quite a bit!! Why no boats you ask? The summer temps run in excess of 100 on the Baja and slightly less on the islands. The heat and the risk of hurricanes make most cruisers leave their boats in a marina and high tail it back north of the border for the summer and cooler temps. Dealing with high temperatures is at times difficult and I am sure our little fridge run time almost doubles in the summer months. Being able to jump in for a swim 3-4 times a day sure does help. Sleeping under the stars in the cockpit at night to take advantage of any breezes and to view the most stunning sky imaginable is worth it. But sometimes during the hot part of the day we go into survival mode, laying low, usually reading, hardly moving until the sun sets and things cool down. Its pretty warm here now during the day - and will soon get unbearably so as the summer wears on and we move further north - but the La Paz area has spring and summer nighttime winds that come across the Baja from the Pacific called cormuels - La Pazs version of air conditioning. Almost like clockwork, every evening by 6 pm the daily wind dies off and then switches to the SW. Ahhhhh! the temps drop quickly and it does feel like a big AC. These winds can blow with some force (up to 30 kts) and require careful attention to anchoring here in the islands. Sometimes you have to anchor in one spot for the daytime breeze and then move to better protection from the cormuels in the early evening when the wind switches direction.

So we moved into the marina for two days after being at anchor in the bay, provisioned, cleaned the boat, did laundry, had our dinghy repaired, had the last of goodbye until the fall dinners with friends (including Carlos and Daniella of the La Paz Pearl Farm that Linda is involved with), and left for the beautiful nearby anchorage of Balandra to clean the bottom and propeller. On June 29 at 4 am, we headed northward, reaching with the 20kt cormuel wind and riding it to within a few miles of San Evaristo where we stayed overnight anchored off the small town there. The next morning we hoisted our chute and sailed all day to Agua Verde. We described Agua Verde in one of our earlier Passage Notes but its a very pretty place as you can see by this aerial picture taken by a photographer in an Ultralight. We found the fishing to be as good as last year and immediately started getting back into the daily fresh fish scenario.

After 4 days of enjoying the lovely anchorage of Nautilus Cove west of Agua Verde we departed for our favorite magical anchorage, Candelero Chico (see Passage Note #??). It was just as delightful as last year. Clear water, good fishing, osprey still on the cactus eating a fresh fish... and squid. Last year we had our first squid experience there right off the boat; this year we were hoping for more calamari dinners. So one evening Linda wanted to go out in the dinghy and fish for squid since we didnt see any in the bay. Ahhhh, sure, I said to myself, not believing for a moment that she could catch one since they didnt appear to be around. Just after dinner and after it got dark we went with the squid lure. "Dont we need a bucket in case we catch one?" she asked. Nah no problem we probably wont catch one I replied. So off we went and just outside of the anchorage she held the flashlight up to the glow in the dark lure and tossed it over. Five feet of line went out and she yelled I got one!!! Ahhhh sure sure. Much to my amazement, a two foot squid got pulled up squirting and flashing in protest. With no bucket in hand we dragged the angry squid back to the boat laughing that Linda now holds the Jacaranda record for quickest fish catch beating my 5 yellowtail in 5 minutes from last summer. With the bucket in hand, we went back out for her other 5-second squid catch of the night. Yum, fresh Calamari and humble pie!



From Candelero Chico we headed north to Puerto Escondido, a large totally enclosed bay, to visit friends Lance and Jo on "Milagro". Lance was recovering from a short stay in Constitution's hospital (an hour and half drive) for a sudden and potentially life threatening condition of Deep Vein Thrombosis; it was great to see "Milagro" surrounded by so many boats with friends standing by to help in whatever way they could. Puerto Escondido is a perfect hurricane hole with access to at least 20 anchorages on the islands all within a day sail. Thus a few boats spend the whole summer here using it as their base. The Mexican government began to construct its overambitious development plan for Puerto Escondido that would include a grand marina, lots of slips, residential lots, and hotels......a "build a marina and people will come" mentality. As you can see by the photo, no lots have been sold, and its success as a tourist destination never materialized. Indeed, Puerto Escondido was part of Fonatur's (Mexico's Department of Tourism) misguided "Escalera Nautica" project to accommodate and attract some thousands of U.S. boaters in its planned string of 10 marinas spanning the Sea of Cortez coast of Baja. Any of us cruisers could have told you that their economic consultants were in fantasy land; now each of the only 5 partially completed marinas are for sale. Before government involvement, you could anchor for free anywhere in the huge protected bay but now you have to either pick up a mooring or anchor and pay a fee to the marina. We dropped the hook in the outer lobe known as "The Waiting Room" for free. To my surprise, next to us was an old neighbor of mine from when I kept Jacaranda on a mooring in San Diego many years ago...Dario on "Ballena". He had a car and drove us and Jo into Loreto for the Sunday market to provision, saving us the $70 roundtrip taxi fare into town. Taxis are unionized here and are probably the most expensive in Mexico. After spending time with Lance and Jo and adding our voices to friends' encouragement to return to the safety and convenience of La Paz rather than stay in that outpost, we departed for Isla Carmen the next morning. (P.S. "Milagro" is now back in La Paz to everyone's sighs of relief and Lance continues to make good progress; life is easier for Jo with the independence of having their own car and tennis practice for more tournament wins next year.)

From Puerto Escondido it was a quick 6 mile trip over to Bahia Marquer on Isla Carmen - a big beautiful bay with crystal clear water, good diving, beach combing, and lots of room for other boats to space out. We enjoyed a few days here encountering our first "chubasco" one evening with lots of thunder and lightning and wind in the low 20s. We have left the land of the cormuels and now are in chubasco country. Chubascos originate from the west over mainland Mexico during the hot part of the afternoons and by early evening churn down the Sierra Madres, cross the Sea of Cortez, and slam into anchorages on the Baja. You can watch the tall thunderheads forming. Some chubascos just bring wind, others bring rain, high wind, thunder and intense lightning. Our first chubasco that swept through late one evening gave us breezes in the low 20s with thunder and lightning but no rain. While in Marquer, we met up with Bill on "Rocky an Brew", a wonderful storytelling singlehander who owned a bakery in Canada for 30 years.

After the murder of her sourdough starter from the Alaska Clondike, Linda had been expressing to Bill her interest in improving her breadmaking skills aboard. Apparently, many others had the same desire. So here in Bahia Marquer was held the first "Breadmaking for Cruisers 101" with Bill giving an all day demonstration to 7 "admirals" aboard "Mai Tai Roa" - Linda, Sue from Mai Tai Roa, Leta from Panoya, Cindy and granddaughter Misty from Masquerade, Lisa from Rumiko, Casey from Issis. From one batch of dough Bill made hamburger buns, parkerhouse rolls, foccaccia, cinnamon rolls, croissants, and a few other goodies. The tasting was everyone's favorite part of the day - with us captains acting as "quality control".

Never having anchored in Bahia Oto, an open roadstead on the northern side of Isla Carmen, we thought we would give it a try. The next day we snorkeled small Isla Cholla nearby and had one of the best snorkel experiences we've had in Mexico! The water clarity was only about 35 feet and it was a cloudy day but the amount of fish and the variety rivaled my time in the Red Sea. Schools of fish in the thousands teemed around us for the few hours we were there. We also saw a turtle, eel, and lobster. Next day we went back with Mai Tai Roa - the sun was shining so the color was better but there were relatively few fish. That night we had our most intense chubasco yet this season. We had a lot of thunder, black clouds and such a huge amount of lightning overhead that we moved our computers, cameras and portable GPSs into the oven which acts like a Farraday Cage (hopefully protecting these important electronics from a direct strike). By 4 a.m. the lightning was so intense that the sky was illuminated as if it were daylight. To top it all off we had a very strong current which made the boat lay beam on to the swells and the windpretty uncomfortable.

After the morning Amigo net ended, we motored a couple of hours to Isla Coronado and anchored in the middle of a big group of cruisers and a few power yachts. All around us was the sight of small manta rays - about 3 feet wide - jumping high in the air like popcorn (thus Linda calls them "palomita" rays) and the sound of them bellyflopping back into the water. This is a common sight in this part of the middle Sea of Cortez but usually not in such high numbers. Linda jumped into the water and snorkeled over to one area where most of them seemed to be. I watched as she floated along with them, in the midst of the "popcorn trail" for about an hour. Actually I watched from the deck while I repaired a deflated dinghy pontoon - it had two very small punctures from the sharp dorsal fin of a delicious pargo I had landed yesterday while fishing. When Linda returned she reported that there a few hundred rays beneath her - like a dark flying carpet...and that they looked like miniatures of the giant manta rays we had swum with in the Revillagigedo Islands. Underwater they would dive and roll and seemed to be chasing one another as they swam along and rocketed toward the surface for a leap. Our friends thought she was amazingly brave (and a bit crazy) under the misinformed belief that they were like sting rays and had very dangerous and venomous barbs. In actuality these were a type of small manta ray known as mobulas - and none of the 7 species comprising the manta ray family have stingers. After lunch we left to make some tracks further north...but not before meeting the current owners of "Limerick", my brother Bill's former Fontaine Pujout catamaran which was anchored only a few boats away. It's such a small world in the cruising community - I always say you better not make anyone angry because it will always come back to get you.



We had a great spinnaker run from Isla Coronado to La Ramada, a small lovely anchorage north of San Juanico. We dove for some clams called "chocolate" (pronounced chako- latay) - the sweetest, cleanest clams there are and Linda made her great "linguine alle vongole" (that's italian for delicious). They are different from the butter clams and chinese clams that we have also found in Baja. Three other boats arrived later in the afternoon and we had a very nice group snorkel along the west side of the little bay. We left the following day with Panoya and Aquarius headed for Conception Bay.....perhaps the hottest heat sink of all of Baja. Gary, who lives in Conception in a palapa and is our weather guru on the Sonrisa Net, often reports temperatures in excess of 110 degrees for the day with the heat index. That's hot!! While our friends decided to go carry on to Santo Domingo, just inside the Bay where you turn the corner and get hit with a wall of hot air, we peeled off and anchored at Los Pilares, a small picturesque anchorage just before the Bay. The swell prevented us from staying here last year but this year it was comfortable and cool. Oh - I forget to mention that the dorado were running in this stretch of the Sea - we caught one, Aquarius caught one, and Panoya had a double hookup.

Continuing on our way north, we stopped in at Punta Chivato because the breeze was out of the north, on our nose. But inside the bay the breeze blew very hot that evening as it passed over the land mass. Ed, one of the few year-round residents here, stopped by to say hello in his Boston Whaler, returning from his daily morning fishing trip. He told us about the community of gringos in beautiful homes there as we watched a small private plane land on the airfield and the pilot walk over to the adjacent upscale hotel and restaurant.

On July 27 we anchored in Sweet Pea Cove on the island of San Marcos, outside of Santa Rosalia. That night in Sweet Pea Cove we had the coolest night in a long time and we slept in the cockpit under the stars with gentle breezes, the sound of rays jumping, and the blow of 5 finback whales swimming nearby. There's nothing like it! We don't normally have an agenda but we had reservations at the Santa Rosalia Marina the following day where we planned to leave the boat to attend the fiesta in the inland town of San Ignacio. More about that in the next passage note.