October 28, 2009

Jacaranda Passage Note #35: We survived another summer in the Sea,

Part 2: Heat and Hurricanes

After two days of putting our boats back together after Hurricane Jimenas dissipation, everyone headed off more or less in the same direction  to the BLA pueblo to provision for food and then over to La Gringa for the annual Full Moon Party on Sept. 6. Here it is customary to gather on the beach near the lagoon just as the high tide switches direction in the afternoon, draining the lagoon at a flow of 2-3 knots, and ride the swift current out on anything that floats  Styrofoam noodles, fenders, rafts, kayaks, tubes, surfboards,etc. This year for the first time prizes were awarded for the best floaty. And guess who won? Linda as the Sea Horse Queen  she used tinfoil to fashion one end of her noodle with the head and the other end with the tail of a seahorse, wore an elaborate tinfoil crown, and carried a tinfoil seahorse scepter. Her creativity carried the day although it put a serious crimp in our ability to barbeque.

After the party, we crossed the Ballena Canal (Whale Channel) and settled into one of our favorite places in the northern Sea of Cortez  Las Rocas anchorage at Isla Coronado (Isla Smith). We stayed in our spot, protected between the small rock island and large island for nearly three weeks, much of the time by ourselves. The cooling wind was welcome and clear water meant many happy hours of snorkeling along the island and shoreline. Shelling and beachwalking also kept Linda occupied. Fishing was terrific, usually taking no more than 15 minutes to land dinner each day  delicious sierra or yellowtail. The scenery here is wonderful and we explored the nearby lagoons and hills. A pair of ospreys called to each other, separated at night to sit on their respective cactus perches, and then reunited during the day on a nearby nest in the beginning of their mating ritual. These huge scraggly nests are reused year after year, one of them 70 years old say the ornithologists, and are built on no-nonsense rock pinnacles overlooking the sea where no predators can reach them. We found this out when we decided to investigate the tallest nest we have ever seen that exists on a tenuous perch south of La Rada Lagoon  a virtual chimney of a nest. The climb was steep and dangerous with crumbling rock so that our handholds and footholds easily disappeared from underneath ourselves. But slowly, cautiously we inched our way to the top. The four foot high nest was built of successive layers of sticks and trash  a landfill of an aerie. There were thick branches, palm fronds, turquoise fishing nets, pieces of material, green plastic, and even a flip-flop sandal.

When friends Max and Sandy from the Australian boat VOLO arrived at Las Rocas, we hatched a plan to summit the volcano on Isla Smith (1554). We started at 6:15am along a ridgeline of skree and hardened lava and reached the summit about 11am, often stopping to admire the spectacular views. When we reached the level top, Linda and I had our picture taken in the same spot we had taken a photo 8 years ago, alongside the same cactus, when we hiked to the top with friends Jack and Hermy on IWA. The cactus was a bit taller, we were much grayer, the eastern edge had slumped 30 feet in an earthquake earlier this summer, but otherwise it looked the same. We telemarked down the descent in the heat and finally plunged fully dressed into the water below at 1p.m. Linda says that rather than climbing the volcano again 8 years from now, shell Photoshop a picture of us instead.

One of our best adventures this summer was a National Geographic moment that occurred just 100 yards from the boat when we were joined by Sandy and John on MASQUERADE. While I was out fishing with John one morning, a group of 5 huge finback whales surfaced all around us with throat pleats extended and mouths wide open  lunge feeding it is called. These enormous 70 creatures were swimming sometimes within a few feet of our dingy, herding schools of baitfish into the shallow water alongside Isla Mitlan and then scooping them up. We called the girls on our VHF handheld to come out for the whale activity. For over an hour the four of us floated in two dinghies as these whales, knowing we were there, completely ignored us and continued to feed and surface and blow all around us. We knew when a whale was about to surface as the baitfish would be exploding out of the water in all directions in an attempt to get away from the huge mouths. One whale surfaced so close to us that I started to pull the outboard engine up thinking the whale would bump it with his back. Both John and I stared in disbelief as this big whale (all 70 feet) traveled about 4 feet below the dingy careful not to hit us with his tail. Finally, their appetites satiated, they moved north out into the channel and disappeared in deeper water with not even a blow to be seen. WOW what a show!! Plus John caught a nice 12lb yellowtail for that evenings sushi delight.

After three weeks we traveled back to the Bahia de Los Angeles village to re-provisionwhich means a lot of walking, schlepping and hauling all over town, made especially arduous in the heat. This routine of topping up on veggies and food (from 5 different stores), getting diesel and gas, sometimes propane and laundry, and water for those who do not have water makers, was made infinitely easier by Alan, from the motor vessel NATIVE SON, who has a house in La Mona (south end of bay) with wife Barbara. Every Friday Alan drove into Guillermos restaurant with his pick-up truck and trailer to make the rounds with us cruisers. In the center of the trailer was Alans big black pila or container for water which he filled for his home use from the town spring; around it we loaded colorful jerry jugs of all sizes and colors for gas, diesel, and water; then aluminum propane tanks; in one corner were bags of our garbage he took to the dump. Instead of an onerous task, it was a fun morning with his trailer full of guys and the back of the pick-up packed with women and kidsas many as 20 of us. The Gringo Mobile was like a parade float driving through town stopping at every possible store, with Mexican locals stopping to stare or wave back. Afterwards, chores done, we would retire to Guillermos to have a cold beer and toast to Alan. For in the Summer in the Sea 2009, Alan and his Gringo Mobile made cruiser legend in BLA.

We anchored down in the southern end of the bay with the intent of attending a second Full Moon Party but strong WSW winds made coming ashore uncomfortable for most and the party only semi-materialized. On the first sunny light-wind morning we dinghied ashore to go clamming in the nearby estuary with a few other boats. It was low tide and we stood around socializing as we collected clams in inches of water. When we finished, the tide had begun to rise and we had to ford the entrance, now with water waist-high. I turned to a friend and said premonitiously that I didnt like doing this because of the number of stingrays. Although I was shuffling, the strong current made it hard to keep a footing. Then, sure enough, BAM! I stepped on one. A spike of red-hot lightning injected into my right heel had me bleeding and in intense pain for at least three hours. Deb, a nurse on ALMA INQUIETA, and Casey, a veterinarian on ISIS came over to JACARANDA to clean and flush the wound. The only relief I could get was immersing my foot into the hottest water I could stand while taking strong anti-pain medication. I immediately started a heavy dose of antibiotics and am glad to report that the wound healed quite rapidly and easily after a few days with no sign of dreaded infection. Believe me when I say that the Stingray Club is one that you do NOT want to belong to!!

With the last of the hot summer days and southerly winds almost over, blustery north and westerly winds were beginning and it was time to think about heading south again towards La Paz. We stopped at the village for one last food shop. BLA pueblo is known for quite drafty conditions when the Elephantes (westerly winds) are blowing. They are called Elephantes because the clouds stream over the mountains in long elephant trunk-like trails. One night we had winds to 45 knots but being sheltered by the beach in front of the pueblo all we had to contend with is the breeze, no fetch. We provisioned the next day during a calm period and headed south to beautiful Alacran Bay for a few days, stopping first for Linda to beachcomb Pescador Island.

But although the summer was over, the hurricane season was not (not officially until Nov. 31). Alerts about Hurricane Rick had us turning around and scurrying back to Puerto Don Juan on October 16. Places everybody! Hurricane Hideout, take two! But this time with a slightly different cast of characters since some new boats came from the north or from San Carlos and some boats had already gone south. We watched Hurricane Rick start to track north. Lucky again for us it never even got close but hooked east at Cabo San Lucas (at the southern tip of Baja) and went over the top of Mazatlan, reduced as a tropical storm.