WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 08, 2010

Jacaranda Passage Note #42: Summer in the Sea #3/Copper Canyon

It is winter here in the Sea of Cortez, bringing cooling temperatures to the Sea and friends returning to their sailboats that had been put on the hard for the summer months - and we can now say we survived another summer in the Sea - our third!!!

 

The excruciating heat experienced by those on the East Coast this summer - their deadly heat wave - was what was a normal part of our lifestyle here during the summer - hot Hot and HOTTER temperatures!! Plus just a few hundred miles to the north of us in San Diego they were having the coldest summer for many years. Go figure! Our strategy to try to stay cool was being in the warm waters (mostly 86 degrees) for a good part of the day - swimming or snorkeling - and showering on deck to then sit below in the cabin under an army of 12 volt fans that ran day and night. And a fresh cold limonada never tasted so good!! Our tiny 12V water-cooled fridge ran more than 14 hours a day just trying to keep up. The warmest water temp we saw this summer was 91 degrees! We always looked for anchorages that had a small piece of land as protection from the sea so as the wind blew across it, the temperature would not rise to a blow dryer inferno.

 

But the Sea of Cortez is the place to be if you want to stay on your boat in Mexico outside of a marina during the summer hurricane season which runs from June 1 to Nov. 1. Thats why we do it - along with 47 other boats this year - a record number!!! Last year we only had about 27 boats.

 

Once you learn to deal with the heat, the joys of being in the Sea of Cortez for the summer are many - camaraderie of a small group of fellow cruisers, spectacular sunsets, strikingly beautiful desert scenery along the coasts and the numerous islands, the ability to have an anchorage all to yourself if you want, beach walks, hiking and shelling, fantastic fishing with fresh fish for dinner every night (not to mention other edible delicacies from the sea), and close personal experiences with marine wildlife - dolphins, seals, and whales.

This summer was one of the mildest hurricane seasons on record - a mere seven named storms compared to an average of 17. These storms brew in the Tropical Kitchen in southern Mexico and then move north and - if we are lucky - then west. This year we were very lucky as the 7 named storms never became a threat to us by moving up into the Sea. Good thing too - the best hurricane hole to be in, affording the best protection - Puerto Don Juan near Bahia de los Angeles (BLA) - would not have been able to hold the cadre of boats up here this year....maybe 35 at the most. We never even once went into Puerto Don Juan (affectionately know as Puerto Pollo or Port Chicken) this summer. Although it is a nice enough anchorage, it has an unfortunate association with weather threats, and we were glad to have the choice to avoid it this time. There are no warnings California to Panama, Don Anderson, our weather guru forecasting from Oxnard, CA. would say on the radio, and it was music to our ears.

 

Some of the most memorable events this summer were social ones. We reunited with long time friends Jack and Hermy (Linda's comadre) aboard IWA who returned to Mexico after being in Ecuador for a few years. Darrel and Rita on OVERHEATED, who were preoccupied with their new condo in Mazatlan for the last couple of years, headed for the Sea once again after a hiatus. Darrel and Rita were the first cruisers we met in the Sea when we visited IWA for a week in 2000 at a time when we were only dreaming of being there ourselves on JACARANDA. It was a great threesome reunion and we spent some fun time together, especially when both boats accompanied us up to Gonzaga Bay on our way to San Felipe in late August.

And it wouldnt be the Summer in the Sea without our good buddies Sandy and John on MASQUERADE - with them, for the third year, the Sea felt like home. Linda started beading sea shells she collected with Sandy and now Sandy is doing a whole collection as Christmas ornaments for her family. Gourmet meals are the hallmark of our get togethers - boy, do we eat well!! Sandy is the sushi queen rivaling any Japanese restaurant. So here's one of our unforgettable dinners we made after a delivery from an expert free-diving friend (Ethan on svEyoni): fresh sea scallops with vodka and creme fraiche over Jasmine rice, zucchini casserole, and Sandy's homemade blueberry turnovers (which rival her cinnamon buns).

With these folks and lots of additional friends, new and old, our days were filled with fishing, beachwalking, shelling ("Just how many pustulatas do you need?" I asked when Linda found a bonanza of these hard-to-find cowries), snorkeling, beading, and sharing stories over good food. Every evening when the sunset lit up the sky with streaks of color, Linda would blow the conch shell in salute to another beautiful day in the Sea.

 

Full Moon Party

 

The Full Moon Party held near Bahia de Los Angeles every year is the opportunity for the cruisers to gather and have yet another reason to celebrate together. Mentioned everyday on the radio net by social director Jake on JAKE, the August bash drew more than 25 boats. Covered in our last 2 summer passage notes in greater detail, its a great locale to get together, dress up in costume and float out of the lagoon when the tide changes. This year Linda did her usual outstanding job of building a costume out of aluminum foil, showing up as the Star Fish Witch (a good witch)! The evening pot luck on the beach under the rising full moon was great fun as usual except for the fact there were no musicians in the fleet this year to entertain us! But we did watch the sky in unison as the space shuttle orbited overhead!

 

After the full moon party we headed north to San Felipe, one of the northern most towns in the Sea of Cortez that is accessible by boat. We left the boat in a marina and hauled our anchors and 340 feet of chain to get galvanized in Mexicali, then continued onto San Diego for 10 days. The trip to SD was a whirlwind of activity with revamping the garden of our rental house, visiting with friends and family, and seeing son Joe play his music at a local venue. We were excited to be there to greet son David who returned from a year of teaching English in Seoul, South Korea. Sadly, we received the news of the death of Linda's Dad on September 5, after several years of debilitating decline. Stan passed on his love of sailing to Linda and it was a joy we were able to share together whenever he would come visit us.

Most of the anchorages we visited this year were repeats from previous years and already covered in past passage notes. Therefore, we were familiar with many of the good fishing spots and we did well this year. I had one lure that I kept count of the number of fish caught and was hoping to retire it at 100 -- but then I finally lost it when a large yellowtail took it and ran. The tally on that one lucky lure was 82 fish in 5 weeks!! And that wasnt the only lure I used during the summer but the only one on which I kept track of the catch. The yellowtail were larger than last year and just as tasty! We had a really exciting day when, leaving Puerto Refugio on Isla Angel de la Guarda, we sailed through a school of mahi mahi and had 3 double hook ups within 30 minutes!! We only kept 2 of the six since we only keep what we can eat.

Late in October we departed Bahia Concepcion and headed eastward across the Sea of Cortez to Topolobampo on mainland Mexico  the place to jump off and go inland to visit Mexicos famous Copper Canyon. The trip across was uneventful except for the rather rough sea conditions that were strange - we never saw more than 7-8 knots of wind yet the sea state appeared as if it should have been blowing 25 knots. We later learned that there were major earthquakes occurring in the Sea along a fault line right underneath us during this time!! No wonder the sea was so agitated - luckily there were no tsunamis! Topolobampo (Topo as the locals refer to it) is a small fishing village renown for its fresh seafood, located about 150 miles north of Mazatlan. Marina Palmira has nice new docks but is still under construction. This was a convenient spot to leave the boat in a safe place while we traveled inland by bus and train to Copper Canyon  a definite must see.

 

Copper Canyon

 

Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre) is Mexico's version of the Grand Canyon. Located in the state of Chihuahua, it is actually an area four times the size of the Grand Canyon and contains six canyons, several of which are deeper than the Grand Canyon. At the top, the 8000 foot elevation is cold and forested with pines yet the bottom of the canyons are hot and semitropical with orange and mango trees. We traveled by local bus and also by train. The famous El Chepe railroad is one of the most scenic railways in North America and is very exciting! Running alongside the edges of canyons, it offered fantastic views of stunning scenery.

 

The area is home to the isolated Tarahumara Indians and we saw many living in the area in simple log or stone houses or in caves. They call themselves Raramuri and are known for their unbelievable long-distance running ability. They hunt deer for ceremonies and run them down until the deer collapse from exhaustion! The men compete in races over 100 miles lasting 2-3 days where a small ball is knocked along using a curved stick (similar to a lacrosse stick). These races are run not on the flat but over the mountains. The women also compete in similar races but use a hoop in place of a ball. These shy people are dressed in wonderfully bright clothes and wear sandals of leather with straps around their ankles. The women and girls weave remarkable baskets out of pine needles and grasses. Everywhere the train stopped, all through the towns, and at every scenic overlook where there was likely to be a hiker or tourist, dozens of women and girls were selling their work. The prices were ridiculously cheap and yes, we came back with an arm load of the beautiful woven handicrafts.

 

Taking a local bus 6 hours down to the bottom of one of the canyons to the old silver mining town of Batopilas was in itself an experience..a white knuckled one! The dirt switchback road was just barely wider than the bus itself with no guard rails, drops of a thousand feet, and the bus tires within inches of the edge. And the bus driver chatting with his girlfriend who was standing in the door well next to him had the locals on the bus crossing themselves and saying prayers! Linda said she was doing fine until we had to squeeze past a cement truck that had gone off the road  well, not completely, it still had two wheels on the dirt while two wheels hung in the air.

 

We returned to Topo after 10 days of traveling mostly with Mexican tourists. In many places we were the only people staying in the hotel and the locals told us tourism was down in that area almost 85% due to the US State Department warning for the Mexican State of Chihuahua. We never saw any indication of trouble during our whole journey although we heard the stories of marijuana growing in these remote areas and drug-related friction with federales. After all, many of the new SUVs and Ford Explorers we saw in the canyons were not purchased with basket money.

We departed Topo on November 10 and our trip westward back across the Sea to La Paz was a motor boat ride with very little wind and flat sea conditions. In fact this summer we motored more than the previous two summers combined. The generally light wind conditions this summer put many hours on our not-so-new-anymore engine.

We are currently in La Paz on the Baja peninsula after just returning from our annual Family Thanksgiving in Philadelphia and New York. We plan to spend about 6 weeks doing maintenance on JACARANDA and preparing to head to Central and South America this season.

Wishing everyone a good holiday season and a healthy new year!

 

El fuerte -Creel