First of all, Happy Thanksgiving!
Our friends planning to meet us in La Paz have agreed to move their travel dates to January giving us time to pursue a less aggressive itinerary and see more of the scenery as we travel south. We are presently anchored at Bahia San Quintin, where we arrived yesterday at noon. It is a scenic anchorage with several distinctive cinder cones on shore and a long sand dune protecting it from the open ocean to the north west, which is the prevailing wind direction. Today's plan is to do a day sail to Isla San Jeronimo, about 40 miles south to the end of the Northern Reach of Baja's Pacific Coast. The Baja Coast consists of 3 Reaches, or stretch's of water and 3 Bights or bays between two headlands. San Jeronimo is a small island that promises a good place for onshore exploring with gentle terrain, several tide pools that may show us elephant seals, and a small fishing village near it's anchorage where we may get lucky and find some lobsters for dinner. If we get a late start, then the alternative day sail stop is Punta Baja, about 25 miles away. But it's currently 2:30 am and I'm afraid I've started my day already. Once the sun went down yesterday, we were ready for a quick beef stew dinner and some sleep.
Yesterday's journey was our longest yet, 28 hours and 154 miles from San Diego. We motor sailed for 4 hours until the wind picked up, then had 5 hours of great sailing until having to turn on the motor again. So far, we have not seen much wind at night. Now I can see why when slugging your yacht back up the coast into the wind, it is best to spend the afternoon at an anchorage sleeping and travel at night and in the morning. We tried a different night shift strategy this time. We read about it in the October issue of Latitude 38's Changes in Latitudes letter from Bill Sams & Jan Bernard titled Mexico to the Marquises. First we alternate 2 hour shifts, me first, then alternate 4 hour shifts. This gets us through from 8 PM to 8 am, cappachino time. It worked better than more 2 hour shifts. I got some rest to be able to stay up later, then actually got some sleep during the 4 hour rest. Then my day started at 4:00 am. It's not perfect yet, but I bet after 3 days on the water, the sleep time would mean sleeping, not resting. Especially if there was wind at night so we could sail without running the engine. I've heard something about those trade winds down south...
Because we were still motoring, the engine's heat exchanger was keeping the water in the hot water heater hotter than it is when plugged in to shore power. Once off watch after coffee, I was able to wash the dishes and take a shower. There would be plenty more for Marsha once we got to the anchorage. Unless the water looks dirty for some reason, I plan to turn on the water maker during today's day sail to replenish the tank we've been using since San Diego. If we get to sail, the solar panels should provide enough power for the water maker. We have entered a new phase of our adventure, we are in a new country where slips with shore power and water hoses, and stores with marine supplies, and fuel docks are few and far between. We have to be more self sufficient. I believe I have added enough gadgets to make Spirit as comfortable as possible, but now we begin putting it to the test. I'm currently burning two 12 volt lights in the main salon, running this computer off of the small 250 watt inverter, and the mast head anchor light. The energy monitor says I'm consuming 8.2 amps per hour at the current rate (pun?). The refrigerator cycles on and off so I don't know yet if that was included.
Speaking of entering a new phase, I can now reflect on leaving the old phase or Leaving Manana, the San Diego Transient Thing. At first, I didn't think anything about it being anything other than what I was experiencing, but as we interacted with several merchants and ran into other cruisers we had met along the way down the coast, I began to see it was more of a seasonal phenomena. One way to look at it is as a list processing orgy. Downwind Marine has tapped into the thing. They put together a handy booklet that is available free from several sources. Our first copy came from the vessel Kokomo back in our home port of Brisbane. Our second copy came as part of a package about San Diego Harbor given to us at the police dock. It offers much advice about many things such as how to win at the paper chase game for checking into Mexico, important marine radio information, etc.
There is no harbor master for San Diego Bay like there was in the other ports. They are usually in charge of dolling out transient slips in the port's marina's. When I tried hailing the San Diego harbor master for the 3rd time on the VHF as we were entering the port, the local harbor police responded. After they determined I had no emergency, we switched to channel 12 where they directed me to their transient dock at the tip of Shelter Island. Their deal was first 5 days for $5 per day, second 5 days for $10 per day. You could pay on a day by day basis, but after 10 days, your lease is up and you have to. This was a pretty good deal, they offered power, water, and bathrooms and a trash dumpster on shore, but no showers. This suited all of our needs because our shower is separate from our head so it is easy to use and doesn't mess up the boat, so we said done deal. We learned from several sources of other places to stay, yacht clubs or hotel/marinas, either at anchor, moored, or tied to a dock. Each had it's own set of rules about how long you could stay and on what days. Some were free, some offered showers and laundry, some even provided swimming pools and hotel room service to the dock. Since nobody ever knows for sure when they will be leaving, it is sometimes a shuffle of the deck every few days with boats traveling to different spots for the next few days.
While we still had the rental car, we saw Fred and Mary of PAX, the couple we had met in Morro Bay, walking down the street carrying paper bags. I pulled over and we talked a while about the trip down, then I offered to drive them to Downwind Marine, then back to their boat with their goods. While driving, we started discussing how much weight everyone was loosing. I was having trouble keeping my pants up. Mary said she had lost 15 pounds since their cruise started. Fred stated he was thinner but stronger. While at Downwind, I notice Fred pull out a piece of paper that looked very similar to the lists I had been checking off.
You can't say exactly when you will be leaving partially from the weather, but mainly because of The LIST. One section of Downwind Marine's booklet is The Downwind Marine Checklist TM. It offers suggestions for items you may need as mandatory or optional equipment and spares. It's categories are general, maintenance/damage control, rigging, mechanical, comfort, miscellaneous, and luxury. There was a similar checklist in an article titled No Wrench Days, but with finer levels of granularity for electrical and plumbing, in the October issue of Latitude 38. We had used that article to jog our memories to write spare parts lists for the chandleries in Santa Barbara and Marina Del Rey. But here, San Diego, is the last stop, the last chance filling station before the big adventure to Manana Land. Because of this, you are ready to leave when all of the items on your list are checked off. And because you've never been here or done this, you don't know how long it will take.
Some of the folks on boats here have been here before, but it's sill the last chance. For most of people on the 800 or so boats from Canada to Los Angeles cruising south for the winter, it the big event after many years of planning and preparation. Downwind Marine offers these cruisers services not available elsewhere. The have a loaner car that is free for 4 hours, you just need to put your name on the list to schedule it. You can register your visa number with them, then order parts with your single side band radio. They will ship it to you via another yacht that happens to be going to the destination you designate. This circumvents import restrictions and regulations because a yacht in transit is entitled to have spare parts on board. They run SSB and VHF radio nets daily. I tuned in to the 8:30 VHF 68 net. There is a roll call check in then a contacts and information section for weather and cruisers trying to contact other people, etc., then a buy, sell, trade market. This connected buyers and sellers that would then pick another channel for their wheeling and dealing. I went to 71 to listen to Fred from PAX in a three way deal. One lady was going to drive to the police dock to meet and sell him a 406 EPIRB, then drive him to the other side of Shelter Island where he was meeting the third party to look at a life raft canister and a dive skin for sale.
The chase for parts enthusiasm in the voices over the air waves was as intense as the look in everyone's eyes you see walking down the streets around the intersection of Shelter Island Drive and Rosecrans Avenue. Along these streets, there is a vast array of stores and shops offering specialty marine parts and services to meet any requirement to help a boat prepare to set sail. Several venders commented that soon the season would be over and they would all be twiddling their thumbs for the rest of the winter. I had to reflect on what the experience must have been like for the Baja HAHA event participants. As many as one hundred boats, all on the exact departure schedule, all doing the slip space shuffle, and all not anticipating ahead of time what the last chance gas phenomena would do to them. If you have to leave, what if your list hasn't been all checked off... I'm sure I missed some great parties, but I like the feeling that I've taken care of everything on my boat I can think of that needs attention, so I appreciated the time to say many times, I'm Leaving Manana.
Our next stops after Isla San Jeronimo will be (most likely) Isla Cedros, then Bahia San Bartolome (Turtle Bay). Turtle Bay is an opportunity for buying fuel and some fresh veggies, and is about 4/10ths of the way to Cabo San Lucas from San Diego.
There can be good days and bad days on the road to paradise. I think the last two have covered that range. Thanksgiving day was an extremely good day for us. We got underway early, before 8:00 with the plan to day sail to Isle San Jeronimo or Punta Baja, then rest a day before doing another over nighter. The weather conditions turned out to be gorgeous. Sunny, warm, and a good breeze to help us sail well on a broad reach. The water was calm so life on the boat was as good as it gets. Because she was navigating by depth to avoid a charted rock on the way, Marsha asked me to hook up the fish finder because of it's depth sounding capabilities. It also reads the water temperature, so we were able to learn the waters we were over were ranging between 58 - 60 degrees F. I got the feeling it will be soon be time for swimming and snorkeling. We could see fish jumping occasionally, so I broke out the trolling gear, but with no luck.
I did get the water maker working, after figuring out the correct settings for all of the valves I had installed 16 months ago. I made a gallon for the collapsible jug for filling the Evian bottles, then put about 3.75 gallons back into the water tank before we anchored. I think the water it makes actually tastes better than Evian. Everything is removed from it, if you make ice cubes with it, they are clear. We got the anchor set on the second try and were securely nestled between the traps that had been set out by the fishermen from the 6 shack village on the island of Jeronimo just under one hour before the sun set. We opted for this location because we had made great time under sail and it put us two hours further than Punta Baja would have. We did glide over one of the trap/net systems but fortunately, Marsha did see it in time to put the engine in neutral before we wrapped our propeller in it.
Comfortable on the hook, we toasted the sunset with a cocktail before preparing a special Thanksgiving dinner. We didn't bring a turkey, though we were offered a free one from Ralph's grocery store, because we had spent over $100. We said we didn't have room for it. I later learned Fred from PAX had gotten one, and was using it as an ice block to cool down some beers because they don't have refrigeration. We were planning seasoned pork chops, boiled potatoes, string green beans, bread, and a good bottle of red wine. We knew the anchorage would be rolly from reading both Jack William's Baja Boater's Guide, and Charlie Wood's Charlie's Charts. Charlie stated this was not a good anchorage, while Freeman built up the island tour. To deal with rolling, I first rigged a bridle for the anchor. For this, I used two of our dock lines, a shackle, and a chain hook to slack the anchor chain, putting the tension on a port and starboard line tied to the boat. Then I pulled out the rocker stopper that came with the boat. Using our other two dock lines, I hooked the loop of one into the spinnaker pole, then tied it to the bow to act as a forguy. I ran the other line though the loop at the end of the pole and tied it to the rocker stopper, then cleated the other end to the midship cleat on the rail to act as an afterguy suspending the end of the pole in place. The rocker stopper is a rectangular metal frame with plastic flaps that dampen the boat's motion in one direction of heal. As soon as I got it deployed, Marsha popped her head from the galley stating it helped a lot.
After a great dinner, we settled in to get some sleep after a great day. But around midnight, the wind picked up to about 25 knots and it got colder. Marsha stayed up through the middle of the night on anchor watch, because we could not afford to be sleeping and have the anchor drag. We are 1/2 mile north of the dreaded Arrecife Sacraamento (Sacramento Reef), which is one of two of the worst hazards on Baja's Pacific coast. We were holding securely, but shortly after 4:00 AM I took over. The rocking motion was much worse that the day before, almost as bad as our first night offshore in the trough. Through the day, the fishermen left the beach with one ponga for a brief motor out to check the line we had run over. There was no damage so they waved to Marsha. This was about 9:00 AM. I had gone back to bed for more rest. Other than that, it was not a day to be breaking out the dingy to take Cindy a shore for a tour, there were white caps in the anchorage.
While Marsha tried catching up on her sleep through the afternoon, I started playing with the Single Side Band radio. There was no weather information here on the VHF. We haven't mastered the weather fax system yet, so I started hunting down information from the radio. I finally found the Manana Net on the preprogrammed channel 155. There were guys talking from Portland, Oregon down to La Paz. The topics varied but they did provide a weather update for the Turtle Bay area. We're still 150 miles north of there but it seemed the same. There is the end of a front coming through providing the northerly winds as well as 12 foot seas. It should be better tomorrow and for the next few days, with the wind clocking to the south west then back to the north west late this weekend.
We decided to make the best of the day here and just try to deal with the rolling. All of us have developed much better sea legs now, including Cindy. She's still not that good at taking care of her potty needs on the high seas though. They say a dog can hold it up to 72 hours then it goes. While I was on the 4 AM anchor watch, she started making noises like she really had to go. I helped her up the companion way steps, which is hard for her with the boat rocking. She then climbed out of the cockpit up onto the deck and it started. She was rocking a lot, but then noticed the netting in the lifeline further forward, went there to lean into it, then kept going. She then went forward to the bow around back to the netting on the starboard side, then let another one rip. It had been 68 hours since she last went. I'm sure glad she made it out of the cabin. I took her below and showered her with 3 days worth of Vita Bone and beef jerky treats, to help her understand she hadn't done a bad thing. She didn't hesitate to dive in and eat them all.
After the sun went down, we went below to make a pizza for dinner and watch video's until we could fall asleep in preparation to get the boat underway for another long haul. The pizza turned out great. Though the gimbaled oven was traversing it's entire range, it worked fine. Trying to focus my eyes on the television with the rocking motion made me dizzy, so after the pizza, I laid back in the settee on a bean bag to relax more. One movie was enough to end the day. Hopefully we'll be under way soon. Charlie was right, this was not a good anchorage.
More new stuff...
We got an early start on December 1, leaving Isla San Geronimo bound for either Isla Cedros or Bahia San Bartolome (Turtle Bay), hoisting the anchor and underway by 6:30 A.M. Marsha believes the anchor only dragged about 50' during our stay. It was a clear morning, not a cloud in the sky. There was a gentle offshore northeast breeze blowing. Our first two way points took us close to shore to Punta Baja, then parallel to shore to Punta San Carlos totalling about 10 miles to get around the Sacramento Reef. Punta Baja marks the Baja Coast transition from the Northern Reach to the Northern Bight. We motorsailed. Once safely past the reef, we punched in the next waypoint for the northern tip of Isla Cedros. It computed to be exactly 100.0 miles away, on a course of 157 degrees. That was a big one.
The morning went great. The engine had been on long enough before we got to sail with the morning breeze for me to catch up on all of the dishes that had piled up at the anchorage. Sometime late morning, the wind started it's normal clocking to the northwest and hadn't built back up so we motored again, making enough more hot water for us to both take showers. As soon as Marsha was finished and back in the cockpit, the afternoon wind picked up and we were able to sail, well. 15 knots eventually, moving us along on a broad reach between 6 and 7 knots. We were making good time.
The rest of the afternoon was just gorgeous. It was warm, and I didn't see a single cloud all day. We've modified the overnighter ritual slightly. We each get to have one beer starting about 15 minutes before the sun goes down, to toast the sunset scenery. As it was getting dark, the wind seemed to keep up so we continued to sail, anticipating at any moment to switch gears to motor sailing through the night. I let the watermaker run all day anticipating replenishing plenty of amps from the engine through the night. I made dinner, consisting of ham, macaroni, warm bread, and ice tea. The wind continued to hold, we continued to sail. We were able to see Isla Cedros earlier, about 65 miles away. Right after dinner, we were able to see a yellow marker buoy at the northern tip of the island that caused us to adjust our course slightly towards the inside. It appeared the wind was going to hold so we started adjusting our thinking to how to deal with the possibility of sailing through the night. Our trim was good and it was 8:00 so I decided to start the shift routine and get some rest.
No sooner had I removed all of my outer gear and crawled into the aft cabin berth, Marsha calls me up to the cockpit because the wind speed had increased by 5 knots to 20 and was overpowering the sail configuration. I put everything back on and went back to the cockpit. By this point, our adrenaline levels had climbed back up to about where they had been about this time on our first over nighter, all the way up from the level of almost complacency when the sun had disappeared. We decided we both needed to stay up for this and would worry about the shift routine later. We thought we were now experienced at this, but all of that went away, this was something new.
I knew we needed to shorten the sail plan, we were currently doing between 7 and 8 knots, and the waves were build in size to over 6 feet. The jib was having a difficult time of keeping it's air because of our more downwind point of sail. Knowing the furling jib is much easier to pull in than going forward to reef the main, I opted to furl it in to see what would happen. It turned out to be a good move. The main and the mizzen were holding steady on the port downwind tack, and we hardly noticed any decrease in boat speed. The knot meter would still occasionally pop it's head over 7 knots. We both sat, watching the dark while holding on because of the motion of the boat from waves from different directions, and watching SPIRIT come alive. I had always felt you get a much better sailing experience on smaller boats than ours, because you are more one with the elements and that makes you feel more like a piece of the wind blowing over the water. I now have to revise that to it depends on what your boat is designed for. SPIRIT was loving this and so were we.
The wind continued to build as did the waves. When the wind speed indicator started approaching 25 knots, I knew I could no longer avoid having to go forward to reef the main sail. Marsha took over the helm from Josh while I eased out the main sheet. She would have to sail up towards the wind enough to allow me to pull down some of the sail, while we would still have forward power from the mizzen. As soon as I got forward and nestled in the starboard mast pulpit, a wave broke over the bow. Most of it missed me. Marsha handled the helm expertly. I was able to pull the sail down to the first reef point with no problem. I was then able to wench in the jiffy reefing line to trim the clew. At this point, I was extremely happy I had upgraded the reefing wench from the number 6 it came with to one of the self tailing number 16's left over from Moonshot. I was able to effortlessly complete the reef job with one hand saving one hand for me to hang on with. When in ocean conditions, I always have a safety line clipped between my life jacket and the jack lines on deck, and always at night in the cockpit. I still would not want to have to be hauled back on the boat from falling overboard. I went back to the cockpit and was more excited than I had yet been since leaving San Francisco Bay. This is great!!!
The sail plan now seemed to be right for the conditions. We were surfing down the tops of waves at about 7 knots and averaging 5 to 6 knots in-between. Neither the reefed main or the mizzen was budging so the banging noise of a temporarily spilled sail filling up with air again was gone. The heading we were on with a firm port broad reach matched the requirements spelled out by the GPS to take us to Punta Eugenia. We had been making such great time, at the rate we were still going we would be well past Isla Cedros's 20 mile long coastline well before daybreak. We would actually be able to make Turtle Bay early in the day, which is a good thing. There was a tricky obstacle to get around once we reached Punta Eugenia, getting though the Dewey Channel between the point on the peninsula and Isla Natividad. There is a shoal and kelp in the channel near Natividad so we would need to be passing close to the point. We calculated we would be navigating through the channel still before daylight. Feeling it was best for both of us to be on watch for that passage, I went below to take a nap for an hour so I could stand watch through the middle of the night to let Marsha get some sleep.
Sailing through the middle of the night was exhilarating. The wind held it's strength and the waves continued to build. Periodically, a wave would be large enough to break while SPIRIT was surfing on top of it. The water would turn a boiling white color and emit a flushing noise as we * careened over the top and down it's backside. The motion was easy enough to live with, but it did take work to hang on to the boat to keep balance. As the hours went by, I could feel those muscles in my arms begin to tire. The yellow lights that marked the end of Cedros, Isla Natividad, and Punta Eugenia, visible for up to 30 miles, continued to play tricks on me as their relative positions would change as we wrapped our way down the coast of the island. Another vessel hailed the boat with the strobe light. It sounded so clear and I could only one other boat far off to my starboard, so I replied. The skipper wanted to know if there was any distress. I explained I was a sail boat heading for Point Eugenia and no problems. I'm not sure if he was looking at me because he estimated the boat he was hailing was 30 miles off Cedros, we were only 6. I thought the rocking motion of the waves could cause my running lights to appear as a strobe light.
Marsha got about 3 hours of rest before we were within 5 miles of the channel. The trick would be to stay close to Punta Eugenia, within 1/2 of a mile but not hit it. This would allow us to clear the shoal and kelp beds easily. The radar image of the point was good so it was easy to monitor our distance from shore. Because of the strong southerly currents through these waters, we just needed to adjust Josh's heading a degree or two here and there to keep the light on the point just off or port bow. I opted to use electricity to run Josh over the free wind vane, because we weren't n open waters. I couldn't be sure the wind wouldn't shift directions because of the islands. The moon was half full and now directly over head, so there was some light to help us through. We noticed another boat's running lights off to our starboard about 1/2 mile keeping up with us. We guessed it may be a Mexican navy boat following us. As we glided around the point, the wind started to ease off a little, and the water became much flatter. What a trip!
With everything working well, and another twenty miles to go before making the entrance to Turtle Bay, we decided it was time for me to get some more sleep before the landing. I had only slept the one hour in the past 25. After another hours sleep I woke up to see it was light out and hear Marsha say something about fish jumping around, so I got up. The wind continued to ease and since we didn't have that much further to go and we were way down on our batteries energy stores, we turned on the engine to motor the rest of the way. I got out the squid lure that had been successful leaving Santa Barbara and got him into the water, then went about tidying up the boat, putting the sail covers on, etc. Suddenly, the reel made the noise of a strike on the line. Marsha pointed at the rod, I commented that it was probably just some more kelp, as had been the case the past several times I'd tried to fish.
I didn't' know it yet, but I was about to reel in 4-1/2 pounds of Sushi quality Mexican Bonito Tuna. I have been reading sections of Neil Kelly and Gene Kira's The Baja Catch book on fishing both sides of the peninsula as we traveled. The section on the Turtle Bay area discussed several types of fish you could catch by trolling near the entrance, and discussed bait fishing in the bay itself. Marsha and I had previously discussed the possibility of catching another mackerel on the way in to use as bait for possibly some halibut during our stay here. As it became clear there was a fish on the line, I asked Marsha to get the net. She put the engine in neutral and helped me bring it in. Once in the cockpit, it was clear it was no mackerel. I thought it was a bonito, but Marsha was sure it must be * skipjack. The difference in eating quality was big. I kept believing it must be a bonito, first of all because skipjack was not on The Baja Catch's list of fish in the area, which consisted of Barracuda, Mackerel, big Kelp Bass, Bonito, and Yellowtail, and secondly because in it's section on describing fish it stated, Black Skipjack, often confused with bonito. To distinguish the two, just look at the belly of the fish. If it has black spots or stripes on the belly, it's a skipjack, not a bonito.
The fish had a mouth full of teeth and I wasn't easily able to remove my lure from it's jaws, so I broke out the bad boy club. A few wacks on the head and it calmed down. I used the serrated blade of the Leatherman tool I had picked up at Price Club and proceeded to cut it's head off. I retrieved my lure then finish cleaning it. I could see the easiest method of preparation for this fish would be cutting it into steaks. I cut a large section of the tail off so the two pieces would fit in the playmate cooler, along with some ice to keep it fresh until for later. There was blood everywhere so I bucketed in some sea water and started to scrub. Soon it was clean enough for Marsha to get back to the helm and put the engine in gear.
We proceeded to make way for the anchorage in Turtle bay which was approaching quickly. Eventually the pier became visible and we could see a couple dozen masts in the anchorage so we proceed to get set for a few days.
There was wind coming through the sunny anchorage, but no swell. Turtle Bay (more accurately, Bahia San Bartolome, Bahia Tortugas is on the opposite end from the village and anchorage), is one of the two enclosed natural harbors along Mexico's Baja coast, and is therefore protected from the ocean swell in all but a southerly weather system. This means the boat wouldn't be rocking. Since we would be here a while, the first thing I did was set up the wind generator. After lifting the gear up through the forward hatch from on top of the pile in the V-berth to the foredeck, this involves wrenching two bolts, one each for the upper and lower stainless tubes mounting to the generator housing, and two alan set screws to mount the propeller blades to the generator, then clipping the three wire tripod harness to eyes on the deck and the upper shackle to the eye in the lower tube, then the spinnaker halyard to the eye in the upper tube, then hoisting till taunt. Then all I have to do is plug the wire into the deck fitting and undo the safety clip. Free energy in about 10 minutes.
By this time, I was approached by one of the ponga taxi's for a discussion about what provisions I would be needing. I learned it was a dollar each way per person for a ride to the pier providing access to shore. This meant I wouldn't have to be breaking out the dinghy. After tidying up the boat from the trip down, I took him up on a ride to shore with Cindy. After casting off from SPIRIT, I could see Marsha waving about something to me. I looked up to the ponga's forepeak to see Cindy peeing. The ponga driver waved his hand to say no problem. Then suddenly, the look on his face took on an expression of horror. I looked to the forepeak again to see Cindy taking a dump. She couldn't wait to get to shore. Fortunately, I had a plastic bag with paper towel so I cleaned it up and the taxi driver cooled down.
Once ashore, we strolled up the dusty road to take a look at the town. From the corner of my brain that pulls music from memory and plays it when ever it wants, a theme song from one of Clint Eastwood's western movies started playing. The view was dusty roads and non descript adobe houses in desperate need of paint sparsely decorated with red bogenvia. I stopped to talk to a man standing in one of the yards to ask about locating a market. His wife and several children all came out of the house to look at the stranger. He couldn't habla English and I can't habla Espanole, so the conversation was short, but I did get pointed in two directions where markets could be located. We continued our stroll touring the town and researching what provisions could be found here. I spotted several markets with limited produce, bread, milk, canned goods etc. That was most of what we would be needing, so we ended the tour and made our way back to the pier. The same taxi driver was waiting for us, so Cindy's indiscretion hadn't completely turned him off. On the way back to SPIRIT, I made an appointment for him to deliver 100 liters of diesel fuel, 4 blocks of ice, and to remove one bag of the trash we had accumulated. The rest of the afternoon was an early cocktail hour and a siesta before dinner.
Or so I thought, I woke up at 12:30 am. What does time matter anyway? There's just the light time, the dark time, and appointments with ponga taxi's. I decided to finish cleaning the fish and test it on the grill. I cut 7 1 to 1-1/4 inch steaks and left the large tail piece and parts in the cooler as bait. 6 for the freezer and one grilled with garlic olive oil and dipped in soy sauce. When I was done with the loin, Cindy scrambled out of her bed to ask for my plate. There was the skin and a few pieces left and she gobbled them down like her favorite things, such as pizza and prime rib bones. At that point, I could tell we shouldn't be getting too hungry down here. Cindy loves tuna...
The next day, after learning we were now on mountain time and it was an hour later, topping the fuel tank and repacking the coolers and refrigerator with the ice, Marsha and I taxied back to shore to explore further. The dusty road started getting to me so I ask a group of yachties passing by if they had figured out where to get a cold cervesa yet. It was lunch time and everyone was heading to the Hotel Vera Cruz. They had cold beer there, so we tagged along. On the way, we located the bank, their equivalent to a party store, a bakery where you had to place your order a day ahead of time, several markets, and a pharmacy that had a sign advertising long distance phone calls and faxes. The hotel we were approaching also sold showers for 3 dollars.
A large group ended congregating at the Hotel's restaurant, so we moved all of the tables together and proceeded to eat, drink, and enter into discussions about each of our trips down the coast. I learned that we needed to be monitoring channel 68 on the VHF to be learning about everything from the discussions between the yachts in the anchorage. There was talk on the net that evening that we had converted the Hotel into the Turtle Bay Yacht Club. We didn't plan on spending that much time for lunch but it was fun. We did some, but the rest of the shopping would wait until manana.
Dinner was centered around the spiny lobster tails another one of the ponga drivers sold me. Three good sized ones for 4 dollars. They were absolutely delicious, and made my bonito steaks sink lower into the freezer. We gathered our final provisions after another lunch at the Vera Cruz. Two bananas, a bottle of the picante sauce I had tried at the hotel, a bunch of cilantro and a couple of potatoes for 10 pesos. At the current exchange rate, $1.25. It was becoming clear that outside of the resort cities, we were going to easily be able to stay within our budget. We had spent no money since leaving San Diego. Replenishing our fuel, ice, perishable provisions, two lunches ashore, and the lobster tail totaled about $90 US Dollars. There didn't seem to be a need to convert our money to pesos, they seem to like greenbacks down here. It's currently just under 8 pesos to the dollar. When we visited Cabo on a long weekend 3 years ago, it was 3 pesos to the dollar. I think that's a good thing for us on this trip.
We were fully rested and provisioned, so we had the third afternoon in this wonderful bay to kick back and relax. About the time we had reached this conclusion, we noticed one of the yachts pulling up it's anchor. It was Wings from Seattle. We had enjoyed meeting it's crew, Fred and Judy at the first lunch. We could see them coming our way and soon we were talking back and forth about email addresses and web pages. I invited them to raft up for an afternoon cocktail. It was fun checking out each other's boats, and talking about this, that, and who was leaving when and where to.....
The next day was a long day sail to the anchorage in Bahia Asuncion (Ah-soon-see-OHN), 55 miles. The hot water from the engine's heat exchanger let us catch up on the dishes and showers in the morning, then it was just a gorgeous, sunny afternoon sail. We were the first of the 4 boats that chose this day and this destination to get anchored. It looked like a great place to spend one more day. The next morning, I could see the surf on shore was too big to let me safely land the lightweight fiberglass dinghy, so I inflated the Zodiac dinghy and debugged the sticky kill button on the small outboard engine. It's a 2 horse power Suzuki that was on SPIRIT when we bought it, and kindly rebuilt by my good friend Lewis Knapp. It doesn't have a transmission, and the fuel tank is contained in the motor housing, so it is light enough to easily lift down to the dinghy. When the wind and waves are large, or speed and distance are a consideration, my other engine option is a 6 horsepower Johnson. To deploy that, I have a block and tackle rig that connects to the mizzen boom for raising and lowering the engine. It also involves lugging a 6 gallon fuel tank.
If asked for a definition of the perfect running beach, I would have to say the one at Asuncion. Soft sand packed hard and flat. No debris to dodge, though there was a section where the seagulls called the bathroom. This is the first place we have ever seen baby seagulls. Where do they grow up in San Francisco Bay? Anyway, Cindy and I had fun running and playing with her tennis ball on the beach and in the surf. Some did get in the dinghy on the way back, but not much. From the beach, I could tell that the water was warm here, and from channel 68 I learned that the skipper of Raindancer had already been in swimming to unwrap a burlap bag from his propeller. He commented it wasn't bad at all. The next logical thing for me to do was don my 2/1 mm spring wet suit and go swimming. I snorkel dived to inspect SPIRIT's bottom and check on the anchor. Everything was in good shape. I do need to replace the zinc on the end of the Autoprop though. It looked pretty far gone when I inspected it in Morro Bay, now there was nothing left. This was a milestone. My first time in the water voluntarily and it was clear enough to see the bottom.
Once dry, I made an appointment with one of the fishing ponga's that stopped by to say hello for more lobster tails that afternoon, then Marsha and I dinghied to shore to explore the fishing village and find lunch. The roads here were even dustier, and there was a severe shortage of working mufflers on the few cars that were here. We did bring our Spanish dictionary this time and it was a good thing. This stop is not on the main yachtie migration path as is Turtle Bay, so the services provided and level of English understood is way down by comparison. By asking people on the street for the direction to the resturante, and flipping through the dictionary's pages, we ended up dining on splendid soft shell flour fish and beef tacos.
We had already decided wait until the first thing the next morning but learned the other three boats planned to leave around 4 in the afternoon, bound for either Bahia Santa Maria, about 180 miles, or Bahia Magdalena another 40 miles further. About that time, the channel 68 net got noisy and we learned there were several other boats that had left Turtle Bay passing by for the same destination, including Wings. I counted almost a dozen boats total. We stayed put though, because the ponga fisherman brought back a huge bag of lobster tails and we in the mood to have a good dinner and get some sleep that night. It seemed like a good thing to have other boats to talk to along the way, but added stress to have so many or be a target for so many nearby at night. Plus, by our calculations, they would be making landfall in the dark, unless they had light air and didn't motor.
We were underway by sun up the next day. It was a straight rumbhline of 178 miles on a compass heading of 130 degrees to Cabo San Lazaro, then a few more miles to get around Point Hughes and into the anchorage at Bahia Santa Maria. This was our longest single way point yet. We got the edge of the cold front the other yachties had been discussing trying to avoid and were sailing in a stiff cool breeze shortly after we left the anchorage. It was a mild beat at first that clocked to a broad reach in the afternoon. The wind was gusty ranging from 10 to 25 knots, and there were whitecaps until late afternoon. It was great sailing though, we were making an average of 7.5 knots all day. The morning was cold though, we were wearing our night time garb, but other than that it was comfortable. We officially started our daily Spanish lessons this day, motivated by the difficulty we had ordering tacos the day before. Today we studied colors, and how to discuss time, such as appointments with ponga skippers. Tomorrow we review and then start on food.
The wind continued to clock and by late afternoon, we had spent some time wing on wing downwind, then jibed to a broad port tack. We saluted sundown, then I proceeded to make a pizza for dinner. The wind eased back as darkness came, but still enough to sail. We decided to pull in jib, reef the main, and motor sail at 2200 Rpm's because our batteries were getting low. Running the watermaker during the days hadn't caught the tank up over our consumption rate so I wanted to let it run through the night, and I liked keeping the 7 knot's average speed. At this rate, we should be anchored in Santa Maria by 1:00 the next afternoon. This would be a little easier on us, and enabled us to feel comfortable going on the shift schedule, so we could each get some rest. We passed the frontal system and the temperature rose to the point we were wearing our daytime clothing after dark. It was a lovely, warm evening, and everything worked fine. We had clicked off the first 100 miles 6 minutes before midnight. A pleasure fishing boat, Dealer's Choice was on the same track we were but traveling 9 knots. It's skipper contacted me a couple of times through the night for conversation. We talked about fishing around the point the next day before getting into the anchorage. Other than that, it was a quiet dark time as the miles left to go on the GPS display clicked off one by one.
I had the last dark shift and Marsha got up with the sun. After doing the hot water dishes and shower thing, I notice a 2 foot ray jump out of the water twice doing somersaults in the air. This made me think there were fish here and I had better get my squidly didly in the water. There was a strike within the first 5 minutes. It was a big strike. Marsha put the engine in neutral. I asked her to get the big net ready. This one was fighting like I'd never seen before. It had me thinking of a 30 pound dorado. As it finally got within sight, I could see yellow and I though yes, either a dorado or a large yellow tail. Yes! We finally could see it was small enough for the small net, which was easier to use. Marsha netted him but it was too heavy for her to get over the windscreen so I helped. From the large black spots on it's belly and similar appearance to bonito, we determined it was a large skipjack. It had to be at least 10 pounds. Though our fish book says the eating quality is good, we heard fish discussions in Turtle Bay about people not bothering with these because of better to come with the yellowtail, yellowfin, and dorado. Since we still had more lobster tails and bonito steaks in the freezer, I decided to throw him back. Great fun catching it though!
That one fish was the only minor delay on our way in, we were anchored in 30 feet of water by 1:10 in the afternoon. We could tell we had entered yet another climate zone. The water temperature ranged between 73 and 76. The sun is hot. We're almost there. We still have a day sail to Bahia Magdalena, which we plan to stay in for a few days, then one last overnighter to Cabo San Lucas. From there, there are two anchorage's on the way to La Paz. I understand that the first one, Cabo Los Frailes is the northern extent of the refracted swells from the Pacific Ocean.
The engine is running and we will soon be waying anchor bound from Bahia Magdalena to Cabo San Lucas. I expect it will take between 28 - 30 hours. The engine is running now because the wind is blowing 15 - 20 knots and it is likely that we will be sailing all of the way. I need to charge the house batteries. I believe we will be buddy sailing with WINGS and FAR NIENTE.
The stay at Bahia Santa Maria was extremely pleasant. When there was wind, there was no swell so the boat didn't rock and the wind generator purred. The water temperature was enough to make swimming without a wet suit fun. The water was clear. The scenery on shore was spectacular. We were behind a huge ridge of mountains on one side and a flat sandy beach extending for miles at their base. There were as many as 10 boats anchored total until the last day of our stay when there were four.
The landing on the beach was tricky because of the surf. The first day after recovering from the sail down, we made it in with no difficulty. Cindy loved the hard flat sandy beach to romp on chasing her tennis ball. The sand was covered with sand dollar and scallop shells, some still had living creatures in them. We discovered from some people we had met at the Vera Cruz resturante in Turtle Bay that there was a navigable lagoon nearby. Rodney and Jane from Azure and Barry and Jamie from Abacus had just landed a dinghy nearby and were about to make the trip in. We tagged along for the 1-1/2 mile motor trip against the strong current to see the mangrove lined narrow channel. We spotted two wild coyotes foraging for lunch and many unfamiliar birds along the way. There were several fishing camps consisting of several crudely made shacks on shore, fishing ponga boats with huge outboard motors on the beach, and lobster traps in the shallow water just off the beach that were used for keeping their spoils alive. One of the pongas had a 200 horsepower Evenrude engine on it's transom.
Once we got in as far as we could, until the water was too shallow for the engines, we shut them off and rafted our dinghy's for the gentle float out with the remaining ebb before slack water. Meeting other cruisers along the way and making friends has been easy. People have so much in common to start with, having all spent several years preparing for this kind of thing, working hard and focused on a dream like goal. Initial discussions are on the occupations left behind, how long the cruise will be, and all of the wonderful electronic gadgetry now available that has improved the comfort level of cruising in the past few years. Such were the conversations that made up the only sounds as we drifted back out to the beach. This burned up the afternoon so we made our way back to SPIRIT for dinner and rest.
We weren't ready to leave this spot yet, so the next day we planned another expedition back to the beach. This time, I aimed the dinghy about a mile further away from the edge of the mountain range. I was hoping to get access to the sand dunes that were visible from the anchorage because Cindy loved the ones in Morro Bay so much. As we approached the beach, it was clear the surf here was larger than what we had experienced yesterday. It's just a matter of timing. The big waves come in sets of three, one, two, three, then go. I'm not sure where we heard that rule, because it didn't work this time. We were getting closer to the breakers when Marsha looked back and shouted Kill the engine!.
A moment later, the boat tipped up to about 75 degrees and I watched Marsha and Cindy go flying out into the water. All our stuff and I managed to stay with the boat. I jumped out to collect the women but they were OK. The boat made another trip up the crest of large wave almost tipping over before I could tow it past the surf line. A lot of water had gotten into the inflatable dinghy, Marsha and I were just barely able to get it on the beach out of the water enough so I could pull the plug and let it drain. No one hurt, nothing lost, the water's warm, I'll have one of those Tacate's please.
We were standing barefoot in the sand just starting to soak up the visuals that surrounded us when a ponga sped by coming from where I though access to the sand dunes would be. This was the entrance to an even larger lagoon. After we explored what little beach existed on this side, we rode the ebbing rapids for about 1/2 mile close to the beach we were at the day before. That was cool. The afternoon was spent taking it easy on that beach and enjoying the sunshine before heading back to SPIRIT to prepare to leave.
We arrived in Cabo San Lucas on December 13 shortly after 1:00 in the afternoon. Hooray!!!
The fog didn't lift on the day we left Bahia Santa Maria like it had the day before on the 9th. Instead of going for the over nighter to Cabo like we had planned, we pulled into Bahia Magdalena. This meant a 5 hour day on the water, tucked into a new anchorage by 1:00 in the afternoon, and 3 hours shaved off of the final last leg. It doesn't seem like much, but it made a great insurance buffer against not having to make land fall at night, which we try to avoid if at all possible. We had been communicating with the vessel WINGS, a 43' racing sloop converted to a comfortable, fast liveaboard cruiser from Seattle. We had met Fred and Judy at the Vera Cruz restaurant in Turtle Bay and later invited them to raft up to SPIRIT for an afternoon margarita. They had made it all the way from Turtle Bay to the Man of War anchorage, off the small village of Puerto Magdalena in Mag Bay. We made contact with them this morning to learn they would be there at least a day. Come on in, so that's what we did.
I was in the water as soon as we shut the engine off after anchoring because it was hot. Because it was calm, I later put the hard dinghy in the water and rowed over to talk to Fred and Judy. They invited us to dinner that evening which I accepted without hesitation. They did a great job making WINGS comfortable to live on, having been living on it for 10 years. Because racing boats have different design goals than cruising boats, it took much ingenuity coming up with the clever ideas about the layout of the living and storage space. Shortly after dinner, another boat came into the anchorage in the dark. It turned out to be friends of theirs from the same Seattle yacht club, Carl and Joanne of the vessel Far Niente joined the party. They had been delayed in San Diego because Carl had gotten hit on the head by his boom which put him down for a few days. Recovered, (now with a big hunk of foam rubber wrapped around the end of the boom on their Cal 39) they had been barreling down the coast to make up time because their son was meeting them in Cabo. Great fun, new friends!
The six of us dined on appetizers on Far Niente the next evening after a windy day of boat projects. We loaned Far Niente two of our spare jerry jugs of diesel to spare them the time to have to check in with the Port Captain and commute up the channel to San Carlos. As a token of appreciation, he gave me a copy of the December issue of Latitude 38. We read the write up on the Baja HAHA to learn we had been delayed starting because of getting T-boned, but that we caught up with them in time for the final party in Cabo. Interesting, I wonder how that happened? We were all hoping the wind would hold for our final leg to Cabo. We planned a 7 AM start on the 12th. Because we had dined on the two boats the nights before, I hoped to be to host for dinner once we finished the last leg, serving Dorado.
The wind in the anchorage held, but shortly after leaving the bay, we ended up having to turn the engine on. Mag Bay is in many ways like San Francisco Bay. It is about the same size, and the opening between the similar hilly landscape is about 3 miles wide. It just doesn't have a Golden Gate Bridge, or cities, or roads. Kind of like pre historic San Francisco Bay. The prevailing winds are coming out of the slot though, and we entered under an ebb tide. We were barely making 1-1/2 knots over ground when we came in. It was much easier getting out though, sailing downwind. Our next stop is 175 miles away, with no ports of refuge along the way.
We never got to turn the engine off after it started because the wind never picked back up. This gave us the opportunity to run the watermaker for the full time, yielding about 40 gallons. This would be handy if we had to moor or anchor at Cabo. The sea was relatively flat for the entire trip. We later learned the day before had been very windy for the entire trip, with lots of wave action. Oh well, at this point we just *really* wanted to get there.
The days entertainment before the dark hours was fishing. I had committed to serving Dorado in Cabo and was determined to follow through. The first two fish came relatively quickly, by early afternoon. They were both Skipjack Tuna, 10 and 12 pounds, which I released back to the ocean. Then late in the afternoon, something like I'd never seen hit my multi-colored squid lure. I witnessed the fishing rod holder leveling out flat so I dove to rescue my rig. I tightened the drag on the reel to set the hook, but I couldn't stop it from spinning. I could tell something huge was on the line. Then the line snapped. What ever it was got away with my squidly didly.
I dug the tackle I had purchased in Morro Bay out of the lazerette to make a new lure. I chose the orange squid rig Marsha had picked out, wired it up and got a hook back in the water. Time passed and it would be dark soon, so I started getting the dinner for the evening ready. No sooner than I got the food under the oven's broiler, the fishing reel made that distinctive sound of a fish on the line so I ran up to the cockpit to see what was up. I tightened the drag, but not to the point line stopped paying out. I didn't want to loose this one so I thought about playing with him for a while. Then it jumped out of the water. A beautiful Dorado. This one wasn't anything like what was on my line before, but the fight it gave made the respectable skipjacks seem boring. While I gradually got him closer to the boat, Marsha shut the oven off and got the large net ready for the first time on this cruise. I also asked her to get the baseball bat with the gaff hook bolted to it out.
I had read the one page from The Baja Catch book that described Dorado just an hour earlier. Some of the pointers were flashing through my mind, such as:
- Most of the dorado found in the Cortez range from 2 to 4 feet long and 5 to 30 pounds, but some go well over 50 pounds and exceed 5 feet. The biggest one we've caught went 67 pounds.
- Keeper dorado should be played out, gaffed and clubbed on the head before being brought aboard. Then, club it again Sam, hard. With a large dorado in a small boat, it's either you or it.
- Dorado are excellent eating. They can be cooked practically any way, such as deep fried, sauteed, steamed, stuffed and baked and barbecued, or it can be made into a great ceviche. It will taste a lot better than the mahi-mahi served up at your average seafood restaurant, even after being frozen for a couple of months if dressed quickly. We love this Fish!
I took my time getting him in, but steadily got the fish closer to the boat. Eventually, we could see it was a dorado of about 30 inches. It was a beautiful fish, displaying an iridescent green back, brilliant gold sides and fluorescent blue dots and fins. As I brought it along side of the boat, Marsha got the net under him, then up, then she moved to the other side of the boat and sat on the other end of the net's handle to keep it in place, and to give me room for the nasty job ahead.
Wham! Wham! Wham! You're just going to have to imagine the sound of the gaff going into a big fish's head after that. I let the blood drain over the side for a few minutes, then determined the fish had died. It was about 30 inches long and I estimated it's weighed somewhere between 12 and 15 pounds. Within minutes, I had two delicious 17 inch long mahi-mahi fillets laying in front of me and shortly thereafter, 4 bags of dinner for two were deep in our freezer. I did it!!! I made the announcement over the VHF to WINGS and Far Niente of success, there would be dorado for dinner in Cabo.
I finished cooking the dinner I had started, then we got prepared for the night hours. For the amount of daylight there is this time of year, we've settled on the routing of me hitting the sack from 8 - 10 PM, the Marsha hits the sack from 10 - Midnight, then we do 3-1/2 hour shifts ending at sunrise. It was a warm motor sail through the night with the only entertainment being literally hundreds of shooting stars. I saw one around 11:00 that was an order of magnitude brighter that the others. I could even see colors around it's edges. At dawn, I could see WINGS a half of a mile away on our starboard beam. Far Niente was not visible but was within radio contact. All had made it though the dark hours without mishap. Cabo San Lucas was only 30 miles further. The morning was spent trying to catch another dorado with no luck and watching the miles of coastline tick by, one by one. The day was sunny and the sight of the sport fishing boats coming out to hunt marlin at the Golden Gate Banks and the hotels and condominiums lining the shore between Cabo Falso and Cabo San Lucas kept our spirits high reminding us we were here. Then finally we could see the arch.
WINGS went into the marina first to learn there were no more guest slips available this day, so we ended up anchoring for the weekend off the beach. We could see the bottom 30 feet under us. Cabo's sandy beach was within rowing or even swimming distance. Through the afternoon, there were jet skiers and para-sail boats buzzing all around us. In the evening, the hotels along the beach were all lit up and we could hear music from their night clubs. Ahh Mexico!. We've extended our stay by over two weeks because we haven't checked into the country yet. Our 6 month visas haven't had the first rubber stamp.
Trying to do too much after an over nighter on the ocean can get really frustrating really quickly, and this was no exception, but we managed to pull off cleaning the boat and serving dinner for 6 on SPIRIT so we all could savor the mahi-mahi before exploring Cabo San Lucas. Every once in a while, the rocks at the end of the Baja Peninsula would come into view and remind us we had made it. We are alive, happy, healthy, and content.