12/05/2014, Isla Partida, MX
This blog is starting to sound trite to me. It's so easy to slip into travel log mode, describing each day's sail, the spots where we anchor, telling about the wonderful water and the critters we see while snorkeling. The fact is, though, that I'm sure such accounts get even more repetitive in the reading than they do in the writing. I mean, how many different ways can you describe The Perfect Bay.
What makes adventures interesting is the IMperfection. Perfection is really kind of boring. Heaven, as it's generally described, is the teller's idea of perfection and it always sounds boring to me all filled with golden light and vertical lines or whatever. It's the imperfection of mortals that makes life interesting.
Soon after setting off on this voyage I wrote a Rogue's Gallery edition on one of my crew. I told a story, MY story, of the conflict I had with him. Now THAT was a good story with drama and cursing and threats and reconciliation. Robert didn't like it, though, and wrote a dissertation on how I'd gotten it all wrong. In his version he converted the picture of hell he thought I'd painted around him into a limbo, if not a heaven, tinging it with golden light and softening all my dark, jagged lines into gentle curves by pronouncing me "sadly deluded."
I felt his pain and was ashamed that I'd brought it upon him. My apologies were not accepted as far as I know. Perhaps that's because, rather than retract my story, I only published his to let people judge on their own who was deluded and who was not. My friend, Kevin, says he recoiled at his first reading of my Robert-geddon account, thinking I'd ripped my crew "a new one" in public, but I'd only tried to write my side of the truth. Truth, it seems, is fluid.
Back to the travel log: When we arrived in Candelero we'd laid out a two part plan for our day of conquest on the bay. The guide book wrote of a good trail up the canyon beyond the sandy beach to the east. We'd do that in the morning while it was cool and the sun was low in the sky. Afterwards, when the sun was higher and gave better light for snorkeling, we'd snorkel around Roca Monumento.
After Mitch and I lowered the dinghy into the water I gave the newbie a quick lesson in operating the engine and sent him off to figure the rest out for himself while I grabbed my Tevas and filled up my water bottle. He managed to make it back to Mabrouka alive and with the dinghy intact, so he was still doing well in his seamanship classes.
The hike was surprisingly good, with a little clambering here and there over red sandstone and under overhangs worn lacey by wind and rain. Here and there large fig trees had oozed their roots down through the rock's rosy faces, dripping in wooden flows like wax from a candle left burning on a dinner table long after the meal had finished.
Not wanting to rush our hike to a conclusion, we forsook the trail we'd come up on and climbed over the rocks and through the gullies of the dry stream bed back to the beach. Not yet sated, we mounted the small point that split Candelero in two to stand on its rocky outcrop for a while, watching the long, slender form of a Mexican hound fish prowl the shallows.
The rest of our stay would become a staple of our trip, ...pulling on fins and masks, popping our snorkels in our mouths, jumping over the side, and letting hours of the day dissolve into the warm, clear water while multi-colored fish entertained us on a backdrop of rock and coral. Monument Rock took us a couple of hours to explore, then we returned to Mabrouka and set off for El Cardoncito a short half hour motor north to the southern end of the next island, Isla Partida.
Although Caleta Partida was highly recommended by our guide book, we were relishing our solitude and went for the smaller, less popular cove one notch up the island. It took us a few tries to get our anchor to set in the rocky bottom, but success eventually made us secure for the night and we plotted our attack for the next day in a similar fashion as for Candelero.
12/04/2014, Isla Espiritu Santo, MX
No internet signal. Isolation? It doesn't really feel like it here in Ensenada del Candelero. Whether or not we're technologically isolated, we're just not that geographically distant from civilization. We motored out the La Paz channel around 9am and it took us only a few hours to get here. We is me and my crew, Mitch. Hmm. I don't even know his last name. There you go, adventures include sailing off into the blue with people you've only just met.
When I sailed out of Cabo I was alone (too bad, so sad), but then Kevin loaned me his son off Andante so I had crew out of Freiles to Muertos, around to Los Lobos, and on into La Paz. In La Paz Zach went back to Andante and I had an occasional prowl for crew to get to main land Mexico, either Mazatlan or Puerto Vallarta. Mazatlan is a two day crossing and I don't want me to do that alone. Neither does my insurance company.
The hunt started with chiming in on the rides and crew part of the La Paz morning cruiser's net on VHF radio channel 22A. I would wait for brief dead air, announce my boat name, "Mabrouka" and, once recognized, could then chime in with "Yeah, I'm planning to depart on Friday, headed for Ensenada de los Muertos, then across to Mazatlan and I'd like one or two crew. I've put a flyer up on the Club Cruceros bulletin board and I'll be at the 9:30 coffee hour this morning." On the other side of the coin, potential crew would come on the radio and say who they were, how many they were, what their time frame was, etc.
There were several candidate crew at coffee this past Wednesday. I had a little chat with a young couple who needed a ride to the main land, but they were cycling and I decided their bikes would be too cumbersome to transport. Next I talked to Mitch whose pitch over the radio had been that, even though he didn't know much about sailing, he was good at staying up late and could curl up and sleep in small corners. That sounded like my sort of crew and I invited him out to Mabrouka for a get acquainted tour at noon where we sealed the deal.
So Mitch and I (I'll do a Rogue's Gallery edition on Mitch later.) motored out of La Paz on a Thursday morning after Mabrouka's appointment at the gas dock. She got a wash down, 140 liters of diesel, and a belly full of fresh water. Mitch came aboard with his backpack full of his life's possessions, threw it unceremoniously down below, and we cast off the lines.
Mitch has only the basics on sailing that he dredges up from some time sailing dinghies in his youth. His youth was only a few years ago, if he's not actually still in it. The basics are fine with me. We'll take enough time with poking around the islands to get him acquainted enough to provide the assistance I need to get across the Gulf of California. Class started right away, though, so on the way out the channel we went over some rules of the road, parts of the boat, a few sailing terms, and I gave him some time on the wheel to get used to how Mabrouka likes to be treated. He did just fine.
We turned left out the final jog in the channel, headed up wind and set the sails. The wind was blowing about 12 to 15 knots, so it was a brisk sail. I wasn't in the mood to push very hard on Mabrouka and wanted to take it easy on the new kid, so we didn't come all the way close-hauled. The Sea of Cortez didn't show the short, sharp seas it's notorious for, but the one foot chop wore foaming white crests and the wind ahead looked like it had some more bluster in it, so we put the first reef in the main. Again, Mitch did just fine.
We sailed for awhile, but weren't making our destination efficiently. The wind wussed out after an hour or so, but the chop didn't. Mabrouka was getting flogged into a standstill, so I wussed out too and we took in the genny and motor-sailed dead up wind into Ensenada del Candelero. Chosen for a good hike and some nice snorkeling as well as a beautiful Sea of Cortez setting, Candelero would not disappoint. Can an aquamarine bay, red sandstone cliffs, warm days and a cool breeze get to be boring? We'll see.
Candelero (The candle maker? The torch bearer?) is a relatively large bay split roughly into halves by a reef that runs from the middle of the sandy beach out to Roca Monumento that stands monumentally in the center of the bay. We staked out our claim in the northern half a hundred yards south of cliffs that watched us with faces pock-marked like rose colored swiss cheese, wearing horizontal bands of rock strata that suffered with the parched laugh lines of geological age.
Mitch got his first lesson in anchoring in blue-green water that was clear enough to see the chain weave among the sand and rocks on the bottom 15 feet below. (I'm not a tough instructor, but my classroom is pure hell!) Although the cliffs sheltered us from the direct effect of the north wind, it made its way with fairly consistent energy around the point, down the valley at the head of the bay, and across our stretch of water so that Mabrouka swung back and forth in annoyance at the end of her tether.
It wasn't long before we were both over the side in fins and mask to case out the joint for tomorrow's snorkeling activities, me heading for the rocky shore and my crew going the opposite direction to check on Monument Rock. My report came back only so-so. There were some nice fish, but not much coral and the visibility was only about 20 feet. Mitch came back telling of a small manta (what we learned later is actually a mobula ray), lots of fish, and a deep drop off on the far side of the little island. That's where we'd go.
12/03/2014, La Paz, Mexico
On my first morning in the City of Peace my impressions were an interesting contrast to the rest of Mexico as I've experienced it. I'd managed to sleep in 'til about 5:30. The city was waking up too as I washed up the previous day's dishes, made coffee, then worked on this blog.
A shrill whistle came out of the dark as I sat there formulating nautical lies. Thinking a friend on a nearby boat might be trying to get my attention, I stuck my head out the hatch. Instead of a familiar face and a waving hand, I saw a Mexican Navy power launch motoring by. On the bow two sailors stood at attention saluting the sunrise while their bosun piped his pipe, "SherEEEEEEE, sherEEEEEEEEEeeeeee!"
Chuckling to myself and impressed with the nauticalness of the image, I went back to blogging. Soon my intention was pulled away again by sounds from the city a half mile across the water. Church bells gonged their morning call and then I heard what sounded like a calliope beckoning passers by to a merry-go-round or street vendor. It started out with some sort of Disney-esque theme and then sounded more mariachi.
I would discover after a morning or two of listening to the sounds of the awakening La Paz that the Mexican Navy base near which I was anchored apparently cuts their morning DJ loose on their PA system. I don't know whether it's to wake up the troops or what, but it's an entertaining way for ME to start the day anyway.
Mabrouka lay at anchor just across the channel from Marina La Paz for four days, alternately pointing up-channel, then down-channel, basically north east and south west as the tide raced in and out of the bay at two or three knots. The water's impulsive pace set the dinghy to knocking against the hull, especially when the breeze picked up and generated a good chop on the bay.
Even though it was only slightly uncomfortable at anchor, it was going to get worse. A northerly was predicted for early in the coming week with winds well upwards of 25 knots, so it could get pretty exciting out there. Several of us took advantage of discounted rates at Marina Cortez and moved in for slips. There was a 15% discount for Ha-Ha-ers, plus an additional reduction if you booked for a week at a time.
Although the thought of a marina is naturally accompanied by thoughts of calm and security, reality did not meet expectation in this case. No doubt it was better than being out on the bay, but there was really no protection from the wind. What's more, the docks at Marina Cortez are secured by an anchor system, not pilings. Although the marina was encompassed by a nominal breakwater, it too was only floating dock. That cut wind chop, but did nothing to slow down the swell, so during the worst of the blow we were pitching almost as much as we would have at anchor.
The first morning of the storm was a walking confab, with skippers and first mates gathering in knots to look at one boat or another to consider whether additional mooring lines were required or whether chafing gear should be used to keep them from being worn through by the rough finish on the cleats. Additional fenders were squeezed in between the shiny hulls and the hard, threatening edges of the docks. At one point someone said they'd seen Mabrouka's bow sprit actually pitch below the edge of the dock, so I and a small posse of fellow sailors hauled her back in her slip a few feet.
The docks themselves reeled in the swell, cork-screwing around and humping up and down, so it wasn't residual sea legs that made us walk like drunken sailors. Still, I was glad to be there and marina residency gave better access to town than I would otherwise have had.
The wind took itself away south after a few days and life in the marina became steadier when the docks stopped bobbing and weaving under our feet. I recruited a few underfunded deck hands from other boats to scrape and sand the flaking varnish off Mabrouka's teak, setting about a few fix-it chores myself. So, many days passed the way of work, errands, dinners out, and exploring the town. I finally broke down and bought an internet dongle for my computer, so working on the blog, checking up on friends via Facebook, balancing my checkbook, etc. have been worked into the mix.
During my marina-side interlude we were treated to some welcoming entertainment sponsored by the Mexican Tourist Board and the La Paz Hotel Association. They spared no expense and brought in what were likely the best of performers. What do I know from mariachis and traditional Mexican dancers, but they seemed flawless and inexhaustible to me. Take a look at the album for Sea of Cortez for more pictures.
11/19/2014, La Paz, Mexico
We lingered one more morning in Los Lobos. I wanted to explore the mangroves at the head of the bay and climb a little way up the hill in search of another of those idyllic Mabrouka-on-the-tropical-bay photographs. The previous day I'd had a successful reconnoiter of the point a little to the west, hoping for clearer conditions and was optimistic for one last snorkel before departure.
All of those came to pass, so Zach and I upped anchor around noon for a short motor south to La Paz. It seemed that more than half the distance was within the navigation channel itself, but it was only four miles. We found a spot on the crowded bay that was nominally out of the shipping lane. Actually, we had to rationalize that the shipping lane really ended a hundred yards from where we dropped the hook to assuage our guilt, but it got us through the night.
We went ashore that night and found friends willing to share dinner with us at a nice restaurant just outside Marina La Paz. They served fantastic shrimp dishes, so we all indulged ourselves. The ever-present marguerites were two-for one and went down cold and dreamy.
11/18/2014, Caleta Los Lobos
The memories of Keb' Mos' bluesy rhythms that I'd gone to bed with gave way to the banging of my anchor chain in the bow roller somewhere around midnight. Mabrouka was pitching wildly, slacking the chain as the bow dove and slamming it back into the bow roller as it rose on the next wave. The gentle night had turned into a blow that was driving a couple of feet of chop into the bay.
Now that cliff a few dark feet behind us looked truly terrifying. With each bang of the anchor chain I pictured something breaking and went up to the foredeck to reassure myself that Mabrouka could save herself and us from being dashed on the rocks. There was nothing budging up there, but the swivel connecting the chain to the anchor was beyond my sight, so I was compelled to continue my worry.
Alternatives involved upping anchor at oh-dark-thirty and either resetting it blindly among other pitching boats or going out onto an unfamiliar sea to wait or to search for calmer waters. Assessing how quickly I could and how long I'd have to start the engine, I sat watch for a while instead. Somehow I convinced myself it would be okay and returned to my bunk to lie down and rest, if not actually sleep.
I suppose I did doze a little, because I finally woke to a morning that was not much more reassuring in the light. Tightly spaced three foot crests were still rolling in and the chain was still snapping taught with every other wave. I was dubious, but Zach, who preferred his bed outside in the cockpit, seemed still to be holding onto sleep. I roused him to take up anchor duty and started the engine.
Exploring Balandra bay, we kept hoping the next hundred yards would be calm enough, but it always seemed to have been a tease when we closed the distance. Andante had weighed anchor, too, and finally settled into the crook of a cliff near a crescent of sand in the north side, but I wasn't satisfied and took Mabrouka out to explore Caleta Los Lobos a short half mile south.
What we found there was placid. Open to the east instead of Balandra's northwest, Lobos only rippled with the breeze that flowed over the hills. It was every bit as pretty as Balandra, the inner reaches of its bays rimmed with white sand beaches and the added scenic punctuation of mangrove, ...well, groves. We reported back by VHF that we were staying here, poked around for a good spot, and dropped the anchor. The simple task of making pancakes and Zach's refreshing morning snorkel stood in stark contrast to the pounding evening before. It wasn't long before we were joined by other Balandran refugees: Flying Squirrel, Andante, and Northern Winds. Apropos came too, but for some reason decided to head on to La Paz for more civilized R and R.
The day evolved into chore time. Enlisting Zach's assistance, we configured a new experimental anchor bridle, fitted attachments for a dinghy step on the transom, cleaned out three months worth of seagoing yuck from behind the galley stove, made a hold-back for a cabinet door, cleaned some rust off some hull fittings, and greased the anchor winch brake.
The remainder of the day was taken up visiting on Andante, snorkeling, editing pictures, generally lazing, and making plans for La Paz the next day.
11/17/2014, Bahia Puerto Ballandra
I lost track of the days. I thought it was our third there in Ensenada de los Muertos. We hadn't yet taken the bait that tempted so many others to scurry north ahead of the predicted "storm". It really didn't even sound like a storm to me, ...20 to 25 knot north winds and two to three foot waves. More of our friends had pulled their boats out, though, and pressure mounted for us to move on. Kevin decided it was time for him to go and I was compelled by my use of his son's crewing services to follow suit.
I had experimented again with a stern anchor to hold Mabrouka's hind quarters against the cross wind and her nose pointed up swell. The late morning wind was still brisk, so it took some effort to loosen our hold on the Los Muertos sands, but we managed and soon set the main and mizzen to motor sail past the mansions on Punta Perico to the passage between the mainland and Isla Cerralvo.
Turning northward, we decided there was nominally enough breeze to shut down the engine and unfurled the genny, too. We set the hand line for what would turn out to be a fruitless fishing day and settled in to a long tack between mainland Baja and Isla Cerralvo, heading toward a left turn through Canal de San Lorenzo at the southern tip of Isla Espiritu Santo.
That was it for the majority of that day, ...whatever day it was. The setting remained idyllic, but Zach was pensively plotting how to make cruising into a career and the day passed quietly. We sailed some, we motored some. We experienced our most exciting moments as we nosed our way through San Lorenzo and a small bat ray decided to entertain us with a couple acrobatic jumps.
We'd decided to make Puerto Balandra our next anchorage, holding onto paradise for one or two more days before getting to the relative bustle of La Paz. Andante, which always makes the most dependable progress as the only motor vessel in our little company, diverted to check out Playa Bonanza as an alternative. My guidebook flaunts aerial photos of all these places, pictorially bragging turquoise water and white sand beaches, and Bonanza was no different. The other temptations of Bonanza were a shorter day and nominal protection from the building northwest wind, but Kevin pronounced that his recommendation remained with Balandra, so on we went.
We passed through San Lorenzo and turned left for the short southerly leg to our anchorage, arriving well after dusk. We set anchor in about twenty feet of water a hundred feet from a rocky cliff that seemed a little imposing, but not ominous. Reflecting back on the sheltering cliffs of Desolation Sound, it seemed almost protective. The water was calm and the wind only moderate. Odds and ends were scrounged up for dinner and I settled into the remainder of a bottle of wine, treating Zach to a concert of Tom Waits and Keb' Mo before bed.