06/11/2011, Puerto Los Cabos
05/27/2011, Puerto Escondido
Bahia Aqua Verde to Puerto Escondido
On Sunday, May 15 we departed Bahia Aqua Verde for Puerto Escondido which is about 24 nm further north. This was an easy one, no seas and light breezes. This trip, like most of the others since leaving La Paz have been all motor sailing; except for the leg from Isla San Francisco to San Evaristo, when we had too much wind from the wrong direction. We are generally seeing light winds here in the Sea or 'land and sea' breezes. On some passages when we approach a point of land there is a compression effect and we can have 10-15 knots of breeze to sail in, but it is usually short in duration and before long we are rolling up the gennoa and running up the engine RPM. That and it's all from the north, which is generally the way we are going so it's not much help. So much for being a purist!
Arriving in Puerto Escondido, which means hidden port, we were surprised to find that there is an almost entirely land locked basin with only one entrance channel on the south end. The basin is about ½ to ¾ mile wide and a mile long north to south and with good depths throughout. This basin is controlled by the Mexican governments tourist board, Singlar, and they have a small marina at the south end. With only a few slips available the bay is set up with about 150 mooring balls that you rent or you can anchor, but you are charged either way, about $15 a day, which includes use of the dinghy dock and marina facilities, showers and even a pool.
This is a remote area, about 15 miles from the old town of Loreto and the mountains behind the basin are spectacular, the Sierra de la Giganta range. What a setting, only to our surprise no cell phone service and internet from the marina was 'iffy' at best. There was one restaurant at the marina, one very small convenience store and a cruiser's lounge that they call a yacht club. None the less, we had dinner twice at the restaurant and it was pretty good especially since I didn't have to cook. We also used the pool and showers. Not having a dock we were limited on cleaning up the boat to just a quick rinse off when we were getting fuel on the way out. It's always good to get the salt off.
So Inclinded was already there and Sirocco came in from Honeymoon Cove across the straights at Isla Danzante to complete the rendezvous. Mike had been joined by his friend Karen from La Cruz, also known as "some company" who having been in these regions before and speaking Spanish is a wonderful tour guide. We all took a taxi van together to Loreto the following day, Monday, so that we could see the sights and go to a real store for provisions. We also found a pretty decent fishing tackle/ marine hardware shop. We had lunch at a nice place called Las Casitas and they had wifi. We brought our mini lap top, but it was all we could do just to get through weeks of backed up emails and tending to 'real life' business, no time to catch up on blogs!
Loreto was founded in 1679 and the first of the California Missions was established there, making this the "head and mother" of the missions. Loreto served as the capital of Lower California until 1829 when it was pretty well destroyed by a hurricane and the government moved to La Paz. After a whirlwind tour of town we returned to our boats to store our provisions and meet for dinner at the marina restaurant, Porto Bello.
The following morning we were up and departing Porto Escondido with So Inclined and Pacifico keeping company to head further north while Sirocco started their trek south back towards La Paz and eventually to Cabo to get ready to head up the coast about June 1 to return to Oceanside.
While exiting the outer harbor at Puerto Escondido we saw a whale shark swimming next to the boat. I had not seen one before and was surprised at the size of the thing. They are docile and harmless, feeding on micro organisms in the water. Shortly after that we saw a shark take a ray swimming on the surface. Rays seem plentiful in these waters and I guess just about everything is food for something else. This place is full of sea life and we would find out just how common place the whale sharks are in these waters at later stops.
We sailed in company of Sirocco and So Inclined to above Isla Danzante and through the channel between Danzante and Isla Carmen where they turned south and we along with So Inclined turned north. It was nice to see everyone again and we will see them next in Oceanside, or that's the plan!
05/27/2011, Aqua Verde
San Evaristo to Bahia Aqua Verde
25°31.364'N, 111° 04.429'W
We said good by to our friends and San Evaristo on Thursday evening, departing early on Friday, May 13 for Aqua Verde, 44 nm north of here. I know according to seafaring lore one does not start a voyage on Friday and everyone knows about Friday the 13, but then again, I have bananas on board too! Anyway, we left early to make the top of Canal de San Jose before the winds could build too seriously again in the channel. As it turned out it was an easy and quick run to Bahia Aqua Verde; we were in and anchored in 16 feet of water before 1500 hrs.
As the name implies, Aqua Verde or green water is a very pretty place with clear, emerald green water much like our favorite spot on Catalina Island, Emerald Bay, only the water is a lot warmer! We were joined by Don and Kathie aboard their classic and beautiful wooden sloop "Wild Rose" out of Long Beach, California. We didn't know them well, but had met them on the dock at Marina Palmira in La Paz.
We took the dinghy to the village of Aqua Verde, about a mile across the bay from the northern hook we were anchored in. Landing on the beach has been easy here in the Sea of Cortez since there is little wave action, especially in these protected anchorages and bays. This village is noted for its goat herds and because it has a store with cold storage items. There is a wash that comes down from the mountains and it is greener here than most of the land side scenery we are seeing, no running water but it must be down there somewhere. The houses of the village were scattered about and quite a few had palm trees in addition to the desert mesquite and tamarack. We found the store by asking at a goat herder's home for directions. This store, like the one in San Evaristo was spartain and it did have some cold storage items in a large chest freezer packed with ice, but no cold beer or ice cream, just the essentials like meat and cheese. This building looked like it was purpose built and it was painted distinctively. When we got there the door was closed and no one answered. We looked around and knocked at the house behind and the proprietor came out and opened up. Produce was kept in it's cardboard shipping boxes on the floor, but they had plenty of canned and dry goods. One thing that we found which has been unavailable anywhere in Mexico was canned cut green beans. Go figure?
We walked the village, took some photos of the goats and of a few kids that were playing like kids everywhere, riding their bikes except there are no paved streets here, all dirt or packed sand trails really. Back at the boat I took the opportunity to dive the bottom to check things out. Besides a few barnacles on the rudder and keel the bottom of the boat has been staying pretty clean since we left La Cruz down in Bandaras Bay. I had the bottom cleaned twice while down south, there and in Zihuatanejo where it was really bad, but despite the warmer water we are not getting the growth here; possibly because we are moving more frequently? Anyway, I chipped the barnacles off and noticed that the little puffer fish that were swimming a round me snapped them up as they drifted down. The puffer fish seem almost fearless and swim around and right up to my mask. I didn't try to touch them, but they were that close. Other than a few sea turtles we didn't see any thing else swimming around in this anchorage. Pretty nice!
As beautiful as this place is we left after two nights to continue our trek north and to try to reconnect with Sirocco and So Inclined who we knew were in the general area of Puerto Escondido, where there is a real store, cell phones and internet or so we thought!
05/27/2011, San Evaristo
Isla San Francisco to San Evaristo
24° 54.790'N, 110° 42.410'W
On Wednesday, May11 we started off with the intention of making the 52 nm mile run from Isla San Francisco to Bahia Aqua Verde. The weather reports were good, but we hadn't counted on the effect of the Canal de San Jose, which is an about a nine mile long slot between Isla San Jose and the Baja Peninsula. This channel is about a mile wide and with the wind effect funneling through this restricted slot and current against us we had sailed, yes sailed two long tacks making about 4 nm of northing in three hours. Not good. We tried motoring into it but that was worse with the short wave period constantly slamming and slowing the boat. We were getting no where. We opted for ducking into the scenic little bay behind Punta San Evaristo anchoring in 18 feet in the northeastern most notch or anchorage that had the best north wind protection. This turned out to be a good thing. For one this was one of the better stops we have made with a good, calm anchorage and snorkeling, swimming and paddle boarding in protected waters from everything, but a direct southerly, which was not likely and we are out of reach of the La Paz coromuel winds here. There is a fishing village of the same name that even had a small tienda or store and friendly fishermen who were willing to sell us a nice red snapper or "huachanalgo". We weren't having any luck at catching our own so this was a good option.
The village had a small water desalination facility and they make ice to keep their fish and for village water, although we didn't drink any of it. The tienda was primitive by our standards, someone's home and the front room was converted to shelving, but had enough dry goods and decent produce to get us through a few days. When we found it there were a couple of saddled mules tethered out front; check out the photos, not something we encounter at home. They run cattle in these areas and without roads I guess there's no other way to go about it. The riders or cowboys were resting on the porch of the store. Not an easy life.
We had happy hour and boat tour of Endorfin with Dan, Lisa and their daughter Savannah who are from Oxnard, California and are living aboard their 55 foot heavy cutter full time. They filled our reserve scuba tank that I keep aboard Pacifico for emergencies from their dive compressor, which was greatly appreciated. It would be nice to have the room for all that equipment; ah the dilemma of a bigger boat!
San Evaristo was a good find and we were joined there by Swift Current and Blue Rodeo, but it was time to move north again; we are beginning to feel the crunch of time!
05/27/2011, Isla San Francisco
Caleta Partida to Isla San Francisco
24° 49.097'N, 110° 34.062'W
We left Caleta Partida on Sunday, May 8 for Isla San Francisco, which is about a 22 nm run to this island at the upper end of Bahia La Paz, about 42 nm from La Paz itself to give you an idea of the size of the bay. Isla San Francisco is a small island with a nice anchorage affording good protection from north, east and south winds, but not so much from the west or more importantly from the southwest, the direction that the coromuel winds come in from except for the small area at the south end in the "hook", which tends to be shallow where we dropped. Anchored in 19 foot of water with rapidly decreasing depths between us and the shore we were set for the first two nights with only a moderate coromuel condition. We are getting so good at this that we don't even use the "flopper stopper" any longer. Maybe Marisa is getting her sea-legs? The third night the winds switched to the north and we had the fetch across the bay to contend with, but still not bad. We put out some extra anchor road or scope to compensate and keep us off the beach. All was well.
This is a pretty spot, a large acring bay with beautiful clear water and white sand beach. We were joined again by Swift Current, Blue Rodeo, Endorfin, Taking Flight, Panta Rhea, Honcho and several other boats. Cirque showed up the third day and invited practically the entire fleet aboard for great appetizers and Louis' pineapple rum punch.
We took a group hike to the top of the hills above the "hook" for photo opts, then to the bay on the east side of the island to look for 'agate' rocks known to be found there. We struck out, but several others in the party found a few. This bay was a good place for paddle boarding, swimming and snorkeling at the point. Louis and Laura aboard
"Cirque" who we first met down in Zihuatanejo, came in the last evening and hosted quite a group onboard their boat. Louis is a retired Bay area school physical education teacher, semiprofessional juggler and sailor extraordinaire; probably having done more open ocean racing than anyone else that I've met before including the ill-fated 1979 Fastnet Race off the English coast that took so many lives, multiple Transpac and Tahiti races, North Atlantic races, you get the picture. They keep their boat absolutely spartan, no above deck appendages or canvas; dodger or bimini, no shade or shelter for the cockpit whatsoever. Everyone has their own way of doing things.
We were having fun, but decided to leave our group early to get to Bahia Aqua Verde, as a first stop in route to Santa Rosalia, our intended final destination of this trip and about 180 nm north of Isla San Francisco. There are many good places to stop in between and we only have a month left, time to get going.
Friday, May 6: Buenos dias from Caleta Partida, which is a little bay between the islands of Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida. This is almost an isthmus, but there is a narrow, shallow channel between the two islands that we took the dinghy through to the other side so they are actually two separate islands. We are tucked up behind the bluffs on the south east end of this 'caleta' or 'little hiding place' and it's a good place to be because the "Coromuels" are blowing 15-20 tonight. In a nutshell Coromuels are a localized south-westerly wind in the La Paz area that typically blow at night in the spring and summer months as a result of the cooler Pacific air flowing across the low lands of the Baja peninsula towards the warmer water of the Sea of Cortez. Behind the shelter of these tall bluffs we only get the wind, no waves. The fetch across the bay from La Paz is about 20 miles and many of these calas, caletas and ensenadas on the west side of these islands get significant waves in these conditions. Two of the boats that are in here now were run out of another anchorage just around the corner a few nights ago with 20-25 knot winds accompanied by 5 foot seas, which would make for an uncomfortable night and dangerous conditions on a lea shore.
We have been in here for three nights after leaving Marina Palmira in La Paz on Wednesday 5/4. I'm going to back track from this point to get up to date. I think I left off at about the time we departed Mazatlan on Sunday, April 17. That seems like a long time ago! It was foggy that morning and the harbor was closed for several hours. We got stuck inside then in the fuel dock line up at El Cid Marina, but we were finally able to leave by about 1100 hrs. We made the 190 nm crossing of the lower Sea of Cortez with about 201 nm actual distance traveled and on a heading of about 274°m, motor sailing most of the way in modest winds from between 1-3 knots to as much as 11-12 knots. We added a few miles by taking some long tacks with the wind shifts, which was from the west or southwest. We anchored at Bahia de los Muertos on the East Cape of the Baja by 1730 hrs on the 18th. It felt good to be back on the Baja, having left Cabo San Lucas on November 28th, to make the crossing to Mazatlan before heading south to the "Mexican Riveria."
As much as we enjoyed the mainland this was what we were looking for; the water was warm, clear and emerald green with white sand beaches. We left Mazatlan a few hours behind Sirocco and So Inclined and were passed up by Blue Rodeo and Swift Current. Bahia de Los Muertos or Bay of the Dead is facing a make-over. There is an upscale hotel and home development on its southern end. They apparently thought Bay of the Dead was not a good marketing theme and have renamed it Bahia de Los Suenos or Bay of Dreams. True it is probably more appealing to some, but it will always be referred to simply as "Muertos" by locals and cruisers. There are remnants of an old wharf from the early 1900s at the north end of the bay left over from a pier that was constructed to service mining operations in the area. The stone work of the wharf makes a good dinghy landing and there is a restaurant/bar with wifi available. Not the kind of place we would frequent often at $40 pesos a beer and $20 for the wifi, but it was convenient and the only game in town. We had a good dinghy ride around the bay and then joined a "cruiser's potluck" on the beach the following afternoon. That was fun and we had the opportunity to meet folks from other boats; Taking Flight, Honcho, Scout, Endeavour and a few others along with the usual group. The next day we had lunch at the hotel's restaurant. The word was out that cruisers were welcome to use their pool as long as we were customers at the bar/restaurant; they must be hard up for business? We were forewarned that it would be expensive, and it was, but worth the effort. This facility, not the same one that is by the old wharf, is located at top of a low bluff above the beach. This small and upscale hotel and residential complex is very private and well guarded by security. The hotel starts at $350 US a night off season and the bar was priced accordingly. A private helicopter flew into a landing pad close by to deposit owners, but no matter, we've decided we don't have to own it to enjoy it. The food was great despite the heartburn at the cost and the facility was worth the visit, it even had a complete model railroad system upstairs completely around the foyer that rivaled any; with several different gauge systems that were fully operational complete with towns and switching yards.
After lunch and a tour of the facility we got in some snorkeling on the reef in front of the hotel, then back to the boats for siesta. After a couple of days of this routine and a few boat projects we moved around the East Cape through the Cerralvo Channel and into Bahia de La Paz, a 45nm passage to anchor in a beautiful little bay called Puerto Balandra, at 24°11.003' N, 110°18.236'W. This bay is uninhabited except by day boats bringing Mexican tourists from La Paz to the white sand beaches on the south side of the bay. This was Easter Week and a national holiday week here in Mexico. The beaches had started to fill up back in Muertos with 4 wheel drive buggies and campers, just like in the states except these folks are local Mexicans taking advantage of Spring Break week. At Muertos we were serenaded at night with their competing 'boom boxes'. At Balandra the tourists and day boats leave in the evening and we had the bay to ourselves.
Balandra is open to the northwest and we anchored in the southern part of the bay as close to the tall cliffs as we could to gain protection in what would be our first experience with the Coromuel. The afternoon's typical northerly breeze dies off and we are left with beautiful sunsets, flat calm water and starry nights followed by the beginning of the Coromuel wind. It starts slowly, swinging all the boats at anchor around bow towards its approach. The winds vary on different days. Our first night it stayed light, 10-15 until about midnight, then increased to 20-25 knots blowing constantly until sunlight. We were told the night before we arrived it blew 30-35, lucky us! With the cliffs above us we got the wind, but without any fetch only rivulets of waves impacted the boat. It was noisy, but not rolly or dangerous. I had heard a lot about these Coromuel winds, this was my first experience in them. The wind would die completely by late morning leaving it perfectly calm for a while before the afternoon northerly's set in, but they were moderate and kept the heat of the day at bay. That said this would not be a good anchorage in a strong northerly blow.
We enjoyed several days of snorkeling, kayaking, paddle boarding, lounging and of course boat projects before making the 9 nm hop to Marina Palmira just on the outskirts of La Paz. Just before leaving we were 'inspected' again by a Mexican Navy crew that came into the anchorage in an aluminum boat that looked like a panga. As before, they were polite and asked for our ships papers, passports and crew list. Satisfied, they left quickly without going below and we were off. Once in the marina we were assigned a slip at the end of dock #3 with the long end tie next to us vacant. It was nice having the open space next to us and the fresh breeze, although while we were there a few of the very large cruising yachts did tie up for a few hours to load or unload the owners and clean up. I met one of the crew of one of these boats and we shared a couple of beers while taking a break from our respective chores. We chatted in broken English and Spanish as best we could and at the end he offered me fish! Not wanting to insult him of course I accepted. Truth is we had drug a line behind us several times and only caught a small bonita, which I gave back to the sea. Anyway, we were given a couple of nice filets of red snapper or 'huachinago' which we made 'a la Vera Cruz the next evening to share with Anne and Mark from Blue Rodeo.
La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico is the state capital of B.C.S. and a city of about 500,000 people. This is not a tourist town, although it does have some components of that with several marinas serving the yachting community as well as a sizable 'gringo' community here, but no large hotel row. That said it is not at all like Cabo San Lucas or Puerto Vallarta and it has just about everything; Wal Mart, Sam's Club, Home Depot, as well as their own Soriana and other mega-markets. We found four marine supply stores and a variety of hardware stores as well as an assortment of really good restaurants to choose from too. This city caters to locals more than to tourists and the restaurants were not all located on a tourist strip, but sprinkled about the community as well as on the malecon. One of the restaurants we patronized was called "Buffalo" pronounced 'boof'a-lo' which was recommended by my daughter-in-law Andrea, her Mom and Stepfather having a home here, we got several other recommendations from them as well. Anyway, this was pretty over the top, very nice, but in a relaxed way and the food prepared was superb. We went with a group of eight and were treated with complimentary appetizer. The chef came out while we were eating and asked how we liked the appetizer? What could we say; it was different, really great! When asked what it was we were told it was toasted pita style bread topped with a cheese I can't pronounce and the little things on top were grasshoppers! Sure enough, looks like a leg to me! We can all now say we have eaten grasshoppers; and they were pretty good too, kind'a sweet and tastes like chicken. Although, we had a few among us that wouldn't take a second bite (Marisa). It's now Saturday, May 7 and we are still at Caleta Partida. We enjoyed our stay in La Paz and at Marina Palmira so much so that we extended our time there by several days. I was able to accomplish quite a few projects that had eluded me thus far before finally departing on day 10. This has been our longest stay in a marina, at least while we were actually aboard the boat and it was very affordable at about $20 US a day including utilities. We checked out of the marina on Wednesday, May 4 and headed straight for Caleta Partida. As much as we enjoyed La Paz, this is a wonderful place and absolutely quiet. The afternoon winds have died as predicted and yesterday we had a beautiful sunset across calm, flat water. It is late now, about 2130 hrs and the first hint of a Coromuel has just started. It's a light breeze from the southwest. They are projected to be light this evening; we hope so. This evening after dinner we watched the sunset into the hills and mountains across the sea into the mountains of the Baja. The water was so calm that we could see some of the elusive sea turtles we had seen intermittently about the bay poking their heads up for a breath before swimming back down. I was surprised at how many there are in this bay. A ray swam leisurely by, his wing tips rhythmically breaking the calm surface, an occasional fish boil and you can hear the wind whistle through the wings of the sea birds when they dive after fish. We will post a few photos when we get internet again and I hope that they portray the natural beauty of this place; the desert by the sea. Until then we will post our blogs via satellite phone.
We are enjoying this place and the slower pace, but tomorrow we will be off to Isla San Francisco about 20 miles further North into the Sea.
04/25/2011, Posada Barrancas
After our arrival at Marina Mazatlan on Friday, April 8, we got the boat cleaned up after a week out, then got a good night's rest. Saturday was a bus ride into Centro to revisit the market place and a little more of the downtown area. Despite the warnings of all the violence in that community we made it through the day unscathed and didn't even see one shoot out, just a lot of hard working people going about their daily routine; So disappointing!
We previously planned to take an off boat road trip to Mexico's Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre) and to begin the trip from Mazatlan, which we did on Sunday, April 10. After much to-do about the details we decided to just "wing it." We did purchase our first leg of the trip aboard an "Elite" bus line's first class bus out of Mazatlan with an 0800 departure to Los Mochis along with Howard and Lynn from Swift Current and Mark and Anne from Blue Rodeo. It seemed like this was one of those events that fell together just about perfectly and better than we could have planned it. We all had dinner Saturday night with Mike and his friend Karen aboard So Inclined at the El Cid Resort Marina, which is a long walk or short taxi ride from our marina. We caught one of Mazatlan's "red trucks" to the El Cid and made arrangements with the driver to pick us up at 0620 the next morning for a ride to the bus station. As promised he was there and we got to the station just in time to catch the 0700 bus. We were an hour ahead of schedule.
The bus ride from Mazatlan to Los Mochis was interesting and uneventful. Our seats were quite comfortable, the bus was air conditioned and we were entertained with several movies dubbed in Spanish. Not understanding everything we missed a lot but it was fun to try to piece together between us and our limited Spanish what was going on. We went through one police check point wherein a Federal Police Officer entered the bus, looked around and then asked one fellow passenger for identification. Satisfied he exited the bus. We also encountered an agricultural inspection station. When the inspector came through the bus to our group, I told him, "no tenemos frutitas or verduras." He was satisfied with that and shortly we were on our way again. We had a brief stop at the Culican station where I bought some pretty tasty burritos from a vendor. The countryside we traveled through was initially very dry and desert like then transitioned into rich agricultural area under irrigation from a canal system. The scenery was for me at times reminiscent of either the Central Valley off old Highway 99 up near Bakersfield or the Palo Verde (Blythe) or Imperial Valley area with irrigated fields backed by rugged desert hills. We found Los Mochis to be a large working class community with neat roads and streets, residential areas and a large business district that looked much like Imperial or El Centro in the Imperial Valley.
We got off the Elite bus at Los Mochis with only the information that there is a second bus station that we would have to find to take another bus to El Fuerte, our hoped for final stop for the day. A clerk with super long fingernails at the bus station could only vaguely instruct us to walk four or five blocks up and two over. With that information we started off afoot, turning down several offers from cabs because it would require two for our group of six, and what the heck, it was only a few blocks! We arrived at the approximate intersection, but with no bus station in sight we tried asking a few locals for assistance. One fellow knew what we wanted, but couldn't adequately tell us so that we could understand where the station was located. He then indicated that we should follow him and he started off up the street then across the street with the six of us dutifully following. At mid-block he entered a pedestrian alley and we followed him in. We came out into a large bus lot and he led us right up to the bus for El Fuerte, which just happened to be leaving in about two minutes. No ticket, no problem, just buy it on the bus.
The bus to El Fuerte was not of the "first class" variety, but was comfortable enough for the two hour run. We were dropped off that afternoon in the center of town at kind of a bus pick-up and transfer location. We had been provided with the name of the "Rio Vista" hotel, "located right next to the old fort," and started shopping for rooms as we walked in search of that facility. Checking out a few places we continued our quest for lodging and soon came upon the old fort, which is a replica of the original Spanish fort on the hill overlooking the town and the El Fuerte River. Sure enough the Rio Vista was right next to the fort, built on the bluff and had a great view of the river and valley below. The proprietor, Nacho, led us to a group of three quaint, clean rooms with great river views. We took it.
After freshening up Nacho served us a few cold beverages with chips and salsa on the patio overlooking the river before we took a walk into town. This area of town is historically and architecturally interesting and has a nice city park in the town square. El Fuerte is located at the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains and was founded in 1564 by Spanish Conquistadores. It is also the birthplace of "Zorro" of later fame in Alta California. After walking about the old town area we found a great place for dinner. Back at our hotel we all got a good night's sleep, except for the geckos. I didn't know that geckos bark and chatter at night and it seems that each room had a pair of them. Who knew that such a small lizard could make so much noise! We've been told they eat the bugs, which could be, because we didn't see any in our room.
That morning we were treated to a great breakfast on the patio, again served by Nacho. Nacho's brother took us to the train station in the hotel's van and within about 10 minutes our train arrived. Once again, no ticket, no problem; buy it on the train. Our train or "ferrocarril" is operated by the Chihuahua Pacifico Railway, part of the National Railways of Mexico. The system runs from Los Mochis near the coast to Chihuahua, about 300 miles inland and traverses Mexico's Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains crossing the Continental Divide. The rail cars were clean and comfortable with reclining seats, foot rests and plenty of leg room. There is a "head" in every car and large view windows for every pair of seats. The conductors wear a traditional conductor's uniform and long coat with hat. We found them to be helpful and courteous.
A little RR history: The railway was the idea of American engineer Albert Owens who came to Mexico's Topolobampo Bay in 1861 and considered it the best place to establish a Pacific port linked by railway to the American Midwest. Construction started on the railway, but because of wars and revolutions it was not finished until 1961 with the completion of the last segment of 160 miles between Creel and Chihuahua. A few interesting facts: There are 39 bridges the longest of which is the Agua Caliente Bridge at 1,637 ft long. The system has 87 tunnels, the longest being tunnel #86 at 5,980 feet in length. The railway climbs to an elevation of 8,071 feet at Ojitos and the travel time from Los Mochis to Chihuahua is 14 hours. I thought it was pretty interesting and thought I'd share those numbers with you. It is a pretty impressive system and fun to ride too!
We chose six seats together and shortly the conductor came through to collected fares, cash only, and to issue tickets. We spent a few hours in our car then moved to the lounge car. We were just about the only patrons in the car and stayed there for most of the trip, enjoying the views through the larger windows and with refreshments. We had a nice lunch in the dining car, which again was almost empty then completed our travel in the lounge car. Our trip to the Posada Barrancas Station took seven hours. Exiting the train at almost 8,000 feet elevation it was substantially cooler than the coast below. We had no real information on this stop, but again had been told it was a good place to stay while visiting the area. We got off and were surprised that there was basically nothing there, no town, taxis or hotels. We were a surprised at the remoteness of this location, but the train was gone so nothing to reconsider. Fortunately one other couple had exited the train with us and there was a hotel van and truck there to pick them up. The van driver, David, asked if we had reservations. He looked at us like we were nuts when we told him we didn't and invited us to ride with them to their hotel, no obligation. What could it hurt?
Again, what a pleasant surprise. We took rooms at the Posada Barrancas Mirador. This hotel is beautiful and is right on the rim of the canyon with our room's balconies literally built over the edge with fantastic canyon views. At $2,350 per night or just about $200 US it seemed high at first, but actually what a deal. Included were three gourmet meals per person daily, guided tours and entertainment in the lounge nightly all with great, friendly service. I would highly recommend this hotel.
After settling into our rooms we all gathered in the lobby for a hiking tour led by David. He took us down a trail into the canyon to a ledge that led past several "Tarahumara" Indian residences. We learned that there are about 70,000 "Tarahumara" living scattered about in their native land which is located within the vast expanse of the "Barrancas del Cobre" region. I'll take a quote from Mark and Anne's blog. "According to history, the "Tarahumara" retreated into the canyon when the Spaniards invaded Mexico and have been there ever since. The "Tarahumara" or as they call themselves "Raramuri", meaning "foot runner" dwell in caves or under rock ledges with wood or adobe houses attached to them. They are known as extraordinary long distance runners and for generations have used narrow footpaths in the canyon to travel swiftly between villages. Wearing only huarache sandals, the men have been known to beat ultra marathon runners in the States while even stopping to take a smoke during the event." Thanks guys, I liked what you had to say about these interesting people and didn't want to leave it out!
We saw quite a few of the women "Tarahumara" tending their children while selling their baskets at various locations to tourists and at their homes in the canyon, but we didn't see any men or adolescent boys, just girls. The women and girls dressed in their traditional clothing. I asked David, our guide, where the men were and he said most of them work at ranches, farms, in mining and even at the hotels, and that they don't dress in the traditional clothing except ceremonially.
On the second day of our stay we opted for a more adventuresome outing, or at least some of us did. There is a gondola or cable car (teleferico) that runs down into the canyon 1.74 miles and a "zip line" (tirolesa) ride that has seven stations with one run over 1 kilometer long. Mark, Anne and Howard opted for the "zip line" while Marisa, Lynn and I took the cable car then a short road trip to Divisadero with David. The train stop at Divisadero is the closest station to the rim of the canyon and is located at the overlook to Urique Canyon 4,1354 feet down. For more interesting commentary on this trip and especially about the "zip line" and photos of the "zip line" ride go to Mark and Anne's blog at: http://www.svbluerodeo.blogspot.com/.
Wednesday came and our time at Posada Barrancas Mirador was over. The desk clerk made a reservation for us at the Santa Anita Hotel in Los Mochis and we said good bye to all the wonderful staff that made our stay so comfortable and enjoyable. David took us back to the train platform at Posada Barrancas where we caught the 1330 train to Los Mochis. We opted to ride the train all the way this time and skip the El Fuerte. The train took us to the station where we were told by the staff at the Mirador we would be met by the driver for the Santa Anita Hotel. We didn't know what to expect, but when we walked out of the train station there was a large bus there that said, "Santa Anita Hotel", it doesn't get any easier. Our luck was holding as it seemed that about half the train's passengers were taking that bus. Regardless, off the hotel we went, and again it was a pleasant surprise. The hotel was in down town Los Mochis. It was modern, clean and quiet with very nice rooms all for about $80 us for a double. Much better than a Best Western.
The next morning we opted to walk to the Elite bus station, which we were told was about 10 blocks. We figured we'd get there early, get our tickets and then breakfast while we waited for our bus. Arriving about 0840 we found that we only had about 20 minutes before the next bus left, just enough time to get our tickets, then grab some take-out food from an OXOXO convenience market (similar to a 7-11) across the street and get on board our bus for the six hour run back to Mazatlan. It was a good thing too because the next bus didn't leave until 2100 that night! We had a comfortable bus ride, again with Spanish dubbed movies and all we needed now was to find a red truck for the return trip to our marina. Our good fortune held true to the end and Mark spotted a red truck right outside the terminal. In 20 minutes we were home.
This was a truly wonderful experience; sharing this adventure with two other couples that were great company and who shared an optimistic outlook not to mention a sense of humor and set out determined to make it happen. And it did! We are glad that we added this side trip to our Mexico travel experience, but we were all glad to get back to our boats to get ready for the next leg our journey: Back to the Baja. To be continued.
04/15/2011, Marina Mazatlan
We left La Cruz marina on April 2, after several days of projects including paying a diver to clean the bottom, and what a difference that has made in performance and handling. The water down here is warmer than it gets in SoCal, even as cool as it is this year it is still warmer than our summer temps and the marine life grows quickly on the boat's bottom, prop and shaft with all kinds of 'stuff' that slows the boat and clogs intakes. I didn't want to do the job and for a buck a foot includiing zincs it was hardly worth doing it myself. The fellow really worked hard and did a good job. I dove the bottom at the conclusion of his work and it was spotless. I think he was surprised to see anyone get into the water and inspect his work, but I had no complaints and as a bonus the water was 74° with good visibility and lots of tropical fish, even here in the marina.
We had a great time in La Cruz, but it was time to start our trek north. The marina there was full with many boats like us transitioning back to the north following the season. I thought the weather was great, Marisa said it was getting too hot for her liking, much like in Zihatuanejo, which gave us our warmest temps of the season thus far. Anyway, we refueled and made an uneventful exit from Bandaras Bay on Saturday morning. We were treated to a mother humpback whale and calf swimming close by us as we left the bay. The little guy was flying out of the water, spinning and turning as he crashed back down repeatedly then spanking the water with his tail while mom just swam alongside and kept track of him and probably of us too. We didn't get to close, coming between a mother and her calf can be dangerous. On the down side I was coming down with a cold; yes the rhinovirus exists down here too.
We arrived at the anchorage off Rincon de Guyabitos at about 1500 and anchored in close proximity to So Inclined, Blue Rodeo and Swift Current. That evening we all took our dinghies ashore to have dinner at the place we had found while there in December. On that visit we were with Swift Current and had a great coconut shrimp dinner. The table next to us ordered what we thought was a "mocajete" that looked fabulous and we had decided there and then to come back and try that entre the next time. What luck, it was their 'special of the day' and everyone at the table ordered it, actually one per couple since it is large enough to split. I have to say it was good, but not great. It turned out to be 'fajitas' in disguise, hence the disappointment. After a short stroll about the town we made it back to the boats and settled in. The next morning my cold was worse and I felt it too. We took a day off and I laid low to take it easy and rest up while the rest of the fleet continued on to Mantanchen Bay. Marisa had not really wanted to go there anyway because of all the "jejenes" (no-seeums) we encountered there last time so nothing was lost. We didn't have any wifi here but at least our phones worked.
We departed Guyabitos on Monday, April 4 for Isla Isabel, about 60 nm to the N/W at about 315°m. It was an easy crossing, much like the run from Oceanside to Catalina's Two Harbors. It's about the same distance and the wind was right on the nose, so we made a night crossing, motoring into light breeze and flat seas. Isla Isabel is a bird sanctuary for frigates primarily, but there are also boobies and albatross. This island is an extinct volcano with several caldera or collapsed caldera. It is low lying and only about a quarter mile across. There are two small anchorages and both are rocky and notorious for snatching and holding anchors. We put a trip line on the head of our anchor in case it got snagged in the rocks. In that event you're supposed to be able to retrieve the trip line, which is attached to a float and pull the head of the anchor out so it can be retrieved. In addition this island and surrounding waters are rich with fish and there are several "co-op' fishing camps at the main beach. They run countless submerged nets around the island and think nothing of surrounding the anchorage with them as well. You end up anchored in a sea of floats; it's un-nerving and makes for very careful entry and exit. We were joined there by the rest of our fleet and while most of them went ashore to hike I stayed on the boat nursing my cold while Marisa worked on her special project, to be disclosed at a later time. Again we didn't have any wifi and out there no cell phone service either.
On Thursday April 7 at about 0630 we all made an early departure for Mazatlan, some 85 nm to the NN/W at about 330°m. We had some issues getting our anchor up, essentially the anchor chain got stuck in the rocks, not the anchor, and it took about half an hour of slowly going across it, pulling it up by hand, lowering it, backing off then going forward again, but we got it up and set out after our fleet carefully working our way out of the fishing net floats. We got to the Stone Island anchorage outside Mazatlan's old harbor at 2230 that night. It wasn't cold but very damp, it may as well have been raining it was so wet. It was a short night, rocking and rolling in a large swell that ran through the anchorage. The next morning we made the last ten miles to the entrance to Marina Mazatlan. We were the last of our boats to head in and were stopped by an official looking boat, maybe the port captain? Anyway, because of the large swell that was running they told us the harbor entrance was closed. We insisted that our friends had made it and while they were not happy said go ahead but to be very careful. This entrance is tricky, it's narrow, shallow and with a swell running from the SW the surge continued up the channel. Anyway, we made it in between the big sets and I saw 8.4 knots boat speed on the one swell we did surf in on. Pretty cool! We're here and we have wifi again!
We are in Marina Mazatlan and have gotten the boat cleaned up. We are getting ready for an off boat excursion to Mexico's Copper Canyon by bus and train. More on that in the next installment.
It's been a while since we posted anything because we weren't here! We flew to San Diego from Puerto Vallarta on March 16. It was an easy flight and only about 1/3 full. Our return flight, today 3/29 was even lighter! It really brings it home that I am fortunate to be able to do this. When we got back to the boat everything was as we left it. There was no real reason for concern, but you can't help but to be. Our dock is not heavily populated and mostly by Australians getting their boats ready to head across the Pacific on the "Puddle Jump." It seems that several of them all unassociated with each other have coincidentally purchased boats here in Mexico, brought them to this marina and are readying them for the crossing.
Our trip home was enjoyable but busy. We took what we could carry with us of the 'stuff' onboard that we have found we are not using then brought back at least as much new 'stuff' or even more! I had kept a "West Marine" list going over the months and was able to get just about everything we needed. Thanks again to Jack, Buddy and John at our Oceanside West Marine for your efforts. I had also ordered additional LED replacement bulbs online that they didn't carry. We had taken a few with us and they worked so well I am replacing all the old incandescent and halogen bulbs with these new "Sensibulbs" LED lights. If you have a boat and need low energy light that's the ticket. They are very bright yet cool and use 1/10 the power. I can't wait to get them installed and get to an anchorage were we can really utilize them. We had so much stuff from West Marine and Trader Joes
that we were concerned that we'd get zapped by Mexican Customs. Fortunately we got the 'green light' and walked right on through. I was a little nervous!
Coincidentally Mike from So Inclined and Lee and Cathy on Sirocco and ourselves had all booked our off boat travels with overlapping days at home. This was a good time to travel, after the Bandaras Bay Race Week and just in time for taxes! Reality sucks. Needless to say we all got together up at OYC on the Friday night we were all in town and Carleen took that picture of us all up at the bar. Gee, just like in Mexico! It was fun to be together at the club and to see many of our friends there together. Mike had the shortest trip with just one week, we stayed two and Lee and Cathy will be away three weeks with other side travel.
As I said it was busy; with family and friends to visit, specific items to be located and purchased, taxes, a dead battery in the car, which it also needed a smog check and registration that reality came rushing back! It was a strange feeling knowing that we were there only for a short time and would be returning to the boat to begin the final leg of this journey. As my friend Tim said to me: once you get home it feels like you never left. He was right. We were back into the same routine and motion, but it was a strange feeling after living aboard these past four months. We were in a very familiar yet different environment, and now that we are home, back on the boat, it seems like we never left! We both commented that it felt odd to be flying from San Diego to go home vs. to San Diego. You get the picture.
We are on the boat after finishing some projects this afternoon and a walk out of the marina area to find a new place for dinner since we have not yet been to the store. It was nice to work on the boat again, especially in nice, warm, weather! Tomorrow we hope to finish up some of our projects and pull out of here to go up to La Cruz for a few days; just in time for Tacos on the Street! We will do our provisioning up there before heading out on our next leg. That should be up to Bahia Jaltemba, then Chacala and hopefully out to Isla Isabel on the way to Mazatlan, but we shall see since as we know, these things are subject to change!
The Bandaras Bay Race week is a yearly event sponsored by the Vallarta Yacht Club at Paradise Village Marina in Nuevo Vallarta. Paradise Village is also referred to as the Marina del Rey of the south, which is why we prefer to be in La Cruz, but for this event we will make an exception. We got a slip at neighboring Nuevo Vallarta Marina because Paradise was full. Both marinas share the same entrance channel into this dredged estuary/mangrove swamp that has little channels running for miles back into the river bottom and yes, it's posted for crocodiles too!
Oceanside crew regulars Mike Cobas, Patty Mangles and James Connor flew down for the event. Lee and Cathy provided Siroccos's own race HQ by renting one of the condos adjacent to the Vallarta YC where our extra crew stayed and we could store some of the excess gear removed from Sirocco to lighten her load for the race as well as some of our own equipment. We had nightly 'debriefings' there, fixed crew dinner and we had access to the washer and dryer at the condo, which was a bonus! Our marina is close enough for us use our dinghies for transportation between the two locations, no taxis involved. Thanks to Lee and Cathy for going above and beyond to do all that, it really made it nice.
Race Week events started on Wednesday with a practice race primarily geared towards the cruising boats in the fleet that don't do much if any racing. To be sure there were quite a few die hard racers with race oriented boats in the fleet and the fleet was divided into different classes mostly determined by ratings. We were in a tough class with some serious competition. The practice day gave us a chance to re-orient ourselves to racing and to being on Sirocco again. Thursday, March 10 was the first race. Sirocco got off to a clean start and held the lead almost to the first windward mark over some faster competitors. We sailed a clean race with good execution of all our maneuvers, error free to take a second behind Cirque, a Beneteau 42s7 out of the San Francisco area and ahead of Blue, a J160 from Puerta Vallarta. For the race results you can check their site at: http://www.vallartayachtclub.org/race/bbr2011.html. Regardless, with about 60 boats in the race it was pretty exciting and quite a site to see.
That night I was working late on the internet trying to catch up on Blog Posts since we have wifi in this marina. As a side note life without instant access to the internet is different. It's something we didn't grow up with, yet it is now like cell phones it's something that we (some of us anyway) can't seem to live without. I kind of find it refreshing. When I know I can't get on the internet anyway I tend to not even open the computer, which gives me time for other things and there's lots to do here just to keep up. Before shutting down the computer I checked email one last time and had received a note from old Riverside friend Steve Evans. He sent me a notice on the terrible earthquake that had just struck Japan and the resulting tsunami warning. There was not much else on that until I woke up in the morning and the VHF and SSB nets were swarming with it as well as the internet.
Within a few hours it was determined that there would be a tsunami effect on the Bandaras Bay region and the race was cancelled for Friday. With the possibility of damaging surges and currents affecting the marinas just about everyone got on their boats and went out to sea to deep water, the safest place to be in such an event. As it turned out it was a great day on the bay for a day sail and I doubt there has never been that many boats on the bay at one time, literally hundreds, but it is a big bay and congestion was not an issue. It turned out that there was substantial surge and while no boats were damaged the La Cruz marina did suffer some dock damage. They reported up to 14 knots running into and then out the channel here at Nuevo Vallarta. The entrances to all the marinas were closed after it hit and the entire fleet was forced to anchor out overnight. We spent the night anchored in the La Cruz/Busarias area where we noticed varying tidal flows, but had no issues.
All the boats returned to our marinas Saturday and while there was still some weird periodic tidal flooding it was minor and the race went on as scheduled. It was windier Saturday and there was more chop, but still a good day for racing. Today was not our best and we made a few minor errors, nothing serious, but with tough competition enough to take a sixth. We were happy to have had the opportunity to get to participate in this event; a fine regatta with a lot of participation and great team efforts. Because race two was cancelled the final results were an average of the two races. We were happy to learn that Sirocco took a very respectable 3rd overall. Kudos to Lee and Cathy for their efforts!
Today is Sunday, March 13 and there is an after race event sponsored by a local retreat inland from Bucarias called "Arroyo Verde." They are also sailors and own a big catamaran named "Moon and Stars" and were also in the regatta. We are not sure what the protocol is for the party, but they have a pool, food and beverages will be served. I hope we get to see most of the crews from our competition; it would be fun to get their take on the race.
We will be flying home Wednesday from Puerto Vallarta for two weeks for personal business. Pacifico will remain here in Nuevo Vallarta Marina as opposed to our intention to take her to La Cruz. We are thinking should there be any further major earthquake events in Japan and resulting tidal waves this looks like a safer place to keep the boat. That's the plan for now anyway, but things are always subject to change!