Cabo to La Paz
24 February 2011
Virginia and Dennis Johns
Friday, February 18th, finished up clearing into Mexico with a visit to the Capitania de Puerto. That turned out to be a breeze. After submitting our papers which were quite in order, the official asked if we habla espanol and Dennis cautiously responded un pequeno (a little –which is some distance from the truth). She proceeded to rattle off a lengthy explanation of what we needed to do next and all we could identify was “Mastercard”. So focusing on that word, we were able to discern that we could use our Mastercard for the port entry fee, avoiding a second round-trip trip to the bank which was now across town rather than across the street (as it was from Immigracion) and the embarrassment of ultimately revealing no working grasp of Spanish. We were out of there in less than 30 minutes.
We had hauled our dirty clothes ashore to use a self-service laundromat but the charge for us to use the machines was 90% of the price for them to do the “complete service” - $10 for two loads. So it wasn’t a hard decision to spend that extra $1 to give us all afternoon to ourselves. We had gotten directions to a tackle shop (Dennis needed to replace the lure he lost on the lobster pot and having no luck on fishing up to this point, wanted some pointers). In searching for the shop we were directed to, we discovered a second tackle shop, Minerva’s (side note: the directions included a strip joint as a landmark which provided Dennis some material with which to have fun with Virginia). The first tackle shop was full of customers, so we headed to Minerva’s. This shop had twice the gear and half the customers of the other. Dennis explained his lack of knowledge to the woman behind the counter, expecting her to direct him to the “fisherman” owner. To his surprise and exposing his sexism, she suggested we come back with our rods at 5pm and she would give us a lesson on setting them up. We thanked her and asked her name, she responded “Minerva”. We returned as requested and it was wonderful. She was so nice, so knowledgeable, and didn’t try and push a lot of expensive gear on us (the previous customer’s bill came to $900!). What a delight. Odd that she had so few customers, perhaps machismo is still alive and well and Mexican fishermen are reluctant to take fishing instructions from a woman. We walked through the outdoor shops selling wares. Dennis bought a leather belt and Virginia bought a sundress and wrap. We took a three mile round trip walk to Walmart as we were told they would have 3G cards for internet connection. They didn’t have the cards, but it was good exercise, felt good to stretch the legs and warm the body in the hot sun. It was shorts weather that day until late in the evening. We also went to the Super Mercado and bought some produce as we were all out of fruit. Quite a productive day. Our fold up handcart got its first workout hauling two large Rubbermaid containers (which normally house our sheets and towels) of laundry and groceries; it worked out quite well. I think it was Liz Copeland’s book that suggested those containers as great all-purpose bins for storage, hauling, hand washing laundry, etc. Glad we brought some.
Saturday, February 19th weather report says we will have very mild north winds and not until the afternoon so we decided to make our short 15 mile hop to Puerto de los Cabos, in Cabo San Jose, after lunch but unfortunately not before the API officials dropped by to extract an anchoring fee. Not reading about this fee in any of the guides or current Baja HaHa notes and having not been confronted with it in the last three trips to Cabo, we were somewhat skeptical that they were official. After several minutes of negotiation, it appeared that they were legitimate and that this was a new fee as of January, $10 per night. Better let Richard of the Baja HaHa organization know about it to set the fleet’s expectations for next year. We had a reservation at the new marina in Cabo San Jose (no anchorage available). As we readied the boat to head out, we saw the Cabo San Lucas jr. lifeguards doing exercises and practicing rescues on the beach near us. It appears that red shorts are the international standard for lifeguards.
We didn’t have much wind when we left and when it did fill in it was not from the north, but on our nose so we had to motor. About an hour or two outside Cabo San Jose, the wind picked up and with most of the afternoon at our disposal, Dennis decided to sail, turning off the motor and tacking our way to the marina. Another sailboat was doing likewise so of course Dennis considered it a ‘race’. We had to reef as the first mate insisted after 20+ knots apparent and heeling 30 degrees – but we still ‘won’ –the other boat having quite a lead on us to start but Dennis seemed to make the most of the more favorable tacking angles. We saw some more grey whales as we neared the harbor entrance. We had a quiet night in the marina. There was a small restaurant there, but it was kind of late and we had eaten out a lot in Cabo San Lucas (returning to some of our favorites as well as sampling new spots) and were ready for some home cooking. Plus we had a strong Internet connection there and needed to catch up on bill paying, blog posting, and such. The marina is still under development. They have a “Dolphin Discovery” pool where you can swim with dolphins but the restrooms and showers aren’t built yet, using temporary buildings with one shower for the whole marina (men and women share). But from the landscaping, complete with an extensive malecon/promenade around the edge of the marina with informational plaques and sculptures, you can see they have plans to make it a destination spot. The staff were very nice and helpful. At $110/night for a slip it was kind of expensive, but that’s Cabo for you. Slips without power were half price and three times the distance from the office and restrooms/shower.
Sunday, February 20th. The wind is supposed to be fair today, but getting a bit stronger the following day, so we decided to head out immediately for the next anchorage, Los Frailes. We left about 0730 after giving the boat a fresh water rinse. Dennis noticed that the waypoint in the cruising guide is off about 60 miles for Frailes – fortunately he always double checks on a paper chart. We aren’t using our electronic chart plotting tools (Capn and Visual Passage Planner) yet. Dennis had it all set up on the older laptop in San Diego for the first leg of our trip and then the laptop screen went black and we had to power down without closing/saving anything. Now the charting products are not happy on that laptop and we’ll need to contact tech support to straighten it out. We had it all installed on our newer laptop as well; Dennis just needs to set up some of the particulars again. He decided not to use it for this basically coastal sailing. We’ll use it when we head to the Mexico mainland.
We motored all the way, most of the time in 20 knot winds, which increased as we got closer to the anchorage so the last few miles seemed like they took forever; we were only making 3-4 knots headway and lots of spray over the bow –so much for the fresh water rinse! The strong wind had arrived a day earlier than predicted – weather predictions are after all really just that. We saw two humpback whales frolicking for a long time. The still digital camera didn’t catch them breaching, but you can see one the whales slapping its tail on the water – an exercise it kept up for some time. We’re going to keep the video camera closer at hand for times like that. We saw another pair later, but they weren’t as active. It was a nice diversion from the beating we were taking. There were three other sailboats in the anchorage when we arrived and two powerboats followed later. The anchorage was not protected from the wind so it gave us a good opportunity to test our increasing skill at dropping and setting the anchor in less than favorable conditions. But the anchorage was well protected from the swell so we were comfortable, listening to the wind howl in our rigging all night and giving our wind generator a good workout. The conditions prevented us from venturing ashore or visiting other boats. There were tent campers on the beach. When we talked to our son that night on the sat phone, he said “there are palapas on the beach” - he had seen our position report and zoomed in on the Google Earth view while he was talking with us. Our last family vacation with Darren, when he was just out of college, was a camping trip to Baja. He was enchanted by the beach palapas we encountered on that trip and that visual reminder stimulated his deja vu.
Monday, February 21. Since the wind was predicted to persist (about 12-15 knots, but we would be headed straight into it), we decided to spend an extra day at Los Frailes and wait for the 5-8 knot wind predicted on subsequent days. Watching the whitecaps develop out on the Sea of Cortez beyond the point protecting the anchorage, we were glad we had stayed put. Another sailboat and one of the power boats did likewise. We thought if the wind did calm down we would kayak to the landmark living coral reef (the only live one in the Sea of Cortez) later in the day, but we didn’t get that lull so we spent the day reading, cleaning the boat, and baking brownies.
Tuesday, February 22nd we left at first light (0630) to motor in light north winds to Ensenada de los Muertos. At 0715 we caught our first fish! As Dennis was busy cleaning it on the cutting board he cleverly installed on the swim step off the stern (no blood and guts in/on the boat!), Virginia watched a pod of about 30 dolphins and a whale off our port. While cleaning, Dennis cut his thumb, so he’ll be excused from dishes duty for a few days. Dennis got the fish and boat all cleaned up and encouraged that fish were hitting his new rig, he put the lines back in expecting to catch a BIG one. At 0745 just a few moments later, whammo – another one on the line. We think these were either bonito or amberjacks. The second one was bigger but we just snapped a picture and released it as we had enough for a few days from the first one. A bit later we caught a third one, much smaller (also released). It was a helluva day at sea!
Muertos is a beautiful protected cove. We kayaked around the bay, over to the point, and out to visit another sailboat. Fred and Cindy of Songline, a 38’ steel-hulled ketch, are from Alaska. They had planned to take our intended route, down mainland Mexico, Central America, Ecuador, Galapagos before heading to the Marquesas, but they got “started late” (boy that sounds familiar) and so they are headed back to Cabo to make the jump to the Marquesas. They had been in LaPaz for a few months and gave us some ideas on where to stay and services. We also went ashore to the “yacht club” – an outdoor restaurant – and had a beer and some nachos. The cruising guide explains how the developers didn’t think “muertos” (buried anchors, aka “dead men”) created the right atmosphere so they renamed the area, Bay of Dreams (which is inscribed on the arch over the club path). It was deserted – we were the only ones there. That night we had bbq’d fish (what else!) – yummy.
Wednesday, February 23rd, we left at sunrise for La Paz. Predictions were that we would be sailing into light north wind. Just past Muertos we passed Isla Cerralvo. As it is the furthest island south in the Sea of Cortez, we felt like we were finally in The Sea. Again, the wind cranked up and by noon it was quite uncomfortable and the wind was continuing to increase. Dennis headed us towards shore and anchored us in a little, unnamed, cove just south of San Rosario. There was a single house on the beach surrounded by a large field of cactus, and a nice big rock cliff to provide protection from the WNW wind and swell. A catamaran had been following us from Muertos, but they soldiered on. We had a peaceful lunch and stayed there for several hours but as the wind clocked around to the north the cove became uncomfortable and with a lee shore condition. We considered our options – beat on to La Paz or go back to Muertos. It was getting later in the afternoon and often the wind would lighten up as the sun set, so we decided to wait another hour. Fortunately, it died down enough that we were able to comfortably resume our leg to La Paz at a clip of 5.5 kts. We cleared the treacherous San Lorenzo Channel as the sun made a glorious setting but we didn’t want to traverse the entrance channel to La Paz at night (it’s a narrow, shallow, four-mile long channel), so we tucked into Balandra Cove just past the San Lorenzo Channel. We had the place to ourselves and it was quiet and peaceful when we arrived. We had dinner and watched a movie. We didn’t get to finish our movie as our LCD panel fizzled midstream – bummer! Another project for Dennis when we arrive in La Paz. Then the wind came up blowing 15 knots out of the west and we got so much swell we started porpoising. Again on a lee shore, we decided to keep an anchor watch. Dennis took 2200-2400 and Virginia 2400 to 0200. The anchor seemed to be staying set so we tried to get some sleep after that. We had fitful rest for the next few hours. At one point Dennis had to awaken Virginia who was having a nightmare and screaming ‘Dennis help us’ (she and one of her sisters were being chased in a warehouse) – too many mystery novels on her Kindle!
We were up at first light, 0530, and headed into the La Paz channel. It was beautiful watching the sunrise over La Paz. A big freighter was anchored at the entrance of the channel that is marked with navigation buoys so we had to go around him. We knew from the charts and past experience that the channel itself wasn’t very deep (30 feet) and it was very shallow outside the channel so Virginia kept a close watch on the depth gauge as Dennis maneuvered around the freighter. It was clear that we weren’t going to make the first two buoys and Dennis knew this might be trouble so he slowed down. Only a few feet from being inside the buoys when Virginia sounded the alert that the bottom was getting shallow fast, Dennis put the boat into reverse and scraped a bit of paint off the keel as the depth reading was just a bit over 5 feet (for our 6.5 foot boat) and we could feel the boat starting to drag across the bottom. Fortunately, reverse gear spun us around and dragged us off the shoal and finally into the dredged channel. We listened to the local VHF net on our way in and duly reported ourselves as newcomers when requested. By 0830 we were anchored off downtown La Paz in a calm anchorage with lots of other boats. Before we had the boat all in order with sails and lines stowed, our neighbor, Robert in a nice, wooden 32’ ketch with a bowsprit, had come by to welcome us to La Paz.
We had planned on getting some sleep once we were anchored, but decided we could do that any time. We were in La Paz and ready to explore! We dinghied ashore and made arrangements for a slip in Marina de la Paz for three nights. We’ll spend this first night in the anchorage. We checked on the price of getting the bottom of the boat painted and will likely have that done before we leave here. We walked the downtown area, had lunch, bought some produce at the farmers’ market, picked up some ice cream bars and some groceries (including warm fresh tortillas) at the Mercado, and headed back to the boat to prepare this blog so that we can post it manana when we have wifi in the marina. We have also now organized our photos for this first part of the trip and will try to post them as well.
We are still enjoying ourselves, thoroughly!