Sea of Cortez
02 December 2011
We did it. We escaped La Paz. (And... we even made it back. And then... we successfully left. Again.)
Not that La Paz is a bad place or anything like that. It's not. It's great. But it does seem that the old adage about cruising, which says something about the hardest part of cruising being casting off from the dock is true. I would add that it seems to repeat itself in miniature at every major port along the way with personal examples in almost every previous post.
Regardless of what we now see is a common sailors lament, it is truly necessary to avail yourself of a place when your boat or its equipment is in need of repair or you are out of supplies. In doing so, it's pretty easy to get caught up in the cycle of one thing leading to another (and another) when working the boat to-do list and then having that list somehow start growing rather than shrinking.
On Thursday we said enough is enough and cast off into the Sea of Cortez for a little island hopping, buddy boating with Ned and Carole aboard their boat Frannie B. We were not able to go very far away (nor sail with Ned and Carole for very long, who were intent on continuing to head north - yes!) because we needed to be able to return to La Paz on Monday the 21st to pick up Dennis and Cindy Peterson who were coming to sail with us for 10 days. Our goal during their visit is (was) to sail a bit more up into the Sea of Cortez (weather permitting) and then head across to Mazatlan, from where they will fly back home to Seattle (Woodinville, to be more precise) and we will continue sailing on to Puerto Vallarta. It will be very nice to have crew for the overnight passage to the mainland side of the sea.
While we didn't venture far from La Paz on our first escape, it did not take long to enter a new world. First stop was at Bahia San Gabriel on Isla Espritu Santos. San Gabriel is a huge bay with a long beach and many sea treasures washed up on it, some of which may make it home for Christmas to a couple of grandchildren we know.
Second stop, Isla San Francisco. What a place. I'm not sure if this is the quintessential Sea of Cortez island or not, since we haven't seen much of the Sea of Cortez, but this island is a real gem. A picturesque, semi circle beach with a fabulous desert hill-hike full of glorious views.
Third stop, Bahia Amortajada. Here we were able to paddle the kayaks up into a mangrove lagoon, something we've never done. From time-to-time we wonder if carrying the kayaks around on our boat is worthwhile, as we haven't found that many opportunities to break them out. We're no longer wondering about that. The kayaks were perfect for the lagoon outing and standup paddleboards (which we keep eyeing...) would not have been the right tool. We need both you say? Yeah right. And then a bigger boat to carry it all. Ha!
Bahia Amortajada has one other attraction that none of the guide books talked much about and that genuinely blew us away. It adjoins a forest of cactus, specifically, a forest of Cardon Cactus. Perhaps describing cactus as being set in a forest seems odd, but it really is a forest and there is no more apt description as these cacti are huge, the size of trees and there are several square miles of them growing up a slope from the beach. Being from the Pacific Northwest where we have TREES (capitalized on purpose - our trees are generally LARGE) and having hugged my share of them, I assure you that when I describe what we saw as a forest, it was a forest, although I must note: not a single tree in it was even remotely huggable. I have images of the place permanently burned into my minds eye, as it was so unexpectedly beautiful. I'm not even sure we got a decent picture of it. Couldn't see the forest for the trees, perhaps?
Last stop was San Evaristo, where we made it to just before dark, anchored and then left early the next morning to dash back to La Paz. Sorry San Evaristo, we barely knew thee. (Yeah, I know. I'm full of clichés today. Maybe it just happens when you're digging deep in the bottom of the writing barrel. Oops. Did it again. Sorry.)
For our last hurrah in La Paz, we actually went into a marina this time and rented a slip for few nights at Marina Costa Baja (or Marina Costa Lotta, as Boomer, one of our neighbors and new-found friends in the Marina dubbed it). Nice place and contrary to Boomers name for it, we found it rather inexpensive by North American "nice marina" standards. Maybe it was that Ha-Ha discount.
We splurged for the slip since we had company coming to help get the boat to Mazatlan and taking on crew is much easier at a dock as opposed to ferrying everyone and their baggage out to a boat at anchor with the dinghy. We also needed to do some intensive re-supply if we were going to feed five of us for ten days, sailing out into the middle of no-where in the Sea of Cortez and then doing a 2 or 3-day crossing over to Mazatlan. Additionally, we had a day visit from Dave and Diana Richardson from back home, along with their kids (well... grown-up kids in their 30's) who spent the night in the hotel adjoining the marina. That day we took the boat out with 10 of us aboard to a small bay close-by, swam off the boat and proceeded to have a couple too many Margaritas. Except for the Skipper, of course, who only went swimming. No, seriously. Ask any of them about that expert spin-and-back-in docking maneuver I executed upon our return. Sober as a judge.
Re-supplied and with 5 of us aboard (Jeff, Melody, Dennis and Cindy Peterson with their daughter Jade) we exited La Paz. (No, really!) This time leaving was easy with nothing hanging on the boat to-do list. Time to go!
We spent a nice evening anchored in Ensenada Grande, where some Ha-ha friends from Tacoma, aboard their sailboat Murar's Dream, brought over fresh caught tuna they made up into sashimi, complete with wasabi and soy. Yum. Spent the morning snorkeling in the bay and then made our way back to Isla San Francisco for that great hike. Us misplaced Americans feasted on Game Hen that night for our Thanksgiving dinner. Even though turkeys were available at the stores in La Paz, there's no way our little propane-fired oven could bake one. The Game Hens were a good, thoughtful compromise. Melody did successfully bake up a pumpkin pie though. Yum!
We left Isla San Francisco early the next morning with the intent of going about 60 miles north to Bahia Agua Verde, but unfortunately Mother Nature had other plans. She can be kind of a Honey Badger at times. The north winds totally kicked up about 3 hours into our sail north and we just motored into it until bashing into the oncoming waves became just a little too much. We were about 2 hours short of Agua Verde when we decided to cut the day short and duck into a very small bay that afforded some north wind protection, a bay named Los Gatos. An appropriate place for a cat, no?
And then it finally happened. We've been boating for quite a few years, but I cannot say we've ever been totally pinned down by weather - at an anchorage. Yes, we've had to hole up in a marina or two (which happened just a few weeks ago in Cabo San Jose), but this time we got pinned down in a small bay, on anchor and we couldn't leave. Heck, it was blowing so hard inside the anchorage on the second day that we couldn't even safely launch the dinghy for a walk on the beach.
Cabin fever seemed to be lurking just below the surface on day 2, but not quite like it might strike back home in Seattle. At least it was warm and sunny outside, even if the wind was blowing in the high 20's and low 30's, inside the anchorage no less. We were in shorts and could get sun out on the decks, wind and all. We read books. Jade and Dennis even swam a little off the back of the boat, but we had a line floating in the water for them to grab onto just in case they got swamped or started to drift off in some uncontrollable fashion.
We were anchored in just a small bite of shoreline, barely protected from the wind that was raging just 200 yards off our starboard bow. We got lots of swell that curved around the point, but we were tucked up close enough to a small crescent of land to escape the really big stuff. In truth, the boat can handle wind speeds and wave heights that we were seeing beyond the spit, if we wanted to sail out into it. The ride would certainly be uncomfortable, but it would be doable. As the boat anchored next to us commented, the waves outside the anchorage looked like migrating herds of buffalo running by. (As an aside, imagine this: we talked on the radio every day with the folks in the big power boat beside us, anchored not 75 yards away, discussing the weather, the anchorage, how our boats were handling it all and the like, but we never actually met each other until the 3rd day of this ordeal. None of us wanted to get out in our dinghies and go over for a visit. We just chatted on the radio about twice a day.)
Our goal had been to make our way a bit further north in the Sea of Cortez to see more of it and to also position the boat for a steeper downwind angle to Mazatlan. In the weather we had, getting further north would be a real upwind bash and perhaps even impossible. We could just hightail it out of there and head downwind back to La Paz, but, uh, been there, done that. So we sat out the wind, waiting it out and keeping our fingers crossed that the weather would lay down and let us get on our way.
Except for having to hole up in Los Gatos, we've had some fun on this outing. Even being stuck in the bay was not all that bad. It certainly imparted a heightened sense of adventure. We caught a large Dorado (Mahi-Mahi) and a small tuna in the days before Los Gatos. Dennis had a heck of a good fight with the Dorado, which turned out to be a 41 inch male. It really fought and made for a very tasty dinner the first night, tacos the next afternoon and with another dinner still left. We really needed to eat the tuna, especially as it appeared to be high quality blue fin. But we didn't have any wasabi. How can one have sashimi without wasabi? No way. Instead, we grilled the tuna for dinner and decided it was Bonita, not Blue Fin. We definitely need a better tropical fish identification book on board.
On the fourth morning, the winds had eased to the high teens and the weather files I downloaded over the satphone showed decreasing wind speeds over the Sea of Cortez for the next several days. We pulled up the anchor (a device we now have greater respect for, maybe even feelings of affection) and headed out, intending to go directly south where several other anchorages exist that would give us options in case the weather was still too severe.
After about an hour of sailing, it was pretty clear that the winds were perfect in terms of speed and angle for a downwind run to Mazatlan. I asked the crew if they were ready for 30 or 40 hours of non-stop sailing and everyone said "yes". So a little deviation in the plan: off to Mazatlan - now! Whoo Hoo!