Cruising on Solar Flair

11 May 2014 | La Paz
19 April 2014 | Santa Rosalia
31 March 2014 | Sea of Cortez
31 March 2014 | La Paz
09 March 2014 | East Cape Baja California Sur
09 March 2014 | East Cape Baja California Sur
09 March 2014 | East Cape Baja California Sur
09 March 2014 | San Jose del Cabo
26 February 2014 | Pacific Baja
26 February 2014
26 February 2014 | Pacific Baja
09 February 2014 | Ensenada Mexico
21 January 2014 | Ensenada
04 December 2013 | San Diego
04 November 2013 | Marina Cortez - Harbor Island - San Diego

There and Back Again

11 May 2014 | La Paz
The Dash to La Paz

Santa Rosalia was the end of the line for our cruise north into the Sea of Cortez and we had roughly 10 days to make the return trip of about 230 miles back to Marina Palmira in La Paz. So off we went retracing our steps. First back to Punta Chivato where seas were much more benign this time around. We anchored for a peaceful night then set off early the next day for the long 53 mile passage to San Juanico. Winds and seas were favourable so we managed to sail or motor sail most of the way. Kathy was dragging our hand line with the cedar plug and managed to catch (we learned later) a skipjack - maybe 10 or 15 pounds! We brought it aboard then proceeded to murder the poor thing - bashing it on the head with my rubber mallet spraying blood everywhere! We were not sure what we had so after slicing into it we could see the dark red meat that we were warned about as not being really that good to eat. So I carved out a hunk of flesh that Kathy wanted to use for bait, threw the rest of the carcass overboard, then headed below to wash the blood and guts off - buying fish at the market is way more civilized!
We hung out at beautiful San Juanico for another day to rest after the long passage. We went ashore and walked along the beach meeting a few other cruisers and enjoying the sunshine.
The next day we headed south again for the jump to Isla Coronado just 20 miles away. We had sailed past Coronado on the way north so we wanted to include this anchorage with the lights of Loretto just a few miles away. We had a visit from another cruising couple on the S/V True Love who we listen to check-in every day on the Sonrista net. Diane and Bill have been anchored off Coronado for as long as we've been cruising so it was fun to hear their story and share ours putting a face to the names in the bargain.
The next day we headed south again with the intention of popping into Puerto Escondito for fuel and water - both of which we were running low on. We did that then headed further south for the anchorage at the south of the bay called Bahia Candeleros making 23 miles for the day.
After another restful night we moved on down to Agua Verde just 17 miles south and found it deserted except for one other boat. After watching the south anchorage across the bay fill up as more boats arrived through the day (did they know something we didn't?), we settled in for a quiet night hardly noticing the fact we were on a boat. I don't think the south anchorage fared as well. Hmm.
Another early rise and departure the next day as we headed on for San Evaristo 44 miles away. It was an easy passage with favourable winds - except for the last few miles as the San Juan Channel narrows and faces the open waters of Bahia La Paz where winds built and seas became choppy. As we rounded the point to enter the anchorage we could see it was filled with about a dozen other boats - perhaps the most we've seen anywhere on our cruise. We found a suitable spot after two tries - the first having us settle a bit too close to a boat that was already there. Also Kathy had forgotten to pull in our fishing line that we were trolling behind the boat - so sure enough as we manoeuvred to anchor we backed up over the line and around the propeller shaft. I put on the dive mask and snorkel and after a couple of dives under the boat, cut away the line and retrieved the lure. The water was nice and the swim refreshing - and a lesson was learned - so no worries. Again we decided to hang around for another day to rest and go ashore to visit the small store and to revisit the burros on the road to the salt flats. Kathy took a couple hundred more burro pictures before we headed back for our afternoon cerveza.
We then headed into the channel for a favourite anchorage at Isla San Francisco just 8 miles away where we planned to hang around for a few days before our last leg into La Paz. What a beautiful magical place! Brilliant blue-green water, clear as drinking water - again we can see our anchor on the bottom 20 feet below. Fish swimming by, birds dive-bombing schools of frightened fish splashing across the water with a large dorado leaping in the air after them - and peaceful sea turtles rising for air. We went ashore for another agate hunting exercise and came back with both my pockets full - I sure hope they are agates!

Caleta Partida

Last stop before heading for our slip in La Paz is the beautiful and well protected anchorage of Caleta Partida where we had spent a couple of days on the way north. But first we had to make the crossing of Bahia de La Paz. Despite the forecast which was for light NE winds, when we raised anchor after 4 nights at Isla San Francisco what did we find? South winds gusting to mid teens! So instead of a comfortable downwind sail across the bay we found ourselves bashing headfirst into short steep waves - again! Geezeloowheez! Oh well - it's only for about five hours .. sigh.
So we made the crossing without any real drama and set the hook in the primo spot in Caleta Partida and settled in for a windy but otherwise comfortable evening. Kathy played with the fish catching a couple. She's getting pretty good at enticing them with various baits of leftover chicken or whatever was trimmed from a steak or what have you (the fish aren't too fussy!).

Full Circle

The next morning we had a relaxed breakfast knowing that this was our last day cruising for this season and that La Paz was only about 5 hours away. So we upped anchor and motored south in light winds trolling our last lure hoping to catch a big one on our last day - no such luck! As we crossed the straight from the islands to the mainland the wind came up nicely on our beam so we raised the sails and enjoyed a full 2 hours of one of the best sails on our cruise - a great way to end it. We were looking forward to our celebratory cold beer and congratulations all around for a wonderful cruise but as we entered the marina past the breakwater what do we see but the damn dredger has laid it equipment across the channel blocking our way. And sure enough we have a tailwind gusting into the teens pushing us right at it. So we decide to bail and tie up at a side-tie dock just in front of the dredge. Easier said than done however as the wind had me going sideways and pretty much out of control in the narrow channel before Kath could get on the dock to secure a line. So this is great! We've cruised for months all the way from Vancouver and into the Sea of Cortez and here we are going to run aground only yards from the safety of our slip on the last day! Anyway, helm hard astern and after a few minutes of drama getting the boat under control we edge toward the dock, Kathy hops ashore and gets a line on the cleat and we're safe - whew! We wait patiently for the dredge crew to move the equipment out of the way then make our way to the slip and we're there - WE DID IT!

Roy's Lament

Growing up in Ottawa, summers were spent at my parent's cottage on nearby Clayton Lake. My dad loved it there and so did we all but I remember at the end of the cottage season as Dad was getting the cottage ready to close up for the winter, he'd sing a few lines from Roy Orbison's song "It's Over" (it's over, it's over, it's ohh-ver) and we'd feel a bit down that summer and vacation time was done for the year. So that's kind of how we feel now that our cruise is done for the season. We're here in La Paz with 2 weeks to get all the things done that's needed to secure the boat to be left in the water for the summer. We've made arrangement for a local service to mind the boat and make sure she's still there when we return in the fall. Fortunately the folks we've hired live on their own boat and are moored directly across from us on our dock so they pretty much have to look at Solar Flair every day as they come and go from their own boat. This should work out just fine - assuming we don't take a direct hit by a huge hurricane (fingers crossed).
So in a few days we'll be home again in White Rock and back to another form of reality. We are already looking forward to returning in October and setting out again on a new set of adventures Cruising on Solar Flair.

North to Santa Rosalia

19 April 2014 | Santa Rosalia
Caleta San Juanico

Another 'must see' stop along the cruisers beaten path in the Sea of Cortez is the very picturesque San Juanico anchorage. We left Ballandra with the expectation that winds had abated enough to allow a passage more or less north leaving Isla Coronados to our port. But as soon as we were out of the protection of the anchorage we knew we were in for a lumpy ride north. The sea has quite a long fetch from the north so when the wind blows for a couple of days as it had it takes a while for the seas to calm down - it hadn't. So we set a tack across the waves so as not to pound directly into the steep short waves streaming down from the north. This put us a course to leave Isla Coronados to starboard instead - no worries, the passage between the island and the mainland was easily passable giving us a good look at the island anchorages available on the way should we need them on our way south in a few weeks. We were entertained with several dolphin and whale sightings as well so it was not all work. Once in the lee of the island the seas calmed and we let the jib out and motor sailed for a while. Once around the island the winds favoured us so we set both the main and jib and turned off the motor and enjoyed a nice sail up the coast. It was not to last as the winds died completely so we ended up motoring into San Juanico and set the anchor near a large rock call 'the lump'. The bay filled up quickly with other cruisers seeking refuge from more predicted northerly winds which eventually tested our holding on the sandy bottom.
San Juanico deserves it's reputation as it is truly very beautiful with colourful sandstone and volcanic cliffs and with islets dotting the aquamarine waters of the bay. Kathy entertained us with fishing from the side of the boat - and catching fish! One of the neighbouring boats - Limerick, who was anchored in Ballandra when we were there - had given us some small hooks and some cut up fish for bait which Kathy used to snag a couple of what we understood to be 'trigger fish'. They have very nice front teeth (like dentures!) and grunt like a pig when I was working to dislodge the hook. I couldn't bring myself to kill the poor things as Kathy wanted for more bait. What a wimp eh?
On the shore is a 'cruiser's shrine' - a tree hung with all manner of trinkets and trash with boat names and dates of their visit hanging and swinging in the breeze. Kathy used our soldering iron to burn "Cruising on Solar Flair" onto a small cocoanut she picked up along the way - so we added our contribution for posterity. We also made two hikes up a trail to a viewpoint above the bay - the first time we had forgotten our camera so we ad to make the trek again for the photo-op - we need the exercise for sure.

Punto Pulpito

After a stay of four very nice days in San Juanico it was time head north again. Our destination was Bahia Conception where we planned to hang around for several days before turning south for La Paz. But the strong northerly winds were still making the way uncomfortable so with the forecast suggesting winds abating later in the day we decided we'd make the short hop up the coast to a small but northerly protected anchorage called Punto Pulpito. Sure enough the wind and seas made the passage miserable as we pounded through short steep waves along the coast. Mercifully, the passage was only about 2 hours so we arrived around noon and put the anchor down in sand below cliffs that did their best to break the wind which did it's best to uproot us but fortunately failed. The anchorage is nice and served it's purpose as a refuge along the way to Conception.

Bahia Conception - Playa Santispac

We left Pulpito early the next morning knowing we were in for one of the longest passages since our cruise south on the Pacific coast of Baha. By now the wind had turned to the NW and seas had died down so we had the opportunity to raise sails and try for some free propulsion. Well, not so much as we needed to keep the motor on in order to make meaningful headway given the distance we wanted to cover. And the winds eventually fell straight on our nose so down come the sails and motoring is the only way. By the time we rounded Point Conception and turned into the bay, the seas were flat and the wind almost calm - very pretty and serene. We were dragging our hand line and lure but caught nothing but seaweed. We headed south into the bay heading for the large bay on the western shore called Bahia Cayote which contains several anchorages - Santispac being where we decided to head.
Santispac is another popular spot for cruisers - and as it turns out - campers as well. Since we were here just as the Easter week was beginning, the beach slowly but steadily filled with Mexican on their camping holiday. Lots of action with fishing boats and Sea Doos buzzing around, kayaks and wind surfers, and other cruisers coming and going with their dinghies.
Since we were low on supplies - and water having lost all of one of our tanks into the bilge and overboard to a loose hose clamp (damn!) - we asked Carlos who worked in Anna's Cantina on the beach if we could catch a ride into Mulege (mu-le-hay) up Highway 1 about 20 miles. So next morning at 7:30 we dinghied ashore with our jerry cans and joined Carlos and the boss and her daughter for the ride to town. They dropped us off at the grocery store where we grabbed a few things and waited at the internet café across the street for their return. Carlos (great guy!) agreed to buy the water for us and before long we were on our way back to the boat. Too bad we didn't really have much time to explore the town but it was cool to get a look at the road into town and stretch our legs in the bargain. Saturday night was Rib Night at Anna's (which is why they went to town to stock up) which we enjoyed with Katey and Mike from Pangea (who we met on Dock 3 in La Paz).
The weather for the five days we were anchored was amazing. Sunny and in the 90's for much of it which meant swimming off the boat was mandatory to cool down - very nice indeed! We also dinghied over to La Burro bay where Geary - who does the weather on the Sonrisa Net every morning has his Ham Shack - literally! The beach is lined with palapa-style cottages and Geary's is bristling with antennas. No wonder he comes in loud and clear no matter where we were.

Punta Chivato

We had enough of Santispac party town so we decided to change our plans and head further north to the small city of Santa Rosalita. So we upped anchor and headed up Bahia Conception to the anchorage at Punta Chivato - across the bay from Punta Conception. As we did I glanced back at the beach and sure enough a carnival had started to set up kid rides in the parking lot so we're out of there in the nick of time. Winds were light in the bay but as we cleared Conception they began to pick up from the NE so we raised sails and turned off the motor. We had a spirited sail close hauled as the winds grew to the high teens tacking once to get a better line on the anchorage. By the time we downed sails and motored into the Chivato the winds were over 20 knots true which made for a spirited anchoring as well! But we got the hook down and set and spent the next couple of hours watching our position to be sure we didn't drag.

Santa Rosalia

The next morning all was calm and the seas flat as we set out for Santa Rosalia about 25 miles north. The winds were predicted to turn around to the south and as the day progressed we managed to find enough wind to motor with the jib. We saw a few dolphins and rays breaking the surface and a couple of lazy sea lions lying on their back with fins raised above the water - evening out their tan no doubt. The final few miles gave us enough wind so that the engine could be stopped so we glided along watching our buddy boats Good as Gold and Pangea behind us with spinnakers billowing.
As we headed into our slip at the Fonatur marina we were greeted by a Mexican worker on the dock. Normally this is a welcome sight but I guess this fellow was not very experienced since he tied off the bow line about half way along the finger. I was not expecting this so of course the boat slams into the finger - bang! What the heck? I thought I had come in too hot but Kathy let me know later that it was not my fault - whew!
We checked into the Fonatur marina and paid for 3 days thinking that would be enough to check out the historic old copper mining town developed by the French. Stories have it that copper ore was barged up north to our neck of the woods and pacific timber shipped back on the return as evidenced by all the old wooden buildings that make up the town. The town sports a wrought iron church that was designed by Mr. Eiffel - of Paris tower fame - that was disassembled, shipped, then reassembled in Santa Rosalia. On Easter Sunday Kathy wandered into town for a service.
So this morning we start to make our way back south. We'll likely retrace our route staying at our favourite anchorages and maybe trying a couple of those we missed. Now, bring on the northerlies!

Into the Sea of Cortez

31 March 2014 | Sea of Cortez
So it's off into the Sea of Cortez. This is what it was all about. All the years of planning, prepping and getting ducks all in a row. So away we went. Simple as that. A few of the Dock 3 friends were there for a hug and to help cast off the lines and before we knew it we were motoring out the channel and into the bay. A call on VHF to the La Paz Port Captain to say we were leaving and then we were gone.
Before long we see A-Train coming the other way having finished their short cruise with their friend. So we chatted on the VHF, wished each other well, and took pictures of each other's boat as we passed - they on their way to the big "Puddle Jump" across the Pacific to Tahiti, and us into the Sea. Off we went to explore the Sea of Cortez.

Isla Partida

The first day of our cruise north was to take us to Isla Partida - just north of Isla Espiritu Santu - to an anchorage known as Caleta Partida which was promised to offer best protection from the 'Corumel Winds' - strong SW winds unique to the area that develop overnight. An easy motor for about 5 hours and we were there, anchored and sipping our reward of a cold cerveza. A beautiful spot inside a sunken volcano caldera with just a few other cruisers already tucked in.
The next day we put the dinghy into the water and headed off to what we thought might be a nice beach to explore. We were so excited that we forgot to put the dinghy wheels on (and forgot our lifejackets as well!). Before long the bottom was so shallow - and the beach still so far away - that we bailed on that landing and headed across the bay to where the two islands are separated by a narrow isthmus. The beach there was already occupied by pangas and their fish camp on one end and by a group of sea kayakers on the other. So we headed for the middle. Once again the beach shoaled up, so we hopped out and started walking the dinghy ashore. It didn't take long for us to realize that we would not be making it to shore without the wheels this way, so off in another direction for what looked like deeper water near shore. Yup, that's better. So we managed to drag the dinghy up far enough that we'd be sure that it would not float away. We enjoyed exploring the beach and a short laze in the sun but back on Solar Flair we discussed the need to remember the dinghy wheels from now on.

Isla San Francisco

After 2 nights at Partida we raised anchor and headed across the bay towards the iconic anchorage of Isla San Francisco. If you've seen the cover photo on the book 'Sea of Cortez - A Cruisers Guidebook' then you know what I mean. A perfect semi-circle of beach with high craggy cliffs surrounding a pool of pristine blue-green water. This was the anchorage we were dreaming of all these years and it did not disappoint!
We had a decent albeit slow crossing under sail beating close hauled into light and variable winds. In other words we went slowly in more or less the right direction. Oh well, we we're not in a hurry as Kathy likes to say when I start getting antsy when the speed drops to 2 knots! I'd just as soon turn on the iron wind and get where we're going before tomorrow. Never mind. We got there eventually and drop the hook among maybe a dozen other boats. What a place! Beautiful, clear, clean water. I can see the chain on the sandy bottom 20 feet below. The ripples on the surface make a dancing mosaic pattern of light on the bottom just like in a swimming pool! Amazing! We settle in and enjoy our cerveza and can't help but look around again and again to take it all in. We're here!
The next day we dinghy ashore - with the wheels in place this time - and hike to the top of the cliff where the cover photo was taken from so we can have our own boat in the idyllic picture. Great views back across the anchorage but also north across the Sea. Back on the beach we swim along the shore and try our hand at snorkelling. Not much to see here but it's been years since we did any snorkelling so it was fun and easy.
The following day we hiked across the low land north to the other side where another beach and anchorage lie. The cruising guide says agates can be found here but since neither of us have a clue what they look like it's not long before we both have handfuls of all kinds of pretty and interesting stones to ponder. We decide that the small whitish diamond-like stones are definitely agates so we put the rest back and return with our treasure. Another swim to cool down and a laze on the beach is warranted before heading back to the boat for 5 o'clock appies.
That night we were awakened by the sound of dolphins blowing and splashes in the water. This went on long enough that we decided to go up on deck to take a look. Lo and behold there were 3 or 4 dolphin herding a school of small fish, and they're all around the boat. It's pitch dark but in the water we can see waves of green light moving here and there. As the ball of light heads for the boat suddenly several terrified fish scatter in all directions leaving brilliant green trails - like a fireworks display only right beside the boat. We see the dark shape of the dolphins driving through the fish leaving their own green flash in their wake. And this goes on for maybe 1/2 an hour. Kath and I are mesmerized - 'oh my' is all I can say when the star burst explodes beside the boat. What a show!

San Evaristo

It was hard to leave but we decided to up anchor and head north to the next anchorage called San Evaristo. The weather turned nasty on us and served up a northerly funnelled down the San Juan Channel that delivered gusts to 20 knots and short choppy seas - like those we endured rounding East Cape a few weeks ago. Not much fun pounding into these waves but after about 4 hours we made it into the protected harbour at San Evaristo.
We anchored off the small village located there and settled in to wait for the weather to improve.
The next day we ventured ashore to explore the village and walk to the salt pans on the other side of the point where sea salt is 'harvested'. Kathy took pictures of the school where school supplies and food collected by the 'yatistas' in La Paz are donated. She also found some burros by the roadside that tolerated a photo shoot. A nice anchorage but a windy night and rolly seas made it a little less comfortable.

Ensenada Timbabichi

Calm seas the following day allowed for an early departure and an easy motor from Evaristo north to a long wide bay called Ensenada Timbabichi. The anchorage there is called a 'roadstead' as it more or less is wide open to the sea. There is some shelter from northerly winds but since the forecast was for NE albeit light winds we felt secure with the idea of dropping the hook there. On the way there we were delighted to have another large pod of dolphin cruise by our boat. I got the GoPro ready and I think I got a good record of their show. I need to transfer all the shots from GoPro to my computer to be sure. I'm just soo busy! :-)
We had just got the anchor down and set when a local young fisherman came along side in his panga. "Would you like some lobster?" Of course we would! So off he goes diving for our supper promising to be back around 5PM. OK, that's pretty cool. So we're settling in and savouring our cerveza when another fisherman arrives in his panga. He climbs aboard our boat (uninvited) and before you know it he's off in search of a sea bass for us too! Turns out that these two - Jaime and Miguel live pretty much next door to each other in the village and the routine of hitting on the cruising crowd is all part of the scene here and around the corner in the local anchorages. But the lobster was fabulous! And the fish tacos were yummie too! Kathy also couldn't pass up the hand made table cloths as well that now adorn our table.
We took the dinghy ashore the next day to stretch our legs and check out the ruins of "Casa Grande" - a small hotel that was apparently built years ago in anticipation of better times that never arrived. Join the club! Baja seems to be littered with half built and abandoned construction of all kinds everywhere. Coincidentally an 'adventure tour' was also ashore so we hung with them and listened to the tour guide tell a few stories as we walked around the grounds and the village. It is a hard life these folks are scratching out of the dry land that is the Baja in these parts.

San Telmo

We've been on a 'stay for 2 nights' schedule as we make our way along the coast. Since we are going to be passing south again in a few weeks we feel we can miss a few of the anchorages that are recommended in the guides and other cruisers and this pace is not as frantic as a stop and go cruise when you're in a hurry to get somewhere. So we decided to give the popular Los Gatos anchorage a miss until the return trip and motored in calm seas a whole 5 miles north to a small isolated and beautiful cove called San Telmo. There is room for just one boat tucked just off the beach behind a small island joined by rocks that dry at low tide. We're all alone here when we anchor which is cool but I get the feeling that at first it may not be set. After a few minutes we decide we are so we settle in for the rest of the day and evening - we plan to only stay here one night because we want to go ahead to the jewel anchorage known as Aqua Verde about 20 miles north. The afternoon was calm but in the middle of the night the wind piped up and I could hear the burgees flapping and the rigging moaning with the wind. Since I was feeling a bit leery of the anchor set anyway I got up and checked our position. I walked out to the bow to check the chain and the snubber lines to feel if we were dragging. I watched the instruments record gusts in the mid teens and up to 20 knots! I watched the knot meter periodically say we were doing almost 1/2 a knot speed over ground (as the chain stretched and relaxed) and the trace on the chart plotter leaving a trail as we swung from one end of the chain to the other. All kind of disconcerting but in the end I don't think we actually dragged the anchor (if we did it was only a short distance and re-set itself quickly). Back to bed and a light sleep with one ear open ready to jump to the helm if we did start to drag. I'm perfectly OK with only one night in San Telmo.

Agua Verde

So off again but this time the winds offered a chance to sail so we headed out on a close haul into 6 - 8 knots of wind. Not much but since we had all day to go just 20 miles we decided to just go for it. It's a sailboat after all! So we tacked a few times but had nice long runs making good northerly towards our goal.
I was at the helm and Kathy was below when about 50 feet off to port this manta ray jumps clear of the water. We've seen lots of rays jumping - or flying I guess because the clear the water heading straight up flapping their 'wings' then belly flop with a splash. They do this over and over again, alone or with others. I guess they're having fun. Anyway, this time the ray was a big one - lots bigger than those we've seen before. Definitely a wow! Too bad Kathy missed it. So I'm still at the helm a few minutes later when I see this pelican flying low - just above the water as they do alone or with several others in a line - flapping and gliding, flapping and gliding. Coming over the water heading right for us. Hmm, he'll swerve ahead or behind the boat. We're pretty big with both sails up ... so he'll swerve ... behind the boat? ... nope ... holy cow! right through the boat? ... yup. He comes up just in time to miss hitting the side, clears the rigging in front of the mast but ploughs head first like a fly into a windshield right into the jib -FLADAPP - and slides down and plops into the water. A kamikaze pelican! Blind no doubt. How else do explain that? Too bad Kathy missed that too - what a sight!
Anyway, we made the turn around the reef and headed into the anchorage and settled in with 4 other boats. What a beautiful setting - like an idyllic S. Pacific island with high mountains all around and green water (Aqua Verde).
Bob & Janie on their boat Amiga invited us over for a few hours of 'Mexican Train' - a form of dominoes. Very nice folks that we enjoyed sharing time with on their boat and later after a surf landing in the dinghy for a walk around the village in search of a couple of things at the small store (tienda) in the village. We are getting better with the beach landings and surf launch. This time we just got a little wet as we walked the dinghy out through the small waves.

Puerto Escondido & Loreto

Leaving Aqua Verde behind in the dead flat sea that is common in the early morning we motored north the 20 some miles to the relatively developed destination of Puerto Escondito where we can refuel, top our water tanks and get internet access. We also planned to arrange a rental car and overnight trip to the small city of Loreto about 1/2 hour away.
The cruise was calm most of the way but we did roll out the jib for a while to see if we could get some free knots out of the light following wind. We were entertained by another pod of dolphin that crossed our path on their way to somewhere off toward the shoreline a few miles away to port. Before long we were heading into the inner bay that is the feature of this almost completely landlocked harbour. We found the fuel dock where we tied up and arranged for about 12 gallons of diesel. We wandered over to the port offices to check in but as it was Sunday and around 12:30 it was closed for lunch. So why not sit in the restaurant and enjoy a beer - and a plate for french fries of course - while we wait. While there I wandered over to a large group of folks who looked like locals to ask a few questions and see if they had any idea when - or even if - the office would be open. I was wearing my red Crown Isle golf hat which attracted the attention of one of the fellows at the table. Sure enough, they are Canucks and live in Parksville, and down here on holiday as guests of one of the gents who has a home nearby. Small world!
The office does open and after an albeit slow check-in we were paid for 2 nights (they charge for anchoring here which may explain why the anchorage is all but empty), a rental car was arranged for the next morning and we were on our way back to the boat still tied to the fuel dock. We topped up the water tanks, gave the boat a much needed bath to wash off weeks of salt encrusting and slowing corroding everything, then motored over to anchor in the basin and settle in for the evening.
The next morning we took delivery of the car and headed for Loreto. I've never driven in Mexico but had been in several cars, most recently in La Paz, but I have driven in Quebec back in my younger days, and I have to say that there are some similarities. Stop signs for example are mostly just a suggestion. Most intersections are controlled with a 4-way stop but from what I gather the idea is whoever gets there first simply ploughs on through with not much more than a look around to confirm the fact. Like I said, kinda like Quebec! Fortunately most drivers are pretty good from what I could tell and avoid cars 'driving like a gringo' by passing at high speed on which ever side they feel like. What fun. The drive to Loreto was punctuated by stops or detours by construction. One stretch over a cut into the mountain side reminded me of the Whistler highway with high cliffs of very unstable-looking broken rock that my 'spidey-sense' was telling me was ready to crash down in a landslide any second. The crew working the flags and machinery did not give me much of a feeling of security as we passed piles of large rocks that obviously had recently been a few hundred feet above our heads. A quick look up and I could see puffs of dust as things up there were debating the forces of gravity - I just hurried past as fast I could. We made it to Loreto and found our way to the Oasis Hotel at the very south end of the malecon and checked into a very nice - albeit a little dated - room with a fabulous view out over the beach and the sea a few hundred yards away. It was nice - not that we longed for an ocean view or anything!
We had a day to explore Loreto and do some provisioning as we had to have the car back to Escondito the following morning around 9:30 AM. We parked near the old Mission and wandered around finding sidewalk markets selling the usual stuff. Not many tourists around - but was Monday morning I suppose. For lunch we found a restaurant off the main area called Carole's and the sign said "Since 1949" which I found intriguing. So we wandered in and were seating in a lovely garden setting with palm trees and a fountain. We were the only customers. Hmmm. If this place has been around since 1949 you'd think there would be regulars there. So I asked the waitress about who Carole was and the 'Since 1949'. She smiled and said that Carole was her mother-in-law and she was born in 1949! She and her husband opened the restaurant last year! So a new restaurant struggling to make a go of it. I ask most vendors how business is doing and the consensus is not great - the recession and all has kept tourists home. Anyway, we had a nice lunch despite her getting my order wrong (how she can mess up 2 orders from the only customers in the place I couldn't figure). Good food though. We continued our wander through the beautiful downtown of Loreto stopping for an ice cream and watching local kids race around the block - Kathy acting as starter: "uno, dos, tres!" then again in French then German (there was a young German family there too!).
A trip to the grocery stores to buy food then back to the hotel to stash the meat and milk in the fridge as the daylight faded.
I for one was still full from lunch but somehow Kathy felt the need to go out again for more to eat - or more to the point - to dress up. We decided to simply walk the few yards down the path to the hotel restaurant rather than take the car and have to drive back having had a few drinks. So we get to the restaurant - and it's empty! Where the heck is everybody? "Come in - sit - sit anywhere you like!" the waiter/maitre'd says. So we do because I'm not driving anywhere. We have a very nice meal (another couple does come a few minutes after us so I guess the place is packed) - Kathy has fish and I have a pizza! Yum - oh and 2 margaritas each. After we head next door to the hotel bar - you guessed it - empty! But they have a pool table so Kathy and I take turns missing easy shots as we toss back 2 more margaritas - which may have had something to with our hand-eye coordination by now. A nice walk out to the malecon for fresh air then back to the hotel to crash. A very nice day in Loreto, a place I would like to come back to again for sure.

Puerto Ballandra - Isla Carmen

After a drive back through the falling rock gauntlet with no injuries, we give back the car and checked out of Escondito - heading to an anchorage 20 miles away on the north end of Isla Carmen called Puerto Ballandra. The winds are 10 knots off our starboard quarter so we raise the sails and head toward our goal cruising nicely at about 5 or 6 knots. The wind dies as we get into the lee of Isla Carmen so we jibe back out into the strait - finally setting sails wing and wing to keep the wind on the tail so we at least make northerly. Again the wind dies so we end up motoring the remaining distance. We managed about 1/2 way under sail so not bad. We settle into the anchorage in calm conditions and enjoy the traditional cerveza.
The next morning the winds come up from the NW and eventually waves find their way to where we are anchored on the south side of the bay. We talk about moving across to where it looks more protected but decide to stay. We should have moved.
I wanted to check the saildrive oil, and to see if we could stop a small but annoying leak in the fresh water cooling system, so we hung where we were for these chores. The saildrive oil checked out fine (what a relief!) and I tightened a bolt to see if that slows the leak. Exhausted with all that work we decided to call it a day and catch up on some much needed relaxing with a book! The winds continued through the day and by nightfall the waves were coming at us abeam causing us to roll back and forth. That's OK for a while or when you're in bed but it does make for an otherwise uncomfortable anchorage - you shouldn't have to hang on to move about when you're anchored! So first thing the next morning we up anchor and move. Sure enough we're out of the rolly-polly wave action - the wind however continues to blow at time gusting over 20 knots. But we're waaaay more comfortable.

The Peace

31 March 2014 | La Paz

The morning VHF ch22 Cruisers Net controller often refers to a 'bungee cord' when talking about cruisers leaving La Paz. It seems that many are drawn back to La Paz as if by an invisible elastic somehow attached to you once you come to visit. And it's not hard to understand the analogy for the city truly is attractive in so many ways. It's a small, safe city with genuine Mexican culture atmosphere coupled with cruiser-friendly amenities. Kathy and I did manage to leave after enjoying 12 wonderful days in Marina Palmira on Dock 3. Well, for the most part anyway as I'll describe below.
We quickly settled into the typical routine of marina life, starting with coffee and breakfast basking in the warmth of the morning in the cockpit. We may read for a while, and listen to the morning net and the local oldies rock station on the radio, then tidy up the galley, decide what if anything needs to be done today, then somehow muster our strength to go about it. Having the bikes on board is a real plus as it provides the transportation and the exercise to head into town along the pleasant 'malecon' pathway on the waterfront - usually on a mission to find groceries, and wine of course. Our first excursion, after walking the bikes through the closed to traffic main street filled with the sights, sounds and excitement of a children's fair, brought us quite a distance on the other side of town in search of the 'Mega' store where we loaded up the panniers with needed supplies. Other trips in search of one thing or another provided opportunities to cruise the back streets and shopping districts of the town where, if on foot, one would never go.
We fostered new friendships enjoying the daily 'sun-downer' gathering with the 3 Dock crew conveniently gathered right in front of our boat, and happily renewed old ones. We partied with Gary and Karina (Blue Water) who arrived for a holiday with Dina and Malcolm on Good as Gold (San Diego), and with Russ and Gwen on A-Train (Blue Water) - since they were already in the marina. Mason and Kathryn arrived later on Terrapin (Turtle Bay) so another opportunity for margaritas was not missed. Mary and Rick on Que Sera (Turtle Bay) and Anne and Ed on Mucho Gusto (Baja Naval) also came along when we were there.
Russ' offer to give us a ride to the propane distributer on the outskirts of town provided an afternoon of cruising the roads around La Paz in a friend's SUV. Russ was certain it was this way .. no maybe it was down this road .. OK, ask for directions in Spanglish and eventually we find the depot. It's getting late enough to head for dinner at Bandido's where the famous BBQ burgers are grilled over a fire cleverly built under the hood of a pickup truck - yum. The margaritas are pretty good too! Especially if accompanied with a couple of tequila shots!
But for the unfortunate discovery of milky saildrive oil - again - La Paz would have been pretty much as advertized. What a bummer to make this discovery especially having just gone through the exercise of repair in Ensenada. So here we go again - fixing boats in exotic locations. We make arrangements for Solar Flair to be hauled out so that the problem can be diagnosed and repaired. Luckily, one of the boats on 3 Dock belongs to Robert and Kim who have taken up residence (bungeed?) in La Paz and set up shop offering cruisers technical services. Rob worked as a marine mechanic in Sidney BC (our neck of the woods) and amazingly has his Volvo certification and so is very familiar with our saildrive. So we haul out using the yard next door equipped with a tractor and trailer designed to back into the water and under the boat. Hydraulic arms are raised and positioned to support the boat, then the tractor pulls us out and onto the hard. Rob comes and examines the drive. What the hell? Several of the bolts keeping it water tight are loose!! So the work done in Ensenada at Baja Naval was crap! Rob cleans and puts it all back together again - properly this time - and after a night in the marina hotel we are splashed and back in our slip. Hopefully this will be the last time for several years that I write about saildrive repair in exotic locations.
Our plan all along was to sail north into the sea and then across to San Carlos on the mainland to have the boat stored for the summer in a dry storage yard. This is pretty routine for hundreds of boats that cruise the Sea of Cortez. We made a reservation to be hauled out on May 2. However, after several conversations with different cruisers we came to understand pros and cons of dry storage a bit better. What we learned is that the major pro is cost. The major con is the amount of preparation to minimize the large potential damage to the boat due to the heat, dirt, and critter infestation, is significant. The bottom line fact for us is that boats are made to be in the water. So Kathy and I have decided to change our plan. We've pre-paid for 6 months in Marina Palmira from May through October and we'll hire a local service to tend to the boat on a regular basis to ensure all is well on board. Definitely more expensive but at this time in our cruising experience the cost is worth knowing Solar Flair is safe and that we'll be able to return in October to find her fit and ready to continue our cruise.
So now we plan to cruise north into the sea but rather than cross to San Carlos we'll turn around and head back to La Paz - following the inexorable pull on that bungee cord drawing us back to The Peace.

To La Paz

09 March 2014 | East Cape Baja California Sur
Our passage to La Paz was simply beautiful. Again the seas were dead calm with light winds, more or less on our nose as we headed north from Los Muertos, through the Cerralvo Island channel and around and through into La Bahia de La Paz. The highlight of the day was the huge pod of dolphin that appeared and passed right in front of and under the boat as we cruised slowly north. Hard to say but I estimated maybe 100 dolphin in the pod as they churned up the sea leaping and splashing their way on the way to where ever they were going. I'd say they hardly knew we were there. What a sight!
We raised the sails later in the day as the winds built and turned more on our beam. Lot's of fun cruising through the channels past the islands and the mainland, then finally making the turn south. And there it is! La Paz on the horizon with buildings and oil tanks on the hillside. Only a few more miles and we're there!
We make our way through the narrow channel entrance to the waterfront and into our slip at Palmira Marina and we're there! Yahoo! We made it! What an amazing thing we've done.
Kathy had put a bottle of Champaign on ice earlier so out comes the glasses and we celebrate our successful passage appropriately! We have barely finished our first glass when the Dock 3 (where we are moored) welcoming committee shows up with beers and big smiles and congratulations. And aren't most of them fellow Canadians! Before we know it (and before we've even really tidied up after our passage) we are whisked away with the crowd into La Paz for burgers and beer at the cruisers favourite restaurant on the waterfront. What a beautiful town is La Paz with a wide boulevard and 'malecon' - or pedestrian walkway and bike path - along the frontage. Folks walking, jogging, biking and generally enjoying the fine weather and pleasures of the city. It's not hard to see why many of the cruisers find La Paz very sticky - a hard place to leave. Many of the folks here on Dock 3 have been here for years already. Hmm, who knows...

La Bahia de Los Muertos

09 March 2014 | East Cape Baja California Sur
If the passage to Riviera Marina was a washing machine, the passage to Los Muertos was a billiard table ie. calm seas and light winds. What a relief! We were motoring into an 8 knot breeze under sunny skies when Kathy called out, "Oh look! There's a whale. Right there!". So I look and indeed there's a huge humpback right in front of the boat! Stop the boat! Steer to starboard! Let's not run it over! So the whale cruises by about 50 feet off our port side, rolls onto it's side and gives us what I'm sure was the whale-version of the finger with his barnacle encrusted pectoral fin/arm pointing to the sky! Then disappears into the deep. I'm leery of whales so close to boat after the story of a Baja Ha Ha cruiser being sunk by a whale a few years ago. It was thrilling nevertheless to be so close to the huge beast.
The rest of the passage was uneventful but we did get to hoist the sails for the last couple of hours, turn off the motor, and listen to the boat cruise through the water - very nice indeed. As was the big smile on Kathy's face with her on the helm sailing the boat into the beautiful Los Muertos anchorage.
We dropped the hook in about 20 feet onto sand in water so clear I could see the anchor and chain on the bottom - a first for me. We decided to stay here another day so we could dinghy ashore and walk the beach over to a restaurant on the shore.
So the next day we launch Mr. BRIG and readied ourselves for a beach landing - always an adventure. Fortunately the 'surf' was only about 2 feet, if that, and our landing was uneventful. Not so much our launch a few hours later. Since you are launching into the surf the idea is get going as fast as you can so I can get the motor started and power away from the shore, before the next wave fills the dinghy with water. Best laid plans and all that. Unfortunately the wheels that are deployed (that let you easily roll the dinghy up high on the beach and stick down below the outboard prop so you can leave the motor down) had stuck in the sand so when I hopped in with Kathy rowing furiously nowhere, the dinghy slipped sideways to the waves and of course we were well on the way to capsizing. Time for Jim to get out before disaster strikes. Soaking wet I push us off the bottom into deeper water and hop in. Both of us laughing at what would have been a spectacle for any witnesses had there been any. I'd hate to provide endless entertainment on YouTube forever more.
Vessel Name: Solar Flair
Vessel Make/Model: Wauquiez Pretorien 35
Hailing Port: Vancouver, BC
Crew: Jim and Kathy Matusiak
About: Both retired and enjoying the cruising life-style. We intend to cruise 6 months of the year returning to our home in White Rock, BC for the summer months - no more rainy winters!
Extra: We plan to cruise south towards Panama, then decide whether to turn left or right. Although we would like to visit the Cayman Islands so we are currently leaning to the left.

Crewing on Solar Flair

Who: Jim and Kathy Matusiak
Port: Vancouver, BC