14 January 2014
January 14, 2014
Our moods were darkening. Jay was a bit grumpy and I was definitely edgy. The frowns were beating out the smiles two to one. Little disagreements grew into bigger disagreements. I thought about the time I was told by Lin Pardy, who with her husband, Larry, circumnavigated the world twice, (the first time in a 24' cutter and the second time in a 29' cutter - both had no engines) that the cruising life is no different than land life. There are good days and there are bad days. And that makes perfect sense. Still, there is usually a weather front of some sort that brings in the clouds. You know, the source. Jay and I didn't know it at the time, but in hindsight we realized we had been bitten by the bug and had caught the fever.
There were actually several circumstances that lead to our recent malcontent. The first was the news that the Mexican authorities, aka AGACE (the newest branch of the Mexican IRS), were impounding American and Canadian boats by the hundreds, sometimes with no merit. The rumors implied that if the authorities came to check our boat and we weren't on it to show them our paperwork they could, and probably would, impound the boat. (It is Napoleonic Code here in Mexico; guilty until proven innocent.) In addition to that, they want to match our Documentation Number and Hull Identification Number listed on the Temporary Import Permit, with the ones that are physically etched into the boat. Good luck with that when you have a 1979 boat built in Taiwan and completely refinished twice.
The second issue was the news that I may have to go to the states to help my brother with Mom. That put everything on hold. Originally, we had planned on staying in La Paz at the marina until the 18th of January, then go out to Isla Espiritu Santos for two weeks on the hook, come back to La Paz to provision again, and then leave for six weeks, heading up into the Sea of Cortez for the end of February and all of March. However, if I have to go to Arizona in a week or two, it's anybody's guess when we will get off the dock. This is dependent on my brother's house going into escrow and we all know how that goes. Meanwhile, hanging around in limbo definitely added a shade of color to our already darkening mood.
And the third issue... Jay was "...tired of fixing all this s#*>!"
"Let's just go." I said. "Let's just get out of here. Even for a day or two. We just need to go."
"What about the northers?" Jay wanted to know.
"Well, let's provision as if we are going and then just watch the weather. Maybe we can at least do an overnight."
Jay agreed and kept an eye on the weather. The northers weren't expected here in La Paz until Monday night. Sunday was supposed to be a beautiful day with no wind and flat seas. That meant we couldn't sail, but at least we could untie the lines and escape overnight. Perhaps we could sail on the way back, Monday.
We were on our way to Balandra, a cove not far from the marina, (you can actually get there by car) when Jay asked me, "Balandra, which is six miles, or Bahia San Gabriel on Isla Espirtu Santo, which is only eleven?"
"San Gabriel!" I answered immediately with a great big smile. I was dying to get to the islands we have heard so much about.
I have been searching through my mind now, for two days, how to describe Bahia San Gabriel or Gabby's Bay as it is nicknamed. I even searched John Steinbeck's, "Log From the Sea of Cortez" hoping he would have some incredible quote that I could borrow. But, dare I say, even he came up short when trying to describe the beauty. What I did find was a quote that talks about the experience of being in the Sea of Cortez and this closely relates to the changing colors of our mood as we arrived at Isla Espiritu Santo.
"On this day, the sun glowing on the morning beach made us feel good. It reminded us of Charles Darwin, who arrived late at night on the Beagle in the Bay of Valparaiso. In the morning he awakened and looked ashore and he felt so well that he wrote, 'When morning came everything appeared delightful. After Tierra del Fuego, the climate felt quite delicious, the atmosphere so dry and the heavens so clear and blue with the sun shining brightly, that all nature seemed sparkling with life.' Darwin was not saying how it was with Valparaiso, but rather how it was with him. Being a naturalist, he said, 'All nature seemed sparkling with life,' but actually it was he who was sparkling. He felt so very fine that he can, in these charged though general adjectives, translate his ecstasy over a hundred years to us. And we can feel how he stretched his muscles in the morning air and perhaps took off his hat-we hope a bowler-and tossed it and caught it." (John Steinbeck, "The Log From the Sea of Cortez")
If only I could "translate (my) ecstasy" in "charged though general adjectives" leaving you with a sense of what we experienced in this special place. I will try.
The first thing I noticed was the quiet. That coupled with the expanse of the long white beach against a backdrop of mangroves and mountainous desert created a clear sense of solitude and was in stark contrast from the busy city streets of La Paz. To the right of us was a huge mass of red rock that looked like the three Mexican heads, (heroes of this country) Benito Juarez, Miguel Hidalgo, and Venustiano Carranza, should be etched in its face. We anchored in 18' of water and Jay noted that he could see the bottom along with the anchor and its chain. The water was a light green but then changed to a dark purple where the living coral stretched beneath the sea. Beyond that, and closer in to shore the water turned a beautiful shade of aquamarine. All this lay against the brilliantly white sand. I saw no buildings on land, nor any signs of man-made materials but Jay tells me there are remnants of an old pearl fishery buried behind the trees. There were seven boats anchored but soon to be nine by dusk. The bay was large enough to handle many more boats before one would feel crowded or as if their space were being invaded. We sat still and listened to the subtle sounds of nature; a seagull's cry, the tide rolling onto the beach, the sea lapping against our boat. There were three people on the beach, two kayakers in the bay, four other people in two dinghys wandering slowly over the coral reef and a few small pangas with tourists snorkeling over by the rocks.
Jay looked at me and summarized it neatly by saying, "It's Coches Prietos on steroids!" (For those of you who are familiar with Santa Cruz.) I had to laugh. He was pretty close.
What to do?! What to do?! Kayak? Snorkel? Take a ride in the dinghy? Hike? I wanted to do it all but we had arrived after two and by the time we anchored, logged in all the required coordinates, and sat down to have the obligatory beer, it was close to three. We decided to lower the dinghy and scout the premises.
Our friends from Meridian, whom we met in San Jose del Cabo, were anchored next to us so first task was to go say hello to them. We spotted them on the beach getting into their dinghy and headed their way. They were surprised but seemingly delighted to see us. That's one thing that is so much fun about this cruising thing; we keep running into people we've met and finding new people to meet. They had just gotten back from a four mile round trip hike to the other side of the island. You can walk from this bay to the largest beach on Espiritu Santo, Playa Bonanza. I had heard it was beautiful and they agreed and said it was a trek, but well worth it. We made a note for later.
Next up, we continued cruising around the bay and stopped to talk to a couple from Australia (sv/True Companion) who were admiring the coral reef. "We have traveled all over the sea and this is about the best coral reef we have seen." Another note for later. I would love to kayak over it as well as snorkel there. We continued on in the dinghy for awhile longer, exploring all the different sides of the bay. Soon, though, it was getting late and we decided to take the dinghy back and pull her up.
That is a promise we made to each other when we started cruising. Always have everything tucked in and ready to go should the weather turn sour. It is a pain but should we need to leave in a hurry, we will be ready. We brought her back, put her to bed and turned on the barbeque. In all the excitement to leave we forgot to eat and by now we were starving.
It was four thirty when the moon rose. It was almost full and filled the cockpit with light as the sun went down. We enjoyed dinner in the cockpit and then retired early.
Suddenly, around 12:30 in the morning, I woke up. It was unusually still for an anchorage. I love the movement and I was disappointed in the lack thereof. What's that saying? Careful what you wish for? Not thirty minutes later Jay and I were startled, less by the wind, but more by the seas. They had picked up to four to six feet and some of the waves were even breaking under the boat. There was some wind, but not as much as you would think to match the wave action. Moreover, the seas and wind were coming from the south. Not only was this strange because they had called for northers, but now we were on a lee shore. Not the best situation.
"Jay, I think we are experiencing our first coromuel." Curious to understand what was happening, I had searched the weather sections in our cruising guides. A coromuel is a phenomenon that usually occurs in spring and summer but can occur in winter. It is when there is cool air over the Pacific and it crosses over the warmer Baja peninsula toward the warmer water of the sea. Not unlike our Santa Ana condition in southern California. With that realization it was time to go topsides and make sure we were safe.
Both Jay and I ended up sitting on anchor watch. Jay really wasn't worried about the anchor. We had 7 to 1 chain out and we were dug in. Still, it was unnerving and nothing like anything we had ever experienced before. The sleeping bags came out and we both laid down in the cockpit. Not that there was any sleeping going on. Finally, around four am it started to calm down and I went below to try and get some sleep. Jay stayed up and watched as the moon set. With the moon gone and the sun not up yet, he could see the stars by the millions. It was spectacular. He could see everything; the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, the Southern Cross, etc. I am sorry I missed it.
Morning came, and although it was somewhat calm (especially compared to the night before), we knew the northers were headed our way so we pulled anchor and headed back to the marina. The wind picked up as predicted. Jay had noticed that sailors in this area often sail downwind with only the jib or genny up. We decided to try it so raised only the genny. With 10 to 15 knots of wind on a beam to broad reach we went a steady five to six knots! Who knew? This was the first time, ever, that we had sailed with only the genny. It was a wonderful sail. By the time we arrived at the marina, it was low tide (seven feet and we draw six) and twenty-two knots of wind from behind us when docking. A challenge, but as usual, Jay is a pro. A perfect finish to a perfect outing.
Although we didn't have a chance to snorkel or hike or kayak, we made note of the possibilities of this bay and will visit again when we do our two week cruise around the islands. And we can't wait. We have come to realize that we really do have the fever. The cruising fever. It used to be it only took walking down the dock to lower our blood pressure. Now it takes us one step further. We have to untie the lines.
"Fever! What a lovely way to burn."
ADDENDUM: Just a note regarding the Mexican authorities and the impounding of boats. Recently, we have heard that almost all of the boats have been released. Although this is strictly rumor, we have also heard that the head of AGACE was fired. The Mexican tourism board, as well as the marinas, are extremely worried about the negative publicity. The other side to the story is that many of these boats that were impounded were not in compliance with law. In all fairness, I must mention how I have fallen in love with this beautiful country and the warm, welcoming people. We must realize we are guests in their country and should abide by their rules. Both sides of this dilemma are hoping it will be straightened out soon.
P.S. Happy Birthday Jack. I miss you.