Southbound down the Baja coast
23 November 2010 | San Jose del Cabo, BCS, Mexico
When I last wrote, we were on our way from Ensenada south, along the coast of Baja California. We more or less followed the path of the "Baja HaHa," a rally of cruising sailboats that took place a couple of weeks before our own trip. Thus, we stopped, as they did, at Bahia de Tortugas (Turtle Bay) and at Magdalena Bay (or, as gringo cruisers say, "Mag Bay").
That first leg, a three day-two night passage, was mostly motoring. There was very little wind, and sometimes none at all. We put up the mainsail to steady the boat, and it flopped woefully from side to side. Ever mindful of our sailmaker (Carol Hasse)'s advice that one day of flogging is as much wear as a week of sailing, we took the main down, and hoisted the trysail in its place. The trysail is a very small mainsail, made from extremely heavy fabric, intended for storm use. Hasse points out that we'll probably never use the trysail (we - and most cruisers -- religiously avoid storms) so it may as well serve as a steadying sail. Indeed, it was very good at that. At one point, after some wind came up, we put up the genoa (our largest jib) and had a really nice sail for an hour or so. A very unusual combination of sails!
The startling event of this leg of the trip was that our electronics started acting weird. (I'm sure Craig, being an electrical engineer, would have some better, more technical description). At one point, the plotter showed the boat silhouette turned to head out to sea, but a 7 knot sideways current sweeping us toward shore. This lasted several hours, with the electronics showing us consistently right on course. Suddenly at about 2 am (on my watch), it hiccuped, and then said we were 30 miles off course (out to sea). The log (history of the position readings) when reviewed, showed that for several hours, our heading had been 0.00, and our distance made good was 0.00. (We went north at zero speed???) Well who knows what all that mystery was about, and we talked about it a great deal. What if the mistake had been in the other direction - i.e. 30 miles off course, but towards land - we could have been a shipwreck on the rocks! There would have been all sorts of other indications - not the least, crashing waves - but still... The problem has never recurred, and we have no explanation.
Turtle Bay has a dusty little town at its northern end, and that's where everyone anchors. There's a fuel dock, and lots of entrepreneurs. Our anchor hadn't settled into the mud before we were approached by a panga (small boat) loaded with jerry jugs. The two young men offered to take our garbage (for a fee), and to procure diesel fuel in jugs, at about $6/gallon, if the jugs are full, and if they hold what the young men say they hold. We took the bait, and ordered 8 gallons. Later, when we dinghied ashore, we found that the going rate was $3/gallon. And needless to say, the jug was not full. The next entrepreneurs were selling fish - in this case, triggerfish, called in Spanish, "cochino." We bought one, and he filleted it on the spot - part of it made a nice dinner, and another part we used for poisson cru (Polynesian ceviche) the next day.
Ashore we saw a big school in session, and a loudspeaker truck driving around, often beaming his message out into the anchorage: "Silly melody, Blah blah, tome Canada, blah blah, silly melody," repeating about every 20 seconds. Not sure, but I think we are talking about Canada Dry soft drinks?
We dinghied ashore, where we met the fuel vendor ("Gordo") and several hangers-on, each of whom wanted to watch our dinghy, in exchange for a tip. I agreed to pay the first one, then the other was rather insistent; the first one described the second one as a "bandito". In the end, when we got back, neither of them was there watching the dinghy, so no one got a tip.
We walked around the town and watched all the vehicles cruising by in the circular traffic pattern, through the unpaved dusty streets. About half of them were police. We found a grocery store with plenty of dry goods, but little produce, and no ice cream. The store clerk said it was because the weather was "so cold." (Seemed nice to me...) Actually, I've now read in our boating guide that everything (except local products) is "trucked 400 miles without refrigeration." That would explain it.
As we walked back to shore, we came upon a little pickup truck with its bed full of greenish oranges. The truck had a loudspeaker, announcing "fresh, sweet oranges" in a looping 20 second announcement. (Someone must be selling a loudspeaker package to the locals). We bought a few, then stopped in the shoreside restaurant for a couple of beers (Craig and Skip) and a soda (me). They didn't have much choice in the way of soda, and we finally settled on an orange soda. The beers came, but no soda. Ten minutes later I heard the mom send the teenage girl out to get orange soda ("Cold. Orange. Be sure it's orange...") In another ten minutes I had my soda. We sat there and watched the pelicans dive bombing the harbor, and only rarely catching a fish. A man below the restaurant was cleaning fish and throwing the entrails in the water. There was a large flock of birds catching some scraps mid-air, and diving for others. A large pelican tried to edge out all the gulls.
We had dinner on the boat and prepared for an early start the next morning. If we kept our speed up, we could leave in the early morning, and arrive at Magdalena Bay the next afternoon, for only one overnight passage. The passage was relatively uneventful, and we pulled into Bahia Santa Maria (outside the north end of Magdalena Bay) before dark. After anchoring for the night, we moved the next morning to Belcher's Cove, inside Magdalena Bay. Belcher's Point was a whaling station, and the concrete and metal remnants are still visible. There is a line of concrete columns running down a wide, deep ditch, a concrete water tower, and other structures of unexplained purpose. When we went ashore, we found that a few families had taken up residence on the point, probably using removable parts of the whaling station to create small homes in grinding poverty. The ditch served as their bathroom, and was littered from one end to the other with toilet paper and foul smells.
Just off the beach, there were three or four pangas anchored and tied together, with loud music, colorful umbrellas, and plenty of coolers. They hadn't been there earlier - presumably they were out fishing in the morning - was this their floating home? We walked the coarse sand beach, and saw plenty of seashells, fish parts, shrimp shells and plastic bottles.
The next morning, we departed for another passage that would last from that morning until late the next afternoon. Wind gradually increased through the night, and we were finally sailing nicely (and finally, a little too nicely!) We made several sail changes during the night due to the increasing wind, but once we rounded the tip of Baja, the wind all dropped away and we were motoring again. Seeing the wall-to-wall condominiums and time shares there on the cliff was quite a shock after all that desert and dust and remoteness we'd been seeing for a week. We motored past Cabo San Lucas and its signature arch rock (which I understand they've had to reinforce with concrete so it wouldn't crumble into the ocean).
We saw quite a lot of sea life during this week-long trip down Baja California. Many times dolphins approached the boat - a few at a time, or as many as a hundred. They don't seem quite as inclined as the Pacific Northwest dolphins to ride our bow wave. They come over and have a look, but they're clearly on their way somewhere. We saw several whales spout in the distance, and a grey whale surfaced not too far from the boat. But nature saved the best for last: as we were approaching our destination (San Jose del Cabo), stingrays started to jump out of the water. These were not little jumps, they were probably six feet, and the rays flipped over while they were in the air. At one point, we saw about eight of them jumping simultaneously in a line, almost as though it was choreographed. Was something chasing them? Were they having fun? We'll never know. I did, however, get a good picture of a stingray in the air, and I'll post it with this message on sailblogs.
So here we are in San Jose del Cabo. We had hoped to be in La Paz by Thanksgiving, but that now doesn't look likely. Strong winds are predicted, and we may just stay here. This is a resort, and there are lots of gringos, souvenir shops, restaurants, big markets, and anything you could want. Unfortunately, the marina has almost exclusively sport fishing boats. We had hoped to join another family for Thanksgiving, but it looks like it may be just us. I have sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, canned pumpkin, a big turkey breast and an oven - that sounds promising, don't you think?
Best wishes, and Happy Thanksgiving, to all our friends and family! We will be thinking of you.
Craig & Barbara Johnston