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Friday, October 14, 2005

Wind, Reefs, and a Shark

October 14, 2005
Ensenada el Pescador
28 degrees 55 minutes N; 113 degrees 23 minutes W (about 10 miles south of BLA)

Well, maybe someday we'll get to eat dinner in the Las Rocas anchorage of Isla Smith, but not this summer. The first time we tried to go there was on September 22, but it was too windy and we diverted to La Gringa (that was the night of the cool missile launch from Vandenburg AFB). We tried again on September 28 and managed to stay long enough to have breakfast before being blown out, again to La Gringa. Yesterday we left the anchorage off the village of BLA determined to try it again, and this time we stayed long enough to eat our lunch before deciding the northerlies were building up again and it was too bouncy to stay there.

We thought we'd sail around the south end of the island and then up the east side to see if there was any protection there. Sometimes our depth sounder, which is also a fish finder, shows a dark band of fish above the bottom and I'm not always clear on which is the bottom and which are the fish. As we closed on the SW shore I noticed a sharp peak on the depth sounder and asked John if it was just fish. No, it was the bottom and we had to make a hard right to get back out into deeper water. Did I mention that it was very windy, making it difficult to see potential hazards in all the chop and spray? And that if I was up on the bow watching for hazards while John was steering, it was also difficult to be heard above the noise of the wind? Fortunately both of us spotted a particularly light patch of water ahead and to our left as we rounded the south end of the island and we were able to give it some additional distance. Hmmm, I think that was a reef, and yes, there's a big rock in the middle of it (well submerged underwater so all we really saw was a smudge of brown).

By this time we're motoring and I'm out on the end of the bow sprit full time looking for more bad stuff in the water. Unfortunately I wasn't thinking about John's state of mind (totally stressed out over what additional dangers might lurk ahead), so when I saw a six foot hammerhead shark visible under the surface of the water a boat length away, I yelled, "hammerhead, hammerhead, hammerhead" and pointed at it so that maybe John would get to see it too. But in all the wind and engine noise, and thinking that I'm only up there to alert him to dangers in the water, John didn't understand what I was yelling and pointing about and thought we were about to hit something, and was I pointing at a rock we were going to hit or was I showing him where to turn to avoid hitting the hard thing. Needless to say he was not happy to learn that I was only sightseeing.

Soon after this incident it became apparent that the east side of the island was no better than Las Rocas, and we turned south again. After discussing our options (Puerto Don Juan, La Gringa, La Mona, the village) we decided to take a look at a small bight on the south end of Isla La Ventana. We'd taken our dinghy around this island when we anchored between Pata and Bota and John had commented that it could give good protection from the northerlies. Since this is exactly what we needed, and it was the closest option, and we were both thinking we'd had enough for one day, we headed in towards the island.

But first, wouldn't you know it, there was a reef on the southeast side that the guidebook said we needed to avoid. So back up to the bow I went to try to see waves breaking on a submerged reef with wind waves breaking all around us and the afternoon sun in my eyes. We looked and we looked but couldn't find it, and I went back to the cockpit when we thought surely we must have cleared it by now. I think we were fussing with the sails when I happened to look out and see light green smudges under the water a couple of boat lengths away. I yelled "Rocks!" (much more effective than "hammerhead") and we turned the boat away from the reef just in time to avoid hitting it.

By this time both of us were thinking, "Can we please end this adventure now?", and shortly afterwards we dropped the anchor in 50' of water off of a notch in between two hills on the island. The wind still blasted down at us through the valley, but the water was flat and we were happy to be parked for the rest of the day.

This morning John went out and caught a yellow tail for our dinner tonight, and then had another wild ride here to Pescador. The wind came up early again from the north with an opposing tide, and the Sea was like a washing machine. Wouldn't have been so bad except that we were foolishly towing our dinghy which threatened to go under the stern of Nakia before John moved it over the port side so we could jibe in to the anchorage. Hard to believe that we're supposed to get southerlies Sunday, in which case we'll have to move on. And yes, this time we'll put the dinghy up on deck first!

Linda and John