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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Outside The Box

June 30, 2005
Ensenada las Pilars
One mile SE of Punta Concepcion

Blue Moon did not leave La Ramada after all so we decided to move on instead. On June 26 we rounded Punta Pulpito and exited "the box" of tropical storm area delineated by our insurer. (There was no official ceremony, or even a sigh of relief since there are no guarantees that a hurricane couldn't still come North of the box and paste us.) We motored past a few boats anchored in San Antonio, and ducked into San Sebastian to check it out. There's a small community of gringo type vacation homes at the head of a cove surrounded by reef. Looked nice but the water was opaque and our hook didn't set on the first try in the rocky bottom so we decided to join Stan and MJ on SolMate at Punta El Medano Blanca instead. This is a nice 2-3 boat anchorage with a white sand beach and snorkeling reef.

We went snorkeling a few times during our stay there, and saw some baby Sergeant Majors on the reef. They're about the size of a dime to a quarter - very cute. Stan mentioned that he'd seen some even smaller ones by their boat, but I said we'd been seeing those regularly in Mexico and I thought they were something different because they aren't flat. They hang around our rudder right on the surface and I've been calling them bumblebee fish because they look like a miniature, bullet shaped, striped bee - fat and cute. Well, I swam back to the boat from the beach and took a closer look at the little guys by the boat (I'm swimming with snorkel and fins all the time now. Kind of cheating but I can exercise and see everything at the same time.). Sure enough they are so immature that they haven't grown into their adult looking phase yet. I wonder what they're doing so far away from the reef; most of the time they show up around the rudder almost as soon as we've dropped the anchor. I also saw an adult that was so blue that at first I thought it was another kind of fish. When the males are in their breeding phase they change from yellow and black stripes to blue starting at their head. So sometimes their front half is blue, with barely discernible dark stripes, and their back half is still yellow and black. Fun to see all the variations. I also saw my first live lobster after swimming over three molts. He was a big one down in a crack between big rocks (and yes, he was definitely moving). And I finally saw a turtle while snorkeling in Mexico. He didn't stick around long but it was exciting to finally see one under water here after seeing so many from the boat.

Although John has steadfastly maintained that we can do without a water maker, and therefore we are philosophically opposed to accepting water from other cruisers who have them, we crossed the line and let SolMate give us 35 gallons the other day. Stan said he had to run his generator anyway and that it's better to use the water maker on a regular basis, so we let him talk us into it. Of course Stan is also a representative for Spectra water makers so he may just be angling for a sale. :-)

Yesterday we went for our first hike in ages. We got a nice early morning start to beat the heat, skipping our morning coffee and the radio nets. It's an easy couple of miles on an actual path out to the non-functioning light on the point, so John decided to up the ante by climbing a steep ridge halfway there "to get some cardio." I followed him for a few minutes until I realized that it was going to be much more difficult coming down on the loose shale than it was going up. So I told him I was going back down and out towards the light. (There was a trail! It isn't often we have a nice trail to walk on, so it was kind of a no-brainer to me...) I walked on by myself and when John finally caught up to me he announced that he'd fallen coming down and hopefully his ankle was only badly sprained and not fractured. He still maintains that it's more fun to risk pain and suffering in the pursuit of adventure than it is to travel the well worn path, but I wish sometimes he'd stick to the darn path.

The wind picked up in a major way after we got back to the boat, and our conversations later in the afternoon with SolMate (who'd moved on that morning) and Dos Brisas (in a similar cove north of us) made us start to think that it was time to leave. We had a nice downwind sail, made even nicer by the fact that we were in the shade of our wing and wing sails until the wind died during the last hour of the trip. We arrived about an hour before sunset and worked up such a sweat getting things put away/set up that we had to cool off with a swim. It's so humid here that right after sunset dew started forming on the decks. Then a breeze came off the land and dried everything off. Then the wind shifted and we had dew again. And this was all in the space of about 20 minutes. Today it's still moist, but at least there's a stiff breeze blowing to keep us cool. Tomorrow we will probably move to Santo Domingo at the entrance to Bahia Concepcion.

John has been busy with sewing projects lately. He made a bug screen for our main hatch and a new version of a wind scoop for our forward hatch. We have a commercial tall wind scoop but it casts a shadow on our solar panel which we mount on our staysail boom when we're at anchor. So he's made a low profile one now, and the only suggestion I have for people making their own is not to use spinnaker cloth. It's a little noisy, but John assures me the crackly crunch will wear out of it soon.

The ankle seems to be healing, the toe is getting better, and the bee sting is only the size of a golf ball (did I forget to mention the bee sting?). As John says, he's only a mess from the right knee down!


John's Fishing Report:
I spent one evening trolling around the reefs hoping to catch a nice trigger fish or a cabrilla and had a little bit of excitement. When doing this kind of trolling, I zig-zag into and away from shore and I started noticing that I was getting strikes on the off shore runs so I changed my route to just the offshore area (maybe 200 yards offshore). I kept getting these large pulling strikes but not hooking up. The rod would bend, the drag would run off, I'd stop the outboard and start to reel in only to find nothing attached. Finally I got what felt like a solid hook up, and whatever it was didn't fight very hard, though it pulled in short strong bursts and obviously weighed a lot. It didn't take long to get it up to the boat where, in the failing light, I STILL couldn't figure out what it was. Finally within 5 ft of the boat I pulled it out of the water and found a 2 ft squid firmly attached to the lure. I netted it and took it back to show Stan and MJ on SolMate and Linda, before figuring out how to let it go. They are supposed to be good to eat but the cleaning process is long and involves soaking overnight in milk to get rid of the salty taste, definitely not worth it. In the end I had to cut part of one of its tentacles off to set it free, but that's ok cause it will grow back, I think.


Monday, June 27, 2005

More from Ensenada Puerto Almeja

June 25, 2005
Ensenada Puerto Almeja (aka La Ramada), 26o 23' N 111o 27' W
About 40 miles south of Mulege

After three days of blasting wind all day the wind finally quit, of course now it's a LOT hotter, 88o F during the day and cooling off to 80 by bed time. The bad thing is, at about 3am a westerly wind comes up that's just as hot as the sun beating down on the deck. Last night it was 87o F at 0400. Makes it hard to sleep even without clothes or covers...

Ray and Jayne from Adios and Alan from Blue Moon taught us about 'Chocolates' yesterday. Chocolates (prounounced "cho ko lah' tays") are brown clams that live in 10-20 ft of water. They're easy to find by the tubes they use to breathe and feed through. They show on the bottom as two small white tubes at the bottom of a 1/2" indentation in the sand. To gather them you look for the two holes from the surface and once you sight them you swim down (it helps if you do it at low tide, that way the water's shallower) and dig them out of the sand. I even designed and built a special shovel made out of a piece of 2 inch ABS plastic pipe. An hours worth of diving and we had more than enough for dinner. We cooked them over an open fire on the beach at sunset with nothing more then a bit of tobasco sauce to garnish them. Very tasty.

We also did a little snorkeling, even though the water has been very opaque (making the visibility bad - maybe 10 ft), and I saw what I think was a Jeweled Moray Eel.

The fishing hasn't been that great and the worst possible thing I can imaging happening happened the other night. I was trolling out around some rocks and getting a lot of needle fish strikes (needle fish have very bony mouths so they rarely get hooked) when I got a big strike and pulled hard to set the hook. That's when the line parted and I lost my best (read most productive) lure. Bummer! Lures like it are simply not available in Mexico, so now I have to find my 'next best lure'.

Adios left this morning, leaving only Blue Moon and us in Ensenada Puerto Almeja. Alan says he's taking off tomorrow, which may give us the chance to have an anchorage to ourselves for once. Hopefully no one will come in tomorrow to spoil our skinny dipping plans.

John and Linda

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

More Life in Paradise

June 21, 2005
Ensenada Puerto Almeja (aka La Ramada)
About 40 miles south of Mulege

Last night during my usual getting ready for bed routine I noticed that the head (toilet) didn't seem to be acting like its normal self. John tried banging on some hoses and things which has helped get past the blockage before, but no luck. So we were up until 2 AM to get the job done right this time. Because of the nature of the problem it's usually best to do this when you're the only boat in the anchorage or in the dead of night. People don't really appreciate having sewage dumped into their swimming pool, even when it's a very large swimming pool. There wasn't a lot of it, but one of my jobs was to bucket brigade the stuff draining from the disconnected holding tank hose. So imagine me having to walk from the head (all the way up in the bow of the boat) past a big bucket of anchor rode, over tool boxes, up the companionway steps and out to the side of the boat where I could dump the contents over the side. The worst moment was when I inadvertently bumped the lifeline and splashed a few drops up into my face. Gross!

This morning John's doing some clean up since he had to empty out the space he was working in. He also helped the other boat anchored here fix a problem with their solar panels, which turned out to be a broken wire. I wiped down the fiberglass on the side of the boat which was still in the morning shade, wiped down the rusty salt water splash marks from our anchor chain in the chain locker, and lugged two five gallon water jugs from the bow of the boat to the stern to siphon them into the main water tank. I did all this before 10 AM and was sweating bullets the whole time. Yesterday morning it was 77.7 degrees at 7 AM, and the main problem is that the humidity has been high. Makes it kind of tough to enjoy that morning cup of coffee.

Yesterday we moved to this smaller anchorage (only a couple of miles from San Juanico) with our neighbor, Adios. We were actually the first boat here for a change and got to pick our spot. Is still breezy most of the day but not nearly as bad as the previous place. I swam to the beach and John followed me in the dinghy (he still has to keep his foot dry while his injury heals). I walked up a road in nothing but my bathing suit and reef shoes, with a swim fin for a shade visor, while he collected wood on the beach. Kind of nerve wracking to walk a rough dirt road out into the desert half-naked by yourself, but that's how desperate I was for the exercise. Kept imagining what I would say if I ran into anyone. The usual, "Hola! Buenas tardes. Como esta?" didn't seem like it would really be enough in this case! I swam back to the boat (paranoid the whole time about running into a jelly fish, but I didn't) and we went for a short dinghy ride to explore the shoreline. I still love seeing the ospreys and spotting their huge nests. After dinner at sunset we took all our paper garbage to an existing rock fire ring on the beach and burned it. This helps cut down on the amount of garbage we have to keep on board until we get to a town where we can dispose of it. Was nice to have an almost full moon to enjoy while we were standing around our little bonfire.

We keep hearing on the Sonrisa HAM net that Bahia Concepcion is even hotter and more humid so we're still in no hurry to get up there for the Fourth of July.

John Here:
If all this playing with the toilet stuff sounds familiar, see 'Head Games' from August 21, 2005. I guess it just goes to show that there are some things that are really hard to keep working on a boat. Personally, disgusting as it is, I'd rather have to work on the toilet plumbing over and over than have repeated problems with the engine. At least the parts are cheap and if you have a total failure you can use a bucket as an emergency backup.

Linda and John

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Happy Father's Day!

June 19, 2005
San Juanico, Baja California del Sur, 26o 21' N 111o 25' W
About 40 miles south of Mulege

Hope the Dads are enjoying all the things that fathers like best today - family, friends, and BBQs!

Unfortunately this has been one of those weeks where paradise hasn't quite lived up to its name, and we're going a little stir crazy. For me, it started after we left Puerto Escondido. We were shooting for Puerto de la Lancha on Isla Carmen so that John could hook up with Bob on Air Power to do some fishing, but the wind was not in our favor and when we started taking spray over our freshly washed fiberglass we bailed for Puerto Ballandra (also Isla Carmen) instead. This was a pretty, well protected cove with lots of bait fish and at least a dozen larger fish herding them around (you could see them making a wake right at the surface). But the water clarity was poor and we had a few mud wasps trying to build a nest underneath our anchor windlass so we decided we'd leave the next morning.

Got an early start for the motor trip around the corner to anchor with Air Power and Adios in La Lancha, where there is no sandy beach to gaze upon, there were many stinging jellyfish (string of pearls), there are no trespassing signs on shore, and the wind came up every afternoon. We stayed there for two nights and John did a lot of fishing with Bob. They came back the first day with a couple of good sized "bugs" (it isn't legal for us to take lobster so cruisers only take bugs). Maybe it was because it was the first time we've cooked them ourselves, but we weren't all that impressed. Dungeness are still our crustaceans of choice. The next morning they got up early and went out fishing for five hours, returning with a few tasty fine scale trigger fish for our dinner.

On we went to Isla Coronados trying to sail most of the way to conserve fuel. This was a very pretty and protected anchorage with a beautiful white sand beach, shade palapas, an outhouse, and a groomed trail as part of the park system under which these local islands fall. We swam from Nakia to shore and didn't have a problem with jellyfish. We read a sign stating there is a 20 peso/person/day park fee. The over 60 crowd is exempt from the fee, as are "residents," and there was a rumor that an FM-3 visa would qualify for the latter. But this didn't seem to work for another boat in the anchorage so don't count on it. It was nice to get some exercise and get off the boat for a little while, the first time for me since leaving Puerto Escondido.

By the time we swam back to the boat we had over twice as many bees as when we left. We think this may be because SolMate had tried putting water out for them up on the bow of their boat, the theory being that if they have a water source they won't bother the rest of the boat looking for more water. Sounds like a good idea but I think maybe it just ends up drawing more bees to your boat! Most people go the opposite route, trying to eliminate all sources of open fresh water on the boat - dry sponges, dry sinks, etc. Today we heard that some people go so far as to kill them by attracting them with sugar water laced with detergent. This seems kind of cruel but I guess that's just because we have yet to experience our first real bee swarm. I'm sure I'll be changing my tune after that.

On Friday, when we moved from Isla Coronados to San Juanico (back on the Baja), it was just one of those days where everything seemed to go wrong. To get away from the bees (which returned exactly at sunrise; did you know that bees use the sun to navigate?) we left before the wind had filled in and so drifted around in circles for an hour. Finally we had a nice sailing breeze to get to the big open anchorage where there were already five other boats. But as we made our final approach into the anchorage, instead of getting calmer (which is kind of the point of going into an anchorage, I think, to get out of the wind), the wind seemed to pick up intensity. We still needed to get our main sail down and in an attempt to get it down and all rolled up in a hurry the boom came off the boom gallows, the topping lift hadn't been secured, and John went down hard on the side deck, splitting open the bottom crease of his pinkie toe where it attaches to the foot.

We managed to get anchored fine after that, but it's been windy every day, starting a couple of hours earlier in the morning each day and not easing up until after sunset. On top of the wind chop there's a swell running which keeps us rolling even with the rocker stopper out. This morning we moved farther south to try and tuck in closer behind the reef but it doesn't seem to have helped much. So swimming is out, dinghy touring is out (too wet and rough), and outdoor showering is out. I managed to get one swim to shore late on our arrival day and haven't been off the boat since then. Of course everything but fishing is out for John until his toe heals up.

The rest of the time we read, eat, sleep, and sweat too much. We don't want to move north to Bahia Concepcion too soon for the Fourth of July celebration because people up there are already melting from the heat. We've noticed much higher humidity here too - we're sticky all day and the decks are wet well before sunset. So the best thing about the wind here is that it gives us built-in air conditioning while we wait to move into the real heat.

John here:
Bob and I went night fishing night before last, the idea being that red snapper and other large bass types (big grouper included) feed at night. That didn't really turn out to be the case, but we did have a bit of fun on the way out. It was right near sunset and we decided to troll our way out to the rocks where we were going to fish for 'the beeg ones.' About half way there I got a huge strike but no hook up, very encouraging, so we circled our way back around and sure enough I hooked into something that started pulling line out at a very rapid pace. 25 minutes later, Bob netted my 24 inch Jack Crevalle (kre-VAL-ey). Talk about fun! These fish are not good eating but have a reputation as fierce fighters and after examining my lure I believe it. Two out of three barbs on each of the two treble hooks were bent straight! I managed to get him in on a single barb barely hooked into his lip. After a short time in the net to get the hook out back he went to fight another day. I hooked another one later on the way out but was 'in a hurry' to bring it in and must have pulled the hook out.

The night fishing turned out to be a bust, the only thing we caught was a moray eel that Bob hooked. Talk about a handful, it would tie itself into knots and squirm all over the place. It took us almost 20 minutes just to get the hook out. Both of us. Holding on to it with both hands. I hope I never hook another one of those!

There's no such thing as too much fun, so last night right at sunset I trolled by myself through the same area where I hooked the Crevalle last night. I hooked another one that took about 20 minutes to land, it was around 28 inches, then trolled a little longer and hooked another one that took almost 45 minutes to land! It measured over 30 inches, and towed the dinghy over 1/4 mile. (The reason it was taking so long to land these two fish is that my net is too small for them, I have to get them tired enough that I can grab them by the tail to get the hook out.) I'm not sure how long my lure is going to last with these guys crushing it, but I intend to find out.

Linda and John
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Sunday, June 12, 2005

Puerto Escondido

June 12, 2005
Puerto Escondido, Baja California del Sur

We stayed in Agua Verde until June 5, hiking in the hot sun and snorkeling in the cold water. We saw an osprey and an octopus. The local goats made their ritual evening strolls along the hillsides surrounding the anchorage. With a well-stocked tienda and fresh tortillas within walking distance, it was hard to leave.

We moved on to Isla Monserrate and anchored off low yellow sand bluffs. Although we gave it our best shot, hiking here was next to impossible because of the dense brush and cactus, but the beach was perfect for walking and shell hunting. We stayed a few extra days when we heard that Bob on Air Power was coming in. He and John went spear fishing together and John came back with something called a Hog fish for dinner. We all did some snorkeling out on the reefs to the east and it was the best visibility and most fish we've seen so far. Really a pretty place and we were glad to have spent the extra time there.

We were going to "run out" of water at any minute according to John's calculations, so we were a little antsy to get to Puerto Escondido. We might have run out of the water in our tanks, but we still had 16 gallons in jugs in case that happened. But we were also out of fresh provisions so it was time to go and get restocked. Puerto Escondido is great. There was a big fuss when they installed moorings in the inner, almost landlocked, harbor, but they only charge one peso per foot per day, plus 10%, and now that you don't have to pay to check-in, it seems reasonable to us. There's a place to dump garbage, a dinghy dock, a place to fill water jugs from a hose, and it's been flat calm at night. The only drawback is that it's 25 miles to Loreto with no bus service to speak of. People who base out of here have cars, which would make life much easier.

Yesterday we got seven people together to hire a seven passenger taxi van for the day. Our driver, Gustavo, picked us up at 9:30 AM and drove us into Loreto to run all our errands. We dropped three people off at an internet cafe and the remaining four drove from ferreteria to ferreteria looking for acetone, butane, and hydraulic fluid among other things. We must have tried at least half a dozen places before John finally gave up on the latter, and we cut Gustavo loose until Noon. The four of us walked around town (fishing tackle was the next goal), and checked out the Malecon, before rendezvousing at the internet cafe. Gustavo then drove us all back to the center of town where we had a nice lunch at Cafe Ole. We split up for some quick shopping and sight-seeing and met back up at the taxi again at 2:00. Then we did our "big shop" with stops at the supermercado (not so super after La Paz!), fruteria, panaderia, and finally, the deposito. By the time we arrived back at the dinghies it was almost 4:00 and everyone was tired. The taxi was 700 pesos round trip, and split seven ways it was worth it. It was especially nice to be able to store our purchases in the back of the taxi throughout the day, instead of having to haul everything around with us the entire time!

But it wasn't time to relax yet. John needed to go up the mast to 1) fix the roller furling (which got a little messed up when he made the mistake of letting off halyard tension before unfurling the drifter), 2) attach the Mexican courtesy flag to the outer shroud (this way it won't bang on the shrouds like it does from the flag halyard), and 3) affix reflective tape to the mast to make it easier to find Nakia in a crowded, dark anchorage (Phil, remember the panga ride in Turtle Bay?!). While John was up the mast I was putting away the mass of stuff we'd bought. This entails taking everything out of boxes (actually I did that before we even put it in the dinghy), wiping off dusty cans, labeling cans with a Sharpie, removing labels from cans, stowing everything, and separating the tortillas. The latter is something we learned about only recently. We had trouble with our fresh tortillas sticking together until John finally asked a local what to do about it. The secret is that you need to separate all of them until they've had a chance to cool, then you can stack them again and store them. So picture a kilo each of corn and flour tortillas strewn about all over the galley and dining table. In the midst of all this I was up and down the companionway helping John while he was up the mast.

We finished all that at 6 PM and John decided it was time to go fly fishing. He got quite a rush when he hooked a bonito which took off so hard that he had to grab the pole with both hands. He's using barb less hooks now which makes releasing the fish we don't want to eat (so far, most of them) much easier.

Today was water day. John made four trips to the water hose with our six water jugs to fill the tanks (on both Air Power and Nakia) while I used some old water from our emergency jug to wipe down the fiberglass and try to get the boat cleaned up a little. Of course we chose to be on one of the moorings that's farthest away from the water hose because it's in the shade earlier than the others, so each trip was a long one. We're getting our three gasoline jugs filled here but it's costing 375 pesos for about 40 litres (about $2.62/gallon plus delivery charge plus Pemex, the national gas chain, ripoff; it's a ripoff because we paid for 50 litres and only got 40 even though the meter on the pump said 50 litres; this happens all the time).

Stan and MJ on SolMate need to make a beer run so, in lieu of the hike we were going to do today, we're going to walk with them to Willy's tienda which is down the road about 45 minutes at the junction with Highway 1. We've already been to the one at Tripui RV Park, about a 15 minute walk. For those of you that read about the fire that destroyed most of it, Tripui is really looking good. There's a beautiful pool outside the office/gift shop/internet cafe and the grounds are lovely.

Tomorrow we move back out to the islands with a stop at Isla Carmen first. Our short term goal is to reach Bahia Concepcion by July 1 for the Fourth of July celebration at Burro Cove.

Linda and John