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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Back to the 'Other Side'

July 28, 2005
San Carlos, Sonora, 27o 56' N 111o 03' W, About 250 mi S of Nogales AZ

We had a pretty good weather window to cross the Sea of Cortez Monday night so we got the boat ready and hauled anchor at 0100 Tuesday morning to make the 80 nm passage from Isla San Marcos to San Carlos. This was a lot earlier in the month than we wanted to be here but long term weather this time of year is highly unpredictable so we bit the bullet and made the jump.

The trip over was pretty un-eventful, we had light NW winds for most of the trip, motorsailing (that means running under power of the engine with the sails up to help as much as they can) all but an hour. I heard a couple of large whales cross our wake in the night and Linda saw some dolphin jump high out of the water in the morning but other than that we didn't see much in the way of wildlife. However, I trolled two lures and managed to catch a 31 in. Dorado (Mahi-Mahi) in the morning. This is the first Dorado we've caught since early December, last year. So far we've had three excellent meals from this one beauty and have about three more to go.

We arrived at 3pm Tuesday and dropped anchor in Bahia San Carlos which is one of the most protected natural harbors we've visited in Mexico. To date, only Puerto Escondido has better all around protection from the wind.

It's obvious to me that the mainland of Mexico gets the most money. Even though the prosperity and glitz of Baja towns like La Paz and Cabo San Lucas are impressive, the development in little bergs like San Carlos is even more so. There are expensive vacation homes all around the hills of Bahia San Carlos and Guaymas, an industrial port city 15 minutes by bus up the road from San Carlos, is easily as hustle-bustle as Mazatlan or Zihuatanejo.

We spent our first day here riding the bus out to Guaymas to find out about cross country bus service to Tijuana. It's even easier and cheaper then La Paz, $56 USD one way leaving every hour on the half hour. There are three bus lines offering about the same service so we should have no problem finding a seat for our trip back to the States.

A slip in a marina is not as simple though. There are slips available in Marina San Carlos; we're not sure how many, but they are first come, first serve so if someone takes the last slip before we do we'll have to go elsewhere. Not that we're anxious to leave the boat in Marina San Carlos, since it's $10.75 USD per foot per month. For NAKIA that's $430 USD for one month slip rental, $175 more then we paid in the states. This is the off season and most marinas offer discounts just to keep their slips full, not MSC apparently. Fortunately, there are also slips available at Marina Real, about 10 nm from Marina San Carlos, for $230 USD. If the facilities there are as secure (we've yet to take a look) we'll probably be leaving NAKIA there.

The weather took a turn for the worse since we've been here. Though the temps are not as high as on the Baja, the humidity is much higher. And because of the mountains to the east, we get huge lightning storms developing every afternoon. These storms are pretty incredible, size wise, and after they spend all afternoon getting higher and bigger they slowly start making their way down the mountains and out into the Sea of Cortez bringing lightning, high winds and rain with them. The really bad part is the wind and lightning don't really get cranked up until after midnight so it's not until you're trying to get a good nights sleep that the boat starts to bounce around w/ gusts over 30 kts and lightning going faster then flash bulbs at a New York fashion show. I had to sleep with a pillow over my eyes last night just to keep from getting woke up. Of course Linda is oblivious to it all and sleeps right through without even so much as turning over.

Oh well, we only have a week to put up with this stuff and then we can get on our bus to the States.

John and Linda

Sunday, July 24, 2005


July 24, 2005
Isla San Marcos, 27o 14' N 112o 07' W (10 mi SE of Santa Rosalia)

We moved back to Isla San Marcos the other day to get away from the muck and expense of Santa Rosalia. The town is very nice but the harbor is really dirty. Every night at sunset about 100 pangas leave to go squid fishing. They return between 10pm and 2am, offload their catch, and then proceed to clean their boats in the harbor, washing all the squid ink and other assorted muck into the waters of the harbor. Both nights we were there I woke up thinking 'what is that SMELL!'

There's not much going on at Isla San Marcos; we're really here to stage for our crossing to San Carlos which we think we'll try in the next few days. They weather was a little strange yesterday and the day before. We had constant overcast, high temps in the low 80s, and night before last it rained pretty hard for about three hours. The boat feels nice and clean after not being washed for weeks.

A friend recently sent us email asking how we manage to keep up with the increased battery load due to the hot weather. The short answer is we use a 1000 watt Honda generator to run the battery charger. On average, we have to do this about 3 hours every other day. We could run the generator every day but it's a little noisy and it seems like we get charge faster if we let the batteries get down to about 30% discharge before we run it.

Now for the long answer, you can skip this if you don't want a lot of boat related details. Our battery bank is four each six volt golf cart batteries, lead acid. This gives us about 440 amp hours of capacity, but I program the battery monitor with 400 just to make sure we have a little reserve. We have a Cruising Equipment battery monitor which tells us how much battery capacity we have left in percent (it will also tell us how many amp hours we've used but I like the percent meter better). We have three ways of charging the batteries: 1) a 30 amp IOTA battery charger, 2) a 90 amp Balmar alternator, and 3) two 55 watt solar panels (110 watts).

A couple of comments on the charging facilities. First I wish I had a bigger battery charger. I installed the 30 amp thinking we'd only use it when tied to a dock so it didn't need to be very big. That was before we bought the generator. Now I'd have a 55 amp battery charger if I was sure the 1000 watt Honda would run it. Second, I wish I had room for more solar panels. I think if I had about 150 watts more I could just about keep up with our load. If I had 250 watts more I know I could keep up, the thing is there just isn't room on NAKIA for 16 sq ft of solar panels (4 ft x 4 ft). On the other hand, I've only seen one boat in the Sea of Cortez that I thought had enough solar power. It was a power boat with a big back deck covered by a bimini. The entire area above the bimini was solar panels, I figure about 1000 watts.

We don't have a wind generator, and I don't think I would want one. Most of the ones we've seen (heard) are pretty noisy. Others are quieter, but don't seem to put out as much. I'm not sure I could live with the noise unless it put out 10 amps and even then I'd probably shut it down at night to sleep.

We don't have a water maker (more on that later) so our biggest draw is our refrigerator. It's an Adler Barbour Super Cold Machine, it draws about six amps and though it has an option for water cooling I've yet to install it. This is the 'next big thing.' We have a pretty small fridge, enough to hold 4 liters of water, some beer, a couple heads of cabbage, four or five cucumbers, condiments, cheese, tomatoes, and avocados. We also have a small freezer which will hold two ice trays (yes we make ice) and about four pounds of meat. The fridge is cooled by a spill over fan from the freezer. Several years ago, when we first got the boat, I re-insulated the box with six inches of extruded polystyrene (Dow blue board) against the hull and four inches on the sides and top. I did this because I found that the existing insulation was soaked through with water that leaked in from the drain in the bottom of the fridge. The re-insulated box does not have a drain. All that seems pretty good, but in fact worse then the amount of cold lost through the insulation is the cold lost when you open the box to get something out. If I had the chance, I'd put a small water tank (2-3 liters) in the fridge and plumb it into the pressure water system. That way we could have a cold drink w/o opening the box.

Like I said, we don't have a water maker. This was an 'experiment' on our part, to see if we can live without one before we commit to the bucks, and we're still not sure if we want one. It would be nice to have the extra capacity that a water maker enables, but we're not sure it's worth the expense and maintenance hassles. As it is we can go about four weeks on our tanks (105 gal in the boats tanks and 25 gal in plastic jugs). That's about 4.5 gal per day (2.25 per person per day). We don't do laundry on NAKIA but out of that 4.5 gal per day we get a daily shower (bathe in the sea and then rinse with fresh water), wash dishes, and all the water we can drink. We get water when it's available, either at a dock or from water purification plants. Every town has a purification plant and you can usually have a truck deliver water to the shore where it's a short carry to your dinghy. Cost for this water is anywhere from $.80 to $2 per five gallon jug. We have five jugs which we bought on the mainland, actually we just paid the deposit on them, for $4 each. We give the water truck driver our empties and he gives us full jugs. $2 for five gallons might seem like a lot, but if you consider that a water maker can easily cost $5000, we can buy 12500 gallons of water @ $2/5 gal before we pay for a water maker. I read an article recently in which the author said he's run his 180 gal/day water maker for 1500 hours over the last four years(approx 12000 gal). His water maker still hasn't covered the original purchase price, not to mention new filters and repairs. All that said, we may still install a water maker, there's nothing like knowing for sure where your next five gallons of water is coming from.

I hope that covers some questions on cruising. Let us know if you have more, and we'll try to post answers.

John and Linda

Saturday, July 23, 2005

The best meal in Santa Rosalia

July 21, 2005
Santa Rosalia, 27o 20' N 112o 15' W

There are a lot of great restaurants in Santa Rosalia. Many, you could say most, provide their diners with the luxury of air conditioning. The best meal to be had in Santa Rosalia, however, is not held within the confines of a cooled building.

You'd think that cruisers, who've spent most of their time in humid 90 degree weather, would rather lounge with a cold beer while waiting patiently for their meal in a room cooled to a civilized 75 degrees. But no, the first place anyone heads for in Santa Rosalia is at the busy street corner of Avenida Obregon and Pedro Altamirano. Sitting catty corner from the church designed by Eiffel, who also designed a tower in Paris, is a white cart which supplies road side diners with that most Mexican of foods, Salchichas (Hot Dogs).

Now I can hear you thinking, Hot Dogs are not Mexican. Well they are when they're cooked like Chuyita cooks them. Allow me to describe the process. First take 2 pounds of bacon trimmings, and fry them until all the fat is rendered. Remove the cooked bacon bits and set them aside. Now take your Hot Dog and spiral wrap it with a slice of bacon and deep fry it in the rendered bacon fat for a minute or two. Place the Hot Dog in a firm bun (not the fluffy nothing buns we use in the US) and add onions, tomatoes, squirts of ketchup, mayo, and a yellow cheese product (can you say secret sauce), and top it with the bacon bits fried in the first step. Total cost, about $1.30 - cheap, eat three. If you're lucky, Chuyita will even give you a free bumper sticker.

We were only in Santa Rosalia for two nights, and the second night we really did want to be civilized and eat in the comfort of air conditioning, but before we left we bought five Hot Dogs to take back to Isla San Marcos with us. They weren't for us though, they were for Earl and Maria off Dos Brisas who, having left Santa Rosalia a few days before, were experiencing Hot Dog withdrawals. Hopefully one of our friends will bring some Dogs out to us before long.

John and Linda

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Cephalopod Sport Fishing

July 17, 2005
Isla San Marcos, 27o 14' N 112o 07' W (10 mi SE of Santa Rosalia)

The other night Lance on Milagro suggested we do a little night fishing for one of the Baja's most prolific species - squid. All that's needed is a hook and a bit of glow-in-the-dark plastic. Lures are sold specifically for squid fishing and they look like an elongated plastic egg made out of glow-in-the-dark plastic with a 'basket of spikes' at the bottom. Of course I don't have one of these purpose-built lures, but I do have a bottom jig that has glow-in-the-dark paint on it, and I figured that would be good enough.

We weren't going to be the only boat on the water though; we'd be joining some 100 or so Mexican fishing boats that fish the same area for squid nearly every night. They are based out of Santa Rosalia and every evening around 5pm they leave to go fishing. They return around 11 or 12, usually with 1000 lbs of squid 'fillets.'

We began our outing just before sunset. I've been told that it's not completely necessary to fish at night, squid can be caught during the day, but that fishing at night is cooler so that's when the Mexican fisherman do it. Anyway we set out, four of us (Stan from SolMate, Lance from Milagro, Earl from Dos Brisas and me) and got set in our fishing spot after about five minutes. We used a flashlight to 'charge' the glow-in-the-dark lures and then dropped them down to the bottom. The water is pretty deep, probably 200 ft, so it takes a long time to get to the bottom. The good thing is that you usually don't have to wait that long before a squid takes your lure. The 'strike' isn't much at all. The lure will be dropping and then all of a sudden it will stop, almost like hitting the bottom, except that when you try to bring the lure back up a little you find out that you're hooked up to something big.

I'm sure a lot of you are thinking, 'How hard can it be to catch squid; I've had calamari rings and they aren't that big,' well these are not those kind of squid. These are much bigger - up to six feet! I had the lightest rig, 7' pole with 20 lb test line, and a lot of times they would take line in long runs. The biggest one I caught was about four feet long and I had to bring it up to the boat three times before I could release it. The first two times I got it up to the boat and it took off on another run.

Another thing about squid fishing is what to wear. A bathing suit is best, and nothing else. Squid, you see, have two methods of propulsion. First they have large triangular 'fins' that they flap in the water to move about gently. Then they have the 'warp drive' which is part of their breathing system. It's comprised of the mantle and a jet nozzle. To breathe they draw water in through the mantle and over their gills, then they expel it through the jet nozzle. The expulsion part they can do with amazing force and, if they happen to be close to the surface when they do it, and pointed towards the boat, someone is going to get wet! It's like a mini fountain going off right in front of you. Of course it doesn't take long to figure out how to 'steer' them so that when they're next to the boat it's your boat partner that gets soaked, not you. This is the second thing that makes squid fishing difficult, just try to reel in a three foot squid while getting shot in the face with a geyser of salt water and laughing hysterically.

The next challenge is releasing the squid. Since a small one is plenty for two meal's worth of calamari steaks, you do a lot of catch and release. The catching part is easier then any other fish in the sea, but it's the releasing part that can be a little unnerving. Unlike fish, where all you have to worry about is keeping them immobile while you remove the hook, the buisness end of a squid comes equipped with 10 arms covered by suction cups. The hook will be on one or more of these arms and to release it you have to get pretty close. As soon as you do the squid takes the other eight or nine arms and tries to grab a hold of you. Having dozens of little suction cups grab onto your skin is pretty creepy, let me tell you. Also in the middle of the arms is the squid's mouth which has a beak much like a parrot, and just about as powerful. Get too close to that and you can lose a finger.

Anyway, we each caught a squid for dinner and had our fun catching, squirting, and releasing and got back about midnight with a lot of good memories.

You might think that's the end of the squid fishing tale, but no. The next evening, just before sunset, Linda was about ready to take a swim and wash up (we bath in the sea using salt water soap, then rinse in fresh water) when she noticed several large fish swimming around under the boat. She wasn't quite ready to jump in, so I got my pole out and dropped the lure in the water, just for fun. I hadn't removed the lure I used for squid, but when I'm just playing around I don't usually care too much what's tied on the line. Sure enough after about five seconds I hooked one of what ever it was, and boy it was big! I carefully steered it away from the boat and then jumped into the dinghy to finish pulling it in. As soon as I got it up to the boat I recognized the fountain. I'd hooked a two foot squid in 20 feet of water. Not only that but there were three more swimming around the one I'd hooked, all of them 'flashing' from red to white and back once every second or so. They change the color of their skin so fast it's amazing! Of course this put an end to Linda's plans for a bath at dusk, forever! Who wants to get in the water with the possibility of some hungry squid mistaking your foot for a fish?

I had Linda untie the dinghy from NAKIA so I could release the squid without worrying about getting hung up on the anchor chain or rudder. I ended up getting a little ride around the anchorage as the squid pulled the dinghy about a quarter of a mile before I could let it go, and getting soaked by multiple jets of salt water before I could get the hook out. So much for my last pair of nice clean shorts.


Monday, July 11, 2005

Cruising Highs and Lows

July 11, 2005
Isla San Marcos

Well, just when you think you're ready to throw in the towel on the cruising life, nature throws you something amazing to remind you why you're out here living the simple life instead of sitting in a cubicle making tons of money.

I'd been having a "poor me" day on Saturday - just tired of everything on the boat being salty and sticky, and of constantly feeling like I'm stewing in my own juices. I'm not the kind of gal who enjoys the "glow" of perspiration, and boy have we been dripping sweat this past month. We now seek out a spot in an anchorage that will get us close enough to a hill to block the sun (preferably setting, but even rising is a bonus if it gives us an extra hour of shade). And even though we shower as late as possible in the day, it's usually a challenge to stay clean and dry for more than about 30 minutes. I have to admit that this sometimes makes me want to scream.

So yesterday morning I was fantasizing about our upcoming trip back to the land of: limitless fresh water flowing from pressurized faucets (you try living on 2.5 gallons of water per person, per day, every day, for the unforeseeable future); push-button, fresh water, flush toilets; air-conditioning (fans are nice, but not so helpful when they're blowing hot air around); electricity you don't have to monitor daily and make yourself when it gets low; big refrigerators full of ice and cold drinks; and big grocery stores where what you purchase doesn't have to be inspected for roaches, weevils, or their eggs before you bring it into your home.

Anyway, I was sitting out on deck enjoying my pre-dawn coffee, trying not to sweat as I drank it, when I saw what looked like a few dolphins in the distance. But then I heard and saw a blow that would be more typical of a whale. I got the binoculars out and confirmed that they were not dolphins but some kind of small whale. John thought he noticed one that seemed headed in our direction, but he was in the middle of listening to the morning radio net and went back below. It didn't take long before all 4-6 of the creatures were in the anchorage right next to the boats. It was still early and I didn't want to yell, so it took three tries, ending in, "Get up here now!", to get John back on deck to see one just as it swam under the surface past Nakia's starboard side. I couldn't believe it at first because they seemed so small (and there was no male with a telltale tall dorsal fin) but John correctly identified them as Orca whales. I so closely identify these with the colder waters of the Pacific Northwest that I was astonished to see them here.

It didn't take long for us to realize that the whales were working as a group to get their breakfast buffet of manta rays herded to the table. While I regret seeing any beautiful creature become a meal, it was hard not to admire the organized lunging and tail slapping of this small pod of whales. I let John have the close up view with the binoculars while I stayed a bit more removed with the big picture. The whales moved through the anchorage between the boats and shore, probably pinning the school of rays in the shallower waters to prevent their escape. This went on for a good 20 minutes before the Orcas had eaten their fill and quietly moved out to deeper water. We noticed a large school of manta rays which still swam intact at the opposite end of the anchorage and half expected the Orcas to return for them, but they didn't appear to be interested.

John and I then joined Stan and MJ from SolMate on a dinghy expedition around the point for a few hours. We did some shelling, explored the rock caves, and snorkeled before returning to the anchorage where Earl and Maria from Dos Brisas were out rowing in their dinghy trying to shoot pictures of jumping manta rays. It was a huge school (easily over 100 animals) and you could see their dark underwater shadow and ripples on the surface as they swam back and forth against the shore. After politely waiting for SolMate and Dos Brisas to get their close up views of the rays leaping out of the water, John and I asked if anyone would mind if we snorkeled with them. We made one last check for Orcas before sliding into the water and slowly swimming towards the rays. Water visibility was low so it was tough to tell exactly when you were at the edge of the school and I caught them headed straight towards me the first time. What a thrill to have them swimming underneath me and parting around me to pass! We each got a few good views before deciding to leave them in peace and returning to the anchored dinghy.

So - the question is does seeing Orcas in the morning and swimming with manta rays in the afternoon make all my personal discomfort worth it? Well, maybe not 100%, but it's sure a great reminder of why we're out here in the first place!


Saturday, July 09, 2005

Hot Fourth

July 9, 2005
Isla San Marcos (23o 13' N 112o 07' W, about 10 mi SE of Santa Rosalia)

We stayed at Los Pilares for two nights. It would have been very nice except for the bees. The are the most difficult insect pests to deal with. They come to the boat looking for fresh water and investigate every little nook and cranny they can get their little bodies into. If they find any water, they go back to the hive and bring back a couple hundred of their buddies. SolMate left some water filters soaking in the cockpit to find a swam of 100 or so buzzing around the boat. They aren't that dangerous, like they say if you leave them alone they'll leave you alone, but the sound of 100 bees buzzing around your head is a little too much to take. The beach at Los Pilares, though not very inviting for sitting on, had very good shelling. We spent many hours looking for new kinds and trying to identify them. One afternoon we dinghied a couple miles back down the coast to the manganese mines. There are many abandoned buildings and a huge open pit which would have been fun to hike around, but unfortunately it was too rough to land. Maybe next time we can hike into the mines from the anchorage.

After two nights at Los Pilares we moved up the coast with the plan of going to Pta Santo Domingo (just inside Bahia Concepcion). When we got to Pta SD we found about a two foot wind chop running out of the bay so we decided to stop at Pta Aguja instead. It was nice, we were by ourselves, but the wind came up in the afternoon making it a little uncomfortable.

After one day at Pta Aguja we went over to Pta SD and picked up Stan and MJ from SolMate for a day trip to Mulege for provisions. We dropped anchor off the river mouth and dinghied in since the entrance is too shallow to get NAKIA through, and then left the dinghies at the beach near the mouth of the river. We chatted with a bus driver who was leaving a load of divers at the docks and then started the long walk into town. About the time we were wishing there was a taxi around a big bus drove up behind us and threw open the door. It was our friend from the beach there to save us. He gave us a ride into town where we immediately headed for the grocery stores. One other stop we needed to make was for water. NAKIA doesn't have a water maker, unlike 90% of the other boats in Mexico, so I'm constantly worrying about where and how to get pure water for her tanks. The good thing is that people in towns also worry about where/how to get pure water. As a result just about every town has one or two reverse osmosis water plants where city water is purified and bottled in five gallon jugs. They charge about $1 per jug and will deliver it by truck almost anywhere you ask. So, after walking around for 5-10 minutes, we found the local reverse osmosis water plant and I talked to the attendant to arrange for a truck to bring water to the dinghy down at the beach in two hours.

We took a taxi back to the beach and took all our groceries back to NAKIA then loaded the empty water jugs into the dinghy to exchange for fresh ones from the water truck. The truck was 20 minutes late, right on time for Mexico, and we loaded 25 gallons of pure fresh water into the dinghy for the trip back to NAKIA.

After spending the night at Pta Santo Domingo we moved into the oven of Bahia Conception and Burro Bay. The water temp there was 86o F and it got up to 97o F in the cabin the first day. Linda was still able to sleep in the pullman berth with two fans running, but I had to sleep on deck. This was the first time I'd had to get out of the cabin to sleep, but it was just too stuffy below for me. The next day was The Fourth, we're not sure how hot it got, since we were busy on shore with at the big party. There was a big picnic with potluck sides and free hot dogs and chili provided by Gary (a guy who's been living in his shack on the beach for 10 years), and ice cold beer served for $1 a bottle. We both played water volley ball, though Linda had a tough time with the loosey goosey "rules" (whoever had the ball started it over the net, you didn't have to serve it, and you could actually catch it with both hands to throw it back over to the other side). The fireworks were a little disappointing - a bunch of expired flares - but we'd done what we went to do and that was have a party with all our cruising friends.

On the 5th we moved to Santispac to go out to dinner for Stan's birthday. The high that day was 102o F in the cabin, but that wasn't the worst part. When it was 102o it was pretty dry, so even though it was hot it was quite bearable. Then the wind shifted and the temp dropped to 96 but the humidity went way up, and we were all wishing for the dry 102o F back. We went out to dinner at Ray's, the fanciest local restaurant (www.rayshaciendainn.com.mx), and we very pleased by the quality of the food and the presentation. Seafood entrees (including salad and vegetable) were 110 pesos, margaritas - 40, limonada - 25, and kahlua rice pudding - 35. I had calamari steak and Linda had scallops breaded in panko crumbs; both were excellent and, except for wiping the sweat from our brows during the meal, this rates as one of our best meals in Mexico.

Early the next morning (the 6th) we set sail back to Pta Santo Domingo where we were the only boat in the anchorage. Everyone else was still in Santispac. We found the water temp had gone up a little while we were in Bahia Concepcion and the temp was a little warmer, but it never got much above 93 so we were a lot happier. We spent the days walking on the beach looking for shells, scrubbing the bottom of the dinghy, and snorkeling out around the point. The high point of the snorkeling trips was sighting about a dozen large (up to 3 ft) rooster fish swimming around the reef. Of course we only got the anchorage to ourselves for one night as the rest of the Fourth of July party came out of Bahia Concepcion the next day. But we had fun for awhile.

After two nights at Pta SD we set sail for points north, hopefully cooler, and dropped anchor at Isla San Marcos (about 10 mi South East of Santa Rosalia). The trip was uneventful and we arrived to find 80o water and 88o air. I don't think it's been over 90o since we've got here, much better. There are really cool caves to explore right around the corner, so we're looking forward to spending some quality time here, before we get set to go back to the states for Linda's 30th(!) high school reunion on August 13.

All for now,

John and Linda