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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Waiting for Hurricane John

31 August 2006
Puerto Don Juan (28 57' N 113 27' W)

Yesterday we moved from the village of Bahia de los Angeles (BLA) to the local hurricane hole as we wait to see what hurricane John is going to do. This morning the forecasts were split, with one predicting that it will hit Cabo San Lucas and then make a left turn, and the other saying that it will hit Cabo and then come up the Sea of Cortez. We should have a better idea by tomorrow afternoon, after it reaches CSL. In the meantime the Mexican Riviera is getting pummeled by wind and rain, and probably huge swells. We heard this morning that John is finally starting to get some notice in the US press. This is typical since all the US focus is on Atlantic hurricanes (from their infancy), and no one pays any attention to the Eastern Pacific storms until they get cranked up and begin to threaten the Mexican resorts.

There are currently 17 boats anchored in PDJ with another five expected to come in if things start to look serious. We all have anchor buoys out so that the newcomers can see where each boat has its anchor, and several of us already have all our chain out to mark our territory. There's no point in keeping it in the anchor locker, and it would be a bummer if a boat anchored right behind you and you couldn't let anymore chain out if you had to. We won't begin to make serious hurricane preparations until we have a better idea of where John is headed after Cabo. We're keeping our fingers crossed for that left turn, especially since we have many friends with boats in La Paz.

And we're a little more concerned than usual with hurricane John since, as John Gratton says, "This one has my name on it!"

Linda and John

Friday, August 25, 2006

Boat Wash

24 August 2006
Bahia de los Angeles (28 54' N 113 31' W)

We're anchored in SoBLA (aka Ceilidhville) where we've been hanging out with Ceilidh and SolMate at "Duffy's," Jay and Janice's micro trailer/palapa on the beach. They have a dart board on their wood porch, and so far we've had two afternoon games interrupted by weather. The anchorage is a bit of an open roadstead in the SW corner of the big bay, and when the wind comes up from the east or any of the northern quadrants there's an ugly fetch.

The first time it happened the "J" team (Jay, Janice, and John) were being soundly beaten by the "Others" (Linda, MJ, and Stan). We'd been keeping an eye on the weather and watching some unusual clouds creeping over the eastern mountains like San Francisco marine fog, but it was a great game (for some of us) and we didn't want to call it quits. Finally it was obvious that the wind was picking up from the east and there was concerned chatter on the radio from the rest of the boats around the bay. We hastily carried chairs and dishes into the trailer and gathered up our potluck lunch things before racing to the dinghies on the beach.

It was already a bouncy ride back to the boat where we started our engine and got the dinghy outboard stowed on Nakia's stern. Although it hadn't been his intention on the beach, once we were on the boat John decided he'd better raise the anchor while he still could. The depth sounder read nine feet and the bow was getting buried in the swell. If conditions worsened, we'd be caught in a potentially dangerous situation. Stan said later he wished he'd thought to capture John raising anchor on video, and John said it felt like a "Victory at Sea" moment with the bow climbing up and then plunging off the waves.

Of course as soon as we were motoring to the safety of La Mona the wind was already backing off. Even so SolMate followed us over later so they wouldn't have a sleepless night worried about more of the same. Since Ceilidh's more used to the conditions down here at their home base they stayed put, and we all had a calm and peaceful night.

We returned the next morning for a rematch at darts. This time Nakia anchored farther away from the shallow shelf that runs along the beach down here. Once again there was a close match being played as weather built up late in the afternoon. The J's had trashed the Others in the first game before the latter got its act together and pulled out ahead in the second game. But the J's came from way behind and it was down to a last bullseye for the Others to win it.

We'd been watching lightning over the western mountains and rain coming down the valley but we were sure it was going to pass us by. It's a real conundrum for cruisers who wish for rain to get a free boat wash, but who are sitting ducks for lightning strikes. Here in the desert you rarely get the former without the latter, and usually the rain dumps over the mountains and valleys before it reaches us out on the water.

We'd been focusing so much on the activity over the mountains that we almost ignored the ominous black cloud high overhead. It just didn't seem low enough to start anything, so we were startled when we felt drops of rain falling on us. This time John and Stan raced out to the boats to secure hatches and portholes while the rest of us stayed behind to close up Duffy's. Then we took cover up on a neighbor's second floor covered deck where we could observe the boats. As the southernmost boat, Nakia was first to disappear in the pouring rain. John radioed back to us that he'd be staying out there until it had passed. Stan took care of closing up SolMate and Ceilidh and hurried back to the beach soaking wet. There were two lightning strikes that were within a mile or two of us - it's pretty scary when you only get to "one, one thous..." and the thunder cracks right next to you!

The storm soon passed by, we watched the mud puddles disappear into the sandy soil, and then we were all walking the Buster dog on the beach, enjoying the fresh green smell in the air like nothing had happened. It was just another lazy summer day in the Sea of Cortez.

Linda and John

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Hot and Cold

One of the aspects of living in a desert sea environment that I find intriguing is the way we can go from sweat to goose bumps to sweat again in a matter of minutes. Here in Ensenada Alcatraz the water is 78 degrees and the afternoon/evening cabin temperature is 91. We've gotten into the habit of going for a swim at around 4 PM. If possible we'll swim to the beach, take a short walk, and swim back to the boat. The wind here blows out of the SE during the day time, but by 5 or 6 it switches back to the west for the night. So by the time we return for our showers up on deck the wind has become very dry, and the water rapidly evaporating off our skin makes us freezing cold. After we've dried off, wiped the decks, hung our wet things on the life lines, and put away our snorkeling gear, the temperature has risen and we're sweating again.

But I'll take the hot, dry wind over a humid breeze any day!


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Summer Routine

17 August 2006
Ensenada Alcatraz, just north of BLA (29 10' N 113 37' W)

No, we haven't been sucked into a black hole, we're just settled into our summer cruising grounds. It's a bit like winter hibernation for those of you up north, in that we slow down and don't get much done due to the hotter temperatures. Even computer work, which seems like it would be an easy occupation to while away the hot afternoons, isn't much fun when sweat is pooling underneath your hands as they rest on the keyboard. And reading after lunch inevitably becomes a nap. Since we usually start our days before 6 AM, we don't feel too guilty about the naps.

We've returned here to Alcatraz because there's a pretty white sand beach and the fishing is supposed to be good. However it's a windy spot, and today we've killed 3-4 mosquitos the size of small flies which were out flying around in the day time. It's also hotter than some of the island anchorages but since the wind is usually out of the west, it's nice and dry. We left Las Rocas at Isla Coronado (aka Isla Smith) to come here yesterday because the no-see-ums were eating John. At least we can see the mosquitos to kill them, which is next to impossible with the no-see-ums.

The swimming has been great this month with water temps ranging from 78-84. We had fun at a full moon party about a week ago in La Mona (see the entry for "Jacuzzi at La Mona" September 19, 2005). There were around 15 boats anchored there for the big tides, and on the afternoon of the full moon everyone went to the beach for bocci ball, "rafting" out the lagoon cut, and generally keeping cool. I had a great time playing "dolphin" and other water games with six year old Fiona off of Caravan, and it was a nice way to meet boats who are up here for their first BLA summer.

After the full moon most of us moved west to Ceilidhville (aka SoBLA), which is the open roadstead anchorage in the bay just off of "Duffy's Tavern." This is Jay and Janice's micro trailer/palapa where we enjoyed many games of darts last summer. They were nice enough to throw a Net Controller's party for all the boats which volunteer to run the radio nets (Sonrisa, Amigo, and Southbound). Jay cooked up delicious Duffy Dogs and we brought all the rest of the food. Jayne and Ray on Adios even presented each controller with a humorous "award" (Nakia got "Net control most likely to be mistaken for a cell phone company" because our name is always being mispronounced, "Nokia.").

We've been to the village a couple of times to take care of the normal provisioning chores - food, water, and fuel - and to treat ourselves to dinner in the evenings. The sure bet for the latter is any of the taco stands, but one of SolMate's summer goals is to try every restaurant in town so one night we ended up at a new place. The location isn't new, but the upstairs restaurant wasn't operating last summer. Now we know why, and we won't be returning - it took almost two hours for our food to be served (because there was a table of four boats which ordered before us); when it arrived it was only mediocre for the price; and there was not a word of apology, let alone complimentary dessert or drinks, offered to make up for the delay. Yes, this is Mexico, but when the price is 160 pesos for a skimpy shrimp dinner, even cruisers have their limits. Especially when we know that we can get a very good meal with prompt service in nicer surroundings for less money at Costa del Sol just down the road.

Adventure of the month: A few days before the full moon, when there were only three boats in La Mona, John happened to be up in the cockpit (the absolute luck of these things amazes me) when a 12-14 foot whale shark passed right alongside the length of Nakia. I kept an eye on where it was headed while John loaded up our snorkeling gear, and we jumped in the dinghy to follow it. When we were about 15 feet away from the shark we killed the motor to let the dinghy drift, and jumped in the water. In case you think we're crazy, whale sharks are baleen filter feeders, not your normal toothed sharks. We've heard stories and seen video of cruisers swimming with them and even holding on to the dorsal fins for free rides. So of course John's goal was the latter, and we had to swim hard just to catch up behind this shark. I swam parallel to it and watched John come up and gently touch the dorsal fin. But the second he touched it, the shark gave a few hard sideways flicks of its tail (hitting John in the shin, but not badly), and was gone. It was absolutely beautiful - they are black with white spots all over - and it had three remoras attached to its tail. We never got in front of it so were spared the sight of its huge open mouth. This was quite a thrill, and something we were hoping to do last summer but the sharks didn't arrive in the bay until about a week after we left to go back south. This appears to be a lone adolescent, just hanging around in the bay, since there have been several sightings of it. SolMate spotted it later when we were in the anchorage off the village, but we haven't seen it again.

That's all the news for now!

Linda and John

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Sail Day with Aquatic Adventures

I sent this to Latitude 38 to post on 'Lectronic or publish but just in case they don't, here it is for all our friends to read:

On July 23, 2006 six boats based in Bahia de los Angeles for the Pacific hurricane season hosted 15 boys and girls and six adults for an afternoon sail on the bay. The kids were here from Hoover High School in San Diego for a five week educational program with an emphasis on marine sciences, the environment, and community service organized by Aquatic Adventures (www.aquaticadventures.org). Hoover HS is an inner-city school, and it's the goal of Aquatic Adventures to supplement programs in schools where budget cuts have reduced coverage of the sciences.

We all anchored off of the dinghy landing at Guillermo's to await the arrival of our guests at 1 PM. Each skipper dinghied in to meet them on the beach, ferried out the passengers assigned to each boat, and then the "race" was on. Nakia raised anchor under sail and was first to lead the fleet out from the Village on a close reach towards Isla Cabeza de Caballo. There we tacked toward Isla la Ventana, and when it was time to return, most of the boats set their spinnakers for the downwind run back to the Village. It was a beautiful sight to see six boats sailing as a fleet out on the bay!

From all reports everyone had a great time. The kids were encouraged to raise and lower sail, perform tacking and jibing maneuvers, and of course, drive the boats. We told them a bit about the cruising lifestyle and they asked all sorts of wonderful questions. After the boats re-anchored everyone jumped in for a swim in the warm water before riding back to the beach in the dinghies. It was a nice way to cool off after a hot, cloudless afternoon. We were fortunate to have a perfect day which had been preceded by days of thunderstorm activity and was followed by the big south easterlies from tropical storm Emilia.

We can't say enough about how terrific this event was. The students were enthusiastic, inquisitive, and just a delight to have on board. And it's always refreshing for jaded old salts to experience the thrill of sailing through the eyes of appreciative youngsters.

We'd like to extend a big thank you to everyone who was involved:

Nakia (John and Linda) and SolMate (Stan, MJ, and el gato Gale) who got the ball rolling.
Ceilidh (Jay, Janice, and bad dog Buster) who picked it up and ran with it.
Milagro (Lance, Jo, and guard puppy Rocky) and OverHeated (Darrell and Rita) who rushed north from Santa Rosalia to be here in time.
Caravan (Gene, Vicky, Fiona-6, and good dog Clipper) who called us on the VHF and asked to be included.
Liberty (Larry and Jackie) who unfortunately had to cancel at the last minute due to engine problems.
Rancho Pacifico (Larry and Lois) who are land based in BLA for most of the year, and who threw the great parties that brought everyone together in the first place!

Linda Hill and John Gratton
S/V Nakia, Hans Christian 33
Redwood City, CA/Cruising Mexico