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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

South of Agua Verde

30 May 2007
25 degrees 30 minutes N, 111 degrees 01 minutes W
Either San Marcial (Williams) or San Marte (Cunningham) depending on which guide book you're using.

About a week ago someone flipped the Summer switch to the ON position and it's been warm and flat calm ever since. We struggled to sail from Moreno Rocks to Punta Prieta on Saturday and managed to cover 12.5 nm in five hours. The next morning we roused Flying Free out of bed for a hike up an arroyo north of where we were anchored. Except for the soft sand and gravel dry stream bed it was an easy and very beautiful walk all the way back to the tallest of the dry "waterfalls." It would have required more strenuous climbing up some loose rock to get past this one so we made it our turnaround point. There was an abundant variety of vegetation, and several hummingbirds buzzing around to enjoy it too.

On our return to the rocky beach landing we explored what appeared to be an abandoned village complete with its own cemetery. There were several small primitive huts, and fenced pens for goats, chickens, and cows. The lush palm tree oasis at the mouth of the arroyo would seem to indicate the presence of ground water, and perhaps it used to be plentiful enough to support families and livestock. The most elaborate grave of the dozen in the cemetery was dated "Abril 1989."

We returned to the boats for lunch and a short siesta before an afternoon snorkel on the south side of the point. The water clarity was perfect for snorkeling in 5-15' depths, and we saw all the usual suspects including one of the largest Crown of Thorns sea stars that I've ever seen. I wish we'd had the spear with us to get rid of the critter. They are very poisonous and they devastate coral reefs. This one was so big that you could barely see the poor coral head it enveloped.

There has been no shortage of awe inspiring wildlife sightings. In the "pure dumb luck" category we were visiting with friends who had dinghied up from Puerto Gato, when a baby (25') gray whale appeared out of nowhere headed straight for Ray and Jayne in their dinghy off the stern of Nakia. It missed hitting them by veering off to port and continuing up the side of Nakia passing within 15' of our vantage point at the rail and continuing on towards Flying Free. It was pale mottled gray in color, and headed south where I'm hoping it hooked up again with its mother.

The second coolest thing was when we were enjoying a late afternoon in the cockpit and noticed the sound of a rushing river. Way across the glassy calm sea we watched a densely packed pod of hundreds of dolphin moving through the water. We can only assume they were chasing fish since they changed direction several times. We've also seen, but mostly heard (at night), fin whales passing the anchorages. They have a unique sound which I think our whale book describes as an asthmatic wheeze, and once you've heard one, you'd recognize it anywhere. The coyotes were also out yipping at the moon, and I caught a glimpse of one on the beach one afternoon.

Here's something we need help with. As we entered the anchorage at Punta Ballena yesterday we counted almost 20 rays, the most we've seen swimming on the surface anywhere so far this summer. Our fish book only has entries for a few species of rays. We recognize all the various sting rays, mantas, and bat rays but we're not sure what these were. One of them was orangeish brown and definitely not white underneath; the other was brownish gray with a white belly and a black "raccoon" band between its eyes, and it had "horns" like the manta. Both kinds were small (2-3'), diamond shaped, swam in schools of 2-6 near the surface (and commingled in even larger schools), and regularly leaped clear out of the water to splat like their bigger cousins, the manta rays. While we were in La Paz someone said that the ones people see jumping all the time in the Sea are called something like mobilars or mobilas. If anyone is interested in researching these for us, we'd love to hear more about the different species of jumping rays.

Today we had a short sail from Punta Ballena to San Marcial. It was less than three miles so we even towed the dinghy. We'll probably spend one night here before moving a little north again. This is the first day in a week that we've had any sustained wind, so I guess we're out of the doldrums for awhile.

Linda and John

Friday, May 25, 2007

Moreno Rocks

25 May 2007
25 degrees 11.5 minutes N, 110 degrees 53.5 minutes W

The settled weather has made this a good place to hang out for a few nights. There's basically no wind blowing down the middle of the Sea of Cortez or on the outside of the Baja, making for calm seas and light breezes in the anchorages. Last year we only spent one night here probably because it was too rolly. The rocky reef provides only a little protection from the SE swell, otherwise it's just a stop on the side of the road. It took us six hours of spinnaker sailing and a little over an hour of motoring to get here from San Evaristo; that's 23.5 nm for 20 nm made good. But it was a beautiful sunny day with cool breezes and we were in no hurry.

Yesterday we walked the beach around Punta Cobre to see if there was anything remaining from the dead whale we found on the beach last May. We didn't see a single sign of it and a later chat with Manuel, a local panga fisherman who routinely visits the cruisers to sell fish or bum a cold Coke, confirmed that Hurricane John washed the remaining bones away. There wasn't much in the way of shells on the rocky beach but pin cushion and pencil urchin shells were plentiful. The (sandstone?) rocks were wonderful to walk on at low tide, in one place looking like a jacuzzi and in another, a tiled terraza. We left the beach to hike back along the low bluff and up the ridge of Punta Cobre for a nice view of the shallow spots in our anchorage.

The water clarity was terrible when we first got here. We dropped the hook in 14' of water, the boat ended up sitting in about 9', and we still couldn't see the bottom through the green murk. This morning we woke to much clearer water and went for a "dinghy snorkel." The water is still only about 69 degrees which is too cold for swimming, so we went for a ride over the reefs and rocks to view urchins, King angel fish, porcupine fish, sergeant majors, coral, and even a school of Jack Crevalle from the warmth of the dinghy.

We found a good spot on the beach below the high tide line to burn our weekly grocery bag of garbage. We're very meticulous about separating our garbage into non-burnables (cans and glass), kitchen (food scraps), and burnables (paper and light plastics like bags). The first two categories are broken down as much as possible and saved until we can dispose of them when we're in deep water and far from any inhabited shoreline. We thoroughly burn the third category, and are subsequently left with very little that actually has to be stored for disposal in a larger city. We take pains not to leave our garbage with any of the smaller fishing villages because they either burn it in unsightly piles (including cans and glass) on the side of a road or next to a house, or it's left out in the desert to be blown back to the sea by the winds. We met one boat asking where to dump their three full size garbage bags and can only assume they have no onboard garbage management plan yet.

We hope to try a short swim this afternoon before our daily sea bath. We like to take care of the latter before 5:00 which is when two pangas arrive to catch bait fish. They beach the pangas and then two of the guys walk a small mesh net along the beach. The men are fully clothed, including rubber boots, and they walk in waist to chest deep water while the other two guys walk the pangas over to them to pull the net of fish in. There's a third panga which throws their net into the water from the panga and then pulls it in to the boat, which makes more sense to us, but maybe they don't get as many fish that way.

Except for the cold water, we are living in paradise and loving it! I heard a reference to Memorial Day weekend on the radio today and experienced a moment of total confusion when I couldn't place the holiday - wasn't that weeks ago? No, it's this weekend. That's how disconnected we are from the "real" world. It's a lovely feeling. :-)

Linda and John

Monday, May 21, 2007

Day Sail

21 May 2007
San Evaristo, Baja

After spending two peaceful and bug-free nights in the north anchorage here, we decided to take a ride across the San Jose channel to Punta Salinas just north of Amortajada where we were last. There's an endless beach on that side and a large salt pond operation just over the dunes. We were a little concerned after a boat departed south and then immediately returned after deciding they didn't like pounding into the 2-3' wind chop, but we were headed east and figured it would be a good sailing breeze.

It only took an hour to cross the channel to Isla San Jose but instead of finding flatter water and calmer breezes in the lee of the island it was still a little rolly from a wrap around Punta Salinas. We decided to anchor anyway and after lunch John rowed us ashore in the dinghy. The salt ponds appeared to be in operation with about 20 bags of salt in one corner, but it being Sunday there was no one around to chase us off. We walked across the raised berms to the south side of the point for a look at half a dozen dilapidated buildings and a few rusted trucks and pieces of machinery. A cursory search of both beaches for paper nautilus turned up nothing but a still rotting pilot whale carcass. Hmmm, we may have to return in a month or two...

We had a pleasant sail back across the channel to San Evaristo with lighter winds and a big swell to catch us on the beam every now and then. Even though it's one of our favorite anchorages, we have decided that we won't be visiting the hook at Isla San Francisco this trip because everyone is reporting large chop and heavy wind there. We are very cozy here with virtually no roll and only light breezes. John is working on sewing projects this morning and we'll probably take a hike this afternoon. We're happy to stay here until we decide to mosey up farther north.

Linda and John

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Paper Nautilus

15 May 2007
Amortajada, Isla San Jose (50 miles north of La Paz)

Today was a red letter day because we saw something new and quite extraordinary on our beach walk with Steve and Lisa of Flying Free. We hadn't walked 20 feet from where we landed the dinghies when I spotted the holy grail of shells (at least it is to me), a paper nautilus. Lisa was closest to it and she discovered that the animal responsible for making the shell was still in it! According to our shell book it's an argonauta, similar to an octopus, but only 4-8" big. The shell encloses the eggs laid by the female and part of the animal itself. You cannot imagine what serendipity it was to be at that spot on a long beach circling the bay, on an ebbing tide, when the animal had just been deposited at the water's edge. After taking pictures of it (thank you Lisa for always bringing your camera with you) John put it back in the shallow water close to shore and tried to get it to swim farther out. It shot a wad of ink in distress, and didn't seem to be making any headway back to deeper water. We couldn't leave it there where it might get washed back up on the beach so John put water in a bucket we keep in the dinghy, loaded the animal in the bucket, and motored out to where the water went from azure to deep blue. When he got back he told us that the animal attached itself so firmly to the bottom of the bucket with its suckers that he had a hard time floating it free. We hope that it was able to swim down to deeper water where it could find a nice rock to attach itself to until the eggs it was protecting are hatched.

We've found a few of the empty shells so far, but only one of them has been intact. Anita on Liberty Call II has found even more very nice intact shells. So Linda, aka She Who Seeks Shells, is a happy camper today!

Linda and John

Friday, May 04, 2007

Out of La Paz (for now)

Isla Partida (25 miles N of La Paz)

As John wrote almost a month ago we had one of our best passages ever when we crossed from Mazatlan to La Paz. The stats are:

Sailed: 36.5 hours (31 of those were consecutive)
Motored: 12.5 hours
Total elapsed time: 49 hours
Fastest hour (by GPS): 7.6 kt (a favorable current helped)
Slowest hour: 3.2 kt
We had eleven consecutive hours of sailing at a 6+ kt average.

It was a blast!

We then spent a week anchored off the Naval Base before moving to Marina Palmira to use up the last of our five nights of credit left over from last year. We enjoyed catching up with friends on Milagro and Ceilidh and giving the boat one final wash before moving back out to El Magote (the anchorage across from the town at the sand spit) on 4/21. The weather was very changeable with mostly strong coromuel winds at night, often continuing a little lighter on into the day time. We had a few days of minimal breeze which made for pleasant beach walking and shelling. The nights and mornings were unseasonably cool and John eventually had to fix a small problem with our Webasto heater so that we could warm up the boat a little. Swinging with the tides (which prevail over the wind in that anchorage) meant our solar panels were pointed at the sun all day and kept our batteries fully charged which was a nice bonus.

On 4/29 we sailed here to Caleta Partida. We managed to sail the entire way (25 nm in nine hours), waiting patiently for the wind to return every time it died (which was at least 4-5 times). We tacked into the bay and anchored under sail, earning us a placard with "10" held up for us to see from John and Debby on Lovely Reta. We moved to Ensenada Grande on 5/1 to meet Flying Free after their passage from Mazatlan and had a beautiful afternoon/early evening for cocktails on Nakia. Our guests left at 8 PM, the wind came up straight out of the west, and by 9:30 PM I was taking something for sea sickness (just in case). We were completely exposed to the 2-3' chop that rolled straight into the anchorage and caused us to stuff the bow sprit several times during the night. Fortunately we managed to get the dinghy up on deck before it worsened leaving us with one less thing to have to worry about. No one slept well that night, and all but one boat departed for the safety of Caleta Partida the next morning. That evening, while we had dinner and played cards on Flying Free, we all listened for any indication of the wind revving up again but of course that night stayed flat calm and glassy. This time John woke up in the middle of the night disoriented because he thought he was back in a marina!

The water in the shallow areas here is swimming pool blue and crystal clear. It's so gorgeous you ache to jump in, but with the temps still in the low 70's it's still too cold to stay in for very long.

The gang was on Nakia again last night for drinks, and with only two ballenas of beer left we may have to make a run back to La Paz for supplies soon! That's okay though because we're in no particular hurry to go north this summer.

Linda and John