Sunday, December 16, 2007

Roadtrip to Cabo Pulmo

The reports of theft from the anchorage in La Paz finally wore me down, so I last thursday Bella and I moved Sula into the Palmira Club de Yates. Bella deemed it the "posh marina", and it is a step up from almost every place I've been for the past.... 3 years? For example, there were three uniformed attendants waiting at our slip to catch lines when we arrived! We rented a car and early the next morning we set off aross the dry plains and mountains of the East Cape area toward Bella's temporary base, the village of Cabo Pulmo, home to an extensive rock and coral reef system that is a National Marine Park.
Cabo Pulmo is a pretty little town with sandy paths for streets, solar panels on every palapa roof, and wild horses meandering the palmed beach. The social and economic hub of the village seems to be the dive shop for the Cabo Pulmo Divers, which is now decorated with one of Bella's murals, which she had been painting in exchange for free diving.
Not a bad deal for either party. Peliu and Henry are the wonderful couple who run the shop and they were very generous. Within a few mintues I was all geared up in multiple wetsuits, tank, BCD, and the whole works. The only paying customers were a couple from Dallas, who seemed to have about as much dive experience as me (barely any), and spent a good half hour figuring out how to put their masks on. The whole mess of folks and gear was finally loaded into a panga and with a stiff push from the fender of a 4x4 pickup, the panga slipped off the beach into the water. Panchito, the boat captain, soon had us expertly flying across the top of the waves at 20 + knots with the 80 horse 4 stroke Yamaha singing like a sewing machine. This is how the other half lives! That same chop would have had Sula burying her bow and down to an uncomfortable 2 kts. Henry the divemaster is a dashing Dutchman who is not un-Cousteau like with his wild bleached out Rod Stewart hair and ratty french wetsuit from the 80s. The first dive was El Islote, a stone pinnacle that rose from 60 feet depth up to a rock that stuck above the surface. It had been almost 7 years since I'd been certified, but I wasn't about to let the tourists from Dallas look more "jacques-like" than I, so I quickly tried to remember all the different ways to die underwater and how to avoid them. After a few minutes of near panic I was finally able to get my mask to seal, while Bella chased down my drifting fin and strapped it back on for me, and finally calm down. Once I was breathing air, things were awesome. The fish and corals and rock formations were beautiful and it was great to be really diving again in warm water. We spotted a large school of Manta Rays, flapping slowly, flying in a perfectly geometric formation like a squadron of stealth bombers, cruising into our hazy blue world from above, and then quickly fading back out again. We made another dive in similarly great conditions, and I had nothing to fear looking like a novice as the Texan couple were such a disaster that even I looked like a dolphin in comparison. The woman had a specially made Buoyancy Control Device with integrated lead weights to try to get her to sink... which it barely could. At some point after they actually manged both get hauled into the boat like dead whales, they both started puking over the side. The man was also bleeding from what looked like his eyes and groaning like he was dying. I don't think they saw the Mantas either. The both turned out to be fine and had pretty good attitudes about their ordeal.

The next day Bella and I had a great side trip up into the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna, the high mountain range that forms the spiny crest of southern Baja. We drove on beautiful meandering dirt roads high into the "thorn forest" and then a short hike up a canyon to a beautiful waterfall.
It was an interesting area to begin with, each tree and cactus, more beautiful than the next, with green mountains rising all around, and then to come upon a scene as perfect as this cascada, defies description. I would love to spend the whole day exploring around this area, as the river above the falls was lined with perfect little sand beaches and a chain of clear pools that led who knows how far up into the mountains. I'd like to do some more hiking in this area later next month. There is a network of trails that go up into the cloud forest that caps the high moutnains. Those wetter regions harbor "relic" plant species that were more pervasive in the lowlands thousands of years ago when the entire region was more wet, but now only survive in islands around the mountaintops.
Then, after the hike, a rave! What could be better? Bella's clan in Pulmo is a great, diverse group from all over the world. Jimena y Tonguy y Ingrid y Pelieu? y Henry y Bella y Ramon and those two guys from Idaho who stumbled into the party... thanks for such a fun time. Muchas Gracias para todo. I hope to see you guys somewhere around the world again.

Bella has decided to stay in Cabo Pulmo to work on her art, so I'm alone aboard Sula now for the first time since Seattle. It will be a good chance to get things shipshape again and relax before a trip back north.

Happy holidays to everyone. I hope you're surrounded by your loved ones and enjoying the fruits of December wherever you are.

Monday, December 10, 2007

La Paz

We've made it to La Paz. We had a near gale today and ran aground before passing the second buoy of the La Paz entrance channel. Lame! I think it may have been a case of plain old excitement trumping caution. Its a notoriously shoal area and we probably should have been going much slower and more cautiously... but we weren't. So we're hauling along doing six knots, motorsailing with a half jib out, and suddenly, softly, the speed is down to 0.0, and the depth sounder reads 0.2. I can't repeat my exclamation. But the good news is that everything worked out fine. We just unfurled the whole jib and literally sailed off the sandbar back into the channel. Sula is a tank. I was very glad to have a fully encapsulated lead keel at that point. Bella thought is was great fun, but I couldnt' agree with her.

We spent last night at anchor in Isla Espiritu Santo, a very beautiful place, but a cold front has just swept through and its a bit too cold for snorkeling and nice to be in this sailor friendly city. Dan is leaving tomorrow so we're having a bit of a sendoff for him tonight. Then hopefully in the next few days things will warm up and Bella and I can spend a few days on the famous turquoise bays of Espiritu Santo and Partida, before I fly up to the flood zone (seattle) for a break.

Its good to be afloat! And in this easy corner of the Golfo de California.

here's a video from a nice downwind day sailing toward cabo.


Here's a video from the top of Monte Isabel.


Here's the crew riding back from the beach approaching a fish camp on the swamp.

here's us hanging with the pescadores

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Bahia de los Muertos

Well. We are here. Its amazing. The sailing is perfect. The weather is absolutely amazing, and we are all getting really relaxed. Beautiful sunsets, green hills, puffy white clouds. And, we have a new crewmember, who is awesome. Bella Bananas is a English woman who lives around here in Cabo Pulmo, painting awesome blue murals and scuba diving all day. We are all having lots of fun, and are in no rush to do anything. We all sit now, at the Giggling Marlin yacht club watching the yachts swing at anchor as it gets dark, still wearing our bathing suits.

I had some trouble with uploading video from the last post, I'll work on that when I have some more bandwidth.

hasta pronto.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Baja Part 2

Bahia Tortugas was a relaxing stop. Its a small costal town popular with cruisers, and the harbor had 10+ yachts in it when we arrived. The sun came out, and the boat and our gear slowly dried out, and we scouted around town, finding a place to take a shower, the number one thing on our list, and most of the essential food items we needed. The town is dusty. The roads are all unpaved except for the calle principal which leads to a big dust cloud every time a car passes. And the exhaust smell of that passing car has that very mexican quality to it. I don't know if its the leaded gasoline, but it only leads to an increasing desire for another shower. Which is hard to come by on Sula, we mostly rely on saltwater dips over the side. As could be expected from three single guys sailing for months alone, we were interested in finding the "nightlife" in this town. The closest we came to it was a place with the word Bar scrawled across the door. I'm not sure what we stumbled on, but it was a small hole in the wall, with a pool table, red lights, gigantic androgonous bartender, and the single sullen customer was a woman who silently watched us play pool, trip over the boards sticking up from the floor, and almost hit our heads on the nails sticking out of the roof. The giant, curious bartender woman?, at one point silently handed me a hammer from behind the bar to pound sideways the nails from the roof. Our other "nightlife" expereince was a pool hall with about 40 caballeros smoking, drinking, playing pool. At one point the entire Bahia Tortugas gay community walked in the door, with all white suits etc. We had a good time, but not one woman was to be seen.

We spent one weekend in Bahia Tortugas and then set out for the next big stop, Bahia Santa Maria. We spent one night at anchor, waiting for wind, then set out he next morning again only to have our breeze die off. We kept the motor off for a while, and jumped over the side to refresh ourselves, as the air had finally climbed above 70 degrees. We found the water as well, had finally reached comfortable range. What a relief to be clear of the 60 degree water that had been with us since the start. Just after we dried off, the breeze did pick up again, and we were off again, running dead downwind, straight toward the next bend in the coastline and the next safe haven. This was real ocean sailing. Downwind in a fresh breeze with the speed always high, and the boat rolling deeply either direction, and land nowhere to be seen. It was great to make good time and not listen to the engine or see the fuel supply dwindling. It was a night arrival on the third day out and we tucked into Santa Maria in a nicely protected anchorage from the NW. The next morning, after a pancake breakfasat, we braved the warm rain, to load up the dinghy with surfing equipment to try another trek across the land that protected us from the swell, to find that swell breaking on the ocean facing beach. Here we motored the dinghy up a strange mangrove estuary, past several fish camps, shortening our walk. This was reminescent of our last hike. Huge dunes, fields of cactus, and big breakers on a lonely beach.
This beach was filled with plastic garbage, dead animals, and the wreck of a 1950s midship house cargo ship. The surfing was good for novices and we had a great time in the waves, "riding" the big longboard for quite a while, Waikiki style. We promised to be back the next day, for more surfing, and a beachfire barbeque. The next day the rain was even harder, and the wind had come up. The waves were blown out, and we could barely get driftwood to catch fire. We aborted, and headed back for the boat. The previous day we had been caught leaving at dead low tide, and so we had to row and haul by hand the dinghy through the mangrove swamp. Today we were smarter, and had more water. We stopped in the fish camp to see if they had any lobsters for sale. As we approached this strange swamp encampment, we were encouraged by the fishermen to land, and "step into the office." Sure, they had lobsters, but there was no hurry, so sit down on the porch and have a beer and we'll see about some lobsters. The ringleader was Victor, a very kind and very drunk fisherman who made sure we had whatever we needed and more. I'm not quite sure what happened, but more and more people appeared, and more and more bad spanish was spoken and more empty Tecates were thrown into the big cardboard box, and our crate of lobsters and fish got bigger and bigger. When we finally pried ourselves out of Victor's claws it was getting dark and we had another low tide swamp to navigate out of, this time in a dinghy filled with 13 lobsters and a big red fish, for which Victor and Tony Tijuana would accept no money. We were successful in declining the huge handful of marijuana that was thrust toward us at one point. They said we were the first gringos to visit their swamp in a long time, and I imagine we were farily entertaining for them, contstantly running aground in their backyard. Whatever the case, they were unbelievably nice and generous. While we had been trying to lite soggy beach garbage on fire, and sharing Tecates with Victory and Tony Tijuana, the stiff SE wind had continued to blow, and the dinghy ride back out to the boat was rough. The bow was thrown high into the air several times over semi-breaking waves, and the climb back aboard the bucking Sula was a little hairy. I'm not quite sure how it happened but we managed to get the dinghy and engine aboard, lashed down, and the anchor up, safely, while at the same time we all ate 3 lobster tails with garlic butter. I'll just say that I've got a pretty amazing crew. Sula was this whole time, anchored off a lee shore, pitching heavily into the chop. If one anchor or rode element had let go, in only a minute or two, Sula would have been on the beach for good and we would be able to spend more quality time with Victor and Tony Tijuana. But my beautiful 33lb steel Spade anchor held like a bull. We made our way out into the storm. I made a radio call trying to find the other boats at anchor who may have shifted into the southern part of the bay to find relief from the SE chop that had built up in the north. I made a faint contact with another yacht who said it was better down there, so we set off, motorsailing in rough conditions in total darkness in, 20, 25 knots and hard rain. At one point, out in the middle of the bay, I looked up to see a pure white streak of water flying past the masthead light. Seconds later, a big gust of wind knocked Sula over deeply and the air was abolutely filled with water. We luckily were only flying a scrap of the jib, and were able to head up into it as the sail flogged like a machine gun but brought the boat upright again. In 30 seconds it was over, and we were a bit speechless, but we began motoring again, towards what we hoped would be a calm, protected anchorage. In another hour, we were there, and the stars had come out, and things were much calmer in the south. We happily set the anchor again and fell into our births. The next morning it was Ian who was the hero, with an amazing Thai lobster stir fry with rice. It was a short sail to Bahia Magdalena, and just after noon we anchored down off a sandy beach, in the sun, with all our wet gear spread across the deck, drying to a nice salty crust in no time. It was time for another hike, and this was the day. The vantage from atop Monte Isabel was a semi religious experience. Cumulus clouds and ocean as far as the eye could see, 60 miles out to sea.
I hope this video can capture a bit of this place too. After the hike, and a meal, with spirts high, another beach fire, a good rest, it was south yet again, only 130 miles to CABO!

Cabo is not too bad. We're anchored for free just off the harbor entrance. Civilization is loud and busy, but nice for a change, even if it is overpriced and Americanized. The weather and water are amazing. Today I'm going to fix the shaft seal, as it threatens to sink the boat every time we motor. I think we're going for a swim at the famous Playa de Amor just to the right in the pic above, then next morning fuel and water filled up, we'll leave for points....... north?

Sorry about the typos. Wish I had more time.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Ensenada to Cabo Part 1

Well, its hard to know where to start. Its been over 800 miles since I last blogged and so many things have happened and I just don't have time to do the experience justice. Its been 800 miles of rocks, and sand, and dust,and gravel, and cactus and a constantly parading panorama of mountains, beaches, fishing boats, islands and waves. We departed casually from Ensenada in the morning and motored just a few miles to Islas Todos Santos. Some very kind fishermen showed us to one of their mooring buoys to use. We hooked up the dinghy and the motor and made a quick scouting hike around the barren desert landscape as the daylight faded out. We scrambled up to a high point to look for surfable waves. We spotted a few, but later that night after eating our first tuna caught by the handline, the north wind that was continuing to blow urged us to make distance south. We sailed when we could and motored when the wind died, and by that next evening we arrived just at dusk at the enticing Isla San Martin, a volcanic island, almost perfectly circular, with rumored lava tube caves and a trail to the summit of the small mountain. The next morning we made our way ashore and explored around the beaches and lava and cactus encrusted slopes of the mountain. We never made it to the top as it was just too hard to walk through a carpet of cactus and every so often someone would scream out in pain as he bent over to gingerly pull the cactus thorns out of his flimsy footwear. That afternoon we motored south again for just a few hours, surveying the coast with binoculars, looking at any signs of civilization we could spot, and any good surf breaks for Ian to jump into. We tucked around the corner of Cabo San Quintin and anchored in 6 fathoms near a sandy looking beach. It was a nice anchorage, almost completely protected from the prevailing NW swell, although some did wrap all the way around the point and come north a bit. Sand bars prevailed in this area and at various stages of tide when a large set of waves came through, breaking waves would appear on previously flat calm areas, making dinghy trips to the beach a bit more exciting. We hauled Ian's short surfboad and the giant foam Wavestormer longboard to the beach to find some waves. Ian had a long unsuccessful hike around the point looking for big, peeling, barrels. He mostly found miles of kelp, rocks and lots of dead sea lions rotting on the beach, but not much rideable. I pulled on my wetsuit (thanks Hank) and as the sun set we rode small crumbling breakers in the cold shallow beach. After dinner aboard, we paddled to shore again and made a crackling beach fire and felt very alone, it was one of the more desolate places I've been so far. There's not much around except for fishermen in pangas during the day, and animals, boat, and plastic carcasses washed up on the beach. There was a nice west facing beach on the chart so the next day we set out with boards strapped across our backs to hike through the scrub and dunes, across the peninsula to the ocean.

The dunes and the beach were again, beautiful and desolate. A very different scene from our beginnings in Seattle and an exotic and interesting adventure. The day was cloudy and a bit cold, but we still braved the chilly water to get thrashed by the beach break. Ian tore up the huge curling faces, while Dan and I mostly impersonated clothing in a washing machine as the white water exhausted us and made laughable our attemps to stand up on the boat sized Wavestormer. Another beautiful trudge back across the dunes to the boat, and home, and a hot meal, and early evening departure for points south. I think it was the next day we approached land again, still looking for the combination of a good surf spot and good anchorage. They are hard to come by singly, and together even more rare, and we motored past many miles of coastline before deciding to stop a few miles east of Cabo Canoas. The waves again were a disappointment. I scrambled up the strange reddish hill just up from our anchorage and was rewarded with a break in the ever present marine layer of clouds, and one of the most beautiful vistas I've ever seen.

Whereas Ian is constantly scanning the shoreline for a nice curling wave, I'm always looking for a nice high hill very close to the water, for its one of my favorite things to hike up high and gain a vantage out over the ocean and the terrain that lies landward. I hope the pictures can do some justice to the beauty up there. The situation must have helped a bit as well. Its quite a feeling to look around and see nothing human but the small boat that's carried you so slowly and arduously down the coast. The vegetation and terrain is again, so foreign to my native rainforest that it adds greatly to the experience. And I'll admit, its nice to get off the boat, and not be worried about ETA's or weather, or fuel, or cooking or sleeping, or the other miriad things that need to be worried about. When I returned to the boat, the wind had come up, so we were, gone again, hoisting a reefed main to a finally, healthy breeze from the WNW. The speed inched up into the 7.0 kt range , but we mostly averaged around 6 knots. It was great to finally get a breeze that seemed determined to blow for more than a few hours and we made good use of it as we crossed a large bay, almost 100 miles to Isla Cedros. At Cedros the next day, we attempted a hike, but the arroyo we explored into seemed to go on forever and we never gained any altitude. It was southward again, hauling up the anchor and watching the bizarre moutains of multicolored rock slowly pass by. We glassed a small clump of palms on the Cedros shore, rumored to be an ancient spring, where the Spanish galleons would stop to replenish with water on their run up and down the coast from Mexico to the terretories in present day California. Late that night we pulled into Bahia Tortugas, our first real Mexican city since Ensenada and a very good natural harbor, as its anchorage is mostly protected from all directions.