Sunday, April 5, 2009

Exploring the Sea with Friends

We've been back in La Paz for a month. In addition to doing routine boat maintenance (e.g., cleaning, bottom cleaning, new zinc, oil and filter change), we took a ten day trip to California to visit family, do taxes and take care of other odds and ends. While we were there, the Seisun's offered us shelter in their 'new' old house. They've been remodeling and refurbishing their 100 plus year old house and it's coming along beautifully.

Dennis and Verena will be joining Citla's crew in a couple of days to
have a sampling of cruising in the Sea of Cortez. Between their house and business, they've been working hard and are looking forward to this cruise for a bit of rest and relaxation. We are looking forward to having them aboard and finally begin to reciprocate the hospitality they've extended to us, both in La Paz and San Diego. While we're all old Baja buffs, some of whom have been coming to Baja California since 1954, exploring the Sea of Cortez by boat will be a new experience for us all.

We departed our slip at Marina de La Paz, Dennis, Verena, Kathie and myself, just before noon on April 9th and made our way out the channel to La Paz harbor. It was a bright sunny day with very light wind and no waves as we headed out towards San Lorenzo channel and Isla Espiritu Santos. Since the weather forecast had called for strong evening corumuels (west winds off the Pacific) and the Seisun’s had visited the coves and bays along the west side of the island, we chose to anchor in the eastern side of the island at Playa Bonanza. This would provide a lee anchorage protecting us from the predicted late night westerly’s.

Playa Bonanza is a two-mile stretch of sandy beach just around the south end of Espiritu Santo. We shared the anchorage with a couple of sail boats and power boats, all of which were anchored further north along the beach gaining some shelter closer to Punta La Bonanza, which helped shield them from the prevailing northerly winds during the day. It was late afternoon, just after 3, when we dropped anchor. It didn’t take Dennis long to change into his trunks and plunge into the water. The corumuels did arrive at night and we were happy to have the island provide shelter from the waves that were surely making a stay along any of the western coves an uncomfortable rolling experience with a constant worry of dragging into the shallows to the east of each of the anchorages.

The next morning, just after 10, Dennis pulled the anchor and we began sailing up the eastern shore of both Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida, heading towards Isla San Francisco about 30 nm to the north. The day time wind was moderate and the day was overcast as reached up along the islands. Aside from sailing and wondering what the noise that was being generated, only to find out when I went to choke the engine off, apparently I didn't hold the kill knob out long enough and the engine continued to run at idle. We managed to anchor on the east side of San Francisco by 1 p.m.. The east side was chosen due to the predicted night time corumuel.

Keeping with our compressed cruising schedule, we weighed anchor from Isla San Francisco and continued sailing up the east side. We rounded the north end of the island and passed the small village on Isla Coyote and then north east, between Isla Coyote and Roca Foca and towards Bahia Amortajada along the southwest shore of Isla San Jose.

Bahia Amortajada is bordered by a 2 1/2 mile sandy beach which ends in the north at Punta Salinas, a long sandy point that terminates with a orange and white striped light house. It is the site of a now abandoned salt mining operation. Since our destination for the day was the fishing village of San Evaristo, we continued on across the San Jose channel from Isla San Jose to the anchorage on the Baja side.

Once anchored in the bay off of San Evaristo, Dennis rowed Verena and Kathie into shore to explore the village. Since we continued to have no luck fishing, Dennis came through getting a cabrilla from one of the local fisherman on the beach. Upon their return, we indulged in barbecued cabrilla, rice, green salad and wine. We watched the sun go down behind the towering Sierra de Giganta that back San Evaristo, and then spent an uneventful evening at anchor.

The weather was bright and breezy the following morning. After breakfast, Dennis pulled up the anchor by 11:00 and we stuck our nose out beyond the northern rocky entrance to the bay to find the wind funneling down the San Jose channel between 17 and 18 knots with cresting, short period chop between 3 and 4 feet. Rather than bash north, we decided to reach back down to Isla San Francisco to enjoy the more scenic southwestern anchorage.

By 1:30 in the afternoon, our trusty windlass (Dennis) was used to drop the anchor in the picturesque crescent beach anchorage at Bahia San Francisco, in 20 feet over sand. While breezy, the day was sunny and warm and the water was a clear, light emerald. The anchor, as well as the numerous fish, were easily visible in the clear water. We shared the anchorage with two power yachts and about six other sailing vessels. The anchorage is large enough to accommodate all of these boats with plenty of room left over. The wind moderated towards evening and we spent a quiet night on the hook, where team Mirrasoul edged out team Seisun in a spirited Scrabble competition (both Dennis and I thought Ma was an acceptable word, while team Seisun roundly rejected the idea that the use of 'amp' for amperage could be leveraged for points).

Dennis was pressed into rowing service by Verena and Kathie for an exploration
of the beach and isthmus between our current anchorage at Bahia San Francisco and the one we took two days prior, on the southeastern side of the island. The wind was calm, the day was clear and beginning to warm. The three explorers combed the Bahia San Francisco side for shells, the southeastern pebble beach for agates and spent time climbing the ridge line that forms the southern boundary of the island. Sharing their found treasures upon their return to Citla, the crew then enjoyed breakfast before hauling the anchor (thanks again, Dennis!) at 11:45 to continue our journey north towards Loreto.

Most of the afternoon was spent motor sailing against a stiff headwind (as much as 22 knots, apparent), up the San Jose channel towards the three adjoining coves at Punta Nopolo that marks the northwestern boundary of the San Jose channel. On our way up the channel, we were treated to a miles long procession of porpoise that seemed to almost reach from one side to the other of the channel. They all seemed to be committed to a serious migration north. Following the porpoise parade and finally reaching the three potential anchorages at Nopolo, we found the wind to be coming out of the northeast, making these coves less protected. Contacting another cruiser on VHF led us to reach back across the channel, toward the northern end of Isla San Jose to a protected anchorage referred to as 'news carrier' cove in Spanish.

Dennis, our one man dingy rower and human windlass, was again impressed into duty during our anchoring routine. This particular anchorage, we only had to move once, after our initial anchoring attempt. After a brief swim, Dennis and Verena rowed into shore to see if they could again reverse our poor fishing luck. Walking passed an encampment of kayakers about a half a mile up the beach, they continued on another half mile to a fish shack. There they spoke with Augustino, the fisherman. He indicated that he'd be going out fishing later that evening and would return to bring fish to buy. The Seisun's returned to Citla, recounted their adventures and relayed, with some skepticism, the promise of fish. To our delight, just before sunset we were approached by a panga, and in it were Augustino and his young son, Cesar along with a variety of freshly caught fish for our selection! We enjoyed another barbecued fish dinner, thanks to Dennis and his 'fishing' skills.

The following morning found us raising the anchor early for us (7:40 a.m.) and sailing north in a cool northerly breeze towards our next destination, Agua Verde. Leaving the northern reaches of the San Jose channel, we were again treated to an early morning riot of porpoise. The wind moderated as we left the venturi of the San Jose channel. By late afternoon, the pineapple express had brought cloud cover as we approached Agua Verde.

Our initial anchoring spot was just off the beach to the village of Agua Verde. Dennis and Verena took a panga into the beach and did a preliminary recon of the village. They returned about an hour later with vegetables and beer. Due to the relatively poor holding off the beach front, our human windlass did his duty and pulled the anchor while we moved further north along the beach. Following two more unsatisfactory attempts to gain a solid hold, we moved to the southern bight of the bay to take an anchorage inside several boats in about 18 feet of water over sand.

During the night, the wind gusted out of the northwest to over 40 knots, and while we let out another 60 feet of rode, our anchor held. By 5 a.m. the following morning, the tide was well out, we were swinging south, into the shore of the bight and the clear water showed a shallow shelf well within our swing radius. Shortly before 5:30 a.m. I felt the keel bump the sandy bottom and knew we'd have to take our leave in order to preserve the integrity of our spade rudder. I awakened our trusty windlass, and between Dennis's heaving on the anchor rode and me powering the boat forward, we worked our way off the sandy shelf, moved Citla out of the south bight and reset the anchor once more off the beach in front of the village.

Once settled on the hook in front of the village, the crew had breakfast and Dennis rowed Verena into the village. Between their two trips to the settlement of Agua Verde, they managed to meet nearly the entire population and explore the entire village. They returned to Citla about 40 minutes after their departure. By 10:35 a.m., our trusty human windlass pulled the anchor and we were off to Puerto Escondido.

We motor sailed up the coast and traveled between the first and second pinnacles of the three Candeleros. Once inside the channel between Isla Danzante, the wind moderated and the temperature increased. By 2:30 in the afternoon, we arrived at the Singlar dock in Puerto Escondido. Dennis and I moved Citla to mooring #105 and were set by 3:30.

Kathie and Verena arranged for a rental car delivery to the Marina and we all piled in for the 20 km trip north to Loreto. The first stop was the B&B at La Damiana, followed by a trip to the bus station to purchase tickets for the Seisun's return trip to La Paz. We then drove to the Malecon and had dinner, al fresco, at a water front cafe. After dinner we parted company, the Seisun's walking the two blocks back to their charming B&B and the Mirrasoul's taking a scenic route back to the marina, followed by a pitch black dingy ride out to our mooring. We returned to Loreto the next day to offer the Seisun's a ride to the bus terminal. When we reached La Damiana, we were able to wave to them as their taxi was pulling away from the curb.

We enjoyed sharing the short time we had with Dennis and Verena and only wished for a longer time span to be able to explore more of the islands and bays of the central gulf. It was fitting that we were able to share our first cruising experience of these waters with our long time Baja co-travelers. I'll especially miss having Dennis as our human windlass and dingy rower! It's so much easier changing anchorage spots with Dennis doing the heavy work. His skill as a 'land' fisherman will also be missed. If it weren't for his skills in this area, we wouldn't have had the opportunity to enjoy fresh fish. I think we were all impressed with Verena's fortitude in dealing with reading and working below, regardless of how calm or how rough the ride was. We'll truly miss her culinary skills in putting together wonderful meals. They are always welcome as crew on Citla and we'd love to have them share more adventures.

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