Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Start to the 2011 Cruising Season

It has been a busy summer at home and we're finally ready to pack up the truck and head back to the boat. Citla has spent the hurricane season in the Fonatur boat yard in Puerto Escondido, just south of Loreto, Baja California Sur. We've been away from her since May and look forward to the reunion.

The drive south was uneventful until just north of Santa Rosalia in Baja California Sur. I'm only including this story to counter some of the paranoia and fear many people have regarding the police in Mexico. We had made the descent down the Tres Viregenes grade and were make time (e.g., exceeding the posted 80km speed limit) going south. Cresting a grade, about 15km north of town, I spotted a car about a quarter of a mile on the opposite side of the road. Almost immediately upon cresting the hill, the car activated it's overhead red-flashing lights. I turned on my flashers and began coasting down the dip in the road and back up the rise to the police car. A federal officer met the truck on the road and asked for my drivers license. After a brief series of questions, he advised the posted speed limit was 80km and not 125km (80mph). He told us, being a Friday evening, if he issued a ticket we'd have to stay in Santa Rosalia until Monday to take care of it. Instead he issued a warning and politely suggested we slow down. We thanked him and proceeded on our way.

Just north of town, at the Federal Police headquarters, another set of police cars were parked and a second officer stopped us, had a polite conversation and allowed us to be on our way. Needless to say, we heeded the first warning and drove the speed limit and were glad we did.

We arrived in Puerto Escondido to find the trailing edge of the rudder that had been repaired previously at Driscolls (along with unexpected deformations along the leading and bottom edge of the rudder). Since we had to repair the trailing edge, we decided to try to reshape the entire foil. Well, three weeks later, we're nearly there. It's not perfect, but much better than it was. We hope to have the boat back in the water this Tuesday. More later...

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Egret and the Oystercatcher

On our way from La Paz to Puerto Escondido prior to Loerto Fest, we spent one night anchored just off the beach north of Punta Prieta. With the wind out of the southeast and the swell out of the east, taking the anchorage just south of Punta Prieta, in the cove at San Telmo, didn't seem appealing. We continued around the rocky promontory that is Punta Prieta and pulled within 30 yards of the beach, immediately west of the rocks. We anchored in about 12 feet of water over sand. The three foot swell outside of the point was still being refracted to where we were anchored, but was diminished in size to less than a foot. We joined s/v Intuition, anchored 100 yards further off the beach (draft of 8') and later were joined by s/v Far Country. The night at anchor started out with a little roll, but by midnight both the wind and swell had subsided.

As is our custom, taking the first cups of coffee in the morning in the cockpit, we spent time enjoying the desert scape and the bird life on the beach. There were several snowy egrets spread out along the one mile beach. We've always found these birds to be solitary but never had an opportunity to observe them when more than one was present. Over the course of a half hour, we saw a number of instances where if two
came within 20 yards of each other, whether walking along the sand or landing too close, the dominant bird would challenge the interloper, chasing him both running and in flight until the dominant birds' territory was reclaimed and his solitude restored. We observed this behavior several times, up and down the beach.

Scanning the beach through binoculars, we observed an Egret foraging along the shoreline in the close company of another individual. An American Oystercatcher and the Egret seemed to be enjoying
an early morning stroll up the beach usually with less than a foot separating them. We observed them as they foraged together for over a quarter of a mile, each alternating taking the lead. While this was interesting to us, given the Egrets normal solitary behavior, we were amazed at what we saw next.

As the odd couple made their way further up the beach, they were approaching another beach combing Egret. When within approximately twenty yards of the solitary forager, the Egret from the odd couple took flight and challenged the lone stranger for territory. After successfully chasing the lone bird away, the odd couple Egret flew back and landed on the beach right next to the Oystercatcher and they continued their intimate stroll along the beach.

Anyone who loves nature and animals in their natural habitat, will find themselves mesmerized by the opportunities cruising in the Sea of Cortez offers for such experiences. Encounters, such as these, leave me with the same wonder of the world around me as when I was a young child.

Friday, April 1, 2011

What We Love About the Sea of Cortez

"...Let us go," we said, "into the Sea of Cortez, realizing that we become forever a part of it; that our rubber boots slogging through a flat of eel-grass, that the rocks we turn over in a tide pool, make us truly and permanently a factor in the ecology of the region. We shall take something away from it, but we shall leave something too." And if we seem a small factor in a huge pattern, nevertheless it is of relative importance. We take a tiny colony of soft corals from a rock in a little water world. And that isn't terribly important to the tide pool. Fifty miles away the Japanese shrimp boats are dredging with overlapping scoops, bringing up tons of shrimps, rapidly destroying the species so that it may never come back, and with the species destroying the ecological balance of the whole region. That isn't very important in the world. And thousands of miles away the great bombs are falling and the stars are not moved thereby. None of it is important or all of it is.

John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez

Some of the things we love about cruising in the Sea of Cortez include:

* The Mexican people in general and those of Baja in particular.

* The opportunity to experience and learn a new culture.

* The opportunity to learn a new language.

* Seeing the abundance of sea life.

* The clarity of the water.

* Sailing destinations within a days' sail.

* The pristine anchorages.

* The camaraderie among the cruisers.

* The rugged remoteness of the Sea.

* The tranquility to be found.

* The night sky with all the phenomenal stars and planets.

* Experiencing the historical city of La Paz and others on the peninsula.

* The opportunity to share this experience with friends and family.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kevin Young's Sailing Visit to La Paz

We took a short break from cruising, making a 10-day visit back up to San Diego. This allowed us to file our taxes and host a bridal shower for our daughter, Chantal. These events provided two reminders, that unlike our cruising existence, the real world continues to progress in an organized, temporal fashion.

We were joined on our return flight south by an old work friend and sailing enthusiast, Kevin Young. In spite of his trepidation regarding travel safety in Mexico, he placed his trust in our hands and accompanied us on our trip back to La Paz. We taxied from our house, dropping our daughter off at the airport for her return to San Francisco and continued on to the Greyhound bus station in downtown San Diego to catch the shuttle to the Tijuana airport. It was gray and wet in San Diego when we departed and continued to drizzle all the way to the General Abelardo L. Rodríguez International Airport in Tijuana.

The airport was busy when we arrived and Kevin and I had to apply for FMM visas (usually issued for 6-months, mine was about to expire) before checking in to the airlines. Our luggage was x-rayed upon entry to the
ticket terminal area; all checked luggage underwent hand inspection before being checked at the ticket counter; and, all carry-on bags were x-rayed once again when passengers were checked through the metal detectors. We're not certain if this redundancy in security either confused or impressed Kevin, but once into the airport concourse, the boarding and flight went flawlessly. We arrived at El Alto International Airport in La Paz in the early afternoon and were picked up by our friend Mike on s/v Trig, who was kind enough to drive our truck to the airport. In contrast to the weather in San Diego, it was sunny and bright in La Paz with the temperature in the mid-80's. After dropping our bags off at the boat, we made a trip out to Playa Balandra to show Kevin one of the beaches here in La Paz.

We spent the first full day after our arrival cleaning and provisioning the boat before exploring a little of the town. The following day we topped off the water tanks and prepared to get underway for a trip to the islands to the north of La Paz. We cast off around 11:30 a.m. and motored out of the channel and into Bahia de La Paz. We hoisted the main and unfurled the genoa and began a long tack to the west, paralleling the shoreline of El Magote. We noted large reddish-brown swaths in the water and determined them to be currents containing blooms of red-tide. We held this westward tack for about 6 nm before tacking toward Isla Espiritu Santo, to our north. About the same time, Kevin broke out the fishing pole and, armed with a silver Rappala, began trolling for fish.

We continued on this tack for another 12-13 nm before falling into the
islands wind shadow. We furled in the genoa and began motor sailing under main, alone. As the distance to the island was closed, we motor sailed past the anchorage and large beach at Bahia San Gabriel. We continued up the coast passing a large group of kayakers camped at El Empachado and on to the three lobes of Puerto Ballena. We passed on the inside of Isla Gallina and the southern most lobe at Ensenada la Gallina with one boat anchored there. The middle lobe, Ensenada el Gallo, had two boats at anchor, so we proceeded between the point of the island separating the middle and northern most lobe and Isla Gallo. The anchorage at Ensenada de la Raza, the most northern of the three lobes, was empty of other boats. Luckless with fishing, Kevin reeled in the fishing line and prepared to anchor.

Kevin dropped anchor at about the middle of this anchorage in about 20-feet over sand. He paid out an appropriate amount of scope before I backed down on the anchor, insuring its' purchase in the bottom. We all sat back in the cockpit to take inventory of this lovely anchorage. Mangroves framed the white sand beach to our east, which was tucked into the folds of the two promontories forming the north and south boundaries of the cove. To the southwest were the two small cactus covered islands, El Gallo and La Gallina, with their own flock of Frigate birds and seagulls wheeling over each. To the west the sun was getting low over the distant cliffs of the western shore of Bahia de La Paz.

With the sun getting low in the sky, Kevin set about shelling and cleaning
the kilo of shrimp we had purchased the previous day. Meanwhile, Kathie prepared the fresh garlic, olive oil and butter in the saute pan for the shrimp. She also cooked some whole-wheat fettuccine and added pesto. All of this was accompanied with a plate of sliced fresh tomatoes. We enjoyed dinner alfresco at sunset and savored both the food and the setting.

Nightfall brought a full sky of stars and planets, seemingly unaffected by the luminosity of city lights some 20 nm to our south. Night time also brought us a curious sea lion who played and fished within yards of the boat before finally leaving the cove. We all turned in to the start of a peaceful night at anchor.

All was well until shortly after 12:30 a.m. when the coromuel winds began to build out of the west. In addition to causing the halyards to clang against the mast, the winds also generated short wind waves which caused the boat to rock. Normally, the motion these bring would be soothing. However, since Citla tends to dance on her anchor, when the waves were bow-on they were comforting, but when the boat danced to the side, the waves caused a side-to-side rolling which makes it very difficult to sleep (unless one is in a hammock). Too tired to care about noisy halyards, I went back to bed to fight through the sideways rolling, hoping the motion didn't foretell of the boats dragging anchor.

We all awoke the next morning to bright sunshine and calm winds. None
of us were particularly rested from the previous nights noise and motion, but we enjoyed the serenity of the morning at anchor nonetheless. Kevin really wanted to do more sailing. Between the noise and motion of the previous night and his desire to confirm his flight back to San Diego on Saturday, he opted to forgo another night at anchor, but instead spend the day sailing and making our way back to the marina in La Paz.

We had breakfast while waiting for the wind to fill. Once the dishes were cleaned and everything was stowed, Kevin hoisted the anchor and mainsail and we made our way out between Isla Gallo and Isla Ballena to the north. The wind was blowing between 12 and 14 knots when we unfurled the genoa and took off to the northeast. It was decided we'd sail up island until reaching Caleta Partida, where we'd jibe and reach back towards La Paz. We enjoyed a glorious morning of sailing north along Espiritu Santo and then jibing and reaching back down the coast. Once as far south as Bahia San Gabriel, we jibed onto the opposite tack and were reaching west, towards El Magote in the distance. Once again, Kevin decided to drag the silver Rappala behind us in the hopes of catching a fish.

We had been on a deep reach sailing along at around 5.5 knots for over an hour when the fishing reel began to sing. I took the helm from Kevin and he took the rod and began to reel. Initially, his efforts were to no avail.
It was not until he tightened the drag considerably did he begin to make progress in closing the distance between the flashing neon color at the lines end and the stern of the still reaching Citla. After a bit more than 15 minutes of fighting the fish, Kevin landed a respectable Dorado weighing around 15-18 pounds. I spent the next 20-30 minutes filleting two large pieces of fish for the refrigerator. Once done, the bony carcass was disposed of into the Sea and the side deck was swabbed clean of the blood.

Invigorated by his first salt water catch (and the largest fish he ever landed), Kevin retook the helm continuing to pilot us towards our marina. The wind began to fade in late afternoon, so in with the genoa and on with the diesel. A bit more than an hour of motor sailing brought us to the channel mouth and 30 minutes later to the entrance of Marina de La Paz. After tucking the boat in, we proceeded to La Costa restaurant, fresh fillets in hand, and had the fish cooked and served with rice and drinks. The cooks prepared the fish using three different recipes: breaded and deep fried; with garlic and butter; and, Veracruz style, with tomatoes, green olives, capers and onions. There was more than enough fish for the three of us and each presentation was delicious. We left sated carrying almost half the fish as left overs.

We spent Friday walking along the Malecon and shopping for recuerdos (remembrances) for Kevin's kids and friends. Kevin also confirmed his flight and had the marina office print out his boarding pass. Later that afternoon, we took a drive out to the outskirts of La Paz, to visit the poorer neighborhoods. Kevin had observed earlier that most of the people of La Paz all seemed to be middle class. A drive through the dirt roads out towards the land-fill demonstrated that not all of the city's population is middle class.

Friday night was Kevin's last night in La Paz. Coincidentally, it also marked the last night in La Paz for our friends on s/v Merlot. They were leaving the following morning to head up into the Sea of Cortez and eventually up to San Carlos to store their boat for the summer months. Larry and Fran from Merlot, Mike from s/v Trig, Kevin, Kathie and I all went for a sunset dinner together on the second floor of Rancho Viejo Mariscos. We shared dinner and drink above a view of the La Paz harbor at sunset.

After our meal, Mike left to go back to his boat and the rest of us walked along the Malecon to our favorite ice-cream store, La Fuente, where we all ordered ice-cream for desert. We sat on the colorful benches in front of La Fuente for some time enjoying the scene and each others company. It was getting late and the crew of the Merlot had to turn in to be ready for their morning departure. We headed back down the Malecon toward the marina, joining families, kids on bicycles and others on roller blades, enjoying the fresh night air along the harbor.

We were up early Saturday morning and were able to send off Trig and Merlot from the marina; Merlot on her cruise north and Trig out to the
islands for the weekend. Kevin collected his belongings and packed for his afternoon departure. After breakfast we took Kevin to the Ibarra pottery studio in the southeast part of town where he purchased several unique pieces of pottery to be given as gifts. We returned to the boat around noon and Kathie prepared avocados, cilantro, tomatoes and warm tortillas to be served with the remainder of the left over dorado. It was fish tacos for lunch just in time before our departure to the airport. Just a bit after 1 p.m. we dropped Kevin at the airport in La Paz and he began his journey home.

Kevin had a very short stay in La Paz and we hope he enjoyed it as much as we did. We did have an opportunity to do some sailing and visit at least one of the offshore anchorages. Best of all, Kevin was able to catch his first salt water fish and, being a dorado (mahi-mahi), it couldn't have been much better. We'll be thinking of you while you're back at work...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Carnaval in La Paz

If you imagine a stereotypical cross between an old-time country fair and
a family street party with a Latin flair you will come pretty close to Carnaval in La Paz. Cotton candy, balloon vendors, street food and carny rides fill over a mile long section of the bay-front Malecon for five days. The street is closed down to traffic in the evening and open to the people of La Paz to stroll and enjoy.

There are bands, belly dancers, Tahitian dancers, and live entertainment
of all kinds offered at several stages along the Malecon from sundown until the early morning hours. Games of skill and games of chance are offered up by barkers. There's even a large bingo-type game for young and old alike filling the promenade along the east end of the historic La Perla Hotel. All variety of trinkets are for sale, including purses, shirts, lighted head bands, theme-blankets (Winnie the Pooh, etc.) and more. Much of it is likely from Mexico, but I'm pretty certain China also has a presence.

Food and drink can be found all along the fair venue. Ice cream, sodas,
hot dogs, tacos, gorditas de Nata, hot crossed buns, candied fruit and vegetables (including squash and cactus), cold beer and mixed tropical drinks can all be purchased along the route. The restaurants along the way spill tables out onto the street to better attract and serve customers.

There are carnival rides for kids and the young adults (and, admittedly
for some of the less risk adverse older folks). These include everything from miniature Ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds to bumper cars (any direction of travel is okay) and 360-degree, hammer-rides for the older kids. The mechanical oversight and overall condition of these rides, while suspect under the best conditions, would cause insurance underwriters in the U.S. to succumb from shock and disbelief. There are even a few side-show acts showing animals that defy description and the "smallest girl in the world".

The last several days of the festival are highlighted by parades featuring
floats with the Queen of Carnaval and her entourage, as well as, floats featuring the junior kings and queens in elaborate costumes and the Queen from the previous year. There are bands on trucks, dancers on floats, dancers in the street and Corona and Pacifico beer trucks serving as spacers between the various groups. Everyone has eggs that have been emptied and refilled with confetti. These are broken over peoples heads or thrown at targets to cover them with confetti as the egg shell breaks and spills its' colorful contents.

It's not the biggest nor the wildest Carnaval celebration in the world, but it does have something to offer for everyone. Every year it is well attended by the people of La Paz and visitors that are lucky enough to be here during this time of year.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Hanging Out on the Boat in La Paz

It's still winter in Baja California Sur. While the daytime temperatures can range from the mid-70's to the upper 80's, night time temperatures dip
down into the low-50's and occasionally to the high-40's. Like many of our fellow cruisers, on our previous trip to Mexico we headed south during the early part of the year, rather than staying in the Sea of Cortez. By going south during January and February, you follow the warmer weather and head back towards the Sea towards the end of March, when the night time temperatures and the water begin to warm. Cold 'Northers' also become a thing of memory. Fortunately, besides enjoying warm nights, warm water and secluded anchorages, the other draw to cruising is being able to visit foreign ports and immerse ourselves in both the culture and language.

Between the weather and guests, we've spent more time in town and less time on the water than on our previous trip. The city of La Paz has a plethora of activities to offer citizens and visitors, alike, so exploring the city continues to be rewarding. The Centro Cultural La Paz (the old ornate brick and stone city hall on 16th de
Septiembre at Belisario Domingo) has undergone reconstruction and now serves as a venue for cultural presentations. Currently, there is a comprehensive display covering both the natural history and the human history of Baja California Sur. Murals display photos, narrative and graphic art depicting all that can be found in Baja California Sur from antelope to vaqueros. On the upper floor there are art galleries featuring local contemporary artist. Also included in the building is a tourist information office and a good Spanish language book store.

This week, Kathie and I attended our first free cultural presentation given at Se Habla La Paz (a Spanish language school located in a beautiful
house on Francisco I. Madero, between Republica and Guerrero). These presentations are offered every Tuesday afternoon. They're presented in Spanish and last a bit over an hour. This weeks presentation was a history of Mariachi music. The group that attended was approximately 15 in number and was conducted as an interactive discussion that served to help build vocabulary, as well as a better understanding of the history and cultural significance of this traditional music.

During our time here, we have also attended a few of the Wednesday night jam sessions held across the street from Marina de La Paz at the
Ciao Molino Restaurant. Last night found us at the Teatro de Ciudad (located at Navarro and Heroes de Independencia) for Noche de Trova (or a night with the troubadour). It was a fund raiser for the Mexican Red Cross and featured a half-dozen groups from Baja California Sur with regional music, Cuban music and more traditional romantic Mexican ballads. The latter was performed by a group of fourteen guitarist none younger than 60, with most in their 70's and 80's. The music they presented was a crowd favorite and a show-stopper.

The music scene isn't as easily found in La Paz as in places like La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, it does exist, but is a bit more difficult to ferret out. The Roz in La Paz ( website provides a wealth of information regarding music venues, as well as other cultural events that take place in town. This visit to La Paz we've made greater use of this information and have found a whole new facet of the city to enjoy.

With another Norther expected in two days, we'll likely continue or exploration of La Paz and some of Roz's suggested events!

This is dedicated to one of the friendliest and nicest guys on the staff of Marina de La Paz, who passed away this week. Nacho we don't think you realized what an impression you made on the marina guests and staff. Adios Nacho.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Willy Littig's Visit to La Paz

Just before 8 p.m. on November 10, found us driving down Independencia, towards the Malecon, to the bus station in La Paz. We spotted our old high school chum and noted Salt Lake City stained-glass artist, Willy Littig, preparing to engage the services of a taxi. We picked him up and were off to the marina.

We spent the first several days exploring La Paz and sampling a few of the local restaurants. We finally had the opportunity to go out and cruise the Espiritu Santo and Partida islands about 20 miles northeast, off of the city of La Paz.

The day was sunny, clear and warm with very little in the way breeze.
Motor sailing off Pichilingue we spotted large areas in the water that appeared disturbed. Motoring over to these areas we discovered schools of rays swimming just under the surface. Periodically, the tips of their wings would break the surface, adding to the surface disturbance. After following this school for a time and disturbing their formation, we changed course and headed out towards the San Lorenzo channel and the islands.

On the way out we encountered our marina neighbors, Bruce and Judy, on the sailing vessel JUCE. They were motoring back after spending the weekend at Ensenada de Los Muertos. While they didn't have such a good anchorage at Playa Bonanza Saturday night, they did have a quiet time over Super Bowl Sunday in Muertos. We continued on our way towards the islands while JUCE headed back towards the harbor.

Just northwest of San Lorenzo channel and about two-miles west of the south end of Espiritu Santo island we had a strike on the silver and white Rapala we were trolling. After about 20 minutes of horsing the fishing pole we were able to land a tuna of about 15 pounds. The landing resulted in the typical bloody mayhem that makes fishing from a sailboat less than optimum. Off-setting the task of clean-up was that we now had fresh fish for dinner.

We continued up the western side of Espiritu Santo island, looking into each of the anchorages as we passed, in search for the perfect spot for the evening. While there weren't a great many boats out in the islands, each of the first several coves were occupied with at least a single boat. We searched from Bahia San Gabriel in the south, all the way up to Caleta Partida up at the northern tip of Espiritu Santo before finally settling on Ensenada El Candelero, one cove south of Partida.

We anchored in the northern lobe, just off the cliffs and about even with the eastern end of Roca Monumento, the large rock that defines the western edge of the reef that extends from the beach. Willy dropped the hook in about 20-feet of clear water over a sand bottom and we set the anchor after paying out a scope of about 6:1. About the same time, another sailboat motored into the southern lobe and set anchor on the opposite side of the anchorage.

Once settled, we enjoyed our setting with the cave-pocked cliffs and cactus to our north; sandy beach to our east; Monument rock to our
south; and, across the bay to the west, the spectacular mountain cliffs were highlighted with the pinks, oranges and blues of the setting sun. With the sun setting, we fired off the barbecue and put on a one-hour fresh tuna fillet. The evening was spent over dinner, chilled white wine and good conversation. As is usual when we're anchored, bed time came early. Save for a few fresh gusts, we spent a comfortable night at anchor.

We all were up before the sun crested the island peak to the east. Waiting for the sun to warm the cockpit, we watched several vessels motor north past the entrance to the anchorage. When the sun finally rose high enough to shine into the boat, we had already had our first cup of coffee and were enjoying breakfast. The sandy beach was populated with a flock of turkey vultures warming themselves in the suns rays. Our anchoring neighbor weighed anchor, motored over for a brief chat between boats before heading back to Palmira Marina in La Paz.

A short time later, Willy hauled up our anchor and we continued our journey north, along the eastern shores of Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla
Partida. The morning turned into a bright sunny day with just a wisp of a breeze and flat water. We rounded the northern end of Isla Partida a motored between the gap between the island and Los Islotes (the two guano covered rocks that rise abruptly off the northern end of Partida and serve as a major sea lion rookery). There were several tourist pangas around the island, but the only sea lions we observed we sunning themselves on the low rock bench between the two islets.

The eastern side of Partida is a high jumble of rock faces and rock slides that tumble down to the water. All along the eastern side of both Isla Partida and further south on Isla Espiritu Santo there are few inlets suitable for overnight anchorages. Making our way down towards the final third of Espiritu Santo, the wind began to increase and there was one other sailboat sailing to our southeast. By then we were already to the reef at Punta La Bonanza.

Rather than sail for the last mile, we continued motoring under mainsail
and gave the reef a wide berth before heading west-northwest to the anchorage tucked behind the rocky point at the north end of the sandy beach. As we approached in 30 feet of water, we dropped the mainsail and continued in to shallower water before Willy dropped the anchor in 3 fathoms over a sandy bottom. Having finished with backing down on the anchor to insure a proper set, we gathered in the cockpit for cold beers and chips while watching two goats saunter down the beach. Dinner included fresh tuna once again.

After a spectacular sunset to the west over the beach and low lying portion of the island, we were left with the flashing white light marking the end of Bonanza reef to our east; the flashing green light marking one end of the San Lorenzo channel that could be seen just east of Punta Morro to our south; and, the twinkling lights south on the mainland at Playa Tecolote. As the night progressed, the winds abated until just before day break and we had a peaceful night at anchor.

The breeze picked up at Playa Bonanza during the predawn hours
allowing us to do some sailing after breakfast and hauling the anchor. We headed south, past Punta Morritos, and towards Punta Coyote on the mainland. We were able to sail across the San Lorenzo channel before tacking back towards La Paz. We carried the port tack as far as the green channel marker to the San Lorenzo channel before the wind died. We furled the head sail and motor sailed the rest of the way into La Paz. Snug in our slip by late afternoon we enjoyed the sunset with another dinner of tuna, potato salad and tortillas. The three of us spent the remainder of the evening talking about former high-school classmates and wondering what they were doing now.

The next several days seemed to fly by. We had dinner with Galey and Max, who live in the La Posada neighborhood and spent the next few days around town and then out to Playa Tecolote and Playa Bonanza. For Willy's final night in town, we got together with several other cruisers from s/v Merlot (Larry and Fran), s/v Trig (Mike) and Hans (who had arrived from San Diego that afternoon) and had dinner at the new Rancho Viejo Mariscos. We were all seated on the second floor balcony of the Palapa, overlooking the bay. With margaritas, beer and wine all around, we enjoyed good food and good company for a memorable Valentine day dinner.

The final morning aboard for Willy, we had coffee before taking him to the bus terminal on the Malecon to connect with his shuttle to the airport in San Jose del Cabo. We had a great time seeing Willy again and enjoyed all the stories he had to share. He was an easy guest to have and we enjoyed our time while having him as a member of Citla's crew.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Hunkered Down in a Blue Norther

Just so people don't get the idea that cruising is all fun and sun, we've been hunkered down since Wednesday in a classic blue (read: COLD) 'Norther'. The good news is we're not out on the hook, but rather rocking and rolling in our snug slip at Marina de La Paz. The wind has been blowing from the high 20's to the low 30's and yesterday's high temperature was 58F! Yesterday, the Captain of the Port shut the port down due to the weather. It's Friday now and this weather is expected to moderate sometime Saturday evening.

There have been boats, moorings and channel buoys doing the La Paz Bay 'walk around', coming free and moving with either the wind, tide or both, with cruisers and or the port workers in pursuit. One boat came into the marina yesterday afternoon with their 40-pound, high-tensile, Fortress anchor wrapped in a ball of chain. The bays bottom isn't well suited for Danforth style anchors. With the high winds and large tidal flows, often in opposite directions, boats tend to spin on their anchors. The boat with the Fortress anchor had lost it's holding and the anchor had become entangled in it's own chain. Fortunately, the crew of about five was able to retrieve the tangled mess, motor to a side tie in the marina and untangle the mess before heading out again to try re-anchoring.

It might be sunny, but we're bundled against the cold and wind. It is predicted to get warmer. Today's high is predicted to be 63F. We're considering a road trip to Todos Santos just to break our cabin fever. We are having an old friend visiting. He's scheduled to arrive Sunday evening and we're hoping that more benign conditions will prevail for his visit. The forecast is for calmer, warmer weather so we hope to get out and do some island exploration during his visit.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Marina's in La Paz

Two questions we often get from friends and other sailors who haven't yet been to Mexico are: Is it safe; and, do you feel comfortable leaving your boat in the marina unattended. Much has been written about safety in Mexico and it has been my experience that it is nearly impossible to change peoples perceptions once they've decided that Mexico is the land of the headless corpses.

It probably speaks poorly to my credibility when I tell them that I feel safer in Mexico than when traveling in the U.S. That's not to downplay the tragic and horrible narco-violence that is a reality here in Mexico. However, virtually all of the violence is confined within the drug cartels or directed towards the federal authorities, politicians and proactive journalist. The violence is not endemic, but rather confined to the border areas and a few of the larger cities. It also must be acknowledged this problem is fueled and funded directly by drug demand in the U.S.

Marinas in Mexico are generally nicer and much more inclusive than what is found in the U.S.. In Mexico, as elsewhere, each marina has its' own personality. Since we're currently staying in Marina de La Paz, I will use this as an example of what to expect.

While the port of La Paz has offered shelter to sailors since it was first
visited by Hernan Cortez in 1535, the first pier in town wasn't constructed until 1863. By 1983, a handful of cruisers banded with a boat-builder (Max Shroyer) to develop a small marina along the waterfront that catered to cruisers. In the years since, it has grown to what it has become today, Marina de La Paz with 150 slips, and has been joined by a number of other marinas in town (Abaroa's; Don Jose's; La Costa; Palmira; and Costa Baja). As an historical aside, for those of you suffering from thalassoharpaxophobia, some of the last pirates to prowl these Mexican waters were Sir Francis Drake and Thomas Cavendish.

Marina de La Paz consists of a fenced and gated compound that
encompasses several satellite buildings and businesses, as well as parking for some of the marina tenants. There are the marina offices, which include administrative space and houses the high speed Internet server and WiFi connections. There is space for the reverse osmosis system (750gph) that supplies the marina's water needs and a large enclosed workshop space for the support staff and mechanics employed by the marina. Tenant amenities include spotless men's and women's bathroom and shower facilities (thanks in large part to Maria's efforts), a conference room above the bathrooms, the Club Cruceros Clubhouse (housing the charitable club, its' book and video exchange), and a small playground for children with slides, swings and climbing structures.

There is an on-site laundry facility; a yacht brokerage; a ships agent; a dive shop and a restaurant. Staff is on-site 24/7 to provide support and security for the tenants. The gates to the compound are closed and locked after 11 p.m. and reopened at the start of the next day. Security is always available to let you in if you're out after the marina is locked for the night.

The docks are floating and secured by pilings driven into the bay bottom. Slips range in size to accommodate 16-20 foot pangas, to 60' yachts. Side ties are available for multihulls and the several mega-yachts (150' plus) that spend time in the Sea of Cortez during the cruising season. We currently occupy one of the
40' slips. Several concrete barrier pilings have been constructed towards the entrance to the bay to help protect the floating docks and minimize potential damage caused by storm surge in the event of a hurricane.

The decking on the docks are composed of either ipe or treks. The newer additions seem to be going to treks. Each proper slip has 30 and
50 amp power, water supply (RO water) and a high speed Internet connection which are all inclusive with no additional charge. There is also diesel fuel available on one of the end docks. Pump out service is available at an extra charge and is handled by the marina staff with a portable tank and manual pump system. There is a permant staff of about 12 dockworkers, security and mechanics, along with an office staff of 4 in addition to the Shroyer family (Max, Mary and Neil).

Marina de La Paz offers a cruiser friendly marina to clean-up and provision. The staff is friendly and gracious as are the fellow cruisers who call Marina de La Paz 'home'. Using marinas is not for everyone who are out cruising. Staying at one, while inexpensive by southern California standards, still can put a big dent in your cruising kitty. It is another choice available that allows the cruiser to safely leave the boat to learn the language, to do more overland exploring and have an opportunity to get to know the people and culture of this beautiful country.