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.