Oh, how dramatic is the Baja Coast! You remember, but memories can never do it justice. Our first morning, after anchoring well after dark, nearly blew us away with the scale and colors of the cliffs across the channel. Wow! It was fine timing to celebrate our fourth anniversary of cruising! Here’s to year number five!
We have been back on the Baja side of the Sea for a month now, and we picked up right where we left off last November, literally and figuratively. At about 10pm, June 1st, we dropped anchor in the Hook anchorage of Isla San Francisco about 36 hours after getting dunked by the breakers coming out of Altata! Dennis and Lisa on Lady Galadriel pulled in a couple of hours later, and Ryokosha with Paul and Kathi aboard arrived the next day directly from Mazatlán. That evening we celebrated our group reunion with freshly caught mahi on the grill (thanks to Lady G & Ryokosha) and were only missing The Good Neighbor (now in Trinidad by way of Dockwise Transport: see www.squizfloats.com for their saga!) to complete our retake of our final night here last November!
We three boats have been traveling together the whole month since, which actually has made our experience of the southern Sea very different than last year. It has been, in a word, SOCIAL. Every day there has been some activity like a hike or a snorkel (or a flotilla sail!) and every evening there has been a cribbage game, a happy hour, or a potluck supper on a beach or aboard one or the other boat! This makes each day zip by mighty fast. What happened to long afternoon siestas? And with June’s late sunsets, we find ourselves repeatedly up way past our usual bedtimes. Yikes! No rest for the weary!
Additionally, we have moved north more quickly, in bigger steps, skipping stops we would never have missed last year, while lingering longer on the hook in others. Plus, we are all second-termers this time around, surrounded by flocks of (mostly) Baja Haha’ers venturing into the Sea for their first season. It does change the perspective a little!
But just to prove that the second summer will not merely be a rerun of the first, we spent nearly a week in an anchorage that was new to the Two Captains. Puerto Los Gatos (25*18’N; 110*56’W) is a delightful doubled-lobed bay between Evaristo and Aqua Verde. Marked by red cliffs accented by white beaches, it must be one of the most colorful spots on the whole of Baja. The shoreline provided several great littoral rambles, fulfilling for both tide-pool biologists and amateur geologists.
The sedimentary rock divides between jumbled conglomerate (like a cement packed with stones and pebbles) and smooth, wind-sculpted sandstone. On the north side of the bay in particular, we found the rock face studded with geodes (Geodes are rounded stones that when cracked reveal centers of crystal. while the southern point offered up a plethora of skeletons – bird, fish and turtle, causing us to imagine fossils in the making!
Puerto Los Gatos is also known for Manuel, a resident fisherman who undertakes to keep visiting cruisers supplied with fish, lobster and rock scallops. By and large, most pangero fisherman steer clear of the cruisers. This probably results from the language barrier and the commitment to sell their catch to the fish cooperatives. Manuel, however, is well known for seeking out the cruisers in Los Gatos and selling or bartering seafood for such luxuries as batteries, a gallon or two of gas, and the occasional bottle of tequila. Although most cruisers like to hunt for their own seafood, at this time of year the water was still pretty chilly for us wimps, so Manuel’s services were appreciated.
Once in awhile, it works out that the cruisers can provide Manuel with a useful service. Seems Manuel was having some trouble with his solar panel installation. Did we know anything about them? With a dozen solar panels between the three boats (and two airplane mechanics), Don, Dennis and Paul were pretty well equipped to try, so off they went in Manuel’s panga.
Apparently it was quite the adventure. First leg was a 15-minute high speed boat ride around the point to the beach where Manuel keeps his pickup sheltered from the sun under a thatched palapa/garage. From the beach it was a three-mile drive to Timbabichi. Timbabichi is also known as Casa Grande for the ruin of a huge white house. The house, it turns out, was built by the great-grandfather of Manuel's wife around 1906 on the proceeds from a 5-karat black pearl. The settlement grew around the black pearl farming business, and later became a cattle center. At one point, the history reports extensive vegetable fields and even wheat and a vineyard!
Not much of its former glory remains. Manuel and his wife live in a rather more modest abode about a hundred yards from the shell of the Casa Grande. A pole-type structure with a corrugated roof and wood walls, the house has four rooms, six beds, one table with 5 chairs, one propane stove, open windows and one bare 12-volt bulb hanging in the middle of each room. Photos and knick-knacks cover every inch of available wall. Modern luxuries are two small black-and-white TVs and a cellphone.
Suffice it to say, they are not "on the grid." All their electrical power comes from two solar panels hooked to two batteries. Or, we should say "came", as the setup had deteriorated to the point the lights were "pee yellow" (as Don likes to say), and there was no TV. Up close the wiring was pretty scary! The boys spent about two hours unwrapping wires from battery lugs that were finger loose and rusty, and cleaning and replacing this setup with FAA quality crimped fittings. They were rewarded with big smiles from the wife when the light bulbs in the house and, more importantly, the TV all came on.
Another afternoon we took advantage of our crew of friends and took Tackless II out to debut the new cruising spinnaker. Neither Don nor I had any spinnaker experience to speak of, and we were, if we are honest, somewhat daunted by the size of this beast (1848 square feet!) as we’d packed it up on the grass in the park in LA. But last summer, people were flying spinnakers right and left in the Sea of Cortez’s light summer air, and we managed to convince ourselves that a vessel heading across the Pacific had to have some kind of light air sail. So, a new spinnaker became this year’s big purchase, ordered up in a green and white captured star design from Doyle Offshore, Barbados with an ATN dousing sock and shipped to our daughter’s apartment in LA where it dominated her living room until we passed through to collect it.
So there were six of us aboard for the big afternoon, and of course the winds got fluky gusting higher than we liked and then dropping away to zilch (which about describes the state of the butterflies in my stomach!) (For those of you wondering what can go wrong; there’s ripping the sail, dumping the sail in the water, and broaching the boat for starters!) There was somewhat of a Keystone Cop atmosphere aboard as we tried to figure out the best way to set up, handle and launch this monster. Which line goes where, does it go under this sheet or over it, which block do you want where? The guys were clambering all over the deck, Lisa was tending the sheet, Kathi was taking pictures and I was steering!
Then, whump! The sock came up and the sail filled and old T2 was scooting off. Wow, way cool! Now, if we can just manage it without a crew of six...? Well, sure enough, two days later, on our way north from Puerto Los Gatos, the 2Cs “got it up” on our own. No muss no fuss; just like we’d been doing it for ages. You knew we could do it!
These last few weeks of the month we have been revisiting some favorite anchorages from last year. We skipped Agua Verde because it was jammed with boats this year, and went instead back to Yellowstone Beach at the north end of Isla Monserrat (25*42’N; 111*03’W) Like last year, here is where we made our first hunting forays of the summer, and there is nothing like getting back into the water, even in 5mm wetsuits, to make this crowd happy. This time we made the dinghy trip out to the Galeras islets a few miles father north to find sea lions basking indolently on the shore while lots of tropical fish swirled among submerged boulders . From Monserrat we scooted into Puerto Escondido for laundry and a little reprovisioning as well as to take in a “goat roast”. Visions of a kid turning on a spit were dashed when the in-ground BBQ pit was uncovered and a giant pot lifted out. However the stewed goat was yummy anyway eaten Baja style in tortillas. From Escondido, we motored up to Loreto to do the usual round of port entry, provisioning and taco consuming at McLulus’s, before motoring off into the sunset to the Vee Cove anchorage at the North End of Carmen. We managed to keep this spot to ourselves and the dolphins for five nights, hiking and hunting daily, kayaking and doing happy hours in caves. It’s a tough life.
From Vee Cove we moved to Isla Coronados, one of our favorite spots last year. Word has gotten out, though, and there has been thirteen to twenty boats in here every evening this week! Our little group swelled with the addition of more and more old friends, plus a few new ones, so that every outing for snorkeling or diving looked more like a caravan! Sheesh, if we wanted to dive in crowds we could go with a shore based operation.
But just when we were about to cut and run, Mother Nature sent us the gift one morning of whales and dolphins in the anchorage! Dolphins are a fairly regular occurrence, snuffing and slapping as they (apparently) herd fish into tight packs for feeding, but whales are rare. Our three (we are not sure what species) huffed and puffed in circles all through coffee hour within a couple hundred feet or so of the boats, breeching bluff snouts and long black backs and ridiculously small dorsal fins (the dolphins fins stand higher!)! It was by far our best whale sighting yet!
Meanwhile, the flat pressure gradients of the past weeks have abruptly steepened, bringing brisk southerly winds that would be great for sailing north, except, of course, we want to move back south. Fourth of July is coming, and we hope to position ourselves near Juncalito for the annual fireworks there. There are lots of Canadians in the Sea this year, so there’s lots of radio chat about Canada Day festivities July 1st, as well. Someone just announced a beach party on the radio “Bring your instruments, or poetry,” etc! Yikes! The urge to form communities holds strong even among cruisers. Well, we’ll just see how long they last when it really starts getting HOT!