Goodbye Baja

Posted by John

On February 14th we said goodbye to Baja California. It wasn’t that we wanted to. In fact, we were getting used to the place and what Robyn calls “desert sailing.” I asked an expert once why there was no air filter in our boat’s engine and he said it didn’t need one because there are no dusty roads on the water. I’d have to disagree. Sailing in the desert with virtually zero rain, our boat was covered in dust all the time.

Before we left home, when looking at pictures of some of these areas we’ve just been to, the dry hills did not look all that appealing. But photographs do not tell the whole experience. They don’t show the changing colors throughout the day, or the fantastic shapes of some of the rocks and mountains, or the contrast of the land and the sparkling water. They don’t show the stars at night.

The terrain is like a painted backdrop on a stage. It is a still life painting. Nothing moves except a few birds. On its own, it is eerily quiet. Even when the wind blows, there are no tree branches to sway; the cacti stand perfectly still.

The longer we stayed in Baja, the longer we felt we could stay. In many ways it is a rustic place: dirt roads, few people and long distances. The locals we met are all some of the nicest, friendliest, happiest people we’ve ever met. All of them, with the possible exception of the La Paz Port Captain (a different story for another time), were extremely patient and helpful with our attempts to communicate. We keep thinking that a little house built on a beach at the end of a dirt road, twenty miles from anywhere, with a front yard full of collected seashells, would not be a bad place to just hang out and let the world do its thing somewhere else for a while.

Saying goodbye to Baja also meant saying goodbye to our buddy boat, Slainte, and Joe and Cathy. They’ve been our traveling companions, who were never too far away (although, somehow usually ahead of us), since last June when we moved out of our house, onto the boat, and dropped anchor near them in Port Ludlow Bay.

We had been planning to stick with them a little longer, to keep moving north for another week before finally breaking off and turning south toward the Mexican Riviera. But talk of a cold front coming through by the weekend, with 35 knot southerly winds and rain (RAIN?) kind of spooked everyone. Joe indicated that he and Cathy wanted to stay inside the protection of Puerto Escondido until the system passed. We had planned all along to be in Mazatlan by the end of February—for Carnival—but that was negotiable.

From the additional weather forecasts we managed to get online through an intermittent cell phone hot spot, it looked like if we left immediately we could beat the first system and make it to Mazatlan before a separate system was predicted to hit there on the weekend. So we said our goodbyes, skipped a birthday dinner, and left.

Except for a serious failure of part of our brand new water maker, it was one of the most mundane passages yet. It was 52 hours of droning on and on under power for 325 nautical miles through calm seas with not enough wind to bother putting up a sail. We read second-hand books that we had bought at the ex-pat American-owned bookstore in Loreto. We took turns sleeping. We ate. Between the three of us, we saw a few whales, dolphins, a turtle, a couple leaping billfish and two other boats: a commercial fishing boat and a Baja Ferry. At times, the sea surface looked more like a calm lake.

We arrived Thursday afternoon at the El Cid Marina (part of the El Cid Resort) in Mazatlan. As we came in the narrow channel through the breakwater, we could already hear loud, unfamiliar birds in the trees. As a guest in the marina, we are entitled to all of the amenities of the resort hotel, including a very large hot tub spa that’s actually hot, and multiple swimming pools, multiple restaurants, and just about everything else you can imagine being available at a vacation resort. This will not be a bad place to take care of some business before the next major leg of our journey, as well as to figure out what the heck happened to the water maker boost pump. It has completely quit boosting, which really disappoints me. But by now I realize that if I let these things get me down, we’ll never get anywhere.

Joe sent us a message saying that the storm came and the wind hit Puerto Escondido with gusts swirling down the mountains at over 60 knots. Slainte was heeled over to the rail, even while sitting there tied to the mooring. At least one boat broke free, and several dinghies flipped. The sailboat, Shannon’s Spirit, from Victoria, B.C., who we had spent a Sunday afternoon with at Lupe Sierra’s Restaurant in San Evaristo, arrived here from La Paz a couple days after us and reported that they had just made it out of La Paz before the Port Captain closed the port to departures due to the weather. We are feeling lucky that we made the decision that we did, and that we had such a boring trip.

As far as the second system forecast to hit Mazatlan: it came on schedule two days after we arrived. We received a tropical deluge that, if nothing else, removed the last bit of Baja dust from our decks.

Leaving Puerto Escondido and the canyons of the Sierra de La Giganta.
I have not been able to adequately, photographically capture the bizarre shapes bulging out of the ground that are formed by some of the rocks in this area. That island in the center is covered with bulbous protrusions sticking out at all angles.
This sunset just wouldn’t fade and we watched it for quite some time before finally getting out the camera. The land to the left is our last view of the Baja peninsula.
Approaching the Mazatlan area, we are now officially in the tropics—again.
A page from our own “Log of the Sea of Cortez” tracking our progress from Puerto Escondido to Mazatlan. The chart on the left is simply a grid marked off with latitude and longitude, with our position plotted every couple hours from start to finish.
Marina El Cid. Iguanas sun themselves on the rocks around the marina basin.
These heavy wooden rocking chairs, each with a different first name carved on the backrest, are one of my favorite, if curious, amenities.
One of the swimming pools. The “caves” in the background lead to another section of pool on the other side.

Water maker failure update: The boost pump motor quit working because it was full of water. This appeared to be due to a missing seal around a screw that did not get assembled properly during manufacture. See photo below.

Disassembled pump chamber. The upper long bolt in this photo is unsealed. The seal for it was loose inside the pump chamber and is the small cone-shaped rubber washer to the right.

Water worked its way from inside the pump chamber to inside the case of the electric motor. Cruise RO Water has suggested that during fresh water flushing of the system, our boat’s pressurized water pump (we take flush water from our pressure system) may have forced the seal out of position from around the screw by causing too high of a pressure inside the boost pump chamber. This does not seem likely however, since the cone-shaped seal should’ve been pushed in tighter, you would think, if the pressure was too high inside the pump chamber. Our own usage experience and evidence suggests that the seal was knocked out of position as the bolt was inserted through the pump chamber during factory assembly, but of course, I don’t know for sure.

To be on the safe side, we are adding a valve to bypass our pressure water pump when flushing the water maker so that the water maker boost pump is pulling water from the tank rather than having it supplied under pressure. The boost pump itself is being replaced under warranty. We will get all this completed at such time when we are not floating around in a pool or sitting in a rocking chair.

Puerto Escondido

Posted by John

Puerto Escondido Bay on a calm day.

Puerto Escondido somehow became what we were aiming for after leaving La Paz. We knew it was a large and almost landlocked bay capable of holding many boats. We knew that it was near Lareto, the second largest city in south Baja after La Paz, and home to many retired Americans. We heard that a marina was being built, or had already been built. There was a fuel dock. There was a boatyard for repairs and bottom painting. We also heard that recently, anchoring had been banned inside the bay and permanent moorings with a charged fee had been installed to be used instead. And we heard a rumor that taxis into Lareto from the marina were prohibitively expensive.

What we actually found when we finally got to Puerto Escondido was all of that. And a round-trip taxi to Lareto and back, twelve miles away, was 1,200 pesos, or about $60 U.S. In Mexico, you can buy a lot of groceries for $60, but not so much if you have to double that each time you go into town to shop.

There is a marina, with nice offices and friendly, helpful staff, and dock space for a few boats (I really do mean a few). The “marina” really is more than a hundred mooring balls which have been installed in the bay. It is a hurricane hole. There is a fuel dock, free showers, free self-serve laundry and a few garbage cans for boat trash. However, there is not even one snack or drink machine. There is a restaurant, open in the evenings, but no café or bar & grill or snack shop like you’d expect. There are a couple of new glass and steel buildings, and nice landscaping, but the buildings have lots of empty space. Several nearby buildings are still empty shells. What has been built has obviously been built with big plans in mind. It just hasn’t reached its potential, maybe. There is also a solid cruiser community with a local morning radio net.

Although we were technically not off-grid anymore, the public Wi-Fi for the marina was not operating most of the time. Even our Mexican cell phone had trouble holding a connection. Cell towers (tower?) appeared to be some distance away.

We hired a couple of young guys to come out to our boat to dive it and clean the bottom. Afterwards, their boat wouldn’t start and we towed them back to the marina dock with our dinghy and its little 2 HP motor. Their boat greatly outweighed us and I wasn’t sure it was going to work until we gained some momentum. A few days later we saw the same two guys using their boat to tow a 40-foot sailboat. One guy was towing, the other guy was steering the sailboat. They saw us, and you could tell they were making sure we saw them.

We had an odd experience in a grocery store in Lareto. Sometimes I’ll go into a store and feel like I’m in another country. This was true in a Costco we used to go to in south Seattle where it seemed like most customers were speaking Chinese or Vietnamese, and it was especially true of a Costco we went to in Chula Vista, California which even had a Mexican currency exchange window. But at the Pescadora in Loreto it was the opposite: we were in a Mexican store, yet it seemed like nearly every customer was an American speaking English.

I think there might be some kind of deal between the local taxi company and the rental car companies. It can actually be cheaper to rent a car for a day than to take a taxi to town and back. So we rented a car—twice. We made two shopping trips to Lareto, and shared a car with Joe and Cathy from Slainte for a sightseeing trip.

The plan was to go to a 300 year-old mission built in the mountains. That sounded okay, but who knew it was 25 miles up a narrow, winding mountain road, over a pass, and part way down the other side? For a while, we thought maybe we’d gone so far that we’d soon catch a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, but we didn’t. We met some friends of Joe and Cathy’s there for lunch. It was a fun trip, and nice to get off the boat and above sea level for the day.

San Javier Mission, built 300 years ago, somewhere in Sierra de La Giganta.

We had a tour guide, and Joe’s friend’s wife spoke Spanish, so we got the story, pretty much. Apparently, the mission failed because they couldn’t make it self-sufficient, but not for lack of trying. There is still an original 300 year-old olive tree on the grounds.

The natural spring water and lush vegetation gives the place an oasis feel.
Back at Puerto Escondido, teaching Robyn how to relax and contemplate the future.
The entrance to the bay is through the low gap on the left, to the right of that is the marina and buildings. This was a very calm day. We also endured a couple of days of winds gusting over 30 kts and whitecaps in the bay. This is the farthest we’ve regularly dinghied to shore yet. It’s nice not having a leaky dinghy anymore.
Fuel dock, with boat yard behind.
What we really wanted was a holding tank pump out. We waited over an hour for the pump to be brought, the hose primed and the connection to the sewer made. We also topped off the fuel tank. It was a nice day to just sit there for a while. They could make some money if they put in a little store with cold drinks and ice cream.

Way back in April last year (seems a lot longer ago) we bought a wind generator to sit on the bracket that came already mounted on our mizzen mast. The idea was that it would provide some battery charging current when the wind was blowing, whether the solar panels were getting sun or not. At the time, we were thinking simple things, like radar and GPS and lights. Now we have a water maker (battery killer), rudimentary refrigeration, electronic toys that constantly need charging, and other things that use far more power than we needed a year ago.

We had identified from Google image searches the particular model of wind generator that the bracket had been made for. Unfortunately, the company had gone out of business but we found a generator available in a warehouse near Seattle. We bought it, and it has been taking up space in the aft cabin since Day 1 of our trip. We’ve since heard that it is back in production again, as was expected, by a different company after it bought the tooling and manufacturing rights from the original maker.

I had envisioned installing the wind generator on the mast some sunny, unhurried day, maybe while anchored in a calm bay in Mexico surrounded by dry hills and a gentle breeze. That time and place turned out to be now, in Puerto Escondido. It was becoming a running joke that we needed to spend a few days to work on our wind generator, but something always interrupted us. So, already staying longer in Puerto Escondido than we had originally planned, and with the joke getting old, we dug it out, assembled it into its very awkward and heavy shape, and went about getting it up the mast.

We had had months to come up with a plan—I’ve spent oh, so many lazy afternoons lying in the cockpit gazing up at that bracket and imagining how we were going to get that thing up there. We executed the plan nearly flawlessly, except for one minor problem. The generator has a pin that fits down into the vertical pipe on the end of the bracket. It didn’t fit. The inside diameter of the pipe is 2 mm smaller than the outside diameter of the pin. That’s just one silly millimeter all the way around the hole, but there was no way it was going in.

When we had the masts and rigging off the boat two years ago I had measured the bracket. My measurements were in inches. The inside diameter of the pipe was measured at 1.5 inches. When we figured out that we were looking for an Ampair 100 wind turbine, made in England, the published dimensions we found were in millimeters. I converted all my measurements. Everything was right on to the published specs, except the pipe diameter. But I had measured that with a tape measure, probably rounding to an even 1.5 inches, or so I assumed. Perhaps there was some room for error there. But no, it is actually a 1.5 inch pipe, and 1.5 inches comes out to 38.1 mm. The 40 mm pin is actually 40 mm. It must be a metric standard pipe size. My measurement was surprisingly accurate the first time. A 40 mm pin does not fit in a 38.1 mm hole.

We lowered the wind generator back down to the deck. Then I went back up the mast and removed the bracket and brought it down for a closer look. Sadly, the inside diameter of the pipe was, really, truly, 1.9 mm smaller than the outside diameter of the Ampair pivot. How could this be?

I spent a long, mostly sleepless night going over all the possible solutions in my head, and rejecting most of them. One of the most intriguing to me, in the pre-dawn hours, was to disassemble the wind generator and remove what I had convinced myself was simply a chunk of anodized aluminum which was the pivot that fit into the pipe, find a machine shop in town, and have the guy skinny it up by 2 mm.

But then, as the sun came up on another day, one of the fundamental differences between me and Julie came into play. While I had spent all night fuming over it, even considering cutting our losses and putting the whole thing up for swap & trade on the morning net, she looked it up and found that there was an adapter available at the same warehouse near Seattle where we had bought it. The adapter is specifically for mounting a post-2001 Ampair onto a pre-2001 Ampair mizzen mast bracket. What do you know? Just like that, problem apparently solved—if we can get one sent to us here in Mexico.

In the meantime, after being here for two weeks, we’ve decided to leave Puerto Escondido and soon will be going our separate way from Slainte. They are heading farther north, eventually storing their boat and going home for the summer, while we will be turning back south and crossing to the mainland side of the Sea of Cortez. After coming so close, completion of the wind generator installation will have to wait until we can get the adapter.

The Ampair wind turbine all rigged up for hoisting and nowhere to go. The black pin on the bottom with the wire sticking out has to fit into the pipe that’s welded through the bracket.
The bracket after it was disappointingly removed for closer inspection.

Eventually we expect to be in Mazatlan for a while. We should have consistent internet access there.

Going Off-Grid

Posted by John

During our Sunday afternoon at Lupe’s restaurant in San Evaristo we had discovered the village Wi-Fi password written on a piece of wood nailed to the wall among all of the photographs, children’s art work, memorabilia, fish skeletons, maps, knickknacks, bird feathers, seashells, boat cards (business cards for retired people who are now travelling about by boat), pennants, posters and calendars. Everyone immediately took out their smart phones and tried to connect. It worked. Once that fact had been established, the phones went back in the bags and we all returned to the moment before the interruption. It was time for dessert.

Being able to get onto the internet briefly in San Evaristo assured us that the world was still there, if a little unsettled. But that’s about all we got. We were only able to get a few minutes of access before the connection quit and we got nothing but error messages concerning an “upstream client satellite link.” Maybe we broke it. We kept trying. Maybe, we thought, it would work again on Monday. It did not.

We had now gone several days without internet or phone service. We didn’t know it yet, but we were going to go for several more.

We were staying in San Evaristo ‘til Tuesday if the winds let up, then we’d continue north up the Baja side of the Sea of Cortez toward Puerto Escondido. Geary’s Weather is broadcast on the Sonrisa net every morning at 7:45. He talks for 15 minutes, giving a full report and three-day forecast for the Baja peninsula, the Sea of Cortez, and the entire mainland Mexican Pacific coast. He also briefly reports on the Pacific Northwest and California (so everybody knows what’s going on at home). It’s not the best way to evaluate the weather, but right now he’s the easiest, most reliable information we have available.

Tuesday morning, part way through his broadcast, Geary realized he was using old data. He apologized, and that was that. Someone else came on with fill-in weather, but we ended up not getting a clear idea of what was happening. At 8:00 Joe from Slainte called on the VHF and suggested we should go as we’d planned. We were making an eight hour run to Agua Verde, a stop over on the way to Escondido. We pulled the anchor and left almost immediately.

It was a long, uncomfortable slog to Agua Verde, bashing through steep, short-period waves of four to six feet in height. Sometimes you’ll be going along okay, then there’s a big hole in the water and the boat falls in. Then the boat climbs its way back out. A little bit later, you’ll do it again. It’s like that, really. Somehow, even though the boat’s doing all the work you get tired.

Agua Verde is on the north side of a large point with impressive, rocky terrain, surface breaking reefs, and sheer cliffs dropping into the water. Slainte was ahead of us and anchored behind the rocks and reef protecting the north cove, along with a large fishing trawler that was already there. We nosed into the middle of the south cove, not sure how quickly it became shallow. The chart said the depth soundings were made by the USS Ranger in 1881. We were concerned that the south cove was wide open to the sea on the north side, but at the moment, the winds were fairly quiet and the water was calm inside the bay. Mostly, it was that we were there, the anchor was down, and we were tired.

During the night (of course) the wind came up again and soon thereafter the waves came. The waves continued to get bigger and bigger. Sometime in the early morning before daylight, Joe called us on the radio to discuss plans. We made the decision to leave at first light (before Geary’s weather report) and push on to Puerto Escondido, trying to arrive by midday Wednesday. The last good (now stale) forecast received (two days prior) had said that the winds would dramatically increase at Escondido on Wednesday afternoon and so we wanted to be there before then—just in case the report was still accurate. These wind forecasts are generally made by computer models. The models require accurate input data on current conditions in order to project out into the future. As Cliff Mass (University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences) has said in his blog, more quality data points entered into the model means a better quality forecast. I suspect that there just aren’t as many high quality weather reporting stations in this area as there are in a place like Seattle. But, it was the only forecast we had.

By daylight, the waves coming into the bay were so big that our bowsprit would strike the water surface and we were taking a fair amount of spray onto the anchor windlass. We’ve learned from experience that salt spray into the windlass clutch is not a good thing. We keep it covered while underway now, but we’d never had waves like this in an anchorage before, and it had been left uncovered. Also, I had never gone up on the bow and tried to raise the anchor in waves this big. Being on a lee shore was a concern as well, since the wind and waves were pushing us toward the beach. So, with all those worries (my daughter says I worry too much about such things), we wanted to get the anchor up and the boat moving forward in one smooth operation without any screw-ups.

In my “no margin for error” effort to raise the anchor I managed to get it jammed crooked and stuck in the bowsprit. It was really stuck and wouldn’t budge, but with the deck beneath my feet plunging out from under me over each wave crest, there wasn’t anything I could do about it now. We’d have to figure something out before we anchored in Puerto Escondido. Or maybe, we’d heard, they were making everybody rent a mooring buoy there now. If that was the case, we wouldn’t need the anchor and we’d have plenty of opportunity to work on it once we got there.

We made it out past all the rocks and into the clear. The waves were bigger than the day before. After a short time Joe got on the radio and said that his GPS ground speed was too slow in these seas to make Escondido on time and they were turning back to Agua Verde. As they turned around, we heard they took a wave into the cockpit. With the stuck anchor and rough night we’d had, we didn’t want to go back to where we had just left. But a few seconds later we realized that we really had no choice. If we kept going, and the going was too slow, we’d risk getting there too late, possibly after dark, and might even have to try to grab a mooring in 30 knot winds. The trawler that had been hogging so much space in the north cove had departed during the night, so maybe we could get in there with Slainte.

We found that the better protection of the north cove was nothing like the wild night we’d had in the south cove. It took our giant screwdriver being used as a pry bar, but we got the anchor unstuck and down. We heard from Geary’s report that the wind was forecast to stay up, and even get stronger, with bigger seas, until Sunday. The one thing we knew for sure, was that Agua Verde was even further off the grid than San Evaristo.

Our first attempt to leave Agua Verde was slightly dramatic and decidedly not worth it.
The north cove was definitely the nicer place to be. We rocked some when the wind gusts topped 30 knots for two days, but otherwise it was an interesting and unique place.
Mysticeti and Slainte anchored at Agua Verde.
Having come to accept the desert scenery as a kind of painted backdrop of constantly changing colors, but little movement of any kind, we were quite surprised one evening to see and hear several goats grazing on the steep slopes of the pyramid shaped hill behind the boat. The next afternoon they were close enough to be identified as Nubians and made us miss the goats we used to have at home.
Those white things in this photo by Robyn are goats way up there on the rocks.
The main community of Agua Verde is located in the green valley behind the beach toward the right of this photo. The surf on the beach is often too much for a dinghy landing.
At low tide the shoreline can be walked from the north cove, around the point, to the main beach and a tiny store.
Once finding the store and making purchases, you only have to walk the beach back, scramble over the rocks around the point, get back in the dinghy and go back out to the boat.

We ended up staying in Agua Verde for a full week. Then, like a switch had been flipped, the wind and waves went back to normal. We departed and continued north to Puerto Escondido. We were sure that this would mean a return back to civilization and onto the grid, but—not so fast. The Wi-Fi, when it works, doesn’t reach us out in the bay. And the cell phone only connects when standing on the upper deck of the marina building and holding the phone in a certain position.

The white sailboat just visible in the center is inside Puerto Escondido. Mysticeti is out of view behind the hill in this photo taken from a moving car on the Baja Highway.
Of course, if you’re going to go off for a ride in the car, you really don’t know what kind of party your kid is having at home.

Leaving La Paz

Posted by John

After our excursion to Isla La Partida to test the water maker and enjoy the peace and quiet, we returned to the La Paz anchorage for a few days in order to stock up on supplies for the next few weeks when we would be “off the grid” for a while. We anchored again near Marina de La Paz and once more were treated to the odd array of sounds from the waterfront. Besides the usual random cheering and shouting, rooster crowing, and rock and swing music at whatever hour, we were also entertained by what can only be described as a marching drum corps. We never saw them and have no idea what it was about, but part of me was a little sad when, after intermittently playing for two days, all of the drumming finally came to an end.

The marina has a dinghy dock with 24-hour security which can be used by anyone for about a dollar a day, including a water spigot for those coming in to fill water jugs. We unloaded our garbage (included in the charge), did laundry and made a shopping trip. We also met up with Joe and Cathy from s/v Slainte. We all were ready to move on from La Paz now that we didn’t need to find a place to watch anymore Seahawks games.

From La Paz we headed north, back to Isla La Partida, to a place called La Partida Cove. The cove is in a bowl in the gap between La Partida and Espiritu Santo islands, and is protected on three sides with the fourth side getting protection from Espiritu Santo. We took a kayak and the dinghy to the beach.

La Partida Cove. The sandy beach is bigger and farther away than it looks. There is a faded sign just off the beach toward the right that might mark a trail, but the route wasn’t clear if it did.
The geology of the islands is interesting and, with little vegetation, the different rock layers are visible. The Sea of Cortez is what happened when the San Andreas Fault ripped apart. There has been both volcanic action and up-thrusting of Earth’s crust.
Baja mainland at sunrise from Isla San Francisco, showing rock layers.

From La Partida we continued north to Isla San Francisco and a place known as the “Hook.” This is an inviting place with a long, bright sandy beach that hooks around. Right after sunset the wind suddenly came up to over 20 knots. We spent a rocky night a little worried about being pushed up onto the beach. As the wind continued, the waves grew bigger.

There are no lights in the area except for a flashing navigational beacon on the end of the hook. Once the sun went down it was really dark until the quarter moon came up after midnight. After the wind had stretched out the anchor chain we reset the anchor alarm distance (the alarm had already been triggered) to just beyond our position and watched the display as we swung in an arc just inside that distance. If the anchor had dragged at all, the alarm would go off again. That was good, but our GPS map for the area was completely off, showing us on the other side of the island. And that’s not good if you have to bail out of the anchorage in the middle of the night! Slainte has the same Garmin electronic charts that we do and theirs too, had Isla San Francisco in the wrong place. We have paper charts as well, but overall, this area is not charted with very much detail. Most of the depths are based on soundings taken in the 1880’s.

We had planned to go ashore but in the morning the water was still a little rougher than we’d prefer for trying to launch the dinghy. The weather report on the ham radio Sonrisa net was for worsening winds over the next few days. We departed for a place where the wind would be blowing off the beach, rather than onto it.

The beach at the Hook, Isla San Francisco, before the wind suddenly came up.
Although Joe and Cathy from our buddy boat Slainte made it to the beach for a while in the morning, the slow-to-get-going crew of Mysticeti did not get the dinghy launched. But the coffee and lazy morning in the cockpit was enjoyed very much.
Sunset from Isla San Francisco.

From Isla San Francisco we moved across the channel to San Evaristo on the Baja mainland. The expected west wind should mostly be blocked by the mountains, we thought. San Evaristo is a small fishing village on a bay offering good weather protection from the north, south and west. The first night the wind came up after sunset and blew in what seemed like circles at up to at least 25 knots. You could hear the gusts coming down the slope long before they hit. We didn’t get much sleep.

San Evaristo. The theory that the mountains would block wind from the west proved to be not quite true. At least there wasn’t much fetch between us and the beach for waves to build. Pickup trucks, dogs and chickens were up and down the beach all day.
Eleven boats overnighted in the bay our first night. The white and blue buildings on the beach are the local desalination plant, diesel generator to run it, and internet Wi-Fi access point—when it works (we got ten minutes out of it). There was no cell phone coverage.
Although our guidebook mentions a paved road between here and La Paz, apparently the single track dirt road is the only way in and out, at least between here and the Baja highway. The beach doubles as the main road in town.
Joe from Slainte gathered up eight of us from the boats in the bay and we had a great Sunday lunch/dinner at Lupe Sierra’s Restaurant.
While we were waiting for our food to cook I picked up the camera and took this snapshot from the table out back of the restaurant. It just seemed to remind me of my childhood impression of Mexico that I had gotten from watching westerns on TV.
And, as for the slightly odd relationship between the people of the fishing village and the visiting recreational boats that come to hang out in close proximity watching them all day; I’m still collecting my thoughts.

Thanksgiving in La Paz

Posted by John


We first heard the term on our second or third day here in La Paz, on the morning VHF channel 22 radio net, which we discovered by accident, during a portion referred to as “Arrivals and Departures.” A boat was welcomed back to La Paz after a two-year absence with the words: the “bungee effect” has struck again. What was meant was that even though boats leave La Paz, they are often drawn back, like the pull of a bungee cord.

We just got here, and we already see the attraction. It’s comfortable, and as we mentioned in the last post, there is a welcoming and supportive cruising community. We joined Club Cruceros, the cruiser club, paying for a one-year membership. Maybe we just want to keep our options open. Or maybe we want to draw a line in the sand for ourselves at a new latitude, to kind of establish a forward base as it were, a familiar fallback position as we ultimately press onward.

The city of La Paz, population around a quarter-million, is located on the Sea of Cortez side of the Baja California peninsula, maybe thirty miles or so north of the Tropic of Cancer. We crossed the Tropic of Cancer twice getting here. The first time was at approximately 3:45 AM on November 10th, entering the tropics on the way south to Cabo San Lucas, and the second time after rounding the southern end of the Baja peninsula and coming back up on the inside, leaving the tropics.

La Paz is located on the Bay of La Paz, which is separated from the Sea of Cortez by a peninsula. The distant view from La Paz is therefore of mountains (or at least big hills) on three sides. Just off the northern tip of the peninsula, at the open end of the bay, is the UNESCO designated biosphere reserve of Isla Espíritu Santo. I dove in these waters before, almost thirty years ago, and have waited a long time to be able to anchor in one of the picturesque bays of the island on my own boat. Because of its protected status, to visit the area now requires each person to purchase a permit, but that is not a big deal.

Up to this point, our trip schedule has been driven by two main events. The first being getting out of Puget Sound during the weather window, and the second being in San Diego by the last week of October to join the Baja Ha-Ha. The next event that would drive a schedule is crossing the Pacific to French Polynesia, but that is at least several months away. In the meantime, we can relax, work on projects, explore and enjoy.

Thanksgiving Day, 2016.  We don’t know for sure which of our families these never-lit candles came from, but these, or ones just like them, were part of both Julie’s and my childhood Thanksgivings.
Thanksgiving Day, 2016. We don’t know for sure which of our families these never-lit candles came from, but these, or ones just like them, were part of both Julie’s and my childhood Thanksgivings.

For us as a family the Thanksgiving Holiday has evolved over the years, but this year it took a drastic turn to the different. It’s hard to think of it as Thanksgiving when the sun is bright, hot and high in the sky. At home in the Seattle area we would be entering the “Slimy Season” now, when the sun, if it manages to come out for a few minutes, is too weak and low in the sky to dry anything out, a green slime seems to form on everything and the ground remains perpetually wet. Here in the desert climate of La Paz, if something gets wet it dries in a matter of minutes.

We can’t help but to think back on what we’ve had to do, and give up, to get this far. The years of planning and preparation; the familiar routines of caring for our goats, chickens, dog and cat we used to have, even the bee hives Julie tried to maintain, are all just memories now. The gambles we’ve taken, financial and otherwise, are not trivial. There is a sense of excitement for where we go from here, but also the knowledge that every time we set out is another opportunity for failure. Even if we changed our minds and quit today, just getting the boat back home would not be easy and could take months.

A few days before Thanksgiving, the cruising community threw a party at La Costa restaurant for all the new boats that had just arrived. There was music and dancing, from performances of a Mariachi band and traditional Mexican dancers, to the live band and party participants themselves. In the fading light of the sunset, I looked at the fronds of the trees blowing in the wind and the boats in the boatyard next-door and it hit me as to just how we had gotten here. I suddenly thought of my dad. As a kid I spent many Saturday afternoons with him sailing in his 14-foot C-Lark on Lake Washington and telling him how someday I was going to sail to Tahiti. I don’t think he ever took it seriously. It’s still too early to tell if we’ll make it to Tahiti, or even get close, but if my dad could see what we’ve done to get this far, I’d like to think he’d be impressed and happy.

There were plenty of opportunities offered to have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner here. We chose The Dock Café, just up at the end of the dock, overlooking the marina, which made an American Thanksgiving dinner the special of the day. We shared the table with Joe and Cathy from “Slainte,” and shared the experience with others of the local cruising family.

That was our Thanksgiving for 2016.


Cabo San Lucas to La Paz

Posted by John

Sea of Cortez

If you look at a map of the space between Baja California and the mainland of Mexico it will be called the Gulf of California. Yet, everyone I’ve ever known who has been there calls it the Sea of Cortez. I’ve tried to look up why this is, but no one seems to know exactly. Apparently it is one of those instances where there’s a disagreement between the “geographic-name committee” and popular usage.

The Baja Ha-Ha officially ended the same way it began—in a parking lot. During the course of the evening, every boat was called out to come forward and accept whatever prize it had been awarded. It was Saturday night. A few boats had already left for their next destination. Some boats were turning around in a day or two to go back north. Some crew members were going to the airport to head home and go back to work. Some boats were continuing on to Mazatlan or Puerto Vallarta, and some boats were heading up to La Paz. We were planning to leave for La Paz in the morning. I had been there once before on a scuba diving trip 27 years ago and wanted to explore the islands around there some more.

We decided to go ahead and buy fuel in Cabo, and we were pleasantly surprised to learn that not only did Ha-Ha boats not get charged the dockage fee, but we were also given a discount on the price of diesel. The benefits of the Baja Ha-Ha continue. However, we did have to pay for water.

As nice as Cabo was, being anchored out was difficult. The anchorage area was not only choppy from boats and jet skis, but it was also rolly with swells. The conditions and distance to the dinghy dock in the inner harbor meant that most people relied on water taxis to and from shore instead of their own dinghies. The going rate was five dollars per person, one way, with a three person minimum. For the three of us, one trip to shore and back was thirty dollars. That adds up quickly.

Those who had requested slips in the marina learned that a “slip” often meant being rafted with several other boats. The boats on the inside had people from the outer boats always climbing over them. For those of us in the anchorage, it was especially difficult to transfer from our own rolling boats to the rolling and bobbing water taxis. Some water taxi drivers were more experienced than others at this. After the final event in the parking lot, we could only find one water taxi driver willing to take those of us needing a ride back out in the dark to try to find each of our boats. The process was not easy, especially with the language barrier making, “I think it’s that one over there, no, maybe it’s that one there,” difficult to communicate.

Good-bye, Cabo San Lucas; and the southern tip of Baja California.
Good-bye, Cabo San Lucas; and the southern tip of Baja California.

The plan was for us to leave with “Slainte” and make a relatively quick trip around the bottom of Baja and up the inside to Bahia Los Frailes where we could anchor and spend the night. But it was slow going. The wind was strong from the north, right on the nose, and the seas were much bigger than we expected. At times we were lucky to be making headway at two knots over the ground. It quickly became apparent that we would not make it in daylight, but we continued on anyway. We really didn’t have a choice.

Los Frailes has a big, rocky hill which provides shelter from the north wind. The swells, however, were coming from the south. I don’t like anchoring in the dark in places I’m not familiar with, especially when I can see that there are unlit boats already there. It’s hard to judge distances in the dark. We had a big, bright supermoon to give us some light, but we suspect that that moon also caused an exceptionally strong tidal current which we fought all day and was the reason we didn’t make it until after dark. We spent the next 36 hours anchored behind those rocks hoping for the conditions to improve.

That unplanned day at anchor gave us some time to read up on what others had written about the trip from Cabo to La Paz. One book we have insists that the Sea of Cortez has no swells of its own, but that ocean swells from the north refract around the south end of Baja and travel up the inside as far north as Los Frailes. That was encouraging, since we were at Los Frailes.

After getting a weather report in the morning from the Sonrisa ham radio net, and with slip reservations waiting for us at Marina de La Paz, we decided to go on to our next planned stop in Bahia de Los Muertos. Again, the wind was fairly strong, and right on the nose, but the swells did eventually subside and the seas flatten out. We arrived at Los Muertos after dark once again. As before, we were anchoring in unfamiliar territory with the sound of crashing surf just ahead in the dark. Beach bonfires helped to make the experience a little spooky. The moon was just breaking over the horizon as we set our anchor, but our anchor windlass has been experiencing a clutch slippage problem which seems to be getting worse, especially when it gets sprayed with a lot of saltwater, as it had been since leaving Cabo. At one point, while testing the anchor set, the clutch gave way and chain starting going out in free-fall with no easy way to stop it. When we did get it stopped, we pulled the extra chain back in, but we were too close to “Slainte,” who had gotten there and anchored ahead of us. We struggled with the slipping clutch to re-anchor, and then we tied on chain snubbers and an extra safety line just to be sure. I had already all but destroyed the windlass chain lock back in Bahia Santa Maria on the way to Cabo.

After conferring with “Slainte,” we tentatively agreed to try for a 4 AM departure to beat the tidal current, but made no commitment to do so. We were tired and a little worried about the anchor windlass. It needed to be taken apart and cleaned. However, I spontaneously woke up at 2:58 AM and did not go back to sleep. I took this as meaning that we should go. We would’ve been right there with “Slainte” when they departed, but they jumped the gun a little, leaving closer to 3:30 than 4:00. We still had to start and warm up the engine, and then had some trouble getting the anchor up with the slipping clutch. However, after that, we had a totally uneventful day. We made it all the way into Marina de La Paz by mid-afternoon. We never did see Bahia de Los Muertos in daylight.

La Paz webcam

As we did in Half Moon Bay and San Diego, we expect to be in or around La Paz for a few weeks or more. We’ve already found everything we need here. Robyn went with a boat friend to see a movie at a local theatre, and today (November 20th) we saw both a parade on the Malecon, and a Seahawks game on TV in the marina café. I emailed a photo of our slightly worn windlass clutch plate to Lighthouse Manufacturing, the maker of the windlass, and received a reply less than 24 hours later. They said that the plate looked good to them, and their reply included pdf’s of clutch plate cleaning and maintenance procedures. While we are here, we hope to make progress on installing our watermaker, and maybe even the wind generator we’ve been lugging around. But the first few days have been hot so far, and lying around doing nothing, watching frigate birds soar overhead, feels really good.

The somewhat surprising thing we’ve found here is a large and active American retirement and cruising community living on their boats. It is much more extensive and tied together than we expected, with people knowledgeable on just about any subject, and always ready to help. It might not be bad to spend the winter right here. We’ll see.

At sunrise on January 1st of this year, I photographed the upper rim of the sun crossing the horizon from our kitchen window at home.  My thought was to do the same at least once per month throughout the rest of the year, wherever we happened to be.  It didn’t happen, except for this shot for November, as seen from Los Frailes.
At sunrise on January 1st of this year, I photographed the upper rim of the sun crossing the horizon from our kitchen window at home. My thought was to do the same at least once per month throughout the rest of the year, wherever we happened to be. It didn’t happen, except for this shot for November, as seen from Los Frailes.
"Slainte" at anchor (on left) at Los Frailes.  The rocky hill is to the right, out of the view of this photo.
“Slainte” at anchor (on left) at Los Frailes. The rocky hill is to the right, out of the view of this photo.
"Mysticeti" in La Paz Marina.  We've tried to shield the cockpit from the brutal sun.
“Mysticeti” in La Paz Marina. We’ve tried to shield the cockpit from the brutal sun.
Participants and spectators getting ready for a parade on the La Paz Malecon.
Participants and spectators getting ready for a parade on the La Paz Malecon.
This is the La Paz I remember from 27 years ago.
This is the La Paz I remember from 27 years ago.
These were my favorite dancing group in the parade because of the happy, pointy things on their heads.
These were my favorite dancing group in the parade because of the happy, pointy things on their heads.
Each dancing group in the parade had their own music.  Next time you're stuck at a stoplight with a loud, thumping stereo in the car in front of you, be glad it's not these guys.
Each dancing group in the parade had their own music. Next time you’re stuck at a stoplight with a loud, thumping stereo in the car in front of you, be glad it’s not these guys.