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.