Monday, November 30, 2015

Turtle Bay

27:40.58 N
114:53.10 W

We dropped the anchor in Turtle Bay at 6:30 this evening - an hour after sunset, so doing it all in the dark added an exciting component! We are safe and sound after a good night of sailing in 25 knot winds and choppy seas. We will stay here a couple nights. Tomorrow we will top up our fuel and Wednesday morning, weather permitting we will make our next jump to Bahia Santa Maria, 240 nautical miles south and another two day passage.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sunday, November 29 @ 5:30pm PST

28:29.090 N
115:02.482 W

The last 24 hours have gone swiftly, but it seems like we are crawling along. We were able to sail until just after midnight, then the wind died and we motored until just after noon today. Right now we are going along at 6+ knots wing on wing with 20 knots dead behind us. Hopefully it will last a little longer tonight, but today has been a carbon copy of yesterday. We have had up to a knot against us all day which has also slowed us down.

All is well aboard. I even made pizza today! Yum!

Today we saw a sailboat going the same way as us far off in the distance. We saw another one and a power boat going north last night on our AIS. Otherwise, it seems we are alone.

We are still not sure if we will stop at the San Bonitas Islands, but will likely stop in Turtle Bay for more fuel and a rest. It all depends on how far we get tonight!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Saturday, November 28 @ 6:30 PST

31:12.580 South
116:38.766 West

We left Ensenada at 10am this morning in the sunshine. Actually, we left at 9am the first time, but had to return to the marina because our propeller didn't seem to be working right. Luckily there was a diver working on another boat and he was able to check ours out. We had a big ball of rope/twine wrapped around the shaft and prop. The diver was able to remove it and we were on our way again.

It has been a sunny day with winds 15 - 20 knots on our aft quarter out of the Northwest. The sea state approximately 2 meters and we are rolling along at 5 - 6 knots. Happy, happy! Dolphins leaped past our bow on the way out of the bay and later in the afternoon a whale surfaced, blew, slapped his tail about a bit, then disappeared. Since then, we have only had a few birds to keep us company.

We are both looking forward to moonrise in an hour or so!

Friday, November 27, 2015


We arrived in Ensenada just after first light on Tuesday, November 24, after a spectacular night cruise.  The moon was almost full, the seas were flat, and although we did not sail, we purred along at four knots.  Why so slow?  We only had to cover 65 miles but couldn’t make this distance during the day, and because we left San Diego harbour about 4pm, we needed to cut back on our speed in order to arrive after dawn. 

Good bye San Diego
If I could, I would do this passage over and over again.  As we passed Point Loma, we were treated to the most amazing, long lasting sunset I think I have ever seen.  To the west, the sun blazed every shade of red/orange and yellow as it sunk into the ocean and the after effects highlighted the sky like a tropical aurora borealis.  The seas were so flat the colours were reflected to such a degree it seemed as if the water were on fire.  

Sunset by Point Loma - photos cannot do this evening justice
To the east, a contrasting rainbow was occurring all across the sky as the light faded it flashed rose to purple to green and finally a deepening blue.  If that wasn’t enough, the almost-full moon was rising through the haze of the mountains, pearl white and glossy.  

San Diego in the distance
As the sky darkened completely, the moon lit up the landscape in a pale luminescent glow and the stars began to appear, one by one, until the most magnificent dome blanketed the sky.  We watched the transit of the moon during our night watches as the lights of Tijuana and Rosarita twinkled by.  I was lucky enough to see the moon set, around 4am, which was almost as dramatic as the sunset.  The orb had turned a butterscotch hue and was magnified a hundred fold as it disappeared slowly over the horizon.  

Moon set
The stars seemed to increase their intensity and the morning star began to rise in the east, the harbinger of the coming dawn.  We approached the inner breakwater of Ensenada just as the sun was ascending for another gorgeous day.  I was sorry it was over.

Raising the quarentine flag at dawn (a flash would have helped!)
Arriving in Ensenada after San Diego is like turning a switch.  The moment your feet touch the dock you know you are in a very different place.  It took a few hours to adjust to cracked sidewalks, grime and litter after the sterile, immaculate San Diego.  I don’t mean to be judgemental in this observation, as both these places have their fine points.  I really enjoyed the bicycle paths, the orderliness, the accessibility and apparent safety of California cities, but Ensenada seems more liberating and sensual.  For example, the showers in our marina here are made of gorgeous marble and the hot water is plentiful and crashes against your skin , but the ceilings are falling down and the smelly drains don’t work so well.  We’ve seen the opposite in California.  You can’t walk down the sidewalk in Ensenada without keeping an eye on where you place your feet, or what is hanging off the walls of buildings.  We’ve almost been blindsided by awnings at eye level, and access holes in the sidewalk, small enough that you don’t immediately see them, but large enough to entrap a foot and break a leg.  (And it is very hard to pay attention to your feet when you are immersed in all the amazing sights and sounds of this fascinating place.)

Busy tourist district
We checked into Mexico after we sorted out Ka’sala.  Because this was our second time clearing into Mexico with a boat, we were able to do most of the preparations in advance.   However, we were also greatly assisted by Jose, the English speaking receptionist at Baja Naval Marina.  

This picture was taken from under the enormous flagpole - you can just see Ka'sala (with Canadian flag) three from the end of the dock
We headed over to the Centro Integral de Servicios – one of only a few in Mexico – where all the check in offices are in one spot. (customs, immigration, the government bank, port captain, and fishing licenses.)  We knew we had to get our tourist cards (FMM) first as we needed copies of them to do the rest of the check in process.  All went well until we went to pay for them.  The clerk told us that the government bank would not accept credit card payment from sailing vessels – cash only, USD or pesos.  We ended up having to interrupt the process to try to find a regular bank, which took some time to find one that would allow us to access our Canadian account.  (We were successful at the Scotiabank).  Back at the Centro we were able to complete the rest of the formalities without problem.  By lunchtime we were sitting in the Mercado Negro munching on the famous fish tacos and pulling on ice cold Pacificos.

Yum!  All for a very affordable price!

Ka'sala at berth - the Carnival Imagination cruise ship in the background
After wandering the streets of Ensenada in the afternoon and deflecting the increasingly persistent touts and peddlers selling everything from wine tours to the Valle to Guadalupe, to your name on a grain of rice, from sombreros and Day of the Dead paraphernalia, to tacos on the street and cheap drinks in darkened bars, we stumbled back to Ka’sala.  It was an early night.

The next day we decided to broaden our perspective on this busy little city.  The day before we had done our cultural duty by visiting the architecturally beautiful Historical Museum where we traced the history of the native inhabitants, through early Spanish exploration, the mission period, mining and settlement.  Most of the labels were in English which was very helpful.

Historical Museum of Ensenada
We donned our walking shoes and sun hats and headed up to the Mercado Los Globos.  This market is a couple miles from the harbour and is far away from the tourist area.  Besides immersing ourselves in the sights and remembering our way around Mexican cities from our last sojourn, we were able to update our fresh provisions.  For the equivalent of ten Canadian dollars I purchased, oranges, grapefruit, pineapple, limes, romaine lettuce, two types of tomatoes, bananas, red onion, olives, and four bolillos (a small loaf of white bread, something like a fat French baguette). 

Fresh Bolillos
To put it into perspective – I paid over a US dollar a pound for all of these things in California.  Wow!  If it continues like this, I think our budget might stretch in Mexico!

Lovely fresh produce at Mercado Los Globos
Our plan had been to spend two nights in Ensenada before continuing down the Baja.  However, the third late season hurricane (Sandra) has been brewing south of Cabo San Lucas and we have been watching its progress carefully.  Although it appeared that the winds will not affect a passage to Turtle Bay, the seas would, as a southern swell is predicted to conflict with the strong prevailing northwest winds and swell around Cedros Island, making for a potentially very uncomfortable passage. So we decided to remain in Ensenada another two days while the weather farther south sorts itself out. 
Hurricane Sandra
The outlook for leaving here tomorrow (Saturday) looks very good with 15 to 20 knot winds predicted in 2 meter seas pretty much all the way to Turtle Bay and beyond.  

Forecast for 2 days after we leave Ensenada
We would like to get to La Paz as quickly as we can and so, if the weather is good and we aren’t too tired, we may even bypass Turtle Bay and continue to Bahia Santa Maria.  We are getting great weather reports off the internet and by listening in to the Baja and Chubasco HAM nets in the mornings.  We will likely not have cell phone coverage, so I will be posting our progress on the blog by HAM radio through our Pactor Modum.

Raising the Mexican flag
There aren’t a lot of other cruisers around at the moment – most transited through here in early November – but there are a few, several sporting Canadian flags.  There will probably be several of us who leave tomorrow.  In the meantime, the local weather has been cool with temperatures in the late teens and we have had rain the last two mornings.  However, the sun has come out in the afternoons and the cool nights make for great for sleeping!

Harbour of Ensenada - yes, the Mexican flag is really this big.  We are in the back line of sailboats on the bottom left

Sunday, November 22, 2015

San Diego

San Diego has been good to us.  We have been tucked up in a very nice marina that provides all the services a cruiser could need and then some – swimming pool and Jacuzzi, clean washrooms with free showers, a six machine laundry, security and garbage disposal, electricity, internet and potable water – all in a lovely setting and central location.

There is a terrific library where I was able to trade for some really good books.   Ironically, Harbour Island West Marina, costs the same as the bare-bones harbour police dock – the traditional place for cruisers to stay when they are transiting to Mexico.

The pool was a little chilly, but the Jacuzzi in the shade was a delightful place to soak the bones after a long bicycle ride!
Almost every day the sun has been shining and the temperatures have been in the 70’s.  We have seen just one 24 hour period of rain and high winds.  Nietzsche was wrong when he said: “nothing so vexes the soul as an endless succession of sunny days” for we have been enjoying every one!

City skyline in front of the marina - notice that Doug is looking at a modern air craft carrier in for refit in the distance (USS Carl Vinson)
In our first few days we spent a fair amount of time on Shelter Island in and out of the chandleries, purchasing items we need and may have difficulty finding in Mexico.  The area is truly boating central and offers pretty much anything a yachtie needs.  Although we have been riding our bicycles there for the little things, we launched the dinghy to bring over our propane tanks and dive tank for refilling.  We had one of our sail covers repaired.  We feel Ka’sala is now ready to go!

Ka'sala is hidden in a forest of masts at Harbour Island West Marina
On other days, we have ridden our bicycles into the city to tour around, do some shopping and visit museums.  Although there is a shared bicycle path that runs along the harbour, we have found this city to be way less bicycle friendly than any other place we have stopped down the coast.  Any time we have wanted to get someplace that was not along the water, we have had to battle traffic or ride on sidewalks. It's not much fun to be in a bicycle lane with traffic going 50 miles an hour beside you.  One day I even had a run in with an RV that was parked into the sidewalk.  Something on my bike caught its rear end and I toppled over, scraping elbow, hip and knee – sore, but quickly healed and a reminder to pay attention!!

A highlight for both of us was visiting the Maritime Museum and the USS Midway Museum.  The Maritime Museum was probably the best one I have ever seen and as a sailor, I’ve seen my share!

In addition to exhibits and displays, there are hundreds of expertly created model ships showing the evolution of sailing and shipping over the centuries.  There are many boats that one can visit.  From the Star of India – the last working sailing ship- to recreations of a Spanish galleon, a British frigate (used in the Russell Crowe film “Master and Commander”, to luxury turn-of-the-20th century wooden yachts, a historic San Diego harbour pilot boat and a military river boat which saw action in Vietnam, a gorgeous art nouveaux ferry from San Francisco, as well as two submarines – an older, enormous Russian one and a smaller, more modern, American one.  Each boat was almost entirely accessible to the visitor and we spent over several hours poring over them.

Doug takes the helm of the Californian

Transom of British Frigate used in Master and Commander

This one is for you Darlene
Remake of the Spanish Galleon Cabrillo sailed when he first landed in present day San Diego

At the periscope of the USS Dolphin

Below decks on the Russian submarine
In front of the conning tower of the Russian submarine

Okay, who exactly has the helm of the Star of India?

On another day we went to see the USS Midway, a US air craft carrier launched in 1945 and decommissioned in 1992.  

Aerial view of the USS Midway Museum

Guide to viewing the ship
When it was built, it was the largest ship in the world – the first one too large to fit through the Panama Canal.  It saw extensive service in Vietnam and its last foray was Desert Storm.  This enormous ship is well worth exploring and impossible to see in just one day.  We started on the hanger deck where there were many static displays of airplanes and jets associated with the history of the ship, as well as many exhibits explaining its past.  There were films, videos, an audio tour as well as hands-on opportunities such as simulators, cockpits and jumpseats.  

Remember these guys from "Fly into the Danger Zone"?  Think Top Gun!
We spent a good deal of time below decks touring through the many passages and rooms that the 4500+ crewmembers lived in – from their mess halls and quarters, the chapel, all the service areas such as laundry, and post office.   All along the way were photographs, quotations, explanations and displays. 

It was all absolutely fascinating and we just didn’t have the time to see it all and do it justice.  And that was before we got on to the flight deck, housing the control tower and bristling with the various fighter jets and helicopters that saw service on this incredible vessel. 

View to the bow of this enormous vessel - the city of San Diego in the background
Throughout the ship were volunteers, most, if not all, retired naval men who would answer questions or give briefings.  We listened to fascinating accounts from retired pilots of landing and taking off the carrier, as well as a guided tour of the bridge.  

Looking to the stern from the command tower

As much as we wanted to stay and learn more, by the end of the day we were exhausted and it was all we could do to bike home to Ka’sala. (Well, we did stop at Stones Brewhouse along the way!)

Love that IPA!
On our last full day in San Diego we bicycled over to Mission Bay, just north of San Diego proper.  This is an enormous area of bays and beaches, the home of Seaworld.  Although we didn’t visit it, we did explore the various paved ways along the front of lovely beach houses and cottages.  Beach volleyball is the name of the sport here and there were lots of young people out walking, sunbathing on the beach and in the cafes.

Gorgeous Mission Bay
We have now completed all our provisioning and just have a few odds and ends left to do before we check out of the USA on Monday morning.  We’ve had a wonderful time on the American west coast these last three months.  We have really appreciated the kindness and support we have been shown by just about everyone we have met.  It is hard for us to believe that this chapter is now drawing to a close.  After an overnight passage on Monday, we will begin our next big adventure in Mexico.  

This fellow spent some time watching us one evening when we were in the cockpit - what kind of bird is he, Steve?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Catalina Island

Marina Del Rey is a lot like the Eagles “Hotel California” – you can check in any time you want, but you can never leave!  We had a hard time departing this welcoming place and stayed a day longer than planned.  There is a certain ennui that sets in when you have been in one place for a while and the living is easy.  It had taken us two days to get ready to sail again and we were tired.  So we took the morning of the extra day and bicycled back down the beach past the Santa Monica Pier to the end of the trail at Pacific Palisades. 

On the Santa Monica Pier with Pacific Pallisades in the distance

  In the afternoon we scrubbed Ka’sala- as her decks had accumulated a greasy black film from LA smog fallout.  Late afternoon we met with Michael and other members of the PMYC for a farewell beverage.  The next morning we were off the dock by 8am, assisted by Luigi and Michael.  I looked up at the club’s big plate glass windows, as we motored out the fairway,  to see the morning members give enormous “bon voyage” waves. That brought a lump to my throat!  We are indebted to Michael M., who looked after us our entire stay, taking care of all our needs and becoming a good friend. 

Chef Michael after a lovely Sea Bass dinner
Our destination was Catalina Island.  The skies were clear, the sun warm as we sailed on a close reach in 10 knots of wind.  A couple of times we had to motor for a while as the wind dropped off, but all in all, it was a delightful passage.  We sailed into Isthmus Cove about 3:30 pm and picked up one of the 257 moorings that have been installed in the bay. 

Michael had suggested we get as close to the “west wall” as possible and we were able to get one 4 over in “C” line.  

Dawn illuminates the "West Wall" in Isthmus Cove

The off season deal here is that you pay for three nights and get a week free.  You can move around to any of their 750 moorings around the island, except Avalon Harbour, because it is managed by another company.  Although you can anchor in many places with permission, they tend to be deep and exposed.

Ka'sala is moored third from the hill in the front line - village of Two Harbours in the background
To say Catalina Island is stunning is an understatement.  As you approach, the craggy orange tinted, steep sided, gully-wrinkled hillsides shimmer.  The water is unbelievably clear and a dramatic shade of light emerald.  

Emerald green water - you can see the lines of the mooring bouys right to the bottom
We could easily see the moorings anchored twenty some feet under our keel.  Schools of mackerel and brilliant orange California Garibaldi (which look like an oversized goldfish), glided by. 

California Garibaldi
We had been told there were recent great white shark sightings, but we couldn’t imagine this enormous creature penetrating the moorings.  At the head of the Isthmus is a natural pebble beach and a tiny village with a bar/cafe and general store.  Because the island runs east/west, and the sides of the hills are so steep, the sun disappeared by 4pm, leaving behind a long lingering dusk.  We watched the sky fade from sapphire blue to aquamarine, lavender and rose, with a final lemon green smudge behind tall palm trees as the stars began to glitter and appear across the night sky. Ka’sala bobbed gently in the swell and we enjoyed a lovely dinner in the cockpit, under the glow of lantern light, with a blanket over our knees.

Textured coastline of Catalina
The next day we left our dinghy at the pier and explored the Two Harbours area by foot.  In addition to the cafe and store, there are $2 showers, laundry and flush toilets.  There are a number of small private homes and rental units, as well as a dive shop (which also rents bicycles, kayaks and paddleboards), visitor information centre and sheriff’s office.  We met friendly Sheriff Chad who told us a little about the place.  We walked over to the other side of the Isthmus to Catalina Harbour – considered one of two all weather safe anchorages in Southern California – then doubled back to hike the road overlooking the anchorage and several other coves, equally, if not more, stunning than the one we were in.  

Entrance to Catalina Harbour

Breathtaking Cherry Cove - we could see the bottom from our vantage point high on the hill
This was dusty work, rewarded with a refreshing swim when we returned to Ka’sala.  The clear water was 21 degrees!

Steep hills surround the harbours

That afternoon I launched my kayak and paddled all around the area.  On the eastern side is Fisherman’s Cove where the University of Southern California has a marine institute.  The waters nearby are a marine sanctuary and, according to Sheriff Chad, a great place to dive and snorkel as the fish “know” they can’t be hunted.  I only saw a handful of Garibaldi from the kayak.  Along the rocky shoreline were small caves and caverns carved into the bluffs which had interesting striations of grey, orange and white.  Large crane-like birds nested nearby and the surf gently lifted the kayak as I skimmed by. 

Fisherman's Cove and the Wrigley Institute in the distance
Our second night in the anchorage was quite bumpy and in the morning we heard that a Santa Ana was predicted to blow in the afternoon.  A small craft warning was in effect.  We had already decided we would take advantage of the “deal” and explore other anchorages, so thought we would move around to Catalina Harbour a day earlier.  Doug also wanted to dive on Ka’sala to replace the zinc on the prop.  We only enjoyed a brief interlude of sailing when we rounded “Land’s End”, but were most enthralled by the natural, rough beauty of the island.

Catalina Harbour, foreground, Isthmus Harbour on the other side, Palos Verdes, on the mainland, in the far distance
“Cat” Harbour lacks the beautiful setting and crystalline waters of the Isthmus side, but the water is absolutely flat. 

Cat Harbour
It appears to be the “service” side of the island, but it is still lovely and we continued to enjoy the warm, sunny days and cool, starry nights.  The wind did pick up and williwawed over the steep hills, but we were snug in the harbour. 

Sunset in Cat Harbour
On our second day in Cat Harbour we decided to go for a hike up into the hills.  There is a challenging 37+ mile trail that runs the entire length of Catalina Island.  Hikers usually take four days to do the trip, camping along the way at designated spots.

Two Harbours is the skinny bit, we hiked to the top of the highest bit and back
Unknowingly, we headed up the steepest and most challenging part of the walk to its highest point at 1750 feet. 

On the ridge at the top, trail continues on to Lands End
The wide trail climbed almost vertically through cactus, scrub and dried grasses to a most stunning view. 

Looking toward Los Angeles from the top
It would have been lovely to continue, but we headed back down for a hot shower and a cold one in the Two Harbours Village.

View of Cat Harbour coming down the mountain
We decided we would leave Catalina and sail directly to San Diego, 85 nautical miles away.  We calculate our speed/distance at 5 nautical miles an hour, so realized we would not be able to make this entire passage in daylight hours.  As a result, we left Wednesday, November 11, at 3pm with a smart afternoon wind from the northwest.   We continued on through the night as the wind gradually shifted to the northeast, sailing almost the entire way averaging five knots.  We arrived in San Diego about 8am the following morning and were in our slip at Harbour Island West Marina by 9.  We will be in San Diego for a week or more as we complete our final preparations for Mexico.  

Goodbye Catalina!