Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Bahia San Gabriel, Espiritu Santo - December 11 - 19

I’ve read that once you have passed through the Lorenzo Channel it is like walking through a doorway into a whole new world.  There is no doubt in my mind that it is a gateway to a different type of cruising lifestyle.  Once through, the weary Canadian sailor heaves a great sigh of relief as the entire passage out the Straits of Juan de Fuca and Neah Bay, past windy Cabo Blanco, Cape Mendicino and Point Conception, the entire desolate west coast of the Baja peninsula and the contrary East Cape, have been left behind.  They can now kick back and enjoy their cervasas in easily accessible clear water, white sand anchorages.  We certainly heaved that sigh, but unlike the majority of cruisers making this passage, instead of turning left and embracing the city lights of La Paz, we turned right, unfurled our headsail, and tacked up to Bahia San Gabriel at the south west corner of Espiritu Santo.

The sandy shores of Bahia San Gabriel - Ka'sala to the far left, Witte Raaf closer - Doug and Jan in the dinghy.
We had spent a glorious week in San Gabriel when we were travelling with Steve, aboard Silas Crosby, on our last voyage to this area.  The shallow bay was glassy calm, the water was 25 degrees and the sun shone down upon us.  We spent our time hiking, kayaking, beach combing, swimming and hanging out in the cockpit.  We were keen to repeat the experience.  The wide bay has a shallow anchorage at the northern end and a deeper pool with a narrow entrance at the south end.  We chose the latter as it was closer to the ruins of the old pearl farm - which we wished to explore again - as well as easier access to the beach.  As with any desire to revisit the past, the present is never the same, and this adage is especially true when it comes to the weather!

Bahia San Gabriel courtesy of Google - you can see by the colour of the water the deeper anchorage.  The old pearl farm is to the right.  The hike to the other side begins at the upper right corner of the bay.  Yes, it really is this colour!!!

We anchored in calm conditions and enjoyed a lazy afternoon.  About sunset the wind picked up to 25 knots from the southwest and we found ourselves in a lee shore with a steep three foot wind chop pounding our bow and causing poor Ka’sala to hobby horse around.  We were very uncomfortable, but fortunately we had plenty of chain on the bottom and we weathered the night, anchor alarm set, without incident. Although our first night was the only time we endured winds from this direction, over the course of the seven days and nights we stayed there, 5 were breezy with the winds swinging primarily from the northeast to the northwest.  Luckily, although we swung around and the rigging whistled, from this direction the seas remained relatively flat and our bow pointed to shore.  We unleashed our wind generator and for the first time we actually made more power than we used! You can believe that the three calm afternoons we experienced, we enjoyed to the fullest!

Rosy cliffs bordering the south shore of the anchorage
Though windier than we would have liked, there are few places we have experienced that compare to the beauty of Bahia San Gabriel and that hadn’t changed.  Rosy cliffs, spectrums of vermillion colour threaded through the craggy landscape which faded and glowed with the passage of the sun, contrasted with a blindingly white powder beach stretching at least a mile.  The water close to the beach was sea glass aquamarine which gradually deepened to an emerald green where we were anchored.  The sky, for the most part, was an astonishing blue, riddled with hundreds of juvenile frigate birds who had made their home in the mangrove lagoon surrounding the old pearl farm.  Over the course of our time there, we were visited by a curious sea turtle, a leaping manta ray, a scavenging sea lion, a school of well named skip jack, as well as tiny duck- like creatures singly and in groups.  The longer we stayed, the more we saw.

Leaping manta ray
On our fourth day we were joined by our good friends Jan and Joanneke aboard Witte Raaf.  We first met Jan in Puerto Vallarta five years ago, just before we made the passage to Hawaii.  He and Joanneke soon followed and we spent some time together in Hilo, then Honolulu.  Their travels eventually brought them to Comox several times and we have kept in touch over the years.  When we last saw them we promised them we would join them in 2015 for Christmas in La Paz.  Be careful what you wish for, because here we are together again!  It was an amazing feeling to see Witte Raaf sailing into Bahia San Gabriel, as we had been anticipating the event for several years, and we knew we would have many happy hours catching up with this inspirational Dutch couple.

Joanneke Backer and Jan Buurma
One afternoon Doug and I launched the kayaks and circumnavigated the bay.  We were pleased that our little Costco specials could handle the windier conditions.  We were able to explore the remains of the pearl farm by entering a break in the lagoon wall. 

Doug checks out the frigates
Mangroves had woven their roots into the old masonary channels and were filled with frigate birds of all ages and sizes.  Pelicans fished from the shore and elegant white egrets nervously glided along the waterline.  

Old walls in the lagoon 

Pelicans, cormorants and frigates line the ruined walls of the pearl farm
A cacophony of ticks, shrills and cries filled the air as the frigates played, groomed, ate, courted and slept while keeping a cautious eye upon us.  We were able to repeat this tour when Witte Raaf joined us.

Juvenile frigate bird in the mangroves

On another day we took the dinghy ashore and hiked over to Bahia Bonanza on, the other side of the island.  The four of us threaded our way through the cactus, thorny bushes and arid arroyos, enjoying each other’s company, the heat of the day and the spectacular scenery.  

Doug and Joanneke

Jan and Doug 
When we got to the other side we were surprised to see a large group gathered on the beach and a small cruise ship anchored in the bay.  It was quite a windy day and the group did not look particularly happy to be there and they did not respond to our friendly waves.  They trudged away back the way we had come.

Jan and Doug traversing an arroyo

Parched earth makes interesting patterns along the trail
We assume that because the weather was so windy, we were not joined by many other boats, though we did discover it is a favourite anchorage of Signor Slim, owner of the Mexican TelCel network and one of the richest men in the world.  He didn’t seem to mind sharing it with humble sailors. 

Signor Slim's yacht - the sailbot behind is about 40 feet long
It was with some regret that we raised our anchor on Saturday, December 19 to head into La Paz.  However, it was time to join civilization again.  We had been without internet or cell coverage for almost 10 days and we needed to get caught up with family and friends.  Christmas was just around the corner and we hadn’t even begun to plan for it.  We had Michael, a friend from the Pacific Mariners Yacht Club in Marina Del Rey joining us and there were preparations to be made – not to mention over a month’s worth of laundry to be done, fresh provisions to be found, and a thorough bath for the salt encrusted Ka’sala.

Hundreds of frigates circle over Witte Raaf

Good friends on Bahia Bonanza

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