Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Ensenada to La Paz

We left Ensenada after breakfast on Saturday, November 28.  We were hardly past the dock when Doug noticed something wrong with the propeller so we turned back.  There was a diver on the docks servicing another boat and we thought our luck was with us, but it turned out to be a double edged sword.  For $100.00USD the diver took less than five minutes to ascertain there was a ball of line wrapped around the propeller and remove it.  Although we were grateful to be on our way again within the hour, and that Doug did not have to enter the dubious water, we still felt a little like we had been ripped off.

As I mentioned in my daily posts en route, we had a variety of sailing conditions on our way to Turtle Bay.  From motoring in relatively calm conditions, to galloping along in 25+ winds we were kept busy managing the boat throughout our day and night watches.  We continued to have the .5 to 1 knot current against us and this current, combined with tides and wind, kicked up a very uncomfortable sea in the passage between Cedros Island and Turtle Bay.  We passed the San Benitos Islands in a rosy dawn remembering from our previous trip how extraordinary a place it is. 

Isla San Bonitos in the dawn
We were making better time on this passage than we had expected and, as we neared our destination, we believed we would arrive just at dusk.  However, we were about to learn that bad luck happens in 3s, and there are silver linings.  About two hours before dark we were sailing along at 6 knots when we picked up a trap line which tangled itself in our rudder.  After heaving to we used our extended boat hook to get most of it off, but were left with about 8 feet of line flowing behind, making it next to impossible to back up without wrapping it around our propeller.  (We usually back up to set the anchor.)  With all the fussing about freeing ourselves we lost valuable visual time and realized we would now be anchoring in the dark, dragging the line.  Luckily, Turtle Bay is an enormous anchorage without too many hazards.  However, when I went to drop the anchor, the windlass down switch did not respond – it had broken.  However, after consultation, Doug was able to drop the anchor from the cockpit switch while I stayed to the side watching for the 10 meter marks on the chain with my headlamp.  In the end, we dropped way more chain than we could ever have needed, right smack in the middle of the bay, far from where the other boats had come to rest.

Anchorage at Turtle Bay - village along the shoreline
In the early morning light, Doug donned his mask, jumped into the 22 degree clear water, and was able to hold his breath long enough under the boat to cut us free from our unwanted tail.  After a hot breakfast he was in the anchor locker replacing the switch circuit, soldering wire while Ka’sala pitched up and down in a 20 knot breeze and two foot wind chop. 

Not too impressed
By lunch time we were ready to move into the main anchorage where there were about 7 other sailboats waiting to make passage north and south.  One of them remarked as we came in that we had won the prize for the most cautious entrance!  That afternoon we launched the dinghy and headed to the fuel dock with our three jerry cans which we filled with very expensive diesel ($5.00 US pg) and returned to Ka’sala without ever going ashore. 

Fuel dock - well, fuel pier - we brought the jerry cans up this ladder.

The next morning we left after breakfast for Bahia Santa Maria with gusty 25 knot winds howling through the harbour 

Dusk at Turtle Bay
Once we were around the corner and on our way south again, the winds settled down and we had a spectacular sail for the 49 hours it took us to reach Bahia Santa Maria.  The days continued sunny and warm and the nights starry and clear.  The water temperature inched up by degrees.  We dressed in shorts and T shirts, wearing only light sweaters when the sun went down.  In the late afternoon on the second day we were crossing a large bay with clouds overhead and no land in sight, coasting along in flat seas at four knots on a beam reach.  When the sun set, there was such an explosion of colour that I felt we were in the heart of an enormous natural prism.  To the west thin layers of gradual colour in the yellow to red spectrum were revealed and to the east the light undulated intense to pale blue, rose, purple, and green while the dome of the sky reflected a light white and the sea mirrored it all.   As these vibrant colours faded, a brilliant quarter moon arose among an indescribable number of stars and shining planets.  All night we watched the constellations move from east to west across the glossy sky. I find it hard to express the emotion I felt as I sat alone in the cockpit, but it was like a religious experience, a revelation that cannot be put in words and certainly cannot be captured in a photograph.

We didn’t see a lot of wildlife on this passage, though I expected we might see a lot of whales as we were transitting their great birthing place.  The three large lagoons on the bay are where the grey whales migrate to in the fall.  From mid December until the end of February they bear their young and nurture them, court and conceive, before returning north for the summer.  We saw a few spouts in the distance, but that was about it.  

On the morning of the second day, we did have a tiny visitor – a small bird of some sort – 5 inches long, predominantly yellow in colour with some black and white striping through it.  Its little beak curled like a budgie’s.  After giving us a frank and curious look, It hopped from the dodger, to the rigging, to the lifelines and finally settled at the base of the mast where it rode along with us for a few hours before disappearing as mysteriously as it arrived.  We were about 20 miles off shore, so it was a long flight!  

That same morning we saw our first frigate birds circling in the sky.  These elegant flyers, with enormous black wings and a long, trailing tail, were a clear indication that we were now in a different climate zone.

Magnificent frigates

We rounded the spectacular break off Point Hughes at Bahia Santa Maria about noon on the second day and dropped the hook in translucent, 26 degree, green water in about 8 meters.  We could clearly see the bottom.

Approaching Bahia Santa Maria - Point Hughes to the right
To put the landscape in perspective - can you see the lighthouse on the left?  Look for the tiny white speck. 
Once Ka’sala was squared away we had a marvellous swim around the boat – so different from the last time we were here, at the same time of year five years ago, when we were dressed in our woollies.  Nothing feels quite so wonderful as a fresh water shower in the cockpit in skin temperature air.

We stayed in Bahia Santa Maria for three days.  Several sailboats and powerboats came and went while we were there - the huge bay is a major staging point in the journey up and down the Pacific Baja.  There are a couple of rustic Mexican fish camps behind the break in the lagoon at the head of the bay.  Each day the pangas zoomed in and out to tend their traps and go fishing.  Twice while we were off the boat we saw a panga stop to sell us some fish, and were chagrined at not being able to make a purchase. 

Ka'sala at anchor in Bahia Santa Maria
We launched the kayaks to explore the bay, something we had been wanting to do since our last visit. 

Doug wanted to go into the lagoon, but when we approached the break and fast current I lost my nerve.  

Doug views the breaks at the entrance to the lagoon

Fishing panga entering the lagoon
Instead, we followed the shoreline and reefs almost out to the point.  There were some pretty big swells coming in and our Costco kayaks rolled up and down them.  We observed birds, hovered over lobster traps and picked out potential landing points for the walk we would do next day.

Pelicans and cormorants on the reef nearby
Next morning, armed with backpacks, sunscreen, a packed lunch, multiple bottles of water and camera we headed ashore.  It is a lot easier to draw kayaks up on the beach than a dinghy, so we were on our way without fuss.  We walked along the ridge, past the breaks and by the little fish camps in the lagoon.  
Fish camp in the lagoon - note huge area of dunes in the background - the beach was on the other side of them

It was a Sunday morning, so things were quiet, though we did see some men working on their nets and traps, a shy woman waved hello from one of the shacks and we could see evidence of children by some of the toys scattered around, but did not actually meet one.  

Looking toward the anchorage over the mangroves in the lagoon

By the mangroves on the dusty path
We continued on the access road, which is little more than a sandy track, to the enormous beach on the other side.  When we visited it five years before we found partially decomposed whales, this time, other than the last remains of a sea lion carcass we only found the white washed bones of long dead animals, as well as the sad remains of a wrecked sailboat and freighter.

Sad end to a sailboat - we think this is the remains of the boat that initially went aground during the 2010 Baja Ha Ha.
It was hot and the sun pounded down on us.  We were partway along the beach when we heard the noise of an engine and looked up to see a full sized 80’s Ford Bronco barrelling down the beach toward us.  I must admit I was first a little frightened when I saw it coming, filled with Mexican men.  We were pretty isolated out here.  But they turned out to be very friendly and well spoken.  One of them spoke English very well and said that when they saw us that they were concerned we may be in trouble – hurt, or without water.  When they realized we were fine, they suggested we check out a sea lion rookery further back and were on their way.  I expect it might have been shift change at the fish camp!  After our picnic we trudged back to the boat.  Even though we had brought four bottles of water with us, we were still dehydrated when we got back.  However, after a cooling swim, a warm cockpit shower and an ice cold beer, we were felt fine.

Salting fish indigenous style
We were feeling the tug to move on and the weather forecast continued to be favourable.  We lifted anchor, after listening to the weather on the Sonrisa Net, and headed for Cabo San Lucas at the very tip of the Baja peninsula.  Thankfully, this was an unremarkable passage – half we sailed, half we motored – rounding Land’s End just after sunset on Tuesday, December 8.

Cruise ship passing us in the early morning - this beomouth would later crowd up the bay at Cabo

Approaching Cabo Falso

Approaching Land's End

Resorts, condos and mega homes line the Cape
Cabo is such a shock to the senses after travelling 700 miles of isolated Baja – extensive housing and resort developments, lights, noise, boats everywhere.  We came into the bay to see an enormous cruise ship obscuring the anchorage.  By the time we were ready to drop the hook it was dark and it took a bit of work to pick out a free space as there were about a dozen boats in – some with lights, some without.  The tourist havens along the beach were pumping out music full blast and boats floating past flashed coloured lights while writhing figures danced to 70’s disco tunes on their foredecks.  Surreal!

Anchorage at Cabo
Right after breakfast the next morning we launched the dinghy and headed into the marina.  We left it at a dock under security for $3 USD. 

Marina area at Cabo San Lucas
We walked along pristine streets, so unlike Ensenada, and headed to the outskirts - looking for a large grocery store where we could provision in one stop.  We found a new MEGA and were delighted to discover it had even more North American products than it had five years before.  The other pleasant surprise was to see that the prices were also a lot more reasonable than they had been in the  U.S.A.  Perhaps our budget would stretch a little farther here?  Loaded with groceries, we caught a local bus for 13 pesos back to the marina.  Once everything was tidied away we went for a swim in 27 degree sapphire blue water – almost too warm to be refreshing!  After an early dinner we went straight to our bunks after setting the alarm for a midnight departure.

Traversing the East Cape of the Baja presents its own special series of problems and sailors must be mindful of them in order to have a comfortable passage to La Paz.  Contrary currents, tides and winds, combine to make very uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous sea conditions.  The prevailing winds are right on the nose and can accelerate as the day progresses, whipping up waves like brick walls.  We had a 2 day forecast of winds under 15 knots, so we decided to make a run for it and get as far as we could.  We left Cabo just after midnight and motorbeat our way along, passing the Los Frailes anchorage just after dawn and continuing on to Los Meurtes to arrive late afternoon.

We were in the company of ½ a dozen other boats making the same decision.  All of us spent a quiet evening in Los Meurtes.  We were up again at 2am, this time with the idea we would push all the way up the Cerravelo and Lorenzo Channels to Bahia San Gabriel on Espiritu Santo.  The plan worked flawlessly, and as we entered the bay of La Paz, we heaved a big sigh of relief, shut down the engine, unfurled the headsail and enjoyed an hour of quiet, easy sailing before picking our way into the deep anchorage at the southern corner of Bahia San Gabriel.  What an enormous sense of relief to have arrived at the destination we had envisaged when leaving Comox six months before.  It was Wednesday, December 11 and we had travelled almost 1000 challenging miles in under two weeks.  Yes, I guess we deserve a rest!

Ispiritu Santo - San Gabriel is the large bay at the lower right

Ariel view of Bahia San Gabriel - yes - the colour is just like that!

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