Friday, March 25, 2016

La Paz Redux

We have been a little over a week at anchor in La Paz, right beside the Marina de La Paz where we docked at Christmas.  Needless to say, it’s a lot less expensive!  The Marina is very kind to itinerant sailors and, for a small fee, allows us to tie our dinghies to their secure dock, gives us access to filtered drinking water and garbage disposal, as well as the showers.  There is a laundry on site and a small restaurant.  The anchorage itself is very pleasant.  Although there is a strong current running, and sometimes the boats out here dance around in wind versus current chop, for the most part we are very comfortable.  We enjoy long, lingering sunsets and lovely sunrises.  We are visited daily by dolphins and many species of marine birds soar above us.  Frequently, there is a breeze which flows through the port lights and hatches keeping us cool in the increasingly hot temperatures.  Sitting in the cockpit to enjoy our meals and watch the activity around us is very enjoyable.  The anchorage is very large, bisected by a channel that services this marine port.

Views of gorgeous La Paz from the sand bar at the other side of the estuary
We are anchored in front of two boatyards with yachts on their docks and in their hard stands.  Nearby is a fisherman’s beach and  pangas glide by regularly (well, some zoom), filled with tourists going to one of the outside beaches or heading out to swim with the whale sharks.  Farther along there is a small navy base and in the morning we can hear the call to muster.  The weather is sunny and warm with most days hitting 30 degrees.  Each day the water seems to be getting warmer and we have been in swimming several times.

Full Moon over Marina La Paz (taken from our cockpit)
As this week is “Semana Santa” (Week of Saints) there is a lot more activity than usual.  One night we saw a group of people carrying large musical instruments to the end of one of the boatyard docks.  A little while later two large boatloads of people docked and the music began and lasted, full blast until the wee hours.  I’m not talking serenade, either.  Tubas, trumpets, drums, guitar, singing at the top of the lungs amplified, makes for an interesting concert.  The music is in Spanish, of course, and I cannot explain what it sounds like, except to say it is very boisterous, energetic and polka like.  The other amazing thing is that the troubadours did not take a single break.....for hours!  These public concerts are not unusual in Mexico – you hear them everywhere – and loved by all - almost as if a celebration isn’t a celebration without one of these bands playing.  They are so loud I can hardly hear myself think, but others seem to be able to continue with their conversations and activities while the cacophony goes on.  For my part, although I do enjoy some of it, it can wear me down.  The only way I know to survive it is to learn to tune it out, well, how about “fade” it out!  LOL!

Although this is not the band we heard, it features the instruments we typically hear.
During Semana Santa the children are off school for two weeks.  This is also Easter and the Easter Bunny is nowhere to be seen.  Instead, most of this time is devoted to family, beach vacations and the celebration of the Passion of Christ.  During these weeks La Paz, and many other beach communities, are flooded with tourists from inland.  Entire families descend to enjoy the beginning of the long days of spring, the warming of the water and the heat of the sun.  At sunset, the malecon is full of strolling families, teenagers, lovers, and children - gringos are outnumbered tenfold.  The restaurants and cafes fill to overflowing with happy families and it is lovely to hear the laughter and see so many smiling faces.  The churches move into high gear with community processions re-enacting the 12 Stations of the Cross and various other proceedings marking the end of Lent and the events of the last few days of Jesus’ life and His rebirth.  I have been learning a lot about Mexican interpretation of Christian culture.

La Paz malecon at night
Both of us love La Paz and it didn’t take us long to get back into the swing of things we experienced when we were here in December.  I returned to Zumba with Joanneke and was delighted to see familiar faces.  Andrea, a.ka. the kid, kept us on our toes to work off those extra tacos.  I so enjoy the half hour walk to Zumba with Alison, Leanne and Ida, the ladies from the marina, and the meandering foraging with Joanneke on the way back, stopping along the way for coffee, a visit to the bakery, the mercado and Arambura (the cow shop).

Icon for our favourite bakery
Meanwhile, Doug has been busy on the boat trying to work out the mystery of the electrical wiring.  Everything is working, but not perfectly, and he is frustrated by the tiny spaces he has to try to get his hands into to feel around without seeing.  Many of these spaces are behind the panels at the navigation station, which are all beautifully, but individually, installed into the cherry wood.  If he just cut away the gorgeous wood he would have no problem, but then it would look ugly with wires all over the place.  Living in Ka’sala is like living in a piece of fine furniture and we both want to keep that aesthetic.  

Ka'sala's nav station - Port lights at top, monitor (which we use as a chart plotter) to the left, then 2 electrical panels.  Next row stereo, AIS, windlass switch, GPS, next row is SSB (shorwave radio) and radar, last row are two electrical monitors and the propane switch - all these instruments are framed by cherry wood
Doug has had more success with painting.  He has continued to hand paint the exterior gelcoat, this time on the starboard side.  Even though it takes him three days to complete a small area, the results are stunning.  Unfortunately he has run out of paint, so may not be able to continue with the other sections until we can acquire more. 

Beautiful mirror finish after meticulour brush work
On several evenings we have gone into La Paz for dinner.  It is hard to resist the malecon at sunset, so each one has begun with a relaxed stroll, followed by a cocktail in one of the several bars that line the opposite side of the malecon.  Doug and Jan have made good use of the SUP bar which serves IPA from the Baja Brewing Company in San Jose.  We’ve eaten in the garden at El Mesquite, which probably serves up the best grilled steak with all the trimmings I have ever had.  At other places we’ve enjoyed wood fired thin crust pizzas and delectable pastor tacos.  Eating out is very reasonable here and, because we are not paying marina fees, we have a little more money in the kitty to take advantage of it. 

Yummy pastor taco restaurant - the pastor is layered pork on the round in the middle - pinapple on the top.  The cook shaves the meat off, much like a swarma
On Monday, March 28, we are leaving with Witte Raaf to explore the coves and islands north of here on the eastern side of the Baja.  Jan and Joanneke have been up and down the coast several times over the last two winters and will be our guides to their favourite anchorages. 

Witte Raaf at anchor beside Ka'sala at La Paz
We anticipate swimming and snorkelling with marine life, hiking in the exceptional terrain, watching more incredible sunrise and sunsets, great meals with friends, discovering new anchorages in remote locations, and meeting new people. We feel very fortunate to be travelling with J & J, not only because they are familiar with the area, but also because we will have quality time to spend with such good friends.  While we are sailing in this remote region we will have limited, if any, access to WiFi and cell coverage so we may be out of touch for a few weeks.  Imagine.  No Internet!  Whatever shall we do?

We may make it as far north as Santa Rosalia before crossing to the mainland again
Our time in Mexico is soon drawing to a close as we plan to be in Guaymas, on mainland Mexico, the first week in May.  We will be storing Ka’sala on the hardstand at the Mexican government owned Fonatur marina there for the summer but, before we leave her, we will need to do a lot of preparation.  Although this area is considered hurricane safe, it does get extremely hot in the summer with temperatures averaging in the mid 30’s.  Temperature chart for Guaymas:


Average Max Temperature °C ( °F)
23 (73.4)
24 (75.2)
27 (80.6)
29 (84.2)
33 (91.4)
34 (93.2)
36 (96.8)
35 (95)
35 (95)
33 (91.4)
28 (82.4)
24 (75.2)
30.1 (86.2)

Average Temperature °C ( °F)
18 (64.4)
19 (66.2)
21.5 (70.7)
23.5 (74.3)
27 (80.6)
29.5 (85.1)
32 (89.6)
31 (87.8)
31 (87.8)
28 (82.4)
23 (73.4)
19.5 (67.1)
25.3 (77.5)

Average Min Temperature °C ( °F)
13 (55.4)
14 (57.2)
16 (60.8)
18 (64.4)
21 (69.8)
25 (77)
28 (82.4)
27 (80.6)
27 (80.6)
23 (73.4)
18 (64.4)
15 (59)
20.4 (68.8)

We will need to remove all the sails, halyards, and canvas, as well as any moveable part above deck, and store them below.  Then we will need to set up our boat cover and secure it on to help protect the decks from sun and dirt.  As the boat will be shut up below, we have to prepare for extreme heat.  The port lights and hatches will all need to be covered with aluminum foil and all orifices plugged to inhibit water and insect penetration.  We will need to vet and dispose of stores, and organize the space below to accommodate the things from above.  We will be leaving Ka’sala with only our backpacks and a couple duffel bags, so all our possessions will need to be sorted out.  I can only begin to imagine what all needs to be done.  Experienced cruisers tell us the preparation can take up to a week and all of it done in the extreme heat.  Best we enjoy these next few weeks of R & R!

Full Moon sunrise at La Paz

Friday, March 18, 2016

Mazatlan Redux

We have been fortunate to spend another week in Mazatlan.  Well, that was no hardship, believe me!  What an incredible place!

Last night in Barra de Navidad, celebrating Doug's birthday complements of Mom (Thank you, Mom!)
We left Barra de Navidad, as planned, right after breakfast on Saturday, March 5 and spent 56 hours making our way to Mazatlan.  Conditions varied from no wind, to moderate northwest winds which we were able to comfortably beat through, to brisk south east winds we flew through.

Wing on Wing
The seas were also variable – from flat calm, to confused, to a 4 foot wind chop accentuated by a continuous low southwest swell.  For the most part we were comfortable and Ka’sala managed without difficulty. 

Typical sailing on the Mexican Riviera

Unfortunately we saw very little wildlife and were far enough off shore that we did not see much of the landscape as well.  However, the no-moon, star-lit nights were magnificent to behold.  Our trusty Yanmar accompanied us for 2/3rds of the way and, by the time we had reached our destination, we were very happy to not have to listen to the pounding of its pistons anymore.   

What made this journey interesting was how it ended.  Our last few hours we were bouncing along in 20 knots and a four foot chop.  The tide was at its lowest point and we had to navigate the narrow opening of the bar into the Mazatlan marina lagoon.  As we approached, we saw the waves heaping up on both sides of the breakwater, but in between, there was a clearly visible slot.  Doug slipped Ka’sala through this crack and within seconds we were in the calm waters of the lagoon.  It wasn’t until later that we found out the entrance had been closed by the harbour authorities.  Gulp!

We headed straight for the Pemex fuel dock to take on more diesel, but not before we skidded along the bottom as we approached its dock in the negative tide.  Luckily we did no damage.

Mexican charts aren't all that great.  As you can see it shows Ka'sala well on shore - we didn't go that hard aground!
We were incredibly pleased to discover our friends Lindy and Al from Enchante had arrived in Mazatlan the day before from Matanchen Bay.  They were docked at Fonatur and we tried to join them there, but it was full.  We moved over to a smaller marina resort in the lagoon where we were happily ensconced for a little over week.  Lindy and Al joined us there for a few days at the end of our stay. 

Can you see Ka'sala?  (centre back)
Pool at marina resort
We were pleased to get the bicycles on the road and ride the malecon again.  In addition to recreation, we were able to use them for provisioning and other errands.  The laundry lady got quite a kick out of me arriving with my large parachute bag stuffed full of clothes and bungied to the rack on the back of the bicycle.  We also had the chance to walk along the magnificent beach to Cerritos and enjoy ice cold  cervesas at a palapa at the end, running our toes through the hot sand. 

He flies through the air with the greatest of the rigging!
On one day, Al, Lindy, Doug and I caught a local bus to visit the town of Concordia.  For about 80 pesos return each ($6 USD) we travelled about 35 miles along an assortment of roads, watching locals getting on and off, noting their clothes, their way of speaking, their family groupings and imagining what their lives might be like. 

 We passed the many villages and towns where they lived.  Every place was a hive of activity with all sorts of things going on.  At every intersection it seemed someone was out there to entertain or provide a small service for a few pesos - from jugglers to gymnasts, from windshield washers to flower sellers, the roads were alive with people.

Our bus to Concordia
We wandered around Concordia, previously named San Sebastian, a place that has seen regular human habitation since long before the conquistadors.  It was a spotless town.  We did not see litter anywhere.  The houses were all painted in a variety of sandy hues and it was obvious that the townspeople took enormous pride in their hometown.

Concordia street scenes
We visited their renovated, very old church in the town square and, above the altar, its gruesome statue of the patron saint and martyr San Sebastian, pierced with arrows.

Facade of Iglacia San Sabastian
San Sebastian
We wandered down side streets searching for the furniture makers Al was looking for.  However, first we found the town museum and were warmly welcomed by Vicki, its curator.  She regaled us with stories of the town, especially the French occupation in the mid 18th century.  Vicki was very passionate about her subject and it was amusing to note the more enthusiastic she became, the less English she spoke, but we understood her.  The museum was in the old jailhouse and we could see the bones of the cells as we passed through the various well crafted displays, photographs and artifacts dating back hundreds of years.  Al eventually found several furniture makers and we were especially taken with a multi-generational Mexican family who were enjoying their Sunday family feast while the various pieces of their wooden rocking chairs dried in the sun.  We had a lovely lunch in what was likely the best restaurant in town, El Granero, tucked away near the old monastery.

 It consisted of several well appointed rooms and a large central courtyard that had been decked out for a wedding.  The lunch was in mammoth portions which began with complimentary local panela cheese, refried beans, salsa and tostadas.  Afterwards we waddled out into the hot, empty streets, as the sensible locals were digesting their comida in siesta!

In the town square is an enormous rocking chair - an icon of Concordia's most famous product and obviously a great photo opportunity for the tourists.  Perhaps in this sequence of photos you can figure out what I am trying to convince Lindy to do!  What a lot of fun!

Our time in Mazatlan was quickly over and we found ourselves looking for the weather window that would take us across the Sea of Cortez and back to the Baja.  We slipped through the bar at El Cid at 7am on Tuesday, March 15 to begin our 48 hour passage to La Paz, arriving on Saint Patrick's Day.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Barra de Navidad

At this time of year on the Costalegre (the happy coast) the prevailing winds are light and, if we want to sai,l we need to take advantage of the diurnal winds.  Luckily the seas are not much of a problem – little wind chop - and the swell period wide enough - that it is hardly noticed when on a passage.  We motor-sailed to Barra de Navidad from Carrazel and charged our batteries, after being on the anchor for over a week.  We arrived in the Barra de Navidad lagoon in the late morning.  A slight current with us made the 20 mile trip even faster.

Tanker gone aground off Barra in last hurricane (Patricia, October 2015)
The next two days at anchor were intensely hot and humid.  There was hardly a breath of air and the local jejene and mosquito population had a field day.  We had all our screens up and burned citronella, but that didn’t stop the pesky things from making some serious headway on our bodies.  The lagoon is very murky so swimming was not an option for cooling off.  We sweated, itched and cooked.  Something had to be done!

Ka'sala at anchor in the Barra Lagoon (resort in the background right)
We had been told that the Marina Puerto de la Navidad, attached to the five star resort, Isla Navidad, was willing to negotiate their rates with cruisers.  When we had been here over five years ago, we couldn’t get in here for under $2.00 US a foot.  Now it is much more reasonable.  The marina has gone so far as to entice cruisers with special events such as live music, free appetizers and discounted room rates.  A real bonus for us has been by staying in the marina we are permitted to take advantage of all their facilities such as swimming pools, tennis courts, fabulously clean showers, several restaurants and bars.

Main pool

Romantic hot tub - Barra town in background
The place is gorgeous and it feels like an enormous mansion or castle within – spectacularly appointed and grand.    Despite all this, the humble sailor feels quite welcome.

Isla Navidad Resort at dawn
The resort by night looking across from Barra - water taxi in foreground
The marina is across the entrance bar from the town of Barra de Navidad.  An aquatic taxi service transports people back and forth for a very reasonable rate.  Within the town are many restaurants, bars, cafes, tiendas, shops and small budget hotels.  At our leisure we have been able to go in, explore, eat inexpensive meals, shop, and take a 7 peso local bus to visit the adjoining town of Malaque.  The French Baker is still here and, although he hasn’t come to our boat, we did visit his cafe to enjoy his famous almond croissants.

Birthday boy
The Sands Hotel, friend of the sailboat cruisers, also remains, though if possible, is even more funky and dilapidated that it was five years ago.

Looking to Barra from the resort
A real highlight for us has been the opportunity to dig out our bicycles again.  As I mentioned earlier, the resort includes an enormous golf course and at the other end is a back road leading to the coastal highway.

Open Road
By riding down this lovely, quiet blacktop through orchards and coco palm plantations, then along the highway for a few miles and, either through the back way or in the main road back to Barra, and finally the taxi aquatico (which transports bicycles for free) we can get in a 25 kilometer ride. Fantastic! We did it twice!

Coco palm plantation

Farm along the way
Additionally, we have used our kayaks to explore the large lagoon, and also took a hike to the enormous Playa de Cocos beach off the golf course to see gigantic waves carve the beach.   We even found a secret cove.
Where the carts are is the T off - the hole is over the lagoon to where the guys are

Kayaking in the lagoon near the golf course in the humidity
Secret beach is around the headland - notice the curving walkway to get to it
Sadly, our observation has been that there are hardly any tourists here.  The resort is practically empty – one day there were only 5 or 6 other people at the pool.  Hardly anyone is on the golf course.  Where five years ago the streets were packed with sun seekers, today they are almost deserted.  The shops look forlorn and the eateries are quiet.  There aren’t even the same number of cruisers.  When we were here five years ago at the exact same time of year there were close to 50 sailboats in the lagoon.  The most we have seen this time has been 12.  Yes, there are more sailors taking advantage of the marina, but not much more than a dozen.

Ka'sala is the third sailboat in the front line
 Luckily for Barra, there still seems to be a good number of Canadians and Americans who have their winter homes here.  Where is everybody?  Some say it is the weak Canadian economy and its embattled currency.  Some say it is because Pacific Mexico has the reputation of being dangerous.  Some say it is because the baby boomers are getting older and are no longer as adventuresome.  It’s kind of unfortunate as this whole coast is stunning and the people have been nothing but friendly and accommodating.  We have more than enjoyed our time here and will be sorry to leave.

Happy Hour at the Time Out Bar - looking down the Barra beach to Malaque in the distance
Sunset over Barra de Navidad
On Saturday we will leave this beautiful place and continue north.  We have a 2 – 3 day weather window where there is little northwest wind predicted.  We hope to get as far as Mazatlan, but there are many stops along the way where we can pop in if the going gets tough.  Our Dutch friends aboard Witte Raaf await us in La Paz and we are looking forward to exploring more of the Sea of Cortez in the coming months before preparing Ka’sala for “summering” in Guaymas.

My first "selfie"