Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Exploring the Sea of Cortez - April 2 to April 4: Isla San Francisco and Amortajada

The westerly winds finally calmed down and we back tracked to popular Isla San Francisco.  We sailed the ten miles downwind at 4 – 5 knots under jib alone.  In the distance, near Isla Partida, we could see a couple of large whales breaching again and again, before disappearing among the islets and reefs behind us.  The seas rolled us forward, but the sunlight sparkled off the waves, the skies a bright white blue. 

Witte Raaf - on the way to Isla San Francisco
We arrived at the main anchorage just before lunch and found it to be as picture perfect as the guide book promised.

Beautiful Isla San Francisco (Joanneke photo)
However, we were not to have it for ourselves.  As we approached, we saw four sailboats emerge and head north, yet when we arrived we found eight VERY large motor vessels with all their toys (jet skiis, paddle boards, kayaks, fishing boats) within.  If I plugged my ears to the buzz of the jet skiis and generators I could see a gorgeous pure white sand, crescent beach, rising to steep coral coloured hills.  Of course, I also had to blot out the elaborate sunshades with table-clothed dining tables beneath, attended by the crew and servants of the power boats.  Paradise found!
Anchorage at Isla San Francisco - you can see Ka'sala, dwarfed by power boats, in the centre of the bay (Joanneke photo)
Although the north wind blew strong the whole time we were at Isla San Francisco, we were protected from the seas within the anchorage and could see the white caps rolling by its entrance.  However, at night the wind died and we slept peacefully.  The first day we kayaked to the beach and played bocce ball with a set given to J & J by Waldy and Ria – another Dutch cruising couple, friends of J & J, we had met when in La Cruz in 2011.  We had a lot of fun bending the rules and reminiscing about our times together when both Dutch couples visited us in Comox in 2012.  Unbelievably, the next day we got word that Waldy and Ria had been drowned on a passage in the Carribean, their bodies washed ashore in San Andres.  Their sailboat, Talagoa, was found a couple days later, washed up on a reef without its keel.  We were shocked and saddened by this news and so sorry for their family in Holland.

Talagoa at anchor in La Cruz - 2011
The next day we hiked up and over the ridge looking over the south of the anchorage.  It turned out to be a bit more technical than we expected and, at one point, we were scrambling over boulders and a pinnacle, balancing on a narrow path as the rocks and shale sloped vertically on both sides.  Vertigo notwithstanding, the 360 degrees views were amazing, though the wind accelerated and howled to the point that I felt like I might be blown off!

Jan overlooks the bay

On the ridge (Joanneke photo)

Hold on to your hat! (Joanneke photo)

Brilliant clear water - we used the kayaks to go back and forth to shore - Ka'sala and Witte Raaf in the background (Joanneke photo)
The next morning we left after breakfast, threading our way through 7 miles of reefs and islets to the northern anchorage at Amortajada on Isla San Jose, just by the entrance to a massive lagoon.  We launched the kayaks and, while Joanneke combed the beach, Jan, Doug and I kayaked in the lagoon. 

The channel to the lagoon
 The tide was against us and the entrance shallow, but we made it through and into a mangrove lined, long channel that eventually dumped us into an enormous inner bay, dyked by a high berm of rocks and shells.  We paddled through the shallows while sting rays and other fish, warming in the sun and startled by our approach, darted away at phenomenal speeds.

Threading our way through a side channel
The light was incredibly bright and clear and the Gigante Mountains in the distance stood out against the sky, their red striated cliffs contrasting with the white blue of the water.
Buzzards soared overhead while little duck creatures paddled in the roots of the mangroves, spindly legged herons guarded their territory and seagulls strutted along the berm.  We paddled vigourously against the current for almost two hours, then turned around and flew back.  Unfortunately, as we came into the channel leading out of the lagoon, the wind came against us.  It had picked up considerably and so had the waves.  We had a very energetic paddle back to Ka’sala, also bouncing up and down in the waves against a lee shore, spray everywhere.  We got aboard safely and stowed the little boats.

Ka'sala at anchor at the entrance to the Amortajada lagoon before the wind picked up

 Our anchor was holding well, despite the conditions so we stayed put until later in the afternoon when they calmed down, then crashed across the channel to San Evaristo and anchoring again in 20 knots of wind.  Ironically, within minutes of dropping the anchor, the wind died completely – as if a switch had been turned off.  The buzzards would go hungry that night!

Joanneke, photographer extraordinaire - thank you so much for all the lovely pictures of our special journeys

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