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Logs & Stories - March 2002
March 31st - Los Gatos, Mexico
(Email from Jackson via Maritime Mobile Radio Service)
Today we got to Los Gatos in less than five hours and swam to the beach and back. We found an eel and lots of crabs. We were curious if we could get the eel to eat and I put a lobster leg near the eel. It investigated it but didn't eat it so Dad tried to get a live crab to feed to the eel. The last try was funny but unsuccessful, so we gave up and swam back. On the way back, Mom found a tiny sunflower sea star. After we got back, Dad looked at the bottom of the boat while being observed by two porcupine fish and another kind of puffer fish. They were very curious until he poked one in the nose with his scrub brush.
March 30th - Evaristo, Mexico
(Email from Jackson via Maritime Mobile Radio Service)
It's been a long time since anybody put anything on the website. All I know is that the last time somebody typed was when Mom typed while we passed Cabo San Lucas.
All right, here is the big story: after passing the cape into Bahia de La Paz, there was a lot of wind so we stopped at Puerto Balandra and had a great time except for the bugs in the evening. Then we went to La Paz and had a very uncomfortable and hot time dealing with the Port Captain, which exhausted me when I went with Dad. After that, we went back to Balandra with one of Dad's old friends, and I found a sea cucumber while snorkeling. Then we went back to La Paz and Grandma left. We anchored for a while, then after staying at Marina Palmira for a night we went to Balandra for a night and then to Caleta Partida. After staying there for a night we went to Ensenada Grande and discovered that the southernmost beach has a coral reef. Unfortunately, a little monohull anchored really close to us and Mom called the whole boat a ditz. Then we went up to where we currently are: San Evaristo. Yesterday I was exhausted by a hike over the south hill and back, then soaked by swells as the dinghy battled the wind to get back to the boat. We are planning to go to Los Gatos tomorrow if the wind doesn't stick us here, like it has done before in other places.
Luckily the humor from the recorded sound always makes us laugh. Today we created chipmunks singing Humpty Dumpty by Naomi, Mom and I singing Humpty Dumpty, then making it high-pitched. Think how funny it would be for Chip and Dale to sing Humpty Dumpty! Naomi and I also are using our Zoob toys again.
Note by Mom: What Jackson forgot to say was that on the long hike in Evaristo, they went through a cardonal (a cactus forest of cardon, the world's tallest species of cacti, sort of like saguaro on steroids) and found geodes.
March 23rd - La Paz, Mexico
(Email from Bill & Karryn via an Internet Cafe)
Web Guys Note: Pictures to be added soon.
We are in La Paz but about to leave to explore the Sea of Cortez between here and Loreto. We have not decided where we will spend the summer, but are seriously considering leaving for French Polynesia. Mexico in the summer is very hot, and the whole Port Captain mess (see www.latitude38.com for details) (Web Guy Note: The Letters section has a lot of information.) has made our experience here less than wonderful. The latest fees ($112 for a 'de-rat' certificate and $2.50 per day per person to cruise the islands around Loreto) are making us think there might be other places to go. So we are trying to enjoy our time here while also making sure everything that needs to be done before a long ocean passage gets done. Yesterday Bill went up the mast to check things out, and I have begun my provisioning list.
The skipper has written a long update, but it isn't quite finished. I must sign off because I have to run to the store to buy more salsa and tortillas (we already have quite a number of cans of refried beans in the bilge) and the Mexican version of Wonderbread: Bimbo Bread!
March 6th -- In Puerto Balandra
(Email from Bill & Karryn via an Internet Cafe)
As I write this, we're anchored in near solitude in Puerto Balandra, a cove 0.75 miles wide and a mile deep, whose inner half is comprised of a white-sand lagoon, low tide depths ranging between dry and perhaps four feet, populated by fish and rays. When we first came in here last week, I stayed on the boat to work while the others dinghied into the high sandy beach. After a while, I looked out to see Jackson and Naomi, a quarter mile out from the beach, appearing to run across the water's glistening surface. The bay is open to the west, where the sun sets over low mountains twenty miles distant across Bahia de La Paz. The hills surrounding the bay are mostly the dry rolling kind, reminiscent of Eastern Washington. In the background, through a valley-created gap to the east, there appears a jagged rock up-thrust, looking like one of Montana's Rocky Mountain images.
This place is spectacular.
We uncomfortably left Oceanside on February 8. Karryn's cousin Marty, his wife Jean and children Devin and Conor had been wonderful hosts, and it seemed far too early to be parting with them. While we'd purchased and installed all the major things we'd need, I was well aware that once we left the consumption-crazy United States we'd be in places where things trivial to find in the U.S. would be scarce. Because of Mom's need to return to Bellingham at the beginning of March, we had a fairly speedy schedule to keep. We hadn't made an overnight passage since the single night 150-mile trip down the Big Sur coast, and the 800-mile trip down the Baja Peninsula was both longer and more remote, with significant distances between protected anchorages. Along this coast there are only three places offering both good protection while at anchor and benign, surf-free dinghy landings: Turtle Bay, 380 miles from Oceanside; Bahia Santa Maria, another 240 miles; Bahia Magdelena, another 20 miles, where gray whales mate and play. From there it is another 150 miles to Cabo San Lucas, with its tourist economy, high prices and unprotected anchorage, then another 150 miles to La Paz in the Sea of Cortez.
Our first passage was the most challenging. Partly because of the distance and time (72 hours; four days and three nights), but also because we were sailing under a new moon (as in we couldn't see a damn thing at night), with wind conditions which varied from flat calm during the initial days to 50 knots as we approached Turtle Bay. Formerly sailing purists, we motored 44 hours of the 72 we were in transit. The major issue we had was fatigue – shifting winds, increases and decreases in velocity, sail changes, traffic from fishing boats, freighters and cruise ships all kept us on our toes, particularly at night when much concentration was required. We set up a watch structure where Karryn and I took turns on watch while the other slept in the cockpit, ready to assist with sail changes and traffic avoidance. Each morning began with one of us reasonably rested and the other brain-dead from an intense, unrestful night. We managed by having the more rested one of us stand watch much of the day while the other recuperated. Mom was a huge contributor, feeding us, keeping the boat cleaned up and dealing with the kids. Unlike our September arrival at Bodega Bay, when we had a trashed interior with a sink full of dishes, landfall at Turtle Bay didn't require two days of cleanup.
We came into Turtle Bay during a Santa Anna gale with bone-dry desert winds steadily in the mid-30's, with gusts of perhaps 50. We'd spent the morning crossing south of Islas Cedros and Natividad, where the channels funneled the wind and waves, Seafire heading southeast and taking the elements from the beam. Frequently a large set would roll through and blast horizontal water the length and width of the boat; because of the dry air, the water immediately evaporated, leaving everything caked with salt crystals. I was concerned about coming into Turtle Bay – while the conditions at sea were challenging, they weren't life threatening, and coming into the harbor would require motoring the boat directly into some of the highest winds I've ever been in (what if the engine died at the wrong time?), and anchoring with an all-chain rode and an anchoring system I'd only used once in Half Moon Bay three months earlier. Karryn and I briefly debated the relative dangers to keeping going (she was particularly tired that morning – and completely soaked) and anchoring (I was concerned about losing fingers in the anchor chain). Naturally her concerns carried the day, so we went in, motoring upwind in a weaving path to avoid the lobster pots, the rocks and the largest of the wind waves. Off in the distance a gray whale breached – an amazing sight – then the whale came closer. Geez, thought I: a mobile reef. Once inside the bay we found about half a dozen boats sitting off the village, in protected, flat water with gusty winds and clouds of dust blowing off the hillside. Shortly after getting the hook down, Ernesto, the handsome and charming diesel vendor, came motoring out in his panga, a stoutly built 22-foot planing skiff powered by a 75-hp outboard, and asked us if we needed any fuel. We took 20 gallons into our jugs. He then asked us if we had any beer. It turned out we'd arrived on the last day of Carnival, and the entire town had been partying until blind drunk for the past six days. We had no beer aboard, so we offered him a bottle of inexpensive white wine. He had us open it, and proceeded to consume it immediately, muttering something that sounded a bit like "vinegaro".
Over the remainder of that day and much of the next we rested and cleaned up the boat as the wind died down, then on the afternoon of the second day we journeyed into town. A dusty place, remotely placed a hundred miles off Baja's Highway 1, dirt roads, English rarely heard, unfinished dwellings the product of Mexican law which only taxes homes after their completion. The town's major employer, a cannery, had closed two years prior. A sign on one of the major roads boasted a population of 4000, but we were told it was closer to 2000. The stores were almost undistinguishable from the homes, with a surprisingly large number of tiny stores stocked with a small assortment of primarily packaged goods. Fresh produce was highly variable, with stores selling perhaps beautiful looking avocados next to lettuce appearing to have been left out in desert sun about a week. We walked through town, natives appearing to see us as a curiosity. Not too many gringos here. The town gets overwhelmed by the 400 Baja Haha participants who arrive during the first week of November, but otherwise these people in remotest Baja only see a trickle of Americans, almost all in boats and few by car. We wandered through the village on gravelly roads, briefly following the Carnival parade (a single-float affair, with the parade royalty atop it in shiny pink, purple and green clothing), locating the hardware store (compact and amazingly well stocked), the Pemex gas station (an island of perfectly poured concrete in the sea of the dust), and the pharmacy where we found a gruff-looking American talking loudly on a phone. I asked if he had driven there. He hadn't, but like us had arrived by boat.
His name was Bruce, a singlehander, and he'd had been calling home to talk to his wife, a non-sailor who was convinced he'd die at sea while acting out his long-held voyaging fantasy. He wasn't entirely convinced he wouldn't, with the freighters and fishing boats zipping about as he sailed asleep or brain-dead from fatigue. He was doing it the old-fashioned way, only aided by GPS and an autopilot, no radar, no diesel engine, in a boat that required that it be sailed between destinations. It had taken him three days to go from Morro Bay to Santa Barbara, a passage that we'd been able to motor through in a fraction of the time. We walked back to the beach with Bruce, and invited him to dinner later that, an offering which he seemed particularly surprised by.
While we'd been gone from Seafire, a fishing boat had arrived, and I decided to venture over with Naomi over to barter wine for fish. I expected to have to communicate by waving a bottle around yelling, "Pescado! Pescado!", but was fortunate to find Ollie, a Mexican fisherman from Ensenada who summered in Alaska and spoke English better than I do. He translated my offer to the boat's captain, then asked what I'd like: mahi mahi, mako shark or swordfish? After a nice conversation, we left with a massive chunk or swordfish.
Dinner with Bruce that evening left me with a huge respect for coastal singlehanders. Back in Berkeley, we'd met the corrected-time winner of the Singlehanded Transpac. He'd spent a week and a half sailing his boat across the Pacific, then put the boat in a container and had it shipped back to San Francisco Bay, his first-place finish granting him the right to a demeanor of world-class arrogance, entirely missing the most challenging part of the circuit. Bruce, only the other hand, had spent months working his way down the coast without the safety net of a racing fleet and committee, dodging freighters, fish boats and reefs, with a 2000 mile upwind coastal return trip to look forward to, humbled by the experience, pleased to be alive and where he was.
After dinner Bruce and I ventured into town to check out the Carnival party, which had been driving hard for most of the week. It turned out that the prior night had been the last, so we wandered through town in search of a tavern (my question, "Donde el Pacifico?" was met with laughter and incomprehensible directions), until at 10pm we finally found ourselves at what appeared to be a grange-hall dance with no dancers. It turned out things in this town don't really get started until eleven, so we sat at one of the empty tables, got a couple of beers and waited for things to happen. Soon people started arriving, all of them ignoring us except for one group lead by a 50-ish mustached mafia-looking Mexican who walked up with his entourage and said in English, "We wan' you to leaf thees tabol." Kinda rude, but, well, okay. So we moved a few tables over and shortly thereafter were joined by a doctor, her friends and about a dozen bottles of alcohol and other things (I'm still wondering what the soy sauce was for). The dancing gradually got a little more heated up, most couples dancing like average American dancers. A few were notable, though. The parade royalty was present, dancing and charming the audience. One couple went spinning through at warp-speed, graceful and well-coordinated, but their heads oddly tilted together as though they were a pair of Siamese twins permanently locked together at the sides of their foreheads. Several times, Bruce, a very good dancer, danced with the women, but then later, when seated enjoying his Tecate, found himself seemingly being challenged by a short, macho-looking Mexican, eyes blazing from some combination of Tequila and testosterone, turning toward seated Bruce as he ignored his partner, pumping his hips, stamping his feet and waving his arms with rhythmic intensity for what seemed like a lengthy time. Was this a challenge or a mating dance? Had Bruce drawn the attention of an alternative subculture within the Turtle Bay community? Bruce thought he was communicating, "I can dance better than you!" but I'm not so sure.
We stayed in Turtle Bay another couple of days, mostly resting, working on the boat, and reprovisioning, then left for Bahia Magdelena, 250 miles to the south. I was concerned about conserving fuel – Mag Bay had only one unreliable place to refuel, and I didn't want to be forced into going into Cabo San Lucas to get fuel once we reached the end of the peninsula. We had a near-perfect 48-hour sail. The wind was strong and steady enough that we were able to make good speed gybing downwind under working jib and reefed main.