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Logs & Stories - September 2002
September 17 - Bahia San Francisquito
(Email via Maritime Mobile Radio Service)
We're in Bahia San Francisquito (rhymes with 'mosquito'), back on the Baja peninsula, about 40 miles south of our northernmost destination, Bahia de Los Angeles. San Francisquito has a large outer bay open to the northeast, and in addition has one of the four best hurricane holes on the Sea of Cortez. We spent last night anchored in the outer harbor, and this morning, after we heard the weather forecast for strong winds, we moved Seafire into the inner bay. We actually took the time to work out the details of how we would anchor in a hurricane. I'm not sure it's the best we can do, but we now have two anchors in series at the downhill end (a 45-lb Delta with a 15-lb Delta upstream), and a bridle going to the outer hulls. It's been blowing in the 15-20 range much of the day. I keep hoping it picks up to the 25 they predicted so we can see the impact of adding kellets (hanging weights) and another bridle. I figure I could also put another anchor (Fortress FX-16) upstream of the little Delta. It will be interesting to see what it's like to swim in waves with heavy objects.
We arrived here yesterday around mid-day after a seventeen-hour, mostly at night crossing from the mainland. All during the day the wind had blown, at times as much at 20 knots, but it died upon our departure, and stayed that way the entire passage. Since we'd had blustery northwesterlies blowing from the direction we wanted to go much of the week, we decided a windless, motoring crossing wasn't so bad. The most notable thing about it was that Jackson spent the entire night in the cockpit and stood a watch in the morning once it was light.
It turns out our departure from San Carlos was well timed. The Sea is experiencing its worst conditions since our arrival, with 30-knot winds and cloud cover in most places. In San Carlos they've reported nearly 40-knot winds, squalls and lots of rain. Here we've had 20-knot winds and clear skies.
We'd come to San Carlos slightly over three weeks earlier after a delightful nighttime 75-mile crossing from Los Pilares. We'd left the anchorage at dusk, motored out past the fleet of pangas fishing for squid, and continued motoring for another two hours until the wind filled. The rest of the night we spent close reaching across the sea, first under full main and working jib, then with a single reef and the same headsail, mostly going about six knots, top speeds of around eight. We'd arrived at San Carlos around 9 a.m., and anchored in lovely Martini Cove, just at the entrance to Bahia San Carlos, next to Gerry Cunningham aboard his modified Rawson 30 - Birinci Mevki ('First Class' in Turkish). We've been using Cunningham's cruising guides and charts of the Sea since last April, and it was a pleasure to meet him. There aren't too many real explorers these days, people who sail into places without a chart; Cunningham is probably one of the few, and I've certainly benefited greatly from what he's found.
After being in remote Baja for most of the last two months, it was odd being in Martini Cove - a plethora of motor boats came in during the day, a Saturday, made lots of noise for a few hours and left. That evening a dive charter boat came in the cove and released about a dozen Americans into the water for a night dive.
We came into San Carlos the next day, finding a moderately sized marina of perhaps 200 slips, a large empty hotel and a large empty town of gringo houses. It turns out that San Carlos is about a eight-hour drive from Phoenix and serves as a sport-fishing/recreation center for the state of Arizona, but since it's now summer most people have chosen to stay in their air conditioned other world. I understand why. It was ugly hot and ugly humid - 100F with 90% humidity. (Ed. note: never both at the same time though - usually 88 / 80 first thing in the morning, with the temperature rising during the day and the relative humidity appropriately going down.) An American town in Mexico, vacated for the summer. Horrible for most people. During the first couple of days we ran into a man who'd been there alone since the end of May when he came to San Carlos because his boat insurance required him to be north of 27 degrees, his wife having the sense to return to the US. He'd obviously gone insane from heat and loneliness, and had decided to leave and sail his boat back to Los Angeles at the peak of hurricane season.
San Carlos is the end of the line for about 100 cruising boats each year. Ed Grossman, an entrepreneur married to a Mexican woman, runs the marina as well as Marina Seca, the largest dry-storage marina in Mexico. Marina Seca houses about 400 boats during the summer, some for hurricane season safety, others because the cruise is postponed for the time being. For about a quarter of these 400 boats, the cruise is over and they get sent home on a truck. We anticipated finding the boats of many of our friends there but noted the absence of both Spirit of Joy and Evergreen II, disappointments because we'd looked forward to seeing their crews in the fall.
Our stop in San Carlos had multiple objectives. Primarily, we were there to help our friends on Yulan -- Barney, Patti and five-year-old Stevie -- end their cruise. I'd met Barney in Seattle because he worked for West Marine, and once we arrived in La Paz our families became frequent companions, the result of having children and sharing a lot of values. I was horrified at the pending termination of their cruise. Not only would we miss their companionship, but also the idea of returning to the US and getting a job sounded positively awful.
The secondary objectives of our stay were to visit with other friends and do boat maintenance. Jason of Sea Amigo, whom we'd first met in Oxnard, had been in San Carlos for two months, tied to marina's dock while his parents returned to the coolness of their home in northern California. When we first saw Jason, it was obvious that San Carlos had suited him well: he looked particularly fit and tan, and had been able to acquire a lovely Latina girlfriend of Argentinean birth and Chilean upbringing. Jason, laid off from a Santa Cruz programming job, had been called back to work and was in the process of storing Sea Amigo and returning to the US, another casualty. Nick arrived with Don and Stevie on 90-year old Fiona several days after we did. A haulout for Fiona was scheduled, and the boat was pulled from the water with much care and anxiety.
Our maintenance objectives were a function of regular wear and broken gear. We'd worn down some of our nonskid paint on parts of Seafire, and needed to do a few deck repairs, as well as a variety of less significant things (head and engine work, battery fluid check, etc…). Additionally, we wanted to get parts to repair our defective watermaker and get the DVD drive on our computer repaired. A final objective was to scope out Marina Seca for hauling Seafire.
Each of these tasks was made challenging by the San Carlos heat and humidity. We found that we could function in the morning, but after that any amount of activity would leave us drenched in sweat. The marina was poorly ventilated, and the water in the bay's anchorage was a disgusting green and smelled bad much of the time (Jackson ended up with an outer ear infection after swimming). The best things about it were the availability of cold beer and ice cream from several nearby sources. While still tanned and fit, my waistline was making a daily expansion from overindulgence in cold goodies.
We accomplished most of our regular wear items, but struck out on the parts for the time being. Painting the deck was a bit painful. We started at 6:30am, but by 9am the deck was too hot to walk on, making the task more challenging than desirable.
The manufacturer sent the watermaker parts, but we anticipated them being parked in customs for a while and our friend Nick volunteered to pick them up and bring them to us upon our next meeting. Nick, buy the way, was able to find housing for himself and Toro the wonder dog, courtesy of Don and Stevie on Fiona, and when we left was busy helping Don with Fiona's repairs. The experience would likely net Nick enough to return to Wanderlust in Puerto Escondido, make repairs and continue on his Mexican odyssey. We have plans for winter surfing in Punta de Mita. We got a lead on replacing our broken DVD drive via the generosity of Carlo, a local restaurateur and computer whiz, and made plans for resolving things if we return to San Carlos next month.
Hauling out in Marina Seca was a total loser. They wanted twice the price of a keelboat to haul a multihull, and had managed to break so many multis in the past that they wanted me to sign a waiver. They also wanted to put Seafire an empty lot with no power or water, which seemed to make bottom painting particularly challenging. We decided to pass.
We were also able to make several trips into Guaymas, a nearby "regular" Mexican town of 80,000 with minimal tourism. The people there were terrific, and we were able to accomplish a number of things (most notably the repair of our main halyard winch), but the town itself was really ugly. We'd grown used to lovely places like La Paz and Loreto, and this was the first we'd seen that lacked the grace and beauty of the others.
Our friends on Yulan left after we'd been there two weeks, we stayed another week and then decided we'd had enough of the heat. We sailed northward, spending two nights in anchorages on the mainland side, then came here.
We're now in the peak month of hurricane season. There is one storm and one tropical disturbance out in the eastern Pacific - Ezelle (just made it from tropical storm to hurricane) maybe 400 miles from here and southwest of Cabo, the other much further south at 9 degrees north. Our blustery weather today was quite fortuitous because it gave us the opportunity to think through and test our heavy weather anchoring gear in a little wind in one of two hurricane holes in this area. The other hurricane hole is about 40 miles north, at the southern end of Bahia de los Angeles, and currently contains a group of people now called the "Santa Rosalia Yacht Club" because they've been traveling together since linking up in that town. One of these two boats is owned by a pair of Caribbean charter boat skippers who have prepped for nearly 10 hurricanes and been through several. It will be interesting to discuss our approach to anchoring with them.
A general comment regarding our summer on the Sea of Cortez: it's really been a good experience. You develop a different relationship with the sun, but once you adapt your behavior it's not so bad most of the time. At least, not for us this year, particularly after Mom brought us the fans. We installed one over each bunk, plus two in the main salon and one as a spare. A hotter year may be different, but we've rarely seen cabin temperatures over 100F. San Carlos was painful at times (100F, plus 80%+ humidity), but we've found being at anchor on the Baja side mostly quite pleasant. We'd anticipated that we'd have to sleep outside part of the time, but this hasn't been necessary. One of the positive things has been being able to sail naked at night during our crossings. I'd actually highly recommend a summer in the Sea at this point, although this opinion is certainly tempered by the fact that we haven't had a hurricane hit the peninsula. It's a good environment to test gear because replacements, while challenging to get in Mexico, are only a bus ride away. The weather is mostly benign, and the water warm. The anchorages are easy -- sand bottoms, no swell, close together. Dinghy landings are done in flat water, requiring no surfing talent and no monster inflatable with a monster motor and wheels, and most importantly, no terror. The fish don't poison you. The Mexican guys are friendly, and the women are beautiful. The solitude and quiet vastness of Baja have been a welcome change from the stress and pressure involved with getting here. Doesn't seem like a bad place at all.
September 21 - Ensenada Quemado
(Email via Maritime Mobile Radio Service)
We never got off the boat in Bahia San Francisquito. On the second day we moved into the small inner harbor, as the swell was refracting around the point and making us roll. Bill wasn't affected, but the rest of us weren't very happy. We practiced putting a second anchor in series with our primary, so we had a 16 pound delta (like a CQR) with 30' of 1/4" chain attached to where a trip line would normally go on the large anchor. The idea is that if the big anchor starts to drag, the little one will keep it from going too fast over the bottom to set. We also had two kellets ready to put on the chain, one close to the anchor to keep the entry angle low, and another halfway up to keep caternary in the chain. However, when Bill dove on the whole setup to see what it looked like, he said all the chain but the 30' nearest to the boat was lying on the bottom, so the kellets were unnecessary. This was in 15-20 knots of wind, with higher gusts -- and some of the gusts in the low 20's were pretty long, more like sustained winds.
At any rate, by the third day we were pretty itchy to leave, as the strong SE winds were continuing every day, making beach access not possible in the big part of the bay, where it looked really interesting. So we took off, thinking we were going to Isla Salsipuedes (which means 'leave if you can island'). We found it easy to not even stop at, as it was pretty desolate with almost no vegetation. We ended up continuing on to this little cove called Puertocito del Enmedio (little port in the middle) just a couple of miles from Punta Los Animas, which is about 14 miles from Punta Don Juan, the point which makes up the east side of Bahia de Los Angeles. It was not the best anchorage we've been in, but it seemed relatively secure.
However, the flies were so awful there that we left first thing in the morning. We had heard on the morning net that there were flies up in Puerto Don Juan, but we had some down in San Francisquito, and we thought we knew what we were getting into. Ha! We anchored, cleaned up the deck a little and then I went down below. In rather short order I had killed more than twenty flies (we're all getting pretty good with the fly swatters -- Rosita would probably find this amusing as well as karmically appropriate). The flies were getting in at least as fast as we could kill them, so we dragged out some netting and put it over the main entry and hatch in the main cabin. They're cannibalistic, so we would put the corpses in one spot and then kill the others as they came over. At one point, there were over twenty dead flies in a pile at the one end of the table. I was wiping everything down with Formula 409, as they didn't seem to like it. Someone made a joke on the evening net asking for fly recipes.
We left Puertocito del Enmedio for Ensenada Quemado, which is about 10 miles east of the town of Bahia de Los Angeles. We were running out of perishables and water and knew we would have to go into town no later than Tuesday. Quemado was quite nice, with reefs to snorkel, a very long beach to play on and some nice walks or hikes. The last, of course, is something one must begin at dawn or it becomes too hot. There were flies there, but not nearly as bad as the previous anchorage. Apparently it had rained 10-14 days ago, and that's when all the flies hatched. If it doesn't rain again, eventually they will die out.
When we arrived, there was another boat here, a catamaran from Kodiak. The people aboard are in their mid-fifties and have been here nearly 11 years. We have not yet met the wife, but Rick is a fascinating person, very much into the sorts of conversations that Bill's dad enjoyed. So the two of them had a wonderful time yesterday, as did I. I'm looking forward to meeting his wife. However, we'll be here another three weeks, so we should have plenty of time to visit. He has a degree in geology, and I want to get the inside scoop on Baja's formation
The first morning in Quemado, we were woken around 4 a.m. by a small female sea lion. I didn't realize what had woken me at first, and went to the forward cabin to use the head. On the way back, I heard breathing, and went go see what the animal was. There was a full moon, so I could tell clearly it was a seal or small sea lion as she swam at and then under the boat. She spent the rest of the night and most of the morning sleeping in the shade under the boat. Occasionally, her bubbles would make enough noise to wake us up, or she would bang against the bottom of the boat. She seemed to prefer sleeping under the amas or the main hull, even putting herself in front of the rudder, under the bottom, with just enough room to reach up and put her nose out of the water for air. We were concerned with her unusual behavior and relatively unresponsive state, and were thinking she was injured until we realized the reddish stuff on her fur here and there was bottom paint. However, right around 10:30 she seemed to start moving around a bit (before she only moved to keep herself under the boat or under the wings, in the shade). She took two good looks over the deck of the boat; she was able to get her head a couple of inches above deck level at the highest spot on the ama, about 1/4 of the way back from the ama bow. I watched her take her first look from around 10 feet away, and came over to see what she was doing, and on her second look she was only 2 feet away! She swam around the boat one last time, and then left. I've seen her a couple of times in the bay, sunning herself and fishing, and she looks fine. Another close encounter with nature.
We have a lot of those in the sea; on the way here, we passed a pod of dolphins that must have numbered several hundred. We headed towards them, and some immediately headed our way. They like to catch a ride on either the bow wave or transom wake as long as you're going in their direction. Yesterday there were small manta rays jumping in the bay not more than 50' from the boat. They jump and do flips -- multiple rotations in each jump -- and I have no idea why they do this. Sometimes you'll see them far off as a flashing light as the sun reflects off their wet bodies.
As far as the sea lion encounter goes, we have talked to people on two other boats that have had the same experience. I wonder how the sea lions decide that a boat is ok to hang out under for so many hours. I can't imagine it would be safe if they decided to hang out under a panga!
The water up north here and in San Carlos has been really murky -- no more of that looking down 25' and seeing the anchor chain crystal clear, with little puffer and porcupine fish checking out what the chain digs up when the wind pushes the boat around. So Bill and Jackson haven't been fishing in four weeks, and we're running low on variety here. We were given some dorado (mahi-mahi) in San Carlos, freshly caught that day, and, oh boy, was that the best fish I've ever eaten!
September 27 - Bahia de Los Angeles
(Email via Maritime Mobile Radio Service)
The second night we were here, a breeze started up at 10:30 p.m. -- woke me up from drowsing on the aft settee. I got up and cleaned up the cockpit so nothing would blow away, but left the awning up. The temperature was 88 degrees, but in about an hour it was 93, and ended up 94 by midnight. The humidity dropped to about 25% and the breeze picked up. Around 11:30, we took down the awning. I set the GPS alarm right at midnight and watched as most of the town's lights went out when the generator was powered down. I didn't get back to sleep until 4:30 -- it was like being in front of a convection oven with the temperature and fan set on high. I tried dripping ice water on myself, but it dried out quickly and I kept worrying about spilling the cup of water on the bunk! I tried the wet washcloth routine, but the cooling effect would only last about a minute. I left the washcloth on my stomach for a minute, and the little light bulb went off inside my head. When kids both woke up and complained of the heat, I took hand towels, got them damp and draped the towels over the kids. Instant sleep. My feet were the hottest (because of the hatch location over the bunk); I found a pair of socks, got them wet, wrung them out and put them on. The dry, hot breeze combined with the wet socks made for serious cooling via evaporation, and I was asleep in five minutes.
It blew until the next night, so we were stuck on the boat all day. It died in the late evening, and we went ashore the next morning, got more water and groceries, visited the museum and looked for the local supply of diesel. The wind started changing around about 30 minutes before we started back to the boat, and halfway there it really started to gust out of the west again. The wind wasn't more than 15 knots in the gusts, so Bill took a nap. Unfortunately, the wind increased, and then we heard via Mirador that Don on Summer Passage was predicting stronger west winds overnight.
We finally upped anchor around 4:30 or so. The lulls at that point were anything 20 knots or under -- the gusts were high 20's and 30's. We got ready to pull the anchor up and then waited for a decently long lull, so we wouldn't pull Bill's fingers off. One came and he pulled like crazy and almost had everything up when the wind increased. I managed to keep the boat in the right place long enough for him to get everything on deck, then we headed downwind towards Puerto Don Juan, which is about 5 miles east of town. We had short, steep waves up to 4-5', but since it was all downwind it wasn't a problem, as long as I didn't turn around right when a big set came through (they looked scarier than they were). The wind started to slow down as we passed through the islands about 4-5 miles west of town, and inside Don Juan it was light with occasionally gusts to 12 knots.
The highest gust I measured with our hand-held anemometer was 26 knots, and a boat with a masthead anemometer got 39 knots. With no sails up, though, I think the wind at deck level is more relevant.