[031213, 2004 UTC, Bahia Santa Maria, BCS, Mexico; 24º46.3'N/112º15.3' W]

Dear Friends;

We write you from Bahia Santa Maria, a large, lovely bay roughly 200 miles south of Bahia Asunción.  It took us thirty five minutes shy of two days to reach here from Asunción—a bit longer than it might have—but there’s more to that story.

We left Bahia Asunción at 0900 Mountain Standard Time on Thursday, December 11, 2003, but not before receiving a visit from two pangueros.  They wanted to know if we wanted to trade for fresh lobster and we said, “si!”.  Actually, we think the fishermen in this village are trading lobsters more for the interaction with people from another culture than for the things we trade (beer, canned foods, magazines, etc.) which are readily available to them at local mercados (small supermarkets).

The evening prior to our departure, we had listened to a cruisers’ net weather forecast which called for 20-25 knot northwest winds off the coast of Baja – perfect sailing weather.  The morning of our departure the radio propagation prevented us from hearing any update.  We admit it and we are unapologetic—we’re “fair weather sailors”.  We believe that there is always manana so—if the weather doesn’t cooperate—we generally just kick back, take another trip to town, enjoy another cervesa or margarita and wait until things get better.  We had, in fact, been debating whether we should spend another day at Bahia Asunción as Shari Bondy had told us about a spot just north of the bay where she said fossils were abundant.  She showed us a couple of her finds including a fossilized shark’s tooth about 6 inches long and 4 inches wide, weighing about a pound!  She had also collected numerous smaller shark’s teeth that she uses to fashion into jewelry such as necklaces or earrings.  We later regretted the decision to leave, not only because of the missed opportunity to go fossil hunting, but also because the weather did not turn out as predicted (more on that later).

The next leg of the journey was 200 miles, dictating two nights spent at sea since we didn’t want to close in on the shore without daylight.  We motored out of Bahia Asunción since there was no wind and after a light breeze blew in, we hoisted our sails hoping to sail rather than use the engine and burn our finite supply of diesel.  While we were waiting for wind, with the sails slatting from the swells, unfilled by the meager breeze, a panga with two pangueros stopped by to chat.  One of the fishermen indicated with a wide sweep of his hand to the far horizon, “no viento” (wind).  We replied that “sometimes no viento – sometimes mucho viento”.  They were confused.  If we had an engine, as we assured them we had, why wouldn’t we be using it to motor to where we wanted to go?  With our limited Spanish, diesel conservation was a difficult concept to convey and so we just shrugged. 

Minutes after the fishermen departed, a breeze filled our sails and quickly became viento muy mucho followed by viento grande.   A new forecast predicted winds of 30-35 knots (a “near gale”) for the next two days.  We were already four hours south of Bahia Asunción and didn’t want to sail back against strong winds and large seas so we continued on with reduced sails.  The conditions weren’t as bad as our first two days sailing off the Washington and Oregon coast (where, to use the vernacular we recently heard on one of the cruising nets, “we got the snot beaten out of us”), but they were certainly uncomfortable.  Wind of this intensity blows the foam off of the tops of large waves (spindrift) spraying you and the boat with salt water.  The noise of wind shrieking in the rigging becomes disconcerting and generates a bit of stress.  Carina is a well-designed boat that rides down most waves gracefully but literally falls sideways off others, depending on wave height, steepness and angle of attack.   When this happens and one of us is down below in the cabin where you can’t see what’s happening, that person can be launched off his or her feet unless they have a strong handhold.   Simple chores like dressing or washing dishes become hard to perform and the constant motion causes sea sickness symptoms of headache, nausea and fatigue, especially during the first few days of sailing.  Philip suffers more from motion sickness than Leslie – she seems to be mostly immune.

We have been on the lookout for gray whales which are supposed to be migrating at this time, but have seen none.  This is perhaps because whales tend to stick to shallower water where they can more easily feed and our passages have been offshore in deep water. (Bahia Magdalena, just south of Bahia Santa Maria where we are anchored, has many favored calving grounds, so we are keeping a sharp lookout.)  During the height of the wind and steep seas, Leslie spotted two large sea turtles (tortuga de mar)—the size of the average wheelbarrow and a golden green color—lounging on the sea surface as we raced by.  One of them appeared to have a lump on its back.  We later read that sea turtles are fitted with small radios by researchers to track their migration and that these turtles travel incredible distances including crossing the Pacific to Japan!

We assumed our usual watch schedule of three hours on watch and three off.  In theory, this schedule allows for sufficient sleep though it doesn’t quite work out that way.  Sometimes the watch person needs help in a particular situation or the noises caused by shifting dishes, books, etc. in the cabin combined with the anticipation of worsening conditions precludes sleep.  The net effect is that after one or two days on a passage you get exhausted enough that you will sleep through ANYTHING if you are off watch.

We rounded Cabo San Lázaro, a dangerous cape of many shipwrecks, by bright moonlight (and, of course charts, GPS and radar) and reached Punta Hughes—the point that forms Bahia Santa Maria—at daybreak.  We had deliberately slowed Carina’s progress during the night so that we would arrive at our destination with sufficient daylight to avoid the numerous Baja coast obstacles of rocks, reefs and lobster buoys.  The buoys themselves aren’t the problem; it’s the lines that are attached to them that can wrap around your propeller shaft, effectively shutting down your engine at a time when your auxiliary power is absolutely critical.  In reality, once around the cape, navigation into this bay was “no problemo”.

Beyond Punta Hughes lies Bahia Santa Maria, a large bight on the Baja Coast that affords protection from the prevailing winter northwest winds.  Picture in your mind desert mountains leading down to an intensely blue sea and surging surf on a white sand beach as a backdrop to the east.  These slowly eroding mountains have little or no vegetation and are veined with dry arroyos and pockmarked with numerous natural caves.  At sunset, alpenglow will light this land with the most incredible colors of magenta, pink and brown.  There is no human influence save for the few cruising vessels and tuna boats at anchor, a handful of fishing pangas and a scattering of utilitarian shacks for the pangueros.

We have passed beyond the 25th parallel of latitude and the weather has become drier (if that’s possible) sunnier and warmer.  There is even a very noticeable difference in the sun’s intensity between here and Bahia Asunción, just 200 miles to the north.  We plan to go ashore and hike and enjoy this bay for two days—longer if the weather forecast is problematic—before continuing to our planned next stop, Bahia Magdalena, or “Mag Bay”.   We’ve traded our last cerveza (along with a few t-shirts and gum for (cinco) lobster) but our supplies of fresh veggies, eggs and other provisions are still abundant.  There’s no good reason to leave before we see the sites.

We hope you are all well and enjoying the upcoming the preparations for the Christmas holiday.   We are hoping to be in Cabo San Lucas at Christmas and (so far) it looks as if we’re on schedule.

Feliz Navidad,

Philip, Leslie and Jake the sea-going kitty