[040520: 2226 UTC: Caleta Enmedia, Isla Espiritu Santo, BCS, Mexico;
24º 30.9' N/110º 23.5' W]
We are writing this note as we sit in Carina’s cockpit while anchored at Caleta Enmedia, a narrow deep cove (“caleta”) on the island of Espiritu Santo, named presumably because it’s half way between two very popular anchorages. The water under the boat is an intense turquoise color – somewhat “melon-green” – that slowly darkens to a deep, velvety translucent blue as the water deepens about ¼ mile west/northwest of our anchorage which is in 17 feet over sand. The water is this color and clear all of the way to the beach at the head of the cove and brown pelicans constantly dive in these shallows with a loud splash trying – and usually succeeding – to get a fish meal. The steep, high hills surrounding us are sere, ochre-colored sandstone dotted with agave, cacti and the rare foraging goat. Caves, large and small, pockmark the hillsides. The temperature is 88 degrees and we have a whisper of the southerly breeze that is wrapping around the point to our west.
We left La Paz yesterday just after noon and rode the ebbing tide out of the channel. Our destination was a bight in Bahia (Bay) San Gabriel called Gabriel Foyer on the south end of Isla Espiritu Santo. When we arrived it was quickly apparent that this tiny spot has become the home of a fisherman as there was a shack on shore and a large panga in the only anchorage spot. We continued north into Puerto Ballena (“Whale Port”) where we tucked deep into the southern bight and were the only boat in the anchorage. We also expect we’ll be the only boat in Caleta Enmedia tonight as most boats continue north to the popular and lovely Caleta Partida about ½ mile north.
Puerto Ballena offered us a great reintroduction into the pleasures of gunkholing, which is the nautical term for traveling by day and anchoring each night. The bay is large, running roughly two miles north to south with three large shoal bights separated by high rocky headlands. There was only one small fishing shack about a mile away with a dim light and only the pianissimo serenade of frogs from the surrounding hills interrupted the extreme quiet. Before we retired to sleep last night we were treated to a remarkable natural show, made more thrilling due to the black, clear, starry but moonless night. In the bay there were large schools of fish swimming around the boat looking very much like silent, phosphorescent ghosts moving through the clear water. As the schools approached the boat, individual fish would veer away and would look like underwater shooting rockets, leaving glowing trails behind. The scene was mesmerizing.
Cruising like this can be relaxing and filled with incomparable memories but because you and your vessel are “on your own” you must always be on guard for danger. This morning we learned of a motor vessel that dragged its anchor and ended up hard aground, listing 35 degrees or more and taking water over the rail as the tide rose. Through radio nets the community was organized and the Mexican Navy was also brought in. We are anxious to find out the fate of the vessel but were happy to hear the crew (whom we had met in Mazatlan) and their kitties were all safe.
Our stay in La Paz was longer than we’d planned because we’d decided to have some boatyard work done immediately rather than waiting for the fall. Our travels from here will take us north into the Sea of Cortez where facilities such as are available in La Paz are non-existent. A boat “pile-up” the day we were to be plunked from the water and set on land, combined with a few Mexican holidays resulted in a nineteen day adventure. In addition, after we left the boatyard, we hired a Mexican crew (‘tripulantes”) of three to paint over the varnish on most of our exposed wooden bright work. The paint will alleviate much of the maintenance work needed to keep varnished surfaces looking good in this tropical climate. Leslie was dismayed since she had spent four weeks last year stripping and completely redoing all the bright work on the boat.
Other than the dirt, grime and heat of living on a boat propped up on stands in the middle of a boatyard in ninety degree weather, we were pleased with the boatyard experience. We were in the “little” Abaroa yard run by Alejandro Abaroa. The Abaroa family boatyard operations, founded in the 1890s, seem to control much of the boat repair business in La Paz with three locations. Directly adjacent to the yard where Carina was high and dry is the “big” Abaroa yard run by Alejandro’s uncle. Alejandro is a handsome young man who speaks relatively good English and is always attired in an immaculate designer tee-shirt, blue jeans and running shoes, topped off with sunglasses. In his spare time, Alejandro also races off-road trucks. Philip asked him if he actually did the driving and, if so, did he win his races. With a perfect, white-toothed smile he just said “Si”. He then went on to tell of the races he’s won. “Don Luis”, Alejandro’s dad, constantly roams both yards making sure the workers - most of whom are also some member of the Abaroa family - are performing their jobs to his satisfaction.
The cast of characters in the yard included two “junkyard” dogs, Lobo and Inca, who begged food and affection from whoever happened to have either. Jake didn’t like the smell of them at all and remained inside the cabin for most of our stay! Across the street from the boatyard there was a small tienda (“store”) where on many of these hot nights, men and women would gather under its awning to visit. Enjoying the cooling evening winds, children would play in the street, men would chat and some of the women would dance in the street to lively Mexican music while holding their babies in their arms. It seemed like a scene from a nostalgic movie set in the 1950s.
Even though we were in La Paz much longer than we had intended (and missed the big fundraising and social event for cruisers in Puerto Escondido called LoretoFest), there are worse places to be “stuck” waiting for boatyard work to be completed. La Paz was “discovered” nearly 500 years ago and its productive bay is protected by the mangrove covered “El Mogote” barrier island to the north. La Paz doesn’t have the chain stores (Wal-Mart, Costco, etc.) that are popping up all over Mexico (unless you count Radio Shack!). In addition, the limited tourist trade is focused on outdoor activities including diving, windsurfing and small boat cruising. Here the tourists you do meet are just as likely to be Mexican as any other nationality. La Paz also has wonderful food and strong community organizations. We attended a concert at the Teatro de la Cuidad where for $20 pesos ($1.75 USD) we were treated to a performance by a locally-born but Italy-trained tenor and a Mexico City-based pianist!
We mentioned in our last passage note that La Paz had suffered two hurricanes in 2003. Hurricanes are common in Pacific Mexico but they are rarer in the Sea of Cortez because they are often diverted by the cold current that runs parallel to the west coast of the Baja peninsula. During our stay we saw a video that was shot at Marina de La Paz during hurricane Marty in September 2003. It is hard to reconcile the docile, calm weather we were enjoying here with the fury of the storm as shown in the film. After the eye passed the winds from Marty came from the southwest, destroying the marina to windward and sending dozens of boats down onto the already weakened docks of Marina de La Paz. To the lee (downwind) of the marina is a seawall, and dozens of boats were shown piling up and crashing against the masonry wall. This devastation was amazing, heartbreaking and a bit frightening to see and the sound of boats grinding against one another and the wall only added to the feeling. On a side note, we found Marina de La Paz nearly completely reconstructed, which is a testament to the hard work of the team working there.
The winter cruising season is beginning to wind down in Mexico with many boats “bashing” back up the Pacific coast or being pulled and stored on land until next season (San Carlos, Sonora on the mainland side of the Sea is the most popular storage site). Hurricane season has officially begun and weather south of here in Pacific Mexico is becoming more unstable and rainy. There is a smaller but hardy contingent of those, like us, who are cruising full time and who will be exploring the hundreds of beautiful islas and caletas in the Sea of Cortez during the coming months. We plan to take our time, stop often and try to get to know the as many locals as we can.
Su amigos de la velero, Carina,
Leslie, Philip and el gato primero, Jake