[040614: 2351 UTC: Isla Coronados, BCS, Mexico;
26º 06.5' N/111º 17.2' W]
Hola Amigos y Amigas;
We have now been out of La Paz and cruising in the Sea of Cortez for nearly a month and it’s been an adventure with its fair share of wanderlust. What’s impressed us the most about the Sea is the stark physical beauty and its isolation. There’s no noise, no pollution and little contaminating light to hide the stars in the ever-clear night skies. When last we reported we were in Caleta Enmedia on Isla Partida near La Paz, so we’ll try to catch up a bit on what’s been happening with our fair cutter and her crew.
Right now we are at anchor inside a spit that connects a volcanic island to a rock reef. The island is called Isla Coronado and it is about 155 miles north of La Paz. As with all of the Baja, there is little vegetation on the island except low creosote bushes and many varieties of cacti. Large heaps of lava line the shore and form rocky reefs that serve as a basis for coral and its associated marine life. The anchorage here offers 20-35 feet of sand, excellent protection, lovely snorkeling, abundant fish and some shellfish. For us it also has offered us the opportunity to catch up with friends we’d made in San Diego, so we’ve been very busy sharing stories. Tonight Philip’s making a big pot of pasta with clams and we’ve invited all the boats to the beach for a potluck under the palapas where the fishing charters bring their charges for lunch each day. We’ve done some fishing here but have so far been skunked. Well, that’s not completely true. One day while at the beach an American vacationer who’d been out in a panga came by and was boasting about how many dorado (mahi mahi) they’d caught on their morning outing and how they finally got bored of catching fish. Without a moment’s hesitation, Leslie said, “Did you bring any for us?” He was a bit taken aback but quickly recovered and said, “Would you like one?” Leslie said “Sure!” He went back to his boat and hauled over one of their catch, a beautiful 36 inch fish that was shared amongst the anchored boats. We still need to legitimately land a fish, but we’re still enjoying our “catches”!
We probably already reported that the weather’s been getting hot¾90s most days but cooling into the 70s or 80s at night. And, with clear skies and the arid climate, the sun is very intense. This requires we keep ourselves covered in sunscreen and well hydrated and to go into the water whenever possible. Water temperature varies widely even within a given anchorage but compared to what we are accustomed to, it’s always warm. Thankfully we’ve suffered few vermin; honey bees seeking water and the occasional housefly but nothing biting and that’s a joy.
After our last Passage Note, we moved north to a large anchorage called appropriately Ensenada Grande. Here we tucked into a perfect little cove that seems carved out of the red rock cliffs just to fit one boat. This little cove is called Caleta de la Cruz in some of our guidebooks for the cross that is set atop of the cliff overlooking it. Here we finally were able to jump in and get wet for the first time since venturing north. Our first swimming adventure involved toting along a pair of scissors and a comb in a waterproof box to cut Philip’s hair on the beach. While in this perfect spot, we were awed by the sailing prowess of a couple of young kids on an engineless Pearson 27 called MagStar who came flying in one afternoon when it was blowing hard, tacked crisply up the bay, pulled hard to port just before they reached Carina and were anchored within seconds, barely looking like it was anything unusual. We later learned they were so skilled they sailed between two slips within Marina de la Paz, where because of the current most of us have a problem moving about with an engine! Here we also caught up with friends Peter and Glenora on Wanderlust V who’d just left La Paz for the first time after completing extensive repairs as a result of their boat falling off its stands in a boatyard during Hurricane Marty in September 2003.
From Ensenada Grande we crossed to an uninhabited island called Isla San Francisco. It’s actually two islands that are connected by a sandy isthmus that today sports a salt flat and some small salt evaporation pools, presumably maintained by the fishermen who frequent the waters around the island. Here the sandy anchorage is three quarters enclosed and surrounded by high rocky hills. The views to the mainland are of steep mountains that come right down to the Sea. It was at Isla San Francisco that Philip first tried his skills spearing edible fish with a Hawaiian sling; he was unsuccessful but had a wonderful time snorkeling around boulders and observing thousands of fish including puffers (big and small), sierra, tuna and the gaily striped, ubiquitous sergeant majors and wrasses. We even saw a four foot long (no joke) needle fish, though thankfully from the dinghy. We were able to get a lovely huachinango (red snapper) for dinner one night by trading with a panguero named Victor who brought his two young associates, Evan and Martin, to trade fish for lures. Victor watched while Philip searched through his tackle box and give Evan many new lures and hooks as well as some food. He was apparently impressed with the amount of “goods” he was getting. When Evan reached for a huachinango, Victor shook his head slightly and said quietly to Evan, “grande” And so, we got a fish large enough for two meals. While talking with them in our broken Spanish we learned that they were from San Evaristo, where we’d planned to stop next.
San Evaristo is a bay and pueblo on the mainland of Baja that’s set in a spectacular location with a close backdrop of high steep rocky mountains. It’s a dusty town but sports a modern water treatment plant on the beach, a tienda and more burros than you can imagine. Like all Baja towns and even small cities, there’s always the call of roosters to wake you on still mornings. There are no lights shining in the village at night and we assume that everyone must retire to bed at dusk since the only electricity there is whatever some people generate with solar panels. The fishing cooperative on the beach seems prosperous and many young men (such as Martin and Evan) are involved. Here there are two distinct anchorages. The north end is open to the south but is engulfed by steep rocky hills though the bottom is sand. We chose to anchor closer to town within the protected waters of the southerly reef in 10 feet of water between the rocks and the beach. We didn’t move at all but were a bit concerned when we were blasted one day with thermal winds off the mountains that blew us nearer to the reef than we were used to. In San Evaristo we were anxious to replenish our fresh veggies as our refrigerator box is small and we were resorting to opening cans. Knowing the fishermen we’d met in Isla San Francisco, we landed our dinghy at the fish camp to ask for directions to the tienda. Our inquiry was met by everyone pointing to a hombre who ushered us into his seventies vintage Ford pickup for the 200 yard ride to the tienda. He followed us in and took up his place behind the counter and weighed our produce on a manual balance. We were a bit taken aback by the large stainless steel bowl sitting prominently on the counter¾it included skinned legs of an animal we couldn’t identify. These were for sale for meat; it was 86 degrees at the time! We stayed in Evaristo for two or three nights, feeling quite comfortable with the anchorage and not in a hurry to press on. One day we ventured further into town to find the school (escuela) to bring a few supplies (pencils, paper, etc.). When we arrived at the small building with a dusty play-yard, we could hear the children chattering and answering the maestro (teacher). We quietly arrived at the classroom’s open door and peeked in¾instant silence. We only stayed a few minutes and explained that we were visiting from Seattle on a boat and wanted to give them a few supplies (including some candy for the children). We presented the maestro our boat card thinking he could use some of the information in his lessons. No one spoke except the maestro who knew a bit of English and who was so young that he must have been right out of school himself! As we walked away giggling and chatter erupted from the classroom and we had to giggle ourselves.
From Evaristo, we traveled up the coast about 15 miles to a fairly open anchorage called Los Gatos (the cats). This stretch of coast is marked by high mountains that are reminiscent of the grand canyon – red, striated and very steep. At Los Gatos (supposedly named for the big cats that used to roam the nearby hills) the anchorage is marked by spectacular, undulating rose-colored sandstone cliffs, brushed into voluptuous curves by millennia of winds and water. These rounded sandstone cliffs looks like they had oozed out of the hillside. The day we arrived, the preferred anchorage under these cliffs was bouncy from swell generated by southeast winds. On the beach were the remains of a whale that had washed up nearly a month earlier. We considered leaving but our arrival had been foretold by friends and a local panguero was expecting us. Manuel, the panguero, is hearty, jovial, animated and known for trading generous portions of langusta with visiting vessels. We negotiated cuatro lobster and Manuel took off to collect them while we re-anchored in a tight spot behind the long rocky reef where Manuel insisted we would find good holding and protection from the swell. Besides, he insisted, “en la noche el viento es en oeste solo” (at night the wind will only come from the west). Manuel returned with cinco (five) and dos chica (two small) lobsters and we invited him aboard, handed him a cerveza and chatted with him for awhile. His home is actually to the south in a pueblo called Timbabichi, near a prominent abandoned edifice built 120 years earlier, called Casa Grande. We learned he had “once nietos” (11 grandchildren), a wife and two sisters. What he was most anxious to talk about was a charter catamaran that had recently visited Los Gatos twice. The charterer was a man from France, his new, young wife and his friend from Spain. He chatted on in Spanish about the cost of their vacation¾the airline tickets, the charter, and the abundance of tequila, cerveza and scotch that was provided aboard the boat as part of the charter. His stories of these visitors were many and varied but he became most animated as he told us how he, Manuel, with his own eyes (pointing to his eye and pulling his lower lid down for emphasis!) saw the wife and the friend sunbathing without clothes as he motored by in his panga. He told us this a few times, each time miming the rush to cover the woman’s nakedness by the friend. After finishing his cerveza and his story, Manuel indicated it was time for him to return home. We paid him generously for the lobster but also sent him away with a finger of scotch (he had wanted tequila but ours was running low), a new (Carina) shirt to replace his shredded polo, a can of Vienna sausages and our small bag of “la basura” (garbage) for disposal. Before he left, he delicately took Leslie’s hand within his two and warmly said goodbye before turning and giving Philip a rib-crunching bear hug!
Our next stop going north was one of the most popular anchorages in the Sea of Cortez, called Agua Verde. We were a bit disappointed perhaps because we anticipated a larger anchorage with more extensive brilliantly colored waters. It is a lovely spot, with a long beach, high mountains behind and a prominent 110’ vertical rock, called Roca Solitaria, guarding the entrance but with less “aqua verde” (green water) than one might expect. Here we lost our isolation, as there were ten or more boats within the three sections of the harbor. We tucked in behind a tall rocky outcropping called Pyramid Rock, near the beach where palm trees and goats were abundant. The pueblo of Aqua Verde is scattered throughout the flat dry arroyo that backs up from the beach up a canyon into the mountains. Here also, there is no electrical power except for that which can be generated by individual homes and this valley too is dark and quiet at night. Modest homes, most of which are constructed of cement blocks, are neatly kept with the hard packed dirt around most swept clean. Chickens, goats and cattle wandered freely. We’d heard that the local fresh queso de cabra (goat cheese) was delicious and one day we set off to acquire some only to be told there wasn’t enough leche (milk), presumably because most of the goats were nursing tiny babies at the time. While being disappointed in our quest for cheese, we were rewarded this day by spotting a vermillion flycatcher at work catching bugs from its perch at the top of a small tree. The tienda at Aqua Verde was another wonderful experience. Maria, a pretty woman in her mid thirties runs the store from her home. Her children and an (even prettier) abuela (grandmother) wander in and out. You enter the tienda through an opening what appears to be an old fishing net into a shaded porch/patio about 20 x 20 feet. Dim storage rooms along the wall hold cans, crackers, cereals, shampoos, cleaning solutions, 100 lb. bags of rice, dried beans, etc. In the corner is a large, old chest refrigerator with some veggies, pollo (chicken), hot dogs, sliced cheese and soft drinks. Scattered about the cement pad were crates of limes, onions, tomatoes, avocados, garlic, potatoes, etc. After a few days enjoying the company of others and exploring the rocky, abundant waters around the anchorage, we pressed on.
Our destination was Candeleros Chico, a tiny, isolated, perfect anchorage between a vertical cliff and a boulder the size of the average Home Depot but with a small white beach at its head. A few miles out of Aqua Verde our high output alternator decided to pack it in, leaving us in a situation where we were drawing nearly five amps from the batteries as we motored! Since we only had a few miles left to go, we pressed on so that we could diagnose our problem at anchor rather than underway as there wasn’t enough wind to maintain steerage way. Luckily for us, about an hour after we anchored, friends on the boat Manana arrived unexpectedly and we suddenly had another set of skills to help us with our problem. A few diagnostics were all we needed to determine that the alternator diodes were fried and we replaced it with our spare alternator which was the new, factory original provided with our Yanmar engine. Once again we could generate sufficient energy to keep our batteries charged and our home running, so we settled in to stay a few days. Here we first experienced the summer katabatic winds that swoop down from the mountains at night as the air at the mountaintops cools. These wind gusts can be quite strong, sometimes topping 35 knots, which in a tight anchorage surrounded by rocks can be worrisome. Luckily the episodes were short and our anchor, set in sand, held without budging. Candeleros Chico remains our favorite anchorage. Our days there were filled with watching ospreys dive to catch fish, rays leaping out of the water (looking for all the world like they wanted to fly), a full moon rise, snorkeling amongst enormous king and cortez angelfish with their gaudy combination of black, yellow, orange, purple and electric blue, moray eels, scallops the size of dinner plates and the gaily colored sergeant majors. Philip climbed one day up one of the crumbly and crumbling hillsides to explore a cave¾a foolish move, he later admitted. The only thing that made us press on from here was we were beginning again to suffer from a paucity of fresh veggies.
Our next stop proved to be one Philip found dreary, that is Puerto Escondido. This bay is the finest natural harbor in the entire sea and is one mile by one half mile. A friend in San Diego had labeled this “poor” and “deadbeats here” in one of our guidebooks, but we thought we’d check it out for ourselves. The scenery is quite grand with a mountain range dominated by a peak called El Cerro de la Giganta rising 5,800 feet right out of the narrow coastal plain. Unfortunately the shore offers little, only the remnants of an ambitious but abandoned development complete with decaying streets and empty buildings. There is a small café called the Driftwood but when we were there it hadn’t been open for a week because both of the women who worked there were having babies. A long walk up the hill brings you to a well stocked tienda, taco stand and lavaderia (laundry) in a double-wide called Willy’s. The only provisioning available at Escondido is water which you access by paying a guard $20 pesos to unlock a box surrounded by buzzing honey bees and wasps. For the fee you can take up to 100 liters in jerry cans. While in Escondido, we were greeted warmly by the local boating community and attended a Sunday brunch potluck at the very loosely-knit “Hidden Port Yacht Club” where we were able to learn of the fate of the grounded boat, Cat’s Meow, which we had told you about in our last passage note. Many of the fine, generous cruisers who’d rescued this vessel from five days of sitting in water up to its bridge deck were there. The boat had been re-floated again thanks to a plywood and concrete patch constructed by volunteer divers and had just a few days earlier been successfully towed to La Paz for more permanent repairs.
Our next stop was a short three miles away on an island called Isla Danzante. The island, only just immediately across the channel, it was like a world away from Puerto Escondido. We tucked ourselves into Pyramid Cove, a small anchorage, where we had the protection of the mountainous island to the east/northeast and a dramatic point of cliffs to our south. This island, along with Isla Coronados from where this dispatch is posted, is part of the Loreto Bay National Park. The park covers five islands, two seamounts and many bays that are critical to the biological diversity of the marine environment. The establishment of the park and its concomitant restrictions are considered critical to the continued abundance of marine life within the Sea.
From Pyramid Cove we moved north to the open roadstead anchorage of Loreto, the oldest continuous settlement in Baja, former capital of Baja and where the first and mother and head Jesuit mission was established in 1697. This mission, a portion of which still exists today, controlled the entire consortium of missions in both “Alta” and Baja California. Loreto is prosperous with an economy centered around the rich marine environment where diving, sport fishing, snorkeling and island tours are all offered by numerous vendors. The streets are spotless and its central plaza is reminiscent of a small town in wine country California with a topiary fichus-lined walking street, renovated historic buildings, fine restaurants and shops and an incredible small hotel decorated in the finest Mexican antiques and sporting a lobby skylight that looks up through the rooftop swimming pool. Tomorrow we plan to go back to Loreto and hire and share a taxi cab with other cruisers so that we can obtain diesel, water and propane before heading north about twenty miles to Bahia San Juanico. We may even splurge and go out to supper, a rare and anticipated event on our limited budget.
Su amigos de la velero Carina,
Philip, Leslie and el gato guapo, Jake