[031206, 0410 UTC, Bahia Tortugas, BCS, Mexico; 27º41.2'N/114º53.3' W]
Since our last passage note, we have moved on from Islas San Benito where we spent three blissful days awaiting a break in the high winds that were buffeting the area, making sailing hazardous. While there, we met other villagers including Ramon and his nephew Jose Luis Pony (known simply as "Pony"). Both are fishermen. Except for the lighthouse keeper (another Jose Luis), it appears that there aren't other occupations for the villagers. Ramon is an educated man who speaks very good English (certainly better than our Spanish) and, as everyone in the village will tell you, he is a commercial airplane pilot. We weren't able to determine why he is fishing langusta under sometimes trying conditions on such as isolated island rather than in Ensenada with his wife, children and grandchildren but we're pretty sure that this part of the story must have been lost in translation.
We also were able to interact again with lovely five year old Julia Alejandra and her father and mother, Jose Luis (the lighthouse keeper) and Julia Elena. After receiving permission to land ashore and walk on the island, we baked some butterscotch brownies and headed to shore to try to visit their home. Coincidentally, as we were rowing to shore, Alejandra, Jose Luis and Julia Elena were rowing out to visit another yacht, Carmelita, where they thought there were children aboard. We confirmed that there was a young girl aboard Carmelita and a young boy aboard Unicorn. We passed the brownies between our boats along with a yard of bright ribbon that we indicated to Alejandra was for her hair and continued on our way. Alejandra, Jose Luis and Elena continued on to Carmelita where they enjoyed a long visit with the family and especially, Kate, the young girl aboard.
The village at Islas San Benito is quite modest and homes are probably similar in size to the average American kitchen! Most homes are constructed of scrap wood material, but upgraded housing was being constructed of cement blocks by coop members near the beach (playa). The housing under construction consisted of four tiny dwellings, two on each side of a small courtyard. Another multi-family dwelling was a bit farther up the hill. In the village was a chapel where we learned that a padre (priest) would visit only on special holidays such as the upcoming holiday for the Virgin of Guadalupe in mid-December. We also found a graveyard with three graves, one of which appeared to be that of a child.
During our second day here a large vessel (not coincidently named "San Benito") arrived to pick up the lobsters the fishing cooperative had collected. The fact that villagers were members of a cooperative was something we learned from Ramon. It was fascinating to watch the collection process that involved pangas towing holding pens to the San Benito and winching the pens aboard, since it took place in 25-35 knot winds and took only about an hour to complete. That was a LOT of wind in this anchorage, despite the protection of the island to windward. These men really earned their pay as they collected the lobsters from the holding tanks under very dangerous conditions and they made it look easy.
We decided to leave San Benito the next morning and spent about 45 minutes trying to get the anchor back to the boat while the wind was blowing sometimes in excess of 20 knots. The process was complicated because of the kelp in the anchorage which wrapped itself around the anchor and chain. During this process the vessel San Benito returned with supplies and waited nearby to get into the anchorage, all the while observing our efforts to pull our anchor. The boat crew must have enjoyed the show because, as we passed by, the captain came out of the wheelhouse and the crew gathered on the rail, pumped their fists, showed their biceps in a he-man pose and cheered us (in Spanish of course).
We set sail, heading almost directly downwind to Isla Cedros, our next destination. The fresh breeze provided a spirited sail and the seas built to approximately 5-6 feet. During the trip Philip was at the helm when a dolphin jumped vertically out of the water about 10 feet off the port beam. What athletes these mammals are! Philip tried to catch some supper and hooked and released a skipjack tuna. (We've decided that skipjack is too "fishy" for our taste.) We arrived at the southwest side of this very beautiful but desolate island and dropped the anchor in 50 feet of water off another fishing "village" (really just a handful of primitive dwellings). The island is mountainous, about 21 miles long and is dominated by Cerro Cedros, a 4,000 foot mountain. It's quite apparent that the island was formed some time in the not too distant past by volcanic activity. This part of the world does not get a lot of rain and there is very little vegetation. The landscape is stark and beautiful. Here, we witnessed another stunning sunset that bathed the mountain with red alpenglow which was underscored by a low fog bank near the shore.
While lovely, the anchorage at Bahia del Sur in Cedros Island is ringed in rocks and the charts of the bay lack detail. So, when the anchor-drag alarm went off at 3:30 am the next morning, we decided to leave and make our way to Bahia Tortugas or Puerto San Bartolome, 30 miles distant and on the Baja peninsula. On this bay is a small town that offers limited supplies but we will at least be able to refuel, take on fresh water and perhaps buy a few fresh veggies.
So far, everyone we've met has been hardworking and honest. Most are of modest means, poor by our standards, but warm and friendly. A favorite question posed to you here is (fill in..."la bahia, la isla"....) ..."es tranquilo, si"? The correct answer is, "Si, es (muy) tranquilo". And it is.
Leslie, Philip and (el gato) Jake