[041023; 1756 UTC; Ensenada El Carracito, Mexico; 27º 51.9’ N/110º 54.3' W]
We are currently anchored at Ensenada El Carricito (Little Cart Cove) very close to San Carlos in Sonora, Mexico. This is a small bay ringed with orange/red rock hills and cliffs, dusted with bright green vegetation and cactus. The water is crystal clear to the bottom at 17 feet and is bright faded jeans blue with a hint of green. Arriving here this morning after a short sea trial of our engine and charging systems, we gained the milestone of 4000 nautical miles since we left Kingston on August 13 last year.
It’s taking a little time today to reaclimate ourselves to life afloat after spending three weeks in Marina San Carlos whittling away at our project list and getting Jake two necessary immunizations. Tomorrow, weather permitting, we’ll depart to cross back to Baja and begin our gunkholing journey south towards La Paz and ultimately Puerto Vallarta for a Thanksgiving meeting with Les’ folks.
As is always the case with marinas, we spent more time in San Carlos than we had hoped to. We cannot complain though since our journey here was prompted by the kind and generous help we received from friends who allowed us to purchase marine supplies we needed along with a large order they were placing at discount prices. These friends, Jay and Danica aboard Alkahest from Seattle, even purchased a $350 Volvo stationwagon (“the Volvoratti”) specifically to drive from New Mexico into Mexico with these impossible-to-get supplies for their own and at least three other boats. And, though we missed the beauty, isolation, snorkeling and fishing of Baja, we’ve enjoyed our stay in Sonora.
The state of Sonora near San Carlos is spectacular. Ragged, ocre hills are pocked with hundreds of caves and a soft, velvety green growth softens the landscape. We made a nightime landfall here under a full moon, guided by radar and we were treated with the wonderful smell of verdant growth as we approached the coast. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves; more on this later.
You might remember we’d been chasing down our deceased alternator that was reputed to have been fixed in Ensenada through the intervention of “Sammy” who owns the autoparts store in Bahia de La Los Angeles (BLA). We did get it back once, though it appeared to be a different alternator and acted accordingly, failing and nearly burning up after five minutes of use! Sammy was surprised and agreed to take it back to the service supplier and it had been missing ever since. After a series of “mañanas” a couple of weeks apart, we couldn’t wait any longer, and told Sammy that friends would pick it up for us. We then departed for the mainland. Just yesterday (many many weeks later) we learned that our alternator (or one that looks like our alternator) has been repossessed by our friends Jay and Janice aboard Ceilidh (pronounced “KAY lee” meaning a clan gathering or party, in Gaelic). Our next challenge is to find a way to reunite with the unit since Ceilidh is 150 miles away.
On our last visit to BLA (and our last visit to Sammy) we had a brief stop to buy some last minute veggies at the “supermercado” Xitali before weighing anchor at 1310 local time on September 27, 2004 and setting off towards San Carlos, roughly 140 miles to the southeast. After rounding Punta Don Juan near Bahia Don Juan (site of our Hurricane Javier stay), we set a course of 99º magnetic and braced ourselves for navigating the standing waves caused by a large ebbing tide against opposing winds. We put up our sails and reviewed our charts and books for possible anchorages. Our conclusion¾keep going since the moon would be nearly full, the winds light and there were no “easy” (hazard free) anchorages to approach.
The sun set over the mountains behind us at about 1810 local time this evening and darkness quickly fell. Just after sunset, we decided to shoot with the sextant some navigational stars we’d identified. This sounds a lot easier than it turned out to be as the boat’s motion made precision difficult. We certainly need practice. As the sun disappeared, almost as if coordinated in time, the giant, bright yellow harvest moon rose directly in front of us, bathing the nearby islands and Sea in an eerie light. The night was ethereal. The clarity of the air and the brightness of the moon foreshortened distances and made for some tense moments. Isla Esteban, which was over 30 miles away, looked as if it was right in front of us, though the radar didn’t pick up any land mass at all since it only reads out to 24 miles. Other, more nearby islands, seemed to float on the glowing sea and look as if they were right in front of us, though, again, radar told a different story. We’d only experienced a night like this once before while sailing on the outside of the Baja, though in that instance the distant island had a distinctive light that confirmed its identity. This night in the Midriff Islands, we were in waters that were foreign to us with NO aids to navigation available.
The Midriff Island chain runs parallel to the length of the Sea of Cortez and with respect to currents, splits the Sea into two sections. Rips near and between these rocky islands are therefore quite strong and the seas can be confused. Our most sobering experience was early during this overnight passage when, near Isla Las Animas, roiling water suddenly slowed the boat, the compass card swung 20 degrees and the depth sounder began reading 75, then 45, then 10 feet before showing deep water once again! Though no rocks or reefs show anywhere on the charts (we were two miles off the island), we may have passed an iron-ladened pinnacle rock. Pinnacle rocks are really the tips of underwater mountains that rise suddenly out of deep water. There are many such rocks in the Sea of Cortez that are either uncharted and position unknown, or known but position approximate. We snorkled one such pinnacle on our way up the west side of Isla Angel de La Guarda. An amazing number of fish occupied the shallow water and then the water droped off precipitously into a deep, azure abyss.
The rest of the night on this passage to San Carlos proceeded quietly after this one heart-stopping incident and we passed our watches without incidence while enjoying the brilliant stars and the amazing reflected images in the warm Sea. We also passed close this night to Isla Salsipuedes which Philip calls the “Hotel California” of Mexican islands since the name translates onimously to “leave if you can”. Dawn brought continued light winds 10 – 20 degrees off our course so we continued to motor-sail with our main and staysail adding some lift and picked-up enough speed to anticipate a landfall at dusk at Bahia San Pedro, 13 miles north of San Carlos.
Bahia San Pedro is formed by a jagged rock outcropping to the south and a more prominent but rounded headland to the north. Unfortunately the moonrise coordinated nicely with our (well after dusk) landfall this evening so rather than being helped by the moon we were a bit blinded by its brilliance as we negotiated amongst numerous rocks and seemingly more numerous shrimp boats. The beach in San Pedro is somewhat steep and the surf crashes quite convincingly which was a bit intimidating as we anchored. Though once settled after 30 hours underway, all of us, including Jake, were happy to have stopped moving. While getting things stowed and covered, we did notice an odd squeaking sound but could not find the source amongst the rigging or blocks. We decided to investigate more fully in the morning and thought no more of it as we shared a wonderful meal, toasted our crossing, and curled up in the cockpit to sleep under the stars and the full moon. In the morning the noise had disappeared and it was only later while talking with other cruisers that we learned that the squeaking we’d heard came from VAMPIRE bats! Cruisers had actually been bitten while anchored here! We are sure we weren't bitten as there were no characteristic splashes of blood that were described to us. Someone speculated that maybe Jake’s presence kept the bats away.
We weighed anchor early next morning and left Bahia San Pedro for San Carlos, approximately 12 miles away. As we traveled we were continually struck by the topography difference between the Mexican mainland and the Baja peninsula. The mainland side is considerably more humid and has more vegatation (AND more mosquitos too!). As we neared San Carlos we passed Catch 22 beach, the site of the filming of the movie, Catch 22. Further south in the distance were the colorfully-named Tetas de Cabras (“teats of goat” mountain) which we passed as we rounded Punta Doble and approached the narrow entrance to San Carlos with its hillside bespectled by tightly packed mansions. Negotiating carefully, Philip conversed on the VHF with Felipe (his namesake in the Marina San Carlos office) concerning the specifics of the slip we were assigned. Immediately upon signing off with Felipe, our soon-to-be-neighbors called and corrected the information (port tie, not starboard, etc.) and agreed to help us into the slip. THANK goodness for these folks and others on the dock who helped us since we were wedged in next to, and somewhat under the gunnel of, a beamy sportfisher.
Marina San Carlos is the home to hundreds of boats, many of which are stored at “Marina Seca” (dry marina) down the street. San Carlos is roughly 8 hours from the US border, so fishing and boating enthusiasts from the SW flock here each season, making this town more like California than most of Mexico. The business district outside of the marina/hotel/condo area is nothing special (like old route 1 on the east coast or 99 on the west coast, but not quite as tacky). However, with the proliferation of gringo residences and a golf course, the real estate prices are surprisingly high. Coffee and food prices are high too, though tender Sonoran beef, locally caught shrimp and scallops, and fresh squeezed citrus juices are surprisingly modestly priced.
Getting re-oriented to marina life was a bit difficult for all of us. Jake missed his freedom to roam the decks at night and even took to wandering more than we’d wished. Cucarachas were everywhere and though we took steps to try to keep them off the boat, only time will tell whether we were successful. Sleeping nearby to street lights and with so many close neighbors was also difficult for us after 4 and a half months in rural Baja. The other big adjustment was riding in and driving a car! Right after taking the wheel of the “Volvoratti”, Philip told himself “Whoa! Slow down! You’re going to get us killed!” Glancing down at the speedometer, he saw we were only doing 35 mph!
San Carlos is about 15 miles from the more populous and established town of Guaymas (hooAYE-MUSS). This town of roughly 150,000 seemed prosperous at first with large supermercados and car dealerships and a nice but small international airport. However, by getting lost a few times trying in vain to source stainless steel fasteners, we learned that only a block or two off the main streets there is profound poverty. Sourcing supplies in Guaymas for installation of our solar panels turned out to be a frustrating experience and gives new meaning to the common response to our inquiries – “No hay, señor” (there isn’t any). We did have the pleasure though of meeting and working with the Hernandez brothers Paco (tall, rugged features and build, friendly, approachable with a hearty handshake) and Luis (salt and pepper grey, chiseled features neatly trimmed beard, very handsome in a professorial way, artsy with rimless glasses and with a quick devilish wit), who own a machine shop that provides custom fabrication for many cruisers including Carina. Their shop is typical of any machine shop, a cavernous though small facility with a cacophony of pounding and greasy smells located on a rugged cobblestone street of tiny, cramped homes. Failing finding aluminum bar stock for mounting our solar panels in Guaymas, Mecanica General de Guaymas, accommodated our needs by cutting down aluminum sheet stock into strips.
Our list of projects completed in San Carlos would only bore those not familiar with sailboats, so we won’t detail them. We did accomplish a couple of critical tasks though including getting our compass brought back to the States for rebuilding. While on our last passage, a previously problematic bubble reappeared and the responsiveness of the compass card seemed to diminish. There is no navigational tool more critical on a boat than a compass, so we took advantage of a cruiser who took a short trip to the US and sent the unit to San Diego with him for service and had it back in only a few days. It looks and performs like new and we are relieved.
The other critical thing we needed to accomplish in Sonora was to get Jake in to see a vet for an annual check-up, international health certificate and routine immunizations. Mexico has many vets but companion animal vets are found almost exclusively in populated areas. The vet we found, Salomon Orosco, was gentle, quick to smile, softspoken with a round friendly face and very thorough, though his facility was a modest (ca.) 20 x 20‘ building and he told us his home was currently a trailer (on a plot where he will someday build a home). You could tell immediately that he loved animals by the way he talked to and treated Jake, his loving descriptions of his own pets (2 cats, 9 dogs and 5 birds) and his anxiety over a critically ill diabetic kitty he was caring for. It’s difficult to know who suffered more anxiety from the vet visits, Philip or Jake, but both of Carina’s men are recovering rapidly.
Our departure tomorrow morning from this cove will, of course, depend on the weather. Our crossing will be roughly 120 miles and since we have no deadline (as we did reaching Sonora) and our fuel supply must last until La Paz (ca. 260 miles), we’ll wait for favorable winds before departing. Today is also Friday and no prudent (read superstitious) sailor departs port on a Friday, so we’ll wait at least until tomorrow.
Su amigos del velero Carina,
Leslie & Philip with Jake, el jefe
lying Ensenada El Carracito, Sonora, Mexico
October 22, 2004