South Half of Baja California (Outside)
November 29 - December 8, 2015
Heading out from Bahia des Tortugas to Bahia Santa Maria, we encountered variable winds for most of the day. This entailed short periods of sweet sailing where the winds and sails were just right, interspersed with light frustrating wind. Still, the day was warm and sunny and we had a spectacular view of Venus encircled by the crescent Moon (yes, during daylight! though this photo was taken at dusk after the Moon had moved past Venus). For those who wonder about boredom on a boat, there is plenty of sail adjusting (and cursing) to do when the winds are fickle and the waves cause flopping. The first night out had the breeze picking up to a boisterous 20-25 kts, not always from the same direction, but generally from somewhere less than convenient. Comparing notes over the radio with our fellow travellers revealed that nobody was having much fun or sleep. The waves were causing a lot of lurching and bouncing, and we heard stories of various escaped items causing havoc in cabins (an avocado sounded the messiest). Fortunately, we had minimal problems on that front.
If sailing teaches you nothing else, it's that things do not stay the same. This knowledge brings comfort when conditions are not fun. Of course, that awareness cuts both ways, niggling at the back of the mind when things are going smoothly (yet another lesson - enjoy the moment!). Anyway, not surprisingly the winds started to ease a little and the sky gradually brightened. The stirred up sea with 2 to 3 m confused waves made things uncomfortable for a while but they too settled. After that, the second day and night at sea gave us more favourable and steady winds, propelling us pleasantly toward our destination - and with less need for those sailor words. We passed some orcas in the day and at night we actually got some sleep. It is amazing how one day at sea can be so different from the next.
On the morning of December 1st, frigate birds circled our mast – an exciting sign of the tropics, although eyed with some concern for our VHF antenna (we lost one to a bird at Tabueran, Kiribati in 2006). As we neared land, a distant humpback whale spouted, slapped a flipper then showed us its tail. By mid-morning we were anchored in the lovely Bahia Santa Maria, feeling pleased with ourselves for having resisted the call of the engine during our two-day passage despite some frustrating sailing conditions. It was here that things began to feel truly tropical.
Bahias Santa Maria and Magdalena
Bahia Santa Maria has a beautiful white sand beach on the north and all along the east side, probably about 15 miles in length. Arid hills to the west provide shelter from wind and waves. Inshore about 20m is a lagoon fringed with mangroves – a very different ecosystem right next to that of the ocean. The herons and egrets gathered in the still, brackish waters while the gulls and oyster catcher-like birds claimed the beach area. We found many fish vertebrae, interesting shells, sand dollars and marvelous patterns in the sand created by the waves. Farther inland, cactus and salt-resistant plants began filling in the landscape.
One day sticks out as a quintessential cruising day – or at least what one thinks cruising should be like. We started with breakfast over on Yare. Jess and Tor treated us to Dutch Babies topped with sugar and lime juice, while we helped their two 5 year olds (Odin and Lars) find Waldo. After digesting the delicious food, we swam ashore in the warm water and spent hours exploring the beach and lagoon. We collected shells, took photos and planted pods of what we thought might be mangroves. (Later we learned that mangroves spread by their roots and we still don't know what the pods are.) Thirsty and hungry, we made our way through the breakers for the refreshing swim to Hoku Pa'a, where lunch and leisure awaited. Apparently too much leisure - Bjarne decided we should host happy hour. The crews of Hoku Pa'a, Anjuli (Dan and Tammy), Konami (Diane and John), and Yare gathered to compare notes about the passage and swap tales of daring, adventure and hardship (as boaters are wont to do). That would seem enough to fill a cruising day but once they all left, we supped on skipjack tuna (caught by Dan and Tammy) and then sat on the foredeck in the pleasant evening temperature, sipping wine and admiring the stellar view. It's rare for a day to have quite so many of those “typical” cruising moments – probably that's all for the good as Hoku Pa'a demands her due and besides, the grueling pace might do us in.
If we could portage the boat, Magdalena Bay is not much more than a stone's throw away across a narrow spit. Instead, we motored the long 23 mile way around on a nice sunny day, spotting dolphins chasing fish and a frigate with a squid dangling from its beak. The wildlife weren't the only ones catching things. Konami caught a tuna on the way and invited us all for fish tacos. Still enroute, we were in the middle of making fudge for our contribution to dinner when Bjarne pulled in a pretty dorado – our first catch of the trip! Much excitment prevailed as it was hauled in on our brand new handline (courtesy of Konami) and killed only somewhat messily with the winch handle. We called it the $96 fish, since that was the cost of our fishing licenses.
The socializing and eating continued in Mag Bay. The pescado (fish) party that night had enough guests that Konami was a little concerned about their waterline (their galley sink wouldn't drain). When we ended up with a gallon of whey from making cheese, it was the perfect opportunity for a pancake party on Hoku Pa'a. While our group was enjoying the flapbjarnes (Tor's term) some fishers came by requesting water. Diane, who seems to keep her eyes peeled for seafood opportunities, asked if they had camerones (shrimp). She handed over a jar of apple sauce, we gave them water and few pancakes, and we all ended up with a bucket of very large shrimp – the big ones were 9” stretched out. The next day we acquired a small lobster in a similar manner. We aren't starving yet.
Back to that cheese-making. We finally had enough milk powder and enough time to try out the kit Bjarne found in San Francisco. As one might guess from the quantity of whey mentioned above, a lot of liquid is needed to make cheese. The limited supply of large containers, our unfamiliarity with the process, and the lack of cold water all complicated the project so it took quite a bit longer than the 30 minutes advertised in the kit. Our curds ended up very small with only some stuck together, and it wasn't as stretchy as desired, but in the end we had a mild-tasting mozarella that we could put on pizza. Without a fridge, we had to use up the leftover whey quickly. We discovered that it is quite tasty mixed with chocolate milk powder. The rest went into pizza dough, bread sticks, pudding, and of course the flapbjarnes.
Magdalena Bay is very large (our friend on Moon informs us it is actually an estuary) and has several bays within it. There are no doubt many interesting areas to explore but we did not venture very far into the bay. We were happy to stay away from the towns, parked near a beach and a spit of land with a fishing camp. The water here and at Bahia Santa Maria was the warmest we had encountered. The pangas zipping close by the anchored boats had us keeping a wary eye out but otherwise the swimming was fine. The odd ray was seen on the sandy bottom, and sometimes one would leap out of the water, madly flapping its wings for second or two before slapping back below the surface. One day a sea lion swam by beneath us. When other Victorians arrived (Riki Tiki Tavi with Sara, Pete, Liam and Nellie) an impromptu swim and paddle party arose with crews of 4 different boats splashing around the clear water. The beach held numerous shell treasures – including operculums and a scorpion conch shell with the tail intact. Just behind the beach was a large area full of interesting and prickly plants. As we made our way through these, carefully, we came across a bird of prey sitting in a bush; although aware of us, it did not seem concerned. We wondered if it was a young one.
Final Leap to the Sea of Cortez
We delayed our departure (Dec 7) for one last swim and a fresh water shower – nice to start the passage refreshed and clean. Once again, the weather window had a group of us leaving on the same day. We had Riki Tiki Tavi in our sights for two days, all the way until they peeled off at Cabo San Lucas. Communicating with them and the other boats provided some entertainment and company. The rest of the journey down the outside of the Baja was, let's say, pleasant enough. The winds were sometimes cooperative and the seas were only somewhat rolly. We had to motor more than we'd like but had times of nice sailing as well. We spotted some whales in the distance. Our first night at sea started with a green flash as the sun set, followed by beautiful stars and meteorites.
Around 0500 (Dec 8) we crossed the Tropic of Cancer – now officially in the tropics! Fresh muffins, courtesy of Bjarne, were a hit with all customers on board and we were feeling pretty good as we'd gotten some rest the night before. Near the end of the day we were motoring toward Cabo Falso, near the southern part of the Baja Pennisula. The sky was stunningly brilliant, full of rich colours that were amplified by the reflection off the calm sea. It was well past sunset on a very dark night when we approached Cabo San Lucas. Although all of our companion boats had anchored there, and the idea of sleeping that night was appealing, we carried on around the tip of the Baja. We weren't interested in anchoring in the dark, nor had the description of Cabo sounded interesting to us.
Our friends who stayed described the anchorage at Cabo as a circus, with three different shoreside bars blaring music. Just after we received that description over the radio, we spotted some fireworks (albeit short-lived) along the waterfront. Although we could not see much of the actual city, the lights from it were very pretty and we were relieved that there was much less boat traffic than we'd feared. As we finished rounding the cape near dawn and turned north we were faced with head winds of about 15 knots. That wouldn't be so bad except the winds created fairly steep short-period waves which killed our speed and patience. We fired up the engine and motor-sailed into the waves, making very slow, bouncy progress. As it turns out, the winds and seas picked up even more the following day and our companions paid for their good night's sleep when they headed north from Cabo to follow us in the morning. By 08h40 (Dec 9) we were safely anchored at Los Frailes, pleased to be out of the waves and secured over a sandy bottom. We had finally made it to the Sea of Cortez!