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Ways We Entertain Ourselves (2016)

Not Throwing in the Towel

A conversation while anchored at Caleta Partida:
     “Hey, the guide book says there are sea caves on the other side of this island. Let's dinghy out and find them.”
     “Great idea. How far away are they?”
     “It doesn't say. Probably not too far.
     “OK, let's not bother with the extra battery.” [for new visitors: we happily use an electric dinghy motor called Stealth]

Caleta Partida is the space between two islands, Isla Partida and Isla Espiritu Santo. At the head of the anchorage each island sends out a finger of land in an unsuccessful attempt to connect with its neighbour. The two spits are long and narrow with an overlap that creates a shallow zig zag opening to the east shore of the islands. Consequently, the passage though is about mile long, although only a stone's throw if one walked across. Once through with our dinghy we had a bit of a wind against us. Rock resembling a Rapa Nui Moa There was plenty of time to admire the beautiful cliffsides and notice things like:
     “Did we just teleport to Easter Island?”
     “We must have. There's a Moa lying down.”
     “Poor Moa, the birds seem rather fond of its nose.”

As you might guess, the sea caves were a little farther than anticipated. Repeated conversation (with some variations):
     “Do you think that's them?”
     Squinting: “Hmmm, no not yet. Keep going.”
     “How's the battery? We probably should head back soon.”
     “Let's just go past that rock/point/seagull....”

Sea cave with layers of sedimentary rockWe really were just about to turn around when we finally reached one of the sea caves; any other holes in the cliff out there will need to be explored another time. Maybe it's an evolutionary holdover that caves look interesting to us. The forces of nature are very apparent when seeing how the wind and waves have worked to undercut the rock. Closer inspection revealed a lot of mixed stones, looking a bit like a lumpy cement, although much more attractive than that sounds! The parts sticking out look tempting to tug on, until one considers the consequences of being at the bottom of a Kerplunk game. (In Kerplunk a pile of marbles are supported in a tube on top of many sticks crossed through the tube. The sticks are removed one at a time until all the marbles fall in a sudden, exciting, and best of all, noisy manner. Parents no doubt love this game.)

Having met the minimum requirements of our goal, we turned back towards the mother ship, now several miles away. Still wondering at what point we would have to switch to paddling, it occurred to us to take better advantage of our following wind. Dinghy sail made with towel and two oars A large towel, brought in case anyone had been inspired to swim, was rigged to the paddles to create a sail. Not only were we occupied by fine-tuning the design with the limited resources on board, we then had to pay attention to the wind and set of our sail. You'd be surprised at how entertaining this is to a sailor. We felt quite pleased with ourselves and were able to run Stealth at a lower, battery-saving speed, allowing us to reach Hoku Pa'a before the sun went down (and, of course, in time for La Hora Feliz).

Fun with Phosphorescence

Many people who have spent time on the water at night have had the pleasure of seeing little critters light up when the water is agitated. Quite a lot of fun can be had by stirring and whacking the water with various implements like paddles and nets. Running dinghy engine propellors and flushing toilets in the dark can be particularly entertaining. On some night passages when the boat is crashing through the waves the glow from the water can light up the whole hull; we have even caught sight of glowing streaks of dolphins. Unfortunately, bioluminescence is not something one can easily take a picture of, especially from the not-very-still platform of a sailing vessel.

While cruising in the Sea of Cortez we've witnessed a few new (to us) examples of bioluminescence. One observation of red tide (see picture of red tide cloud just off Isla Danzante) is that a high degree of nighttime phosphorescence seems to accompany the algal bloom. Red Tide at Isla DanzanteWe often sit outside in the cockpit until well after dark. Frequently the temperature is comfortable, and the moon or stars lovely. It also allows us to notice other things that might be happening. One evening we heard the unmistakable sound of many fish leaping out of the water, skipping along the surface and splashing back in. They were probably just trying to escape from a predator but in the meanwhile they created a spectacular light show for us. On a different night we awoke to the sound of waves and bubbles hitting the hull. Emerging onto the deck we saw a fast-moving bright fish shape darting through the water, under and around our hull. Following hot on its tail was a sea lion, also visible in the dark water by virtue of the green glow surrounding it. That was worth getting out of bed for!

A particular treat occurred in Puerto Ballandra (at which the next 2 photos were taken).Brett snorkeling and recovering an anchor he spotted Wonderful sandstone wall in which one can imagine many shapes We were lingering over a glass of wine with our friend Brett (visiting from Victoria, and recovering a found anchor in the left-hand photo) when we noticed mysterious glowing circles appearing in the water. They would start out as bright spots that would then spread out to palm-sized patches. As the patches neared the boat we spied at the centre of each a small wiggly worm, about a centimetre long, stirring up the water and spewing bioluminescence like a fireworks pinwheel. More worms were popping to the surface and following the same pattern of behaviour. Really, quite amazing to see. All three of us were leaning over side of the boat for a better look, exclaiming with excitement like kids watching fireworks. A bit of research into this event suggests that they were Syllid fireworms (genus Odontosyllis). The females rise to the surface from the ocean depths 2-5 days after the full moon and about an hour after the sun has set. Wow! They send out bioluminescence to attract mates. Well, we were attracted – hmmm, what does that say about us? How wonderful for us to witness this remarkable phenomenon. One of the things we value about this cruising life is that we hang out right where the action happens - even when we have no idea it is about to occur.

If you want to read more about Syllid fireworms, try this article by Emily Scott.

Finding and Burying Treasure

Isla San Francisco is, quite simply, a beautiful island, and one could say, a treasure in and of itself. Isla San Francisco anchorage showing large sweep of bays/v Moon with Sierra Gigantas lit by morning sun The west side has a white sand beach lining a large circular bay filled with tranquil turquoise water. In the morning, the sun highlights the craggy layers of the Sierra de la Giganta mountain range on the peninsula (pictured here with s/v Moon in the foreground). The east side of the island is more rugged, with waves crashing into the shore, bright crabs scurrying between the large barnacle encrusted rocks, and a pebbly beach full of agates. In between there is a flat area that is sometimes dry and filled with salt, at other times filled with mud, rimmed with the usual cactus and other prickly plants. A popular hike takes one up and along the narrow southern ridge. Why we enjoying climbing heights to see a patch of ocean that we just sailed over is a mystery, but somehow that bird's eye view lures us upward. It was at the top that we found a small treasure – a little cache with a notebook and sketch pencils. How delightful! We made an artistic (maybe that's a stretch) contribution to one of the pages of the book and left it there for other unsuspecting hikers to stumble upon.

East anchorage of Isla San FranciscoEast anchorage of Isla San Francisco Colourful crabColourful crab Bjarne and CactusBjarne dancing with the cactus
Bird hunting insects on the mudflatBird hunting insects on mudflats Trail meandering along ridgeTrail along ridge south of anchorage Cache consisting of sketchbook and pencilsCache consisting of sketchbook and pencils

On the day we were leaving, we heard on the radio that s/v Yare was due to arrive that afternoon. Dang - we were going to miss them: we'd been hanging around Isla San Francisco for almost a week so it was time for us to move on. Bjarne, perhaps inspired by finding the cache, suggested we set up a surprise for the 5 year olds on Yarea treasure hunt! This required some cogitation on our part and kept us entertained for at least a couple of hours. We hunted around the beach for recognizable things that would probably stay put, set up the stages, figured out the compass bearings and GPS coordinates, wrote out the clues, and buried the treasure (some cookies in a small jar). It was a bit tricky for us to guess what size of pace a 5 year old takes. As we sailed away from the island we called Yare on the radio to pass on the first set of instructions which would lead them to the treasure map (hidden in a cactus skeleton). We then waited with anticipation, wondering if they would be successful. Did we make it too challenging? Did we make it too easy? Would someone else see the X marking the spot and pirate the cookies?

When we saw the family a few days later we were pleased to hear that they found their treasure and that everyone had a good time - mission accomplished. We also received handmade thank you cards from Lars and Odin. Although finding treasure is pretty awesome, it turns out that burying treasure is really fun too! For more on this adventure from the amusing perpective of the prospectors, check out the Yare blog post for Thursday Feb 18 (2016) on

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