Tuesday, May 15, 2012

La Paz and the Gulf of California -- April 13 – 19

Our friend Jim Thompson joined us at the Marina Costa Baja in La Paz on April 11th.  Many of the pictures on this blog post are courtesy of our guest photographer! 
Marina Costa Baja is lovely – but a bit too full of mega yachts for the crew of Abracadabra to feel comfortable.  After a brief stay which included a couple trips into La Paz proper to try some of the local restaurants and provision at Mega (see our most recent Mazatlán post on why we go to such “mega” stores!), we set off for a seven day sail among the islands near La Paz.  These four islands – Islas Espiritu Santo, Partida, San Francisco and San Jose – are all part of Mexico’s national park system. 
As former civil servants we believe in government and what it can provide its citizens, so we did our best to honor the requirement that all boats that anchor in Mexico’s national parks purchase a park permit.  Unfortunately none of the places that are designated sellers of park permits had any available!  We were told that the park ranger (singular?) would be able to provide us with a permit once we were within the park area – that the ranger was aware that there were no permits available in La Paz.  During our five+ days within the park area we never saw a (the?) ranger. 
[Side rant:  Take comfort, all ye that hate taxes and the “nanny state” environments in California and Canada  – there are places where either taxes are low or their distribution is ineffective, government services are correspondingly limited, and one can roam in national parks freely.  We hope the intended irony of this last bit comes across in writing.  We’ve spent a little too much time listening to that subset of cruisers that want to live without rules (and, most importantly, the taxes that fund the enforcement of such rules).  Interestingly, our impression (albeit the result of a highly unscientific survey) is that these same “live free” people expect those around them to somehow spontaneously conform to the “live free” person’s view of proper behavior. . . hmmm.  Nasty, brutish and short, anyone?  Okay, off soapbox and back to our trip:]
During our week we saw spectacular stars, birds and sea creatures (below is a sea turtle):

Alas, whales appeared only at a far distance. 

We saw dramatic scenery, and stunningly blue and green water:

And we had several opportunities to consider that the locals have actually named the various types of winds that blow through the La Paz area.  Much like the oft-repeated story of the number of words northern indigenous peoples have for snow, these different names for wind offer a lot of information about sailing in the area!
Day 1 – Isla Espiritu Santo:  Our first day out we crossed over to the island of Espiritu Santo, which lies some 20 miles off of La Paz.  We had a lovely sail, and even flew the spinnaker late in the afternoon.  We anchored in Ensenada del Candelero (Candlestick Cove – Go Niners) and tucked in behind the huge rock that dominates the middle of the cove – Roca Monumento.

Having been introduced to the Coromuel (see prior post from our crossing to La Paz – this is a strong south or southwest wind), Bryce and Molly were able to inform Jim of the name of the wind that came up shortly after dinner.  Given the small size of the cove, our proximity to the somewhat daunting Roca Monumento, and the strength of our previously experienced Coromuel, we decided to take watches to confirm that Abracadabra remained securely anchored.
Days 2 and 3 – Isla San Francisco:   The next day we sailed to Isla San Francisco, an island north of Espiritu Santo.  The winds were brisk and from the north – the opposite direction of the Coromuel that had kept us up the night before -- and almost directly on our nose.  How unfair!  So we sailed a relatively ziggy and zaggy course in choppy waves to achieve our destination.
The Isla San Francisco anchorage was a bit crowded, including a very large and brightly lit motor yacht.  We were not invited over for a drink on the boat, nor were we offered a ride in their helicopter. 

But we showed them – we had our Cuban rum and Coca Light over ice without inviting them to join us.  Of course since Abracadabra’s ice maker (of which we are very proud!) only makes about 24 cubes every 24 hours, our revelry couldn’t really get out of hand.   
The anchorage at San Francisco provided both spectacular scenery – red hills rising above a clear aqua bay in one direction, and an arching white sand beach in the other – and relatively calm shelter from the north winds.
The next day we took a short dinghy ride to shore.  We might have impressed Jim with our ability to nonchalantly land the dinghy had we not confessed that the lack of surf in the anchorage made this one of the easiest spots to beach land that we’d experienced.  We collected a few shells, and then walked across the narrow spit of land between our anchorage and a little bay on the other side of the island.  Not more than a quarter mile apart, the two bays -- one with a southern exposure (our anchorage) and one with a northern exposure -- could not have been more different.  Because of the prevailing north winds, our anchorage had a beautiful soft white sand beach and gently lapping surf, the other bay was rocky and rough, with heavy surf.  Location, location, location. 
Day 4 – Isla San Jose:  The next morning we performed the hot-shot maneuver of sailing off the anchor to please our Captain.  Easy for him – Molly was at the helm and kept thinking how unpleasant it would be if the wind was too light, causing us to drift into our neighbor boats with a thud at 0700!  But as usual, El Capitain knew his boat and read the wind and we sailed out of the anchorage easily. 
The rest of our sail was more vigorous – we had winds from the north up to 18 knots, and steep wind waves.  We were now experiencing what the locals call a Norther.  A Norther is the result of a high pressure system over Arizona, and when one is trying to sail north – it can be quite cold.  When severe, a Norther is called a Screaming Blue Norther.  Fortunately, we didn’t get to the screaming blue stage - but the colder weather did affect Jim’s sunbathing attire:

On Isla San Jose we anchored in the bay created by Punta San Ysidro.  Once again there was spectacularly blue and green water and a long, white sand beach.  The island is also the home of some abandoned salt works: 

And some areas that looked like ponds still being used to gather salt:
Someone visiting the island had taken the opportunity to create what we think San Franciscans would refer to as “performance art” in one of the abandoned buildings.  Welcome to Zapateria Reno (Reno's Shoe Store):

We didn't find anything that was "just us".
Perhaps the most exciting moment of our time at this anchorage was provided by a fellow cruiser, who was performing some spectacular kite surfing maneuvers – including jumping over Abracadabra’s stern!  While yelling something like “OMG come look at this!” Jim did his best to capture the moment:

Day 5 – to San Evaristo:  The next day, after considering where we might be best protected from the Norther, and the fact that we needed to begin thinking about returning to La Paz to our south, we weighed anchor and motored to the mainland. 
After anchoring off of the little (no more than 20 houses) village of San Evaristo, protected from north winds by Punta San Evaristo, we agreed that, in honor of the Norther we would not leave Abracadabra unattended.  Bryce and Jim went to shore and bought a kilo of fish from some fishermen that were offloading their day’s catch.  Even better, the fishermen filleted the fish for us (no, Corinne we have not gotten any better at filleting fish!). 

We were told it was a pargo, though looking on the internet that seems unlikely – pargo is reportedly an Atlantic fish.  Whatever it was, it was really, really tasty when pan sautéed with some thyme and served with some rice and chayote squash and some lime for squeezing.  Clearly the culinary highlight of the trip.  Better (even Molly agrees) than the Betty Crocker brownies baked on the first night at anchor!      
While Jim took a turn watching our anchor position, Bryce and Molly took a tour of the village and chatted up some very tired looking kayakers who were hoping to get a weather report from us.  We passed on the information we had received from the kind folks on S/v Lumba Lumba – which was that the wind was to shift to a southerly direction - just in time for us to be sailing directly into the wind as we headed south.  This wasn’t what the leader of the kayak expedition really wanted to hear either, and we commiserated with him.  And after he was out of earshot we congratulated ourselves on the fact that, though we might be sailing close hauled and zig-zagging our way south, we at least didn’t have to paddle into the wind!).
Day 6 – to Ensenada Grande:  From San Evaristo we sailed south about 24 miles to a large anchorage on Espiritu Santo, aptly named Ensenada Grande. 
Ho hum, another spectacularly beautiful anchorage . . .

Day 7 – to Marina Palmira in La Paz:
And our final day, we returned to La Paz.  The winds were fascinating – by staying close hauled Abracadabra arced almost 90 degrees on the same closed-hauled tack, and we were able to sail into La Paz.  Just because he knew we could, El Capitain put up the spinnaker and sailed down the entry channel into La Paz.  It was his last sail of the season . . . and he wanted to make it count. 
We arrived at Marina Palmira, which is to be Abracadabra’s home for the summer season.  Jim departed,

and we began the process of “decommissioning” – or more accurately, preparing our boat and our home for the hurricane season.  More about that to come.

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