Monday, November 26, 2012

Season Two; Toes In the Water: La Paz to Puerto Escondido – November 9 to 26

The four year drought that had plagued the Baja Peninsula ended this year, and the Baja is Green.  According to some we have talked to, it’s greener at the moment than it has been in thirty years!  Instead of the spectacular white sand beaches bordered by red cliffs, and brown and red and gold mountains running to the sea that we saw last April, we are now surrounded by hillsides covered in greenery and flowers.  Our walks along paths through the hills are more like wandering along the coast of Northern California than desert Mexico -- there are bright yellow and tangerine butterflies and little white and pink and red heart-shaped flowers everywhere. 

Of course in addition to beautiful lush vegetation, the Baja has been blessed with other forms of water-dependent wildlife – including a wide variety of flying and biting insects including mosquitos, moscos y bobos (mosquitos, flies and gnats).  Ah, nature, how we love you – as long as we are covered with enough toxic goo to repel the dread mosquitos, moscos y bobos! 

We left Marina Palmira, La Paz with the line-handling assistance of our neighbors Robert and Lucie of Grace on November 9, and since then have enjoyed the spectacular greenery that is now the Baja for about 110 miles.  We have visited:

Ensenada de La Raza – November 9: 

Abracadabra was the only boat in this lovely little cove, and there was no wave action to disrupt our first swim of the season (clean, clear, 85 degree water).  After a swim we poured a rum and tonic (using our precious ice!) to celebrate our first successful anchoring of the season, and then . . . dah dah dah dum . . . they came.  Mucho, mucho moscos y bobos.

We conceded the dominance of these little pesky critters and moved below, spraying the hatch screens with something toxic.  We stayed inside until the sun was well down, undoubtedly consuming more than the recommended daily allowance of bug spray with dinner.

After dark the bugs disappeared and we emerged to marvel at the stars and the phosphorescence dancing in the water – like fire flies in the water.  We heard fish jumping, and what we finally identified as dolphins swimming around us.  When dolphins breathe they make a huffing sound that in the pitch black reminded us of an old starring a creature that looked like a slimy tankless scuba diver (The Creature from the Black Lagoon?).  The night was so lovely that – having taken the precaution of pulling up the swim ladder so the Creature couldn’t haul its slimy self into the cockpit and get us -- we even slept under the stars until it got too cool.

The next morning we were inclined to stay for another night until we tried to have breakfast outside and were once again attacked by los moscos y bobos.  We would have invited the Creature aboard gladly if we had thought it would slurp the little buggers.  Deciding that our definition of paradise included fewer flies and gnats, we departed. 

Ensenada Grande – November 10 - 13:  

Sailing to Ensenada Grande (Big Cove) involved some finickity hand steering because the winds were primarily from between five and seven knots, with the occasional nice gust to thirteen.  But it was a beautiful day and we were able to do without the motor for the trip. There were already several boats in each of the four little lobes of Ensenada Grande, so it took a while to find a “parking place”.  But, thanks to our newest piece of equipment -- the Simultalk 24G Full Duplex Wireless System – we were able to keep our usual discussions / dithering about where to anchor to ourselves.

Bryce w/ The Simultalk 24G and new beard:

Sidebar – Anchoring Communications 101:  

Anchoring communications must take place between (a) the person lowering the anchor (Bryce) at the bow of the boat rattling 100+ feet of clanking chain and (b) the person driving the boat (Molly) listening intently to the engine to make sure it doesn’t stall.  On Abracadabra person (a) is about 35 feet in front of person (b) and on most days it is extremely difficult (or impossible) for either to hear the other.  So in sailing school they teach all kinds of nifty hand signals to use to bridge this communication gap (kind of like a catcher talking to a pitcher in baseball).

No matter how many times we have discussed what hand signals we will use – what arm wave will mean forward, what will mean reverse, etc., Bryce has historically preferred to use his powers of psychic communication aided by the occasional flapping of one or both arms in a way that has not previously been discussed.  Completely unable to determine what she is supposed to do Molly often resorts to yelling something like “Neutral?  Should I put it in neutral?” into the wind.  Bryce, hearing over the sound of the clanking chain something that sounds vaguely like his wife when she is annoyed with him, will then repeat his directions by flapping arms or yelling over his shoulder.  Molly will yell something like “Reverse?  Was that reverse?”  And the lack of communications circle will begin again.

The embarrassing thing is that, no matter how hard it is for the person on the bow to hear the person at the stern, and vice-versa – due to the way sound carries over water, others in the anchorage can often hear each of us quite clearly.  Sometimes our neighbors have found our confusion amusing.  Sometimes they have found it frightening that these yahoos are anchoring so near to them.

With the Simultalk 24G Full Duplex Wireless System (aka The Marriage Savers) we can now anchor without shouting!  We can actually talk though the anchoring process with only the average amount of spouse-to-spouse miscommunication.  So far this system has proved well worth its $275 cost.  Though some of our neighbors are undoubtedly missing out on a bit of good comedy . . .

Back to Ensenada Grande:  

Happily, Ensenada Grande was (relatively) mosco y bobo free.  Saturday night was a bit blowy – gusting to 23 knots.  On Sunday, the Port Captains’ radio report said that Puerto Penasco at the northern tip of the Baja was closed due to high winds.  This meant we would likely have to sail into 30 knot winds to reach our next anchorage.  That sounded like a lot of work, so we agreed to stay for another night.  Later in the day we realized the true reason Bryce didn’t have the energy to press on: his minor cold was becoming a sinus infection.  So we stayed three more nights in Ensenada Grande to let Bryce rest.  We read and dozed.  Bryce decimated a box of tissue, began a cycle of Zithromax and quit shaving (see beard above).  By Wednesday he was ready to press on.

Isla San Francisco November 14 & 16:

Once again our ability to read the weather proved impeccable.  After swinging at anchor for several nights in 20+ knot winds, we departed Ensenada Grande into about eight knots of wind.  Out came the sails, and the wind immediately dropped to six . . . to five . . . to four . . .   When the wind fell to three knots, we realized it would take us about a week to travel upwind the seventeen miles to Isla San Francisco unless we motored.  And so we motored. 

It was an uneventful trip until, as we were approaching Isla San Francisco, the engine hiccupped and belched smoke.  We stared at each other buggy eyed.  OMG – was it back?  Was last year’s engine problem BACK?  After a moment of post-traumatic stress induced panic, we realized that whatever was happening was very different than the problem that plagued us down the Pacific Coast.  The motor wasn’t over-heating and there was a jerky shimmy at the steering pulpit we hadn’t experienced before.  Not the same problem – but still a problem.

Bryce’s diagnosis was that something was caught on the propeller.  As we were in sight of our anchorage we limped in, and set anchor.  Fortunately the water was warm, calm and inviting and we had purchased good snorkel gear before we left La Paz.  We snorkeled under Abracadabra and had a very clear view of a bright yellow plastic mesh onion (potato?) sack wrapped around the propeller.  Bryce armed himself with a knife and dove back under the boat, prepared to hack the thing away from the propeller – and with one tug it slipped right off!

Bathing beauty with the offending onion (potato?) sack:

Having saved the propeller from death by plastic, we took a swim for fun.  And our snorkeling view was way cooler to us than any amount of exotic fish:  Abracadabra, propeller, chain and anchor, all safe and sound!

Our second day at Isla San Francisco was another “season first”.  We launched our dinghy, using the new hoist system Bryce had devised.  It was soooo much easier than last year’s effort!  Bryce’s design was patterned in part on the hoist our friend Tom Shenton had created for Kewaeo, the CS 36 that he and his wife Pam sail.  Thanks for the great ideas, Tom!  [We will post further descriptions and pictures of the hoist in Cruiser's Notes at a later time.]

We took the dinghy to shore and went for a walk, enjoying stretching our legs after six nights on board.  The island is uninhabited so apparently the mosquito population simply hangs out waiting for warm blooded sailors to take long walks.  We thought we were dressed to thwart the little buggers, but it turns out that SPF 50 fabric has absolutely no mosquito protection value.

San Evaristo – November 16:

From Isla San Francisco, we sailed the nine-ish miles to the little fishing village of San Evaristo where we bought fish from the local fishermen before they shipped it off to market.  As we learned last season, fish caught that morning is a whole different experience than fish from the market.  Yumm.

Timbabiche (Bahia San Carlos) – November 17:
The next day’s trip was longer, and less fun as the wind wasn’t strong enough to help us punch through even the minor swell we were facing.  So – on came what our friend Kathy Romano calls “sailing’s dirty little secret” – the motor.  We arrived at the village of Timbabiche in time to meet a local lobster salesman on his way to his trap.  We negotiated a price, and he took off to see if he could find anything to sell us. 

We took the dinghy to shore and walked to town.  Timbabiche’s historic architectural feature is Casa Grande which, according to the local story, was built by a pearl diver (back in the day when pearls were found rather than farmed) that struck it rich on a particularly large pearl.  Over the next several generations the family apparently found they couldn’t maintain the large house, and it is now a haunting shell, with cactus growing from the top of the two-story walls. 

Timbabiche’s more modern architecture tends to the Buckminster Fuller-ish style.  Metal bars are used to create the frame for the roof, and over that frame, some sort of plasticized canvas is stretched.  The result is a building that looks like something out of a futuristic desert movie:

One apparent benefit to this construction technique is that it would be fairly easy to replace these roofs when they get stripped off by the odd hurricane.

When we returned to Abracadabra we found that our lobsterman was in luck, and so were we.  We purchased two kilos of langostinos from him, and dined like people with a much fancier boat!

Bahia Agua Verde – November 18 - 20: 

This area is known for its beautiful green water.  Unfortunately for us there were so many clouds that the water looked quite grey.  The hills were lovely though and we had a couple of nice walks – one into the little village to buy a vegetable or two.  We had the added pleasure of seeing friends from our first season -- Marie France and Mike from Dejala – and they joined us for some wine and appetizers one evening.  They had stayed in the Gulfo de California over the summer and had some exciting weather stories to share. 

We enjoyed Bahia Agua Verde so much that we failed to realize that our 23rd wedding anniversary had come and gone on the 18th!  [The marriage was saved for a 24th year only because we both lost track of the date!]

Bahia Candeleros – November 21 – 22:

Another beautiful bay – not to be confused with the Bahia Candeleros on Isla Espiritos Santo - where we anchored last year -- so shallow and clear we could see to the bottom of the bay from the boat.  Schools of beautiful cobalt blue fish were visible while walking along the shore.  The bay is a bit livelier than some because it is the home to a large resort, so there were lots of kayakers and paddle boarders around.  We chatted up one couple that kayaked by.  They had spent time on their sailboat in the Caribbean and in Mexico a few years before and invited us to visit them at the resort on Thanksgiving to talk about sailing adventures.

When we got to shore we learned that these nice people and their children and grandchildren had been upgraded to the resort’s Presidential Suite due to a problem in their original suite of rooms.  So we were treated to an evening of drinks on the huge balconies of the Presidential Suite!  We were very thankful that we had put on clean clothes!

Puerto Escondido – November 23 – 26:

Our original destination was a charming sounding place called Honeymoon Cove (which we thought might make up for the fact that we’d forgotten our wedding anniversary . . .).  We had a beautiful sail with some 15 knot winds – but when we arrived at the cove we saw that it was already crowded for the amount of anchoring ground available.  We tried to squeeze ourselves in and then realized that it just didn’t sound all that charming to spend the night worried about whether we would be swinging into the other boats there.  So we headed into Puerto Escondido, about three miles away.

Puerto Escondido is the largest port in the area, and is a very big hang out for yatistas.  The marina – with docks and such – is extremely small, but the Mexican government entity that oversees marinas has created a very large mooring ball field.  We have spent three nights on a mooring ball here ($12 a night) and are accomplishing all the important shore-based tasks of sailing life (garbage drop off, grocery purchase, swapping out books and internet banking).  We've even borrwed some DVDs from the local lending library -- if you haven't seen James Garner in Support Your Local Gunfighter in the last twenty years or so, you might find it enjoyable. 

The nearest town, Loreto, is over 15 miles away and taxis are extremely expensive – so we have been very pleased to find that the local “boat people” are very friendly and those with cars are willing to give those of us without rides to town.  We visited the Loreto farmers’ market on Sunday and found some of the nicest produce we have seen on the Baja (along with a used washing machine, Chinese cookware and plastic, and gorgeous shrimp (which we didn’t have the cooler capacity to take with us, unfortunately!).

We have met the rest of our provisioning needs at the local tiendas which have gringo-friendly provisions such as the all-important Kirkland brand canned chicken and even a frozen t-bone steak!  So, once our laundry finishes, we’ll load up and head to the nearby Isla Coronado where we will spend a week or so before heading back toward La Paz.  We expect to be out of internet range for about three weeks.  We’ll check in once we arrive in La Paz! 

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