Crossing the Northern Sea of Cortez

Easy to mistake for floating trash, this coke bottle was actually marking a net. On this leg, we also saw small personal sized water bottles tied up as floats and they were really difficult to see. Farther south in the Sea of Cortez, it’s not unusual to see detergent bottles used as net floats.

Our stop at Bahía San Pedro was just an overnight. The anchorage gave us a slightly rolly night and then we were on to Las Cocinas for a quick day stop before an overnighter to Bahía de los Perros on Isla Tiburón. The wind and waves were picking up and we wanted to get some protection from the building north winds, known as northers. When we’re away from a marina we get our weather via single sideband radio (SSB) as there’s often not cell phone service or internet in the Sea of Cortez. We get the NOAA and Soriana forecasts via SSB email and we can also hear the weather on the morning SSB and ham radio nets. Weather is a major determinant of when and where we go and is one reason sailors try not to commit to meeting someone at a specific date and place.

We had only two fishing fleets to sail through that night, both on Nina’s watches. We arrived at Perros a couple of hours after sunrise and had a nice quiet day catching up on sleep. That night, the wind began to blow well into the 20s but the bay offers great protection from northers. Less wind was predicted for the next day, so we headed over to Bahía de las Cruces on the south side of Isla Tiburón. Saw pop bottle floats on the way.

We were originally planning to do another overnighter to head to Puerto Don Juan, on the Baja side, but we had another weather window so we did a daylight run to Isla Partida. Winds dropped to less than 10 knots and the seas settled down. Slightly rolly night, but the weather stayed calm for our over overnight stop at Isla Partida.

The south side of Isla Partida. The rock face looked like it exploded out from a point on the left at the water line.

The next day we headed to Don Juan. Since leaving San Pedro, we were the only sailboat out. As we were heading toward Don Juan, we did see another sailboat, but they were heading south. The day started with light winds which after a couple hours started to pick up. Heading into the Bahis de los Angeles the wind had picked up to a steady 20-25 knots and the seas built to 6′ swells a couple of seconds apart. A couple were drenchers splashing into the cockpit. Once we got into Don Juan, the waves died down and the wind dropped. Anchor down, we listened to the wind blow. The only other boat we saw was a panga trailing gulls and pelicans as it left the bay.

The next day was calm enough that we got the dinghy together to go to shore. The pull cord on the outboard was frozen so Nina rowed us to shore. It was the first time in about four days that we’d been off the boat. The arroyo looked promising so we followed it to see where it would go. Lots of different flowers in bloom and green shrubs. Not too many birds were audible or visible, but Nina looked up at one point and saw a coyote about 20 feet away. It jogged up a small canyon and she kept going up the arroyo. At the top of a hill we could see the next bay, Ensenada de Quemado. We had a very nice walk and Bill then had a 30 minute row back to Gypsy into gusty wind.

In the morning we heard a dog barking on shore. No other boats were around and we hadn’t seen any indication of houses nearby. Where did it come from? It was a coyote and it was barking away at something farther down the rocks while a small pod of dolphins was feeding nearby. Since there was no wind, we went rowing toward the wreck on shore. We couldn’t figure out what it was the remains of. Down a ways from the wreck were three coyotes trying to move a fish that was about the same size they were. Two of them shied off as we came near, but one kept circling back to the fish, trying to move it. The fish looked pretty fresh. The tide line looked like it had about a six foot range and the fish must have washed up during a high tide. We were going to row over to the ventana part of the bay while Nina fished, but within five minutes of dropping a line, Nina had a fish. It turned out to be a couple of Mexican barracuda, maybe 15” long. Our fish book didn’t say if they were good to eat or not, but when she cleaned them, their flesh was light so we gave them a try, filleting one and steaking the other. Bill had made brownies before we went rowing and all in all it was the start of an excellent day.

The weather was cooperating so we weighed the anchor and headed over to the village in Bahía de los Angeles. It was larger than we thought it would be but surprisingly had no cell phone bars. There was a high school ceremony going on in the street and the end of a 108 km walk through the Baja desert. We bought some groceries and headed back to the boat. It was too early for lunch. The wind started picking up. Our mellow forecast was turning into 20 knots of wind. Back to Don Juan we went, only to be met by bees, lots of them. Around 1600 another sailboat dropped anchor in the bay.

Coming toward the village at Bahía de los Angeles.

We had been hoping for better weather so that we could spend more time in Bahía de los Angeles. It has a number of islands, whales and their calves winter there, and there’s a town if you need provisions. It’s incredibly beautiful. But during the late fall it can also have strong northerly winds. There aren’t a lot of protected anchorages when those winds blow. We were experiencing a windy, windy fall. Time to head south.

Weighing anchor the next morning we saw five coyotes on the beach. A couple of hours later we dropped anchor in Ensenada el Pescador. We rowed over to the beach, a long arc of white sand with a small arroyo on one end and a rocky beach on the other. There were a couple of nice houses on the beach and a few fishing shacks. There were also some open palapa roofed structures set back a bit from the beach, some of them falling down. We walked the length of the beach looking for shells and found a bunch, some of them new to us. The wind picked up again so we headed back to Gypsy and stowed the dinghy on deck. The next day was windy, gusting to over 30 knots in the afternoon, with white caps in the bay. The forecast was strong winds for the next day, and by the time we realized that the light winds we were getting were staying light, it was too late to head to Bahía San Francisquito, a seven hour trip. We left the next day and caught up with the sailboat we’d anchored with in Don Juan.

There wasn’t much beach at San Francisquito but we rowed to it anyway. We’d heard coyotes singing in the morning and saw their footprints on the beach, but we didn’t see them.

Not much to stay for at San Francisquito so we left in the afternoon for another overnighter to Santa Rosalía.

Beach at San Francisquito.

Driving to San Carlos

Bill driving somewhere in Nevada, past a big lake or reservoir.

The day the rain started, we left. There wasn’t as much rain as the last time we headed south, but it lasted longer this time. We were glad to be on our way. Going over Willamette Pass, we saw snow on the ground. Our route was similar to last year’s trip, at least to begin with. I-5 out of Portland to Eugene, pick up Hwy. 58 and then 39/139 to 395.

This was our excitement in Susanville: a deer among the semis parked on the main road. We were walking to stretch our legs and try to find a restaurant.

We stopped in Susanville for the night. Headed to Reno in the morning. Gas was much cheaper in Nevada than California where it was over $6.00 a gallon. Out of Reno we decided to stay on 95 and head to Las Vegas. Another scenic drive with not a lot of traffic until we hit Vegas. Made it to Henderson for the night. We ate dinner at a sports bar a) because you have to try new things out when you’re traveling, and b) that’s what was available. The big event for the night was the Golden Knights game. We asked the waitress who they are and found out they’re the local hockey team. We never did get to see them in action. We left half an hour after the game was supposed to start, as we’d finished our pizza and wanted to get an early start the next day.

The next day, we drove over or by the Hoover Dam. We saw signs for the dam but didn’t stop to see the dam. Our welcome to Arizona was a big change in the landscape, and in the now poor quality of roads. In Phoenix we stopped to say hi to an old friend, Delphi, whose Cascade 36 is in San Carlos, but now owned by someone else. We had a lovely afternoon with her and with Mike and Carol, from RCYC. Driving through Phoenix to get to her house we discovered just how sprawled out the city is – at least two hours to get from one side to the other, and that wasn’t even rush hour. Stopped in Tucson for the night.

Waiting in line for our tourist visas at km. 21. Many of the folks in line were from Canada, a number of them heading to San Carlos.

We crossed the border the next day without actually talking to anyone. We found the place that issues tourist visas and discovered a long, not moving line. We chatted with the guy ahead of us, who is from Nanaimo and heading for Buscerias, near Puerto Vallarta. It took us almost two hours to get through. Inside there was only one clerk processing folks and he was amazingly patient. When we left, the line was even longer.

The drive down Hwy 15 is nice. We took the toll road (15D, we figured the D was for dinero) as opposed to the free road 15L (libre). Three toll booths, the third on the loop road around Hermosillo, which we managed to find this time. The loop road does save about an hour of driving and there wasn’t much traffic on it. The first time we drove down through Hermosillo, Bill was annoyed because we’d paid the toll but ended up experiencing Hermosillo roads and traffic. This time we discovered that the toll for the loop road actually gets collected on the loop road which skirts Hermosillo by quite a distance.

End of the road grill. These were the remains of huge grasshoppers.

We made it to San Carlos by mid afternoon, checked into a hotel for the night and went to check on Gypsy. Bill had requested that she have a meter under the rudder so that we could have room to drop it to install a new propellor shaft. No problem, the marina seca said. When we got there, Bill measured 22 inches of clearance under the rudder. The bow was higher than the stern and there was a definite list to one side. There was a dip in the paving where a heavier boat had been and it was full of water and who knows what kind of chemical muck. Mexico has no environmental work yard regulations other than any precautions you take yourself. The boat yard promised they’d reposition her in the morning. We wandered around and said hi to the folks on Carmanah, and to Cathy on Una Vez Mas, a new friend whom we met last spring in San Carlos. She invited us to the Thursday sailors get-together at the Tortuga restaurant. We like the restaurant and needed supper so we joined the meet up. We met some new folks but we were still road-zoned so we left before the bossa nova band started playing. We watched fireworks from our hotel balcony and called it a day. An interesting feature of the hotel is that the key card has to be slotted into a box for the power in the room to work.

Gypsy was filthy from a summer of dust and the first thing we did was add to the big puddle under the boat. We could keep our feet dry while working on the prop shaft but sanding the bottom would require some wading. We hoped our sea boots were still good. They were. She got repositioned and the work began. We got her cleaned up so we could start sleeping on the boat. Most of what we brought down with us got stowed. By 2100 (9 pm) we were ready to crash. We joked that we should have practiced work days before we came down because the next night we were done in by 1900.

Gypsy’s cockpit in project mode.

We headed into Guaymas to look for a few things we needed. Home Depot came through on blue tape, but that was it. We had to find a ferretería (hardware store) for some threaded rod, nuts, and big fender washers to make a compression tool for the cutlass bearing installation. The cutlass bearing slides into a strut that holds the propeller shaft in place under the boat. You can buy an expensive tool to do this or you can make a tool yourself. As part of the whole process, the rudder was dropped Literally. It tipped over once it was free of the tube, but no damage done. We got the max prop aligned on the end of the shaft, got the shaft inserted through the cutlass bearing and into the engine flange. The next day’s work would be compressing the bellows on the dripless seal, aligning the shaft. The rudder post would get cleaned out and regreased, and the rudder would be reinstalled. 1900 and we’re exhausted. The boat is clean inside and out, hardware has been getting unwrapped or reinstalled, and we have some clean laundry.

The next morning, the lake under us is almost dried out until the power boat that was just moved in got a complete wash. The lake is back and we’re ready to tape and sand the bottom. We have a splash date, and now we have a deadline to get everything finished. Bill bought bunny suits to wear while we sand and paint the bottom. Nina split her’s out almost immediately. We should have bought the pricy ones instead of the 77 peso ones. We got the bottom sanded and Bill painted.

The motorboat pulled out and a sailboat was parked next to us. Nice couple from France who were on their second circumnavigation. Their first took 18 years and they’ve been out sailing for about 30. Down from them is a guy from Vancouver BC and a couple of boats over from us was a couple from Germany. There were folks from all over. We enjoyed listening to the sounds of conversations in other languages that we didn’t understand a word of.

One night, around 0300, the boat started rocking, something that should not happen when you are on jack stands. Didn’t last long, thankfully. We found out the next morning that there had been a 6.1 earthquake off of Bahía Kino, not too far away.

One of our finds on a trip up the mast. This was tucked into the struts for the radar dome. Does this make us empty nesters?

We made multiple trips up the mast while we were in the work yard. No wakes to bob you around. We installed a new radio antenna, pulled off all the foil we’d wrapped blocks in, grabbed a broken messenger line so we could run up one of the halyards. When we bought the clothes line for the messenger line we didn’t realize that the joins were just heat welded. Nina had gone over the line and knotted the joins she could find, but she missed one and it parted just above the spreaders.

We got our projects done with about a day to spare. We splashed and and headed for our slip in the marina. We washed the boat again to get the work yard dust off. We provisioned up, got water delivered, ran out for a test sail, and headed into Guaymas. Met our neighbors on Mana Kai and picked their brains when we found out that they’d spent the last 30 years sailing in the northern Sea of Cortez.

On a nice Sunday morning, we set out. Bahía San Pedro, about twenty miles up the coast was our first stop.

North to San Juanico

Dolphins. Always a welcome sight.

We left Agua Verde just as the sunrise was turning the horizon from red to gold. Another beautiful day to motor north. Just south of Isla Danzante, we saw Vixit, a 177′ motor yacht hard aground on some rocks. From talk on the radio nets, she’d been there a couple of days. There were a couple of smaller boats off her stern, and we guessed they were working on her problem, somehow. We made a quick one night stop on a mooring ball at Puerto Escondido, where easy internet and hot showers beckoned. PE has a major building program going on. They’ve added a couple more rows of docks for the 70′ and longer folks. They look nice, but there’s still not much shoreside touristy things to do there, although a nice coffee shop and an art gallery have been added.

We decided to skip Isla Coronados and make a relatively long travel day to San Juanico. There’s more do to in San Juanico while waiting out weather. It also provides good shelter when the wind blows 20-25 knots out of the north, as it did all the next day.

The wind let up and we headed to shore. There were more campers than boaters in and around the bay and we chatted with one and caught up on the local news. Goats have been moved to another location (overgrazing) so no cheese at the farm. We did get some fresh greens from the farm though. We stowed our haul and pulled up the anchor a little after noon.

Time to cross over to the mainland. The wind was still out of the north but it had dropped and the sea state had settled so waves were only coming from one direction and wouldn’t be too bouncy. Our course was northeast, toward San Carlos. Wind was out of the north, northwest, so we thought we’d get some sailing in. What we hadn’t counted on was how cold the night was. It was probably only in the low 50s (Fahrenheit), but when you are used to the mid 80s, it was freezing. We dropped anchor at San Pedro in the morning. Located about 20 miles north of San Carlos, it was somewhere we hadn’t been. It looked a lot like the stretch from Agua Verde to Loreto – mountains with twisty layers of rock showing, craggy peaks. One difference is the hills are greener. There are more varieties of cacti – Barrel as well as Cardon, and there are palm trees on the hills.

We rowed to shore and walked along the beach. San Pedro has a long half circle arc for a beach. On the north end, the beach is mixed stones with a steep landing. The south end has some sand, lots of rocks. Lots of shells, including at least four middens of small conch shaped shells. By their weathered appearance, they’ve been there awhile. There’s also a lot of plastic debris. Even though most of it is small, the amount overall would probably fill a dumpster.

By afternoon, a couple more boats anchored near us. One, a 25′ Capri, had four guys aboard. We met them when on the beach when they came in to hike the hills. Some of them had sailed and one had never been on a sailboat before. Don’t know how they all fit in it, but they were having a grand time.

Winds picked up in the afternoon. We heard coyotes howling at the moon. In the morning we headed for Bahía Algodones. Here the water was a murky yellow green. Walking along the beach, it looked like another of the big hotels was closed. Next stop, the anchorage in Bahía San Carlos. It was starting blow again, gusting to about 20 knots, so we called to see if a slip was available in the marina. The next day we headed in. Over the next couple of days, while we started to decommission Gypsy for the storage yard, the wind continued to blow, and built until it was gusting in the mid to upper 30 knots. We were glad we weren’t being blown around in an anchorage worrying about us or someone else dragging their anchor.

We spent a little over a week getting the boat ready, most of it in the marina. The oil was changed. The watermaker pickled. The windlass was serviced. We took down and washed all our lines, sheets, and halyards and labeled them so we’d remember what they are in the fall. The exterior stainless got a final polish. All the external blocks got wrapped in foil to keep the dust out. Once we got to the work yard, we dropped the rudder and pulled the propeller shaft to bring home and replace (we had noticed it had a fair amount of wear when we splashed last fall). The galley was cleaned out and emptied. Everything possible was stowed inside the boat. The sunshade was installed. Time to hit the road.

No re-entry issues other than culture shock. Roadsign distances from the US-Mexico border to Tucson are in kilometers. We took Hwy 10 out of Phoenix, veered north at Quartzsite to Parker, back to AZ 95 through Lake Havasu City (no, we didn’t stop to see the London Bridge), on up to Needles. We caught a bit of the old Rte 66, drove more of I-40, hit Barstow and Kramer Junction and then headed north on 395. Stopped in Lone Pine for the night and had dinner at a taco truck. Bought gas in Reno as California prices were crazy – up to $8.00 at one place, but usually over $6.00/gallon. It was making Mexican gas at 22 pesos/liter seem affordable. Costco gas in Reno is self-serve, so if you are waiting patiently for the line to move up, ala Portland, someone will jump the queue and swoop into the empty pump. That was why the gap between cars was so big. Klamath Falls for the night, and then on to Portland. The drive was beautiful and the scenery does look different when driving the same route in the opposited direction. And it wasn’t pouring rain when we arrived. Yet.

Soaring booby. One of the things we’ll miss over the summer.

Agua Verde

The beginning of the goat trail. The road into Agua Verde is behind Nina. This was the best part of the trail.

After an overnight stay at Mangle Solo on Isla San José, a spot we hadn’t tried before, we motored on to Agua Verde. Eight other boats were anchored around the bay, but none of the really big. We spent a couple of days here waiting for the north winds to die down so we can keep heading north, and maybe even get some sailing in.

Anchored off the point in Agua Verde. Gypsy is on the right. It’s a nice protected bay.

We like to anchor down by the point so it’s a hike to get to town. On our first walk in we thought we’d try the goat trail. It looked doable. We got about two thirds of the way around and lost the trail completely. That much of it was loose rock on a steep slope influenced our decision to turn around and head back to the road. We thought it was a fairly rough trail, but we know that someone had been there because there was a pair of dead flip flops just off the path where we turned around.

The second morning there, we woke up to a 174′, mini cruise ship, the Safari Voyager, anchored by the town. We drank our coffee and watched an inflatable dinghy zoom to the beach on the point and set up a row of folding stools. The zoomed back. Horses arrived on the beach, but not by dinghy. Passengers were dinghied to shore where they sat on the stools, changed their shoes, got on the horses and headed out. Later a string of kayaks was deployed and folks headed out for another adventure. We briefly talked to a couple from the boat who were from Portland and they were out enjoying themselves. We guessed there were about fifty passengers on the boat. That evening, after the sun went down, lit like a small circus, the boat headed out. We weren’t sure where they were going, but they would be missing some spectacular scenery by traveling at night. We looked them up online and their itinerary does pack a lot into a seven day cruise but it’s the Sea at a gallop.

Our next day in Agau Verde, we headed toward the palm grove, hiking up the path the horses had gone up the day before (the evidence was pretty fresh). Some parts of the path were steep, rocky, and narrow. Would have been interesting on a horse.

Known as Tacos on the beach, the restaurant Brisa del Mar has internet, and really good fish tacos. When the wind was blowing, sitting in the shade was cold. Puffy coats were needed.
The basketball hoop, which can double as a soccer goal, at the school in town. The green building is the school.
A view of the sea heading toward the palm grove in the distance.

Heading North

The only horse we saw in Barra de Navidad.

Barra de Navidad was as far south as we went this year. On the way back to the Sea of Cortez, we stopped at Bahía Chamela and the small town Perula. The new malecón and panga dock is finished. We did some grocery shopping, made new friends and played some nicely competitive Mexican Train. Meanwhile we waited for a weather window to head back past Cabo Corrientes and into Bahía de Banderas. We got a slip at Marina La Cruz for a couple of days. After a rolly night off Punta Mita,we started our crossing to La Paz. The weather window looked good, so we decided to skip Mazatlan as a stop. Some sixty-three and a half hours later to cover 334 miles and we dropped anchor in Bahia de Los Sueños (also known as Bahia de los Muertos – depends if you want dreams or dead). It’s not quite La Paz but we were tired and it provides a good bay to catch up on some sleep.

We headed up to Pichelingue to wait for good weather to hit La Paz for some major provisioning. Ran into cruising friends and met some of the campers on the shore. Pichelingue has free camping and is a short drive from La Paz and stores. Otherwise, the services offered are trash barrels and some restaurants. There were actually more campers than boats in the bay.

Heading out of La Paz. There’s a tight turn you have to make right where the ship was anchored to head into and out of the narrow channel that goes into La Paz.

After a couple of days, we headed into La Paz to anchor in the Magote. It took us three tries to find a place to anchor. The Magote was full of boats and because of the strong currents, many have extra long rodes out to try to dampen what one cruiser dubbed the La Paz waltz, the swing that happens every time the tide changes. We finally ended up on the far end down by the Naval base and had room to breathe.

In our wanderings, we went to the La Paz Art Museum which had a nice photo exhibit. Mercado Bravo for fresh vegetables. Allende Books and the Spanish language bookstore up the street were both wandered through.

After three days in La Paz, we motored up to Ensenada el Cardonal on Isla Partida. Walked over to the other side of the island and back. It’s a good introduction to the geology and desert landscape of Baja. As we left, we hauled up the anchor to find the biggest clump of grass we’d ever caught.

Isla San Francisco. Only nine other boats at anchor, four of them sailboats. Hiked up the hook and around and this time went to the bay on the north side. Beautiful curved sand beach, amazingly stark beautiful landscapes.

Whales and Birds

The beginning of a good day of whale watching, Bahía de Banderas.

We might have mentioned before that a bad day of whale watching means that you see a couple of whales while out sailing. A good day means multiple whales, doing all kinds of things from just blowing spumes in the distance to skyhopping. On the water, you’re supposed to keep your distance so the human impact on whales is minimized. In reality, not everyone follows the rules. Keeping a distance means that the average humpback appears to be tiny in the photo.

After a couple of weeks in Bahía de Banderas, we headed south and made an overnight passage to Barra de Navidad. We anchored in the lagoon, and the next morning met the new French Baker. El Horno Francés visits the marina and lagoon in his panga filled with yummy French treats. The new guy has added coffee and wine to the delivery menu. In Barra, we caught up with our shopping needs, nursed a couple of colds, and then headed north to Bahía de Los Angeles Locos or what sailors refer to as Tenacatita. The anchorage is in a beautiful sheltered bay with a long stretch of white sand beach. During the week we were there, the number of cruisers anchored there almost hit sixty. Daily activities include an afternoon walk on the beach or a game or two of bocce ball followed by a meet up at the palapa restaurant. A new activity offered on Friday is catching a ride on the restaurant’s panga over to the town of La Manzanilla for market day and provisioning. We enjoy panga rides and it’s a good way to meet new friends.

One morning, we took the dinghy up the estuary to do a little bird watching. It gave Bill a chance to try out his new Olympus camera.

Not a bird – Green Iguana.

Turtle Camp

Cruiser kids at Turtle Camp with newly hatched turtles.

One of the fun things about La Cruz is the constant stream of activities available to cruisers through the marina. Masterminding all of this is the indefatigable Catrina. She runs the La Cruz Kids Club for cruising kids, with activities that are fun for the kids but also are community based, with a focus on Manos de Amor, a local orphanage. She organizes regular trash pick ups around the marina and trash regattas (kids build boats out of the trash they’ve found and then race them). She organizes the movie nights, sets up seminars for cruisers, and has regular speakers come from organizations like Ecobac and Sea Shepherd. Occasionally she puts together field trips. Turtle Camp was one we got to attend. It was so popular with cruisers, she had to hire a bus to take us all.

Bahía de Banderas is known for it’s whale watching opportunities, but its beaches have also been where sea turtles come to lay their eggs. A section of the beach at Boca de Tomates is one of the sites that hasn’t yet been developed and is still open to turtles.

Turtle Camp volunteers scout the beach during egg laying season and the eggs are then carefully relocated to the nursery area where they are kept safe from predators. The size of the nest and when it was found are noted on the tag. Our hatching of Olive Ridley turtles had just started hatching that day at noon. They were ready to release by the time we arrived. We began by learning about Olive Ridleys while we waited for sunset. They are smallest sea turtle and both the species itself and their breeding areas are officially considered endangered.

Turtle Camp sunset, Boca de Tomates, Puerto Vallerta. Somewhere not too far from the shore are a bunch of little turtles swimming away from us.

Christmas in La Cruz

Sunset at sea.

After we left San Evaristo we headed for Ensenada de Cardonal on Isla Partida, the island north of Isla Espiritu Santo. We shared the bay with a large motor boat. It was a quiet bay with glorious sunset. In the morning we set out for Playa la Bonanza on the southeast side of Espiritu Santo to get ready to cross over to Mazatlán. Sometimes you need a Plan B. Waves were out of the south and Bonanza is totally exposed to the south. Rolly anchorage. Yuck. Midway we baled and headed for Puerto Balandra, a bay north of La Paz, where we’d get protection from the waves. It’s a shallow bay with lots of locals on the beach. The famous hongo, a mushroom shaped rock, was back upright and photo worthy again. We took a relaxing walk on the beach. All was lovely until about 5:00 when the wind picked up blowing straight into the bay and we started hobbyhorsing like the next big rodeo bronco. We decided to pull up the anchor and head for Muertos as an overnight instead of a long day. Underway we joked that we’ve now done the Canal de Cerralvo more times in the dark than in daylight. After all the wind and wave action, the wind dropped completely in the middle of the night, so we had to kick on the engine.

A house on the north end of Muertos.

We dropped anchor in Ensenada de los Muertos the next morning and found 8 boats already there, over half of them old friends, also waiting for a weather window to cross to Mazatlán or Banderas Bay. The weather window for a good sail across was still a couple of days out so we had time to meet up for lunch, walk on the beach, stow the dinghy, and make food for the overnight passage to Mazatlán. We left mid-afternoon on Sunday and arrived in Mazatlán Tuesday morning. Underway, Nina saw about 30 shooting stars during her 0300-0600 watch (3:00-6:00 am). The wind was light so we had to motor the first night but we sailed the rest of the time. The morning Amigo SSB (Single Side Band) net was almost all boats in transit.

We anchored at Isla de la Piedra (Stone Island), south of the Mazatlán Old Harbor and settled in for a nap. Refreshed, the crews from Dharma Girl, Gypsy and Sherpa dinghied over to La Caleta, a restaurant in a cove that doesn’t require a surf landing. We walked down the dirt road to take the panga taxi across the harbor to town. It drops you off close to the cruise ship dock. Two huge cruise ships were in port so there were tourists everywhere, lines of taxi drivers hawking their tours, a visible police presence to make everyone feel safe, and volunteers handing out maps and answering questions to make sure no one got lost. We walked up to to the central market and got fresh vegetables and stocked up on Aldamas, one of our favorite Mexican candies that we can’t seem to find anywhere else. We ate lunch upstairs and then wandered back to La Caleta for a bucket of cervezas and back to our respective boats. They’d had a riproaring party at the restaurant the night before that blasted music well into the wee hours. Our waiter told us it was the employee year end party, and yes, he embarassedly admitted when asked, there had been karoake, but he had not participated because he has an ugly voice.

Underway again, we rolled our way overnight to Matanchén with Dharma Girl. The coastline from Mazatlán to Banderas Bay is fairly shallow and exposed to the Pacific Ocean. This creates bigger swells so we rolled our way south. We saw whales. In the middle of the night, we had to dodge several fishing fleets, ironically all on Nina’s watches. Nothing like having a lit up, 80′ surreal steampunky looking dragonfly heading straight for you in the middle of the night. Dharma Girl had their own part of the fleet to evade as well. Finally, we all made it through safely. Next day, we headed to shore and and met up with Chris from Dharma Girl and met Brandon from Mosaic. We all bought some of the banana bread the area is famous for and then walked back to have shrimp empanadas at a palapa restaurant on the beach. The bay is well know for it’s jejenes: evil, tiny, biting bugs that eat you alive, bug spray or no. Nina counted 75 bug bites on her legs alone. Bill was covered in spots as well, but he itched less.

We fled the bugs for Chacala where we practiced our double anchor skills. Chacala is a small bay open to swells. Two anchors lets you take the swells on the bow rather than on the side of the boat. We dropped and set the aft anchor and then motored forward to drop and set the forward anchor. Everything snugged up and we were good for the night.

Our goal was to be in the bay before Christmas. We spent a couple of nights in the La Cruz anchorage before moving into Marina La Cruz for Christmas. We noticed early on the trip down that our fuel system was leaking and letting air get into the fuel line. The leak was somewhere around the fuel pump and secondary fuel filter on the engine. We’d already installed new hoses to the pump and filter, installed new crush washers. But, we still had a leak at the fitting on the outside of the fuel filter. Bill cranked the bolt a little more to stop the leak, and it stripped. We made emergency repairs by using a thinner washer on the fitting which gave us about one thread to hold the bolt. This got us to La Cruz where we could get parts shipped to us, but it meant no more sailing until the new fuel pump arrives which meant no more whale watching for a while because we couldn’t risk using the engine to get in and out of the slip. Luckily Cook Engine in Portland had the parts in stock. But snow was predicted so they weren’t sure if they could get the parts out if they were closed down by the weather. We’d also be shipping in the middle of the Christmas shipping deluge. The pump would make it to San Diego where we had an importer lined up, but he was on break until the week after New Year’s. In the meantime, we dinghy sailed.

There are always things to do in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. There’s the Sunday Market, where the whole malecón around the marina is filled with arts and crafts and food tables. Spanish classes with Ana (these would be on hiatus for a couple of weeks after we attended the first one) where you can practice your conversational Spanish with an amazing teacher twice a week, two-fer vegan ice cream on Tuesdays. There are free movies at the marina on Thursday nights. There’s nothing quite like seeing the documentary Maiden with fellow sailors. Seminars, activities for kids. The town itself is full of restaurants. Masks indoors were required, but there were tourists aplenty and we were all out and about in the warmth and sunshine.

Sailing Down the Baja

San Juanico, also known as San Basilio, just ahead.

To head south from San Carlos we had two options: head south on the mainland side for four days to reach Topolobompo and another couple days to reach Mazatlán; or cross over to the Baja and arrive at San Juanico the next day, work our way down and then cross over from somewhere near La Paz. We went with option two and had a smooth passage, including bobbing in place for three hours when the wind died. One of the goals this year is to sail more, motor less, even if it means bobbing.

The beach at La Ramada, a small anchorage on the north side of San Juanico.

Rested up, the trek south began. Our goal was to be in Banderas Bay by Christmas. Schedules are the bane of a sailor’s existence, but we thought it was doable if we chugged along. Most stops on the Baja are short day hops. We hit a weather window where we sailed to most of our destinations, but it still felt like we should be changing the words to Route 66. We had San Juanico, Isla Coronados, Puerto Escondido, Agua Verde, San Telmo, San Evaristo, Isla Partido. We’ll go everywhere, man. Ok, it only sort of works, but the stops do have a nice ring to them. Most of the towns are really villages, and they are challenging to get to by road, but by water, they are popular destinations.

Isla Coronados had dolphins swimming by, a couple of fishing boats going by, and a nice walk along the trail up from the beach to the spit. Nice spinnaker run to Puerto Escondido and back to our old friend mooring ball 31.

Agua Verde had no goat cheese again, so we headed on. Of the options for a next stop, we like San Telmo. It’s not as popular as Los Gatos, but we like the solitude and the scenery.

If you charter a sailboat out of La Paz, San Evaristo is about as far north as you will get in your week. We got there just before eight charter boats arrived. We could see them coming from Isla San Francisco, and to their credit, many of them were sailing. We had just dropped anchor in the bay when they all charged in. Charter boats do not believe in slowing down in anchorages, nor really in giving anchored boats space to safely swing if the wind picks up. A practice new to us was driving through the anchorage just using bow thrusters. This same boat anchored with the person on the bow not understanding depth markers and had no idea how much anchor rode was out. The anchor was dropped and everyone went to the bow to look over at where the anchor was. They decided it was good. They did not back down on it to set it. We decided to leave the confusion, and we weren’t the only ones. We headed to the north side and had a nice quiet, safe anchorage to ourselves.

We dinghied back over to the town side in the morning hoping for internet, but it was not to be. The tienda wasn’t open yet. Almost all of the smaller villages on the coast are phone bars deserts and the only way to get any access is to buy it from a tienda or a restaurant.

Underway from San Evaristo to Isla Partido, Nina caught a Mexican Little Tunny (Black Skipjack). It has a fairly mild taste for a dark fleshed fish. It fed us for days.

Back to Mexico

Hwy 58 out of Eugene

It was only fitting that we left Portland for the sunny south on a day of socked in pouring rain. Visibility on I-5 was bad to horrible and the discussion in the car was whether we stayed on I-5 because we know it’s pretty straight and therefore predictable in poor visibility or head off at Eugene on Hwy 58 toward Hwy 395. We opted for 395 and the weather began to clear. Hwy 58 is picturesque. Highway 395 was the correct choice. Ending up in Reno for the night, the option was a casino/resort hotel or a random find.

This was our random find in Reno. How could we resist, even though they did not give us a Kramer discount.
Bill in front of the motel sign with his coffee and donuts from the shop across the street.

Heading south the next day, we cut through the Sierras and discovered that summit gas prices were just over $6.00 per gallon. Ended up in Victorville, CA, on historic Route 66 at another funky little motel and before hitting the road for Tuscon. We took the Twentynine Palms Highway on the north side of Joshua Tree. The stay for the night was in Green Valley, just down the road from the Titan Missile Museum, which we didn’t see. We had to circle back to the motel an hour after leaving to retrieve Bill’s phone from where he’d left it in the loo. Made it over the border without any other problems, except that we overshot the place we needed to stop to get our tourist visas. It looked like a roadside stop selling Mexican insurance, which we already had. Solved that and headed toward San Carlos, in Sonora.

Mexican highways are interesting. The speed limit will change for no apparent reason. The road is straight, no change in elevation and the speed will drop from 110 kmh (about 65mph) down to 90 or 100 kmh. There weren’t really distance signs to upcoming towns on Hwy 15, but every couple of hundred meters there were a variety of other signs. They translated roughly to exhortations to don’t drive tired, seat belts save lives, don’t throw trash. We followed all the directives and arrived safely without any conversations with law enforcement, who were having a busy day conversing with other folks they’d pulled over. Our favorite sign just had a sillouette of a rabbit. 50 meters later there was a second rabbit sign. We never did see any rabbits.

We decided that rather that try to live on the boat in the work yard in the marina seca, we’d try an Airbnb. Bill found what looked like a nice studio apartment with a reasonable price. The view was incredible, the beds were not. We finally bailed a couple days early and slept on the boat in the yard anyway.

Osprey on a neighboring mast.

Thanksgiving, el Día de Acción de Gracias, was feliz, with shrimp and lobster we bought from a guy parked in front of the supermarket. It was a lovely meal while the wind whistled away through the marina.

One of our projects was putting our whisker pole back together with a new rope. We discovered that the line was six inches too short. Reminder to selves: install and then cut to length. Bill jury rigged a new line in place and fastened it with a zeppelin bend. The rope ends were later whipped.

We finished our projects in the slip. We got sails on and went out for day sail to see if we got the watermaker working okay so we could make some drinking water. The weather didn’t cooperate. It poured. The wind, when it blew, kept changing direction. Seas were big enough that we realized our sea legs were a bit wobbly. The watermaker worked beautifully until we put it in flush mode. It created a bit of a flood, but it was thankfully, easily solved and mopped up. We were now ready to head south.