Puerto Escondido to Isla San Francisco

We made it back to Loreto without any major mishaps. Planes were pretty empty. We managed to fly into and out of the same terminal in LAX, so our connection to Loreto was easy. Upon arriving in Loreto, we had a conversation with a nice official about our engine injectors, which we’d taken with us to Portland to have them serviced. Apparently, we should have updated our Temporary Import Permit before we left with them, but they would let us bring them in, just this once, with out the proper paperwork.

The next day we began the process of working on the boat in an exotic location. The injectors were reinstalled. White smoke out the exhaust. Not supposed to happen. And, something in the engine was making a new noise, and there was now a noticeable amount of water collecting in the engine bilge. The leak source turned out to be the raw water pump. Not the hose to the raw water pump, but the pump itself. We have some spare parts for it, but no spare pump. Luckily, Beethoven had a couple of old pumps and we cobbled a new one together with parts from his and from ours. The leak stopped.

On to the water maker. We unpickled it, flushed it and the solids reading was very high. We think we got some chlorinated water in our membrane sometime before we left, which basically fried it. We ran it for hours, ran two sets of cleaning chemicals through it and still got a high solids reading again. Time to go see the water maker guy in La Paz. While there, we’ll check out the diesel mechanic that friends recommended, and equalize our batteries (get them so they will fully charge more easily), and catch up on some needed provisioning.

Our week or so in Puerto Escondido was not all engine work, although we did take out and put in the raw water pump at least six times. We tried a CSA box and met some new folks. The veggies were beautiful, and the new friends introduced us to birria, little beef street tacos. Yum.

Nina got to experience a Mexican bank. Banks are used to pay rent, power bills, and other transactions, including paying for traffic tickets. You go online to find out how much you will have to pay, and then you go down to the bank and stand in line to get a number with an estimated wait time. There are rows of seats in the bank that are socially distanced, and you sit and wait for your number to show up on the monitor overhead. When it’s your turn, you hand over the official paper with the amount on it to the teller. If you want to pay with a credit card, only a Bancomer card will work, which of course we don’t have. She could have used her card to get cash from the ATM, but it was 3:00, the bank closes at 4:00 and the line to get back into the bank was down the block. The second try, with cash in hand, was successful. She is a free woman once again.

Northerlies were active while we were in Puerto Escondido. The wind blows from the north, with gusts into the mid 20 knots. Waves kick up, making a dinghy trip back to the boat a wet, bouncy experience, and Gypsy gyrates around her mooring ball as the wind ebbs and blows. After a few days of this, the wind,, thankfully, finally calmed. Goats roamed the hill behind us. A blue footed booby splashed down by the boat. We filled the water tanks with water from the tienda. We bought and hauled ten five gallon jugs of water out to Gypsy. Time to head south.

First stop, Agua Verde. When we were making our way down the west coast, in any conversations we’d have with boaters, we’d ask where their favorite cruising destinations in Mexico were. Agua Verde came up. Some day, when the engine and watermaker are working, and we’re fully provisioned up, we’ll actually spend more than a stopover night. It is a beautiful bay and we shared it with one other boat. And dolphins!

Punta San Telmo, is a small bay south of Agua Verde. There are a number of small bays you can tuck into when it’s calm. Winds out of the south were predicted, and San Telmo is a beautiful, safe place to anchor in when southerlies kick in. There is a nice sand beach and trails that can be hiked. The weather started socking in: totally gray skies, rain, fog, but not a lot of wind. It was like being in the Pacific Northwest!

The north side of San Evaristo was our next anchorage, since southerlies were still blowing. Rain and wind. We went ashore to see if we could walk over to San Evaristo, but were defeated by mud, and an inability to find a trail into town. We hauled up anchor and went by boat and anchored off the town. The boat, at least, was getting a good rinse off and the dust and salt were washed away. We spent a quiet day reading, knitting, and making brownies. In the middle of the night there, the wind kicked up in a new direction and we started rolling side to side. It was uncomfortable for a couple of hours, and then everything calmed down again. All accompanied by the bass line playing Mexican music from a speaker onshore.

Not much sand here. Beach rocks north of San Evaristo. The north side of San Evaristo is a good place to ride out southerlies. The beach has a big berm that protects the local salt works.
Brown Booby. It circled us a couple of times, and flew off.

Isla San Francisco is another place that gets mentioned as a favorite place to go. There’s a nice anchorage on the south side. Last year when we did an overnight there, we were one of about twenty-five boats, mostly sailboats. This year, the number of boats in any anchorage is much smaller. There are very few Canadians, as they can’t drive down because the Canadian border is closed into the US. When we got here, there were six other boats here: one other sailboat, five big catamarans. By the next afternoon, we were the only sailboat left. The seven other boats were all big motor yachts, at least 50+ feet in length. Some boats have Americans, but the rest have Mexicans aboard. It felt like a small version of Roche Harbor.

Finally, a dorato on our way to San Juanico

It’s a dorado! Someday we will learn to take better fish pictures… For a sporty fish, they have surprisingly soft flesh, and are very good eating.

We motored most of the way up to Isla Coronados with Beethoven. No wind, but the fishing was good! We caught a fish on one of the lures our friend Chris recommended, a beautiful 2 foot dorado. Bill filleted it and we gave one of the fillets and the head to Beethoven, so they could make fish stew. They gave us a lovely piece of bonito they’d caught. We had better luck than Free Luff, who’d heard me on the radio asking Beethoven the ‘what do I do with it now’ question. Free Luff caught a passing motor boat, and almost lost all their line before it broke.

The water at Coronados was pretty clear, so Bill took a look at the bottom of the boat to see what sorts of creatures were attaching themselves to it. The bottom was still clean from its fresh coat of paint, but the knot meter’s little propeller was very crunchy with tiny, long worm casings. No wonder it stopped working again! We pulled the unit from inside the boat. Yes, that did create a mini geyser when we took it out but we plugged the hole while we cleaned out the calcified guck with a repurposed pallet knife. We reversed the process, put the knot meter unit back in place and bailed out the gallon or so of water in the bilge. If you’re fast with the plug, not much water gets in. We didn’t have enough hands to take pictures in the moment, so you’ll have to imagine what that the process looked like.

Hike in the afternoon with Beethoven on the south side of Coronados. Tried a different trail back from the beach and realized it wasn’t going to get us back to where we’d left our kayaks and SUPs. Had to do a quick backtrack before the sun went down, but we did make it back to our boats by the time the sun went down with a beautiful sunset. Bonito for dinner.

San Juanico was our next stop. Isla Coronados is about 20 miles north of Puerto Escondido and San Juanico another 18-20 miles north of Coronados. San Juanico has an island studded bay and is popular with campers as well as boaters. It was cloudy most of the time we were there, but it didn’t rain, so no help to wash the salt off the boat. We went for a walk with John and visited the small farm up the road from the bay. Fresh produce and eggs! Clambering over rocks with a dozen eggs tied up in a paper egg crate with baling twine is an interesting experience, but we all survived.

There was a norther forecast so we headed back to Puerto Escondido. We had a spinnaker sail back to Coronados but had to motor from there to PE. Back on the mooring ball, we put the dinghy together and headed in for showers. Having a cold water boat with no shower, we make an effort to get nice hot showers. On the way in, the dinghy was making a funny noise. It wasn’t the outboard. And then we discovered that we were taking on a LOT of water! When we put the dinghy together, we somehow didn’t get the lower through hulls tightened and they were letting water into the dinghy. Headed back to Gypsy for tools, tightened everything up, and got the leaking stopped. Back in again for showers.

And then came the 13th. Generally, we aren’t superstitious beyond a generic things happen in threes, so we thought we were mostly covered. Our new first bit of bad luck/news: Bill found out that his 94 year-old father had fallen and broken his leg. Since the norther was still blowing like stink, we decided to head into town. We got distracted driving out of the marina and drove into the gate. That was number two. We dinghied back to Gypsy in the wind and waves with an extra passenger who needed a ride back to his boat. Pretty soaked by the time we got back to Gypsy. Bill discovered that the water filter he was soaking over the side of the boat had come untied and the rope had wrapped itself around either the propeller or rudder and was not coming loose. Waves were now a frequent 3-4 feet as the wind had kicked up more. From the dinghy, Bill finally got the rope loosened without being pitched into the drink or bashed into the boat. Time to dry out, get warm: time for quesadillas. Bill cracked a tooth on one. It had been twingy, but it was done in by a tortilla. So a second on the trip out; the third was the tooth. Fourth or fifth(?): because we were heading back to Portland in a couple of days, we pickled the watermaker because we wouldn’t be able to run it everyday while we are gone. It had been having issues with high TDS, or total dissolved solids aka salt, in the product water and it was easier to pickle it than try to troubleshoot it one more time before we left. We then discovered the forward water tank is empty. We’d clearly been using more water than we thought. Time to buy some water. In talking with friends, they too, had quite the day on the 13th!

We got Gypsy buttoned up so we could head back to the States for the holidays. Dharma Girl gave us a ride in and we got on our way. But luck of the 13th continued. Nina got to have a conversation with a couple of nice Guardia Nacionals outside of Guerrero Negro. They explained that the speed limit is in kilometers per hour, not miles. We decided to take Mexico 5 back and blew a tire outside of San Filipe. It was a long 50mph trip to San Diego on the spare. It gave us plenty of time to try to find a tire, when we had phone bars. Next time we drive, we are strapping an extra real tire to the top of the car!

The border crossing into Mexicali took a couple of hours of waiting in line after we finally found it, due to road construction and interesting signage. We got through in one go this time. And then Bill got a call from his sister that his father had passed. We found a new tire at a dealer in San Diego. We could buy the tire there but would have to find a tire shop to install it as their service department was closed because of a Covid contraction. Got all that behind us and made it safely to Portland, where Bill got a colonoscopy and a tooth pulled. A quick trip to Minneapolis for his father’s service and then we head back to Gypsy.

We hope your holidays were safe, warm, and filled with love. Buen año nuevo – it can only get better!

Ballandra to San Javier

Isla Carmen is the biggest island just outside of Puerto Escondido. At 13 miles long, it has a number of small bays and coves that you can tuck into depending on the wind. At the north end on the west side of the island is a little cove called Puerta Ballandra. On the way, we had a nice sail but no luck fishing. We buddy boated up with Beethoven and Dharma Girl and invited them over for happy hour once we were all anchored. The local bees also invited themselves and made themselves at home with whatever water they could find. We were surprised to see bees in an environment that is pretty harsh, but they are out and about in places that you wouldn’t expect them and always looking for fresh water. Another resident of Carmen is big horn sheep. The whole island is a reserve with a hunting lodge on the other side by Salinas. We didn’t see any sheep while hiking, but while we were on shore, we saw evidence they were there.

One of our morning rituals is listening to the nets on the SSB radio (short wave). From them you can find out where boats are, what the weather is like in different parts of the Sea of Cortez and sometimes even get some news. Nina began volunteering as a net controller on the Amigo net, with Bill as the weather guy. Bill, because he has a General Ham license, is a net controller on Sonrisa, a Ham net. The net survived our debuts and we now each have a weekly gig. Boats check in from wherever they are, you can hear from old friends, and you get the weather forecast. It’s a lean season this year because of Covid, so check-ins average six to maybe 10 boats, spread out from San Carlos and Tenacatita on the mainland to up and down the inside of Baja. It’s always fun to finally meet someone you’ve talked on the net.

Since the fishing was unsuccessful on the way up to Ballandra, we went out with John in the morning. Still no luck. But we did see three big horns in the hills. John went out later and caught a nice cabrillo. Fish tacos on the beach that evening. Yum. Dolphins swimming around the boat the next morning.

Dolphins frolicking beside us. Always a welcome and happy sight.

Next stop is Isla Coronados, north of Carmen. It’s an extinct volcano and has beaches and trails. Beethoven headed back to Puerto Escondido and Gypsy and Dharma Girl headed for Coronados. We walked on the beach and tried out one of the trails. There was a norther forecast so we headed back to Puerto Escondido, where the mooring field is a safe place to wait out strong winds from the north. On the way back, fishing success! Nina caught a Sierra Mackerel. From it we got a couple of nice fillets.

A nice Sierra Mackerel. A beautiful and tasty fish. The white line in the lower left is Nina’s hand line. It was put together by our friend Carl in Portland. We’d asked him for a list of fishing gear we should get and he gave us a great starter kit instead. It all wraps up around a piece of PVC pipe, so it’s nice and compact when not trailing behind Gypsy.

Back in Puerto Escondido, the northers started to kick in about 4:00 am the next morning, gusting to about 15 knots. Not bad, but if we wanted to head in, it meant a slow, wet ride into the marina. We could stay in the boat and swing around the mooring ball all day or head into Loreto for errands. We opted for Loreto, and we and Chris headed into town. Groceries, FerraMar for lures, and the tortilleria. We all got what we needed and dinghied back in the white caps. Gusts that evening in the 20s.

Cabin bound, Bill made a shelf for the gas cans. Nina then lashed to the Monitor, our wind vane since we were unable to find any kind of U-bolts in Loreto. We got the shelf idea from Tappan Zee and were happy to find a way to get the gas cans out from underfoot in the cockpit.

Next trip in for groceries, we noticed piloncillo on sale. It looked interesting so we thought we’d try some. It’s the rawest form of cane sugar pressed into cone shaped molds. It tastes like brown sugar with molasses and a hint of an orange flavor. Turns out, you have to grate it in order to use it, but it is really good in chocolate cake, and we can’t wait to try in in gingerbread.

Bill attempting to cut up a cone of piloncillo. We learned you need to grate it.

Punta Colorada and the south east side of Isla Carmen was our next stop with our boating buddies. This time, the surf was calm. We all went in for a hike. The adventurous ones went up to the ridge, and a couple of us went about halfway and then stopped on took in the amazing landscape. Back at the beach we found hermit crabs.

Beethoven and Gypsy tried to head up to Salinas, on the upper northeast side of Carmen. Waves and wind got crazy so we headed back to Colorada. Of course when it was crazy, we hooked a fish. Landed about an 18” bonito, but we had no way to keep it until things calmed down, so we released it. The others came back to join us in Colorada. John caught a couple of fish and we traded cake for fish.

Wild ride back to Puerto Escondido. Nina got totally soaked putting in the third reef. And did not catch any fish.

Time for a land trip. On the way to Loreto is the turnoff for San Javier, the site of the second Jesuit mission in Baja. Beethoven mentioned they were interested in heading up there so we made it a group expedition for the next day. But first they taught us how to play pickle ball. Quite fun, even on a windy day.

San Javier is 34 km from the highway, on a twisty, hilly, paved road. It seems like it’s the middle of nowhere, but there is water there, and the landscape, while rocky, can grow crops. There had been a pilgrimage to the church on December 2 that had around 3,000 people come. We passed walkers and bicyclists on the way up, still making their own kinds of pilgrimages. Outside the church was a man selling locally made products: a red wine, cajeta, and some fruit jelly or paste. We went for the cajeta, a thick syrup made of caramelized goat milk. It’s probably sacrilege, but it’s really good on pancakes.

Holiday season in a Loreto restaurant. Santa and skulls. Happy Holidays!

Around Puerto Escondido

The welcome to your mooring ball bird. It announced its arrival with a loud gwawk.

We’ve settled into life on a mooring ball, one of maybe thirty or so boats out in the bay. Of those, maybe two thirds have people aboard. The hurricane season officially ends November 30 and folks are starting to return to their boats or stopping in while sailing south. Puerto Escondido is a good place to run into old friends and make new ones. Everyone masks up, hand sanitizer is outside every store and office and we all practice social distancing. The tienda in PE is well stocked, and the restaurant is open evenings. Having the car means we can head to Loreto for a broader range of provisions and rambling.

Loreto, founded by the Jesuits in 1697, was the capitol of Baja California Sur until 1777. We visited the main church in Loreto. It was founded in 1697 by Fr. Salvatierra. We went to the museum next door which has an interesting mix of religious art and mission artifacts. Most of the paintings were of saints or the founders of religious orders, all done by anonymous artists. There were statues of the Virgin Mary, with very white skin, and other religious statuary that must have been imported and carried up to the mission back in the day. The info placards infer that life was hard. It took a number of years for the Spaniards to adopt/adapt to the local way of life in the event that no ships came in with supplies. There was very little info about the indigenous population before or after the Spanish arrival. The reason behind the missions was to convert the natives. Any revenue generated by padres was to go back to the Spanish crown. The Jesuits, an evangelizing order, began making wine, and not all the profits made it back to Spain. They were expelled by the crown and replaced by the Dominicans and Franciscans, who continued building missions on Baja and up into mid-California.

Esther, owner of Snacks22, our new favorite place to eat in Loreto. Think Mexican tapas, small plates, and really tasty food. Everything on the menu costs 22 pesos. It was recommended to us by Maritza, who works in the marina office in Puerto Escondido. If you’re ever in Loreto, try it out.
A highway construction project. Just outside of Loreto, the hillside is slowly being taken out to widen the road to 2 lanes each way. The highway was closed for 3 hours one day for blasting. The bypass is a gravel section. Some days there are flaggers and others you’re on your own.

Loreto is about 25 kilometers up the road from Puerto Escondido. It has a couple of bigger grocery stores, a marine/fishing store, tortillerias and small aborrotes that we have been exploring and shopping at. We’ve learned to avoid shopping around holidays – like Día de los Muertos – especially if they are on weekends. Parking at the bigger grocery stores is tight at best and just crazy around holidays. And you learn to avoid the guy who’d like to wash your car with a dry rag while you shop for 100 pesos. Fresh vegetables are basic but abundant. Canned goods are limited in selection and we are now on a to find diced tomatoes. Tomato sauce, paste, salsa, but no straight up diced. We did end up getting a couple of cans from Chris, off Dharma Girl, who did a Costco run when he drove down to Cabo to see his brother who had been crewing on one of the Nada HaHa boats. He ended up getting them at WalMart.

Back on the boat, Bill has become a net controller on the Sonrisa net, a ham net for sailors. He started out as a sub but will have a short but regular gig in December to fill in for folks heading north for the holidays. Nina will get to try her hand as a net controller on the Amigo net, another net for sailors that does not require a ham general license to participate.

We finally finished enough projects that it was time for a quick trip out of the mooring field. Puerto Escondido has a number of islands on its doorstep that have some good spots to anchor. We headed for Bahia Marquer on Isla Carmen for an overnighter. And saw a whale on the way! Lovely anchorage. The wind was forecast to change to the north, so we thought we’d try Bahia Colorada on the east side of the island. On the way, Nina caught a nice 2′ dorado that was beautiful. It decided that it wanted to stay that way, so just before we got it to the boat, it shook itself loose. Colorada was beautiful, but between the wind and swell, it was really rolly. The south wind was still blowing and the swells were big enough to be really uncomfortable at anchor. Back to PE we went. Nice calm anchorage, and more projects.

Just outside of PE is Tripui, a small village that has a hotel and an RV park. We hadn’t realized the town part was there until we did a couple of day hikes with Dharma Girl and Beethoven up the hills to the east of it. There’s a small network of trails and we did a couple of different ones. The big hike, challenging and beautiful, is up Tabor Canyon, also called Steinbeck Canyon. As we got about as far as we could, there was a huge boulder blocking the way, a group of five or six Mexican women came up. They were all young and clambered up the boulder and went on. We watched them and headed back. On the way, Nina misjudged coming down a rock and twisted her ankle. She made it slowly back to the water treatment building at the trail head. Beethoven had gone ahead and got their truck, a bag of ice and an electrolyte drink. Heroes forever! Next day, a purple and swelled up foot. Everyone else went up the canyon a couple of days later with Javier, the harbor master, and the crew from El Rey, one of the big motor yachts. They made it farther up without major mishap, other than Bill banging his head on a rock. We will both survive.

For calmer adventures, we got to watch the International Space Station fly overhead one evening. Another night we were visited by dolphins swimming around the boat. Apparently the anchovies are running and they were on the hunt in the wee hours. They are noisy and sound like gasping snorkelers.

More projects done, and we’re off to Ballandra with Dharma Girl and Beethoven.

And ending with a sunset from the mooring field.

Boat Projects

Last year while we lived and sailed aboard Gypsy we found out what worked and what needed improving. Much of our car load of stuff was new gear for Gypsy. We now have two inflatable kayaks to go exploring in. They should be much easier to get into if we paddle out to a snorkeling spot. The hard dinghy does not work well for snorkeling. We also installed our new replacement anchor, a 45 pound Mantus. The 35 pounder went back into the locker. Several lines (ropes) on Gypsy that were getting old and worn got replaced. We have a new main sheet, main sail traveler control lines, spinnaker halyard, topping lift and the mainsail first reef line. I think we have figured out why the reef line was chafing. It was rubbing on the bolts sticking up through the boom bottom that hold the main sheet blocks. The reef line is now routed away from the bolt ends.

Gypsy has a rigid boom vang. Its job is to hold the boom up and supply main sail control. Our vang was doing a very poor job of holding the boom up. We discovered we needed a new spring, which is now installed and the boom stays up much better.

Dividers for glasses and bowls

We don’t like the sound of clinking dishes. Last year we stuffed pot holders and dish rags between glasses everytime we went out for a sail. This summer we made dividers. They ended up modular for flexibility. Nina also made dividers for the spice drawer.

Spice drawer. Of the three or so types of spice bottles only the small square bottles fit. That’s what happens when you make something 1,800 miles away from the stuff you need to check it against.

Bill made a teak swim ladder before we left Portland in 2019. It was a good idea that did not work well in practice. Gypsy now has two stainless steel ladders. One is a folding swim ladder and the other is a short boarding ladder. They mount to the toe rail with fast pins and can be switched from side to side. Gypsy has wide boarding gates, so the ladders don’t have to get lowered to use the gate.

We also made new tools to assemble our dinghy. The marlon (plastic) thru-hulls we use to bolt the dinghy halves together sometimes need more than fingers. Last year they got stuck a couple of times and our plastic and wood tools didn’t fare well. Bill made aluminum tools this summer at Becker Enterprises and had them anodized.

New aluminum dinghy tools and the old wood and plastic tools.

We have a couple more projects to do yet. Making a shade cover and modifying the main sail cover are the last of the big projects. Being a boat, however, means that there will always be something that needs to be done.

Southward Bound

Sometimes an adventure begins before you even leave home. Our plan was to leave Portland on October 23 and drive down to Puerto Escondido to reunite with Gypsy. With a couple of inflatable kayaks, a 45 lb. anchor and all kinds of other stuff, we had too much gear to fly with. We had a few last minute errands to run and were rummaging around in our spare tire well to see if we had a can of fix-a-flat in our emergency kit. A guy comes up to us and asks if we need help with our spare tire. It wasn’t until we pulled out that we noticed that every car on both sides of the street had a flat tire. Stopping the car we realized that we did too! Les Schwab had a crew helping folks get spares on, including ours. It was a busy morning for them. The tire stabber hit at least a three block stretch of cars. So much for last minute errands. Bill spent the morning instead trying to find a new tire, calling the insurance company, and filing a police report. Luckily a tire was found in Beaverton that could be installed that afternoon. That night we parked the car behind our condo (a no, no) and in the morning finished loading it.

By 8 am we were on the road, heading south on I-5 in the fog and cold. Patches of fog persisted until we were down in the Umqua Valley. The fog finally lifted and the scenery got more interesting – more fall colors, the road got twisty and hilly. Around Mt. Shasta in California, there was evidence of big fires on on both sides of the freeway. Once past the lake we were into miles of groves of trees, probably olives and almonds.

Burn near Mt. Shasta.

Spent the night in Sacramento. The next morning we repacked the car and hit the road. Once past Stockton, I-5 becomes two lanes of really straight and boring road. More trees and grapes. Made it through LA only to hit major traffic in San Diego. Back near the ocean!

Early start to cross the border at San Ysidro. We sailed through but didn’t get our FMMs, our tourist visas for Mexico. Driving through Tijuana, we took a wrong turn and ended up in the border crossing going north in the middle of the morning rush hour. There was a gap the barrier where the motorcycles were coming in that was wide enough for a car to go through. We risked it, only to be stopped a policeman at the end of the block. This was a one way street and the fine for driving the wrong direction was $400 US. And we would be towed. The policeman got a colleague who could speak English. What it meant was that he knew how to use Google translate, enough that his phone kept saying “you must pay the fine.” We said we’d be willing to pay the fine, but didn’t have it in cash. Was there a bank nearby? How long until the tow truck arrived? Could we follow them in our car to the police station? No and no. Finally, they said if we turned around and went back across the border they would pretend nothing had happened. We turned around, got in the Express Lane only to find out that we had not registered our car with our International Entry cards. We got a finger wagging, but the agent let us through. Did a turn around at the first exit and crossed the border again, this time asking where we could get our FMM. Got them and were back on the road later than we’d hoped, but heading south on Mexico 1D.

Highway 1D is the scenic toll highway out of Tijuana. Two lanes, scenic with a good view of the ocean, and it actually has shoulders. Once past the toll zone, the highway becomes one lane each way, loses its shoulders and sometimes its striping, and gets nice and twisty and hilly. The paving stays good for most of it. When we got behind a truck, they’d put on their left turn signal to let us know it was safe to pass, not always when it was marked. Curves were tight, sometimes hairpin, often with a decreasing radius just after a blind hill.

We headed over one hill and the landscape changed abruptly from scrub and cactus to boulder strewn scrub and cactus. It looked like a boulder beach, with many of the rocks at least car sized. At one point we noticed there were no power lines paralleling the road and then suddenly there they were. We made it to Guerrero Negro before dark. The Halfway Inn is just outside of town, and a charming place to stay. We caught part of a World Series game (in Spanish) and went to bed early.

After four days of driving, we made it to Puerto Escondido and three nights at Hotel Tripui. Drove down to check on Gypsy. She was there waiting for us, and waiting to have her bottom painted. We thought the plan was that she’d be painted while we were driving down, and then splash her on Wednesday. Plans would have to change.

The splash was rescheduled for Friday. Gypsy got painted while we moved aboard on the hard. We relaunched, headed for a mooring ball and kept working on our stack of projects. A week and a half later, we could see the floor again in the main cabin and we had two settees to sit in. Life is good.

Heading Home

What does it take to get a boat ready to haul out in a hot, dry climate? Tin foil and clothes line. We started by removing the lines we weren’t using and rinsing them out in fresh water. Living in a salt water environment means that everything gets saturated in salt. Off came preventers, jacklines, spinnaker sheets, soft shackles and into a bucket they all went. They dried in the sun and got labeled so we’d know what they were when we get back to Gypsy after this is all over.

Meanwhile, San Evaristo closed to cruisers. The navy was hailing boats in Los Muertos to try to prevent recreational sailing and gathering. Ports were officially closing to recreational traffic. We headed into the marina and got enough internet to book plane tickets home. Alaska Airlines wasn’t flying out of Loreto so Bill booked us tickets on Calafia to Tijuana. They were flying out three flights a week. Since we weren’t driving, we had to figure out some luggage beyond our day packs to pack stuff into to get it home. The laundry bag, the only decent sized bag we had on board, wasn’t going to work. A suitcase was needed and Puerto Escondido has no stores beyond the marina tienda. We rented a car and headed into Loreto, a town about 30 miles up the road. The drive into Loreto has spectacular, mountains on one side, the Sea of Cortez on the other. The town itself is picturesque. Grocery stores were still open, but restaurants were mostly closed. Nothing touristy was open, including the beaches. Coppel, the department store in town, was open only for online order pick up, so buying a suitcase there wasn’t going to work. For some reason, one of the grocery stores had a display of picnic gear, including coolers. Our new Samsonite would be a bright blue Coleman. Sometimes you just have to be creative. Our trip to town was timely. The next day, Loreto was closed to outsiders.

Our Monitor cover. It was cobbled together from scrap Sunbrella, because that’s what we had available. It’s not elegant, but it will keep grit and weather out. Gear is waiting to be foil wrapped.

We filled the fuel tank, washed the boat, waiting to get hauled out. Puerto Escondido closed to recreational traffic. If you came in, you were here to stay, unless you were in transit to a haul out destination or provisioning. The navy made a daily circuit of the mooring field with a stay at home message. It was in English, so all the gringos would finally understand.

Being a cruiser in a foreign country during a pandemic is a very strange experience. On one hand, you can argue that we social distance no matter where we are. On the other, while all those incredible anchorages, beaches and parks are closed to the local population, there are all of us rich gringos in our boats, playing with our water toys in places that locals can’t go, enjoying ourselves in ways no longer allowed the locals. As things shut down, it looks like we’re still out having fun, even if we are staying on our boats, trying to respect the local restrictions. Many of the communities are pretty isolated, and were beginning to feel the need to make sure the needs of their communities were met as supplies became more difficult to obtain. Tense moments were relayed on the net. Understandably, cruisers were asked to leave some locations.

We got everything cleaned out, the cooler packed, and the taxi arrived to take us to the airport. We shared a cab with Mike, whose flight out the previous week on Volaris had been cancelled. We got to the Loreto airport in plenty of time, as there was a total of maybe a dozen people in the whole airport. The flight was maybe a third full. Crossed the border in Tijuana and discovered our CBX didn’t cover the shuttle to the San Diego airport. Just as well, since our flight to Portland was the next day. Cabs were desperate for business so we ended up with an extremely discounted fare to our motel. The desk staff at the motel recommended a nearby Mexican restaurant for takeout, a recommendation that was seconded by a scooter club that pulled in right after we got there. Dinner was Thai.

A last look at the Sea of Cortez. We miss it already.

Baja con Corona

Welcome to Marina El Cid, Mazatlán. Does the yellow flag mean that the Americans are supposed to be quarantined? In this case, the yellow flag means that the harbor is open rather than that the port is flying the yellow Q flag or quarantine flag.

Five days or so into the virus, the police in La Cruz closed all the restaurants. Mexico had seemed pretty normal until then. This was the day we left to head north. Our first stop was Punta de Mita, about ten miles away and the northernmost anchorage in Banderas Bay. Here we checked out our new anchor marking. While we were in at the marina at La Cruz we end for ended the anchor chain and rode and marked it all of in 25′ intervals, the chain with paint and the rope part with thread. Bill went to a pinteria and they specially mixed a cup full of paint for him. We baked it well for a couple of days in the sun and then stowed it in the anchor locker. At Punta de Mita we dropped the anchor and watched the new anchor paint start to flake off as the anchor chain hit the water. The next day we set off for Ensenada de Matanchén. Weather and waves were good so we kept on going to Mazatlán, skipping Isla Isabel as well.

At Mazatlán we anchored off Isla Cardones to catch up on sleep. Our passage from Punta de Mita to Mazatlán took us from 0700 Weds to 1015 Thursday, 27 hours. We saw dolphins and sea turtles on the way, but caught no fish. During the 0300-0600 watch Nina got a phosphorescent show that wasn’t just our wake lighting up, but many flashes off the side of the boat that were coconut sized to a couple of feet long that went on for quite a while. They’d light up and disappear. It was an amazing diversion until the moon rose.

At Isla Cardones we inventoried our food. Not being sure of how things would shut down between here and Puerto Peñasco, some 750+ miles away, we thought we’d see how much we actually had on board. Tiendas in smaller towns usually have fresh limes, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and a few other fresh fruits and vegetables, but they’re stocked for the locals, not for cruisiers coming in and stocking up. We could make it through mid April with what we had on board. But we were still going to head for El Cid Marina in Mazatlán, and see if we could get into town and hit a big grocery store for some fresh fruits and vegetables.

Meanwhile, the news on the morning radio net was that many of the South Pacific islands had closed their borders. Mazatlán was starting to shut down, but the restaurant at El Cid was still open. More importantly, there was a laundromat at the marina! No bucket laundry! We caught a bus into town. Unlike the first time we were in Mazatlán, when the streets were jostling with people, the city was pretty empty. We stopped for an afternoon glass of wine at a restaurant in the old town and were the only people out in the plaza other than restaurant staff, and the people setting up their booths for the evening. Beaches were empty. The port was closed in the morning, but it turned out to be for wind, not the virus. There is a tricky bar/channel to get into the marina. Tricky enough that there was a trimaran on the rocks when we came in, and when we left, it was half submerged in the tide.

We made it out safely. Since things weren’t totally shut down yet, and they are sort of on the way to Puerto Peñasco, we still wanted to see the islands north of La Paz. Once we were up past Bahía de los Angeles, then we’d head back over to the mainland side. Our first Baja stop was Ensenada de los Muertos, a big bay on the way to La Paz. We’d skipped Muertos when we first headed up to La Paz back in November because we hadn’t officially checked into the country yet. It’s a big bay, white sand beaches, a couple of small resorts and a restaurant on one end and another restaurant on the other end. We were also one of a dozen or so boats anchored in the bay, enough of us that a morning net was begun. Morning nets let you know who else is there, where folks are coming from or going to and if anyone needs help or can offer it. They also can be a source of news. The news was that Mazatlán was still open to cruise ships and La Paz was still open. The next morning, March 30, it was announced that all ports were closing for commercial pleasure craft. No more party boats, fishing or whale watching trips. Ports were still open to cruisers, though.

After almost a week at Muertos, the wind was right and we left as part of a fleet. We were the sixth boat to leave to head for La Paz. On the way out of the bay, we saw a group of about a dozen mantas leaping out of the water and splashing down. Eleven hours later we dropped anchor in El Magote, in La Paz. Social distancing was in effect. The beach was closed. Only one person could be out and about. Wear a mask. We improvised the masks. La Paz was empty. We got groceries and caught a combi back, and were the only people on it. The malecón was shut down, to both pedestrian and vehicle traffic. That night it was all lit up and looked like a ghost town. Police and navy have both been patrolling the road and harbor, blasting messages in Spanish. The gist seemed to be stay at home. Hotels, timeshares, and airbnbs are being closed. All visitors needed to be gone by April 5. Semana Santa was coming up, when Mexicans traditionally flock to the beaches, and the government was doing everything it could to keep people from congregating. All beaches, everywhere, were closed.

The new reality. We had some bandanas on board that we weren’t using and repurposed them. We felt we needed to show that we were taking the virus seriously and doing what we could to be safe.

We got an appointment at the fuel dock in La Paz and topped up. We were there with a couple of boats we had met during the HaHa or while cruising in Mexico. One was pulling out in La Paz, and trying to figure out if it was safe to drive back to California. The other boat was a Puddle Jump boat that would be staying in the Sea instead of going to the South Pacific.

After El Mezteño, our next stop was Isla San Francisco, where we were one of twenty-two boats anchored there. Luckily, social distancing is pretty easy on a sailboat at anchor. We are all at least 100 feet apart. We left the next morning as part of a mini fleet. Gypsy was heading for San Evaristo. When we dropped anchor, there were a couple of boats there, by the end of the day another three boats arrived. There is a small village with a tienda. Bill headed ashore wearing a mask. Most folks heading ashore weren’t wearing masks and were going ashore in groups. A couple of days after we left for Agua Verde, pangas went out and asked cruisers to please leave San Evaristo.

Goats at Agua Verde.

Agua Verde is another small cove with a good anchorage. There are goats and they sell goat cheese at the small tienda. We had to get some. But, please, no more that three people in the store at a time, wear a mask. We spent the night there and in the morning motored on to Puerto Escondido. The scenery on the way up is gorgeous, mountains meet the sea.

We picked up a mooring ball in Puerto Escondido. Surrounded by hills, we were not picking up any Telcel signal so we headed to the marina for wifi and cell bars. We follow the Facebook page for Cabrelles Yard in Puerto Peñasco so we can stay abreast of the news. Peñasco is where we had planned to store Gypsy for the summer. The news was the governor of Sonora might close the port in the next couple of weeks. The yard was closed for Semana Santa (Holy Week), and they weren’t sure if they would have all the workers back at the end of that two week period. If you do get hauled there, you need to leave the country within 24 hours, with a police escort. With smaller towns closing to cruisers, we felt that was a lot of uncertainty to go for a 350 mile trip with no marinas or larger towns in that stretch. Our decision was to haul out in Puerto Escondido. They have room on the hard. It doesn’t get at hot here as Peñasco does in the summer. We booked a haul out date. The reality had hit us, things were not normal. We had been making time heading north as it became apparent to us that ports and towns would stop being open to cruisers. We also wanted to be responsible and not do more wandering around than necessary. The decision to change our plans was not easy, but it has proved itself over time.

Banderas Bay – Northbound Leg

Time to start heading north, back to La Cruz. First stop, Isla Cocinas in Bahía Chamela where we anchored not far from Sirena, a boat we met in Tenacatita. We headed over to say hi, and they invited us to a beach fire picnic that evening. The next morning, we heard on the radio net that a number of Tenacatita boats are beginning to head north. We, too, pulled up anchor and headed north into Bahía Chamela, a short motor away. When we were there three weeks or so earlier on the way down, they had been working on the breakwater in the estuary and had made progress in building the wall and dredging the channel. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any pictures.

Next leg, up to La Cruz. We left Chamela about 0800 and dropped anchor in the La Cruz anchorage just after midnight.

Hazards of the sea. We had a big wave that bounced the dinghy off its chocks. The bottom part is supposed to be on top of the wood blocks. Nothing hurt, though.

Back in La Cruz we reconnected with friends, worked on our Spanish lessons and attended more cruising seminars. We went sailing in Bahía de Banderas and saw whales. We ate shrimp, and vegan ice cream (but not together).

Meanwhile, daily boat life goes on.

Bill working on the windlass. It’s what hauls up our 45 pound anchor, so we need to keep it in good working order. Nina, as anchor wench, is grateful.
Gunk in the paddle for the knot meter. This would explain why our speed was showing as 0. Bill is getting quite good at checking this while we are still in the water. The hole it fits in is in the bottom of the boat so a small geyser is better than a large one. Especially since we have a very shallow bilge.
This is one way to buy eggs. They come unrefridgerated, and you buy them by weight.

Art time…

And back in PV:

And then we heard news of the COVID-19 virus outbreak. All of us began to wonder how it would change plans. Banderas Bay is a hub for cruisers heading to the South Pacific as well as a gathering place for those of us staying local in the Sea of Cortez. All kinds of questions were asked and often answers changed from morning to afternoon. As we left La Cruz for Mazatlan, we heard that many of the South Pacific Islands were closed to cruisers. A number of boats had crew cancel. On the morning HF radio net, we heard from boats who have turned around and returned to Mexico. What to do? For many people we know down here, their boat is their only home. Bashing back up the coast isn’t really feasible until May or June. The Hawaii/Pacific Northwest route has Hawaii forbidding travel between islands, and the season for sailing back to the west coast doesn’t begin until June/July. If you leave your boat in Mexico, you have to get to where the marina or boat yard is and spend about a week getting the boat ready to store. We were planning to store the boat for the summer in Puerto Peñasco, on the northern end of the sea, over 400 miles away. Do we head straight there or carry on with heading to La Paz and up the Baja side of the Sea of Cortez to see the islands we missed at the beginning of our trip?

On the life can be challenging front, an area where turtles live near a pedestrian bridge over the highway in Bucerias. There are three turtles in this picture, possibly more. A good reminder that we can survive despite the environment we’re currently in. Stay well.