Saturday, July 18, 2015

Worth a read

A fellow sailor recommended for us to read John Steinbeck's non-fiction  The Log from the Sea of Cortez which is his account of a six week trip from California to the Sea of Cortez in 1940 on a marine study with Ed Ricketts.  I thought it was a great read and it gave us so much insight into the area we were traveling through and its marine inhabitants. The work is a mixture of factual recording of the trip and specimens collected and his philosophical pondering along the way, perhaps influenced by Ricketts.  

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Location update...

Friday Harbor Marina. Washington USA
We departed San Carlos Mexico on the 7th July traveling by bus to Phoenix Arizona where we stayed 2 days and met up with our friends from 'Ohanna. We then flew to Seattle, took a bus to Anacortes and  ferry to Friday harbour, on San Juan Island, where we stayed 3 nights, met up with our friends and then picked up our car and drove 1500 miles across 5 states (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado) to sunny Denver to meet up with more friends and check on Sally our 1967 mustang and do a few other chores. We depart Denver on the 22nd July and fly to Manchester England to see my father and stay with friends there until the end of hurricane season in Mexico. 

More posts will follow when our feet stay put for a few days.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Sea of Cortez

When we made our first plans for travelling in Mexico we looked at the Sea of Cortez and wondered if it was  a place we wanted to visit and to be honest it did not grab us. The pictures showed barren and arid landscapes, a far cry from the lush landscapes of the Pacific North West. There were few towns and people talked of hurricanes, strong local winds and debilitating heat that immobilizes you and destroys your boat. Sailing was reported to be poor and the prospect of motoring everywhere was not appealing.  So when we rounded Cape Cabo on our way south we only traveled a few miles before we decided to head across to the mainland with the promise of lush tropical palm lines beaches, interesting towns and better services.



After a couple of months on the mainland we had gathered other boaters opinions on where to go next, boaters whose opinions we respected with their experience and we decided that we would extend our time in Mexico to visit the sea of Cortez. To be honest we were a little disappointed by mainland Mexico from a cruising perspective the anchorages were few and far between and most often rolly and uncomfortable. Terrible smells came from town of burning plastics and other rubbish that ripped your throat and escaping the uncomfortable anchorages in marinas was an expensive proposition and ate rapidly into our budget.
Then in April we crossed back across the sea of Cortez from Mazatlan to La Paz and immediately loved the place. From the moment we left the mainland until the time we arrived back in San Carlos we sailed pretty much everywhere putting only 15 hours on the engine in 3 months. Yes some of it was at a snail’s-pace but that suited us just fine so long as we were not using the engine and it was comfortable.

Baja California is a peninsular about 800 miles long and about 30 miles wide at its narrowest, it is about 2/3rds the size of the UK but has a population of about 3 million most of which is along the border with the us and very little south. It is reported to have one of the most diverse marine ecosystems on the planet and was a favorite place of Jacques Cousteau (if you are old enough to remember him) Named after Hernan Cortes, (I don’t know why it’s now Cortez) who sent Spanish expeditions to the region in the 1530’s and 1540s in search of the mythical Strait of Anian, gold and paradise he found a dry and dusty desert with little mideral wealth and poverty ridden American Indian civilizations in need of Christianity. Baja border forms the western border the Sea of Cortez with mainland Mexico on its western side and the Pacific ocean to the south.

The choice of anchorages is extensive and their comfort was excellent. No one-two meter swells rolling in off the Pacific at night, instead quiet places of seclusion with your own private white sandy beaches and warm water to swim in. Our expenditure shrank to almost nothing as we avoided the marinas with the exception of Puerto Escondido where we waiting out Hurricane Blanca on a $10 a day mooring buoy.

The sea of Cortez is indeed a special place. Yes it is baron and arid and looks void of life but it has its own natural desert beauty. The lack of vegetation exposes the wonderful rock formations that reveal wonderful patterns and colours and shades which are accentuated at dawn and dusk. Many evenings were spent watching the sun go down, the shadows extending, reaching across the landscape like a crawling animal covering rocks bushes and cactus trees. The colours first become more intense; the reds becoming deeper almost molten and the greens richer and vibrant and then turning darker once the sun goes below the horizon. The rays start to jump more frequently as dusk approaches performing their aerial acrobatics either in show or necessity. The sea breeze dies down and the land breeze takes over, cooling relief, often strong but with little or no wave movement. As the sun goes down the sea turns from a clear turquoise gradually turning to navy blue and then black and almost solid that it appears you could step upon it. As the light vanishes completely the phosphorescence takes over to provide a new light source. The sea truly twinkles like the milky way but it is clear that unlike the heavens there is life here, it teems with life from microscopic to macroscopic. Isopods in their billions darts about eating phytoplankton and fish of all sizes in turn eating them streaking under the water leaving large snaking iridescent trails meters long as they advance upon their prey. As I said in an earlier post the sea is more like a living soup more rich in life that I could ever have imagined. Many a night I awoke from the heat and humidity to sit on deck enjoying the cooling breeze and watch the sea with wonderment as a new world came into view thanks to the incredible phosphorescence.
We have only spent a few months in the Sea of Cortez but we are so pleased we changed our minds and our plans to see this spectacular part of the world, it has put a cherry on the top of our cruising time in Mexico and we look forward to seeing more of it when we return in October visiting some new places and revisiting some of the great places we have already been to.

Monday, July 6, 2015

San Carlos

San Carlos Marina
We departed Bahia Concepcion at two am, a time we hope would get us into San Carlos, on the mainland side of the sea Cortez, in the late afternoon. Winds were reported to be light so we expected to motor all the way but to our surprise the winds were sufficient to sail with 5-10 knots on the beam to start with which then went forward and then behind us. The ¾ moon provided a wonderful night to sail on the smooth waters. There were no other boats around so watches were relaxed and I took short naps during my night watches scanning the horizon every 20 minutes or so but not once did we see another vessel. At times the wind was so light we were only doing 2-3 knots but we were in no hurry and there is something really quite pleasant in sailing slowly at night, it’s pretty stress free and is easy to sleep. We arrived in San Carlos at around 5pm and set the anchor in the bay outside of the marina. We watched the sun disappear over the horizon and lamented the fact that we would be leaving this wonderful place very soon and heading back to the US and Europe. I have to say that I am looking forward to some respite from the heat and humidity. 

As the early July humidity and heat rose so did our clammyometer (our comfort gauge) but we had a lot of work to do to prepare our dear Sarita to be taken out of the water and put on the hard for three months while to travel to the US and Europe. We have been told that the boat will get really hot while out of the water and that it will get really dusty. Cockroaches mice and other flying insects can enter your home and make a real mess. Add the threat of hurricanes make a very long list to prepare the boat. All our engines, of which we have 4 have to been cleaned, given oil and filter changes and flushed of sea water. The watermaker needs flushing and pickling for long term storage. Sails need to be taken down and the decks cleared of other stuff that might me blow away by hurricane force winds. The inside of the boat need to be cleared of food that might rot, explode or attract vermin. Surfaces need to be wiped with a solution of vinegar to protect against mildew. The water system need to be flushed and sterilized along with a host of other items on a long list that kept us busy, hot and tired for 5 days before Sarita was hauled out.

Just hauled out of the water
San Carlos has a reputation of being one of the safest places to be against hurricanes but it’s certainly not immune to strong winds and tropical storms so we will be watching the weather carefully when we are away and hoping that all will be well. We do plan in coming back for the height of the hurricane season being October.

Sarita on the hard in Marina Seca San Carlos

So it was with sadness in my eye that we left Sarita in the company of many other cruising boats in Marina Seca San Carlos and headed to the hotel for a night of luxury, air conditioning and full sized beds.    

Katya enjoying getting under covers in an air conditioned room


Santo Dominigo

We departed just after dawn as today would see one of the longest passages we would make up the coast, still only 40miles, short in relation to some of the passages we have made but it would take most of the day. The winds were light and were just aft the beam so we decided that, as the seas were pretty much flat, we would raise the spinnaker we had re cut to an asymmetrical in La Cruz. We decided to have our old symmetrical spinnaker re cut which now enables us to use it without the rather cumbersome spinnaker pole. Although it is probably not as efficient dead downwind we will probably use it more often as it is much easier to put up and to handle once up. Time will tell if it is less efficient downwind. 

Anchored at Isla Coyote

We sailed pretty much all the way to the anchorage and arrived at a deep twilight, dropping the hook in another picturesque empty anchorage with a smooth white and shell littered sandy beach.

The beach yielded a few treasures and was a wonderful place to swim and cool off in the increasing daily temperatures that we have been experiencing. Unfortunately Katya stood on a stingray and was in excruciating pain for about an hour whilst we bathed her foot it hot water and the pain relief took effect.
Isla Coyote

So hot my shoes melted
The morning breeze came up from the south and we raised the anchor and beat our way into Bahia Concepcion to Isla Coyote. This is one of the most popular destinations in the Sea of Cortez and we expected it to be busy but there was not a single boat in sight. Had we missed something? Was there another hurricane on the way? We zigzagged our way to Isla Coyote, a small island with a one boat anchorage with another white sandy beach. The swim to shore was short but welcome in the heat of the day. Jude and I walked up the hill to get a better view of the island and Bahia Concepcion. The ground was so hot it melted the glue holding the soles of my trusty hiking shoes. later in the afternoon went snorkeling around the headland.

Over the next few days we visited a few other anchorages and settled on Playa Coyote as a place we would spend a few days and wait for our friends on Pesto and Coastal Drifter to turn up. The children from all three boats swam between each other’s laughing and singing. We had enjoyable evenings on each others boats talking about past experiences and future plans.

Debra and Phil from Coastal Drifter came up with the great idea to give the children a graduation party. A palapa on the beach was used as a pavilion, speeches were made and academic achievement certificates awarded to all of the children on the three boats. Cakes were eaten we lounged on the beach until the sun went down.

Debra from Coastal Drifter, MC of graduation ceremony

Punto Pulpito

As seems to be the norm we sailed to our next destination on our way north, Punto Pulpito which is a really a fair weather anchorage, it is completely open to the east and south but would provide some protection from the north but our main reason for coming here is that there is supposed to be a HUGE seam of obsidian rock. I hear you say hum, why on earth would you want to see some obsidian but since we have been here in the sea of Cortez where the landscape is exceptionally arid we have seen some amazing rock formations. Now instead of appreciating the lush landscapes of the Pacific North West we appreciate the colour, patterns and diversity of plant life in this alien like landscape


Sea cave

Due to the very rocky nature of the beach, therefore making it difficult to land the dinghy, we decided to take the kayaks to shore to try and find the obsidian seam and it was not difficult as we had thought as it can be seen from ¼ mile away. The seam is about 7-10 feet wide and about 40 feet high. As soon as we landed on shore we found huge lumps of the black glass-like rock. Katya and I climbed to the face of the seam to collect the blackest and purest piece of obsidian we could find.

Manta ray doing a back flip
Having collected our rock specimens we kayaked along the rocky shore-line to a sea cave which is actually a cave and an arch as you can kayak right through it and out the other side. We then came back along the shore and went snorkeling in some of the clearest water we have seen and with many different species of fish. We saw a large bright green and yellow conger eel that raised up on its tail and bared it teeth in warning to us, Manta Rays glided past and the iridescent blue fish twinkled in the sunlight.
A fever of manta rays

A huge fever of Manta rays (I think squadron would be a better collective noun due to their flight like movement), led by three or four younger ones leaping out of the water, glided past the boat. There must have been well over a thousand of them four or five deep and 50 yards wide. It was an amazing site to see.       

In the evening, with the anchorage again to ourselves, we watched the stars and the phosphorescence in the water which lit up, looking almost identical to the clear and star filled night above us. The longer you stare at the water the brighter it becomes and the more you see. It truly twinkles with life. I swear that the sea is not a sea but a soup of life. In the day it looks clear but at night you see the enormity of life it contains. Tiny animals being eaten by small fish in turn being eaten by larger fish each leaving a trail of light, the larger the fish the larger the trail, the faster the movement the brighter the light.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

San Juanico

 We awoke at around 7am, when the sun starts to heat the boat up, and waited for the wind to build so we could sail across to Isla Coronado. Sure enough, like clockwork the winds came up at around 11am and we set sail across the strait to the extinct volcano. With winds of up to 15 knots on the beam and flat seas we made good time exceeding 7.5 knots at times, a delight.

We scouted out the anchorage and decided that it was not a place we wanted to stay for a few days as we had to anchor quite a way offshore and it provided little protection from northerlies and looked a bit barren so we continued on to San Juanico bay which looked far more promising from the write up in the guide book.

We arrived at about 4pm and anchored between two islands in the northern part of the bay. We anchored in only about 12 feet, leaving only about 6 feet below us, less than I like. As the evening breeze from the land picked up we swung around. I watched the depth gauge stay steady. At around 2am I head a small unnatural knock which sounded like the rudder hitting something so I checked the depth again and we had fallen a bit with the tide but still had 5 feet below the keel. Again the knock sounded again so I assumed there must be a rock near the rudder so we upped anchor in the darkness and moved out into deeper water for a peaceful night’s sleep.

San Juanico is a wonderful bay with lots of room for many boats, not that there were many here. We saw two other boats in the south anchorage. The bay has some great long sandy beaches, hiking trails and interesting rock formations and sea life and we spent 4 days exploring the area, hiking and watching the manta rays leap out of the water belly flopping as they land. Katya found a seam of Gypsum crystal and some interesting mud hills with the finest mud ever. Katya and I set about covering ourselves in the marvelous slimy goo which instantly dried into a hard cake. No cucumber eye patches though.

Whilst finishing a great book at 2am one evening I heard some frequent splashing outside. We had seen many schools of manta rays cruising the bay and leaping out of the water but they normally stopped after sunset. I went on deck and watched in amazement as areas of the sea lit up as the manta rays swam through the phosphorescence. I watched the show for about an hour and when a school came close to the boat you could make out the outline of each manta ray looking like some ghostly apparition gliding through the night. It was both spooky and exhilarating.