Monday, February 27, 2017

A Couple Days’ just Sailing betwen islands

[Kyle]We picked up a new forecast for our next leg south. The winds were supposed to be from the north at around ten knots until late morning and then begin increasing to nearly 20kts by sunset. If we waited until noon, we would have a fast trip. We were up with the dawn, though, so we figured we might as well get going.

We pulled the anchor up and as we were motoring out of the bay, one of the residents on a nearby Canadian boat called over to ask if we had the latest forecast. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I detected a little concern in his voice. Maryanne answered that we did and then he asked if we were going south. When Maryanne answered yes again, he seemed relieved and bid us Bon Voyage. It reminded us that we were sailing upstream through an increasing crowd of boaters who are trying to get to Bahia de Los Angeles by summer.

We unfurled the sails, the wind picked up a little ahead of schedule and we were soon skipping along nicely. On the radio, we heard several other boaters to the south talking to each other. They seemed to be planning on a rendezvous for the night on the north side of Coronados Island, before heading further north the next day. Coronados was where we were heading, except that we were planning on anchoring on the south side, where it would be protected from the waves. It seemed clear from listening to them that they didn’t check the weather too often. Now we were concerned since any northern anchorages seemed like they would be way too exposed.

Just before we got there, we could hear a lot of radio chatter about the worsening conditions, followed by one after the other changing plans to the southern anchorage - whew.

We were having a marvellous sail. We had pulled down the mainsail, leaving just the jib, and we were still going fast. The whitecaps were going almost the same speed we were, so the motion was nice and smooth. I thought about what it would be like trying to go upwind in this: We’d have at least a reef in each sail and would be taking a lot of spray. The wind blowing against us would slow us down, making for a long, miserable day.

Instead, we rounded the southeastern corner of Coronados just before noon. There were five other boats in the anchorage. We had a few minutes of really high crosswinds and rolly swell before we were tucked into the lee of the island. Yeah, going upwind would be bad.

A short, easy, sail had us arriving in plenty of time for sunset at Coronados

When we set the anchor, the wind was really howling but the seas were flat. We had cell phone service from the town of Loreto in the distance and there was plenty to entertain us on the VHF.

One of the other boats, a motor trawler, had cut through their dinghy’s painter when they were anchoring and lost it. One of the nearby sailboats saw it adrift and captured it for them.

There was a lot of radio chatter between the two parties offering thanks and then brushing it off as no big deal. The couple on the trawler was particularly concerned about the state of the painter. They were worried most of it had wrapped around one of their props. Fortunately, neither of their engines had stalled, so if it did, it wasn’t really tight, like the last time this happened. What!? Do you mean to say that this has happened before? Ha! If that were me, I would have solved that problem the first time by replacing that flimsy rope painter with a nice, thick steel cable. There is no way that I can think of any way that could possibly end badly.

Anyhow, the guy who rescued their dinghy returned it and even dove on their prop to retrieve the rest of their line, which was loosely wrapped, so everybody was back to normal again by sunset.

In the morning, as we were getting ready to leave for our next anchorage, we heard a lot of radio chatter to the effect of, “Hey, we’re going to give up on going north for a while and go back to where we were yesterday.”

Then some of them pulled up their anchors and headed to exactly where we were planning on going. It looks like our days of being the only boat in the anchorage are over for a while.

We were headed for a little cove called Ballandra on Carmen Island, which was the next one to the southeast of Coronados. The sail was so short that our normal engine runs to retrieve and deploy the anchor would have taken half the distance. (Our electric anchor windlass only works when the port engine is running. The boat is not controllable at low speeds unless the other one is running as well, and getting them up to a healthy operating temperature takes a couple of miles.)

Since we had plenty of space as there was nothing to hit downwind for miles, I got it into my head that we could save ourselves one set of engine starts by retrieving the anchor manually, thus allowing us to sail until we needed the engines at Ballandra.

It was tremendously satisfying to pull up the anchor and get underway without starting the engines. Still, I don’t think we’ll be doing this regularly. Pulling up 240 feet of chain (which, when added to the anchor, weighs 325 pounds) four inches at a time is hard work. It took nearly an hour of pumping the manual override lever back and forth to get to where the anchor was off the bottom and Begonia was drifting downwind. It’s good to know we can do it manually, but next time I think we’ll be opting for pushing a button, thank you very much.

With no immediate dangers, we took our time getting the ground tackle secured. We left the mainsail under its cover, unrolled the jib and then shot away from our anchorage at Coronados.

In just under an hour, it was time to roll the thing back up, start the cold engines, and head through the opening into Puerto Ballandra, on Isla Carmen, which has 300˚ protection.

Another fun, short sail, took us to another cactus strewn cove

There were already nine other boats there when we arrived at noon, including two from where we’d spent the last night in Coronados. All of the really protected spots deep in the anchorage were already occupied. We picked a slightly rolly spot near the entrance at the rear of the crowd, where we were getting just a little of the left over swell from the outside. Since we’re a catamaran, it wasn’t an issue and I ended up thinking it was okay for us to be there since monohulls can be pretty uncomfortable in a cross swell. The overall comfort of the group is higher that way.

It was really windy again, so most of us seemed to stay aboard and enjoy the desert scenery. The Cardón, which are the biggest cactus in the world, seem especially big here. Ballandra’s opening faces west, which gives us a clear view of the sunset and then the lights of Loreto in the distance. It’s a pretty nice spot to spend an afternoon gazing at the world from the cockpit.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Bahia San Juanico

[Kyle]The next protected anchorage, Punto Pulpito, was just over 38nm away. We had the anchor up at first light, left Santo Domingo, and rounded the corner into the Sea of Cortez and motor sailed south on one engine. A couple of hours later, the wind picked up enough for us to shut it down. It cost us a little speed, but it was much more peaceful.

Another early start past some fantastic scenery

We passed high mountains made of crumbling dirt, all covered in cardon cactus and other prickly things. It’s very pretty, in a brown way. It’s still the middle of February, so there’s still a slight chill in the air, but even so, this place just looks really, really hot. I imagine that in the summertime it would possible to cook anything you wanted by just throwing it on a clean rock. The only problem is that you have to stand there in the oven with it to tend to your cooking. Prickly shrubs are no good for shade.

The wind picked up gradually and by the time we were approaching Punto Pulpito, we were going fast enough to make it to our next planned stop at Bahia San Juanico, where it was supposed to be much prettier. We pressed on and made it there with about an hour or so of sunlight left – just enough to get everything secured before we ran out of light. Getting there an evening early saved us having to get up to do it the next day, so we would be able to sleep in.

There was supposed to be strong tailwinds for our trip between Punto Pulpito and San Juanico. Since we were already in San Juanico, we just hunkered down and rode it out aboard as an extra day. We deployed the dinghy and I tried having a test row to see if I could overcome the wind and make it to the beach, but I was barely making headway with just me aboard and I was taking a lot of spray over the bow. We decided to hold off until the next morning, when it was supposed to be calmer.

Resigned to a day at anchor we enjoyed morning coffee in the cockpit
and views of horses on the beach in the evening

Calmer, it was. We were up early to make the most of a day ashore.

We started with a dinghy ride around the various beaches and rock formations in the bay. Eventually, we landed on one next to an arroyo that looked like a mini Bryce Canyon, plus it had a dirt road behind it.

We climbed the arroyo until we were stopped by an inconveniently placed Private Property sign. Oh, well. Back to the road.

About the minute we stepped out of the cooling breeze of the beach onto the road, we were both remarking to each other about how hot and shadeless it was. This is some stark country.

Exploring by dinghy and on foot

After climbing a while, we were rewarded with sweeping views of the blue bay and of Begonia below. Each of its beaches is separated by dramatic outcroppings of rock. Three pangas arrived and deployed their nets. They then raced around the bay pounding their hulls with sticks and stomping their feet to scare the fish toward the nets, which the pelicans patrolled for escapees.

New (to us) method of fishing

The road we were on didn’t seem to be going the direction we wanted, which was toward a pair of beaches northeast of us, so we returned our landing beach to see whether we could find a way through on foot or we would have to make the trip in the dinghy.

As we were walking to the other end of the beach, we came across Brian, the owner of the other catamaran in the anchorage. He and his five guests had just landed in their dinghy and were headed in the direction of a lagoon tucked into the valley behind the beach. We talked for a while, met his guests, and then continued as one big group into the interior.

The lagoon was a little oasis of green in an otherwise parched land, where cranes and herons stalked fish in high, green grass along the edges of a meandering sliver of silver water. We pressed on past the edge of the green along an increasingly narrow and thorny path which occasionally stumped us with one dead end or another. Just as Maryanne and I were starting to think maybe it was time to give up and turn around, the trail emerged at a graded dirt road.

On the other side of the road was a small ranch, where the owner kept a variety of animals including an unexpected pair of peacocks. He also had several types of vegetables growing in raised beds. We bought some green onions and some carrots, which he pulled right out of the ground for us. It doesn’t get any fresher than that.

The one man farm was a treasure to discover

We bid farewell to Brian and his group and continued along the road for a while until we crested a ridge which gave us an expanding view of a beautiful white beach lapping with turquoise water. We meandered along it to the other end, poking into little caves and examining tide pools along the way.

We rejoined the road for a while, then took a well-marked path over another ridge. Here, we got more high views of Bahia San Juanico, before finally descending to our target beach. Brian and friends could be seen already hoisting their mainsail as they left the bay.

Back down at sea level, we could see the yellow-orange speck of our dinghy three beaches away.

Exploring along the beaches - we even found a red tailed hawk!

The first two beaches were an easy, flat walk. We passed by half a dozen campers who had all come in sturdy off-road vehicles to get there. After that, it was necessary to go inland for a bit to cross over the intervening ridge between us and the lagoon path.

Along the way, we found several places where the clay sediment had covered what was mostly a huge variety of shellfish to create dense fossil beds. There is so much around here that is fascinating. {Maryanne: This whole area is famed for its marine shell fossils, and we found layers of fossils in many of the rocks on all the beaches}

Plenty of cool formations for the geologist in us both

At length we made it back to the Pudgy. I waded us through the surf, climbed aboard and took us back to Begonia. It was still hot. For some reason, I decided that since I was already half wet, a swim sounded pretty good. Nope. I bounced, but it did instantly get rid of the day’s accumulated heat.

Leaving Bahia Concepción

[Kyle]The leg from Playa Coyote was past a fairly long stretch of Baja coastline with no suitable anchorages. For this, we would either need a forecast for strong tailwinds or we would need to leave super early in order to make the anchorage in daylight. The forecast we had was for almost no wind for a day and then big tailwinds filling in the following afternoon. We decided to break the trip up into two legs: The first would be to an open roadstead anchorage of Santa Domingo at the entrance to the bay. The second would be the fast trip down the coast.

Ugh! another early start, thank goodness for those beautiful sunrises

For the first leg, we got a fairly early start, which gave us plenty of time to tack our way veerry slowly up Bahia Concepción. There was such a calm sea that there was no clear sense of motion on the straight legs, just a gradual change in scenery, like being in a revolving restaurant that only goes around once an hour. We occasionally wandered into a flock of grebes or a pod of fishing dolphins, but neither paid us much heed since we were sneaking up on them basically at the pace of driftwood. The grebes were particularly interesting. We would see a tightly packed flock of maybe a couple hundred swimming along. We’d look away and then look back and they would all be gone. They all seemed to dive and surface in unison, or a rapid wave of motion. We had several comical episodes of one of us saying, “Hey, look at all of the Grebes” to the other, who would then look out to see a patch of calm water. We’d wait and wait, give up, look away and, BOOM! - two hundred grebes.

Great flocks of grebes that generally vanish as you approach with a beautiful dolphin-like leap and dive
we think they are Western Grebes

Even with us being so slow and all, we still had the anchor down by noon. The long beach had no signs of humanity other than a ranch a mile or so away that looked like it wasn’t in current use. Across Bahia Concepción in the distance was the coastal outskirts of the town of Mulegé, which sits back from the sea on a river. Even though we’ve never been to Mulegé, it became one of our beloved towns because of its not one, but two gleaming cell phone towers perched atop the hills above. We had four bars of 3G! I forgot our phones even went up to four bars. Looks like we’ll be catching up on phone and internet stuff this afternoon.

A slow sail to this remote point of Santa Domingo

But first, since it was a nice, sunny day and we had the whole place to ourselves, we decided to try having a swim/bath. Maryanne went first and essentially bounced. I guess the water is still pretty cold. I lasted a little longer, but I didn’t bother to venture any farther than the front of the boat. I guess we’d better keep going south.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Punto Chivato & Bahia Concepción

[Kyle]From Santa Rosalia, we sailed south to Punto Chivato, at the northern end of Bahia Concepción. The wind was up and we had a fast sail to the anchorage. We saw our first other sailing cruiser converging on us along the way, headed to a different and further anchorage. It was a monohull flying tanbark colored sails. We fiddled with our sails as best as we could, but they ended up winning the ‘race’. How humiliating, a catamaran with new sails being beaten by a monohull with old-timey sails!

The 'race' ended early as we clearly were not all headed to Punto Chivato

We had intended to stay a couple of nights at Punto Chivato, but it was really windy when we arrived and the anchorage was a long way from shore. We even considered skipping it completely, but it was pretty far to the next stop and the wind was supposed to be worst right then. We decided to anchor for a while and see if it abated, which it eventually did. We picked up a new forecast, which indicated we would be exposed to strong south winds if we stayed the second night, so we decided to leave early the next day for a spot with good protection at the northern end of Coyote Bay, nestled deeper into the larger Bahia Concepción.

Moving deeper into Bahia Concepción to find a calmer anchorage

When we got there, we found no space, so we moved south to Coyote Beach. Coyote Beach was further, which meant we would have to go further the next leg, but it was better protected and had more room. For this anchorage we were the first to arrive, making us conspicuous to the RV campground on the beach.

We found a gap with no campers and landed the dinghy on the beach there. We started with a walk south towards a warm spring that was marked on our chart. Of course, we didn’t get far before we were drawn into a conversation by a Canadian couple hiding from the winter up there. We chatted a bit about our respective journeys and then asked about the warm spring. No good, they said. The vultures use it to clean their food. However, there’s a trail to a nice viewpoint that’s worth taking.

While we were climbing the trail, we noticed the first of the other boats that were moving over to Coyote Beach for the next days blow. We took a bunch of photos and then headed north to the other end of the bay along the road. There wasn’t much to see except for more campers until we got to the highway. There, we found a small store and not one, but two outdoor restaurants. Only one was open - Bertha’s, so we put in an order for lunch. It was very good and bigger than we expected. We left very satisfied.

Exploring around Coyote beach

We wanted to be back aboard before the forecast wind picked up and made it difficult to launch from the beach, so we rowed back to Begonia. Once back at the boat, I decided to rig the sailing kit and have a sail around in the Pudgy. I wasn’t the only one. Two of the other boats in the anchorage, now totalling six, also set up sailing dinghies as well as a few of the RVs on the beach. There also appeared a bunch of identical open sailing ketches that seemed to appear out of nowhere. I left them behind and sailed around the corner into the next cove before the wind picked up and I decided to return to Begonia to get the dinghy up and everything secured for the storm.

In the wee hours the next morning, the forecast wind and rain started. A look outside showed us and the other five yanking impatiently at our anchors as the wind buffeted the bay. As the storm passed overhead, the wind briefly changed unexpectedly and we were all blown toward the beach. As we and one of the boats nearest us got to the end of our respective rodes, we got pretty close to each other. We were just about to start engines and find somewhere safer, when the wind started blowing off the beach again and we all were slowly blown back to our original spots.

The wind and rain pretty much assured that the boats in the water and the RVs ashore would all be having an indoor day.