Tuesday, February 28, 2017


[Kyle]From the anchorage at Ballandra (Isla Carmen), we made the quick, nine-mile trip across the San Jose channel to the town of Loreto.

As over the previous three days, the wind was out of the north at around fifteen knots. Loreto is due east of Ballandra, so we had a fairly boisterous ride as the cross seas rolled Begonia back and forth as they passed beneath us.

Not surprisingly, we were the only ones off of the harbor entrance when we set the anchor. The seas were a little bit calmer, but we were still pitching up and down in two-foot chop. My reasoning had been this: The winds were supposed to be calm after sunset. If we set the anchor when they, uh, weren’t, and it held, we would be ready to go ashore first thing the next morning. We would stay aboard until then and would be able to attend quickly to any dragging issues. Winds for the next two days would be milder, so we could enjoy our time ashore without worry.

A fun sail and we arrive in Loreto in plenty of time for sunset

Our plan worked. Just after sunrise, we rowed ashore on a flat sea.

Loreto is a wonderful, charming little town. We walked to the plaza in the center along cobbled streets covered by pergolas of topiary. Fronting the square is the first mission in Baja, founded by the Jesuits, out from which all of the other missions in both Alta (U.S.) and Baja California spread. They had a nice museum detailing their history and the influence the missions had on the indigenous populations that were centered in the area before their arrival. The Jesuits very diligently mapped the Sea of Cortez as well as taking census and copying and classifying native languages. Most telling was the records of the native population declining 90% in the first seventy years after their arrival.

Around Loreto

A mix of fun (eating & sightseeing) and shopping (mostly fun!)

After the mission, we meandered through town, poking into this shop or that for one thing or another that we wanted or needed without actually buying anything. After our second circuit, we picked a restaurant for lunch, then we made one more round, this time making purchases and filling our bags until they each felt like they contained their own cinder block.

We rowed our booty back to Begonia, stowed it, and then headed back into town for the tail end of Loreto’s Carnaval (Spanish spelling) festivities.

On the waterfront were all of the makings of a state fair: dodgy rides driven in on semis, booths tempting you to try your luck and, because this is México, LOTS of food stalls offering every manner of culinary delight.

We walked along the shore road until we spotted lots of color on a side road leading to the town center. Several big tractor trucks were parked along the side of the road with parade floats on their trailers. Alongside, their teenage and tween occupants were fitfully tugging at their colorful sequin and spandex outfits. Most of the floats appeared to be school projects. Maryanne asked a few of the people if they wouldn’t mind having their picture taken, since they were made up so beautifully. To my surprise, instead of teenage shyness, they all became smiles as they bunched up to mug for her.

We asked a local policeman about the parade route. He said basically, “They’re coming up this road, and going down that road.”

That road was closer, so we went there to stake out a spot. Our spot ended up being right by a Uruguayo pizza place with raised outdoor seating. We waited for the couple sitting at what we decided was the best table to leave, and then pounced on it before anybody else could. Now we had the perfect parade viewing setup while dining.

The service there was pretty slow, which was perfect, because it took the parade a long time to make it to us. It wasn’t like any parade I have ever seen. The first vehicle arrived and stopped. It was a band loaded into the back of a farm truck that notably had a drummer whose high-hat (cymbal) would catch fire every time he struck it. They played a couple of songs and then they moved on.

Carnival 2017 - A mini Mardi Gras celebration!

About a mile behind them was the first float. They stopped, did their bit for a while and then moved on. Carnaval in Loreto is no Mardi Gras. {Maryanne: Technically it is indeed Mardi Gras, but certainly not on the Rio scale, but we were so happy to get to see it}. We decided there was no way we would be able to linger over dinner long enough for the whole parade. We paid our bill and then walked the route in reverse hoping to speed things up a bit.

When we got to the light (Loreto has literally one traffic light junction), we saw a crowd of people cheering on our favorites – the one’s who were so nice about us taking their photos. For lack of knowing the group’s proper name, we’ll call them the Carmen Miranda Fruit Hats. I know, I know, but they ALL had hats with fruit on them! The spot under the traffic light was the judging area. They were going all out.

We couldn’t see over the crowd, so we retraced our steps back to our last viewing spot and waited for them, and waited and waited. When they finally came by, they stopped and gave us a little mini version of their act. We liked them so much, we just joined them and walked behind their float all of the way back to the malecón (pier/wharf). We later learned that they won the award for best group. Congratulations to them!

Back at the harbor, the fair was in full swing. Loud Latin music boomed from competing speakers as kids with sticky faces gazed wide-eyed at the spinning colored lights of the rides. Teenagers dared each other to get on the scary ones and the adults stood with open containers talking to smiling Policia. Everyone was having a really good time.

We got up a little later than usual the next morning and then rowed into town to do the rest of our shopping. Oh yeah, there’s more.

As we were tying up, we met Ed and Charlene, who were trying to figure out where the dinghy dock was so they could tie up their kayak. That was strange. There was one other boat anchored by the breakwater. We had already met the owners and they weren’t them. It turns out we saw their boat three days ago when we were anchored at Coronados island. They were still there.

Their boat has only a small small electric engine, about like our Torqueedo we use on the dinghy. Since sails are not much good in calm conditions, so they just came from over the horizon in their kayak to stock up.

We had brunch with them before we split up on our respective shopping trips. They were pretty interesting. Their boat has over four times the solar capacity of Begonia. Ed designed and built many of its electrical features, including the electric drive motor. When they couldn’t find an anchor they liked, he built one – not the tie a piece of chain to a truck rim type, but a proper one.

It was so nice to be chatting to such interesting folks, and since Begonia was only a little out of their way, relatively, on their trip home, we invited them to stop by later for a look.

We arrived home fully laden, dumped our bags and five minutes later, here they came, looking fresh as ever. We gave them the tour, talked for a bit and then they needed to be off in order to get back to their boat by sunset. I’m sure they were back well before that. They’re faster than Begonia with that kayak. Hopefully, we’ll be able to meet up with them again somewhere down the road.

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.