Chapter 6 - The Bay of La Paz and the Islands
Once out away from the beach and headland at Nopolo the strong Northwest
breeze made for a really fabulous afternoon's sail. There was about 18
miles to run to Isla San Francisco, with only one obstruction, Seal Rocks,
in the way and the Mountains of Isla San Jose to one side and the wild
hills of the mainland close at hand on the other. The sun was warm (by
now pink in many unusual spots, I slathered sun block) and with the wind
aft it was the finest sort of a ride. I poled out the lapper on one side
and rigged a preventer on the main wung out on the other, but running
dead before the wind I still had to steer most of the time. The famous
Huntingford helm impeder (Check out the DCA website) just doesn't manage
all that well running. On the other hand, the Preston helm extender allows
you to stand out of the worst of the sun in the main hatch or sit at the
galley (perch on the centerboard trunk?) and manage the boat at least
passably. The helm extender is a short piece of 1.5" conduit heated
and squished flat at one end to swallow the (slightly modified) end of
the boat's tiller. It wants to slip off at inopportune moments, but still
allows for comfortable steering from the cabin.
I was standing at one point in the hatchway, steering with my piece of conduit and generally scanning the water when I noticed a large obstruction just ahead to Port and leaned hard on the tiller to clear it. . .an oil drum I thought, almost sunk and covered in green slime. . .but no, it wasn't. It was the largest sleeping turtle I've ever seen. . .rolling in his dreams there until we were all but on top of him, I could have touched him if I'd been out in the cockpit. He awoke with a start, our eyes met for a moment. . .he didn't like what he saw and was gone in just a few strokes, then lost in the wake. I didn't even have time to apologize for waking him.
The wind continued to grow and I decided it would be better to enter harbor under some form of control, so we hove to offshore and I tied both reefs in the main, leaving the big jib on the stay. In fact it was a glorious entrance. The mouth of the bay is wide enough that short tacking is not needed and the only two other boats there were well over on the Western side and not too near the beach at the Northern end. The boat heeled well over and charged into the bay, tacked beautifully (I didn't muff the jib sheets) each time until we'd passed the other two boats and were right up in the Northwest corner, only 200 feet or so from the beach, sailing over brilliant white sand and patches of seaweed. We made a very short board then away from the other boats, immediately tacked back over with the jib backed, hove to and I jumped forward and stood by the anchor. I let her drift over a patch of weed, saw a nice white sandy area coming up, had the anchor already down just above the sand and let her bite in 15 feet or so of water. We were still moving well, so the chain paid out quickly (I had to help the shackle past the chock) and I let another 30 feet of nylon out as well then cleated off. The little Bruce bit and held at once, the boat rounded up in the wind, both sails shaking and we were home for the night. What a grand day's sailing after such marvelous visiting.
As a technical note, this was pretty easy performance documentation. The straight line distance point to point for the afternoon was 15.5 miles and the time was, anchor up to anchor down, almost precisely 4.5 hours. The gps had shown speeds around 6 knots at times, once 6.1 for several seconds, but the real average over the distance (including time to reef once it has to be noted) probably wasn't over 4 knots. Still, for a 16' waterline, that's scooting right along. I visited briefly with the two other boats lying in the bay
Next morning we tried to sail away. I got the anchor aboard and set the jib and main un reefed, but there was no wind to be found. After an hour drifting in sailor-purity, I finally decided not to make the 17 miles crossing to Isla Partida this day, but rather started the motor and decided to circumnavigate Isla San Francisco and have a serious look at Isla Coyote. I'd never seen the Eastern shore of San Francisco other than to hike a ways along a rocky beach. Isla Coyote we had twice now passed by out of fear of its rocks and reefs. The island sits at one end of a broad flat shelf covered by perhaps 20 feet of water most places. However, there must be ten or twelve major rocks or islets showing above water and the guide books makes reference to more below. Each time I'd passed before it had been blowing hard and I'd feared to go in among the visible rocks for fear of missing my cue and wrecking Gaviota on a rock awash in the whitecaps. In a flat calm I found myself with a surplus of courage. In fact, though the entrance to the island is barred entirely by rocks to vessels approaching from the North or West, from the South, the San Francisco side, the entrance is wide and clear, with nothing to fear at all. Isla Coyote is the smallest inhabited island in the Sea of Cortez. It can't be 5 acres all told, including the beach, the cliff face and all the usable space. Perhaps it's less than that. There is room for the houses as they've put them, all five or six (depending on what you count as a house) but not for another of any sort. It's been settled since 1923, when the grandfather of the second oldest man on the island now brought his family from La Paz and called the place home. There's no water on the island. I don't know where it came from in the past. Now there are several regular boats visiting, two mini-cruise ships and at least one charter yacht that drop visitors to see the island and while there pump fresh water ashore for the residents. There is no school on the island now, and thus only one child, though she's a beauty. The others, and I didn't make note of how many, are all away in boarding school. Somehow, though Nopolo and Agua Verde seem entirely reasonable, Isla Coyote, strange, enchanted almost, just doesn't seem like a viable proposition. It DOES sit in the midst of a veritable fish shop and the men do very well with their fishing. Moreover, it's close enough to La Paz they don't sell to a middle man but rather carry their fish directly to La Paz to sell in the market. So perhaps I miss the main point. In any event, I motored easily to a fine anchorage right in front of the island landing, anchored and paddled ashore. I was made very welcome, visited with the men loading a net in their panga "No Fear", was given the walking tour of the island, in and out of each front porch and yard as we walked up the steep path to the top and down the other way. I was shown all the treasures of the island I think, the fragments of two different ancient dugout canoes that came originally from Puerto Vallarta, the school building (now empty), the water tank, the place where the fish cleaning palapa blew away in the hurricane and the view of the reefs on the far side. There's an oddity here. All the houses save one are tiny, either old fir boards, down near the water, or concrete blocks and "cemento" a little farther back or up the hill. Off to one side though is a stone house, exquisitely built, with bronze port holes plastered into the walls and every detail perfectly done. It belongs to a man from Santa Barbara who brings his family or friends here to visit from time to time. Amazing. They say he likes to fish and visit with them.
I'm certain I did not photograph everyone on the island and trying to get a smile out of the youngest was quite a chore, even with her mother's connivance (I settled for a stuck out tongue and called it good). Nonetheless, I was eventually ready to leave, particularly when I saw a fine breeze had come up out of the North to make a dandy finish to my circumnavigation of Isla San Francisco. Reaching along the Western shore of Is. San Francisco on the way home to the Hook anchorage we looked closely into the two other small anchorages on the way, tacking in almost to the beach in the first, then turning tail and running back out again. In the second anchorage, "Las Cuevas" (the Caves) a major fishing camp had been set up, just as the guide book had suggested it might. The little bay is split in two by a reef that juts out with an outlying rock beyond its tip. Short tacking in was great sport, though with 15 professional boatmen ashore I'd have felt the fool indeed to muff the entrance. As it was we did fine in the gusting breeze and came to anchor 75 feet or so from the beach with a flurry of slatting canvas and REALLY QUICK moves by the chubby anchor handling crew. Ashore I found the camp was actually two separate groups of men, one fishing with long lines (880 hooks on a very long black nylon main line, all handled by hand from a rack amidships on the panga) and the other group fishing with cincharros (the purse seine nets) from three pangas. The long liners were cutting bait but the net fishermen had had a grand night and morning and were cleaning and icing down a large haul of beautiful red fish. . .all identical, the same size and breed, but I don't have a picture of them in my "fish book" so can't give you their name. This was such a splendid catch that they were icing it down but would immediately load it out and take the whole haul back to La Paz. People were visibly pleased, but between the work of the fishing itself and now the cleaning of the catch, they were definitely very tired and perhaps not entirely sure they wanted to be bothered by a photographer with no particular credentials. They asked if I were a periodista. . .journalist, but I denied it. After a while I thanked them all for their patience and congratulated them on such a splendid catch, returned aboard and got back to sea with very little fuss in the gusty offshore breeze. The short run back to the Hook anchorage and the beat up into the head of the bay to within a few feet of my last night's spot was simply fine sailing. . .the sort of thing you could cheerfully do all day. But the anchor went down the sails furled and covered and I went visiting again. As it worked out, I called on the nearer boat and managed to be entrusted with carrying a "can't come to dinner" response from one boat to the other, thereby, obviously, getting the invitation for myself. Neatly done. I insisted on a walk ashore first, my legs needed stretching, but the ceviche (very fresh surgeonfish it turned out) needed the time to marinate, so all was well.
I took the canoe ashore and walked the full length of the beach on the hook, I suppose about 1/2 mile each way, not much of a walk, though the loose sand makes a bit more exercise out of it. I intended to visit with a panga of Mexican fishermen I'd noticed beached on the far corner of the bay but. . .they weren't fishermen. Rather, it was a 5-person whale monitoring party of 4 graduate students and their captain from CICIMAR, a graduate level polytechnic institute in La Paz with a variety of ongoing marine science projects. The visit was fine. They were in high spirits (was I ever that young???) They fed me their dinner leftovers, including delicious pickled carrots and cucumbers (done in lime juice and ground chiles).
An hour later the ceviche dinner was much better than average, as a guest (however impromptu) aboard "Star", a 38-footer that is winter home to Reno and Cathy. They'd been cruising off and on in three different boats and a pickup truck for the past 25 years together. Cathy has recently run hard aground in Montana (so much like my Lady grounded out forever it seems in her garden near Seattle). It was very interesting to compare our outlooks to theirs. They have a history of several Pacific circuits in their succession of sailboats, and, in the aggregate, many years in total living and exploring amongst the local folks all around the Pacific basin, Marquesas, Solomons, Philipines, and many more. . .versus my history of reading and dreaming of such voyaging and visiting while working steadily away at wages over the very same years. . .and for that matter, the strains on the marriages, which now seem so similar whether one voyaged in reality or only in dreams. H'mm.
The night at anchor was without incident until 0330 the next morning when a surprising amount of swell rolled into the anchorage from the only opening, the South. There wasn't much wind with the swell, enough to keep the boat tugging at her anchor line and to keep me up for half an hour watching the other two boats, now directly upwind from us. . .and the white arc of beach with its small new breakers, now directly down wind, and not that far away. Everything held as it should and I slept again until daylight. The next morning, the first of March, the sky dawned mostly clear and nearly calm, but with low wispy clouds showing very strange turbulence not that far overhead. The clouds seemed to roll and tumble almost. I stared and pondered for a while, then got myself moving.
The graduate students were visible moving around among their tents over on the beach and I'd not had a camera to get their pictures last night, so I paddled ashore and trooped along the beach again to pester them as they cleaned up and loaded. My timing was perfect and I did my best to finish off the rest of their scrambled eggs and tortillas as I packed pieces of their camp down to the water's edge. My food budget at least should be under running on this trip. I insist I'm not really an old man yet, though maybe working on it. Being around these five, the capitan by much the eldest and he quite a bit younger and livelier than I. . .and the four graduate students. . .so young and bright and full of beans would have been a pleasure even if they hadn't fed me. They had kept the conversation completely in Spanish for quite a while, even when I labored mightily with syntax and lack of vocabulary, when one young lad suddenly supplied a phrase for me, first in English and it became apparent that, no matter how they had kept me working in my miserable Spanish, they were themselves fluent in English. I switched into English for a time, but they insisted that I needed the practice and they were doing me a favor by only speaking Spanish. I got their photos and sent them on their way as the shadow of the hillside finally retreated up the beach with the rising sun.
Back at the boat it didn't take long to make up my mind to move on. The wind was not dead foul for our passage to Isla Partida and Isla Espiritu Santo, but very nearly so but the day promised to be pretty and there was already a little breeze, foul though it was. Gaviota was the first boat out of the harbor, though both the others were showing signs of leaving, "Star" even hoisted sails and left the anchorage with only the rattle of her anchor chain. Reno prefers to sail as I do, though he claims it's only to conserve expensive fuel. They were headed further North, over to Isla San Jose and beyond so we parted company at once.
By tacking way over toward the Baja mainland in the first hour of early light going we were able to almost lay the course for the Northern tip of Isla Partida, seventeen miles away. . .but not quite. Though the breeze started light enough it soon built very nicely. Our anchorage in the Hook would have been out of the question with that wind out of the South as it was coming, so it was just as well we were on the move and committed to the crossing. Actually, as the wind built through the morning and we reefed down, I began to sort out the options. If the time came we were not making any headway to the South against the headwind we would simply have to turn tail and run all the way back to the North side of Isla San Francisco, where there is a good sand beach sheltered from the South and offering good holding for an anchor. . .or at least so it said in the guide book. We'd marked down the shape of the land on the trip round the island the day before. In the event, it wasn't necessary though the issue was in doubt for several hours. We carried on with two reefs and the larger jib through the morning and early afternoon, tacking back toward the West now and again for short legs, but mostly holding on the Southerly course more or less toward the Islands ahead. For a while I considered running up the East side of Partida to the low pass between the two islands that leads through a twisting channel clear through to the West side. For whatever reason, the wind having slacked just a little, I decided we were having too much fun beating into it, so made a long tack to the East and gained the offing we needed to coast on up the Western shore, looking into each cove as we passed, running clear up into the head of most of them before turning around and beating back out to carry on. We were under way, beating all day, from just at 0700 to 1700, making good about 21 miles to weather. . .average made good point to point of only 2.1 miles per hour, though of course, we covered many more miles over the bottom in the day. Very instructive. The boat moved very well the whole time. I kept as much canvas on her as she would carry with any comfort (actually, forget the comfort.. .at times we were definitely over-canvassed) and kept her moving briskly all the while.
Isla Partida (the "separate island") and Isla Espiritu Santo are barely separated. They are slightly different geologically, and so have in fact a bay that divides them, though at the last moment it's a near thing. The two islands are only separated by a dinghy channel that zig zags through a pair of sand spits. To all intents and purposes it is a single destination. Two years ago we had spent nights in a small bay called "El Embudo" ("the Funnel". . .that one should have been obvious, it was a lively anchorage) and "Ensenada Grande", "Big Bay". I wanted to try another spot this time and had been browsing through the chart and guide book when opportunity offered during the day. I rather hoped that the little bay "Caleta de Enmedio" would be a suitable place for the night, its description sounded lovely though it did look suspiciously like it might not offer enough shelter from this wind, which now definitely had a Westerly component by afternoon. In the event, when we finally opened the bay close to Port and bore off to look in, it was apparent the whole chop was running clear in to the shining white beach at the head of the bay. Not a place to anchor for a quiet night this time. We sailed right in close to be sure, but then reluctantly hardened in the sheets and beat back out in three tacks. It was past 5:00 and time for supper. The book was clear that my best chance in anything from the West would be in Partida Cove, the cove separating the two islands and the next bay back to the North. We only had to backtrack a mile or so and I'd like to draw a curtain over the next hour. . .but I guess that wouldn't be fair.
Keep in mind that we'd just finished a 21 mile beat through (at times) somewhat rough conditions, that the boat and I had done very well together the past weeks, that we draw much less water than any other boats we met out cruising, even, if you will, consider that the guide book says it is possible to anchor "almost out of sight of the open ocean" when you are clear up inside the Northern bight of Partida Cove. Approaching the bay it had been clear that there were two cruising boats, both much larger than we, anchored already in the bay, one pitching mightily where she hung on her hook near the Eastern entrance to the dinghy channel. The other and larger of the two, a 43 footer from the Charter company in La Paz, was anchored over in the Northern bight, which clearly offered better shelter from the SW chop that was running into the bay. I determined to sail close by her, to say good evening, reach off a respectful distance, perhaps 200 feet or so, then round up and take up a homestead of our own. The guide book DID say that the head of all these bays would be shoal. Sigh.
We sailed past the stern of the boat, waved gaily to the party in their cockpit, shouted something idiotic like "What a grand day Eh??" to which they shouted back "There's no water. . ." about the time we took up a homestead indeed. I suppose we weren't doing over 3 knots when we stopped. And we didn't stop all at once, there was sort of a soft squishy feeling to the boat as her bow dipped a little, then a bump then a definite thud. . .and we stopped. The water depth was about 2 inches less than our draft, and, as I saw in the morning at low tide, as flat as a table top for hundreds of feet. Well, she's a beachable, trailerable boat, so there was no real harm done, though I'd never intended to beach or trailer her at this point. Only the daggerboard was on the bottom, the rudder still clear (it's my own rudder, not the standard kickup design and does NOT kick up on its own). I jumped for the mast in an instant and had both sails in a mess on deck very quickly. We'd only run on a short ways after grounding, so I hoped we'd be able to spin around under power and grind our way back out without letting her lie there long enough to carry out an anchor. The motor caught on first pull and easily did the job. First we pivoted around on the board (I could see the top of the board gyrating 2" above the top of the case down in the cabin) then, using about half the throttle, we ground and grated and bumped our way 50 feet or so and then floated free and away. Tucking our tail firmly between our legs we motored in ghastly disarray another two hundred feet or so til the water changed back to a deeper color of blue, I shut down the motor and made my way through the mess on deck to the anchor and found bottom in only 10 feet. Gracious. Well, an inspection below decks showed no damage to the hull or daggerboard trunk except the long expected passage of the through bolt which secures the board to the trunk against potential capsizing. That bolt (on Gaviota, who is a bit different from the current models) passes through both sides of the trunk about 3/8" below the top. The glass there is only 3/16" thick more or less and I'd always known that when I finally ran her aground the bolt would just pop right through and. . .it did. I'd been intending to install proper points for a nylon tiedown system (flexibility to go with security) but hadn't gotten around to it. Oh well. It just moved up to the top of the list.
I tidied up and coiled down on deck then went exploring around the limits of our swinging scope where we were and concluded we were still too close to a shoal spot off to the Northwest. It was not a direction we were likely to swing with the wind as it was, but the wind is notorious for changing, so, with the vessel once again in proper condition, we lifted the anchor and shifted another 150 feet back toward open water before finally calling it a night.
The wind overnight built into a significant Westerly, sending larger rollers into Partida Cove, though by the time they came around into the Northern bight where we were lying they only set us to rolling and banging a bit. The day dawned dark and misty and there was something odd. . .drops of water were standing on the windows and now and again one actually broke free from the surface tension and ran trailing down the window and puddled at the frame. It was actually raining on us there and the Westerly wind was howling. This came straight in off the Pacific no doubt. I stood up in the hatchway for a little while, letting the cool mist moisten my bald head and curly beard. . .I brush them both, though the top of the head offers little scope for the brush to work. The free fresh water was a treat, but it was clear we weren't going sailing this morning at least. The Canadian boat that was anchored over near the dinghy channel was pitching hard in the rollers. She must have been nearly 40 feet long, a really pretty Northwest style boat, with a fine spring to her sheer and a good looking pilothouse aft. . .she wouldn't be very comfortable this morning though I thought, pitching her bows clear under as she faced into the chop. I ducked back below and slid the hatch closed. I'd brought five books on this trip and hadn't opened one yet. It looked like a reading day and I settled in to brew luxurious cups of coffee and dug into Thoreau's "Journals". After a while it seemed the wind was moderating a bit and the sky was lightening. I got up and went on deck to stretch and see. It didn't look all that bad. I picked up 30 feet or so of the long anchor scope we'd had out over night and began getting the sails ready to hoist. Suddenly the sky turned inky black, a low cloud rolled into the bay like a locomotive and a boiling rain and wind squall hit. It was immediately rough and cold and rain streamed off the cabin top and decks. I jumped for cover and finally gave up any idea of moving on today.
Last evening I'd noticed there were two fishermen's shacks on the shore close by and several others across the Cove. Several pangas were on the beach over there and two were pulled up in front of the two shacks near us. These shacks were not the permanent houses of the people on Coyote or at Nopolo. Rather, they were very temporary shelters thrown up from whatever was at hand or could be dragged in cheaply, though no doubt better shelter than a blue tarp stretched over a low slung piece of line. As the tide began to ebb away one of the fishermen nearby came out and walked along the quickly growing beach. He seemed just beach combing, as I would if I were ashore. He had his foul weather jacket on, but didn't look that uncomfortable. I decided I was overdoing the "confined to the cabin" nonsense and dug out my paddling jacket and paddled the canoe ashore. He'd retreated back to the porch of the shack by the time I was ashore, but we visited a while. They are from La Paz, actually only arrived here yesterday just before I did. I got the impression that they share this cabin with friends, some in town and some out here fishing. As it turned out, it was actually a pretty big minus tide series going and the full extent of the tide flats were soon exposed. Basically what looks like a bay in fact is just a broad expanse of sand and coral that bares at about a zero tide. This was a minus 1.1 according to the tide book and you could have planted a crop of potatoes in the landscape that opened up. A panga loaded down with men arrived and they spread out over the flats hunting for something. . ."pulpo" my host explained. . .octopus. I was surprised. I'd figured it would be clams or maybe crabs, but. . .octopus??? Well, I had to go see, so went out to join them.
There were six men combing that expanse of white sand and shallow water, wading where it was necessary, but never very deep. I cornered the nearest, a young man with a large smile and asked him to show me. He already had two octopus. . .they were skewered and strung on a ten foot long piece of light line with a buoy on the end, not dead obviously, they clung tightly to the buoy. "They live in the caves" he told me, and "look for the circle of stones". All I could see was acres of flat white sand. But I branched off to one side a little ways and began searching for a cave, with or without a circle of stones. Suddenly he stopped and waved me over to see. In the even sandy floor there was the edge of a piece of coral rock sticking up, and yes, there was a sort of cave entrance the size of your hand under it and again yes, there was a ring of stones and small shells around the mouth of the cave. He grinned widely and took one of his other tools in hand. It was a piece of ¼" diameter steel rod perhaps 18 or 20" long, sharpened, somewhat at least, at one end and wrapped with tape to make a handle at the other. He used it to probe and prod into the mouth of the cave, angling it in several directions, clearly not finding what he wanted. Suddenly he tried another angle, found something, jabbed the rod deeper into the hole and grinned. . ."he's here". . .and then, holding the probe with his left hand he took the second tool of the trade, a very similar rod, but this one worked into a hook at the end, worked it down into the hole alongside the probe, twisted and pulled. . .nothing. . .tried again. . .no octopus but a flood of black ink and finally, on a third try, out came Mr. Octopus, fighting mad. His tactics don't work in cases like this though. In defense he goes on the attack. . .he throws himself on the enemy and sticks tight with a thousand suction cups. . .oops. Not the right trick at all when dealing with a young Mexican octopus hunter. In a second or two he was skewered and threaded onto the string, slid back to join the first two already clinging angrily to the float. Well, I used to be regarded as a very superior sort of clam digger, able locate and identify any number of different sorts of clams by their tell tale hole and behavior on the flats, so I was sure I'd catch onto octopus cave hunting before long. I waded through the water, traipsed over the exposed sand, always close enough to my teacher to ask for confirmation of my finds. . .and never did actually come up with an octopus cave myself. The youngster found and caught another dozen or so during the tide. I couldn't tell if he was well pleased with that count or not. Obviously I was not reducing his success rate though and he put up with my company for the two hours of the low tide, showing me each "cave" he found. The rain had come and gone, heavy for a few minutes once, but was finished by the time the tide started to cover the flats again. The men gathered at the beached panga, each with a float on a string, each float well covered with octopus. Among them they must have taken at least a hundred of the little creatures over the one tide. They will fetch a good price for "coktel de pulpo" (spicy cooked octopus cocktail) in La Paz.
In the afternoon, the flats covering, there was still enough beach left for a longish walk to and around the head of the bay. I took a camera and went looking for flowers and bugs. Didn't find any exciting bugs, but there were flowers in great abundance. There were large expanses of white daisies with yellow centers, almost identical to ones we have at home. . .though I think their stems and leaves are thicker than ours and the leaves definitely smaller over all. There was a flowering vetch mixed in from time to time that was really beautiful, large stalks of purple flowers that contrasted perfectly with the daisies white and yellow smiles. In a clump by itself was a morning glory vine covered all over with deep perfect blue flowers, just like the ones on our fence at home. . .but with the smallest thickest leaves you could imagine. They were the right general shape, just entirely wrong for size and texture. If you want to thrive in the desert I guess you have to make allowances. I didn't save any seeds (didn't see any or might have, no matter the California Department of Agriculture people) but I really have to wonder if you bring a desert morning glory to Seattle, how long would it take for it to develop the thin broad leaves again? Or for that matter, would it even grow in our rain and cold?
The night anchored there was a little restless. The chop and swell still soaked back into our corner of things and the boat rolled and chuckled and talked to herself, but I'd walked and waded enough to be good and sleepy and nothing really disturbed the night. The Mexican radio I heard in the fishermen's shack yesterday had promised a better day of weather today and I was willing to believe it, though it did look like it might still be a little fierce outside, at least the sky was fair and bright and there was no doubt that the wind and waves were much lighter than they had been. With breakfast cleaned up I hanked the small jib on the forestay and tucked in the first reef while we still lay at anchor, then got under way. Two large yachts had anchored nearby in yesterday's wind and this morning I sailed between them, helm lashed (Mr Huntingford steering again), me up forward getting the anchor line below decks and tightening up the jib halyard.
It was overdone. I shook out the reef on the second tack out of the bay and switched to the lapper on the forestay after the fourth. It was just a beautiful day with a modest little breeze outside. Where all the ruckus of rollers and chop was coming from I do not know. It took seven tacks to beat out of the bay against that little Westerly, but grand sailing it was. We shaved the point on the Southern entrance as closely as I dared, but skated past without touching any of the outlying rocks. From there it was eased sheets, close reaching and a glorious last day for the voyage. It was very different this year. Two years ago on the same day, the last day that is, I'd been more than ready to be done with the voyage. For one thing I was meeting my Lady in Cabo San Lucas in another day or two and in any event, the strain of the single handing and the constant alertness to the risks of each anchorage and passage had been getting to me. I was ready for a secure berth in the marina, hot shower, fresh tacos and all the other things to be found in La Paz, even the sound of English again.
This year was different in so many ways. No lady to meet for one thing, two more years of sailing and, though the need for constant awareness of wind, weather and terrain were unchanged, I had put in many more miles at sea and was by and large pretty comfortable with the needs of the sailing passage. I'd eaten well on this trip but I admit the idea of fresh tacos, salsa, good meat, all those things seemed charming. . .but the pressing urgency was that I was out of insulin. Dang. Time to find a pharmacy and correct the one serious error in my pre-trip packing. . .two spare bottles of one type and none of the other. Good grief. By the time we reached the South end of gorgeous Espiritu Santo Island and nosed out into the crossing to the mainland opposite the wind had fallen light. We barely drifted. I waited only a while before putting the motor work. I didn't actually want to arrive in La Paz too late and it was a good long day's running to get there in time to find a pharmacy open and run the other errands I had in mind (cold beer comes to mind actually, and more limes). The motor stayed on for an hour, then the breeze came back. We played that game all day, actually broad reaching against the last of the ebb tide in the afternoon as we came into the now-familiar entrance channel to La Paz, and then, only a mile from the marina, swept backward again as the wind gave out one last time.
With charts and guide books and a good attitude there is nothing difficult about the entrance to La Paz. The approach, after crossing Canal San Lorenzo from the Islands is very straightforward. Keep the land on your left and not too far off. Avoid running onto Roca Lobos. There are at least three good anchorages on your way to town if you don't want to go all the way in. I stayed last time at "Balandra" bay one night and found it comfortable and beautiful with a NW breeze, though it might be exposed to wind from other quarters. There is the bay back of Roca Lobos (yes, there are sea lions), then the big commercial harbor at Pichilinque, where I understand there is another good boat launch ramp and a tiny marina at the hotel. Beyond that, just past the power plant a new boat yard has grown up and a number of boats are anchored off in front of it. You will spot the plume of smoke from the power plant. . .not horrific, but noticeable. . .from far off at sea on a clear day. You want to pass quite close to their wharf to make the first two buoys. Somehow, if there is any wind at all it is usually a stiff little beat to get in past the power plant wharf and make the first two entrance channel buoys. The channel is quite well marked in daylight at least with red and green buoys set up in pairs just as you'd hope, red-right-returning. There are two shore ranges, short white concrete towers that line up to define the first two angles of the entrance. After that it's almost a straight shot into the anchorage beyond the municipal pier where the small cruise ships tie up and Marina La Paz is just beyond, sort of hidden in the mass of anchored sailboats in front of the town. The penalty for straying outside the channel by the way is an almost certain grounding for any size of cruising boat. There is an enormous sand flat stretching from just past the power plant far up into the bay. The bay itself is really quite large if very shallow, and that's the other problem with the approach to La Paz. All that water has to go somewhere when the tide goes out, and it has to go there through the approach channel. The ebb is quite powerful, and if you're bucking you will either become very tired of the scenes along the three miles or so of channel. . .or burn a lot of fuel. . .or maybe both. The flood tide, by the same token can delay your departure til a good deal later than you might have planned.
Marina La Paz, the pearl of the area, was almost entirely destroyed by the Hurricane last September. People speak of "Marty" and assume you knew him too. He wasn't good to a lot of people. They are rebuilding rapidly, even ahead of their own schedule now I think. By the time you read this I would guess the marina will be entirely rebuilt and operations completely normal again. As it was, I was given a nice slip in the outboard Northern corner of things on the breakwater dock, a slip that would be awkward perhaps for a larger boat, but we slipped in and out at will. After clearing in and paying 3 days of slip rent (and sorting out the fact that a Leap February had come and gone and I'd mis-numbered the days in my log when I went rushing into March a day before the rest of the world. . .Neither I nor my $20 watch picked up on the extra day in February. Oh well, it was easily fixed, though in the fixing of the number, I managed to foul up the day of the week on the little watch's display and spent the rest of the trip a day sooner in the week than everyone else. . .sometimes you just can't quite get it right.
The time in La Paz passes quickly or in slow motion, depending on what you're doing. I hiked directly up town, found a pharmacy and quickly solved the insulin problem. It is, SUBSTANTIALLY less expensive than in the States. Made by Eli Lilly, though in Mexico, and put up in slightly different bottles, but the same stuff. I spent the rest of the evening wandering the streets and soaking up all the people and sights and sounds of a Mexican town after sunset. The whole town comes out it seems, strolling through the shopping streets in the sudden coolness with the sun down, buying supper in the street side restaurants and food stands, taking kids shopping for new shoes or stopping to pick up something at one shop or another. Around 7:00 or 8:00 it all slows way down and the crowds thin out. Most of the taco stands fold up and close for the night, people begin settling in on front porches or out on the sidewalk by the front door. I tended to the internet, sent messages to anybody who might have been wondering where I was, and finally went home to bed. I declared next day a holiday, bummed around town, bought a big fluffy towel (my other big packing mistake) and shopped casually for a guitar, went sailing to show a pretty young lady from Istanbul the city from the water side. . .she's off for a year of travel from Tijuana to Santiago de Chile. . .and I'm off for Seattle tomorrow. . .er, yes, she's young and pretty and I'm old and uh. Well anyway. Then there was the Museum of Anthropology and History, well worth an hour's visit or more, though much of the display is of things from the Mainland, not Baja California. I ate all manner of delicious things that I didn't have to cook myself, contacted my favorite mechanic through his father-in-law. . .they don't work together any more but there was no trouble making contact. . .set up an appointment in two days for a thorough examination and service as well as a few specific replacements (thermostat, fan clutch, alternator bearings, filters and so forth). Since the last trip two years ago I've been saving up chores for Omar. He's the best, fastest and least expensive mechanic I've ever known.
Sunday's ride by first class bus back to Puerto Escondido (a truly delightful way to travel) was completely uneventful. We left the waterfront terminal at 0830 exactly as scheduled, proceeded to the uptown terminal and loaded the bulk of the passengers for the trip, finally actually underway at 0930, passed through the military checkpoint outside of town after a thorough search of the bus (nothing objectionable found and everything very politely done) and made the first full stop in Ciudad Constitucion right on time. We were there only 5 minutes, long enough to grab a torta (Mexican sandwich) from the news stand at the terminal and jump back aboard, thence on to and through the mountain range and down onto the shoreline again at the road crossing to Agua Verde. Even here at the highway it looks a rough road. Thence to the road to Puerto Escondido where the driver almost but not quite forgot to stop for me. . .I had to walk back 100 feet from where the bus slowed down enough for me to land and he never did stop as he waved good bye. I walked the half mile or so into the boat launch, found the truck not much more than just a little dusty, fired her up and said farewell to the guard. . .and was on my way again by 14:30. With an empty trailer it is a fast trip, only 200 miles, of which only ten or so are difficult mountain driving. The rest is just a matter of keeping going. The afternoon was hot so I stopped twice to buy something cold to drink. . .with caffeine of course, since in the heat and the long stretches of straight road, I found myself ready to doze off at times. We were back, parked on the street in front of the marina by shortly after six, just perfect timing for the Super Burrito stand around the corner and down the street.
The next day was Monday and we met Omar in the afternoon, went to the parts house to pick up all the pieces and the jug of oil he'd need for the work I wanted done, then he took the truck home and left me his car for the night. Next day by noon he was back, all the work done except the trouble shooting the turn signals on the trailer, that soon finished as well and I was ready to haul out. Tuesday afternoon was it. While I'd been waiting for Omar to bring back the truck I'd been out, found and visited CICIMAR, the institute from which hailed my whale watching graduate students, but without finding them. I'd been up town again and actually bought the little guitar from the ranch supply store. The real business of the place is saddles, bridles, machetes, chain, rope, wire, all the things you need for cattle ranching in that country. . .but the owner is a famous local singer and keeps twenty guitars and requintos on hand for sale as well. He was too much fun NOT to buy from, so I left with a shiny new requinto. . .a miniature guitar really. . .in a fine new hard case. More than I'd intended to do, but. . .er. . .well, I decided I could skip motels on the way home and about pay for it. Anyway, by the time Omar got back with the truck the boat was basically stripped for hauling, boom and main below decks, jib sheets coiled up on the vee berth, everything that could be stowed for the road already put away. I paid him, shook hands, promised to be back sooner next time (he's not just a fine mechanic, but also a warm and wonderful human being) and spend more time. Help materialized again from nowhere almost. . .Archie from Sea-tecean was looking for some way to be helpful and ended up handling lines for me as we urged the boat onto her trailer and hauled out. It was mid afternoon already, so I took my time. Lowered the mast and secured everything well for the road, kept my shower key (there's a $40 deposit involved, so I wanted to remember to turn it in before leaving) and drove off down the street looking for the right car wash to scrub off the boat's salt. Half a mile down the highway the right one turned up, I turned in, negotiated briefly, maneuvered into the drive, pulled up under the piping for the hoses and went to work. I started by myself, soap, pail, rags, brushes, everything at hand for the work, and as soon as other work was caught up in the place I had help. . .vigorous eager help, crawling underneath and wiping off the green slime, jumping up on top and squirting water everywhere, no matter that I claimed it didn't matter. . .she'd soon be filthy above and below, I just wanted the salt and green slime off before we headed North. Soon done and separated from $5, boat and truck were quite pleased with themselves and we returned to the marina for one last wonderful hot shower before the road. And that's the tale. One last dinner at a taco stand, the night asleep on the street by the marina, the early morning departure, passage along the highway past the now quite familiar towns and scenery, grinding up the steep spots, holding her to reasonable speeds on the down slopes, stopping for gas in all the same Pemex stations, rolling into Guerrero Negro in the early evening, very foggy and cold. . .going home. We slept that night alongside the canal next to the salt works parked on the sand with two semi trucks and a Mexican traveler with a sleeping bag and tiny TV in his car. I bought cheese, fruit and tortillas before bed to have for the road next day. Leaving Guerrero Negro I stopped to pick up a very small old Mexican gentleman with three heavy bags. He turned out to be an amusing irritation before the day was over. 53 years old, he was basically homeless, wandering all over the country. Lacking front teeth of any sort his diction was odd and hard for me to understand, though once he figured out that he had to speak slowly to be understood he began slowing down his sentences admirably UNTIL he came to the part I hadn't understood in the first place, which he finished always in a high pitched muffled rush. Doggone. I fed him my lunch for his breakfast as we drove along and I gradually figured out his story. He was bound, 53 or not, on a conquest. Either he'd seen a vision, been advised by a palmist, or been told by a friend. . .that the ideal partner/mate for him was waiting in a certain bar which he would find by taking the highway until he came to a road sign for Mexicali and taking it to the next highway and taking that highway into the nearest town and the bar would be obvious to him. No, this lady would not be a lady of the streets, she would be a very respectable lady and very perfect for him and they would be partners hereafter. So I was his steed for the first leg of his conquest and I would carry him all that long day, through some of the most wonderful desert scenery of the trip, all the way to Ensenada, while he talked endlessly and, by and large, unintelligibly. It was a very long day. Since he'd eaten my lunch for his breakfast I had no choice but to stop in San Quintin for lunch itself when the time came. I bought us both barbeque beef tortas. . .sandwiches on large Mexican style buns. . .not really wonderful, but very filling. He ate delicately after carefully scrubbing his hands under the faucet on the side of the building and thanked me graciously for the meal. We drove on, and I finally understood that much of the conversation I'd not been able to follow was simply that he was reading every sign along the way as fast as he could. . .Hardware, stoves, piping, electricity, Ice factory, pharmacy, specials today, speed only 40 kph, school crossing, repairs and auto parts, tires for sale, tacos and tortas. . .at machine gun speed and enunciated as though it were intelligible conversation. I longed for silence at times and only hope he could not read my heart when I smiled to say good bye and set him down on the roadside in Ensenada. No matter, I hope his quest went well at least. From Ensenada to the border crossing in Tijuana was an easy run and we were there, after only one mistaken turn in the last approaches to the place, by mid afternoon. The customs inspector at the booth was quite friendly but sent me to the secondary inspection area to have someone look through the boat. That too went well enough, though it was odd, they didn't seem to be set up to deal with trailers at all. . .just sort of jammed me in against the traffic barriers. The young lady in charge seemed a little harried and brusque, but the inspection went quickly and without adverse effect. . .until I pulled away and pulled the right trailer tire over the edge of a curb and bent the rim and blew the tire to kingdom come. Oh good grief. Welcome home.
I changed the tire for the spare and went my way muttering. . .I'd replace it tomorrow at the first trailer repair place I'd spot. The day stretched on til midnight as it turned out. I was determined to pass through the LA freeway mess that evening and camp up above Tejon pass somewhere. . .at the top of the "Grapevine" grade. There were two stretches of slow going but basically we got some supper along with a tank of gas in a mini mart and simply drove up the freeway 200 odd miles North and stopped for the night in a crowded rest stop with much coming and going and steady droning of diesel engines among the big rigs around.
And that's about where we started this tale, talking about the road home with the spring green all around. After all that I guess the big argument against going to Mexico to go sailing is just simply. . .that you've only now gotten back to work and they don't expect to let you go on vacation again for a while yet. I'm not sure that's enough to stop me anymore.