Saturday, November 23, 2013

Baja Norte: From Bahia Tortugas

Baja Norte, Halfway down the Baja Coastline: ¡Yatistas!

“Even the desert needs rain too,” Clif told me last night while I was starting my shift in the spitting rain. Adorned in full foul-weather gear, including my insulated xtra-tuff boots, I couldn’t help but express to Clif that this was not the Baja experience I had anticipated. Where were the tropical cocktails and the SPF 50? Instead we have multiple pairs fleece socks dangling from the handrails inside a damp cabin.

San Diego to Ensenada

My dad, Rich, joined up in San Diego, a day and a half before our departure, in order to help provision and ready the boat. It’s a quick 60 miles south to Ensenada from San Diego Bay, and a necessary stop for all cruisers, or “yatistas,” as we are called in Spanish, to pass through immigration. We chose to sail and motor over night in order to arrive in Ensenada in the early morning and have the day to clear customs, which turned out to be an excellent idea. Around sunset, leaving San Diego, we crossed the US/Mexican border. We had a small ceremony: raising the Mexican flag while James Taylor crooned from my computer speakers, “Oooh, Mexico. Sounds so simple, I just got to go…” Clifton was grinning ear to ear, and beers all-a-round.

That first night of motoring down the coast was almost as bright as day. We had a nearly full moon and the lights of Tijuana sprawled out, never ending. There was not an unlit section of coastline unti after Ensenada. We arrived at the Port of Ensenada early in the morning, docking the “Cruiser’s Village Marina.” We greeted the old dock-hand with a “Buenos Dias. Como está usted?” Exhilarated to be finally using our Spanish. The marina was incredibly helpful assisted with every step of the immigration process. The assistance included a private ride over to the Customs Office, as well as private instruction on paperwork to fill out and people to pay. The whole process maybe took three hours, tops. Of course, nothing comes free, and when we arrived back at the Marina after a lunch in town, we had to pay $50 USD, just for mooring in the harbor for the day and receiving the customs help.

Ensenada was a bustling tourista town, not only because of the “Puerto de Capítana” (border control for all mariners and yatistas), but also because of the Princess Cruise that rolls in just once a week… and we happen to arrive on that day. The absolute best part about our day in Ensenada was getting to see Clif ease back into his fluent Spanish while conversing with marina employees. Dad and I listened on, thankful to have such an asset on our journey. It just makes it that much less stressful, and much more fun. Throughout the days on the boat, Clif has been helping me practice gaining back my conversational Spanish I had in college. It’s a slow going process, but I have been surprised at the amount of Spanish I can understand just listening. I’m looking forward to practicing down in Cabo and La Paz.
Clif raising the Mexican Flag!

Awesome sunrise outside our first morning out.
Ensenada to San Quintín

Leaving Ensenada, again at night, was a lively sail! We were very much aware that the next fuel stop wouldn’t be until Turtle Bay, a solid 280 plus down the coast, and valued the good wind more than usual. The entire night and next day we sailed, turning only the motor on to skirt our way into the Bahía San Quintín anchorage area at sunset. It was perfect, not to hot, maybe a little surprisingly cold, but we didn’t mind because we were sailing downwind, at 5-6 knots for free! We also had the most magnificent sunrise the morning after we left Ensenada. It very much invigorated us after a long night of watches. Later in the evening, we anchored in the large bay San Quintin, making dinner and actually being about to sit around our dinner table inside the cabin, which I loved. We all got full nights rest, anticipated the long chunk of open water ahead.

Clif and Dad changing the head sail to a larger jib.

San Quintín to Turtle Bay

All the guidebooks suggested making the long crossing from San Quintín to Bahía Tortugas (Turtle Bay) in one fell swoop. The weather reports looked very mellow, making us come to terms with the fact that we would probably have to motor for most of the 180 nautical miles. Leaving San Quintin, we could tell that there was some weather farther out to sea, but it held off for the entire day, staying dry, yet the air thick with dark grey clouds.

As Dad went inside to fall asleep, (Clif already was taking his nap to prepare for his night shift,) I was outside when the rain came… and boy, did it come down. This wasn’t an ordinary tropical squall; this was serious, sideways, spitting, Juneau Fall rain. Yes, somehow all the way down in Baja, we managed to get the Southeast Alaska rain that we haven’t seen our entire journey.

I was drenched in an hour, even with the canvas covering the cockpit. The rain managed to sneak up inside and hit my in the face, no matter what direction the boat was headed. Clif switched with me, giving me a little reprieve for a couple hours. “It’ll pass,” Clif repeated through out the night, but when he woke up from a nap in the morning and peaked his head outside, he saw me, once again, out braving the elements in every layer of rain gear I could manage.

I hope all those little desert plans are just living it up right now!! Drink up, because we are in need for some serious sunshine.

The rain finally gave way in the mid-afternoon, a couple hours out of Turtle Bay. The clouds lifted just in time for us to see the spectacular, rugged coastline appear next to the boat, as if being unveiled by a light, misty gray curtain. The colors of the desert growing more vivid as the sun broke through out rain clouds: vibrant reds of volcanic cones, yellows and browns of the sand and rock, and a hint of sage green from the cacti and succulents along the mountain sides. A baby blue sky peaked out behind us with a turquoise streak running along the horizon line.

“Well, was it worth all the rain?” Clif joked with me, still in my rain gear.
“Yes, I think so,” smiling as I replied, happy to have land and color back in my sight.

Bahia Tortugas, view from our anchorage.
 Marine Life

While there have been no whale sightings thus far down the Baja, we have seen vast amounts of dolphins. Pods of dolphins frequent the boat at least once a day. We stole the idea from another cruising vessel to use our underwater GoPro camera to film the dolphins below the surface of the bow, which resulted in a fun afternoon of photography. Using a spare extendable boat hook, we secured the GoPro with parachute line and duct tape. When the dolphins came to ride the bow wave, I layed down on my stomach, above the anchor box, and attempted to hold the boat hook so the camera would sit right below the surface. The result: some cool, somewhat out-of-focus pictures of our dolphin visitors! What worked even better than photos was video, of which we got a couple. The video is much more clear, but needs some editting. Hopefully, when I’m done editting the video, we can post it on the blog as well. Here are a couple of the good photos from the GoPro of dolphins surfing off our bow...

Never a dull moment…

On our way into Bahía Tortugas, I was sitting down below, typing away at my blog entry, when I realized that my socks were starting to get wet. I looked down from the computer to see a small puddle starting to form above the bilge cover. “Woah, woah, woah…” I said quickly as I jumped up to switch the automatic bilge pump on. I yelled to Clif that we had a problem: the bilge was overflowing. Clif and I quickly switched positions. I drove us into the anchorage area, while Dad and Clif investigated the problem. We had a bilge pump hose that had developed a hole. Thankfully, it was an easy fix. We were also thankful to have some green “Rescue Tape” on board, which made a quick “band-aid” of sorts, allowing us to pull into our anchorage before attended to the hose.

Bahía Tortuga

Bahía Tortuga marks the halfway point down the Baja Pacific coast. It is also the largest fishing village and safe anchorage available to cruisers along the way. It has a population of 1,000, multiple restaurants, marine fuel, and many other yatista amenities. We rowed in for dinner after arriving, only to find the dirt roads turned into vast mud pits from the past two days of solid rain. Dad and Clif slopped their way through the mud up to one of the small little cantinas, luckily finding a bucket of water to wash our feet off with outside the restaurante.

This morning, we were fortunate enough to have a nice breeze that picked up from the south, so we sailed the Walker Bay into the beach for cervezas, groceries, fuel, wifi and exploring in the sun. Pretty easy to get used to sitting near the beach, drinking a Pacifico in the Mexican sunshine.

I'm looking forward to becoming more conversational in Spanish, just from the one day in Bahia Tortugas. The thought of getting more fluent is so exciting!!

One of the local grocery stores in Bahia Tortugas.

Walking through the muddy roads after the rain.

Schedule for the rest of Baja Coast jaunt: 

- Take off from Bahia Tortugas tomorrow morning early (11/24)
- Bahia Ansuncion (11/24-25)
- Bahia San Juanito (11/25-26)
- Bahia Santa Maria (11/26-27)
- Cabo San Lucas (Arriving in between the 29th-30th)
- Dad leaves out of Cabo on Dec. 2nd 

Keep an eye on the tracker. I've been trying to remember to update it every 3-5 hours while we're running and leaving messages every night around 5-5:30 (if you're on the email list). I was lucky to find available wifi here in Bahia Tortugas, but will most likely not have any internet until Cabo San Lucas. I will most definitely write another update from there.

Until then, Hasta luego, amigos!

Clif enjoying the Baja steady rain!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Hello San Diego... Hello Mexican Border!

Sound Discovery (and our Walker Bay) in Oxnard, Channel Islands Marina
It's finally here: the Mexican border is just a short hop and a skip away!

Clif and I arrived into San Diego on Saturday afternoon, bombarded by an overwhelming amount of sail boats just playing around in the bay. There were large, beautiful sailboats racing around buoys, yachts out of a cocktail pleasure crusie, smaller cruisers (like us) making their way into a marina, tiny dinghies tacking back and forth in between boats, and even a huge tanker, slowly inching its way through the chaos-- all sailboats moving out of the shipping lane for the monster to pass by.

San Diego has a great number of marinas, varying in price, size and amenities. We spent a large part of Saturday calling marinas, while under sail, and asking about availability. We finally found a decently priced small marina near the airport, Point Loma Marina, which also happened to have a small "tavern" located at the top of the ramp... how convenient.

Clif and I said goodbye to both his parents and our friend Andy in Oxnard on Wednesday evening. We took off, out of the Channel Islands Marina early before dawn on Thursday morning. We motored and sailed a long 60-mile day to Catalina Island, mooring up in Avalon Beach. Unfortunately, since we got there at night, we were less than exciting about putting the Walker Bay dinghy in the water and going ashore. Dinner and sleep was much more alluring. We took our time in the morning, leaving after it got light, and began motoring towards Oceanside (directly across from Catalina on the mainland, south of LA). The weather had picked up through out the day, which was anticipated. The wind waves and swell were a little too big to be fun. The wind was great for sailing, but out starboard spreader (supporting the shrouds and the mast) was sagging, and we wanted to avoid any more "sag," so we stuck to motoring. After motoring through the slop, tossing around all day, we got into Oceanside before dark.

In Oceanside, I helped hoist Clif up the mast to adjust the spreader, which was an easy fix. I made him hang out there for a bit to do a photo shoot, for your viewing pleasure...

Climbing monkey up the mast...

Thankfully on Saturday the wind and waves calmed down a bit and we were able to sail and motor our way down to San Diego. My Dad flew into San Diego later that evening, meeting us at the Marina! We are not only excited about our long-awaited entrance into Mexico, but also the fact that my dad gets to join us on the whole voyage down the Baja. No doubt we have tons a marine life viewing in store, some good fishing and a little more sunshine.

We spent yesterday running errands and crossing items off of my long Mexico to-do list, including purchasing Mexican fishing licenses, replacing some navigation lights, stocking up on dry goods and sunscreen, and testing out some fun inflatable SUP (Stand-up paddle) boards. No purchases of boards have been made, but we definitely had fun testing them out in the marina.

Xtra-tuffs drying out on the dock in Oxnard.
As far as our schedule goes, we will be leaving this afternoon to exit San Diego and cruise the 65 miles down to Ensenada through the night, arriving there tomorrow morning to do our "yachtistas" border crossing. We will most likely spend a full day in Ensenada making sure we have all of our paper work in order and we are good to go. After there, there's not a whole lot until Cabo, besides some beautiful coastline and small fishing villages. We'd like to enjoy the experience as much as possible, without rushing, but we will be arriving in Cabo San Lucas between Nov. 28 (Thanksgiving) and Dec. 1st. We will keep the tracker going, leaving points every couple of hours and continuing our trend of sending "We're OK!" messages in the early evening (if you're on the email list).

Our Mexican flag is ready to hoist, we're stocked up on rice and beans, and I bought some cheap beach towels... I think we're about ready!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Oxnard, The Lakers and Some Sun and Surf!

We're just finishing up our visit in Oxnard, a magical 3 days in the Southern California sunshine! We planned on spending a little time here to hang out with our good friend Andy, who hails from Thousand Oaks. I was also able to visit one of my best college buddies, Michael, who works in Malibu. We had two surfing afternoons on Silver Strand Beach, just 5 minutes from where our boat is moored (Channel Islands Marina), and celebrated my 26th birthday on Tuesday.

We are realizing more and more that our time on land is precious: taking walks and jogs morning and night, seizing any chance for athletic activity to jar our relaxed cruiser bodies. It's very easy to see how folks in Southern CA stay so fit and beautiful: The weather is beautiful. This week alone we've done several long walks, two long surfing sessions, and I managed to get a sunrise jog in before we left Santa Barbara. I have no doubt that we will continue to grow more active and desire to work on our beach body physiques as we go farther south.

Rob spent his last night in Sound Discovery on Sunday. He made his way back up to the Bay Area on Monday with Clif's mom, Barbara. It worked out really well, and we even got to host both of them on the boat Sunday night before they made the drive north. We were so thankful to have Rob with us for the long 48 hour chunk from Monterey to Santa Barbara, but especially glad that he got to spend one splendid day sailing over to Oxnard: perfect wind, sunny warm weather and lots of humpback whale sightings!

My dad will be joining us in San Diego on Saturday night. In the next three days, Clif and I will make our way down there, stopping only on Catalina Island.

Mexico is right around the corner, so Clif and I have been trying to brush up on our basics. Clif and Andy spoke in Spanglish for almost my entire birthday evening (after drinking a few beers)... Which was both entertaining and informative. Driving is the LA area also means an increase in Spanish radio stations, whig we've been trying to listen to for the sake of waking up the Spanish part of our brains.

Another highlight of our Oxnard visit was driving into LA for a Lakers game! It was a lot of fun (basketball is WAY more fun to watch in person, and easier to follow). We just happen to sit by a young Swiss couple up in the nose bleed seats, and enjoyed chatting with them about our own Swiss-German travel experience.

All in all, our So-Cal experience was very stereotypical... And we loved every minute of it! Taking off tomorrow morning for Catalina-- tracker will be on.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

What's cooler than dolphins? Glow-in-the-dark dolphins!!

Big Sur, Night Sky, and Spinner Dolphins Day and Night...

Written in Santa Barbara, CA, and the Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. (Because my writing is always more fun to read with a couple of tasty, unfiltered wheat beers in me.)

Sitting now with Rob and Clif at the Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company in Santa Barbara, in a busy beer garden, chatting with folks about our travels at a long picnic table. We walked into town from the Santa Barbara Harbor, a definitely luxury to stay at among some beautiful sailboats, exploring the beachfront and made our way, through the hot So Cal sun, to a brewery.

We just completed a 48 hour run down from Monterey, stopping only in Avila Beach for an hour, and then deciding that it wasn't worth staying a night. Not much there in Avila Beach... except RVs, and some dry landscape. Despite making it down to Southern California, the nights have still been chilly on the water, but there was a definite weather change when we came around Point Conception, making our way towards the Los Angeles. The night air had been ever so warmer. We were able to sail about a third of the passage down, sailing downwind at 4-5 knots, sometimes even hitting 6.5 knots above water. The other two-thirds of the trip we motored, because there was very little wind. The "little wind" was an intentional plan around Point Conception, which has some reputation for the weather getting serious at the drop of a hat. Our experience around Point Conception was ethereal.

The morning getting into Avila Beach (San Luis Obispo) we sighted a huge school of Spinner Dolphins a few hundred yards away from the boat. They made there way, as the do, to the bow of the boat, surrounding Sound Discovery with a epic sighting of jumps, spins and the sound of breathing blow holes. There were so many dolphins. Almost 20 surrounded the bow. You could actually see multiple levels of dolphins through the clear, flat water. I grabbed my camera, flung it around my neck, and began snapping photos at rapid-fire while kneeling in the pulpit of the boat, leaning over the bow. It was a sight to see. The Spinner Dolphins were slightly smaller and less interactive than the White-sided Dolphins we saw outside of Campbell River, BC. But still, they were fantastic to watch surf next to our boat, if only for a couple minutes.

I didn't think that anything could make me happier than the close-encounters with these dolphins, until last night. My night watch started at 9pm. Around 10 I started to seeing some green streaks appear next to the boat. The familiar, repetitive sound of the dolphins breathing made me realize we were in for a treat. I woke up Clif, who was dozing off next to me in the cock pit. About eight to twelves Spinner Dolphins had arrived back at our boat, but this time, in complete darkness, outlined in a vibrant phosphorescent green. Clif and I took turns going forward to the bow of the boat, watching the green shapes swim fluidly, directly under the bow. "It's surreal," Clif spoke back to me at in the cockpit.

We woke Rob up just in time to see the dolphins illuminated before they were chased away by another, slightly bigger, mysterious mammal. I was standing on the bow, mesmerized by the clear green glow of the dolphins bodies, when the dolphins immediately diverted and disappeared. A larger marine mammal, with a similar dolphin fluke and dorsal fin, but with a rounded face, almost giving it to look of a Risso's Dolphins (which we sighted in Monterey Bay for the first time). No matter what it was, it definitely scared off all the Spinners. It remained under the bow of the boat for quite some time, leaving a slow, swirly green trail behind him. Clif and Rob stood on the bow, watching him undulate slowly, as if our 6 knot motoring speed was as easy as the flick of a wrist. What a night-watch. I was very much awake and excited for the rest of my shift.

Now in Santa Barbara, we're planning our our next week in So Cal, which includes my 26th birthday Tuesday (hoorah!) and meeting up with my own Dad in San Diego on the 16th. We are planning a visit with Andy Hall in Oxnard and a day exploring Catalina Island before heading farther south.

Until then, we are going to enjoying the sunny beaches of Santa Barbara, welcoming us to the Southern California culture, which I'm pleasantly embracing

Father and son shot.

Spinner Dolphins school around the bow.

Spinner Dolphins under the bow.

Wine break!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

New Crew Member Aboard!

We have another crew member joining us for the next chunk of our journey! Clif's Dad, Rob, will be helping us get down the Big Sur Coast and into Southern California. Weather looks good through the weekend. We will be stopping in San Luis Obispo for a day and then making our way down to Santa Barbara by Sunday. These will both be a couple of long stretches on the open water (over 24 hours), so we are thankful to have a third crew member to help us out. A nice long blog post to come from Santa Barbara!

Leaving Monterey Marina this morning, watch the tracker for our movement down the coastline.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Never a dull moment at the Farallones...

Bodega Bay to Half Moon Bay, Pillar Point Marina, California

Snap, Crackle, Pop? No worries... it's just the shrimp.


The Southeast Farallon Island

Just us chickens out here on the boat again. We're currently anchored up in Pillar Point Marina, inside Half Moon Bay, home of the Maverick's surf competition. We are hauled up here for a couple days because of the gale wind warnings throughout the west coast. There is a large storm system near Puget Sound (that we are far away form, woo-hoo) that is causing all this wind and fresh swell. On the plus side, we get some quality time to play with our new Walker Bay performance sailing dinghy! We put the sailing kit together this morning, anchored several hundred yards offshore, within a protected breakwater, and sailed into shore for a test run! It was a lot of fun sailing such a small little boat (9 ft. length, about 4.5 ft wide). This is the same dinghy we picked up at AML in Seattle from Father Thomas up in Petersburg, given to us as a voyage gift. After our test run, we went back to the boat, dressed up for going ashore and brought the boat back to a little secluded beach, hidden slightly. Our current plan is to hang out here until at least Tuesday morning. The swell from this low pressure system is supposed to be high today and tomorrow, letting up a little Tuesday, for us to make it down to Monterrey.

Our day out of Bodega was beautiful. Sunny skies, just enough wind to sail downwind, directly at the Farallones, where we planned to stop, even if just for several hours. We knew of the heavy winds picking up Saturday afternoon, so we planned to get into Half Moon Bay around noon. We sailed at a smooth 4.5 knots all the way to the dark, ominous islands. The Farallon Islands are well known for their barren rocky landscape and the abundance of great white sharks. We approached the main southeast island around sunset, about 6:00pm, about 30 miles offshore of the Golden Gate Bridge. They were as spooky as predicted. Sharp, jagged rocks pierced the water's surface. Birds of various size circled above the peaks, and the sound of seal lions barking rang out for over a mile. We knew of a mooring buoy in a slightly sheltered bight on the eastern side of the island. As we pulled in through the choppy swell, we knew that this wasn't going to be a quiet calm evening. There was so much life and too much swell for sleeping. The mooring buoy we had seen on the chart was an enormous, rusted metal buoy, almost as tall as our bow. 

The buoy was just the beginning. I stood on the bow of the boat with the boat hook in hand, ready to reach out a grab the buoy so we could run a line through, attaching ourselves to this massive piece of metal. The buoy itself scared me. We bounced up an down in the swell, barely keeping our bow away from the hazard. With the boat in neutral and both Clif and I upfront, we managed to run a line through the buoy and give ourselves enough space to be comfortable (no prospect of running into it during the evening). However, in the process, we did get some surface scratches and a couple hits in, almost inevitable in the swell.

When we went inside the cabin, we froze. That sound, that horrible sound. We heard the sound of running water. Where was it coming form? The bow? Had the buoy done more damage than we anticipated? Clif jumped to attention, silently, listening for the source. We tore apart the v-berth, checking every place we could possibly look. I watched the bilge, checking for any water increase: nothing. With flashlights in hand we continued to tear apart the boat: nothing. What in the world could be making that sound. At least we knew there wasn't a significant amount water coming into the hull, if any. And if there was a tiny leak, we had an automatic bilge that would carry us safely back to the coast.

I  sat down on the floor, next to the bilge cover and collapsed in overwhelming emotion and exhaustion. I couldn't handle another crisis. In my mind I was running through every harrowing possibility... even the thought of rowing ashore with all of our important possessions, spending the night with the seal lions crossed my mind. It was then I remember Father Thomas (the same Thomas that gave us the Walker Bay) asking me about the crackling shrimp. He relayed to me a story of listened to shrimp cleaning the bottom of the hull and creating that craziest popping and crackling sounds, keeping him awake at night. At the time I hadn't experience anything like what he described.

Now, as we calmed down, the "running water" sound actually sounded more like rain on the cabin of the boat, it was a popping noise that traveled around the hull, never coming from one source. The snapping and crackling would fade and increase. It had to have been the shrimp. They were feasting on the algae growing on the bottom of our boat. It was shrimp. Damn shrimp. I couldn't believe I had gotten so worked up over the sound. I cursed the shrimp, laid down and cried.

After we calmed down, we went outside to check on the buoy (to monitor its distance from our boat). To our surprise, we had visitors. A handful of seals had come to check out the boat, in curiosity of their night visitor. We had a flash light on that made their eyes glow around the boat. When Clif turned off the flashlight and our eyes adjusted, we had the most miraculous experience. We could see the sea lions is clear view, under the water, lit up in bright green in bio-luminescence! They spun through the water, flipping and spinning around, leaving trails of lime green phosphorescence behind them as the inspected out hull. We could see the full shape of their little seal bodies swimming away and towards the boat. I have seen brilliant phosphorescence, but nothing like this. We watched for 5 minutes or so. 

"Well, that was pleasant,"  Clif said. It definitely was pleasant. I was thankful for the pleasant end to our eventful evening. We both were finally ready for bed. I couldn't sleep most of the night, being our first night back on the boat: my ears were extremely attune with any possible sound. Not to mention the barking sea lions, who continued to bark until we left that spot at 4am in the dense fog... and, of course, the snapping, crackling, popping of the cleaning shrimp.

It was an uneventful crossing from the Farallones to Half Moon Bay. We managed to motor and sail half and half back to the coastline. Here, anchored up within the breakwater, we have no popping sounds, no running water sounds, just the happy sound of waves lapping up against the hull. Much nicer evening. I slept over 10 hours, consecutively, and that's not counting the nap I took in the afternoon after we arrived. Happy crew, happy boat, hopefully a cleaner boat after our night in the Farallones.

Old window (left) , New window (right)

Sailing wing-on-wing to the islands

Farallones in the distance under the jib..

Clif working with the enormous metal mooring buoy

Half Moon Bay anchorage: prepping the Walker Bay for going ashore!