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!

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