Monday, March 17, 2014

Buddy Boating and Bahía Concepción

Clif and I both woke up ten minutes before our alarm went off this morning. The anchorage was quiet, except for the sound of wires and lines clanging inside multiple masts as the boats gently rolled side to side. This bizarre bell chorus, a familiar sound for most mariners, greeted us as we stepped out of the cabin into the night sky. We were giddy and excited to see new stars at a new position in the sky. When was the last time we had been up milling around a 4:00am? We prepped the deck, cleaning up and stowing miscellaneous toys. As we hoisted the anchor, we saw a line of neon green phosphorescence pierce through the water and light the sandy bottom below. All the joys we found in night sailing this past fall we were reliving, remembering how peaceful the water and that stars feel.

Once out of the anchorage, motoring steady alongside our friends Eric and Pam on S/V Emma Bell, we sought out stars to orient ourselves. The big dipper was almost directly in front of us, a view we haven’t seem in quite some time. We’re headed north! “North to Alaska,” Clif said, “By boat, bus, airplane and [for Clif] by boat again.” It’s a little disorienting to feel the north wind in out faces and use the North Star as a navigational tool, but is very exciting. We’re headed north, back home, at least for now.

A First Time for Everything…

This has been a year of firsts. Similar to experiencing your freshmen year of college, away from home, we have been learning something new and valuable everyday. We’re cruising sponges, trying to soak in as many tricks of the trade as possible. At various times during the past six months we’ve gone through exhausting challenges and blissful rewards.

Our first day out of Puerto Escondido, the day after dropping off Jon at the Loreto airport, I was stung (for the first time) by a bee. If there’s anything that could put a damper on Baja/Sea of Cortez cruising, it’s the damn bees. We noticed that half way through the afternoon the amount of bees swarming our boat was increasing. I took to swatting them with my snorkel fin in the cockpit (increased surface area meant stunning more bees). One bee landed on the back of my shoulder, and I, stupidly, screamed and attacked it immediately. For it being my first bee sting, I reacted exactly the same way I would have if I had been five (a normal age for Non-Alaskan kids to experience a bee sting). I hyperventilated for a few seconds, frantically asking Clif to help me, and then proceeded to cry big crocodile tears. It hurt BAD. Clif pulled out the stinger and doctored me up.

It wasn’t five minutes later that Clif was stung… in a less fortunate spot on his body.

Clif and his Yellowtail Amberjack!
The next day, on the beaches of Caleta San Juanico, I stepped barefoot on the dried-up carcass of a dead puffer fish. Yes, the spinney ones… also known as Porcupine Fish. These little buggers blow up and end up floating in with the tide, littering the shoreline with long boney spikes and making most Mexican white sand beaches ever so hazardous for bare feet. The pain of the small puncture wound in the pad of my found was sore for days.

A much happier “first” occurred the morning we sailed north, out of San Juanico. Clif has been dragging a halibut line for months behind out sailing vessel, in hopes of catching us some dinner. He finally had is wish granted with a 10 pound Yellowtail Amber Jack swallowed our hook and ran with it. Fish on! With a little teamwork and some cheering over the VHF radio from Eric on Emma Bell, we managed to gaff a beautiful fish, fillet it and prep it for some tasty ceviche to be had by all! After how many rod hours?? We have been dragging that darn line since Juneau!! Clif was so happy. It was priceless to hear him yell, “Fish IN the boat!” as he flung the silver and yellow fish into our cockpit. We did it! We are official homesteaders: catching our own dinner... and now feel like bad asses. Three nights in a row, Eric, Pam, Clif and I ate the fish we caught from our boats and feasted like cruising kings. Can’t get much better than that.

Our First Real Buddy Boating…
Mango Margaritas on Emma Bell

We arrived in Ensenada, Mexico mid-November, freshly showered and down from San Diego with my Dad onboard. In the customs/immigration office we met several cruisers, but a couple stood out to us: another young couple! We introduced ourselves briefly and continued about our business. That couple was Eric and Pam on S/V Emma Bell, hailing from Ventura, California.

Now, four months after originally crossing paths, we are finally “buddy boating” with them and enjoying the perks of traveling with another couple up the Baja coast. It has been a blast to snorkel, spear fish, beach walk and dine with our new cruising buddies. I know it sounds slightly cheesy, but when you’re traveling around with just your partner in a small living space, it’s a joy to meet new, same-age friends: sharing the wind, water, and the fresh fish catches. We have enjoyed our time traveling with them. They are also hauling their boat out in Guaymas and working seasonally. We plan to meet up sometime next winter, possibly after the holidays, and make our way back down to our boats in Guaymas.

Together we made the passage up to Bahía Concepción in one fell swoop, all 56 long, hot nautical miles. We decided that the Sea of Cortez had grown us all soft to long days at the wheel: with its many beautiful, protected anchorages, all within 5-15 miles of each other. Why push it? However, the coastline up to Concepción is not quite as forgiving, thus requiring us to make a little bit of a push. Clif and I laughed at our exhaustion. We did 40-50 miles everyday in Alaska and Canada! We pulled into Playa Santispac in Bahia Coyote around 6pm (a total 14-hour day), anchoring up next to each other and pulling off our dinghies, ready to get off our boats and enjoy some local cuisine and cold beers.

Everyone knows that finding friends you can travel with is a gift. It’s hard to find people who are amiable, entertaining, flexible, and similarly cost-conscious… (let alone a boat that has the same travel plan as ourselves), but we have lucked out in this last chunk of our journey.

Bahía Life: “No Bad Days in Mulegé”

View of Playa El Burro Anchorage (foreground), and Playa Coyote (behind)
 Bahía Concepción is located right along side Mexican Highway 1, making the many beaches and coves accessible to RVers, kayakers and car campers. The beaches of Bahía Coyote (the most popular cruising grounds in Concepción) are lined with Canadian/American RVs, sprinter vans, motorcycles, tents, palapa roofed houses and huts. The first beach lies 13 miles out of Mulegé, the closest town for reprovisioning, which is an easy hitchhike away with all the resident RV/camper traffic.

Mago's: Local gringo hangout in Mulege (coffee/breakfast/wifi)
Our first evening in the bay, our propane tank ran out. We were hoping to make it to Guaymas, but not quite. We rowed ashore in the morning, carrying our empty tank and a small backpack. Immediately, not a minute after we pulled the Walker Bay up onto the beach, the nicest couple (Bill and Sue) offered us a ride into town and back out again while they did their laundry at the lavandaría. We were able to resupply on fresh fruits and veggies, fill our propane tank and use the internet, all in a matter of hours. We couldn’t thank them enough. I baked them some of Jill’s famous Beer Bread and gave it to them with our “sail-zine” the following morning.

Mulegé is a little green oasis along Hwy 1, attracting many a gringo with its tiny European-like streets and vast palm trees. We had heard great things about Mulegé from a young couple in Cabo that were traveling via motorcycle around Baja. It was perfect for all of our nomadic needs: propane, laundry, fresh groceries, a coffee shop, clean water. If we were zipping around Baja car-camping or like-wise, we could definitely spend some time here. We highly recommend it. While walking around the town we noticed several window decals that said, “No bad days in Mulegé.” Clearly, we have come across a magical spot. The green lush town is a stark contrast to the more common desert scenery… a breath of fresh, humid air… lucky us. No bad days!
My favorite Winnebago on Playa Santispac! I want one!

We hunkered down for the weekend, anchoring off of El Burro Beach along with Eric and Pam, and another small group of young guys on S/V Blue Eyes—hailing from Santa Cruz [Check out their blog here:]. With such a big group cruising group, we’ve taken advantage of sharing dinghy rides, fish, beer and limes. We also frequented “Bertha’s Beach Club,” a Mexican Restaurant on the north end of the beach, for the cold cervezas and a break from the boat.

One flat calm morning, Clif and I ate breakfast early and set off on a hike up above all the Bahía Coyote anchorages. The view allowed us to see the sandy shoals and deep blue sections of every individual anchorage. We could see our little boat from the top of the ridge: a tiny little white speck, safe and snug.

Swimming alongside the Whale Shark in El Burro (Photo courtesy of Eric)
Another great pic of me alongside the whale shark by Eric.
Once back down, we immediately went swimming and heard all the commotion coming from Emma Bell. They had seen whale sharks, several of them, swimming around our boats in the anchorage! We had missed them! But they weren’t far. We spotted some kayakers paddling next to them just outside the cove. All four of us piled in Eric and Pam’s dinghy and slowly putted over to the whale shark. After my experience in La Paz (which was a little terrifying with the high chop and low visibility) I was very confident sliding into the water and finning up next to the giant fish. He was slowly moving along the surface through perfectly clear water. I could see Clif, opposite me with the whale shark in between, keeping up with every turn and dive. We stayed with him for ten or fifteen minutes until he decided to dive deeper, out of our view. I can still see the sunlight passing through the water and rippling over his white spots. With such calm, clear water, we couldn’t have asked for a better interaction. 

(Thank you Eric for the awesome pictures of me snorkeling alongside one of the larger whale sharks! Look how massive that fish is compared to me!)

I chose to swim back to the boat for some exercise and was surprised to find a visitor passing right behind the stern as I approached. A much smaller, juvenile whale shark swam within an arms-length of me, curious about his fellow swimming.

To finish off that spectacular day, Pam and I insisted on a campfire with music and marshmallows. All five boys (Clif, Eric and the boys on S/V Blue Eyes) went ashore to gather some driftwood on the beach, while Pam and I collected instruments and s’more goodies. We all agreed, after the fire was blazing and we had passed around the guitar a view times, that the scene was quite cliché, but there’s a reason clichés and what they are. It was peaceful. I fell asleep in the sand with my head on Clif’s leg, while our new friend Patrick played through as many tunes that came to mind. No cell phones, no speakers: just us and our dinghies on beach. I love campfires… especially the ones that include marshmallows and music.

Gotta love the young cruisers campfire.
I caught dinner.... with a spear!!
I’ve had another “first” here in El Burro! Eric, Pam, Clif and I went out to the southern, rocky point of the anchorage for some spear-fishing and I speared my first fish with a Hawaiian sling pole-spear. I was underwater, in pursuit on a little snapper, when I spotted a medium-sized Triggerfish, just minding his own business behind a rock. I already had the pole-spear ready, and without hesitation, I aimed and let it go. I was shocked when I felt the squirming fish on riggling on the end of the pole. Did I really just spear a fish? Holy crap… what do I do… of wait, I need to breath! While still holding the spear against the rock (nervous the fish could just wriggle off), I came up for air.
“I caught a fish! I caught a fish!” I yelled towards Clif, who was warming up in the dinghy. “What do I do?!” I was slightly struggling with my fingertips putting pressure on the pole spear and my mouth on the surface. Everyone laughed and cheered at my funny, victory swim. Once I knew the fish was hooked, I lifted the spear tip high in the air and finned my way back to the boat.

In less than an hour I had filleted my new catch and thrown the fresh white chunks of meat into a pot of simmering coconut milk. It was my second Triggerfish green vegetable curry, but this dish was much more special. Talk about speedy time from “farm-to-table.”

March 16, 2014

My love/hate relationship with the wind...

Somewhere along the line, I picked up that sailors inherently love the wind. Of course, why not? The wind can take a sailboat thousands of miles without using a drop of fuel or an ounce of human strength (well, I little human strength). The sea breeze is fresh and invigorating, especially when you are clipping right along with full sails. It’s a happy day when we can turn off the drone of the engine and just hear the water passing under the hull.

But occasionally the wind will pick up and slowly get stronger. It takes a little more effort to reign in the power, not put out too much sail. The breeze in your face is not so breezy. It’s more like sticking your face in front of a giant fan: eyes squinting, hair in your face. We can still sail fast, but become much more aware of the power the wind has over us.

And then there are times like this morning.

I went to sleep late after finishing the first book of The Hunger Games trilogy. The wind had picked up a little bit in the afternoon and had continued into the night: nothing substantial, but still windy enough that we had to put things away in the cockpit before falling asleep. I woke around 12:45am and heard the gusts howling down nearby canyons, clearly going to pick up. Clif and I take turns getting up periodically and checking outside, the dinghy, or surroundings… etc. The wind gusts are steadily increasing, pivoting our boat back and forth on the anchor chain. Noises outside make us bolt up and check. I watched the wind meter start reading 25-30 kts on the strong gusts, hoping it will calm down soon, so I can actually sleep tonight. A couple stronger gusts blow around 4am, followed by some loud noises. The dinghy has flipped and the oars are gone. Not only that, the spinnaker pole, which was holding out the dinghy as a “flopper stopper” (to ease the rolling of the boat) completely bent in half.

After putting everything away and getting back into the v-berth, we try and sleep for a tiny amount of time, but I glance out the window and notice a large turquoise gaff-rigged schooner inching closer and closer. It’s not my depth perception, they’re definitely dragging anchor…. And is the boat next to him… and so are we! Hauling up the anchor in 35 kt winds is huge chore (and doing it twice it worse) but we did, trying to avoid boats like bumper cars in a crowding anchorage. Three of the boats didn’t even have owners on board, so they frolicked about the anchorage as they pleased while we moved out of any dangerous path. At one point Clif and I chose to leave the anchorage, hoping to find some nearby shelter (rather than getting rammed by an empty boat) but quickly came back in after reading gusts up to 50 kts in Bahia Coyote. Some folks on the VHF were declaring 60-70 kts in their anchorage. The freak hurricane wind reading came out of nowhere and caused a good 3-4 hours of havoc on the anchorages/beaches of Bahia Coyote. At one point I realize how white I am, not my skin tone, but the salt built up on my skin. The salt spray being blown around by the wind covered everything, including our bodies. Once we settled into a good spot and the wind settled back down to gusts of 30, we were able to take mini fresh-water showers in our head while also observing the damage on the El Burro Beach. A palapa roof was in the water, along with several plastic water tanks, an empty kayak, scattered lawn chairs, and, I’m sure, our oars out there… somewhere. Good thing we have a sail kit!!

Sitting on the bow, lowering the anchor for the last time of the morning, a gust blew the boat hard over as I held on to the pulpit stanchions (with my lifejacket on) and was almost brought to tears by my fear of what these strong winds could do to our little home. I felt so vulnerable. But I couldn’t feel that for long, because Clif was counting on a first mate to help secure us and get the job done well.

I’ve only seen winds above 45 kts three times on the boat, and I don’t care to repeat any on them. But this time was different. We were in a secure anchorage and still faced high winds and obstacles, BIG obstacles—like the shore, and other boats. Thankfully we were awake, alert and ready to move quickly.

We’re going to have to do some serious scavenging in the next couple of days, who knows what we’ll find on the beach… from the sound of chatter on the radio, probably many oars.

March 17, 2014
(Photo courtesy of Pam on S/V Emma Bell)

Now that the wind has come and gone…

… We are planning on taking off from Playa El Burro tomorrow afternoon (Tuesday, the 18th—Happy Birthday Clairen!). We’re in town today grabbing on provisions and preparing for the cross. Forecast winds are light and seas calm as the wind moves around from north to south. Should be a nice night of stars as we (S/V Emma Bell included) make our way to Guaymas. We should arrive early Wednesday morning.

Hopefully my next blog post will show successful photos of Sound Discovery’s hull cleaned and out of the water on the hard! It’ll take us a couple days to pull everything together before pulling in out, but I will update before we leave Guaymas for Phoenix.

Thanks for reading ya’ll! May the winds be gently at your back.

1 comment:

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