South of the Border, Down Mexico Way

The alarm went off at 04:15 but I was already awake, in fact I hadn’t really slept much at all.  It was dark, foggy and the boat was wet with dew, a typical San Diego morning.  We moved through the cabin silently, making tea and fixing breakfast, each preparing for the day ahead.  After topping up the water and packing away the shore power cord we were ready to go.  I was full of nervous energy, although I have spent plenty of time crossing oceans it has mostly been on vessels over 100 feet.  When we brought the boat down from LA it was flat calm and we had to motor for two days.  The fact that we were now, finally, setting off to, eventually, cross the WHOLE Pacific and end up in Australia, at times, scares the shit out of me.  I know that things will be fine; perhaps we’ll have a few days of bad weather here and there, there very well maybe a few nights when I wonder what I was thinking agreeing to this whole cockamamie plan and curse the wind, rain and ocean for having a power of their own that I am unable to control.  But over all I have unwavering faith that they will be small hiccups, the kind you look back on and telling amusing stories over. The kind that are forgotten when the sun comes up, the seas calm and you are witness to the dawn of a beautiful morning that leaves you wondering if you are, perhaps, the luckiest person on earth.  But for now it would be hours yet before the wind came up and so we would motor for a while trying to gain some ground.  Steve drove and I sat perched on the coaming, eyes scanning the horizon, pointing out boats or buoys that of course Steve had already seen, but two(4?) eyes are better than one and at least it kept my mind busy.   It was relatively quiet except for the radio traffic from the naval base, which San Diego is famous for.  As the sun rose we were clear of Point Loma and heading south.  There were a few coast guard ships near by and suddenly a go fast navy inflatable appeared, keeping an apparent distance between us and the Coast Guard.  I was beginning to wonder if they were going to do some sort of random boarding on us when we saw what all the commotion was about.  Just to port of us, about 200 M, a submarine was surfacing, they were out here to escort it in.  The Navy came fairly close to us and over the loud speaker bid us good morning, cautioning us to keep our course and let them pass.  Yes, no problem! It really was fantastic to see such a thing up close, especially since it is not something you get to witness very often.  Steve wanted me to snap a few pictures, but being a foreign flagged vessel and knowing the state of homeland security I decided against it, there are some things you just have stories for.  Impressed by such an exciting start to the trip we continued on in high spirits, the wind was up and we were sailing nicely, free of the monotonous drone and vibration of the engine.  Around 0800 the dolphins appeared.  I went forward to watch as they darted through the bow wave and around one another, teasing us with an occasion high jump or two.  They’d come and perform then get bored and leave again, only for more to appear a little later.  Finally I sent Steve up to watch them, seeing dolphins on the bow of your own boat is exciting no matter whom you are.  I took the wheel and he went to stand on the foredeck.  As he admired the dolphin’s playfulness a large light grey shape 20-25 feet in length appeared just below him port bow.  With out time to even think what it was it disappeared under the boat.  Before he had time to speak it was visible to me at midships starboard side.  We both exclaim “Oh Shit! A whale!”  But we had already passed over it, thankfully.  We watched, it did not surface, in fact we watched as the pale shape disappeared into the wake, it only seemed to roll slightly, as if it was sunning it’s belly, relaxing in the morning sun.  It seemed close enough to touch and much to close for comfort.  It certainly got our blood pumping; we decided that was enough excitement for one day.  And thankfully it was, the wind was steady the seas fairly calm and we made good time.  As we motored into Ensenada harbour late in the afternoon the wind had dropped out and so had the seas, however despite having made it through the whole day bouncing about, after a quick bread and peanut butter sammy and a trip to the head I promptly came above deck, had time to fasten my jacket and without notice leaned over the rail and vomited.  Steve was as surprised as I was; it seemed that although I had managed to subdue them all day long, finally my nerves had  gotten the best of me.  As we approached Baja Naval Marina, the water inside the harbour breakwater, a muddy sludge from all the traffic, we spotted a curious floating object dead ahead of us.  Looking more like a piece of driftwood or rusted metal our sea lion friend finally revealed himself with a snort as we neared, he had been floating on his back all four flipper tips pointing skyward just catching the last rays of sun.  Steve docked us like he’d done it a thousand times, in no time we were hooked up, checked in, tidied up and making dinner.  As it was past five pm we’d have to wait for the morning to deal with immigration, it was a long enough day as it was.

Every book we’d read talked about the “Paperwork Cha-Cha” (I later came to realize these cruising guide books gave lots of cutesy little dance names to activities in Mexico), which translates into checking into Mexico.  There was reported a lot of backwards and forwards between government offices and banks, lots of running around and literally lots of paperwork.  We had fully expected to get an agent, pay the 50 bucks or so and have them grease the wheels and deal with the whole thing.  However after the marina manager told us that it was he that we could pay but that it really wasn’t so bad these days, the necessary offices and banking were contained in one building just a few blocks away and we could save ourselves a hundred bucks (the price suddenly doubles) by having some patience and doing it ourselves.  And so first thing in the morning we bravely marched down to the Immigration/Port Captain's office, all the applicable documents and phrasebooks in hand.  They had kindly posted a large sign in English listing the order of windows to visit. All you had to do was check the list and located the corresponding window, which they kindly numbered in large bold type.  Immigration then the bank, bank to immigration, then to the port Captain, the Bank and back again, outside to get some documents copied, back to the bank, get a temporary import permit for the boat, then customs.  Everything was going well, there we’re agents there peddling their services but we managed okay, all our documents were in order and we’d gotten by with a smile and some broken Spanish/English conversations. That is until that last window appeared, Customs.  We walked up and no one was there.   I had been wondering all morning why there was a set of traffic lights mounted on a pole in front of the Customs window, but as it was early there were not many other people in the process of checking in, I figured it was some sort of governmental advertizing campaign or something.  I didn’t have time to ask Steve what he thought of the traffic lights before an agent quickly came over, found us a form and told us to fill it out, the Customs employee would be right back.  “Any suit cases or boxes on board, be sure to put that, if the inspect they’ll look in every suitcase and box, if it isn’t declared they might think you are importing things to sell.” Ok, nope no suitcases or boxes. “How much wine we had onboard” he asked, “12 bottles, a case” I responded.  “Oh No, don’t put that!” I hadn’t even been counting the liquor bottles, he was making me nervous.  “If it comes up red let me know, we can fix it for you, I can talk to him.” He walked away. Customs searches are “randomly determined”. There is a button mounted on the traffic lights, after the Customs man looks over your declaration sheet you are asked to press the button and either the red or green light will light up indicating if you are free to go or that they will show up to the boat sometime during the next 24 hours and do an extensive search of the vessel, pulling everything apart and leaving a mess, finding my case of wine.  From what the agent indicated, however, you may be able to manipulate said randomness.  The Customs employee arrives looking stern; he looks over our form and says “Ok, now push the button”. Steve nominates me, we both pretend like we don’t know what is on the line.  Trying to look nonchalant and confident I reach out my hand, index finger extended.  Things go slow motion as I move toward the button, film noir-esque police interrogation scenes flash before my eyes, it feels like I have put my life savings on OO on the roulette table and am watching the ball spin and bounce, waiting for it to settle into a slot. I swallow the lump in my throat. Finally, Green lights up! We both give no reaction, trying not to give naivety about this whole Customs and Immigration business away. “Ok, you can go, that’s all, Gracias” he says. We turn and leave, the helpful agent gives us a thumbs up, we say thanks and walk out into the hot morning air.  As we head back to the boat my hands are shaking slightly, the adrenaline still pumping through my body.  We are both very proud that we cleared in all by ourselves, after all these months of talking about going we went.  We finally felt like we had arrived, it was time to hit the town!

When Steve and I travel we always do the initially leg work, make sure we have everything necessary to go, find general points of interest etc…but rarely we book accommodations, have anything more planned then how to get there or try and coincide our stay with any major events.  This “Let just see what happens” attitude has seen us safely on two motorcycle tips across Australia, in a soccer mom van filled with all our worldly belongings driving across America and on numerous weekend adventurous in several countries. In fact it is how we ended up on Kate in the first place. SO, really, why stop now?  And thus we found ourselves in the middle of Ensenada in the middle of Carnival.  Unlike their good Catholic cousins up north the Mexicans don’t give anything up for Lent (the 40 days before Easter) instead they have 6 days of street parties, food, floats and beer to mark the occasion.  Nothing kicks off before 6pm and really over the weekend you’re nobody unless you’re witnessing the battle of the street bands, tubas included, at 1am.  It couldn’t have been a better way to kick off the trip, thrown into the heart of Mexico during one of the best festivals of the year in one of the two best places in Baja to experience it.  There was a beer tent every 20 meters and several food stands; we jumped in with both feet. We spent the weekend roaming the streets with the locals, eating, drinking, people watching and soaking up Mexico.  We succumbed to the waitresses hollering “Fish Taco Amigos?” We tried the street vendors selling Elote Asada, BBQ’d corn on the cob drizzled with a type sour cream and then sprinkled with chilli and lime. We ordered from picture menus not having a clue what we would get but hoping that the little old ladies cooking in the kitchen wouldn’t let us down, and they didn’t.  We marvelled at the tray of salsas, guacamole and peppers served with every meal.  It was heaven!  At the end of an evening we’d meander home, full and content, unable to even think about eat for the next few days, that is until the next night when the smells an sounds lured us back to the streets and we did it all again.  We spent Sunday provisioning, finding the old Tortilleria and buying tortillas while were still warm.  We went to the Mercado, stopped at the fish market and picked up some lovely smoked tuna and bought the most delicious jar of mango honey from a little old man and woman on the street.  Between Ensenada and the bottom- most tip of the Baja Peninsula, Cabo San Lucas, there would be little, if any, chance to restock as there is little in the way of townships, let alone stores.  I spent a day in the galley preparing a few things for the fridge so that neither of us would have to spend much time standing over the stove underway, or in case it got too rough to cook. I made banana bread for quick snacks and refilled the tea and sugar containers so we’d be ready for hot drinks and organized the cupboards to make nothing would leap out underway.

On a Monday morning, in a tricky bit of wind, we departed Ensenada. First stop Bahia Tortuga, or Turtle Bay, 270nm south, our first real passage.  We decided that we’d sit four hour watches, meaning either Steve or myself was at the wheel at all times day and night.  When on watch you were either hand steering or making sure that the wind vane was keeping us on course.  Also keep your eyes keen on the horizon for traffic, check the radar, write in the ships log and plot our position on the paper chart every two hours ensuring that we were, indeed, going where we planned to.  When not on watch we were either sleeping or eating, preparing the meal for the person on watch, when it was calm boiling the kettle and filling the thermal mugs for hot drinks when it wasn’t so calm.  Within a day we’d found our rhythm.  The first day out we had light winds and lots of whales and dolphins; we were making shitty time and were completely frustrated. However by day two the wind and seas picked up, directly astern of us, making it a slow rollie but relatively flat ride.  By late afternoon things had increased a little more and we decided to reef the main sail, they say do it when you first consider it or you’ll be kicking yourself when you get to it later.  We turned into the wind so I could go forward and let down the main, tie the reef points and hoist it again with minimal fighting against the wind.  However this also meant that we turned into the waves, a 4-6 foot following seas feels slow and lazy, but on the nose it is pounding the hull, lifting the bow and dropping it again suddenly making your footing unsure and washing the decks in salt water.  With life vest and harness on I clip onto the jack lines and scamper forward, release the main halyard and ease the main sail down to the reef point, taking up just enough tension to hold the sail up but slack and luffing in the breeze.  Within minutes I am splashed and wet from the waist down. I am glad for my full wet weather gear but feel the cool salt water seep into my shoes and suddenly I feel the tears well in my eyes, I beginning to doubt myself.  No, this is no time for such silliness, you know what to do, get up and do it!  I yell inside my head.  Carefully I move along the boom tying the excess sail together so when I hoist it again it will appear as having reduced area but tight along the foot of the sail.  The boat is heaving and the decks slippery, the sail is flogging me as it slaps in the wind.  Steve and I are trying to speak back and forth but our voices lost in the wind and the noise.  I move back around to winch and raise the main sail again, I get within six inches of it being taunt and I can’t budge the line.  Ease the main sheet!!! I yell back to Steve. He quickly takes the tension off the mainsheet and I eak out the last bit of tension on the sail, putting my full body into every half crank of the winch, cleat off the halyard and slowly move back towards the cockpit as Steve resumes course and the motion of the boat eases back into a long relaxed roll.  I flop down in the seat, wet and cold but hot and sweaty at the same time.  It is Steve’s watch I go below, strip, change and crawl into the bunk, ready to jump out of bed in case Steve needs me.  As I drift to sleep I realize that we had barely any seas and just the start of moderate winds, there will be much larger challenges to come. 

By the time I am finishing my watch later that night the winds are picking up, gusting to 26kts, I was happy to let Steve drive.  I made sure he had a hot drink and closed a few boards; the occasion stray wave was splashing over the cockpit and into the cabin, and then tried to get some sleep.  The seas increased and the winds now gusted to 33kts, true.  The boat would roll and yaw with a regular rhythm until sudden a larger wave would give us an extra twist and I hear things in the main cabin being tossed about.  I get out of bed, pick numerous things off the floor that I had thought stowed and yell out the companion way to Steve. His is having a ball, like a kid on a Ferris wheel.  I crawl back into the bunk drifting in and out of sleep for another half an hour when we get another twister and I get up and tidy up again and check on Steve.  After the fourth time I stay in bed, the cushions can stay on the floor, I just got warm again and Steve does not need me.  Finally at 6am when I am back on watch things are beginning to calm, Steve gets some sleep and within and few hours the wind dies completely, I turn on the engine and we motor the last bit of the way into Turtle Bay.   It took 3 days to go those 270 miles.   Suddenly the South Pacific seems a very long way away.



Introducing Esteban

We spend the day at Turtle Bay catching up on sleep, cleaning the boat, drying out our gear and getting ready for another couple of days at sea.  There isn’t much here, barely a community so we don’t go ashore happy to rest and relax, not wanting to bother with inflating and launching the tender.  We depart on February 27th and head south for our next stop, Bahia Magdalena.  The coast line is rugged and barren, scrubby dessert hills jutting from the sea in shades of browns and red.  Between Bahia Tortuga and Bahia Magdalena there is no place to stop and shelter, we’ll have another to go.

The winds are good and the whales plentiful.  We are bundled up against the cool breeze as we head out, Steve is at the wheel.  With the wind and seas still aft of us we are making pretty good speed, I decide to put out the rod, time to start catching fish.  Although I am off watch I rest in the cockpit, no sense in getting warm and snuggled into bed only to bed called out for a fish on the line.  I doze, one ear cocked and listening to the wind, the seas and for the telltale whiz of the reel.  And before long I am up with a start, hearing the reel spinning off line milliseconds before Steve calls out “FISH ON!”  I jump to the rod, give it a few tugs and start to reel in our first fish.  He is lively and playful, letting me gain a few feet of line before diving again and taking some more. I am fighting hard but we have full sails up and when surfing down waves have been seeing 9kts on the speedometer.  Finally after what seems like a lifetime to my arm muscles I get the fish in close enough for Steve grab the line from the stern and bring it onboard. It is a bonito, part of the tuna family, a medium sized fish but plenty for us. We decide to keep it and after extracting the hook Steve stuns it with our little baseball bat and he flops around the cockpit.  It fish is calm for long minutes before convulsing some more, spurting blood and making a mess of the boat. We had deposited him in behind the wheel, perhaps without much thought, but it is a smaller space and with no teak to stain.  And, so now, we were now both perched up on the combing trying to keep the boat on course while avoiding being covered in blood by “the fish who wouldn’t die”.  Finally Steve gets a chance to gill cut it, letting it bleed out even more but putting it out of its misery.  We slosh out the cockpit with salt water and Steve insists on taking a picture of me holding up the prize fish.  Then, while I am at the wheel Steve carefully fillets our tuna and portions it for later. We are both excited and contented by our catch; we will be able to sustain ourselves.  Little do I know that last half hour is about to change my life.   I have just gotten bit by the fishing bug. The symptoms will not show up for weeks but I have contracted a fatal case. Now I just need to learn to like eating the damn stuff!

For the rest of the day and most of the night the conditions remain constant with moderate breeze and 4-6’ seas from astern.  The Hydrovane, our self steering gear, is having a little trouble keeping up and we wander off course a little through the night.  This is the first real test of our vane, we are both getting use to it and learning how to use it and so we are happy to let us come a few degrees off course, watching how it handles going dead down wind.  It is difficult to decide what gear to buy and what will work for your boat and what you really need when sitting at the dock.  For instance when running dead down wind it is common to have a preventer to prevent an accidental gyb, a common and potentially dangerous occurrence that can cause to both harm to people and your rig.  The only down side to a preventer (which literally ties back your boom in one position) is that it is difficult to undo under pressure when you need you to gyb. (A gyb and a tack are the same motion but in opposing wind directions.  During a tack you are sailing into the wind, to change course the bow passes through the eye of the wind and the sails are moved from one side of the boat to the other. During a gyb you are sailing before the wind, it is coming from behind you. As you change course the wind goes from one side of the boat to the other over the stern and the sails are set on the opposing side of the boat.  However, when sailing down wind you usually have the sails eased way out and the boom then has a longer way to travel to go from one side to the other.  Usually during a gyb you bring the main sail in, gyb and then let it out again on the opposite side, making it safer and putting less strain on your rig (mast, boom, etc).  An accidental gyb to very easy to do as the wind is almost dead astern of you and a few degrees change of direction causes the mainsail to violently flop from one side to the other while boom if fully extended, with much noise and force behind it.)  We have a Gyb Easy, a small but very effective devise that lets the boom come across the deck during an accidental gyb but through the friction of a line laced through it, slows it down and therefore prevents a violent swing and any damage done.  During the night we are glad to have it, the following seas throw us a few twists and the little Gyb Easy pays for itself three times over.  We are happy with the overall performance of the boat and our gear.  We seem to making good time.

That is until noon the following day.  I am on watch and, as has been the trend for the last 24 hours whenever I am on watch, the wind dies. This time however it calms completely, leaving us listen to the rattle and bang of the sails and rigging swinging loosely in dead air.  Steve is unable to sleep for all the clanging above him on deck.  We pack up, finally relenting to the midday heat, annoyed at the sound of boat as it bobs around. Thankfully we have a little current and therefore steerage so we can keep on course, or at least pointed in the right direction.  We are trying to be patient and get use to drifting, we ARE planning a Pacific crossing and there WILL be more days like this to come.   We talk of fuel consumption, engine hours and our will power to sit this out. With a tank capacity of 25 gallons we figure we’re ok for the next few days, and hope to pick up fuel when we arrive at our next anchorage. Then I ask the unspeakable question, “Steve, what happens if we were run out of fuel?”  “We’d have to bleed the system and refill, I really don’t want to have to do that, especially out here”  Another hour goes by, the wind refuses to fill in and we give in, agreeing to motor for another hour to see if around the next point we can find the wind.  Steve glows the engine then turns the key… nothing. He tries again and still nothing. He knowingly looks at me, closes his eyes tight, willing the engine to turn over….nothing.  I must have shut it down with fumes in the tank, we’d run out of fuel.   This however does not set me into a panicked frenzy; on the contrary I actually had to have a little laugh.  We had 12 gallons of fuel in jerry cans and besides, it reminded me of our first motorcycle trip across Australia. The trip was  planned when on a Thursday we left the boat we’d been working on, on Friday we bought a bike, Saturday we bought our gear, we had beer on Sunday and early Monday morning we drove off to cover almost 7000km of a country I had no idea about with a man I’d only known for six months. It was my second time on a motorcycle.  Riding down the middle of the Simpson dessert on the first day, 300km between towns and nothing but red sands all around, I wondered what would happen if we’d run out of fuel out here.  No sooner had the thought flashed through my head then the bike coughed, sputtered and gently glided to a stop. Steve had flicked the reserve switch a while ago when he noticed to fuel gage on low but apparently the reserve switch didn’t do anything anymore (like I said we’d had the bike for 4 days).  We were 10km from the next town, and I was wondered what I had agreed to.  Thankfully, after only minutes of roadside waiting and discussing what to do, a friendly car stopped, gave us a couple litres of fuel and told us that if we ever saw a Hell’s Angel in need to help a guy out.  He was a biker.  He accepted no cash and we were saved from a long hot day in the dessert. That was seven years ago.  So, Steve gets to work bleeding the system and carefully pouring the diesel from the jerry cans into the tank, the fuel cap on deck being precariously close to edge, and I watch as he carefully lifts the heavy jugs outside the rails and slowly filters and fills the tanks.  There is minimal diesel spillage thanks to Steve’s carefully and deliberate work ethic and the engine starts up again no problem.  We bump our fuel consumption estimation up to 1 gallon per hour, just slightly more than we’d thought. We have 12 hours of motoring and we have to run the engine at least an hour a day to keep up with the electrically needs of the fridge, freezer and navigation instruments.  Wind power is free but patience are sometimes hard to come by. 

By the time we get to Bahia Magdalena the next day we are in dire need of some diesel, we only have a few gallons to spare.  Bahia Magdalena is a dusty fishing village of about 200 people nestled on a rocky shore in a large protected bay. Puerto San Carlos, a township a couple hours away by dirt road, is connected by the main road and serves much of the Baja. This is a major port so we have to report to the Port Captain and check in.  In the morning over cups of tea we sit and watch the shore line, there are school children trundling off to class, the local fisherman heading off or coming back from the days/nights work and a few tour boats filled with gringos that have beached. We set about constructing Timmy; roll out the tender, inflate it with the foot pump and proceed to put the floor boards in (we all remember that episode) all while squeezed on the foredeck, more fun than you can imagine.  Just as we lower it down over the side and mount the engine the Mexican Navy pulls up and anchors beside us.  I have to giggle to seeing the laundry drying on lines along the deck, and we are worried about looking like grotty yachties!  Finally we are ready to go ashore. As we arrived at dusk we anchored a little further out than may be necessary just to be on the safe side, so we have a nice tender ride in and beach it amongst the rounded stones and mounds of clam shells, along side the countless other local boats called pangas.  We had noticed a little restaurant during our morning tea binocular scouting mission and so head up to see what it available.  As we approach Steve mutters “It’s all you Honey, they don’t even understand when I speak English, you’ll be great” What? I think to myself.  As the chicas bid us “Buenas Dias” Steve goes mute. I am left with my two years of close to failing university Spanish lessons and a lot of charades. “Where is the Port Captain?” I ask in Spanish. “He is in San Carlos this morning” Well, they seem to understand me, this is good. “When will he be back?” “Oh, maybe this afternoon” Things are progressing well “Is there a store?”  Yes there seems to be a store of some sort, somewhere over there.  We meander down the beach encountering nothing but stray dogs and bleached whale bones. The Navy are ferrying something ashore, a supply mission.  We don’t find the store and head back to the restaurant.  “We need diesel”, I tell the girls in Spanish,”Is there any here?” “No, no diesel here, in San Carlos, over there”, she answers. Things are starting to go downhill.  “Not good, we don’t have enough to get there”, I answer. “None, none here?” “No.” “Beer here?” I ask “Yes” she says, “Good, two beers please”.  Well at least there is cold beer I say turning to mute Steve.  We sit and have a beer, they want us to order some food so Steve gets some shrimp and I order some quesadillas, the only thing on the menu that doesn’t have seafood in it.  As we are eating they continue to set up and a man called Juan comes and strikes up a conversation. Steve introduces himself as Estaban; I spin around a little surprise. After acting shy all morning he breaks his silence with Estaban? I ask again about diesel, he says again that there is none in Bahia Magdalena but he has a friend in San Carlos who can bring some tomorrow, how much do we need?  He picks up his cell phone makes a call, asks a few more questions and tells us that tomorrow morning his friend Alberto will arrive at the boat with our 40 litres of diesel. Do we need anything else? Water for showers but not to drink? That is what the Navy has been delivering. The small community is isolated relying on regular provisioning drop offs.  They are not on the power grid and so power is supplied by petrol generators, the village houses are black by 8pm.  We thank him for his help, pay the tab and head back to the boat. Steve arranges to buy some beer off some visiting Mexican fisherman in a fancy sport fish; they will drop off on their way out.  Crisis had been diverted, now we wait for Alberto.

In the morning as I am making tea and coffee and deliberating about finishing off a batch of sour dough I hear the sounds of an engine approaching and slowing down. I pop my head out of the cockpit thinking it was Alberto much earlier than expected.  By the name on his boat and the official book under his arm I deem it is the Port Captain and tell Steve to get a wriggle on.  We welcome him on board and let him know that we tried to check in yesterday but he was in San Carlos thinking that perhaps we misstep some sort of officialdom. No everything is fine just coming to check on us and notate us in his ledger.  He accepts my first and last cup of coffee I had made this morning and chats nicely about Bahia Magdalena.  He was born here, moved to San Carlos and came back, has few sons, loves the Baja, people, he says, are very nice here, not like the mainland. This is something we’ve heard a lot.   He tells us that Cabo San Lucas is bad, very busy, people not nice and is surprised to hear we are heading to Australia, he comments that there have not been many boats this year, bad economy, bad for business.  He asks if we need diesel or water and we can’t muster up the courage to tell him to have already been arranged, he probably would have gotten a cut of the delivery charge, we already feel like we’re stepping on toes.  Thankfully Alberto is late; arriving after the Port Captain reaches shore and moors his panga.  He of course arrives with 20 more litres than requested but we take it all, filling the tank and both the jerry cans for back up.  I watch as he heaves and plastic drum onto our deck and sucks and siphons diesel into the tank, never getting even a drop in his mouth or spilling any on our boat. When the tank hiccups (fuel vent issues) and burps a little diesel down the side is very apologetic even though it is not his fault.  He accepts a glass of ice water and a clean rag. We pay him 9 pesos a litre plus an old piece of rope, he needs a new line to tie his boat up with, he seems happy with the deal.  As soon as he unties we raise anchor and head out of the bay.  It is an hour before we reach the mouth of the harbour and start heading south again. Just as we exit the bay the wind fills in and we raise the sails again, change course and get ready for another couple of days at sea.  The wind generator is twirling furiously as the wind increases; we are both busy with the boat.  When suddenly there is a whirrthunk, sproing, and splash. The whirthunk sounded suspiciously like something being thrown into the blades of a fan, we look up to the wind gen and I run inside to trip the breaker so it will stop and we can assess the damage. The sproing sounds like something bouncing off the bimini and obviously the splash into the sea. Did we hit something? I ask as we both spin around and see what went overboard.  There, lying motionless is a seagull, its neck at an awkward angle.  His buddy flies down to check on him, squawking once and hovering momentarily before flying off coming to the same conclusion as us, he was dead.  We were both amazed and a little stunned, they don’t mention that it the manual!  The wind generator suffered no apparent damage; we flick it back on and ran until the wind died out again later that night, of course it was my watch.  We are on the way to Cabo San Lucas, the southern tip of the Peninsula, tourist mecca and Gringo paradise.  After a week and a half in the beauty and relative isolation of Baja we are not sure what to expect, but are looking forward to clean laundry and cold beer.


Remember: Free Chips & Salsa Don’t Equal Dinner

I relieve Steve at 0600, I’ve been up for hours, barely able to get any sleep while the rigging clanged and rattled above me.  The wind had petered out during my watch, four hours earlier, and we’ve been adrift since, conserving our fuel and try our patience.  Finally Steve gives me the go ahead to spark up the engine and motor for a couple hours, he had been hesitating to do it, wanting to let me sleep and knowing that the faint smell of diesel in the cabin quickly turns my stomach, (I’ve vomited once already while motoring in flat seas and he can hardly notice after all these years of working on boats).  I happily take the wheel and get going, wanting to put some much needed miles under the hull.  The sun is filling the sky, the seas are flat, I have one headphone in and am grooving along to some tunes, sipping a hot cup of tea; the world is good.  As I scan the horizon the small dark dots become clear, birds up ahead. As I drive through the first group they barely move, too busy feeding to be bothered by me.  Just below the waters surface is thousands of tiny red dots, I strain my eyes against the reflected glare and make out the shape of a small lobster things, no bigger then my thumb nail, their small shapes fade into the depths, the sea is red until it is black.  More birds up ahead, hundreds of them, as far as I can see.  Too good to pass up I quickly put the rod out and aim directly for the next group of birds.  Suddenly I see splashes as red crescents break the surface. “Fish” I say to myself, “And where there is little fish there are bigger fish!”  It isn’t long before the reel is screaming, and so am I “Fish on, FISH ON!” Steve jumps out of the bunk and is on deck before I get the words all out.  I slow the boat and he grabs the reel out of the holder.  He sits on the combing and begins to winding it in, a few feet of line at a time.  The rod bent in a sharp arch, his knuckles are white as he fights to hold on. “You might have to reverse a bit, this is a BIG one.” I throw it into reverse, creeping towards whatever is on the end of the line.  Suddenly the rod is pulled forward, I change direction.  Steve is being jerked back and forth losing what advantage he was able to gain as the fish goes this way then that, he throws me a look of surprise and confusion.  He digs in, pumping the rod backwards and reeling quickly as he lets the tip down, taking up the slack. Slowly he brings it up towards the stern “Can you see it, what is it?” He puffs between furiously pulling and reeling.  “Reddish, BIG, brownish, not sure” Then suddenly it surfaces “HOLY SHIT, a SQUID!?”  “COOL!” Steve laughs as he shrugs his shoulders in disbelief. He wound in a three and a half foot Humboldt squid, which is, for now, tired and placid on the surface.  As we debate what to do the squid inks and inks and inks some more, I am having visions of the whole boat being covered in its browny, green slime if we were to get it on board. “Ummm…well what do we do now Honey?” I inquire. “Get the bucket,” he replies. “It won’t fit in the bucket!” “Well I am not putting my hand in there!” he gasps. Humboldt squid, which are plentiful in the Sea of Cortez, not only have big sharp beak but each of their suckers are ringed with up to 30 claw like thorns.  They can leave a nasty scar and are said to be angry beasts who group together to swarm their prey, including men.  “That’s a lot of calamari, Steve, I am not sure we have room in the freezer, besides, is something that big even edible?” “Yeah, sure, I think so…” As we discuss the finer points of squid preparation and just how we would A. Get the thing onboard and kill it or B. Get our lure back, both without injuring ourselves, the squid gives a few last pulls, and tears free from the hook.  Without hesitation it dives deep, quickly jetting away. We are relieved, and slightly disappointed, it is not everyday one hooks a three and a half foot squid.  I decide not to put the rod out again and let Steve have a rest. Soon the birds subside and I am left on my own again for a couple hours with nothing but the hum of the engine and long flat seas stretching to the horizon.

Three days later we see Cabo from miles away in the dark, lit up like a Christmas tree, beckoning the masses to its tropical paradise.  As we near we both agree, Cabo San Lucas stinks; literally.  So accustom to the clean ocean breeze and vacantness of the Baja peninsula that we both notice the air heavy and suffocating as we near the harbour.  It is a familiar stench and although it takes us a few minutes to place it, it is an unmistakable hot moist smell: Garbage, the smell of humans.  Steve has been here before and the harbour is well marked for the constant flow of cruise ship traffic that frequently it or we wouldn’t have tried a night approach at all.  The water is dark and the hillside of town a blur of lights. We both agree that if things seem too difficult we will just continue to sail northward for another hour then turn around and make the approach at day break, it is already 4:30am.   I try to offer help but am easily confused by all the background lights, things at night are not as they seem; the red lights flashing that I think are channel markers are traffic lights on shore. I think I spot the two channel guides, two white lights that line up, but they are just more bright shore lights. There are lights on the water that look as if they are flashing and moving, oh wait, they are. It is fisherman in pangas turning flashlights on and off to let us know they are there as the zoom about the basin.  We are creeping in slowly, hyper alert and straining against the blackness to see anything ahead.  Finally we weight anchor off a strip of long white beach, we figure since there is a 150’ mega yacht next door it must be an ok spot.  There are a few sailboats that appear, quiet and motionless in the anchorage, they are without anchor lights making them hard to make out against the darkness. Unfortunately this kind carelessness will be a trend that we see all too often.  It takes about half an hour to pack up the boat and by then we are satisfied that the anchor is secure and so we crawl into bed for a few precious hours of rest, both exhausted. 

At 8:30 we are shaken awake, it feels like we are caught in a washing machine, Kate rolling and tossing, pulling at her anchor.  I sleepily get out of bed, feeling surprisingly refreshed despite the lack of sleep. As I peak my head out the companionway my nostrils are filled with the smell of diesel and petrol and I am met by the buzz of a couple jet skis as they pass by.  We have anchored in front of a long stretch of white beach dotted with hotels and restaurants, beach chairs and umbrellas. Except for the rocky hillside in the background we could have easily been in Fort Lauderdale again.  The tourist are up and the rental agencies are making their money on anything that floats; jet skis, kayaks, parasail rides, water taxi’s to the other beaches and banana rides (where you are pulled behind a go fast boat while sitting on a large inflatable banana, white knuckled for dear life, as it is the sole purpose of the driver to hit as many waves as possible and make you fall off), just to name a few.  And, belching out diesel exhaust is a Cruise ship, anchored not far away, ferrying passengers to shore.  It is all I expected, and nothing resembling authentic Mexico, but we are both looking forward to the diversion after a couple weeks in the middle of nowhere, we can find the real Mexico someplace else. For now we are content to join the rest of the gringos in “paradise”.

After breakfast we put the dingy in the water (it has been inflated and tied upside down on the foredeck since Bahia Magdalena) and head ashore.  We tie up at the dingy dock at the Marina and immediately approached by a guard.  He lets us know that for $3 USD a day can go back and forth, leaving the dingy here and it will safe and looked after by Marina security.  Seems like a bargain to good to refuse considering they want $3.00 per foot per day to dock here! We head off in search of the Port Captains office.  Although entering Mexico has become much more simplified the formality of checking into every Port is still expected.  You no longer have to pay a fee or visit immigration, just arrive at the Port Captains office where they copy your boat documents, crew list and import permit, they recorded your arrival and departure dates, hand you several copies of their paper work proudly stamped and dated and these you present to the next Port Captain where the whole procedure is repeated.  It is the tale end of an outgoing antiquated system that must be supported by the pulp and paper industry considering the amount of “official” copies, stamps and forms required. But, it is relatives painless and the officials always pleasant so it makes the exercise a little less tedious.  Afterwards it is time for some recon, get the lay of the land and find some much needed services: fuel, water, laundry, food and beer, perhaps not in that order.  Steve’s knowledge of the area doesn’t extend much beyond the waterfront, it catering mostly to the tourist trade and less to the budget conscience traveller.  The Port Captains office is a little off the beaten   track and so we get a little glimpse of life beyond the hawkers, overprices beer, expensive duty free jewellery and the usual cruise ship passenger traps.  Of course we are not impervious to that scene and do have an obligatory beer at Slims Elbow Room, the self proclaimed smallest bar in the world. Although it is just wide enough to walk past the stools propped up at the very small bar, we both agree that that alone makes much too roomy for that to be true.  We find a mini market that has a sad selection of produce but enough to get by and a good selection of canned goods, cheese and eggs. We buy a few things including a 5 gallon jug of purified water and head back to the boat. 

Our water supply is getting low (the water maker is on the To Do List, we couldn’t wait in California any longer). Usually a tank (we only carry 50 gallons) lasts us about 1 week on the dock, us not being particularly careful about how much goes down the drain.  And although we have been using salt water for washing dishes etc... It’s been almost two weeks now and every time I turn on the facet I wait for the pump to act up telling us that the tanks are dry.  When we filled the tanks in Ensenada the morning we departed I took as much of the clean California water out of the tank, filling the kettle, the thermos’, Steve’s 3 litre camel back, and every available bottle I could find.  I even got out the two 5 gallon Solar Shower bags and filled them too, every little drop counts.  The say that the water is potable from the dock in Mexico, most of the marinas using reverse osmosis, but I wasn’t taking any chances, besides, and extra ten gallons of water could be the difference between a shower and staying dirty, and I am a believer of the cleanliness next to godliness line.  Three days from Cabo I start noticing that the tea tastes a little funny, but figure that since EVERYTHING is covered in salt, including me, maybe it is has just permeate my taste buds too.  I wonder if Steve forgot to rinse my cup with fresh water after he washed it again or maybe he just made a really strong pot of tea this morning.  When I turn on the tap and draw a fresh glass of water to drink it has the tell tale slimy feeling and briny smell of the ocean. Some how our tanks have been compromised, perhaps through the deck level tank vent, we’ve taken on some salt water.  Those two Solar Shower bags of clean fresh water are invaluable, and although our tea has a distinct background plastic flavour of water that has been sitting in a plastic bag for a week it does not taste salty or slimy, and that suits me just fine.  Until further notice the tank water is for showers and dishes only, and I am happy to lug the heavy 5 gallon jug of sealed, labelled and guaranteed clean water back to the boat. The 60 pesos deposit for the jug and 15 pesos for the contents seems a small price to pay for peace of mind that clean water brings you. I can’t wait to have a glass fresh out of the jug!  This solves the drinking water problem but our tanks are still getting low and we have another 140 miles before La Paz, a marina and a hose to fill the tanks.

That evening, after the seventh booze cruise boat snakes it way through the anchorage with it’s music pumping and the volume on full blast, we decided that it I have been in Mexico far too long without having one of the famous margaritas, we are heading shore for a night off; no watches, no being adrift, no alarms and broken sleep, no boat, just a few drinks then home to pass out for ATLEAST eight hours, maybe longer.  We pick a spot on the water front advertising cheap drinks and catering to gringo and take a seat at the bar.  The place is fairly empty and so we convince the bar tender to mute the TV that is on Fox News, it distracts from the Mexico vibe when you’re forced to listen to the same loop of American news every 20 minutes. Over drinks we discuss sail trim & tactics, our up coming trips and the long list of things to fix, change or improve on board.  We devour the bowl of tortilla chips and salsa offered as bar snacks and order another round. We are running on empty, three hours of sleep, a couple margaritas and the excitement of Saturday night, so we decide to do a little bar hopping to see the sites.  We stop at Squid Roe on the way to the dingy dock, apparently one of THE hottest spots in Cabo it is not quiet hopping when we saunter in at nine o’clock, but we pay double for a bad frozen margarita in a funny plastic glass, scream at each other over the ear bleedingly loud dance music and people watch while we wait for our drinks to melt enough to drink without getting an ice cream headache.  After the table behind us fills with old men in bad tropical shirts, khaki shorts and deck shoes with white socks, who are a good 40 years older than the average patron and have obviously come to oogle the girls and smoke cheap cigars, that they blow directly at us, we decide we’ve seen enough of Cabo for the first day and head home.  I suggest that we use the cover of darkness to pull up to one of the empty slips and fill the solar shower bags that I brought ashore with us.  If we do this two or three times we have half a tank of water, we are good until La Paz.

Sunday morning is ushered in again by jet skis wake and fuel fumes, my head is still processing last night’s margaritas and is not happy about it all.  Steve decides that today is laundry day, we quickly get things together and head ashore to solid ground, away from the jerking and rocking of the boat, my head is thankful.  We have two weeks salty cold weather clothes, bedding and almost every towel, dish clothe and napkin onboard to wash.  The load is awkward and heavy putting more strain on the tender, slowing our usually slow speed to a snails pace.  We get ashore, mostly dry and pack the load into the push cart and backpack and head in search of a laundry mat.   The streets are narrow and busy, the sidewalks steep and riddled with bits of rebar jutting upwards, loose fitting manhole covers and foot sized holes in the concrete; hard to navigate on the best of days let alone with a slight hangover and a trolley full of dirty  laundry. After several inquiries and helpful locals we indeed find a place, small but tidy and tended by two robust and friendly ladies who are busy bustling between the wall of washers and the wall of dryers when we arrive.  They insure that it is no problem, we can have the laundry done, and it is paid per load.  Sounds good, I’ve brought my detergent, stain spray and dryer sheets. I start unloading everything, now, how do I use the machine? This causes much chatter and confusion as we enter a long and involved Spanish conversation where I finally determine that it would cost more if I do it then if they wash, dry and fold it all.   Unfortunately our wardrobe is riddles with hand knit wool socks, delicate under things and pants and t shirts that if dried in a machine will look like I shop in the children’s section. And on top of that I will almost for certain break out in a rash if they use cheap smelly detergent and fabric softener. I have no choice but to leave it all with them but I try to explain that I would like them to wash but not dry certain items, and please to use only my detergent. This causes more confusion and lively chatter amongst the ladies until finally a man appears to translate and all is well, we are told to return in four hours, it will be ready.  I walk away, mentally exhausted and slightly worried that nothing I said was comprehended. 

To fill the time we stop for lunch, randomly at a tree shaded cavernous restaurant, but there are a few older men sipping beers and the open kitchen looks clean and well taken care of.  The waiter is young, speaks a little English and has a nice sense of humour, we feel at home immediately.  Pleasantly surprised at the quality of our meal and the price but we can’t possibly finish the amount of food served.  The owner clears our plates as the waiter is on break and chats nicely about the up coming futbol (soccer) match and which team we should cheer for.  After a nice meal and a few beers I am feeling much better and ready to retrieve our laundry.  Much to my pleasant surprise everything was done as discussed, I was handed a small bag of still wet clothes and the rest was nicely folded and packed in plastic bags.  The bill is a hefty 300 pesos, almost 25 bucks, seems like laundry is going to have to be factored in as an expense!

We are departing in the morning for La Paz; we’ve had enough of the bright lights and big city. The gas tank is full, the fridge well stocked and we’ve got a couple cases of beer on board; we’re excited to see what comes next.  That night when I dry off after a quick shower with a clean towel and then crawl between crisp, clean sheets to drift off to sleep I realize that I have finally found “paradise” in Cabo San Lucas.


We’re Having a Whale of a Time

It was a beautiful clear morning as we weighed anchor and headed north up the inside of the Baja Peninsula.  We had decided to make the trip to La Paz in three short passages, travelling 10-12 hours a day and hopefully covering 50-60nm.  Doing this meant we’d be in the safety and comfort of an anchorage by nightfall, eating a hot meal together and getting a full nights sleep, if all went well.  Only since we’d gotten to Cabo San Lucas had the days warmed enough that you could be in shorts, as long as you had a long sleeve shirt on, making the days during passage much more pleasant.  And so I found myself that morning in the cockpit keeping Steve company as he drove, greedily soaking up the warmth of the sun, keeping a lazy eye on the horizon for whales and my ear cocked toward the rod we were trolling.  Our three month delay in departing San Diego meant that we are sailing during the whale migration season. During the winter whales come south to the warmer waters of Mexico to calf then start heading back northwards for the summer.  Our first few weeks had been full of sightings, and very exciting. In fact, if the other person wasn’t up on deck you promptly called out whale and they came running, I had even been woken up once to see the majestic creatures jumping in the distance. However, when the sightings didn’t taper off but instead become more frequent, there seemed to be as many whales as dolphins, you often marvelled alone at their beauty and grace, letting the other person rest, knowing full well they’d be doing the same shortly. In fact, I am embarassed to say, whale sightings became so common that they were no longer exciting really, that is until today.  

We were making good time, finally found some wind and had the sails up, enjoying a break from the rumble of the engine.  Our course had us sticking close to shore, sailing only about a half a mile off, there was no hidden navigational hazards because of a quick drop off of the ocean floor, we had over 40 meters below us. The water was clear and blue, and with an occasion fish spotted we were hoping to catch some dinner.  Steve was gazing out to sea watching some whales breaching in the distance, putting on a fabulous splash show with no audience close enough to enjoy it.  I was daydreaming and watching the red rocky hills of shore pass by dotted with luxury homes and large brightly painted hotels when suddenly a young calf came barrelling out of the water a boat length between us and shore.  He propelled himself so high only the very tip of his tail skimmed the waters surface as he did a full barrel roll and flopped back into the ocean with a mighty splash.  It happened so fast that when Steve spun around he only caught the splash of the whale’s re-entry. It was fantastic, better than any aquarium show we’d paid money to see, just us and the whale out on the ocean.  We watched carefully to see if he would surface again, the only problem with having such a fantastic view is that out in the wild there is no plexi-glass divider to keep him in his tank, and he was a big as us.  No sooner did he disappear from view did a mother and calf surface just ahead of us.  They were swimming at a good speed and in a fairly straight line off to our port side, they would most likely out run us so we stayed on our course and kept our eyes on them.  The forth or fifth time they went under it took a few more seconds for them to resurface and when they did they had cut a sharp left turn into us, breaking the surface just meters off the bow.  Steve quickly spun the wheel to starboard and I ran forward to see what would happen next.  The calf was between us and the mother, right under the bow, if I had tried I could have touched them both.  As the two slid back under the surface of the water the bow ever so slight veered out to sea, missing them both, but only by millimetres.  Steve nosed the boat back to port and they swam out into the ocean, seemingly unaware of us or of our close encounter.  We are not sure what about the shape of our boat attracts so much attention from marine animals, is it because it is big and round and black with fins, does it look like a whale from below?  Did she just want to come and say hello? Did she think us a threat to her baby?  Whatever the answer it was official, if we didn’t see another whale this trip, it wouldn’t be too soon.

The rest of the day went by with little to report, thankfully, and we arrive at our anchorage at Los Frailles (the Friars, the rocky bluff apparently looked like monks ascending the hillside…to someone) with an hour of light to spare.   We decide to anchor on the north side of the out cropping, a little trickier because of a reef and shoal located in the small bay but, as the guide books suggest, it will protect us from the swell, give us a quiet night sleep. The small beach in the corner is occupied by a couple of families camping but otherwise it is calm and quiet.  In the morning we get an early start and as we pull up anchor a panga approaches to let us know that this is now a National Park, protected due to the reef, and we must not anchor here so to protect the coral (we were careful to obviously not anchor on the reef to protect both the coral and the boat) but there is room on the other side of the point, it will cost $10 a night.  I say sorry as I secure the anchor and let him know we are heading north but will let anyone we met know and we quickly get going. This will be one of several discrepancies we find with our guide books, from here on out we start taking them with a grain of salt.

We reach our second anchorage after a trying day sailing or is that a day trying to sail? With almost no wind we end up motoring more than we’d like and finally at 8pm we approach Bahia de los Muertos, the Bay of the Dead.  It is a bright and almost full moon so we risk entering the anchorage after dark.  The bay is a long sweeping white cresent with no hidden rocks or submerged reefs. We throw the pick clear of a few of the unlit boats already in the anchorage and perhaps a little far from shore but we still have protection from the swell and are catching a little wind to keep the wind generator spinning.  We decide that we will assess our position in the morning, move if we want to be further into the bay, but for now we are holding nicely and are looking forward to dinner and bed.  The morning breaks and I am first out of bed, looking forward to a cup of coffee and a days rest.  I stumble out into the cockpit to turn on the propane and am met with a sunny bright morning and a stunning view.  The beach is pristine, interrupted only on either end with new developments; a hotel/golf course on the far side and on the other a low unassuming restaurant with rambling and well kept gardens that tumble down the hill toward the rocky shore. The scrubby hillside in front of us has old estate that is long abandon and slowly crumbling into the man sized cactus that surround it.  There are a line of pangas (a local built, now fibreglass, all purpose boat about 20 feet long with at least 60 horses on the back) on the beach colourfully dotting the clean white sand that reflects the blues and greens of the clear water.  There are only three or four other boats in the anchorage, none of which are closer than 100m to us, so it feels like we have the place to ourselves and I have a feeling I might like to stay for a while.  We decide over a late and relaxing cooked breakfast to take the dingy ashore and see what the restaurant has to offer, perhaps we’ll treat ourselves to dinner tonight.

As we near shore we see that the dusty red plain stretching out to the horizon is covered in cactus, perfectly shaped with three “arms” and two stories tall, just like you see in the movies. After a photo op and a quick look around we wander inside the open air restaurant.  It is clean and spacious and has a few patrons, mostly tourist, but we sit and order a beer, check out the menu and take in the view.  We are joined by Debbie and Brian from “Wandering Star”, another boat that we had been zigzagging up the coast with yesterday. This is their third year cruising the Baja, we swap stories, eager to recount our whale tale from the day before and pick their brains a little, they are full of good information.  We are also introduced to Mike, a former American football player and now part owner of the restaurant.  He gives us some info about the area and mentions that the yellowtail are running right now, lots of boats for hire, they head around the corner to some good fishing grounds if we are interested. Steve’s ears perk up, we’re not interested in hiring a boat but maybe a chance to get out the rods.  Later that evening he takes the dingy out and trolls around the rocky shore line of the bay.  Within 20 minutes he caught four fish, none of which are edible, but it is enough to convince him to stay one more day, we agree to try the spot Mike told us about early the next morning.

We excitedly load up the tender: two fishing rods (Steve discovers his has broken in half while in storage but as it caught four fish last night it will still do the job), 5 gallon bucket, filet knife, fish identification book, sunscreen and a small cooler with a few refreshments, ah hum.  It takes 20 minutes of following the coast to get to the sweet spot, but we can see it from miles away.  We are hardly the only ones out this morning, the water is dotted with panagas and the sky is filled with birds, both pretty good signs.  Within minutes we are getting nibbles and bites, we pull up a couple puffer fish, a barracuda, a few gar fish, nothing edible but all fun.  Then Steve hooks something sizable, he puts up a good fight with his little broken rod and finally manages to bring it up, it is a 3 Lb grouper, he just caught us lunch!  We fish a little longer but as we have enough to feed us and the cooler is looking a little empty we head home, still trolling the lines of course.  Back on the boat Steve filets and cuts the grouper into small bit sized pieces that he’ll quick fry as we decided to have fish tacos.  I leave him in the cockpit attending the BBQ with a beer in one had, a pair of tongs in the other and the satisfied smile of a cheshire cat.  It is a lovely meal and even I, not a big eater of fish, agree that might just taste a little better when you catch it yourself.
We spend another relaxing day at Bahia de los Muertos (which we discover that for marketing the new developments is being renamed Bahia de los Suenos, Bay of Dreams, apparently people don’t want to buy land in Dead Man’s Cove, go figure) and head off the next morning towards La Paz.  The wind is right on the nose and we have a full day of sailing to windward, tacking back and forth we seem to have good speed but have to sail twice the distance to cover the ground needed, it getting a little late.  We decide to stop at Bahia Ballandra, 5 miles before the entrance to La Paz, as the harbour entrance is long and although well marked, littered with shoals and foul grounds that can be accompanied with strong currents.  We decide to overnight at Ballandra and attempt La Paz fresh and well rested in the morning light.  The anchorage is full and the wind is coming out of the South East. We throw the pick at the back of the pack a little closer to the rock wall then I prefer but it is getting dark and we seem to be holding well.  I heat up a big pot of chilli I had made the day before and quickly whip up a batch of corn bread, after a long day sailing we both need a proper meal.  Just as we sit down to eat the wind picks up, gusting to 20kts, kicking up the swell and making it impossible to leave anything on the table.  The books say this anchorage was suppose to be good in a south easterly!  We eat with one hand on our glasses of water (or beer, in Steve’s case) and one ear on the sounds of the boat.  After dinner and dishes were cleaned and put away we sit down to watch a little TV (or rather re watch a DVD on our laptop) when suddenly Steve jumps up and sticks his head out of the companion way.  We have been periodically checking the anchorage, watching the boats and counting anchor lights but conditions have steadied and everyone seemed to be fairing ok, until now.  Not a boat length from us and moving fast was the big old ketch that was anchored in front us, dragging anchor.  I get on the radio and try and hail it with no reply. The wind shifts and we seem to be out of danger but he is still dragging toward other boats. We debate about noise makers and getting into the tender when just as suddenly they seem to have grabbed the bottom again and stopped, just short of another ketch.  It is a full hour before anyone from that boat comes on deck and realizes what just happened, and when they do they quickly pull up anchor and motor away.  It is enough of a close call that we both decide it would be best to sit anchor watch, not so worried about us but the others around us, it’s a bit like being parked on a steep hill and hoping everyone else remember to put on their parking break.  I volunteer for the 2-6am knowing that Steve will be driving tomorrow and should be well rested. I get a little sleep while the boat rocks and rolls then spend four hours fighting the sandman while snuggled under a blanket trying to keep warm.  As the morning dawns the wind dies and the night has passed with no other incident.  The sky brightens most boats pull up anchor and head towards La Paz, they probably had as bad a night as us.  I decide to make Steve something special for breakfast, I know he didn’t get much sleep either, but with the provisions running low there is not much to choose from. I find some stale bread and a few eggs and half a packet of bacon. As quietly as possible I make Steve “Crappy Anchorage French Toast Surprise” breakfast, which is greatly appreciated and puts a much needed smile on our weary faces. As we motor toward La Paz we decide to spend a few days in the new Marina Costa Baja located close to the mouth of the harbour.  We’ve heard mixed reviews about the anchorage located in the harbour basin and are in dire need of water, fuel and a good rest.  This will give us a few days to get our bearings and make a decision about moving to one of the other marinas (one is not answering our hail, the other has a waiting list) or the anchorage, depending on rates and our plans. As I get dock lines and fenders ready we realize it is Friday the 13th, no wonder last night was so crappy, and hope that all of our bad luck had already been used up.



Semana Santa: BYO Loaves in the Bay of the Dead

It felt good to be on the move again, even if we were just day sailing back to Bahia de los Muertos for a few days on anchor before we headed across the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez) to Mazatlan.  Don’t get me wrong, we really enjoyed La Paz, the outer islands and our new friends but a month in one place was beginning to feel a little stagnant.  Being tied to the dock is convenient, and by no means are we marina free yet, but the sense of peace that settles over me when we are at anchor is amazing. Somehow the change of perspective, the feeling of floating and being that much closer to the elements flicks a switch in my brain, I am in my happy place.  We have a half decent day and are happily throwing the pick well before dark in the busy bay.  It is Semena Santa, or Holy Week to celebrate Easter, another holiday that Mexicans take seriously.  We are one of a dozen boats of all descriptions in the bay and the long white beach that was so vacant a month ago has been turned into a tent town, the residents having fled the cities for a little beach and family time.  The have spared no luxury, bringing with them chairs, walk in tents, barbeques, coolers, trucks and stereos.  At dusk the fires are lit and music is turned up a notch or two, the air is pungent with food and heavy with music, the mood is light and happy. I open a beer and sit in the cockpit listening to the now familiar melodies competing on shore, I find myself tapping my toes and humming a Mexican rock-a-billy song. Distant voices trail over the water as I watch the sun fall into the horizon and the flames begin to dance on the beach. It will be hours before the fiesta dies down and I don’t mind. I am looking forward to my Mexican lullaby and the boat gently rocking to me to sleep later that night. 

In the morning we are greeted with 15 knots of breeze, perfect for sailing but we’ve already decided to stay the weekend.  However, if it keeps up our wind generator should be able to keep up with our power consumption and we wouldn’t have to run the engine.  The wind is steady but the generator starts to give us problems, the automatic brakes engaging long before they should, halting its revolutions only minutes after it starts up. Whiz, whirl, cachunk! Steve trouble shoots, hoping that it an electrical issue, a faulty connection, a trip somewhere, but it continues.  I look online (hotels=wifi) and see if it is a common problem, as well as what we’d have to do to get it repaired under warranty (pay to have it shipped to and from the States!).  Bad reports about the company and the cost of shipping make us agree that Steve should give it a try, open it up and see if it is obvious, fix it if we can, try to make it look like we haven’t open it in case we can’t and need to send it back.  Well, sounds easy, but the generator is mounted atop a nine foot aluminum pole with two more nine foot support poles to keep it steady.  Everything is bumpered with special rubber gaskets to minimize vibrations and all the wiring is run up inside the main pole. Oh, yes, and we are anchored in 10 meters of water, there is a steady 15 kt breeze and a little wind chop.  Carefully, deliberately we together manage to get the wind generator down and remove it from the supports, the table becomes the workshop and Steve gets to work.  The initial disassembly is easy, everything looks in order.  He discovers that the brushes are causing the problem, a defect in the metal while casting has left pits, the contacts are bad.  He gently files them down, cleans the unit and starts the reassembly.  We erect it again, Steve balancing on his toes on the railings, me holding my breath and the supports as he completes the assembly. We manage to get it all tightened down, and not even a screw lost overboard, that alone a feat. After it is rewired, the switch is thrown and there is silence as we wait.   Whiz…whirl…….whir…the pitch heightens the blades spin faster, the power output increase and the dreaded CaChunk! is nowhere to be heard. Steve once again saves the day.

The rest of the weekend is a bit of a break; we laze around the boat, enjoy the scenery and treat ourselves to a dinner ashore.  There is too much wind chop to warrant any fishing trips in the dingy, a shame as we had great luck last time we were here. On Sunday afternoon we head in for a beer, making our way through the older kids congregated on the floating dingy dock. The boys are jumping in the water to show off for the girls, as the girls pretend not to notice and all of them fully dressed in shorts and t-shirts, dripping wet and full of mischief.  We happen upon the weekend concert put on by the local schools. There is a Polynesian floor show by the older girls, a rock band whose rendition of La Bamba is shy and heart felt, drawing a tear to the eye and a few younger girls do a lip sync, all a flutter to be the center of attention and allowed one more song.  We are the only gringos in the full and busy room, it is beginning to feel less like we are tourist here, we are starting to feel like visitors.

As we head to bed there is a spectacular full moon that sits low on the horizon looking too heavy to be lifted any higher into the night sky.  Everything is bathed shades of red and pink, the colour of the Baja, the water and the hills melt into one.  Tomorrow we leave, across the Sea of Cortez to mainland Mexico. Same country but different altogether we are told, we look forward to exploring new ground.

The first day out the winds are up and we cover some good ground, enjoying just sailing again.  Steve goes below for a rest as I take the helm and quietly soak up the warmth from the afternoon sun.  The days are starting to get warmer but I still have a long sleeved shirt on. The skies are clear and the fishing line is out but we have had no bites all day.  With the wind vane steering I am free to move about the cockpit, I relax a little and enjoy the view while keeping my eyes on the instruments and the horizon for traffic.  I decide to change the fishing lure, I am not sure why. I pick a multi coloured squid, its skirt flashes orange, green and yellow as I toss it over the side, letting it trail a boat length or two behind us, watching the action of the lure jump and bob on the surface between the waves.  In the late afternoon the wind has decreases and I am considering turning on the engine when Steve pops up from his nap suggesting that we have our allotted daily ration of one beer and watch the sunset.  I agree, we put the sails away and start the motor while we discuss dinner, sipping and savouring our delicious cold beers.  I am in mid sentence when we hear the tell tale whiz of the reel as a fish is hooked and quickly starts to gain line.  Steve jumps to the wheel and I lunge for the rod, we both turn to see if the fish will jump, hoping to catch a flash of colour or glimpse at its size.  And, just as we turn, as if knowing we are waiting, it jumps, once, twice, three times, flashing greens and yellow, turning shades of silver and purple showing off for us, letting us know exactly what he is; a big bull Dorado…who is not very happy in being on the end of my fishing line.  I start to lift the rod out of the holder; it takes both hands to fight against the fish, to make sure the rod doesn’t slip over the side.  I get as far as the winch and sit, putting the butt of the rod between my legs, finding leverage and changing hand positions so I can start to reel it in.  Slowly I gain line, trying to pull up the rod and reel in quickly as I let the tip fall towards the water, just like the books say to do.  Steve has slowed down the boat and is watching the fish trying to keep it a beam of us, shouting encouragements and suggestions.  I am awkward and unskilled but after ten minutes or so, and thanks to our oversized rod, I drag the fish up to the boat, we are both tired.  Steve grabs the gaff.  I lift the line as far as I can manage, just getting the top half of the fish out of the water. In a few seconds the fish is flailing and thrashing next to the hull like a fish out of water, literally. Steve lines it up and with one quick swipe drives the gaff hook cleanly through its large jutting forehead, momentarily quieting it. “Are we going to keep it?” I ask, innocently, staring at the jagged hole with the gaff hook protruding.  “We are now!” Steve smiles in return. “I better get the bucket.” I say flatly, watching this beast of a fish start twisting again at the end of the gaff. “It won’t fit in the 5 gallon bucket Dear”, he’s laughing as he strains against the wriggling fish, “Get the pliers and get the hook out of its mouth, we’ve got to get it into the boat, I can’t hold it too much longer!”  I pry myself away from the railings and find the pliers. The hook lifts out gently, not too much grinding or ripping of flesh, not that I know why I am concerned about that now, and we heave the beast into the cockpit.  I have never seen a fish this big, it fills the space of the floor, its head butting against the propane locker and the tail falling through the companion way.  Steve cuts the gills and I watch it as it dies, slowly suffocating and bleeding at the same time.  I am at once enraptured and repulsed, full of doubt and racing with adrenaline.  I don’t want to watch but can’t look away.  This isn’t the first fish I’ve caught and killed, but somehow it is different being so large. His lovely golden yellow and green skin start to fade as its body quiets. Even the gold of its eyes disappear, the colour draining as it someone has pulled a plug.  It is replaced by beautiful silver and violet, like a night’s sky, the cold colours of death; it sends a shiver through me.  The blood has started to congeal and smell.  Then the colour starts to change again, a little of the green and gold seep back along the edges, but not nearly as vibrant as before, it gives the fish a mouldy appearance. “We need a picture of you holding the fish!” exclaims Steve, racing for the camera, “Grab it by the tail and hold it up high, under your chin”.  I take the obligatory pose and have a big smile as I hoist the fish, straining under its weight, so I am framed in the vee of its tail, its head dangles well below my knees.  Steve gets a few shots before I buckle under the slippery, sliminess of 45 pounds of dead weight and let the fish slither back to the floor. We trade places, I take the wheel and Steve starts to butcher the fish.  I am not squeamish, I just don’t know much about fish and how to filet them, so I take in as much as I can while also trying to pay attention to driving the boat.  It takes most of an hour to clean and divide the fish into manageable portions, then Steve takes up the teak flooring in the cockpit and scrubs away the blood and smell. By the time he is finished the light is thin and both of us are due for a rest.  We have a simple supper, too tired to bother with cooking our fish, and I head to bed for a few hours before my watch starts again.

With the winds we make excellent time across the Gulf but just as suddenly as it began, it stops and it is obvious that we will not make Mazatlan before second night fall.  We are content to bob and drift in the moonlight waiting for morning and a new day to guide us in safely.  By the time my watch comes around Steve has already taken down all the sails, secured the boom so that it doesn’t noisily clang above us in the swell and we can see the lights glittering on shore.  My job is simply to keep an eye out for traffic and try to keep us pointed in the right direction, sometimes not such and easy task to accomplish.  Tonight, however there is enough current to provide steerage and we so we eek out way, ever so slowly, towards our destination.  I sit silently, listening to the night, there is lots to be heard if you take the time to listen.  Around midnight I recognise the soft snorts of dolphins long before I see them circling the boat, sleek elegant shapes in the darkness. At first their breathing is relaxed, they have just come to say hello, provide a little distraction, wake me up a little. They seem to know when I need a little company out here and with our boat so low on the water it sometime feels like they are right beside you.  Then their splashes increase, their breaths becomes more laboured, sounding more like gasps as they surface.  Small fish are following the boat, trails of phosphorescence betray their quiet presence, I realize that the dolphins are feeding.  They seem to work in patterns, circling, diving, surfacing, panting, it is mesmerizing. I lean into the darkness to get a better look, waiting for my eyes to adjust away from the faint glow of the instruments.  One comes up close to the boat, almost within reach and lets out a great bubble of water.   I lean further only to be greeted with a horrible smell, the air is pungent with fish, I have just been burped at by a dolphin!   I have to giggle and sit back down, watching for almost as hour as they surround Kate and gorge themselves before slowly disappearing back into the night. 

By morning we are just outside the entrance breakwater to the lagoon where the marinas are located. It is early and no one has responded to our VHF hails but we decide to enter anyway, pulling up to the fuel dock and top up before we find a berth ( our general rule is to put the boat to bed with a full tank in case we should have to move suddenly, always be prepared!). The fuel dock is tight, a few boat lengths long with a big stone wall at one end. I hop off amid the pelicans and the pelican crap and secure the lines; we are too early even for the fuel dock to be open!  We make a cup of tea and wait, tune into the local “Cruisers Net” on the VHF.  We don’t generally participate in the nets, check in and chat that is, but sometimes you can get some local news and information. They do, however, have a “Trade” section (it is illegal for foreign nationals to buy and sell in Mexico, although things are often advertized as wanting to trade for “coconuts” so I am not sure who they are kidding)  and who can resist the idea of a good bargain?  Mostly they are just local gossip and announcements for organized domino tournaments, card games and excursions ashore for the ex-pat “cruisers” who are long term boat residents of the area.  Slowly things come to life, I make a few phone calls and we decide to stay at Marina Mazatlan, not a hard choice as the price is the lowest.  After tying up in our berth and checking in, the usual routine begins with a wash down and air out of the boat and ourselves, it always feels so good to be clean and tidied away.  The usual gawkers and talkers stop by the see the new kids in town, every one seems very nice, and there is even a few other Newport 41’s at the marina.

By afternoon we are ready to navigate the buses and head into town to see what we can find, play tourist, take some pictures. Tonight will be Dorado for dinner, but for now a cold beer and taco stand in the city is calling our names.