Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas in the Baja

Happy New Year to all our family, friends, and those following this blog!

Last year who would have thought that we would be celebrating Christmas with a Mexican family in a tiny pueblo called Bahia Magdalena in the company of two professional musicians from San Francisco playing bass and acoustic guitars and Chris accompanying them on his recorder. It was a magical night and a fitting end to 3 days and 3 nights of sailing from Bahia de Tortugas ( Turtle Bay ) to Magdalena Bay.

Chris in the cabin under the poster of the Virgin of Guadalupe - a gift from a grocer in Turtle Bay.

From Turtle Bay, we had set off with a lovely beam reach, a calm sea and were buddy boating ( sailing within sight of each other and staying in radio contact ) with Lori and Ken, the musicians, on a Catalina 30, Esprit. Just as we were setting off we saw thousands of cormorants flying low over the bay from the estuary to rocks near its entrance and then return within the hour, seeming like a wild migration. Then we saw a flying fish suddenly jump out of the ocean and fly for a hundred yards at a height of 3 feet. Chris said it reminded him of Da Vinci's drawing of a flying machine.

Cormorants fly by - thousands of birds passed by over a period of 10 minutes.

More cormorants...

However, our idyllic life was interrupted rudely as our autopilot motor broke down. The load on the gears during our trip from Bahia San Quintin to Turtle Bay had elongated a hole in the mounting mechanism for the gears and one of the gears was out of alignment. Although it was easy enough to steer, since the swells were low and spread out, neither of us wanted to hand steer the boat for hours. Chris took apart the motor and examined the gear mechanism very methodically and after 6 attempts in about 12 hours , he had it fixed , just in time for my shift at midnight.

The next few days were comparatively easy with light winds and calm seas. We worked our shifts religiously during the night so that we were not exhausted each day. As we sat in the cockpit at night, we had starlit skies with patches of jet black puffy clouds which sometimes made me wonder if malicious weather was on its way but nothing happened. The wake of the boat sparkled with bubbles of phosphorescence and sometimes tunnels of light would appear as dolphins swam by.

On Christmas Eve we saw our first Frigate birds circling above , black giants with white bellies, 5ft wingspans and a forked tail. The wildlife watching continued with a group of large fish jumping and skimming over the silky blue surface escaping some invisible predator in the depths below. Then Chris spotted a sea turtle sunbathing with its head tucked in the shell. It raised its head and looked around before diving down.

The wind disappeared completely after playing hide and seek most of the night, so we took down the sails and just relaxed on the deck. Chris took a dive off the boat as the warm blue water looked so inviting. I was a bit more hesitant since we were in over a thousand feet and I wondered if there were sharks waiting for an unsuspecting victim. I did eventually jump off the ladder for about 30 seconds to have a wash!

Magdalena Village.

Our buddies, Ken and Lori, had overtaken us the previous evening by using their motor since they wanted to take advantage of the calm sea to get into Magdalena Bay, so we were alone for the rest of the trip. We considered going into Santa Maria Bay for a night since this is a pretty resting spot separated from Magdalena Bay by a sandy isthmus but the lack of wind meant that we would not get there until late at night, so we decided to press on ahead for Magdalena Bay for Christmas Day.

Thankfully the wind came up in the evening and we arrived at the entrance to the bay around 11am on Christmas Day. Chris was sure we would make it to our anchorage under sail and we sat around watching humpback whales spouting near the rocky shore while approaching Punta Entrada. However, there was a huge current of about 3 knots against us at the mouth and we were making no progress at all into the bay. Since we were both looking forward to meeting up with Ken and Lori, we finally put the motor on and dropped the hook at Man Of War anchorage off Magdalena village around 4pm.

Lori and Ken had the evening entertainment all planned out and we were truly happy to spend Christmas Day in front of Benino's tienda (shop) while Lori sang and played the acoustic guitar accompanied by husband Ken on bass and Chris on recorder. Luis, a friend of Benino's, brought out some beer and one of the ladies in the shop came over with some glasses for us. Their kids watched and listened from the open window and one of the women even came out to dance to the blues. We felt as if we had "arrived". This was the type of welcome and acceptance we had hoped for when we set off on this voyage. None of the family spoke English, but Lori and I both speak and understand some Spanish and were able to communicate with everyone, Benino correcting our grammar from time to time. Our Christmas dinner consisted of quesadillas provided by Lori and a cabbage and potato curry with rice which I hastily put together on board Ladybug, not exactly a traditional meal!

Christmas concert in Magdalena Village

Lori singing and playing. Note the ubiquitous dogs in the background - they appeared to enjoy the blues.

Boxing Day was spent relaxing on the boat while Chris repaired some damage caused by our anchor roller to the fibreglass hull during our 30 hours of hell at San Quintin. We lived in trepidation that night as winds from the northwest gusted to 25 knots and our bow roller was not bolted back on yet since the fibreglass was still drying. The boat hobby-horsed all night but our anchor held. Chris also baked bread that day - Yum (see picture).

Bread in the making. The warm temperatures make it easy to get a loaf to rise!

Two days ago, we walked along the beach past the village, passing a massive shell midden with layers of beautiful whelk, moonsnail and clam shells probably thousands of years old. Along the walk, we spoke with a local man who had a collection of whale bones, dolphin and sea-lion skulls decorating his yard, and he told us that he works as a guide for whale watching tourists who start coming here around January, presumably from inland. We continued our walk to a mangrove bordered lagoon and mudflats with millions of clam holes - no wonder the midden was the largest we have ever seen; this area is rich in sea-life.

Whale and other bones.

Ken enjoying a beach walk. Our boats are anchored in the background and a lancha is anchored close off the beach. The town of Magdalena is just to the right of the picture.

Yesterday, we decided to hike the mountains and were amazed as we struck a creek trail into a canyon behind the village. We discovered a gorgeous rock garden of delicate flowers and lemon drop butterflies, exotic spiders and kami-kasi crickets. It's hard to believe that it's December 28th.

Church in Magadlena

The scramble up the mountain through red-nosed cacti, wild yellow and white daisies, silver sage and spiny bushes laced with spider webs was rewarded by phenomenal views of the mountainous spine of the Baja, Santa Maria Bay with its white arc of sandy beach and the saphire blue of the Pacific Ocean.

One the many spiders encountered in the canyon.

'Lemondrop' butterfly.

Another cool spider - about 3 cms.

Snail on succulent.

Chris on top of the hillls above Magdalena Bay.

Today, we have just motored 3 hours through a channel in the estuary towards the town of San Carlos where we hope to make a few phone calls, buy some fresh vegetables and fruit and top up our water. We will probably spend a few more days in this bay before leaving for Cabo San Lucas. Once again, we wish our family, friends and everyone a very happy New Year!

In a festive mood - motoring to San Carlos. Thanks to Jitka for the book of Ukulele songs Chris is finally expanding his 2 song repetoire. The shirt was hand crafted by our friend Maureen back in Colwood, BC.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

Our first week in Mexico has pushed the limits of what one can experience on a small sailboat. We have enjoyed spectacular scenery – arid deserts and craggy mountains superimposed upon a liquid blue foreground, friendly Mexican fishermen, and some of the best sailing of the trip. We have also endured a terrible storm in a dangerously exposed anchorage and Mexican beaurocracy at its best.

We spent 2 days in Ensenda, clearing in on the first day (3 hours of 'streamlined' efficiency) and visiting a museum and a festival on the second. We stayed at Sergio's marina for a very reasonable 10 dollars a night (negotiated from 20). We had supper with our friends from Butukia, Francis and Beth, enjoying cactus tortillas at their lovely house, which overlooks the harbour.

Our next stop was Isla San Martin, where we spent 2 days, climbed the volcanic hills, and chatted with fishermen who were harvesting Sargaso (seaweed) and sea urchins (see pictures). The views from the crater rim were quite fine and the anchorage is well sheltered from the strong southerly winds we experienced. Some pictures follow:

Isla San Martin - fishermen returning from anchored panga
Note the fishermen on the shore gathering seaweed.

Seaweed press for baling the weed.

Rani chats with Ramon and friends on Isla San Martin

Elephant seals lazing on the lagoon at Isla San Martin

Chris with his cactus pal - he ended up with a number of
spines in his foot from similar plants.

Rani and Chris on the top of the extinct volcano

Rani standing on a lava flow.

Curious elephant seals - they followed us around the lagoon

The next day we sailed south, but llight winds and an evil spinnaker wrap saw us stop only 10 miles away in San Quintin. This anchorage is open to the south and proved to be a very bad place to be in a south east gale – very very bad. We enjoyed calm weather here during the first day and Rani was able to disentangle the spinnaker from the forestay after I hoisted her to the mast head. That night, the wind swung again into the southeast and rose gradually to 25 and then 30 knots gusting to 40 in squalls of rain and hail. We should have left immediately and returned to San Marin, but we hung on thinking that the front would pass through in a few hours. The next day, the seas were up, running to 6 and 8 feet and breaking like surfer's waves right into the anchorage. We had a sleepless night and spent that day adjusting the chafe protection on the rode and watching the pressure on everything build. Lil' Bugger was in the water and flipped around with each swell like a kite without its tail. The anchor roller started to bend alarmingly, so I moved the anchor rode to the bow cleats and doubled up the chafe protection. Everything held, however and the anchor never dragged – thank heavens for lots of chain and a good heavy anchor.

Early in the second night, the wind swung to the south west giving us a some shelter from the nearby rocks and beach. However the boat now lay side on to a huge swell and was thrown on her side at one point. The outboard motor sheer plate was torn away and the motor began to swing freely on its mount. I must admit that I was only truly worried during one particularly nasty squall when the rain felt like nails and the tops of the waves were coming apart and blowing in wraiths of spume across the troughs. It seemed amazing that our anchor could remain dug in during such violence.

Rani however was terrified. She told me later that this was the most frightening experience of her life (and she has had quite a few that I would have thought would top it!). The lightning storm on the 2nd night was the last straw for her and she made ready a 'ditch bag' and got out the life jackets in case we had to swim for it. Rani spent a lot of time staring out the windows at approaching waves and worrying about me out on the foredeck adjusting the anchoring tackle. To her credit, she is still on board the boat although she did tell me that maybe this sailing thing is not her cup of tea. I replied that everyone feels that way after their first storm at sea, but I don't think I convinced her :)

After the storm, we sailed south, staying in radio contact with Ali Baba, a 35 foot sailboat that weathered the same storm, albeit in the somewhat protected harbour on San Martin Island. We had a glorious 36 hour sail to Turtle Bay. Some flying squid ended up on our decks during the night (see picture) and the second day, we sailed into the lee of 20 mile long Isla Cedros (see picture).

Isla Cedros on the way to Turtle Bay

Flying squids landed on deck overnight

Squid on the dodger - this greeted us when we woke up!

In Turtle Bay we met Tim and Sue of Ali Baba in person and will have a potluck dinner with them tonight. We plan to spend a couple of days relaxing here before our next leg to Magdelena Bay where we will most likely celebrate Christmas. We hope to get in some hiking and whale watching (the grey whales calve in nearby bays).

Friday, December 12, 2008

Pictures from San Diego and Ensenada

We made it to Ensenada. I took 2 days and we ran into some very powerful Santa Ana winds on the first day that came up suddenly and caught us with the big jib up. We sought refuge in Descanso Bay and continued the next day to Ensenada where we anchored for a day and cleared into customs (a 3 hour process including a trip back to the boat for the outboard serial #!). Anyway - we are now legal in Mexico and getting used to struggling with Spanish and various culture shocks. Pics below are from our stay in San Diego and visits with friends and relatives. Thanks to our hosts for a great 2 weeks!

Anchorage view at sunset in San Diego

America's cup yacht - a bit faster than us!

Midway Aircraft carrier

View from our anchorage in San Diego

2 Indians in old town San Diego

Chris in old town San Diego

Penguins and whale bones from Robert Bateman (a Canadian artist who lives near our home on Vancouver Island) exhibition

Cranes from exhibition

Toad from exhibition

Dave and Michelle's gigantic home theatre

Ralph, Michelle, and David on Ladybug

Colton and Alexi towing behind in Lil' Bugger

Dave, Michelle, and ALexi on Ladybug

Alexi, Ralph (Dave's friend since highschool), Colton and Ben

Dave, our host, and neighbor, Lilia

Michelle, Colton, and Alexi + Rani - our gracious hostess and family

Chris caught in the act of running to the grocery store in a Monster Truck

Balboa Park architecture - San Diego

Giant kiss

Putting up Christmas Lights

Californiascope - kaleidescope

Waterfront sculpture - San Diego

America's cup racer giving tourists a thrill

Tanya, Tony's better half, and Chris

Tony - Rani's cousin, at the helm

Ship delivering sports fishing boats

Village near our Descanso Bay anchorage

Statue at Cathedral in Ensenada

Little girl in traditional costume

Rani enjoying a roasted corn cob

Ensenada market during festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe

Ensenada square - president's heads

Our crazy friends Beth, Drisanna, and Francis from SV Butukia