Monday, April 19, 2010

Sailing across the Sea and up into the islands

After a week in Mazatlan we were ready to re-cross the Sea of Cortez. This time, we would avoid the cruiser vortex of La Paz and sail for the islands to the north of La Paz bay. We backed Ladybug II out into a brisk wind, gunning the enigine to clear the bowsprit of a Morgan 41 that protruded into the fairway. The wind forced us to back out of the channel by the marina making a wide reverse turn after 600 feet into the main channel. As we motored up the channel, we could see that the dreger was working at the mouth. A tourist catamaran with dozens of people on deck filled the rest of the channel and we just managed to hold our position against the tidal current as the big cat cleared the channel. The dredger slacked its cross-channel mooring cable to let us past and we were soon motoring across the bar. A big swell was running into the shoal waters off the entrance and the motion was not comfortable. We put up the sails and began to work our way north into a light headwind. Despite the steadying effect of the sails, both of us felt queasy.

Dredger off the Marina Singlar in Mazatlan

We had hoped to do the crossing in 2-3 days, but the winds on this passage were the lightest we have experienced in any of our Sea of Cortez crossings and it took a full 100 hours or just over 4 days to sail from Mazatlan to Partida island. Other boats left 2 days later than us and arrived at the same time, but that is not because they were faster boats. Instead, while we sailed or lay ahull during calms, they motored or motor-sailed most of the way. We sailed for all but 2 of the 100 hours, turning on the motor twice during night-time calms to avoid vessels in a channel and for an hour to get into port before dark on the last day. When we tell people that we sail most of the time, they say that I must be very patient, but in fact, it is Rani who has become much more patient and tolerant. I love to sail while she is not so passionate about this past-time and I am a lucky man to have such an amenable partner!

The first night, the wind died out near midnight and we took down the sails and lay ahull for 4 hours, hoisting the sails when a light easterly wind sprung up coming off the land. We took down the sails again at noon and later in the afternoon for another 3 hours in calm conditions. Around supper time we checked into the Sothbound SSB radio net – something Rani likes to do so that people know where we are during a longer passage. We also listen to Don Anderson's weather forecast on this net. Shortly after the net a booby landed on our upper spreaders and was only dislodged by a sharp rap from the main halyard.

The second night we were ale to sail all night, taking two hour watches and making 3-4 knots in light winds. The wind died out by 10 am the next day, so we went for a swim in 4000 foot deep water. A dolphin came over to see what we were and swam right up to us, hovering in front of me and clearly looking us over. He/she had scrape marks on its tail, perhaps from being too curious about another boat. It was a strange feeling regarding this obviously intelligent creature, eye to eye in its own envrionment. However we were clearly not that interesting – perhaps our aquatic prowess was not up to snuff – and our dolphin friend soon lost interest and went elsewhere. We were to see and hear dolphins around the boat several times during the passage. In the moonless night we could sometimes see them by the trails of phosphoresence, but more often we could hear their gulped breaths as they rapidly surfaced, speeding past ladybug beneath the star-filled sky. An advantage of not motoring through the calms is that you hear and see things you would otherwise miss. The sea was so calm at night that reflected stars danced around in the gentle rippling swell.

Chris cutting his own hair while underway.

The wind remained light on the third day and we took the sails down again after supper. That night we approached the channel into La Paz and saw two sail boats motor past us. It turned out later that one of these was Faith – a Morgan 41 whom we had met in Manzanillo and again in La Cruz. We sailed until a complete calm at 3 am and then took down the sails until morning. Light westerly winds allowed us to sail for most of the day and Just before 7pm we dropped anchor at the 'Partida back-door' anchorage on the east side of Isla Partida. This was a new anchorage for us, but we had seen it from our kayak when we paddled through a shallow tidal cut from the other side of the island in the fall.

I decided that it would be fun to see how long we could sail without turning on our motor and for the next week or so we sailed off the hook and re-anchored under sail each day. We sailed next for Isla San Francisco, beating into a light northerly wind that built through the day until it reached 12-15 kn ots. A good sized swell built up as we tacked toward the island and we had to dog down the hatches to keep Ladybug dry. One incident of note on this 9 hour passage was when we were buzzed by a twin engine prop plane that flew so low, we thought they were going to crash into the sea. As the sun lowered in front of us, we saw several dolphins leaping completely clear of the water amidst the white caps and spray. Some appeared to turn somersaults in the air.

Chris jumping for joy at finally being on land after 4 days out.

Indigenous grinding stones on San Francisco. These stones were apparently used to grind the red cactus berries.

We spent a full day and 2 nights at Isla San Francisco. We wanted to hike to the north end of the island, which we had been told had fantastic views. There is a rough trail that leaves the beach at the 'hook' and makes it's way through fields of scree to a saddle and look off. Another even fainter trail skirts the side of a scree covered hill and then peters out in an arroyo. We found a cave near the end of this trail and placed a geo-cache here for our friends Marv and Ardy to find when they next pass this way. I watched a tarantula wander into the cave after we placed the cache, so we shall warn our friends to exercise caution. We continued to the hill overlookiing the north end of the island. The views on the hike and at the top of the hill were phenomenal – lapis lazuli seas – the swirling colours ranging from yellow green to a deep blue green – the result of shifting sand bars that lie between Isla San Francisco and nearby Isla San Jose. The lagoon on Isla San Jose lay behind miles of white sand barrier beach with two or three cruising boats anchored just north of it. Below us were the colourful little fishermen's homes that cling improbably to rocky Isla Coyote and two sailboats looking like toys from this height, were motoring south down the San Jose channel.

Chris stands on the look off above the Hook at San Francisco.

Chris hides the geo-cache in a tarantula's cave on San Francisco

Rani feeling good - Isla San Jose and Isla Coyote in the background.

We had a potluck supper that night with a group of cruisers from Arizona, including Chris and Sandy of Faith, the boat we had seen pass us a couple of nights earlier. The potluck was hosted on Sea Peace, a 53 foot sailboat that made Ladybug look positively tiny. Rani's home made hummus and roti flat breads were a big hit. We also re-connected with our friend Ken on Red Pepper, whom we had last seen in La Paz at Christmas. His wife Pat was not on board, but Ken had a friend visiting him from Maple Bay (just down the road from Rani's home in Duncan). Ian is in his 80's – a wiry Scot who played the pipes each evening as the sun was setting. The haunting sound of Amazing Grace and other familiar tunes carried beautifully across the anchorage. Ken, who had been enjoying these concerts at close range for 2 weeks was less enthusiastic and kept making jokes involving swimming bagpipes and/or bagpipers.

We sailed across to the mainland village of San Everisto, stopping en route at a long sand beach just south of the town. As we rested at the end of a mile long beach hike, a coyote came out of the cacti and brush to look us over. This was the first time we had seen a coyote in the Baja and we noted that it seemed smaller and lighter coloured than its northern cousins. Rani found some paper nautilus shells on the beach including a nearly perfect specimen. As the name implies, these 2-3 inch shells are incredibly thin – translucent and lovely. Some survive being washed ashore, protected in strands of seaweed.

Blooming cacti - Isla San Jose in the background

In San Everisto we had Ken and Ian over for a chili dinner and Ken was good enough to allow us to leave a tote bag full of shells and books as well as Rani's heavy old computer on board his boat. Red Pepper will be shipped back to Nanaimo via Dockwise and should arrive about the same time we do in early June.

Ken and an unidentified Scot.

Rani makes Ian's day.

Our next stop was El Gato, which was a long day's sail in light airs. After reprovisioning at the tiny store in Everisto, we bade farewell to Ken and Ian and set sail with a nice east wind, which died out a few minutes later. A flooding tide and light northerly airs carried us up the passage between San Jose island and we arrived in El Gato long after dark. Fortunately we had been here before and had waypoints for both the approach and anchorage that kept us well clear of the reefs on either side. We could see the lights of 8 boats in the anchorage and were able to sail straight into the bay between two of the more widely spaced boats, dropping the hook in 22 feet over a sandy bottom.

The next day we spent snorkeling, hiking, and making a curry dinner for our friends on Rio Nimpkish. For those of you who have been following our blog from the start, you may remember that we met Rio Nimpkish first in Fort Bragg and then again in Santa Cruz. At that time (Fall 2008) we had promised Tom and Shirley a curry on board Ladybug I, so needless to say after an 18 months wait, their expectations were high! Rani did not disappoint and we enjoyed a mixed veggie curry made with Mazatlan cabbage & potato, and Everisto carrots. She also broke out some of our precious split red lentils from Canada to make a special daal.

From El Gato we had planned to sail for Agua Verde, but the winds, for a change, were quite decent, so we pressed on for Isla Monserrate on a lovely beam reach with no swell and a South East breeze pushing us along at up to 7 knots. The VHF radio was abuzz that day with talk of a big blow that Don Anderson had forecast for the next day and it sounded like everyone in the area was taking cover. This made Rani pretty nervous, but I was still able to convince her that we should anchor off the lovely beach and cliffs at the north end of Monserrate. We sailed into this anchorage beating into a vigourous headwind. At one point Rani yelled that we were headed for an uncharted reef, but this turned out to be a flock of little aquatic birds lined up in such as way as to make a jagged black line on the horizon. Our friends on Speck call these little swimming birds toasters because they are always diving and then popping up in front of you, so I named Rani's 'reef', Toaster Reef. We left our GPS on that night with an anchor drag alarm of 80 feet set to warn us of sudden wind shifts and turned in for an early night.

The next morning, we set sail at dawn, pushed by a gentle south east breeze. We had decided to head into Puerto Escondido where we would have good shelter and access to the internet. We haul out in Guaymas on May 1 and need to make reservations for this and at the Singlar marina where we will make the boat ready for the long hot summer.

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