Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cruising from Puerto Escondido to La Paz

Rani is working on blogs about our recent hiking adventures as well as some information on the local flora, so I will fill in a few details on where we have been since Puerto Escondido. For those of you who are sailors, I will try to include some details on the passages (day sails) we have made between Escondido and La Paz, where we are now at anchor.

Agua Verde - the palapa is now home base for bow hunters after big horn sheep. The custom caravan belongs to a couple from Alaska.

Our first passage south was from Puerto Escondido to Aqua Verde, a pleasant 10 mile run. We had light airs for much of the passage although we had a promising start with moderate following winds from the northwest. These were strongest in the area of Danzante island, probably due to funneling between the tall peaks of this island and the Giganta range on the Baja 'mainland'. Later the wind petered out to a few knots and we used our whisker pole to hold out the jib, running with our main out on the opposite side. We spotted what we believed to be Gray whales swimming and resting on the surface. The quiet seas made it easy to see the whales from miles away and we would often hear their breath as they breached before we spotted a jet of spume.

Barrel cacti

Snug anchorage under the bluffs

We stayed two days in Agua Verde, due to light winds, buying a few supplies at a new tienda that has opened since the last time we had visited. The goats are not producing much milk at this time of year and we were not able to buy any of the delicious queso fresco that we had enjoyed in previous years. The highlight of my visit here was a tour of the Vancouver island sailing vessel, Aleydabeth. Lyle and Lark showed us around this lovely 35 footer, which they had built from a bare hull. In the heads was a magnificent English toilet, called a Baby Blake, which they had bought second hand. Unlike your typical plastic boat toilets of the $150-300 variety, this beauty was over $5000 new, made of porcelain, bronze, and leather. I was privileged to take the Baby Blake for a test drive and will try to install one in Ladybug if we ever run across a used one in good shape.

Anteater or elephant?

We sailed from Agua Verde out to one of the offshore islands, with winds gusting to 25 knots. It was a great ride with the beam wind pushing use along at a solid 7 knots for much of the way – a 'soldier's breeze'. This sail reminded me a lot of our trip out to Santa Cruz island in California in our first Ladybug. The spray was flying, but the greater freeboard and length of the newer boat kept the cockpit much drier (in Ladybug I, we took frequent spray over the dodger). We dropped the hook off a rock formation that our friend, Rob, from New Zealand on Blue Moon nicknamed the anteater (Rani thought it looked more like an elephant). Despite the strong winds we risked a kayak landing and hiked up an extensive arroyo filled with cacti and flowering desert plants. The trail led up and out of the arroyo onto a plateau that looked out East toward the mainland of Mexico. The sea far below was dotted with white caps and we were glad to be in a relatively snug anchorage.

Ladybug ghosting under the cruising spinnaker.

Two days later, we had a somewhat disappointing sail into El Gato, under whose familiar red cliffs we had anchored on several earlier occasions. After a nice downwind sail of about 8 miles, the wind went elsewhere and we resorted to motoring, taking the opportunity to make water. However, a light breeze filled in after an hour and we had a pleasant drift into El Gato, where a swell bending round the point gave us a rolly few nights at anchor. In El Gato we met Randall on Mure, a graceful 31 foot Mariner ketch. Randall was taking a year off to sail Mexico and planned to return to San Francisco via Hawaii in the summer. We invited him to join us on a lengthy hike and he made a great companion, pointing out and naming birds and plants that we had seen before, but had not identified. He later gave us a book on the plants of the Baja that has added a lot to our enjoyment while hiking.

Mure at sunrise in El Gato

Our next passage saw us using the motor more than we had in total in the previous two weeks. The wind gradually died as we headed south and despite and abortive attempt to fly our cruising chute, we ended up running the iron genny for more than three hours. We made so much water that the tanks overflowed and we had to pump out our bilge and dry out the eggs and cheese we had stored there. We anchored in a new-to-us anchorage near the north end of Isla San Jose. Two other boats were already at anchor when we dropped the hook off a stunning sand spit. We kayaked ashore and walked along the beach as the sun set behind the mountains across the channel – a magical place.

Strange little silverfish like bugs scoot all over the rocks near El Gato. Rani does not like these little beasts one bit!

To make up for all this motoring, we did not use the engine at all on the next four passages, sailing out the anchor and anchoring under sail in each new cove. I justified these maneuvers to Rani as good practice for when our engine would not start. It certainly builds skill to do this and I think Rani may even be starting to enjoy the extra challenge and the occasional round of applause we get when we do an elegant entry or exit under sail into or out of a crowded anchorage. On one passage, another double ender, a graceful Pacific Seacraft Mariah 31, anchored under sail beside us. We exchanged compliments when we sailed out our anchor a half our later, passing close under their stern as we left Isla San Francisco.

Starfish in a tide pool near El Gato

The most challenging maneuvers were when in a tight anchorage on a lee shore as happens quite often in the two big islands close to La Paz. On Isla Partida, we had to beat our way out of a narrow cliff lined bight, tacking every half minute or so into a west wind. Almost all the anchorages face west and we had a similar experience in the wider anchorage of San Gabriel where we missed stays twice due to having up too little sail and nearly ran into the cliffs on the north side of the anchorage. It is a trick to stay calm when you are drifting sideways towards the surf, but this is what you must do if you are to roll out more furled jib and convince the boat to come about on the other tack. We kept the key in the ignition just in case, but I refused to turn on the engine as this would reduce the realism of the whole exercise. Rani is still talking to me, so she is either turning into a real sailor or maybe just becoming resigned to her fate.

Ladybug anchored off Isla San Jose. Nopolo is in the background.

Because there was a National Geographic mini cruise ship anchored in the hook at Isla San Francisco and two other large power yachts besides, we gave this favorite anchorage a wide berth. Instead, we tried out another new-to-us anchorage off the Baja peninsula just south of and opposite Isla San Francisco. We anchored in shallow water in an open roadstead off a fishing camp. Ironically, we had one of the most peaceful nights here in all the places we stayed north of La Paz, for over the next few nights we suffered through Corumel winds blowing directly into the bays on the west side of the islands. We laid out a stern anchor to keep Ladybug facing into the gentle swell and slept like babies.

Balloon fish.

In Cardoncito on Partida island we re-connected with our friends Dennis and Lisette on Windward, spending a few days in their company, hiking, and sharing delicious potluck meals. As is often the case, Windward was heading in the opposite direction and we made tentative plans to see them later in the spring when we should cross paths on our return 'migration' to the storage yard.

Our final port outside of La Paz was the Lobos anchorage about 8-10 miles from La Paz. The anchorage was fairly crowded when we arrived but we tucked ourselves in under sail beside an elegant 40 something foot Swan sailboat. When we came back from a hike, we found 11 boats at anchor, of which 4 were from our home port of Victoria.

Ladybug sails along the Baja.
The sail into La Paz was a dead beat to windward into a short chop. We made it into the channel in two long tacks, but gave up beating up the narrow channel due to traffic in both directions. We anchored off Marina de La Paz near a shallow sand bar that separates the main channel from the Mogote. We plan to be here for about a week.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Ah, your descriptions create longing for warm waters.

How about a description of your technique for sailing on and off the anchor?

s/v Mystic