Thursday, January 12, 2012

Single-handed Cruising

Moonrise over San Jose Island

Cruising as a single-hander is quite different from cruising as a couple. Obviously, you are on your own when it comes to sail handling, navigating, and anchoring. For the first few days, I found myself forgetting to do the things that Rani usually does when getting underway - such as turning on the depth sounder & GPS. I was forced to slow down and really think through any tricky manoeuvres (such as anchoring or departing anchor under sail) because I could not rely on that second person to leap to my rescue when things went wrong. Despite this and probably because I had practised doing most things on my own, I have enjoyed the challenge of single-handing in the islands just north of La Paz and have tried to sail between most destinations, putting only about 4 hours on the motor since leaving the marina 2 weeks ago.

Boat carrier off La Paz

Another difference between single-handing and cruising as a couple is how other cruisers view you. There are quite a few long term, usually male, single-handers in the Sea of Cortez. In some instances they cruise in tandem with each other and I think the reason for this is that most cruising boats with 2 or more people on board view single-handers as loners and outsiders and avoid socializing with them. There is a basis for this attitude in that some of the guys you see out cruising alone look a trifle rough around the edges and live on small, somewhat run-down older boats. Another reason that cruising couples probably avoid single-handers is that those who spend too much time on their own can become starved for company and conversation. This combined with the eccentricities that also develop when you have no one to keep you in check can make connecting with a single-hander a disturbing experience. I base these comments both on my own experience (on both sides of the equation) and recently observing how one group of sailors reacted to the single-handers in an anchorage we were sharing.

Ketch sailing off La Paz

Anyway - enough of that. I have been keeping busy exploring the islands just north of La Paz, including some new hikes, sailing the little dinghy, and snorkeling. I have also varnished the cap rails and begun to install the auto-pilot.

Custom sandals
The new hikes include a cross island trek from Ensenda de la Raza, a hike from a shell midden to an isolated peak above the Raza anchorage, and a ridge walk from Ensenada el Gallo. The first hike skirts a large mangrove swamp, crosses a sandy plane, and then follows a meandering seasonal river course (arroyo) across Isla Espiritu Santo. This is a long hike and took an entire afternoon (about 5 hours). It also required a row into a head wind of about 1 km and when I arrived for the first time, I discovered that I had left my hiking shoes on Ladybug. I had just read a book about earlier adventurers in this area who had made their own footwear from a crocodile they had shot, so I thought I would try something similar. Not having a gun or suitable target handy, I beach-combed until I found some nice padded pieces or rubber and a thick piece of line that yielded suitable ties to make myself a pair of sandals. The improvised footwear lasted for about 500 meters and I was forced to return to the boat for something more practical.
Ex goat
View from Gallo hike

Delicate flowers flourish briefly in harsh conditions

View from Gallo hike toward La Paz

Lagoon at end of Raza hike

The Raza hike ended at a high shelf where I could look down onto a lovely lagoon on the east side of the island. I was too tired at this point to continue (plus I would have been returning in the dark). On this shelf were the remains of a native camp as well as fencing from what was probably a goat pen. There were also 4 or 5 columns of what looked like old concrete, but was probably just aggregate rock that had eroded more slowly that the surrounding rock.

Lovely vines in the arroyo at Raza

Old cardone stands on the extensive midden at Raza

Mysterious 'ruins' at Raza

The hike to the peak above Raza involved some excellent climbing rock where a waterfall must plummet in the rainy season. The water here and the huge shallow bay full of shell fish would explain why there is a massive midden in this bay. The midden extends further than any I have seen in the southern Baja and there are signs of a more recent camp here with terraced stones that may have formed the foundation for a palapa as well as some copper sheet and a steel pa handle.

The Gallo hike climbed quickly to a ridge and then followed the ridge out and down toward the west providing splendid views both north and south across a plane planted with cacti and dotted with small flowers.

Another Gallo view

I took our little Walker Bay dinghy out for a sail in rough weather and managed to capsize off a point when one of the lines holding the sail to the boom parted suddenly. I quickly discovered that our dinghy floats, but only just, when full of water, so was forced to swim for shore pulling the mainly submerged boat and dragging the mast and sail behind me in the water. After about 25 minutes of struggling another cruiser buzzed over in a motorized inflatable and towed me in to shore where I was able to up-end the dinghy and drain out the water. A good lesson to learn here rather than off an atoll in the south pacific and I will be much more hesitant to use the dinghy under sail in heavier winds. I will also put a knot in the out-haul and downhaul as the line that popped, came free from a jam cleat.

S/V Sojourn at the Isoltes

I had the best snorkeling experience of my life at the Islotes - two huge chunks of rock that lie just north of Isla Partida. There are buoys anchored in the deep waters off these rocks to which pangas tie when they take tourists out to dive or snorkel with the sea lions that colonize this area. I went early in the day to stay out of the way of the tourist trade and tied to one of the moorings, diving to inspect it. There was a block of concrete - maybe 300 or 400 lbs - a length of nylon, a submerged float and then another length of chain - certainly not enough to hold Ladybug in anything but calm weather. Fortunately there was very little wind and I swam over toward the colony of sea lions that covered almost every rock near the water. The baby sea lions are curious and one immediately came over to Ladybug and rubbed its nose against the hull. Later when I tried to leave, this sea lion came back to the boat and wedged itself between the propeller and the hull making me very nervous about hurting it when I departed (it moved away when I started the engine, however).

As I swam, the babies twisted and dived and jumped clear of the water around me. Having swum once before with young sea lions, I knew they wanted to play, so I dived with them and tried some admittedly pathetic aquatic acrobatics. The sea lions came so close they brushed their flippers against me and one tentatively nibbled my outstretched hand. You do have to be a bit careful as they have strong and sharp teeth; a friend had her thigh bitten while swimming with them later that day. The underwater scenery here is an incredible backdrop for playing with the sea lions. Colorful corals, an arch through the smaller Islote with rock walls lined with flowering anemones, and dozens of varieties of fish. I am not sure how so many obviously tasty fish co-exist with the sea lions, but there were schools of dozens of surgeon fish as well as huge parrot fish (the largest I have seen), trigger fish, Cortez angle fish, etc. The fish also seemed habituated to people, either because they were used to things shaped sort of like sea lions or because they were used to divers. I will bring Rani here when she returns from Canada and would recommend this experience to anyone sailing in the area. Try to come around 9:30 am on a calm day (you can motor from Enenda Grande in about 45 minutes).

Sojourn captain and crew on Isla San Francisco

Sojourn crew on Isla San Francisco ridge walk

Having said that most cruising boats avoid single-handers, the captain and crew of SV Sojourn welcomed me on board and we shared a number of meals on both vessels. Captain Scott sailed in the Baja Ha Ha this year and he and his crew mostly hail from San Francisco, with one lady coming from the UK. They were enjoying a week in the Sea of Cortez and after taking care of the usual boat projects, Scott plans to head south towards Panama. I had the pleasure of showing them the lovely ridge loop hike on Isla San Francisco (see pictures).

The final pictures are from the Armotajada lagoon at Isla San Jose as well as one of a rainbow over some nearby off-lying rocks. The lagoon was full of Ibis and egrets as well as blue and other herons. A very beautiful spot where I was all alone for 2 days in a strong northerly wind.

Ruins of a stone and brick house. San Jose had a large salt collection operation
until recently and there were many more residents here until the 1980s

Channel in the Amortajada lagoon at high tide

Roosting pelican
White Ibis

Corvadae sails past Isla San Jose in a rare rain shower
I will be in La Paz for a few days and then back to the islands until Rani returns from Canada where she is working for a few weeks as a relief pharmacist in northern BC.

1 comment:

Stephen said...

So nice to see you back on the boat and blogging, even if it is as a wild eyed single hander. Keep it up! Nice try on the shoes.