Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Baja Sailing

One of the things you sometimes hear during coffee hour at the cruiser's club ('club cruceros') in La Paz is that there is never a decent wind for sailing among the islands in the Sea of Cortez. Like the Gulf and San Juan islands in the Pacific North West, the winds here in the winter seem to be either light and variable or strong from the north. The joke about Gulf Island Sailing where every boat you see has their mainsail up and their motor running holds quite well for this area, too.

However, we have an advantage that few of the Gulf Island sailors have and that is that we rarely have a deadline. Nor are the tides here a huge issue until you enter the estuary channel leading up to la Paz, where currents regularly flow at a couple of knots. So with much patience, it is actually possible to sail almost anywhere here. Going south is perhaps the simplest, since with a 20 knot 'Norther' behind you, you can easily do 50 miles in daylight, if you don't mind rolling around in the short sharp seas that build up during these winds.

Around the islands north of La Paz, the winds can be challenging. The Lorenzo Channel that separates La Paz from the islands has its own wind. A vortex can form in the pocket west of this channel where the winds die out and a big choppy swell from two or more directions makes it virtually impossible to sail. With northerly winds it is sometimes possible to sail far to the west to avoid this pocket of trouble, but this adds four or more miles to the passage between the islands and La Paz.

Our trip yesterday was not entirely typical, since we were able to sail through the pocket of calms off the Lorenzo channel. We left Raza anchorage with a light Northwest wind blowing and ran south with the wind behind our starboard quarter, ghosting through the calms in the lee of Rooster and Hen islands. Two boats were under sail about a mile offshore, one hoisting its spinnaker as we sailed out of the bay. About an hour out, the wind died out and then shifted into the southwest. Several sailboats motored past in both directions and the two boats that had been sailing took down their sails and ran south to La Paz under motor. The southwest wind held for a couple of miles, but as we approached the Lorenzo channel and cleared the south end of Espiritu Santo Island, we could see a train of white caps marching down the channel from the opposite direction. I hurried to the mast and put a reef in the main. We then slatted around in the hiatus between the wind systems for half an hour.

When we finally reached the channel wind, it was on our port beam and Ladybug hiked up her skirts, leaned her shoulder into the sea, and took off like a young colt. A large 1970's IOR race boat that had motored past us earlier rolled out her jib (Rani says we shamed them into sailing) and we sailed in company across the channel, leaving them as we turned into the Lobos anchorage. Lobo means 'wolf' or 'sea lion' and it is a common name for rocks and points in the Sea of Cortez. There is a small rock of this name off the anchorage that welcomed us with a musical accompaniment of bellows and grunts.

Lobos anchorage was filled by a multi-million dollar mega-yacht, behind which two masts could just be seen. We beat into the anchorage, sailing under the stern of the big yacht, where the 'garage' was open, displaying a raft of kayaks, jet skis, and other aquatic toys. The transom of the yacht opened out into a ramp, up which the toys could be hauled and loaded before getting under way. Our friends George on 'Susie' and Charlie and Sharon on 'Castaway' were the two sailboats in the anchorage and we sailed upwind of Castaway, jibed, and ran down under main alone, so we could best determine where to anchor. The big yacht occupied so much of the anchorage that we ended up beating back up to a point inside of it, just off a sand shelf and about 300 feet north of Castaway. We dropped the anchor in 14 feet of beautiful emerald water and a few hours later, a full moon rose over the anchorage as the sun dropped behind the hills across La Paz Bay.

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