A Moment in Time

Chapter II

(for chapter one click here)

Jimmy's great sailing adventure continues....

Jim and I just returned from a 3-week sail around a very small portion of the Sea of Cortez. Our travels were aided immensely by a book by Shawn Breeding and Heather Bansmer – locally referred to as "Shawn and Heather's book" but when you are buying it, ask for "SEA OF CORTEZ – A Cruiser's Guidebook". It lists anchorages in bays all the way from Cabo San Lucas up the Sea of Cortez to San Felipe at the top and then over to Puerto Periasco and down to San Carlos and Guaymas. Apart from showing all the soundings in the bays and preferred anchorages in the bay, it includes excellent descriptions of the area, hiking trails (Mexican-style), points of interest and interesting tidbit information of sea life and plant life.

Our sail took us up to Caleta Lobos, a cozy anchorage a mere 10 NM from the hustle and bustle and bright lights of La Paz. Here Jim found quiet water to dive and clean the bottom of the boat as the waters of La Paz basin stimulate rapid bottom growth. Once this chore was done over a course of 2 days, we relaxed and enjoyed the company of 2 Canadian and 2 American boaters that we bonded with in La Paz.

The next day, in the mid-morning stillness, we climbed into our inflatable dinghy equipped with its 9.9hp engine, and set a heading for the small island at the entrance to our bay. As we approached the rocky edges, the engine was reduced and we leaned over the edge to see what lurked below. Slowly our eyes focused through the gentle rippling water to see a different world – one which held so much life, unlike ours, but in so many ways, the same. Fluorescent neon blue darted amongst the coral. Sergeant Major fish, with their stripes darted beneath us. Then several reef fish with vivid yellow tails and markings, zipped the other way. We bobbed along, in search of other life. On the shore sat the pelican, bill nestled to its chest, spying us with one eye, but undaunted by our presence. Above it sat seagulls upon white-splattered rocks, shrieking utterances as we passed below. On the outside of the island, waves from a passing boat pushed us close to the rocky edge, so a little more power was added to help steer us away from the beckoning but unwelcome rocky shore. The water was darker here in the shade of the island making it difficult to catch sight of the elusive inhabitants below. As we rounded the east side, a huge bolder protruded, looking much like the profile of an ancient Cro-Magnon man. We now headed towards the east side of our little bay where the shallow waters held an abundance of corals and tiny fish. On the outer edge of this was sandy-mud bottom with the occasional rock holding a single coral. This is where we saw a puffer fish that, after seeing us, was slowly slipping down the back side of the coral and resting undercover as we passed overhead. Several little fish would scurry for shelter of the corals or foliage as we neared, peaking out to see if we had passed, which we hadn't, so would dart back to cover. Amazing little creatures. Once out of the coral, we let the boat drift slowly towards shore, taking in everything that lay below the clear blue water. We were hoping to see the small "rays", but they too, eluded our watching eyes. We did come across what we thought to be two, but turned out to be just one very large fish casting a very large shadow. We followed it, trying to get closer, but it maneuvered better than us and managed to stay out of close visual range. Later, after describing this creature to another boater, we were informed that it more than likely was a large puffer fish in its "slim" form! At the back of the bay close to shore were mango groves with their multi-stems clinging to the shallow bottom. The shore itself was a bright white sand whose only inhabitant at the moment was a lone shore bird dining on its "catch of the day".

From here, we headed north 15 NM to Isla Espiritu Santo which is part of the Natural Marine Park system. Our anchorage for the night was El Mezteno, another small cove with a beautiful white sand beach.

The next morning, we motored around the corner to Caleta Partida, one of the biggest anchorages on the island. It is the division of Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida. The geologic history of this bay is that it is the crater of a large extinct volcano and over thousands of years, this crater eventually eroded below sea level, losing its western and eastern edges. The high sloping walls and volcanic rock inside the cove still remain to remind us of its once grand stature. At high tide, we were told that you can take a dinghy ride through the pass between the 2 islands and head south a mile or so and view some amazing sea caves. We found the caves and actually rowed our dinghy into them...quite an eerie feeling with that entire mountain on top of us....but breathtaking to see the sight! We dawdled a bit on our way back to the pass to admire the layers of cream, beige and pink sandstone and the sculptures that were etched into them. And then we found a semi-dead floating puffer fish so we had to stop and check it out. By the time we got to the turn in the pass, the water was quite low so we stopped and went ashore to check out a vacant fishing village. Perched on the roofs of the shacks were half a dozen turkey vultures waiting for a meal. After exploring for half an hour, we walked with our dinghy through shallow water until we reached a point where we could climb in again...and rather than start our motor, we floated back to deeper water, leaning over the side and watching the sea life below....oodles of puffer fish and a few other types as well. Back at the boat, we had a quick lunch and pulled anchor to move to Ensenada El Cardonal, 3 NM north on Isla Partida. This is a long bay (1.5 miles) and we could go deep in, close to the shallow bright blue water. We spent a couple of days here, exploring the ancient aquaculture structures on one side of the bay. Ancient fishermen had a lot better fishing techniques than "fish-less Jim"! At the end of the bay, there is an easy walk to the other side of the island. We passed through cacti areas, a slough area which housed colonies of ghost crabs, (also known as sand crabs) at its edges, a meadow type area and up the ridge to stand and overlook the east side of the island with nothing but water as far out as the eye could see.

We made one more move around another corner to Ensenada Grande, and yes, as the name implies, it is a large bay with 3 coves and anchorage sites. We went deep into the first cove that had 2 beaches – one quite small and on the side with a fisherman's cross on the hillside. The larger beach was at the back. Shells galore everywhere just waiting to be picked up!

The next day, we made the 20 NM leap across to Isla San Francisco. It's a popular anchorage with its beautiful crescent shaped bay with its fine white sandy beaches. As we were heading still north the next morning, we didn't launch our dinghy. A fellow boater from Ladner came aboard and we spent a sunny happy hour. The wind did a bit of a turn-around later and we spent a VERY lumpy night. Winds were rather nasty first thing in the morning, and as we were only going 10 NM to San Evaristo, we sat for a bit to see if the winds would abate. It was a bit bouncy getting out of the bay, but then the wind caught our jib and we had a beautiful sail up to San Evaristo, housed in a crescent bay with a dramatic backdrop of the towering Sierra de la Giganta range. It is a quaint little fishing village with around 20 permanent families. The men fish from Pangas, a skookum little open boat with big engines. We heard that there was a small tienda (grocery store) there and sought information from a fellow boater if he knew where it was. Got some good local knowledge from this friendly couple and managed to get ashore and hike to our destination. Safeway or Save-On it is not, but it did have the necessities, and this being Friday, their fresh fruit and veggies were in. This was our main shopping focus as fresh food is the first thing one runs out of when off in the "wilderness". Another prime ingredient for boaters, at anchor of course, is beer....which we managed to find, but in a little village like this, it was not exactly "economical" unless you are really thirsty!!!

Once we had our groceries safely put away, our neighbours informed us that there was a palapa restaurant on shore. Her hours were a little "sketchy", but they inquired with her earlier if she would cook dinner. So the 4 of us dinghyed over and had the whole place to ourselves. Dinner was local fish cut into strips and fried, served with beans, rice, salsa and tortillas...just right for rolling.

The next day, we hiked to the north end of the island to view the salt evaporation ponds, which is a huge area where they let sea water in from the sea where it fills the ponds. These are then left where natural evaporation occurs, and the end result is sea salt! I never did find out how long the evaporation process takes.

We spent a very fun and margarita-filled evening with our boat neighbours. Jim had his guitar, and of course had to play "Margaretville"!!

The following day, the winds were beckoning and we departed for a short sail to Punta Salinas on Isla San Jose. This was the site of another salt mining operation, but it is now abandoned leaving much of old rusted trucks and machinery. Jim quite enjoyed examining there rusted artifacts and trying to identify their origin. The site also included several old stone buildings which now crumble under the sun. The beach was one of the biggest that we have seen so far and spent much time checking for interesting shell and various sea critters in their burrows just above from the water line. At the south end of Bahia Amortojada we took a dinghy ride through the mangrove. The main channel is quite wide and almost resembles a small river. But the side channels were delightful – small and shallow where viewing of various fish near the mangrove roots was easy. On the way back from the lagoon at the end, we let the dinghy drift close to the mangroves for an up-close-and-personal view. The ebb tide runs fairly hard through the main channel so we had to watch our time so that we wouldn't be pulling our dinghy through the shoals.

It was now time to start a slow trek back to La Paz. We left Bahia Amortojada in the afternoon, but tide, current and winds were not favourable so ended up motoring the 5 NM back to Isla San Francisco. It was rather lumpy when we first dropped our anchor, but the evening settled down and gave us a nice ride for the night. The is the first evening that the Space Station was to pass overhead, so we took our cushions and blankets on deck and laid back to watch the night sky. Saw something that we thought was the Space station, but ended up just being a jet. The next night it was to pass over us at 7:15 pm, so once again we were up on deck, binoculars in hand, and waited. This time we had a successful sighting, tracking it from SW to NE, a passing time of almost 5 minutes. The stars out here, away from the lights of civilization, are amazing. We lay for a long time, looking up and taking in this marvel.

As we didn't go to shore on our first visit, we took the opportunity now to do so. Another massive white sand beach met us. Beyond it lay another salt pond, albeit smaller than the others, and with the exception of one spot, was very dry. We crossed over this to the other side of the island where we could gaze across and see Isla San Jose. Beside us was a trail with a peck urging us upward to a view taking in the entire bay. I managed 9/10's of the trail....not bad for an ol' broad! The going up was ok, but it is the coming down that you have to watch....don't want to go slipping on loose stones!

We waited an extra day for the north winds to sail back across to Isla Partida and Ensenada Grande. It was not a very comfortable anchorage. That night made me wish I was home in my queen-size bed, which did not move, stayed stationary...all night long!! Where my body innards did not slosh back and forth trying to be rearranged into places where they were not meant to be.

The next morning we headed for trails on shore to escape the constant motion. We had the opportunity to challenge a Mexican "park trail", a quaint trail scattered with boulders, cacti, plant and animal life, covering a distance of up to 2.5 miles of varyingly degrees of physical endurance. I think I have my "Mountain Goat Certificate" arriving in the mail shortly!! Again, fantastic scenery, and if you sit still, you can see and hear things you wouldn't otherwise.

Back on board, the water had mellowed (temporarily) and we enjoyed the pleasant part of the afternoon where we sat out in the cockpit, sipping on a 'happy hour' refreshment and munching on some type of pre-dinner snack. When we finished dinner, the dirty dishes were set upon the counter until the urge grabbed us to get up and wash things up. As we sat there, swaying side to side, I watched the fluid in my glass rise on one side and then rise on the other side. I chuckled to Jim that I should get a picture of that. Then the dishes started to side back and forth on the counter. "OK", I said. "This is not fun any more!" Jim said there was nothing he could do about it. I said "I want a hotel with a king-size bed...with a bag of jujubes!" And we looked at each other and laughed! What else can you do! So we played cards...until the dishes rattled again, beckoning our attention.

The next morning, we followed the exodus out of that bay and headed around the corner to go deep into Ensenada el Cardonal, where the water was SMOOTH...there was wind, but no lumpy seas!! We met up with our Montreal friends and spent a pleasant night with them. The next day, the anchorage emptied....we had the whole place to ourselves. Jim busied himself replacing a couple of shrouds and doing some minor repairs. And being his First Mate, I had the job of running for tools. Once chores were done, it was time for happy hour, and due to the lack of other inhabitants in our bay, our afternoon attire was minimal!!!

Our last night out before returning to La Paz was at Meztino where we encountered our Eureka, CA friend and another boat. Dinner of freshly speared fish (of which he did – not Jimmy) was aboard his boat. He is an awesome Dobro player so between him and Jim, they created some lively music!

On the home stretch now. Started out to be a nice little sail – propelled at 3 ½ to 5 kts. But as any sailor knows, the wind and direction are subject to change without notice!! Other than wanting to enter La Paz with the tide at around 4:30, we were in to rush, but bouncing along at 1 ½ to 2 knots was not an option, so the engine was started. We had been noticing some periodic elevation of the engine coolant temperature but it was now evident that we had a problem!! Jim used a laser thermometer on several areas of the engine and came to the conclusion that we had a thermostat issue. Long story short, engine went off, we pick up a little wind and sailed until we neared the entrance to La Paz channel. Engine went on to maneuver around the first 3 buoys, engine off and we (I) sailed us up the channel, with a 3 knot push from the tide, to the entrance to the Mogote where we anchor. Next day of trouble-shooting at anchor found that it was not the thermostat but 3 broken fins on the impeller of Jim's new water pump that he installed in Morro Bay. Fortunately, in his pile of "stuff" that he had piled on board prior to his departure, he had a spare new part. I will got to task with part distributor when I get home to see if they will replace it (at no charge) as the engine had run less than 200 hours since installation.

So now I sit in La Paz for a few more days and then it is back to the "moist" hinterland! Daughter Karmin arrived 2 days ago to continue on the voyage with her dad. Another boater (Werner aboard "Princess del Mar" from LYC) has just had his daughter join him as crew for a trip to the Marquises and New Zealand and eventually Australia.

On a safety note:
2 days ago we witnessed a dinghy (large) with motor (large) "loose" it's operator overboard, and the dinghy continued on, going around in circle at high speed. The operator was retrieved from the water, but before they could clear the scene, the crazed dinghy, rammed them, came around, clipped them, ran over them, putting both on board into the water. The fellow doing the rescuing received horrific injury to one leg and cuts on his arm. At this moment of writing, he was airlifted to San Diego where he has undergone 3 surgeries (and most likely more to follow) to save his leg.

The moral of this story: use your "dead man" break-away cable on your dinghy motor. If you do have the misfortune to be knocked into the water by wave, rock or whatever, your motor will be killed instantly!