The Log of Moira
These are mostly Susan’s remarks. Larry’s notes are indicated thus <Larry: blah blah blah.>.
<Larry: As we left the harbor entrance at Altata and raised the mainsail, we discovered that four sail slides (that hold the sail to the mast) had fractured. Fortunately, we had spares. Once we were away from the offshore breakers that flank the entrance channel, I replaced the broken ones while we powered westward. After an hour or so we were able to start sailing.> We had gone to Altata in part to position ourselves well for the sail across the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California), hoping to avoid the discomfort of sailing of close-hauled. <Larry: The prevailing wintertime winds are from the northwest, and we wanted to go west. That 45-degree angle is about as close as one can go to the wind under sail, and sailing that close to the wind is often wet and slow.> Fortunately we did like Altata because the efforts we made to obtain good positioning were not rewarded. We left Altata with the wind “on the nose,” out of the west, straight out of the direction we wished to go. After a while the wind was both contrary and light, so about a third of the way across the Sea we fired up the engine. <Larry: It is said that the “bow” of the boat is a wind-indicating instrument: it shows which way the wind is coming from.> We motored through the night, arriving in the late afternoon of the next day at the first large island north of La Paz, Isla Espiritu Santo. <Larry: As I said in the earlier installment, I was attempting to “load the dice” in our favor by positioning ourselves at Altata for the crossing. But even loaded dice don’t always come up sixes. Also, we were approaching that time of year when the wintertime prevailing northwesterlies become summertime prevailing southeasterlies. We got bit by the changing odds, and not for the last time.>
Our planned destination was Ensenada de la Partida, a very popular anchorage on Isla Espiritu Santo, but on the way there, we poked our noses into the less popular anchorage of Ensenada Grande on Isla Partida next door, and fell in love. Of course, as we sought the shelter of the anchorage, the wind dropped. As we came into the anchorage the engine began to overheat, again. To avoid damaging the engine, we had to turn the engine off and rely on the momentum of the boat to glide into the anchorage, while we dropped the anchor and had the anchor stop the boat. It was instructive to me to see how she “carried her way”: her momentum ensured that she did not just stop in place when the engine was turned off. In fact, she glided right nicely into the anchorage, and allowed us to anchor without incident. We explored the anchorage by dinghy, swam, gloried in the stark beauty of the place, and appreciated the fact that we were the only boat in the anchorage, while Ensenada de la Partida anchorage was crowded. The color of the water was striking. Deep blue, changing toward shore to a delicate light turquoise clear to the bottom (about 20 feet). The soft, rose-colored rock had been sculpted by wave and wind into elaborate filigree.
The islands and anchorages in the 150 miles or so north of La Paz are one of the two cruisers’-consensus favorite cruising grounds in Mexico <Larry: the other is the 150 miles or so south of Puerto Vallarta>. All want to see it and cruise for some time. Some stay for years, enjoying the cruising with regular breaks into La Paz; others see it, like it, then go on. Some cruisers find the perfection boring and go on. We are in the middle group. We really did enjoy our stay but the thought of staying through the summer with the high heat and threat of hurricanes did not appeal. But, it was fun to catch up on friendships and to see La Paz. The second day we were in Ensenada Grande, we listened to the cruiser’s radio net to see who was around and found that our friends from Puerto Vallarta, Raptor Dance (a fellow Valiant) were close by. They had stayed in the larger anchorage, Ensenada de la Partida. We hailed them by VHF radio, and they soon joined us in the smaller, quieter anchorage, so now we were two in the anchorage. <Larry: and then four. An 80-foot day-tour boat out of La Paz came in to the anchorage, anchored too close to Raptor Dance, moved, dragged anchor, re-anchored, etc.>
It was fun to catch up, but after another day we took off to Isla San Francisco, another beautiful island close to La Paz. We took a stroll on the white coral beach, and came across some salt ponds just inland from the beach itself. Think of the sea salt required in some recipes which is readily available in Whole Foods or the like for 7 to 8 dollars for a small bottle. Well, did you ever think were it came from? I did not, really but I saw for myself the great salt ponds and heaps of sea salt being mined by the local population. No small glass bottles, but that probably happens on the mainland. Tasted just like the stuff in the bottles. <Larry: Here we also made our first acquaintance with the yellow-and-black, water-loving bees that infest some anchorages. At first, we thought they were wasps. Don’t leave out any fresh water, or even hang freshly-washed clothes in the rigging, unless you’re prepared for a visit of hundreds of these critters. They’re not aggressive, but certainly pushy in their own way.>
<Larry: Our next stop northward was Evaristo, or San Evaristo, a short, breezy hop across the channel from Isla San Francisco. The Evaristo name is attached to a small-to-medium bay and village. We took a stroll ashore and found more salt pans, these on a much more industrial scale than those at Isla San Francisco. Near the salt pans was a vertical concrete plaque commemorating the opening of the dirt/rock road over the hills to the next village, “in support of the fishing, touristic, and mineral opportunities of the area.” Evaristo is where pangas from further north offload their fishing catches to be trucked down to La Paz.
We dropped off a small present of some school supplies at the local two-room elementary school. We asked a mother standing outside the school whether she knew the whereabouts of the local tienda (store), and discovered that she was the proprietor of the tienda, and would escort us thither. We picked up some vegetables and other supplies there, and made our way back to the beach past the village’s new water desalination plant.>
<Larry: The next day we had one of those magical sailing experiences. The breeze was just a whisper, maybe five knots, but the water was absolutely flat, and we glided along in silence.
For much of this area, one is sailing with the mainland on one side, and Isla San Jose on the other. How to describe the terrain around here? Imagine taking a knife and slicing the Grand Canyon apart, keep the South Rim, throw away the North Rim, and bring the ocean up to the shoreline formerly occupied by the Colorado River. As we sail north, that's the coast of the peninsula of Baja California, on our left. There are frequent islands 5 to 20 miles off the coast, on our right, but their geology is different. For them, take the Grand Tetons around Jackson Hole. And every 30 miles or so, they exchange places.
Los Gatos (or El Gato), “the cat(s)”, is an uninhabited anchorage, though occasionally pescaderos (fishermen) will pitch a small camp in its northern end. It is rimmed with the same fabulous rose-rock formations we first encountered at Ensenada Grande. A couple of whalebones were high on the beach, and the beach was lined with the bodies of innumerable jellyfish. Here we met up again with Raptor Dance, and with the pestilent yellow bees (Raptor Dance had a worse time of it than we did: they left some food open on their galley countertop, and a squadron of bees found its way belowdecks).>
We went as far north in the Sea as Bahía Agua Verde. This anchorage is about 90 miles north of La Paz and is known for its beautiful green water and the picturesque setting, though the water is actually clear, and is given its apparent color by the nature of the bottom. High ridges connected to the inland mountains drop to beautiful white beaches easily approachable in our dinghy. It was in the Sea of Cortez that I began to collect sea shells. Now a large jar of Mexican shells sits on my sister’s dining room table in her Maine cottage. We visited the small town of Agua Verde, and purchased some hand-made tortillas and the local goat cheese. Unfortunately, we think the cheese did not set right with our stomachs, so it was a long night.
<Larry: Bahía Agua Verde is large enough to have half a dozen anchorages within its arms. When we first arrived, we anchored in the north anchorage. A wind shift during the first night revealed that I hadn’t done my sums right, and we were much too close to the next boat. The rule is that, when two boats in an anchorage are too close together, it’s the responsibility of the newcomer to fix the situation. Next morning, we moved to the south anchorage, but had the devil of a time getting the anchor to bite. Finally, it appeared to hold. Several days later, when it came time to leave, we were horrified to look down through the clear water and see the anchor lying entirely on the surface of the sand! We had, in effect, been anchored only by the weight of the chain lying on the bottom. We surmise that the bottom in the center of that anchorage is smooth rock, and that when we attempted to set the anchor, it had merely hooked into a small crevice. We had been getting pretty cocky about our anchoring skills, so it was time we got a comeuppance, and a blessing that it came at so small a price.>
By this time we had spent about five weeks exploring the Sea. Given the deadline imposed by the approaching hurricane season, it was time to go on to La Paz. After all we had to be back in Puerto Vallarta by June 1 to satisfy our insurance company. <Larry: We retraced our steps southward, through Los Gatos, San Evaristo, and Isla Partida. Dolphins often join us by playing around the boat while we are under sail. As we passed Isla San Francisco, we noticed a roiling white capped area of water coming toward us. Once we got closer we saw that it was caused by hundreds of dolphins traveling across the sea, approaching the boat, and then going by and under us. All the time the dolphins were cavorting and playing, jumping and scrambling by each other. It was quite a sight. A little later, as we approached Los Islotes north of Isla Partida, we were treated to a show by a solitary whale, which breeched and splashed twenty or thirty times over the period of half an hour.>
<Larry: On the leg from Isla Partida to the Punta San Lorenzo anchorage (just outside of La Paz) we were hailed by another vessel whose engine had died. We took them in tow for a few hours while the skipper of that vessel got things going again. There’s a first time for everything. Put this one in the karma account—someday it will happen to us.>
La Paz has a spacious harbor with several well equipped marinas and anchorages. The lengthy entrance channel is well marked. Once again, our engine overheated during the approach, and we were forced to coast to one side of the channel and anchor to sort things out. There is a very strong, reversing current in the harbor known locally as the “ La Paz Waltz”, that keeps anchored boats doing a waltz from side to side. We chose to avoid this and sought shelter in Marina Palmira, which already housed several of our sailing partners. It also had access to a very inviting pool which pleased Susan. The good Internet access pleased Larry. While the days were hot and sometimes muggy (we could see summer coming fast), the evenings were usually cooled nicely by a local wind called the “corumuel.” We enjoyed La Paz… it is a friendly, pleasant, seaside town without the constant hustle of Cabo San Lucas. The downtown had many good restaurants, good services for the cruiser community, and a pleasant sea side charm. La Paz has a municipal aquarium, focusing upon smaller tropical fish, such as would be found in a home aquarium.
After a week, it was time to go on. Puerto Vallarta was waiting for us. We set out on the morning of the 22nd of May for “home”. We planned to try the 4 to 5 night sail to Puerto Vallarta in one fell swoop. After all, it should be all down wind, right? Well, the dream was not to be, again. As summer approaches the west coast of Mexico, the wind starts to change so that going home to Puerto Vallarta can turn into a beat up wind! <Larry: Lucky us, uphill both ways.> That was our experience, so after a rough passage of 24 hours and still beating we headed for the safety of Mazatlán where we spent two nights recovering…or at least Susan recovered. But it was pretty rough. Of course as we approached Mazatlán, the winds died and the seas calmed. <Larry: The good news was that the shrimping season was over, so we didn’t have to pick our way through the shrimping fleet to get in to Mazatlán.>
After two nights in Mazatlán, we were ready to push on and get back to Puerto Vallarta. We passed Isla Isabela at night, knowing of its presence only by its signature on the RADAR, and by the flashing navigation light on its summit. After a sail <Larry: yes, sailing!> of 36 hours, we approached lovely Banderas Bay and dropped anchor in Punta de Mita, the first anchorage in the Bay as you approach from the north. After a night at anchor we proceeded on to PV where we settled into our summer slip.
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