Monday, December 16, 2013

True North November 12 to December 15: On our own Part 1 - Cabo San Lucas to La Paz

Today is December 16th. Since leaving Cabo San Lucas about a month ago we explored a couple of the bays on the way to La Paz, walked the charming waterfront and back streets of La Paz many times, and sailed in and around the bays of a couple of islands north of here, Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida and, have spent a total of about three weeks in the beautiful Marina Costabaja about four miles north of La Paz.  

We've been waiting to cross the Sea of Cortez to get to Pacific Mexico just as soon as the sea calms down a bit – two Northers have blown through during the past week.

Here's a short recap of these past month's activities on the Baja side of the Sea with a few entries from our daily log.

November 12-13: Cabo San Lucas to San Jose del Cabo
The final Ha-Ha party in Cabo on 11/7 was the cue for many boats to move on to other destinations. We stayed a few more days to decompress after the push south, then moved north towards La Paz with a week along the coast to see the next town, San Jose del Cabo.

Angelina and True North at Marina San Jose del Cabo
San Jose has a very nice modern marina, where we docked behind another Hallberg-Rassy boat, Angelina.  We got to visit with Jerry and Carol from Angelina over the next few days.  The town of San Jose is a short bus ride from the marina.  The town is something of a tourist destination, with a classic church surrounded by many blocks of art galleries, shops, and upscale restaurants. 

Colorful shops in San Jose
From San Jose, there are two bays which are natural stops along the way that break up the route to La Paz, Bahia Los Frailes and Ensenada de los Muertos. Many other Ha-Ha boats followed a similar itinerary so we were in the company of familiar boats along the way. We planned to stay in La Paz for two events before leaving the area, a La Paz sponsored party for Ha-Ha'ers and locals plus a cruiser's potluck Thanksgiving dinner.

November 14-15: San Jose to Los Frailes
We motored in light wind, then raised the sails when the winds increased to a steady 12 kts from the south. Soon they increased to 20 kts, steadily, for a good wing-on-wing ride. Radio talk indicated the anchorage at Los Frailes was rolly and uncomfortable; several boats left. By the time we got there in the late afternoon, it was calmer. We anchored at the north end of the bay in 34' and set 200' chain plus 30' nylon. Bueno! There were 15 other sailboats there, all rocking. The inviting landscape consists of a background of mountains surrounding the bay with a pristine shoreline and sandy beach with dunes. A few houses are located away from the beach. We thought we could swim to shore as we weren't too far from it and still had our dinghy stowed below but the wind picked up suddenly, and with stronger waves developing decided to stay closer to the boat to swim. There would be many other beaches to explore. The first night aboard was too rolly to get much sleep. The second night was calmer. We left the following morning at 0600 for the next good anchorage, Ensenada de los Muertos, 45 nm north.
Another Ha-Ha boat enroute to los Muertos

November 16-17: Ensenada de los Muertos
It was mostly a motor sail in light wind to get there. We arrived at 1400 to find 16 other sailboats in the anchorage. We anchored at the end of a line of boats at the south end of the bay. Four more familiar boats arrived shortly after: Camelot, Pacific Breeze, Hotel California and French Curve. We inflated and launched the dinghy for the short ride to shore to the beachfront cafe and stayed for a margarita.
The cafe with retired steel mooring buoys ("muertos")
We weren't the first to arrive with that idea nor the last. Later, a mostly sleepless rolly night followed. Will every night be like this in the Sea of Cortez? The question was answered our second night at Los Muertos, which was relatively calm and roll-free. On our second day we hiked the beach, visited the hotel with a fabulous model train setup at the south end, and visited the cafe again.
On the beach at Ensenada de los Muertos
November 18-30: La Paz
There are several marinas which serve La Paz, as well as a large anchorage. The first marina to answer our request for space was the Costa Baja Marina, about 4 miles from downtown La Paz, with shuttle service throughout the day. Warm sunshine, swaying palms and no rolly sleepless nights for awhile! The time here gave us a chance to just be unscheduled, visit with familiar boater friends and meet some new ones, as well as tackle a few projects like those teak pegs that keep popping out. Gregg, ever ready to assist with electronics, helped a couple of boats with some installations. And, with the help of some longer-term residents of the marina, we quickly learned where the two-for-one margaritas and wood-fired pizzas were, as well as the prettiest infinity pool on the beach.
Infinity Pool at Marina Costabaja, our social center!
At 0800 every morning, a cruisers net on VHF provides the daily weather forecast, lets boaters announce new arrivals and departures, connects boater queries with answers, and provides a strong community network. The cruising community has a good relationship with the city of La Paz. A non-profit cruisers club provides community support with fund-raisers throughout the year for the the less fortunate children of La Paz.

La Paz has all the necessary amenities. There are grocery stores and markets.
Anne shopping for veggies at Mercado Bravo
The waterfront is lined for several miles with a very attractive, wide tiled walkway, the malecón, and dozens of outdoor cafes and restaurants. We walked from the marina to downtown just once but spent a few more evenings along the malecón searching for the best ceviche and ice cream. A festive Ha-Ha dinner party with Mariachi music and folk dancers was hosted by the businesses of La Paz at La Costa restaurant and surprisingly, there were still a hundred or so Ha-Ha'ers attending – not everyone had left for Puerto Vallarta yet. About a week later, a cruisers potluck Thanksgiving dinner was held at the Palmira Marina with a crowd of 200 attending. This was also Gregg's birthday so thank goodness, we were able to find some very fudgy cake and ice cream in the evening.

From the project list, we were having a canvas shade made for our windshield, something both unnecessary and unheard of in the PNW but totally sanity saving here in the hot sun. At the same time, we had noticed one of the popular attractions for snorkelers in this area is to swim with the whale sharks, which live in the bay of La Paz every winter. While patiently waiting out the delay in getting our canvas back, we joined a few others on a panga excursion to swim with these guys. Whoa! Their mouths are gigantic and almost always open! When facing a gaping shark's mouth one has to wonder if they really eat only plankton or whether there might be one exception...just one. Gregg got very close up and personal to one of those humongous mouths with his camera.

Another day, we joined local resident Manuel, a friend of our Seattle friends Marcia and Lance, who offered to take us on a day trip to the village of Il Triunfo, about 35 miles from La Paz. The ride through the Baja countryside went through cardon cactus filled desert with grand mountains to the east. On each corner of the couple of streets in Il Triunfo, women were selling buckets of red pitaya, the fruit of the cactus.
Anne tries the pitaya fruit
They are a little sweet and have the consistency of watermelon. Manuel took us to lunch at the very colorful Il Triunfo Cafe for their specialty: pulled pork. A stop along the way back through the Cactus Sanctuary led to a walk through a thicket of protected cacti.
Anne in the Cactus Sanctuary
It was a very refreshing outing on land!

December 3-9: Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida
Back on the water! After provisioning with plenty of fresh food for the week ahead,

we took off for the national park islands just 20 miles north of La Paz, Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida. We couldn't wait to get there!

One of the first bays we got to, Bahia San Gabriel, enticed us to stay the first night and why not? Bright white sandy beach along a shore of clear turquoise water, plus good holding in sand. It was a very peaceful change from marina life. Five other sailboats came into the bay for the night. We took the dinghy to shore, visited with the boat Surface Charge, walked right over a guitar fish near the shore, and just savored the abundant wildlife here.
The beach at Bahia San Gabriel
 A large frigate bird rookery framed the south end of the bay with the males displaying their bright red colors. A small pod of juvenile sea lions played near our boat. Each evening at about 1910, as we were to discover during the next few days, the anchorages open to the south become very rolly with nightly winds called coromuels. They are unique to the La Paz area and can be counted on to blow throughout the night from the WSW. Every boat left the bay in the morning!
Red Sky At Night, Bahia San Gabriel
We, too, moved north to another bay, Ensenada la Gallina, the first of three bays in Puerto Ballena. We first took the dinghy out to explore the bay, later swam right off the boat, and in the evening found a spectacular sliver of a silvery moon with Venus nearby. The sky was brilliant! Coromuels began promptly at 1910 for another rolly night but we were more protected in this bay. After a quick morning swim we left to continue our way north along the coast of Isla Espiritu Santo and for Ensenada del Candelero where there is good snorkeling around Roco Monumento at the entrance to the bay.
True North approaches Roca Monumento
No one was in the bay when we arrived. We got out the snorkeling gear and swam over to the Roco to find a fabulous underwater sight - a turtle! Then, tons of colorful fish. Wrasse, angel fish, King Angels, Sargent Majors, Golden Jacks, several Trumpetfish and so many others that were unknown to us by name. We swam around Roco Monumento and through schools of hundreds of small fish and then found a few more turtles on our way back to the boat. The water has begun to get noticeably cooler. Another sailboat arrived. Later in the afternoon we took the dinghy to shore to look for a trail through the hills connecting this beach to the one to the south. 
Anne and True Dink with the ever-present cardon cactus
We met a guy on the beach who went with us to find the trailhead, hiked along a rocky trail and then scrambled along some rocks through a small gully, then up the other side and eventually found our way to the other beach but not on the marked trail. 
Hiking the "trail"
Jacona was from Italy and was camped on the beach, accompanying a professional swimmer, a German woman raising awareness of the marine parks and the need to protect these precious waters by swimming all day, every day around these and Costa Rica islands. We met Renate the swimmer the following evening on the beach. (Costa Rica Mermaid) The evening was calm, no wind in this anchorage that night!
True North in Ensenada del Candelero

Two more nights out brought us further north, first to Caleta Partida. This is a very popular and large anchorage with good protection from the north. We found some familiar boat friends there – Enchante, Resolution, and a Ha-Ha boat we hadn't met yet, Much About Time; then two FUBAR Nordhavens with whom we shared last night's anchorage followed us in, Salacia and Tropical Blend. We moved the boat over one bay to El Mezteño for the last night out. Gregg took the dinghy out to the entrance to hike up the nearby peak for stunning views overlooking the bays and named the white hill "Pico Blanco".
Caleta Partida from Pico Blano
A short time later, the threat of a big Norther blow ended this excursion a little earlier than planned. We took refuge back in La Paz for a few nights, which turned into a week because a second Norther soon followed the first.

Once back in La Paz we became restless to see more of the Baja peninsula so rented a car for a day trip to artsy Todos Santos, a small town about 35 miles away. The road travel was a welcome change of scenery along a good paved road all the way and through desert cactus set against a grey-blue mountain range to the east. The town itself is a popular tourist spot loaded with shops and galleries, alimentos y bebidos (food and drink), and quaint hotels.
Local traditional food in Todos Santos
The hotel selection includes the original, now famous Hotel California. However, a word to the wise: this legendary hotel is thought by many to be the inspiration for the Eagles' hit song “Hotel California” but it is not! According to Eagles' songwriter Don Henley, there is no connection. (“Baja Legends”, Greg Niemann)

Christmas is approaching, and Marina Costabaja has decorations and a tree – surrounded by cactus! There are many musical events at the marina and in the town, many benefits, and even a Coca Cola truck parade with a sleigh and reindeer on top of one of the trucks!
Christmas time, Marina Costabaja, La Paz
December 16: Tomorrow is the day, a Tuesday morning departure for the mainland for True North, Resolution and Sand Dollar. Plans are to head for Isla Isabella to check it out for a safe anchorage, then either stay overnight to snorkel the reef or move on to San Blas on the Pacific coast of Mexico. La Paz to Isla Isabella is ~309 nm (at ~5 kts = ~62 hours). Last night was a farewell get-together with about 25 fellow boaters, with a final stop at the “two-for-one Margarita and pizza happy hour” at La Barcaccia. Sunshine's crew came over from Marina Palmira to join us.  Muy bien!

Next stop, Pacific Mexico!

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