Saturday, November 8, 2014

Sea of Cortez - La Paz to Santa Rosalia

Sea of Cortez – La Paz to Santa Rosalia - October 16 to November 8

We left La Paz three weeks ago with the boat all cleaned up, checked out and provisioned, heading towards our goal, Bahia Concepcion, 190 nm to the north. It felt great to be out on the water again even though winds were mostly too light to sail the first day.

On the water again!
We anchored in now familiar places, meandering from one to the next: Ensenada Grande, a favorite from last season because of its beautiful clear turquoise water and a first swim in the warm October water.
Swimming at Ensanada Grande
The sunset was as beautiful as we expected in these islands.

Sunset on the hills at Ensenada Grande
Next, Isla San Francisco, just 18 nm beyond, a large crescent shaped anchorage with a hiking trail to the cliffs above. The weekend brought a dozen boats from La Paz for beach picnics and an overnighter.
Isla San Francisco
Then, 33 nm on to Puerto Los Gatos. No one was there! As it turned out, we seldom saw another boat out on the water until we got to Bahia Concepcion. On the way over to Puerto Los Gatos we reeled in a five pound fish!
Yet another skipjack...
We couldn't tell for sure if it was a Skipjack or a Pacific Bonita so we let it go. The red sandstone shore at Puerto Los Gatos was striking against the blue water and hills that are a deep, velvety green from the summer rain. The night sky was especially brilliant with no other lights from boats nearby. There was a magical bioluminescence surrounding our boat. It looked at first like dozens of jellies lit up underwater but with a closer view we saw a single bright light in each cluster of dimmer lights spiraling to the outer edges.

By this time we had a morning routine of jumping into the water, then rinsing off with the fresh water shower bag on deck to start the day. When we took off for Agua Verde, 18 nm north and around Punta San Pasquel, we finally found some good wind, put up the sails and tried a different lure on the line with a larger hook. We had spotted a big fish like a dorado or marlin nearby and were determined to make an effort to catch something.
Special lunch - hotdogs with cheese and relish on tortillas!
There was just one other sailboat in the distance heading in the opposite direction. We arrived at the anchorage about 1600 and anchored in 20' right off the smaller beach with a small house and a couple of residents on shore.

Agua Verde, north anchorage
One other sailboat was there. We deployed the dinghy to explore the reef and then went over to meet Dream Ketcher from Tucson. It was a perfectly beautiful night with cool breezes. We saw the twinkling bioluminescence again all around our boat. Mesmerizing! At the same time there was a large school of medium sized silvery fish swimming and jumping through the water. Enough taunting! Gregg got out the fishing pole and caught one. It was silver with yellow horizontal stripes, different from any we had seen before. We found out the next day from a local fisherman that is was a “ralla daia” (also raya) meaning striped. It made a very good sauteed fish dinner the following night.

Ralla daia for dinner tomorrow!
Agua Verde seemed like a good place to spend another busy day. We took the dinghy over to the nearby hills to hike to the large red rocks at the top.

360 degree panorama of Augua Verde
Exhausted by the heat, we cooled off by snorkeling around the small reef but it wasn't too exciting. Agua Verde is a little fishing village with a small tienda, some houses, a school and a church. We walked through the village, stopping at Maria's tienda for a couple of cans of Pozole.

Puerto Escondido was our next stop. This is a protected anchorage with a smaller outer area called The Waiting Room. On shore there is a marina office, showers, laundry and the infrastructure for a fine town that was never built! We topped off the fuel and met several of the semi-permanent cruiser-residents on shore who invited us to join their daily chat circle outside the small tienda for conversation and news. These folks had good stories. They had either been through Huricane Odile while out on a mooring ball in the anchorage or had left a boat there while they were stateside. Either way, their animated conversations told of a very rough ride through the night. One unattended sailboat lost its mast and chainplates. It was described as a bumper car rink with a bit of neighborly yelling involved as mooring balls dragged through the waiting room, that smaller, outer anchorage. Most residents have acquired their own mooring balls in the anchorage but there isn't a system for how they are spaced from each other. It's all left up to working it out with your neighbor.

Puerto Escondido, much greener than it was in May
We made the short 11 nm sail to Loreto from Escondido the following day to stop for lunch to meet a friend of boater friends who lives there part of the year. She suggested Mediterrano right on the waterfront and it was a great choice. After lunch, she drove us to the supermarket so we could provision with a few heavier items, thanks to her car, and then kindly dropped us off at the dinghy dock. Nice visit with Abby! Without exception, people have been very hospitable to the boating community.
Relaxing in Loreto
On to Punta Pulpito, a long day of mostly motor-sailing as the wind was directly on our nose. So disappointing as this was a consistent wind. But with hours to go before dark, we didn't want to delay so early in the day. We waited until we were closer to Punta Pulpito, then put up the sails and enjoyed the end of the afternoon under full sail. The anchorage was empty on arrival but shortly after we had everything neatly packed up on deck, another sailboat arrived and anchored nearby. The evening was calm under a glorious starry, clear night sky.

Neighbors at Punta Pulpito
There are no good anchorages between Punto Pulpito and the point entering into Bahia Concepcion so we had a long day ahead of us. It felt good to be out on the water well before sunrise with miles to go that day. It was a beautiful clear morning.

Cruising at sunrise
We started out motoring but within about 20 minutes had raised the sails. We continued to sail for two hours on a beam reach, flying at 5 to 6 kts/hr. We didn't pass another recreational boater the entire day, arriving at Playa Domingo just inside Bahia Concepcion around 2 PM. A long white sand beach bridges red rocks to the north and grey green rocks to the south. We motored carefully around several fishing buoys to check for lines, then anchored in 18' with a 5' tide gain expected. It's hard to capture the grandeur of these desert foothills and mountains with the lens of a small camera...even with the naked eye. But, with binoculars the colors really come to life.

We spent a quiet day on the water with only a few pangas in sight during the day. We hung out at Playa Domingo until early afternoon but didn't even put the dinghy into the water. When we left for Playa Santispac, just 8 nm across to the other side of Bahia Concepcion, the wind picked up a little and we sailed most of the way, jib only at 6.3 kts when the wind picked up to a steady 20+ kts. Then, hooray! This sea aquarium came to life with “smiling” bottlenose dolphins that swam with us for several minutes. Next up were silvery rays jumping every which way out of the water. On the way to Santispac, we avoided the charted shallow water off the eastern shore of Bahia Concepcion, but found the water rapidly shallowing to 23' towards the western shore so we scooted back to center.  It turns out the charts are wrong about depths in Bahia Concepion!  We then entered Playa Santispac between the point and island with 22 kts coming directly astern. We anchored easily and were the only boat in the bay. Picturesque hills surround a beach with a few small houses and a couple of restaurants dotting the shore, plus a few very nice houses. Highway 1 can be seen in the distance winding through the hills. We didn't put the dinghy in the water because the wind had picked up to 24 kts so cooked aboard, but within a short time could hear the music from Ana's Restaurant on shore. We would go ashore the following day to explore.

Swimming with safety line in windy conditions
Our first full day at Santispac included a special serendipitous moment! We went to shore to try to catch a ride to Mulege, 11 miles north. Hitching is the only way to get there. Unfortunately, it was Sunday and there wasn't much traffic. We waited in the hot sun for 15 minutes when all of a sudden a camper truck approached and it was Bob & Deedee from Vancouver, B.C. whom we had met last year and were now on their way to La Paz to get back to their boat Sunshine. What are the chances! We had sent them a message just a few days ago to check in with them so they “just had a feeling” when they saw a lone sailboat in the distance and two people looking for a ride by the side of the road that it might be us! They pulled over for a short visit before another vehicle finally did pull over to offer us a ride to Mulege.

Visiting with Bob and Deedee
Once in Mulege, we explored all around town checking out the views from hilltops, the old mission, the Plaza Corona, and then ended up staying for a late lunch.

At Las Casitas in Mulege
We weren't so lucky getting a ride back to Santispac. Not a single car obliged though to be fair most were completely full with families. We found a taxi back at the plaza for 220 pesos ($16 USD).

Over the next week, we stayed in each of the anchorages in Playa Concepcion. There aren't too many. Before leaving Playa Santispac for Playa Santa Barbara we stopped for a meal at one of the two well-known restaurants . We wanted to check out Armandos but it was closed. No surprise because there was absolutely no one else around except for us. A short walk farther down the beach is Ana's, mentioned in the guidebook. We met the very friendly and talkative waiter Carlos, grandson of Ana, who served up a lunch of fish and beef tacos. Actually, they weren't very good. But Carlos kept up a lively conversation with us. He told us that last year at this time the beach was full with RVs and campers.
At Ana's
In the afternoon, we pulled our anchor and moved south to an even quieter anchorage, Playa Santa Barbara. No one there, only bobos, those annoying little black flies but at least they don't bite. We didn't stay a second night. We moved on to Playa Bonaventura, north of Isla Requeson after a short sail of just 6 nm - no boats here again.
True North at Playa Buenaventura
The afternoon wind kicked up at the usual time, 1530, and remained strong at 23-27 kts until the early evening. All was calm during the night and into the morning. It's quite natural when on the water to rise with the sun, a whole day ahead to explore something new. After stopping for lunch at the expat restaurant on the beach (get the fish sandwich), we took advantage of the wind and sailed to the south end of Bahia Concepcion, then looped around to return to the anchorage on the south side of Isla Requeson for a leisurely, easy sail against a glorious background.
Sail up!
The landscape on the east side of Bahia Concepcion from a distance is a seemingly lifeless desert next to the vibrant sea but up close it is spectacularly colorful with slanting strips of red, pink, mauve and purple rock above foothills full of light green cacti.

On the next very calm morning, we took True Dink to shore to get a closer look at the beach with a few shade palapas...not much to see there. We motored over to Isla Requeson to explore the hilltop but the island is quite thick with impenetrable brush, at least in sandals. Disappointed at not finding anywhere to walk, we headed back to the boat, pulled the anchor and turned north towards Playa el Burro. This anchorage looked like there might be some life onshore, and even two boats!

Playa el Burro
There are at least a dozen palapa-style houses with roofs of palm fronds and open air windows at the waterfront and Bertha's Restaurant. We cleaned up and took the dinghy ashore to check out Bertha's. This place has been a local landmark over the years where the mostly retired expats can meet and play. One has to appreciate the fun that retirees are having in places like this, unbound at last from decades of obligations. Everything is a go - mod hairstyles, tattoos, short shorts, bikinis, and tye-dyed dresses and T-shirts.
Dinner at Bertha's
Another landmark in Playa el Burro is the reliable Geary, weather man extraordinaire. His is the palapa with all the antennas on top.
Geary, author of the Sonrisa Net Sea of Cortez weather forecasts
In the morning, we hiked the hills from a trail behind Bertha's to the top for a panoramic view Bahia Coyote, with Playa el Burro to the north and Playa Coyote to the south.

360 degree panorama of Playa Coyote
We were intending to stay at Playa el Burro for the night but the big Halloween Party was over in Playa Santispac. On short notice, we upped the anchor and 15 minutes later were anchored again just offshore Armando's, neon lights guiding the way to the beach. The local community was in full swing with music, dancing and costumes, creating an other-worldly experience on this isolated beach in Baja, Mexico! We spent the party time visiting with a couple of locals with a house at Posada Concepcion. The local talk was that Armando's had taken the business away from Ana's, which appeared to be closed that night. In the morning, however, before 0800, Ana's was blaring music from loudspeakers. We left for the quieter waters of Playa Coyote. We were planning to walk over in the evening for a quiet dinner at the little Estrella de la Mar but found instead a grand opening party for the new owners, a couple of young, welcoming Mexican women. There was music, more costumes, and many of the same people we had seen the night before over in Playa el Burro. People were very friendly and the BBQ chicken was a most welcome change of fare!
Raising the dinghy wheels at Playa Coyote
Having made the full rounds once (though quickly) in Bahia Concepcion, and with an ear to the weather prediction of a "norther" coming in a few days, we decided to make the run to Santa Rosalia, our turn-around point to the north.  (A "norther" is a period of strong winds sweeping down the Sea of Cortez from the US Southwest.  They can be very strong and cause huge steep seas.) We'd spend the few days during the wild north winds inside that marina and check out the town of Santa Rosalia. So away we went! Along the way, we anchored at Punta Chivata, 23 nm north, where a beautiful seashell beach lines the shore. We collected some beauties!
The sea-shell beach at Punta Chivato
There was a row of very nice homes on the waterfront, a small dirt airstrip, and a fly-in resort on the point which, sadly, had been vacant for a year. It must have been stunning in its heyday.

Deserted resort at Punta Chivato
The neighbors next door to the resort invited us to sit with them for a cold beer and told us about the area. It used to be filled with Scuba divers, boaters and fishermen. John Wayne had been a regular guest at the resort. But with aging owners and little new marketing, the place closed. There was more to see along this shore but it would have to wait.

The next day, Monday, we pushed 27 nm north for Santa Rosalia and tucked inside the marina just as the dreaded norther was building, bashing into 20-25 kt winds for the last two hours. There were three boats there that had made it through Hurricane Odile, although one had partially sunk, and another had severe damage when the marina docks started to come apart.

True North in the marina at Santa Rosalia
By the next day we got to see what a real norther is like - our wind instrument clocked a maximum speed of 55.7 kts Tuesday!

Max wind speed reading for the norther 


French house from copper mining days in Santa Rosalia

The ovens at the famous bread bakery in Santa Rosalia
When we entered the marina at Santa Rosalia there were just three other boats. We hadn't been able to reach the marina by radio or email ahead of arriving and had worried it might be full...then where? Some of the docks are a little skimpy, very narrow and short. We were relieved to be ushered into a sturdy, wide slip with a heavy piling at the end. During Odile, one of the skimpy docks broke loose and took a few boats with it – not far, but enough to slam around and damage them. The three boats Kashmira, Apolima and Sun Runner had already formed a small community among themselves from years in and out of Santa Rosalia and especially having “participated” in Odile's wrath in some way. The second night we gathered together for dinner together at the Chinese restaurant. Both Apolima and Kashmira had spent years in the South Pacific prior to coming to Baja and echoed what friends Pam and Ted from Roundabout have said, there's nothing quite like the cruising life in the So Pacific! By the end of the week, seven other boats had arrived. The community was growing!

We had driven through Santa Rosalia on the way to Baja a month earlier and at that time work crews were busy with massive clean-up projects. The streets were muddy and huge boulders were strewn every which way. Electricians worked to get power lines operating. This time round, it was a totally new place and experience. Everything was looking dry and clean and back to life. The town is absent of tourist fan-fare – no mariachis or handicrafts lining the streets – but full of authentic, everyday life with working people, a town plaza, large, old bakery, plenty of taco stands and array of good restaurants from traditional Mexican to pizza to seafood and steak. It was a fun place to hang out for several days. However, the norther had passed and we wanted to get out on the water while there was still some wind to fill our sails. So off we go!

Next, we turn south to eventually meet up with friends in Loreto, and then on to La Paz by December 1st.

Here are some additional photos from this leg of our trip.

Anchoring at Ensenada Grande

Bottlenose dolphins riding our bow wave

Anne catching the skipjack

Layers of mesas

Desert vegetation in the wet season, Agua Verde

Agua Verde anchorage

Anne hiking above Agua Verde

Marina Fonatur, Puerto Escondido

"The Windows", Puerto Escondido

NY Strip from Loreto, grilled on the boat

Our "boom tent" sunshade

The mission in Mulege

Street scene, Mulege

Ana's beach restaurant, Playa Santispac

Reading time

Nice beach with True North at anchor

Sailing to southern end of Bahia Concepcion

Red sky at night, sailor's delight

Evening skies

The beach at Playa Coyote

Shells at Punta Chivato

Punta Chivato anchorage

Plane on taxiway, Punta Chivato

Schooner with Odile damage being repaired in Santa Rosalia

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