Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Sailing in the Sea of Cortez, April 5 - 19

As the Sea of Cortez begins to warm up in April, the inviting anchorages become even more attractive for swimming and snorkeling. We left the marina on Easter Sunday for Isla Espiritu Santo and Ensenada del Candelaro for the first night of a two week shakedown cruise. The goal: find wind to check out the new hydrovane. We would make a large circle tour, stopping at a few new anchorages along the way. Monday brought only a light breeze of 5-8 kts. We deployed the hydrovane with the jib for an easy downwind sail towards Ensenada Grande. So far it's easy. Adjust the upper cord to move to starboard or lower cord for port and keep an eye on our course! The dazzling turquoise water in Ensenada Grande was deliciously refreshing. A couple of friendly guys from the catamaran charter next to us paddled over on their boards to bring us a couple of icy cold Pacificos and hopped up for a visit...welcome aboard!
Ahh, back in The Islands!
There was no wind the following day. We motored NW to Isla San Francisco where even under cloudy skies it presented an inviting scene with its rocky ridgeline hike and crescent sandy beach.
The white sand beach at Isla San Franciso
It was predictably busy with cruisers. We left the following morning to sail around NE Isla San Francisco, first checking out another anchorage on the north end, then sailing around the upper end of the island. We anchored just off Isla Coyote, a tiny rocky island with a picturesque village of a half dozen houses along a rocky hillside. Pablo helped pull our dinghy ashore and welcomed us to roam their village. 
Pablo helping us with the dinghy
Three men worked intently at the waterfront fish station cleaning rays they caught which would be salted and dried in the sun for tacos, but they had no fish to sell. 
Cleaning Rays, Isla Coyote
Ladies at a house near the hilltop brought out their colorful shell necklaces to conduct business with us. We did our part to support their community with the purchase of three: one with emerald green cord threaded through small shells and two for Gregg's sisters, red beads and purple, each with a single shell in the center.
Hillside houses, Isla Coyote

We stayed in the anchorage for lunch, then as the wind picked up left for the short ride to Bahia Amortajada on Isla San Jose. We anchored in Punta Salinas in the north end to avoid the buggy jejenes from the lagoon and mangrove channels. Instead, we got the bees! They flock to boats in search of fresh water. We chased them out of the boat, put in the screens, and at sunset they left.
Relic of salt pond operations, Bahia Amortajada
On the 8th, we received a message from Hallberg-Rassy in Sweden: the engine pump we needed had been shipped, scheduled to arrive in La Paz on the 21st, and Rob would install on the 22nd. It's impressive that we can receive this pump from Sweden which is unavailable earlier from any U.S. source. Now we breathe a little easier knowing it is on the way.

We sailed across Canal de San Jose to tuck into the more secluded north cove at San Evaristo, a small fishing village we had visited on earlier sails. New to the village is a super friendly family run Mexican restaurant with superb catch of the day dinners, reasonably priced. We hung out a second day, met some new cruisers in the anchorage and introduced them the following evening to the Mexican restaurant. Hopefully, it will survive!
At the restaurant, San Evaristo
An easy sail 28 nm N brought us to Los Gatos, a favorite anchorage nestled in red, smooth sandstone rocks. Oh! We caught (and released) a fish along the way. Unfortunately, the line was still in the water when we reversed while setting the anchor, fouling the prop. Gregg stepped up to the task of diving the prop to cut out dozens of feet of tangled line. We lost the lure. As happened on two other visits, we could not set the anchor in the shallow inner cove, and anchored out in the main lobe of the anchorage.  There we had a bombproof "Rocna set", and knew we would sleep easily.  Good thing! The rest of the evening was peacefully spent climbing on the rocks to the cross on top and over to the other ridge with wide expansive views. 
Hiking Puerto Los Gatos
Puerto Los Gatos - Chubasco brewing to the south
Once back at the boat the wind began to blow from the NW and a few dark clouds moved in. A chubasco was headed our way. Translation: a violent squall accompanied by lightning, thunder, rain, and high wind and one had settled over the area for the night. Winds rose to 40 kts with lightning and thunder just a couple of seconds apart and we were the only boat – and shiny metal mast – in the anchorage. We stashed the electronics in the oven for safekeeping, fortunately dodging that danger. An anchorage at night always seems smaller, the hazards more frightening. Gregg looked out once during a lightning flash:
As I looked out the rocking boat, a lightning flash lit up the entire sky.  There were black clouds, grey clouds, and brilliantly lit white clouds silhouetting the jagged black ridge above the anchorage.  To the east, ominous black sea was peppered with whitecaps rolling into the anchorage, and spray shot into the air from waves breaking over the reef.  It was a scene from hell, and we were in it. I wanted my mommy.
At dawn after a sleepless night, the lightning stopped but the wind direction changed, now a force coming from the east blowing towards shore. We pulled the anchor and quickly got the heck out of there.

Puerto Escondido, 30 nm to the north, made a huge improvement to their anchorage after Odile by installing hefty mooring balls. We easily tied into one for the night.
Snagging a mooring in Puerto Escondido
We've grown to like this place for its magnificent backdrop, the towering, colorful Los Gigantes. There are also good cruiser amenities of showers, laundromat, a new restaurant and the Tripui Resort with its own nice restaurant a short walk down the road, but it's not an anchorage that invites a jump in the water.

The next couple of days were calm enough to anchor outside Loreto, 14 nm north and always a favorite stop. 
Gregg on the boat anchored at Loreto
The night silhouette of the mountain backdrop above town is spectacular! The town is charming with a central, tree-lined walkway, a peaceful malecon along the waterfront, provisioning easy enough, and wifi at the Ole Cafe. We met up with Resolution's amiable friend Abby for a welcome late afternoon cold refreshment at Mediterraneo.
Mission in Loreto
But...another night of excitement was coming up! We were to sail around the north end of Isla San Jose and anchor on the SE side so that we would be protected from the northerlies that had been forecast. But the winds were not from the north; they came forcefully from the south. We took refuge in V Cove for the night, aka El Refugio, on the north end of Isla Carmen, a beautiful spot for one or two boats with limestone rock caves lining each side of the waters' edge with a small sandy beach at the V.
Refuge from southerly in V-Cove, beach at point of V
When the anchor alarm sounded at 0230, we took a look around to find the wind had indeed switched to the NW and we had swung around the anchor, strong winds blowing towards shore. We watched and waited until 0330, pulled the anchor with the bow porpoising wildly and wind howling in the high 20s. I got a decent soaking while pulling up the anchor but we left otherwise uneventfully and headed out to sea. It is the first time we have ever left an anchorage during the night. After getting “out there”, it was better by far. As we safely cleared Punta Lobos and headed downwind we rolled out the jib and cruised along comfortably.  At dawn, we re-deployed the jib with whisker pole and “Heidi”, our new hydrovane, and sailed downwind for the next 16 hours towards Ensenada Grande. Wind from the NW varied from 15-27 kts all the way directly astern. It shifted to port just as we raised the mainsail with the second reef making the increase in speed negligible. When we took the mainsail down, we gained speed and flew at 5.5 kts. It was a good sailing day! 
Heidi (red vane) steering True North
We had left Isla Carmen behind, passed east of Isla Danzante and Isla Monseratte, west of Isla Santa Catalina, then east of Isla Santa Cruz, and Isla San Diego. While sailing east of Isla San Jose night fell, and passing east of Isla San Francisco we saw anchor lights twinkling in the distance. Next, we passed Isla Islotes to port, then our destination just ahead, Isla Partida. Shortly before arriving we started the engine, spotted six anchor lights in the southern lobe of Ensenada Grande, and anchored successfully in the middle lobe in total darkness at 0130, the only boat there. It was with gentle sighs that we greeted familiar territory, anchoring right on top of Shawn and Heather's waypoint BCS 182. We stayed three nights, swam and roamed the beach to find a most unique treasure, a translucent paper nautilus, before returning to Costabaja on Sunday.
Paper nautilus shell from Ensenada Grande
It was hard to pull ourselves away from so stunning a cove.
True North the only boat in Ensenada Grande II (middle lobe)
Back at Costabaja, we found ourselves deep in departure chores. Our Seattle friend Marcia stopped by for a welcome visit while on a road trip with her three sisters...thanks, girls! You made our day!
Marcia and her three sisters
Another bright event was that our engine maintenance was successfully completed. 
The offending circulation pump dripping coolant, taken out and replaced by Rob Cross
With that good news, we took off on the evening shuttle for a peaceful evening in La Paz. 
On the Malecon, La Paz
Over the next couple of days we said our good-byes to cruiser friends. Each has added to a memorable experience. 

You never really leave a place you've been. Part of it you take with you leaving part of you behind.

Tomorrow we leave for Cabo where our adventurous friend Doug will join us as crew for the jump to Hawaii, scheduled for May 1, and pending the go-ahead from Commander's Weather. It is time...vamonos!

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