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Friday, May 27, 2011

5/26 Alone in Guaymas

Tonight I am aboard alone in Guaymas with Bill back in Seattle handling some business. It was an unexpected trip but was worth the time and trouble. We had sailed from Playa Santispac to Bahia Santa Domingo because we had heard that it was possible to pick up cell coverage there. When we arrived in the early afternoon Bill opened his mail and found out there was a bit of a snafu back home that couldn't be handled from Mexico. The coverage was patchy and so unable to do mcuh to handle the problem we set sail across the Sea to Guaymas. Back in the land of the internet we set out to try and arrange a trip home.

it was going to take a ten hour bus ride from Guaymas to the US, one night in Phoenix and an early flight to Seattle all for a rather exhorbinant price. I would have loved to get home for even a short visit but the money we could save if I stayed will be enough for both of us to take a trip back in August or September when the heat really settles down on the Sea. So, I loaded him down with snacks for the trip, kissed him goodbye and walked the two or three miles back to the boat in the 90degree heat.

While Bill bounced along on the road I finished cleaning the decks, scrubbed things out below and did three loads of laundry. Eventually I wore myself out and settled back with some leftover tortillas and cold chicken to watch three episodes of Breaking Bad (a USA TV series) before crawling into bed. I was beat tired but right across from the marina they were busy getting ready for a visit by the President that is scheduled for June 1st. The town is crawling with military while they ready the town for the visit and they have been banging away setting up a huge pavillion that is now filling up with booths,beer gardens and stages. For some reason for two nights running a military brass band has been practicing a stones throw from my bed. They don't even start to play until after 8 and last night they were still bugling away at 11:00.

This morning I set out with Grover on Koloa Kai for a tour of Guaymas and the nearby town of San Carlos. Grover is a long time friend of "Far Country" and when Valasta and Gordo heard we were sailing this way they told me to look him up. He not only gave me a tour of both Guaymas ans San Carlos but also filled me in on the bus system so I get around on my own. We visited with some friends of his in San Carlos, had a great lunch at JJ's taco stand and even located the local AA hall. Tomorrow I will set off on my own to see the town and hopefully get a peek in the Presidential party tent. Now though it's hot out. Really hot. I left a cup of tea in the cockpit and when I came home four hours later it was still drinkably warm! Right now the marina pool is calling my name so hasta` luego. Kat

5/22 50th Birthday

22nd Mulege` Yesterday was my fiftieth birthday, the second I have celebrated since becoming a full time cruiser. It seems impossible that it was only a year ago that I was celebrating in the rain and the cold of Prince Rupert BC. Still miles from Alaska we were stuck there desperately trying to fix the broken heater that threatened to end our Alaskan trip before it had even started. Prince Rupert was cold and wet, I was cold and wet and my gift from Bill was a pair of fancy flowered rubber boots that I begged for. Well, it’s a whole new world this year. For 2011 I spent my morning in my swimsuit paddling alone in my kayak around the anchorage in Playa Santispac with four!!! whale sharks. The previous day Bill and I were able to get in the water with them and then follow them around in our dinghy snapping pictures and watching their odd behavior. You may have picked up on the fact that seeing the whale sharks was high on my list of “hope it happens” in the Sea. I guess I thought it was a given that we would find them, eventually. Then I began hearing stories of cruisers who have spent years in the Sea and never happened upon them. It was an amazing experience and we were very lucky to have stumbled on them. I guess I assumed that it was a once in a lifetime chance. So I was stunned to see them again early the next morning. Bill was busy below with his Spanish lesson and I had been sitting in the cockpit drinking my tea and there they were, four whale sharks feeding quietly in the calm anchorage. There were four of them for goodness sake! I sat watching them, was going to just sit and observe but then thought what the heck I just couldn’t pass the chance by. In less than five minutes I had changed into my swimsuit, launched the kayak, grabbed a paddle and my camera and slid into the water. It was a very different experience than the previous day. Part of it was having a lower adrenalin level. Well a little at least - I had been so hyped and excited the previous day. Today the anchorage was quiet and calm. No boats buzzing around and no paddle boarders. My vantage point from the kayak –so close to the water- got me incredibly close to the fish as they fed. Very calmly and quietly I paddled into their midst and then just let myself float freely along . These great creatures are a marvel to watch. Their dark brown bodies are a dark brown with golden spots all over with faint stripes running vertically along their length. These four ranged in length from fifteen to over twenty feet and I can long only guess that they weigh over a 1000 pounds. Their silhouette looks roughly like a huge pollywog. They are very thick top to bottom, have a long sweeping tail and sport a large dorsal fin and a huge vertical tail fin shaped like the tail of an airplane. I am sure that their sheer size and the distinct shark shaped tail are what gave them their name. They are fish not mammals and they swim along the surface with dorsal and tail protruding as they “S” along through the water ala` “Jaws.” They have huge flat heads with great gills running along both sides about four feet back and they have the biggest mouth I think I have ever seen. They look scary but are incredibly docile creatures who spend their days swimming along the surface, huge mouths agape scooping up the thousands of gallons of water that they need to filter out the tiny bits of sea life that sustain them. From right on the surface of the water I could have simply reached and touched them. In spite of their size when they are not on the surface they move through the water barely causing a ripple. Trust me when I say that when one suddenly appears underneath you, gliding silently by with a swish of their tails it is a bit unnerving. They frequently came so close that I thought they were going to run into me only to veer off at the last moment. Three times I could feel the tip of a giant tail running the length of the bottom of my kayak. The first time we contacted I was sure it was going to upset a sleeping giant and that he would give a mighty swish and topple me into the bay but instead he made a tiny flinch and then sailed on past. What a way to start my birthday. Later we went in to Mulege` with Jerry and our friends from Sirena Connie and Ed. We met Jerry the night before at dinner, a local expat who moved here 11 years ago. His daughter Kelly was visiting him from California and he offered to take us into Mulege` to see the sights and to do some grocery shopping. What a treat. Jerry is one of the truly friendly in this world. He acted as tour guide and gave us a running history as we drove into town. He waited patiently as we did our tourist duty of walking all over town, ducking into stores and buying ice cream –it was my birthday after all. Then shared his local knowledge and took us to four stores so we could provision with the most choices and best prices in town. When we were all spent out and beginning to suffer from the mid day heat we drove to his favorite spot for lunch and a cool drink before finally dropping us on the sandy beach right next to our dinghies! Once we had unloaded about 15 bags of goodies from his SUV we all waved and he was off to meet friends for cocktail hour. Later that evening we went ashore to Anna’s with the crew from Sirena to celebrate my birthday dinner. Jerry had turned us onto Anna’s the designated gringo hangout for everyone south of town. The locals meet every Saturday night from roughly November till June and this was to be the last big hoorah of the season and the place to be to celebrate my birthday. Before our seats were warm we had invited another couple, Lynn and Clint from Taya to join us and then Jerry and his lovely daughter Kelly arrived. The music started up before we ordered and by the time chips and salsa were due the disco ball was spinning. Bill and I love to dance: swing, waltz, Lindy, salsa…disco not so much but who wouldn’t love to dance the night away in a Mexican cantina named Anna’s, owned and run by a woman named Lupe that plays primarily country music under the sparkle of a disco ball? All that and all the groceries I could fit into a dinghy!! Great day. Kat

Thursday, May 26, 2011

5/20 Whale sharks at Playa Santispac

We arrived at Playa Santispac in Bahia Concepcion yesterday after a 10hour rodeo ride. It started out calm as could be and we had our sails up in a light wind as we left San Juanico at 6am. The mild NW beam reach winds quickly turned into a northern and built throughout the day with winds reaching about 18kns. The winds were not the problem though. Once the northern settled onto our nose it was the steep short chop that made for a rough ride. Ten hours later we arrived worn out and bit jumbled but fared better than our friends on both Persistence and Serina. Persistence packed it in after about three hours and headed back to San Juanico and Serina (who got an extra hour of sleep but quickly left us in her dust) blew out the clew of their high tech jib. The day ended nicely with Ed and Connie from Serena helping us finish off the rest of the Chocolate clams from San Juanico. Oh and on our way in to Bahia Concepcion I picked up a VHF transmission saying that the whale sharks were in Playa Santispac. So while Bill hit the sheets by 8:15 I stayed up and got our underwater camera ready to go in case they returned. As my head hit the pillow I was thinking about the morning (snorkel gear, camera, charged battery, check!) and hoping they would reappear.

I rolled out of bed, turned on the tea pot and fled to the cockpit with my yogurt and the binoculars hoping I would be lucky. I had no more than taken a bite of yogurt when I saw a big tail cruise between us and Serena. No wonder they call them whale sharks. They are the size of whales but feed on the surface so their tail and dorsal fin cuts through the water like a shark. They have that familiar swishing movement of a shark too. Whispering at Bill as loudly as I could I nearly fell down the companionway in my excitement. As Bill scrambled on deck I was already grabbing flippers and masks and looking for my suit. It took us no time to get the dinghy down and the gear loaded and off we went in pursuit.

There is some controversy about swimming with the whale sharks. Some people feel that we shouldn’t bother them at all. If they swim by great, get a few photos and consider yourself lucky but don’t pursue them or get in the water with them. The other school of thought is that since the creatures seem to have no concern what so ever when humans are in the water or next to them in boats means its not harming them at all. I simply couldn’t pass the experience by. Since they are actually fish not whales their bodies are covered with a slippery slimy coating that acts as a protective barrier. Touching them can compromise that barrier so hands off. With my wet suit on and still trying to tuck my feet into my swim fins we motored the dinghy towards one of the two we were watching. In a moment I was pulling on my mask, slipping the camera over my head and sliding into the water with my heart pounding.

As I bobbed at the surface adjusting my gear and turning on my camera my mind began to run its own line of reasoning. I swam forward, then slowed down, then stopped. The water was very murky and I hadn’t really gotten a good look at him. Just how big is he? Will I see him coming or is the murk to thick? If one comes right towards me will I see him before he is on top of me? With adrenalin pumping, fear creeping in, body on alert and conversation with myself still rumbling in my head I moved forward -a little. How often do I get to be in the water next to a creature that is 15feet long? Should I put my head in the water and swim towards him? Or should I keep my head above water and try to keep my eyes on him? Then finally a deep breath through my snorkel I pushed through the adrenalin and slipped below the surface.

I thought he was in front of me moving towards shore but suddenly to my right out of the dark green he swims passed me only a few feet away. *&^%, by the time I had my camera raised all I could see was the last bit of spotted body and the great big tail. By this time Bill was in the water too and for the next fifteen minutes we swam around in circles trying to get close enough to them to photograph. The reason the whale sharks are here is because the water here is full of good stuff for them to eat. Unfortunately that means the clarity of the water is poor which doesn’t make for good underwater photography. I had one more decent pass by and clicked off a couple of pictures but we could tell the other people now around us were getting much better pictures from their dinghies than we were managing from the water so we climbed out and headed off to try and get some better shots.

The next thirty minutes was amazing. From the dinghy we had a much better view. We could see the shadow of their body even when they swam deep which made them easy to track and the amount of time they spent on the surface made it easy to get lots of good pictures. They seem to do most of their feeding on the surface with their huge heads half out of the water. They have the biggest mouth I have ever seen. They swim along the surface mouth agape scooping the huge amounts of water they need to filter out the tiny krill and plankton they need to survive. They truly don’t seem to be bothered at all by the human contact. Everyone was being thoughtful and careful around them and every outboard was carefully kicked down to neutral whenever the creatures came close. Over and over they surfaced right next to paddle boards and boats full of gawking cruisers. They stayed on the surface for amazingly long amounts of time swishing the water in and siphoning out their breakfast. No fear and no worry that we could see. One of them though must have tangled with a propeller or two in the past because his dorsal fin looked like it had been sliced into big thick strips. With that kind of injury you would think they would choose to stay away from humans but apparently not. Maybe much like Florida’s manatees their docile nature doesn’t serve them as well as it did eons ago when they began swimming the Sea. Happily for me though they simply keep on swimming and scooping. It was a heck of a way to start my day. Kat

5/18 In search of Mexico's famous Chocolate` clam.

In the nine days we stayed at San Juanico we had several opportunities to try our hand at capturing the great Chocolate` clam. I will add a disclaimer before we upset anyone. In spite of the widely held belief that gringos are not allowed to harvest any clams or shellfish numerous cruisers had talked about the chocolate` clams in isolated anchorages that “just jump into their dinghies.” So it was a rule often broken and rarely if ever enforced but we were not comfortable with breaking any laws or the possible penalties for doing so in a foreign country. Then while at Loreto fest we talked with a Fish and Wildlife official who said that wasn’t and was never true. If you have a current fishing license it is OK to take clams, crabs, lobster etc “in amounts for personal consumption only.” He also debunked the myth about fishing licenses themselves. That being –and pushed vigorously by the agencies in San Diego that sell Mexican licenses- that “if there is even one hook on your boat it is necessary to have a license for everyone on board your boat.” And that further “the penalty of breaking this rule carrying punishment up to and including a heavy fines and the confiscation of your boat! He assured us that as long as people who are actively fishing are properly licensed those who have no interest do not need to purchase one. And he even gave us the website and a contact email for a person who could verify that.

So, being told that there were Chocolate` clams at San Juanico and getting some helpful hints from Peggy on “Interlude” we set out to try our luck. Armed with snorkel gear, game bag and dive gloves to protect our hands we set off. We dove and dug and dove and dug but after nearly an hour I had come up with zilch and Bill had a measly five. Not enough for a meal that’s for sure. We obviously needed a bit more information from Peggy!

The next morning armed with a few more helpful hints we set off with Leonard and Wilma of Midnight Sun to a nearby shallow sandy bottomed beach. The signs we were looking for would be two holes side by side about an inch or inch and a half apart. They should be in 8 to 20 feet of water and they were reported to dig deeper if you swam over them with the sun to your back, the shadow apparently alerting them to the presence of predators. Leonard and Wilma came equipped with snorkel gear, a game bag attached to a life preserver to keep it afloat and their abalone bars –a metal pry bar with a handle and a wrist tether. Bill went for the bare handed method but carried our game bag and I brought along my trusty garden trowel tied to my wrist with a length of cotton rope.

We split apart and in no time all you could see were splashes and flippers and bums in the air. I found my first clam on my second dive and stuffed it into the top of my wet suit. The extra information was already paying off. It was easy when you were looking for the right signs. We knocked em dead for the next half hour. I “captured” roughly 2 ½ dozen and Bill at least that many. Our game bag was so heavy with clams that when I swam back to bill to drop off my haul with him I could barely stay afloat while holding the bag. Wilma and Leonard were just as successful and in no time we were back to our boats with a six pm date for dinner and a game of Farkle aboard their boat.

The feast was delicious and because I am nice I will give you a great recipe that will work for any clams you might happen to have jump in your boat. Chocolate` clams are the shape of our butter clams back home and about the size of the palm of your hand. They have a chocolate brown shell and the meat inside is roughly twice the size of a butter clam. We have been told they are great just cooked on the BBQ but we decided to try something a bit more gourmet.

Clams San Juanico

2 doz. Chocolate` clams (shells of 1 doz. Reserved)
2-3 T mayonnaise
2 cloves garlic minced (I used more like 4)
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup (give or take) of freshly grated parmesan cheese
Toasted bread crumbs ( I toasted them on the top of the stove in some EVOO and fresh garlic)

Hang the clams for a few hours so they rid themselves of any sand. To open them I put them in the fridge until they began to open on their own then with a heavy glove to protect my hands I pried them open with a knife. (Only take out two or three at a time because by the time you get the third clam open the fourth will have shut back tight again.) Remove the main stomach part and discard and chop the rest of the meat into a mince. Add the mayo and garlic. Salt and pepper to taste then fold in the parmesan cheese. Refill cleaned shells and top with a tsp of bread crumbs then cook for just a few minutes on the BBQ or bake at 350 for about ten minutes.

The captain of Midnight Sun produced a delicious red sauce – I am lazy and would use Prego spaghetti sauce- then mixed in the steamed minced clam meat like you would add ground beef. Top with parmesan cheese and serve with fresh bread baked in your sun oven!

The second night I steamed the remainder of the clams for a minute or two to make it easy to remove the meat and added it to a simple pasta.

3 cloves of garlic minced
5 cloves of roasted garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
1 ½ of chopped clam meat
Grated parmesan
½ a box of Mexican La La brand “media crema”

Cook garlic in EVOO till soft but not browned in large pot. Add chopped roasted garlic and season to taste. Remove from heat and add chopped clam meat.
Prepare pasta as directed reserving a cup or so of the pasta water when through. Add drained pasta to pan of clams and stir. Add parmesan and check seasoning. Pour 1/3 to ½ small box of La La crema media and stir. Add pasta water as needed to desired consistence. Serve with three or four of the baked clams San Juanico arranged on top of each plate.

*La La brand media crema is a Mexican product that comes in small boxes and can be stored on your shelf indefinitely. It makes a great instant cream sauce. It is roughly like half and half and is also delicious used like heavy cream over fruit or baked deserts if you add a bit of vanilla and chill.

Bon appetite! Kat

5/14 Apache Tears and the Cruisers Shrine at San Juanico

We have spent the last five nights –or is it six? What day is it again? - at San Juanico. It’s a great anchorage, beautiful, safe in most winds, room for plenty of boats and the weather has been perfect. Who could ask for more? We have had beach gatherings, Bocce Ball games, potluck dinners and evening games of Farkle. Saturday night was the last night for several of the boats in the anchorage so we gathered for one last potluck and good bye for the season. The gals decided to turn it into an early celebration of my 50th birthday. They amazed me with some wonderful impromptu gifts, a candle to blow out and chocolates to cap off the meal. The gifts were all tailor made for a cruising woman of “a certain age.” Among the gifts were several that were made to order: a fan to ward off hot flashes, face cream with high SPF to protect my skin, the coveted Mexican brand of high octane insect repellant and its sister product the anti-itch cream. Loving and practical!

This morning we went out fishing again and quickly caught enough for a couple of meals but also spent some extra passes trying to hook one that got away. We were trolling when an eight to ten inch reef fish hit Bills spoon and came flying out of the water. As Bill began to reel him in a huge grouper came up from the depths and swallowed the fish that Bill had on. Unfortunately the light leader he had on was not up to the job and the big guy dropped back into the rocks and quickly snapped the line. I could tell you an “it was this big” story about just how huge he was but since we didn’t actually get him to the boat its purely a fish tale except of course we know he was big enough to make dinner out of the other fish. Darn thing took off with one of our best spoons. Oh well there is always tomorrow.

Shortly after we arrived we went ashore on a quest. First we wanted to be sure to see the Cruiser’s Shrine here in San Juanico. The shrine has been here for years as a way for cruisers to leave their mark on the Sea. A small grove of trees near the northern end of the cove is home to a hodgepodge of signs and offerings. Everything from hand lettered signs, old flip flops, bottles with boat cards inside and even an old pair of cargo shorts inscribed with poetry. Most bear boat names, captain and crew and a date. We paid homage and took lots of pictures but didn’t leave anything to mark our presence. Eventually it got under my skin and I decided it just wouldn’t be right to pass up the opportunity. So this afternoon out came the sign board -a plastic bin lid- some thin nylon rope, a pile of beads, the glue and a magic marker. In no time at all Island Bounds passage through Baja waters was ready to be left for posterity.

We took a hike across a small hillside to the anchorage at La Ramada. It felt good to get out and hike a bit and La Ramada anchorage was perfect for a quick dip to cool us down from the hike. But what I was really interested in was searching for Apache Tears along the dry creek beds and dusty road on the hill. Apache Tears are the smooth glossy stones made of natural volcanic glass that resulted from rapidly cooled lava flows in this part of Baja. The legend of Apache Tears began in the 1870’s when the U.S. cavalry fought against the Arizona Apache. The defeated Apache warriors refused to accept capture so chose to leap to their death from the face of a cliff. The families of the lost warriors wept for their loss and each tear shed turned to stone as they hit the earth. The legend promises that because the warriors’ families wept their sorrows into the hills anyone who caries an Apache Tear will never have to weep again.

The stones themselves range from pea size to golf ball sized and though they can be translucent brown the best examples are a shiny jet black. I didn’t really hold out much hope in finding any since this place is so well known but the hunt intrigued me and really pulled me in. I kept my eyes to the ground and before I knew it there it was. With a quick brush to remove the dust there in the palm of my hand was the lovely shine of a small jet black stone. Bill had not seemed all that interested but began looking too and as soon as he found one he was just as hooked. It seemed odd but once we would find one often there would be a handful more. Once we really knew what to look for they seemed to litter the ground. The search was addictive and we could have filled our pockets but instead I kept a handful of the shiniest for jewelry making and a few for gifts and left the rest where they lay in the dry Baja dust. Kat

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

5/10 11 Slowing down the pace in Baja

Loreto Fest was a blast. During the Festivals run the Singular Marina at Puerto Escondido was alive with people and activity. But we quickly learned that Puerto Escondido looks completely different the entire rest of the year. After the Festival this lovely marina averages only a handful of boats per day. All the Singular marinas in Mexico are part of FONOTUR, the government’s highly successful foray into turning all of Mexico in to a tourist destination. The facilities boast pretty much everything one could hope for. Here they have a small dock, a fuel dock with potable water, clean bathrooms with free showers (hot water available 10:00am to 6:00pm!) 100+ mooring buoys, a shore boat service, a restaurant and small store, a pool and hot tub, cruisers lounge, a friendly yacht club with an extensive book and DVD exchange, a full service boat yard with a 50 ton lift and laundry facilities. A short but hot mile walk away is Tapui where there is a hotel with a restaurant and a small 7-11 type store. That’s it, there is nothing else for miles. The seaside town of Loreto is only 14 miles away but the $80 cab ride leaves the marina isolated and empty for most of the year. It looks like they had big plans though. Around the marina there are miles of concrete roads and sidewalks, a guard house, landscaped palm trees and block after block of dry scrub, turkey vultures and free range cows, nothing more. Hopefully the rebounding economy will bring some growth again and all the plans and dreams will materialize. In the mean time it’s a great place to throw a party!

You may wonder why I bothered to write about the clean showers. Well the year we got our boat we spent three weeks in the San Juan Islands. I was excited about our first long trip and also was looking ahead to our full time cruising years. I was definitely in a learning mode so every time we talked with other boaters I would ask lots of questions. In a cove near Hope Island I spoke to a couple on a sailboat who were headed home from a month out and asked them a simple question: what’s been the highlight of your trip this year? The answer I got back caught me off guard. “Definitely Dear Island. They have the best showers in the San Juans!” They went on actually gushing a bit and explained that they were clean, the hot water was quick and plentiful and they were free. I had expected to hear about a perfect anchorage or a secret crabbing spot somewhere but I tucked the info away anyway. It didn’t take me long to understand the value they placed on their answer. Finding simple things like a place to take a long hot shower definitely falls into the luxury category for most cruisers. In fact I am still learning the importance of many things that fall into that category: potable water at a dock, good clean bathrooms, laundry facilities where you don’t have to stand in water up to your ankles while you fluff and fold (or better yet here in Mexico I love paying less to have someone else do my laundry for roughly the price I used to pay to stand in a laundry mat and do the chore myself,) a reasonably priced grocery store that isn’t a taxi ride away and quiet anchorages where your neighbors turn off their music before midnight.

We took two trips into Loreto with vans full of cruisers for sightseeing and provisioning and it was worth the price. Loreto is a beautiful seaside town with just about everything you could need. The original Baja mission was established there in 1697 and became the first of 24 missions built in Baja California. In spite of being in total ruins several times over the years it stands proudly now more than 300 years later as a center of the towns’ community. They also have a beautiful town square surrounded by stands of huge mango trees. In fact there are mango trees all over the city. The fruit wasn’t ripe yet but my mouth watered at the thought of the thousands of juicy mangos that will be falling in a month or so.

Once we left the artificial hustle and bustle of Puerto Escondido it was like stepping off into another world. After a short hop to Isla Coronados, we set our anchor and settled in to watch the days roll by. For the first time in a year we have nowhere to go and no deadlines to meet. No one flying in and no long list of things to finish so we can be off to somewhere else. Instead we’ve begun our six month slow down. We broke out the kayaks, grabbed the pool noodle and blew up the floatie toy. The days are warm, the nights are cool and the biggest worry is weather the next anchorage will have bee’s , Bo Bo’s or No See Ums. We have time for a morning kayak around the anchorage with a girl friend or to power through an entire paper back in a day. It has been a great way to ease into the leisure life in Baja.

Being at anchor for days at a time far away from any town opens the days up like nothing else. We of course have projects we could work on but neither one of us seems in any hurry to break out any big projects. At Isla Coronados we had a potluck get together one night and then I went kayaking the next morning with the gals from “Oya”, “Far Country” and “Interlude.” We just paddled around aimlessly, not really going anywhere and talking about our cruising lives and soaking in the luxury of just relaxing. We were just about to call it a day when I saw a pod of dolphins off in the distance. They had been feeding in our big cove off and on all morning and I just couldn’t help myself. I had to try and see how close I could get to them. The harder I paddled the farther off they seemed. Finally I decided to give up and head back towards the boats. I turned again to watch them and saw them change course and head my way. Instead of pursuing I just stopped paddling and just floated along in the water. I sat still and quiet and in a matter of a minute or two they were all around me. Sitting just inches off the water they poured like silver around me. The waters were clear as glass and it felt like I could reach out and touch them as they surged by. I was so close I could hear every breath they took and feel the pulse of the water with their tail slaps as they pushed past. Moments later they were gone and I was alone again sitting in swirling water, their sounds falling off into the breeze.

The next morning we moved just a short sail away to Puerto Ballandra. We had a nice visit with our friends on Ponderosa from Seattle and then spent the next two days sleeping in and fishing. While underway we almost always drag a couple of lines hoping for game fish but this is a different kind of fishing all together. In fact in the entire year we have been gone this is only the second time we have set off in the dinghy to fish. It was already hot but we loaded up the dinghy with everything we would need and headed for the rocky point at the entrance to the cove. There was no finesse really in what we were doing just experimenting and trying different things but in no time we had three nice rock cod (I caught all three thank you very much.) fish tacos for dinner! The next day we loaded up with sunscreen and set out again. We left Island Bound with our trolling gear out and within minutes I caught a very weird looking fish. It was shaped like an eel but with fins and was about two feet long with very big sharp teeth. Maybe he would have been fine eating but he was just too nasty looking to serve for dinner so off he went back into the blue. We trolled the point for an hour or so and in the end we had three fish (all of which I caught -not that I would rub that in at all of course.) We had to consult our fish books to learn one was a rock cod, one was a small barracuda and the last was a rather exotic looking reef fish with a fan like tail and two colorful stripes. They all found their way to the BBQ for more fish tacos with enough leftovers for coconut fish curry with brown rice.

The next morning Bill decided he was bored and so we raised the anchor and set off for Caleta San Juanico. We learned after arriving that Puerto Ballandra is known as Puerto Beelandra. So between the bees, the horse flies and Bo Bo’s during the day and the swarms of No See Ums at dusk it was time to look for a new anchorage. Plus Bill was ready to try out some of the fishing techniques were learned at Loreto Fest. We tried all the tricks but in spite of high hopes, a fancy cedar plug lure, a green and orange squid, a fluffy, sparkly pink feather and a teaser bottle (a pop bottle full of beads and tin foil pieces you drag close along behind you) we were royally skunked. Oh well, there is always the next passage.

Other than the fishing which does takes some work these last days have been very easy and lo key. We slept in, read, swam, baked my first ever sourdough bread and took the time to listen on the Ham. The Sonrisa net comes each morning with weather and news and then in the evening we tune to the Amigo net for the evenings updates. Both Bill and I become Ham operators before we left Seattle but then in because the internet it more familiar we didn’t touch our SSB radio for most of year. Once we are proficient the Ham will let us stay in touch no matter where we are and will be crucial in our ability to monitor weather in the isolation of the Sea. Next spring when we cross the Pacific – roughly 25 days and probably our longest ever passage-the Ham will again be one of our most important tools. Bill has already learned how to get our weather via GRIB and we are starting to use our sailmail email account but it will take me some time to be comfortable. The ICOM 802 has all sorts of buttons and functions to learn and there are rules to remember and lingo to practice. For me the hardest part is getting over a sort of vocal shyness that sets in when I key the mike. Suddenly miss chatty sounds tongue tied and mumbly but it’s our ticket to the outside world so it’s time for practice, practice, practice. “This is KE7MZh signing off. Kat

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Loreto Fest and the Big Blow

It’s early evening here in Puerto Escondido and I am listening quietly as the fleet continues to chatter on CH 22. Earlier the mood was light and relaxed while roughly 400 folks were ashore enjoying the last day of Loreto Fest. Most had come ashore in their tenders leaving scores of dinghies tied to a couple of small dinghy docks and nearly every boat empty of captain and crew when high winds began rolling through the anchorage. As the winds grew the afternoon quickly disintegrated into chaos but now thankfully the emergencies are passed and everyone is back safely aboard their boats.

This year was the 15th annual Loreto Fest, which by the way is held in Puerto Escondido not Loreto and the weather had been perfect for the first two days. This year’s event drew well close to 200 boats, spanned three days and included numerous seminars with titles like “Diving Baja,” “How to Catch Baja’s Bottom fish” and “Jewelry Making.” There were extremely serious competitions in Bocce Ball, horse shoes, dominoes and Baja rummy. In between the seminars and cut throat competition they sold hot dogs and hamburgers, held a spaghetti feed and a pancake breakfast, poured icy cold kegs of beer and gallons of margaritas and Bloody Mary and held a silent auction and raffle all to raise funds for a local school and a handful of other charities.

It had been gusty and the weather reports had called for winds in the low 20’s by afternoon but no one seemed overly worried. The main venue had a clear view out into the bay and over the 100+ moorings scattered across the main anchorage. When the wind began to blow slowly we all began to take notice. The tents set up for the event began to flog and rumble. One tipped over and was caught as it began to skitter away like tumbleweed. The shade tarps began to whip and bang and folks started looking out towards the anchorages. We moved in little groups to the harbor wall and looked off into rising winds. All the boats were swinging and bucking but holding tight. Soon an announcement was made: a boat was dragging. More of us moved to the sea wall as the conversations began questioning when the winds might ease and how we might begin making it back to our boats.

There are only two dingy docks one right in front of the marina and one tucked off behind the marina office in the “Ellipse.” (My captain chose to take the long route and tie in the “Ellipse” around the corner and out of the days prevailing winds.) Per the dinghy dock rules we had all tied to the docks with extra long painters. The long painters allowed for a great many dinghies to be tied along a line run round the small docks edge. In normal situations we would just muscle our way through the pack of dinks, tie our painter to the rope and climb out on the dock. When we returned we would untie the painter and climb from boat to boat then muscle ourselves through to the open water. Now in the rising winds we watched as the main dinghy dock was quickly turning into a roiling heaving knot of rubber, rope and banging outboards. The mass was pushed around and behind the dock itself and was coming seriously close to a mega yacht tied in a slip. It became clear that getting off the dock was going to take a whole new technique this afternoon.

Under brilliant blue skies Bill and I watched the building winds, checked our dinghy tied round the corner and then moved back to the sea wall to discuss and watch some more. By this time everyone was beginning to crowd into groups of serious discussion and decision. I was hoping the winds would die as the afternoon slid by but I was also aware that if we waited too long in hopes of a lull we risked adding darkness to the problem. By this time getting off the dock at the front of the marina was simply impossible but thankfully our tender was safely tucked out of the brunt of the winds. After a handful of other boats safely made it out to their boats the Captain decided it was our turn to try.

With Bill at the tiller and me sitting forward on the floor of the dinghy to help keep the nose down the quite, private mooring a quarter mile out that we had been enjoying so much seemed to be a very long way away. The launch off the quieter dock was easy enough but as we turned the corner of the “Ellipse’s” breakwater we instantly plowed into the surf. I was glad I had put hats, sun glassed, cell phone and camera inside my day pack and tied the pack to the dink. Surprisingly, though the water here is 74 degrees and the sun was still high when we hit our first trough I was instantly soaked through and cold. I rode that ¼ mile with my left arm wound through the safety line and my eyes shut tight against the salt spray or sneaking peeks back at Bill to see how he was doing at the tiller.

We made it back to Island Bound wet and chilled but without any real problems. Bill checked the mooring lines and I did a quick tour to take down all our flags, put away the hose and haul in a sagging head sail sheet. Once everything was ship shape we settled down in the shade of our safe and dry cockpit to check the wind indicator and monitor the radio for problems. The wind gusts were hitting 40+ and sustained winds were about 30. In retrospect we realized we had never been off the boat in these kinds of winds. In every other instance we simply would never been off our boat in this kind of wind. At the first signs we would have either chosen to stay on the boat or returned as soon as any winds began to build. We also realized we now trust our own anchoring ability and our trusty Rocna anchor over any 6’x6’x6’ block of concrete. If it hadn’t been for the party we never would have left our boat with a forecast of high winds.

It was an unusual set of circumstances to find ourselves surrounded by competent boaters all basically trapped onshore. It was also an experience to see first hand the competence and community that came together to handle the problems that did appear. All hands came together to close down the festival and everyone quickly took responsibility for grabbing hold of the floating gas tank, the loose oar or the piece of runaway canvas for later return. People hooked up and communicated to take care of whatever was in front of them. We were fortunate to not have had a single boat go aground and no major injuries. Tomorrow mornings the forecast is for even higher winds and it feels sort of like a snow day. Movement is limited but communication is thick on the radio and happily I doubt there is a boater amongst us who doesn’t actually enjoy an excuse to spend the day doing pretty much nothing other than simply quietly being aboard their boat.