We’re well into the summer here in Baja and there are plenty of signs showing our numbers have definitely dwindled. First of course was the mass exodus: Americans and Canadians making a quick bee line for the boarder by the plane and car full. Second the fleet is now down to somewhere between 30 and 40 boats. Third, even the Mexicans are complaining of the heat. And lastly, when we attended Baja Geary’s annual 4th of July party half the group was floating around in the shallows of Burro Cove by 1:00pm trying to beat the heat and by 3:00pm even the folks who had neglected to wear their suits were emptying their pockets and going in fully clothed. You just don’t see that happening back in Seattle.
I need to give a big hoorah to Baja Geary our Ham radio weatherman. He’s not even a boater but somehow he got roped into taking over the job of weatherman when the last volunteer bailed out. Every morning for the last eleven years for no pay and little glory Geary rolls out of bed and begins his search through a number of online sources which he then compiles into a highly accurate forecast. Come 7:45 he cheerfully hands out the result of his search via his Ham radio and gives us the information we need to be safe here in the Sea during these lonely summer months.
Things are different in the Sea. Back home we are really quite spoiled with access to near instant news and weather. Here in the Sea we are very isolated from radio, TV, telephone and cell phone coverage. There is no NOAH, no USCG automated reports and no CH5 but we do have Baja Geary to help us avoid Chubasco’s, Elefantes and the biggest weather boogey man of them all hurricanes.
Geary is a huge lifeline for the few boats that choose to summer over in the Sea. Those of us who choose to stay are here for the duration. We can’t change our minds and leave because going south out of the Sea leads us right into the summer storm path. The north end of the Sea is the only (relatively) safe harbor from the annual hurricane season and Baja Geary lets us know if anything is sneaking our way. His hard work and dedication has made him a very important part of our little community and has made it possible for us to safely summer over in the Sea. Plus we get a party to boot!
This cruising stuff is a pretty tight community but timing is everything and though most of us have been following essentially the same route for an entire season amazingly many of us have yet to cross paths. So, the 4th of July party was a great chance to meet some new friends and catch up with some we had lost track of.
The weather for this years’ party was overcast which we were all glad to see after a week of 102, 103 and 104 degree days. We joked with some other Seattle folks that the overcast skies we were under would help us feel like we were back at home for the 4th but the comparison quickly vanished in the heat.
It is hard to adequately describe summertime in Baja for anyone who has not experienced it. Knowing that we planned to spend our whole summer in the Sea many veterans tried describing it for us. Still I don’t think we were able to really appreciate the scope of things to come. We pooh poohed it a bit wondering “just how bad can it be?” and considering things like “well, the Mexicans have been doing it forever and they seem none the worse for wear.” Or “just how hot can it be? We began to get an inkling of what to expect when we met Jerry a few weeks ago. He lives year around in Baja and he bought a second house just to combat the heat! His primary residence is a beautiful custom home near Santispac that overlooks the bay. It is stunning and has everything a man could want- except air conditioning. Because of the lack of AC (and not being set up to ever have it) he retreats to a second home just a few miles away in Mulage` June thru October. In spite of having spent many years here his second home is simply a retreat from the heat.
Then we began noticing more and more that many of the folks who were saying they would be staying for the whole season had AC on their boat. These cruisers were all decked out with big window AC’s cobbled into hatches and many were planning on retreating to marinas if or when the heat get to unbearable. A couple of the marinas here even drum up business by advertising unlimited free electricity which if you have AC (we don’t) equates to no cost air conditioning if you stay at their docks.
We of course came expecting hot. We had heard all the warnings and had spent time and money planning our strategy. I made a four piece sunshade, bought a hammock and sewed shades for all the hatches to help deflect the heat. I also brought along a wind scoop (to hang over our main cabin hatch to catch any bots of breeze) and brought materials and a pattern for making two more.
We had been warned that many cruisers experience refrigeration failures in the tropics so we super fortified our refrigerator before we left Seattle. In fact the refit/rebuild of our refrigeration system held us up for more than a month from our planned Seattle leave date. Our problem in receiving our vacuum panels in a timely manner from Glacier Bay pales at the problems of a few of our friends. One couple we know spent $10,000 on a Glacier Bay top of the line system and then paid another $10,000 to have it installed only to have the system completely give up the ghost once in the heat of Mexico. Having a system failure is always a big problem anywhere out of the states (heck it’s a problem back in the states!) but worse than the failure was the discovery that Glacier Bay has completely withdrawn from supporting their marine systems. They provide no technical support, no parts and no repair. Several other couples we know with Glacier Bay systems are living on the edge aware that if their system fails the problems could be monumental.
Our system is working great. All our delays and troubles in rebuilding our old system literally from the inside out of the old ice box and replacing it with a system that takes far less power than the systems of anyone we know was worth all work we did. Other than a broken thermostat we are replacing this weekend our fridge seems to be handling things better than anyone’s we know.
Again it’s hard to adequately describe the Baja summer. Once we passed the summer solstice in June it has felt like someone flipped a switch. All I can say is WOW! The water here is already almost 90 degrees and the really warm stuff hasn’t even hit yet. When you jump in the water for relief which we do many times each day it doesn’t really cool you down it just rinses off the sweat and gives you the temporary advantage of evaporation.
The wind blows and it feels like you are standing in front of a giant hair dryer turned on high. I wake up in the morning and no matter the time I inevitably roll over to try and get back to sleep searching for just a few more minutes when I can be oblivious to the heat. They tell me that August and September will be nearly unbearable. ~sigh~
For the first time in my life I am sleeping with no covers what so ever, not even a sheet. The first morning I woke up realizing I had slept that way the entire night I was amazed. Even in the hottest weather back home I have always kept a sheet over me in fact I truly didn’t think I could sleep with no covers. Now the top sheet and coverlet aren’t even on the bed, (because for heaven’s sake you can’t have anything bunched up around your toes) both lay folded atop a cabinet nearby hoping against hope that we might actually need them again. You lie in bed at night with your hubby trying not to touch because any added heat feels like a thousand pounds against your skin.
We spend most days lazing away doing nothing but reading and swimming. We look forward to being underway because while underway even if there is no wind we theoretically make our own breeze. Yea right! Yesterday with not a breath of wind we motored along for 13 hours for a crossing from Mulage` to San Carlos. By the time we arrived the heated up engine compartment radiated so much heat I could hardly walk down the corridor past its doors. All the heat had dissipated throughout the boat and when I turned on the cold water taps the water that came out felt warm enough for a Seattle winters bath. On arrival we were both so hot and tired that we couldn’t even rustle up the energy to go in to get something to eat. We dined on cold tuna sandwiches and chilled chocolate pudding.
Everything spoils faster too. Garbage goes gooey and buggy in no time. Potatoes, carrots and cabbage that used to last for weeks stored in the cool of our bilge keeps turning to mush in a matter of days as do the eggs that used to keep unrefrigerated for weeks at a time. Our cockpit which is equipped with a dodger and a bimini now simply doesn’t offer enough shade for two bodies. While the sun clocked around us during our long passage I was constantly shifting to whatever small patch of shade I could find. The small movable side shade I made helps but the cutout between dodger and bimini leaves a wide swath of heat no matter the angle of the sun. While at anchor we have a shade to put in place but while underway it has to be moved in order to drive.
In spite of having done my best to stay out of the sun there was no hiding from the heat and by nightfall I was covered with a tiny blistery heat rash. At least being on the water does offer some relief but I know that once we step off the boat the heat will drip down on us again in force. It makes it hard to look forward to the next few days of provisioning bus trips and sitting around the laundry mat doing the wash. Then again civilization means AA meetings and ice cream, endless cold drinks, dinners out and visits with friends.
In addition to the heat we will soon have the opportunity to experience a few other Baja weather phenomena. There will be thunder storms, lots of them. Lovingly called thunder bumpers by our weather guru Geary. They will come quickly and furiously and each one will threaten to strike our mast and blow out all of our electronics. Then north of us will be the Elefantes: localized katabatic winds carried by clouds that look like elephant trunks. They appear as evening approaches and the cool air from the Pacific Ocean is funneled across the Baja peninsula from west to east through arroyos to the warm waters of the Sea of Cortez. They can carry winds of 40, 50 or even 60 miles per hour in the middle of the night. The unpredictability of Elfantes requiring us to take down our sunshade ever darn night before we go to sleep just to have the privilege of putting it up each morning before the air becomes to unbearable once again. Then there are the Chubascos: the late afternoon to early morning summertime convection storms that come in the form of short lived but fierce squalls. They carry thunder and lightning, high winds and heavy rain. Oh Joy, again another reason to be sure and take down that four piece sun shade and clear off the decks every afternoon.
The hurricanes are something else altogether. Best case scenario is nothing will even develop into a tropical depression much less a names hurricane. The hurricane history of Baja shows that it is highly unlikely for a names storm to make it into the Sea and of those that do very, very few ever move farther north than the 27th parallel. The most likely scenario will be the entire fleet will learn of a developing storm (there is usually at least a four day warning) and in response we will all move as quickly as possible to the nearest hurricane hole in the northern Sea. Once there we will continuously monitor the storm as it develops or dies and begin working like the devil for days preparing for the worst. We will strip all of our sails and then literally take everything off the deck that isn't glued down. When all the work is through we will spend the next hours talking with friends in the fleet, commiserating and considering tactics and anchoring techniques . Then the storm will blow itself out well below the 27th parallel and we will sit in the windy rain slowly putting our boats back together and leave with nothing more than a few stories to tell.
Oh yes I almost forgot the jelly fish. The warmer the water gets the more the jellyfish begin to invade the Sea of Cortez. They relentlessly sting any bit of bare skin they come into contact with and they have no regard at all for me or how hot I am or that I just need to cool off!! We had Lycra jellyfish suits made when we were in Mazatlan for just this problem. They have long sleeved tops, legging type bottoms, booties, gloves and a hood all with tight binding to keep the tentacles out. I still have a couple dozen tiny red welts on my torso where I got my first bit of a tentacle piece trapped under my suit during my daily exercise swim. At first it felt itchy and then like tiny needles poking into me. By the time I made it back to the boat I was scratching all over like a cat with fleas, neck to hip. The only way to stop the itch is to wipe your skin down with urine, ammonia or vinegar. No ammonia on board I chose the vinegar( and smelled like a pickle for two days.)
The cabin is hot. I can’t tell you how hot. As I write this at 8:00am we are under a light cloud cover and there is enough wind in the anchorage to rattle the rigging yet it is already 86 degrees. Bill is wearing Jockey shorts and I am in a light cotton sarong and he just commented that it’s nice and cool this morning! Sheesh, I sweat when I make breakfast –cold cereal and tea. Maybe I don’t really need tea every morning? If you go below anytime during the day it feels like a sauna yet even that becomes a retreat at midday. We have covered the cabin cushions and the bed sheets with towels to soak up the sweat (yea I know ewwww.)
Bill and I were talking a few days ago and I had to laugh, all my life I thought I just simply didn’t sweat much. Surprise! He laughed and called me a wuss and said that after being a lifelong Seattleite I just never have had a chance to practice. Now I climb out of bed, wander around as long as I can with nothing on, take a shower and pull on the lightest clean clothes I can find. The moment I move I am instantly damp all over. I then stay damp for the rest of the day except for any precious minutes in air conditioning when we are out and about. I truly had no idea my body could even act this way. I sweat just thinking about turning on the stove to cook dinner. When I step into the galley –even if I am not going to cook - the sweat starts to roll. My body seems to make a preemptive strike leaving me feeling a bit like one of Dr. Pavlov’s’ dogs. Baking? Ha! Try me in December.
The BBQ now has become worth its weight in gold and I no longer look at the whole men and barbecuing thing the way I used to. As far as I am concerned Bill can keep barbecuing, forever. I’ll plan my meals around it (and cold sandwiches) and I’ll even buy him one of those silly “kiss the cook” aprons if he wants one.
Right now dips in the water and the hot winds are the only things that make this bearable. At least here there are no bugs so we are able to keep all our hatches, port lights and companionways wide open to any hint of wind. If we end up in another buggy anchorage…..well I just can’t imagine it. I do wish we had gotten a couple of blow up air mattresses so we could sleep in the cockpit or on the foredeck in comfort. They are now on the wish list and if I am lucky we will find some before the summer is out. We do already have cockpit cushions that help but it’s not the same good night’s sleep I could be getting on my innerspring mattress.
But it’s truly not all bad. We are having a great time we are just finding that we have to shift priorities a bit and give ourselves permission to stay in siesta mode. I am looking forward to more nights of falling asleep under the amazing Baja night sky and have to remember to do a Google search for summer meteor showers so I will know when the prime viewing nights are due. In the remote anchorages away from the towns and cities with no light or air pollution the sky is utterly amazing. In fact so far the sheer beauty of the place along with the wildlife and the fishing is winning out over the problems with the heat but come August, well we will have to wait and see. I just wish I had packed more swim suits.