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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bahia de los Angeles


Fuel, fresh fruits and veggies and the chance of a meal off the boat mean that what is left of the fleet will spend the next 8 weeks bouncing back and forth between the small village at Bahia de los Angeles and a dozen or so nearby anchorages. The Bay of LA Village is essentially the only place that offers services of any kind to the small fleet of cruisers spending the season on the northern Sea. Our only other options for food, fuel, boat parts and services or medical care are well south, 124nm down the Baja peninsula in Santa Rosalia or 150nm south east in San Carlos/Guaymas.
The town is small, friendly and pretty rustic. In face they have only had electricity for about five years. There is a medical clinic but no hospital, no cell phone coverage, internet only via satellite at one of two internet cafe’s, two small stores and a couple of “supermercados” the Mexican equivalent of a Circle K or a 7-11. They don’t have a fuel dock but you can haul gas or diesel in jerry cans from the Pemex station about a mile out of town. There is no marina and no docks or dockside water available. As you walk through the village there are numerous restaurants and taco stands though we only saw 6 or seven that were actually open for business.
Sundays are family day in Mexico as it is typically the one day off during the week. But when a group of us walked into town about 7:00pm for dinner (the time that Mexican families are just starting to think about dinner) by 9:00pm when we were walking back to the beach to return to our boats for the night the town had virtually shut down around us for the night. No bars, no ice cream joints and no open stores.

We don’t need to be this far north quite yet in the season (the main hurricane months are typically September and October) but we didn't want to miss the August Full Moon Party so we arrived in plenty of time to take our place in the anchorage at Las Monas. We came specifically for the party but also wanted to take the time to do a bit of recon at the hurricane hole in Puerto Don Juan.
The Full Moon party was great. Just 15 boats but we pulled off a great potluck, had a chance to see the whale sharks again, got in some decent fishing (we caught two Sierra, a trigger fish, a small tuna and two groupers) listened to nightly coyote serenade and watched the space station fly overhead. But the highlight of the Full Moon party was definitely the afternoon of “Floatie toys” in the lagoon.

It was quite a sight to see: twenty five grown-ups with colorful toys in tow in the corner of the bay where the lagoon fills on the high tide. We all parked our dinks, climbed into or onto our air mattresses, pool noodles, floating chairs and blow up Barco loungers and floated the incoming tide into a small lagoon. Once inside we floated around with our drinks chatting and trying to stay cool. It still amazes me that we are still making new friends when all the boats here in the Sea have been on essentially the same path for 9 months! We floated along over the clean sandy bottom in the bath water warm sea then when the tide began running out we caught the current and floated back into the bay before getting out, walking across the sand isthmus and back into the lagoon for another ride. By 3:30 we were all pretty pruned so we headed back to our boats for a bit of siesta before the evening potluck. Come night fall we started a bonfire, (don’t ask me why someone felt we needed the bonfire when the temperature was hovering at 95degrees) turned over a couple of dinghy’s to use as potluck tables and settled in to eat and talk and eat some more. We had a clear view of the space station flyover and we were all full and happy by the time the full moon rose over the mountains behind us. A great party!

Early the next morning we were off for our first visit to the Village. Guellermo’s Trailer Park and Restaurant was the site for the sad detail of parting out a fellow cruisers boat. I think most of us simply can’t pass up the possibility of a good deal but also suspect many wanted a chance to see S/V Ansuer (one of the five grounded boats this season alone) up close.
Bill and I felt a sort of small connection to the boat and its owner Fred because Bill had intercepted the original Mayday when Ansuer ran aground a month or so ago. It was just odd timing to have taken the call at all. Bill had gotten up before the Ham Net was set to run but had turned on the radio as he settled into the cabin with his cup of tea. Fred an 80 year old single hander had ended up on the beach in his Shannon 38 just north of San Francisquito. He knew the Net was scheduled to start soon and hoped to reach someone for some help. He stated that he had committed the worst possible single hander mistake by falling asleep while underway. He had arrived in the Bay of L.A. in the middle of the night and had tried to catch a few minutes of sleep while waiting for the sun to come up so he could get into the unfamiliar anchorage. Unfortunately he fell asleep and woke to find himself hard aground. It was heartbreaking to listen to the call and to try and help.
The first mistake of course was having fallen asleep. The second came when once on the beach he couldn’t use his dinghy to take an anchor to deep water to try and winch himself off the shore. He had been in a Chubasco a week before (a sudden high wind that occurs in Mexico) that had flipped his dink causing him to lose his outboard and one of his oars. Without engine or oars he had no chance of kedging off the shore. Third was the bad luck of being alone and unable to contact the Navy. Just as was our experience when we took the Pan-Pan call from Safety Cat we were many miles (80 nm and 13 hours away) from being able to offer any assistance ourselves and were unable to reach any other help quickly.

When S/V Ansuer called his Mayday we in turn called the Navy via VHF but were unable to reach anyone. Next we called the US Coast Guard –again no luck. Then the Mexican Navy on our cell and then finally in desperation we called Hiram a local we had met who called the Navy on his cell phone and still it was hours until anyone made it to S/V Ansuer. The last we had heard the Navy had finally reached Fred and air lifted him to a mainland hospital in Hermosilla but left the boat on the beach.

Fred wasn’t really injured but between spending hours struggling to try and solve his own problem then spending a couple of hours on the beach alone in the blazing sun he was simply wiped out and dehydrated by the time the Navy arrived. He probably would have fared fine on his own but I suspect the Navy was uncomfortable with the 80 year olds prospects and they could hardly just leave him on the beach.
In the end he then was forced to hire a Mexican salvager who got the boat off the beach (the boat had never been underwater) but then as they were lifting it by crane to the barge the straps broke and the boat plunged down into the bay: saltwater throughout, end of story. It is rare and extremely difficult to resurrect a boat once it has been truly sunk.

So, the cruisers flocked to the once lovely sailing vessel Ansuer but she was sad to see. They had stripped virtually everything off of her including cutting her mast off (at the deck????) removed her keel, ripped out all of her bronze ports and stripped all the rigging and sails. When we saw her she was laying on her side on the barge. The hope was to raise at least $7,000 to pay off the salvage costs but the dollar count at the end of the first day was only $800 U.S.
This last year there have been five boats gone aground, three were single handers and one boat was totaled from a whale hit south of La Cruz. All of which makes me grateful for our decisions and choices in outfitting our own boat. Clearly Bill and I sleep soundly and safely with all of our modern safety equipment: life raft, EPirb,(GPS controlled satellite positioning emergency beacon) alarmed depth sounder, an anchor watch mode on our GPS, the alarm functions on our AIS (collision avoidance system) and two people to swap watches. After seeing Ansuer on the barge my heart hurt for her. I cannot imagine the heartbreak of seeing our baby awash on the beach. Or watching as people slowly tore her apart bit by bit for parts and pieces.

There wasn’t anything for sale that we really needed for Island Bound but since we hadn’t been at a store for 12 days we did need to stock up on fresh food so off to the stores we went. We had laid in supplies in Santa Rosalia and Mulege’ but as always in this heat our fresh stuff was long gone. I am glad that the village is used to us invading them because when the fleet descends as we did after the Full Moon Party we can pretty much wipe out a small tiendas’ supply of fruits and vegetables. They seem to plan for us though and were glad to see us and our business. We ran into cruisers at every corner stocking up essentials, hauling gasoline, buying beer and wine and filling up the local restaurants.

As is the usual we set out in the heat on foot to try and find our way to the stores with the best selection and most reasonable prices. The first day in a town is always part shopping trip part exploration. Basically you wander through a town with some vague ideas of where you hope to find fruit and vegetables, meat and of course…..ICE CREAM! We set off for “the yellow store” and the fruteria near the Pemex.

For the fruit store we were told that it was just past the Y in the road but on reaching the Y we didn't see anything that looked like a grocery. By the time we could see the Pemex we knew we were not on the right path so stopped to talk with a local. He assured us there was no place near that sold fruit and that we would need to retrace our steps to a place called “Dos Pinas” but we were pretty sure we were actually close. We retraced our steps and tried again and walked into a store that had piles of clothes and shoes outside. Walla` the fruit store. Turns out that behind the t-shirts and dresses was a pretty nice tienda who’s weekly fresh produce delivery had come just the day before. The selection was pretty good and we walked out with seven big bags of groceries (mostly fruit, vegetables and eggs) for about $55 US. I felt lucky to have hit it so close to delivery day and it’s good to know the right day for future trips “to town ” so we can plan our future stops and not end up back in town when the fresh stuff is all gone.

Tomorrow we will sail to Puerto Don Juan to check out the hurricane hole. We won’t stay long we just want to have some familiarity with the anchorage so if any significant weather comes our chart plotter will already have a “bread crumb” trail to follow allowing us to enter even in the dark or under poor conditions with confidence. Simply having a clear picture in our minds of the anchorage will lower the stress level a bit if we have to start monitoring any storm activity. Our motto when the winds come up: reef early, seek shelter and remember “Land is not your friend!”


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