Wednesday, 31 October 2012

shifting sands and cooler nights

Our anchorage, south of Bahia Kino Village - before the wind
picked up

I can’t remember exactly when it happened. Was it when we first reached Isla Tiburon, or Isla Esteban? I definitely remember it happening in Bahia Kino. The first time we covered ourselves with a bed sheet, and gasp! A blanket. Nighttime was not the same anymore.

And when did I first dare to put on a hoodie to ward off a “cool” evening? The hoodie, I remember – it was in Bahia de los Perros: The Bay of Dogs (Eastern Tiburon). It felt so strange to wear a long-sleeved garment. Since then, John has even admitted to putting on socks in the early morning. We are resisting the urge, but 21 degrees Celsius is downright chilly! Oh my, what wusses we have become. The Sea of Cortez is cooling off and we’re traumatized. Yet, we are still in shorts and tank tops during the day. (You can read Rick's take on these developments here.)

The shrimpers off Dog Bay
Eastern Tiburon was not particularly memorable – There was the ever present fleet of shrimpers, and the hazy mainland behind it. We laid low, did a few chores, listened to coyotes playing on the beach at night. Soon, we headed toward Bahia Kino without a backward glance. Well, John glanced back, he caught 2 dorados. We kept catching skip jacks and having to release them since we don’t eat them. What are we doing wrong?

Fishing chores, one is filleting fish, the other is making
his specialty lures

Bahia Kino, at first, barely a mirage 
Bahia Kino was exciting. It was exciting because we got to buy tortillas… produce… cheese! We anchored three nautical miles south of the village, the point protected us from predicted south easterly winds. We took Nyon on a day trip, closer to the village – we couldn’t anchor very close, as the area is full of shoals. No matter, we enjoyed some meat tacos and doing errands, only to come back to our southern anchorage exhausted. I think I’ve mentioned this before, civilization is tiring.

Town visit

Exploring Las Cocinas
We sat out a couple windy days in our little corner of the bay, and when the wind shifted to the west, we bounced our way out of there. Our next destination was Bahia Las Cocinas, 55 nautical miles south. Dodging the shrimp fleet at three in the morning was fun, we arrived in Las Cocinas midday.

Las Cocinas was mildly disappointing. While there are neat rocky lobes to explore south of the bay, and some half decent snorkelling spots, it was rolly and lacked the charm I’d expected. Maybe it was the piles of jetsam on the beach. We left there early one morning, ready for a more protected anchorage. We found one, and we were instantly smitten, but that’s for another post.

Dinghy boys

Pretty sunset

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

we would have stayed longer

 Why, hello there
Reptilian eyes looked back at us, wary. We stood still, watching. We’d been looking for him. He was one of the reasons we’d sailed to this little island south of Isla Tiburon.

Chuckwallas are a rare and protected type of iguana only found on Isla San Esteban and two other islands in the Sea. They tend to be more colourful than their counterparts on the mainland. We had decided to pay them a visit. He was our first sighting.

Isla Esteban, an island crowded with steep, rocky cliffs and an abundance of cardon cacti, is delightful. It has two anchorages, they are both considered marginal. Not many sailors seem to come here. It sounded just like the kind of place we’d want to explore. We stayed in the eastern anchorage, tucked away from southwesterly winds. It has a rocky bottom, supposedly with scattered patches of sand – but we didn’t find those. Once we made sure we were secure, we went looking for chuckwallas and were instantly charmed by the island itself.

The Three Musketeers 

Our boats

Feeling small

Another one!
I spotted the first iguana. Soon we observed more. There were also giant spiders, smaller lizards and the usual affluence of birds. We three wandered about for the afternoon – and returned to our boats hungry for dinner. John had caught a 41-inch dorado on the way here. I’d found a can of mangoes; we had a delicious dinner while the lights of Bahia Kino taunted us from afar. We didn’t feel ready to head toward civilization, but depleting supplies were drawing us closer.

Close encounter

I apparently suffer from the same affliction
as my mother, I tend to continue chatting
while photos are being taken...
(There mom, I admitted it!)

That night, the sea conditions changed enough that we ended up rolling a fair bit. Following a lazy morning coffee and a bout of snorkeling in very clear waters, we grudgingly weighed anchor and went looking for a more protected anchorage on the eastern side of Isla Tiburon.

Monday, 29 October 2012

fishes, but no loaves

Looking West from Isla Tiburon
It was time to tear it open. The last package of crackers: We’d let it linger out of sight, in the “cracker bag”, but that morning I couldn’t bring myself to have fish for breakfast again.

Fish for breakfast, fish for lunch, fish for dinner. I’ve eaten more fish in the past 4 months, than I have in my entire life. And yes, I do like fresh fish. It’s just that our provisions had gotten sparse, and fish had taken over every meal. It had been a month since we’d been in Bahia de Los Angeles. While we provisioned there, I don’t think we had yet formulated the plan to continue east and over to the mainland; our lack of provisions seemed to reflect that fact after 3 weeks on Angel de la Guarda. We decided to keep going anyway. John on SV Time Piece continued buddy-boating with us, while SV Eagle headed south. John is the master of simplicity. Rice and fish go a long way. We are not starving. I just miss fresh fruit and tortillas. I even miss canned corn. I never thought I would write that, least of all, admit it.

A brown booby hitchhiking
We arrived in Isla Tiburon’s North Willard East Bay on October 9. While the forecast had promised southwesterlies that day, we’d instead been forced to beat into 20 knot east-south-east winds for 9 hours. We were tired. A brown booby welcomed us into the bay by plunking himself down on the coach roof. He looked tired too. This was a lovely bay, especially in strong southeasterly winds – we were protected, and ready to relax.

Our goal was to explore some of the Midriff Islands and a few anchorages north of San Carlos on the mainland, before finding our way back to the Baja. So there we were, anchored off an island named after a shark.  By then, we had maybe 4 cups of whole wheat flour left,  some beans, and Jello, (you’d be surprised how exciting that is), plus a few odds and ends. We also dug up a package of rice and three packages of pasta, all bug-free. That’s saying something in the tropics. Thank goodness, we had plenty of coffee. And fish. We had fish.

Sitting pretty
Lovely Tiburon
Our first day there began with the aforementioned fortuitously discovered cream cheese and last package of crackers. After my morning coffee, I almost convinced John to join me to explore ashore, Rick having already opted for a lazy morning. Apparently, the mood was rampant and I ended up going solo, which was fine. I am fond of my meandering explorations that are usually rather slow and dreamy. I followed coyote tracks, watched a large spider weave her web, and butterflies – looking worse for wear – flittering among the varied plant life on the island. I accidentally stepped on a chunk of cholla cactus. The spines of cholla cacti are like Velcro, they don’t want to let go. Luckily, I had already learned that – I use a rock to remove it from my shoe, my tender skin fortunately unscathed, and continued on. In spite of the ever-present cacti, the further east we go, the more leafy plants there are… After a summer in the Baja, it’s like getting reacquainted with your long lost cousin, almost.

Desert plants grow all kinds of things to survive the harsh

A splash of colour

The route I followed, made up of mostly sand, was a series of dry river beds (arroyos) – a perfect web of trails into the island. I could have lost myself there for days, but I only had so much water. After 2 hours, I reluctantly made my way back to shore. The brisk breeze nearly pushed the dinghy to Nyon with nary an effort on my part and Rick welcomed me with a batch of popcorn. Isla Tiburon was looking very promising indeed.

You can always count on cacti here

Osprey flying off

A hardworking spider

Sunday, 28 October 2012

it's only a number

The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases 
Carl Jung

Windblown sailor
I have no career. I have no children. I have no house. I belong to a constantly shifting community. And I have just turned 40 years old. To some, this could be perceived as some kind of failure on my part. Others may recognize me as a free spirit. Me? I am not trying to prove anything; I am simply living my life.

These days, my backyard is the Mexican desert . I have sailed many nautical miles on a wooden sailboat. I am in a wonderfully messy, imperfect, and beautiful relationship. The two of us are exploring the world on a dime, and this comes with many challenges. I have learned to fish, to communicate in another language, and to adapt to all kinds of circumstances. I don’t know what our choices will mean ten years from now – but what I am living now is what matters to me. I think they call it being in the moment. While there is no movie-ending perfection, my life is rich with joys and possibilities.

We all have an incredible opportunity – to live life on our own terms. For many of us, that is a scary prospect, especially if it falls outside the norm. What will others think? What if we are rejected? What if we are not happy? What if we stick something out, and regret it later?

I have a tattoo on my right forearm, it says: Nosce te ipsum. “Know yourself”. It is a reminder to live authentically; apparently there was a time that I needed such a reminder. Authenticity comes with being comfortable in your own skin. Not everyone wants to travel the world and not everyone wants children. And some want both. That is our fortune, the indulgence of choice. Over time, it has become easier for me to follow my own path with confidence. Maybe it’s my age, and perhaps it is simply that my intense desire to live genuinely has helped me surmount doubt.

Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes. – Gandhi

This has made some people uncomfortable. I have been criticized for how I live, or what I value, or why I would make the kinds of choices I have made. I like to think that I have gained some wisdom over time. I don’t need to convince others anymore. I don’t need to justify my decisions. And this has set me free.

Yes, I am 40 now. I have reached midlife. What does it mean to be 40? As far as I am concerned, it means I can begin again. I can continue to be a lifelong learner. And I can invent new dreams. I don’t feel like I have reached the end of something, or that I have failed to reach something. After all, 40 is only a number. And the quality of one’s life is so much bigger and more important than a mere number. 

retracing our steps

We escaped Puerto Refugio’s bobos by returning south with our buddies on Eagle and Time Piece. The bobos became scarcer as we sailed closer to Caleta Pulpito. And while the greenery had yellowed  and the water was not as clear since our last visit, it was good to be back. This was in spite of the dominant winds that turned the bay into a washing machine. We decided to brave the swell with a stern anchor, hoping the wind would soon shift, as the forecast had promised. While Time Piece also stuck around, Eagle chose to look for calmer waters in the northern part of Ensenada de Pulpito. By nighttime, everything had quieted down. Eagle joined us in Caleta Pulpito the next morning.

Making friends 
Once again, this bay called for snorkeling and frolicking in the water. We did just that. We swam with turtles and fish; we played with sea lions. There was a small group of young sea lions that liked to hang out near the western point of the bay – while shyer than their counterparts on Isla Islotes, they were as curious about us as we were about them. We cautiously circled each other underwater, and poked our heads up above the water to suss each other out. Jeanne is remarkably talented at sounding like them too – I kept getting confused, until I saw the sea lions staring at her. I wonder what she told them.

I love sea turtles...

Lefty and I having words
40 and still silly
Caleta Pulpito is also where we celebrated my birthday: The big 4-0. Yikes, already? Rick baked a cake, put up balloons all over the cabin and made me a homemade birthday card. I was also spoiled by the gang. They know how to make a girl feel special. 

I had a fabulous day, thanks Jeanne, Tom, John and Ricky – if this is being forty, I don’t mind one bit.

Nyon in her element
Photo courtesy of Tom (SV Eagle)
After a week in Caleta Pulpito, all three boats decided to sail down to Isla Estanque. We enjoyed a fabulous sail, zig-zagging with Eagle and taking a million photos of each other’s boats under sail. That night, the “Eagle Café” invited us over for a last meal before we were to part ways for the next few weeks. We were headed east with John, and they were headed south toward La Paz. Jeanne, as usual, spoiled us with a delicious meal that included dorado sushi, (she had caught the 40 inch dorado on the way down), and lobster tails exchanged for cookies and juice with pangueros passing by. Needless to say, she’s a woman of many talents! We look forward to catching up with the Eagles in the near future.


Our buddies on SV Eagle, looking good guys!

The less glamorous side of sailing -
Doing laundry underway
(Hey, the wind picked up partway, couldn't just
stop now, could I?)

Back for some more eye-candy
Photo courtesy of Jeanne (SV Eagle)
We spent one more day in Estanque, tackling a few small boat projects. I also made buns for a fish burger dinner. John provided fake mashed potatoes and Jello. Not bad, for depleting provisions. The next day we were leaving at dawn, so this was an early night for the three musketeers.
We were ready to cross the Sea, to see what was on the other side.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

a wonderous wonderland, the watery variety

A female redside blenny, tiny skittering fish

Loved the complimentary colours
(The fish is an Opaleye)

I loved this, and had no idea what it was called.
I was told by my lovely friends Barb and Bjarne that this
is a Christmas Tree Worm 

Waving in the water

What is this?

Small yellow fish

Reaching out

finding refuge, waging war

“Shoo fly, don’t bother me; ’cause I don’t need your company” 
The Persuasions
Love me some glorious morning colours
Before the bobos: Paddling fun
What you first notice is its “spectacular and forbidding beauty”.1 One of the things that remains, is the memory of Puerto Refugio’s fragrance. My first morning there, I was overwhelmed with the heady scent wafting over Nyon from the nearby hills. I didn’t know what plant radiated the spicy aroma filling my nostrils, but it was lovely. I did, however, immediately recognize the early morning jejenes. Unfortunately, that was not all. After the first two blissful days in Refugio, we were overrun by a plague of bobos.
Bobos, they sound harmless don’t they? On day three, they swarmed us with a vengeance: They crawled all over our bodies and got into our eyes the minute we’d step into the cockpit. These flies are bigger than jejenes, and smaller than houseflies. They have a talent for turning a relatively normal person into Animal. (You know, Animal, from the Muppets?) I haven’t decided which is worse: The jejenes who bite at dawn and dusk, or the hordes of bobos who cling to you all day long. Rick hates bobos with a passion. We just happened to be in Refugio at the wrong time.
Cool geology
When we weren’t infested yet, we loved exploring the area. The shallow reefs were a treasure trove for the snorkeler. This is also a great place for kayaking and beachcombing. All that changed on day 3. Unless we were in the water, we hid behind our mosquito nets, inside the boat. Rowing, with both hands occupied was the quickest route to insanity and hanging laundry made our skin crawl.
Miriam and Norman were the other two memorable co-stars during our stay in Puerto Refugio. Our first day there, we still didn’t know if she’d come see us and we hadn’t heard much about him, but we certainly did not want either of them there. Miriam, a hurricane whose path seemed to want to cross with ours, was talked about, a lot. Sailors discussed their strategies; some, like our friends on SV Interabang, left for hurricane holes right away. Everyone hung on to Geary’s words on the HAM radio net or downloaded Saildocs2 for the latest hurricane information on their SSB. Would Miriam cross the Baja Peninsula and make it as far as Refugio? Would she still be a hurricane, or would she downgrade to a Tropical Depression? We went over our Hurricane Checklist and discussed priorities. To our relief, on the evening of September 25, we heard she was losing her oomph, while still in the Pacific. Miriam would not come across the Baja Peninsula after all. “Poor Miriam,” declared Rick, “Lost at sea…”
Aromatic greenery
And then there was Norman. Norman, while still only a tropical storm, (with the potential to become a hurricane), was headed straight for the Baja Cape. That made us a little jumpy. The morning of September 27, we were all on pins and needles. Norman was fast approaching the Sea. While one model showed a projected path toward Mazatlan – we still worried. The warm waters of the Sea could entice Norman north. We planned, and waited, and planned. In the end, Norman never did become a hurricane, and we were safe from the 50 knot wind gusts he unleashed further south. These two “un-events” called for a bit of rabblerousing with our buddies on Eagle (whom we’d just reunited with) and Time Piece. In case you are wondering, there was no cake. Far better than that: There were Jeanne’s famously rich and gooey brownies. Pure decadence.
Before the invasion:
Margie and Jeanne, kayaking
We had heard many sailors rave about Puerto Refugio, and while beautiful, our experience was somewhat marred by the influx of pesky insects and hurricane threats. We’d love to come back when neither are present, or at least when neither pose a threat to our comfort or safety. This will of course depend on the big decision. Will we stay or will we go…
1 Charles and Margo Wood, Charlie’s Charts of the Western Coast of Mexico, 9th Edition. (Surrey: Charlie’s Charts, 2003), 138
2Saildocs are weather updates that are e-mailed to SSB Sailmail Accounts. We were lucky our friends had access to these and kept us posted with the latest information.

Friday, 26 October 2012

a gem, clearly (or itchy ankles in neverland)

“For the Neverland is always more or less an island, with astonishing splashes of colour here and there.”  – J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan)
Early morning's glorious colours
Our boat appeared to be hovering over the sand. The water was that clear. Our first night, the cockpit light illuminated the sand 25 feet below, and we watched the fish swimming above it as if we were looking into an aquarium. We had yet to see that in the Sea of Cortez. When I stepped inside the cabin for a minute or two, Rick saw the silhouette of a startled sea turtle swim into the light and scoot away at high speed.
The lagoon
It’s beautiful here. So much so, that our friend John joked about getting goats and settling down in this spot. At the head of the bay, there is a valley crowned by jagged mountains. On first impression, Caleta Pulpito1 feels welcoming; perhaps it’s the light dusting of greenery at the base of the mountains. Once again, there was no one there but us: Two boats, in a lesser-known bay with crystal clear waters. Perfect. Or nearly so. There are jejenes here; lately they seem to be everywhere. (Jejenes are what we know in Canada as no-see-ums: Pesky, tiny flies that bite with the gusto of mosquitoes, at dawn and dusk.) In spite of itchy ankles, it still was love at first sight.
The bay, as seen in the valley
This place is a treasure in itself. The lagoon, hidden from the anchorage – and home to egrets and herons, stretches for a mile around the small mound that sprouts up at the head of the bay. There is actual grass in this valley: Thin patches that unwittingly compete with vast expanses of rust-coloured gravel. A few leafy plants and a small number of gnarly trees are scattered among the customary chaparral and cacti. Further inland, I chased monarch butterflies and scaled crumbling hills. In my delight at the greenery surrounding me, I inhaled the fragrant scent of nearly every plant I came across. I’m sure I looked the fool for it too.
The boys, without their pole spears
I enjoy snorkelling with my camera in hand; while I also like it, lately I have not been as keen to spearfish. Rick has taken up the slack with enthusiasm. He and John scout out favourable reefs and head there with grand ideas of what they’ll bring home for supper, (and lunch for that matter). Needless to say, our diet is high in fish. Our last day in Pulpito, I joined them at a nearby point and swam with a large sea turtle while they were off catching dinner. The turtle was beautiful, as well as unafraid.  When she disappeared into the shadows, I looked down. Thirty feet below me, I could clearly see the most incredible collection of reef fish I’d ever seen in one area. The water was swarming with fish, fish everywhere; at least a dozen species were mixing it up: It was mesmerizing. Of course my camera battery had died 20 minutes earlier – but I didn’t mind. It was one of those moments I was to cherish on my own.
Trees are such a novelty these days

View of our boats from the mountain side


Found a float, turned it into a football
The only day the guys didn’t go fishing in Pulpito, they looked lost. The day before, they had caught enough fish for two days. I asked them to forgo fishing for one day. After all, we don’t want to be greedy with the Sea’s offerings. That’s when I took them exploring ashore, I wanted to show them what I’d discovered earlier. As we walked inland, John kept talking about fishing. Later, as the three of us made our way back toward the beach, John and I hunted for sparkling rocks while Rick eagerly led the way to the water like a horse returning to the barn. Near shore, rocky areas are lined with beautiful patches of fine sand; there, we happily cavorted in waist-deep water after our walk in the sweltering heat.

Happy as a clam in the water

Got my "supersuit" on - Ready to snorkel
We wear skin suits in the Sea to avoid getting stung by various jelly fish -
Rick started calling it my supersuit... Remember in "The Incredibles"?
"HONEY, where's mah supersuit!!" (Frozone)
 The next morning I waved goodbye as they eagerly left with their pole spears. Relieved, I sat down with John’s latest issue of Latitude 38 2, and in between refreshing swims, I drank my coffee in peace.
In all the days we spent at Caleta Pulpito, there was a third boat also anchored there, for less than 24 hours. We enjoyed a friendly chat with the father and his 5 year old son. While hiking the mountain side the next day, we saw their boat sail away. They had somewhere to be.
So did we. Though, in our case, we were already there.
1Caleta Pulpito is a bay located midway up the eastern side of Isla Angel de la Guarda (Guardian Angel Island). It is my favourite anchorage in the Northern Sea.
2I read with interest the Latitude 38 article about this year’s “Puddle Jumpers”. Friends and acquaintances have made the leap and gone to the South Pacific. We have been eagerly following their adventures. It was wonderful to read their accomplishments celebrated in the magazine. Nyon’s sister ship SV Clover and her skipper Shane, made the leap to the Marquesas this year. It’s pretty cool to know another Lapworth 36 is also actively cruising.


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