Slow Roll to La Paz – Part One: Los Frailes

After over stretching my budgets in Cabo, it was finally time to pick up the hook, fill the tanks, and harbor hop to La Paz. The sail to La Paz was only 142 miles, but to avoid sailing at night and loosing sleep I planned to make several stops along the way.

The fuel dock was buzzing with many Baja Ha Ha cruisers eager to get out of Cabo. Since we used almost no fuel to get down to Cabo, running the engine only to recharge batteries, we only needed to fill the water tanks. At 6 pesos a gallon we could top off all 60 gallons of water tankage for roughly $20 USD. A foreign boat in Cabo never produces much curiosity, mainly because all the other boats are foreign, but everyone is always friendly, and it was easy to strike up a conversation with neighboring boats that were filling up. The young average age of my boat also lends itself to many questions; "So whats your story? How did you get down here? What are your future plans?" We ended up chatting with a sports fishing boat based out of Colorado about our individual plans when leaving Cabo. The old woman that was firing questions my way, looked like a ghost and almost had a heart attack when she heard we didn't run our refrigerator. She must have felt sorry for us because she handed us a bag of three beautiful Dorado steaks, and made me promise her we would eat within the next 8 hours. I graciously agreed and we parted ways.

It felt good to set sail again and stretch out the sails. Right as Panache started to hit a stable 5 knots, Cabo creeping farther and farther away from us in the background, a humpback whale blew its spout 25 meters off the starboard bow. The whale was also heading away from the busy inlet to Cabo. For 10 minutes we sailed parallel with the whale, waiting anxiously for it to re-surface for a breath of air. I was too far away to get a decent picture, but it was quite a site to see a creature that big so close in the wild. It was a great start to our trip to La Paz.

Mer was new to Panache, and was overflowing with questions about how I handled the boat. I'm sure there is 1,000 ways to do any one thing, so it was nice to see her making the effort to do it the way I preferred. I try not to be an overbearing control freak of a captain, but the roll almost requests it. I told Mer, as I have the rest of my crew, that they should call me out if I am being too intense. A bad captain will micromanage, which is a product of distrust, so I want to delegate. I was also surprised I could answer all the questions Mer had. I guess I knew a little more about Panache than a gave myself credit for. Sailing over 800 will do that to you.

Our short sail was proving more difficult as we rounded the rather long cape of the Baja peninsula. The wind steadily shifted from a strong easterly gusts to a pitiful southern zephyr. We were wing and wing with the head sail and jib pushed all the way out, but only making 3.5 knots - a miracle for the amount of wind that was behind us. This would normally frustrate me, but the almost full moon decided to poke its head from behind the horizon to keep Panache and crew company. The moon was so bright that there was only a handful of prominent stars in the sky to align our heading with.

As the wind dwindled to nonexistence, I reluctantly turned on the motor and inched closer to our anchorage at Los Frailes, a nice big anchorage that is overlooked by a small East Coast sized peak roughly 750 feet tall. The anchorage was filled with cruisers making there way to La Paz just like us. In the bright moonlight I could even recognize some Baja Ha Ha boats. It was 3:30 in the morning and all I wanted to do was sleep. I made a point to plot out day sails all the way to La Paz, and staying up until 3:30 was not what I had in mind. First time we dropped the anchor we were too close to the rocky shore, the second time we dropped the hook we ended up too close to another boat. Third time we attempted to drop the anchor, the freaking windlass was seized up! Finally we made a successful anchoring and went straight to bed confident we wouldn't move an inch.

My sleep was heavy but precariously balanced, and after the weather started to ramp up and knock the boat around, I woke without question. The northerly wind turned to a southerly overnight and Panache, like all the other boats in the harbor, were rocking like a carriage rolling down a flight of stairs. I let out more chain to give Panache an 8-1 scope, and started to plan the day. On the sail over, I was reading a guide book that discussed the bay just north of Los Frailes called Cabo Pulmo, and apparently it housed the only hard reef in the Sea of Cortez that was over 20,000 years old! This was something we needed to see.

We broke out the dinghy and made a quick stop off by Bill Bartlett's boat ShantiAna to pick up his son Keene before we headed to shore. ShantiAna is a beautifully restored Columbia 38 that is so clean, you could eat off the anchor locker floor. We couldn't convince Bill to come to shore due to the rough swell and a shopping list of boat projects he had to crank out, but all four youngsters piled into the dinghy, and we headed to shore.

A quick note about my dingy. Its small. Really small. Its supposed to fit only two people and we had four. Add swell and a small 3HP outboard, and you have one exciting and wet ride. Every wave would push us forward and splash a bit of water into the boat. As we inched closer to shore I realized that the breaking waves could pose a serious threat to our level of diminishing dryness we were still holding onto. I have seen pictures of entire dinghies, big dinghies, flipped ass over tea cup into the surf. I started to run through the play by play on how the shore landing would unfold. This turned out to be a complete waste of time because when we actually got to the breakwater it gushed us onto the beach at light speed, dumping all aboard but myself into the water. We didn't flip and know body was injured so I guess it was a successful landing.

To double our pleasure we decided to hike up the overlooking 'Mountain' and walk along the water to Cabo Pulmo for some snorkeling. Easy enough. There was no trail, so we had to do our best to navigate the cactus, horse shit, and prickly bushes. In every nook and cranny little cactuses were starting their beginnings. This was cute until I stepped on one. Once we reached the foot of the "Mountain" the brush started to clear and we were able to bolder our way to the top. The Southern wind tore up the hill and ripped over the peak making a wonderful playground for hundreds of turkey vaulters. This was cheap and interesting entertainment for us land dwellers.

Mer, Keene and I started our way to the tip top and Nate trailed behind us. I looked back to make sure he was still following and he made a hand signal laterally across the "Mountain." I responded with thumbs up to signal I understood, and then pointed to myself and the tip top, and he reciprocated with thumbs up. The top of the "Mountain" was not far off, and as I pulled myself closer I could feel my pace increase. Panting like a dog I stood on what seemed like the clouds. For the longest time my vantage was at sea level, and now I could see almost 50 miles in every direction. Down in the anchorage my boat was only the size of a beetle bobbing in what looked to be a puddle of water spilling into a larger lake. Mer, Keen and I sat, drank water, had a banana and pointed out interesting features of the landscape.

Twenty Minutes must of passed before we noticed that Nate was no where to be seen. I told Mer and Keene that he was moving across the mountain and was probably caught up taking pictures of all the beautiful scenery, but after scouring the open faced mountain with three sets of eyes, my explanation for his absence made less and less sense.

An hour went by and we had physically walked everywhere where he said he was. My mind was starting to entertain worst case scenarios. What if he fell and got knocked unconscious?! Sounds ridiculous, but Nate wouldn't just disappear like that. We all agreed to split up and take two separate routs. I would head back down the mountain to search the beach, and Mer and Keene would bushwhack the rest of the way to Cabo Pulmo. Before we left We crafted a note and placed it on the top of the mountain just incase Nate had somehow slipped by, or was playing a sick game of hide and seek. I insisted that the note contain a post script that read 'Zack is annoyed.'

Halfway down the "Mountain" I ran into some Chaco tracks, the very sandals Nate was wearing. I don't pay attention to shoes, I only know they were chaco tracks because I was wearing the same pair. Nate and I were shoe brothers. I felt like a Cherokee tracker stalking prey, the only difference was I Nate is a human, not a deer, I was still going to kill him. Unless he was already dead. The tracks led right to the dinghy, and sure enough his hat and sunglasses were there. He must have swam back to the boat. I was relived and confused as to why he wouldn't just tell us where he was going. Like, what the heck! A group is responsible for every other member, and If someone goes missing, it's the groups job to find that person. Our group was officially in search in rescue mode, and Nate was siting pretty on the boat completely oblivious to our condition. Woof.

Even though Nate was safe, I had to meet up with Mer and Keene so the rescue effort wasn't doubled. So I started walking on the dusty road to Cabo Pulmo hoping someone would drive by and give me a ride. The ride never came, but a cluster of buzzards did circle me as I made a slow and steady path to Cabo Pulmo. When I arrived, Mer and Keene were standing there in bathing suits ready to jump in the water. The day was hot and Mer had salt on her face from a massive buildup of sweat. "So did you two find Nate?" I asked. Mer replied with a disappointed "No…" I told both of them that Nate was on safe onboard Panache, and there faces couldn't decided weather to be happy that he was ok, or furious that he had led us on a wild goose chase that lasted all day. They were dumbfounded. I was still dumbfounded.

We opted for a quick snorkel before the sun went down, and even secured a ride back to Los Frailes with Alejandro. All it costed was an eight pack of beer. Yes, in Mexico they have 8 packs of beer. Mind-blowing.

The dingy ride back to the boat was thankfully uneventful, and we sat on ShantiAna drinking beer late into the night venting about the wild goose chase we had just undergone.

When I finally got back to the boat Nate was waiting. He was surprised I was worried in the first place. I had spent the better part of the day planning out how I would verbally crush Nate, but at my level of sobriety I could only muster the question, "What were you thinking?"

Flight of the turkey vulture.

I believe I can fly.

Nate drew a penis on Mer's back. Poor form Nate.

Mer punched Nate in the face after drawing a penis on her back. I saved the day by turning that penis into a dinosaur... But you can still see the penis.

Whale. I wish I had some serious telephoto action.

Slow puffer fish.

Green moray eel.

Mer snorkeling in Cabo Pulmo

Flowers in the desert.

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3 Responses to Slow Roll to La Paz – Part One: Los Frailes

  1. Nice shots man! We walked (well, climbed) up that rocky hill in Bahia Los Frailles too – what an awesome view! Did you see the sting rays jumping out the water around the anchorage too?

  2. Donna Lough says:

    Fun! Beautiful Pictures. Like the flight of the turkey vulture…and the cacti.

  3. Nicole says:

    Hi Zach, Convivia turned me on to your site, and I just wanted to say that your photos are stunning! Hope to catch up with you in La Cruz.
    s/v Bella Star

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