Strutting across the Pacific Ocean
Escape from La Paz – An Island Adventure
If you sit long enough anywhere, moss will start to grow. Moss is not necessarily a bad thing, but this phenomenon was happening, green clumps of moss were growing, and the whole thing started to make me itch. I needed to get out of La Paz. It was time to buy more Top Ramen, eat one more round of tacos, and head for Isla Espirtu Santo.
The wind was not in our favor. In fact, a big southernly was supposed to finish its blow that evening, but the crew and I decided to push through the windy mess to beat out the mass of cruisers waiting to find the perfect weather window. We ended up not being alone using this strategy. Motoring out of La Paz, weaving through the maze of buoys, we found Cat 2 Fold and Convivia to keep us company. It wasn't a race, but when you get boys behind anything that moves its always a race.
Out of the last gate of buoys the three boats turned to an aggressive port tack. To my surprise, Cat 2 Fold was making the best angle! Having two totally divided rigs makes miracles I guess, because while the two monohulls were slogging at roughly 30 degrees off the wind, Cat 2 Fold was comfortably making its way right up the coastline at about 18 degrees. Maybe the wind was different coming off the coast, but I would like to think of it as magic. Dark. Evil. Catamaran magic.
On Panache’s third tack Cat 2 Fold informed us that they had dropped the hook and opened there first beer. Brian wasn't gloating, but I listened to this news while clenching my teeth. Now it was down to me and Convivia. The wind was starting to ramp up, and as we passed the San Lorenzo straight the sea state become something to make one sea sick. Mer had a disgusted look on her face that only meant one thing; I’m going to vomit. I told her “Smiling helps prevent the gag reflex,” and the sick look transformed into a constipated smile. I took advantage of the rough sea state and sat on the bow of the boat to enjoy a natural shower from all the waves breaking over our bow. Panache started to heel over excessively, so I cut my shower short and opted to put the first reef in the mainsail. An easy job if I did it 15 minutes sooner. The final tack was a violent one, the wind at this point was in the 20s and the jib we had up was one size too large. Manageable, but violent. Mer was coming from a larger heavier boat, so this weather on little 30 foot Panache was a rude awakening.
Our destination was the first western anchorage on Isla Espirtu Santo called San Gabriel Bay. We were a mile outside of its protection. I turned on the engine, dropped the jib, and headed full throttle for the calm water just beyond Panache’s bow. The change in sea state was immediate when we entered San Gabriel bay. This abrupt calm was made even more calm when the engine decided to stop. Another fuel restriction. We were far enough in the bay to drop the anchor, so as to not drift too far, lots of yelling commenced to get the hook in the water. As timing would have it, the roller that feeds all the chain into the water was stuck! Again! Nate paid the chain out manually and the wind, still existent in the bay, slid Panache’s anchor into a holding position.
Bleeding the fuel line at the injector cleared the restriction, and I ran the engine for an hour to charge the batteries. Mer was sitting on deck to clear her head after the ruff weather. All in all, the anchorage held six boats. Convivia invited everyone over for drinks, but the wind was getting so strong that foul weather gear was needed during a dinghy ride over, so everyone took a rain check for better conditions.
Sleep didn't come easy. We were just far enough out to catch the residual waves that were ripping outside the anchorage, and the wind was strong enough (30 knot gusts) that a consistent whistle was lingering in the air. You couldn't escape it. I checked the anchor, and our position throughout the night, and finally ditched the v-berth for the cockpit - a more claustrophobic sleeping spot where I could brace myself against all the rolling of the boat.
No sleep, but the morning was calm and beautifully sun-drenched. Little fish of the bait variety were circling the boat picking at what I believed to be pilot shrimp that were attached to Panache’s hull. A beach assault was in the works between the three Ha Ha boats in the anchorage. On the dinghy ride into the beach, all our mouths were hanging wide open. The water was turquoise; the turquoise you only see in a new box of crayons. Nate said it was like being in a huge swimming pool, and he was rite. It was even the right temperature. Convivia and Cat 2 Fold both had a set of kids that were busy crafting sand castles, splashing in the water, and generally going berserk. Being a child myself (I mentally stopped developing at age seven - or at least thats what past girlfriends have said), I spent a fair amount of time playing with the kids. Porcupinefish and triggerfish carcass’ littered the beach and made nice accents to our sand structures. Porcupinefish are slow, and I guess have a tendency to get too close to shore. When strong waves come through a normally calm bay, the occasional puffer is swept onto the sunlit sand to turn into a ornament. Its actually insane how many of these little guys you can find on just about any Mexican beach.
Beach day was over, end all parties made good on the raincheck provided the night before for some drinks aboard Convivia. After loosening up a bit with a rum infused fresh fruit smoothy, the crew of Panache decided to take a hike. A hike from San Gabriel to Bonanza Beach. Just a quick 4 miles through the desert, and with just enough sunlight to make it there and back, we moved fast to make fresh sand tracks.
On our way over to the corner of the bay that supposedly had the trail head, I spotted a large commotion of birds in the bush. It turned out to be a magnificent frigatebird rookery! I had to check this out. While Nate and Mer patiently waited on the beach, I was creeping closer and closer to this huge community of birds. Frigatebirds are the world lightest birds relative to their wingspan. They are gliding machines, that can make the most nauseating turns and ariel acrobatics displays. They were a pleasure to photograph until one decided to crap on my face. Reporting this news back to Mer and Nate softened the waiting they had just undergone.
The trail was literally nonexistent, but the terrain was easy enough to navigate. Flat, with lots of cactus and prickly bushes. The ground wasn't moist, but not completely dry, and gave me the impression I was walking across a huge tray of brownies. We reached Bonanza Beach, drank the rest of our water, and were ready to turn right back around to get back to the boat. We would have turned around sooner, seeing that we had seen all there was to see in the first 15 minutes (we were there for the landscape not the beach), but we felt it necessary to conquer the hike. To say we did it. We did it, but it cost us the sunlight.
Headlamps on we started the long walk back to San Gabriel. The walk at sunset was more magnificent than on the way in. It simplified my vision. My focus floated right above the clean uncluttered line the orange sun cast above the distant toothy mountains. With the exception of stepping on the occasional cactus, the walk back was silent. Mer informally started to hum “Colors of the Wind” from Disney’s Pocahontas, and this turned into a full blown belting of the song. Nate and I kept up with humming, and sang during the chorus. Our dinghy ride back to Panache was an education in bioluminescence. The small dinghy looked more like a rocket ship tearing through space, than a boat traveling through water. Spaghetti. Watched Disney’s Tangled. The movie made Mer and I crave our ex’s. Sleep. Pulling the anchor to bay hop all the way up Isla Espirtu Santo.
We landed in Candlestick bay, only 4 miles north of San Gabriel. The charts showed an open bay, but the reality presented a huge rock stretching out of the water in the center of the bay. Convivia and Cat 2 Fold opted to stay in San Gabriel one more night. No worries, we weren't alone. Dave and Stephanie from Camanoe (Baja Ha Ha veterans), Livia and Carol from Estrellita, and Aaron and Nicole from Bella Star were all in the anchorage to keep us company. A great group.
Before night shaded the inviting waters around monument rock, the centerpiece of the bay, we started preparing for a scuba session. Mer was the first to get ready, and she asked for a countdown to jump into the water. Before we could reach the end of the countdown I shoved her into the water. Nate and I both have a brotherly relationship with Mer that can only be expressed in verbal attacks laced with love. Ultimately we all poke fun at each other. While Nate and I were getting ready to take the dive, Mer popped out of the water and yelled “shark!” and immediately stuck her head back in the water and hi-tailed it away from the boat. Nate and I glanced at each other and shook our heads. Not funny. But Mer was still chasing something in the water. The shark must have out-swam her, because she came to the surface of the water and bobbed there for a second. I asked her if she was scared, and she replied “it never crossed my mind.” Obviously she hasn't seen the movie Jaws.
I slowly kicked my way to the monument, and was greeted by huge boulders cascading down 40 feet to a white sandy bottom. Sergeant Majors were swarming the space around the rocks, huge angelfish were creeping from rock to rock, and bloated parrot fish were darting all over the place. It wasn't extremely clear, but the sun was shinning at just the perfect angle to illuminate everything I wanted to see.
The sea urchins were the size of softballs, and triggerfish were zipping in the depth, curious enough to get close, but cautious enough to stay far away. They constantly outdistanced my vision. The water was filled with a bunch of broken pieces of jelly fish, most likely ripped apart from boat props, and these “string of pearls” floated at just the right hight in the water to strike the unprotected diver/snorkeler/swimmer. After enduring the stings for an hour, Nate and I threw on our wetsuits and continued to snorkel until after dark.
That evening, Estrellita invited everyone over for cocktails. This gave an opportunity to share information on where people have been, and where they planned to go. It was also a good opportunity to jam out to the fabulous radio stations La Paz has to offer. La Paz might have one of the best "70‘s, 80‘s, 90‘s and more" radio stations. We were still close enough to receive not only this radio station, but also the cruisers net in the morning! Cruising out of La Paz is so unbelievably convenient! A day sail away are some of the most beautiful anchorages in all of Baja. I can totally understand why cruisers make La Paz a permanent port.
The Sea of Cortez can be as big or as little as you want it to be. Supplies out of La Paz is easy enough to go by, and so are fish from the Sea. Our diet while cruising the islands was supplemented with many food fish caught via hand spear. Even if the fish are only 7 inches long, its terribly satisfying knowing you hunted it yourself.
A southernly blow came through the sea, and this was a perfect opportunity to head 20 miles north to Isla San Francisco. The sail was perfect. We hoisted the spinnaker and coasted all the way there. Half way, we saw Convivia chirp on the VHF radio informing us they were going to make the jump over to the mainland. The Latitude 38 motto “Go where the wind blows” held true. We decided to go to San Francisco based on the southerly, and this also prompted Convivia to make the jump. Sailors are opportunistic out of necessity.
Panache was the last boat into the anchorage at Isla San Francisco, but we came in style, flaunting our big rainbow spinnaker. Usually I use the mainsail to shield the spinnaker when taking it down, but since the mainsail wasn't up, I decided to do it stupid-man style without the wind shield. This resulted in the spinnaker flapping into the water. I had hoped that know one in the anchorage saw this, but once I plopped back in the cockpit, Estrellita hailed us on the radio to congratulated us for flying such a beautiful spinnaker, and shame us for such an unimpressive takedown. I agreed.
The next morning was slightly overcast. We went ashore to explore the salt-flats resting in the center of the island, and climb to the highest peak. The wind was shifting back to a northerly, and Nate and I moved the boat around the small island to a more protected (and more popular anchorage), while Mer wrote in her journal and did yoga atop the high point of the island. A very welcome bohemian activity.
The island itself wasn't terribly impressive, but the anchorage was top notch. Mer and I discovered that the salt flats were more like mud pits and raced around the perimeter of them became good fun. My sandals, glob trotting troopers, finally relinquished there duty of foot-keepers, and the straps popped apart during the repeated sucking phenomenon the thick mud produced. Everything has to live, and my sandals had reached the end of their life. Barefoot felt better anyway.
It was Dave’s birthday on Camanoe, so the whole anchorage went over to their boat to enjoy some cake. Sweets are not part of my diet while cruising, so biting into a thick piece of cake is quite a shock. I had three servings. We sang happy birthday and left the boat early enough for Stephanie to give dave some special present. She wouldn't tell us what it was. I can only guess it was something embarrassing like the whole Twilight series.
The next morning we caught the newly developed northern back to La Paz. We made what I would consider record time, even with spilling lots of air out of the sails. A consistent 6.5 knots got us back to La Paz with enough time to enjoy the sunlight for several hours. We had completed an island journey, sampled the fish, and hiked the hikes. You could easily spend a year exploring every nook and cranny of the Sea, but it was starting to look a lot like winter in Mexico. I had to put on a jacket by the time we hit La Paz. We had to start thinking about crossing over to the warmer mainland. I had to start thinking about getting more crew. Nate was flying back to the states indefinitely, and Mer was indifferent on her future plans. I was now going stag. Correction: it was now just me and Panache.