HEADED SOUTH FOR LA PAZ

Jim and I are back in Agua Verde after a two week trip north from here.  We hung out in Playa de Burro for five days and then headed northwest in what was forecast to be SE 10 to 20 knot winds.  We left Burro Beach about 11 AM on March 31st with the intent of making an over night trip to Bahia San Francisquito, 125 miles northwest along the east coast of the Baja Peninsula.   I made the same trip last year, see my update after that trip at September_7_2003, and enjoyed a great overnight sail.

Alas, this trip didn't work out as well.  As we pulled up the anchor at Playa de Burro the wind went from calm to a SSE 15 knots that we we rode NNE 10 miles to Punta Aguja where we left Bahia Concepcion and entered the open Sea of Cortez.  Once clear of Punta Concepcion the wind backed to ESE and increased to 20 knots.  That meant the four foot SSE swells that were rolling 23 miles up Bahia Conception were meeting the six foot ESE swells coming in from the Sea of Cortez.  In other words- we were trying to sail on a close reach in 20 knots while bouncing around in a washing machine.  And, it was cloudy and cool, well it was in the low 70s so we had to wear long sleeve shirts and Jim put on his wind pants.

Everything in the boat was flying around and it was very difficult to stay seated in the cockpit.  That misery continued for several hours until we got far enough NE to escape the swells from Concepcion.  We had about an hour of decent downwind sailing as we got further offshore while we tried to round the east side of seven mile long Isla San Marcos.  Then the usual Sea of Cortez phenomena happened - the wind went from 15 knots to 0 knots in less than five minutes.  But, the five foot swells from the stern quarter continued as we motored NE. 

We motored for an hour or so but there was no sign the wind was going to return so we changed our plans.  At that point we were about 80 miles from Bahia San Francisquito and it was an hour before sunset with no wind and lumpy seas.  We turned south along the west side of San Marcos and headed for Sweetpea Cove where we expected to see some new friends we had met at Play Burro.

Sure enough, as we approached Sweetpea we saw "Wild Tansy", an F-31 trimaran anchored close to shore.  Steve and Roger were headed for San Carlos on the Mexican mainland and had chosen to spend the night in Sweetpea while waiting for better winds to make the 75 mile crossing of the Sea to San Carlos.  Wild Tansy has a 9.8 HP outboard and carries 20 gallons of gasoline so they need to sail whenever they can.

We had spent the day with Steve and Roger when we all went, in the back of a pickup truck, from Burro Bay into Mulege for supplies.  We had also played cribbage with them several times at Bertha's restaurant and they were looking forward to playing again and regaining their cribbage honor.  Jim and I had beaten them most of the time we played.  

Jim and I dropped the anchor and Roger and Steve soon showed up with beer and chili.  We spent the evening playing team cribbage, drinking beer, and eating chili and chips.  Jim and Steve teamed up to thoroughly thrash Roger and I.

Steve lives in Williston, North Dakota where he keeps Wild Tansy during May through November.  He puts the F-31 on a trailer and tows it to Phoenix where he picks up Roger, a long time friend who used to live in North Dakota.  They then tow the boat and trailer to San Carlos where they launch the boat for a winter of sailing in the Sea.

The next day brought forecasts for north winds for several days so a continuation of the trip NW to San Francisquito sounded like a bad idea.  We motored south in the Craig Channel between Isla San Marcos and the Baja peninsula.  The four mile channel really makes me nervous because of the shallow, 20 feet, sand bar that must be crossed, in between the rock reef that you can't see and the three foot sand bar you can't see.  I suffered a sharp fright in the channel several years ago.  You can read about that experience at: Stupid Navigation Tricks.

We motored only as far as Punta Chivato where we thought we would be comfortable in the forecast 20 knot SW to W winds forecast for that night.  We arrived at about 1 PM.  During the next seven hours the wind blew from the WSW, NW, NE, East, SE and finally the south.  By midnight the wind was 15 to 20 knots out of the ESE and the three foot swells were making the anchorage pretty uncomfortable.  We had put out the flopper stopper when the wind went around to the east but it didn't help much as the wind and swell came out of the SSE.  Fortunately the wind and swell died before daybreak. 

The weather forecast was again for strong westerly to southwesterly winds in the 20 to 30 knot range.  We planned to sail back into Burro Bay, about 18 miles SSE from Chivato.  Before we could leave we had to watch two Mexican fisherman retrieve their drift nets from just astern of Mirador.  We had anchored in 15' of water, about 350 yards off the beach.  There was a green float about 50 yards towards shore from us but we assumed it was the anchor float for the house on the beach closest to us. 

It turned out the float was in the inshore end of a drift net.  Those nets are about six feet high with one pound weights on the bottom line, about every 50 feet.  The top line has a float about every 50 feet.  The fisherman set the nets, which have a mesh size of about six inches, at right angles to the beach to catch EVERYTHING that swims by and is bigger than about eight inches.

We watched them hand pull the net into their 25 foot panga.  They eventually pulled over a half mile of net into the panga, all by hand with most of the net holding huge quantities of seaweed.  They were also pulling the panga broadside into the wind.  The float that was attached to the far end was so far away that we had to use the 7x15 binoculars to find it.  The two fisherman needed over an hour to pull all the net.  They caught hundreds of sting rays, a six foot moray eel and a lot of small fish all of which they threw back.  The caught and kept five lobsters and about a half dozen flounders and other game fish.  That seems like a lot of work for just a few fish.  But it also explains why there are now so few game fish left in Bahia Concepcion.  We say many of these 1/2 mile nets as we wandered around Concepcion.

We had a nice fast sail with only a genoa on a reach over to Punta Aguja where we had to decide about continuing SE towards San Juanico or our planned destination of Play Burro.   The wind was about 17 knots out of the west but was forecast to come out of the south.  We quickly decided that the wind would continue to blow out of the west so we headed off to the SE and San Juanico, about 32 miles away.

Have I mentioned that the winds in the Sea of Cortez are hard to predict? 

After heading SE we continued to have lighter and lighter west winds until finally we rolled up the genoa and motored SE in no wind.  About an hour later we were sailing close hauled (upwind) in ESE 8 knots.  That was great, we were right on  course, not much heel, and we were making five knots.  The wind slowly backed to the ENE and increased to 11 knots so there we were on a close reach at six knots which held up for another hour.

When conditions are so benign it is hard to keep on top of the potential for sea and weather changes.  I was reading an interesting book and finding it difficult to concentrate on the boat.  The radar was running so I could keep track of our course, distance off the beach, 2 miles, and watch for oncoming traffic without having to standup and look around. Jim was forward doing his magic with Mirador's topside wood.  I finally forced myself to climb up on the the cockpit seat and really look around.

Whoops, about a 1/2 mile ahead there was an obvious wind line with seriously different sea conditions.  We quickly put a reef in the main and prepared for a wind shift.  In less than two minutes the wind went from NNE 10 knots to SSW 18 knots.  No kidding! There was no lessening and veering.  It just moved through 180 degrees and increased by 80%.  We went from a easy broad reach to a difficult beat in just a minute. 

Within 30 minutes we were headed east in 24 knots true wind with three to five foot breaking seas pounding over the bow.  At that point we had 15 miles to go, all of it uphill into short steep seas and very gusty winds.   It seemed like, maybe, the decision to head to Playa Burro might have been wiser.  The problem was that our required course to San Juanico was 137 magnetic and the wind was coming from 165 magnetic.  And, Isla Il Defenso was right in the way.  We might be able to stay west of the island but that would have exposed us to several miles of a lee shore, not far off our port side. 

Jim and I are cruisers and really whine, not to mention swear and grumble, when we have to beat into winds and seas.  I 'kinda remembered an anchorage off to the west in the NW corner of Nicholas Bay and did find reference to the San Sebastion anchorage in both Charlie's Charts and Cunningham's Guide to the Middle Sea.  It was only five miles to the SSW but would have been straight into the breaking seas.  We kept that option in mind as Jim hand steered Mirador on a course to minimize the impact of the five foot breaking seas and to keep the heel at a comfortable degree.  That meant we were sailing 30 degrees east of the desired course and would end up well east of the island. 

As we cleared Punta San Teresa and the land fell off to the west into Nicolas Bay the wind diminished to the 15 knot range and the seas became more organized and further apart.  Jim was able to bring the boat's course further south and we were making about four knots (VMG) towards the San Juanico anchorage.   After a couple hours on that course the wind quickly dropped to less than eight knots and we couldn't make any headway against the remaining sea.

So, on came the motor, in came the genoa, and we proceeded on course to San Juanico under motor and mainsail.  Once south of Punta Pulpito the18 knot wind returned but this time directly from San Juanico.  We had only six miles to go at that point, it was less than an hour to sunset so we decided to just motor the rest of the way to the anchorage.

We stayed in San Juanico for a couple of days and explored some of the trails and woods while waiting for the south winds to end.  It is very unusual to have consistent south winds this time of year in the Sea of Cortez.  Normally we would have light NW to NE winds about five days a week.  We haven't seen a consistent NE wind since we arrived in Burro Bay three weeks ago. 

The cause of this unusual wind was a low pressure trough over southeastern California and southwest Arizona.  There was also a very unusual low pressure system off the SW coast of San Diego for five days.  Every day the trough was forecast to move NW or NE and allow the normal high pressure to rebuild over the desert SW.  So far, another week has now gone by, the low trough is still in position and still making the forecasting very difficult.

As we continue to head southeast we keep looking for NW to NE winds but have yet to see the "normal" winds.  Today we have 10 to 15 knots out of the ESE which is why we are sitting in Agua Verde.  Our next stop is 52 miles SE of here.

We had a great 19 mile sail from San Juanico to Isla Coronados.  We put up the main and 120% as soon as we lifted the anchor and did not adjust the sail until we arrived in Coronados four hours later.  Just a nice close reach in 9 knots of ENE winds.

After an overnight stop at Coronados we sailed 23 miles down to Puerto Escondido where we needed supplies and access to telephones and the internet.  That sail started as a reach and then turned into a close reach with the spinnaker up.  About ten miles SW of Coronados the ENE wind died and we dropped the spinnaker.  Within 10 minutes we were again sailing hard upwind with a reefed main and full genoa into an ESE wind.  That nice wind carried us all the way into Escondido.

The Mexican government can not figure out what to do with Puerto Escondido.  The area has so much potential but little is done to exploit that potential.  The inner harbor is home to about 50 cruising boats with 10 or 15 transient boats there at most times.  None of the Mexican government agencies have installed or allowed shore side services for boaters. 

Now one of the agencies, but not one of the two that claim to "control" the anchorage, has installed 40 mooring balls.  They put down 4'x4'x8' concrete blocks with good chains, swivels, and balls.  This is wonderful because most of the anchorage is over 40' deep and all the shallower spots are taken by the permanent resident boats.  The mooring balls have taken up much of the remaining good anchorage space.

But, since it is Mexico, there is no one locally in charge of the balls.  None of the local boats know if if is OK to use the balls.  They have been told the fee will be $20 (US dollars) per day but no one knows for sure.  For now most cruisers are afraid to tie up to one of the mooring balls.  But, they have only been in place for three months so there is no reason to expect any information yet.  At this point no one even knows what agency controls the balls.  API (the national port authority) says they are not theirs, and Fonatura (the national agency responsible for developing marine facilities) says they are not theirs.  But, they both claim to own the bottom of the anchorage and claim they will try to collect fees if you stay in the harbor. However, they never charge transient boats.

As another example of the confusion about boating in Mexico. Earlier this week an American cruising boat was anchored at one of the islands off Mazatlan, on the Mexican mainland.  The Port Captain for Mazatlan fined them $260 (US Dollars) for not flying a Mexican courtesy flag.  No one, not even the 20 year veterans of the Mexican cruising community, have ever heard of this happening and no one can even find a regulation about courtesy flags.  But, you can't argue with a port captain.

We came down to Agua Verde from Puerto Escondido on Thursday and enjoyed a good sail.  This is Semana Santos (Holy Week) and Sunday will be Easter so this is one of the biggest party weekends of the year. We passed close to several beaches in Bahia Candaleros, just south of Escondido and counted over 200 tents, campers, and RV's on the beaches.  Tecate and Modelo (beer companies) set up big tents and sound systems and the parties continue non-stop.  Even here at Agua Verde, which is 41 miles from the closest paved road, there are dozens of tents, trucks, and campers on the beach.  The shore side music thundered forth until 11 PM last night. 

If the wind turns to the north tomorrow we'll continue on south.  We hope to get to Isla San Francisco or La Paz in time to see our friend Eric from SV Indara.  He is putting Indara, a Norseman 447, aboard a Dockwise ship in La Paz.  He will meet the Dockwise ship in Vancouver, BC in early May and then sail Indara home to Gig Harbor, Washington.  The cost of using Dockwise is the same as trucking a boat north and does not require removal of the mast or any gear.

Jim has restored all the teak and stainless on Mirador to a better than new condition.  He is working hard to teach and encourage me to keep it that way.