On Friday afternoon, September 27, Mirador made a dash from the NW anchorage on Isla Ventana over to the Puerto Don Juan anchorage. I had been anchored at Ventana for several days and had planned on staying another day or so. At about 11:30 AM the wind shifted from westerly to very calm. The anchorage is very well protected from every direction except the West as you can see in the picture to the left which is looking directly west towards the 3500' Sierra Pinami range on the Baja California penisula.
The Pacific Ocean is only 37 miles west of the summit of the mountains.
My concern was that Don from SV Summer Passage, who is the guru of weather forecasting for this area had, at 8 AM, forecast "westerly winds in the Bay of Los Angeles that will be significantly stronger than last night." The winds the night before had been 18 to 25 knots at Isla Ventana and 25 to 35 knots at Pueblo Bahia de Los Angeles, 4 miles to our west.
The classic sign of an approaching westerly gale in this part of the Sea of Cortez is a very calm day and a sharp drop in the humidity. At noon on Friday the air was still and the humidity was down to 19%.
At 12:15 PM I didn't need any other predictors of a strong west wind because. I could stand on Mirador's cabin top and look west where all I could see was white foam. It was still calm in my anchorage and the boats in the Pueblo anchorage were reporting calm with gusts to 25 knots. At that point I decided it was time to make tracks for Puerto Don Juan which is completely protected from a westerly wind. Don Juan was only 5.5 miles in a straight line, but 6.5 miles by boat since there were islands and reefs to avoid.
It only took me 10 minutes to prepare the boat for departure but by the time I was ready to lift the anchor the wind was a steady 25 knots gusting to 30, directly out of the west. Getting the anchor up in that kind of wind is tough when I am single handing Mirador. Her bow really blows off in the wind and the windlass can just barely pull the boat up into the wind. I try to motor toward the anchor to get as much slack in the anchor chain as possible. I then have to run to the bow and retrieve chain as fast as possible, until the wind blows the bow sideways so far that the chain is again taunt.
I had 150' of chain and 50' of nylon rode out since I was anchored in 38' of water and the wind had been gusting over 25 for the last 26 hours. Four sessions of motoring, running to the bow, retrieving chain, return to the cockpit to motor forward again were required to get the chain retrieved to where it was pointing straight down from the bow to the anchor.
Then the problem was what to do next. As I said, the water was 38' deep, but I was only 100 yards from shore. Once I lifted the anchor off the bottom, the boat would quickly blow toward shore. I had to pull the anchor almost clear of the water because the outside entrance to the bay was less than 20' deep and I couldn't drag the anchor over the rock ledge that guards the entrance. The windlass takes 45 seconds to pull 35' of chain and anchor, then I had to snub the chain off and dash back to the wheel to drive us back off the beach.
Sometimes single handing is a little more exciting than I like!
Once outside the gap between the two small islands you can see in the picture I was able to turn hard to port and head for Puerto Don Juan. Then the second major problem of the day arose. The wind waves, driven by gusts into the mid 30 knot range, were about 3' and were coming from directly abeam of Mirador. I was towing the Portabote because I couldn't have it on the bow while trying to raise the anchor. I can handle the anchor with the Portabote up there, but it really slows me down and I can't tie the Portabote bow down until after I close the anchor well.
So, I was afraid, for about the fifth time this summer, that the Portabote was going to swamp in the irregular waves. It was shearing from side to side and the bow kept trying to scoop water from the backs of waves as it surfed down one and the up the next. And, once again, I remembered that I had meant to put a line and drouge off the stern of the Portabote so that it would tow straight behind Mirador and not surf down the waves. Too late now!
Mirador, the Portabote, and I arrived in Puerto Don Juan all together and all, more or less, dry.
The most interesting aspect of the whole west wind thing was how suddenly it died. Once Mirador was four miles Southeast of the shoreline at the foot of the mountains, the wind shifted very abruptly from 20 knots out of the West to 6 knots out of the Northeast. This change occurred over a distance of less than 1/4 mile. Then one miles further Southeast the wind had shifted to 12 knots out of the Southeast. I used the VHF radio to contact a boat anchored off the Pueblo Bahia de Los Angeles beach and was told they were still experiencing a steady 30+ knots gusting to the high 40 knot range. Yet there I was, just six miles Southeast of them, enjoying a nice cool 13 knot SE breeze.
Did I forget to mention that when the wind starting blowing out of the west the air temperature went from 90 to 101 degrees in about 15 minutes?
The same thing had happened the previous night when the west winds really started to blow, just after sunset. Mirador's cabin temperature went from 88 degrees to 96 degrees in half an hour. At 3 AM, with the wind still in the low 20 knot range, the cabin temp was 92 degrees. But, it is a dry heat - 17% humidity. And when it's that hot it is real tough to sleep - dry heat or wet heat.
The strong westerly winds in the Bahia de Los Angeles (BLA) area are known as "elephantaes" since they are often accompanied by a ominous looking horizontal roll cloud that forms over the mountain tops above the village. Some folks think the cloud looks like an elephants trunk as it rolls around on top of the mountain. The cloud and the winds are caused by the cold dense air from the Pacific Ocean being forced up the more gentle west slope of the mountains. Once that cold dense air crosses the mountain summit it sinks with ever increasing speed down the steep eastern slope of the mountains. BLA is at the bottom of the slope where the sinking air mass has to convert it's vertical speed into horizontal speed. The result is the strong west winds we experienced.
The sinking air compresses, heats up and dries out, technically these are katabatic winds similar to Santa Anas or Chinooks, which accounts for the very hot and dry conditions. One of the BLA boats reported a cabin temperature of 105 degrees yesterday afternoon during the height of the wind. By 10 PM the winds had died off and the boat was reporting a cabin temperature of 88 degrees.
Isla Ventana was a lovely anchorage with a nice trail that that ran from the beach, over a ridge, to the valley that runs down the center of the island. The terrain is almost lunar in it's appearance. There is nothing green growing and little sign that water is ever present. The natural history museum in the Pueblo had a display that showed this area gets less than 4" of rain a year and often gets no rain for three or four years in a row.
After we hiked about a 1/2 mile to the south end of the island we were able to look west across Bahia de Los Angeles toward the Pueblo.
In the picture to the left you can see the lighthouse on the sand spit at the bottom left of the picture. The sandspit anchorage is just behind the lighthouse and to the pictures right center.
On September 20 I sailed out of that anchorage, around the sandspit and NE toward Isla Smith. As I was sailing along, parallel to the spit and about 600 yards off the spit I noticed that the water depth had gone from 90 feet to less than 20 feet and then to less than 15 feet. By the time I was a mile NE of the lighthouse the water depth was less than 10 feet. Sailing in the Sea of Cortez, using only 100 year old charts, is just a surprise waiting to be discovered.
I tacked away from the sandspit and finally found 100' of water, about a mile from shore. I then tacked back to the NE and continued on up to Las Rocas anchorage on Isla Smith. The four mile long island is really named Isla Coronado but there is another, very popular, Isla Coronado about 150 miles south of here. To avoid confusion all the cruisers call the northern Coronado Island - Isla Smith. This is a common problem in the Sea of Cortez, there are many islands, points, bays, etc. that have identical names to similar features only 100 to 200 miles distant.
Las Rocas was a nice anchorage with great diving that was made difficult by the strong currents that run almost continually thru and around the anchorage. There are several reefs and rock structures around the anchorage that provided good habitat for fish. Ryakosha, Tackless II, Good Neighbor, Dream Catcher and Aristocat were in the anchorage with Mirador and everyone shot a lot of fish.
After several days in Las Rocas I again got the urge to go sailing and left there on the north going (flood) tide. I sailed around the north end of Isla Smith while admiring the almost perfectly shaped 1500' volcano cone that sits on the tip of the island. We wanted to climb the volcano but the 100 degree air temps and complete lack of shade dissuaded us from that project.
Once north of Isla Smith I had to turn south and sail down the eight mile wide channel between Isla Smith and Isla Guarda. There was a pleasant 8 to 12 knot SSE wind blowing and my desired course was SSW. I tried, for several hours, to beat into the wind and made two or three knots progress toward my waypoint off the SE tip of Isla Smith. But, as the day progressed and the flood tide increased my progress southward slowed to less than 1/2 knot, despite making 5-knots thru the water.
Then, as before, the strange North Sea of Cortez tide rips caught me and slapped me around for about an hour. I could see the white, disturbed water ahead to windward. But since the wind was less than 10 knots and the current was flowing at less than 2-knots I didn't anticipate any problems. Then, within five minutes, I went from a nice gentle upwind sail to a washing machine in which Mirador was making negative progress toward the waypoint.
I had closed all the hatches and port lights prior to leaving Las Rocas so the boat stayed dry on the inside. Waves from every direction splashed onto the foredeck and side decks of Mirador. And, AGAIN, I was towing the Portabote with near disastrous results. I finally had to tie the dinghy painter line to the upper part of the radar arch, about seven feet above the water, to keep the dinghys bow from diving into the back of the steep and disorganized waves.
I used full Yanmar power for about 45 minutes to make three miles progress thru the tide rip. We then popped clear of the rip, it went from confused four foot seas to flat in about 50 yards, and found a 16 knot SE breeze that allowed me to make seven knots on a close reach right to the waypoint. I was trying to stay clear of Isla Arema, one of the dangerous little reefs/islands that dot this part of the Sea of Cortez. Aremar is 200 yards long, 10 yards wide and is only 2 feet above water at high tide. When the bay is full of white caps it is almost impossible to see, and it was directly on my path to Isla Ventana.
After clearing Arerma I turned more downwind and sailed directly for the north end of Isla Ventana, about 3/4 of a mile west. I had to sail between Ventana and Isla Bota (Wineskin Island) in a channel that is only 500 yards wide. The only chart for this area is of such a large scale (1:639400 )that it doesn't even show Isla Bota, nor does it offer any depth soundings for the Bay.
The Cunningham cruising guide does show a detailed chart for the area around Isla Ventana, with depths and rocks marked. But, there was a pretty picture of La Ventana rock (The window shade) covering the area I was sailing thru. All other depths on the chart were over 75' and I was sailing in 90' of water. As I approached the Ventana-Bota channel the water depth kept decreasing until it reached 45' which was half of what the chart shows the depth to be.
I held my breath, rolled up the genoa to slow the boat, and climbed up on the boom to get a better look at the water color ahead. All I could see was deep blue, except right on shore where I could see tan colored rocks. I was a little concerned because the south end of Ventana is marked by a rock ledge that comes up to five feet below the surface, 1/2 mile off shore in 100+ feet of water. I was afraid there was a similar reef or rock here on the north end of the island. I thought maybe I had mis-read the sailing directions or overlooked something on the chart.
After sailing another 300 yards the depth increased to 95', just like the Cunningham chart shows next to the picture that obscures the shallow spot I had just sailed over.
I then made an uneventful entrance to the Ventana anchorage and dropped the anchor in 20' of clear water, over a white sand bottom.
I will be staying in the Bahia de Los Angeles area for another week or so before I start south. Last year the big hurricane of the year hit La Paz with 90 knot winds on October 5 and up here on October 6. If the tropics are still quiet by October 5 I will head south. It is about 335 miles to La Paz and I hope to make that in about 12 legs with only one over night leg. I plan to be in La Paz by late October.