I’ve been remiss in the travelogue department, but we are still afloat and enjoying ourselves. We’ve covered a lot of territory since last communication – as of day before yesterday we hit the most northern point of our cruise and are now headed downhill much to Rod’s approval. Only 7,000 miles to go (to New Zealand), downwind all the way!
Picking up where I left off, we spent a couple of nights at Playa Santispac in Bahia Concepcion, a huge bay some 22 miles in length, and lined on one shore with American vacation homes and RVs, while the other shore is pristine desert with Baja’s largest forest of cardon cactus. Some (not all) of the gringo homes are quite upscale and handsome, many built out of native stone.
From Santispac we used our satellite phone (no cellphone service for the gringo colony) to call a taxi to take us into the town of Mulege some 25 km away. Mulege is surprisingly a veritable oasis of a town established alongside a large freshwater river and filled with literally thousands of date palms in all the low lying areas. Mike and I spent the day ashore walking first to the old stone mission (founded 1705) and then down the riverfront road from the mission to the sea, where we were more than ready for a relaxing late lunch at Hotel Serenidad. Up til now we had not seen much in the way of hurricane damage, but this riverfront area was devastated – not from Norbert a few weeks ago, but from Hurricane John in 2006. A lot of quite nice homes are still abandoned, with debris halfway up the windows. Many “For Sale” signs in the neighborhood – I bet the prices are low with all the destruction still evident!
From Bahia Concepcion our next intended port was Santa Rosalia, but windy weather and a choppy sea changed our minds and we tucked into Punta Chivato for protection. Punta Chivato is also an area with American properties lining the shore and a dirt airstrip to service it, also a lovely resort on the point overlooking the sea. We enjoyed a very upscale dinner that night at the resort watching the whitecaps die down with promise of a good day’s sailing next morning to Santa Rosalia.
Santa Rosalia was a nice change of pace – we sailed into the harbor expecting to drop anchor but instead were waved into a nice new modern marina slip and received an exceptionally warm welcome – with three helpers to tie the boat off, an official to greet us, a dock worker with camera snapping photos, and several yachties who came by to admire Raven and offer tips on the town and nearby cruising. I’m not sure why such a fuss, unless we were one of the larger sailboats to have ever come into that marina, but it was definitely an enthusiastic welcome!
The marina had high speed internet, which is why I was able to upload photos last week. We all got our fix on the net, catching up on news (Lute Olsen’s retirement!), software updates, etc. We toured Santa Rosalia a bit, but without much enthusiasm, even though it is an unusual town – developed by the French to mine copper, and with a prefab metal church designed and built by Carl Eiffel (as in Eiffel Tower), exhibited in Paris, and then dismantled and shipped to Santa Rosalia. The buildings also are unusual for Mexico in that most are wood frame construction, and the town put me in mind of Jerome back in Arizona.
From Santa Rosalia we headed even further north into what is called the Midriffs, a group of islands in the upper third of the Sea of Cortez. The landscape is quite stark here – more Martian than earthlike in appearance, with red volcanic and mountainous geology. The aridity and lack of plant life here makes La Paz look like the garden of Eden. It is still a spectacularly beautiful and pristine area with great sweeping vistas of sea and shore. At sunrise and sunset there is a wonderful play of light and shadow on the overlapping islands and mountain ranges contrasting with the reflective sea.
First stop was Bahia de Los Angeles, with a town of the same name on the beach. Having been clued in the by the yachties in Santa Rosalia (who were just returning south having summered in Bahia de Los Angeles), we were in pursuit of the whale sharks and fin whales that frequent this area.
Our first night’s anchorage was Isla Ventana. In the morning we tried a scuba dive, but it was disappointing – murky and unremarkable – so we gave it up. The water is cooling down as well – not bad but I wore an extra layer of neoprene and a hood to be sure to stay comfortable. Our afternoon was more successful – we located two whale sharks feeding of the beach at the south end of the main bay. We anchored Raven, jumped in the dinghy with snorkeling gear, and went swimming with the whale sharks! They are neither whales nor sharks, but the world’s largest fish – can reach a length of 25-40 feet. They only feed on plankton and are totally inoffensive in spite of their size. These two were on the smaller side, but still bigger than our dinghy! I touched one on his fin as he swam past, but that startled him into speeding off, so after that it was hands off. I found that by swimming parallel, within an arm’s length but just out of eyesight, I could stay alongside for quite a while with little effort, but if I moved forward out of the blind spot, he would swish his large tailfin, pick up speed and veer away. With adrenalin pumping and no time for prepping, this was a swimsuit only (no wetsuit) expedition and I never even noticed if the water was cold!
In the dark, after dinner we invited a Canadian solo sailor named Tony aboard for drinks. He had arrived early that afternoon in a tiny 16 foot, twin-masted catamaran with junk (as in Chinese) sails. We had watched him sail into the anchorage wing on wing in his very tidy little craft named Miss Cindy, inflate his kayak (like mine) and paddle to town for dinner. He regaled us with stories of his brand new vessel which he had designed and built himself in British Columbia, loaded onto the rooftop of a cheap car (which he sold in Mexico to another Canadian for $1), and drove to San Felipe in Mexico to launch for her maiden voyage. He was good company and the tales of his encounters with law enforcement – from California Highway Patrol to San Felipe’s Policia and the Mexican Federales – were hilarious. He had been sailing for the past two weeks, and is en route to Puerto Vallarta where he expects to meet his girlfriend flying in from Canada in early December.
Next morning, having succeeded with our whale shark adventure, our next goal was seeking out fin whales. Second largest mammal in the world after the blue whale, a fin whale ranges in size from 60 to nearly 90 feet in length – longer than Raven herself. From Isla Ventana we sailed out into the appropriately named Canal de las Ballenas (Channel of Whales) heading north towards Bahia Alcatraz and it didn’t take long to spot their tall blows and sleek black backs gliding through the glassy calm seas. I’ve gotten very attuned to the sound of a whale’s breath, and it gives me a thrill every time I hear one exhale. I got some cool whale photos that include some Baja scenic landscape for a change, and we enjoyed our whale-spotting activities throughout the day.
Alcatraz turned out to be too windy to spend the night, so we retreated to a more protected anchorage called La Gringa. Mike woke me at dawn the next morning, still practically dark, to ask if I was the one making the heavy breathing noises! Turns out the whales were in the anchorage with us – he had heard one exhale. I grabbed my kayak and took off in the early dawn hoping for a close encounter – I didn’t actually get that close but did see two whales from kayak – a first for me!
From La Gringa we crossed over from Baja side to a large island named Isla Angel de la Guarda, still on the lookout for the fin whales, and anchored in a tiny round cove named Este Ton. It was one of the most spectacularly beautiful anchorages I’ve ever enjoyed – closed in by rugged volcanic peaks in all shades of orange, rust, russet, burgundy, mauve and smoky green. There was actually a mauve-pink beach, also a healthy stand of green cardon cactus. Even the shrubs were colorful – a species of small bush was bright ochre yellow, and the branches of the dwarfish elephant trees were maroon.
Here even the color of the water had improved to a deep clear aqua, enough to invite us in for a snorkel (wet suit required – temp down to about 73 degrees from around 82 at the start of our cruise). A huge school of Cortez barracuda hung out in the shade below our dinghy, and there were large populations of cabrilla grouper and other schools of fish. Late in the day Mike and I went ashore for a photo outing, me with tripod and Mike with a book – and I heard that loud distinctive whoosh again in time to spot a fin whale as he cruised right past the sandbar where we had snorkled earlier that day.
All paradises have their downside however, and it turns out Este Ton had a healthy population of no-see-ums that drove us indoors for the evening, hatches closed. So up to date, this morning (Thursday the 30th) we have departed and are headed south to Isla Sal Si Puedes (translates as Leave If You Can Island). Weather reports indicate a possible northwester so we’re looking for a protected spot. We’ll be heading across to Guaymas in the next few days and plan to spend about five days in the San Carlos area before flying home on Wednesday November 5.
Happy Halloween to all (and Feliz Dia de los Muertos)