Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bahia Santa Maria to Cabo to Los Frailes

Passage: Bahia Santa Maria to Cabo San Lucas
Travel time: 51.25 hr
Average speed: 3.8 knots (5.1 day-1 and 2.5 day-2)
Approx. mileage: 172 nm
Engine hours: 0.75 (because of Cabo craziness)

Passage: Cabo San Lucas to Los Frailes
Travel time:17 hrs
Average speed: 4.9 knots
Approx. mileage: 43 nm straight line plus at least 15 (more?) extra miles tacking upwind
Engine hours: 0

We have been having so much fun that our blog updates have fallen behind. We left you last heading out of beautiful Bahia Santa Maria. As whales waved goodbye with their tails we were reintroduced to the swell that we had been sheltered from. We cruised by Magdalena Bay in order to catch the last of the Pineapple Express (clouds that signify trade winds) for the first leg of our passage. Starting with 15-20 knots of wind, we decided against our drifter as we were moving nearly 6 knots under 100% jib alone. As we moved south, the sun set, planets rose, and winds mellowed as we watched the bling of passing cruise ships far off shore. As the sun peeked up behind the Sierra de la Lagunas the winds lowered down to near-nil. Up went the drifter and out went the fishing pole until we were becalmed enjoying the sun but waiting for the wind outside Cabo Falso. Through another star filled night we slowly made our way toward the southern tip of the Baja peninsula. As we rounded Cabo San Lucas under double heads'l it felt as if we'd left the wilderness of the Outside and found Disney Land. We were welcomed by two large anchored cruise ships, 6 parasailers, innumerable jet skis and water taxis, New Zealand and Australian America's Cup boats racing, and whale calls reverberating through our hull. So much traffic made us nervous enough to turn on our trusty Yanmar for the first time since Isla Cedros.

We found a safe spot to anchor, several hundred yards off the beach just inside the massive cruise ships and outside all the anchored sail and powerboats. We sat down to rest for a moment and a little power-boat-turned-clown-car dropped anchor 10-ft off our starboard bow. Mexican children spilled out onto its transom to take turns rounding our boat on one of two rented jet skis. Luckily just before sunset as we were trying to decide where else we could anchor, they pulled anchor and disappeared. We spent the next day touring the town away from the main drag. We rode Eeyore into the marina and found yummy street tacos, frozen tropical (and chocolate) drinks, a purified water store, and several little mercados. We picked up a little food that we could carry and some cold cerveza and headed back to the boat flanked by pelicans, with a stop at the now docked America's Cup boats along the way. We ate a grilled out amazingly fresh meal and then shared a box of vino tinto (red wine) with our neighbor boat Andiamo. We started the next day with a swim in 72-degree water, 10 degrees warmer than Bahia Santa Maria, and had a mellow day prepping the boat for our next passage.

We left Cabo around 5pm with the winds and a beautiful sunset behind the arch of Cabo San Lucas off our port quarter. As the stars came out and we made our way up the coast we enjoyed shoreside Carnaval fireworks as the winds veered. Soon we were fully beating into building wind and 5-ft seas with a very short period (4-sec) which felt quite different than 5-ft 12 sec at our back that we had become accustomed to on the Outside. Welcome to the Sea of Cortez! It must be called "beating" into the wind because your boat bashes up and down while heeled over 20-degrees. We decided if we ever buy another boat, we must have a sea trial beating into the seas of some size because we were able to find every leak that Tao currently has under these conditions. Nothing unexpected (we finally learned to plug the haus pipe with rags and put a lift in the bilge pipe which had initially caused our bilge to fill in these conditions) but our shrouds as well as our entire toe rail need to be rebedded. Put it on the list of boat projects. Chris was the rock star of this passage as he loved every second of tacking up into the building winds and seas through the night. Just after sunrise we could see our destination- Los Frailes ("the friars").

We sailed into Los Frailes, and what a sight to see. We were welcomed by about 10 friendly sailboats, including our long lost buddy boat Pisces that we have been looking forward to meeting up with again since Christmas in Cat Harbor. We toured the anchorage a few times and picked the biggest spot that we could find on the shelf and set anchor upwind of (and maybe a little too close but luckily they had assured us it was ok) Julia and Jacob on Pisces. Los Frailes has been amazing. The snorkeling is fascinating with a series of coral reefs just around the corner and schools of manta rays jumping and flipping 10 feet out of the air have captivated our attention. Plus this is our first taste of social life in the Sea as we shared tea-time, cocktail hour(s), and many meals with Pisces, Andiamo, and new cruising friends aboard Cats Paw. We're running low on fresh items as it is now day-31 since we left Newport Beach which makes creativity important for group meals and reprovisioning in our near future... Besides snorkeling and sharing amazing meals, we've also been busy scrambling up the ridge of the beautiful granite peak that is providing us shelter from the north winds here to find views of the reserve just north of here, taking walks ashore and finding a classic southern Baja half-completed-palapa-restaurante, and a definite highlight was a very adventurous sail on Pisces' 7-ft Fatty Knees sailing tender in 15 knots of wind. It only took us a second to plow the nose underwater and Chris was bailing the rest of the time as we laughingly tacked it back and forth across the bay (thanks for trusting us in it J&J!). We could spend ages in each spot as it's warm (which we love but long-haired-Grizzly's not so sure about) and sunny and there is so much to explore, but slaves to the weather we're planning on heading out this evening to avoid having to beat directly into big winds and seas that are forecast to pipe up tomorrow afternoon. Sorry for the long post, we'll try to keep up and look forward to adding pictures when we get internet in La Paz in a week or so. Thanks for continuing to check in on us...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Passage: Turtle Bay to Bahia Santa Maria

Passage: Turtle Bay to Bahia Santa Maria
Travel time: 53 hours (2/11 1100 - 2/13 1545)
Average speed: 5 knots (the average was brought down by one near calm night with sloppy seas)
Approximate mileage: 250
MVP: Steady-Hand-Moni, holding course while repeatedly being surfed in 10' seas

We were watching the weather carefully from Turtle Bay (and it's internet cafe) and decided to head out on Wednesday February 11th. With several big lows working their way down the west coast, we were hoping to get south enough to be out of their southerly winds and enjoy some time surfing in "the bight" an open section of coast that cuts in 50 miles or so, well protected from common northwesterlies, but exposed to anything south or west. We flew out of Turtle Bay into 15 knot winds and 6 foot swell.

With the wind at our backs and the sun shining, we pulled out Stripes, our guitar, and kicked back for a roaring passage. We were going so fast that we thought we'd have to pass Punta Abreojos our first intended stop because we'd make it there in the middle of the night. We figured that'd be okay, we'd just head on to San Juanico, our second planned stop, instead. But as the moon made it's appearance around 9pm, the winds dropped and for the rest of the night we were basically drifting and bobbing in the leftover messy seas.

The morning dawned with fresh wind and a couple hours after sunrise having put a double reef in the main, we had to douse it entirely. We were flying toward Abreojos, a reef laden anchorage while listening to the weather. Forecasts assured us of southwesterlies all the way south to Magdalena Bay by Sunday. We had reached a decision point. Do we chance it to check out one or both of the surf breaks in the bight, or do we play it conservative and head toward the protection of Mag Bay? We decided to continue on, changed course, and immediately witnessed one whale breech repeatedly as another whale couple escorted us past the point. We took this as a sign that it was the right decision and pushed on taking advantage of the freshening northwesterlies toward the safety of Mag Bay. With a nearly full moon, 20 knot winds and 10 foot seas, Shawn had the most exciting shift that night as we surfed repeatedly down the waves reaching 10.5 knots in the biggest and longest surf and consistently sailing
between 6 and 8 knots. So we got in some surf after all...

Since we would be pushing it to make it to Mag Bay and anchor before sunset, we decided to pull into Bahia Santa Maria, a beautiful and often overlooked bay just north of Magdelena Bay early the afternoon of the 13th. Once in the bay, protected from the swell there was world class sailing in the 15-20 knot winds funnelling over the shore. Since we were a little early, we took time to tack up under 100% jib alone to the northern anchorage where several sailboats were already anchored and sailed onto anchor. We hadn't even finished putting the boat to rest when the welcoming committee arrived; Eric full of energy, singlehanding an Ericson 29' north, and our age, we could tell this was going to be a fun stop!

And it has been. We spent Valentine's Day making new cruising friends taking 5 minute all-you-need-to-know lessons on kite boarding and fishing, catching surf with Eeyore on the way into the lagoon, hand lining for bass in the mangroves, having fresh lobster tacos (the lobsters are much smaller here than on Isla Cedros), and congregating for a night full of wine, tequila, pictures and sea stories. The next morning our new friends from Nanu and Swamp Angel headed north, while Kaalelewa and Andeamo headed south leaving us to enjoy Bahia Santa Maria alone. As the updated forecast did NOT contain southwesterlies (we only mourned the missed surf for a second as we got to meet so many wonderful people), we stayed on and hiked up the tallest peak on Punta Hughes for views across Bahia Santa Maria into Magdalena Bay, of San Carlos, lagoons and mangrove forests, and of course the Outside conditions. Beautiful. On our dinghy back, we stopped at the only other sailboat in the bay, First Light, and made more new cruising friends unfortunately (for us) also headed north. We stayed on one more day to walk the sand dollar filled beaches and possibly catch some more surf, but too small for a short board, we played around in it in Eeyore. So after 3 fun filled days, today we're gearing up to head south toward the tip of the Baja peninsula on more solid northwesterlies, we'll see if the forecast holds.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

La vida es buena (Life is good)!

Passage: Isla Cedros to Turtle Bay
Travel time: 10 hours
Distance: approximately 45 nautical miles
Average speed: 5.2 knots
Engine hours: 0 (we sailed off of and on to our anchors!!!)
MVP: Grizzly who is ready to play even when heeled 30 degrees

Friday February 7th we slowly sailed off our anchor and headed south to an anchorage from which we could reach Turtle Bay in one day of sailing. The winds were barely there, so when our calculations showed we weren’t going to reach Las Palmitas, where there is reportedly a natural fuente (bathing spring), before sunset we again headed for the closer anchorage (no hint of northeast winds, so hopefully not a repeat of our rolly anchorage experience a few days previous). We sailed along the coast with dolphin and sea lions popping up to say hello and all of a sudden realized there were whales paralleling our course about 400 yards away toward land. We continued with them for a half hour watching them take several breaths and finally saw flukes as they dove out of sight. As the sun set and clouds rolled toward us over the island, we sailed for the second time into what we dubbed the “Arroyo” anchorage, again eager to hike up the next morning for views of the ocean on the other side of the island.

A moonlight dinner on deck and a brilliant night of sleep later, we awoke to southwest winds and ominous looking clouds covering the island peaks. The hike was out again, so we readied the boat for the much built up passage to Turtle Bay. We got our tender Eeyore aboard (we’ve made a system to attach him upside down on the foredeck mostly inflated so he’ll be ready as a life raft if needed, and dumb luck makes it a pretty comfy spot to take a nap in the sun on a downwind sail…), raised the jib and weighed anchor. The rain-filled clouds chased us away from the island and we sailed off so quickly that we had to slow progress to get our anchor Rocky aboard. We looked back at the arroyo and saw beautiful rainbows and we looked ahead and saw dolphins fishing in a huge circle and sea lions, seals, pelicans and sea gulls waiting on the side for leftovers.

The weather was moving more slowly than forecast so the much expected northwest winds were no where to be seen. Still, we decided to push on and with southwesterlies instead, we re-ran the jib sheets for upwind work and set a course south. As we pulled away from the lee of Isla Cedros, the winds filled in 10-15 knots and the swell filled in about 5-feet from the west. We watched thousands of cormorant and other birds fighting their way off the now windswept mainland as we put a reef in the main still cruising along close hauled above 5 knots. As we passed between mainland and Isla Natividad squally weather moved overhead, we were flying at over 7 knots and took a second reef in the main for a more relaxed ride as we turned even further south homing in on Turtle Bay. A few short hours later as we were nearing the entrance to the bay, Chris spotted a whale blow- 100 feet to our starboard!! We were going faster than it, but watched as a beautiful California gray whale surfaced several times right along side. What a welcome as we then entered the safety of Turtle Bay out of the swells and wind and were greeted by more rainbows, and of course Ernesto in a ponga offering us fuel. He escorted us in as we sailed under jib alone in search of the perfect anchorage. After circling the area with only two other sailboats, we dropped and set the anchor not having heard the engine all day! La vida es buena (Life is good)!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Ensenada to Isla Cedros

Passage: Ensenada to Isla Cedros
Travel time: 72 hours
Engine time: 13.4 hour
Average speed: 3.62 knots
Approximate distance traveled: 350 nautical miles

It was an amazing passage with a beautiful moon/planet rise and set every night and wonderful winds all but one night. We learned that reflection of stars on the water = no wind... After this long night, the next afternoon as we were enjoying the warm sunshine still waiting for the wind, we had reached a decision point- do we head to shore just after Sacramento Reef and look for some surf off Punta San Carlos, or do we continue on? As we weren't going to make it to the anchorage before sunset and the swell was little to none we decided to push on. This was a great decision as the winds filled in for another beautiful (although foggy) night of sailing. The next morning dawned with Isla Cedros a speck on the horizon. Winds and sea were following perfectly for us to try our double heads'l set up. This means we had the Genoa (100%) poled out on on the starboard and the drifter (150%) out on the port. We flew at around 5 knots toward Isla Cedros and set anchor in the northeastern anchorage at around 2pm.

Since then, we headed a bit down the coast and anchored off an arroyo up which we had a planned morning hike. But unfortunately, the forecast offshore NE winds that didn't affect us 50 miles off shore, still kicked up quite a swell that bashed us around all night and so the next morning we made our way back up coast to the safer northeast anchorage, set a bow-n-stern anchor into the swell and caught up on sleep while rolling at anchor in the sun.

With a low moving through and no winds, we've proceeded to spend 3 nights here enjoying watching pinniped and fish swimming in the clear waters and listening to the constant cacophony of the numerous seal colonies along the shore, the most boisterous being the elephant seals. Yesterday we bartered with local fishermen exchanging chocolate for lobsters and then hiked up to the lighthouse and visited the close fishing village on the north end currently containing 9 colorful fishermen. Although cooking the lobsters was traumatic for Shawn, today, fat and happy and full of lobster (yes, Grizzly too), we plan to start moving down the coast. Over the next few days we'll slowly work our way to Turtle Bay, approximately 50 nautical miles southeast on mainland. Now you all know as much as we do.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Ahoy from Mexican waters!

Our story so far has been amazingly blissful. It took forever for us to push off (Sunday 26th at 11 am finally) but it turned out to be pretty perfect timing for the weather. We caught the tail end of a passing trough. Nice SW winds moved us along at 5 knots and then petered out around 9 pm. We bobbed for a while, then motored for 3 hours at which point really nice off shore winds filled in from the NE getting us back up to 5 knots until morning. The sun rose as we were passing Point Loma, which marks the entrance to San Diego Harbor. A few miles further, just past the border to Mexico near Los Coronados the winds went to nothing and for an hour we bobbed. They filled in from the NW building all day until we were flying wing-on-wing solidly 6.5 knots and surfing up to 9.3! Wanting to use the amazing wind, we thought about passing Ensenada and checking in at Isla Cedros, but since we able to get to Ensenada just a bit after sunset, we decided to make it our check in. We anchored at about 7 pm having made it from Newport Harbor to Ensenada in a quick day and a half.

Of course it turned out to be illegal to anchor in the harbor (apparently Ensenada Harbor has grown recently and this is a new rule that they have been trying to implement for the past 6 months). The next morning, Chris went ashore to check us in and Shawn stayed with Tao (which is good because the "harbor patrol" came to explain that we couldn't be there). When Chris got back around 2 pm he had a wicked headache, so instead of just sailing out as we had planned, we decided to relax and take a slip for the night to appease the policia. What a surprise as I had expected to be sailing for at least a week... But it turned out to be fortuitous that we stayed because not only would we not have checked out of Ensenada properly if we had sailed away, we weren't yet checked into Mexico quite right either...

Checking in with our boat was quite a process which is made "easy" in Ensenada with all the buildings you need to visit in the same complex. Still, it is a mountain of paperwork which turns out to be difficult with no ability to photocopy... We'll spare you most of the details but basically we visited; immigration, the bank, the port captain, the bank (where the woman took pity on Chris and made photocopies), customs, more photocopies and paperwork and then back to the port captain the next morning to check out. We lucked out with a green light at customs so they didn't have to come check our boat. Phew! What we didn't luck out with was customs overlooked the fact that we hadn't gotten the right stamps from the port captain. Relatively easy, though, when you compare it to all we've gone through to prepare for this adventure.

After checking out on Thursday the 29th we pushed off for our next passage south. It has been amazingly beautiful peaceful weather so far. With great winds shifting from offshore to onshore depending on time of day and dotted by lulls of calm in which we hear the pods of passing whales racing by us. We're nearly to Isla San Martin and are planning to think about landfall farther south for some possible surf at Punta San Carlos. We hope all is well for you all in your current adventures. Love from Tao and her crew as we prepare for another night at sea.