Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Balandra Bay to La Paz

Passage: Balandra Bay to La Paz
Total time: 5.5 hrs (3/15/2009)
Engine time: 0 hrs
Average speed: 3.5 knots
Approximate mileage: 18 nm

The islands (Isla Partida and Espiritu del Santo) were beautiful and fun and we are very glad we spent a week enjoying them. But alas, our supplies were getting low and Jacob(from Pisces)’s parents were due in town soon. So, after moving anchorage back to Ensenada Grande for a night of good sleep and protection from the Coromuels, we sailed with Pisces to Balandra Bay, a beautiful stop on the Baja coast. After watching the show of Pisces and then us sailing onto anchor, we hopped in Eeyore (we’d been trailing him whereas Pesckita was strapped on deck) and headed over to watch the sunset, eat appetizers (fresh made foccacia with olive oil and vinaigrette and jicama sticks), and relay the past several days that we had spent in different anchorages. Reminiscent of two nights previous, the winds kicked up with a gust quickly after sunset and 20 knot Coromuels blew all night- luckily we were protected from fetch from the SW, so although we didn’t rejoin Pisces for dinner, we still slept well, and luckily the rented motor cat next to us didn’t drag quite all the way to our boat in the night.

The next morning was the big day- La Paz bound. After a shared morning cup-o-tea/juice, Pisces, excited to see family, took off. On the mellow program and a little nervous for the notorious scene of La Paz, we headed out a half hour or so later just as the winds started picking up from the N- making for a perfect run south. After weighing anchor and sailing out of the brilliant blue shallows of Balandra, we turned south and set the main and 100% jib wing-on-wing. It was amazing, as the land curved eastward, the winds would shift so that we didn’t have to change course at all.

La Paz is well known not only for being a vortex for sailors who never leave or for strong Coromuel winds but very strong currents and shoaling. We could see shoal all along the west side of the 4 mile long entrance channel and then another between the main channel in the heart of the harbor and El Mogote, a spit of land directly west of La Paz providing protection from the Sea of Cortez. Luckily we were approaching in daylight because the marks at the channel entrance tend to be moved often to mark shifting shoals. After a stressful few moments negotiating the first two sets of red and greens close reaching under sail, we again turned down wind and realized the current was definitely with us flowing the same direction as the wind (lucky as we had no tidal information). We took two reefs in the main to slow our progress and continued on. Adrenaline was rising as we got closer and closer to what appeared to be at least 50 boats scattered throughout the harbor. We sailed along “the channel” through all the anchored boats scouting for a spot to set the hook. After taking several passes in search of a safe place (called “show boating” by some), we chose a space near the Malecon (main street in La Paz) nestled between two boats, a green channel mark, and a jetty marking Marina de La Paz. We sailed down onto Rocky who set so hard, Shawn saw bottom paint on the anchor chain as the bow jerked to a stop and the stern swung around both downwind and down current of the channel mark.

We took deep breaths trying to relax after the excitement of sailing onto anchor in busy La Paz, watching how we were settling in to make sure we didn’t need to weigh anchor and move again. Awaiting any ponga that might soon visit and tell us we had to move for whatever reason and sure enough a fast little boat soon approached. But to our delight it turned out to be our friends Matt and Thai from Kaalalewa (still awaiting flights to Brazil) come to welcome us to La Paz! That was 10 days ago. It is indeed very easy to get stuck here where there is a busy social scene, lots of boating supplies, and delectable Mexican food. The first week we spent time with friends, showered in hot fresh water, ate well and did the “La Paz Waltz,” which is when the boats dance, often toward each other, in the opposing winds and currents. Two days ago, on Monday the 23rd we motored from the Malecon to the other side of the shoal to El Mogote looking for some respite from the forecast northerly winds and were joined soon after by Pisces freed from their marina visit. After letting go of the belief that we would check many things off our list of project work in La Paz, we have refocused, made a short list, and hope to start heading north into the sea after one more week of “work” here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Good Anchorage, Bad Anchorage?

Not all anchorages are perfect, although many times it is actually due to specific weather conditions not necessarily the anchorages themselves. We have recently learned the hard way about Coromuel winds as they effect Isla del Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida. As much as we can figure, Coromuel are basically adiabatic winds which are thermally generated by differential heating. Boiled down this means winds blow at night directly toward the west side of the islands where the anchorages are found. These winds are well known around here and pipe up very quickly- commonly to 30 knots. Although we are not in peak season (thankfully, spring and summer) we still had a night of winds up to 20 knots, and given 10 miles between mainland and the islands, there was plenty of time for waves to build. Although we'd had a little rolliness the night before which urged our smart friends from Pisces to seek better shelter farther north on the island, we wanted to spend more time at Caleta El Candelero so we stayed another day and night. It was an amazingly warm and sunny day, calm and perfect for snorkeling. We could see 50-ft down and snorkeled around coves teeming with fish. We swam in a school of 30 angel fish and could look down past them to several layers of other bigger and bigger fish below. Now that we're all rested up again, it was definitely worth it, but that night, the Coromuels created uncomfortable (and in season potentially dangerous) conditions as our comfortable-by-day-anchorage turned into a lee shore. But most importantly, now we know... Although we didn't take footage of the rough conditions we experienced in the middle of the night at Caleta El Candelero, in its place, we've put up a video from another rolly anchorage we experienced a bit over a month ago on the outside of the Baja peninsula at Isla Cedros.

Our experience on Isla Cedros was more a basic lesson of fetch (distance over water which translates to space for waves to build) being what we aim to avoid in an anchorage, not necessarily just wind. When 5-10 knot winds were forecast off mainland we thought "no problem, we're not even close to "the beach" as they call it," with mainland 50 miles away we likely wouldn't even feel a breath of it. Well, we were right about that, the wind didn't reach us, but what we neglected to take into account was the fetch- and the waves did reach us... Definitely a hard but memorable lesson. We reached what we later dubbed "Rolly Anchorage" just before sunset and the winds, although not from the most favorable of or even the forecast direction, still weren't too bad, so we set the hook and settled in. Well, although we never felt them, the winds must have shifted to the forecast direction- because a couple hours later we started to feel the waves that the open fetch and forecast winds had created. Then the winds we had went away and with no wind to keep pointed into, Tao was turned broadside to the oncoming waves. We managed to stick the night out there, but everything that could move inside the boat did and it was, let's say, less than restful. The next morning the winds were still calm and we headed back to our previous anchorage where we set a bow and stern anchor so we could at least be bow into the waves as they settled down. As an aside, we did anchor at Rolly Anchorage again with more favorable conditions a week later and it was beautiful. The point is we are learning, slowly but surely, and we thought you all might get a laugh at the sometimes less-than-ideal conditions we are faced with.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ensenada de Los Muertos to Ensenada Grande on Isla Partida

Passage: Ensenada de Los Muertos to Ensenada Grande on Isla Partida
Travel time: 23.25 hours
Engine hours: 0
Average speed: 4.6 knots plus 6 hours of bobbing at 0 knots
Approximate mileage: 65 miles up the coast, about 75 with tacking up Isla del Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida

It took another day to leave Ensenada de Los Muertos. We've noticed another trend, whatever day we decide we should leave we need to add another day afterward to actually do it. But how could we possibly leave? It was beautiful, sunny, warm, with friends all around. (Group picture from left to right: Dave from Andiamo, Chris from Tao, Julia from Pisces, Matt and Thai from Kaalelewa, Shawn from Tao, and Jacob from Pisces) We did yoga on the beach, rolled down sandy dunes, head first waterslides and trains at the Casa de Los Suenos on the other end of the bay, and night climbing under the near full moon with Eeyore at the base of the climb. Love it! The next day around lunch we got underway to head north, toward an extraordinary buddy-boat sailing experience with Pisces an hour ahead and Kaalelewa an hour behind us aboard Tao.

It was an exciting exit with onshore breezes, a negative tide and a reef a few boat lengths off our starboard as we weighed anchor. However, it went smoothly as we fell off to the port and tacked out of what had become quite a busy anchorage. We waved to our Portland based friends on Cotton who were likely down below at the time playing trumpet making their next music video. An hour or so later when we neared the Canal de Cerralvo between Isla Cerralvo and Bahia la Ventana on the east side of the Baja peninsula, we turned directly downwind (yes, we had southerlies!) and popped up (OK, maybe it wasn't that quick) our spinnaker for the first time ever! For 3 solid hours we had the most amazing spinnaker sail north through the channel. It was so well balanced that Grizzly came up on deck to check out what new anchorage we must be in and was surprised by the colorful sail aloft. As the land squeezed together the winds picked up from 5 to 10 to not quite 20 knots, just as had been reported by Pisces in the lead, we were going nearly hull speed (7.2 knots) and Chris took over for Moni who was overcorrecting a bit much to keep the spinnaker full. Sunset approached and although we didn't want it to come to an end, decided to take the spinnaker down to prepare for the coming night sail through the Lorenzo Channel. After taking the kite down we realized there was a fish on! First we had to get the boat sailing again, which meant turning up into the wind, raising the 100% jib, lowering the main, and falling off again, then Chris brought in a beautiful fish, much different from the previous dorado. A radio call to Kaalelewa with a fish identification book helped us identify it as a stout Pacific Bonito. Sunset can be a busy time as Chris cleaned our Bonito underway, easier his second time and likely helped by running with instead of beating into the wind.

There was plenty of wind to get us through the well marked Lorenzo Channel between Baja and Isla del Espiritu Santo, into Bahia de La Paz. The lights and hum of the city were overwhelming and once on the inside of the island throughout the night, the winds abated, then stopped altogether. We slowly drifted away from La Paz, all the while with Pisces' tricolor burning brightly across the bay in similar becalmed conditions. Just before sunrise the winds filled in from the NNW and we were again headed upwind this time only with Pisces as Kaalelewa had set a course for La Paz to deal with family issues in Brazil (good luck and we look forward to seeing you two upon return, keep in touch!). A few hours later after a mellow upwind sail spent watching Pisces tacking and dolphins fishing, we reached the north end of Isla Partida nearly connected to Isla del Espiritu Santo and we set the hook in the recently deserted southern end of Ensenada Grande.

We spent two days in this little piece of paradise with Pisces. We swayed in the hammock watching the full moon, hiked to the east side of the island, snorkeled in warm blue-green water with rays, angel fish and scallops, stumbled upon blue-footed boobies, enjoyed dinners and random deep discussions ranging from savoring each moment of this adventure to commiserating on the difficulties of being away from family and/or getting difficult news from afar to simultaneously planning the rest of our lives, got a round of scrabble in (yay triple word score "quiz"), and learned to never again climb the mast in sloppy left over seas unless truly necessary. Yesterday (Wednesday March 11th) we weighed anchor and sailed with Pisces a few miles down the west coast of the islands. It was a busy day with a photo shoot of each others boats along the way (it sure is exciting to see what we look like from afar) and both of us sailing off and then onto anchor at our current home in Caleta el Candelero on Isla del Espiritu Santo, a spot that immediately inspired sunset guitar strumming, painting and of course happy hour. And the adventures continue...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Passage: Los Frailes to Ensenada de los Muertos

Passage: Los Frailes to Ensenada de los Muertos
Travel time: 25 hours plus 7 hours hove-to awaiting sunrise
Average speed: 4.15 knots
Approximate mileage: 47-nm as crow flies, but 100-nm tacking directly into 15 knot winds
Engine hours: 0
MVP: Mr. Mahi who donated himself to our first attempts at self sufficiency

We had planned to leave Los Frailes just before sunset but upon returning to Tao from our “town” excursion, we could see out to sea there was absolutely not a breath of wind. So, change of plans, we got the boat prepped to sail, watched the Manta rays dance and flip their goodbyes to us and caught 6 hours of rest. We awoke at midnight and sailed off our anchor about an hour later in the pitch dark of the new moon with stars ablaze. We headed directly offshore on a beautifully fresh breeze with flat seas having had no time to build. After getting the boat settled into passage mode, Shawn took watch and Chris hit the sea berth to catch some sleep before the next big day of upwind sailing.

The sun rose beautifully, we listened to the weather forecasts, and switched watches. We’d been heading offshore about 20-nm to the central Sea and tacking back to within 2-nm of land, cruising along at a clip above 4 knots, but slowly inching our way north up the coast. Close to mid-day, when we were both on deck and far offshore, we realized that there was a fish on! Chris had set up a hand line (4-ft ½-in bungee attached to our life line stanchion, with 30-ft 3/8-in dock line attached with an Ashley bend, plus 60-ft of 100-lb test mono filament and 6-ft of stainless leader, ending with a green squid and single barbed hook;Thanks to all of you who have helped us with fishing). Shawn took over the boat and Chris hauled in his first fish, a beautiful 20-lb male mahi mahi. We had been well prepared from asking everyone what to expect, but it was still a very emotional experience for all involved. Chris did an amazing job of cleaning him on the high side of the boat underway and Shawn turned on the refrigerator so we could keep the precious meat fresh to share with our friends at anchor and did some 5.12 climbing moves in the galley to cook fresh rice while heeling 25-degrees close-hauled in 15 knots of wind and 4-ft seas.

It turned out we weren’t going to make it to the anchorage by night fall, so we radioed our buddy boat Pisces who had gotten there a day or so previous so they didn’t worry. Both they and Cats Paw assured us that this was a very easy anchorage and were willing to help talk us in under the cloak of night, but since there was no pending emergency, we decided to be conservative and settled in for another night at sea. We reached a few miles off our destination about midnight and hove-to for the rest of the night, watched the anchor lights of those already comfortably anchored in our destination and awaited sunrise. Eight hours later we sailed into our current home; a big spacious beach lined anchorage, waved at our friends, set the hook, put up the hammock and took a nap.

Ensenada de los Muertos is about 60 miles south of La Paz and we have enjoyed much time here (nearly a week?!). We spent two days hunkered down in its safety as 40 knot winds blew over and sand blew off the spit of land we’re anchored behind. Since then, we’ve snorkeled in nearby coral reefs, made an exciting trip to town with Julia from Pisces to do a mini-provision and socialized with the young lively crowd we’ve found (Pisces, Cotton, Kaalelewa, Andiamo). It’s fun to meet others in the same part of their lives and who understand and have even chosen similar sacrifices that we have. With many shared meals and beverages, we’ve heard and shared many exciting sea-stories, eaten very well and (Shawn and Julia) are practicing bread/tortilla making skills. Still, as does everything, it requires a balance as it is easy to fall into the social scene, forget to look around, get caught up trying to make everyone else in the anchorage happy, and lose sight of our own vision(s). We’ve just listened to the weather (which tends to take up the entire morning) and are leaning toward starting preparations to weigh anchor tomorrow and find another new beautiful home in the next few days. Until then, we’re going to enjoy being here in this amazing place with our new cruising family.