Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Midriff Islands (July 15-23, 2010)

As the sun rose we sailed out of Puerto Don Juan on the slightest of breeze to cross the Canal de Ballenas toward Isla Angel de la Guarda (AdlG). Winds were light, then nonexistent, then light. Dolphins played in the calm waters, we made HAM radio contact with our friends on Mystic, and as we coasted along Chris spotted a whale- just resting, barely breaking the surface. We were sailing ever so slowly that it didn’t notice us until we were close enough to see its blowhole opening and closing! Finally this majestic giant sensed our presence and dove (or sounded as Chris argued the words mean the same thing); someday we’ll capture it on film… The question over sounding’s equivalence to diving inspired us to break out the whale and dolphin book that Shawn’s grandmother had given us and take turns reading aloud as we slowly progressed.

Tao closed in on the southern tip of Isla AdlG and the currents took over sweeping past the end of the island. As the slight winds were not enough to move us the correct direction, and our goal, Isla Estanque's (Pond Island), entrance must be specifically timed according to tides and currents, we decided to do some motoring. Rounding the tip of AdlG, we found that there is a ridge (that we guess connects AdlG to Isla Partida the next midriff island to the south) to cross with depths changing at an unsettling pace from very deep to a minimum of 65-ft; just one more factor helping to create the strange water movement and waves in the area. Another 6-nm and we reached Estanque, a tiny island off the SE tip of Isla AdlG. Approach is very specifically around the east and north sides of the island to enter the very narrow opening at its western side. This approach is required because there is a very shallow (i.e. waves breaking over them at low tide) line of rocks that run SW to connect the little island to the bigger AdlG. Considered a reef, the entrance is not to be approached during an ebb tide, as the currents can sweep you downstream and over the reef.

Motoring directly toward the reef we anxiously awaited the correct bearing at which point we could turn into the entrance. Chris at the helm, and Shawn on the bow we passed into the pond through a 20-ft wide opening flanked on both sides with rocks who's center was marked by a sand spit, we saw saw a minimum depth of 6-ft! Phew! Once inside this pond, really only big enough for one boat, Tao had all weather protection. Two magical days were spent here, checking low tide depths at its entrance as the water drained out of the pond, watching the ebb tide create crashing waves along the reef, hiking up through cactus forests, and spending dusk hiding from no-see-ums (only Shawn as they didn’t bother Chris).

The morning of the 17th we planned to exit on high tide around 0530 in the morning just before switching to the ebb, but we awoke as thunderheads crashed and lightning flashed seemingly just over our little island. We monitored and the cell rapidly moved north of us. With the bulk of the weather passed, though there were still ominous clouds, spitting rain and no sun to illuminate the shallows, we decided to go for it. A bit tense, we weighed anchor and motored out of the pond just as the ebb had started. The tension melted away as we turned away from the reef and with a slight breeze we started to raise sails. However, just on the NE side of Isla Estanque, the ebb had begun and very large confused waves came up out of seemingly nowhere to crash all around. Thankful again for Yannie, once clear of that, we got our sail on and had a quick and lively sail south toward our next goal: Isla Partida a mere 10-nm south.

The lingering stormy conditions motivated us to dig out our foul weather gear just in case. A morning check in on the Amigo net told us that s/v Juniata was still anchored at Isla Partida; it would be nice to have a little company as until now we'd seen very few sailors. We entered the NW anchorage under jib alone and did several passes before agreeing upon the perfect anchoring spot; safe from both the current SE winds as well as the possible nighttime westerlies and far enough away from our new neighbors. Moments after we set Rocky, still closing the boat down, the skies opened with a downpour of freshwater. The relatively cool temperatures motivated Chris to take an unheard of nap and Shawn to do some baking- empanadas (chorizo and mashed potato filled for dinner and peach and cinnamon filled with a citrus icing drizzle for dessert). Though time was short we spent two comfortable days here visiting with Juniata over fresh yellowtail sashimi, snorkeling in the clear waters, and circumnavigating the little island in Eeyore.

The morning of the 19th, we awoke and waited for wind. Shawn, having managed to get stung and bitten by a wasp on her inner thigh and was having quite a reaction, decided to take a Benadryl and was out. Around noon the winds came up every so light, Shawn roused to help weigh anchor and get canvas up then crashed again as Chris sailed on variable wisps of wind. A few hours later, Benadryl effects waning Shawn took over on deck and after being baked on deck in the sun Chris took a much needed respite down below. Winds were still very light and getting lighter and we were contemplating Yannie as we watched fish fins cut through the calm seas and listened to birds chatter flying between islands. Our patience paid off as a fresh breeze filled in from the SW and we had beautiful sailing for the second 5-nm of our journey to Isla Salsipuedes. We took anchorage in the north slot of Isla Salsipuedes (Leave if you can Island), a most beautiful island. With bow and stern hooks out in the narrow slot, we enjoyed two mellow nights here, and one amazing day hiking to the high point for a view, snorkeling and completing another circumnavigation in Eeyore (making sure to stay close to shore in case of strong currents).

Feeling the pressure of time until Shawn's flight and Chris' guiding, the morning of the 21st we weighed anchor(s) and hopped the short distance to the NW anchorage on Isla Las Animas. Planning to start our northern crossing back to San Carlos that afternoon, we set the hook and hiked up to check conditions in the Salsipuedes Channel. Winds came in strong. With recent memories of our travels upwind in Canal de las Ballenas, conditions did not look comfortable. Or, maybe it was that we didn’t want to leave, so we didn’t. We spent the post-hike afternoon snorkeling all around the anchorage and generally continuing to enjoy our time in the Midriffs.

Waiting for the ebb tide to pass through the channel, we were prepared to leave, but didn’t until the next afternoon. At that point, the winds had cut in half and we had a very pleasant upwind sail south through the channel. That is, until the winds shut off at the southern end of Isla San Lorenzo right around happy hour. We wallowed in the strange waves and currents and listened to the southbound net weather. The famous Don Anderson weather report of “No wind” usually meaning no winds more than 30-knots in any specific direction, this time meant, literally nothing and also no expected Chubascos. Yannie came on and we cut quickly through the water, Captain Tilly was employed and had to work quite hard to keep us on course with the currents pushing us back toward the Midriffs. We had dinner, figured out our watch schedule, and watched the sun set one last time over Baja. And we motored, and we motored, and still we motored. We had given up our crossing with wind by spending an extra day on Isla Las Animas- completely worth it (and that is coming from Shawn who is generally against motoring except for safety). With time constraints we were forced to make choices and in our estimation, testing the motor was a fine compromise for squeezing in just a little bit more time in the Midriffs.

Our crossing was relatively uneventful. Nearly full moon created bright skies still filled with stars. While passing to the south of Isla San Pedro Martir, a cargo ship steamed quickly by, likely destined for Puerto Penasco. No wind conditions held through the entire night and Yannie was brilliant. Her first real test since all of the recent work on her- her longest stint of consecutive running ever, nearly 15 hours! The next morning as Isla San Pedro Nolasco came into view, winds finally piped up, sails were set and the engine was given a rest. We enjoyed immensely, 6-hrs more of great sailing, with a wing-on-wing downwind for the final leg into San Carlos (that was the only real downwind sailing this whole trip!). With an exciting sailing entrance on gusts from different directions around the mountains into the harbor, we set the hook and took a breath before shifting our thinking to putting Tao away for a couple months of rest.

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