Tag Archives: Baja

The Bugs of the Sea of Cortez

Another Perfect Day

Anchor holding in San Francisco off Bay View Boat Club. I spent the night on the hook. Here in 1980 I visited the club to attend a meeting of the Dinghy Cruising Association. The DCA trains sailors to cruise by dinghy. Sailing long distances, sleeping and eating aboard a 14’ sailboat requires considerable planning and skill.

Because of the DCA I took my sailboat by trailer to the Sea of Cortez in 1985. There my girlfriend and I sailed off to the islands near Bahia de Los Angeles. Aside from having every kind of bee, wasp, hornet, fly, mosquito, and noseeums feasting upon our flesh it was an altogether unremarkable sailing experience.

Bay View Boat Club circa March 2020

Then while digging out a site for our tent we encountered an unusually significant number of small scorpions living in the soil. Then, there was the matter of the enormous iguana population. Like everywhere we went the iguanas were perched on rock and rim top of every hill and canyon we explored.

Fortunately because of very high winds for 48 hours we were allowed the pleasure of exploring without the insects as they were grounded by the weather. Not so much the iguanas or the scorpions. We had thought it might be prudent to retreat back to the village from where we started but that would need to wait for winds to recede. 

With such violent winds blowing we dragged the sailboat up onto the beach. To secure the boat we collected large volcanic rocks and filled the hull half full to keep the boat from blowing away. Our tent the only safe bug free location on the island failed the first night and we slept with makeshift poles we fashioned from remenants of trees that had been washed up in our lagoon.

An adorable field mouse with a rather unique kangaroo styled set of rear legs spent evenings jumping up and peeking at us inside our tent. It was almost cute, A flashlight was used to dash down to the sandy shoreline at night where the worlds largest outhouse without the house and with the out was located.

Island Magic

Bring lots of bug repellent if you intend to go Sea of Cortez island hopping. Depending upon the time of year there are less or more insects. I’m telling you so you know. As best I can tell this travel tip is rarely mentioned. I don’t know what islands the other writers have been visiting but the islands I visited were the buggiest places I have ever visited until a few years back trying to make my way to shore through a mangrove forest twenty miles out of Key West on another uninhabited island or key as Florida describes them.

I prefer my adventures to be not too hot and not too cold. Not too dry and not too wet. Not too dull and not too exciting. I think adventure by sailboat is most often in the range of what we might all consider reasonable. But, you know like all those workshops you attend, all the bolt cutting, emergency transponders, life rafts and flare guns you stow aboard but seem to never use? Maybe you just might want to reconsider why a previous adventurer is suggesting you be prepared.

About two miles up the bay there is a cruise ship terminal. Offshore there is a ship that has been ordered to standoff the coast. Aboard a passenger has died as the result of contracting the coronavirus. Death is no laughing matter. Heartbroken survivors of the deceased will forever be changed by this event. Still we are going to need to to buck ourselves up and get up and get on with our lives. I’d imagined sailing alone on the bay for a few days would provide a respite.

Downtown San Francisco

I’m seeing a weekend of weeding in the garden, a walk with my wife on a trail, and lots of popcorn and binge watching some as yet unseen Netflix series. This might be a good time to remain in place, at least here in Northern California. I think we all know people who haven’t changed one thing yet. That won’t be true much longer. Take care of yourselves out there.

Southbound Along Baja

Charting Passage South

Departed San Diego on November 19th at 0830 hours. We arrived in San Jose del Cabo on the southern tip of the Baja peninsula on December 1st at 1030 hours. We made stops in Ensenada, Turtle and Magdalena Bay before arriving at the southernmost tip of Baja in San Jose del Cabo.

The length of the entire trip was somewhere near 750 miles. We were offshore overnight on four of our legs. Conditions between Turtle Bay and Magdalena Bay were the least agreeable. Wind was blowing us down the coast more often than not. The leg between Turtle and Magdalena Bay was sailed against the wind. Swell was coming both north and south with steep surface chop beating at us from the west. This made for an uncomfortable ride. That is probably accurate but not the whole story. Miserable is more like the fact of the matter. A real gut buster. Rotten and no good come to mind as well. Could have done without that leg, but that isn’t how sailing works.

From the bow

The two most experienced sailors had been in such uncomfortable sea states before. We kept a close eye on our two other less experienced crew. After a long day sailing south and the boat heeled to port pounding and yawing fatigue and motion sickness began to set in. Fatigue, lethargy, and the inevitable mental confusion. Winds increased overnight to 30 knots with gusts higher. Seas built but it wasn’t their size so much as their chaotic mixing that did the most to make matters uncomfortable.

Nobody was frightened by the rugged day offshore so much as feeling a bit discouraged. Making our way south in late November off Baja is generally expected to be a downhill run. Having to bash our Gulfstar 50 south against the wind in such conditions is an unpleasant motion. We would have avoided the entire mess had weather forecasting large swells expected to make Turtle Bay a mess. We picked what we thought was the least uncomfortable choice. In short we were cornered and did what we had to do.

Most of our way south was much less fraught. Beyond Mag Bay we had a fine warm breeze to set our asymmetrical chute and spent most of the daylight hours driving our boat at 6 knots upon a docile sea. Crew were busy snoozing, making meals or on watch for sea turtles. Attire was shorts and sunscreen, sunglasses and a good hat to fend off a bright sun. The motion of the boat only somewhat later in that long day ever tested our crews mettle. More wind foreword of the middle of the boat, the beam, began to cause mild concern among the now veteran crew. Best of all the two that had taken it the hardest hit on the worst days were now all the wiser more seasoned and capable sailors. Most crew do get their sea legs over time.

We are enjoying shore leave here in San Jose del Cabo. Our boat is being scrubbed clean in preparation for her crossing to Puerto Vallarta. Two of us will fly home to San Francisco to leave the skipper and first mate to negotiate the shorter distances and jumps from harbor to harbor.

In our longer passages we were three hours on during a watch. One watch came every nine hours. Between watches crew either napped, was eating, reading or observing the natural world we were surrounded by. Only the darkest and earliest morning watches were manned by a sole member of the crew. We made sure to keep our least experienced crew scheduled to stand watch on the earlier time slots. Checking the boats progress on her course, using radar to spot any approaching boats, or the AIS to see if more distant ships were closing was most of what a person standing watch was responsible for. Otherwise a quick scan of the horizon and those standing watch had an easy time of their duty.

Being offshore is its own world. You are isolated. There are a thousand and one things changing over the course of a day. Still when the sails are drawing wind and the wake is singing off a speeding hull there is nothing quite so enrapturing and as peaceful a way to wander about this one world we have to care for. Sailing as ever is not just about where a boat takes you, but how a boat stirs a soul. We are transported to distant unexplored interior shores. We arrive at the next port knowing more about what we are made of. Wind power is revelatory in that sense. Sailing is about so much more than merely traveling somewhere.

Every Kind of Phenomena

It’s in the Bag

Packing bags. Leaving on a jet plane. Last night was spent reading Steinbeck’s account of motoring south off Point Sur. The date was March 11, 1940. 

It is one thousand miles from Monterey, California to the southern tip of Baja. Durban to Cape Town measures a thousand miles. New York City to Key West is near the same. 

The French-Vietnamese sailor Bernard Motiessier departed Durban in 1954 ran into the teeth of a gale and for two weeks made no progress to his destination. Only a stubborn few have spent fourteen days off the coast of South Africa battling a stout blow to a draw. 

There is not a zero probability of encountering a gale while making our way south to Cabo, but the chances are slim. High wind could kick up. Given our boat’s displacement we will not likely be pressed too hard. Capability matters when you match a boat to a blow. 

Always have a backup plan. If the first plan becomes untenable try the second or third or fourth. Back in 1954 Moitessie’s could not approach the harbor because of the violent seas nearest shore. Better to stay in deep water than try and approach the coast.

Moitessie lost his most famous boat Joshua while in Cabo San Lucas when the anchorage was suddenly overtaken by unanticipated storm waves. Sketchy weather reports were ignored. That evening local conditions were docile. By nightfall the fleet of sailboats that had not departed were dragged onto the beach where pounding waves finished them off one by one.

The hard won wisdom we earn in our years of messing around on boats is all prequel. First sign of difficulty we will use our boat and judgement We’ll be ready. This is the pleasure of sailing.

To La Paz

Organizing our gear for our trip from San Diego to La Paz is near complete. Having spent ten weeks sailing the coast of California over the past two years makes preparations many times less complicated.

First off there is the matter of flashlights. Aiming a light into a darkened storage locker solves most every kind of first order of problem you can encounter. A second pair of readers, backup sunglasses are a must. 

One toothbrush is fine. One razor is optional. Sunscreen and moisturizers help. Chapstick is a necessity.   

My ragged, dogeared Penguin paperback 1981 reprinted edition of Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez will make the trip. Bernard Moitessier’s Sailing to the Reefs earns an E-ticket as does  Hiscock’s Around the World in Wanderer III. 

Two couples will be making the coastal passage. Each of us will stand a four hour watch every twelve hours. Standing watch will not be a burden.

 The gods would find sailing past Turtle Bay without visiting a boondoggle. Uncorking a protected anchorage is to have a taste of respite from the constant motion while at sea.

This is where will go. We will set sail from here. Here is all hopped up about troubled leadership in Washington. Preparations for Thanksgiving are in evidence. When will it rain and where will the next wildfire strike keeps California on a knife’s edge. 

All of these urgent concerns will soon be off our stern. Our passage will be the meat of the matter. Our time in La Paz will consist of a three days. 

Walking La Paz is on our bucket list. What we will want to understand about this part of Mexico we can learn by exploring on foot. 

Our passage measures somewhere near nine hundred miles. One week sailing add a handful of days at anchor, take the dinghy to shore to walk and explore. By my reckoning if the weather is fair we will celebrate Thanksgiving nestled in the water off La Paz. 

We arrive Saturday. We will provision Sunday and weather allowing will sail south for Ensenada