Our Life

The Adventures of Mike and Kelly At Sea

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Holidays in Baja California, Mexico

The luscious turquoise waters gently lap against the hull of Maluhia and we gyrate in sync with the motion establishing equilibrium. We are venerable like babies, cocooned in our giant cradle dependent on mother nature to safeguard us from harm’s way. Sweetly rocking and dancing over the glimmering sea, we warm our pallid limbs in the sun feeling the frigid stiffness melt away. Suddenly, our equilibrium and placid, fleeting moment is disrupted by a jolt in MaWhale Tail Slapluhia’s steady rhythm. The fiendish sea starts to rear its antipodal head shifting to an electric indigo blue spuming, frothing, and growing exponentially. The swells build behind us, impending doom over our cockpit, shadowing our sunny paradise, and threatening to enter our safe haven. Shifting gears in an instant, we scramble to adjust our sails and course finding a comfortable and safe point of sail that will endure the sea’s manic mood. Mother nature, like any good parent, smiles at the lesson she has taught us, always keeping us on our toes and being prepared for anything. The sea is not a force to be reckoned with; we are wholly at her expense with the utmost respect.

We glide into a different rhythm that suits the new face of Poseidon for the moment, and our bodies assume a new motion that jives with the rougher, rollier conditions. Such is the case while offshore, you never really know what you are going to get. Extensive planning and weather routing only provide a fraction of what one might expect out here, but you can never solely rely on what others try to predict DSC07016for what nature has in store. Regardless, we love being out here. The dynamic nature of the elements keeps us active and sharp. It is different out here compared to coastal sailing, and we both much prefer the challenges that exist offshore. It is peaceful being surrounded by endless blue and not worrying about hitting rocks or a fleet of other sailboats following the same course. We keep watch for ships and any other oddities, but it isn’t overwhelming. It is just nice to finally be able to sail!

It was Christmas Eve when we departed Ensenada, Mexico and we were ready to get moving to the promised warmer climate that we had been hearing about from other cruisers further south via the SSB radio net. After we finished up our quick projects (not that cutting out an engine mount and realigning ouMike's big helper Bartr snug engine is necessarily a quick project, but in the grand scheme of things…), we were really eager to sail. Fortunately, the weather was forecasting winds in a favorable direction and of decent velocity, so we decided to just take off and by pass the majority of the Baja Pacific coast in order to get to better weather and to finally get a chance to sail the boat.  We didn’t regret missing some of the famous stops as we were able to experience this coast a few years back when we did a delivery on a different vessel. We set our course to take us about 100 miles offshore and sat back and relaxed for a nice four day passage down the coast.

After four days, we opted to stop in a little bay called Bahia Santa Maria, which was DSC07045a very picturesque bay with gleaming golden sand dunes fading into neon green mangroves with towering mountains surrounding the entrance and protecting the anchorage. Upon anchoring, we delighted in the warmth of the sun that we have so dearly been missing since we left Hawaii and took advantage of it by airing out our damp blankets and washing our warm “passage clothes”. There was only one other boat in the entire bay, a lovely couple Jaime and Elaine aboard Tardis, who we greatly enjoyed getting to know over cocktails and appetizers. At last we were settling into the cruising life!

It took no time for the fishermen in their pangas to head out to MaluDSC07046hia to see what goodies we might have in store for them to trade for lobsters. This is what we had been waiting for! Mike was first out of bed to greet the eager fisherman knocking on our hull, while I sat back and listened to the comic relief of the communication between the two. Mike was adding –a’s and –o’s to the end of English words while contorting his voice into his best version of a Spanish accent, while the fisherman excitedly rattled on in Spanish barely taking a breath. I was in a fit of laughter at the entire communication until Mike finally yelled, “Kelly! I need your help!” I was armed with my basic Spanish and ready to barter, but to my dismay I realized my Spanish was definitely not up to par. I am not sure how it was possible for the fisherman to speak any faster, but he did so  DSC07060upon my arrival at the hopes that I would be able to understand him. We struggled through conversation and I finally realized that he was asking us for candy and Coke for his children in exchange for four little lobsters. We weren’t prepared at all…funny how all of the guide books and advice that we had received before leaving failed to mention what the fisherman trade for down here. We were stumped, but we really wanted some lobster and in the end we ended up trading a few AA batteries for two giant lobsters. Given the price of batteries here, we probably got a bad deal on the exchange, but it was a valuable lesson learned and a very entertaining experience. Later we found out that other cruisers were trading baked goods and clothing…so it seems that anything really goes as long as it isn’t money (although I am sure that would work too even though it isn’t supposed to since it is a controlled Coop).

Our two days in Santa Maria were just what we needed to get into our cruising groove, but we had to say farewell to make the most of the weather that was coming in our favor. We left the beautiful bay and our friends on Tardis to make tracks to round the cape of the Baja Peninsula. Unfortunately, it appeared that the days of beautiful sailing were over for us. The winds were fleeting, teasing us into a stellar DSC07063sail straight away and then dying permanently just as we started to make a decent headway into our passage. We found ourselves motoring and hand-steering, our least favorite thing to do. The passage took us longer than we anticipated, and we approached Cabo San Lucas at nightfall debating whether we should carry on or make a pit stop and wait for better weather. We both were reluctant to stop in Cabo, as we had been there before and we knew that it was not only expensive, but over crowded with tourist, had a terrible anchorage, and it was pitch dark making it a challenge to even attempt to anchor properly. We debated it over and over again, until finally we decided to stop because we were both clearly worn out from motoring and to go on would not be prudent. We struggled to see anything as we tried to set our anchor DSC07079and then luckily spotted a fellow sailboat through an awesome night vision scope that my dad gave us awhile back. Just as we started to settle in, Mike turned to me and said “Happy New Year love” and we savored a sweet moment while listening to all the parties on shore. As we reflected on 2012, we felt a huge sense of relief to be out here chasing our dream. Our past year was jammed pack with major significant life events including buying Maluhia, getting married, crossing the Pacific, sailing the entirety of the Pacific coast of North America starting in San Francisco, and spending every major holiday at sea sailing and doing what we love. Feeling a sense of accomplishment, we had no problem settling into slumber that night dreaming of all the adventures that awaited us in 2013.  

Cabo was nothing to write home about, and we knew this from the start. As soon as the sun rises, the bay comes alive with jet skiers and small tour bDSC05204oats zooming about. We woke up to the noise of young girls screaming and giggling as they came dangerously close to our hull in a speeding jet ski. It was mayhem and we quickly took off to shore to escape the madness and get our provisioning done. Just as we left our boat, however, a panga with 4 officials came up to us and handed us a document about an anchoring fee. They were asking us to pay $20.00 a night to anchor, which is a complete rip off. When we asked the man why, he told us it was for our protection. We knew this was false, but that is all he could say, so we told him we would rather go to the office to see what was up. It turned into a bit of a wild goose chase and we eventually ended up in a parking lot booth with some man DSC05197telling us that it was a fee for tourism and that while it is mandatory, it is not monitored by the government so many boaters do not pay. They did, however, assure us they had our vessel documented with photos and they would report us to the Port Captain if we didn’t pay. We reluctantly forked over the money for one night. Welcome to Mexico!

We spent four days too many in Cabo waiting for our weather window and we enjoyed the company of fellow cruiser friends  that we had met up in California over a month ago. All of us were eager to get to the next anchorage around the Cape to a bay called Los Friales, our first official stop in the Sea of Cortez, but as usual, theDSC07086 weather had a different plan for us. We left Cabo before sunrise and headed out into a brutal beat tacking back and forth along the cape. It was great to be sailing, but it was taking us much longer than we anticipated due to all the tacking. We eventually followed suit of the other cruisers ahead of us and took refuge in San Jose Del Cabo to not only wait for better weather, but to also help out our friends who had torn one of their sails during the rough passage. It was a quiet, little (pricey) marina, but we busied ourselves with boat projects and swimming in the neighboring resort’s pool and hot tub to make it all worthwhile.

While we were in the marina, we ended up bumping into a cruising couple that we met in Redwood DSC07092City back in October. They left about a month after us and had already caught up to us. They are cruising on a Nordhaven 62 called Grey Matter, so naturally their trip was a bit calmer and faster than ours was! Although they were moving much quicker than we were, we would have the opportunity to catch up with them many times in the bays to come. The cruising world continues to get smaller and smaller…

From our short amount of experience cruising in Mexican waters, we have discovered that the winds either blow strong in the wrong direction or they don’t blow at all. This provides a bit of a challenge for those of us who love to sail. The anchorages are spaced roughly 35-75 miles apart, which would normally be a nice day sail if the conditions are right. We have not been so fortunate.DSC07096 For us, no wind means slow motoring and hand-steering, and winds in the wrong direction means lots of tacking and a bumpy ride. Both scenarios mean that we either have to travel through the night so we can arrive during daylight, or we take a chance leaving early in the morning and hope to arrive before the sunsets. We always opt for the former and have grown accustomed to night passages, even though we don’t care for them because we can’t fish and we miss out on seeing the coast. We tough it up though and continue to press on from San Jose del Cabo stopping off in two idyllic little bays called Los Friales and Los Muertos. We tried to adhere to the 3 day rule when we got to both bays, allowing one day for boat projects, one day to explore the sea, and one day to explore the land. Naturally, the weather was our ultimate decision maker, DSC02662so we spent about a week in Los Friales after attempting to leave and not even making 1 mile of headway North due to the strong winds from the wrong direction. Mother nature was trying to tell us to slow down and enjoy our surroundings, so we did just that. We enjoyed catching up with friends and exploring these little bays, and we even got brave enough to go for a swim. WOW it was chilly!!! Mike did his usual fish hunting, while I snorkeled around a bit with a friend trying not to catch hypothermia. I lasted about 30 minutes and then turned blue and resolved not to get back into the water until it warmed up!

The stop overs in the little bays were delightful, but there was repDSC02647ort of a serious weather system coming through and we needed to get serious about finding a safe place to hunker down and wait it out. We researched weather windows with our friends on Tardis, and finally decided to make a run for La Paz. Another night passage of hand steering awaited us, but this time we couldn’t lolly gag. We had a narrow window and we knew the weather system would not be forgiving. As we approached La Paz, we spotted one of our friends anchored in a tiny bay just before the channel entrance. They had left about 12 hours before us and as we rafted up to them, tDSC07111hey told us of their crazy passage with howling winds and big seas. It made us glad that we had waited for the wind to die down. With our friends help via their cell phone, we  managed to secure the last two slips available out of the many marinas in La Paz. We opted for a week in the marina to wait out the storm and become acquainted with La Paz. It was a much needed time to relax, work on boat projects, and delight in the fact that we didn’t have to endure the major weather system out on anchor.

It has taken us awhile to slow down and get to cruiser speed, but we feel like we are finally there. So far settling into La Paz has been a treat and so we have decided to spend a bit of time here to get out boat fixed up and to wait for warmer weather before venturing further into the Sea.


Mike catching a huge (~40lb) Wahoo for Christmas dinner!