25th April 2006 -- 4th August 2006
A (pronounced Ďahí in Spanish) is, of course, the start of the alphabet. In some ways, the last three months have felt like the true start of this cruising life. I know that doesnít make sense given itís been 14 months since I officially cast off the dock linesÖ but then Iíve decided that making sense isnít necessarily a very important part of life.
Perhaps the reason I feel this way, and certainly the most significant and exciting change in my life, has been having Alene aboard. For those who read Migrations #3 back in April, you know that we met and sailed together for a week last December. Then Alene returned in March and helped me finish the big refit in Puerto Vallarta. My last missive had us ready to depart Mazatlan for the Baja.
Since then, Alene and I have sailed over 1,600 miles through all kinds of weather and conditions. Together nearly all the time. Trudging through hot, dusty towns to provision. Watching whales while sitting on deck at sunset. Escaping onslaughts of bees. Hiking across islands cluttered with cacti. Snorkeling with squid. Swimming with dolphins. Catching fish. Diving for scallops. Weathering chubascos. Fixing the boat. Sailing in heavy weather and ghosting through calms. Making friends. Leaving them.
After all that, and probably only 20 hours apart in the last three months, we are still incredibly fond of each other. And not once have we attempted to push the other overboard while underway in the middle of the night.
Alene is terrific. I love her very much.
Alene with the catch of the day.
What happens after you eat a grosella (red currant) paleta.
Altata is a town on the west coast of Mexico about 100 miles north of Mazatlan. Itís situated on an estuary guarded by a shallow bar. (A bar is a sand bank found where rivers and estuaries meet the sea). Bars are not fun. Even if you donít go aground on them they can still make your life miserable by kicking up huge waves. Several years ago a couple of cruising boats decided to visit Altata and they have since shared the GPS waypoints for navigating the bar and estuary. We decided we needed an adventure so we departed Mazatlan for Altata at the end of April. We arrived after an overnight passage. The GPS waypoints were excellent and we had no problems as we made our way between the breakers.
Altata was wonderful. Itís a seaside getaway for the city of CuliacŠn, the capitol of Sinaloa. No gringos. Friendly locals. Incredible sunsets. We were the only cruising boat there. The owner of one of the restaurants, La Perla, welcomes cruisers and has set up a wall in his restaurant to be signed by all boats. Migration was the 45th boat to visit.
Altata breakers over the bar.
The Baja California peninsula and the Sea of Cortez are awesome. Not as in awesome, dude. But in grand, overwhelming, remarkable, breathtaking, awe-inspiring.
We left Altata to sail the 200 miles across the Sea of Cortez to Puerto Escondido on the Baja side. We started the voyage with fine weather. By afternoon we had a stiff wind and steep seas. Then light winds for 2 days. We sailed the entire wayÖ sometimes just ghosting along at 1 Ĺ knots. It was a fine voyage, except for the water we found in the bilge of the port amaÖ.
I wonít go into too much detail on this, but those stiff seas at the start of the passage did some damage to the underside of the port wing deck. Migration is a fine boatÖ but an old one. She was built in 1969 in Japan. The problem is that 37-year old polyester resin doesnít hold as well as it once did. So, as always, more work lies ahead. The wing deck will require repair and new fiberglass. In the meantime, Alene and I did a temporary repair in Puerto Escondido so we could continue our summer cruising. Fiberglassing upside down from the dinghy is interesting, hot, hard on the neck, and gooey. It is not fun.
A FESTIVAL (canít think of a good A word)
Puerto Escondido is a wonderful natural harbor that can hold hundreds of boats. Each year some of the folks who live in the area put on LORETOFEST. A gathering of cruising boats for music, games and food. We had a good time: crewed in a regatta (on another boat), raced in the dingy race (First Place in the 3.3-4 horsepower division!), volunteered to bartend, played games, met some old friends and made lots of new ones.
But we needed some real cruising.
Back to AWESOME
The Sea of Cortez has 29 islands scattered along its 700 mile length. We visited 12 islands, 25 anchorages on the Baja and sailed along 450 miles of coastline. There are only four small towns in 400 miles: Santa Rosalia, Mulege, Loreto and Bahia de Los Angeles. All have their own character. Santa Rosalia was one of our favorites Ė an old French mining town (that happens to have the best mango paletas Ė Mexican fresh fruit popsicles Ė in the world). We anchored near town when we needed to provision and spent the rest of the time out at the islands or at one of the coves or bays along the coast.
We sailed north, taking our time. Stopping in some anchorages for only a day and others for several days. Sometimes buddy-boating with friends, sometimes on our own. We were on a search for whale sharks. And the place to find them, we had heard, was Bahia de Los Angeles.
Bahia de Los Angeles (Bay of the Angels) and Isla Angel de la Guarda (Island of the Guardian Angel) are in Baja California Norte. The north tip of Isla Angel de la Guarda has a great anchorage called Puerto Refugio. We arrived in late June. We were the only cruising boat in the area as most boats come that far north later in the summer (itís a good place to wait out hurricane season). It was strange to be so close to friends and family (less than 350 nautical miles to Long Beach!) yet in such a remote and lonely place. Incredible to see far more whales than airplanes; dozens more dolphins than automobiles. During the new moon, stars lit up the entire sky and the Milky Way ran from horizon to horizon. Bright satellites sped across the speckled sky every evening.
We didnít find whale sharks. We were told it was a little too early for them as the water hadnít warmed up enough. But we did see fin whales (the second largest whale after the blue) nearly every day. We caught some fish and were given many pounds of fresh yellowtail from gringo fishermen who had hooked too many. We snorkeled and explored and spent hours marveling at the beauty of the Baja. The light is indescribable Ė changing every few minutes as it plays on the remarkable colors of the islands and cliffs. No picture we took ever did it justice. We finally gave up trying and just sat and stared and enjoyed.
I often am asked what we do all day. There is no typical day on the sea. Everything changes depending on the weather, your mood, the seaís mood, or if a neighboring boat dinghies over and says ďHey, weíre going snorkeling for clams out at the reef today. Wanna come?Ē
But here is one day that certainly wasnít typical but may give you an idea.
This day was atypical in that we usually donít have 2 sails rip. In fact, this was the first time we had sail problems. But, as you can see, we donít just lie around all the time.
Patrick and Marion, friends from Holland, were due to meet us in Bahia Concepcion on July 4th. We planned on being there for a big cruiser shindig. So we left Baja California Norte and headed south. We had a great party on the 4th with 30 other boats. Patrick and Marion arrived in time for the fireworks. We spent 2 weeks together cruising down to the Loreto area.
I love to share the experience of this life with friends and family. When I say experience I mean the whole thing. Thus it was at 3AM one night with Patrick and Marion aboard that we were hit with a chubasco. Tall mountains run through mainland Mexico Ė The Sierra Madres. In the summer, convection over the mountains causes the formation of huge thunderstorms that sometimes sweep across the Sea and make life interesting for cruisers. The bad news is that winds can reach 60 knots in only a few moments. The good news is that the storms usually last for only an hour or so. This chubasco had winds to about 40 in the area where we were anchored. Unfortunately it came from the north which provided us with no protection. It is amazing how fast waves can build in strong winds. Our stern was only 30 meters or so from the beach and we were in shallow water. I made the decision to raise the anchor and leave. It was dark and windy and the lightning struck all around. Waves crashed over the boat. It was exciting. Once clear of the anchorage we turned south and sailed with the storm (itís always easier to have the wind behind the boat rather than bashing head-on into it). With only a tiny scrap of jib exposed we ran down at 5 knots. An hour and a half later we slowly motored back into the dying seas. At 6AM, the sun coming up over Isla Carmen, we dropped the hook in the same spot. Wet, salty, but in one piece.
Now, not all experiences are quite so harrowing. The day Patrick and Marion were to leave, we happened to be anchored in the same bay. We raised anchor to sail the 12 miles to Loreto where they were to catch their flight. As we made ready to hoist the sails we found we were surrounded by dolphins. Stop everything, turn off the engine and grab your mask. Is there a better way to end a visit than by swimming with dolphins? When Alene and I returned to the anchorage that evening, they were still there. So we just had to swim with them again.
A TROPICAL STORM (another cheap use of the letter A)
Alene and I continued south. It was July and hurricane season was in full swing. Luckily it had been a light one with only four named storms all of which had headed out to the Pacific. Tropical Storm Emilia decided to visit the Baja. Luckily, she passed on the outside (the western shore) although only 95 miles from where we anchored for four days to wait for the weather to pass. Lots of rain and wind but really no danger. Just one very exciting night as a chubasco, probably blown over from the mainland by Emiliaís winds, hit us hard at midnight. Driving rain and wind in total darkness. Definitely stronger than our first storm. This time we had better protection from the waves and the anchor held us firm.
ADVENTURES AND MORE
There is so much more to tell: How fascinating the country of Mexico is. How nice the people. How interesting the language. The friends we made. The movie parties aboard Migration (using a multimedia projector to project the movies onto our sideways-hung awning)...
Pizza parties. Game parties. Working on the boat (of course!). What itís like to not read a newspaper for 3 months (wonderful, actually). Learning to cook new foods. I even did some writing and earned some money. I canít remember most of it, although I could look it up in my journal. Mostly, though, my head is filled with visions of the light playing on the colors of the beautiful lands of the Baja. And my heart is filled with a deep sense of peace that became common as Alene and I sat at sunset, sipping our Negro Modelo and watching the pelicans glide home. Though I believe Iím traveling through this life with a purpose and that I should accomplish something to better the world, at those times, the light fading and the evening star just making itself known, I felt that there is nothing to accomplish. That what I see, and what I feel Ė jus to be on this beautiful planet Ė is, simply, enough.
On 4th August we rented a car and Alene drove me to the airport in San Jose del Cabo. Iíll be in LA for a few months attending the SCBWI Board Meeting and Conference, doing some consulting at the law firm I used to work for, seeing family and friends and (of course) buying parts for the boat. Alene will head back to Ohio to visit family. Migration is tucked into a marina for the remainder of the hurricane season Ė tied in a web of lines and fenders with all sails stripped. Hopefully the days of preparation will be for naught and no storms will come her way.
In early October Iíll be aboard again. Repair the wing deck and get her ready for sea. ThenÖ south. Toward more adventures and, perhaps, a different letter of the alphabet.
Thanks for reading.
P.S. Don't forget that Cows Going Past is still available at a bookstore near you!
1,627 nautical miles traveled this period.
This site was last updated 01/31/12