Well, despite the strong support for continued crazy hair for Larry, he went ahead and got a cut two days ago. I think he partly did it as something to do during our prolonged stay in Santa Barbara waiting for weather to be tolerable to move north. He would probably say I made it pretty clear what he needed to do.
Here’s the before and after :
I made a big hair change too. After growing out my hair color and only getting a cut once or twice during our cruising and the pandemic , I look pretty different now too.
Next on the itinerary after Dana Point was Newport Beach. As we entered the harbor, we were stunned by the sheer density of houses and boats on the shore and in the harbor. We were heading for the (very nice) public docks at Marina Park, which is a couple of miles into the 2.5-3 mile long harbor.
There are some marinas and yacht clubs with docks, but most people keep their boats, from sub-20 footers to fairly large yachts, on mooring balls in one of the many mooring fields that line the harbor. We were fortunate to reserve two nights at the municipal marina so we didn’t have to haul our bikes back and forth to shore in the dingy.
We explored riding on the bike path along the beach and on Lido Island, dined at a boardwalk lunch spot, and later on dingied to dinner at another popular spot with a dingy dock. We also dingied along the entire harbor gawking at houses and boats.
Houses are packed in all along the sides of the harbor and the small islands – Balboa and Lido Islands. Prices range from 2-3 million to as much as 32 million, according to Zillow! And this harbor has the highest concentration of Duffy electric boats we have ever seen. It’s a popular pasttime to tootle around the harbor in these little boats.
Constant work appears to be needed to maintain the beachfront and prevent erosion.
Not much wildlife can persist the in the density of humans in this area, but we did see a few animals.
We enjoyed our two day stay and also got a few chores done. Next stop – Long Beach and our long awaited visit with Miranda!
Our next stop after San Diego was a short hop up the coast to Dana Point. We are spending much of June making short hops in Southern California to explore and wait for our daughter Miranda to join us for a visit before we continue the serious journey the rest of the way home.
Dana Point is the home of the Nordhavn manufacturer Pacific Asian Enterprises, or PAE. They were very gracious and arranged for us to spend our first night on their dock, where they also have boats being commissioned. We met Brian, one of the Project Managers, who gave us a tour of one of their new boats, the N41, and hooked us up with some awesome swag afterward!
Dana Point was under a pall of “June Gloom” the entire time we were there. We rarely saw the sun, which surprised us, since we thought it’s always sunny in Southern California!
Dana Point is named after Richard Henry Dana, the author of Two Years Before the Mast and famous for his descriptions of his few years on a clipper sailing ship in the 1800s. He saw this harbor and felt it was “the only romantic place on the coast”.
The harbor itself is completely man made, with long breakwaters that destroyed the famous Killer Dana surf break when they were constructed in the 1960s. The marinas are jam packed on both sides of the fairway, and clearly this is a popular spot for all kinds of water activity.
They have some nice walking paths around the harbor, which is bisected by a bridge. On the jetty side, I was quite surprised to see dozens of little critters running around that looked like a cross between squirrels (which we hadn’t seen since Anacortes) and prairie dogs, with the way they sit up on their hind legs and pop out of holes. Turns out these are ground squirrels.
And, Dana Point is also known for being the home of the rare white ground squirrel, several of which took me by surprise when they ran across my path. They live in a very circumscribed area of the park. Apparently all the ground squirrels are considered pests in California but for some reason I just loved them.
On one afternoon we broke out the folding bikes and road south of the harbor alongside Doheny State Beach on the Coast Highway Protected Trail. This ran right alongside the main highway going toward San Clemente. I was amazed by the densely packed houses right on the beach between us and the bike path. At other areas there was obvious beach erosion repair work going on. I can’t imagine how these homes are going to avoid serious damage or loss over time.
At the park, even with the surf not being very active, there were many wetsuit covered figures waiting in the waves with their boards.
We enjoyed our stay at Dana Point, next stop Newport Beach.
While we were still in La Paz in early May, the temperature started to climb and the weekend was predicted to be in the high 90s. This sounded unpleasant to us, so we looked for an escape and figured out that we could spend the time on the Pacific side of the Baja peninsula where it was significantly cooler. I quickly booked a really nice Inn and we planned to use our friend’s Penny and Lawrence’s (on N50 Northern Ranger) trusty little red truck to get ourselves there and back.
A day or two before we planned to go, we came out to the truck to find the battery was dead. Larry got to put his battery fixing talents to work sourcing parts and replacing the terminal connectors.
On Friday we drove out of La Paz, which seemed to go on forever in the hot sun, with the same type of urban sprawl we have in the US. About halfway across the Peninsula, we suddenly felt a welcome and distinct drop in temperature as the Pacific breezes kicked in.
Approaching Todos Santos we drove through lush irrigated fields growing crops we couldn’t quite recognize. In town, we found the old streets to be narrow and quaint in the restored part of the town. Our hotel, The Todos Santos Inn, was in a recovered sugar plantation home, with a lovely interior courtyard and small swimming pool. Our room was at the far end, opening onto the courtyard, and it felt like we were nearly the only people there.
This was the first time we had been off the boat overnight in nearly 5 months. I luxuriated in the very large shower where I didn’t have to keep my elbows in, and unlimited hot water.
The town is popular as an artist enclave – mainly American and Canadian artists from what I read – and has many galleries. Nearly all of them were either closed or only open for appointments because of COVID, so we decided not to focus on looking at art. The historic section of town was a few streets lined with beautiful old restored buildings, and the town square was bordered by the church. The square itself was not the focus of town activity though, a change from most Mexican towns. Rather, the commercial streets with restaurants galleries and boutiques seem to be the most heavily traveled. There were a fair number of tourists around, fairly evenly split between Mexicans and Americans.
There were a number of restaurants with outside seating. Because of the slow season, we were fortunate to get a table at the last minute at El Refugio Mezcaleria, which serves traditional indigenous dishes and mezcal. Noel Morales, the chef, is a Mexican man from Guerrero and an expert in traditional arts and food, and his wife Rachel Glueck is an American writer who published a beautiful book called the Native Mexican Kitchen, which I am enjoying reading for a lot more background on the culture and the explanation of foods and how to use them. I am inspired to make some of the dishes now that I understand the different types of chilies and how to use them.
Strangely, it is difficult to get to the beach at Todos Santos. We are not sure if that is by design, since the waves are quite strong and the reason this is a popular surfing area, so maybe they don’t want unsuspecting tourists to drown, or it’s just the way the town developed, but we spent a good bit of time driving carefully down narrow one lane sandy roads toward the beach side attempting to find an actual path to the beach.
We finally succeeded by following the instructions to reach Laguna La Poza from some blog posts and Google maps, which does map out the dirt and sand roads. The trip took us up the hill between the town and the water, past a neighborhood of vacation casitas and larger homes, through a lowland area with dense tropical vegetation and barbed wire and the sudden appearance on my side of the road of a man in camouflage gear and a machine gun who was talking on a cell phone, before we found a place to park the car. We avoided getting stuck in the sand, and crossed the dunes to the beach and the lagoon.
I had read a variety of information in articles and blog posts discussing Laguna La Poza as a bird watchers haven. But I had also seen some complaints about the decreasing water levels in the lagoon from development and other issues, and so was not totally surprised to see both the homes right on the edge of it and the lack of any real sign of bird life.
We enjoyed watching the crashing waves and the fog that drifted across the scene. All in all, an enjoyable respite from the boat and the heat!
After waking up at Isla San Francisco (previous post here) to strong westerly winds and wave action, we retreated to the safe anchorage at San Evaristo. We had a secure but very windy night. Before bed we watched a sailboat get blown clear across the anchorage not once, but twice, during the high winds in the dark (we had watched them set their anchor and clearly it wasn’t done well).
The next day we contemplated the weather and after some emotional conversation (mainly from me), decided to head to La Paz. We already had paid up moorage for the next month in order to get work done, and we acknowledged that no one is going to award us a trophy for hunkering down in the wind at anchor for days.
On the way, we had the good fortune to see a spectacular blue whale pair. Maybe it was mom and a baby, as they usually travel solo. They were majestic. Over the next few weeks, we would see a blue whale several times in the same general area around Espiritu Santo – not sure if it was the same one, but very exciting to see him or her. We have now seen at least 4 species of whales in the Sea.
Back in La Paz, summer has arrived. We now believe that our Airmar weather station doesn’t have the ability to go above 99.9 degrees (F) – we’ve seen this several times. So we have also given in and become familiar with our air conditioning.
As Larry wrote in the fuel post, our follow-up boat work has gone really well. We were able to get out and spend a final weekend at Espiritu Santo in Caleta Partida (earlier post here), and again were visited by turtles every day.
Waking up in Isla San Francisco on our third morning to southwesterly winds and rolly waves, we headed over to Bahia Amortajada as planned so we could hit the high tide at 9am to dingy into the estuary. We planned this trip after marveling at what a difference a few months makes in Isla San Francisco. Instead of having it to ourselves, with just a few other sailboats, there were multiple 100 foot plus crewed yachts setting up tents and lunches on the beach for their guests, jet skis and water skiers zooming around, and music playing out across the anchorage. We still enjoyed beach walking and snorkeling in the 70- degree water early in the day and lounging back on our boat on floaties in the water off the cockpit out of the action, but were also happy to move on.
We’ve explored other estuaries while here in Mexico and were looking forward to this one. Armed with long sleeves and a thick layer of bug spray against the reputed jejenes (little tiny flies) that bite, we got in our micro-tender and headed to the opening just before high tide. An inward current helped our little engine. The mangroves looked very healthy, and the entrance had a crowd of pelicans and scattered herons to greet us.
As we went further, we looked for fish in the relatively clear water. We saw a few – some trigger fish, some long coronet or pencil fish, some puffers and some groups of small fish – but much of the time the water was empty. This probably explains why we didn’t see birds in much of the estuary. We looked hard but didn’t see any of the usual mangrove crabs either.
We made it to the other side and the other entrance – which looked hairy and quite turbulent. Not a good place to take one’s tiny tender through!
Overall, it was a fun dingy trip and a worthwhile visit. We rank it number three on our explored estuaries – behind La Tovara at San Blas and Tenacatita, south of Puerto Vallarta, both on the mainland side of Mexico.
As we were wary of bugs and swarming bees – which have quite the nose for a single drop of fresh water – and of predicted strong southerly winds affecting the wide open anchorage at Amortajada, we headed over to the north side of Isla San Francisco a short mile or two away. As soon as we dropped the anchor, some fishermen from nearby Isla Pardito came over and showed us some humongous crabs, harvested from 200 feet deep out on the far side of the island. We took one, and I was scared to bring it in the boat. But I “womaned up” as Larry said, grabbed its two foot long front arms with big claws and held it while Larry sent it to heaven with a sharp knife and a mallet. It made a wonderful dinner for us, plus another meal, and a good paycheck for the fishermen, so we thank it for its life.
We were joined in the anchorage by 4 other boats, one a beautiful crewed 80-foot sailboat, seeking protection from the southerly winds stoking rolling waves. And we all woke in the middle of the night to 25-30 knots winds and rolling waves, despite the good protection. It’s never dull around here.
After an interesting time at Bahia Salinas, we rounded the top of Isla Carmen and headed over to Isla Coronados, where we had been earlier in the season. With warmer weather and some southerly breezes, the time was right to anchor on the northwest side and hang out on the white sand beach. It was much busier with pangas bringing day trippers over from Loreto, but we had it pretty much to ourselves in the evenings. We spent a couple of days beach lounging, soaking up the sun and wading into the aqua water.
We awoke on the morning we knew we would have to move to the other side because of shifting wind to find ourselves socked in with good old northwest style fog! What a shock. We hadn’t known this might happen here (but later reviewed the paragraph in the guide that mentions it as a spring and summer phenomena). The volcano was shrouded in fog, and at times it was so dense we couldn’t see the other boat in the anchorage. The quintessential northwest sound of foghorns seems to be missing in Mexico.
As it started to lift, we pulled up anchor to head around to the other side of the island. As we rounded the turn, a pod of dolphins headed right for us. They were very big dolphins, and they seemed to be having a fabulous time, leaping and diving. We clapped and yelled for them, and this seemed to make them jump even more – right next to the boat! I was lucky to get a few shots off – they were so close I wasn’t sure it was going to work with my telephoto lens, but I positioned myself as best I could and managed some lucky shots.
After departing Puerto Escondido in early April we embarked on a circumnavigation of Isla Carmen, a large island with a number of anchorages. Earlier in the season we had spent a number of days in Puerta Ballandra on the west side of the island, mainly sitting through a long norther. This time we were going to explore some anchorages on the east side of the island.
We started out at Punta Colorada, an open anchorage just around the southern tip of the island, mainly providing protection from north winds and swell. Our first night we were alone save for a sighting of a lone bighorn sheep on shore at dusk. For the first time this season, the water seemed warm enough to snorkel in, and we were thrilled to be able to suit up in our wetsuits, hoods and fins and snorkels and check out a couple of the rocky areas near shore. When I say warm enough, that’s by Pacific Northwest standards. It was still in the upper 60s but getting very close to 70.
The first day we snorkeled we were somewhat disappointed with murky water, turbulent waves and a handful of fish. The second day had clear water and a better number and variety of tropical fish – including some of my favorites which are neon yellow and have purple tails – some brown urchins and a few sea stars. No underwater camera, so no pics. There was a lot of dead and bleached coral.
We walked on shore and saw what looks like an abandoned refrigerator that we joked that the hunters – who are here periodically to shoot bighorn sheep when they get too prolific – can store their beer. They just need to plug it in.
After a pleasant time at Punta Colorada we made our way about 10 miles north. This bay has natural salt flats which were first discovered by Jesuit Missionaries in 1698 and then operated more or less continually until the early 1980s when a salt mining operation started in Guerro Negro on the West Coast of Baja. The convenience of that operation – no long trip up into the Sea – effectively put the Salinas salt operation out of business. Some of the workers lived here in the small village, and apparently they were given short notice about the closing of the plant and had to leave in a hurry, but the last boat helping to remove their belongings wrecked on the beach.
Isla Carmen has bighorn sheep and no natural predators. A hunting lodge was built here sometime after the salt plant closed. While we were here no hunting was happening, fortunately!
We dingied to shore with the intention to explore the salt ponds and the village. We had heard from another boater that no one approached them the previous day, but as we were walking toward the village, a young man with a topknot and wearing a face mask, the caretaker presumably, came out to inform us which area we could walk on – the path to the salt ponds and to the church, and the beach. The rest of the land is private.
After our tour of the salt ponds, we walked the length of the long white beach and back. At the south end there is an entrance to a wide hiking trail. Ironically, an old faded Semarnat sign (Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources) says that hunting is prohibited.
As I write this, it is April 16th. We are departing today from a two day stay at Puerto Escondido and are starting to head slowly south back toward La Paz. Our intent is to soak up the hot weather and warming water with as much swimming and snorkeling and beach lounging as we can before we arrive back in La Paz around May 2nd.
On our way down from San Juanico to Puerto Escondido for whale watching, we passed some beautiful striated cliffs. These were just north of another anchorage called Punta Mangles. It was notable for the hulks of abandoned hotel construction on its shores.
On this return visit to Puerto Escondido, at the end of March a month after our first time there, it was obvious spring had come and birds were migrating through. There was also quite a bit more boater activity, probably partly because this was the Semana Santa week – Holy Week, to celebrate Easter, and the biggest vacation week of the years for Mexicans.
I had a good time finding a number of birds in the scrublands around the marina and getting some good shots of them. I did not manage to get any of the rufus hummingbirds which migrate across the Sea of Cortez in one shot on their way north to the US and Canada, but they were definitely around!
Since we had the car, we made a trip into Loreto to check out the malecon and the waterfront and to get more tacos. We happened to choose a day when the winds were blowing a steady 20 + knots, which you can see in the palm trees!