Puerto Ballandra and Isla Coronados

We left Puerto Escondido the morning after the big Norther turned out to be nothing much, at least at Marina Puerto Escondido.  Over the course of the morning, the winds came up a bit and by the time we left they were around 15 knots from the N.  Not a problem for us.  Our run for the day was a short two hours to Puerto Ballandra on Isla Carmen, which was reported to have good North wind and wave protection.  We planned to sit out the next Norther there, due in a couple of days.  

Coming out of Puerto Escondido and turning N into the channel between Isla Danzante and Isla Carmen we could see that the seas had been raised a bit by the presumably stronger winds farther north, but wind speeds were still low at around 10 knots or so.  Things started picking up after an hour or so into the middle of the channel.  The winds were now more in the 15 knot range, we were starting to see whitecaps on the waves and the seas were building into at least the 5-7 ft range.  Soon it started to feel like practice for the Baja bash, with the boat pitching into the occasionally large waves.  We had a few instances of “bow slap”, where the bulbous bow on the boat comes out of the water and then slams back in.  It’s quite noisy but otherwise harmless.  We were taking lots of spray and were very happy that we had invested in interval wipers.  They got a workout keeping the salt water off the pilot house forward windows.  At the very end it got quite sporty, with the winds exceeding 20 knots and lots of wind waves on top of the swell.  We were happy to pull into Puerto Ballandra, which was indeed well protected from the swell.  

Looking out the entrance from inside Puerto Ballandra anchorage.

A couple of weather lessons learned for me were: 1) If there is a Norther in the Sea, even if your local area is unaffected, it is going to create some swell.  2) With the fetch, 15-20 knot winds will cause the seas to build quickly.  Nothing that we experienced was remotely close to dangerous and was not even uncomfortable.  However, the motion did cause Gwen to have a mild bout of seasickness – enough to have her hang out in the salon where there was less motion. She had made the mistake of reading while underway while it was rough.   Our goal is really to avoid even conditions like this.  I think we may have been a touch too eager to get off the dock.

There were two sailboats tucked into the N end of the bay when we arrived but we had enough room to get into the NW corner next to them.  The bay has excellent protection from waves, but not so much from the winds, which funnel right down the hills to the North.  We hardly needed to back down on the anchor – the 20+ knots of wind did it for us.  It looked like we were catching the Norther a day late.  We saw 25+ knot winds in the anchorage for several hours.  We were also experiencing some rolling from swell wrapping around the point.  When the wind died down a bit we decided to put out the flopper stopper and got it almost ready to drop in the water when, yes, the winds kicked back up.  We pulled it back in, untangled the lines and got it dropped quickly in the next calm period.  Things were all comfy after that.

Alone in the anchorage, for a while.

The next morning the two sailboats that we shared the anchorage left and we decided to move to a better position at the head of the bay.  Of course by this time the winds and a tiny bit of swell were coming from the SW so we knew we would need to reset the anchor again before the next Norther kicked in on Sunday.  After getting set we had a lazy day exploring in the dinghy, reading, having a “Bloody Michelada” with lunch, playing a bit with fishing gear and Gwen going for a late afternoon kayak.  It was a bit cool and cloudy in the morning (by Mexico standards) but the sun came out in the afternoon.  

Because this area is so close to Loreto, it has clearly been quite picked over for shells. The few we found on the beach were quite aged, along with a fair amount of dead coral. There are some good shallow rocky areas that are supposed to be good for snorkeling – perhaps we will try them on our way back down in a month or two. We didn’t walk deeper into the island – there are big horn sheep and an active hunting lodge nearby, and a very marshy swampy area between the beach and the hills.

We were able to join the monthly Nordhavn 50 owners call.  We had enough cell signal from Loreto across the way to join the Zoom video call. 

After a peaceful night we began preparing for the Norther, bringing the dinghy and kayak back on board and resetting the anchor with more than enough scope for the expected winds.   

Speaking of resetting the anchor, I’d like to touch on the topic of Anchoring Etiquette.  Do a google search and you will find many articles on anchoring etiquette, that is, how to safely share an anchorage with your fellow boaters.  The general rule of thumb is that the first boat into an anchorage deploys their anchor as they see fit and other boats have the responsibility to anchor such that they do not collide with that first boat.  It is often not as straightforward as it sounds as you are trying to optimize depth and protection from the prevailing conditions.  It gets more complicated – power boats tend to swing differently than sailboats, and how much your boat swings depends on how much and what type of anchor rode you put out.   I’d like to propose a corollary to the general rule of thumb.  Please don’t anchor immediately upwind of me when we are expecting a Norther. 

The chartered catamaran anchoring on top of our anchor.

Some time after we reset the anchor another boat came into the anchorage and came by to ask how much chain we had out.  It was very good form for them to ask, and we told them how much chain we had out and that there was good holding off our starboard side.  What did they do?  Anchored directly in front of us.  Now the winds had picked up a bit, but were nowhere near the 30 knots we would see later in the day.  If they dragged anchor, they would be right on top of this.  I got on the hailer and expressed my concern telling them that I hoped they were well set because they were right on top of our anchor and would tangle with us if they dragged.  Eventually they called us back and after some discussion moved over to a (perfectly fine) spot to the west of us.

We happily settled in for lunch when another boat came into the anchorage.  This was a boat that was in the anchorage when we arrived but then left.  They, too, dropped right in front of us, even though there was room on our starboard side.  They realized that they were too close and moved, but then came back… splitting the distance between us and the sailboat that had come in earlier.  At least in this case, if they dragged, they would slide between us.  They came by for a visit by dinghy later and we learned that they were accomplished sailors, having come over from Europe via the Pacific and had been out cruising for 9 years.  That gave us confidence that they knew how to anchor their boat securely.  It seems to me that coming into an anchorage, particularly in windy conditions, the best thing to do would be to drop your anchor perhaps even with the boats nearby, and then fall back behind them as you let out your rode.  This way, you swing clear and don’t have to worry about dragging back on your neighbors.

We all sat through about 48 hours of the Norther, with winds up to 33 knots and swell coming into the anchorage and breaking on the beach.  When it finally settled down on Tuesday morning, we all cleared out of the anchorage, with us heading for Isla Coronados, an extinct Volcano only 8 miles north of Puerto Ballandra.  There was still some residual swell left from the Norther and the winds were up into the 10-15 knot range.  Apparently my memory for lessons learned is short.

Picture perfect west side anchorage. There were a number of pangas bringing tourists in for day trips.

The main anchorage at Isla Coranados is on the West side of the Island, with a big white sand beach North of a long sandspit and a small Islet to the West.  The other anchorage is South of the sandspit in the shadow of the 900+ foot volcanic cone.  We approached from the South and went around to the main anchorage though the narrow and shallow pass between the sandspit and the Islet.  It was exciting in the choppy conditions and heading over to the anchorage, it was clear that we would have no shelter.  So around back to the South side where we anchored in 25 ft of crystal clear water below a low bluff.  The anchorage was open, so was exposed to swell wrapping around the point.  Out went the flopper stopper again to smooth things out.  It was blowing about 15-20 here for a while before things calmed down in the evening.  We did spend a pleasant afternoon on the beach and Gwen explored the paths that are part of the park system.

There are beautifully laid out paths all through the area.

We went to sleep with the lights of Loreto to the SW, and woke up in the morning seeing the fishing fleet working the dropoff just to the south of the anchorage.  We decided that this was not the place to ride out the next norther, so got ready to head on up to San Juanico.  It was very cool picking up the anchor in the crystal clear water.  We could clearly see the chain laid in a nice straight line along the bottom, and as we retrieved it we could see where the anchor had buried itself deeply in the sand, with only the shank visible.  It was reassuring to see how well the anchor dug itself in!

Loreto

Loreto is one of the oldest towns on the Baja Peninsula.  The indigenous people thrived in this area for thousands of years – the Loreto area is considered to be the oldest human settlement on Baja.   Spanish missionaries and Jesuits arrived in the late 1600s and established the first mission of the Californias here.  Not many years later, they realized they needed a better water supply and agricultural capabilities, so the mission was moved into the hills about 20 miles away. 

Municipal building anchoring one end of the town square.

Loreto served as the capital of the Baja region until there was a major storm in 1829 and the capitol was moved to La Paz.  There is a very small marina in the town that handles pangas and other small fishing boats but is not equipped for larger size vessels, which is why Puerto Escondido has become the focal marina in the region.    

In the 20th century this town was refashioned into a tourist haven, and is very popular with American and Canadian tourists and ex-pats.  We rented a car for two days from the marina in order to hit the grocery stores and farmer’s market for provisions and to do an excursion into the hills to see the Misión San Francisco Javier. 

Namesake of our destination mission in the hills.

We drove the 14 miles along the well-paved highway passing a few resort communities and a lot of land marked private for a ranch.  Once we entered town we got the lay of the land and scoped out where the grocery stores were before parking and walking to the town square area.  There are obviously a lot of restaurants and shops with tourist goods.  We were struck by how few people were around in the middle of Saturday morning.  It is clear the pandemic has almost completely closed down the tourist business here.  Unfortunately, most of the few tourists we did see were maskless, despite the Baja-wide mandate to wear masks. 

The street in front of the Misión Nuestra Señora de Loreto in the middle of town was all torn up, so we weren’t getting close to it.  There is a Malecon on the water which is reportedly good for strolling, but each day we passed by it, we were struck by a strong odor of waste so it wasn’t very appealing.  This must be unusual. 

Town square photos taken mid-day on Saturday – you can see the notable lack of people!

The town square has many shaded benches for relaxing.  We got fish tacos from the King of Tacos and took them to the square to eat.  They were absolutely fantastic! 

El Rey means the King. This is worth a stop!

We hit both of the grocery stores and a small delicatessen styled store with gringo favorites like cheddar cheese and real crackers.  I had a nice conversation with the owner.  She asked if I had left my husband in the car and I said yes, we were minimizing how much we went into stores if not needed because of COVID. This led her to thank me for being so careful, and to talk about how scary it was for them because they (Mexican citizens) have to take care of themselves, they cannot rely on the healthcare system, and it is a very scary time.  She wanted to know if I was going to get the vaccine (yes, for sure).  She had heard that possibly by May she might be able to get one but wasn’t confident in how the government was rolling out the vaccine.     

One of the nicely shaded streets with tourist shops.

The next day our plan was to stop by the Sunday farmer’s market in the town square and then head to the hills.  Unfortunately, it was clear as we approached the square that morning that there was nothing going on.  An attendant in front of the town offices explained that because of the pandemic the market was only held every few weeks. 

Vista from the drive – looking out to the Sea.

So, while disappointed and knowing we had to make a future grocery run to stock up on produce, we continued on the drive up into the hills to the Misión San Francisco Javier.  The drive is stunning – winding roads, parts of which have some guardrails, other times not.  There are beautiful canyons with lush greenery in the arroyo beds, and some lookouts with views out to the Sea. 

There were many shrines to accident victims, like this one, along the road.

On the way into the little town of the Misión, we passed what we believed to be a pilgrim fast-walking his way toward town, followed very slowly by a woman in a car.  They appeared at the church a little while after we arrived.  As happened in many areas where the Spanish settled missions, most of the population died from disease, so both the town and the Misión were abandoned.   Both have since been restored and rejuvenated as a destination site.   Services are held at the Misión but it appears it is not otherwise open to the public currently. 

Behind the church are the grounds where the monks raised crops and built aqueducts to manage water which comes from a spring.  They made wine, and there was a guy on site with locally made wine to try.  Larry wanted to support and buy some, but we just found it not at all to our taste.  We believe it was his son who served as our “tour” guide to the 300-year-old olive tree, so I tipped him an enormous amount instead. 

The 300 year old olive tree planted by the missionaries. Photos above are the aqueducts and view of the cultivated fields.

There were a smattering of other people visiting the area too, but overall it was very quiet.  We were able to have lunch at an outdoor table before heading back down the twisty highway for another round of provisioning before returning to Marina Puerto Escondido.     

One of the numerous luscious lemon trees. None were within arms reach for picking!

Darth Vader Lives in our Head

When you hear the words Darth Vader, what do you think of?  The wheezing, mechanical, sounds like he’s in scuba gear breathing, right?  That’s what I think of, anyway.  Now, what would you think if you heard that sound coming from the forward head?  OK, maybe now you understand the title.  This is a post about all of the noises on the boat that can drive you crazy as you are trying to sleep in some remote anchorage.  

We are all sensitive to novel sounds.  On a boat it is important to pay attention to any unusual sounds, which can be warning signs for problems.  And when it is a windy night in the anchorage, we tend to be even more alert.  

The Darth Vader breath, as it turns out, comes from the sink drain in the head (nautical for bathroom).  There is a hose from the drain that goes to a thru hull to drain overboard, right near or even below the water line.  When it is rocking in the anchorage, the bow of the boat pitches up and down and air gets sucked down the drain and then pumped back out, making a very distinct wheezing sound.  We have plugs that we put in the drain that prevents Darth from breathing, but if it is really rolly, they pop right out.  Our friend Ron from Duet asks incredulously “why don’t you just close the through hull valve?”.  Of course we could do that, but then we fill the sink when we wash our hands and have the potential for sloshing water around.  So it’s usually jam in the drain plug and close the door.  

The forward head sink on a rolly night.

Last year when we were coming down the coast we got very good at eliminating all sources of banging, whacking, knocking, and clunking as there is nothing like a Pacific Ocean passage to expose all areas with laxity.  Ask any boater and you will hear a long list of solutions for the bangs and rattles that can happen both underway and at anchor.  Just the other night our friend Penny revealed her ultimate weapon – blow up beach balls.  Easy to store when empty and can be inflated to just the right size.  We have a very large collection of nerf-like footballs and basketballs that Gwen searched around Brookings Oregon to find after our first multi-night noisy passage.  

The usual suspects are easy.  All cabinets and drawers latch, yet we are often lax with securing them properly.  The bang, bang, bang synchronous with the waves is easy to track down.  More problematic are those less frequent thumps that only happen when things really move in a certain direction.  Since we returned to Mexico and have been anchoring again, we have been experiencing one of those slow rolling thunks, usually when trying to take a nap during a storm because there is nothing else to do!  This one sounded like it was coming from directly over Gwen’s side of our berth (bed in nautical lingo) and was obviously driving her nuts.  This is a bit unusual as I am typically the one driven to distraction by these things.  She had searched on multiple days to find it, and her most recent supposition was that the muffler guys had left a piece in the muffler stack (which does go right through the area near the thunking sound).   

Last night she suddenly announced, “I found it!”  Jubilantly, she reported that the culprit was a tequila bottle that was leaning back and forth against other bottles in the liquor cabinet when the boat rolled at just the right angle.  When we are on passage, we wrap the liquor bottles with that rubber cabinet liner material, but when we are coastal cruising, it is of utmost importance to have unfettered access to the booze.  I think this problem will soon be solved by emptying the offending bottle.  

Our current checklist for a sound night’s sleep at anchor:  

  1.  A well-set anchor
  2. Bridle to take strain off the anchor has chafing protection to cut down on noise
  3. Burgees and flags are all restrained
  4. Horn pump is off – this has the nasty habit of repressurizing with a very loud pump at 1 in the morning
  5. VHF radios are OFF
  6. Doors are secured
  7. Bow of dingy is tied to back of boat securely but far enough away so it doesn’t bang the boat (or it’s stowed up top)
  8. New addition – cushion the liquor bottles

Puerto Escondido

After about 10 days on the hook, knowing there were a series of norther windstorms coming up, we headed from Agua Verde to the protected marina and anchorage area known as Puerto Escondido – or Hidden Harbor.  We had planned to stay here last year and had placed a deposit on a month’s moorage for last April but didn’t get to use it, so we hoped they were still going to honor it.   

This is an unusual area in that it is a basin protected on nearly all sides by land formations.  On the west side there are the tall Sierra de la Gigante mountains, on the north side there are a couple of small islands that have land bridges between them that form “windows” to the north, so the bay and marina are protected from north swell but not from the wind, and other land rims the rest, except for a small opening to the south.   John Steinbeck came here on his travels in 1940 and described the variety of marine animal life in the bay and also how he and his companions were taken into the hills for a big-horn sheep hunting expedition.  He found it more enjoyable to sit in the sun than to actually shoot anything and loved looking at the landscape. 

A view of the marina, roads and mooring ball field.

This has long been an anchorage with a very large basin with mooring balls that could easily hold 80 or more boats, and in recent years there has been a concerted effort to build a very nice marina, called Marina Puerto Escondido.  Since the late 1990’s there have been several efforts to build out luxury homes, complete with wide cement streets and sidewalks laid out prior to 2008, but at this point there are only two homes, and it’s not clear to us that this would really be a favored place to have a home, since it is 14 miles away from the town of Loreto and there isn’t beach nearby. 

The marina staff are all wonderful and the most helpful of any marina we have been at in Mexico.  There was a bit of confusion as we pulled into the marina though, and tried to go to our assigned slip, only to find it was occupied, then to be told to go to a different slip and then were waved off that one because they realized we were definitely too big for it.  In the end we were placed on the outside of the breakwater for the marina, which put the north side and the entire bay on our port side.  This became important the next day as the predicted norther came in with strong winds and the resultant wind powered chop that started slamming us against the cement dock.  We spent a lot of time monitoring the boat movement, ended up putting out all 13 fenders that we own on the starboard side and had a noisy and rocky night.  In the end no damage, and the marina folks moved us to the inside of the breakwater where it felt like we were in a different marina for the rest of our time, and a couple more northers. 

The marina has all the amenities one could need – very nice bathrooms and showers, a laundry facility – which does not have hot water, but the machines worked – and a restaurant with good pizza that is apparently expanding their menu slowly under new management.  There is a shop with the MOST expensive beer you will ever buy as well as high end supplies for the gringo crowd, a fuel dock, and they do in-slip pumpout, although we were told for larger boats it didn’t work well.  There are also some charter fishing boats based here.

View of the marina from the upstairs level.

Coincidentally, there were 8 other Nordhavn boats in the marina while we were there, so we got a chance to see several fellow owners that we know and to meet some new folks, appropriately distanced, of course, which was great.  The marina was not full, and when we dingy toured around the anchorage one evening we realized that the majority of the 40 or so boats on mooring balls were there for storage –almost all sailboats, with their decks clear and all sails removed, no signs of life.  The pandemic has taken a toll on the usual business of this area.

Helpful trail map on boulder.

One of the benefits of the area is the meticulously laid out and maintained trail system up into the hills overlooking the harbor and out into the Sea.  The creation of this was led by a previous long-time expat resident who was a vigorous and devoted hiker.  We did a couple of the trails – the first time slipping and sliding some on the loose rock, so the next time we broke out the hiking boots.  We do beg to differ with the published description of these as being “easy” hikes, but they are worth the effort for some magnificent views from the ridges. 

Looking out to the Sea and nearby Isla Danzante from the ridgeline.

On my birthday we ran into this pair of young burros in the scrub brush.  Later on, we learned from a guard that the burros were originally part of a threesome owned by a local, but one of them died, and they are going to be sold in May. 

They were so sweet and clearly hoping for a snack, which I didn’t have.

When we weren’t feeling up to the vertical climb of 650 feet in half a kilometer for the hill hikes, we walked the perimeter of the area, which included the Marina Rescate (think Coast Guard) dock and building.   

The marina makes it easy to rent a car for $35 a day, so we also spent two days exploring Loreto and some nearby sites, which will be in our next post! 

Agua Verde

Agua Verde is right around the corner from Bahía San Marte, so we had a short but windy and wavy cruise to the anchorage.

Northern lobe of the anchorage.
Great day and wonderful spot.

There are many Roca Blancas and Roca Negras along the coast, but this one is called Roca Solitaria. It greeted us as we entered the anchorage.

We nestled into the northern cove of the anchorage, seeking protection from westerly and northerly winds. Of course, at one point southerly winds kicked up, and we ended up moving away from the beach farther out into the cove. We are still learning the winds around here!

We went to shore with the intention of hiking, perhaps into town, and getting some awesome photos from higher up.

Larry smiling because the boat is in a great spot!

There is a steep short rocky road leading up out of the northern bay that starts in front of fishing shack inhabited by a sweet elderly man and his dog. I suspect it was he who put this sign at the top to prevent people getting stuck in front of his home. It also is a warning to walkers – I ended up sliding on some rocks and skinning my knee pretty well on the way back down at the end of our walk.

This says “Peligro” – meaning danger. 4×4 only

We walked the ridge road until it connected up with the main road. The connector to Aguaverde comes off the main highway 1 that is the main paved highway along Baha. This road is over 20 miles of dirt road.

The village itself is clearly more prosperous than other fishing villages we have seen. The houses are very well kept, have solar panels and many have various things like kayaks in the yard, which to me means more disposable income available.

The walk to the village from the north anchorage is about a mile and half. We were glad we brought water – it was fairly hot and dusty.

This cow didn’t make it.
This was the first time I had seen this type of tree – I called it a ghost tree. Turns out it is quite common.

The next day we kayaked around the anchorage during a calm period.

When the time came to up anchor, we experienced the most sea grass on the anchor yet!

I love the cactus in the bottom – seems to be saying Yay!

(Yet another) Racor Fuel Manifold Update

I spent some quality time in the engine room while we were at Puerto Escondido trying to diagnose the problem with air bubbles forming in the Racor filters.

I have been suspicious that there was a leak in the Racor filter manifold itself, despite it being brand new. Fellow N50 owner Ron Goldberg suggested that I test this by creating a vacuum in the filter housing and seeing if it holds. The method for creating the vacuum is to run the engine at idle and then shut off the fuel valve at the supply manifold. The engine continues trying to suck fuel in and will create a vacuum, shown on a gauge mounted on the filter manifold. When the vacuum level reaches the desired point, shut down the engine and monitor the vacuum level for a period of time. This sounds scary, but in practice was pretty easy – the vacuum rose pretty slowly after I shut off the fuel supply, and I could shut down the engine by closing the fuel solenoid. The fuel manifold lost very little vacuum over an hour, even after operating the filter selector valve a bunch of times. I concluded that there is no leak in the filter manifold.

I did the same test on the fuel supply manifold and had the same result. It too was able to maintain a vacuum, which means that none of the valves or their connection to the manifold itself were leaking. That leaves the lines back to the fuel tanks (including the fittings) or the “dip tubes” in the tanks themselves.

The next experiment was to select different tanks (Miss Miranda has 4 fuel tanks, port and starboard, forward and aft) as the supply to the filter manifold and look for changes in the amount of bubbling. To get an idea of what the bubbling looks like, take a look at this very shaky video. You can see towards the end of the video that there are few, if any bubbles. That is the result we are looking for. The bottom line was that I saw many fewer bubbles when drawing fuel from the aft tanks. These are much smaller tanks (115 vs 500+ gallons) and have shorter dip tubes, and seem to have less opportunity for air leaks. This is very good news. It seems that we should be able to run from the aft tanks with much less air leakage and much less concern about pockets forming in the Racor filter housing. Oh, and in case you were wondering, we have a fuel transfer system so that we can refill the aft tanks from the forward tanks.

The very last check was on the fittings to the forward fuel tanks. I have pretty easy access to the top of the port forward tank via a hatch in the galley floor. I disconnected the fuel supply line from that tank and inspected the adapter fitting. That fitting needs to have thread sealant on it to prevent leaks. The sealant on the fitting was 20 years old and most of it seemed to be gone. I cleaned up the fitting and applied new sealant. The tests for bubbling, unfortunately, were inconclusive. It seemed to be less than before, but still more than the aft tanks. It is possible that the source of the leak is the dip tube itself or the hose, or the fittings at either end.

I was a little bit disappointed after doing some more testing while underway. Under more load, there are still bubbles in the filter housings when drawing from the aft tanks, and after a short, two hour run, the fuel level in the filter housing was down, though less than previously. Racor does say that it is normal to have the fuel level down about halfway when you open the filter housing, so not sure if this indicates a problem. I did try drawing from the port tank while underway, and there seemed to be less bubbling than when drawing from the aft tanks, so maybe the thread sealant helped. I’ll continue running from the port tank and monitoring as we continue along the way.

I now have a very good idea of where the air leakage is coming from. I will probably wind up having to replace the supply lines and fittings to the tanks (and maybe even the dip tubes) before returning to the US, but can I can get that work done when we return to La Paz.

Bahía San Marte

After Tembabiche, we continued to make our way north exploring anchorages on the Baha Peninsula, seeking protection from the sporadic westerly nighttime winds that kept coming. Our next stop was Bahía San Marte, a wonderful unpopulated little anchorage with some beaches and purported hiking to explore.

There we are, all by ourselves!

After ensuring we were well anchored, we put down the dingy and headed for a beach. The guidebook had said there was good hiking in the area so we were all prepared with good footwear, hiking poles and water.

Promising beginnings to a hike.

It looked to me like we could make our way up a ridge, although we would have to pick our way. But, we reached the limits of our capabilities – we tried multiple ways on two separate beaches, but the arroyos petered out quickly and there seemed no way to pick our way through prickly cacti wearing shorts on very uneven rocky and loose ground. So we walked the lengths of the beaches and found some cool things to look at.

I was surprised to see this whale vertebra lying on the beach. Totally cool. There were no other whale bones around, and it is obviously well weathered. Wonder how long it’s been there!

View looking up into the surrounding hills where we attempted to hike. This bush with green bark is one of the typical bushes around here – but I don’t know what it’s called yet.

These were my favorite shells on the beach.

This beach had more interesting shells than we’ve seen so far. At one end there were tide pools. Unfortunately there were no signs of urchins, anemones or other small animals I was hoping to see, except for some hermit crabs. We are starting to get the feeling that while we do see numerous schools of fish and the dolphins chasing them in deeper waters, the seashore itself feels oddly sterile. We’ve both read John Steinbeck’s Log of the Sea of Cortez from his 6 week voyage here with his buddy naturalist in 1940, just 80 years ago, and their vivid descriptions of the shore teeming with life of all kinds, even in Los Cabos and La Paz bay. It seems that there has been a precipitous decline in numbers and variety of sea life in the intervening years. The Mexican government is trying to protect what’s left, creating some 19 National Parks and Biosphere Reserves around the Baja California Peninsula.

The anchorage was tucked up under Punta San Marcial and provided very good protection from the Westerlies… we hardly noticed them until we pulled out the next morning to head around the point to Agua Verde, where we encountered brisk winds and whitecaps.

Tembabiche

On our way to Tembabiche from San Evaristo, we passed the tiny remote fishing village of Nopolo. It is perched on the edge of the Sea tucked behind a rocky point so they aren’t even visible from the north at the base of a steep, high mountain peak. Can you imagine living in such a remote hard to reach place?

We reached Tembabiche and saw we would have the anchorage to ourselves for much of the time. Pelicans and other sea birds clearly find lots to eat there, as there were many of them grouped near the estuary side of the anchorage. A few fisherman trailer their pangas to launch from the beach here, and there is a tiny fishing village not far away, hardly visible to us from the water.

After getting anchored up and reveling in our isolation, we dingied to shore to explore. A pelican took off at just the right distance for me to get some great action shots.

In 2017, the lagoon area here, as well as a number of others on this area of the coast, was declared a protected area with no fishing allowed to support the rejuvenation of fish and other wildlife. We walked around the edges and spied a number of birds in the mangroves and perched on cacti. Herons, egrets, ospreys, sand pipers and pelicans enjoyed the lagoon. 

While we were walking around the estuary, we saw obvious signs of animal meanderings and heard some cows off in the distance. During happy hour, we again heard the sound of farm animals from the beach, and there they were – a couple of cows, grazing on the beach.

The next day we set off for a different part of the beach and a walk to reach the fabled Casa Grande – the ruins of a grand home built years ago by a fisherman with a windfall that has fallen into disrepair. We found the dusty road that the fisherman use to bring in their pangas and followed that for a while.

The road went through some great cacti.

Casa Grande itself was surrounded by a few obviously occupied small houses, but we didn’t see any people. We took photos quickly and then walked out to the beach, realizing that the river was dried so we could walk across the arroyo back to our dingy.

We saw a number of carcasses of various animals on the beach. The most disturbing to me was a large turtle shell and a large ray, which was almost entirely intact, but ossified. They were right next to each other, which made me wonder whether they were discarded from fishing by catch. I didn’t even take a picture because it made me sad.

Some other finds were more interesting.

We are fairly sure this is a ray from the shape of the head.
After consulting some guides I think this is a balloonfish, not a pufferfish.

We were taking a nap when a young fisherman in a shorty wetsuit came to the boat and asked if we wanted lobster.  Sold us 3 langostas – we had to revive them a bit in sea water to ensure they were good.  He had a hard time keeping the outboard engine for the panga running but did a great job maneuvering up to our side just to do the exchange.  Larry cooked them up into several fabulous meals.

On our last day I managed to haul myself out of bed before sunrise to try to get some good shots of the sun on the mountains and on Casa Grande. The golden hour is fleeting, and Casa Grande was far away, but these capture a flavor of what it was like.

You can just see the Casa Grande in the right side of the photo.

San Evaristo and Weather in the Sea of Cortez

After a surprisingly windy and choppy night at Isla San Francisco, we headed North and across the San Jose Channel to the protected anchorage of San Evaristo, a fishing village on the West side of the Channel.  This was the second time that we were surprised by these Westerly winds that arose in the middle of the night and could reach 25-30 knots.  It’s not good to have those conditions anchored up against a “lee shore” meaning that the wind is blowing the boat towards shore.  The anchorage at San Evaristo opens to the East, so would not be a lee shore.  As we were heading up the channel we encountered some pretty localized westerly winds up to about 25 knots.  Because the wind was blowing across the channel there was no fetch for waves to build, so lots of whitecaps, but no big deal.  It was still blowing when we turned into the anchorage.  We at first sought shelter in the North cove, which was protected from the North and somewhat from the west. The cove had a small shelf with easy anchoring depths in the 20-25 foot range but then sloped down to 50 ft or so further out.  We also realized that while the wind was (temporarily) coming from the west, the swell  was coming from the South, which was exposed.  We were not satisfied with where we were sitting, so we moved over into the northern part of the main cove, with much more swinging room and shallower depths.  The beach here was lined with houses and pangas were actively coming and going to unload their catch at a buyer setup in a tent on the beach.  

I was wondering about the unexpected westerly winds that we experienced both in Isla San Francisco and again in the morning here at San Evaristo.  The guidebooks that we have describe these as Corumuel winds, said to be mostly in the La Paz area and Elephantes, said to be mostly in low lying areas in the Northern Sea.  In both cases, nighttime winds from the cool pacific air crosses the penisula into the Sea.  Since the weather forecasts cover such large areas, these localized events are not called out, and we didn’t see obvious signs of them from the low resolution wind maps that we have been downloading on our Iridium GO! 

A screenshot of the PredictWind Offshore app. The outline in the center is Baja California, and the little white dot represents where we were when I took the screenshot. Wind speed is color coded as shown on the scale at the bottom of the display This is a low resolution map, which can be downloaded reasonably quickly on the Iridium GO!, but it doesn’t highlight the significant Westerlies that we have been experiencing.

So, I downloaded one of the higher resolution wind forecasts from PredictWind and saw that it did, in fact, predict these localized westerly winds.    The model showed the wind we experienced in the morning, and predicted an overnight Westerly in San Evaristo that night.  And sure enough, we experienced several hours of 25 knot winds overnight.  It was noisy, but since we were protected from the west, we had no waves/swell, and therefore, not a problem. Now we know that it is worth downloading these higher resolution wind forecasts, even though they take about an hour to get at the snail’s pace of the Iridium GO!.

This is a screenshot showing the higher resolution forecast map. You can see that this one highlights the “hot zone” of Westerlies.

More of these westerlies were predicted through the week, so we planned accordingly, looking for anchorages that would have the best protection for the conditions.  We decided to leave San Evaristo the next morning and continue North.  Honestly, it felt a little weird to be anchored here in what was people’s front yards.  We didn’t even go ashore.

We experienced these localized winds three more times heading up to Puerto Escondido, and each time the forecast was pretty accurate on the start and duration and the maximum wind speeds.  And, armed with this information, we selected anchorages that seemed to have the best protection from the West.

A good old Norther forecast for the end of the week. We planned to be at Marina Puerto Escondido before this one arrived.

The other weather pattern that we were already familiar with is the Northwesterly winds that funnel down the Sea of Cortez pretty regularly in the winter months.  These occur when there is High pressure in the Great Basin of the US and lower pressure down in the Sea.  These are called Northers, and bring 25-30 knot winds that can last several days.  We had already experienced a number of these during our month in La Paz.

This is a “gust” map showing the crazy winds we’ve been experiencing today. This is from the web-based version of the app that requires a pretty good internet connection, which we have here. Deep red and darker is not so good… The winds were actually significantly higher than forecast.

A quick update – the Norther is here with a vengance. We arrived at Puerto Escondido on a lovely calm afternoon. The slip they had reserved for us was way too small, so they put us on the long breakwater dock… on the outside. When the Norther hit, we realized that was a BIG mistake. We saw 25 knot plus winds all day with gusts exceeding 33 and probably 3 ft wind waves. We have all 13 fenders out, and several of them look like they are about to pop. If the winds drop down at all, we will see if we can get quickly around to the other side of the breakwater dock.

Isla San Francisco

Isla San Francisco has a beautiful large anchorage called “the hook” which features a long sandy beach and good depths and holding.  We approached this large bay on a sunny Sunday afternoon with very little wind.  When we arrived, there were 4 sailboats in the NW side of the anchorage, and we found plenty of room further East along the beach.  The anchorage has good protection from wind and swell, except from the SW… more on this later.  On the beach a party of 6 women were set up with a tent and a lavish arrangement, waited on by a male crew member.  They had a good time into the evening back on their catamaran.  We settled in for the night, listening to voices and music from other boats, and saw lots of bioluminescence and fish activity in the water after sunset. 

The anchorage with the Sierra de la Giganta mountains across the way.

In the morning we were having coffee during sunrise when we heard exhaling and saw a few dolphins jumping near the boat.  We went on deck and realized there was a large pod of them in the anchorage, having a wonderful time cavorting with each other in and around our boats and swimming back and forth to the rocky points at either end of the bay.  They came and went during the much of the morning and we were even able to go out in the dingy with them.  They swam off our dingy bow, turning sideways sometimes to look at me.   They treated us to an impressive aerial show with pairs of dolphins leaping out of the water together just yards from us.   It was life-affirming to be so close to them. 

The mystery bird from one of my earlier posts reappeared in this anchorage.  I caught them on film as they swam around during the dolphin visit.  It’s a bit challenging as they don’t stay on the surface for long at all, they pop up and then quickly dive again in rapid succession.  I am fairly confident that they are lesser grebes.  They look delicate from a distance and curve their bodies and extend their necks as they dive, but they look much more substantial in up close photos. 

Now that our dingy engine is healthy, we have more options for shore excursions.  If I was a hardy soul like the guy who came in on a catamaran the second day, I would swim to shore, but the 65-degree water is still a little cool for me.  Soon though! 

There are two anchorages, we were in the one on the left with the long white beach.

This island has several options for walks, so we took the opportunity to stretch our legs every day.  We went ashore and hiked up the ridge on the S side of the anchorage where we could look down over the whole scene.  We didn’t stay long because the tide was going out and the dingy was gradually being left high and dry.  If the water receded completely, we’d wind up having to wait for the rising tide to get back to the boat.  This kind of thing happens all the time in the PNW, where the tidal range is quite large.  It’s not as big down here, but enough to cause problems.  We have routinely used an “anchor buddy” which is an elastic line that attaches to the dingy on one end and a small mushroom anchor on the other end.  You throw it over when you get close to shore, plant the bow anchor on the beach, and then let out a bit of line. The anchor buddy pulls the dingy back into the water where it stays afloat in place.  Unfortunately, last year we lost the mushroom anchor trying to anchor in a snorkeling spot that had way too much swell.  So when we narrowly avoided having to spend hours on the beach, Larry fashioned a makeshift replacement from one of the small volcanic rocks on the beach.  The anchor buddy is back in business, but Larry will need to improve the lashings for the rock. 

Once we had the anchor buddy back in service, we could go off for longer hikes without concern.  At first glance, it feels like the terrain is nothing but dusty brown and red rocks scattered with cacti of various shapes and sizes, all of them prickly.  Once we started walking through the salt pond and sand dunes, I saw a whole range of flowers popping up as I slowed down and really looked at what was around me, rather than rushing through on a purposeful march.    

The southern part of the bay is rimmed with a steep rocky ridge and a twisty path leads to the top.  It extends to the southern edge but is truly scary with steep rocky drop-offs on both sides.  A misplaced step from poor balance would not end well, so we skipped that part and explored the views to the northern side of the island and across the Sea.

Larry with the peak of the south ridge in the background.

We checked out the rocky points on either end of the bay which are supposed to be good snorkeling areas.  They appear to have shallow depths of less than 12 feet, so we will likely try these out when we return later in the spring when everything has warmed up.  Near shore, there was not a lot of activity in the crystal clear water.  I found it notable that on one dingy landing, there was a large black boxfish near shore but no other fish, which is why he caught my eye.  There aren’t any urchins or anemones, but there are clearly crabs living there, we just haven’t seen then. 

Our fellow bay residents turned over, and only a sailboat remained during the day on the northern edge of the bay.  We had watched their boat pitch and roll dramatically in the first morning and wondered how they were faring, and during the course of the day watched what we imagined was a drama playing out, with lots of solitary morose looking activity, and even their two dogs looked downcast.  They were still there the next morning.  New boats came in, including some folks on a Nordhavn 46 whom we met from a distance.  It seemed to be a fairly equal mix of American, Canadian and Mexican cruisers, but only a half dozen of us, which is sparse compared to what we have heard this bay often holds. 

For a while it was just us and the small sailboat.

After a couple of wonderful days, we had a look at the weather forecasts and saw that Westerly winds were expected the following day.  We decided that we would move over to the anchorage on the other side of the hook the following morning so we would have protection from the waves.  We had the right idea, but we were too late.  At about 1:30 am we awoke to the wind and swell suddenly picking up.  It went quickly to 20+ knots and stayed there all night.  Winds and swell were from the SW – rolling right into the anchorage, and we were pitching like crazy.  This was the dreaded situation in which the boat would be on the beach if the anchor didn’t hold.  It did hold but made for a sleepless night on anchor watch for Larry, and a restless night for me too.  The winds died down in the morning, but the swell remained, so we pulled up anchor right after sunrise and headed to the little fishing village of San Evaristo, which is on the mainland and has good protection from westerly swell.

Sunrise against the Sierra de la Giganta Mountain range as we left in the morning.