And now for something completely boring. I have to add a little boating content just to keep things salty. We have a 7/8″ double braid rope as our backup anchor rode. We will connect it to 40′ of chain and then the anchor. A metal thimble (metal piece that goes inside a loop of rope to attach to other metal things) for this size rope is a big hunk of metal that I don’t want flinging around. So I was planning to just attach the soft loop at the end of the rope to the chain but I hadn’t fully thought through how to connect the rope to the chain, and was being lazy about it. But recently at Isla Isabel, where the anchoring ground was all rock, I was very worried about our main anchor getting stuck in a rock and us not being able to pull it up. In that situation, you would re-anchor on your secondary anchor and dive to free the primary one. Well, my laziness was coming back to bite us because we couldn’t use the backup. But luckily the primary anchor came up and I quickly got lazy again about the backup. Now that we are safely in a marina one of the To-Do’s was to tackle this.
With the help of Allen Edwards who runs the immensely helpful L-36.com website, I made a long loop of Amsteel which I attached to the rope with a prusik hitch and to the shackle on the chain with a cow hitch. Here are some pics. My foot is in there for perspective.
We had a jam packed week moving from the Baja peninsula across the Sea of Cortez to Mexico’s mainland. We started with a quick 11NM sail from La Paz to Espíritu Santo, a beautiful 7.75 mile long island full of marine life and quiet coves. Because it is part of the national marine park system, the island is protected and uninhabited by humans apart from a handful of fishermen.
Neko in Espíritu
We’d stopped here in Partida Cove on our way to La Paz and wanted to return to check out another one of the quiet coves. Our friends on “Celebration” were the only other boat in Raza Cove which made for a perfectly peaceful evening and lovely way to say, “hasta luego” to Richard and Audrey. We look forward to seeing them again later in our travels.
Sidebar: Our first time to Espíritu Santo; was with our first “hitchhiker”. What the what, you ask???!!! Yes, I felt the same way. When we were anchored in Muertos Cove on our way to La Paz, Peter took Lucy ashore to get some land time. On the beach Peter met Alex, a young Canadian traveling around Baja on foot after his mountain bike suffered repeated flats from the tough terrain. Peter radioed me to say that he had invited Alex to travel on our boat back to La Paz. I of course thought this was nuts and we would be killed in our sleep, tossed overboard and the latest sensationalized murder story to fill up the cable news shows.
Lucy, Mary, Peter and Alex
But the moment Alex stepped aboard I could tell all would be fine (isnt’ that how all those stories begin LOL). He had never been on a sailboat, but immediately jumped in to help, learn and could not have been a nicer guy.
Espíritu by land
He wanted to see wild Espíritu, so we stopped there one night before dropping him off in La Paz. Oh Canada, you raised him well.
So back to Espíritu part two, you could spend a week+ here exploring all the coves, but after only one night, the positive weather report was the ticket for us to start the 300 NM crossing of the Sea of Cortez from Baja to the mainland. The winds the first day were perfect for sailing and we buzzed along day and night. The second day, the winds died down, so we had to do some motoring.
Mary off the clock
Luckily there was a full moon, making it much easier to spot the odd boat and sea turtle swimming by on night watches. We do 3 hour watches, which means I am on duty for 3 hours while Peter naps and then we switch off and I try to get a little shuteye. After 2 days of this your sleep pattern is off and you catch zzzzs whenever.
After 50 hours of sailing, we were thrilled to see the stunning island of Isla Isabel and happily dropped our anchor behind the picturesque Las Monas rocks.
Las Monas, Isla Isabel
Soon after we were hailed on the radio by “Heavy Metal”, another sailboat nearby inviting us over for sunset cocktails. Peter, Lucy & I dinked over and met Rigo and Deborah who were our link to meeting several other boats who welcomed us into their band of merry pirates.
Isla Isabel was the perfect place to catch up on some sleep, chill out, snorkel and see something I haven’t seen before – blue footed boobies. I’m not much of a birder, but these little guys were so comical I couldn’t help but laugh. And yes, they really do have bright blue blue feet.
Blue footed boobies
The males do this funny “dance”, swaying from side to side lifting their feet to attract females. It is so damn cute, I can’t believe Pixar hasn’t made a kid’s movie about them. (more Isla Isabel photos)
Matanchén, was our next stop and first official mainland port. We traveled the 42NM within the small fleet of boats we met in Isabel and spent the next few days getting to know them and exploring the area.
Matatchén Bay, Mexico
Matanchén is a large shallow bay perfect for easy anchoring and dinghy landings on the beach. The only downside is the infamous Jejenes (“hay-hay-nays”) which are tiny no-see-ums that inhabit the beaches especially at dusk and really throw a wrench into sunset happy hours. The restaurants burn coconut husks and the smoke somewhat helps to keep them away, but those annoying little bastards loved me and almost a week later my legs still look like I have a case of the chicken pox. Oh, the price we pay for living the life of leisure.
Matanchén is just a short drive away from San Blas, a charming little fishing town of Longfellow’s famed poem “The Bells of San Blas” (never say I didn’t teach you anything in this blog). Luckily the fleet of boats we met back in Isabel had given us the inside scoop on taking the early morning panga tour through the mangroves for first crack at seeing the wildlife. And we joined the crews from “Heavy Metal”, “Destiny”, “Sand Dollar”, “Cat2Fold” and “Ayla May” for a jungle tour.
Crocodile on the banks of Rio Tovara
It was absolutely beautiful (thankfully bug free) and full of birds, iguanas, turtles and crocodiles. Even this Florida Gator was impressed with the size of these suckers. At the end of the trip down Rio La Tovara you end up in a fresh water spring that is fenced off so you can take a dip without being lunch for the crocs you just saw. Everyone knows rusty chicken wire will keep out even the most determine croc 😉 We all had a great time swinging out into the river, showing off our best cannonballs, back flips and belly flops. (see more photos)
Peter swinging into La Tovara Spring
Fish monger in San Blas
Next we went into the town center to tourist around and hit the markets for fresh produce. But what seemed to be the highlight of the day was our ride back to the beach. Now it was our turn to be the hitch hikers. As we waited for the bus a local family pulled up in their pickup truck asked, “La Playa?” and motioned for us to jump in the back. So ten of us along with two locals already back there jammed onto wooden benches and held on for dear life while we whizzed down the road. I don’t know what was more dangerous swimming near crocodiles or riding in the back of a pickup going 70mhp, but I do know they both were a blast. (click here to ride with us)
Hitching a ride back to the beach with crews from Sand Dollar & Cat2fold
Well, it is definitely true what they say: setting a cruising schedule is futile. La Paz (Spanish for Peace) wasn’t even on our original agenda, but the more we heard about it, the more curious we became. Cut to one month, yes that’s right, one MONTH later and we are finally throwing off the dock lines and heading over to the mainland of Mexico.
Pete says sometimes he feels like this guy.
La Paz is a charming seaside town and the capital of the state of Baja California Sur (Mexico has states just like the U.S.A.) Thankfully they’ve found the balance of embracing visitors without selling their soul to el diablo and turning everything into a tourist trap. The city has kept its charm and has an active town center with shops, markets, great restaurants, etc. And although it is on the water it isn’t chock full of mega beach resorts – kind of like the Florida Keys, better for water activities than lounging on the beach. There is a strong ex-pat boating community here that provides support and camaraderie. I’ve become addicted to their biweekly game of dominoes and we even shared an intimate pot luck Thanksgiving dinner with 300 of our closest new boating friends.
Night out with crew from Celebration and Ariel IV
Good lord we’ve even hosted and attended dinner parties, stayed out past midnight and made some great friends we hope to see again along the way.
Kilo of hot peppers anyone??
But it isn’t only about the gringos; we are fully embracing the city as a whole. It is great to hear Spanish spoken all the time and we are trying hard to learn. My problem is that I really get shy when it is time to speak. I understand a lot more than I can say and my vocabulary is building, but I just need to put the words together without sounding like an idiot. Practice, practice, practice and as David Sedaris says, “Me talk pretty one day.”
But, I will pat myself on the back for figuring out the bus system. I love a bus. To me it allows you to really see a city and its people. And sometimes getting lost is the best part. Being here for this long stretch has given us the opportunity to “live” here and has opened the window a bit on another culture, language, and community we were hoping for on this trip.
We are off to Isla Espíritu Santo, an island and National Park know for its marine life. Then we will embark on our 2 day crossing, across the Sea of Cortez to La Cruz on the mainland of Mexico.
We rented a car (ridiculously cheap at $14/day) and drove about an hour SE of La Paz to the small beach town of La Ventana so I could do a little kitesurfing and Mary and Lucy could do some beach walking.
La Ventana is a funky little town plopped down on a desolate and beautiful piece of Sea of Cortez beach. Its anything goes and there is a large camping area right on the beach where people stay for the entire season in everything from tents cobbled together from tarps to lux RVs.
Camps at La Ventana Kite Beach
For those familiar with 3rd Avenue, its got the same side-on wind attitude, very similar waves and an L-shaped layout. But its much bigger, the water is clear and warm, the launch is a wide-open sandy beach, there’s no mud in sight and the downwind shore is more sandy beach and not unforgiving rip-rap. Other than that, its the same.
I hadn’t kited much in the last year so it was good to scrub some rust off. I got two good sessions in and had some fun in the waves. Now I can’t wait to get to the next kite spot – probably Bucerias in Banderas Bay.
Whale sharks are the largest living species of fish. They are docile sharks that feed on plankton and can grow to 40 feet. That’s a big fish.
Shark Size Comparison
When feeding they swim slowly and suck water into their very big mouths to filter out the tiny organisms they eat. We heard there were several of them feeding out in the bay here in La Paz so we went out in our friend’s dinghy (Richard & Audrey of Celebration) to check them out. They don’t appear to mind divers getting close to them and we were determined to see them in the water. From the boat you first see that familiar dorsal fin shape moving straight ahead with the tail fin swishing side to side.
Whale dorsal fin
Its clearly a very big shark, so you definitely have to repress that human shark-fear instinct to force yourself to dive in. Plus, you’ve got to jump in right near it because even though it is moving slowly and deliberately, its still moving too fast for you to catch up to if you don’t start out close. So you dive in, get your bearings, open your eyes and see a 20 foot shark close enough to reach out and touch. Even though the thing is generally harmless (although you wanted to stay away from its tail) there’s something about being that close to such a huge animal in its own environment that is a little awesome and scary at the same time. We all did a couple of swims with them and then left them to feed in peace.