March 7th, 2017
With the weather that is. The forecasters were spot on for a spell. Strong northwesterlies and steep seas were forecast for four days. Those winds and seas arrived and kept us in beautiful Los Frailes. We hiked to the top of the 755 foot granite peak, studded with cacti, walked miles down a curving white sand beach, and enjoyed three snorkels off the Pulmo reef. The density and diversity of tropical fish along the Sea of Cortez’s only coral reef offered a visual feast that called us back each day. The delicious red snapper, bought from the local fisherfolk, provided us with fish tacos and grilled fish dinners. All in all, a delightful stay in a beautiful, albeit windy, anchorage.
The forecasters then predicted two days of lightening northwesterly wind and diminished swells. This was our chance to make our way north, bashing into manageable winds and seas on our way to La Paz. The night before our departure we deflated and stowed the dinghy below, tied on the snorkel and wetsuit bags, and prepared the boat for a hard beat to windward. At dawn we were greeted with darkening cumulonimbus clouds and distant lightning. We were eager to travel north, and the squall looked isolated, so after rechecking the forecast, which mentioned no fronts or other adverse weather systems, we set out, raising a double reefed main under increasingly threatening skies. The first squall flew by to leeward of us, but the winds aloft soon brought several more our way. With reefed jib and main we made good way riding the northeasterly winds directly towards our destination. Most of the squall clouds blew on by, but ultimately we were trapped by one system, with light rain dripping down among the squirrely winds. As we exited its vortex the wind lightened and then seemingly evaporated, sucked up by the squall clouds to power its march across the sea. And so we sat and then motored for several hours until a northerly piped up and carried us directly to Bahia de los Muertos. No bash, no lightning strikes, and a beautiful afternoon sail to a safe harbor. A very good day. Yet after the grandeur of Bahia de los Frailes we were not sad to spend only one night in this small bay.
The next morning the forecast remained the same as the day before: 10-14 knots dead on the nose. We prepared the boat once more for the bash, thankful the dinghy was already tucked nicely below, raised the anchor and sailed out of the bay on a light southerly breeze. After a lovely reach out beyond the shallows, we turned north and sailed away from the 6 knot breeze. The sea was flat, so we were able to keep up a steady 3 knots with an apparent wind of 2-3. Not bad for a laden cruising vessel, but not fast enough to make our anchorage by daylight. We deliberated – did we dare raise the spinnaker when the wind was forecast to blow on the nose? Especially as we were traversing a channel known for amplifying the winds? We delayed, we peered into the distance for signs of whitecaps ahead, and finally we gave up on the forecasts and went with what was before us: a downwind run in an almost non-existent breeze. All hands on deck, with Anson directing the spin set, led to the glorious sound of the massive nylon spinnaker snapping full with the breeze. Our speed began to lift and soon we experienced the magic of being moved by a wind we could not feel. With the apparent wind measuring 1-4 knots throughout the day, Anthea glided on a flat sea, ticking off the miles to our next anchorage: Punta Bonanza on Isla del Espiritu Santos.
We sailed into a paradisiacal scene: lapis waters merging into turquoise, a curved, white sand beach framed by the remnants of old volcanic peaks studded with saguaro cacti. Sunset brought freshening southwesterly winds, and as the dinner dishes were being dried and stowed the mast began to hum. By midnight we were in the thick of a Corumel, a local wind phenomenon in which colder Pacific Ocean wind flows across the Baja peninsula, fueled by the comparatively warm Sea of Cortez. As the rigging hummed and the chop built, Mark and I assessed the anchorage and turned on the anchor alarm. By morning all was calm, and the memories of a disrupted night faded with each sip of holy sacred morning coffee in the cockpit.
Much of cruising involves dealing with stuff, so, after the traditional pancake breakfast to honor a magical spot, we began. Out came the dinghy from under our berth, with Devon arranging the pumping station and bringing it to life. The dinghy alone requires oars, wheels (for hauling up the beach), pins for the wheels, gas can and engine. That routine complete, we packed a lunch and water, socks, shoes, sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and life jackets. Anson lovingly packed his camera and lenses in dry bags, and finally we managed to get ourselves into the dinghy and onshore. We pushed and pulled the dinghy up the steep white beach, comprised of shells, most broken and crumbling into sand, others whole, took a quick dip in the refreshing waters, and set off across the plateau at the base of the old peaks. It was a starkly beautiful scene, and as we climbed, the turquoise sea provided relief from the dry expanse of desert. Small birds, burrowing mammals and hares claimed the land, while vultures circled above. Anson trailed behind, dropping to the ground to snap photos of unsuspecting animals while we dodged thorny plants and climbed over pumice rocks.
The plan had been to snorkel after the hike, but by the time we returned to the dinghy, an unforecasted northwesterly was howling at 20 knots. Simply climbing from the dinghy up to Anthea in the brisk chop was an effort, as was lifting all the gear out of the boat and keeping it from being blown away. With too much faith in the forecast, we believed the weather experts were only 5-10 knots off in the prediction, so we stayed in the anchorage, swayed also by two guide books proclaiming the bay’s protection from northwesterlies. It is true that the point kept the steep swell from entering the anchorage and turning our boat into a giant rocking horse. But what the authors failed to mention was the extraordinary “point effect” of this anchorage, namely that it was a mini Point Conception or Point Mendocino. While the rest of the Sea may have seen 20-25 knots (rather than the predicted 10-14), Mark and I spent a sleepless night monitoring the anchor in gusts of 30 to 35 knots. We did the math on depth of anchor, height of bow, length of rode and were only mildly comforted by the knowledge that we had the recommended length of chain out for a 30 knot blow. After realizing the risk of injury was great if we were to remove a snubber line, let out chain and reattach a snubber in the dark of night, we opted to monitor the situation closely. Each 35 knot gust made the boat and us quiver, but the anchor held, and we finally trusted it enough to take turns monitoring the ipads (one displaying the path of our boat as she yawed across the arc of the anchor rode, the other displaying wind data) while the other slept.
Morning coffee was not quite the healing balm, as the wind had barely abated. Our journey to La Paz would take us through a narrow channel with a shoal on one side and a reef on the other. We felt the press of time to depart before seas and wind built further. With Anson relaying directions from Mark at the bow to Kim at the helm, we up-anchored and motored into a relative calm. We seemed to have anchored in the windiest spot for miles around! Relieved, knowing we wouldn’t be navigating through a six foot, steep chop, and with a sailing wind building, Anson let out the jib and we ate breakfast to the sound of water lapping against the hull and wind in the sail. The 17 miles to La Paz was spent with eyes close to paper chart and ipad to avoid shoals and rocks, monitor currents, and identify the entrance to the long, narrow channel that harbors La Paz. Under jib alone we surfed down the waves and swayed our way into La Paz, loving every minute of the morning sail.
Safely at dock at Marina de La Paz, we can all go ashore for the next adventure: kiteboarding lessons in La Ventana, starting tomorrow, weather permitting. The forecast looks promising: may it be right!