We awoke in the morning after rolling around in the swell most of the night. While we love the beauty of Los Gatos, we just haven’t found a night there where we’ve not had an uncomfortable roll. The wind had shifted from the prior evening, and we were closer to the rocks that morning than I personally felt comfortable with. Already awake after a restless sleep, and with the proximity of the rocks, we just decided to weigh anchor and leave at that time. SV Mapache and SV Catspaw decided to follow suit, and we convoyed out of the anchorage, straight into about 15 knots of wind. Excited for the opportunity to sail, we all pulled our sails up and quickly started moving north along the coastline…right until the wind completely died. Noting what felt like a wind line in the distance (where the water looked darker due to wind over its surface, instead of the lighter colours flat-calm water where we were. We were rewarded by a katabatic wind, flowing from west to east from the land, and we shot off like a bullet. Before long we saw some gusts over 27 knots per hour, and Stu was able to try his hand at reefing the mainsail in stronger wind. Sadly, the excitement didn’t last, and before long we were becalmed again, bobbing along. Stu took advantage and launched the drone and was able to get some fun views of the three boats moving along in tandem.
We only had 18 nautical miles to go to get to Agua Verde, so we all had fun with our respective boats, goading each other on over the radio, and enjoying the opportunity to sail when we could.
Back in Agua Verde, we dropped our anchor in the northern ‘lobe’ of the anchorage, nearly on top of where we had previously anchored. As there were several boats around us, Mapache and Catspaw anchored further over in front of the main beach. We all dinghied ashore for dinner at the tiny palapa restaurant on the beach.
Truthfully, there’s nothing much better than home-cooked Mexican food, while sipping a Mexican beer while wriggling one’s toes in the sand. The girls entertained everyone as they played with the proprietor’s granddaughter, and we all enjoyed watching the sunset continually change the colour of the sky.
Being able to show our new friends the girls’ favourite ‘swimming beach’ was a highlight, as were hikes to a nearby arroyo and Stu free-diving for an urchin I spotted from the paddle board.
Agua Verde has definitely been a favourite anchorage of ours, now having spent fourteen days total there over the last couple months. It is really interesting to see an anchorage over a stretch of time, as it can change so much from day to day and evening to evening. I suspect we’ll be back.
Neither Stu nor I had much idea about what we’d find in La Paz. Since departing Puerto Peñasco, Everyone spoke of it as the next best place for boat items, shopping and all around provisioning. I wasn’t particularly excited about getting back to a ‘big city’ but we had a shopping list of things we wanted to get organized, and La Paz felt like the logical place to get started. Between (hopefully) steady access to services, as well as many of the trades we knew we were likely to engage, it was time to get down to work.
Ask around and you will get a number of differing opinions about anchoring in La Paz. Some have done it for long stretches of time, and just accessed the town via the ‘dinghy dock’ at Marina de La Paz, and had absolutely no issues. Others have found the mix of wind, currents and tides to cause endless issues, particularly with other boaters dragging their anchors, and a general game of bumper boats ensuing. Knowing we had things to do, and that we wanted steady access to wifi, we decided to head for a marina instead of anchoring in La Paz. Unfortunately, we should have called ahead a lot further out than the few days before arriving, as the only marina that had the space for us (remembering that a catamaran is wider than the typical single-hulled sailboat, and usually takes up 1.5 slips at a dock) was the most expensive one in La Paz, Costa Baja (otherwise known as ‘Costa Lotta’). That being said, the cruising guide told us that there was access to amenities such as wifi, potable water, showers and laundry machines, a free shuttle to downtown La Paz, as well as access to a pool, so we figured it might well be worth the price. Unfortunately, it turns out Costa Baja is really a marina set up more for luxury yachts (that have their own services aboard) and charter vessels (who have offices there at the marina), than it was for cruisers. Sadly, there were no laundry machines, the showers left a little to be desired, the wifi was very weak and the pool they directed us to was the Beach Club next to the marina, which charged $20 USD per adult, per day, for entry. In addition, the shuttle to La Paz went three times a day, between 9:30am and 3:30pm, which wasn’t ideal for all the errands we wanted to do. Not exactly what we’d read.
That being said, we settled into life at Costa Baja in due course. We figured out that if we went to the hotel attached to the marina, and just walked into the pool like we belonged, asked if we could be there, and be sure to buy a beverage, we were welcomed without a fee. The girls absolutely adored the pool, and we spent many long hours there as they grew increasingly more comfortable with floating in their life jackets and puddle jumpers.
We also decided to rent a car, so we had a much more convenient means of doing our errands, seeing that the marina was a solid 20 minute drive out of downtown. Having the car meant we were able to explore some more, and that we could do trips to Sam’s Club, Walmart and other shops, which wouldn’t really have been possible with the girls via Uber or taxi. This also allowed us to find a laundrette in town. You really can’t beat having your clothes washed, dried and folded for you for less than you would pay to use a laundromat back in Canada!
On the long list of things to do in La Paz, our main priority was picking up our new 40 gallon-per-hour CruiseRO watermaker, and connecting with an incredible artist named Sergio Galindo of La Paz Welding and Fabrication for the purpose of some stainless steel work on the boat. Sergio isn’t just an artist in the figurative ‘he’s good at his job’ sense, but an actual artist who worked on some very famous steel sculptures. He’s incredibly talented, and we’ve now seen his work on many other boats, and are looking forward to the new arch he’ll be installing on the stern of Skookum V to hold some additional solar panels, as well as new davits for raising and lowering our dinghy, and some other bits and pieces throughout.
In addition to Sergio, we connected with a woman named Christy Flores, who helped us finally print and install the name, logo and hailing port on the boat. We finally have a name! Christy was a character, and we were reminded of the endearing element of having work done in Mexico, where they’re very quick to say ‘yes’, but timing is always optimistic for actually getting things done.
We also connected with Hector Escalante, who we had heard was excellent for canvas work. All of the canvas surrounding our cockpit was getting pretty tired, and the metal snaps and enclosures corroded. Hector did an awesome job of cleaning the lexan panels and replacing the snaps so we can hopefully get another long stretch of life out of the canvas before having to replace it entirely.
Over the months prior to our time in La Paz, our dinghy was getting sadder and sadder, to the point Stu would have to pump it up every time we wanted to use it. We figured there were a few decent holes throughout, so contacted Bob at La Paz Inflatables to see if he could help out with repairs. Bob spent a week repairing the dinghy in his awesome little workshop where he and his wife live and work tirelessly. He also spent the week trying to convince us to buy a different dinghy he had on site, which we momentarily considered with its console and electric-tilt motor. Alas, it was too heavy for our current davits, and he returned our little dinghy, newly freckled with patches. So far so good, as we haven’t really had to pump her up since!
As we’re nearing the 12 year age mark for the boat, and the standing rigging (ie. The metal cables that hold up the mast and sails) is getting ‘past best’ we knew we’d be likely facing a ‘re-rigging’ this year, especially since we intend to sail south of Mexico come the late fall. Often this involves hauling the boat out of the water, de-stepping the mast, and can come at considerable time and expense. Fortunately, we were able to find a rigger in La Paz who can handle the rigging work right at the dock. We will be coordinating with him when we return to La Paz in June for Sergio to install the stainless steel.
Finally, being in La Paz with consistent internet access meant we could get on ordering the various boat ‘things’ we had been thinking about over the last few months, such as new dock lines, some new running rigging (ie. The ropes attached to the sails etc), and a washing machine! Yes, once we have our new watermaker installed, we will be able to wash our clothes on the boat without needing a toilet plunger and wrecking our wrists wringing everything out! For those who have young kids, you’ll understand our excitement with this.
It wasn’t all work and no play in La Paz, thankfully. We were excited to meet up with fellow boaters Rick and Cynthia on Catspaw, who had been incredibly generous helping us out when we first arrived in Puerto Peñasco, and to get to meet their friends, Rob and Sarah on their boat Mapache. We also met a single-hander named Cheryl on her aptly named boat, Wahina Toa (meaning ‘Warrior Woman’), and fellow sailors Paul and Hazel on Susimi. We all did a trip to the Serpentarium where they have rescued and are rehabilitating many of the animals we’ve read about but never seen in the wild (like rattlesnakes!). Some margaritas were consumed on the Malecon for Rob’s birthday, and we were introduced to our first shopping experience at Soriana, another of Mexico’s grocery stores.
In addition to gallivanting around La Paz trying many of its tasty treats, we decided to take the opportunity of the rental car to zip down to San Jose del Cabo for a few nights to visit our friends Andrew and Gabriella from SV Journey. Andrew and Gabriella had set themselves up in a lovely Airbnb outside San Jose del Cabo for the month while Andrew was taking care of some back-related matters, and the owners had another unit available right next to them, so we took a little weekend trip to see them. We have always loved road tripping, and the girls do incredibly well in the car, so we all enjoyed getting to see a little more of southern Baja, with pit stops in Todos Santos, El Pescadero and Cabo San Lucas. While Cabo is definitely not our speed, the pace in San Jose del Cabo was much nicer, and a lunchtime visit to Flora Farms was a definite highlight of our time there (save for the visits with our friends, of course!).
Two weeks on the dock went by in a flash, but we really didn’t want to be there longer than we needed, as we had friends on their way south from Puerto Peñasco who we were really looking forward to seeing, and we wanted to head north toward them as soon as we could. After tearing the boat apart and putting it all back together again with the boat projects and provisioning, we were on our way with a very early morning departure through the busy waterways surrounding the town.
After a quiet day of reading, puzzles, movies, paddle boarding, snorkeling and lots and lots of sitting and watching the small pod of dolphins that became our temporary neighbours while we were in San Evaristo, we decided it was time to move on in the morning. We awoke to the clanking and jingling of the goats in the hills above us, chasing the decreasing shadows as the sun rose overhead.
The seas were relatively calm, and the wind wasn’t predicted to fill in until later in the day, so we decided to take the opportunity to make a pit stop at a place called Isla Coyote, which sits between Isla San Jose and Isla San Francisco. As we made the crossing, we saw about a dozen different turtles, peeking their heads out of the water with curiosity, and then diving back down unimpressed. This is the most turtles we’ve seen in one place, and I can’t get enough of them.
On Isla Coyote, which rises a mere 40m above sea level, and appears to be about the size of a football field, sits a small fishing village. Just off the small island is a reef extending west, surrounded by azure blue water and abundant with coral, urchins and loads of different species of fish.
We dropped the anchor in about 30 feet of water and prepared ourselves for a little explore (sunscreen on the girls: check; hats on everyone: check; snacks in the bag for hangry crew: check). As Stu dropped the dinghy we noticed tiny, coin-sized transparent jelly fish floating by with long, trailing tentacles. From time to time a larger one would pulse by, more the size of a baseball or fist. These are the first jellyfish we’ve seen so far in the Sea of Cortez, and they were mesmerizing to watch float along in the current. As we don’t currently have a book for identifying them, I wasn’t sure whether they’d be stinging or not, so thought it was best to warn the girls against dangling their feet in the water off the transom the way they like to.
We putted about the rocks, piled high with sea gull and pelican guano, peering into the water as we went. We identified the usuals: sergeant majors, angelfish, groupers, coral, urchins and lots of trigger fish. We also saw some bigger fish who were a bit too far away to identify, as well as our fist parrotfish of this adventure. Their bright turquoise scales were so pretty to watch as they swam confidently among the rocks. We also saw red crabs about the size of an avocado scurrying up and down the intertidal area on the reef, and the gulls sitting above them eyeing up their next meal.
After a toodle around the island, we pulled up to the shore where there were several fisherman cleaning their daily catch. We had read in Sean and Heather’s cruising guide that it might be possible to arrange a tour of the island, and to buy fresh seafood from the locals. As we approached the shore, a wizened old fellow with white whiskers all over his face approached the water’s edge with two massive crabs in his hands. They looked like Alaskan King Crab, or something like it, but alas my local species guide only described tiny reef crabs, so I couldn’t properly identify it. One kind man came down, and between our broken Spanish, and his patience, we were able to determine that they weren’t currently doing tours of the tiny island because of COVID precautions, which we completely understood and respected. We did purchase one of the big crabs, with a wingspan of probably 2.5-3 feet, as well as several fillets of fish. On completing the exchange of pesos for the fresh fare, the man we’d been talking to passed over two tiny, delicate pieces of coral for the girls to keep, which he said came from very deep down in the water. (Of course, on getting back to the boat we asked Lily where her coral was and she happily stated ‘in the water’ – nothing is precious in the hands of that little girl, which is probably good to be reminded of from time to time).
From Isla Coyote we headed over to another reef barely peeking out of the water known as Rocas de Los Flocas, which is a known sea lion rookery. The wind had started to pick up from the east (and the sea lions were west of us), but as we passed on the west side of the rocks the pungent smell was undeniable. Several of the sea lions were floating in the water around the rocks, just at the surface, with their fins stick straight up like sails. A large sealion hauled his massive body out of the water and started expressing, what I can only assume was his protest to our presence, with his deep honking noises. Then, those in the water and surrounding rocks joined the choir, which Lily took as an invitation to join in. Hooting and hollering we enjoyed the concert before moving on.
We had originally discussed heading further south to Isla Partida, for an anchorage known as Bahia Grande, but as the sea state from the south was picking up and we were banging more into the waves, we decided to detour and head into Isla San Francisco. We originally had planned to avoid Isla San Francisco, despite it boasting one of the prettiest beaches in the area, as it is known to be frequented by charter boats out of La Paz, including those fancy ones we’ve all seen on ‘Below Deck’. But, we decided it was worth the risk of party central to have a more peaceful afternoon with some beach time for the kids. All told, if it weren’t for the insane amount of boats that worm their way in there (we counted 16 by the time we went to bed), this would likely be a favourite anchorage with its pretty white sand, it’s cerulean blue water dotted with green sea grasses, and the numerous turtles that swam around our boat through the evening.
Looking at the forecast for the following days, we decided it made the most sense to make our hop to La Paz the next day, skipping Isla Partida and Isla Espiritu this time around. We will take stock once we get to La Paz, so we can get a status update on some of our intended boat upgrades, provisions, shopping etc…, get back online, check out the various marinas and the location of our friends that are heading down from the northern end of the Sea, and make a plan for the next few months.
I wanted to write this post as I want to make note of it so it doesn’t become ‘common’. There are such spectacular days back to back here in the Sea of Cortez, it can become all too easy to let them pass by without remark.
We awoke back in one of our favourite places, Agua Verde, after the failed attempt to head south from Puerto Los Gatos in short, steep waves that had us slamming into them at 3.5 knots per hour, despite engines running at 2500 Rpms (which would have us moving forward at close to 7 knots per hour otherwise). The morning was an unusual one, as we were used to waking to the sun coming up and warming the boat quite early. Instead, we awoke to very low-hanging cloud that better resembled the fog we see near the ocean back in British Columbia, which envelops the mountains and kisses the sea. Everything on the outside of the boat was damp with dew, and there was a chill to the air we hadn’t felt in a few weeks. It was beautiful, albeit a touch eerie.
Over our near-daily oatmeal we watched several boats leave the anchorage, taking note through the binoculars whether they were bouncing on waves or not once they hit less sheltered water outside of where were anchored. Determining that the waters looked calmer than the day before we decided to take the chance that the sea state had calmed and we could try to head south again that day. Shortly after our morning coffee we were visited by neighbours who had dropped anchor the prior evening; sitting in their dinghy and holding on to the side of our boat while we crouched down at the edge to chat. This kind of visit is very common these days, where we all want to meet each other, but don’t want to impose, and are also still mindful of giving wide berth due to COVID. We had the pleasure of a brief visit with Nicole, Larry and their beautiful daughter, Ellie, from SV Milou. We bore witness to the other side of the equation, as they are heading south to sell their boat and take a break from cruising life so their near-teenage daughter can go back to regular school (her request), and attend to other land-based personal matters. This led to an extended conversation between Stu and I about how we’d been originally thinking about waiting until the girls were closer to 8 and 9 years old before contemplating an adventure like this one, and what it would be like to be an only child on this kind of journey. We wish the Milou family really well in this new transition, and are only sad that we met them this late in their season such that we can’t spend more time with them on the water.
We pulled the anchor shortly after the visit, waved goodbye to our new friends Angie, Gary and their lovely dog Reggie aboard SV Nivasi, and headed out to test out the sea state. Not long after we exited the anchorage we were back in swells of close proximity, but decided to push further out to deeper water to see if it wouldn’t have the same fetch-like impact of shallow waters. Thankfully, this was the right choice and not much later we were rolling comfortably over the swells and heading south.
Before we knew it, two blue whales made their appearance in the distance, their VERY long slick blue backs arcing through the waves. Before long, it felt as though whatever direction we looked, every 20 minutes or so, we’d see a spout of water shoot from the surface of the sea or on the horizon, and then the dark back of more whales glide by. I am fairly certain we mostly saw blue whales, fin whales and some humpbacks, who would dive deep and flip their tails up right before descending. At times we were close enough to make out the barnacles on their backs.
The sea state was choppier than the day we transited to Puerto Los Gatos, but regardless once in a while we could make out the unique disturbance in the water of manta rays floating on the surface. From time to time one would jump right clear out of the water, flip upside down and dive back in with a huge smack. My research tells me there isn’t much certainty about the reason they do this, but one theory is that they do it to alleviate themselves of parasites growing on their skin (the speed of the jump, the inability of the parasites to breathe outside the water and the force of the smack as they drop). There’s really no warning of their jump, so catching it was a matter of luck, and we spent more time responding to the slap of their fall and the white bubbles left in their wake than we did actually seeing their jumps.
About 6 nautical miles from our intended destination the wind finally shifted to the north and was in a position behind us that we could raise a sail. As Stu was entertaining the girls (who have done SO well entertaining themselves for the most part in the last three days of sailing, but needed a little attention), and I’m not strong enough yet to raise the mainsail on my own, I decided to just unfurl the genoa and motor sail the last stretch. Feeling the surge from 6 knots and hour to 8 knots an hour, just under the one sail was so fun. Then, as I stood on the side deck enjoying the lowering sun, the warm wind and the waves, I saw another strange disturbance in the water immediately next to me. It was another manta ray, this time quite a bit smaller, and it was lying upside down with its white belly to the sky. As we came close we must have startled it, and it flipped around and sped past the boat and down to the deep.
We arrived at San Evaristo, a small fishing village (but the largest community we’ve seen outside actual towns) near sunset, and dropped anchor in a little bight set away from the main part of the community, but well-sheltered from the now 20 knots of wind coming from the north. There were several large sailboats in the larger part of the anchorage and two other smaller boats tucked in with us. As we prepared our leftovers for dinner, we were witness to pangueros zipping their pangas in and out of the bay. Shortly thereafter a panga came right by us, dropping their anchor in the 200 feet between us and the shoreline. They dropped a net in the water, and then huddled down into the gunnels of the boat. They were still there when we went to bed, and later in the night when I was up for my middle of the night ablutions. This is not the first time we’ve had sleeping fishermen anchored next to us, and it does make one reflect on all the comforts we have tucked into our big boat here, as they sit with no light, no blankets or pillows, awaiting the right time to head back out fishing.
As I sit here writing this I can hear goats high on the hillside above us, bleating like small children; their bells ringing constantly as they teeter back and forth on the precarious rocks that dot the ground. Next to me the girls jump up and down in excitement, gripping the lifeline and watching as a small pod of dolphins bobs up and down seeking out their breakfast on the reef that surrounds us, sounding like a steam engine with their huffing and puffing in the water just next to the boat. If this isn’t pure magic, I don’t know what is.
Postcript: The dolphins continued their pattern of swimming back and forth through the shallows, sometime no more than 25m from the boat, for at least another 12 hours (they were still there when we went to bed, but not when we woke up the next morning). I noticed about half way through the day that there was a tiny little dorsal fin dipping up and down next to one of the larger ones. Part of me wonders whether this was a newborn, and they were teaching it, and making sure it was ready before heading back into open water. Dolphins have also been known to show behaviour we exhibited while sleeping, as they can turn off half their brain at a time, and move languidly around while letting it rest (but still ascending and descending for air). Those may have been some very tired dolphins!
Ugh, once again I’ve been failing at regularly updating the blog, and really there is not much excuse, save for the fact the more ‘behind’ I feel in posting, the more I avoid dealing with it.
I’ve written a few posts along the way, and have held back on posting them because I hadn’t posted about the places prior to those ones, and didn’t want to get ‘out of order’, but I’m going to try to get over my OCD-like tendencies, and just post what I have so far, and then do some catch-up posts.
We’ve also filmed a tour of the boat that we’ve been trying to finish editing, and we’ve been procrastinating on that as well!
So, please excuse the fact we’ll be a bit out of order, as we catch up on the time spent since Puerto Escondido!