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.
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!
Skookum V has been docked at Marina Fonatur in Santa Rosalia for just over 24 hours. Naps have been had, tacos have been eaten and we’ve had a small explore of the town. Now we’re sitting on the boat while the girls colour and Stu works, trying to eat three avocados worth of guacamole at 10:30am because the avos were about to go bad. So, I figured I’d use this time to describe our true ‘Maiden Voyage’.
First, I’ll explain a little about this ‘weather window’ we’d been keeping an eye out for before leaving Puerto Penasco. To give some context, PP (as I’ll call Puerto Penasco, because I’m cool like that) sits at the very northern end of the Sea of Cortez, which is 700 miles long, and weather impacts its waterways from a variety of sources. Systems blow in from the Pacific and cross over the Baja Peninsula, which can whip through low points in the land, and often accelerate as they pass through the gaps between mountains. Katabatic winds also result from high density air from a higher elevation flowing down via gravity (to the sea). At night the land cools faster than the ocean, which causes the dying of the daytime sea breeze, and then the air pressure over the sea (lower than over land, because the sea temperature is warmer than the land) causes winds to flow out to sea. Differences between the land temperature and the ocean temperature can also result in different weather patterns. In addition, winds known as ‘Northers’ flow from the lands to the north and funnel down the Sea of Cortez, often at pretty high speeds. This, combined with the depth of the Sea (relatively shallow) creates waves that are short and steep, which when sailing into can be very, very uncomfortable.
The other relevant factor is that there are almost no safe places (in terms of protected anchorages) to stop along the Baja Peninsula between PP and our first intended destination, Bahia de los Angeles. Knowing our first journey would be the 140 nautical miles from PP to Bay of LA, we didn’t want to be caught in one of these Northers, and unduly stress ourselves, the kids or the boat before we’d really had a chance to know how well she sailed. At the recommendation of our coaches from SV Totem, we were waiting for a weather forecast that showed a large enough window in the weather without a Norther and with minimal wind. Ideally, despite being on a sailboat, we wanted to motor our first passage and get that first bit south nice and safely.
Throughout the first few weeks of outfitting the boat we watched the weather, and basically, we only saw one opportunity to make the ‘jump’; however, we weren’t quite ready to go at that point. We had system after system of high winds pass through in the week after we splashed the boat, so we sat at the marina once again watching the weather and awaiting our chance. Keep in mind, while weather forecasting is a science, it is also about predicting forces of nature, which are known to change without warning – a healthy dose of being prepared for the unknown is definitely required.
So, when our weather window presented itself, it was ultimately time to go. Preparing ourselves and the boat at this point included the following:
Making sure we had enough diesel (the fuel for the engines);
Making sure we had enough propane (the fuel we cook with);
Making sure we had enough water (we haven’t used our Spectra watermaker yet, as the waters in PP were just a bit yucky!)
Final provisioning (making sure we have our fresh produce, our dry goods, our preferred snacks and, of course, enough beer)
Putting things away on the boat that could fall over, break, get in our way etc… (though admittedly, this isn’t as critical on the catamaran, which doesn’t heel over the way a monohull does)
Setting ourselves up to deal with potential sea sickness. I had actually been experiencing a little while at the dock, so we wanted to be sure neither Stu nor I had to do more than necessary inside the boat, where it can get worse. I cooked up some vegan Mac and Cheese, and had it ready to heat; cut up veggies and fruits for snacking; made sure we had a basket of snack-worthy nuts, chips, cookies, granola bars and chocolate to dip into; made sure the girls pajamas and bed were set up and easy to access; pulled out our warmer clothes and jackets to access as night set in etc.
Deal with downloads and other necessities while we had cell service – favourite tv shows and movies for the girls, playlists from Spotify, podcasts to listen to, books from Audible, last-minute weather forecasts, mail forwarding to our satellite system, updates to family and friends
When we awoke on Tuesday morning, our planned day of departure, we realized we had one very important last-minute task to do. Not knowing when we might next come across a product of the same quality, we scurried off to @cafepuertoviejo and bought ourselves some more of their gorgeous ground coffee…phew!
We had a delightful send off as our new friends, Colin and Angela, from the sailing vessel AngelaLee, lead us out of PP in their dinghy around 2:30 in the afternoon and waved as we dialed ourselves into our charted waypoint. We had timed our departure with the intention of arriving at a channel between the Baja Peninsula and an island the following morning in daylight, based on our expected travel speed of 6-7 nautical miles per hour.
The afternoon and evening passed quickly. We bundled ourselves as nighttime arrived and the temperatures dropped further. Our Mac and Cheese was devoured quickly with a side of steamed broccoli, and then it was time for stories and bedtime for the girls. I did the latter as quickly as I could, as we had a little wave action and I was starting to feel nauseous while down below in their cabin. The good news is that the best cure for nausea (aside from getting off the boat, which wasn’t an option) is to be at the helm (steering wheel) watching the horizon. On that basis, and the fact Stu sleeps much easier than I do, we agreed I would take the first watch.
Stu settled onto the settee (couch/bench thing) in the cockpit, snuggled up with warm blankets and a pillow, and I took my place at the helm, scanning 360 degrees regularly and keeping an eye out for other vessels. The moon was obscured by clouds at that point, so it was nearly completely pitch black, save for the glow from our steaming light (a single white light on the mast) and navigations lights (a red and green light at the bow (front) of the boat, and white lights off the stern (back of the boat)), the lights of one fishing boat on the horizon and the insanely fluorescent turquoise streaks in the water caused by phosphorescence. It is near impossible to get photos of these, but here is your wiki link: Phosphorescence
We hadn’t planned a set schedule for taking watch at the helm, as we wanted to see how we both felt throughout the night. In the end it worked quite well that Stu went to sleep first, from 8-11pm, and then I slept from 11pm to 1am, and then Stu slept from 1am to 3am, and I slept from 3am to 5:10am. When I awoke, I looked out and saw the start of the most incredible sunrise:
Then, the kids awoke just as we were nearing Bahia de los Angeles. We checked the most recent weather forecast, which had been released at midnight, and all looked calm for at least another 24 hours. In a passing comment to Stu I said, ‘It’s been so nice, and the weather looks so good, we should just keep going.”…which of course, with Stu, is interpreted as permission, not suggestion J. Within about 30 minutes we’d talked it over, messaged Totem over satellite to have them double check the forecast, and made the decision we were going to head further south…another 120 nautical miles, and another overnight passage. Here were the main factors in that decision:
The weather window was looking to be much longer than originally forecast, and no real wind was anticipated until Thursday afternoon (and at that time it was Wednesday morning).
We knew we would be facing another overnight passage when we decided to leave Bahia de los Angeles anyway, so might as well get it done now.
It was unknown when we might find another window to make that hop south.
A big wind was anticipated for Friday (over 30 knots), and we’d be more comfortable with the boat tied to a dock behind a breakwater than sitting at anchor (and hoping the anchor was staying put).
We anticipate we will be spending quite a bit more time in Bahia de los Angeles when we head north later in the year.
We had been quite cold while in PP, and the further south we head, the warmer we’ll be.
Santa Rosalia is an excellent launching point for a whole bunch of awesome anchorages, whereas there was only one decent anchorage between Bahia de los Angeles and Santa Rosalia.
We were feeling good, had each had a decent amount of sleep the night before, and were ready to take on another overnight.
The kids were super happy and chill, and enjoying the trip.
We had an engine light come on not long out of PP, which Stu suspected was an issue with the alternator, and it would be easier to diagnose and possibly deal with in Santa Rosalia where there was access to stores, wifi (for research), and a dock.
Totem just so happened to be at the dock in Santa Rosalia, and this would be a chance to see them in-person, and catch up on all the myriad of questions we always seem to have (and possibly get help with that alternator issue).
As my sister so eloquently put it, we just never really start small…so why not double our intended mileage and time on passage the very first time we’re out?
So, the decision was made, and as everyone saw by the video in the last post, we were so incredibly rewarded for doing so. I don’t think Stu or I have ever experienced anything quite as magical as that ‘super pod’ of dolphins (which may or may not be evident by Stu screaming ‘we love you guys’ to the dolphins over and over). We also had two separate whale shows (what my family has always called a whale siting) throughout the day, which we believe were likely fin whales – HUGE whales).
The rest of the passage was incredibly smooth. Dead calm waters, save for a touch of wind around midnight. Not quite enough to sail, but enough to allow us to motor sail (we put the sails up and used one of the motors at a lower rpm, and still made decent time). We saw one boat in about 15 hours, and otherwise had the entire second half of the passage to ourselves. And then we were greeted by another gorgeous sunrise as we approached Santa Rosalia. Turns out the alternator issue is just a broken wire at the back of the alternator, so should be an easy fix (as if I understand what any of that means…I have so much to still learn!)
I’m going to sign off this one for now, as it has become quite long (and I’m sure most of you have fallen asleep by now), but I promise we will get to that boat tour soon, as well as to answer the questions people have been sending us.
The title of this post is the response my sister sent over satellite messages when we informed her that instead of anchoring in Bahia de los Angeles, as originally planned, we were going to continue another 120-ish miles south to a port called Santa Rosalia…meaning another 18-20 hours at sea.
So, here we now sit tied to the dock in Santa Rosalia, 257 nautical miles south of where we started, having completed our first overnight passage. Make that two overnights! Stu and I are understandably tired, so this is going to be a short post just to say we are not in our intended destination, but we have solid cell service here so we will update again once we’ve had a chance to nap. I will explain why we jumped further south, and the decision-making process to do so, as well as describe what it was like to be sitting at the helm, plunging through the darkness at 7 nautical miles per hour while everyone slept, watching the bioluminescent phosphorescence alongside the boat.
In the meantime, have a peek at the amazing welcoming party we had for our first passage. One of the most amazing things we’ve ever seen: