As we approached the bay of Ballandra on Isla Carmen, I was increasingly nervous as I counted 3, then 4, then 5, then 6 other boats anchored inside the small cove. But, as we’ve learned almost every time we’ve anchored, everything seems way closer when we’re on the boat then when we have perspective off the boat. We were able to find plenty of room in the end, and anchored in about 15 feet of clear water with loads of fish swimming around beneath the boat. As we arrived we could see everyone gathered on SV Catspaw, with Rick working a fishing rod over the side. We quickly donned our sunscreen, the girl’s sunsuits, and our sun hats (leaving the boat is always a production!), dropped in the paddle boards and paddled over to check out what was going on.
Turns out, Rick had found a special spot for trigger fish, and had already caught 4 or 5. We see trigger fish everywhere here, zipping around with their dorsal and pectoral fins wriggling back and forth in opposite directions. It was decided that Rick and Cynthia were going to be making fish and chips for everyone that night, and that some of us needed to learn how to properly clean a trigger fish. So, Cynthia gathered Cheryl (Wahina Toa), Sarah (Mapache) and I on the side deck to show us, which is entertaining in-itself considering Sarah and I (and the rest of Skookum V) are primarily plant-based. But, always open to learning new things and thankful for Catspaw’s infinite generosity, we dove in.
We spent a good part of the afternoon hanging around and on Catspaw as the fish were caught and cleaned, alternating between the deck, the dinghies and our paddle boards. As the girls had been growing increasingly comfortable with the water, Stu suggested to Lily that she try jumping off the dinghy she was sitting in. Before we knew it, she’d jumped in and then immediately started swimming away from the boat. We asked her where she was going and she replied ‘To go get Marshall’, and just kept swimming. Marshall is her Paw Patrol figurine. Which was on our boat. About 200 metres away. Thankfully, our buddy Rob (fondly referred to now as ‘Uncle Rob) quickly swam after her to coax her back to the boat, which wasn’t that tricky after she was stung by a little jelly fish (all good, it’s happened to all of us and totally fine).
That night we had a feast of fried fish and jicama fries…we all rolled into bed with full bellies that evening. A little tequila and mescal may have been imbibed as well. In fact, we pretty much spent the whole time in Ballandra eating, as the next evening was a huge Middle Eastern feast as well. Needless to say, our waistlines have not benefitted from this special social time.
Earlier this year, before we hit the warmer weather, we had been warned that bees can be a little bit of an issue in the Sea. Basically, as the weather warms up, and any semblance of natural fresh water evaporates, the bees are starved for fresh drinking water. Needless to say, sailboats tend to have fresh water available to them, between rinsing off salty bodies on the back deck, dish water, drinking water and those boats who have the fortune of a fresh water rinse for the anchor. While we were at Ballandra, we had our initiation into the arrival of bees, late afternoon when the day was its hottest. We were supposed to be hosting everyone for happy hour, but the bees decided they would take over our cockpit first. Fortunately, we were able to quickly close up the boat, and once the bees determined there was no fresh water available to them, they moved on, and happy hour could commence.
With its clear, warm water, Ballandra (this time around) was a favourite. Some of us did a little snorkeling of the reef inside the bay, and all told we saw dolphins, many different fish, a lobster and octopuses (Catspaw saw the octopuses, we saw the lobster). Several evenings were spent, post feasting, on our trampoline watching the sunset and looking for shooting stars.
After a few days in what quickly became one of our favourite anchorages, we checked the forecast and decided a hop to another anchorage which is one that is really only best when the weather conditions are calm and the wind is low, was in order. We followed our friends on SV Alegria out of Caleta Candeleros Chico and headed toward the small island of Monseratt. We made our initial stop at two little islets sitting off the north end of the island, which are surrounded by shallow depths. This made the water surrounding the islets bright tourquoise in colour, and we were hoping for some good snorkeling. Sadly, the wind, current and conditions were such that the water just wasn’t very clear that day, so after lunch and a quick swim, we pulled the anchor and headed south to the anchorage at the very north end of the island.
Not long thereafter, we found ourselves at a stunning white beach, backed with sandy dunes sulphur yellow in colour. Shortly thereafter SV Cavu arrived and we all zipped over to the beach for the late afternoon. We had a lovely catch-up, and the girls were in heaven with all sorts of people to play with them in the sand.
As the next day Stu had a call scheduled, we decided to move back toward the stronger internet signal en route to rejoin our friends on Mapache, Catspaw and Wahina Toa who were already anchored in an anchorage called Ballandra on Isla Carmen. We’d spent one night here previously, but due to prevailing winds had moved on before we’d had a chance to really enjoy it. Once we’d had our dose of internet we were able to raise the sails and have a gentle sail most of the way up the coast of Isla Carmen – a favourite way to pass an afternoon!
We awoke the morning of our intended departure from Puerto Escondido to a message from our friends on SV Alegria asking us if it was windy where we were. Mike and Katie on Alegria, and Dave and Marla on SV Cavu were both anchored in an anchorage about 7 nautical miles south of us called Candeleros. It turned out they’d had an incredibly rolly night in the anchorage with sustained winds over 30 knots for about 18 hours, gusting up into the 40s. The seas were choppy around them, causing damage to a neighbour’s jib that accidentally unfurled and flipping a dingy unexpectedly. In the meantime, this is what it looked like where we were:
We were surprised to hear of the conditions, and admittedly a little hesitant to head out in that direction if it was going to mean another rolly non-sleep. But, itching to catch back up with our friends who we’d not seen since February 1st, we decided to do it anyway. But, before doing so, a few final chores:
Getting in some last-minute internet for research, emails etc.
Filling the water tanks, which involves unearthing the hose from the forward lazarette, hauling it along the boat to the dock, connecting it and watching as it fills so we don’t overfill one of the tanks
Getting rid of our last garbage up at the top of the dock
Topping up our dinghy fuel (taking jerry cans up the dock to be fueled at the fuel dock)
Saying goodbye to our dock friends
Most importantly, buying an ice cream to enjoy on the way out
Once we’d covered all those items, we took off from the dock. Stu and I have been taking every time we land at the dock, and every departure, to practice our dock-related skills. This time we were departing with a wind that was blowing us back on the dock, and we wanted to try a slightly different technique where we re-rigged the dock line at the bow so I could release it while on the boat after having let off the stern line, instead of our usual technique where I release the bow, then the spring line (at the middle of the boat), and then we pivot out on the stern line, and I release it last as I step on the boat. Our new technique worked, and it was nice to have another practice under our belts.
The rocky and rolly seas our friends had slept through the prior night were evident as we left the protection of the marina and headed out. We played around with the sails a little bit. There is a funny passage between a few islets as we turn toward the anchorage, and it really played with our sails the last time we passed through, so we just decided to save ourselves the hassle and motored most of the way.
The anchorage we were headed to is called Candeleros Chico, and is noted in the cruising guide as quite small, without much room for more than one boat, but our friends assured us it was great and proving way more protected than where they’d been the prior night. We were a little suspicious as we rounded the corner and saw it from outside in the passage, as it didn’t look protected at all, but it really turned out that it different once we were inside. We nearly missed our opportunity to anchor here as we approached, as a small fishing power boat arrived at full speed and passed us entering the anchorage, looking to drop its hook right where we intended. Thankfully, they were very generous and asked if we were with the other boat already anchored (which we were) and elected to leave so we could have the spot.
An awesome reunion with SV Alegria was had, and we were really spoiled by Mike and Katie (and their buddy Chris who was joining them for the week) sharing their self-caught yellowfin tuna with us. Sashimi and rolls were quickly made, and devoured! While we have continued our plant-based ways most of the time while we’ve been here, we’re not inclined to turn down a treat and opportunity like this.
We are so thankful to our friends on SV Alegria for sharing this beautiful anchorage with us, as it has quickly become a favourite. Situated facing north-east, it isn’t an anchorage that would really have been possible before this time of the year when the winds switch from prevailing northerlies to more prevailing westerlies and southerlies. We were tucked inside a little ‘hook’ of rock that rises about 5 or 6 stories, and offered great protection from the north. On the other side of us was a small window out into the Sea, which empties to a shallow passage at low tide, with lots to see from the paddle board. A variety of cactus cover the surrounding hills, and, as pointed out by Mike on Alegria, the bigger mountains in the distance that form part of the Sierra de Gigante range look like the mountains of Cambodia near Ankor Wat, temple-like in their appearance.
The water at Candeleros Chico was clearer than we’d seen since leaving La Paz, and we could see straight to the bottom in the 15 foot depth we were anchored in.
Close at hand in Candeleros Chico is the reality of the fishing industry that surrounds us in the Sea of Cortez. Littering the beach on one side is what Stu dubbed the ‘fish graveyard’, where we can see the heads and tails of mobula rays who were likely bi-catch in the fishermans nets. While mobulas aren’t traditionally caught on purpose, they’re commonly caught unintentionally in the fisherman’s nets. It isn’t entirely uncommon for the mobula’s ‘wings’ to be sliced off, and sometimes hole-punched to be sold as scallops (so beware when ordering scallops in this part of Mexico – if they’re too perfect a circle, they’re likely not a real scallop). As the wind shifted several times while we were there, we ended up downwind of the rotting carcuses from time to time, which was a tough reminder of those dead rays.
We had a lovely time catching up with Mike and Katie, daydreaming of future adventures and sharing sailing tails. I was able to join them and Chris for a hike over to another bay south of the anchorage, where we saw many different cacti in bloom, crabs scurrying over rocks by the water and a small dolphin show in the neighbouring bay. This is the first time I’ve seen the dolphins as active as they were, jumping clear out of the water and flipping around as if they’d been trained to do so. It is impossible not to whoop and holler when witnessing this display of what I can only imagine is pure joy!
We had planned to leave for Puerto Escondido with Catspaw and Mapache, but the weather had shifted a bit, and we were facing some northerly wind with some decent swells. Having already bashed our way through something like this at an earlier date, we decided to stay put for a few extra days, and wait out a break in the weather. Unfortunately, both Catspaw and Mapache had reasons they needed to be on wifi in short order, and the wifi available for a fee from the small tienda in Agua Verde wasn’t quite strong enough to meet their needs, so they made their way north through the waves. This was actually a really good reminder that even when we ‘buddy boat’, we still need to review each situation and make our own, independent decisions that reflect our own circumstances, needs and comfort levels. It is easy to be caught up in what everyone else is doing, or to want to stick together, when maybe it isn’t necessary. In this case, putting ourselves, the girls and the boat through a day of bouncing along the waves, when we had no real reason to do so, was worth taking into consideration. It did allow us an extra day to take the girls over the hill next to us for a little walk in the arroyo.
So, a few days after our friends departed, we pulled anchored and followed. It was a calm passage, without much wind, so we were able to play with our sails a bit, and pull the spinnaker out once again.
We radioed ahead as we approached Puerto Escondido to check in with the marina and confirm they had a spot for us. There are two options when staying in the incredibly sheltered spot that is PE, either tied to a mooring ball (a floating ball that is already anchored into the sea floor), or on the dock. While it is considerably less expensive to be on the mooring ball, there are a few advantages for us being tied to the dock. First, we’re able to access a high-speed Ethernet cable, so Stu can get work done at all hours of the day without having to leave the boat every time to access the Wifi on shore. Being tied to the dock means a very easy a frequent walk to the pool at PE, which is a huge help as the girls always go a little nutty when we’re at the dock, without regular trips to the beach, and we have to have our heads on a swivel at all times with the various dangers that arise.
Returning to the dock at PE felt a little like coming home to a familiar place, as all the staff at the marina recognized us and welcomed us, and took the time to stop and see how we were doing and say hi to the girls. We also ran into several people we’d met previously, which made for some fun catch-ups as well.
Our first night there, our friends on Catspaw, Mapache and Wahina Toa joined us at the restaurant at the top of the dock called La Brisa for a tasty meal that none of us had to cook! Getting to share our respective tales of the day’s sail while sitting around a table (instead of crowding around someone’s cockpit) felt quite civilized – and the margaritas weren’t half bad either.
It was a short stop in PE this time, but still enough time for some re-provisioning (grocery shopping), socializing, for some catch up on the morning radio ‘net’, and for Stu to dismantle the old watermaker and start installing the new one. Radio nets have been a regular part of the cruising life for decades. They take place either over VHF radio or single side band (SSB) radio (for those people who have HAM radio licenses). A cruiser in the area acts as the ‘net controller’ and leads an ‘on-the-air’ gathering through a radio call, and there is generally a pattern to the discussion:
They’ll ask if anyone has any medical or other emergencies, and then whether anyone heard anyone else with medical or other emergencies to pass on
There is sometimes a general ‘check in’, where everyone on the net introduces themselves, their boat name and sometimes a note about where they are or the conditions where they are
Someone will give a weather report for the area and a report on the local tides
There is often a call for ‘local assistance’ so anyone who needs help with something in the area can ask and those participating can answer (such as, ‘where can I get a COVID test before flying to ___’, or ‘hey, I need someone to do a repair on this sail, who should I talk to’ etc.
Here in Mexico, one is not permitted to sell anything without a proper Mexican business license, so there is always a part of the net dedicated to ‘swaps and trades for coconuts’ (basically, no one is supposed to advertise anything for sale, whether it be parts or services, but the reality is they get in touch after the morning’s net and talk dollars and cents under the radar)
Truth be told, the useful information we can get from a radio net is relatively minimal, and it is often a place for the salty dog sailors to chat about nothing in particular. The radio nets are becoming less frequent as everyone has cell phones or satellite connections, with more frequent access to cell service and social media, so they’re finding ways to connect directly for information. While more convenient, I personally find it sad to see this but of nostalgia that was so particular to the boating world dying off. I distinctly remember getting up in the morning while out on a sailing trip with my Dad, waking to the smell of coffee percolating over a propane stove, and the sound of the morning’s radio net telling us what the day’s weather would be, and all the other tidbits of information. Plus, it is always entertaining to find out what you can get for some ‘coconuts’ (the best so far being an inversion table – you know, that thing you strap your ankles into and turn upside down? Who has room for THAT on a boat?!)
Having offloaded our old watermaker to another boat who were short on funds but clearly stocked with technical knowledge (the old watermaker had some work that needed to be done to it), we had a quick visit with our buddies on Red Rover, topped up our water tanks, filled up the dinghy gas tank and prepared to head out to meet up with our friends from the boat yard in Puerto Penasco, SV Alegria and SV Cavu.
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.