Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas, 2009 - La Paz

The kids arrived over the course of several days, and, because of them, it feels like Christmas even in the warm weather. The first bunch, Steve’s, looking weary from a 12 hours trip from Anchorage, and Stuart, Teri and Meaghan (looking delicious in her 20’s style straw cloche arrived together. We all scattered to do some shopping and met again for dinner at a Mexican place which was recommended by one of the locals. It was good, but I was afraid that John was going to fall asleep in his shrimp soup.

A couple of days later, we took the Alaskans out on the boat for the day. It was a glorious day, well into the 80’s and not a cloud. We went to Espiritu Santo Island, to San Gabriel Bay. This is a huge and very shallow bay. One can stand in waist high water quite a ways out from shore, perfect for people not too confident of their swimming skills. We had it all to ourselves. We all played in the water, kayaking, snorkeling, beach combing, swimming and just enjoying one another. Finally we went back to the boat, tired and sunburned, to hamburgers and the boat ride home.

The next day, we took Stuart, Teri, Meaghan and her friend Kasey out to a different beach on the same island. It is called Bonanza. Again, we had it to ourselves, and we all had a mellow time although it was not as beautiful a day. It is pretty amazing that just a couple of hours from La Paz one can find such solitude. Stuart caught two fish, both Sierra Mackerel and we made ceviche.

Last night, Christmas Eve, we spent at Stuart and Teri’s. They have rented a large place nearby that has plenty of space for everyone to sit and visit. The deck is huge and overlooks town and the bay. Last night the locals were partying – lots of loud music and firecrackers. We were also partying and had a wonderful time. Today we will go back there for a non traditional Christmas dinner and, no doubt, lots more jokes and laughter.

Tomorrow Earl will take the boys – Jon, Suart, Steve, Daniel, Jamie, and John – out for a couple of days of fishing. The ladies will be left on shore with cars and credits cards. I think we will be able to amuse ourselves.

Friday, December 18, 2009

December 18, 09 - Costa Baja Marina

I left Earl for a few days. I don’t know everything that happened in my absence, but Daisy got stung by a bee and Earl got some type of intestinal bug. Obviously they need a mother around. Earl blamed his disease on food he ate downtown, but I have my doubts. I got sick as well within a day of my return without the assistance of eating any locally prepared food. Hopefully, that is all now behind us. Christmas is suddenly here. La Paz is all decked out with lights and Xmas trees which seems incongruous to me in the Mexican desert environment. There are Santas wandering the grocery stores and the Xmas background music, usually Feliz Navidad, is ubiquitous.

I flew back into to Cabo San Lucas instead of La Paz. The difference between the two destinations is apparent even on the plane. The La Paz flight is a small plane and the passengers are quiet. The flight to Cabo was a party, all the more because I had been upgraded to first class. There was lots of drinking, laughing and calling back and forth across the aisles. I had decided to take a bus to La Paz. According to information on the web, that would be about a 2.5 hour ride and the buses left every hour or so. Our plane arrived around 1, so I had hopes of being back at the boat by 5. It turned out to be a learning experience. First, the airport in Cabo is crawling with people to ‘assist’ you. I mentioned I wanted to go the Aquila Bus Station in San Jose, and before I even had a chance to look for a cab, I found myself sold a bus ticket to the bus station, for more money than I thought the cab was supposed cost. (Not that it was much either way.) I sat on the bus for 30 minutes while it filled up, and we finally took off, with the first stop being the liquor store. Most of the passengers, almost all US, got off and came back with open beers and bags. The next stop was the bus station. Only three of us got off, as the bus apparently makes the rounds of all the hotels, which takes Lord knows long, but the passengers, well lubricated did not appear to care. They were already on vacation. Once at the bus station, the next challenge was communicating. There was a bus at 1300 and one at 1330. The man at the counter was very sweet, but spoke almost no English and I was flustered, since he seemed to assume that I was paying for the other two people who had arrived from the airport with me, so I did not ask the most important question, which was not ‘when does the bus leave’, but ‘ when does the bus arrive’. It was a pleasant, and very slow trip, though various villages, back streets, traffic jams and even one fiesta. I assume the bus has regular stops, but apparently they are willing to make additional stops for grandma or who ever, as needed. I finally arrived at the bus station in La Paz at 7. I suspect that the 1330 bus was an express that would have been faster. The fastest service is apparently the Peninsular Executive, which was also listed on the schedule. They apparently run every two hours and are nonstop to La Paz from Cabo and San Jose. If I fly into Cabo again, I will call Peninsular first and find out where and when to take the bus to La Paz.

I had hoped to go out to the islands for a couple of days this week. It was not to be. For one thing, there seemed to be quite a long to do list of little jobs. For another, we had our first experience with the sustained north winds that can come up in the winter. It was probably not terrible conditions compared to some we have been in up north, but we have gotten pretty used to flat water.

We have bought a new weather machine, a serius. We are hoping that it will give us more detailed information for the Sea of Cortez than we have been able to get from the sat. phone weather net. As usual with electronics, we are missing some cable to complete the installation, so we will have to wait until Stuart brings it with him on Saturday when he arrives. We are looking forward to seeing Teri, Meaghan , Steve, Heidi, Jamie, Elora and John tomorrow. As I mentioned, the plane flying into La Paz is small, and apparently half the passengers will have the same last name. Meaghan’s friend, Kasey, and Jon, Becky and Daniel will be arriving a few days later. I am sure they are all ready for vacation in the sun and we are ready for a vacation with them.

We decided to rent a car for the time that the kids are here. Renting a car is not quick thing here. I don’t believe I have ever seen so much paper work. We were very fortunate in getting a nice new car from National. Some people we met here were not so lucky. The car they rented came complete with spiders which bit them. Then came the fun part – driving in La Paz. The main roads are not bad, but most of the rest seem to lack street signs. Instead, at almost every corner, there is an ALTO (stop) sign, usually hidden in the trees. Judging from the local drivers, a stop sign here is merely a suggestion. At the most, people seem to simply slow down a bit. It is a little scary.

We spent most of yesterday trying to track down a leak in the water system. We started getting water dripping in the engine room after the boat was washed down in San Jose del Cabo. Earl thinks that one of the guys must have sprayed water up the vents in the stack, some of which found its way inside. The water gradually dried up, until the day before yesterday when Earl was filing the water tanks, it suddenly started dripping again. We tore the boat apart, emptying refrigerators and moving them. The boat is put together like a jigsaw puzzle. You can get behind and under things by lifting or unscrewing panels. Earl chased waterlines all around the kitchen area. After making a huge mess, he determined that we did not have a leak, but that some of the water which had come in in San Jose had been moving again. We are pretty sure that it was following the course of a green wire which carries the lightening ground from the mast to the bottom of the hull. So it turned out to be a wild goose chase. On the bright side, Earl knows more about his boat then he did before, and we have clean refrigerators.

We had a lovely couple over for drinks and chili last night. They are on a sail boat and came down as part of the Baja Haha. They were from Ventura California, but sold their house two days before they left, so their boat is now their home. They are off tomorrow for Mazatlan for a month. We hope we catch up with them sometime along the way.

Today is Earl’s birthday. We will celebrate by doing a little exploring by car and no boat jobs.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

December 1 - Costa Baja Marina, La Paz

We had a couple of days with the Scarboro’s in La Paz before they left on the 18th. We reacquainted ourselves with La Paz, explored the Municipal Mercado, and two grocery stores, one small and one (CCC) very large. At the smaller store, we were buying tequila. We had an enormous and baffling choice. So I asked an older gentleman who was shopping what he could tell us. Bottom line, it did not sound as if he had ever had bad tequila. We bought his recommendations, one of which was his every day tequila and one which was a slightly more expense brand. So far, Earl has not had any comments.

We also checked out the Marina La Paz. It is very different from Costa Baja and in many ways nicer. Costa Baja is pretty swanky, with lots of locals cleaning boats, many of which are unoccupied. The marina is part of a resort development and has excellent security and a purified water system. It is a ways out of town, but there is a free shuttle every couple of hours during the day. It also has the advantage of being right at the entrance into the bay and therefore about 1 hour nearer cruising waters. Marina La Paz has a long history here and is much beloved. It is in very good shape, closer to down town, significantly cheaper than Costa Baja and mostly filled with smaller boats. There is a lot more activity on the docks than at Costa Baja. The downside, the security is far from reassuring and the water is not really potable. It is also definitely not a hurricane hole, having been wiped out by a storm in recent history.

At the Marina La Paz we had the good luck of running into our Canadian friends that we had met in Fort Bragg. They were on their way south for the winter and will be back in La Paz in March and promised that we would get together then.

We took off on the 19th for our first cruise of the Sea of Cortez. Our first stop was at the nearby Island Espiritu Santo, which is ringed with beautiful anchorages, all with sand beaches. It is only a couple of hours for us from La Paz. We expect to spend a lot of time in the next few months around this island and its neighbors. Then we went up the Isla San Francisco to an anchorage called the Hook, again an easy run morning run from Espiritu Santo. For the first time in a while, the water was choppy. We had gotten lazy and were completely unprepared for anything other than smooth waters and had not put things away. We broke a decorative dish we had just bought in La Paz and got salt on the boat. I guess it was a day for screw ups. I did a bad job of tying up the dingy after Earl took a ride and we saw it drifting away. Fortunately, another boat, the Kismet, rescued it for us. The hook at San Francisco is almost too perfect to believe. It is a large crescent shape with a beautiful sand beach and aqua colored water. It is perfect for swimming and kayaking.

We continued on north through the San Jose Channel. On the west side there is the Sierra de la Giganta which is red rock, reminiscent of what you would see in the Grand Canyon or the Southwest. It is strange to see it in conjunction with the beautiful blue water. The red rock makes for spectacular sunrises and sunsets. We ran 54 miles north to an anchorage known as Aqua Verde. It is popular and having been there we can see why. A sailboat, the Last Resort, which had been moored next to us in Costa Baja and which we had been running into on the way north was anchored nearby and we invited them to come for drinks. Dick is a cancer survivor and has a website which has inspired a number of others cancer victims. We bought his book and have been enjoying his history.

The next day we looked into Port Escondido which is an extraordinary natural harbor, and then went across the way to another lovely cove on Isla Danzante. Having satisfied ourselves that we could explore this area for a long time we turned south, first to a little community of San Evaristo and then returned to the Hook for Thanksgiving which we celebrated without turkey or TV. It was wonderful. We spent a couple of days there kayaking and snorkeling. Finally we pulled anchor and headed for Isla Partita just north of Espiritu Santo. On the way, Earl caught a dorado which was beautiful (and apparently very tasty) and lost another fish. Again we anchored in a beautiful spot. However around 5 the wind came up and Earl decided that he did not want to rock and roll all night so we pulled up the anchor and headed toward La Paz. It was a pretty chopping ride with the wind from the south west. It is hard to find good shelter in a SW wind here. We finally anchored in cove behind Isla Lobos where we had stayed with the Scarboros. It was quieter than outside the cove, but the boat bucked all night. In the morning we found the anchor was really dug in.

Returning to La Paz, I wondered what the most important discoveries were that we had made. The first is perhaps that this is a beautiful place to cruise, with almost endless beautiful anchorages. The next was that the Mexican charts for the area are not as precise as the ones we have at home. They are fine for the big picture, but not very much use close to anything. The plotter which shows our position from GPS has us routinely riding right over islands. It means we are learning new ways of navigating, using waypoints that we input with lat and long rather than just drawing in a course using the mouse. In the future we will input a number of these in our furuno plotter before leaving on a cruise. We are also very impressed with the cruising guide which we had purchased for the Sea of Cortez. It was written by a young couple and they have done a beautiful job of establishing GPS locations for anchorages and hazards, as well as doing a great job as a travel guide to the Sea. Another discovery is that our cell phones with Verizon are really not useful outside of La Paz. Our friends on the Last Resort had service with ATT which has partnered with Telcel here. They had good service. I will look into switching from Verizon at the next chance I have. I really don’t like being quite so cut off. We have the sat phone for emergencies, but it is just not the same as normal cell phone service. We also had the opportunity to check out a couple of small communities, Aqua Verde and San Evaristo. Both are fishing villages. Water desalinization has been a god send to communities like these. I wonder what they did for water before. We visited the small tiendas in each village. They are very small and very sweet. They have small supplies of canned items and some fresh vegetables and eggs. Nothing costs much. Another discovery is the extraordinary productivity of this sea. Every night we turn on our blue underwater lights and watch the fish and pelicans come. The pelicans tantalize Daisy as they dive under our swim step to catch fish which are incredibly thick. The boat basin here at Costa Baja also reflects the incredible fish population. Even during the day we feel like we are in an aquarium.

I leave tomorrow for a quick trip to New York. I hope Earl does not get into too much trouble in my absence.