Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Leave Puerto Escondido, No really, just leave it!

Puerto Escondido is a strange little place.  On paper, and from the air, it looks like the perfect shelter for boats coming up the inside Baja coast.  Fonatur, the Mexican tourism office, came in years ago and appropriated all the land around the uniquely sheltered bay.  They laid out wide boulevards with sidewalks connecting the inner harbor with the outer harbor and a short connector road to the main highway that takes you north to the town of Loreto.  They carved in an ellipse shaped anchorage with a concrete sea wall, placed a marina, fuel dock, and travel lift next door, and dropped mooring buoys throughout the anchorages.  It was an auspicious start; then development slowed, then stopped.  Now it is a fairly lonely spot, livened only by the transient cruising community who take shelter there in the landlocked, hurricane safe harbor. 

We were stuck there for a week, a little shocked realizing that we were without an engine and far from any facility we’d trust to help us resolve our diesel dilemma.  Once we loosened up with a day trip into Loreto to treat ourselves to a lunch out and a wild fling provisioning at the local supermercado we settled into the notion that we’d be sailing from here on out.  Who needs an engine anyway?  And isn’t that why the diesel is called the “axillary”? 

San Juanico Sunset
We did get a good internet connection there.  Not only was I able to post to the blog but I was able to research the facilities in San Carlos and Guaymas.  I sent out email messages to both yards, the local boat broker, and to our friends Robert and Virginia who are familiar with the area.  We got quick replies and felt much better about the availability of experienced help in those two cities.  I researched the Beta line of engines, a marine version of the Kubota, and came up with nothing but good reviews about them so we’re considering the re-power option pretty strongly now.  Now that we’ve talked to some people and resigned ourselves to another big investment we feel pretty good about our next month ahead.  It will be a challenge to sail the boat the long way up and over to the east side of the Sea of Cortez.  But we will be careful and take the time to enjoy this beautiful area.  This is a lesson learning time for us, a challenge for sure. 

Being in one place for a week you start to hear stories and meet people and you start to see the dysfunctionality of a place. At Puerto Escondido, Fonatur controls one side of the buoyed anchorage and API controls the other.  Both charge different fees with complications determined upon where you anchor or take a mooring and where you dock your dinghy.  Then there is the local yacht club with its curious shabby club house and set of strange hangers- on who choose to live there all season getting to know each other a little too well and looking upon the rest of us as temporary visitors who will be gone tomorrow. (So why bother embracing us when we’ll only leave and break their hearts?) Throw another dog on the grill, have another beer, and tell that crazy story for the umpteenth time.  Puerto Escondido, what a strange place to choose to live.  We gotta get outa here!

I ain't nothin without my cup of morning tea.
We thanked our friends for the loan of the mooring ball, dropped the painter into the bay and raised our sails.  The boat sat still in the water.  Ten minutes later we were ten yards away.  I strapped the dinghy to the starboard stern quarter of Traveler and used it as a tug boat to push us a couple of hundred yards to the south.  The vacuum that is Puerto Escondido was trying to suck us back in, suck us back to the mooring buoy.  “Stay for a little longer, won’t ya?” But ‘the little dink that could’ pushed the big mother ship out of the bay where we caught a southerly and off we went!  Sails full now, Traveler dragged the little dinghy beside her till we were able to kill the outboard and let her fall back off the stern.  The wind picked up and we had a sometimes brisk, sometimes not, sail up to the north end of Isla Carmen to the little bay of Puerto Ballandra 16 Nm NE of Puerto Escondido. 

We were clipping right along at 5.5 knots heeling quite nicely as we approached the bay and I became concerned about what I’d find there.  What if the small bay was full of anchored boats?  What if the wind was as stiff in there as it is out here?  So, I hailed, “This is the sailing vessel Traveler approaching Puerto Ballandra.  Any vessel anchored in the bay at Puerto Ballandra please come back on channel 22.”
Connie at Isla Coronados
Connie at Isla Coronados
We got a reply and were assured that there was space for us and that winds were light inside the bay.   Barreling along with a bone in her teeth (for those of you who don’t know what this means, it’s the way a ship looks with a big white bow wave crashing under her forefoot), Traveler had too much way on her for my pleasure.  So we rolled up the big genoa and came in under main only coasting into the entrance and into relatively flat water.  We slowly found our spot and rounded up into the wind.  Forward motion stopped, Connie dropped the hook, and the light wind gave her sternway as the ninety feet of chain slowly came out of the chain locker.  We dropped the main and stowed, covered, and coiled everything for the evening.  We’d completed our first embarkation and disembarkation without the assist of an auxiliary engine.  Whoo Ha!

After rigging the sun shade we noticed that the boat Moon Shadow next to us brought up their anchor and headed out of the bay only to turn around and come back into the anchorage to move to another spot.  Did they go out to empty their head?  Were we anchored too close?  Were they seeking better shade from the hillside?  Minutes later we were hit by a squadron of bees, bees in the cockpit then bees in the galley.  A hundred bees. Those little guys were thirsty for fresh water.  Connie had to give up doing dishes. The bees finished the job for her.  Two hours later the bees left, all but the three fallen soldiers drowned, two in the sink and one in my glass of wine.  He died happy.

We hiked up the volcano on Isla Coronados to view the anchorage below.
The next day’s sail to Isla Coronados (8 Nm away) was not quite as successful.  We lost our wind in the afternoon and ghosted around the corner at one or two knots taking hours to finally find enough wind to carry us into the wide open anchorage where we dropped the hook in 30 feet of clear blue water.  We stayed there three days, got in a nice hike to the volcano, and joined everyone for a dinghy raft up of cocktails and stories.  When I went to put Connie’s ukulele into the dinghy she made me put it back.  This time she wanted to just be another sailor and not the musician there for everyone’s entertainment.  She said, “For once, I’m just going to engage in conversation and be like everyone else.”

Our fossil fuel power plant.
At the raft up, everyone was very nice to us and we engaged in some good conversations.  Everyone seemed surprised and appreciative that we were making our way north without an engine.  The second day at Isla Coronados we peeled off four feet of rotten teak deck and started in on patching the leaking deck prism on the port side.  The third day we snorkeled in the morning then used the afternoon winds to carry us slowly north to Punta Mangles (15 Nm), sailing off the hook then using the dinghy to help get us away from the glassy water in the lee of the volcanic island.  A dinghy full of fellow cruisers came to say farewell and fair seas!  How sweet.

The seas built but the wind collapsed so that when we were a half mile away we were barely making headway.   I’m learning patience but hadn’t enough yet so I rigged the dinghy as a tow boat and used it for propulsion.  The rough seas tossed the dink up and down, the lines groaned, and everything got a little too tense.  Before we knew it we were in 20 feet of water and it was time to drop the hook.  The anchored skipped a few times then dug in.  We stowed what was necessary and rushed below to make a quick cocktail then sat in the cockpit doing our debriefing and letting the alcohol calm the nerves.  Our agreed upon new rule:  If we have rough seas we will NOT use the dinghy as a tow boat.  We will be patient and wait for wind.  It’s too dangerous to be jumping in and out of that thing when it’s bashing up against the mother ship. 
San Juanico rock formation with panga.
The next day we tacked our way the 7 Nm miles to the beautiful Caleta San Juanico.  As before, I radioed ahead and connected with an anchored vessel, Island Wind, who assured me that the wind would continue with us into the anchorage and that there was plenty of room there.  Under the eyes of five other boats we came in under genoa and main, rolled up the jib, and turned into the wind to come to a perfect stop in 25 feet of crystal clear water over a sand bottom.  Connie dropped the hook and I locked the rudder amidships and dashed to the cabin top to yank out some yards of mainsheet so I could push out and backwind the main.  It took all my strength to hold that big spar out to the side but I held it there until Traveler gained stern way and, clinkety clink, I could hear the chain coming out of the locker and over the bow roller.  Connie snubbed it at 120 feet and we were set, bar tight.

Just like tourists.. we gotta leave our mark!
Later, we took a quick dinghy tour of the beautiful bay and got ourselves invited to a beach bonfire party that evening.  As we prepared our stuff to go ashore, I set out the ukulele and Connie’s music bag.  She gave me that ‘look’ then said, “Alright.”  On shore the folks on Que Linda! got the fire going and we all tossed our foil wrapped food into the coals.  Connie and I used a section of our removed teak deck to fashion a little sign for us to hang on the “Cruiser Shrine” tree in the bay.
The tree is chock full of decorations and plaques from the of boats that have come this way.  We recognized many of the boat names there. We had read about the shrine and this was on our list of things to see and do up in the Sea of Cortez.  The next item on the list is to make it up to Concepcion Bay where Gerry does the Sonrisa Ham net weather. 

Cruiser Shrine
After the meal and the talk and once the sun had long set behind the mountains, we gathered around the fire and Connie played songs that everyone could sing along with.  Everyone was very happy and pleased with the music, the fire, and the good camaraderie.   And it’s back to the boat by 11:00 for good deep sleep until 2:30 AM when I went outside to investigate all the noise.  The dinghy was there floating safely as ever but all around the boat the water was jumping with phosphorescence as hundreds of fish danced around the hull.  The stars were bright as the moon was just a crescent and a light land breeze flowed across Traveler’s bow.  San Juanico, what a lovely place.  
San Juanico Bay  Can you find Traveler in this picture?

Once we get our light southerly we’ll head north trying to make the big Concepcion Bay 40 Nm away.  With these light winds we don’t know if we can get there in a single day but we’ll try.  ( As I’m posting this, two weeks later, I’m laughing at our optimism. Silly, silly people are we. )

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