Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Good Times at Cabo Pulmo Eco Palapa

Casabuena Bed and Breakfast in La Paz
February 8 we arrived by boat to LaPaz after motoring/sailing 300 miles from Guaymas.  Back in June 2010 when all this Mexico boating adventure started, Connie and I (and four friends) rented an old Morgan 41 for ten days out of LaPaz. After that trip we all unwound at a Bed and Breakfast named Casabuena.  Remembering that place, we walked over there and talked to Milton and SuSu who set us up with a nice room at a very good rate.  Connie and I went back to the boat, packed up
our gear, and grabbed a taxi to take our SIX bags of luggage to the hotel.

Oh the extravagance of a shower,  the luxury of standing upright, arms outstretched, the indulgence of walking around the block, the treat of a big soft bed, the lavishness of a lawn chair in the sun. We slept like babies.

Connie's Maraichi band: three violins, two trumpets, a guitar, and a bass.

After repacking our six bags of luggage down to four bags we hired a taxi to the bus terminal on the Malecón. When we checked in with Ecobaja Tours, the company that runs vans back and forth from LaPaz to Los Cabos International Airport, we were told that the van had broken down and we'd been rerouted onto the Aguila Bus, a cheaper option but a longer ride.  I changed some more dollars for pesos and we boarded the bus heading south.  Instead of charging right down Hwy 1 to the airport, the bus traveled down the west side of Baja on Hwy 19.  South of Todos Santos we saw whales breaching just offshore of the road, incredible!

The Aguila stopped in Cabo San Lucas then continued on to San Jose del Cabo where we piled into a van sent by Ecobaja Tours that whisked us to the airport where our goal was not to get on a plane but instead, to rent a car at Ace Rent-a-Car for $5 USD a day.  The rental price on cars is extremely cheap at the Cabo airport but the catch is that the optional insurance is five times the price of the car.  I hate all insurance companies (and most banks) so it gives me great pleasure to just refuse the insurance offer on rental cars.  If I wreck it, I'll pay for it.  To me, buying extra insurance is like placing a bet that I will drive recklessly and crash the car.  So off we went in our fancy Seat Toledo (not available in the US), up the highway back toward where we started in the morning.  This time we took the turn on Camino Cabo Este, the East Cape road.

A few miles east of La Ribera the road turned to gravel (Ha ha, the car rental contract said I was not to drive off the pavement) and soon arrived at Cabo Pulmo Eco Palapa.  This place is on a narrow tract of land that runs from the road down to the beach.  Near the beach is a cluster of buildings of all shapes and sizes surrounded by palms and flowering bushes. Bill White runs the place and has been the owner for about ten years. He showed us around the property touring the big Papagallo palapa, the Eagle's Nest and Sunset rooms, and the four cabanas which are actually tent trailers set up with views of the beach.

Outside our little tent trailer cabana "Blanca" at Cabo Pulmo Eco Palapa
We selected the Blanca cabana and settled in, stashing our refrigerator items in the communal kitchen.  Our cabana was on the slight knoll that looked down on a wide beach; facing the rising sun over the sea.  Over our one week stay at Eco Palapa we often visited the beach and always had it to ourselves north and south as far as the eye could see. And, it just so happened to be a full moon during our visit. Nice.

Bill checked the weather and wind for us and found that over the next couple of days the north wind was lying down so we drove south down the rough road to the village of Cabo Pulmo and the dive center where we made arrangements for the next day's dive. Then we drove further down the not-paved (Ha!) road to Los Arbolitos (little trees) where there is a nice beach for swimming and snorkeling.  It's a managed area with showers and palm woven shade umbrellas.  The snorkeling was good, lots of colorful fish.  What a relaxing place!

Day two we showed up at the dive center early and did a refresher course in the pool.  I think the instructor was disappointed in our skills, especially mine. It had been about three years since I got my diving certification and I was pretty rusty.  We then got together with three other people, suited up, and walked to the beach were they were putting in the boat.  On the way out to the La Cantil dive site we spotted a juvenile humpback whale breaching.  We switched off the engine and watched the youngster flipping out of the water.  Soon, the mother arrived looking huge in the water next to our little boat.

On the count of three the six divers flipped over backwards into the water and we descended to about 35 feet for a view of the coral reef structure and glimpse of a sea turtle.  The reefs at Cabo Pulmo are quite extensive, running in a north-south direction.  We swam south alongside and above the reef for the one-tank dive.  I had problems controlling my buoyancy sometimes drifting up then drifting down.  The instructor had to stay close and occasionally grab me.  I know I was pissing him off and was trying my best but all that was accomplishing was me using up my air too fast.  Connie did much better but did have a couple of non-neutral buoyancy moments like me.  45 minutes later we surfaced.
Papagallo at Eco Palapa

As we waited around to board the boat I got a good leg cramp that I was able to stretch out.  We flopped into the boat and everyone chatted excitedly about the dive.  Our instructor gave me a little lecture and we zoomed down the coast to find another site more protected from the wind by the cape at Los Frailes.  Connie and I have anchored many times in Los Frailes and often wondered how we could dive around the corner at Cabo Pulmo.  We didn't know there was a nice reef there just south of the anchorage.  I realized that my fun factor was waning so I stayed up top while Connie went down with the rest of the team.  I actually fell asleep lying on the dive boat bench in the sun.  It was quite nice. And you know, that's what's nice about being in charge of your own life.  Like they say in Southpark, "I do what I want."

After everyone surfaced we sped back five miles to the launch, huddling together as the wind on wet suits chilled us.  We hopped into the water at the beach while the crew floated a wheeled cradle out to the panga dive boat.  The driver ran the boat up onto the floating cradle and our dive master strapped it in place.  Then they ran a stout rope from the cradle to a four wheel drive truck and hauled it up the beach.  They removed the rope and backed the truck to the boat tying the two together with a long metal tongue so they could haul the rig back to the dive center.  I love how creative they are in Mexico getting boats in and out of the water without a boat launch.

For the remainder of our week at Cabo Pulmo we took a day trip to Los Barilles, did more snorkeling at Los Arbolitos, took a drive up to the hot springs near Santiago, and did more beach walking.  It was a wonderful, relaxing week in the sun and, aside from the dive trip, the costs were minimal.  Bill, at Eco Palapa was a fountain of knowledge and was able to direct us in our activities.

I rinsed the dust off the rental car and we returned it to Ace where they found no damage and sent us on our way.  Connie bought some Havana Club in the duty free store at the airport, we boarded the plane then flew to L.A. where customs was a breeze.  We spent a fortune on sandwiches while waiting for the Alaska Air flight to SeaTac, hoping our checked bags were making the connection along with us.  Now we are back home, house sitting for friends and enjoying the lush green that is Olympia, Washington.

At the hot springs

Note on the status of Traveler:
She was not happy that we ran off to Mexico without her so she pitched a little fit.  When we arrived the shore side charger had switched off, the refrigerator ran down the batteries, the bilge pump was running, and the MPPT solar charger ... wasn't.  You gotta love a boat!


Monday, February 20, 2017

Sprint South

The second "leg" of our recent Mexico vacation was a 300 nautical mile run south from Guaymas to LaPaz.  The crossing of the Sea of Cortez from Guaymas to the mouth of Bahia Concepcion is an 85 NM, overnight run.  On Monday, we caught wind just a couple of hours south of Guaymas and were able to sail until just after midnight when the wind dropped.  As usual, the seas continued to be rough long after the wind died.  We each took three hour shifts and at first light Tuesday we approached the anchorage of Santo Domingo. 

Breakfast and napping took place and later we had a nice dinner on the boat.  We did not go ashore as we didn't want to assemble the Porta-Bote, choosing to keep it aboard for the next day's 50 NM run south.  Connie and I had stopped at Santo Domingo many times in the past.  The beach there has lots of shells and a good variety of seabirds.

By this time the erratic behavior of the depth sounder over the last couple of days convinced us that we could not rely on it for any type of reliable reading.  We had a hand deployed lead line aboard but that was only useful when moving slowly in shallow waters.  We didn't have large scale paper charts on board nor electronic equivalents so navigating into anchorages proved to be a taxing experience for the skipper.  Thus, we normally traveled about five NM off shore during the day and approached anchorages very carefully, well before sundown. I'm glad that Connie and I had visited those anchorages in the past and that we had Shawn and Heather's Sea of Cortez guide book on board for this trip.

The anchorage at San Juanico
Wednesday we motored out into the calm and made our way south to San Juanico. I believe we caught an hour or so of afternoon wind that day and were able to sail for a bit before finding the six other boats in the anchorage.  Thursday morning we convinced Martin to stay another day then we assembled the dinghy, attached the outboard motor and went ashore.  We found the old Cruiser's shrine tree and our little Traveler sign was there, a survivor of the hurricane.  Later, Connie and I took a long hike over the hill to the north anchorage. It felt good to get on land for a bit.  San Juanico is a beautiful place.

Our old Traveler sign (teak deck scrap) from 2014 still hangs in the cruiser memorial tree
By this time I was in the throes of a head cold, coughing through the nights and using up TP by the roll. For the next five days I spent most of the time lying down, reading and coughing in the vee berth. 
Isla Coronado, view from the top

Friday we motored 18 NM south to Isla Coronado, trailing the dinghy behind us.  Because we got there early enough, Connie and I were able to get ashore to make a second attempt to climb the 950 foot high volcanic dome there.  This year it was cooler and we brought enough water so we dragged each others butts up the rough trail to the summit. Another bucket-list item done.  Silly, I know.
CB on top!

SV on top!
Saturday we ran out of water.  Somehow we'd used 70 gallons in ten days.  Luckily ugly old Puerto Escondido was only 23 NM away so we motored (again) down there and tied up at the fuel dock.  Martin chose to take a slip at the Fonatur Marina there which was nice for us but quite expensive at $87 USD for him. We were able to shower, do laundry, fill the water tank, and have a nice walk-about.  Connie and I had a disappointing dinner ashore but at least we got off the boat for a while.  Fonatur has sold its Puerto Escondido holdings to a private owner and rumor has it they are putting in 100 slips and redeveloping the run down property.  I hope once they get those docks in place they drop their rates!
Puerto Escondido

Martin decided that he needed to get to LaPaz a little earlier than we planned so we folded up the Porta-Bote and hightailed south on Sunday finding the anchorage at Timbabiche (Bahía San Carlos) 44 NM later. 2 freshly hooked cabrillo from a panga fisherman made a nice dinner that night.  Thus far the weather had been calm, too calm in fact, as we rarely found enough wind to move us faster than 3 knots through the water. Normally, on our boat,we'd do more sailing, even if the wind was light but this time we were on a schedule.  On Traveler, we would also tend to leave later in the day, waiting for the wind to rise, and then catch the late afternoon breeze to get us to our destination by sunset. It's such a beautiful cruise with many anchorages. No need to hurry; it's Mexico.

Monday we motored (and sailed a little in the afternoon) the 36 NM to Isla San Francisco, another anchorage we'd enjoyed many times.  It's a beautiful place with a big crescent shaped sandy beach.

Tuesday we pushed on into LaPaz, running 44 NM catching a great wind on a broad reach with a following sea first thing in the morning off Isla San Francisco, a bit concerning as a strong Norther was predicted over the next few days. Just off of Isla Partida Connie called me on deck, "Get up here now, the autopilot has broken."  Sure enough, the wheel mounted autopilot ring had snapped a couple of fasteners.  Luckily, Jole' Elle has a permanent tiller mounted so I steered the boat with the tiller while Martin removed the wheel and the broken autopilot. Steering a boat that heavy (12,125 lbs) with a tiller really gives you some idea of the forces applied to the rudder. Later he put the wheel back on and switched it back to hydraulic steering.  We hand steered the second half of the day, taking shifts until we arrived in the LaPaz anchorage.

Thus we spent the second third of our 2017 Mexico holiday!  It wasn't quite the leisurely gunkholing trip we'd hoped for but at least we got to see some of our favorite places and did a couple of hikes.  And again, we didn't worry about the craziness going on up north in our home country.

Next up, good times in Cabo Pulmo.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Deliver Me, Tufesa

Tufesa, Save Me...
Depressed, because of the cold and wet.  Depressed, because my country of origin has fallen into the hands of a maniac.  Depressed, because I'm feeling old and tired and useless.  Flailing about, just keeping my head above water, I send messages to friends who are cruising warm waters this winter:  Where are you? How is it going? What are your travel plans?

Slowly the replies come trickling in:  Wish you were here.  Heading to Bara de Navidad. Boat having issues.  Family arriving soon. Join us in P.V.

But schedules and expensive flight costs keep us grounded. That is until one day I checked the Cruiser's Forum and found Martin's request for crew wanted.  We'd met Martin in the dirt yard at Guaymas so we knew he was an honest guy. I replied back to him to see what his plans were.  His boat was still in the yard, he was getting her ready to launch, and he needed some crew to help him cross the Sea of Cortez and run down the coast to LaPaz.  I talked to Connie and we decided the three week itinerary would work for us.  We signed on for the cruise.  I felt a man reprieved!

Using Alaska Air miles we got our tickets, flying into Tucson Arizona and flying out from Los Cabos, Baja Sur.   A few days before our flights Martin had a change of plans that put his arrival in Guaymas five days after we were set to arrive there ourselves.  I looked out the window at the freezing rain and said, "We're going anyhow, and we'll have a little vacation in the dirt boat yard."

I then changed our return tickets to a week later so we'd have plenty of time to work our way down the coast and have a full lazy week at Cabo Pulmo.

Arriving in Tucson, we took a taxi to the Tufesa bus terminal and caught the 2:30 PM bus south.  By nightfall we were in Guaymas, exhausted after watching zombie movies in Spanish while the driver rocketed the big bus through interminable construction zones on Mexico 15 .  With a crazy exchange rate of 20 pesos per dollar, the 650 peso hotel room looked good to us.  We bolted to the OXXO just before they closed and bought beer, tequila and snacks for our own little private party at the Guaymas Inn.  We were warm. We were dry. We were back in our 2nd home, Mexico.  It felt really good.

The next day we went to the Marina Guaymas Seca, found Martin's boat, and moved aboard. The first thing I noticed was that I could not stand up straight inside the boat or under the dodger.  The clearance was about 5'11" and I'm about 6'2" tall.  It took me a week to train myself to stop bashing my head on solid objects overhead.  The vee berth was nice and long... comfortable too.  Outside the boat, I walked the yard - sockless, Hawaiian shirt, shorts - and found old friends working on their boats.  The first evening we crashed a bonfire party and stayed late drinking wine and playing music.  The second evening I built our own fire pit next to the boat and we had another party with plenty of old buddies and lots of music and talk.

We fed the sheep in the yard, visited with the old guys who never seem to leave the yard, had our teeth cleaned at the local dentist (Sylvia), and made forays into town for fresh vegetables and beer.  When in town or on the street we were often asked about our new president Lord Voldemort.  We'd shake our heads and apologize.  Then we'd have a conversation about whose president was worse, He Who Shall Not Be Named or their new guy Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI party.  Everyone would shake their heads, shrug, and laugh a little wistfully.
Taking the tour at the Guaymas pearl farm.

 We cleaned the vessel's interior, wiping away the accumulated dust and oiling the wood work.  Joli' Elle (the boat) is a 70's era Hallberg Rassy Rasmus 35, full keel, sturdy build.  It was strange to me to be in the yard, just living each day without a big task list ahead of me.  Usually we'd be on our boat and be extremely busy with our checklist.  Now, with time on my hands, I could wander the yard and chew the fat with the neighbors who were all knee deep in difficult messy, projects.  Meanwhile, I could hear Connie up there in Joli' Elle playing the ukulele and singing.   It was heaven.
Hallberg Rassy Rasmus 35

Martin arrived and after washing the boat, installing the Genoa, and finishing a few small tasks he arranged the launch.  We splashed on a Friday.  The boat floated but we had one small problem.  The engine did not start. As the tide went out, stranding us in the slipway, we started troubleshooting the fuel system.  An hour later we found that the Walbro electric diesel fuel lift pump wasn't working. This is the same kind of pump I tried to use last January when I replaced my fuel system, and like that pump, the rubber bellows had disintegrated from the heat of the Sonoran desert.  Martin went off in search of a replacement while Connie and I stayed with the boat, sinking lower and lower in the slipway as the tide ran out.  With perseverance, Martin found a replacement pump and by nightfall we had the engine running.

Fonatur Marina after hurricane Newton
As it turns out, the boat had been out of the water for three years.  We crossed our fingers and hoped the severe heat hadn't compromised other systems.  The morning high tide found us motoring across to the Fonatur Marina where we topped off the diesel tank and found a slip where we could stay while provisioning in town. Last summer's hurricane had wiped out all the south facing slips but we were able to get a north side slip with no electric power.  Loaded with rice, beans, and veggies, we finally left Guaymas and headed out into the open waters of the Sea of Cortez.

Thus we spent the first third of our 2017 Mexico holiday!  While it wasn't the most luxurious 10 days, at least we were staying warm, eating well, and not worrying about what was going on up north in our home country.

Next up, the voyage.