For months now I’ve been blithely stating; “we’ll spend the winter in the Sea of Cortez”, and today (November 17) I started to discover what I meant. After leaving Ketchikan in the freezing rain last August, we have been focused on moving south. When we dropped anchor yesterday in Bahia San Gabriel on Isla Espiritu Santo, it was officially our first night alone in this gorgeous place that we’ve been working so diligently to find! Our entrance to the bay was made even more memorable by seeing our first pod of dolphins on the bow since we entered the Sea. These dolphins were enormous and played with us for a little while until we turned into shallow water. Quite the welcoming committee!
This first day of my mighty revelation actually began the night before when a huge full moon rose over the red cliffs, shining silver across the water and lighting up the hills all around. After some moonlight dancing, we crawled into our bunk to snooze the night away while the wind built and the waves rocked us to sleep. We woke at sunrise to the sound of wind waves still slapping against the hull, and hoped that the daily wind trends would hold; allowing for a quiet morning before the afternoon Northerlies showed up. After a morning swim, hot coffee and breakfast we started getting ready to explore our private paradise.
As with most everything on a boat, any task takes time, and getting the dinghy in the water is no exception. Our new dinghy is a RIB; an inflatable with a rigid bottom. This means it’s heavier than our old inflatable, which we could practically pick up and toss overboard! We now have to coordinate various lines this way and that in order to lift the dinghy and turn it upright before lowering it into the water. I operate the halyard winch to lift the dinghy while Marty is on deck manhandling the swinging rubber wrecking ball and trying to avoid getting dumped overboard. Once the dinghy is in the water then we have to lower the engine to it (the outboard is also new and also heavier than our old one!). We have a davit system on the stern to make the process easier but with all our other gear on the stern it can still be a challenge to get the motor off the rail and down to the dinghy without feeling like it’s about to drop in the drink! It’s a great system on a flat sea but add some roll from the waves and it gets interesting! Anyway, long story short, the dinghy was soon in the water with outboard puttering happily. All aboard!
The bahias (bays) on Isla Espiritu Santo are very shallow a long distance from shore and this particular one is pretty shallow in its entirety. When we came in to anchor we followed our depth sounder through a narrow deep section to get to an area that was about 24’ deep rather than 13’ deep like the rest of the bay. Thankfully the water is crystal clear so you can guesstimate the depths around you by looking at the color of the water. When the water turns a light azure blue it’s generally a good time to slow down!
Now back to the dinghy ride. We started motoring toward the cliffs to explore the caves and rock sculptures at the entrance to the bay, but quickly decided it was still too rough to enjoy a trip that direction. No problem – we’re surrounded by scenic beauteousness! We turned around and headed to shore. Picture a huge wide picture postcard bay with a white sand beach making a perfect half circle framed by red cliffs and sparkling blue water. As we neared the beach we watched the water get shallower and bluer. It’s really amazing to watch the sea floor here with its pure white sand; nothing like the Pacific Northwest with rocks, seaweed and kelp, barnacles and starfish on every surface! It didn’t take long though before the outboard was leaving a trail of sand, so it was time to pull up the engine, and get out the oars for the final 100 yards to shore. Once we started bouncing on the bottom we put down the wheels and Marty towed the boat to shore, just like Bogart and the African Queen. Oh, and while I’m thinking of it, we finally thought of a name for the dinghy; Tiny Dancer!! Seems appropriate since it’s the tender to Happy Dance!
Okay, now we’re on shore; and remember this is our first day alone in this paradise that we’ve been driving toward for eight months. We put our feet in the sand, do a little happy dance, claim the land for HB and HB, grab a water bottle and start walking. And walking. And walking. Did I mention that this beach is huge? The water is crystal clear, so you can see the ripples of the sand under the water and lots of tiny little silver fish swimming in the shallows. The wind has now died so the surface is glassy and the sun is blazing. We alternate between walking on the beach and wading in the tide pools.
As we meander down the beach we start seeing layers of large shells working their way out of the sand dune as if we’ve found an old Indian Midden in the Northwest with its piles and piles of clamshells. This bay used to hold a pearl farm, so it’s possible that these shells are leftover from that. At any rate, they are beautiful and I scan the mounds for the perfect treasure. A little further down the beach we start finding smaller shells with tiny holes drilled in them so Marty’s pocket gets a little fuller. I’m planning to start weaving soon, so these treasures could be perfect for wall hangings.
When we reach the far end of the sand it’s time to turn around and when we look back we realize that the tide has gone out! The tides here are only about 5-6’, but when you factor in a shoaling beach that is only 2’ deep to begin with, the beach is much larger. No problem, we just mosey down to the shore to keep our bare feet splashing. When we get back to the dinghy it’s time for a little more Bogart, so Marty hitches up the front of the dinghy and starts wheeling Tiny Dancer toward the water. The trip back out to deep water is a long one, but soon we’re floating, then rowing, then motoring back to Happy Dance. Once home, we jump in the water for a cooling swim.
Now that we have left our crew behind we are both eager to put the boat back into a more comfortable configuration; in other words, stuff that was crammed into our stateroom now gets put back into the garage/guest berth. We spend a couple of hours on projects; I reorganize the galley and Marty works on the garage. It’s a relaxing time of puttering in our home and it feels awesome. Once the chores are done for the day, it’s back in the water for an afternoon swim before dinner!
After drying off in the cockpit, we decided to go for another tour over to an area of low bushes that has been full of frigate birds. When we approached we were amazed to see what must be a mating dance; the males puffing out a large red balloon like sack under their chins and flapping their wings while the females watch. It was really quite a sight! Frigate birds are so prehistoric looking anyway with their sharply angled wings and scissortails, we love watching them circle overhead and swoop down to grab fish off the surface. Pelicans, shorebirds and my new favorite, the blue-footed boobies join the frigates in another incredible display of the diverse wildlife that is found here.
Once back onboard we whip up some dinner to be eaten in our 360 degree revolving dining room. The sun sets early here, so by 6pm we are kicked back watching another incredible sunset as it turns the sky pink then red then blue then yellow, moving patterns of color up and down, left and right. Norah Jones plays softly in the background while we watch the show. There aren’t any words to describe the serenity of the moment.
Soon the full moon makes an appearance and we’ve gone full circle in our day of revelation. It’s one of those days where we just keep looking at each other and grinning; total understanding and sharing of the simple pleasures.
So now I get it. I understand what “we’ll spend the winter in the Sea of Cortez” actually means. I can picture the winds that move from offshore in the morning to Northerly in the afternoon. I can hear the Coromuel winding up at midnight to rock the boat till morning. I can feel the intensity of the sun and the softness of the water. I can recognize the calls of the birds as they circle overhead. I can see the red rocky cliffs covered in cactus and scrub, melting into white sandy beaches. I know I’ll keep learning and adding to my perception of this wild, desolate, beautiful place, and that’s the plan. Keep it slow, listen, watch, experience, and savor it all. Not a bad first day, and not too tough an assignment for the next few months!
Thanksgiving has now come and gone, and we’ve been living on the hook for over two weeks, with stops in places like Caleta Partida, Ensenada Grande, San Evaristo, Isla San Jose, and Puerto Los Gatos. Each place has its own personality and we’ve experienced something different in each place.
Caleta Partida was a favorite; surrounded by the walls of an ancient volcano, the white sand floor of the bay with crystal clear waters made for some stunning displays of colors as we watched the days progress. While in Caleta Partida we had a friendly seal swimming around Happy Dance, so I jumped in the water with my snorkel and camera and played around with him for quite a while! We also snorkeled on a reef nearby and saw more different types of fish than I’d ever seen.
We headed to San Evaristo next; a small fishing village perched on the sand in a beautiful little bay. We stayed there five nights while we waited for a Norther to blow itself out and while there we met some folks who had sailed down with the Baja HaHa. It was fun to share stories over vino. One night we made our way into “town”, to stop by the local Tienda (market) and pick up a few items of fresh produce. From there we walked down the beach to the restaurant. Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed due to the high winds. The kitchen is located just outside the enclosed restaurant area (a palapa with tarps on the sides to block the wind). La cocina (the kitchen) consists of an open fire in an old oil drum with a lid with holes in it, a piece of plywood to block the wind, and a small table with many cast iron pans sitting on the ground underneath it. Augustine, our host, explained that they didn’t want to start the fire because of the fear that a spark would light the thatch roof on fire! So we enjoyed a warm beer and some conversation with Augustine, in our broken Spanish, before we kayaked back to Happy Dance.
From San Evaristo we sailed across the channel to Isla San Jose, and anchored in the lee of the island at a place called Mangle Solo. There is a huge Cardon Cactus forest there and a long empty beach. There were a gazillion vultures sitting on top of the cactus looking like an assembly of malevolent totem poles. While we were anchored there a panga came over to the boat from the small fish camp at the other end of the beach. Carlos and his amigo, Tito, and their families were all in the panga, and wanted to know if we knew if the people who had been anchored before us at that spot had left someone onshore! What we think happened is that the ladies had seen me walking the beach by myself and thought I was from another sailboat that had left a couple of hours earlier. It was all a bit confusing, but in the process we had some fun conversation with some very sweet people, and we gave their kids a couple of bags of crayons, pencils, paper, and little toys. They were staying on the island because it was more serene than the big towns of Nopolo and San Evaristo (which have about a dozen houses each). In the morning they waved adios to us and we felt like we’d made friends in that tiny little place.
Thanksgiving was a magical day for the cheery crew of Happy Dance. We enjoyed a short 20-mile sail over smooth seas and anchored in 13’ of water in our own private paradise called Puerto Los Gatos. We swam to shore, snorkeled the nearby reef, walked on the red rocks and immersed ourselves in the mind-boggling scenery. As the sun set we enjoyed some Thanksgiving reflections, followed by a “feast” of
chicken turkey enchiladas!
So here we are now, hunkered down in the safe harbor of Puerto Escondido, waiting out another Norther. We’ll stay here a couple days until the winds mellow out then we’ll pick a direction and go explore something new! We are getting used to the wind patterns and the various sections of the Sea. We’re still unsure of how long we’ll stay, which direction we’ll go, or any of those scheduling phenomenon! We’ll decide manana….!