Another U-Turn

We’re currently anchored at the northern tip of Isla Angel de la Guardia (Guardian Angel Island), in a large bay called Puerto Refugio (Port of Refuge). With names like that this can only be a heavenly haven! We’re floating in 30′ of gin-colored water (I just read that description somewhere – isn’t it perfect?) over a sandy bottom at 29 degrees 32 minutes 496 seconds north, by 113 degrees, 32 minutes, 007 seconds west. A couple of curious sea turtles keep popping their heads up to keep an eye on us as they swim over the reef nearby, and there’s an osprey watching over us from the rocky cliff. The temperature in the cabin is a cool 90 degrees, the pool temperature is 89 which is a bit chilly with the incoming tide, and the barometer is a steady 1014.

Now that you know what the haps are on Happy Dance, do you know what time it is, boys and girls? You guessed it – it’s time for another U-Turn! Happy Dance and her twirling threesome (did you count Vaca?) are as far north as we’ll be for many moons, in fact we may not be this far north again for years. Just 15 short months ago, we began our escapade when we left the dock and the home of the blue goose, at latitude 48N, and we’ve been zigging and zagging all along the coast ever since!

Our furthest point north, and the site of our first U-Turn was just shy of latitude 58 in Alaska when we touched glacier ice and decided “that’s just about fur e’nuff pardner!” It’s hard to believe that we were bundled up in every layer we owned and dodging icebergs only 11 months ago! U-Turn number two came when we rounded the southern tip of Baja, past El Arco at Land’s End and Cabo San Lucas (latitude 23N) to head north again into the Sea of Cortez. Reaching the tip of Baja was quite a milestone for us and has been more of a beginning of our southern cruising life than the site of a U-Turn.

After a couple of months in the Sea we were feeling a bit battered by the constant northerly’s that had us held down in chilly, bumpy anchorages, so we made U-Turn number three at Isla Carmen, latitude 26N, to point our nose south again toward warmer, friendlier weather in Banderas Bay. In the R&R capital of Banderas Bay, we enjoyed getting to know new cruiser friends, listening to great music, watching winter whales, exploring inland, and absorbing the lifestyle of La Cruz. It was soon time to zag back north so that we could experience another season in the Sea of Cortez.

We made the 2-day crossing from Banderas Bay back to the Sea only three short months ago. With all the gratifying moments and the awe-inspiring sights we’ve seen, it’s mind-boggling to realize that it’s only been three months since U-Turn number 4! As I think of all the pinch-me-moments mixed in with a few frightening fiascos, set against the backdrop of the challenges of living in a 43′ plastic box that is always moving, I realize that I’ve probably repeated myself numerous times and that I’ve yet to really describe the incredible vistas and feelings that we experience on a daily, minute by minute basis. This lifestyle is all about contradictions; relaxing and exhausting, calming and frightening, awe-inspiring and yes, even sometimes a bit tedious. Then there is the idea of living with someone in a tiny space with no easy escape and no privacy. I find that we talk less but say more these days, having become almost completely in tune with each other, however that is a subject for another blog!

So it is from this northern point of 28 degrees and this point of being in love with the Sea of Cortez, that we point our bow toward Panama. At dawn we’ll catch the outgoing tide and start trekking down the east side of Isla Angel de la Guardia. The winds are forecast to be on our nose, but hopefully will stay light or at least in enough of an easterly direction so that we can fly some canvas. Our next stop is at the southern tip of this 40 mile long island so it will be a full day sail.

Our stay in Puerto Refugio (ray-FOO-hee-oh) has been pretty tremendous. We arrived 5 days ago, after a blustery sail north, with winds in mid to high teens coming from every point on the compass. It was a crazy long day, but the swells and the current were behind us, so we danced right along. When reaching the NW tip of the island there is a maze of reefs and pinnacle rocks to wind your way through, but it was high tide and nearly slack so we had no problems. There is one tall rocky island that lies off the main island about a mile and must be taken to starboard as you head north to avoid a large reef.

Appropriately named, Roca Vela (sail rock) stands out against the blue sea as it is completely covered in white bird guano, and it is shaped like a triangular sail. As we were making the 90-degree turn around Roca Vela toward the narrow channel between two small islands covered in cacti that looked from a distance like pine trees, there was a pretty good tide rip near the island throwing up large confused waves. At one point I had a moment of dread thinking I’d cut the corner too closely when the waves started taking shape as if being thrown up by rocks. Then phew, we realized there was a school of dolphins playing and leaping all around us! The current was against us in the channel since it was about an hour until slack tide so we throttled down and soon pushed our way into the large safe harbor called Puerto Refugio.

We were astonished to find the entire bay uninhabited. Since leaving Santa Rosalia we haven’t seen any other cruisers, and after leaving the Bay of L.A., we’ve barely even seen another boat! It’s been surprising not to have seen other cruisers this far north as we’d heard that many boats spend the summer up here. Entering this bay was really the first time we’d felt completely isolated from everything and it was a bit of an eerie feeling. Realistically we’re only 35 miles or so from “town”, but it feels like another world when the sun sets and there isn’t a light in sight. We’ve been out in the ocean so we know the feeling of being surrounded by emptiness, but somehow it feels different when you’re close to land. The stars are so bright that they reflect in the water and there are so many of them that it’s difficult to pick out well-loved constellations like the Big Dipper or Orion. We were even able to see the bright lights of the International Space Station zoom across the sky the other night – what a sight! The only way to determine where the boat is at night is to look at the darker shapes of the land masses that are blocking out the stars and figure out which way the boat is turned.

While it has been blisteringly hot this month in the northern Sea, the most uncomfortable that we’ve been was in Santa Rosalia and Concepcion Bay, both of which had very little breeze and the swimming was less than inviting. We left both spots as quickly as we could, to head back out to open anchorages where we get the cooling winds and can jump in the “pool” whenever we want. I guess we’re getting acclimated too, because when I look at the thermometer in the cabin and it reads over 90, I’m generally quite comfy even though sweat is literally dripping off my chin! The only time we’re really bothered by the heat is if there hasn’t been a breeze all day and the bedroom hasn’t cooled off. Then we’ll lie out in the cockpit until we’ve cooled down enough to lay on the bed with the fans going. I guess it’s take the good with the bad; days of sunshine and warm water in exchange for a few sweaty sleepless nights.

We’ve been alone here in Puerto Refugio all but one day when a huge big ugly mega-yacht showed up, lowered his “garage door”, and out came the fleet of buzzing ski-doos, monster wake making fishing boats and other toys for the deprived. We happened to be exploring in the bight where they were anchored and noticed a large number of oranges floating behind “big ugly”, and realized they had been juiced; they must have had fresh squeezed o.j. with their morning champagne, dahlink! Then a shrimp boat came in and anchored with his lights blaring, so that night we moved around to the easternmost bight to avoid the lights and to enjoy being the little guy on the block. They both soon left and we were glad to have the place to ourselves again. I wonder if the seals and pelicans watch us and get excited when we leave too!

Our days have been filled with hiking the hills across fields of dried weeds, fishing around the reefs (Trigger fish for dinner again??), dinghy-ing out to the sea-lion colony, kayaking over and recording positions of uncharted rocks, snorkeling with sea turtles, trying to photograph birds, reading, writing, Spanish and guitar lessons, playing chess (or in my case, usually losing at chess), chasing bees seeking the fresh water, and watching the tides come and go, come and go, come and go. It’s been a lovely, quiet anchorage and we’ve enjoyed it. We were anchored by Arch Rock for the first two nights here, and felt it was quite appropriate given that El Arco at the end of Baja was the turn north into the Sea, and now this El Arco of the north is the point of our turn south.

This U-Turn feels a little bittersweet though we’re not really sure why. We’ll still be in anchorages for the next week as we work our way 200 miles to San Carlos and once we pass San Carlos we’ll again be enjoying the Sea of Cortez until November, but in San Carlos we’ll be in the midst of a fairly large populated area for a while. We love our life on the hook, but in many ways we’re both ready for a change. It will be nice to be at the dock and to take a break from the constant requirement to monitor winds, tides, anchors, and things that go bump in the night. We’ll be able to re-provision our empty larder, and we plan to get some of the bigger boat chores on the list done or at least started. We also have some great land excursions planned (stay tuned for details!). Hopefully it won’t be unbearably hot at the dock and with any luck, we might find that juicy cheeseburger or rib-eye steak that we’ve both been salivating for!

2 thoughts on “Another U-Turn

  1. I think you’re a little ahead of the crowd. When we were cruising the Sea, the bulk of boats would hit Bahia Concepcion for the 4th of July, wander up to Santa Rosalia around August 1, then be up to San Francisquito by August 15 and then stay north of there — BLA and Puerto Refugio, etc. until at least Oct. 1 with the idea of using Puerto Don Juan as a hurricane hole . . . then heading south again as the northerlies began.

    I’ll bet you’ll start seeing more boats as you head south, but plan where you’d go if a tropical system springs up — chances are greater the further south you get.

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    • Hi Carolyn! How fun to get a comment from a famous person!! 🙂 You must have known how well used and loved my copy of the Boat Galley is! And yes, we finally discovered that we were indeed ahead of the pack – as we had left Bahia Concepcion in early June. But looking back we’re okay with that – we enjoyed some amazing anchorages all by ourselves. Now we’re in San Carlos doing boat stuff and taking land excursions while we wait out hurricane season. We don’t plan to head too far south until the tropical storms settle. Thanks for the info though and keep up the great work! Sue

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