When I hear the word smörgåsbord, I am immediately transported to the tastes and smells of a restaurant in Jönköping (YUN-show-ping), Sweden that was famous for its traditional smörgåsbord. There were tables and tables laden with all kinds of dishes that I had never tasted. I didn’t know it was possible to serve herring, salmon and eel in so many ways. Some were good; some were not so good, based on my 18-year-old picky palate. I bravely tried a bite of everything and learned a lot about Swedish cuisine, and tastes that I would come to love (and avoid) during my year in Sweden.
Our latest 3-day 2-night passage from La Cruz de Huanacaxtle to Bahia de Los Muertos reminded me of that Swedish feast. It was a voyage of variety; some was very good like a big plate of steaming Swedish meatballs; some was not so good like pickled or fermented herring, but we arrived safe and sound and happy to be back in the clear aqua waters of the Sea of Cortez.
We left La Cruz at 9am, motoring out of the marina under sunny skies and calm winds. After about an hour, the winds picked up as we approached Punta de Mita and we could see white caps and the white rolling surf on the point. Out came the sails and off went the engine and we sailed a lovely beam reach right out of Banderas Bay.
When leaving Banderas Bay heading north one has to decide whether to travel inside or outside of the Islas Marias. This is a group of 4 volcanic islands lying about 55 miles from the mainland, home to a prison colony. A large exclusion zone extends around the islands so we sail well clear of the area in order to avoid interception and detention by the Mexican authorities.
Our intended course was to head up the inside, keeping Islas Marias to the west to help block the SW swell and to give us a better angle on the winds once past the islands. But with the winds coming from the North, we decided to try to hold our tack past the Islas Marias group and pass them on the outside instead. However as luck or the fickle wind gods would have it, as we neared the 20-mile southern boundary to the island group the winds increased and shifted directly onto our nose, making for some big steep waves that we had to pound our way through; we were looking at many hours of pickled herring, so it was time to change plans!
We altered course 90 degrees to head due North and take advantage of the strong breeze. We held course until nightfall, clearing the southern edge of the islands and starting to turn west again when the winds and waves started to subside. Alas, the meatballs were gone; it was now time for the iron genny and a night of motoring. Thankfully the moon was nearly full, shining a lovely path for us across the water.
This was the not so good part of our trek, a 36-hour motor sail. The seas were calm and the skies were clear, and we had only about 8 knots of wind from the WSW. So even though we were forced to motor close to the wind all that way, we were making good time, the ride was smooth, and we were both able to sleep a bit.
On the second night of the crossing the wind finally clocked more to the south and we could see in the distance the white caps were started to show. Wind was on its way! When Marty went below for his 3-hour snooze before dawn, the winds had been touching 10 knots occasionally. After sunrise the winds finally showed up, blowing mid-teens, so while he was sleeping I rolled out the genoa and turned off the engine. Of course any change in engine RPMs will send all crew from below popping up through the companionway to see what’s what. In this case I greeted Marty’s “what’s up?” with a big wind blown smile.
We sailed most of the day enjoying perfect wind and wave angles for a smooth ride averaging 6 knots over ground with only 9-12 knots of breeze. In the afternoon the winds decreased a bit and moved more southerly, which is a slow point of sail for us with mainsail and genoa, so we of course “loosed the goose”! With only 6-8 knots of breeze we were able to cruise along at 5-6 knots.
When the winds disappeared completely we were still 40 miles off shore, so we expected to reach Bahia de Los Muertos long after dark that night. Luck was with us though, in the form of an awesome incoming current that carried us along at 8 knots under motor, allowing us to arrive before sunset. We dropped anchor after traveling 330 nautical miles in 60 hours of a tiring, beautiful, stress free passage. The crowning reward was to watch the anchor as it spiraled to the bottom, and to see our toes above the sand when we jumped in to enjoy a swim. Bienvenidos a la Mar de Cortez!
The highlights of long passages are always our encounters with the pods of dolphins swimming along on the bow, sleeping sea turtles with terns resting on their backs, green and yellow footed boobies keeping pace along side, and the flash of flying fish skimming the waves.
This passage was full of sea life and visitors, and even a couple of hitchhikers. One night there were 5 boobies circling Happy Dance for hours while I was on watch. I went below for my 3-hour snooze, and when I came back up the moon had gone down and there was a boobie hitching a ride on the paddleboard that is stored on the outside of the lifelines. He stayed with us until morning while he preened and stretched his wings, and when his buddy showed up they flew off into the sunrise together.
Another perfect moment was when the sun was coming up one morning and I saw 5 dolphins leap in unison across the orange sky. The dolphins on the bow are always a treat too, and this trip we had two large groups stay with us for long periods. Love it!
Our first night at anchor in Bahia de Los Muertos was nice and calm so we were able to catch up on some of the sleep we’d missed the previous two nights. After checking the weather the next morning we decided that we would stay another night in Muertos and just relax, enjoying the beautiful clear water. That afternoon we were watching as a sailboat came into view, and I said to Marty, that looks like Cake! Sure enough, our good buddies Ken and Sheri on s/v Cake were pulling into the anchorage! What a treat! We shared dinner and caught up on all the latest news that’s fit to print.
We were hoping for another quiet night resting at anchor, but it wasn’t meant to be. About midnight the winds started with just a quiet ripple, and before long there were white caps in the bay and we were being tossed around in 30-35 knot winds. UGH. The winds were out of the SW so we had some protection from the hills to our west, but the bay is long, with plenty of fetch for waves to build before they got to us. It made for a rockin’, rollin’, restless night and none of us got any sleep.
The next morning we had to make a decision early, stay or go. With the possibility of the winds turning more southerly, it was a fairly easy decision since we were wide open to any south winds. Both boats weighed anchor and in 20+ knots we set sail for the trip up Canal Cerralvo. The winds were gusty and once into the Channel we had some ugly steep waves on the nose, but for the most part we were able to make good progress under reefed sails. Eventually the winds died and then reemerged with a vengeance, and then died again; yes we are back in the Sea of Cortez!
We made the decision to anchor at Playa Bonanza on the southeast corner of Isla Espiritu Santos and stayed three days. It is one of those incredible spots, with a 2-mile white sand beach, reefs offshore to explore, fish to enjoy (thanks Ken!) and of course that crystalline (and kind of chilly!) blue water to swim in. It was a bit chilly at night so we slept under a blanket, but the sun is shining and life is good.
When the winds started to make Bonanza a little bumpy we decided to push on through the San Lorenzo Channel and officially (in our minds at least) enter the Sea of Cortez. When passing through the channel there is a set of red and green markers that we’ve designated the point of entry. It is here that we toast the Sea and bid ourselves an official welcome with a sip of beer for each of us and one for the Sea! Kind of crazy, but hey we’re out here to have fun!
We spent the afternoon and evening in Bahia Balandra, enjoying beautiful white sand beaches, some paddle boarding, swimming, and a fantastic dinner of homemade carnitas compliments of Sheri and Ken on Cake. We settled back onboard Happy Dance for what we thought would be a restful night at anchor, but that was not to be. More HERRING! Lumpy bumpy steep waves rolled into the anchorage all night making for one of the worst nights we’ve ever spent at anchor. Needless to say when morning finally arrived, we pulled anchor and headed out.
We’re now in La Paz for a couple days while we clean up Happy Dance after her long travels, fill the fuel tanks, change the oil, refill the fresh food lockers. We’ll be heading north when we finish our chores, back to the islands and bays that we are so excited to visit again.
So there you have it folks; a smörgåsbord of sailing adventures. A little bueno and a little malo; it all adds up to a warm belly full of happiness!