“ Some quality there is in the whole Gulf that trips a trigger of recognition so that in fantastic and exotic scenery one finds oneself nodding and saying inwardly, “Yes, I know.” ….This is by no means a sentimental thing, it has little to do with beauty or even conscious liking. But the Gulf does draw one….if it were lush and rich, one could understand the pull, but it is fierce and hostile and sullen. The stone mountains pile up to the sky and there is little fresh water. But we know we must go back, …and we don’t know why. “
John Steinbeck, The Log of the Sea of Cortez
Yesterday I floated. It’s a common (and essential) occurrence for cruisers, however floating, as the opposite of sinking, is completely different from what I enjoyed yesterday.
After breakfast of papas and huevos, I jumped into my kayak to enjoy a paddle around the glassy calm bay (Marty would like me to point out that he was left to clean out fuel lines while I went off to play…). Pointing the bow toward the NW, the sun warmed my back and the gentle swell marked the rocks with white froth. Floating by the nooks and crannies of the nearby rocky islet I was treated to a concert from our bird neighbors.
An osprey stood up from its nest on high, flapped his wings at me and called out the alarm. Below him on a huge rock that appeared as if it once fit perfectly into the cliff face sat a great blue heron. These huge birds are so patient, simply watching as you drift by, waiting for you to leave their domain so they can get back to stalking the fish in the shallows.
I paddled to the other side of the rock where the pelicans, cormorants, boobies, gulls, and shore birds like to gather. I noticed a pair of oyster catchers walking along poking their beaks into the tiny pools left by the receding waves. Being very skittish they kept a close eye on me, bobbing their heads in a sort of threatening gesture, but when I moved my paddle to take a stroke, off they flew with a parting complaint.
Cormorants are a bit shy as well; though they’ll let you float close enough to admire their blue-black feathers before spreading their stubby wings and jumping off the rocks to start their Fred Flintstone “yabba dabba do!” take off. It’s a riot to watch them clumsily running on the water and flapping furiously until at last they are airborne.
The boobies, pelicans, and Heermann’s gulls are all willing to let you come close if you don’t make too many sudden moves. I love the bright blue feet of the boobies and their white glossy feathers. The pelicans look so comical on land, but so graceful when they are soaring just inches above the water or in formation high in the sky. The gulls travel in packs and sound as if they are laughing at you as they screech and cackle, while the frigates soar over head, floating on the wind as they keep watch on all that goes on down below.
Floating around the islet back to the sunny side I was treated to another show from the fish that follow the shadow of the kayak. When the sun is at the right angle it’s like a spotlight highlighting the colorful reef fish flashing by; yellow and black striped sergeant-majors, orange tailed tangs, spotted big eyed porcupine fish, gray-blue triggerfish, bright blues and greens of tiny fish on the reef, and the occasional ray sitting in the sand below. There are so many varieties I’m only just beginning to learn their names, but the colors are amazing.
To continue on my floating safari, I headed toward shore to see if I could find any chocolate (show-co-LOT-tay) clams. It’s usually hard to see them unless you’re snorkeling since they live in the sand in about 8-12 feet of water, but the water surface was so glassy that I could easily look for their signature formation that looks like two straws poking up through the sand. There weren’t any to be found in this bay, so we’ll have to wait for our clam fest until we go up to Bahia Salinas or Timbabiche where we’ve found lots of them. It didn’t matter though, it was just perfect to put my feet up and hover on the transparent sea, watching the sunlight ripple across the ridges of sand below me.
After my paddle I went back to the boat for another kind of float. Jumping into the water is still a bit of a cold shock at first, but it soon feels warm enough to enjoy. In a few months the water temperature will nearly match the air temperature, so it’s nicer to have it cool for now. I love to lie on my back and float with my ears below the surface, to see if I can hear any whales singing in the distance or the clicking of dolphins nearby. The only sound I heard on this day was the silence, the envelope of water surrounding me.
While drying off from my swim I went to the bow to lay in the hammock for a bit. Gentle swells rocked me back and forth as I enjoyed the view of Roca Solitaria in the distance looking like a giant whale turned to stone as it performed a full breach. Solitaria is a beautiful spire of rock that is situated away from the shore, jutting up over one hundred feet above the surface and dropping straight down another couple hundred feet to the sea floor.
To continue the theme, I’ll add one more floating escapade to the list of my daily drifts. Last night I poked my head out the companionway and even through the light shining in the cockpit from our solar lantern, the stars grabbed my attention. I walked forward to the bow to get a better look at the sky and it was one of those nights where the stars take your breath away. The moon had gone down and we are far enough from any towns that the only visible lights are from a group of sailboats across the bay, so the stars and planets put on quite a show. As I watched I saw one star shoot across the sky in a fiery goodbye. Mars was shining red, and Saturn was so bright that it left a trail of light in the water.
So there you have it, a long-winded description of my day afloat enjoying the green-blue waters of Bahia Agua Verde and the incredible night sky. Why am I waxing poetic about what are typical activities for a couple of cruisers? I guess it’s to explain how wonderful it is to be able to move at a turtle’s pace and enjoy this beautiful place known as the Sea of Cortez.
When we first began our trip down the coast from Alaska to Mexico in 2013, our plans included a brief stop in the Sea of Cortez after which we would continue south to Panama. Each year since then we’ve had to decide; stay in the Sea or continue south?
This year when we left San Carlos in January heading back out into the Sea, we fully intended to keep moving south fairly quickly with a scheduled arrival in Costa Rica and Panama by June or July. There we would slow down again to explore the Pacific side of Panama before heading through the canal to the San Blas Archipelago and a favorite place from our Grand Retirement Tour in 2012; Bocas del Toro.
By now you’ve no doubt suspected that we have once again changed plans. While getting pounded by the north winds these past few weeks we’ve had to hunker down and rethink how fast we were planning to travel, and how little time we’d have to enjoy all our favorite anchorages before leaving the Sea of Cortez. Traveling fast in a sailboat with an average speed of 6 – 7 knots is a bit of a relative thing, but when planning a 2,500 mile journey it has to be scheduled with the seasons and prevailing winds, adding the element of hurry to the plans.
The Sea of Cortez can be an ideal place for cruising. The beauty, the serenity, the people; all are incredible. There are plenty of places to drop an anchor, and aside from the occasional Coromuel or Chubasco, the winds are fairly cooperative. However, the Sea can also be a frustrating and dangerous place in the wrong season; the cold north winds howl down the sea in the winter, and in the summer it’s horribly hot and hurricanes threaten.
All that being said, we’ve yet to have our fill of swimming in crystal clear water, watching the rays jump, listening to whale songs through the hull, laughing at the antics of the pelicans and boobies as they dive for dinner, sailing along with hundreds of dolphins leaping around us, having picnics on beaches where ours are the only footprints, sharing sundowners while swapping jokes and stories with our cruising buddies, or sitting in the cockpit watching yet another spectacular sunset.
So, the votes have been counted and Panama has been postponed yet again. We’ll spend this, our final, final season floating in the Sea of Cortez, drifting in our favorite anchorages, making sure to slow down and enjoy each starlit night and sun filled day.