Santa Rosalia and San Francisquito

Now that we’ve moved up into the northern Sea of Cortez we are reminded of how full of life the sea is, and how very isolated it can be. We made an overnight run from Santa Rosalia to Bahia San Francisquito, having calculated that the 74 miles at a conservative 5 knots would take us 15 hours, but then of course we ended up making a speedy 6.7 knots for much of the trip because of the incoming tide, and arrived at the entrance to the bay in 13 hours.

Even though our anticipated night sail had become a motor fest in no wind, we had some pretty spectacular moments. After the moon set the night was very dark until we came to an area that was full of luminescence. The boat wake showed neon blue and the stars reflecting in the calm water looked like pearls floating in the sea. Then the dolphins showed up! They made bright lines underwater, looking like torpedo trails heading toward the boat. It was magical to watch as they zipped around the boat, then rode the bow leaving dazzling trails of blue bubbles behind. At one point a pair of dolphins swam right along side the cockpit, so close that I could see their phosphorescent outlines against the black sea as they were jumping and keeping time with me. Marty even said that on his watch he heard them chattering in dolphin speakwhat a rush!

We arrived before daylight at San Francisquito, so we slowed down to wait for the sun to peek over the horizon before entering the bay. When sailing in Mexico and especially in the Sea, the charts can be in error by as much as a mile, so even with radar it’s sometimes very confusing in the dark. In this instance the chart showed a marker with a light on the northern point, but in actuality the light was on the southern point so it was doubly befuddling. With the tide turning and the sun rising we let the whirlpools in the channel take Happy Dance through a slow waltz as we watched the orange glow take over the sky. Pretty soon we were able to differentiate the islands from the bay and see the white sands of the beach two miles away, glowing in the morning light. In we went to drop the hook, get the boat ship shape, and head to our bunk for some much anticipated zzzz’s.

We had spent a couple of nights at the marina in Santa Rosalia before heading out, and we were once again reminded of what a great little town it is. As our cruising guide says, it’s “one of the few coastal towns where foreign tourism has not taken hold”. The town originated as a company town for the French mining company, Compagnie du Boleo who purchased the copper claims in 1865 from two local gentlemen who had combined 11 mines in the area using Yaqui Indians serving time in Guaymas prisons to mine the copper. Over time the laborers came from Mazatlan, Guaymas, and then from Japan and China, though as one can surmise, the working conditions were very poor.

The wood for the construction of Santa Rosalia was shipped from Oregon and Washington and it’s one of the few places on the Baja with wooden buildings. Gustave Eiffel who also created Paris’ Eiffel Tower designed the main church in town, the Iglesia Santa Barbara. The Compagnie du Boleo purchased the steel church in Brussels, where it was disassembled, shipped around the world and reassembled in Santa Rosalia in 1897. It still serves as the main church in town some 119 years later. The mines were closed down in 1954 and there are many historic sights in town left from those days.

For us the town is a great example of a typical Mexican working community. The small old part of town is set in the valley leading up from the natural harbor, and the blocks are laid out in perfect squares. The streets are lined with small businesses and restaurants where the owners wait on you and know every item in their store. We made a stop at the cell phone store to get our Mexican phone recharged where the young lady behind the counter cheerfully helped us as we clumsily asked for more minutes in Spanish. Then we stopped at the plumbing store to buy a part for our new sink faucet, where we had to explain that we needed a 3/8″ to ” connector, to which he replied “masculino o femenina? That question looks so obvious when written down, but he was speaking so fast that it took us a minute to determine what he was asking! Needless to say we had a good chuckle when we all figured it out! From the plumbing-deria we went to the panaderia, a great old bakery that has been in operation since the early mining days and that makes wonderful French baguettes and Mexican breads. Our last stop was the mercado for groceries, where we stocked up on fresh veggies and tortillas that will hopefully last for the next month or so.

As we walked back to the boat we both had smiles from what was a fun morning of interacting with the people in town, who reminded us why we so enjoy the smaller towns of Mexico, AND of the USA. It’s that sense of community, of people working for themselves, taking pride in their own little industry that makes it so special. Small town anywhere – it’s the best.

So now we’re sitting on the boat floating in San Francisquito while the NW winds blow. It’s expected to keep blowing in the high teens, low 20’s for the next day, so we’re just enjoying watching the view change as we turn on the anchor (or sawing logs in Marty’s case…ha ha). There are large flocks of grebe’s in the bay that are very entertaining! They swim around in close-knit groups then all of a sudden they all dive underwater at the same time. In a minute or two, they start popping up in a different spot, but still in their compact cluster!

One day we went for a hike back toward the hills that rim the bay. There are these beautiful golden cliffs with what looks like caves carved into them, but the distances are deceiving on these rocky slopes, without any trees to provide perspective. We headed to what we thought was going to be a way up on top of the ridge only to find the way blocked by a ravine, lots of prickly cacti, and crumbling rock ledges. We tried making our way around to the north side to see if we could get up top from there; but no go. Eventually we just made our way back down through the dry riverbed to the beach, singing “and the story it told of the river that flowed, made us sad to think it was dead!”

Back on the beach, the fine white sand was compacted, making for an easy walking beach and it felt great to take off our shoes that were now full of cactus spikes and put our toes in the water. This is a beautiful bay, with islands in the distance, colorful rock formations at the base of the hills, and a long white sand beach washed clean by the tides. The stars are brilliant and we’ve been enjoying quiet nights. We even had a buddy boat show up yesterday so we’ve gotten to share some laughs with our friends on Pegasus. As usual we probably are heading different directions in a few days, but it’s always nice when we cross paths with friends met along the way.

So there you have it, another chronicle in the adventures of Marty and Sue as we Happy Dance around the Sea. We’re very excited to be back up in the northern part of the Sea, a place that we visited two years ago and have wanted to explore further. It’s much more isolated and empty than the southern islands making the treasures found all the more enticing.