Sunday, October 28, 2012

Summer in the Sea

Interabang in the Bahia de los Angeles End of Summer Regatta
(photo courtesy of Karmaseas)
When we arrived in Mexico nearly one year ago, Trisha began telling fellow cruisers about our plans to spend the summer in the northern Sea of Cortez.  The typical marina cruiser responded with warnings of unbearable heat and widespread misery while sheepishly confessing that they, themselves, had never actually spent a summer in the Sea.  Fortunately for us, we met actual veterans from past summers in the Sea who were infinitely more knowledgeable and helpful.  These folks became good friends and mentors.  As we reflect upon the adventures and struggles of the last three months, we raise our glass to those who coached us to success: Scott and Monica on Scott Free, Patrick and Laura and son Jack on Just a Minute, Chuck on Jacaranda, Rick and Pam on Hotel California, Rich on Third Day, Ethan and Nancy on Eyoni, Alan and Barbara formerly on Native Son, and Kevan on Alex II.  Thank you all for your patience and eagerness to help.  We endeavor to pay it forward with the same wonderful spirit.

One of our favorite summertime anchorages: La Mona in BLA
As many of you noticed, we did a poor job of keeping up with the blog during the summer months.  For this, there are several good excuses: the weather was too rough, it was too hot, and hunting and gathering food took too much time.  While all of these are true, it would be more accurate to confess that we spent too much time hanging out with friends, playing Baja Rummy, exploring beaches, and generally enjoying ourselves.  We understand that reading about parties, card games, and beaches can get really boring, so we will focus on the first set of excuses.

A bonfire on a white sand beach with our friends Conor and Lanea of Moondance - Priceless!
When it comes to rough weather, we were most concerned about chubascos (large storm cells that randomly strike) and hurricanes.  During a happy hour gathering in Loreto, Laura from Just a Minute stressed to us that it was not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ we will see fifty knots of wind at anchor.  This freaked us out a little and kept us on our toes.  During chubasco season, basically the month of August, every night we raised the dinghy, folded and stowed the shades, and put away all the toys in preparation for fifty knots of wind.  Now that we have been through two chubascos, one with gusts over sixty knots, we have become religious about hunkering down nightly.  We are very grateful to have missed out on seeing a hurricane.  Hurricanes Miriam and Paul had us rushing to the shelter of Puerto Don Juan, the nearest hurricane hole.  Thankfully, both of these storms weakened and arrived as remnants.  Thanks to our chubasco experience, riding these out was no big deal.
When the wind blows - no problema - just use rocks and shells 
to keep the cards from blowing away
The heat was a much bigger deal.  Each morning we covered the boat with white tarps to shade the deck and cabin from the blazing sun.  This helped, but the temperature inside the boat regularly climbed above 90 degrees.  Fortunately, Hotel California had some fans they wanted to sell.  We never would have survived the summer without the four additional fans we installed in the main cabin and galley.  With the heat also came electrical challenges.  In addition to fans running constantly, the refrigeration ran around the clock struggling to keep the box cold.  With all of this extra demand for electricity, the big surprise came when we learned that solar panel output declines as temperature increases.  Talk about adding insult to injury.  We had to run the generator twice a day to keep the batteries charged.  Just one final note about a summer in the desert, heat rash.  Enough said.

Times like this you forget the heat
Even when it’s hot and miserable, the crew still needs to eat.  We keep the boat well stocked with rice, pasta, dry beans, and canned goods (beer falls into this category).  There is no freezer on board, so when it comes to protein we have to go out and get it.  Our trusty spear gun has paid for itself over and over again in this department.  Every two or three days, I would go out spear fishing and return with two or three fish.  Trisha frequently made requests for certain species: “I want a grouper and a trigger fish.”  It is not unusual for us to eat fish twice a day.  Favorite dishes include fish tacos, breaded fish, fish fried rice and our most favorite dish, fish bowl.  Fish bowl consists of fried fish over steamed rice with soy and Sriracha sauces and is a great dish for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  When available, we gather clams and Trisha makes a fantastic linguini with steamed clams.  Late in the season, Trisha discovered an awesome stuffed clam recipe for the larger chocolate clams (named for their brown color).  I now spend hours scouring sandy bottoms for chocolates.  A real treat is scallops when we can find them.  These were the most plentiful in the very remote Puerto Refugio.  Unfortunately, our total scallop haul for the season provided only six dinners.
Chocolate clams we gathered about to become...
Overall, spending the summer in the Sea of Cortez is a truly wonderful adventure, but not for the faint of heart.  One must be prepared for chubascos, heat, bug bites, rashes, and a limited menu (unless they have a freezer onboard).  With this gauntlet of misery mastered, a cruiser is free to enjoy the countless anchorages, beautiful scenery, abundant wildlife, and camaraderie of fellow cruisers.  At the end of summer party on Sept 30th in Puerto Don Juan, it was apparent that this handful of sailors shared a special bond: we had survived the summer in the Sea together.

BLA End of Summer Regatta Banquet
(Gypsy, Karmaseas, Moondance, Interabang, V'ger, TanTori, Ula Lena, Harmony, Golden Eagle)
Nancy on Eyoni, Pam and Rick on Hotel California and us at the
End of Summer Party at Don Juan

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Hurricane Paul

It was late September when Hurricane Miriam turned out to be a false alarm. Many relieved sailboats had gathered in the vicinity of Puerto Don Juan's hurricane protection. With the storm breaking up and a crowd already gathered, an impromptu meeting of the party committee determined that the time was right for a full moon celebration. Trisha was adamant that the announcement of the party should, in no way, suggest the end of hurricane season. Hurricane season goes on through October and it makes no sense to tempt the fates. On September 30, a group of nearly thirty cruisers got together for a potluck on the sandy spit in Puerto Don Juan. It was the best party of the summer.

Early the next morning, two of the boats weighed anchor and began their hurried trip south. Trisha and I were in no hurry, planning to take our time cruising around Animas Bay and burning up more of the hurricane season clock before leaving the safety of the northern Sea. Nearly two weeks had gone by when we found ourselves anchored with five other boats in Bahia San Francisquito. The next leg for all of us was an eighty mile, overnight passage to Santa Rosalia. Rumor had spread through the anchorage that the marinas in Santa Rosalia were full with boats waiting to get in. With a tropical storm brewing in the south and a Norther forecasted to be blowing through in a day or two, we thought it best to stay put rather than travel eighty miles only to find no room at the inn. The other five boats headed to Santa Rosalia.

The boat rolled wildly the day of the Norther driving us to the brink of insanity. After a long day the local weather finally settled down, but we kept a close eye on that tropical storm. The storm became better organized and was given the name Paul. Three times a day we downloaded and analyzed the forecasts from the National Hurricane Center. We strategized about what we will do if it comes our way. At four in the morning on Tuesday, October 16, the latest forecast indicated that our worst case scenario was becoming reality. An hour later the anchor was up and we were on our way back to the shelter of the nearest hurricane hole, Puerto Don Juan. During the nine hour trip we enjoyed flat water, light wind, a nice push from the current and several pods of dolphins swimming nearby. It was like the calm before the storm.

We arrived in Don Juan to find very calm conditions and four other sailboats at anchor, including our friends on Moondance and Grace. The good news was that the latest forecast showed Paul weakening. As darkness fell, I began to think that we burned all that diesel fuel for nothing. Any regret quickly faded the next morning when the wind came up and it started raining. Our morning has been quite rainy and windy with sustained winds in the twenties and several gusts to thirty knots. Don Juan is protected by hills on all sides, so when it's windy in here it's quite awful outside, especially in places like Bahia San Francisquito.

Admittedly, our hurricane avoidance practices are quite conservative but we are happy with the results.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Summer in the Sea (Picture Time)

We finally have a somewhat decent internet connection so we will be posting pictures from our summer in the northern Sea of Cortez.  

Interabang underway
 (photo courtesy of Eagle)
Baja Rummy game on Interabang
Kyra and Rick from Nyon, Jeanne from Eagle and
John from Timepiece
Trisha and Kyra kayaking in La Mona in Bahia de los Angeles
One of the many storms we experienced this summer
Boats at anchor in La Mona
Beer break during a beach bocce ball game
Clams from Puerto Don Juan
Trisha with Zeda from Eyoni in Don Juan.
Sailboat Eyoni on the left careened for propeller work
Isla Alcatraz in the background
Puerto Refugio on Isla Angel de la Guardia
Aptly named Fang Rock in Puerto Refugio
Derrick goes to extremes to find treasures for Trisha
Big lizard in Refugio

Gulf grouper upper left, spear gun lower right
Lighthouse near BLA village
Typical spear fishing catch