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Our northward wanderings along the Baja Peninsula ended in the smooth protected expanse of Puerto Don Juan, an almost-landlocked bay at the south of the very large Bahía de Los Angeles. In fact, it's so protected that cruisers keep it in mind during hurricane season as a refuge. With the water temperature around 17°C there was no risk of that kind of weather, but we were happy, happy, happy to be so well ensconced. We were out of the wind, we had some days of warm temperatures, and the water was calm. We managed to stay put for 4 nights. This will sound strange, but it felt like we were on vacation!
The surrounding hills held not just coyotes (more on them shortly), but also the promise of some good vistas if we could get to their tops. We set out, provisioned with water and snacks, from the beach along a gradual incline up a wide arroyo. Along the way we passed pretty bushes, blooming with red flowers but no leaves yet. Their prickles, however, were certainly present. We spied excavated holes (scorpion burrows?), coyote tracks in the sand, and several interesting spiders.
The arroyo forked and we followed the left tine, towards a hill overlooking a bay to the east. As we neared the summit, the climb steepened, and we were hop-scotching from lava boulder to lava boulder. The scene from the top was totally worth it - views of cloudless blue sky and deeper blue sea meeting at the horizon. Directly below us was a lagoon rimmed with red algae.
Though only a few miles away, We decided to skip seeing the village of Bahía de Los Angeles, which would have involved up-anchoring and moving to a temporary open roadstead anchorage off the town. This seemed like an awful lot of work. The main purpose of a visit would have been Internet and phone access but somehow we weren't keen to give up our reclusive life quite yet.
We found plenty of other things to do, in addition to the usual reading. Bjarne experimented with making cookies in the frying pan as he is not a fan of our oven. Not bad, but the cookie-tops didn't brown well. He resorted to the oven for breadsticks. Our rigging got some fine-tuning and we now have a brighter light in the binnacle compass. Barb did a little woodworking and made a towel-holder. As she had to use the supplies on board it's not as pretty as it could be so we'll put some veneer on later. In the meanwhile, our tea towels are no longer falling on the floor or getting caught in the oven door. Some small things make a big difference. Of course, there are always the weird, unpredicted tasks like picking pebbles out of the commercially packaged dried beans.
The conditions were finally ideal for trying out the borrowed inflatable stand-up paddleboard (SUP). Bjarne, the adventurous one, went first. Once he was facing the right way on it, he covered quite a bit of distance! We found it was a wide stable platform that wasn't too hard to balance on, once you convinced your stabilizer muscles to settle down and stop over-compensating. Going straight will take a little more practice! It's a good way to get exercise, get off the boat without too much fuss, and explore. Oh yeah, it's also kind of fun! Whilst paddling around, Bjarne came across skulls of small hammerhead sharks, which we assume were, unfortunately, killed by fishers. In this shallow bay, the SUP was a good venue for spotting rays and even a flounder laying on the sandy bottom.
We thought it was pretty cool that coyotes were in the neighbourhood. Sometimes after dark we could hear bursts of yips, barks and howls. How fun! Naturally, Bjarne wanted a recording but the calls were infrequent and short-lived. The first time he tried, the tablet took too long to boot up. Easy to fix - the next night Bjarne left it on stand-by; when the show started he was out of bed in a flash (literally, based on his sleeping attire). Of course, that meant Barb was out of bed too as he can't get out without clambering over her (that is more a reflection of our small berth than Barb's irresistability). We listened to an energetic spell of coyote action, only to discover that no sound was captured. Arrgh! The tablet was set to ignore silences and the sound level had been too quiet to register. OK, that feature got turned off. Pre-dawn number three rolled around. "The coyotes are howling" muttered Barb in the dark around 0600h, and a little tempted to not mention it as she was warm and cozy, and did we say, it was dark? Again Bjarne sprang out of bed. Surely this would do it. Noooo! The darned tablet had hung itself and took too long to get out of hibernation. It wasn't until several days later that we finally captured the call of the wild. That sample wasn't quite as boisterous as some we had heard but at least it lasted long enough to work with our technology. Come to think of it, old Wile E. had his own problems with technology. Maybe our tablet is really made by Acme.
It was time to move on but we left minutes too soon. As we motored away a couple of humpbacks swam by a few hundred meters aft. Nice to see! We had debated about our destination - head back to Bahía San Francisquito to start getting south, or, since we may not be this way again continue to explore. We landed in favour of checking out one more Midriff Island, Isla Partida, despite the guide book's suggestion that it would not be great in a north wind. After all, how bad could it be?
The 24 mile downwind passage would have been better if we'd changed our foresail to a larger one and dropped the main but we thought the winds might pick up more and, just perhaps, we are a bit lazy. Instead, we were slopped around by the 1 to 1.5 m waves. A racer would never have put up with that. The current that we expected to help didn't do much except hinder a little until we got closer. There are two islets near Isla Partida which funnel the water quite well. As we passed the rather striking looking Roca Blanca, we encountered choppy waves and began to speed up. We safely gybed the main, but Barb hadn't gotten a good wrap around the winch for the jib sheet. When the sheet started burning her hand she had to let the foresail go. The racket of a loose, flapping sail in a strong wind is terrible and makes your nerves fray almost as much as you imagine the sails are going to! OK, we sorted that out, started the engine, dropped the sails, and anchored on the south side after a 5 hour trip. Phew.
At first, we were happy enough with our location. It was a bit bouncy and definitely windy but the sun was shining into the cockpit while we we enjoyed a margarita. Around 1630h the current switched direction. Not only were we then not facing the sun but we were crossways to the wind, meaning no sheltering behind our dodger. Fairly large waves were wrapping around the north part of the island and interacting in an unpleasant manner with the current. We went below to get out of the wind but the motion of the boat became quite uncomfortable. Not long after dinner we were both back outside with queasy tummies. Fresh air and a view of the horizon eventually had us feeling better. We still didn't want to go below so listened to old podcasts of the Irrelevant Show (CBC), looked at stars and ate popcorn. Conditions were not great for sleeping, especially as we hadn't yet tracked down the various things that creaked, groaned, clanked, tinked or thunked everytime the boat rolled!
The current still held us in thrall the next morning but at least the waves were smaller. With a strong wind and current, we didn't want to leave the boat so admired Isla Partida from a distance. One half appeared softer, covered in rusty-coloured and green growth. The other half was more rugged and the cactus grew in clumps, which Barb thought looked like hair plugs. Before we left, Bjarne wanted to know if we were missing out on good snorkeling. It was easy to get a picture of him swimming because he stayed in one place. With some extra effort he could progress against the current, and ended up not needing the safety line trailing from our stern. Disappointingly, fish were not schooling around the boat. Cool breeze, chilly water, strong current, no fish...surprisingly, Barb opted to stay on board.
Isla Partida was lovely in its own way but, we have to admit, it isn't a good spot in a north wind. We put a bigger foresail up, fought our way out of the worst of the current and headed back to the Baja Peninsula. On the way, we enjoyed the passing scenery of some of the other Midriff Islands, but were not tempted to stop until we reached Bahía San Francisquito. The first night there was a bit rolly but after Isla Partida it seemed piece of cake!
After a few restorative days here with snorkelling and great moon watching (see our last blog post), it was decision time. We could either go soon in winds that were too light for decent sailing, but make Santa Rosalía in time for Christmas, or stay put for several more days through the next batch of northerlies. Civilization won out. Given the weather that came later, we made an excellent choice even though we had to motor quite a bit. One last surprise delayed our departure - we had to pick a ridiculous amount of tough seaweed off the anchor and chain.
There aren't a lot of good options for stopping along this stretch of the Baja but the desire to avoid an overnight passage is a powerful motivator. Thus, we crossed our fingers that the swell would continue to ease in the light winds, and dropped our hook at Punta Trinidad, about 40 miles and almost 9 hours after our departure. The anchorage is on the north side of the point in an area that shoals a long way out from the beach. The sun was still up and the water was the clearest we'd seen this year. When we discovered the temperature was 19.5°C we had to hop in! That's the benefit of a little suffering - after all those chilly dips, this seemed almost balmy. The bottom was sandy so we mostly saw puffers (bullseye and longnose) and rays, one of which was new to us. Yay - we now have a California Butterfly ray in the fish ID section! Well, it was a bit rolly but we reminded ourselves we could be on a night passage; instead we were sitting cozily in the cockpit with our popcorn watching the large, orange, mostly-full moon emerge from the sea.
We motored out the next morning at 0-dark-500 in a light off-shore breeze. The early departure was in hopes of catching a favourable current. Ha! We sure miss the tide and current tables created by Canadian Hydrographic Services. We sailed when we could, motored when we had to, and mostly did a combination of the two. Barb managed to convey (in Spanish) over the radio that we needed a dock, and at 1407h on December 24th we were safely tied to the dock in Santa Rosalía. There was just enough time to check in and pick up a few supplies for a Christmas dinner!
Thus endeth our exploration of Baja's Midriff area. What a beautiful and interesting place to cruise, even at the "wrong" time!
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