Monday, January 28, 2013

Chacala and Punta de Mita, Mexico

Osprey at anchor in Chacala.
Yes, sometimes it is cloudy in Mexico.
We left Mazatlán and after a quick stop at the El Cid fuel dock, we were on our way to points further south down the Mexican coast.  We had wanted to anchor out at Isla Isabela, known as the Galapagos of Mexico, but the fear of fishing nets blocking us in overnight thwarted that idea. In hindsight, and after talking to other cruisers who did go, we found out that there were no issues with the fishing and learn.  Our first stop after our overnight passage was Chacala, a small fishing community with a quintessential beach full of coconut palms, a white sand beach, palapas and a quaint village.  The anchorage, however, was quite rolly and despite putting out a stern anchor in an attempt to steady the boat (hey, didn't we buy "flopper stoppers"?), we ended up spending two nights rockin' and a rollin' on the hook.

There's a little protected cove next to the port captain's office that we were able to use to land the dinghy; protected by a rock jetty, and providing a sandy beach, this proved to be a perfect place to go ashore. The walk from the dinghy landing to the beach was not very far and picturesque with bougainvillea and coconut palms lining the path. I actually swam to shore one day and Richard did the same on the second day as we were anchored quite close to shore.  The swim was invigorating and despite the somewhat murky water (the swell and waves churned up the bottom constantly) we never encountered anything that might bite, sting or otherwise harm us as we made our way to shore.  A big relief.

Hotels at Chacala
On our second night in town after dinner we entered a palapa with the promise of churros for dessert.  I was disappointed when the waiter told us that since hardly anyone ever ordered the churros they had been taken off of the menu.  Bummer...I will say that the extravagant dessert I ordered instead was quite delicious (even if it wasn't my much coveted churros).

Me and the Pacific Crevalle Jack.
We left the next day for Punta de Mita, only a couple of hours further south.  As we were getting close to Punt de Mita, I suddenly heard my fishing reel screaming as it peeled out line.  I jumped up and fought something for about 20-30 minutes.  Right as I thought it had to be close to the boat, the line went slack.  What the hell?!  I reeled the line in and thankfully I still had my end tackle attached, but the hook was seriously bent. Unphased, I straightened the hook out on the port winch and sent the line back in the water.  A minute or two later, "Fish on!" and the struggle continued with the same result! I was seriously getting mad at this fish. I straightened the hook a second time and sent the line back in the water.  "That fish is mine!" I said to myself.  A half hour passed with nothing and then all of a sudden something was on the business end of my line.  Again, this fish played me for about 20 or so minutes and when we finally brought this beast to the boat, I was definitely excited.

I initially thought that this was a yellowtail tuna, and a big one.  I weighed him, 27 or so pounds and 30-something inches.  Wow!  I quickly cleaned him.  We later found out, the hard way, that this was not a yellowtail tuna but was rather a Pacific Crevalle Jack. I say the "hard way:" because he wasn't very tasty.  Most recipes call for marinating in lemon juice overnight and cooking in a clay pot or on a cedar plank and then discarding the fish and eating the pot or plank.  Oh well, as you can see by the size, he was a fighter and I will unceremoniously use him as bait in hopes of catching something more edible.

The beach at Punta de Mita.
The anchorage at Punta de Mita was much calmer and we anchored out with a little more than twenty other boats. Punta de Mita is a surfer's nirvana; the waves break perfectly and there is a great beachside community of palapas, restaurants, hotels and surf shops, not to mention the cervezas (beer) are both cold and relatively cheap ($90 pesos or about $7 USD for a bucket of 5 Pacificos); add to that a thatched umbrella right on the beach where you have a perfect view of the boats at anchor and the paddleboarders and surfers and you couldn't want for much more.

The deceptively calm looking surf
at Punta de Mita.
The first day there, Richard dinghied me to shore and we walked around a bit.  After that, he left for the boat and I stayed ashore.  Watching Richard trying to anticipate the next wave so that he could gun the dinghy through a lull in the breakers was interesting.  I watched as he circled back and forth inside of the protected area formed by the stone jetty. Others on shore were also watching and there were plenty of "armchair sailors" wondering about his decision to venture out into the surf.  Just then, there was a break in the waves and Richard gunned the outboard and headed perpendicular to the swell only to notice, seconds later, that a swell was forming.  But he was committed and couldn't turn back; if he did, he might have been broadsided by the wave (especially if it broke on the dinghy) and capsized.  I watched in disbelief as Richard continued straight ahead, took the wave just as it was about to break and "caught some air" which made the dinghy look like it was launched into the sky. Everyone on the beach, myself included, let out a group "Ooh!" as Richard flew over the wave and came back down on the other side.  Without looking back, Richard continued on towards Osprey, no doubt proud, and relieved, that he had successfully managed to make it past the breakers.  And everyone that knows us thinks he's the cautious one!

Osprey through the palms at Punta de Mita.
But points further south were calling Osprey and we left after two glorious days of hanging out on the beach and swimming around the boat. On the night before we left, we witnessed an intense heat lightning storm somewhere south of the anchorage.  As the sun set we noticed a large, odd-shaped cloud that had formed south of us (how much south I couldn't say but we couldn't hear any thunder so it must have been pretty far south).  The cloud would light up from inside with each lightning strike which, rather than head towards the ground, would travel either up or across the cloud.  It was truly spectacular and was kind of like watching fireworks.  Amazing things provided by nature, and they're free.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mazatlán, Mexico

Sunrise over Mazatlán 
We picked up the anchor and left Ensenada Grande on Isla Partida on January 10th for the two-night crossing to Mazatlán. The passage started off with no wind which gradually built...and built and built!  Our boat speed was a constant 6 to 6.5 knots so we actually ended up furling the headsail in order to reduce sail and slow the boat down; we didn't want to reach Mazatlán in the dark.  By the time we reached the entrance to Marina Mazatlán (right at dawn) we were seeing winds in the high 20's with 2 meter seas on the stern quarter.  It was howling!  I was a little concerned when we dropped the sails and Richard told me, "Just don't hit the rocks!" It's a narrow-ish breakwater entrance to get to the marinas and with the waves pounding on the breakwater and the presence of a channel dredger in the channel, well, you can imagine my trepidation of trying to navigate Osprey through the channel.  Anyway, we got into the channel and the water was very calm so the motor to Mazatlán Marina ended up being calm.

Marina Mazatlán.
Richard had called ahead and we were assigned a slip so we just motored to the marina and tied up. Our slip assignment put us right next to s/v Code Blue, a boat from Seattle that we had shared a marina with way back in San Diego. Steve and Judy were not on their boat when we arrived which was just as well as Richard and I were exhausted from the two-night passage across the Sea of Cortez.  We worked on getting the boat ready for staying in a marina (taking down lee cloths, snapping on canvas covers outside, etc.) and went out to get a lay of the land in the marina.  Marina Mazatlán is a decent marina, not new, but adequate.  It has a promenade that circles the marina and is lined with restaurants, condos and the marina office. There's even a decent-sized supermercado (grocery store) located in the bottom of one of the condo buildings located right at the marina.  The marina is located a few miles from the center of town but there is a bus stop conveniently located right outside of the marina compound.  The bus into the city is cheap and convenient.  Only $10 pesos (about 80 cents) one way and you don't even have to be standing at a bus stop; just flag a bus down when you see one and hop on...try that in Seattle!

Typical street in Mazatlá street signs.
My first adventure into the city involved trying to find a watch repair shop.  While hiking on Isla Partida, I lost my footing and slid a bit and somehow I must have hit my watch on the ground and the pin that holds the watch band on popped out. With only an address in hand and no working Spanish, I hoped on the bus, paid my $10 pesos and hoped for the best. 

The bus went through the center of the zona dorada (golden zone, which is the term used to describe the tourist zone), parts of Old Mazatlán, and then out to the ferry and cruise ship terminal. Hmm?  I was told that this was the end of the line and that I had to get off of the bus.  Luckily, there was another bus driver who spoke some English so I handed him the slip of paper with the address written down on it and he instructed me to get on another bus and then he told that bus driver where to have me get off of the bus. Success!  I now found myself on the right street...but where was this shop?  Mexico has an unwritten rule that outlaws the use of street signs (or so it appears to me).  And as a sub-section of that same rule are two other rules that go as follows: (1) streets should change names every few blocks or so, and (2) street numbers do not necessarily have to be in numeric order.  To a sleep deprived sailor, these did not instill confidence in my already shaky confidence of finding the shop.  In the end, I found the shop (located down a maze of alleys and looking more like a "curiosity" shop than a watch repair place) and could now tell time again in Mexico.

We have been going into the city each day and doing the tourist stuff which is one way of saying that there are not many boat projects that need to be attended to, while at the same time, there are boat projects that need to be attended to (there always are!).  The water from the dock is not potable so we had to order water to be delivered to our boat. We also had to "pickle" our water maker as we wouldn't be using it for some time to come and didn't want all of the filters to be overgrown with algae and other organic crud.

View from El Faro (the lighthouse).
But back to the tourists stuff. Richard and I hiked to the top of El Faro (the lighthouse), which is listed as the second highest lighthouse in the world (right after the one in Gibraltar). The views from the top of the lighthouse were spectacular and gave you a sense of the lay of the land.  Gazing westward was the expanse of the Pacific Ocean for thousands of miles.  Truly awe-inspiring when I contemplated that in a few months we would be bridging that expanse with a trip to the South Pacific in search of other tropical locations.

We also walked through the central mercado a few times (who can get enough of seeing pig heads in the meat cases?  I can't!) and checked out the cathedral in the center of the Old Town and ventured into Plazuela Machado, a tree lined park fringed by small restaurants and cafes.  With all the ironwork on the restored buildings, Plazuela Machado almost feels like a quiet square in New Orleans.  Almost.

Plazuela Machado.
Next to Plazuela Machado are a couple of museums that we took in while strolling around the Old Town.  It's hard not to take in these cultural experiences as the admissions prices are far lower than what one would expect to pay for a similar museum in the States. 

After our museum hopping, we ambled back to Plazuela Machado and sat at an outdoor cafe having tea in the early afternoon watching workers decorate the palm trees and the gazebo for the upcoming Carnivale festival that was just around the corner.  Mazatlán boasts the largest Carnivale event in all of Mexico and in addition to decorating the plazuela, workers were also busy stringing lights in all of the little alleyways and erecting statues along the malécon.  It looks like there is going to be a big party here in a few weeks.

Marina Mazatlán.
On our last night in Mazatlán, we had dinner with Carolyn ("CJ") from s/v Shannon.  CJ and her partner, Kat are from Vancouver Island and sailed down to mainland Mexico to escape the Pacific Northwest winter. CJ is a great storyteller and the three of us enjoyed a very relaxing dinner in the marina before heading back to our boats.

In the morning, we said goodbye to Judy and Steve on s/v Code Blue and CJ on s/v Shannon, untied our lines and headed out of the marina for points further south.  Our tentative plan in to stop in Chacala and Punta de Mita before heading into Banderas Bay and Marina Riviera Nayarit in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle ("La Cruz").

Bonus pictures from our time in Mazatlán...

Plazuela Machado.
The cathedral.
El Faro.
Richard contemplates a sidewalk in Mexico.
Happy Hogs in the central market.
Inside the central market.
Statues erected for Carnivale.
Sadly, no brewery tours.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Islas Espíritu Santo & Partida

Heading out of La Paz towards
Islas Espíritu Santo & Partida.
On January 5th, we headed out of La Paz and after a quick stop at the fuel dock at Costa Baja Marina, we were off to the islands.  We had heard how beautiful the islands were but were in no way prepared for the spectacular scenery and pristine beaches, complete with crystal clear waters, that awaited us.  The trip from La Paz to Bahia San Gabriel on the southern tip of Isla Espíritu Santo was short and allowed us time to soak in our surroundings once we set the anchor. be back on the hook in the middle of nowhere...that's the cruising that we're used to.  Don't get me wrong, marinas and cities are nice and offer up a wide variety of things to do and see along with the hustle and bustle that us urban dwellers are used to; but give me a secluded anchorage with no other boats in sight and I'm a happy camper. Islas Espíritu Santo and Partida are nature preserves and a park pass is required to visit the islands. That said, the national parks department here in Mexico is a bit lax in enforcing the procurement of passes prior to entering the parks and it wasn't until the last minute that we were able to purchase our annual pass.  We were told by the parks employee in La Paz that if his office didn't receive the passes prior to our departure that we would still be allowed to go to the islands.  Luckily, the passes arrived and Richard and I felt better about entering the national park knowing that we had provided some financial assistance in the preservation of this unique nature preserve.

A mama scorpion with her brood on her back.
After setting the anchor, I headed to shore to explore the beach and that was where I encountered my first scorpion...but not just one scorpion.  No, I inadvertently happened upon a mother scorpion whose back was covered with dozens of baby scorpions.  After seeing this, I decided that I had done enough exploring and tip toed back to the beach, careful to check my hiking boots for any "stowaways", and then revved the outboard to get back to the boat as quickly as possible.  Scorpions have a way of imprinting their image in your head and it was a while before that image went away.  Back on the boat, I showed Richard the picture I took of the scorpion (of course I took a picture!) and we both settled in for the evening enjoying the sunset to the west from the cockpit. The weather was warm and there was only a bit of a breeze making for a comfortable evening on the boat.

A picture perfect white sand beach at
Bahia San Gabreil.
The next day, I took the dinghy to shore to do a little exploring. The white sand beach was backed by rugged hills covered in cacti and low scrub brush. There were small crabs crawling over the rocky shore on one end of the beach and schools of small fish swimming between the sand bars created by the ebbing tide.  The water was warm, shallow and crystal clear.  I had to walk the dinghy out far from the beach before I could lower the outboard and head back to the boat.

Richard trying to "de-burr" his hiking boots.
Once back at the boat, we had lunch and headed to shore for a hike.  Our guide book told of a hike from one side of the island to the other and so, with water and cameras in hand, Richard and I started out on the two hour hike to the east coast of the island.  The "path", and the term is used here in the loosest sense, led through a valley flanked by mountains covered in cacti and every other conceivable type of prickly, thorny vegetation known to mankind.  Along the way we ran into what I think is a Mexican Milk Snake who, because of his position smack dab in the middle of our path, resulted in us venturing off of our path in order to give him a wide berth.   Call me cautious, but in hindsight, I think this was the right thing to do.

Playa Bonanza, Isla Espíritu Santo.
The barrenness of the trek across the island was juxtaposed by the wide beach that awaited us on the other side of the island.  Here we saw the expanse of the Sea of Cortez unfold eastward towards the Mexican mainland.  The beach itself, Playa Bonanza, stretched as far as the eye could see southward and was backed by mountains rising high above the valley we had just hiked through.  The beach was covered with shells of all sizes and the occasional desiccated remains of dead fish.  Somehow these artifacts added to the wildness of the scene and were not gruesome at all.

The beach at El Cordoncito.
The next day, we lifted the anchor and set off for El Cardoncito on Isla Partida.  El Cardoncito is a very narrow and small cove extending into the west coast of Isla Partida with room for one or two boats. Luckily, we had the anchorage to ourselves.  We anchored, had lunch and then I decided to swim to shore while Richard took the dinghy.  I put on my fins, snorkel and mask and headed to shore.  Along the way I saw balloonfish which can often be seen sitting on the bottom of the water in a depression in the sand that I assume they construct by swishing their tails around and "sweeping" out the area.  In addition to the balloonfish, I also saw a couple different types of surgeonfish and green, black and white coral heads where multi-colored wrasses were busy cleaning the algae out of the coral crevasses.  Once on shore, Richard did some snorkeling and then we walked inland a few hundred feet to a well situated on the shore and up a hill from the small arroya that emptied into the cove.  

Sunset at El Cardoncito,
right before the winds picked up.
The real excitement happened later that night.  After dinner the wind started to pick up and suddenly we were seeing winds in the upper 20's whipping through the small, steep-sided cove.  Finding ourselves facing a lee-shore (a situation where if our anchor failed we would have found ourselves drifting towards the rocky shore), Richard made the call and we initiated an anchor watch.  Richard set the hand-held GPS to signal an alarm if the boat moved more than 50 feet; this would provide us with at least a window to correct the situation before anything really bad happened. The alarm went off a couple of times through the night and after confirming our position it was determined that our anchor wasn't dragging and we were safe.  Needless to say it made for a long night and it wasn't until around 5:00 am that we felt as though the winds had diminished enough to call off the anchor watch.  I used my watch time to make cole slaw and re-organize all of our canned goods and other food supplies (multi-tasking my way through the dangers of watching for a dragging anchor).

Osprey anchored in Ensenada Grande.
When dawn broke, we decided to pick up the anchor and head a bit further north up the island to Ensenada Grande.  On our way to the anchorage, we stopped in a small cove to see the blue-footed boobie rookery but there were no boobies to be found.  That was okay because as we rounded our way into Ensenada Grande we saw several blue-footed boobies flying about the boat.  Blue feet...nature's way of accessorizing I guess.  We opted for the southern lobe of this three-lobed indentation on the west side of the island mainly because there were no other boats in it.  The sandstone cliffs were punctuated with caves and rock spires where pelicans would perch and then dive into the aquamarine waters to snatch up unsuspecting fish just below the surface.  The water was warm so we donned our snorkel gear and headed in to swim around the rocky shore.  There were lots of colorful fish and a surprising amount of coral that provided protection for some of the smaller fish inhabiting the reef.

I decided to hike to the top of a mountain located right next to shore and the hike was quite a workout as most of it seemed to be straight up, hand over foot climbing.  There were caves and cacti everywhere and in the blue sky above, turkey vultures galore!  I did my best to let the vultures know that there was still a whole lot of life in me and that I wouldn't be an easy meal any time soon.

Osprey as seen from the ridge flanking
Ensenada Grande.
The views as I climbed higher and higher just got better with every foot of elevation I gained. As I gazed down into the bay, I could see Osprey getting smaller and smaller as the bay appeared bigger and bigger. The water was so amazingly clear that I could make out the coral heads we had been snorkeling around earlier in the day.  At the top of the mountain there was a commemorative plaque dedicated to someone from Colorado (I think it was Colorado) who had died in a climbing accident somewhere in the States.  It seemed odd that the plaque was here in the Sea of Cortez but I think the plaque mentioned that this was the guy's favorite place to visit.

Richard, Osprey, and me.
The next day Richard hiked alone and I stayed on the boat and baked banana bread and tried to catch up on boat chores as we were planning to leave for Mazatlán on the 10th. It was hard to leave these beautiful islands but warmer weather was calling us and we had heard that warmer weather could be found on the mainland, so off to the mainland we were headed.

I wanted to include some additional pictures form the islands and our time on Islas Espíritu Santo and Partida so here you go.

Sandstone cliffs at Bahia San Gabriel,
Espíritu Santo.
White sand beach at Bahia San Gabriel,
Espíritu Santo.
Desert Lizard at Bahia San Gabriel,
Espíritu Santo.
Cactus seen on hike at Bahia San Gabriel,
Espíritu Santo.
Mexican Milk Snake seen on hike at
Bahia San Gabriel, Isla 
Espíritu Santo.
Mountain Ram skull seen on Playa Bonanza.
Agave still life; Ensenada Grande, Isla Partida.
Me in a cave on hike at Ensenada Grande, Isla Partida.

Highlights from La Paz, Mexico

Walking along the malecón.
Most days seem to melt together here in La Paz.  My routine is pretty much the same every day.  If I wake up early enough, I can get a walk in before the La Paz Net starts up at 08:00; if not, then I try to get my walk in later in the day.  I usually have breakfast while the net is running and then head out at 08:30 to help set up the Vista Room at Marina de La Paz for the 09:00 Spanish Class.  Richard and I have been attending the daily Spanish class and it has definitely helped me with my Spanish which I was at first reluctant to learn due to my already having some French and Italian swimming around in my head.  I know, everyone says how similar they are...but that's the problem.  They are just similar enough to be confusing and just different enough not to be interchangeable!

Osprey at Marina Cortez in La Paz.
After Spanish Class I try to get any boat chores I have done.  Lately there haven't been too many but I'm sure as soon as Richard sees that I've written that things will change and there will be plenty to do.  Lately I have found myself making almost daily trips to the local supermarket with the idea that frequent small trips will help me avoid having to schlep all our groceries in one trip.  I try to plan to shop for non-perishables on one day and save the perishable shopping for closer towards our departure date to ensure that our vegetables are the freshest and hopefully that will make them last longer.  The grocery store is about a 20-30 minute walk away and when you add lugging groceries and the heat of midday, it actually constitutes the bulk of my daily workout.  I typically have some errands to run and end up walking a fair amount during the course of a day here in La Paz.

Haircut at the marina.
I had to get my haircut one day and decided to just charge up my cordless clippers and walk up to Club Cruceros to see if I could find someone who knew how to use them.  I was pretty lucky when I ran into a group of three women having coffee and I asked if anyone knew how to cut hair and one of them did.  I think she was a little surprised when I pulled out my cordless clippers, scissors and a cape and said, "Let's do it then!" When I tried to pay her for her services, she insisted that I simply "pay it forward" which I intend to do as soon as I can.

Dan drawing a beer from the tower.
On one of our last nights in La Paz we had dinner with Dan and Kimberly from s/v Dazzler at the Shack.  The Shack is owned by a Texan who transplanted to La Paz and married a local (Rosalie is the sweetest, kindest woman I met in La Paz!) and opened a bbq/burger joint not far from the marinas. When we arrived at the Shack, Dan and Kimberly were already seated with a "tower" of beer in front of them.  This is the greatest invention.  It holds about 7 mugs of beer and is kept cold by a frozen tube inserted through the top that runs the entire length of the tower.  Add a handy-dandy spigot at the bottom and you've got beer perfection!

Me and Rosalie in front of the Shack's
wall of fame.
We ordered our food and granted, it did take a while for Kim's special to come out but the company, the cold beer and the live blues being played on the makeshift stage kept us occupied until our food arrived. The burgers were delicious...and huge, cooked on an open grill.  They even have a permanent fire pit where they cooked whole hogs for their Sunday pig roasts.  After several more towers of beer, Dan and I put our boat names on the "wall of fame."  We even located several boats that we know who had done the same before us.  All in all the night was a fun one spent with good company and many cold beers.  Thanks Dan and Kimberly!

Here are some more pictures from our dinner at the Shack and random scenes from La Paz.

The Shack burger...yum!
I will eat this burger.
Kimberly and Dan from s/v Dazzler.
Adding Osprey to the Shack's wall of fame.
Dazzler upside down...or is Dan hanging form the ceiling?
Sunset at Marina Cortez, La Paz, Mexico.