January 14-15, 2002: Relaxing in Bahia Santa Maria and Trading for Lobsters
January 14, 2002
We have spent a wonderful RELAXING 2 ½-3 days here in Bahia Santa Maria, which is just outside (sort of a suburb) of Bahia Magdalena, or called by Gringos, “Mag Bay”. It is the last safe spot for boats to anchor or seek refuge from weather and rest until we reach Cabo San Lucas. We decided not to enter the main bay, Mag Bay, as it would have required us to put the dinghy in the water (as described in last writing, NOT an easy job) and clear in and out with the Port Capitan, the Paperwork Cha-Cha-Cha, as well as pay more fees. For just a couple of days rest before heading southward, we didn’t want to go through that. As it turned out, Bahia Santa Maria was just what we needed. A very calm, beautiful, and peaceful anchorage with mostly sunny and warm (YES, in shorts and t-shirts again) weather, with a powerful afternoon wind… but no swells which meant 3 good night’s sleep and good meals. (While at sea, cooking gourmet feasts is not only no fun to cook but no fun to eat: having to hold onto plates, utensils, cups, so they don’t slide everywhere. Even something simple like soup, would sway back in forth in bowls/mugs and slop out with the boat bounces and tilts.)
One of the things that all cruising guides talk about is trading t-shirts, beer, and cigarettes for lobster or other fresh catches to fishermen who come up to you in their pangas (small Mexican fishing boats) looking for a trade. So since we don’t smoke, nor drink beer, I have been saving old t-shirts of all sizes for years to trade for those succulent langostas (lobsters). It had been a big disappointment for most of the trip as we have been avoiding fields of lobster pots (enemies to boats, as they can get tangled in rudders, props and ruin your day) and have seen lots and lots of panga fishermen everywhere we go, but all we get from them is a friendly wave… no approaches to our boat, no offers of trade. Finally in this little Bay we’re in now, yesterday, on day 2, a panga came over and hailed us early in the morning:
“Hola! Hello! Guutt Morning” he yelled to us down below. Our mouths were already drooling as we knew this was our chance, as we flew out the cabin into the cockpit racing to put out fenders (rubber bumpers) to keep his heavy wooden boat from crunching Mi Gitana.
"Oops!", too late, blue streaks all down the side of the boat. Oh well, small price to pay. We exchanged names, pleasantries with his very limited English and our VERY limited Spanish and then got down to business of trading as he, indeed, had a boatful of langostas (spiny lobsters). But instead of T-shirts, he surprised us and wanted D-cell batteries. We traded 2 batteries for 2 lobsters. (Thank you Duracell!) Then he asked for “tabletas,” which after inquiring more, he didn’t mean writing tablets but he wanted penicillin. When I asked him for what, he indicated he had a cold and wanted his nose to stop running. Since I had just gone through the worst cold of many years, I still had out and handy antihistamines. So I gave him a few packets of samples, (sudaphed) and he was smiling and happy as pig in you —know-what. We got 2 more lobsters for that. Then as he was leaving, he asked if we had any candy he could give to his nin~os (children) so I gave him a handful of Jolly Rancher’s hard candy, he gave us a dividend lobster and was on his way. So for 5 lobsters, we “paid” 2 batteries, some sample antihistamine packets, and a handful of hard candy! He was happy and we were drooling. Within a few hours, the tails of those clawless beasts were on the barbecue, drenched in garlic butter and lemon juice! (Now you’re drooling, I know it!) Those, plus a Greek salad and fresh baked bread and we were in heaven.
Wouldn’t you know it, feast or famine, an hour ago, just before we were readying to leave, another Panga came by, with 2 different fishermen with more langostas. I heard Joe telling them “no, thanks”… and I came running out and said "What! are you crazy?… of course we want more!” These guys also wanted batteries, (?go figure? I guess I should write tour guides and tell them they need to update their listed trade items), but since we have mostly re-chargeables and therefore no more to spare, we told them their friend got all our batteries yesterday. They seemed a little miffed that their friend beat them to their much needed item, So I tried again w/ the t-shirts, but they were not at all interested in them. Then while I was down below looking for something else they might want, Joe later (after they had left) told me that they kept asking for something called “spahm”. I wished I had known, because I knew instantly, they wanted Spam, which I stocked up (as I read that’s what they want for trade in the South Pacific). Oh well, we made out okay, this time getting 3 lobsters for a bag of M & M candy and 2 cans of soda. These suckers went in the pot this time and are destined to be part of a lobster salad.
When we awoke this morning in preparation for our noon departure for our last and final “leg” to this 18-day trip, we were surrounded by “pea soup” fog. We could barely see 50 feet away from us, let alone the shoreline… and of course not even one ripple of wind. Great… we’d had wonderful (15-20knot) winds for the last several days when we did NOT need it in the anchorage, and now that it was time to leave, Zip, Nada, Nunca, Doo Dah wind. Figures. Finally by 1:00 PM, the fog was beginning to burn off and we prepared to leave. When we got out of the bay, we got excited as there was actually some wind, and for a change, from the needed (and usual) direction. The sails were set, the motor off and I was just about to get my hat, my book and turn on a Jimmy Buffet CD, when the wind died. Figures again, just teasing us. So down come 2 of 3 sails, leaving the mizzen (small sail in the back) up to steady us somewhat, and on comes the motor again. The good news is, is it’s smooth waters with very little swell resulting in a fairly smooth ride, so hope
Right now, we’re having a gorgeous sunset, and another day is ending. We have a long haul this leg, the longest of the trip without stopping — 2 days, 2 nights, and one morning, as we’re due into Cabo mid-morning on The 16th of January. Hopefully we won’t be motoring the entire rest of it.
January 15, 2002:
Wow! What a gorgeous day. No, still no wind, but if we have to motor, we couldn't have asked for more perfection. The sun was finally warm enough to strip down, and the sea was as glassy as I've ever seen it. Perfect for watching for sea life as the only ripples in the water were theirs or ours. We saw what we thought was a rock (a floating rock?) or a fishing buoy (but too far from land for that)... it turned out to be a sea turtle, tortoise, or whatever they call the ones that swim in the ocean... just floating on the surface of the glazed ocean. We went cruising by him only a few feet away. We also saw millions of these little bitty red "creatures" on the surface of the water. Joe got the bucket and put it in the water next to the boat and brought one up so we could look at it. It looked like a 1" sized crab-like creature, bright red, and they were literally blanketing the surface. And earlier in the distance Joe (I missed it) saw a jumping bill fish totally out of the water, probably a marlin, which are famous in these waters
At sunset we finally found (or did they find us?) a pod of dolphins, those same small sized ones, black with white bellies. They appeared to have their young'ns with them and the little ones were the great jumpers. Sometimes when they jumped up they wouldn't make it all the way and would fall backwards like a backwards belly flop. It was quite a picture out of a movie you wouldn't believe to be realistic, being surrounded by hundreds of dolphins on a glassy ocean with a brilliant red sunset in the background. This is when we chose to have our dinner, outside in the cockpit, with a glass of one of my favorite Lustau: La Jarana Finos (Spanish Dry Sherry), accompanied by our lobster salad and fresh out-of-the-sea grilled tuna.
Yes, we caught our first fish this afternoon. We actually had not tried before today as with the descriptions of the seas and winds I have given to you previously, we were in no mood to try and catch a fish in a thrashing sea in near gale force winds, plus cleaning it outside on a jumping stern deck, would also have been no fun at all. We made the excuse also that if we had caught one, we had no room still in freezer (which I jam-packed full before we left) for our catch. So today there were no excuses we could come up with to NOT try our luck. After all we are in one of the fishing capitols of the world outside of Cabo. AND not to mention, we had to pay an arm and a leg for our Mexican fishing licenses for not only us, but also our boat plus our dinghy. Even if we had no plans of ever fishing, if we even carry a fishing pole, all individuals and all "craft" are required in Mexican waters to have licenses.
So I picked out a lucky Rapala lure for the fishing pole on one side of the boat, and also let out my hand line (what most sailors use to fish with) on the other side and we sat back basking our bodies in the sun, escaping into our mystery thriller books, and relaxing. All of a sudden, Joe asked, "If we get one, where is the gaff?" [Note, it seems to have fallen on me to know where everything is on the boat...] I gave him an "I don't know" kinda response (as well as an "oh my God!" type of an expression) and we had quite some discussion afterwards as to the possible whereabouts of the gaff might be. It's not that easy to store something that big, and after a search at the only possible places, me swearing I didn't put it on the boat, and Joe swearing it wasn't in our home garage (where we had stored most of our equipment for the last several years until it was time to pack up and ready ourselves to leave) - - we concluded that regardless of where it WAS or WAS NOT, it was NOT on the boat and bottom line, we had no gaff. We talked about pulling the lines in, but I think both of us thought we'd never catch anything anyway, so we went back to our books. Within about an hour of this conversation, BAM, the reel started whizzing and whirring with that unmistakable ratchet sound that made us both jump. Joe got to the pole first, so it was his catch. Joe, however had been attempting while reading his book to work on an "all over tan" on his white body so when he went running and was reeling in this fish, he was stark naked. He asked me to go get the fishing belt (one of those leather jobs that you snap/buckle around your waist with an indentation that looks like a beer can holder, but is really to put the base of the pole in for more leverage I think when reelin' in the big one.) I found that and also grabbed the digital camera, but in the excitement of trying to help him maneuver the pole around the sail boat (with all our shrouds, lines, etc) chasing the fish (sail boats are NOT meant for fishing!), I was unable to get a good shot of him in the buff with his leather fish catching reel-it-in- belt fighting to get this fish in.
Next problem, duhhh. Yeah, you guessed it. Once we got the fish to the surface at the boat, how to get the fish into the boat without a net or a gaff. The fish appeared to be some kinda small tuna (wish I had a fish book to tell one ocean fish from the other), although from the way Joe was puffin' and huffin', he was sure it was going to be a hundred pounder. But small or not, we had no way to get it up. Joe was the Magiver who came up with the idea of what we finally ended up doing. I have these swinging small 3'-4' "hammocks" all over the boat. They are net gizmos (and look like a miniature hammock) that are attached between two hooks attached to the "ceiling" and "walls" (bulkheads) in the salon (living room). In them, I have all kinds of snacks (chips, pretzels, dried fruit, crystal lite plastic containers, etc.) hence, we call them "snack bags." Joe had me go and get an extra one I had and we hung it over the side of the boat(attached on one end to a rope, and the other around a boat hook) and were finally able to sling it around and under the fish. Our saving grace was, by now the fish had very little oomph in him, so he was not squirming at all, and we were able to uneventfully pull him aboard.
Next problem, cleaning him. Joe is a lot of great things on a boat: mechanic, electrician, plumber, etc... but one thing he's never done is clean a fish. (Although he claims to have done it as a "kid..." on little fish, it was not a skill in his memory bank). And me... I just cook them! So out comes one of my cookbooks (on fish) and he sits himself and the fish on the butt end of the boat and I read to him paragraph by paragraph on how to fillet a "round" fish. There was blood and guts everywhere and the finished product, fillets, were far from "pretty." But it was our FIRST fish... I finished trimming and making it mo' pretty and placed it in a marinade, and on the b-b-q it went, and was just delicious. I made a cevicci (sp?) with some of the trimmings and scraps (marinated in Mexican limes which "cooks" the raw fish in just a few minutes), which we had as an appetizer.
I'm on watch now... our last night of being at sea for a few weeks. Just a sliver of a new moon out with a beautiful reflection on the glassy sea, and the stars are out in full bloom. Tomorrow morning early we will pass the famous Cabo San Lucas Rock Arches at the entrance to the harbor and will be on land again. Oh glorious.
I was going to wait and send this in a few days so I could write about Cabo, but my anecdotals seem to have made this too long all ready, so I'll end this for now and write more after we get settled in and have had a chance to explore the "good life" some in this new time share capitol fishing Mecca Mexican city.