January 7-11, 2002: Turtle Bay, Ballena Bay and Magdalena Bay
January 7th, 2002
We arrive in beautiful "Turtle Bay" (Bahia de Tortuga) yesterday morning at sunrise. Our "tour guides" (several books and 5 years worth of cruising articles I'd cut out and been saving) touts this as one of the "musts" for cruiser's either heading south or north from Cabo. It's definitely a "must" if you need fuel, as it's the only fuel stop between Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas. It's also the approximate half waypoint between San Diego and Cabo, so it's a also a mental waypoint. The bay is also well protected from most storms and, at least for us, the anchorage has been NON roly-poly, though still windy (steady 15-20 knots), and SUNNY (and if you're out of the wind, actually warm!) It has been a peaceful stop with seals and dive-bombing pelicans and dolphins that practically swim up to your anchored boat. (No turtles though - - I guess they've been gone for years and years!)
The town or village used to have about 3,000 people, with most of the "business" revolving around the town fishermen, but since the sardine cannery closed down about 3 years ago the population has dwindled to around 1,000. The closest paved highway to the town is over 140 miles away... so the people are pretty isolated. This in mind, Joe and I when we walked from one end of town to the other, were surprised to see teenagers in the same baggy style "designer" jeans that my son wears, smaller kids playing with new Barbie dolls and Barbie houses, kids riding new bicycles (even though the roads were all dirt) and other than the "shanties" that they lived in, more "modern" than we expected.
As we "explored" we even found 3 hotels in town... but it would take a lot of determination and a good 4-wheel drive to be a "tourist" to come to visit here, so we couldn't imagine what they do with these hotel rooms. Their main tourists are actually cruisers that use their "bay" a haven from the storms, and a rest stop to regroup, re-provision, and re-fuel. So in general, the town's people are used to cruisers and are quite friendly for us to come to town and spread around our dollars. Unfortunately the day we arrived and walked around was Sunday and most everything was closed up. We did find a restaurant open and got some mediocre food, but no Margaritas.
They only have one person in town who "rules" the fuel dock and the fuel, so you pay through the nose, but no one seems to mind, as you know that before you arrive (through word of mouth and through the "guides") and the fuel dock "baron" and his family are famous for being cruiser friendly with a smile and sincere offers to help with whatever needs you may have (helping with laundry, ice, finding you boat repair parts, etc.). [A member of the family, Ernesto, was waiting for us in the place he wanted us to anchor when we arrived and was quick to offer us a ride to town and fuel, as well as ask non-shyly for a beer!]
Today we slept in (wow - - 12 hours of consecutive sleep, as we had sailed the previous two nights), and mostly lounged around the boat. We enjoyed the warmth and read our books out on deck, sipped a sherry at sunset, and are about to barbecue our dinner. We've didn't go to town today as we've been waiting since noon for our buddy, Ernesto, to show up with the fuel we ordered. He brings it to your boat in a large 55 gallon drum in the bottom of his panga (Mexican fiberglass fishing boat -- small but usually with very powerful engines) and then pumps it up to your tank. [Prior to departing San Diego, we had hoped NOT to need to refuel, but we've been mostly motoring, versus our desired sailing, so we have used up a lot more fuel than we predicted.] We have been watching Ernesto on the "fuel" dock with our binoculars, for several hours but have no way of knowing what's happening, other than he's there, we're here, and we need the fuel by tomorrow morning when we depart.
January 9th, 2002
Ernesto, the fuel Mafioso jefe (Spanish for "boss"), came by last night after he finally got the fuel pumped into his 55 gallon drum but it was pitch dark and blowin' up a storm, so neither he nor Joe wanted to attempt the transfer from his boat to our in those conditions. I told him to come back between 8 and 9 this morning (so we could sleep in a bit, knowing we had an all-nighter again tonight at sea... and also thinking 8-9AM would probably interpret into 10-11 man~ana time) But not so,... he either wanted to please us by getting there early, or more likely, he wanted to be sure we did not pull anchor and leave the bay without buying his fuel. He might have even been sitting outside our boat a lot earlier for all we know. I just woke up and thought I heard something rubbing against our hull... but knowing I'm always hearing things on this boat, I ignored it... Then I thought I heard a cough (but didn't know if I was dreaming)... and then as time went on, I KNEW I heard whistling, so finally I woke up Joe and he looked out the port hole, and there was Ernesto, at 7AM waiting for us to wake up and take his fuel. There's more to the adventure than that but maybe I'll save that for another story.
Today was our first T-shirt and shorts sailing day... but we paid the price of the wonderful sunshine and warmth by having NO wind again, so we're motoring... all day and now all night. But the nice thing is the seas are for the first time glassy... i.e., almost no swell, and what little there is, is from the stern so it is smooth sailing. Hopefully the prediction for 20+ft swells, according to the fax reports we just got today will NOT be true, or if so, it will be slow getting here so we're far enough south to miss them.
We are now en route for our next stop, Bahia de Ballena, (Bay of the Whales), which is about a 1 1/2-2 day trip. We had one almost emergency, and certainly many moments of stress. As soon as we got out of Turtle bay, with very little wind (and sails not yet set), our engine completely stopped. We have 3 fuel tanks on board (150 gallons) plus for long trips like this, we have 2 fuel "bladders" (25 gallons each) that we carry strapped on deck. Joe switches between one and another onboard fuel tank occasionally to keep the weight of the boat balanced. Anyway, he and I had just emptied the fuel that Ernesto had pumped us (into our on deck bladders) into one of the fuel tanks to fill it up. Then Joe changed fuel tanks to start using that "full" one... and that's when the engine cut out. Obviously, our first thought is that not only had we waited a day to get our newly bought fuel, paid nearly double US prices, but that we had gotten bad fuel which had contaminated our entire tank and gotten into the engine. [For those of you who know about boating, we HAD taken the precaution of using a Baja Filter, which is supposedly a protection from getting bad diesel crud into your tank, before emptying it in our tanks, so we couldn't understand how this could have happened.] Any way, Joe worked on eliminating possibility after possibility of OTHER "possible" causes to the engine problem and eventually found "gunk" in a tube (I know, not very technical, but for most of you, that's technical enough!) which was blocking the fuel to the engine. We were VERY relieved that it wasn't the fuel, as not only would we not be able to use the newly bought 50 gallons, we also wouldn't be able to use the fuel tank we had added it into, which still had about 50 gallons in it! So we were back in business and on our way again... unfortunately motoring instead of sailing again for the entire next leg en route to Ballena Bay.
January 11th, 2002
I was really excited about our upcoming destination Ballena Bay. Inside of the bay is a large lagoon called San Ignacio that is the largest gray whale refuge on the west coast of North America. I had seen a special on TV about the place as almost 2 years ago, there was a big tug-of-war between the environmentalists (yes, Mexico has them also) and government/big business. The latter had planned the building of a large salt works factory (half owned by the Japanese, Mitsubishi company, made out to be the "bad guys") and the environmentalists felt the disruption and changes of salinity and temperature would hurt the gray whales who had used the lagoon to mate and then come back to deliver their calves. The environmentalists won and the sanctuary was "saved."
What excited me was the main business in the town of San Ignacio is conducting whale watching tours between mid- December to mid- February... but much different than the ones offered out of San Diego Bay; These you go in a small panga, with an approved "guide" and supposedly get close enough to "pet" the whales, and also see the newborn calves. Anyway, what I should have thought about was, how come with all the sailing magazines I have gotten in the last many years, why had I never read an article about "cruisers" visiting or going on one of these "tours." What I HAD read was that you could not go into the lagoon on your own. So this to me was to be one of the highlights of our trip.
Well I soon found out why no cruisers had written about this as a side trip on their voyage south. First of all when we entered the Bay and got to our anchorage, there was a small village on shore, but no way for us to get there. [We still had our inflatable deflated and packed away for our trip south, as we cannot safely carry it inflated while we're off shore... AND To inflate our dinghy, rig up a hoist to get it off the deck, rig another hoist to get the outboard motor off our boat, over the sides and down into the dinghy, fuel the outboard, etc., is a several hour process... and then reverse the process when we are ready to leave again.] We had thought there'd be some sort of an "Ernesto" to come by and offer for a few pesos (or a beer) to take us to shore. So although the place we anchored was covered with lobster pots and fishermen all around us, no panga/fisherman ever came by to offer us a ride, so we did not get to shore and were destined to be stuck on our boat for our stay here. I then also discovered that this Bay we were in was over 12 miles wide, and we were on the North end (only safe protected place to anchor) and the Lagoon I wanted to visit was on the South end. To put it in perspective, 12 miles for us in a bay is usually 2 1/2-3 hour trip motoring!
So a little jaunt to the Lagoon was not going to happen, especially since we had no way to get to the town of San Ignacio where the "tour guides" resided. Since we had no way to get ashore, no chances of seeing the whales, and were in the worst anchorage I have ever been in (for any of you "boaters" out there who've visited Catalina, if you are reading this - - WORSE than White's Cove next to Avalon in Catalina, which previously had been my worse!) - - VERY roly- poly... we decided to cut our visit short there and head for our next stop, bright and early the next morning, to Bahia Magdalena, a bay even bigger (for reference, the size of San Francisco Bay) than the one we were in.
We were back in double layers of clothing for the last 3 days... so much for the warm weather! And for a change, we actually sailed almost all of the next leg of the trip. We had a surprise when we left Bahia Ballena: the seas were averaging 10-15' w/ some like high rise condominiums as high as 20 ft, (unfortunately our weather fax prediction of high seas caught up with us) but we also found ourselves finally with good wind that got so high (22-28 knots) that we had to only sail with 2 of our 4 sails, one of them reefed (that means reduced in size) 50%.
A day and a half of the high seas and the rock-n' rolling and knocking us and the boat around, I got a good look at what was NOT fastened down well enough on the boat: books went flying, pots and pans banged against cupboards, bags went sliding across decks, and all sorts of miscellaneous items (binoculars, lines, bungees, etc.) that were in the cockpit came flying down the hatch with some of the large rolls the boat took. And this is a 23-ton boat, that doesn't tip very easily! We were taking many 50 degree and some occasional 60-degree rolls and that was NOT fun!
Now (today, the 11th of January) we're in a safe, very quiet anchorage at Bahia de Santa Maria (a "suburb", so to speak of Magdalena Bay), and I spent the afternoon picking up and putting the boat back together. We now know where we need to have more bungees and fasteners and padding to keep items from flying before we go to sea again. We are VERY much looking forward to our hopefully first good night's sleep since we left Turtle Bay.
I've talked a lot about the wind, waves, rocking, and lack of sleep. I should also talk about some of the peaceful moments I've enjoyed. Many people who know me couldn't picture me "retired" as I've always been so active, career oriented, and always on the "go." They've also asked what would I do with all the hours at sea with nothing to look at except the water. One of my answers has always been, "I have a life time of books to read." That has been one thing I enjoy but in the last few years, my life has been too busy, too cluttered, and not enough free waking hours left at the end of the day to read. It might take me 3-4 months to finish one book. Well since I left San Diego, I've completed 5 novels (each >500 pages), and also as you can see with the length of this, I'm also spending a lot of time writing.
Additionally, it's been exciting to watch up close the sea life when Mi Gitana goes through their path and into their "space." Every day at least once, and sometimes several times a day, we go through a pod of dolphins. Sometimes they follow along side for 20-30 minutes, hundreds and hundreds of them as far as you can see on either side of the boat. The last 2 days the dolphins are a different type than those we have seen in the past and in/around San Diego. These are smaller and instead of gray, they are jet black on top with white bellies (Shamu, killer whale colors). [Anyone out there, ?SeaWorld fans possibly?, who can tell me if these have a different name, let me know.] Today we were watching hundreds of them beside us, we also noted from the bow as maybe 10 of them were swimming upside down (with their white bellies up), just under the bow and hull of the boat, staying with us almost as if the boat was pulling them along. The seas were so big as I described above, that we could see sometimes 15-20 of them riding and surfing one wave at a time, while others were jumping and flipping, as if trying (and succeeding, I must add) to entertain us.
We also saw, a little ways away from us (on a calmer day with no swells), several fins sticking out of the water that from a distance looked like sharks or maybe 2 alone dolphins, but as we got closer, it was 2 seals lying on their back with both flippers out of the water, like they were sunning their bellies.
Today, as we pulled into where we are, 2 seals followed (actually one led us and one followed us) into our anchorage, as if they were showing us the way. They also stayed on as a welcoming party jumping and diving all around the boat. A few minutes later the pelicans also joined in as they dive bombed and splashed for food. I had expected to see a lot more whales. We saw 2 our first 2 days out, but none since. Supposedly where we are now, Magdalena Bay is as far south as they come, so we probably won't see any more.
At night while I am on watch, I kill hours and hours of time writing back to all of you who are reading my journal and writing me back. It is not an easy process to get and send our e-mails (sometimes takes hours to hook up to a ham radio station that we can connect to long enough to receive and deliver our e-mails), but it is the highlight of our day to get mail. So since I am the scribe, I spend my evenings at watch writing back. Your messages are wonderful and helping us keep "connected" to home, family, friends, and the going ons of the "real" world.
So that's pretty much what our life at sea has been so far. We are staying here for a couple of days to regroup, do some small repairs, so some much needed "house cleaning" and catch up on sleep, before starting the last final leg of this trip, a 2 day 2 night sail (hopefully, versus motor) to Cabo San Lucas, where we are due in on the 16th. I will next write you from there, filling you in hopefully on the other side of Cruising, i.e. being in port and on land again.