March 21- April 2nd, 2002 Island Hopping in the Sea of Cortez and “The Crossing” to Mazatlan 
We finally left La Paz on March 21st, 4 days later than we planned (due to bad weather), but under clear skies and light winds.  The high winds had gone away and the gray of the previous few days gave way to bright sunny days with balmy light winds, which followed us for the next week.  Our final destination of Mazatlan, was broken up by first visiting several coves and islands northeast of La Paz in the Sea of Cortez.  [I will outline a few paragraphs about each place (day by day), not only for your reading, but if you wonder why I name what Cove we are at and by date, I also keep this journal as part of our “official” ship’s log/journal.] 
March 21st:  
Our first stop only 3 hours away from our Marina at La Paz, was at a place called Ballandra Bay… and looked like a postcard destination for cruisers: aqua-turquoise waters with white sandy beaches and interesting rock formations, rocky coves, and cave-like indentations to “explore” on the beach front.  We had the dinghy inflated, ready to go, and stored on our davits (stainless steel bars with pulley contraptions off the end to assist in hoisting it up and down out of the water) on the back of the boat.  So we were able to putt-putt around the bay and walk for a while along the shore and beach, picking up some interesting shells, and just enjoying the scenery.  For a while we had the place to ourselves, but eventually a couple of other boats pulled in and anchored also.   
March 22nd:  
The next morning we motored to Isla (Island) Partida only another 20 miles away.  The Sea of Cortez this day, and actually most of the next few days was almost glassy and ripple-less — which of course translates into no wind, and therefore no sailing.  [This, by the way is how we had pictured the Sea of Cortez to be: warm, beautiful, and calm … not the experiences we had had trying to get to La Paz in our “not-so —perfect storm” story related to you in a previous journal chapter.]  As calm as it was, it made it easy to observe so much of the marine life in the Sea.  One thing I had never seen before were manta rays that jumped high out of the water and did complete 360-degree turn-type flips.  I wasn’t sure of what my eyes saw until they (there must have been a large school of them) did it over and over again.  The mantas were about 1 ½-2 ft. across (not really large ones like I’ve seen scuba diving).  No dolphins at all during this trip, but the mantas were quite spectacular. 
We arrived at our first anchorage on Isla Partida mid day at a cove called Ensenada Grande.  Again, it was beautiful.   Huge cliffs surrounded us, with a variety of colored red sandstone, and at the bottom of the cliff a small white sandy beach.  Ashore, the beach was filled with little tents, which we later saw belonged to a Baja Expedition of camping and vacationing kayakers, as about 20 people later paddled by us.  Again we dinghied around, and mostly just took it easy for the day.  We read, played cards until past a spectacular sunset in the cockpit, and then barbequed shrimp … and relaxed, wondering what the rest of the world was doing. 
March 23rd — 24th:  
Sleeping in until our hearts content, and getting a lazy start on the day, we eventually got the energy to pull anchor again and motor just around the corner of our cove a little further south to another cove on Isla Partida called Caleta Partida.   Isla Partida and an island just south of it, Isla Espiritu Santos were once one island and volcanic in origin.  This cove we were in was what separated these two islands.  Our charts indicated a very narrow VERY SHALLOW strip of waterway that can supposedly be navigated in high high tide … this is what separates the islands, but during our exploration (during low tide), the 2 islands seemed to be joined.  It was so shallow that we had to leave the dinghy on a sand shelf and wade thru ankle deep water probably 100+ feet to dry land.  It was so hot that the water was actually bathtub warm in the shallow water we were wading in.  Looking from the shore to our boat in the cove, it was hard to imagine how many shades of aqua and blue-green there were in the water of the cove. 
There was a “fish camp” on the shore that really showed what a desolate life the fishermen live.  In the camp were cardboard and some plywood tiny structures built on the sand in which the fishermen, and in this case, their families lives.  No electricity, no running water.  There was a can sitting in a small structure between a couple of these “houses” with a blanket on 2 sides for “walls,” which we imagined was their outhouse/toilette.  One panga was going from sailboat to sail boat of some of the boats anchored (including us) in “his cove” with a Grandfather, Son, and Grandson and asking for us to help fill up their water jugs with water.  [There is no fresh water source on any of these desert islands.]  What a tough life to live. 
We had decided to skip one subsequent cove in order to stay at this one for an extra day.  It was a beautiful setting, and besides that, it was nice not having to go through the anchoring and un-anchoring dance routine for at least ONE day. 
March 25th:  
We left beautiful Caleta Partida (bay) and again just headed a few miles around the corner (still proceeding south) to the connecting island, Isla Espiritu Santos, to a cove called Puerto Ballena (Whale Port).  This cove was so shoaled (shallow) that we really could not get the boat tucked in very far, but we seemed to have a good anchorage and one almost to ourselves.  We soon found out why no other boats were sharing this cove with us… gnats!    I only knew what they were due to bad childhood memories of these awful pests from my growing up days in Florida. To the best of my memory, I don’t remember seeing gnats since my childhood in any other place I’ve been or lived in the world.  (And I also don’t remember even seeing them in my “adult” visits back home to Florida in the last 30 years!)  Anyway they are like tiny tiny flies that like to land on your skin and boldly and fearlessly crawl all over you.  And what was so awful about them at this cove is there were millions (NO EXAGERATION!!!) of them swarming everywhere around us, on the boat, in our cockpit, inside the boat, on our clothes, etc.  Where flies usually land on an object (such as a table, counter, etc.) so you can swat them, the gnats only seemed to land on us… very painful to hit with a fly swatter.  And they are at least as fast as a fly, making them hard to smack.  They were so awful, that we decided to try and get away from them by putting the dingy in the water and leaving our boat for a while.  While lowering the dinghy in the water, I was doing jumping jacks on the deck trying to keep them from landing all over me.  We bombed the inside cabin of the boat with bug spray, and locked it all up tight, and took off in the dinghy going as fast as we could, but those suckers (and I actually think they must have “suckers” on their feet!) were chasing after us and keeping up with us, and holding on to our clothing and the rubber boat.  At one time I looked at the floppy hat Joe was wearing, as we’re zooming away, and there were at least 30-40 of these gnats crawling all over his hat and his hair.  YUCK!  So since that didn’t work, we decided to go back to the boat (to hell with “exploring” the cove!) and lock ourselves in the cabin hopefully away from the bugs.  But since this was our last island hopping trip (and we had a 12 hour trip the next day to our destination), we had to remove the dinghy outboard motor and hoist the dinghy back up onto the davits… about a 30-minute process.  Those 30 minutes were pure misery.  I’ve got both hands hauling up the heavy outboard and of course can’t let go, and those creatures would go up my nose as I’d breath in and then some would get under my sunglasses on my eyelids… I thought I would go crazy.  Anyway, we finally got everything secured and hurried down below and locked ourselves up tight and went about with the fly swatter, trying to kill the residuals that survived the insect repellant.  I guess the good thing (if anything “good” could be said about gnats) is that they don’t bite.  But no barbequing, no sunset drinks in the cockpit that night! 
Living as long as we both have in San Diego, we’ve been pretty spoiled by having no mosquitoes, seldom any flies or cockroaches, and certainly no gnats to pester us.  That will not be so on our adventures to come.  We know it, but are not looking forward to future pests along our travels. 
March 26th  -27th:  
We got up at sunrise (hoping to get out of there before the gnats woke up) and pulled out of our only bad-memory anchorage, Puerto Ballena, and headed for the Baja Peninsula again… back south to Bahia Los Muertos… Bay of the Dead.  [Again, those of you who have been following our adventure may remember, this is the place we were stuck for 6 days while trying to get TO La Paz, due to gale winds back at the beginning of February.]  We had a long 12-hour trip (back by “Tear Your Hear Out By The Roots” Point and down a very windy channel between Baja and another off shore Island.  The reason for the return is to set us up for a good sailing angle (for the wind direction and also shorter distance) for our long crossing across the entire Sea of Cortez to the Mainland to Mazatlan. 
This time Los Muertos looked quite different.  Last time we were here, the winds were howling 25-40 knots of cold wind for 6 days and the tiny anchorage was full (8-9 boats in a space large enough for 2-3) of boats, stuck like we were, trying to get to La Paz or to the mainland.  The beach was desolate looking with no sign of people except an occasional panga/fisherman who drove his boat by us.  What a difference this time: the weather was warm and balmy.  We were the only boat anchored when we arrived at sunset.  However the previously deserted small beach was crowded with wall-to-wall tents (or should I say: tent-to-tent?).  We later found out that this is Semana Santa (Easter Week) and most Mexicans have all or part of the week off… and obviously this is one of the favorite spots to take the family and go to.  They had little bon-fires, boom boxes, and some had small boats with motors for driving granny and the kids around in or for fishing in the bay for small fish.  It was really a multi-generation family affair w/ each tent area having small children playing in the surf, the teenagers holding hands, mom cooking dinner in a pot over the coals, to grandma sitting in the shade under an umbrella watching everyone. We could hear their music and laughter and see the beach bonfires late into the night.   
We had planned an extra day to spend at Los Muertos (the 27th) as our “day of rest” (after a 12 hour trip to get there) to prepare for our planned departure for Mazatlan on the 28th.  But instead of rest, we spent most of the next day getting ready for, as it is called by the Baja cruisers, “The Crossing.”  It would be the longest of all of our “legs” of the journey so far and our first completely out of sight of land.  So we had to be sure we (and the boat) were prepared for high seas, high winds or whatever else may come our way… even though “light and variable” winds were predicted.  [We for SURE have learned that weather reports, especially favorable ones, are NOT to be taken as the gospel truth!]  After taking the dinghy ashore and walking along the beach looking at all the Mexican family campers, we had the chore of taking the dinghy out of the water, hoisting the motor as well as the dinghy, drying it (by suspending it in air along side the boat for a while) deflating it, rolling it up and storing it back in it’s bag on deck (as it’s too dangerous to leave it dangling on ropes off the back of the boat for this long of a trip).  We then went through our “off shore” checklists and re-checked all safety items, and then checked everything again.  We don’t want any flying objects this time, so there are and abundance of bungee cords everywhere and all the cabinets are now padded with bubble wrap.  Anyway, with each trip we take in rough seas, we find out where the “weak spots” are in our storage plan… and adjustments are made.  I’m sure we’ll find new ways of something flying loose on some future trip… but hopefully not this trip as we are hoping, for a change, that the predictions of smooth seas is true.  We leave tomorrow afternoon. 
“THE CROSSING” (From Baja Peninsula to Mainland Mexico): 
March 28th
This morning the blue skies that we’ve had for the last week were replaced by totally gray overcast skies.  And the wind that has been blowing forever (for the last few months) from the North or Northwest, was now blowing from the Southeast and out of all places the EAST… And guess what our intended heading is: you betcha’ … 93 degrees… almost due east.  So not only do we not have our sunny expectations, what little wind we have is going to start out being right on the nose again, instead of “pushing” us forward, will be “pushing” us backwards.  But of course, the weather reports we have via weather fax, and weather services, and the radio reports say we should have perfect wind and sea conditions.  But the winds are not very high (less than 20 knots), and on top of all that, we are emotionally READY to leave and continue on our journey, so we intend to go on. 
[Later that night:]  I am now “standing watch” while Joe is sleeping and we are on our way.  However, we had a pretty bad start.  We planned to pull anchor at Los Muertos at around 4 PM today. (Our departure was based on how long we predicted the trip should take and knowing what time we need to arrive at the Marina in Mazatlan — during, not only their daytime working hours, but also NOT at low tide, as it is a shallow entry into the bay).  So with everything ready, and us just waiting for the clock to strike 8 bells (4 O’clock), we sat.  Just a few minutes before that time a powerboat pulled into our now crowded anchorage (several boats had pulled in in the last few hours).  Joe told him he could have “our space” if he wanted to wait a few minutes, so he said he would and started to slowly circle us awaiting our departure.  We fire up the motor, Joe goes up on the bow to pull the anchor, and I am at the wheel.  We both have small walkie-talkies that we use while anchoring so he can give me directions as to which way he wants to boat to go and we can communicate without having to yell 50’ across howling winds.  Anyway, I told him via my walkie-talkie that he’d better make it look good as all the people on the power boat that was waiting on us (just a few yards away) were watching us pull the anchor.  Within a minute of me saying this, Joe yells at me that he cut his finger off.  I thought he was kidding (or exaggerating, as he has the tendency to do) but when he came running back to me with blood dripping everywhere, I knew something bad had happened.  Anchoring and un-anchoring is always a dangerous job and our # 1 safety rule is he is always supposed to wear his heavy duty leather gloves (bought JUST for anchoring) when he is anywhere near the power winch (called a windless) that hauls the anchor up.  So this time, Joe was wearing one glove but not the other, and of course the gloveless hand is the one that got caught in this dangerous piece of machinery.   
I about fainted when I saw his fingertip… about half of it was dangling off the finger.  I grabbed a dish towel (great sterile technique, Michele!) and wrapped it around the finger and applied pressure.  He kept saying, “Just put a band aid on it as I have to go up there and finish pulling the anchor.”  Typical Joe.  I don’t know if he was worried safety-wise about our half anchored boat dragging away or about the people waiting for our space, or whether he just wasn’t thinking straight at all.  But, at his insistence, I quickly put 2 or 3 band aids on it to sort of tape the loose part of the finger back on and then put his leather anchoring glove on his hand (thinking the glove would continue to apply pressure to it), and he went up there and finished hauling the anchor.  A few minutes later we were out of there and heading to Mazatlan.  I then got serious about treating his fingertip.  Most of the bleeding had stopped (the glove trick worked), so I applied a bunch of steri-strips, gauze and a finger tube dressing… I should probably embarrassingly mention that while doing this, I again, literally almost passed out.  I had to keep stopping and putting my head out in the wind for fresh air to keep from fainting.  Of course Joe was laughing at me, saying he couldn’t believe his private Nurse, was fainting at the site of blood.  [The only other time this ever happened to me was when my son Scott broke his arm in 2 places and in the emergency room the doctors, with me present, tried to set it by pulling it straight.]  I guess working with injuries and treating patients most of my life is one thing, but seeing something awful happen to someone you love and trying to treat it is something else.  Anyway, I have no idea whether his cut off portion (the flabby finger print side) will re-adhere… but perhaps it will and he’ll just need to be re-fingerprinted on his documents!!!  I’ll update you more later when I change his dressing tomorrow. 
So now during our first overnight trip in a while out at sea, the seas are glassy (that’s sure a great change), and there is still so little wind that we are having to use our motor.  What little winds we have, to make it worse are coming at us (as we say, “on the nose”) so our forward progress is slow at only about 4-4.5 knots per hour.  Perhaps tomorrow the clouds will be gone, along with the low front, and the winds will pick up in hopefully the NORMAL direction… from the Northwest, which is ideal for our Easterly trip. 
March 29th:   
Day 2 of our trip across the Sea, went well… Not perfect, but well.  The winds picked up during the early morning hours and finally had swung around from a NW direction (which is what we needed) and we let out our jib (forward sail) only about halfway and shut down the motor and our speed almost doubled (without even our main sail up!)  By mid-afternoon though after sailing at the faster speed, we realized we had a new problem… we were going TOO fast for our predictions and if we kept it up, we’d arrive in Mazatlan at 3 AM versus our planned 9AM (when the Marina is open!)  That was a new problem to us after all our problems getting up speed on all the other legs of our trip.  So we ended up taking down the jib and ever since have been sailing with only our tiny Mizzen (aft) sail… And we’re still flying a little too fast, but we keep thinking as we get closer to land and/or during the night, the wind and the swells (5-8 ft… and they too are “pushing” us) will die down or decrease.  There is no place for us to anchor near the marina to await their opening, so if we get there too early, I guess we’ll just be doing large doughnuts in the ocean, killing time. 
The gray skies are still kinda with us… we can see back behind us, it’s all clear, but this front seems to be following us, or maybe we’re following it.  All night long during Joe’s watch, he had lightning all around us, but no thunder, so we assume it was originating quite a distance away from us.  Lightning in desert-like Baja is even more rare than in San Diego, so the cruisers were all chatting on the radio waves about it throughout the night.   
I put out 2 fishing lines today with semi-hopes of catching a big dorado (mahi-mahi), as I’ve heard this is the place… I say “semi” hopes, in that neither Joe nor I wanted to go back on the fantail to have to reel it in in the beamy seas (seas that come at you on the beam [the side] really rock the boat from side to side, making for a unpleasant ride and have you holding on for dear life when moving about).  Also Joe was using his finger as an excuse to not want to do anything… especially reeling in or cleaning a fish.  [Remember our fish cleaning experience from an earlier chapter… to do it he has to sit on the very stern of the boat tethered down to the boat w/ his feet dangling over the side and try to hold on to a slimy fish without losing it.  The one time we did it, the seas were glassy… NOT so today!!!]  So I guess the fish gods must have caught on that our hearts were not in it today as we got no strikes and pulled in the lines at sunset.  My heart did skip a beat though a couple of times as near my lines in I saw some sort of bill fish jump out of the water 2 times, and a few minutes later another large fish jumped out within site.  Then about 15 minutes after that, Joe and I sited some fins (looked like sharks, NOT dolphins)…and even some flying fish. But no fish dinner for us… this time! 
Other sea life, we both spotted several (a pod, I think they call it) whales and observed them spouting off and on for almost 15 minutes a ways away from the boat.  I don’t know what kind these are still… they have black dorsal-type fins and seem to be a lot smaller than the California Gray whale that we are used to spotting.  I would have thought maybe they were giant sharks, but of course, sharks don’t spout!   {I know besides gray whales they have “humpback whales” in this area, so perhaps that’s what they are.} It’s also late in the season for whales, and I was surprised to see them here still in the Sea of Cortez.   
Cut-off finger update:  I did change Joe’s dressing today, and it looks pretty ugly still, but hopefully it will heal okay.  I will encourage him to see a doctor when we get to Mazatlan… just in case.  Medical care is cheap in Mexico and since our Marina is part of a Mega-resort, I’m sure they can refer us to someone who can check his finger out.   
(Later that night):  So much for our predictions of the wind dying down with sunset…Things turned out really nasty in the last few hours… the winds are now steadily above 30 knots w/ gusts up near 40 and with the higher winds come higher seas… Joe estimates 10-12 ft. w/ some as high as 15 ft.  And they are not the large “rolling” type swells.  They are close together, and frequently called "square" seas, that at times seem to be confused coming from multiple directions making for a very uncomfortable rocky ride.  As careful as we both are in these seas, we’ve both already taken a fall down below and I’m sure we’ll have some lumps and multicolored bruises tomorrow.  We still have up only the small mizzen sail, but we are going faster than we want.  There is little chance with the heavy rocking that either of us will get any sleep tonight.  At least an end is in sight as we reach Mazatlan tomorrow morning, hopefully safe and still sane. 
March 30th:  
Yes, we did arrive this morning … and as predicted too early (at sunrise).  We thought, falsely that once we got closer to land, again these winds and waves would significantly die down… but no such luck (actually they did drop from 35+  to 25-30mph).  So we ended up doing large doughnuts (turns) outside of the marina entrance until it was at least close to time we could enter.  We finally got the idea to hail on the radio “Anyone at Marina El Cid” and got several responses from residents at the Marina (on other boats).  We requested they find a guard or any “open slip” that we could at least temporarily pull into (until the office opened and could assign us a slip) so that we could get in behind the breakwater and in calmer waters.  They were successful in finding us a place as well as verbally “guiding” us through the breakwater. (Note: We are NOT in the main harbor of Mazatlan.  There are no charts for this area as it used to be an undeveloped lagoon north of Mazatlan, and now is the home of a modern and recently developed marina resort.) From the outside of the entrance, the entrance is hard to see and it looked like we were about to take the boats onto the rocks… and on top of that, there were breaking waves and a significant surge right at the entrance.  The channel after the entrance besides being very shallow (hence the necessity to go in during high tide), is very, very narrow, hardly enough for 2 boats to pass each other.  PLUS, to add to the challenge right in the middle there is a zig-zag and parked right there was a big dredge.  Whew!  Our hearts were beating up in our throats… But we made it, and what a gorgeous site was in front of us on the other side of the channel: calm waters, balmy (instead of gale) wind, palm trees, a seemingly tropical paradise, PLUS about 6 people cheering us on, pointing to our landing site, and standing by to help us dock the boat.   
The marina is small (only about 90 slips on 3 fingers/docks) but was added as part of a 5-star mega-resort called El Cid.  By paying to stay here (a little pricey, but actually less that what we paid for slip fees in San Diego), we get the privileges of the resort which includes 27 hole (Lee Trevino designed) golf course, 17 tennis courts, 2 pools (with waterfalls and a swim-up bar), private beach w/ palapa huts, Jacuzzi, restaurants/bars (with even “room” service to our boat if we want), a spa/gym, beauty shop, etc… plus other important boater amenities such as 24 hour security guards, laundry, potable fresh water, a mini-mart, etc… The complex actually consists of 4 different El Cid hotels all beachfront (except one which is on the golf course) and there is a free shuttle between all of them, so we can also use the other resorts if we get tired of the scenery here.  Oh yes, we have satellite TV that actually works!!! Complete with CNN, HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax.  So for the next month we feel like we are living it up in a vacation/resort-type atmosphere. 
Chopped off finger update: First stop when we got here was to the Doctor’s clinic which conveniently was located right next door to the marina office.  Joe ended up having 14 stitches (OW!)  put in the slice and the doctor says he’ll live to pull another anchor.  And it may even look like a finger again! 
April 2nd:   
Well we’ve now been here a few days and are just starting to explore Mazatlan and loving it here.  I will end this though for now and save our in town explorations for another chapter to follow in a few weeks. 
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