San Diego-La paz
Finally, after almost two weeks sweating in San Diego, all of the paperwork was in order, the new solar panel was cranking out a couple hundred watt hours a day, the batteries were fully charged, the surfboard lashed to the shrouds and everything was ready to go. In the evening I pulled up the anchor and headed to the fuel dock, then to the customs dock, where I said goodbye to Lance and Norene, family friends who had fed me, drove me all over the city, and even taken me out to Costco for provisions while I stayed in San Diego. After they left, I got off the dock and underway with the strong Santa Anna winds pushing me out the channel then flying along on a beam reach towards and across the border into Mexican waters. In the morning the wind died off and I had to motor the last few miles into the marina at Ensenada, with the brand-new Mexican courtesy and yellow “Q” (quarantine) flags flying from the spreader.
Here I was fairly nervous, as this was my first real international border crossing (sorry Canada, if all you have to do is a two minute phone call it really doesn’t count) and I was worried because I had heard that Mexico is one of the hardest to clear into due to the sheer amount of paperwork and bureaucracy involved. This is where coming to the marina–even though it cost $70 US for the night– became worth it, for at the office after securing my slip, the employees, who speak English and deal with hundreds of boats crossing the border every year, were extremely helpful and efficient, photocopying the necessary documents, having me fill some out there, then actually driving me to the customs office, which would have been an absolute nightmare if I hadn’t had the marina employee there. To give the layout, the customs building is one lobby-like room with over half a dozen different windows representing the different government agencies and the port captain ranged around the walls. All I had to do was stand behind my helper while he talked in rapid Spanish to each officer, rushing from one window to the next in a specific, complicated order, trailing me behind and telling me to sign here, give this person my passport, pay this other, fill this form out, keep this, give that, etc, etc. It turned out that I was very lucky to still have several hundred pesos in my wallet from the last time I was in Mexico over two years ago, which saved me a trip to the bank.
After this whirlwind of activity I thanked my helper profusely and was dropped back at the marina with a pile of receipts, visas, and permits, which I stored away along with my brand new, stamped passport and lowered the quarantine flag while it slowly hit me that I made it. Finally, I actually made it somewhere new, foreign, and exciting. To celebrate I grabbed my longboard–with a new aluminum deck after the wooden one delaminated–and went out in search of street tacos and a margarita, a ritual which to me was the final stamp confirming my arrival.
Isla San Martin
One night was all I could afford at the marina in Ensenada, so around 3 pm, after topping up the gas jugs, I was off the dock and slowly making my way out of the bay in a light breeze, only occasionally having to put the motor on to maintain steerage and clear the point back out into the pacific. Through the night and the next day, the wind remained very light, just enough to sail at around 3 knots, but just as the miniature volcanic cone of my destination at Isla San Martin came into view in the sunset, it finally died once and for all. I motored in the last 10 miles in the dark, dropping the anchor in 30 feet, just offshore of some pangas on their moorings.
After waiting a few days for the wind to return, and exploring the sea lion rookery and harsh volcanic rocks of San Martin, I raised the anchor and set off for Bahia Tortugas to meet up with harry, Sarah and Jonty on Mamaku. This was a fairly uneventful passage of two days, with decent-to-light wind from the north the entire time, although I was a bit confused by the uncharacteristically gloomy skies. Additionally I had to adjust my course several times to avoid large shallow patches (some only 60 feet deep according to the charts) where I was worried about running into kelp beds or fishing gear. On the last day of the passage, as I approached the bay, I was being passed by a nearly constant stream of sailboats headed in the same direction, which I figured must be the huge Baja-Haha cruiser’s rally that had been taking up all the good anchorages I San Diego. Luckily, I had received an inreach message from Mamaku saying that they were actually anchored behind a point just north of Tortugas, where they thought there might be some surf. After picking my way through some very large and thick kelp beds, I anchored next to Mamaku in a beautiful anchorage off a tiny fishing village. Soon after dropping the hook, I went ashore to stretch my legs, and was soon followed by my friends in their dinghy. We met on the beach, where harry cleaned a large fish he had speared earlier that day, then we all rendezvoused back on Mamaku for some delicious fish dinner, fried whole by Jonty.
|All to ourselves|
The next day, we set out in the dinghy piled with surf boards for the break, where I spent most of the session getting totally pummeled by waves before managing to catch and hold on to one or two near the end. In the morning, we briefly parted ways again, I was low on fuel so took advantage of some good wind to sail three days straight to Bahia Santa Maria, while Mamaku explored some more potential surf points and towns along the coast.
|A brief snapshot of the two seconds I actually managed to ride this wave|
Bahia Santa Maria
The passage to Bahia Santa Maria was a very fun one, with strong following winds for the entire 300 miles, and Darwind made great time. The only less than positive aspect was that the gloomy skies and squally weather persisted, even raining a small amount in one short squall! As we approached the entrance to Santa Maria in a fresh and building breeze, I was pulling in the fishing line when I realized there was actually a small skipjack or possibly bonito on the hook! I pulled it in, bled it, and filleted it while also reducing sail and gybing around the point into the wide bay. By the time I dropped the hook over a sandy bottom at the head of the bay near the breaking waves of a small mangrove-encrusted river mouth, my first fish was already sizzling in the frying pan!
When I dropped the anchor as the sun was setting, there were four or five other boats anchored in the bay, and I hoped that the Baja Haha had changed their route and gone on to Bahia Magdelana, however I was sorely disappointed when I woke up and there were close to 50 boats anchored behind me. More kept flowing in all day, and when I went on a hike across the peninsula to look out at the ocean I could see a scattering of tiny white sails all the way to the horizon, all headed for the same bay. By the time Mamaku arrived the next day, there were over a hundred boats anchored in the wide bay, and Darwind was anchored right at the head of the fleet, where I had unsuspectingly dropped my anchor in a nearly deserted anchorage!
|The fleet in Santa Maria|
In the next few days we spent some time ashore and exploring the mangroves in Mamaku’s dinghy, and I met Daniel and Emma on the boat Indy, some very cool sailors whom Harry and Sarah had met on their way south in California. We also all went ashore to crash the Baja-Haha beach party, which was not really our scene, but I managed to talk my way into half a dozen free beers, so I ended up enjoying it quite a lot. After that, thankfully, the Haha departed, minus Indy who decided to stay and hang out a few more days.
|From left, Sarah, Jonty, and Harry on a peak above Bahia Santa Maria|
However by far the best thing about this beautiful bay, and the reason we ended up staying over a week there, was the surf. Almost every day, Harry, Jonty and Sarah would swing by Darwind in their dinghy, I would jump in with my board, and we would zip out to the point, where we surfed a near-perfect, beautiful reef break over water so clear and full of colorful fish that it seemed like you were flying over an aquarium! It was there that I rode what remain to this day the best waves of my life!
|In the dinghy loaded up and ready to go!|
|Jonty riding the point break|
|Exhausted after a long session|
Unfortunately all good things must come to an end, and soon the weather forecast turned extremely foreboding. Both the VHF and the grib files Mamaku was able to download showed a nasty tropical depression with winds over 60 knots (nearly hurricane force) hitting the Baja near where we were anchored, although it looked like the worst of it was going to hit south of us. While some boats decided to run to the marina at Cabo San Lucas, or the more sheltered Magdelena bay, Mamaku, Indy and Darwind remained in Santa Maria to wait it out. As the storm neared, the skies turned dark grey, the surf grew messy and I sat out the next session, hiking ashore with Sarah, at which point the sky opened up and torrential rain to rival British Columbia began to fall on the grey sea and desert cacti, a strange sight to be sure. Yet the forecasted wind never reached us, securely anchored several hundred miles north of the eye of the storm. The next day it turned out we had definitely made the right move, for we heard reports over the radio that in Cabo winds had reached over 50 knots sustained, with higher gusts.
As soon as the weather cleared we planned to depart, and after a dinner and games on Indy, Mamaku and I left the next morning for the Sea of Cortez with a fresh northerly at our backs. (although due to the previous night’s festivities a few hours later than originally planned)
The three-day run from Santa Maria around Cabo San Lucas and into the Sea of Cortez was nearly perfect, with sunny skies and great wind the whole way, as well as the added celebration of crossing 23.5˚ North latitude and officially entering the tropics! There were very few boats on this passage, and the few that were around clearly showed up on AIS and gave Darwind a wide berth, so I was able to rest relatively easy and cruised through books, punctuating the day with the occasional gybe or changing a reef point in the main.
On this run, I didn’t set out with a set destination, since there are several on the inside of the Baja peninsula, and I can never really estimate how far or fast I will make it anywhere. In this case I made exceptional time and made several dozen more miles that expected, dropping the hook at picturesque Bahia los Frailes, off a coast made a lush jungly green sprung up from the torrents of rain brought by the storm.
Once again on entering the anchorage I found a fish on my line, although this time it was definitely a skipjack, not the tastiest of fish, though not too bad when fried with lots of seasonings and some curry powder. I only stayed the night in this bay to catch the next day’s calm before the prevailing northerlies returned and trapped me.
Bahia de los Muertos
The next stop up the coast was Bahia los Muertos, of which I have fond memories from playing in the dunes when Northern Passage stopped there six years previously. When I dropped the anchor here, I was astounded to watch it sink all the way to the bottom 25 feet down, and settle into the sand as clear as day! As soon as the anchor was well set I jumped overboard and reveled in the crystal water after a long hot day of motoring.
|Unbelievably clear water in Bahia los Muertos|
The shower was heaven, and the real, unmoving, dry bed was far too comfortable to ever leave, but by far the best part was that Anne lent my a bike to go ride the nearby singletrack trails! I had no idea these existed and spent several hours in the morning completely blissed out, tearing up the extremely well-built trails, which weave around dense vegetation and cacti, through dry riverbeds and canyons, before riding the sandy ridges right to the edge of the sparkling blue Sea!
|Some of the most fun mountain biking I've ever done!|
After returning to the boat laden with fresh groceries and beer, which Anne had provided me with, I spent almost a week in this beautiful bay, waiting for a southerly breeze to blow me up to La Paz. In the meantime, I spent hours in the crystal clear water, reunited with my friends on Indy when they arrived, and met Garret and Audrey on Thisldu, more great sailing buddies. Thanksgiving passed in this bay, and although it became rather rolly from a southerly swell (no wind unfortunately) I spent it with sailing friends at the fancy resort on the beach, where I ordered a delicious fish burger which turned out to be an entire fillet of fish barely contained by the buns!
|Thanksgiving dinner at the fancy resort|
Additionally, I met Kim and Claudia, some sailor friends of my mom, whose boat was in La Paz, but who had a rental car and took me out for some amazing wood-fired pizza at el Triunfo, an awesome little colonial town high in the mountains above Bahia los Muertos.
My first attempt to make it north to La Paz actually occurred before Thanksgiving, when a strong southerly was predicted by every forecast model, yet after leaving Muertos, a light northerly developed, along with a slight rain. I shrugged this off, and resigned to a beat up to La Paz, but less than halfway there the wind and rain suddenly more than tripled in force until it was blowing a gale from the north, and I was forced to turn and run before it back to Muertos under only the working jib. Defeated by the fickle ocean, I was at least consoled by many friends in Muertos, and several days later I headed north again, this time under clear skies and a light variable wind that allowed Darwind to alternately sail and motor north at a steady, if not particularly fast, rate. As the sun set, I anchored in an exposed anchorage behind a small point, as it was absolutely flat calm, then continued around the point and into La Paz bay the next morning. This was mostly motoring, but by afternoon I was anchored in the busy anchorage of my second city in Mexico.
|Wet and wild running before the unexpected northerly|
Several hours after anchoring, I was forced to move, as the crazy currents and winds, which cause boats to swing to their anchors in the craziest ways had led me to miscalculate how close I was to a neighboring boat and I had just missed swinging into them by a couple inches! After re-anchoring much farther from the other boats, (also much farther from the dinghy dock) I watched the currents and wind more closely, and was amazed to see boats at anchor pointing in literally every possible direction, depending on the hull shape, the amount of current, and the wind. This kind of thing almost never happens, usually in an anchorage, all the boats swing together, pointing into the wind.
After a few days I became more used to the “La Paz waltz” as the local sailors call it, and spent the next week or so hanging out with sailing friends and getting the boat ready to put away in a marina for a month while I went home for Christmas to see family and friends.