Travels from May 20 to May 29, 2000:
Cruising in the Gulf of California, the Sea of Cortez, is the ultimate in desirable cruising because it takes only a few hours to get from one anchorage to another. No sleep deprivation, no cooking on a moving stove. We get up at the usual time, have breakfast, put away the solar panels, tie down the dink and make the boat ready for getting underway and are ready to raise the anchor by 0930 - 1000. Some of the trips are as short as 5 miles! You see we don't have any other agenda besides enjoying each anchorage.
Actually, we don't stop at each and every place. Some are desirable in northerly winds and some in southerly winds. At this time of the year, we seek shelter from the latter. Some anchorages are deep and some are shallower. We usually avoid the deep ones. Some anchorages are so small that only one or two boats can be there at a time. As we develop more experience, we have heard and personally determined that there are good locations not shown in the most popular guides. William's guide for The Sea has aerial photos that have been most helpful. Otherwise, we listen for hints from other cruisers, watch for sheltered coves and venture in observing (sounding) the depths with care. Once anchored, I dive to check for hazards and that the anchor is well set.
Some anchorages are rated for hurricanes. These are referred to as "hurricane holes". Unfortunately, there are not that many. To qualify as a "hole", the anchorage must be surrounded by land. That provides protection from the seas from all directions. This is important because as the storm passes, the direction of the wind and seas will clock. Remember the first rule, "It's the seas that kill - not the winds!" Of course, in the event of an actual hurricane, all boats have to be well anchored to hold against the high winds as well. La Paz has a "hole", farther to the north is Puerto Escondido (a lagoon, not a developed port). When I discovered that La Paz translates as The Peace, I wondered if the naming came from being a refuge from these summer storms for the Spanish.
We keep informed on weather development, mainly in the south where the "named" storms begin. We also know where the nearest "hole" is for ultimate defense and how long it would take for Nanjo to get there.
Although there have already been storms growing off southern Mexico, they have followed the usual predictions and gone west. To have depressions turn into hurricanes, the waters have to be warm, providing energy to strengthen their dynamics. The waters in the southern Sea historically stay below the necessary levels until mid-July. August and September see the water temperatures at the highest in the lower and mid Sea. Therefore most cruisers plan to keep moving up the Sea, getting to the so-called Midriff Islands, 2/3 of the way up by mid-July. That's our plan as well. Presently, we are within 10 miles of Escondido, the second hurricane hole.
The hurricane-talk is not an attempt to build the predictable Nanjo-suspense. We want to let you know the logic and rules. While there can be exceptions in the "wrong" direction with regards to the statistical norms, the current water temperatures are indicating a longer safe-period. If a storm turns and passes over cooler water, it will lose energy. So if a storm appears to be moving in our direction in the next couple of weeks, don't freak-out! BUD came fairly close to Cabo before fizzling out. We all monitored the position. We use special plotting sheets our friends from Reliance gave us. As the storm gets closer, the VHF net broadcasts the position every four hours.
But back to idyllic anchorages . . .
Typically we stay in an anchorage for three days. The first day is our arrival, the second and third is for exploring ashore or making water. Chores occur each and every day. You have to maintain your home - So do we. You turn on a light switch or a water faucet - We have to make the electricity or the potable water.
However, if there are other boats in the anchorage, there is usually a beach party (potluck dinner or drinks and snacks before dinner), a boat party, when the group is smaller, or just a "jaw" session between boats. When there aren't other boats, we have other options: Nude showers, quiet and solitude.
On shore there is the never-ending quest for the next shell worth saving. Since we are in a varied, desert environment, there are different rocks to strike our interest. Crystals, agates, geodes and all sorts of interesting color. The hills are sometimes volcanic, sometimes sandstone. There are caves to explore, cliffs to peer over, and views that change color at sunset. Snorkeling is both recreational and functional (cool off). In addition, that is how I clean the hull, prop, thru-hulls (openings below the waterline where water is pumped in or pumped out) and sensors. We hike, we row and we swim for exercise.
The weather has been stuck at 90 degrees (5 degrees mas o menos) for some time, except for a few days in the 100's in La Paz. Nanjo's decks are too hot to walk on without shoes (water socks). The solar shower heats up in a few hours and we have to add water to cool it down. So far we have had breezes or wind to keep us cool. The nights get into the 70's. This calls for sleeping without a blanket or sheet. The hatch over our bunk is kept open. There is rarely any dew in the mornings because of the low humidity.
The first anchorage we went to was back out on Isla Partida - El Cardonel. This was the next cove north from Caleta Partida, where we anchored with Gemini after we crossed from Mazatlan. The anchorage is smaller and not as popular, so we had it to ourselves for several nights. We climbed the hills, explored caves, hiked to the other side of the island and were run off a beach by two sea gulls. Just sitting in the dink, schools of catchable fish would swim around us - just a tad beyond spear-gun range.
The next stop was 24 miles north, Isla San Francisco. This was a bumpy anchorage for the first few nights. Winds were 20 - 25 knots and we weren't protected much from the 5 - 6 foot swells. Land between you and the swell doesn't prevent the swell from hitting you. The swell "refracts" around the land and comes in from a different angle. It has to be a cruising-God's attempt at humor. But, we had to make water anyway. The rough anchorage ran almost everyone away. So, when the seas settled down, there wasn't a crowd on the beach looking for agates and shells. It was another three days at this anchorage before leaving, on May 26, for a short 11-mile sail to our next destination.
San Evaristo is a small fishing village on the Baja peninsula. It has a somewhat sheltered cove, but we weren't able to get a good anchor set in the only remaining protected spot. So we headed out and anchored around on the north side of the town. This gave us good protection from the current weather, although it required us to anchor Nanjo fairly close to the beach since the water dropped off quickly. Later that afternoon, a sport-fishing boat joined us and we were entertained by their stereo and illuminated by their mega-candlepower deck lights.
The next day, Gemini came south and radioed from the cove that it was calm and they were holding a spot for us. Since the weather had switched and our spot was less desirable, we joined them. Another night of raw fish caught by Gemini, only this night it was served aboard Nanjo.
The third day was chore-day, since we were leaving the next day for Los Gatos. [See! We are really in a rut.]
Los Gatos was 28 miles away. It was Memorial Day in the Old Country and we wondered how many of our family were up when we left at 0730 (0630 Pacific). It was a relaxing journey. We sailed on a light beat (wind coming more from the front, mild wind speed) for the first hour, slack for about 20 minutes before swinging to our stern for the rest of the afternoon. STEVE did most of the work at the helm.
We entered the cove at El Gato as Charlie's Charts suggested and tucked down to the southern end as far as we felt safe. The wind was only 15 knots, but we wanted as much protection as we could get. Immediately, upon anchoring, a panga came alongside and Juan Manuel took our order for that evening's supper - Langusta!
This is how Memorial Day is celebrated in the Sea of Cortez!
Crew of Nanjo