May 2006

The Central and Northern Sea of Cortez

F or the last week we have anchored in some of the more remote and beautiful anchorages, in fact we did not see another boat for over a week. As well as being areas where the tides fluctuate as much as 15+ feet a day and the currents and upwellings are significant, we were in the areas where the film “Ocean Oasis” was filmed. The water became more turquoise and it was magical to watch the phosphorescence in the water at night as the fish swam around.

We came into port one day at the same time a 31 foot sailboat did. Generally one couple would be traveling on a 31’ sailboat. Gawd, were we surprised when we saw 5 adults and 2 BIG dogs get off the boat! Along the way we have met people from all walks of life, some young, some old, some very affluent and some dirt poor. What we have found is that it doesn’t really matter what size your boat is or how finely it is or isn’t finished, it comes down to the attitudes of the people on board.- and they had great attitudes! When we started talking to them we realized they were from Kim’s home town of Breckenridge and they were having a blast. Albeit they were only on the boat for a month, but that is pretty close quarters for five to live in, even for a month, and still be able to stand each other at the end of the trip!

Mulage is very small, little town that you can access from the ocean by driving your dinghy up a 3 mile river. Along the river there are homes, some nice, some not so nice, that have small docks with fishing pangas tied to them – again, some nice, some not so nice. There was one particular “panga” that caught our attention…. the side of it read “Pine Knot Landing!” It was one of Big Bear’s Pine Knot Landing fishing boats – wonder how it made it all the way down here??

Next was Santa Rosalea, a busy little town where the French used to mine copper in the late 1800’s. Large French ships used to anchor in the small harbour. Unlike the other towns and villages we see, most of houses and businesses were constructed from wood. Guides tell us it is the only town in Baja that is trying to restore its roots. The Eiffel church is still standing and in good shape. It was built by the man that built the Eiffel Tower and brought over piece by piece from France to be reconstructed in Santa Rosalea before the turn of the century. The town is still primarily Mexican families and has not yet been overrun with gringos. It is also known for having the BEST hot dogs –ever - people flock to the little cart that sits in the street across from the church. Even if you don’t like hot dogs you will like these – perhaps some day we will have a weenie roast and we will try to duplicate them for you? The marina at Santa Rosalea holds only a handful of boats and we stayed for 2 nights. It runs on the honor system. Here’s how it goes…. You walk up a rickety dock to an old warehouse building – there is a desk with a form on it, a book exchange and a few old chairs for the cruisers to sit around in. An old fashioned cooler with soft drinks, beer, milk, etc. sits in one corner. In amongst the other old miscellaneous “stuff,” a washer and dryer sits on the back wall with a propane bottle propped up next to them. Adjacent to that, there is a bathroom with a toilet and a shower, complete with a shower curtain, and in the corner, an old rusty water heater. Raphael is a friendly older fellow who’s been there for years and runs the place…. at least when he’s around that is. You check in and he gives you a key to the padlock for the gate and “office.” Everything is on the honor system and it is quite obvious here that there are no liability laws in Mexico. You come and go into the big old building at any time of the day or night. If you want to use the shower or clothes washer, you have to light the water heater and adjust it. If you use the dryer, you turn on the propane bottle yourself. When you finish you’d better remember to turn them both off again or you could be out of propane the next day. Raphael tells us that when we use the washer/dryer or when we want something from the cooler, we should write it down on a sheet of paper and pay later, or, as he proceeds to tell us, we can just put the money in the top desk drawer if he’s not around, which is where he says he keeps all the money! High security here!! Needless to say, we loved this little marina which is quite a contrast to the posh marinas in many of the larger cities. We left Santa Rosalea at midnight and scouted our way out the channel dodging hundreds of fishermen in their pangas who make their living fishing these areas at night.

As we moved further north into the Sea, the tides became much more dramatic, some as much as 15 feet overnight. One such place was San Francisquito, a small lovely cove only large enough for a boat or two. We had to cross a shallow bar to get into it. The next day we found ourselves waiting several hours for the tide to come in before we could get out of the cove and be on our way. We took a short dingy ride to shore and walked a mile on a dirt road only to find a very small resort, one with a nice little airstrip for planes to land next to it – of which there were several. We met a group from the “Flying Doctors” volunteering their time in a nearby village. They had been treating over 80 patients a day, many who had never been to a doctor before. They then flew to this remote little resort to relax for a few days before returning to the States.

San Juanico is a picturesque bay that a lot of cruisers like to visit. Aside from the beauty of the bay and large rock pinnacles that surround it, there is a “cruisers shrine” here - a tree where for years cruisers bring something with their boat name on it to hang in infamy, much like the “shoe tree” in Baldwin Lake. It was fun making up a sign to leave there and to see all the boat names an creative signs from the people that had come for years before us!

We made it up into the Sea as far as Bahia de Los Angeles which, as the crow flys is only about 300 miles from San Diego, but as the boat floats is about 1,300 miles from San Diego. It was up in this northern area of the Sea that we didn’t lay eyes on another boat for well over a week. It was one of those great “reassessment” times in life when you really appreciate each other, your friends and family and the blessings we have to be thankful for.

At the end of May we began working our way back south towards LaPaz. There were several cool anchorages on the way back down. One in particular, we pulled into at dusk - just in time to join the four other boats anchored there for a bonfire and dinner on the beach. The following morning we woke up to hundreds and hundreds of pelicans surrounding our boats. It seems that there was a large bait ball swimming under our boats that brought the pelicans in. Although we were scheduled to depart that anchorage first thing in the morning, we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave as this was like a real “National Geographic” moment. We stayed for several hours. Two of the boats anchored with us at this particular spot were people that have small sailboats that they trailered down from Arizona. They, and several others like them, spend the spring cruising the Sea of Cortez. Just something to think about for those of you who want to do something like this?!

In Conception Bay, we caught up with our friends on Catn’ About. We stayed several days, partly due to the strong winds that came up while we were there. It gave us an opportunity to catch up with people we hadn’t seen in quite a while and to do some snorkeling and clamming. It also gave Ken the opportunity to try to diagnose the noise we’ve had in our transmission ever since we built the boat. Concerned that possibly the gears were wearing and dropping some metal shavings into the bottom of the transmission, Ken used a magnet (one of those 2 inch magnets that are connected to a long wand so that you can get into tight places) to check inside the transmission. You guessed it – the magnet broke off inside the transmission. Although we have a rather large engine room, as engine rooms in boats go, we still only have about a 4 by 5 foot space in which to move around in, and at that you have to crouch down because it is only 3-4 feet tall. There was no choice but to remove the entire transmission and take it apart to find the magnet. The good news is that when he got the transmission apart and located the magnet (which was now securely fastened between the gears) he found that all the gears were in excellent shape and there were no metal shavings or pieces of anything in the bottom of the transmission! He did a wonderful job and reinstalled the transmission the following day. We are again reminded why he is called “Captain Chaos.” (I must add that after helping many fellow cruisers, Ken has a reputation of being a great troubleshooter and mechanic too!)

Next on the agenda was Puerto Escondido, where aside from catching up with our friends on Blew Moon and Audios we met a couple (John & Karen Reynolds) who have ties to Big Bear and Snow Summit and know not only many of our friends back home but our niece Heather as well. Small world it is! As we were leaving this port, Mexican President, Vicente Fox, was there doing a ribbon cutting on a new marina that the Mexican government was just finishing. The security was very tight and only government officials were allowed near the site – drat.

The balance of May was spent in small beautiful islands and coves where the water was breathtaking and the sealife was spectacular. Even the names of the places were cool – such as, “Honeymoon Cove” and “Candeleros Chico.” When we passed back thru Agua Verde (probably one of the most picturesque areas of the Sea) we met a family with 9 children living on an old 50 foot wooden schooner called the Arctic Arc. They were from Alaska and had been traveling on their boat for several years like real minimalists. Between touring the small, poor Mexican village of Agua Verde, and meeting the family on Arctic Arc it felt somewhat like traveling back in time 100 years ago. It was also a great lesson on just how little one really needs to survive and how happy people can be with just the simple things life has to offer.

As May comes to a close, everyone back home must be quite excited as the snow melts and summer is just around the corner. Hope you are all living (or working towards) your dreams and loving your lives. Love to all...

Ken & Dottie
Dreamweaver - Big Bear

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