Monday, March 11, 2013

Playing in the Islands

The Sea of Cortez is SPECTACULAR!

For the last week and a half we have moved a total of about 40 miles, been in 4 different anchorages, swam, hiked, snorkeled, read, caught and ate fresh dorado, sailed the spinnaker in a soft following sea, slept in the cockpit under a waxing moon, beach-combed, dinghied to a sea cave, watched the hawks, gulls, sandpipers, cormorants, and pelicans, and enjoyed sun-downers and conversation with fellow cruisers.
Larger than life

The pinks and greens of the mountains, the wild formations of rock, the crystal clear light blue waters, the white sand beaches, the remote fish camp or occasional navigation light as the only signs of human development – we think we won’t tire of this landscape anytime soon!!

Here are a couple pictures of Ensenada Gallo, where we spent two nights. This is the center one of three lobes or bays in Puerto Ballena (still on the west side of Espiritu Santo). A group of about 12 kayakers camped on the beach here and took off in the morning – not an easy paddle into strong head winds. Our anchorage looked out on 2 islands – Hen and Rooster – Islas Gallina and Gallo. They have sheer rock faces with guano-covered cacti on top that looked like they are dusted with snow.

Isla Gallo -- with it's dusting of guano

The bees come quite a ways off shore to find a taste of
fresh water from our transom shower head

In this anchorage we were found by the small but persistent “bobos”-- tiny flies that land on you but don’t sting or bite… jut annoy. Along with them, we were boarded by a large number of honeybees. They are seeking fresh water and it is amazing that they come so far off-shore. We have heard of boats having quite a bit of trouble ridding themselves if the queen decides to move aboard. We found two solutions – one more environmentally friendly, the other more effective. The bees loved hanging out on our fresh water showerhead in the cockpit, so we discovered that putting fresh water on the bow drew lots of them there instead. Once they found their way inside the boat, many met their fate with the vacuum cleaner. Lanham would go on the prowl with his 100 mph wind tornado machine.

Just after we had finished an early dinner one evening, a dinghy came up alongside Solar Wind with a cruiser from the next bay over.
                      “Just wondered if you’d like some fish?” he said. You bet!
Our first taste of "Chub" -- gifted to us by a fellow cruiser -- delicious!

He was clearly an experienced skin diver in full wet suit and had “gotten too many” with his spear during his afternoon of snorkeling off the islands. He gave us 2 good size “chub” which were new to us, and took 2 more “pargo” (red snapper) in to the group of kayakers. He would take nothing we offered in return, so we hope to run into him again and return the generosity. We got a good 4 lbs of delicious white mild fillets, barbequed them the next night and fed a group as part of a potluck in our next anchorage.

We have finally picked up a minimal photographic field guide for both reef fish and birds of the Baja Peninsula. It’s really fun to be able to identify more of what we see above and below the water. The Cortez chub was on our mind the next morning when we thought we’d initiate our Hawaiian Sling spear while snorkeling off the islands. The “winter” water is between 65 and 75 degrees, so the long wet suits and even hoods feel good for prolonged snorkeling. We did see colorful coral, lots of little fish, big urchins and sea fans, but couldn’t get (or stay) deep enough for hunting with the spear. That probably requires lying quietly on the bottom in 20 feet or more, proving that the fisherman who gifted us was more skilled than most. We will try the spear again when we are using our scuba tanks.

On to Cardoncito -- on Isla Partida -- and meeting up with friends...

The anchorage at El Cardoncito -- with its private beach
Swagman on the left, Scot Free Eh on the right of us

The lacy rock sides of the bay -- teeming with drought resistant plants
Our next stop was up another 6 miles to the pass between Espiritu Santo and the island just north of it, called Isla Partida. Between two larger wide-open bays is the beautiful little niche called El Cardoncito.

With steep-to sides, good depth, and enough room for 2 to 4 boats, we anchored and were joined by 3 of Solar Wind’s buddies from the docks in La Paz – Scot Free Eh, Swagman, and Kamala. We shared some meals, lots of laughs, and radio banter.

Lots of room for our 4 boats (and a few more)
Our turn to host dinner on Solar Wind for the gang

Guests arrive by all modes of water transport

We BBQ a lot!

Dinghy Trip to the Sea Caves --

With John and Deb, from Scot Free, as guides, we took our dinghies through the shallow pass between islands, almost having to get out and wade in the knee-deep channel.

In the channel between islands -- fishing huts line the sandspit 

Rough buildings, but with a prominent satellite dish

The sky at 3 pm
We zoomed a couple miles down the east side of Espiritu Santo in flat water to find the sea cave that is written about in the guidebook.

A marlin or sailfish? cruising around our anchorage
We had a close encounter with a marlin, one of the stranger native visitors to this quiet little bay of El Cardoncito who came right up alongside our dinghies. With his two-foot beak sticking out of the water, the six-foot iridescent blue marlin swam lazy circles around our boats, staying near the surface with no apparent purpose or fear. We are still wondering if this was normal behavior that we were lucky enough to get to watch or if he was ailing and disoriented. Had s/he been interested in our boats we easily could have ended up with punctured pontoons in addition to some photos.

After two of our friends’ boats took off to head farther north, we spent a bluebird sky day hiking up the arroyo at the head of El Cardoncito with Kirk and Mary from Kamala.

 We started with some Geo-cache coordinates that had been shared among cruisers on the net, and had success finding our first cache, leaving a note in the log and a few trinkets in the can. Really fun (we get it now, Dave Devin!) 

We went on up the giant bolder valley, blown away by the beauty. Lanham and Kirk scrambled the last half mile to look over the other side toward Matzatlan.

We had afternoon siestas right on schedule, followed by our first try at stand-up paddle boarding (Kamala’s preferred transportation for going ashore).

The calm shallow bay was the perfect place for novices to practice and we both got the hang of it and see why SUP has become so popular. We had a lovely dinner on Kamala, listening to the silence and stargazing.
These gulls have a rockas laugh and love to sit on our dinghy.

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