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Buenos Dias from Marina Santa Rosalia!

the town of Santa Rosalia being the furthest north which we will be going in the Sea of Cortez.

Since leaving La Paz in May, we have visited 8 islands, two small towns (Evaristo and Agua Verde) and two major cities (Loreto and now Santa Rosalia).

Paul’s favorite anchorage has been Estero Ballandra close to La Paz. (Earl, that’s the one pictured in the postcard we sent you.) It had crystal clear water and 5 separate beaches, each with soft white sand.

We think it might have been Myer’s favorite place as well.

Debi’s favorite spot was La Lancha on Isla Carmen. It has only one small beach, but lots of dramatic cliffs and views.

A close second for both of us was Yellowstone Beach on Isla Monserrat.

Of the small towns and fish camps we visited, our favorite was Agua Verde, a fishing community with several hundred residents.

Agua Verde had a small church,

a community well,

a gas-powered pump to distribute water via PVC pipe to the community buildings,

a two room solar powered schoolhouse,

a pre-school with homemade playground toys,

free range cheese producers,

and a small tienda (store) where one can buy local goat cheese and whatever goods have been trucked in from the big city. (Beer not included, all the small towns and villages on the Baja are “dry.”)

Agua Verde celebrated its saint’s day while we were there. On this day, a traveling priest arrived in town to perform marriages, baptisms, first communions and confirmations. The school also had its graduation ceremony that evening, with the full day topped off with a fiesta that included plenty of music and dancing.

On the day we arrived, they were still getting ready. At the church, we met two women who were busy cleaning, painting and decorating.

We had actually stopped at the church to ask directions to the tienda (store). With typical Mexican graciousness, the women had their children walk us to the tienda to make sure we found it.

The next day, at the fiesta, we found the one of the girls who had escorted us to the tienda and took her picture which we printed and delivered to her mother as a thank you.

As towns go, Agua Verde was pretty big. Mostly what you see along the inside of the Baja is very small, primitive fishing camps.

There is one big city between La Paz and Santa Rosalia and that is Loreto. We visited Loreto a few times, both sailing in on Serenity and anchoring off the town and also getting a taxi ride for the 15 mile trip along Mexico’s Route 1 from Puerto Escondito to Loreto. For provisioning, the taxi ride is the most convenient, for $60 US you have the taxi driver for the full day. He keeps all of your purchases in the taxi and can help you locate odd-ball items (like which tienda carried real butter from the US rather than margarine).

Loreto was a major provisioning stop for us, but we also took time to do some sightseeing. Loreto is the longest continuously occupied town in Baja, having survived for almost 3 centuries.

Loreto was the first of the missions established by Father Junipero Sera. And although little remains of the original buildings, much of the mission is still very old. One of the bells in the tower dates from 1743.

Santa Rosalia, where we are now, is a fascinating and very unusual Mexican town. It was originally a mining town owned and built by the French. Although the mining operations have stopped, remants remain all around.

The architecture of Santa Rosalia is very unique because the houses and offices were all built out of wood imported from France.

The other thing they imported from France was a prefabricated steel church designed by Carl Gustaf Eiffel. The bronze tablet on the front of the church says it was originally displayed along with the Eiffel Tower at the Paris Exposition in 1889 and later taken apart and shipped to Santa Rosalia by the mining company in 1895.

Without the mines, many Santa Rosalians now supplement their income by fishing for squid in the evenings. Its amazing to watch hundreds of pairs of men heading out to sea in their pangas each evening.

One night, Paul was able to convince two men to let him join them on their run.

The squid are attracted by a light on the panga. They are then caught using a hand line with a special metal contraption. When one squid is caught, the fisherman flips it on board, rips off a tentacle and wraps the tentacle around the metal piece as bait for the next squid. All this must be done in a matter of seconds. Squid are voracious cannibals and if you don't get your squid in the boat fast enough it will be picked clean by the other squid in the water.

And we're not talking the little squid they use to make calimari rings.

Paul was out with them for just about 3 hours. In that time they brought on board over 500 kilos (over 1,000 pounds) for which the fishermen split $1.5pesos per kilo. In this case, about $30US for each man after they deducted the cost of fuel for the panga.

On our journey up the sea, our biggest challenges have been weather, water, provisions and trash!

In two words, the weather has been HOT and HUMID. A typical entry from Serenity’s log reads: 0700 the temp was 84 degrees F on deck with the humidity at 86%. By midafternoon the temp was up to 104 degrees in the shade under the sun cover with no change in humidity. Water temp still about 88 degrees.

Some days, the heat and humidity make it hard to move!

Even with the water temp averaging 85-89 degrees, it is still a great way to cool off on a hot day.

The hot temps (both air and water) have been horrible for the fridge and freezer. The comforters that kept us warm in the night on the outside of the Baja are now being used to help keep the cool in the cold boxes!

For us, there's the sun cover and wind scoops ("Bob Esponga") above deck and 5 12Volt fans below deck.

We have been summering in the sea to avoid hurricanes which typically brew up and track along the Mexican Riviera (Mexican mainland, from Mazatlan to Acapulco). But that isn’t to say that the sea’s summer weather is benign by any means.

The high heat and humidity creates a lot of convection.

We must always keep our eyes on cloud formations waiting to see if they will develop into a thunderstorm or more violent squall (known in the sea as a Chubasco and packing downdraft winds of up to 60 knots) and be ready to clear off the deck when things start to look nasty. We have learned that you can see lightening at night up to 100 miles away and begin to hear the thunder up to 20 miles away. You can also use your radar to track the path of oncoming storm cells.

Luckily for us, the worst storm we’ve had to date was a relatively small squall line with 35 knot winds and 18 foot seas. It lasted about four hours and made for a few exciting moments when we had to quickly abandon the anchorage and was a good drill for the next stronger storm that comes our way.

What we hope for each day, is a low pressure system over Yuma, Arizona or Las Vegas with a higher pressure over the Tres Marias (islands just south of the Sea). This creates a refreshing moderate southerly breeze throughout the sea. On one such day we had a beautiful sail “wing-on-wing.”

For the most part, though, we sail under just the genoa and mizzen, even if it means that we only make 2 or 3 knots on light wind days. We leave the main down so that the boat cover can stay up over the cockpit. This is the only way to keep us from being totally miserable on our sailing days!

After the weather, our next biggest challenge has been provisioning. We tried to really load up before leaving La Paz, so carried lots of rice, canned goods, frozen meats, flour for tortillas, etc. But fresh fruits and vegetables don’t last very long. Our first chance to buy more provisions was at the little tienda (store) in Evaristo.

As you might imagine, there wasn’t a whole lot of stuff available here, although we did get a flat of fresh farm eggs and several potatoes.

The next store was 33 miles up the coast at the small village of Agua Verde. At least this tienda had a “refrigerated” section so we were able to get some fresh milk and goat cheese (as well as cold sodas for the women working on the church decorations).

In neither place could we expect the tomatoes, avocados, cilantro and lettuce to be in very good condition after being shipped in a wooden box in the back of a truck for many miles on a dirt road.

On good days, we’ve been able to supplement our provisions with fresh fish and clams.

The biggest fish Debi caught was a 6 foot sailfish, which we released as soon as we got it to the boat.

Really, the fishing has been sporadic at best. So a few times, we have resorted to buying from the local professionals. Fresh snapper $5US per pound, cleaned.

When you don’t have a water maker (we don’t), provisioning also includes supplies of fresh water and there is very little fresh water available in this desert climate. The town of Evaristo has their own desalination plant and they would have shared had we been in need, but we weren’t so we didn’t even ask.

We’ve actually become quite good at water conservation. All of our bathing, cleaning and washing is done in seawater. Our fresh water is reserved for drinking and cooking. We are down to just over 5 gallons fresh water per day for two people and the two dogs.

Our first access to water for our tanks was in Puerto Escondito. There, the spigot is under lock and key along a breakwater but it is available for the asking for those staying at one of the moorings owned by Singlar. When he is not in school, Arturo Jr, son of the Singlar manager, controls the key to the spigot.

Watching the tides, we timed our arrival to the breakwater for mid-afternoon at high tide. Even still, by the time we had taken on board our full complement of 300 gallons of water, the depth meter was showing about 6 inches of water under the keel! We pulled away from the breakwater very slowly and carefully!

Since both Evaristo and Agua Verde were dry (no beer), by the time we arrived at Puerto Escondito we had some major restocking to do! Luckily, Willy’s (a local tienda in Puerto Escondito that is very popular with cruisers) was able to fill our beverage order and deliver it to the breakwater at the same time we were filling the water tanks.

Puerto Escondito was also our first chance to take on diesel since leaving La Paz. For a slight fee, Romulo drove to Loreto and bought us diesel which we hand pumped from the trunk of his car into Serenity’s tanks.

Our final major challenge has been trash disposal. With the hot climate, any garbage on board gets pretty darn rank pretty darn fast! A common cruiser’s dilemma is what to do with your trash. We observed how the small villages and fishing camps which do not have municipal services handle their trash and we have adopted their "disposal by burning" method.

Not a real romantic way to spend an evening on the beach, but very necessary! And because you can’t burn glass and cans, we have tried to purchase goods in burnable packaging wherever possible. The wine in a box might have been a little extreme, however!

We remove our ashes and bag them for disposal at the next town with trash service. Also, as part of our “leave a clean wake” policy, we make sure that anything deposited on the beach by the boys is collected and properly disposed of back at the boat.

After four months in the Sea of Cortez, we are starting to get the hang of this cruising lifestyle and Serenity is definitely starting to look like a cruising boat!

No doubt, though, each of the challenges we have faced has been offset by something fun and wonderful.

Like puffer fish. They have an insatiable curiosity and will swim up to you wherever you are to see what’s up. This little fellow was in just a few inches of water checking out Debi’s feet.

Snorkeling has been great, although when the agua malies (stinging jelly fish of any and all varieties) are in the water, you need to wear your special made lycra suit for protection. (With their fur, the pups are totally immune to agua malie stings.)

There were thousands of these little crabs on Isla Partida. Just an inch or two big, they were more claw than body and very feisty as well.

The birds have been a great source of amusement, especially this pesky hitchhiker.

Max is always on guard for the dreaded playful dolphins.

The sea lion that teased Max by swimming in circles around the boat one day was another cause of much barking.

And then there was the day Max had a tussle with this mamma burro. She won. Max landed on his back with a cut in his tongue, a cactus sticker in his chin and a bruised leg with took several weeks to heal!

The sights we’ve seen have been awesome. We’ve anchored out in the crater of an extinct volcano . . .

. . . . and hiked to its top

We’ve seen geological formations that have been like nothing we have ever seen in any of our previous years of rock climbing.

In some places, the water has been so clear we’ve been able to see our anchor chain resting on the seabed in 25 feet of water.

We’ve explored caves in our dinghy.

We’ve taken a dinghy tour of the only fresh water river on the Baja peninsula.

We’ve collected sea salt from a little pond used by fisherman.

And checked out a full scale salt evaporation production at Evaristo. (Notice Serenity at anchor in the back ground?)

Talk about manual labor, those 150 pound bags of salt are hand packed and hand loaded onto delivery trucks.

We explored the abandoned town of Salinas on Isla Carmen.

Salinas was a company town, abandoned when the owners shut down the salt production works about 20 years ago.

It was cheaper to just leave the heavy equipment behind.

(Notice the thunderhead developing in the background? We kept our eye on that one all afternoon, but it stayed in place, about 20 miles away.)
In some homes, the employees just left their household items behind as well.

The living quarters, built of coral covered with plaster look like they will be the first to succumb to the elements.

We’ve discovered hermit crabs in the wild. (And it is quite a sight to see 100 pound Max racing hermit crabs down the beach!)

And run across stove pipe cactus over 30 feet tall.

We’ve found ancient shells preserved in rock formations.

For the most part, we’ve preferred being on our own at the islands. The peninsula is very popular with American and Canadian visitors who build large “palapas” (wood frames with roofs of palm fronds) to cover their travel trailers/motor homes while camping in Mexico. In some places, like Bahia de Concepcion, the beach is wall-to-wall campers!

After several weeks alone on the islands, though, it was also fun to meet up with other cruisers at Puerto Escondito for some music . . .

. . . water volleyball at Cocktail Cove . . .

. . . and Sunday morning potluck brunches. But when we noticed how crowded it was getting in the parking lot, we knew it was time to head back out to the solitude of the islands.

Each of the islands and anchorages has had something special to offer.

Most of the beaches in the sea are covered with shells. In some places, there are more shells than sand.

But a common refrain throughout the sea is the dwindling level of marine life. And, from reading Steinbeck’s “The Log from the Sea of Cortez” we know the sea was once teeming with life. So it is very frustrating to see locals squandering what they have, although also understandable given the poverty they live in.

In this small bay, three men in a panga with a hooka air compressor were able to wipe out the Chocolate ("chock-oh-lah-tea") clam population in just two days. They were selling their catch for $1peso (about 8 cents US) per clam.

It’s the scale of the destruction that is most disturbing. Finding the remains of a single Murex BBQed on the beach is one thing.

Finding a pile of shells larger than Myer is something else entirely!

The Mexican government is trying to protect some of their natural resources. They have set aside many of the islands as parks and put up fancy signs. Unfortunately they do not have the money to hire people to enforce the regulations.

Although hurricane season does not officially close until October 30, we’ve decided that Santa Rosalia is as far north as we will travel into the Sea this summer. We are ready to head back south, revisiting some of our favorite places, stopping at some we had bypassed earlier, and then heading across the Sea of Cortez to the mainland (the Mexican Riviera) at the end of October. After that? Who knows!

Not all who wander are lost.

Copyright © 2005 Shaimas. All rights reserved. Last updated 9/09/05