Southwards to the Sea of Cortez

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Leaving Ensenada to make our way south provided a welcome relief from the trials and tribulations of bringing Nellie Cat from England to Mexico. Now we’d see how Nellie took to life on the big ocean which, let’s face it, would be a new experience for all three of us. Well, coming as a complete surprise our new ship’s cat was seasick. Neither Marie or myself had given any thought to the issue of cats being seasick, I think it’s fair to say we were as much stressed than we’d ever been since our time onboard Sänna… we were paranoid about losing our new ship’s cat overboard.

By the time Nellie herself overcame both her fear of the sea and her insufferable seasickness, we’d made the sixty-five miles south overnight to anchor in the tenuous shelter of Cabo Colonet…

There we had the unenviable job of making sure Nellie didn’t leap overboard, especially as dusk approached when she prowled around the decks being a cat and doing what cats do. She spent hours peering precariously over the side readying to hurl herself into the sea. After a few hectic hours running around pulling our hair out, it dawned upon us that she has the piercing night-vision to see deep into the water, she could see things that we ourselves could never see. Of course, Nellie has no sense of what the sea is… as far as she’s concerned she could simply take a leisurely stroll upon its watery surface, play around and chase all those creatures she could easily stalk in abundance. This was potentially a cat playground of unbounded possibilities… until the reality of being submerged and swimming for her life would become one of those life lessons that Nellie simply has to endure at some point. It’s all gonna be a game of survival…

From Cabo Colonet we then made the forty-five mile hop to Bahía San Quintín, a day sail that would give us time to get more organised with having a cat around. By now the winds were filling in nicely from the northwest and we’d pretty much sailed the whole distance downwind from Ensenada. But heading into Bahía San Quintín we suffered another irritating problem… we couldn’t furl in our headsail. It was jammed, somehow we had to try to furl the thing in before we even thought about dropping our anchor. So, in a heaving sea that thoroughly soaked the two of us we harnessed ourselves onto Sänna’s bows to work things out as best we could, we managed to free up the furling gear by gently tugging the line in and out, enough to furl the sail in but clearly there was something hiding inside jamming up the gearing… it would need to be taken apart and reassembled. Not a job to be tackled in a nasty sea with the risk of important ball-bearings falling over the side.

There was no way we’d even tackle this job in a rolly anchorage unless absolutely necessary. But so far, during our two hundred miles or so from Ensenada, we’d had eighteen to twenty knots of wind across our stern, we reckoned we could sail along making reasonably good speeds just under the power of our mainsail. We could probably get by without our jib sail until we could get to somewhere less exposed to more easily fix it, though in the meantime it would slow our near eight hundred mile voyage to La Paz in the Sea of Cortez with only our mainsail. In fact, when we finally departed Bahía San Quintín the next morning we straightaway made good headway south, down towards the big sheltered anchorage in Turtle Bay. The sweet northerly wind set itself reliably and didn’t waver. 

Turtle Bay… Bahía Tortugas, the only anchorage favoured by the ubiquitous Baja Ha Ha Rally that leaves San Diego each October… around three hundred American sailboats head south over the Mexican border each year with Turtle Bay the only stop made between their departure port in the US and Cabos San Lucas on the southern tip of the Mexican Baja peninsula. This must surely rank as one of the world’s more absurd sailboat rallies… Americans appear to be paranoid about dealing with Mexican officials and that seems to be the whole purpose of the rally. We ourselves had been given dire warnings by Americans north of the border about the devious corruption of Mexican officials – none of which we found even remotely true. It always appears to us that yanks feel vulnerably nervous in their relations with their Central American cousins across the southern border, even more so if made to give up their mind-blowing array of weapons they sometimes hoard onboard their vessels, none of which are allowed into Mexico – a Mexican requirement which almost to a boat is ignored. Many times Americans have told us they’d never give up their weapons in potentially a dangerous country like Mexico… you know, it’s so hard to part the American hero from his second amendment rights.

So, using the wildebeest mindset of safety in numbers, the Baja Ha Ha Rally turns into Turtle Bay once a year to rest and refuel. We ourselves had been forewarned back in Ensenada only to use the fuel supplied by the panga boys, small skiffs that ply the anchorage refuelling sailboats from barrels of diesel – which to us was a very convenient thing. Be warned, the Americans said in Ensenada, it’s gang-land there and only buy fuel from the panga boys if you value your well-being. Total rubbish of course but the San Bartolome fuel-dock there has to be one of the most precarious fuelling docks we’d ever encountered anywhere. The same goes for the landing dock itself, the same rickety structure is covered in unbelievable amounts of bird shit and is the only way into the small town of San Bartolome for provisions and food. Fortunately we ourselves were way out of season for heading south and the only vessel anchored in Turtle Bay. 

We refuelled from the panga skiffs because it was by far the easier option. The price was a little more expensive than usual but hey, they bring it right out to you, they came alongside with a barrel of diesel to fill our tank. Easy-peasy. After provisioning with supplies from the supposedly dangerous gangland shore we pulled up our anchor for the three day sail down to Santa Maria Bay, the longest of our sail hops so far. Again, with easy downwind sailing under the power of our mainsail we easily made an average of six knots. And by this time our ship’s cat was beginning to settle nicely too, generally preferring to spend her time on deck with us – but reigning Nellie in each evening by securing her in her cat lead harness was the only safe way to contain her overnight. If our cat went overboard whilst out in the ocean during the night then there was no way we’d be able to find and recover her. The same for ourselves too for that matter.

In Santa Maria Bay (Bahía Santa Maria) we became storm bound. For four days we stayed on anchor whilst fifty knots of wind gusted through the anchorage and across our bows. The waters were sheltered enough but our anchor snub-line began to chafe which required a hurried replacement before it gave way. We shared the anchorage with a catamaran heading north to San Diego, three days into the wind-blow we noticed the catamaran had begun to drag its anchor as the wind blasted through between two hill peaks that formed the anchorage shelter. Concerned, we called up on the VHF, he was American who explained he had a novice crew onboard and was having to do everything himself. The catamaran tried to re-anchor twice before deciding he was safe, though we tracked him on our radar which showed he was still moving slowly backwards on his anchor. That night we too never slept much because of the catamaran dragging, if the catamaran still dragged then conceivably we could too. But we never budged. The next morning the catamaran up-anchored and left, their skipper calling to say he’d had enough and would rather take his chances against the northerly winds.

We ourselves left Santa Maria Bay the following morning after the strong winds died out overnight, we’d now head south for the one hundred and eighty miles around the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula but we’d already decided to avoid Cabo San Lucas, the main port and town around the southern cape. Firstly, because of the exorbitant nightly rate demanded by the marina there with no real secure anchorages available as an alternative… and secondly because it was cruise ship hell. We’d been told by several American friends to head instead to the historic Spanish Mexican town of San Jose Cabo, a little over two hours sailing beyond Cabo San Lucas with much more reasonable rates for overnight moorage. We couldn’t find any secure anchorages along this stretch of sterile coast so we had no option but to go into a marina for a night or two to get more provisions, plus some much needed rest after our three day sail down and restless nights storm bound in Santa Maria Bay. There was no way on earth we’d pay the hundred quid a night rates demanded in Marina Cabo San Lucas… this worrying enigma would occur more and more as we struck deeper into Mexico, marina rates are just not in line with the Mexican cost-of-living and were, as far as we are concerned, some of the most expensive marina berthing rates we’d encountered anywhere during our circumnavigation voyage from England – perhaps with the exception of the United States and Canada. Given that around ninety percent of sailboats and motor cruisers found cruising in Mexican waters are either American or Canadian then this perhaps explains why marina rates are so absurdly high, the yanks in particular are well used to paying these extortionate rates in their own country and therefore Mexican marinas in American eyes do not seem expensive. Rates go up roughly in proportion to the amounts of US dollars up for grabs… and this was confirmed by two marina managers who we discussed this very issue with. And with over three hundred more leisure boats heading south each and every year in the Baja Ha Ha Rally things are never going to get better. Most Mexican marinas are rammed jack solid and full, hence the eye-watering slip rates.

So there you are guys, if you’re a Yankee sailor in Mexico then trust me, you’re being robbed. You’re being robbed in such a subtle way that you’ll never need to reach for your gun. The most we’ve ever paid anywhere else in the world is around twenty-five bucks a night, compare this with your US, Canadian and Mexican marina rates for a fifty-foot sailboat then you’ll understand what I’m trying to tell you. Anyway in San Jose Cabo we at least had a good rest… at forty-five bucks a night which is still incredibly high. We also took our headsail furling gear apart to fix it – we found the internal bearings clogged up with sand and dirt, presumably from our three month winter layup in Ensenada’s harbour. It was a filthy place when the northwest wind blew and this dirt had accumulated inside our furling gear. When I’d tried to free it a plastic spacer had broken which then jammed the swivel. But right now it was well fixed and ready to use.

As for Nellie our ship’s cat, she was also keen to get ashore. So far she’d been confined to ship but the great new outdoors for such a young cat was too much to resist, she began to leap ashore onto the concrete slip whenever she could… then she came running back whenever anyone deemed to venture through the dock gate into her new found territory. She seemed to be taking to life as a ship’s cat but it was still a little too early to tell. Certainly her territory onboard was now familiar to her but there was a whole new land-based world out there she was dying to explore. Even so, she sometimes seemed to be a rather too unwilling crew member, one who’d perhaps been kidnapped from her loving siblings back in England then made to endure a new life onboard a sailboat bound south in the Pacific for Panama. Surely things were gonna take a little more time…

San Jose Cabos SV SännaSan Jose Cabo is a wonderful town with cultured history, perhaps now we were beginning to see the real Mexico. Things got off to an auspicious start when we took the local bus into town, we missed our stop and an hour later when the somewhat rundown and rustic vehicle careered off the road to follow the route of a dried up river bed we began to get worried. Then, somewhere in the middle of the hot desert the driver asked why we were still sitting there patiently when everyone else had long ago disembarked. He explained to us that this was as far as the bus went and that San Jose Cabo was now an hour back the other way. Stupid tourists we English or what?

Three days later we departed San Jose Cabo for Bahía Los Frailes then Bahía de los Muertos. We now had only a number of day-hop sails to reach our destination La Paz, the renowned gateway to the fabled Sea of Cortez. Now we had days of no winds at all, so we sat anchored in Los Muertos for three days in hope before considering our options and gave up… we stuck our engine on and arrived in La Paz somewhat disappointed that we couldn’t complete our way under sail the whole way from Ensenada. La Paz though is extremely nice, we anchored for five days before again conceding our principles to tie up in Marina La Paz… at over forty bucks a night!

Right now I say that Mexico grows in our esteem as these gloriously memorable days begin to pass by. Now we are something called ‘Yatistas’ in the strange nautical language of a Captain Pat Raines, the author of a prominent Mexican cruising guide… and our dinghy is no longer a dinghy, it’s a dink. These Mexican seas hereabouts are undoubtedly an American playground with the easy Yankee slang  that goes with it, but the old Spanish culture is here in wonderful abundance. We’d not been overly enamoured with sailing south from Alaska to Mexico, we’d heard mixed reports north of the border, longtime American sailors we’d befriended raved when they described the beauty of the Sea of Cortez. Others made no bones about their dislike of their southern neighbours, which is a phobic ignorance not confined only to Americans. Sadly this way of hostile thinking is endemic throughout the world, it drives before it other phenomena like Brexit, it’s symptomatic of our contagious attitude to our fellow human beings. We ourselves have easily warmed to these Mexicans who are friendly and cooperative in every way we’ve found, we have experienced no problems with the Mexican immigration or Customs authorities who have been courteous and friendly on every occasion we’ve had to have dealings. But we’re flying a British flag from our stern and perhaps this creates some measure of delineation to how we are treated.

It’s still early days and the supposedly beautiful Sea of Cortez tantalisingly beckons…

Ensenada to La Paz, Pacific Mexico April-May 2018 – Distance 835 nautical miles.

You can follow our circumnavigation adventure by clicking the WordPress Follow button below or by Liking our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/sv.sanna. Our blog page can be found at  www.sailblogs.com/member/eastwards.

You can also follow the trials and tribulations of Nellie, The Ship’s Cat, the world’s only Feline Agony Aunt at www.nellycat.uk.

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