Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Tropic of Cancer

The trip from Turtle Bay was pleasingly quick and to the point (~44 hours). We entered Magdalena Bay, further south along the Pacific coast of Baja, and were welcomed by a randy pod of grey whales. Apparently they’re breeding, and so it seemed. We were under full sail and cruising along, apparently picturesque from the perspective of the many surrounding pangas of whale watchers. We soon became the subject of the sated whale watchers’ cameras. We were pretty pleased with ourselves, and super excited by our brush with the behemoths.

We anchored in Man-o-War cove off of Puerta Magdalena, and met up the following day with Mark and Michelle of s/v Cheers, who had offered to procure fresh produce for us. They are Captain and head naturalist of m/v Sea Lion, a cruiseship sponsored by the National Geographic Society. They were gunkholing in Baja, on a vacation cruise of their own, and got a hefty supply of the fresh stuff from the cooks aboard the Sea Lion. No scurvy in our futures!

The highlight was a hike across the dunes that separate two large bays (Santa Maria and Magdalena), and a long stroll on one of the longest, remotest beach I’ve been so lucky to encounter. It’s about 10 miles long, and inhabited by no one. We were the only people on the beach as far as we could tell. The beach is nicknamed sand dollar (or Frisbee) beach, as it’s littered with sand dollars as large as an outstretched hand. It could also have been named Skeleton beach, for all the sea lion and dolphin bones scattered about. We even found a pile of sun-baked rays (or skates?). Other gems: vulture feeding on a sea lion carcass, blow spouts of more whales just off shore, tracks in the sand, beautiful shells, quaint little succulents sprouting out of the sand…. I could have stayed all day, but Ben dragged me back across the dunes, and finally we rowed back to the boat for a late lunch.

The following morning we left Magdalena Bay. Curiously, an octopus tried to hitch a ride, but finally agreed to let go of our anchor and inked along his merry way. We passed right back out the Bay’s entrance, and right back through the same pod of horny whales. The closest sighting was ~75 yards from the boat, and again we had to jockey around the whale watchers on our way out. A few hours later we were sailing at a nice clip, and were lucky to be visited by 3 Common dolphins. They swam at the bow for a good while, happy enough to accommodate our photo-snapping frenzy.

The wind blew for awhile, but petered out by late evening, so we motor-sailed the rest of the way to Cabo San Lucas. In the middle of the night we had one momentous event, crossing the Tropic of Cancer (i.e. latitude 23 degrees, 25 minutes north)! With this crossing, I can definitively say, this is the point at which it has now become hot. And it will only get hotter still…. With dawn we skirted around the edge of a shallow bank off the coast (ie, where fish like to hang), and counted 28 sport-fishing boats in one tight wad. We made landfall in Cabo mid-day on February 19th. The landscape really is breathtaking, so it’s hard to deny what no doubt has been a pressing urge to develop up to the eyeballs. The rocks are cool on the way in, the sand beaches stretch on forever, and the terrain is rugged. We really had to elbow our way in to the harbor, jockeying for space with ferries, pangas, sport-fishing boats, cruiseships, parasailors, one sea turtle, bazillions of juvenile pelicans, and jet skies galore. We stopped in long enough to fuel up, and turned around and left, bound for more tranquil territory.

Now for more wildlife encounters. A shark (only evidenced by its dorsal fin) and, shortly thereafter, some other creatures that we never could put our fingers on. Basically, two largish pectoral fins of something (dark on one surface, silvery on the other) would protrude a good foot or two above the water’s surface, without any clue to what these were attached. It seemed this would only be possible if the animal were floating on its back. It would just float on by, as if sleeping. Apparently sword fish sleep on the surface… Maybe it’s some big game fish? Marlin? Could it be a large sea turtle? But upside down? Or maybe a sea lion, lollygagging? Seriously, you’d think a veterinarian might at the least be able to differentiate between a fish, a mammal and a reptile, right? Anyway, whatever they were, there were a lot of them – somewhere between 1 and 2 dozen! About an hour later Ben and I were both below decks, lollygagging as well. Suddenly there was a thump, and there sat a juvenile pelican, at the bottom of the steps, startled by himself, but obviously more hungry than startled, because then he gaped. Then he thought better of it, and started to back up. He stumbled into our main cabin (bedroom), and when he couldn’t back up any further, he tried to climb up onto our bed. So, I grabbed Ben’s fleece (note, not my own), and used it to pick him up. With some staggering and tripping about, I carried him up on deck, and with a little more ado, he finally plopped back into the water, and didn’t even seem too offended by the whole affair. Anyway, a friend of his was waiting for him. It wasn’t until about 20 minutes later that I realized that he and his friend were following us. The pelicans around here are accustomed to fish entrails and bycatch, thrown off the fishing boats. I felt bad we didn’t have fish guts to offer, but was also bothered by my conscience about the whole affair. Do I hunt for some canned tuna to make both of us feel better? O do I abide the naturalist’s lecture: “don’t feed the wildlife.” While I struggled with this he threw up his wings and flew off.

So that leaves us…still en route to La Paz. And, bound for a second trip across the Tropic of Cancer, as we head north up the Sea of Cortez side of Baja. We’ll be there shortly, with plans to stay there, and at nearby islands, for several days before we head back south.

I hope all is well in love, life and work!
PS- We have moved accompanying slideshows to Pangaea's photo album link at the top right of the screen. Go there for more pics from Magdalena Bay to La Paz.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Bienvenidos a Bahia Tortugas!

We arrived in Turtle Bay, about half way down the Pacific coast of Baja, after a two-day motor-sail from Ensenada. Not much wind to speak of; just enough to top up our engine’s capacity, but we made on average 6 knots an hour. We stayed within 20 miles of the coast, and enjoyed the view. We saw blow spouts at a couple points along the way, belying the massive gray whale hulks below the surface, coming up for air. Dolphins joined our bow wave for a ride, and pelicans were on the hunt, headfirst.

Moon set was a bewitching sight. A narrow, smiling sliver of a crescent moon set around 10 pm, turning orange before slipping below the horizon. And then the stars shone in a pretty raucous display; it’s almost dizzying. On the first early morning watch (starting at 5 am), after some time watching stars I came below to check our position. I popped my head back up top for a glance (about 4 minutes later), and we were nearly engulfed in fog. Fade to gray. The fog stuck around for 6 hours, and then mercifully lifted just like it had settled. Luckily no objects had loomed abruptly in our path in the meantime.

We made a daytime arrival to Turtle Bay, miracle of all miracles, and dropped anchor in about 30 feet of water. This little dusty port town (Puerto San Bartolome) is surrounded by stark, but architectural mountains of nuanced shades of pink to brown to gray. Dust is pretty monochromatic when you look at it up close, so the splashes of brilliant color peeling off dilapidated structures about town is a real joy. The people are warm and kind. We like it so much we’ve decided to stay a few days in all. Yesterday afternoon was spent visiting with a fellow cruiser that we met in Ensenada, Wayne on “Moonduster,” trekking through town to find tacos (no problem) and an internet cafĂ©. We rode our dinghy ashore, elbowing our way to the pier through a throng of pelicans, who seem pretty unimpressed. Dinner was a potluck on “Moonduster” with Wayne, and joined by other cruisers Mark and Michelle on “Cheers.”

Today some chores. Ben’s finishing up the watermaker, and needs to dive on the propeller to dislodge what we suspect to be a nice fist-full of kelp. I will be cleaning, just like a good swabee. Hopefully this afternoon we’ll have time to explore the shores in our dinghy. It appears there’s some good beachcombing to be had.

What next? I think we’ll leave tomorrow, next stop Magdalena Bay. We’ve been hearing beautiful things about our next destination. The weather reports give us no wind to speak of for the next week, so we’ll motor our way south once again.

Stay tuned!