December 19th, 2019 – January 1st, 2020
In the early afternoon we left Cabo San Lucas as a crew of three, bound for Los Frailes. Don had brought us the replacement water pump and it was now installed. We were ready to get back on anchor and in a more remote location. Just outside of Cabo we saw a whale come fully out of the water several times about 100 meters from the boat. The whale sightings continued all day. Every thirty minutes or so one of us would spot another one come fully out of the water, some close to the boat and some off in the distance. As the sun was setting, we still had about 20 miles to go. We turned the corner into the Sea of Cortez and the swell grew as we headed North. A few miles from Los Frailes the motor started squeaking, we pushed on and made a note to check it out later. Approaching the anchorage, we saw the familiar lights of Molotov Marin, a welcome sight as always.
In the morning we awoke to the sound of splashing belly flops outside the boat. The sound was coming from Eagle Rays jumping all around the boat, some even doing flips in the air. It was a scene straight out of Blue Planet! We walked the beach while Austin fished from shore. The only catch was a long and skinny trumpet fish, no good for eating. We donned our snorkel gear in the afternoon and were amazed by the amount of fish and the clarity of the water. The reef that extends from Cabo Pulmo to Bahia Los Frailes is a National Park and the only living hard coral reef in the Sea of Cortez. It felt truly tropical, like we were back in Bali, in fact the northern extent of the Tropic of Cancer at 23o 27’ N is only a few miles away. We even saw a green Moray Eel and huge schools of colorful fish. In the evening we had pizza aboard Molotov Marin and Don got a taste of what cruising life is about. On the dark dinghy ride back to the boat the water was boiling with a huge school of fish that looked like tiny tuna. Later we learned they are called Green Jacks and multiple times we thought someone was knocking when the little fish were flopping against the hull.
When we checked the engine, we learned that our engine issues were not done yet. The water pump pulley had become loose on its shaft which caused it to slip. This was likely the root cause of the water pump failing in the first place. It was now able to wobble back in forth a considerable amount, not good for the new pump. We tried to MacGyver the pulley, wrapping beer can shims around the shaft to make a snug fit again. Weighing our options for what to do next we determined that sailing downwind back to Cabo would be best and would also allow us to easily get Don back to the airport. After two beautiful days at Los Frailes we lifted anchor and headed back to Cabo San Lucas. It was three days until Christmas and we set the ambitious goal of returning to Los Frailes to celebrate with Morgan & Tree.
It was a pleasant downwind sail around the cape. Just as Austin was making lunch, we got the first bite on the handlines. There was a huge flash of green and yellow before the line went limp. It must have been a huge Mahi Mahi and it took our lure with it. Not minutes later we had a hit on the other hand line. It was a fighter and Don and Austin took turns reeling in the big Mahi Mahi. Austin was happy to switch up the lunch menu with the addition of this fish! With the fridge full of filleted fish, it was going to be a Mahi Mahi Christmas for sure. Even more motivation to make a quick turnaround of the engine repair and get back to Los Frailes so we could share the bounty of the sea. Six miles out from Cabo San Lucas the wind died and luckily the beer can shim held while we limped into the anchorage under motor. We dropped the hook as the sun set over the arches of Cabo and pirate ships decked out in Christmas lights cruised by. The anchorage was rolly but margaritas and fresh fish tacos made the night much more enjoyable.
In the morning we all loaded into the dinghy for a long, wet and wild ride into the Cabo San Lucas Marina. The armada of fishing charter boats coupled with the cruise ship tenders made us feel like a tiny frog trying to cross the interstate. Once safely inside the harbor we tied to the dinghy dock and immediately started on the quest for a new pulley. First, we went to Cabo Boat Works and the man said, “Oh no not here, go to Mario’s Marine”, and pointed us in the direction of the chandlery. Mario at Mario’s Marine didn’t have the part either and we asked him if he knew anyone who could fix the pulley we had. He said there was a machine shop a few blocks over. We asked for the name, “it’s not marked” he said. “They call him Louise, just go past the tire place and look in the open doors for him”. We followed the directions and when we got to the roll up door, we saw a gringo working on a Baja dune buggy. Austin said “Hola” and the response was “whats up?” Austin showed him the pulley and he called Louise over to take a look. Louise, the Mexican owner, spoke perfect English and right away the two hatched a plan to fix the part. “When do you need it, I’m guessing today?” said Louise with a laugh. We said “si muchos gracias”, especially since it was the day before Christmas Eve. A few hours later we got the call that the part was ready and were thrilled with the $30 charge for the fix.
We said goodbye to Don with cervezas and guacamole at one of the places we liked during our first stop in Cabo. The waiter remembered us and gave us some good pointers about fishing and cooking the different types of fish in the area. We spent the remainder of our day taking advantage of civilization by doing laundry, stocking up on tequila and a few last-minute provisions. As we motored out of the marina in the dinghy all the tourists were awestruck seeing us in our tiny boat and all the local guides winked and waved their hands in the hang loose sign. One other boat was anchored out in Cabo with us and we introduced ourselves when we went by in the dinghy. They were also bound for Los Frailes and we agreed we would meet up there. The boat was so hot from being locked up all day we opened all the hatches and quickly jumped overboard for a swim. The water was the clearest and warmest so far on our trip so we took advantage and scrubbed the bottom as jet skis zoomed by in all directions.
On Christmas Eve morning, with the engine put back together and running smoothly, we pulled the anchor and followed our previous path around to Los Frailes. Again, we saw dozens of whales, this time they were all just rolling in the water and showing us their tails. We joked that the other day must have been a jumping party and today all the whales were in a different mood. One big whale came up in our stern wake. Austin said, “Stay back whales! Why do they like our boat so much? Maybe they can’t see us with our bright blue bottom paint?” Ten miles out of Los Frailes we saw another big whale breach way too close to the boat. Shortly after three more whales surfaced all at the same time, they swam around in a tight circle, nose to tail with each other. These whales were busy feeding and didn’t seem to notice as we motored passed. At 1500 we dropped the hook next to Molotov Marin, we had made it back for Christmas, a Navidad miracle!
Atica turned into a bakery Christmas morning. We made blueberry scones for breakfast and focaccia bread to go with Christmas dinner. Elise also baked up Austin’s favorite ginger snap cookies and made the King family tradition, rum balls. We opened our stockings in the cockpit and went for a Christmas snorkel on the reef. In the evening Molotov Marin and Decorum, the boat we met in Cabo a few days before, came over to Atica for a Mahi Mahi feast. It wasn’t a traditional Christmas by any means and we certainly missed family but it was a holiday that we will always remember. We ended our first Christmas on the boat snuggled in the V-berth watching a Christmas special on the laptop.
The day after Christmas we looked onshore and could see that all the fence posts around the turtle hatchery were topped with vultures. We took it upon ourselves to babysit the unhatched turtle nests and read books on a blanket under the palapa. From the beach we could see a whale come through the anchorage and passed between Atica and Decorum. Later that day Morgan & Tree said they saw one baby turtle had hatched and the next day we saw the turtle biologist digging up one of the nests. It was windy and we watched through binoculars as she carried a bucket to the beach and then stood watching the shoreline. After watching for almost an hour we decided to brave the waves and head into shore, after all how often do you get to see baby sea turtles! When we got to the beach 5 of the 20-25 tiny sea turtles she had released were still on the beach. The turtles had been crawling around by the water’s edge and the ones that hadn’t made it through the wave break were getting tired. After confirming Elise didn’t have sunscreen on her hands the biologist asked her to help carry the last few stragglers into the water. Elise opened her hands and the biologist placed a tiny sea turtle in them and she carried it out past the breaking surf. The little guy wiggled all its flippers and swam around for the first time, doing several circles before heading out to sea. It was magical, a once in a lifetime experience.
We joined Morgan and Tree on the reef one morning for an epic snorkel. The tide was going out and the water was very clear. A massive school of thousands of Pacific Mackerel swam by. As we dove down, they would part around us. It was exciting to see a vibrant healthy reef with such a variety of sea life. Tons of urchins covered sections of the sea floor and brightly colored parrot fish bit coral heads all around. The water was warmer than the air that day so as soon as we were done snorkeling, we zoomed back to the boat to warm up.
We spent almost two weeks total in Los Frailes, swimming from the boat, fishing, kayaking and watching rays jump acrobatically out of the water all around the boat. From our bed at night we could here whales talking to each other underwater. The amount of nature in this bay was unbelievable. On the beach one day we met an expat from Port Angeles, WA who was a caretaker for a nearby estate and a fly-fishing guide. He gave us pointers and local fishing knowledge as well as helped us identify some of the local reef fish we had seen. On the eve of New Year’s Eve, we got a new neighbor to the anchorage. A Kelly Peterson 44 named Serendipity crewed by David and Emily from Hawaii. We had been researching Kelly Peterson 44’s online for quite some time because it is the yacht design closest to Atica, just 7 feet longer. Later we got to take a tour of Serendipity. The interior of Atica’s “big sister” ship was not too different from the companionway forward, looking back was the big difference. Where Atica has a quarter birth, Serendipity had a duck through passage that opens up to a large aft cabin and a second head.
On New Year’s Eve we went for a kayak out around the point and Austin brought his fishing pole along to troll. We were stopped by a snorkel tour panga and were told we were not allowed to fish by the reef. We swam from the boat and took showers in the sunny cockpit. By evening it was time to party and David & Emily of Serendipity and Morgan & Tree of Molotov Marin came over to Atica. Even though we are one of the shorter boats, we have a good layout to host a large group. We had a potluck feast of Mahi Mahi, fried rice, veggie meatballs, fresh bread and plenty of cocktails. We played a game of Code Names before heading out into the cockpit to light off expired flares. David lit off a flare gun, Tree dropped a SOLAS flare to the bottom and we could see it glowing below the boat for a few minutes. Austin tried to light one of our 30+ year old expired rocket flares, but it was a dud. After the flares David & Emily headed back to Serendipity and we started a game of Machi Koro with Morgan & Tree. At midnight the ships bell chimed for the New Year and we toasted to 2020. With a midnight snack of “boat take and bake pizza” (Morgan brought a homemade pizza over to Atica for baking) we played games until 0130.
We woke up late New Year’s Day to grey skies. Elise did yoga on the bow while Austin took the dinghy on a fishing trip to the not protected side of the bay. By midday the weather had changed for the worse. The sky grew darker and the swell began wrapping around the point into the anchorage. Rain dumped all around as the boat rocked back and forth on anchor in the new swell. We were planning to finally leave Los Frailes the next day and this made the decision that much more final. Our day wasn’t a complete loss though, at 1700 we dinghied over to Serendipity for cocktails and nachos in the cockpit as thunder boomed around us. We said our “see you laters” to Morgan & Tree as they are heading South while we are heading North. Since meeting them in Brookings Oregon, it has been so fun to sporadically see them throughout California and cruise with them over the past month in Baja.
2019 has been a whirlwind to say the least. We completed the refit of Atica, celebrated our 5-year wedding anniversary, quit our jobs and sailed off on our adventure. Since leaving our home port of Anacortes Washington 4 months ago, we have anchored in 3 countries, crossed 27os’ of latitude, spent 7 consecutive days at sea and reached our first major cruising goal of arriving in the Sea of Cortez. 2020 we are ready for you!