January 2nd – January 13th, 2020
After two weeks in beautiful Los Frailes it was time to pull anchor and head North towards La Paz. Serendipity also wanted to check out Bahia Los Muertos and its illusive high-speed internet so they lifted anchor from Los Frailes at the same time. The motor was uneventful other than a few sea turtles, Mahi Mahi and whale sightings. Unfortunately, no fish were caught aboard Atica but Serendipity was able to catch two Mahi Mahi on the 45-mile passage. When we let the anchor go in Muertos at 1600 the wind was still coming from the South, not the preferred direction for the anchorage, but luckily it died down and we fell right to sleep before 2000.
Over breakfast the next morning we saw a big humpback whale show its tale and swim between Atica and Serendipity. After the whale show concluded we took the dinghy to shore for a walk on the beach. The unique beach had large sections of swish cheese looking rock formations with shells and coral imbedded in the rock. Throughout the beach were tons of sea shells and bits of coral. It seemed as if cars constantly drove up and down the beach, despite a large sign that read turtle sanctuary “No Driving on the Beach”. At dinner time we headed over to Serendipity for Emily’s delicious beer battered Mahi Mahi and a canned side dish Elise whipped up with our dwindling food stores. Like a staged performance the whale came back through the bay at sunset. The next morning Emily and David came over to the boat to get some sourdough starter and say goodbye since they planned to sail back to Los Frailes that morning. As we were chatting, a baby and mama whale came into the bay and headed straight for Atica. We got an up-close view as the baby played at the surface as mama dove deeper. They came within ten feet of the boat and for a second we thought we might have our second whale collision, this time while at anchor. Our last day in Muertos was spent relaxing on the boat, taking in the cactus studded hillsides, baking bread and waiting out the wind before continuing on towards La Paz.
We pulled anchor at 0700 to keep heading North towards La Paz. We started sailing as we approached Isla Cerralvo and tacked up wind through the channel. We caught our first skipjack tuna just inside the channel and its meat was so dark that it was almost black. I think we will be throwing those back in the future. Shortly after Elise pulled in a Mahi Mahi and just as she pulled it out of the water it freed itself from the hook, bummer! Luckily a few hours later we got another bite and this time Elise was able to bring onboard a good size Mahi Mahi. The sea state was uncomfortable bashing upwind, it seems we have gotten used to sailing down wind. As we got closer to the Baja mainland, the seas were short and steep, the motor or sails alone struggled to power through the chop. With the jib partially out and engine running we were only able to eek out 3 knots it the direction we were trying to go. This was especially frustrating as it was getting later and later into the afternoon and our ETA for anchoring was going to be in the dark. The sky was a bright red fire for sunset as we sailed through the San Lorenzo Channel. The wind was still above 10 knots from the North so the best anchorage appeared to be Caleta Lobos about 12 miles from La Paz. As we entered this small cove, among multiple boats at anchor, some with lights some completely dark. We used the radar to find a good place to drop the hook. As soon as the anchor was secure three large pelicans came swimming straight at Atica’s transom. The scene was quite eerie as they slowly swam closer through the darkness, probably looking to see if we were going to clean fish. It had been a long and aggravating day of sailing and we were both hungry, cranky and ready for bed.
It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep can do. We awoke refreshed to the sound of sea birds on the nearby rocky island that forms the beautiful turquoise bay. We turned on the vhf radio at 0800 to listen into our first La Paz Cruisers Net. Every morning on VHF channel 22 the Club Cruceros (Cruising Club) broadcasts a cruisers net to keep the local and transient boats in the loop of the goings on in La Paz. It’s a great resource and also good entertainment over morning coffee. It almost seems like senior citizen summer camp complete with announcements for boccie ball, bake sales and morning yoga classes taught by the radio handle Yoga Bear. The net categories include, emergency broadcasts, ups and downs (tides), weather, currency update, comings and goings (boats announce their arrival and departures from La Paz), club announcements, general announcements, boats looking for crew/crew looking for boats and swaps/trades. We have seen as short as 20 min to as long as an hour when a medical emergency had the radio chatter going for over 20 min with people trying to organize giving blood for a cruiser in the hospital who badly needed it. We learned that in Mexico if you need blood, for a surgery or even for an emergency, you have to get it donated for you specifically and this can be a challenge if you don’t have a community to help provide this. After the net and showers in the cockpit we were ready to head the final 12 miles into civilization, La Paz. We sailed for a few hours and stopped for fuel before motoring into the long dredged channel into La Paz. At the fuel dock the two friendly attendants drug an oil spill boom around the boat, an extra precautionary step we have never experienced before.
La Paz is a Mexican sailing Mecca and is filled with cruising boats from all around the world. As we pulled into the anchorage, we saw the most sailboats on anchor we have ever seen before in one place. Hundreds of sailboats are strategically anchored around the inlets sandbars and even more sailboats fill the six marinas along the waterfront. The anchorage in La Paz is very tidally influenced and all the boats switch direction on anchor multiple times a day. They move at different rates depending on their size and shape above and below the water. The phenomenon is so notable, they call it the “La Paz Waltz”. Atica joined in the dance and each morning the cockpit would face the sunrise and every evening we had a perfect sunset view. The check in procedures for La Paz are to be done in Spanish over the vhf radio. Austin called the port captain and we are pretty sure we got ourselves checked in, but Spanish over the radio is a challenge to say the least. As we looked around the anchorage and marinas we saw many familiar boats we have met along the way, including the sailboats; Wild Rye, Polaris, Indy, Toketee, Decorum, Kira, Eos and the crazy French and Canadian single handed pair of boats that everyone has a story about but we have still yet to meet in person.
On our first full day in La Paz we took the dinghy into the Marina De La Paz dinghy dock and walked to the farmers market. We found an awesome vegetable stand that had all the fresh veggies we had been running low on after being away from civilization. In the afternoon Elise did tons of laundry while Austin ferried fresh drinking water in jerry jugs back to the boat. The next day we had our first real showers in a month and took an Uber to Walmart to stock up again on food and provisions. The ship stores and liquor cabinet were full again for a long stretch in remote anchorages in the Sea of Cortez. We met Karla and James of SV Polaris for lunch and margaritas and a walk on the Malecon. After lunch we packed away all our provisions on the boat and Liam and Hillary of SV Wild Rye came over to Atica for a Mahi Mahi pasta dinner. The next day Dar of SV Toketee gave us suggestions for engine supply stores and we went around town getting supplies to do an oil change, get fuel for the dinghy and of course tacos! In four months of cruising we have used only 2 gallons of gas for our outboard engine, not bad little Litha!
On the cruisers net each morning we heard the updates about the next big weather event to hit La Paz. Strong North winds on top of the spring tide would make the anchorage in La Paz tricky. Net control urged everyone to double check their anchor and make sure they were in the spot they wanted to be in. We were happy with our location and decided to wait out the weather on the boat at anchor. By 1000 Friday the wind was in the 20’s and we saw gusts up to 30 knots. All the boats were facing different directions and moving around quite a bit on anchor. Usually on anchor a boats’ bow faces into the wind but since the currents in the La Paz anchorage are so strong the majority of the boats in the anchorage were stern to the wind until the afternoon tide change each day. A few times Atica would catch the wind and tack around on the anchor “sailing” into the wind and then drift back on the anchor. Once Atica was making 1.8 knots of speed while on anchor, crazy! The dancing boats and radio chatter were endless entertainment as we hunkered down on the boat. We managed to change the oil, clean rust off a small portion of the stainless steel and service one winch but the motion of the boat made it difficult to concentrate making both of us intermittently queasy. In total we were stuck on the boat for two days so we closed the blinds and watched Game of Thrones and movies to pass the time.
By Saturday night the wind was dying down and the cabin fever was setting in. We radioed Wild Rye and they invited us to dinghy over for dinner. They have a friend visiting for a month and they also invited the captain of Darwind over as well. It was cozy and fun, the six of us around the table playing cards and drinking cervezas. Darwind, a 28’ bright pink sailboat, is owned by Richard, a 19-year-old solo sailor from Alaska. We had a good laugh and a “cheers” because all three boats, Atica, Wild Rye and Darwind were all purchased for exactly $10,000 and we are all planning to cross the Pacific this year!
Our last day on anchor in La Paz, we did one final provisioning run with friends Karla and James, sharing an Uber back to the marina after loading up on fresh produce and beer. Elise took advantage of power outlets in the laundry mat to work on the next step of the drogue project and a final load of laundry while Austin ran more water jugs back and forth to the boat. The last ride back to the boat was just after dark and Austin was using a headlamp to help navigate through the waves and anchored boats, just before getting to the boat we went through a school of fish who started jumping in all directions. One even hit Austin right in the forehead, presumably attracted to the light. The next morning, we tidied up the boat washed all of our produce and put away the laundry. When it came time to check out with the port captain Austin typed a script into Google Translate and practiced a few times. While listening to the radio we had noticed as people call the Port Captain on channel 16, he would ask them to change to channel 14 sometimes saying catorce “fourteen” and others saying uno, cuatro “one, four” seemingly depending on how good their accent was. So, when Austin got a catorce from the port captain it made him feel pretty good. The conversation with the Port Captain went quite smooth, he asked how many people where onboard and Austin understood and answered. Elise noticed that the Port Captain chuckled a little as Austin was reciting his script and wondered what for. Thanks to Google Translate the word Austin used for anchorage actually had a double meaning. Only by looking it up in our Spanish dictionary did we learn “fondeadero” not only meant anchorage but also “rich as in money” or “funded” and so probably not the typical noun heard on the radio as boats left the “anclado” anchorage.
After pulling the anchor we motored out the channel and waved farewell to La Paz, we had fun being in a city but we much prefer to be out in remote places on anchor. As we came to the end of the channel Austin decided to put out the fishing lures for the afternoon motor to Bahia Balandra, not 15 minutes after putting the hooks out there was a fish on! Austin was in the middle of tying a couple of small bells onto the handline reels to help alert us when a fish was on the line. No need this time, he pulled in a good-sized Mahi Mahi that was aggressively swimming towards the boat almost overtaking us. When we got the anchor down at our destination, Austin made up some ceviche for later and cooked up fish tacos for lunch. As we sat in the cockpit, we saw a sea turtle surface just a few meters from the boat and decided to go for a snorkel. We swam over to a rocky outcropping and saw a turtle and sea lion swim by us. It was a mostly peaceful afternoon until a big charter yacht pulled up and anchored in front of us with a live Mariachi band onboard. Shortly after a sailboat came into the bay and anchored way too close, which annoyed us. Luckily, they only wanted to check out the bays’ famous mushroom rock and left shortly before sunset, leaving a perfect place for Wild Rye to drop the hook. That night we had Liam and his guest Scott over to the boat to help us eat the Mahi Mahi and looked over charts of the South Pacific. Our far away dream is not so far away anymore!