February 4th – 29th, 2020
Puerto Escondido & Honeymoon Cove
Our first few days in Porto Escondido were pretty windy so we only ventured from the boat for laundry and a few groceries from the marina’s tienda. The bay is set up with a bunch of moorings and they no longer allow anchoring. When we finally found an available mooring, it was half of a mile across the bay from the dinghy dock at the marina. On Thursday our good friends Michael & Nelly arrived in their van for a visit. Austin had to ferry the four of us and a bag of goodies out to Atica because our dinghy could not fit everything in one trip. That night we ate fish tacos and drank margaritas until late. Nelly mentioned she had a tooth filling fall out while they were in Mexico and wanted to get if fixed while in Loreto. The next morning, we asked on the cruisers net for a recommendation and immediately had multiple people stepping over each other on the radio to give us their dentist recommendations. Cruisers are VERY eager to help out! After the net we loaded in the van and drove into the town of Loreto. We hit the grocery store and boat supply store while Nelly had a successful visit to the dentist. We had great tacos and refreshing limonada (think limeade but better) at El Rey Del Taco and explored the downtown streets. Just before heading back to the marina we stopped at a “Tortillaria” where you could see the tortillas being pressed and put on a conveyor to be cooked. They had the best corn chips we have ever had!
In the afternoon we drove up a dirt road to hike Steinbeck’s Canyon and on the way we passed some wild horses. The path quickly turned into a “choose your own adventure” hike that took us up, over and around boulders of all sizes. We climbed and crawled around water ponds with a few small waterfalls in between. On the way back down, we were all chatting and Austin said “Spider!” right as Michael unknowingly stepped on a tarantula! After the hike we all went down to the beach where Michael and Nelly were van camping. We grilled steak and chili peppers over the fire and made tacos. On one of the rocks forming the fire pit Austin spotted a tiny scorpion the size of quarter basking in the heat from the flames. It was a little unnerving to see a tarantula and a scorpion all in the span of a few hours, a good reminder that even though the desert looks lifeless and dry there is plenty of life if you look close enough. On our dinghy ride back to the boat our minds were blown in a completely different way, the bio-luminescent algae in the bay made our dinghy look like we had under glow lights. It was even “turning” on and off when we slowed down or went faster, it was unreal!
The next day Michael and Nelly came aboard Atica for a sail around Isla Danzante and then we anchored in Honeymoon cove for the night. Michael brought down a few pole spears and we were eager to get in the water to catch dinner. Pretty much immediately one of the pole spears fell out of the dinghy and sunk to the bottom. After a few free dives it was clear the spear was too deep to find. The bad luck continued with the only spear catch of the day being a small trigger fish that was more appetizer size than it was dinner for four. Austin was determined to turn our luck around and strapped on his scuba tank and went down to try to find the spear. For 15 or so minutes we could see his bubbles coming up in a grid pattern around the boat until he finally found the spear in 50 ft of water! Michael gifted one of the pole spears to us and we named it Needle after Aria Stark’s sword in GoT. The surf reports looked good on the Pacific side of Baja so we said goodbye to our friends.
It was time to look at the calendar and decide what we wanted to do next. Originally, Loreto was going to be the furthest North we would go, but we still had about a month until we planned to be in mainland Mexico. We had received multiple recommendations about Caleta San Juanico so we made the decision to keep heading North with the idea that we would sail straight from our Northern most stop to the mainland in one big shot.
From Escondido it was a peaceful motor/sail up to Isla Coronados. We saw our first blue whale since the one we hit coming down the coast. Luckily this time it was way off in the distance. When we arrived to the anchorage it was filled with hundreds of dolphins and pelicans fishing in the crystal-clear blue water. There was nothing on our hooks that day so we ate bean and cheese quesadillas for dinner and watched the dolphins jump and play in the sunset.
Caleta San Juanico
After one night at Isla Coronados we got up early for a day sail North, along the rainbow-colored cliff lined coast to Caleta San Juanico. The bay was as beautiful as it had been described with jagged rock pinnacles, white beaches and green cactus studded hillsides. After a very fun and social few weeks cruising around the Sea of Cortez it was time to focus back in on the project list. All the stainless steel was in dire need of a rust removal and polishing. Each morning we would work on the stainless cleaning or another boat project and then had the afternoon for spear fishing or hanging out on the beach. Austin has been improving his spearing and was able to get a few good dinner fish and a lobster on the reefs around the bay. As we headed North the water temperature was dropping and even with wet suits on it was COLD!
On the beach we visited the “cruisers shrine”, a tree on the beach where boats have carved their names in wood, rocks and shells and left trinkets to commemorate their visit. Austin carved “Atica 2020” into a sandstone rock that we left at the base of the tree. While at San Juanico we met several boats that have been sailing in the area seasonally for years. They were even from places that we knew well like, La Conner WA, Victoria BC and Bend OR. We played a few pretty competitive rounds of bocce ball on the beach and went to a cruisers bon fire with all the boats from the bay. Austin joked that he didn’t know how you could be a cruiser if you didn’t like fish. The potluck beach fire included fried snapper, foil pouch yellow tail, pan seared grouper and smoked salmon that cruisers from Alaska had brought down with them. Everyone was thrilled that we brought brownies to the party, not another type of fish!
After a week in San Juanico we packed the boat for a four to five-day sail to the mainland. Just as we were putting the last few items away, we saw on the horizon a familiar green sailboat with a red dinghy strapped to the side. It was Kyle, Lori and Kyla the friends we met and speared fish with in Agua Verde over two weeks before! We buzzed over to say hi and quickly our sailing plans were overshadowed by the opportunity for Austin to go spearing in the company of such knowledgeable people one more time. The next day Elise volunteered to hang out on Fiona with baby Kyla while Kyle, Lori and Austin dove on the reef at Los Mercenarios, the southern entrance to the bay. Kyle speared a huge 23lb Cabrilla (grouper) at 76 ft deep. The fish was bigger than the baby, by a lot!
With the fridge full of fish, we headed south in calm seas and little wind. A few hours in, the steady 10 – 15 knots we had seen on our original weather forecast had not filled in and we were still motoring. We downloaded weather again and it looked like it was going to be a lot of motoring before we would get any wind and when we did it would be strong wind. We wouldn’t be able to motor the full way with our fuel capacity so we made the hard decision to head back down the Sea of Cortez, Baja side before making our crossing. This would require a shorter weather window and we could leave with full fuel tanks. Looking back, it sounds like a no brainer decision but at the time it felt like a step in the wrong direction after mentally and physically prepping for a straight shot passage to palm trees and warm water! After seeing whales flipping on the horizon we pulled into the peaceful anchorage of Punta Perico on Isla Carmen. After a cocktail we climbed into bed together, a very different experience from the night watches we were expecting when we left that morning.
Punta San Telmo
From Isla Carman it was another full day motor to Punta San Telmo, one anchorage above Los Gatos where we spent Elise’s birthday on the trip North. After letting the anchor go, we jumped off the boat for a sailor’s shower. The anchorage was really rolly, but the bio-luminescence in the water looked like a starry sky and made up for some of the discomfort.
At first light we pulled the anchor to keep heading South. Mid-morning, we heard and saw a big splash off the bow. A few minutes later another. The splash was caused by huge manta rays with wingspans as big a human coming out of the water and either slapping back down or doing flips in the air. It happened over and over and we even had some come up close to the boat. There is nothing like seeing a manta ray gliding through the water!
The wind picked up in the acceleration zone of Canal de San Jose just like it had on our trip up, but this time the wind was coming from behind us! We enjoyed a few good hours of wing on wing sailing with the spinnaker pole. Shortly after passing Isla San Francisco three false orcas came cruising right up to the boat. At first, we thought they were orcas based on the size, but their heads and fin shape were different than what we are used to from back home in Washington. Our last stop on the way back to La Paz was Ensenada Grande on Isla Partida. We anchored in the furthest South lobe of the anchorage and the water was so clear you could see the bottom and turtles and fish swimming around under the boat. Elise had a dream there was a boat playing party music nearby and then woke up to find that it wasn’t a dream. A boat had come into the bay at 2300 and played dance club music until 0200. A sign we were getting closer to civilization again…
We stopped for fuel on the way into La Paz and tied up next to Steve Jobs and Steven Spielberg’s super yachts. As we headed down the channel into La Paz the Malecon looked different. The bayside pathway was full of carnival tents and amusement park rides. We had arrived back in La Paz just in time for Carnival! We anchored next to Wild Rye and Indy and they all came over for cervezas and to catch up in the cockpit of Atica. Later we headed into town for showers and burgers, that we had been craving for weeks.
The next day we did laundry, stocked back up on fresh food and then went to watch the Carnival parade with Hillary and Liam. It was so cool to see the celebration and culture of the whole event. There were elaborate beaded Aztec costumes, creepy KKK looking clowns, huge kitchen stores set up on the street under tents and music of all kinds. Our favorite activity was the blanket auction. A stage was loaded with super fuzzy printed blankets and a guy on the stage would make sets of blankets and pillows, auction them off and then throw them to his assistant who would catch the stack midair with a string, tie it up and hand it to the person who made the winning bid! We indulged with churros, a huge grilled pork stick and 20-peso cervezas. The city was alive and we felt lucky for the experience.
The next day we planned to head out but the Port Captain closed the port for inclement weather and no boats were allowed to leave. We took advantage of another day in town and ran some more errands. That night we had Wild Rye and Alegria, a boat we met on Instagram, over for sunset drinks. The next morning on the cruisers net it was announced that the port was open for the morning but was likely going to be closed by the afternoon. We decided to take advantage of the opening and start South so we could make it to La Cruz for some Puddle Jump activities scheduled for the beginning of March. Wild Rye had heard on the net that a friend of theirs had mail in the La Paz marina but had already crossed over to La Cruz. Liam gave us the envelope to take with us and we were surprised to read the return label: “Island View Elementary, Anacortes WA”. It turns out we were delivering a package of letters from a little boys second grade class back in Anacortes. Hillary and Liam came over to say goodbye and good luck as we would not be setting off across the Pacific from the same place. Wild Rye plans to leave for the Pacific crossing from La Paz and we plan to leave from La Cruz so the next time we will see them is on the other side of the ocean. The goodbyes get harder and harder as we make such good friends along our journey, at least this one was “see you on the other side, in French Polynesia!”
Passage to the Mainland
We left La Paz bound for Isla Isabella with waves lapping on the shoal that forms the channel out of La Paz. The sea state was uncomfortable as we bashed upwind out of La Paz bay. Before long Elise felt the most sea sick she has ever felt on the boat. Likely a combination of short steep waves and maybe a glass of wine too many the night before. Even being sick she was still able to bake bread as Austin hand steered us out Lorenzo channel. Once we turned South the swell was longer, the wind picked up and Elise started to feel better. All night we had 15 to 25 knots of wind and with only a reefed jib, we sailed along at a good pace. Day 2 we were both sleepy and groggy, getting used to passage making and night watches. Over the night a small squid and a flying fish landed on the decks and started to stink as they dried in the sun. We had good wind pushing us along towards our destination at about 6 knots. By early morning day 3 the wind and seas had died down and we turned on the motor so we could make it to Isla Isabella before sunset. We had read descriptions of Isla Isabella as the “Galapagos of Mexico” and we were so excited to stop there on our way to the mainland. By 1600 we could see thousands of birds swirling over the colorful island in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, we were not the only people who thought Isla Isabella would be an awesome spot to stop. When we got to the anchorage it was already full of cruising boats and we couldn’t find a spot we felt was safe enough for Atica amongst the reefs and rocks that line the small bay. This island was the most extreme indicator of the inaccuracy of Mexican charts that we had been warned about. Our chart plotter was 2 miles off from Isla Isabella’s true location! Sadly, we put Isla Isabella behind us and kept heading south as the sun set for one more night passage on our way to La Cruz. With no wind we motored and hand steered until 0100 when we were able to drift along under sail in a light breeze until sunrise. At sunrise we could see the entrance to Banderas Bay, our last big stop in Mexico. A few hours later we were anchored in La Cruz amongst other boats that were clearly set up for ocean passages. The morning net was buzzing with chatter about the Pacific crossing. The energy was good and we felt ready for the next month full of preparations, before our biggest passage yet, the South Pacific!