Chaika to Mexico

We left Seattle in July 2002 and harbor hopped down to San Diego where we waited out the end of the hurricane season before continuing south in November, when we sailed down the outside of the Baja Peninsula and in December crossed over to the Mexican mainland to Puerto Vallarta.  We continued south to Bahia Navidad for Christmas, then started to work our way back north in January 2003, taking our time and visiting places we had missed on the way south.  We crossed from Mazatlan back to the Baja Peninsula in March to spend Spring in the Sea of Cortez, going as far north as Santa Rosalia before crossing back over to the mainland in June to have Chaika hauled out and trucked home from San Carlos in August 2003.

We left Seattle and after a week meandering through the Sound, made it to Neah Bay, the last port before heading out into the Pacific and "turning left". We had sailed up the inside of Whidbey Island and spent a few relaxing days with friends in Langley before continuing on through Deception Pass and out up the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Port Angeles.

It was a good start, all adjusted to life on the boat, and remained good spirits. We had a bit of a rough ride out the straits to Neah Bay, as we had taken advantage of a strong ebb which while nearly doubling our speed, built the incoming ocean swells quite steeply. The girls spent most of the time up on the foredeck enjoying the wild ride!

Heading south

After making it half way down the Oregon Coast with two overnight passages under our keel, we were still having fun. The first ocean passage was not much fun: light winds and a large, confused swell made it very uncomfortable, but we found the entrance to Grays Harbor in the fog and took a rest day in Westport.

A favorable weather forecast took us back out for a pleasant overnight passage to Newport Oregon. The swell settled down and the wind remained a nice light northerly during the days. It was a bit tense finding our way through a scattered fishing fleet at night. We ran most of the night "wing and wing" with the drifter poled out, and again the following day in brilliant sunshine and high spirits, except when we discovered what a "spinnaker wrap" is all about.  Brisk winds with gusts up to 30 knots made the entrance to Newport exciting.

Heavy fog off Newport complicated our departure, but we picked our way out buoy to buoy then headed south.  The fog cleared and a nice breeze settled in and we sailed wing and wing through the day and a cold starry night. The wind rose through the night and we sailed at dawn into the shelter of Port Orford down to a staysail and double reefed main. Not how we like to start the morning.

Nice sailing down the Oregon coast

Port Orford was the first anchorage since the Puget Sound.  We spent a rest day there enjoying the beach and a small gray whale that visited us after dinner, bottom feeding next to where we were anchored in 25 feet of water. Then another great run to Crescent City where we were able to anchor in the middle of the harbor and ponder the engine, which had been giving us trouble. Started to see dolphins at sea, many pelicans since Grays Harbor,  and a few puffins!

Motored most of the way down from Crescent City to anchor off Trinidad Head for the night, then in the fog to Eureka the following day for beautiful sunny weather. Found inexpensive and nice moorage by Old Town and called Will's sister.

It took us longer than planned to get out of Humboldt Bay: the engine needed a rebuilt injector pump, but Will's sister provided great hospitality as well as a trip over to the Trinity River to escape the coastal fog and cold. We also went to the local library and looked up Will's high school yearbook picture: Ha!

The notorious Cape Mendecino gave us calm winds but large, confused swells. They say this is a very spectacular bit of coast, but though we had miles of visibility offshore, we never saw land. We did see some Black-footed Albatrosses offshore and a pod of whales puffing north as we approached Shelter Cove, where we anchored for a foggy night with a fishing fleet of trollers. Rigged the "flopper-stopper" for the first time and it worked well to stop the rolling from the swells wrapping around the point.

Foggy Northern Californian coast

A short half day passage the next day to Fort Bragg.  Mostly motorsailing initially, but the wind came up brisk NW in the afternoon and provided a nice broad reach with the yankee and mainsail down the swells in 15 knots of wind and sun.

Fort Bragg proved to be a wonderful place: the tiny entrance where the Noyo River comes out to a small bay made a quick transistion from rough seas to flat smooth water.  Nice place to wait out some strong winds for a few days. Osprey diving in the marina for small fish! Very few sailboats anywhere since the Puget Sound, and we typically see no one else offshore except for the occasional fishing boats.

We dreaded another overnight passage south from Fort Bragg, the weather being so cool and overcast, so were delighted to hear about a fishboat anchorage about half way down. A local fisherman described it to us (no good charts of that bit of coast available) and we found it without problem: we came in that evening reefed down in a boisterous NW breeze and seas but found the shelter behind the offshore rocks and anchored in 20 feet just off a small trailer park on the beach. It was too late and windy to put the dinghy overboard and row ashore (not to mention the surf), but it was a nice protected place to spend the night.

latitude 38.8 N and longitude 123.58 W

Then another day passage to Bodega Bay where we anchored off the entrance in the fog, then around Point Reyes with its spectacular cliffs and lighthouse to a nicely sheltered anchorage in Drakes Bay. Joan took the girls ashore to search out a phone and met a scientist who invited them to join her in observing some sea elephant colonies. Very wonderful.

Sea Elephants on Point Reyes

Sailed in under the Golden Gate Bridge this morning: what a beautiful sight! We had sailed down a mostly fogbound coast since Fort Bragg, so it was very thrilling to come around Point Bonita and see the bridge towering up into the clouds with the shining city in view underneath. And sailboats! It was Saturday and several races were in progress, beating out under the bridge into the flood tide and the light westerly.
Approaching the Golden Gate

We relaxed for several days in the hospitality of Will's younger sister, having passed four major geographic features of our cruise: Cape Flattery, the Columbia River, Cape Mendecino, and the Golden Gate.

After a nice visit with family in San Francisco we tried to carry on with our cruise, but an unexpected gale blew up from the south as we left the Bay. We motored into strong winds and rough swells down the coast past Golden Gate Park and decided this wasn't the day to head south. So we turned around, set the staysail, and had a pleasant run back under the bridge, through the middle of a tall ship parade (in some dissarray with all the wind) and around the backside of Angel Island where we hooked a mooring buoy for two nights.

Katherine's berth in the forepeak

Angel Island, a state park, was a delightful stopover with hiking trails and many other cruisers down from up north. We cleared out before the Labor Day weekend crowd and headed to Sausalito for fuel, supplies, and boat watching: what an amazing assortment of every kind of boat, from derelict to Saudi-prince motor yacht! Then off down the coast again, in a foggy calm morning with almost no ocean swell, southbound again, hoping for some warmer weather. Into a slip at the Pillar Point harbor at Half Moon Bay, then back up by car to San Francisco for a warm, sunny weekend.

A wonderfully wild ride down to Santa Cruz from Half Moon bay in building wind that had us doubled reefed and finally running with just the staysail (to prevent a jibe, and anyway, we were still going 6 knots!). We anchored in the Santa Cruz harbor between the pier and the beach. A noisy anchorage with the crowd of sea lions living underneath the pier, the crashing surf on the beach, and the amusement park ashore. A rather rolly anchorage, but the flopper-stopper helped.

Anchored in front of the Santa Cruz Amusement Park
In Monterey we tied up in the marina for two nights and enjoyed the aquarium, but one of the most interesting parts of that day was watching seals in the bay catch and eat a huge salmon! Wonderfully clear water here.

Another very unique anchorage was Stillwater Cove at the famous Pebble Beach Golf Course. Very unique to see golfers ashore and to beachcomb for golfballs rather than seashells. A real treat has been the sea otters in the kelp beds off the boat; we never tire of watching their feeding, grooming and napping.

From Stillwater Cove we headed south along the spectacular Big Sur coast. Or so we are told it is, as it was fogged in for almost our entire passage. But we were treated to the spectacle of sailing through a large school of dolphins: Risso's Dolphins, 50 to 100 of them.

We managed to avoid another overnight passage by anchoring for the night behind a point of land called Pfieffer Point. It was pretty rolly and too much surf to go ashore, but we enjoyed being tucked in behind the kelp beds with the sea otters.

Our passage down to San Simeon Bay was notable for two schools of dolphins we met on the way: Pacific White-sided Dolphins this time. They were much livelier than the Rissos the day before. These leap continously out of the swells, rode Chaika's bow wave, came back and did it some more. They put on quite a show and we were a very appreciate audience!

Anchored at San Simeon

San Simeon Bay was a calm respite from some of the rolly anchorages we've had, and we met up with two cruising boats we first met in Grays Harbor, WA. It was good to see them and compare notes on our passages. The bay was full of sea lions "porpoising" about and busy sea otters. Joan took a tour up to the Castle and Will and the girls played on the beach and in the surf, discovering much about the wrong way to take a dinghy in and out of the surf.

Down to Morro Bay for supplies, passing some whales enroute: possibly Humpbacks, two adults and a baby. Occasional dolphins. Morro Bay has the reputation of being one of the foggiest places on the coast, and yes, it was foggy there.

We had a tense, foggy passage from Morro Bay around and into San Luis Obispo Bay, and another around Point Conception and down to the Channel Islands. We had waited out gale force winds in Morro Bay and were delighted to pass the dreaded Point Conception in light winds, even though it meant fog and motoring. Some unusual hazards as well: a rocket launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base (but too foggy for us to see it) and rogue oil drilling platforms looming up out of the fog. Spooky!

The Channel Islands, large islands offshore of Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, were a real treat: wild and remote, sort of a desert version of the west coast of Vancouver Island. Our first night's anchorage at San Miguel Island was in the kelp beds right off a beautiful white sand beach packed with elephant seals! These things are huge, and make the most odd noises. Between them and the clicking shrimp noises coming in through the hull, it made for a noisy anchorage.

Katherine's 12th birthday in late September was celebrated at Santa Rosa Island and included a visit to an amazing sea cave that is said to be the largest in the world. Katherine and Joan took the rowboat in while Elizabeth and Will circled nervously around outside the entrance in Chaika: too deep to anchor, and quite bouncy. Getting the cavers back on board was exciting.

Coches Prietos

A tropical storm off Mexico sent up some heavy swell so we found the anchorages in the islands quite rolly. Not very restful nights. One beautiful cove, Coches Prietos ("wild pig") Cove, offered a cozy anchorage where we laid a stern anchor towards the beach to keep us head into the swell, but the crashing breakers on the reef next to us made it like being in a washing machine, so we stayed only one night. We did meet the pig: apparently a descendent of pigs left off by the Spanish hundreds of years ago, there is a tame one (a tame wild pig?) that comes up to people on the beach and begs for food (or takes it if unattended). With his coarse black hair, tusks and long tail, he was pretty wild looking. But then, so are we these days.

Another full day's passage took us to Catalina Island where we found the water wonderfully warm (68 degrees F) and amazingly clear: we anchored in 40 feet of water and could see the anchor chain lying on the bottom! Great snorkling in the kelp beds which was a real treat. After about two weeks out since Morro Bay we were about out of fresh food, ice, water and diesel, so we headed into Newport Beach at the end of July where we found inexpensive mooring buoys to leave the boat for our forays inland to Disneyland, Will's cousins and parents: from the sublime (the wild beauty of the Channel Islands) to the ridiculous (Los Angeles and Disneyland), we had reached Southern California.

We took full advantage of the inexpensive moorage in Newport Bay, rented a car and spent two weeks visiting Will's parents inland. It was a nice respite up in the high desert: sunny every day (no "marine layer" of clouds) and so nice to for the girls to visit their grandparents. Disneyland was a hoot, with cousin David giving us his special tour. Will was delighted to find that all the old favorite rides are still there.

We headed south after using up our maximum 20 days in Newport Harbor and spent a couple of nights anchored in Dana Point Harbor near the replica of the square-rigger that Richard Henry Dana sailed on here in the 1840s. We took a tour of the ship and instead of being impressed by it's cramped quarters, we were amazed as to how comfortable and spacious it all seemed compared to the four of us on Chaika!

Elizabeth in her berth

Unseasonably cool weather followed us to San Diego. Well, okay, it gets into the 70s in the afternoon, which may seem pretty nice, but we were hoping for beach weather! Mariner's Basin in Mission Bay was a favorite anchorage, known as "Chaika Cove" to us after scouting it the previous year by rented sailing dinghy and naming it in anticipation of our visit this year.

We were busy in San Diego making our final preparations for the winter in Mexico. The girls did their trick or treating on the docks with other boat kids and we solidified friendships with other boats headed south, notably the sailing vessels Lucida, Periclees, Evolution, and Delfin Salar.

We departed San Diego November 5th on a beautiful afternoon with a fair wind. A storm in the North Pacific was forecast to send big swells south and the first autumn storm of the season was headed for California so we decided on a long passage to get south of it all. This meant we would have to forego visiting some anchorages on the northern Baja coast we had wanted to see, but they are not the sort of places comfortable in a big swell.

Our passage south was wonderful sailing. We were out three days and nights with a steady north wind of 5-15 knots, sailing 20-30 miles offshore in a beautiful transparent light blue sea. Not too much sea life except for the amazing midnight shows of the dolphins swimming under the bowsprit, glowing with phosphorescence! We motor-sailed a bit each night when the wind eased up but otherwise it was like tradewind sailing with a constant, steady, warm wind. The swells did pick up the last day, but by then we were in behind Cedros Island and more sheltered.

Bahia de Tortugas

We reached Turtle Bay on a hot sunny morning where suncreen at 7 AM was the order of the day. It is a full half-way down the Baja Penninsula, just south of where it juts out west prominently, so we had really made some distance, and were glad to be out of the wet, windy weather that hit the coast up north. The village here is poor, dusty and remote but has just about all the supplies one could need. Lots of little stores, diesel and water. Even an internet connection! Joan's fluency in Spanish was very helpful to us and to a number of other cruisers in the bay.

Dust storm conditions in Baja California

Then a dust storm hit early one morning.  The weather maps we download from the shortwave radio seemed to indicate a Santa Ana condition in Southern California. We couldn't even see boats anchored nearby and it covered the boat in orange grit. It was over soon enough and we cleaned up and caught up with a bit of long-neglected home schooling: Spanish lessons.

After a week in Turtle Bay we made a comfortable passage of two nights out down to the Magdalena Bay area where we anchored in a beautiful open bay called Bahia Santa Maria. We finally felt like we were in the tropics: air temperatures in the 80s, water temperature 75 degrees, sea turtles, frigate birds, bottlenose dolphins, and a mangrove lagoon at the head of the bay. Wonderful swimming and snorkling. We saw lots of lobsters while diving and bought several dinners worth during our stay. Neat beachcombing for exotic tropical shells.

Another two night passage took us to Cabo San Lucas. This passage was notable for light winds, light seas, and increasing warmth. We were delighted to be doing night passages in shorts and t-shirts! An important geographic milestone passed was latitude 23 and a half degrees: we officially entered the tropics. A sailfish danced on its tail to welcome us.

Sharing the anchorage at Cabo San Lucas

Cabo was definitely resortville! The luxury resorts were quite the contrast to the remote wild and lonely coast of Baja we had just traversed. Despite the expensive rates, we spent one night at the dock to get our "marina fix": water, ice, groceries, showers and laundry.

Thanksgiving was unusually memorable: we didn't get one! We had travelled up the inside of the Baja Penninsula with some other boats intending to have a Thanksgiving potluck at an anchorage called Los Frailes, but a quirky change in the weather had us caught in a tropical line squall enroute. We had been motoring along in a flat calm watching this approaching wall of dark clouds when we noticed dozens of the local pangas headed for the beach at full speed. The squall hit us with driving rain and winds up to 20 knots just as we took down the mainsail. It eased off soon afterwards and we put up the staysail and ran with it. We experienced brisk southerly winds and pouring rain on Thanksgiving, in a very uncomfortably rolly anchorage on the north side of the Los Frailes headland.  The following day the skies cleared and we all let our boats to roll without us and spent the day on the beach, having a day-after-Thanksgiving beach picnic.

When the wind turned back northerly the next day we headed east-southeast for a three day passage to the Mexican mainland. Chaika sailed for two days on a fast and comfortable beam reach in 15-20 knot winds, the Aires windvane steering all the time (on watch we just, well, watch). The wind eased and dropped completely the last night, but we were happy to motor as the batteries needed charging (the solar panel hadn't worked with all the overcast we had). Lots of frigate birds and boobies, regular sightings of dolphins and sea turtles.

A favorite reading spot

Reaching the mainland was a major change of climate: hot, sticky, and tropical! Our first night at anchor at Punta Mita was a shock to us, it was so warm. We anchored for two nights off the village there to rest up after our passage from Baja. The overnight passages take a lot out of us. We spent a week in Neuvo Vallarta, a resort just west of Puerto Vallarta. It is a marina attached to a very fancy resort. For a modest moorage fee one has full access to their pools and all. The Chaikas were a bit stunned by all this, and rooted around in their duffels for anything resembling "resort wear". There are several other boats with kids, including one we met in San Diego, so the girls are finally got some time with other kids.

We managed to escape the shoreside pleasures of the resort-marina at Neuvo Vallarta on the 14th and made an overnight passage around Cabo Corrientes and down to Tenacatita Bay, a beautiful bay with lovely anchorages, great snorkling with coral and tropical fish and a little river, Rio Boca las Iquanas, that provided a "jungle ride" with the dinghy up through the mangroves. Pretty neat. Also, we found more cruisers anchored here then we have seen anywhere on our entire trip: over two dozen sailboats, all from the U.S. and Canada. Lots of good people.

The crew on deck at Tenacatita Bay

After a few days at Tenacatita we headed south around the headland and into our anchorage in Bahia de Navidad off the town of Melaque. It is a quiet spot to anchor, protected from the ocean swells by a point, and right off a beach with inexpensive palapa restaurants. It is just the place we hoped it would be for the holidays: a sizeable beach resort town, but one that attracts mostly Mexican tourists, so it seems a bit more real Mexico than some of the other places we have seen.

Bahia de Navidad is the southernmost point of our year-long journey: 19 degrees and 13 minutes north of the equator, which works out to over 1700 miles of traveling south since we left Seattle in July. We've also travelled considerably to the east (we are about the same longitude as Denver) and of course many more miles in squiggles! We are anchored in Bahia Navidad for Christmas (Navidad), off the nice small town of Melaque, where Will's sisters Ann and Melva will be arriving soon to visit.

Christmas at Bahia de Navidad

We decided not to head off to French Polynesia as originally planned. It is disappointing not to cross the Equator and visit the coral atolls, but we learned that our original plan to be in the Sea of Cortez in the winter months and leave in March for Polynesia would expose us to the strong northerlies the Sea of Cortez has in the winter and make us miss the best time to be up there, in the spring. It is kind of neat to consider that for all of the trip so far, we have been travelling south and the days have been getting shorter, but starting next month, with the longer days, we will be headed back north, and arriving back in the Northwest with those wonderfully long summer days up north!

After the holidays with family we went into an expensive marina for a night to fill the water tanks and feed a good proportion of the local mosquito population (it wasn't until well after we left that we heard that some cases of dengue fever, a dreaded tropical disease, were reported in the area). We then headed back up to Tenacatita Bay where we met up with lots of friends from other boats.

Tenacatita Bay beach & anchorage

One day we sailed across the bay to get supplies at the small village of La Manzanilla, a lovely place notable for a lagoon filled with huge crocodiles. There were a couple of dozen of these 10-15 foot long dinosaurs! We were glad they keep them well fed there and away from the anchorage!

Our visit to Tenacatita Bay ended with a rather alarming earthquake. We were watching a video that evening on a boat anchored nearby when we felt a prolonged shuttering of the boat. It was clearly a big earthquake, and nearby, so we excused ourselves from the video, returned to Chaika and quickly headed out to deep water. Our plans had been to leave in the morning, and it suddenly seemed to be a nice time for a night passage. As it turned out, the tsunami warning which was indeed posted minutes after the quake (we were already in deep water) was soon withdrawn, but there were aftershocks and we were quite happy to be playing it safe. Interestingly, of the almost 40 boats in the anchorage Chaika was one of the few to leave.

The search for ice was a weekly chore

We poked into a number of anchorages on our way back north to Banderas Bay in late January.  The small nook of Careyes proved too bouncy, but the bay of Chamela futher up provided an anchorage at Isla Colorado with protection from a fierce southerly wind that came up for a day or so, then we shifted over to the main bay when the wind turned back north after some nice snorkeling. The small village nearby provided some groceries and ice.

Wonderful passages up the coast the last few days. We needed to motor almost all the way as the prevailing winds blow down the coast from the northwest, so we took advantage of a light-air window to get back north, albeit by power. What was neat about the passages (we spent he night in the tiny bay of Impala) was the sea life: lots of sea turtles, many dolphins, a few sea snakes (!) and, best of all, close views of whales, grays and humpbacks.

Yesterday there were some doing curious tail-slaps nearby, and today, in Bandaras Bay, a couple of humpbacks doing full breaches! They were ahead of us, and as we approached we couldn't see where they were. Suddenly one surfaced right next to the boat, having swum underneath it. Elizabeth screeched (it was very big and very close) and we all got sprayed by its breath as we stood amazed on the foredeck. Even Joan decided that was close enough, thank you.

We anchored off a group of islets out in Bandaras Bay that are a National Ecological Park.  It is a wild, beautiful spot with no other boats. Many sea caves, arches and beaches to explore. Snorkling too!

We enjoyed the waters and coast up from Bandaras Bay. We found some delightful anchorages off the small towns of La Cruz, Punta Mita, Guayabitos, and Chacala. We have continued to be amazed at the numbers of Canadians we see down here, in the resort towns as well as on sailboats. Guess it is pretty cold up in Canada this time of year! We anchored for just one night in Mantanchen Bay, near the old historic port of San Blas, but the tremendous numbers of no-see-ums that found us and reports of expensive port fees scared us off from staying longer and exploring the ruins of the fort.

Isla Isabela

The highlight of the past month was undoubtably our visit to Isla Isabela, an isolated and rugged little island off the coast between Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan. It is a national park and quite famous for its wildlife. Humpback whales were common sights from the anchorage, the snorkling was the best we have had yet (clear water, lots of coral, amazing numbers and varieties of tropical fish), and the island was literally crowded with nesting Frigate Birds, Boobies and Tropic Birds. The Frigate Birds we have seen all over the coast, robbing other birds, and it was neat to see these huge pelagic birds on land: they don't land on the water. Of the three varieties of Boobies on the island, the Blue-footed were our favorites, having amazing feet the same light blue color as Chaika. The birds nest on the island and are completely unafraid of people walking by. The island also had huge numbers of marine iquanas, up to two feet long, which were weird and fascinating. We were lucky to have calm weather and low swell during our visit to Isabela and stayed for three nights anchored next to a pair of fantastic sea stacks.

We also enjoyed good sailing on our way north this month, despite the sailing being close to the wind which is less comfortable than all of the downwind sailing we have done so far. We're all struck by how well adapted we have become to this cruising life.

After reaching Mazatlan later in February we anchored behind an island off the town for an extra day because strong winds made the entrance to the marinas dangerous, but we were perfectly content to spend the day below in the cabin, hardly noticing the gusty winds and pitching waves. And all this after a fairly rough overnight passage! We meet a lot of other cruisers down here who have been doing this for years, and we see why!

The Carnival in Mazatlan

Back up to the cooler north! We have actually had to use blankets in the past few nights since arriving in Mazatlan, and the water temperature has cooled to 73 from near 80 in Bandaras Bay! We are back up to the Tropic of Cancer and officially leaving the tropics. We didn't realize it would be so much cooler, and it is a bit of a relief from the hot stickiness of the mainland coast south of here. Here in Mazatlan we stayed in an inexpensive marina for a week to reprovision and to see the carnival they are famous here for.

Back to the Baja Peninsula! We crossed over the first week of March after spending a bit over a week in Mazatlan and experiencing some of the carnival. Crossing the southern Sea of Cortez took the better part of three rough days in which we did some motor-sailing into strong northwestery winds on the last day to get far enough north so that when the winds strenghtened as predicted we would be able to bear off the wind and sail on a comparably comfortable reach over to the cove at Los Frailes, our point of departure almost four months ago when we headed over to the mainland.

Returning to the Baja Penninsula has been a bit of a climatic shock: we had become used to the tropical lushness of the mainland and the harsh desert of Baja has taken some getting used to. A different kind of beauty. Cooler air temperatures and cooler water as well, for now. So we are back to snorkling in our wetsuits, but the snorkling here, especially at the bay of Los Meurtos north of Frailes, has been some of the best that we have experienced. The beach restaurant there was versatile: with your dinner you get a shower and can drop off your garbage!

Ashore at Bahia de los Meurtos

Before heading into La Paz mid-March we spent some time up in the beautiful desert islands of Partida and Espiritu Santo to the north. We found a particularly nice hike on a trail through a natural cactus garden of amazing variety and beauty. It is neat getting to know the Baja desert.

Katherine kayaking with a dolphin at La Paz

Entering the sinous channel into the La Paz harbor took careful navigating, especially when we noticed two of the red and green buoys were switched: the red was left of the green! As we came nearer we noticed the red buoy was actually under tow by a panga boat! Apparently it was a runaway. We waved to the pangeros and gestured to their tow; they waved back and shrugged. We love Mexico!

Puerto Ballandra: dinghy stowed to head north

We decided here on another change of plans. After meeting numerous boats that plan to haul out at a place called San Carlos and truck their boats home, we realized that despite the expense, doing this would allow us to spend four months exploring the Sea of Cortez at the best time of year, and avoid the strenuous offshore passage home by way of Hawaii and the North Pacific (that we would have to leave almost immediately for). We can always get some ocean crossings in the future!

It was a very relaxing month sailing north up the inside of the Baja Penninsula from La Paz to Loreto.  We visited a number of memorable islands and anchorages, enjoying the freedom of having so much time here, a result of our not sailing back by way of Hawaii. We are able to stay as long as we want in anchorages, though getting food, water, and ice is a challenge on this remote coast.

Sunset beach fire at Isla San Francisco

We finally rendezvoused with the Hayes family at Isla San Francisco. Old friends from Seattle, they also took off a year to sail down here but our different itineraries meant we haven't seen them until now. It was a brief visit, as they are leaving soon to sail back by way of Seattle. Isla San Francisco was a great place to wait out a "screaming blue norther" the Sea is famous for, then we headed up to the next island, San Jose with the Swallow, snorkeling at Isla Coyote where we found out about the stinging "string of pearls" jellyfish, and anchoring overnight on both sides of the Punta Amortajadas sandspit (due to a middle of the night thunderstorm) where we learned how to find paper nautilus shells.

Crossing paths with old friends

We said farewell to the Hayes at San Evaristo  but met up with other friends there before continuing north meeting up with another Puget Sound sailboat with kids, the Atalanta, with whom we visited the small Mexican fishing settlement of Nopolo at Punta Alta. The girls got a lesson in making tortillas, Will got an exciting ride in a panga back to the last village for supplies and we were all invited ashore for a birthday fiesta. Quite an interesting look into a different life and culture. Katherine had three girls her age from the village out to Chaika to make "friendship bracelets".

Heading north again we anchored off a rancho where the Punta Alta villagers had told us we could take on water, and sure enough there was a hose on the beach! Fresh water is a scarce commodity on this coast. Big stuff for Chaika, which holds about a 100 gallons of water with which we can stretch out to three weeks. Then we enjoyed a week in a isolated little cove called Los Gatos where we beachcombed, hunted for geodes, snorkeled and had evening beach fires.

Taking on water from the rancho

After Los Gatos we spent several days at two quiet little bays, Ballena and San Marte, just south of the popular Aqua Verde which we weren't quite ready for yet. Here we met up with and said goodbye to friends in the Periclees, heading south and back by way of Hawaii.

The village of Agua Verde was our next stop north for supplies, which come out on a long dirt road twice a week. Here we met up with several other boats with kids that we kept up with for the next several weeks. Agua Verde was notable for the snorkling and prehistoric rock art, a grove of date palm trees, piglets and goats in the village, and another opportunity to take on water from ashore. 

Bahia Agua Verde

Continuing north with our buddy boats we located with difficulty a hot springs just south of Punte El Carrizalito that provided a nice soak, and a rancho a short hike from the anchorage that we went to for dinner. The next day Chaika headed out for a night at Yellowstone Beach on Isla Monserrat before heading over to anchor with Tea Leaves the next day at Bahia Candeleros, where we all collected a good bunch of the tasty local clams.

Back with a bucket of "Chocolate" clams

Then up to Puerto Escondito, a secure anchorage in a spectacular location, for the cruiser's "Loreto Fest" in mid-May.  It was like coming into a "rendezvous" in the fur trapping days as over a hundred cruising boats met up to renew acquaintances and make new friends. For us, the wonderful part is that it acts as a magnet for boats with children, and we have created a nice little community of five families with kids from the sailboats Atalanta, from Port Townsend, Tea Leaves from Idaho, Tioga from Canada, and Bright Star from San Diego. Both Elizabeth and Katherine have made good friends of their own ages and are quite happy.

 Following that three-day festival we went out to nearby Isla Carmen for the wedding of a young cruising couple, Max and Staphanie, a memorable ceremony and reception in a desolate but beautiful setting.

After Max and Stephanie's wedding at Bahia Marquer on Isla Carmen we continued around the island with friends, stopping at Punta Colorado for Mother's Day and then up to Bahia Salinas to see the salt works and enjoy the beach. Vee Cove on the north end was a great place for the kayaks and Bahia Ballandra a nice stop before heading over and taking a slip for the night at the Loreto panga docks which made provisioning easy.

All dressed up for the wedding on the beach

The weeks since our last port of call in Loreto showed us some new sides to the Sea of Cortez. For instance, Joan became quite enamored with the local shellfish. Not only with the lobster that we occasionally buy from local fishermen, but diving with the girls for delicious local clams and scallops. Will continued to get in a lot of underwater scrub time keeping Chaika's bottom free of barnacles and sea growth. With water temperatures up into the 80s, the stuff grows amazingly quick, but fortunately the warm clear water makes the job enjoyable.

Heading north from Loreto we made a stop at Isla Coronado, then up to Bahia San Juanico where we met up with other boats for hikes and beach fires, adding our nameboard to the "cruisers' shrine" there. Then up to Bahia Conception with some nice sailing with moderate southerlies and stops at Medano Blanco and Los Pilares.

The weather continued to get hotter and hotter, and we wondered if we would make it to the end of June living onboard. One afternoon at anchor in Bahia Conception it was 100 degrees in the cabin and 95 degrees out in the shaded cockpit with a hot, dry wind blowing! Fortunately the swimming is usually wonderful, with warm clear water right at hand, but it is not uncommon here in the Sea of Cortez this time of year to be bedeviled by jellyfish stings which require one to swim clothed up in a full lycra suit, or stay out of the water.

Sea of Cortez swimming

In Bahia Conception we stopped at Playa Coyote and Bahia Santa Barbara for much boat socializing, stopping at Bahia Santo Domingo on our way out. Punta Chivato's resort development was a surprise (but we took on water!) but Los Arcos Cove on San Marcos was remote and wild with spectacular snorkeling in sea caves and arches. Sweet Pea Cove seemed prosaic in comparison.

The beginning of June found us in Santa Rosalia, our last stop on the Baja Penninsula before we crossed over to the mainland port of San Carlos (near Guaymas) to haul out Chaika for the overland trip home. It was a bittersweet stop for us: a delightful small town we enjoyed, but signaling the end of our cruise on Chaika. We will have been out on Chaika almost a full year by the time we haul her out in San Carlos.

Father and eldest daughter

We crossed over from the Baja Penninsula back to the Mexican mainland on June 7th, the last overnight passage of our cruise. We motored out off the Santa Rosalia harbor into a beautiful evening, with glassy water colored by a beautiful sunset. The double-tipped manta ray fins were all around us, and several schools of dolphin leapt nearby. We couldn't help but contrast it to our first night passage on the Washington coast last July, where it was cold and foggy, with rough water and a scared crew. The wind did come up this time, a hot west wind off the land shortly after sunset, and we had a fair wind sailing through most of the night on a broad reach. We got a good taste of the famous Sea of Cortez seas: short, steep waves, quite rough, but the off-watch crew slept through it all like good sailors.

Elizabeth on watch

We spent a last week exploring the coves and reefs north of San Carlos, "gunkholing" south down the anchorages, from Las Cocinas, Bahia Serimuertos,  Bahia San Pedro, and into Marina Real.  As it was the end of our cruise we were reluctant to move too fast, and wanted to savor it all. We found some beautiful anchorages and enjoyed swimming and snorkling in the beautiful clear, warm water. On some days the jellyfish were too numerous to enjoy the swimming, but we found they come and go and learned to live with them: stay out of the water some days, and wear lycra suits, wetsuits and socks on other days. The heat didn't seem to bother us quite as much either: it seemed a bit cooler than on the Baja side of the Sea, and on one night it actually got cool enough that we needed light blankets! We've learned to take it easy during the heat of the day like the locals.

Our last big adventure was of an entirely different sort: to strip down Chaika in preparation for her truck ride north and to bus up to Tucson, and buy a minivan to drive home. We adapted so well to life afloat and the slow easy pace of cruising (traveling over 5 mph on the water is a big deal) that we are a bit intimidated by the prospect of traveling ashore: freeways, cities, car dealers and other scary things.

Hauled out in San Carlos