Yet another north wind season in the Sea of Cortez. We were fed up with that one far too long norther we were sitting in that just wouldn’t end. The constant noise and inner turmoil were a bit nerve wrecking. Thank god the end of the blow was on the horizon. Before we could move on, there was work to be done on the boat. And we had to visit a few new anchorages that we had never seen before! There wasn’t much time left – we had to head South to La Paz for the visit of our good friend Florian from back home in Switzerland.
After several days of strong, gusty north wind, we were really exhausted. The constant noise, the swaying back and forth at anchor and the night’s unrest left its mark on us. We were tired and just happy when the end of the almost week-long troublemaker was in sight. As quickly as the «Northers» show up and hassle everybody in their way, they disappear again. All of a sudden, calmness returned. And as almost always, we had to devote ourselves to one very important object on the project list. Our mast. What was an impossibility in 30 knots of sustained winds, now we could finally tackle.
A Quick Review
As we found out at Cabrales Boatyard, our mast is a banana. The rear mast support (the so-called backstay) on Milagros had been much too short for years or even decades. This pulled the mast backwards too much. Our mast is made of thin, lightweight aluminum, which has resulted in some backwards warping. We carefully examined the whole situation at the boatyard and came to the conclusion that we can correct the deflection with the new rigging, which we did as best we could. Still, we weren’t satisfied as photos of Milagros taken by SV Swan Song’s Pete and Shinyi still showed the bend. After a bit of brainstorming via Whatsapp with Marga (we love you so much for all your help) we decided that the mast had to be corrected again in its position, which required a lot of work.
Important work on the mast
First, we had to loosen all the mast supports, which was the main reason why the wind had to drop first. With two lines we extended a sling that we wrapped around the mast. This allowed us to use the winches to crank the mast back and reposition the rubber wedges that hold the mast in place through the deck. After that we had to readjust the rigging. What sounds short and painless took a whole day. The fact that, contrary to expectations, the wind picked up again in the middle of the project only helped to a limited extent. But in the end, we were very happy with the result. We have lost all reservations about working on even the most crucial parts of Milagros, which is so, so incredibly important.
One hop further
We weighed anchor early the next morning. It was time to move further south. Our friend Florian was counting the days and hours at home in Switzerland, because it wasn’t long before he came over for a two-week visit. He reported regularly how much he looked forward to his time with us. Us too dude, us too! We were on a tight schedule because we had to be in La Paz at the end of February for his arrival. The sun barely showed an orange shimmer on the horizon before we were on our way again and set out to sea. The almost 6 hours passed in no time, a nice little Bonito for Tacos included, and when suddenly a westerly wind blew across the sea from the mountains of the Baja, which made for an hour of two of great sailing. We were happy and enjoying ourselves.
Finally north wind again! Not.
We continued with our plan to visit anchorages we had never been to on our (probably) final trip in the Sea of Cortez. Our destination San Marcial was such an anchorage. The cove offered protection to the north. Wonder why? Well, guess why. A few days of north wind were coming! Haha! Great! Finally, a Norther again! We couldn’t wait. F****** hell. At least, the forecasts only showed moderate winds compared to the monster that had just passed.
Bahía San Marcial
As we rounded the corner into the bay, our little sailor hearts beat a little faster. Not a single other boat far and wide! That’s how we like it! Anchorages are always at their best when we have them to ourselves. Just us, Milagros and the nature around us. And wow, Marcial was a great stop. The hills around the anchor bay shone in all the colors the Sea of Cortez has to offer. Earthy brown tones fading into reddish copper, plus the rain from the hurricane had caused grass to sprout, which has now dried out in a light yellow over the entire impressing scenery.
Our time in San Marcial was spent going ashore, flying the drone for pictures, fishing and just plainly enjoying. For example, we followed an old river bed that led inland through the flora and fauna of the desert. During these excursions we notice again and again that the desert may appear dead and lifeless, but it is a complex habitat for countless animal and plant species. Birds sounded the alarm in the bushes and announced our appearance, various lizards sat on stones and warmed themselves, brown heaps or small balls on the ground indicated the existence of wild mules and goats.
Another small weather window to move on
Of course, our old, unwanted acquaintance joined the whole pleasure and holiday feeling – the cold northerly wind. This time, however, it didn’t blow so mercilessly and couldn’t spoil the beautiful San Marcial anchorage for us, because it only kept us company for two days. So, we were soon able to prepare Milagros again for the onward journey. Back towards Isla San Francisco we went. But this time we would only pass the island close by and hunker down at the very southern end of Isla San José. A large bank with a small mangrove forest awaited us. Well protected against the NORTH! Because of the NORTH WIND, which would annoy the entire Sea of Cortez again shortly after our arrival at the new spot.
Sheltered by the mangroves
Very early in the morning we set off on a long, 10-hour trip from San Marcial for a stretch which unfortunately we could only cover motoring. The wind was too weak or non-existent. We chugged along, enjoying the view and looking out for dolphins or whales. Not much to report on that front. Burrito purred along in his engine room and we sat on deck, taking in the scenery. Who knows if we’ll get lost in the Sea of Cortez again. Who knows, maybe we will. Nothing is for certain. What is certain is that this place will forever hold a very special place in our hearts.
When we arrived at our new anchorage “Bahia Amortajada” we first had an anchor beer. We anchored 5 meters deep, but the water was so clear it was almost a little scary to look down the side of the boat. Only the big “5” on the screen in the cockpit confirmed that everything was fine. SV Grace was also anchored in the same bay. Of course, we recognized their backside immediately. The boat’s backside that is. Yet another sister boat of Milagros! “Grace” is actually a Formosa 46, basically the same boat as Milagros, just different. Makes sense? Yeah, we know. So, we met Joseph and Louisa to inspect each other’s boats. Always a very interesting pasttime!
Lush greenery on shore
The fact that the shore was made of greenery as far as the eye could see was a novelty for us. Of course, we had to go and explore. As the tide was low, we were unfortunately unable to take the dinghy into the mangroves. So, our dinghy tour turned into a short walk. Mangroves form an extremely important ecosystem wherever they grow. Mangrove forests and mangrove swamps are mainly found in tropical coastal areas. Comprising a total of almost 70 species of trees and shrubs, they have adapted to brackish salt water in which they stand with their root systems. They are an important habitat for specialized animal and plant species and a nursery for numerous organisms and animals. Unfortunately, like many other habitats, mangrove forests are threatened by rising sea levels, pollution, drainage, fishing and other human encroachment. Brave new world.
Florian, here we come!
At each new anchorage on our way towards La Paz, we informed Florian, who was counting the days in Switzerland, about our progress. After two nights in the mangroves of Amortajada, we hoisted the sails in a stiff leftover northerly breeze and set off towards Isla Espiritu Santo. We have already visited many anchorages on this paradise island, so we had to add another stop in a new anchorage as planned. But first we had to get there, and the road to get there was rocky.
Until it hurts
The way to Isla Espiritu Santo turned out to be a tough one. We were able to sail along nicely, but at the same time the notorious Sea of Cortez swell built up – small, steep waves at an unusually short distance. This made the movements of Milagros quite uncomfortable, after almost 6 hours of rodeo my already damaged back started complaining. My back is much, much better now, but the being pushed around for hours was still a little too much for my herniated disc. We were happy when we finally arrived in the new bay called «Ensenada Grande». It consists of three smaller bays, each of which extends in a different direction. There was still space for us in the middle lobe.
Isla Espiritu Santo – one for your bucket list
Entire books could and should be written about Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida. A stone’s throw by boat from La Paz, its entire east side can only be described as: anchorage after anchorage after anchorage after anchorage. One could spend days and weeks just on this one island. One corner is more beautiful than the other. The proximity to La Paz also means that hundreds of excursion boats visit the island every day and tourists populate the beaches. But that doesn’t detract from the beauty, because in general a lot of consideration is given to the island. The largest bay at the very southwest end of the island has now even been completely closed to visitors and anchored boats.
Edgar – Lord of the Kayaks
We found out that a few hiking trails were marked in Ensenada Grande, which we wanted to explore after a little rest. We inflated and our kayak, paddled into one bay after the other and found an old creek bed in the southernmost corner through which one could climb up to the hilltops of the island. On the beach we also made the acquaintance of Edgar, who was in the process of setting up a small camp. A storage tent, a small off-site toilet and about 10 kayaks were lined up on the beach. Edgar is a cook for a kayak tour operator and has already prepared everything for the guests’ arrival the next day. We arranged to meet him for a cold beer after our walk, because we didn’t have any more on Milagros. An emergency situation!
Hiking up the barren island hills
Our little excursion was not a walk in the park. The way up the river bed was rocky. The further we penetrated into the interior of Isla Espiritu Santo, the steeper the creek bed became, until finally we were just climbing. Over millions of years, large boulders had accumulated left and right from the top of the valley, which we had to climb up. Stone by stone, step by step. Until we got to the top. And the climbing was worth it. The view was crazy impressive.
Isla Espiritu Santo from the other side
The east side of the island is completely different from the west side. Instead of bays for anchoring, there are steep cliffs that plunge vertically down into the sea. Not great for anchoring but great on the eye. It doesn’t get much more dramatic than that. So, we just sat and enjoyed the view before heading back down. After half an hour on the way back, a classic “David” happened to me. I was able to tackle back up the steep terrain again because my sunglasses got lost on the way. Cursing, I climbed up the stones again, because I knew exactly where I had lost them. When I found the sunglasses, I climbed down the path cursing a little less.
Conversations the Mexican way
Arrived at the beach we enjoyed a few cold Pacificos with Edgar and talked about God and the world. We really enjoy such conversations with the Mexicans, we never learn more about the country and its customs. And our Spanish stays in tip-top shape. We’re still far from fluent, but nothing stands in the way of conversations with the locals. And every time we put a smile on the Mexicans’ faces and we regularly get compliments. See, can’t be that bad.
Trouble anchoring – for the first time
The next morning, we continued our journey back to La Paz. After a short trip along the island, we wanted to anchor in the Ensenada La Gallina. Wanted. Our anchor just did not want to hold. For the first time. We tried three times and then we gave up. It felt like we were trying to bury the anchor in concrete. It just scraped along the bottom, I even had to reluctantly jump in the cold water because we wanted to know what the problem was. However, the visibility in the water was so bad that in the end we simply decided to head straight to La Paz.
A sporty ride to La Paz
We had already come to terms with the fact that we had to motor the entire way, when a strong easterly wind came funneling through the Canal de San Lorenzo. With the wind 90 degrees off the side, Milagros activated monster mode and we blasted through at 7 knots to Bahia Pichilingue, our destination. Another new tick on the “bays we’ve never been to”-list. We anchored in a busy bay, as is often the case near the big(ger) cities. Lots of boats both big and small, lots of people on the beach, loud music on the beach and a few restaurants. We went to the latter immediately upon arrival and enjoyed the sunset with a beer and absolutely mediocre food. We had done it again. We were back in La Paz. Time to prepare for our passage to the mainland of Mexico. If only we had known what was lurking on the horizon…
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