Saturday, September 10, 2016

More whale sharks, more hurricanes

A whale sharks glides underneath Espiritu's stern

Summer in the northern Sea of Cortez is winding down, but it's certainly been eventful! Our friends Jeff and DeeAnne of s/v Stryder actually had a rattlesnake swim out to their anchored boat and enter the cockpit through the scuppers!

Wait -- rattlesnakes can swim? 

Evidently, the answer is yes. Good Lord -- another thing to worry about!

Jeff actually wrangled the thing with his boat hook and hurled it back out to sea, at which point it promptly turned around and swam right back again, trying to swim up through the scuppers! After several tosses back out to sea by Jeff the Rattlesnake Wrangler, the scaled amphibian finally gave up and swam back to land.

I was hoping he'd machete the guy in the cockpit and let us know if they really do taste like chicken. Well, I'll guess we'll have to wait to find out the answer to that one...

Jeff and DeeAnne of s/v Stryder -- the rattlesnake wranglers

Other than that minor drama, we've mostly spent the last couple of weeks dialing down from the stress of dealing with Hurricane Javier, which blew threw only a couple of weeks ago and fortunately broke apart as it flew over.

Chris on Guillermo's beach in the Bay of LA

One morning anchored here in BLA, as Chris and I sat in the cockpit enjoying the sunrise and sipping our coffee,  we were greeted with the sight of this just off the starboard side:

The water was so clear and still that he seemed to be flying 
as he silently glided through the crystal blue water

Chris and I looked at each other and mouthed a silent "Wow..."

Note the little fish suckers behind his dorsal fin

Well. How cool was that, huh? 

Terry and Dawn of s/v Manta are avid SCUBA divers and invited us to dive with them at Punto Don Juan. I was excited but a bit nervous. We are SCUBA certified and have dove hundreds of times, but the last time was four years ago in Roatan, Honduras.

But since Manta has their own air compressor on board and fill their own tanks, how could we say no? We sailed the 6 miles over to Don Juan and dropped the hook with Manta.

Inside the protected Puerto Don Juan

We enjoyed the lovely sunset on the gigantic deck 
of Terry and Dawn's trimaran Manta 

Our SCUBA gear, which we hadn't used in four years.
Note the red bow which tells you which one is mine. :-) 

I was a tad bit nervous as the dive approached. I didn't know how I'd feel once I was down there, or how my temperamental ears would tolerate the depth.

(Deep breath). EEEEEEasy does it.    

Happily -- I felt fine! We fed puffer fish and an octopus at about 40 feet, and a seal swam over to check us out.  I had a moment of terror when I watched this giant black thing that looked like an aquatic death star slowly rise from the depths before me...I held still and tried to slow my breathing, staying calm...soon it came closer and I was relieved to see it was merely a giant sea turtle! Whew!

 Terry teased me during the dive, though, because I always dive holding my depth gauge ever at the ready in my hand, and I check my depth about every 60 seconds. I don't want any surprises. 

You hear those cautionary tales of guys diving and then "suddenly" finding that they're at 150 feet with no air left in their tanks. #whelp 

That, my friend, will NEVER be me. 

Jerry Seinfeld does a hilarious stand-up bit on his SCUBA diving experience, saying essentially:

"SCUBA diving is an amazing thing to do, but when you're down there, your basic goal is to not die. You're swimming along, singing to yourself in happy-go-lucky fashion: 'Don't die...don't die...don't die, don't die, don't die...there's a rock, there's a fish, don't die...'"

Yep. That's me!   But it's all good, and I was happy and proud that the dive went well.

The next day we returned to BLA village to provision and do basic maintenance aboard. We were also making plans to haul out Espiritu this fall at Fonatur Marina Guaymas, across the Sea of Cortez. 

A couple of days later we were all stunned to see that another hurricane was heading our way. This one was named Hurricane Newton.

Oh, noes. Bay of LA (our current location) was well within 
Hurricane Newton's  projected path. Damn. 

So, once again, we all hightailed it over to our favorite hurricane hole, Don Juan.

We had about 36 hours until she would arrive, so we had plenty of time 
to prepare Espiritu for the storm.  There were 16 boats crammed in Don Juan 
before we were through.

Chris looked and looked for our chafe guards for the anchor bridle, but he couldn't find them. s/v Linger Longer had acquired some donated firehose somewhere along the line and 
shared some with us. 

Firehose is the perfect chafe guard -- you just thread the bridle rope through it, and it protects the line from severing completely (which is prone to happen during long, severe storms), and it basically keeps the anchor attached to the boat.

The donated firehose for our chafeguard was from the McClellan Fire Department. 
I did some research online, and it's a little town in California near Sacramento.

Thanks, McClellan!

We took down both headsails, note the chafeguard firehose, and Chris dug out 
the storm anchor, armed it, and lashed it to the deck, ready to deploy in an emergency.  

We felt good, knowing we had done basically everything we could to prepare.

This shot shows the extreme outer bands of Hurricane Newton

As we waited for the storm to hit, I took a quick swim.

Swimming in a hurricane!

Not really -- it was only 25 knots when I took my quick little dip.

Menacing and beautiful sunset storm clouds  

Right around sunset we received a NOAA report which told us that the eye of Hurricane Newton had veered to the east, and was now predicted to head across the Sea of Cortez well south of us.

Another bullet dodged. All we ended up getting was 25 knot winds and a bit of rain.

Like a good first mate, I did a "Hurricane Newton" chart entry, and updated it hourly

The reason we're all up here in Bay of LA for the summer is this: the odds are good that any hurricanes coming up from the south will either turn off to the east or disperse by the time they get this far north.

Sadly, we've heard that the Marina Fonutur at Guaymas, where we were planning on hauling out next month, was a direct hit from Newton -- the marina was destroyed and several boats were sunk. So -- we'll have to research a plan B for Espiritu.

Well, look at it this way: if it weren't for hurricanes, then the tropics would be PERECT, and everyone, from around the world, would move here! 

But there ARE hurricanes. And they are terrible, scary things. We're grateful we've had brushes with two of them now, and all is well, so far.

Gracias a Dios!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Swimming with Whale Sharks

Espiritu at anchor in El Quemado, near Bay of LA. This particular 
early morning was like a brushed sliver of heaven. 

We've been in the Bay of LA area for a few weeks now.

The big news is we had the amazing privilege of swimming with whale sharks.

A group of 6 of the big guys came swimming around Espiritu one morning.

Now was our chance.

We donned our masks and flippers and slid beneath the surface.

Chris swims with a whale shark

The Bay of LA -- and the Sea of Cortez in general -- are two of the few places in the 
world where this experience is possible. 

The pod swam around Espiritu, anchored in the Bay of LA, and 
we jumped into the dinghy to take some photos 

Swimming amongst these great beasts was an intense, emotional experience. We knew going in that they are more whale than shark -- they have no teeth, as they inhale plankton, like whales.

Still, they are titanic creatures. One was close to 50 feet long. And anyway, who needs teeth when you've got gigantic, quivering gills that looked as if they might suck me in and obliterate me with a single deep, watery breath.

Me swimming with TWO whale sharks

At one point I was in between these two. 

I was a whale shark sandwich!

That was a daunting moment, and this Wimpy Cruiser had to take some deep breaths through my skinny little snorkel and drum up some vastly needed courage.

Afterwards, Chris and I were quiet for a long time. What a powerful experience we had! How would we top this? Humbled and deeply gratified, we settled into life around Bay of LA village.

Guillermo's restaurant and hotel is the 
cruiser's hangout in Bay of LA Village

I found this smashed guitar in a trash can in town. Oh, noes!
I have a feeling there was a night that did not end well...

Chris walks on one of the dusty streets in the village. Off in the distance you 
can see the cruising fleet in the anchorage.

Bay of LA Village has a few restaurants and hotels, and 3 or 4 mercados. 

They also have a small clinic which I decided to visit. As I swim every day (and 
sometimes several times a day) my ears are a constant problem. 

I walked into the clinic and was beckoned to the triage chair by a young man of about 18.

I told him I was having pain in my ears, and he began writing notes on the "chart."

This is my clinic chart. Welcome to Mexico! 

After I told him about my ear pain,  he promptly grabbed my finger and started swabbing it with alcohol.

"Hey...what in the hell are you doing?" I thought...then...


Without warning or explanation, he stuck me! 

He then proceeded to check my blood sugar. 

For ear pain! 


I then nervously waited for the result, as getting Type 2 diabetes in your 50's in America is now pretty much a rite of passage, like getting your first solicitation letter from AARP. 

Also, I had just had pancakes for breakfast. With sugar free syrup, though!

My result was 105. Yippee! (Normal is 80 - 120). Looks like I've managed to dodge that bullet so far. 

I realized that here in Mexico if you're older than 40 and you walk into a clinic for any reason, they automatically take your blood sugar first thing. So a typical older, overweight man coming in to be seen for a bad case of bronchitis is told, by the way, that his blood sugar is way above normal and he'd better start managing his diet and come back in and see the doctor and get this thing managed.

Great idea. They should start doing that in the states as well. 

Getting sideswiped and suckerpunched by a high blood sugar result when all you wanted was some Cipro for your bronchitis may be as effective a tactic as anything else.

Meet the cool BLA clinic doctor. He's from African Guiney. He speaks French, 
and a bit of Spanish. No English. And by the way, ya gotta love his doctor dress code. 
Shorts and flip-flops. Sign me up! 

Unfortunately the battery in his otoscope was dead. The doctor asked me in French/Spanish if I could come back the next morning after the otoscope charged overnight so he could look in my ears. No problem!  Since the whole clinic visit was gratis, I couldn't exactly complain.

After getting a clean bill of (ear) health the next morning, we decided to provision and head out to explore some of the many coves in the BLA area.

The checker at the Dos Pinos tienda is nine years old. 

Welcome to Mexico!

I had to credit my husband: a few minutes after leaving the store with our groceries, he figured out that the little girl/checker accidentally gave us way too much change (that's a downside with having a nine year old grocery checker -- limited mastery of mathematics), so he ran back and gave her the money owed.

Awwwww. I love that guy! XOXOXO 

We sailed over the La Gringa cove for the BLA Full Moon Party -- an 
annual cruiser's event we've been hearing about for weeks. 

Full moon in the Bay of LA

The reason we go to La Gringa at the full moon is because there is a lagoon and estuary which becomes a small little rushing river during the full moon tides. 

Count us in!

The "river" enters at the left, curves around the hairpin turn and dumps the floating cruisers into the sea. It's the closes thing to "running the gauntlet" we've got down here. We rode the mini-rapids over and over again all afternoon. Simple pleasures...

After our floaty river rafting afternoon, we dingied onto the beach for a potluck.

Desperate for any kind of diversion in this isolated place, our fellow cruisers have come to rely on Chris and I for musical entertainment at these get togethers.  They're a captive audience!

Chris happily fiddles next to the green 
estuary teeming with wildlife

Me and Brenda of s/v Firefly performed our locally-world-famous version  
 of Dolly Parton's "Jolene." Note DeeAnne in the upper left corner. 
She appears deeply moved by our rendition -- or she's got indigestion. :-} 

As the sun went down, this cloud appeared lit from within

This, give or take several boats, is our hardy "Summer in the Sea" crew: s/v Mystic Island,
 Stryder, Neeltze, Kashmira, Linger Longer, Firefly and Manta. 

We fashioned a fire pit out of a discarded tire rim.
Welcome to Mexico!

Next, we sailed south to the El Quemado anchorage.

Sailing south, we passed this amazing natural rock formation. Something dramatic 
happened on this spot millions of years ago!

Espiritu sits at anchor in unspeakably gorgeous El Quemado anchorage

One evening after dinner, I was in the galley doing dishes when I heard the unmistakable hooting and hollering of a drunken party boat outside the window.

Whaaaa? A Cabo-style drunken party boat? Here? In the middle of nowhere?

I scampered out into the cockpit.

The party-hardy, whooping, hooting and hollering was not a Cabo-style party boat.

It was a pack of howling coyotes on the beach! 

Note: howling Cabo partiers sound exactly like howling coyotes.
(courtesy of

It was interesting to note that pretty much the exact moment the sun fell behind the mountains at sunset is when the coyotes started howling! It couldn't have been a coincidence. Chris pointed out that they were probably excited because nighttime means: the hunt. 

And, not unlike Confederate soldiers crying a Rebel Yell as they go into battle, these coyotes were hungry and ready to head out and find some prey.

Human, coyote and great blue heron footprints on the El Quemado beach

I can climb it! I can climb it!

A rare fog bank hovers over the desert

In places like El Quemado, Chris and I really thrive. We spent our days here snorkeling and spearfishing the vibrant reef, walking the beach and exploring. 

Now that our summer in the Sea of Cortez is nearing it's end, I have to say that it has exceeded my expectations -- impossibly clear and warm water, clean air and blue skies all around with unlimited views of the distant mountains.

We're so happy just being here. 

Just being. 

Catching our own food, living off the grid, making our own water and electricity via our solar panels -- it's an amazing way of life. 

Fortunately we like each other's company. I feel happier, more relaxed and more connected to the natural world around me at this moment than ever in my life.

It's as if we're rats who have removed ourselves from the Rat Race. For now, anyway. We know that eventually we'll have to go back to work. But now now. Not yet.

I'm thinking -- quite irrationally, I know -- that I don't want it to ever end.

I'm feeling a bit like Thelma in my favorite movie, "Thelma and Louise."

Thelma: "Let's keep going..."

Do I sound a bit crazy? Well, maybe I am.

Mexico and the Sea of Cortez. They have that effect on you. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Our First Hurricane

Remnants of Hurricane Javier enter Bay of Los Angeles from the south

We left San Francisquito with two buddy boats and headed north to our ultimate destination of summer in the Sea of Cortez: the Bay of Los Angeles.

The map shows our route from San Francisquito 
north to Bahia de Los Angeles

It was flat calm and hot -- a perfect day for a motorboat ride.

S/v Vivacia motors north alongside us through the tropical heat

About halfway through our journey, Captain Chris suddenly yelled out: "Oh, no!"

He quickly killed the motor, turned over the helm to me and scampered down to the engine. 

"We're dead in the water," he said.

We called our buddy boats s/v Vivacia and Stryder on the radio and filled them in. Chris was fairly certain we blew a bolt in the raw water pump. He couldn't be sure, though. We needed to get to a safe harbor where Chris could take the engine apart, diagnose and fix the problem.

Unfortunately, as there was no wind, we could not sail.

Jeff and DeAnne of s/v Stryder volunteered to tow us to Bahia de Los Angeles.

Wow. We couldn't believe their generosity -- and we gratefully accepted.

Our good buddies on s/v Stryder tow Espiritu to 
Bahia de Los Angeles

We passed the majestic Coronado Volcano as we entered the Bay of LA. Wow! I was inspired -- excitedly I announced on the radio to our buddy boats that we MUST climb it! But first, we had an engine to fix.

We entered the harbor, Jeff and DeAnne dropped the tow line and we promptly dropped the anchor.

The next morning Chris awoke early and began working on the motor. Within 2 hours he diagnosed the problem and repaired the damaged raw water pump.

We went ashore and gratefully took Jeff and DeAnne out to dinner in gratitude for their above-and-beyond help during our engine failure.

A Trump speech was playing on the TV at the restaurant -- YIKES!

We poked around town, exploring for the first time. We heard the town had hired a band and there would be dancing, so we checked it out!

I'm blurry because I'm dancing to the music!

We nabbed some WiFi and got the latest weather. 

Oh, no. Category 1 Hurricane Javier was south of Cabo San Lucas and predicted to head north. According to this weather map, it could be directly over our heads in 72 hours.

Well. Here we go. 

The next morning, the several sailboats in the greater Bay of LA area all headed into 
the nearby Don Juan anchorage, a well known "hurricane hole."

The odds were on our side, though. The reason we're all up this far north for the summer is that hurricanes tend to peter out before they arrive at this latitude.

Several of us settled in to the beautiful Puerto Don Juan to await Hurricane Javier

Once we all arrived at Don Juan, we had some time to kill as we waited for the storm. Jeff of Stryder did some serious clamming on the beach and invited us all over for a clam bake!

Clam bake!

I might look excited in the photo, but actually I was a "Wimpy Cruiser." That's because I had never actually tried clams before.  Clams, oysters, snails, liver -- you know -- foods that tend to squeak when you chew them -- these I had avoided until now.

But I dug deep and bravely dove in -- and of course, I'm now a convert. Simply delicious!

By the next morning, Hurricane Javier had already been downgraded to Tropical Storm Javier, and was rapidly losing strength to become Tropical Depression Javier. 

A coyote ambled by the anchorage in Puerto Don Juan, 
unconcerned by the weather report

In the end, all we got was a bit of rain, some 30 knot winds and a a 
not-so-exciting story to tell all of our friends.


Relieved, we pulled anchor and returned to the Bay of LA village anchorage, where we did have some  unsettled weather for a couple of days as the storm remnants blew through. 

Weird cloud over Coronado Volcano

Whitecaps in Bay of LA

The next day Bay of LA bloomed with green!

It's inspiring how little rain it takes to make the desert spring to life

And did I mention it's hot? 

Each afternoon, at the moment the sun falls behind the mountains, folks in the village slowly emerge from their homes. Gentle smiles slowly appear on face after face, 
as one by one they go down to the sea.

They enter the water like a sacrament, as if to say 
"Yes! We have survived another blindingly hot desert summer day, and it is good to be alive."

Now that we've emerged unscathed through our first (and hopefully only!) hurricane scare, we plan to spend the next few weeks exploring the Bay of LA and the islands that surround her.

Gracias a Dios!