Monday, April 29, 2013

McGuire's Midnight Moonlight Malacostracan Madness - Bahia Concepcion Week #2

Week #2 in Bahia Concepcion - Thank you Mike and Stephanie!!
NOTE: I think we've run out of internet time here, so this post doesn't have quite as many pictures as I would like. Every time I get greedy and try to upload another picture my internet crashes. I don't even think I can link to my google album.

UPDATE: Thanks to an internet café in Mulege I can now post a link to my google album of Bahia Concepcion Week #2 (well, week #2.5 really) right HERE.

Santa Rosalia - The day after we said goodbye to Clint and Mackenzie, and hello to Bryce, the newest addition to Casa de Los Sueños, some of us decided to take a day trip up to the historic copper mining town of Santa Rosalia. Mike and Stephanie had some business in town, and Tom, Jake and I insisted on tagging along. The French Company El Boleo founded the town in 1884 and actively mined there until they closed down in 1954. I found a very thorough history of the Santa Rosalia mining operations HERE. Allegedly, the S. Koreans have now obtained a 30 year lease to resume mining operations. 

There is a terrific museum perched on a hilltop that looks out over the town and harbor.

The building once housed the offices of the Boleo company, and many of treasury, payroll and accounting artifacts can be found there along with the actual mining artifacts.

Entry level miners (local peasants of course), started out barefoot and with a loincloth.

Promotions, for those who lived long enough, included an upgrade in uniform, namely a miner's hat, shorts instead of a loincloth, and boots instead of barefoot.

An unusual church built of steel plates is located in the center of town. I was surprised when I read the church plaque, the church was designed by Gustave Eiffel.

We heard there was an authentic French bakery, there since the mining days, that made real baguettes! Instead we found regular Mexican sandwich rolls, a meager selection of uninspired pan dulce, and an exceedingly cranky patroness.

Whale Sharks!! - The next morning Mike, Jake and Bryce dinghied over to Coyote Cove for a bit of spearfishing. They did get some fish but, more importantly, they spotted Whale Sharks! That night, as we enjoyed their freshly grilled catch, the guys made plans to go fishing while I made plans to dinghy over to Coyote Cove at the first opportunity.

Mike kept us busy with sightseeing and activities for the next couple of days but all the while I was itching to get over to those Whale Sharks. I finally got my chance when the guys went on another fishing trip. At last!! After my morning cup of tea I jumped into the dinghy and zoomed over to Coyote Cove. Mike said to look for the telltale fins but all I could see was flat, mirror-like water. I waited while one or two pangas zoomed in, also looking for the elusive Whale Shark, and zoomed out to continue their search around the point. I continued waiting. Finally, about 15 minutes later, a black fin broke the smooth water and slowly moved toward me. Then I saw another fin closer to shore. And then another! I watched three Whale Sharks that morning, one big, one medium and one small. I watched them for a good 45 minutes, keeping my distance so as not to disturb them.

You always see the fin first.

Then the shark!

The murky water is a sign of zooplankton-rich food for the whaleshark

However there was one shark that kept trying to swim close to me. In fact once, when I had turned my outboard off, it turned toward me and totally freaked me out as it swam underneath me, bumping under the dinghy as it passed underneath. Not surprisingly, this shark had a mangled fin. Soon, other boats and kayaks realized I was getting the show all to myself, the cove became a bit crowded, and I left.

Later that morning Stephanie and the kids kayaked over to Cinnabar so we took another spin out to Coyote Cove so the kids could swim with the sharks. We saw the whale sharks several times over the next week. Once one of the sharks even came into our anchorage and swam around Cinnabar! A few of us jumped into kayaks and spent time following this magnificent creature out to an island.

More Fishing - As I mentioned before, Mike took the guys out on another fishing trip. This time with a local guide named Chuy. Apparently this Chuy really knows his stuff and so they had another successful day. The guys caught 5 (one each) Yellowtail using rods and reels...

Pole fishing (live mackerel bait)  in the calm morning fog, pod of fin whales exhaling in the distance - Isla San Idelfonso

Fish On!! Yellowtail (TY) are powerful fighters. A week earlier, our guide said, an 11 yr old boy was pulled off the boat while fighting his YT.

Tom's first catch of the day! Bryce is fighting YT #2.

...then jumped into the flat calm water and Mike and Tom shot another two each using spearguns.

Tom lands another beauty - It is a special thrill to hunt and an honor to be nourished by these sleek, noble, bluewater fish of the sea.

That night we had our favorite sashimi platter of sliced yellowtail served with nori, avocados and rice. That, served with Stephanie's famous blended smoothies, made for a perfect meal on this hot evening.

Kayaking Mulege River - One day Mike wanted to explore the Mulege River to see if there was a place we could put in on kayaks and paddle either up or down river. We went to the Mulege Mission, high on a hill that overlooks the river, and we saw that there was a dam right underneath the mission, then we discovered the river went underground a short way up from the mission, so going inland was out of the question. We were able put in about 2.5 km from the river mouth, and we rowed against the wind all the way to where the river meets the sea. It wasn't very far, but it was a good workout since we were paddling upwind. Not to mention we paddled very fast at first, since we seemed to be in some questionably brown, kind of smelly water.
One of the seemingly few year-round rivers in the whole Baja landscape.

If you read this we'll have to kill you -
1) Stealth Reef Project: The moon was their only witness...

...It was a success, and that's all I can say about the subject.

2) McGuire's Midnight Moonlight Malacostracan Madness at Punta Chivato: Local dive shop owner Robert and his lovely wife Laura guided us to Punta Chivato for a beach party, bonfire, and some nighttime free-diving...

The guys gear up to dive at sunset. Turned out to be a bit of a washing machine out there on this windswept point.

Mike prepares the night's catch. Small but tasty! Sorry, can't tell you what it is, you'll have to surmise it.

We Say Goodbye: The moonlight beach party and bonfire would be our last hurrah as a group. Bryce and Jake would be leaving the next afternoon so the morning of their departure would be Mike's last chance to use their muscle power. They moved the kayaks and outboard into storage, flipped the skiff upside down and stored it high up on the beach, cleaned up the beach, and did all manner of heavy-lifting. Then Mike loaded up a cooler for each of them filled to the brim with frozen fish. Stephanie and I took them to the airport in Loreto, then consoled ourselves with a lunch of ice cream from La Michoacana ice cream store in Loreto.

It was a slightly glum afternoon, knowing that the McGuires would be heading back to Colorado the next day, so Mike and Tom gave Stephanie and me the night off from cooking. The McGuire's treated us to a pleasant dinner at JC's Restaurant, across the highway from Burro Cove.  

As we were driving home the huge, perfectly full moon rose from behind the mountains to our East. It was so startlingly bright that we had to pull over to get out of the car and enjoy the moment. It took at least 15 minutes for Mike and Tom to get the perfect "Moon over the Cactus" photograph. In fact they got many perfect photos!
Mike's got the whole moon in his hands.

The next morning, Friday April 26, was full of a flurry of chores, cleaning and packing. The McGuires loaded up their car with all their goods and coolers bursting with frozen fish, and drove away from Casa de Los Sueños, leaving Tom and me alone. We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, reading and moping, boo hoo!

Yesterday, still exhausted from the McGuires' breakneck pace of 24/7 activities, we hung out at the boat, exercised some of the systems that hadn't been used in a week (genset, watermaker), and talked about our plans. But then we got the happy news that our friends Joe and Lisa are flying down next Saturday to visit us for a week! We enjoyed happy hour in the cockpit with some cold beers, a couple of turtles that kept popping their heads up next to the boat, and plans for what to do when our friends arrive.

As I mentioned above, we visited El Candil internet café in Mulege yesterday and I was able to link to my google album of Bahia Concepcion Week #2 (well, week #2.5 really) right HERE.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Bahia Concepcion/Mulege Week #1 - Old Friends and New Friends, A Leap of Faith

It's hard to believe we've been in Bahia Concepcion for two weeks already! Here are some of the highlights of Week #1:

The first week was full of numerous water activities, reconnecting with old friends, meeting new friends, sightseeing, eating, and trying to cook fish as fast as the guys were shooting and catching them.
Old friend Clint from CA, new friend Jake from CO, Mike and Stephanie, overlooking the Mulege river.
One of the first activities, or should I say CHALLENGES that Mike threw down was to dare everyone to jump off a high rock on a nearby island. Mike knew that this would really rib Tom because we all remember very well an incident that happened in Virgin Gorda some years back. Mike had challenged the guys in the group to jump off a very high rock into the ocean. They all climbed the rock, stripped off their trunks and threw them into the water, and made the mighty leap into the sea. All except Tom that is, and he stood up at the top of the hill for at least an hour, starkers, while the rest of us jeered at him. Finally, as the sun was setting, our taxi driver would wait no longer and we started filing into the van. Rather than be left behind, or even worse to climb back down the hill, Tom forced himself to leap; he emerged with all his body parts, but not his pride, intact. Tom's reluctance to jump has been legendary ever since.

Fast forward to now, and frankly I was amazed that Tom accepted Mike's challenge. I  stuck my nose in the air and told Mike to take a flying leap, (which he did of course), but guys are different, and Tom felt he had to rise to the occasion.

Mike and his victims dinghied over to the island. They climbed up amongst the squawking, roosting seagulls, trying to avoid their nests, eggs and accompanying insects, to the jumping spot. Mike's son Kelston jumped first...

...then Mike, and then Tom actually jumped. And he smiled about it. And he wasn't even the last one off the rock!

Tom jumped, leaving our new friend Lam to do the final leap.
I think Tom's jumping phobia might be cured because today he suggested they go rock jumping again.

A few days after we arrived we all headed an hour south to Loreto to have lunch at the McGuire family's favorite taco place, El Rey Del Taco...
Savanah wants her taco NOW!!!

The chef rocks the carne asada tacos.
...and to pick up our friend Clint and his daughter Mackenzie at the airport. Immediately after we got back to the villa the kids had to get into the water. So it was back into the dinghy for more rock climbing and jumping.
Girl power! Savanah leaps.
When they wearied of leaping Mike tied a surfboard to the dinghy and started towing the kids around. This would be a daily activity, sometimes twice a day, and it was always a hoot to watch.

Savanah, Kelston and Mackenzie have fun tow-surfing.
As fun as the Bahia and McGuireville are, there are many other interesting things to do in and around Mulege (the nearest town). You already know about the HUGE excitement of the week, where Mike, Kelston, Tom, Clint and Mackenzie went spearfishing offshore and brought home lots of fresh yellowtail.
Kelston and Tom with the day's catch.
But the Mulege area is also very historic and quite fascinating. One day we traveled to the Mulege river mouth, where the wide river empties into the sea. Just north is Punta Prieta, a rocky beach where all sorts of flotsam comes to rest. We had originally intended to snorkel there, but the brisk northerlies had whipped the small bay into a frenzy, so beachcombing became our Plan B.
Mackenzie and her found treasures.
After some of us had collected our treasures, and others of us had injured ourselves, AGAIN...
When he's not getting stung by scorpions Kelston likes to start and then be underneath rockslides.
...we drove a short way to a fascinating abandoned hotel. The Aero Club was built in 1957 by one of the first Baja Bush Pilots and was pretty much accessible by small plane only. It had an elite clientele of bush pilots and celebrities. John Wayne was one of the many celebrities who enjoyed the hotel, also called Loma Linda. This place has one of the most beautiful views in the area, hence another of its names, Vista Hermosa.
Big view, big smiles  - Syl and Stephanie on the hotel water tower
In 1996 a small but vocal group of local peasants, ejidatarios, evicted the guests and owners and claimed the land as their own. The ejidatarios, who were granted vast tracts of public and private property by the Mexican government earlier in the century, insisted that they had documents showing they owned the land. (The ejidatarios also claimed other property in Mulege, as well as numerous other areas throughout the country.)  They demanded that the owners pay them tens of thousands of dollars in rent before ending their siege. The owners eventually just walked away leaving the hotel to the ejidatarios, who did not wish, or have the money or desire, to continue the hotel, and so the place eventually turned into an abandoned ruin. Even though the ejidatarios were within their rights, the fate of Vista Hermosa seems so very sad as one can easily imagine the hotel's beauty in its heyday.

The front of Hotel Loma Linda/Vista Hermosa
We eventually made our way to our favorite beach palapa café La Almeja for a late lunch. The waitress Chatita was absolutely hilarious, somehow an extra plate of Garlic Fish showed up at our table for Clint, who had also ordered the Garlic Shrimp. I guess she thought he was such a big eater he wanted TWO full plates of lunch. By and by it was clear that everybody but me had gotten their lunch. When I asked about my order of Guacamole Chatita shrugged, said they were out of avocados, and pointed to the extra plate of Garlic Fish. "Eat that" she cheerfully suggested. We all had a good laugh over that one.

Tom angling for a career change at La Almeja.
After a week of non-stop fun, we sadly chauffeured Clint and Mackenzie back to Loreto for their flight home. We consoled ourselves with some local "Chocolate" clams on the half shell.

But the good news is another friend of the McGuire's from Colorado was coming in on the afternoon flight and we had another week of FUN to look forward to.

Our album of Week #1 can be found HERE.

Just a hint of what's coming in week two: Lots more yellowtail, some food pictures at last, and WHALE SHARKS!!!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Yachtie Yearns for Yummy Yellowtail

Like the picture? Want to know what Tom is up to? Well read on...

Anybody who knows the McGuires knows that hanging around them equals 100% activity from the time you wake until the time you fall into bed completely exhausted. Oh, and did we mention that Mike was a multi-year national spearfishing champion?

We picked up Mike and Tom's long-time diving pal Clint, and daughter Mackenzie, in Loreto last Saturday, April 13. They only had one day to "rest" before Mike's next adventure, a panga ride to Isla San Idelfonso several miles off the coast to go spearfishing for the prized yellowtail. (The day of "rest" consisted of rock-jumping and surfing behind the dinghy, but more on that in another post.)

Mike, son Kelston, Tom, Clint and daughter Mac got up early Monday morning and drove to San Nicolas bay to meet Robert, who has been living there for many years and is a fishing expert. There was a slight delay due to getting stuck in the sand, but soon they were able to beach-launch the panga and set off for Isla San Idelfonso, 7 miles from shore.

Expert fisherman Robert, Expert spearfisherman Mike

Anchored and getting ready to hunt.
The prime location was over some pinnacles on the north side of the island. Kelston and Tom were the first in the water.
Tom settles on top of the pinnacle to wait for his victims.
Kelston  immediately spotted a couple of hefty specimens, Tom lined up his shot and managed to nail his first 25# yellowtail.
Bringing the fish to the surface.
In the six hours that they were out there Tom was the only one who shot yellowtail that day. But in the interest of full disclosure, it was Kelston who spotted the fish, handed his gun to Tom and told him to take the shots. What a generous guy! He couldn't have been more excited if he had shot the fish himself.

Later that day Kelston shot a Cabrillo and Robert line-caught a trigger fish and the third yellowtail.

Kelston with Cabrillo

What a team!

Clink, Mac, Robert, Kelston, Mike and Tom with the day's haul.

The happy group arrived home with coolers full of fish parts and big smiles on their faces. Well, I think Mac's was a grimace due to her numerous jellyfish stings, but we soon got her fixed up with some Benadryl and Lidocaine gel. She's quite a girl.

The hunters wasted no time in cutting up the fish and bagging it up. There were beautiful fillets for grilling, sushi-grade for sashimi, smaller pieces for teriyaki and tempura, and the rest was diced up for ceviche and machaca.

Mac, Clint and Mike cutting up the fish.
So far we have had delicious ceviche every night, a beautiful sashimi with fresh ginger and sesame, and dinners of fish tacos, fish fillets, yellowtail teriyaki and avocado handrolls, and last night we had fish and sweet potato tempura which I guess was our version of a Baja fish taco/fish and chips mashup.

Have I taken any pictures of all this wonderful food? Sadly no because as soon as it's ready we all swoop down on it like a flock of starving vultures!! I'll try to do a better job in the future.
The dream team?
Because of our slow-ish internet connection I've been having a heck of a time downloading and sorting all our pictures, but we've managed to do an album of the spearfishing expedition and it can be found HERE.

Hopefully we'll be able to do some more updating very soon in between all our activities and eating.

My hero!! Tom with his two big yellowtail.


Friday, April 12, 2013

If you're going through hell, keep going.*

*Winston Churchill

La Paz, Monday 8 April: We were very keen to hook up with our good friends in Bahia Concepcion; Mike, Stephanie and the kids would be there most of the month of April. It looked like we had a splendid weather window, southwesterly and westerly breezes in the 10-15 knot range which would mean no bashing to windward. We hoped. So we left the comfort of La Paz and set off toward the San Lorenzo Channel and the Sea of Cortez.

The Channel once again had calm waters; lucky for us! We had 10 knots of breeze but unfortunately it was dead behind us, so we had to motor sail to make any momentum northward and to prevent the big mainsail from making its noisy and annoying slatting. We hoped that the wind would shift to the expected westerly so we could sail once again. We were tired of motoring!

Weather still nice, Tom sets the fishing lines. The next day we would catch and release one small yellowtail.
A Fateful Decision: It was late Monday afternoon after a pleasant but uneventful day and we had a decision to make. Would we tuck into the cove at San Evaristo for a good night's sleep or would we continue on through the night and make it to Bahia Concepcion a day early? We decided that the predicted westerlies were too perfect to ignore and we were used to overnight passages, so we carried on northward as the sun set behind the dramatically beautiful and rugged Los Gigantes sierras to our left.

We had decided to take a slightly easterly route to go around and avoid the many islands that dotted the coastline. This would turn out to be the wise choice.

It's All A Matter Of Perspective: A couple of hours after sunset the wind started building and the sailing was good. We had one reef in the mainsail, our general practice at sunset, and although it was windy the boat didn't feel overpowered. Yet. As the night went on the wind increased from 15 knots, to 18 knots, then into the 20s and we started to feel a bit uncomfortable, so we put the second reef in as the wind continued to build. The wind chop also increased and poor Cinnabar bounced along with the occasional wave breaking over her bow. At first 18 knots felt like a lot of breeze, but after a sustained 26 knots 18 knots would feel like a picnic. And the wind kept building during this moonless night.

Cinnabar Command Center - navigating safely around unlit shoals, reefs and islands in the pitch darkness.
(Geek trivia: L to R - BEP DC breaker panel, Petzel Red Headlamp, Standard VHF radio, B & G speed/depth/wind, Raymarine Plotter/Radar, WH Autopilot, Garmin 276C backup GPS, Glacier Bay Freezer/Refer status, PC Laptop)  
By and by we hit 30 knots, and the wind STILL continued to build. By this time the winds felt like they were raging and the waves were huge, sometimes breaking over the dodger and flooding the cockpit. I called Tom up so he could help me furl the jib. We headed downwind but the jib was so loaded up we could only get it in a little bit at a time, meanwhile the sheets were flailing and tangling themselves. At one point a huge wave splashed over the side, smacked Tom broadside, and sent a starburst of phosphorescence in all directions as it splatted off his head. I was horrified but at the same time I had to admit to myself that it looked pretty cool. Until the next moment when a wave came over and slapped me upside the head, pouring about a quart of seawater into my ear. I noticed that my soaked shirt continued to sparkle with phosphorescence for several minutes after my dousing.

We finally got the jib furled but it was a messy job and part of the jib continued to flap wildly in the wind. Would things ever go right? I'm sure Tom was exhausted, but he eventually went forward and tied the corner of the jib so it wouldn't beat itself to death. Then we headed slightly east and ran before the severe wind and waves. Since we had placed the islands to our left we had this option, thank goodness, because it made for a safer and more bearable journey.

Sometimes the winds would decrease down into the 20s and it felt oddly calm, but then they would go back into the 30s and all hell would break loose again. This cycle repeated itself most of the night. Tom and I later agreed that this was one of the most challenging nights of sailing we had ever experienced. Frankly it was hell.

Tom's exhausted after his hellish night.
The winds finally steadied in the teens and low 20s. When I came back on watch around sunrise Tuesday morning it was still windy, but nothing compared to what it had been.

Our pathetically furled, yet stout jib; no holes or tears after all that flogging!
After my morning watch of winds in the high teens and twenties, the wind just shut off, leaving no evidence of the pummeling we had received except for the thick patina of dried salt all over the boat and ourselves.

We spent the rest of the day taking turns napping, snacking and basically recovering.

Heaven Is a Playground: Early Tuesday evening we sailed into Bahia Concepcion, a vast, protected bay with numerous islands and anchorages.

Bahia Concepcion anchorage
We found our friends' hillside villa and dropped the hook in the anchorage just below their place at about 18:30. A short while later Stephanie hollered down to us from her balcony and, via radio, invited us in for a feast of freshly shot yellowtail prepared five ways and the use of their hot showers. We had finally arrived at heaven!

Stairway to heaven
We have spent the past few days hanging out with our friends Mike, Stephanie and their kids Savannah and Kelston, eating all their food, playing with their water toys, and mooching off their Wi-Fi, hot water and hospitality.
Mike on a SUP leading the kayakers on a tour of the bay and mangroves

They have entertained us by driving us into Mulege to pick up supplies and sightsee, showing us cool places in the Bahia...
Waiting for a fresh seafood lunch right on the ocean with Stephanie and Mike.

...and Kelston amused us one night by sitting on a scorpion. Yes, he did get stung poor guy! (But he's OK.)
Tomorrow we drive to Loreto to pick up a couple of friends who are flying in from the SF Bay Area. Knowing Mike, he has many adventures planned so we are looking forward to the next couple of weeks of fun...and a CALM anchorage.

Our perfect little anchorage

More pics of the past week HERE.

(Distance: 217 nautical miles; 31.5 hrs duration; average speed 6.8 knots, 57% sailing, 43% motor, Fish tally - one small yellowtail caught and released)