Friday, April 25, 2014

Surfing, at Last – Baja Road Trip - Scorpion Bay


Back in March 2012, Sylvia and I flew from Palo Alto, Calif to Loreto, Mexico in a small plane (a Cessna 180 taildragger) for a long weekend to visit Baja and get up close with the grey whales at the World Heritage Site of Laguna San Ignacio.  Our good pals and fellow pilots Mary and Lou had the plane and previous Mexico experience to pull this off, and thus, we had a fun and memorable adventure. 
2012 – At the Loreto, Mexico Int’l Airport after 7 hr flight from the SF Bay Area.
At the whale sanctuary in San Ignacio Lagoon, however, there was a map of Baja that had a curious little notation about a famous surf break just down the coast. After visiting with numerous mother whales and calves, we departed the dirt airstrip at San Ignacio to return to Loreto and our hotel for the night. During the flight, we flew down the Pacific coast to check out the famous surf break from the air. The whole coast of Baja is wild, mostly undeveloped, and has a rugged desert beauty which keeps travelers allured, as we were.  As we overflew Scorpion Bay/San Juanico Bay, we saw blue/white ‘rays’ of long peeling waves stemming from a peninsula with about 6 right hand point breaks, reminiscent of storied Rincon or Malibu breaks in So. Cal.  Incredibly, only a few surfers were enjoying these uncrowded Mexican waves.  After flying a couple of lazy circles gawking at the remote breaks and the dusty nearby town, we turned toward Loreto and I had become enamored with the idea of surfing this place.
2012 - Dirt airstrip on the Pacific Coast of Baja (San Ignacio) normally desolate, but on this day it was busy with other planes from our Baja Bush Pilots group.

2014 – Juicier waves at one of the inside breaks.© D. Davidson
Three years later, the chance to surf San Juanico finally materialized. With Sylvia magnanimously agreeing to remain with Cinnabar (at anchor in B. Concepcion) for a few days, my friends and I loaded up 2 vehicles with surfboards and supplies for the 4 hour road trip from Mulege across the 1000 mile long Baja Peninsula. Literally, from sea to shining sea (Cortez to Pacific). The truck was full with Captain Mike and his teenage kids (Kelston & Savanah from Colorado) while our other friends BobbyD and Denise piloted their VW EuroVan (visiting from Santa Cruz, CA; ironically, they live one block from the Cowels/Steamers surf break but don't surf it much).
Road warriors on Mex 1 – Surf guide, Vanagan, boards.

With gas stations 100 miles apart – gotta fuel up at every chance. In a sleepy town, we stopped to ask “Where’s the Pemex”. The local in the beat-up truck said “right here”. We turned to see a simple house with a jankily-wired, 110V electric pump for dispensing gas out of 50 gal plastic barrels.  Ah…OK…fill er up!
Arriving in the late afternoon, the wind was blowing dust all over the single paved street in the spread-out but small town.  The place had a bit of a wild west, remote feel to it, but enough locals and gringos lived here to support some modest infrastructure of electricity, water, tiendas, and restaurants.

Great viewing on the cliffs above the surf break.
We booked a giant palapa (palm hut) on the cliff right above one of the best breaks and for the next 4 days, we surfed our arms off on the small but well-shaped, frequent, and long peeling waves. 
Our 'camp'  50 yards from the beach - the rustic palapa sleeps 6, no electricity or plumbing, only occasional scorpions and ants.

There was a small contingent of locals here and there and a generally friendly vibe.  Everybody got good waves, including our new learners.  Many of the rides were hundreds of yards long  - fun as heck.  It was perfect for getting back into the surf groove after a hiatus of 3-4 years. If the small conditions were this much fun, I could imagine that the excitement meter goes off the charts when the place gets some sizable swell. We felt very fortunate to get Rincon quality waves without the hordes and attitudes of crowded US breaks.
The veteran gives the learners a few pointers.© M. McGuire
'Goofy' Kelston got the hang of it quickly and was soon scoring many rides.© D. Davidson

© Savanah - also getting the hang of it.
Bobby milking a 'musher' until it walls up in the shallows.© D. Davidson
Tom zipping down the line. The pacific water and wind were cool-ish on some days.
© D. Davidson
Mike returning after a long distance cruise. It was often easier to walk rather the paddle back.
© D. Davidson

© Tom gliding on the Big Yellow Taxi
The only fly in the ointment was the stingrays in the sand – 3 of our group got nailed, with BobbyD getting the worst/bloodiest strike. It put them out of action for a while, but with lots of hot water and ointment, they were back on the fiberglass in short order.  Apparently, the stingrays are a common summer problem, arriving with the warmer water. But, they happened to be “in” early this year.
Kelston and BobbyD treating the stingray pain and toxin by soaking in very hot water.
© D. Davidson
Thinking of your our own slice of Baja paradise, cheap? Off-the-grid trailer enhanced with deck, shade, and 2nd story sun tower!
The giant bay, 20 mile long beach, rocky sea cliffs, distant mountains,  endless ocean horizon, and general remoteness give the place a lonely ‘ends of the earth’ feel.  It is a special place though not just because of the geography and good surf, but also because of the ocean bounty.  It feels like it could get ‘discovered’ and eventually spoiled, like with so many other fine places humans want to turn into Disneyland  (e.g. Cabo, Cancun, Vallarta, etc.). in fact, there is a sizeable fishing co-op here (170 members) and they are actively campaigning against big corporate interests that want to exploit the area – the latest is a German mining interest that wants to build a harbor (and wreck the breaks/beaches) and mine some type of (toxic) phosphorous modules on the nearby sea beds. The co-op fisherman seem wise and suspicious to the corporate promises of plentiful jobs, good pay, progress, and commerce for the area.  They like their fishing jobs (generational) and apparently keep their fisheries sustainable by regulating the take, the season durations, and the species (grouper, tuna, lobsters, squid, octopi, etc.).  

Fishing pangas on the beach during a wind storm.
The fisherman told us a surprising note about their lobster fishery. They catch the clawless California Spiny Lobster and their main market is in China.  The local lobster are trapped (when in season), put into local storage tanks and drugged to make them sleep. The bugs are then transported via truck 500 miles north to Ensenada where they are put into recovery tanks. After some time there (a few days?), they are then drugged again and flown by jet direct to China for sale as live seafood.  The carbon footprint of this excessively long supply chain makes me rather discouraged.  Does China really need to eat lobster from halfway around the world when the tasty crustaceans are in short supply locally here in Mexico and California??  I don’t fault the fisherman, they are probably only selling to the highest bidder and managing the resource well (they say).  This seems like another example of why eating locally is an important, better all-around community choice.
Fishing co-op panga setting out with traps. Interestingly, the co-op also uses 'vigilantes' to patrol their fishing area for poachers. © D. Davidson
Although  I still have yet to realize the ultimate dream of paddling into surf directly from Cinnabar*, it was a real thrill to finally surf/explore San Juanico after ‘discovering it’ for the first time from the air. I currently have no paddling fitness and my water skills are rusty, but I was elated to be surfing with great friends, lots of waves, in an uncrowded place,  for multiple days, with no other cares. Freedom, indeed!
Maybe the place should be renamed Stingray Bay?! © M. McGuire

 *Once, I technically paddled into surf from Cinnabar at Drakes Bay, CA . The shorebreak was small and closing out with no real rides to be had, so I don’t count this as a legit session.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Gray Whales and Whale Sharks! - Bahia Concepcion Week #1

Sunday, 6 April 2014

We left La Paz on March 26, about 1.5 weeks ago, and arrived in Bahia Concepcion on March 29th, dropping the anchor under Casa de los Suenos, at La Posada anchorage around the corner from Santispac, at around 7:15 p.m. in the last, dim light of day. 

Cinnabar motors into her anchorage just before it gets dark - photo L. Teoman

We learned our lesson last year, no more overnight pounding to weather (into the wind and waves)! This year we meandered north, stopping at a pleasant anchorage each night. Here was our itinerary:

Day #1: La Paz to Isla San Francisco = 44 nautical miles (nm), sailed about half the time. Dropped anchor next to a boat we knew from Alameda, sv Westerly.

Day #2: SF to Bahia Candeleros = 67nm motoring; shared the big bay with one other super yacht. The skipper said all the other cruisers left due to predicted northerlies coming into the bay, but the night was windless with the water like a millpond. A very relaxing night!

Day #3: Candeleros to San Juanico = 44nm motoring. This was a good, protected anchorage from the northerly winds and swell.

Day #4: San Juanico to Santispac = 55 nm, sailed 6 hours out of 10. After a couple of somewhat gnarly hours, boat heeled over and things flying about down below, the boat and conditions settled down and we had a glorious day of sailing in a stiff breeze with reefed mainsail and jib, more or less toward our destination. 
A great day of saling!
Since our goal was directly upwind we took a couple of long port tacks out to sea, then back, and had to turn on our motor as we neared Point Concepcion so that we would make the anchorage before dark.

Turns out our friends Deniz, Lissa and daughter Amanda, and Bobby and Denise, also arrived in Bahia Concepcion that day so it was a great gathering of friends. They kayaked out to bring us a tandem kayak so we could join them for a feast of freshly speared Yellowtail and Grouper. What a welcome!!

If you know our friend Mike McGuire, or remember the McGuire family from last year’s posts, you will know that Mike has activities planned to pack a 28 hour day. Since Mike and Stephanie had to spend the day in Loreto the day after our arrival, our first day in Concepcion was a “day of rest”, hanging out with our friends, kayaking, snorkeling, and getting some boat tasks done. 
Our friends kayak over for coffee - photo D. Teoman
Good thing because the next day was a full one, driving to Laguna San Ignacio on the other side of the Baja peninsula for some up close and personal gray whale watching. 

Every year gray whales travel from Alaska to San Ignacio to give birth, and when the calves are old enough the mother and calves come right up to pangas to get scratched and and rubbed, which they seem to love. 
Whale calf gives us the eye.
Leave it to Mike to challenge everyone to KISS a whale! 

Amanda kisses the calf. - photo D. Teoman

I don’t know of anywhere else in the world where the whales like to come right up to the boats, rub under them and push them in circles. It’s quite an amazing experience!

The whales love the contact.
The next day the guys left early for a day of spearfishing. They came home with some yellowtail, grouper, and other reef fish. Delicious for that night’s feast of sashimi, ceviche and grilling!

Great job on the day's catch!

While the guys were gone the ladies enjoyed a day of provisioning in Mulege and stopping for shrimp cocktails and lemonade on the beach.

We enjoy the fresh limonada at Arturuo's.
Some of our friends had never seen a whale shark, and we heard there had been a sighting in Bahia Coyote, a few coves down from us. Mike was determined that they would have a whale shark experience. So the next morning most of the group jumped into kayaks and started paddling toward Coyote.  Tom, Lissa and I motored over in the dinghy and we all converged in Coyote, on the lookout for the telltale double fins of the whale shark. It was windy and choppy that day, so no fins, but eventually we could make out some large dark shapes moving through the water and sure enough, some whale sharks had come into the cove!     
Amazing shot of whale shark face - photo D. Teoman

We spent the morning looking for and snorkeling with these gentle giants. Deniz and his daughter Amanda couldn’t get enough, and since they were leaving the next day Tom took them out one more time for a snorkel with these fascinating beasts.
Amanda is tiny next to this giant! - photo D. Teoman

The next day, April 4, everybody packed up the truck and van to drop the Teomans off at the Loreto airport, while the rest of the group (except Stephanie and I) drove over to Scorpion Bay on the west coast of baja for a surfing trip. 

Kelston and Tom pack up the truck.
Stephanie and I stayed behind so we could catch up on some work and reading, and so I could keep an eye on Cinnabar for some high winds that are supposed to blow through today and tomorrow.

Last night Stephanie and I stood on the porch of her villa, and exactly at 7:10 pm the space station appeared as a bright, fast-moving orb out of the SW. It traveled straight over head and disappeared into the NE six minutes later. It was truly a serene and magical moment. (I’m glad we enjoyed it, because we were both extremely sick last night, we think from some local cheese we had for dinner. Oh well, that sort of thing is to be expected when one travels. I’m sure a day of rest will set us to rights, and that’s all I’m going to say about the matter. Ugh)

On Tuesday the Scorpion Surfing Safari group will drive back to Loreto, picking up our friend Mati at the airport on the way in. Then my sister and Erik arrive the next day so it will be back to activities at a breakneck speed for another couple of weeks. 

More pics of our first week in Bahia Concepcion are HERE.

Cinnabar "on the hook". - photo L. Teoman