Thursday, May 28, 2015

Isla Carmen, Revisited (Sea of Cortez, Loreto Area).

Sunny Hiking, Partly Cloudy Snorkeling

Isla Carmen, Revisited (Sea of Cortez, Loreto Area).

It has been 2 full weeks since we left the dock in La Paz. Adjusting to life at anchor has been much easier than in the past. I think it must be due to the combination of a new, modern-design, slightly oversized anchor (a 77# Spade) that seems to hold like a vise, as well as very mild and pleasant weather conditions. With the hubbub of buddy boating over (for now), it's gotten quiet, with only Sylvia and I to amuse each other. Our lives are ruled now by the rhythms of nature, of the sea, and of the weather instead of by the trappings of society, like the internet, the news, the city, neighbors, obligations, etc. Since the weather has been great thus far, so has been our mini 'cruise'. However, there is a possible hurricane brewing in the E. Pacific a few hundred miles S. and W. of the Baja tip that we are keeping our eye on. The dreaded official hurricane season started May 15.

We have been enjoying Isla Carmen, 20 miles off the Baja central coast, near Loreto. Turns out we've been here before, 25 years ago (Sep 1990 - Gulp!), when we did a bareboat charter with the now defunct Moorings base in Puerto Escondido, just S. of here. We had two boats: Sylvia, I and two other couples (Phil/Kathy, Brian/Jody) on a Beneteau 51 ("Mary M") and my good pal Mike and friends on a Moorings 43 (Karen, Debbie/Frank, Ron). I had some sailing certifications and a couple of bareboat charters under my belt, but I barely knew what I was doing. On our first night out, heading to Isla Danzante, I remember Kathy caught a good-sized tuna-looking fish which we were excited to barbecue - low and behold, it tasted like cat food! Blech! It was then that we learned that skipjacks were not good eating! We had better luck with the Chocolate Clams in Agua Verde. We had a great charter, neverthless, excepting Brian's profane-laden fit when he had to fix a clogged head in 100 F heat!

Back in the day, we went to Bahia Salinas on the east side of Carmen, but must've missed this spot on the north end where we've now been anchored for 5 days. It has great views, cliffs and grottos, clear water, abundant sea life, a just-right beach, some good hiking, and it's BUG FREE!. Part of the sealife attraction was covered in the previous blog post, but one thing not mentioned was a couple of giant fish schools, or bait balls, that hang out in the shallows. In about 8-12' of depth, over the brilliant white sand, there are two different fish schools of about, I don't know, 3,000-6,000 fish in each. The fish in one school are about a foot long, silvery with thin horizontal yellow & black stripes spaced about 1/2" apart - I think they are a type of grunt (yes, that's a fish species!). The other fish are slightly smaller, about 8-10 inches, plain grey with no markings, but they are more active swimmers. The two schools swim together but, incredibly, do not intermix! When you maneuver with smooth, easy motions, the fish surround you like a giant cloud, swimming in perfect synchronization with each other. Many have seen a similar sight with the anchovy display at the local aquarium, but this is 100 times better - you are sharing the same realm. The play of flickering sunlight, wave shadows dancing on the sand, the zillion eyeballs all staring at you, the warm water, the blue background, it all coalesces into a living dream. I float there for an hour at a time, just mesmerized. Almost, but not quite, becoming one of the pupils. It was the type of exotic scene I would expect to occur in say, the S. Pacific, like in Papua New Guinea or the Solomons or Vanuatu. But here it was right in our backyard in the Sea of Cortez. The only thing that disturbed the natural waltz was the occasional visit of an apex predator - like a leopard grouper or (incredibly, yes!), a yellowtail/YT jack - that would panic and cleave the cloud by hurtling through the middle. I did not witness any successful catches.

If ever I was missing my long lost GoPro camera, or any underwater camera for that matter, it was now. Oh how I wish I could have captured the stunning beauty of it all. Memories will have to suffice. Sylvia was a witness and will concur. The only picture we have to show is of our land hike above the cove, still picturesque and beautiful in its own right, but the hypnotizing schools of fish are hidden in the azure water below.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Terrific Diving at Isla Carmen, Loreto, Baja - Yellowtail/Jurel/Hamachi!

THE SEA IS TEEMING WITH LIFE - Anchored in 35' of water and a sandy bottom, the vertical rocky cliffs of this pretty anchorage promised to provide some quality underwater terrain and fish life. This north side of Isla Carmen, just off the coast of Loreto, Baja, faces the full effect of the Northern Sea of Cortez winter winds and so it has infrequent visitors and has a wild and rugged feel to it. Our 2 other buddy boats (Telitha and Ali'i Kai) were preparing to depart for their 24 hour crossing and return to their mainland home base in San Carlos. We'd spent a fun 2 weeks together with them and it was sadly time to go our separate ways.

Sylvia and I suited up for a freedive exploration of the area, eager to see the types of sea life the area would reveal (and perhaps offer up for dinner). There were white vertical sandstone cliffs with vertical cuts and eroded caves plunging into rocky structure and washrocks. There was that magic sea grotto lighting that held various turquoise water colors, shimmering shafts of sunlight, and mysterious dark shadows.

In the water, I loaded up the bands of my speargun. Since I expected to be hunting amongst the rocks, I elected not to attach the floating line and float normally used for bluewater areas. In a few minutes, this would prove consequential.

On my first dive down, getting warmed up, I saw multiple schools of small to medium-sized fish; triggers, tangs, jacks, chub, and in the far distance, some dusky larger hulks, perhaps snapper, pargo, or grouper. There was a riot of activity as the fish moved all about. The place seemed very fishy, for sure. On my second dive, I slipped down to the car sized boulders on the bottom, near where they met the white sandy flats, and confirmed the presence of some lunker cabrilla and pargo. As usual, the big guys were leery and lurking towards the edge of the 30' visibility.

Back on the surface, recovering my breath, I spied a nice sized pargo below. Fully relaxed and with an expanded lung full of air, I dropped down on my third dive, careful to parallel my target fish and not to swim directly for it. Approaching the bottom at ~25', I glanced to my side to spy my pargo when suddenly a solo yellowtail jack hove into view, checking me out. "A friggin' YT, really?", I thought. I did a double take to be sure of the size and closeness of the unexpected visitor. "Yup, that's lunker". In a reactive instant, I swung the gun around, aim-tracked for a partial second, and took the shot.

BAM! The shaft hit the big guy close to midline, so, "good news!", it was a decent shot. The YT went nuts as I grabbed the line, hand over hand, and swam for the surface, adrenaline pumping. At this point, it was critical to keep the fish out of the rocks to prevent escape (tear off, line cut, shaft jam, etc.), but also critical now, was my lack of a floating line/float with which to play the powerful fish from the surface. If you've ever caught a YT, you know that they are strong and mighty fighters. I had to quickly get another breath and get hold of the fish or else chance losing it by having it tear off , swim off with my gear, or entangle and drown me. Hauling the fish in close, his power was impressive, but I was able to bear hug his flailing body, grip his gills, and hold him under my arm. Struggling for breath through my snorkel, I shouted a "heads up" to Sylvia and simultaneously swam to a fortunately-located nearby shallow ledge. I was able to plant my feet down while grabbing my leg knife with which to terminate the fish. Sylvia arrived just as the coup-de-grace was delivered and the noble fish settled into a final sleep.
"OMG!", Sly shrieked.
"Yeah, what good luck, what a beauty", I panted.
"So much for our exploring! Guess we should swim back to the boat and prep the fish! Wow!", Sly remarked.

In only 3 dives and 5 minutes, we had wrangled an estimated 40+ lb prize. I was elated about the whole event. It was the first time we had landed a YT aboard Cinnabar solely from diving while at anchor and without a McGuire in sight. To do just this has been a long time pursuit of mine, part of really "Living the Dream".

Indeed, we were graced with nature's bounty. Yellowtail Jacks, like their tuna cousins, are the epitome of nature's design - beautiful, colorful, hydrodynamic, strong, and optimized for their speedy purpose. And mighty delicious too. Most folks enjoy them as Hamachi at their local sushi haunt.

Fortunately, our fellow boater pals were still around, so they were able to share in the joy of the catch and to depart with some delicious fresh fillets for their ocean journey.

Later in the afternoon, after some rest and lunch, Sylvia and I returned to the water and conducted a proper and full "snorkel survey" of the area. It was incredible; very busy, lots of terrain structure and dense sea life. We saw schools of silvery permits, skinny sierra mackerels, even skinnier barracudas, gangs of pargos, groups of groupers, a startled hawksbill sea turtle, free swimming green moray eels, and clouds of brightly colored small fish of almost every Sea of Cortez variety. Alone together, we were euphoric at our lucky chance to witness the ocean realm in its best wild beauty and healthy condition. And, surprisingly, we saw no more YTs.
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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Cinnabar Goes Sailing - La Paz to the Islands of Loreto

Sails Up! 10-12kts TWS aft, San Jose Channel N. of La Paz. (Photo credit SV Finisterra)
My humans are, apparently, too "busy" to do a blog post, so clearly it's up to me, SV Cinnabar, to update my friends and family (whom I affectionately refer to as "My Adoring Fans").

At last!! After what seemed like an inordinately long time of prep, Tom and Sylvia finally untied me from the dock in Marina Palmira and set me free. Believe me, I have been beyond patient while my two humans have been gallivanting around Mexico and the rest of the globe, but it had been almost ONE YEAR since I was out of the marina! Hmmmph. At least the preparations included a thorough cleaning of my topsides so that I would look my best when I joined my friends Ali’I Kai, Finisterra and Telitha out at the anchorage of Ensenada Grande on the island of Espiritu Santo. (Not that I mind, but Sylvia complained almost the entire time, “Why do we need to clean her if we’re going to be in the ocean?” I notice she didn’t hesitate to do laundry and shower up prior to our departure. Hmmmmm.) 

As we approached my friends in the Ensenada Grande anchorage I was stunned at how the clear aqua water seemed to color their white hulls with the same hue of turquoise blue. Of course my hull is so shiny that, rather than absorb color, it reflects it as if I were a mirror, not that I’m bragging or anything.

Absolutely Fabulous!!

While at this anchorage my human Tom decided to do a little spearfishing. I allow him to clean his fish on my aft deck as long as he gets rid of every single fishy trace when he’s done. I don’t even allow one fish scale to remain, yuck!

Sylvia, Lisa and Leif (Finisterra) enjoy Tom's fish, cleaned on my aft deck.

As usual, I am expected to host a bacchanalian revelry. 

Ensenada Grande was a nice anchorage, but Telitha and Ali’I Kai had left the day before and I was ready to sail again. So on a nice breezy morning Finisterra and I told our humans to weigh anchor and off we headed to the fishing village of San Evaristo. Finisterra and I enjoyed sailing side-by-side from Isla Espiritu Santo back to Baja. We looked fabulous, if I do say so myself. (Note to humans: new sails? Just sayin’.)  

Buddy Boating With Finisterra (photo credit SV Finisterra)

I thought the bay of San Evaristo was picturesque, and the humans had fun dining at the quaint, outdoor restaurant... 

...but there were some pesky, huge sea lions that kept swimming around my hull, horrid brutes! After a couple of days I was more than fine with leaving and continuing up to beautiful Agua Verde. I was sad to bid farewell to my friend Finisterra, but her humans were determined to head back to La Paz to prepare for their bash back up the coast to the U.S.

Ali’I Kai, Telitha and I enjoyed the pleasant bay of Agua Verde, and the humans amused themselves by splashing about in the water and hunting fish (small - pargo, cabrilla, snapper) for dinner. Whatever floats their boat (har!) as long as they keep my aft deck clean!

One funny coincidence occurred while we were there. A couple of cute local boys paddled up to offer to take our garbage ashore for a small fee. Since the boys had the day off from school, Tom decided to utilize a large part of their free day to hold them captive and improve his Spanish. The boys were on a nice-looking SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard), which looked familiar to me. We asked where the boys got it and they replied, "Se lo llev√≥ el mar." (The sea brought it to us). My friend Shindig lost her SUP last year, and this SUP looked suspiciously like Shindig’s, so the humans took a picture and sent it to Shindig’s human. 

Israel and Carlos on Shindig's SUP

Yes!! It was Shindig’s long lost SUP, now reconfigured as a recycling and garbage disposal water transportation unit. I’m humbly proud for what miniscule role I played in solving the mystery of Shindig’s lost SUP.

We left Agua Verde, traveled a short way up the coast, and dropped anchor in the large bay of Candeleros. I’ve always thought I  look particularly fetching in this bay next to the big, deluxe resort of Villa Del Palmar. The humans of all three boats (Ali’I Kai, Telitha and I) dinghied in to have lunch at this swank place ($180-$380 USD/night). I assume they had a good time as they returned reeking of pizza and tequila.

Tom and Sylvia (Cinnabar), Joe and Kitty (Telitha), Tony and David (Ali'i Kai), we boats are in the background

We weighed anchor and motored a few miles up to Puerto Escondido so the humans could relax for a couple of days, fuel up, and go out for one last hurrah at the new marina restaurant. I like Puerto Escondido as I usually run into some old friends there (this time Cetus, AirOps).

Puerto Escondido in the background.
Today we plan to travel up to Isla Carmen, where I hope to anchor with my friends one more night before they make the jump across the sea to San Carlos on the mainland. Luckily, my humans plan to stay on the Baja side for the summer, so I hope we’ll have a leisurely trip back down to La Paz, stopping at some fun anchorages along the way.

Happily at Anchor - Ensenada Grande (photo credit SV Finisterra)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Getting Stuck Into* the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta

* Definitions at end of post

Back in March we were contacted by our fellow cruiser friends the Kerrs, owners of the glorious schooner Windjammer, whom we met at the boatyard in Ensenada in Jan 2013. Windjammer was getting a new coat of green paint while Cinnabar was getting her red coat. Since then the Kerrs, who hale from the Witsundays in Australia, have sailed to Antarctica, South Africa, and up through the Atlantic to the Caribbean stopping at such exotic islands as The Falklands, Saint Helena Is. (mid-Atlantic) and Fernando de Noronha (Brazil). 

Windjammer in Antarctica in 2014. More amazing photos HERE

They were even attacked by pirates in Fortaleza, Brazil, but they managed to fight them off. The Kerrs are true adventurers, so when they asked us if we might be interested in coming to Antigua to race aboard Windjammer for the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, we thought about it for half a second and answered OH HELL YEAH! 

Further to the 'call of the wind' and symmetry, we felt we owed them a like turn; they had raced with us on Cinnabar in Mexico during the Banderas Bay Regatta 2 years ago. We didn't want to pass up the chance to 'throw' their boat around the buoys to return the favor.

Turns out one of the cheapest flights to Antigua was from nearby San Jose del Cabo airport, so we booked our flights.

Upon arrival in Antigua, we were to meet Ashley and Cathie at the historic Nelson's Dockyard in English Harbor. We waited for them at the dockside pub, where we joined the barmy army*, had cold beers, and watched the local cricket game on TV.

Antigua at last after 2 days of travel! 

Ashley and Cathie, an amazing couple!

It was great to see them again, and we dinghied out to Windjammer where she was anchored in the harbor. Windjammer is a very comfortable boat and we even got our own cabin! Little did we know that, in the days to come, we would get to learn a whole new sailing vocabulary, as well as some choice Aussie phrases.

Beautiful Windjammer at anchor in English Harbor.
(She is a modern version of a classic design: a Pete Culler Schooner (U.S. designer), Australian-built, with a fiberglass hull, steel masts, and fitted out with Papua New Guinea Rosewood, a special version of teak.) 

The next day we moved over to Falmouth Harbor, aka race central, where we docked up side-by-side with all the other race boats. Our dockings always drew a crowd as Ashley had to skillfully maneuver his large vessel into a narrow space between Gucci superyachts without the help of bow thrusters, going forward and back using his prop wash to guide the boat, then Cathie would WHACK the anchor post with her mallet...

Kinswoman to Thor? Rightio!*

...dropping the anchor, as Ashley would gracefully back into the dock. The boats on either side were ready with fenders, but they were unnecessary as we always made a smooth landing.

In Falmouth Harbor we also got to meet fellow crew members Holly from England, Rick and Karen from Washington, and Dave and Leah from South Africa, there on their cruising catamaran.

Dave was so strong that we nicknamed him "Winch", since he was the only winch on the boat.

The first day of racing was a singlehanded race, allowing one crew (Cathie) just for hoisting and dousing sails. Some of us went up to Shirley Heights to watch the boats sailing the course below us.

Ashley gets Windjammer ready for the race

Windjammer rounds the windward mark

Dave and I watch the race, English Harbor is below us. What a view!!

Ashley said that operating the boat by himself really made him appreciate Cathie. Cathie said she would be sure to sign Ashley up for at least one singlehanded race per year!

That night Windjammer received one of the Concours d'Elegance plaques for being such a beautifully maintained boat.

Tom's horning in on the glory.

Joe from Lunenberg Co. (Nova Scotia, Canada) was one of the Concours judges. Ashley recruited him and his wife Kayla to race with us!

For us, the real fun began with the crewed racing. It was absolutely breathtaking to see all the beautiful and classic boats out on the water with their numerous sails in use.

Coral of Cowes, c 1900, the oldest boat in the regatta

3-masted tall-ship Picton Castle; look at all those sails!
(This was a semester-at-sea crew training boat that supplied racing crew (youth!), but did not actually race)

Elena of London, an original 136' Herreschoff steel schooner c 1909.

Modern J-Boat replica Rainbow in the foreground/right, Samsara (c. 1918) in the background/left. Rainbow is a replica of the 1934 Americas Cup winner, a Herreschoff design for Harold Vanderbilt. The 40m long replica has an aluminum hull and carbon mast and was a spectacular sight to see. Samsara is an original Dutch workboat, a Skagen 52.

It was a challenging experience to go from sailing Cinnabar, with one mast and two sails, to sailing a schooner with two masts and multiple sails, no winches, and belaying pins instead of cleats. 

Karen next to a rail of belaying pins.

Luckily, Holly, Rick and Karen had sailed Windjammer before, so they, with Ashley and Cathie, managed to keep things sorted out while Dave, Leah, Tom, Joe, Kayla and I learned the ropes.

Holly, a marine biologist from the UK, was a fearless sailor and wonderful photographer. Link to her album is below.

The race courses were 20-24 miles long, in beautiful tradewinds weather. 

Tom with Rick, who helped sail Windjammer from Washington to SF. Tom was a bit of a bludger* the first day, which earned him the nickname "Slacker".

I admired all the foredeck crew who lived out on the end of the very long sprits.
I got to drive quite a bit, which was great fun. 

Every night the Antigua Yacht Club hosted some sort of social event, and we also enjoyed visiting neighboring yachts to see how they were set up.

Our neighbor Samsara, whom the Kerrs met at St. Helena Island

Social gathering aboard Samsara. The family of four took paid charters to help subsidize their cruising lifestyle.

Son Michael loved living aboard

The last day the winds were light and the course had a long upwind leg, which was not a good thing for Windjammer. But we stuck it out and finished the course. We were very disappointed to see that the committee boat had left its post, so we had to take our own finish time. We were all about to chuck a wobbly* over this, and we actually filed a protest about it. In a previous race, the RC had made a serious mistake about one of our starts (later corrected, but still...) so we didn't have a lot of confidence in them. 

Soon Cathie and Tom were tatties deep into* our protest, trying to sort out why the committee boat was not there, etc.  Unfortunately we missed a podium finish by six dubious seconds, but we did win the award for "Best Spirit of the Regatta", which was a beautiful cup that will hold lots of beer or Dark and Stormies. We weren't about to the spit the dummy* over our disagreements with the race committee, so we marched up onto the stage and accepted our award like good sports.

5 Seconds of fame - Tom (red cap, left), Cathie, Sylvia, Ashley (right) on stage.

After the race festivities concluded we headed up to Green Island for a couple of days of relaxing and snorkeling. 

Green Island: Grab a mooring, make the tea.

Leah and Dave followed us up on their big catamaran, and the whole crew treated Ashley and Cathie to a gourmet lunch at Harmony Hall, a restaurant with a fantastic view of Nonsuch Bay. 

We were surprised to discover an America's Cup connection there, the property is owned by Carlo Falcone, father of Shannon Falcone of winning team Oracle.

Tom even managed to squeeze a day of kiteboarding into our last day at Green Island.

Instructor Susi, of 40 Knots Windsurfing (recommended), with her visiting pal Julia, both from Germany. It was interesting to see how they used the dinghy to teach kiting. Tom took notes!

Tom enjoyed the Antigua tradewinds.
(19 sq meter kite in very light (8-10 kt) but warm (!) condx)

After ten days of hosting five boat guests the Kerrs were quite keen to continue on alone with their sailing. So with the help of Tom's kiteboarding instructor Susi, we were all shuttled to the pier at Harmony Hall via dinghy. As soon as Cathie returned to Windjammer, Ashley put the boat into gear and they scarpered* to the island of Barbuda to check out of the country. 

Windjammer's next port of call would be Cuba, and the rest of us returned to our regular lives, full of memories of beautiful yachts, wild parties, and new friends.

THANK YOU Ashley and Cathie!!!!!

Words truly do not do justice to the beauty of seeing the classic yachts on the water with sails unfurled. Check out the following photo albums for more pictures of the sailing and festivities:

Syl and Tom's pics: Antigua Classic Regatta

Holly Latham's pics: Holly's Photos

*Just some of the new words we learned (mostly Aussie slang):

Get stuck into it = do something enthusiastically
The Barmy Army – English cricket fans, (or any English after a drink or two)
Chuck a wobbly = throw a tantrum
Bludger = slacker
Tatties deep into it = in over one’s head
Spit the dummy = Pitch a fit, get in a snit (dummy = pacificier) 
Scarper = run away, leave quickly (Holly's word)
Rightio = you bet! OK. Right. (phonetic: right-EE-OH)