Magic Log #10: La Paz to San Carlos

After leaving La Paz, we had more than a month left in Mexico before we needed to return to the US near the end of May. This would give us a lot of time to explore the Sea of Cortez; despite spending half of the previous two years in Mexico, we had still only seen a fraction of what the sea has on offer. May is a great time to see the sea, with no hurricanes or northers and nice temperatures. Water temperatures are colder and visibility is worse than in the fall, but diving conditions are still good.

After veering towards depression in La Paz I was pretty worried about how this trip would go. In the end, though, our trip north was some of best time we’ve had on the boat. We saw lots of great stuff, got along together really well, and for the most part everything just moved along smoothly.

Our first stop was at Puerto Ballandra, fifteen miles north of La Paz, a spot we’d been to several times before but not for a while. I needed some time to unwind from La Paz, and a few days at an easy, familiar spot seemed just right. We went snorkeling, did a very shallow dive, paddleboarded in the mangroves and along the coast north of the bay, all really fun. A couple nights the Corumuel winds built and I went out kiting in the morning, trying the hydrofoil board and making some real progress (well, going from being a total disaster to getting up on the foil for short distances before crashing; as hard as it is to learn kiteboarding, learning to foil is even harder.)

We motored and sailed thirty five miles north to Isla San Jose, an island we had passed many times before but had never stopped at. The south end of the island has some of the most extensive mangroves in the Sea of Cortez, and we anchored nearby for a couple days. We crossed through the mangroves by dinghy, which was nice but not spectacular — in close there were a lot of no-see-ums, which made it pretty hard to do much exploration of side passages. Some hiking on the beach, too, but mostly just relaxing.

Seven miles off the east side of Isla San Jose is Las Animas, a small rocky island. I’d been interested in coming here since first hearing about it on a dive trip in 2008, and we finally had a good opportunity to visit. After motoring in calm seas for a few hours we arrived and anchored on the southwest side of the island, in a cove framed by a couple of detached rocks. Very deep, we were in 90′ of water just a few hundred feet from the island. I dove on the anchor and found a steeply sloping sand bottom, which seemed like it would provide decent holding given the calm forecast.

Back on the boat, I was getting excited about how wild this place was. Lots of birds, fish under the boat, great visibility — around 80′, some of the best we’d ever seen in the sea — and several jumping swordfish nearby (which I’d never seen before). Lisa was concerned about how close we were to the island and wanted to wait before getting in the water, so I went out in the kayak for a dive. Conditions at the detached rock were fantastic, with lots of fish and coral, a lobster out in the open, just a healthy and vibrant ecosystem.

Soon after getting back to the boat I went out snorkeling with Lisa, dragging the dinghy through the water as we checked out another set of detached rocks at the north end of Las Animas. There was more great fish life here, and after a couple minutes a small turtle showed up, which was fascinating to watch as it kept swimming and diving around us, paying us little mind. After snorkeling we went paddleboarding around the cove, looking at the birds and fish and wonderful scenery. It was getting late, and we decided to stay the night and dive together the next morning. Unfortunately, after sunset winds came up from the north, pushing us towards the island and making for a restless night. Things were still sloppy in the morning, so we pulled the hook and moved on.

The wind died not long after leaving Las Animas, and we motored twelve miles to Isla San Diego, a small island just north of Isla San Jose. Conditions were still calm after anchoring and we headed out to go diving. There is an expansive shoal off the southwest end of the island which leads out to a detached rock. We had heard there was good diving in this area, and after looking around a bit we dropped in at a random spot near the shoal. This was mediocre, so we surfaced after a couple minutes and headed to the rock itself.

The rock southwest of San Diego has spectacular diving. Dropping to 20-30′ on all sides, quite a few fish were congregating around it, and the north side had huge amounts of well developed cup corals, beautiful colors. On top of this, there is an amazing cave packed with fish and coral. With light coming in from the three entrances this is an incredible, sublime place, the best cave I can remember seeing while diving. During our first dive I went and explored the cave by myself, and then we came back the next day and spent an entire dive checking out the entrances and swimming through the cave together.

After two days at Isla San Diego we left before dawn to continue heading north. Or, tried to leave. The anchor refused to come up, and felt like it was snagged on a rock. This happened to me back in 2008 on Grand Illusion at Santa Cruz island in southern California, and it was a big deal then to freedive down to 30′ and free the anchor. Now we had a compressor, though, so even though it was night and we were in 40′ of water it was pretty simple to dive down, free the chain from the rock it was wrapped around, then get on our way. In mid morning we arrived at Bahia Agua Verde, a very popular bay in the sea we had just seen briefly in 2014 but had not been back to. The anchorage was not as crowded now, and after finding a nice spot we headed out for a dive. Roca Solitaria — a tall and pointy detached rock on the north side of the bay — is the main dive site here, but after getting in we found terrible visibility, a rude shock after the diving we had been doing previously. The dive was still alright, with some nudibranchs and corals, but we weren’t interested in repeating it.

Fortunately, there are a lot of other things to do at Agua Verde. We paddleboarded around the boat, went snorkeling at some rocks nearby, walked the beach to look at the crabs skittering around, and went on a neat hike to a marshy area with lots of palm trees. What’s most special about Agua Verde, though, is the bay’s town. Separated from the main highway by a long dirt road, the town is pretty sleepy, some fishermen and, uniquely, a goat dairy. Almost anytime we looked around the bay from Magic we could see goats foraging high on the hillsides, and eventually we went ashore and walked into town to get some cheese from the dairy, watching all the animals — goats, chickens, dogs, a mature male turkey — wandering around freely. I didn’t reflect on it much at the time, but this is a side of Mexico we don’t get to see or appreciate very often.

Our next stop was Bahia Candeleros, a spot we keep coming back to. The diving at the Candeleros never gets boring, and we found good conditions over several dives at these islets. A lot of siphonophores in the water, but visibility wasn’t bad and everywhere we went we found good fish life and great corals. We stayed for several days and got to unwind a bit. Every day we went ashore to jog on the beach, and we spent a bit of time eating at the resort in the bay and talking to some friends from La Paz who were anchored nearby. One day the wind built and I tried kiteboarding, but conditions were gusty and I abandoned the attempt pretty quickly. It’s interesting that if the wind is strong but turbulent then the kite still won’t get the lift it needs.

We continued moving north, spending a night at Isla Danzante, another favorite spot. We went diving together, did some paddleboarding, the usual stuff. There were quite a few mobula rays jumping in the anchorage, and a couple times we saw a large school of them near the boat, but we weren’t able to get in the water and snorkel with them before they moved on.

Conditions were calm, and we needed to reprovision, so we headed north and anchored off of Loreto. This is an open roadstead anchorage, but has a good sand bottom and we weren’t worried. We took the dinghy into the harbor, walked around, went shopping, got groceries. A nice, charming town. We didn’t dally, though, and headed to Isla Coronados for the night, six miles north. We had passed by this island several times before but had never stopped here. We anchored off the south end of the island, which was alright but not that pretty. The next day we went diving at the southeast end of the island, which was alright — boring topography but some good invertebrate life, and Lisa caught a glimpse of a large school of mobulas coasting by.

One of the main attractions of Isla Coronados is the hiking. The island is dominated by a volcanic cone, and the terrain is pretty mellow. We went ashore inside of where we were anchored, hiked up onto the bluff and connected with a trail running north. This connected with another trail leading to the top of the volcano; Lisa was concerned about the time and turned back about halfway up, while I pressed on and got some good views from the summit. Back at the beach Lisa came in the dinghy to pick me up, while I watched mobulas jumping almost continuously, sometimes three or four at a time. The further north we were going the more mobulas we were seeing, which was exciting — they migrate around the sea throughout the year, and we were catching up with them.

Our next stop north was San Juanico, a very pretty, quiet bay popular with sailors. We’d never been here before, and I’d heard the diving was good here and wanted to check it out. Alas, our dinghy was giving us problems. I could start the motor but it would die quickly, and pretty soon it refused to start at all. The area I wanted to dive was over a mile away so we abandoned that goal, and just rowed in to shore to do some hiking. This was nice, and the anchorage was very pretty, but I was frustrated with the dinghy motor and after one night we continued north.

Not too far north of San Juanico is Punta Pulpito, the furthest north we had ever been previously on the Baja side of the Sea of Cortez. Forty miles further north is Bahia Concepcion, a long and narrow bay that is one of the largest in the sea. I’d wanted to come here for a long long time, and we finally had a chance. Our first stop was Punta Santo Domingo, out at the mouth of the bay. I wanted to dive at nearby Punta Concepcion, but I needed to get the motor working before we could try that out. I started tinkering and after removing the carburetor and getting some gunk out of it the motor seemed to be working alright, and we went diving.

From the start of the dive it was clear we weren’t in the southern Sea of Cortez anymore. There wasn’t any coral, and a lot of algae and grasses were sticking to the rocks. Still, it was very good diving. Several friendly angelfish swam up to us at the start of the dive, and shadowed us for much of the remainder. Fish life was good, some new species, and we found a lot of nudibranchs feeding on the algae. The next day we went out again, and on the way to the dive site had an amazing encounter with the mobula rays. We spotted some of them jumping, diverted course and found a huge school of hundreds of rays swimming below the surface. We snorkeled with them a bit, but they were moving fast and were hard to keep up with.

While the dinghy’s motor behaved for our dives at Santo Domingo, it started acting up again afterwards in much the same way as before. I eventually realized that the gas we were using was pretty heavily varnished. Back in February we bought forty gallons of gas for our Revillagigedos trip, but used less than half of it (I really didn’t want to run out of gas at the islands; the boat’s main engines are diesels so we didn’t need the gas for propulsion, but the dinghy, compressor, and generator all run on gas and if we ran out early we would have needed to return to Cabo). Now, over three months later, we still hadn’t gone through all of the gas, and after that much time in the sun it went bad.

The town of Mulege wasn’t too far away, so we motored over and anchored in front of town. I rowed the dinghy to shore, walked a mile to a gas station, filled up a five gallon jerry can, carried it back to the dinghy, then rowed back out to Magic into the wind. Yeesh. The dinghy motor ran better with the new gas, but still had problems. After several failed attempts at cleaning the carburetor, I took it apart as best as I could and soaked everything in pure simple green for a while. This did the trick and the motor didn’t give us any more problems for the rest of the season. Several lessons learned here, though.

We next headed south into Bahia Concepcion proper. The most popular area in the bay is Bahia Coyote, about halfway down on the west side. Bahia Coyote is a pretty cool place, only three miles across but packed with several islands, half a dozen nice beaches and some smaller coves. We anchored off a beach at the far northern end and stayed for a few days.

What impressed me the most about Bahia Coyote was all the bird life at its islands, which are steep-to and a good refuge. At the island closest to us there were several unfledged seagull chicks near the waterline, hopping around a bit and generally ignoring us. We saw a vulture that was interested in two of the chicks, which ticked off their parents to no end; they kept swooping by the vulture to try to drive it away, hitting it rather violently a couple of times. A couple islands further out were home to several nesting ospreys, and we saw plenty of the usual Sea of Cortez birds — pelicans, gulls, terns, cormorants and such.

Snorkeling at the islands was good, the paddleboarding was excellent, and the beaches in the bay were all nice. I was feeling pretty lazy, but Lisa prodded me to get out and mount expeditions in search of hot springs our guidebook claimed were at various points in the bay. We eventually found two: a shallow, hot pool in some mangroves near our boat, and a developed tub in the next cove down. Underwhelming, but fun to look for.

We headed north, stopping off of Mulege briefly for more gas (more long walks) and continuing on to anchor off the south end of Isla San Marcos, twenty five miles further up the coast. This is kind of an ugly island (the south end is a large open pit gypsum mine), but we stayed a few days and did several excellent dives at a nearby detached rock. The waters around this rock are shallow — 25′ or less — but there was a healthy fish population and lots of interesting life. Particular favorites were the abundant stingrays, I would constantly see them hiding in the sand or swimming around or forming piles of up to a dozen individuals. We also saw a slipper lobster (a bizarre creature, the first in Mexico I’ve seen), an octopus, and some other neat stuff over the course of the dives.

There was one last place we wanted to stop at before crossing the sea to San Carlos. Isla Tortuga is an island twenty miles to the northeast of San Marcos, cliffs on all sides, no good anchorage and not much information available for cruising sailors. It is supposed to have great diving, though, and we left for it in the morning. Unfortunately, pretty quickly after leaving San Marcos the wind picked up to twenty knots or so, and with such marginal conditions we bailed out on Isla Tortuga. We sailed past the island towards San Carlos, making it about halfway across the sea before motoring the rest of the way, arriving an hour after dark.

We anchored in Bahia Algodones, a favorite anchorage from last season, and started work on decommissioning the boat. Conditions were pretty mellow, though one afternoon the wind came up and I went to the beach with Lisa to go kiting. Alas, a few minutes after starting to get the kite ready I noticed that the dinghy had slipped back into the water and was now rapidly drifting across the bay. I got into the water and started swimming after the dinghy, but got exhausted without closing much of the gap and returned to shore. The dinghy was drifting parallel to the beach, so I walked / ran down the coast to get even with it, then started swimming again, then got exhausted again and swam back to shore again. The dinghy was about halfway down the bay now and drifting towards some rocks along the shore (not good). I headed down the beach yet again to get as close to the rocks as I could, but before I got too far someone came by on a jetski and recovered the dinghy — Lisa had talked to him and described our predicament. I was super grateful, and waded out to get the dinghy and motor back to where I’d landed it earlier. Pretty embarrassing, but no harm done and more lessons learned.

Anyways, with the dinghy further up the beach and the anchor deployed (normally we take the dinghy up above the high tide line, but its wheels were broken) I went out kiting and had a blast. I didn’t try to foil, but used a directional board and was switching my stance reliably and comfortably. The kite and board just felt right and easy to manage, and between the steady wind and the warm water and the beautiful scenery everything felt great, and I spent hours out on the water. Lisa was enjoying the scene at the Soggy Peso beach bar, where we spent so much time a year and a half ago, and after kiting we had dinner there.

Wind like this in May is unseasonable, and though I hoped it would come up again it never did. After another day at anchor we moved into nearby Marina Real, finished decommissioning the boat, and returned to the US.

Posted in Cruising 2016, Kiteboarding, Sailing, SCUBA Diving, Snorkeling | Comments Off

Magic Log #9: Cabo to La Paz

After three weeks at Isla San Benedicto, returning to Cabo left me feeling like, well, a fish out of water. So much bustling civilization. Our plan at this point was to stay in the cape area through March and April, surfing, kiteboarding, diving, and working on our now substantial backlog of boat projects in La Paz. The San Benedicto trip had been so intense for me that I felt I needed time to unwind, and we left Cabo pretty quickly to head to Los Frailes, where we had spent such an enjoyable day a month prior.

We anchored right off the beach south of the main anchorage, and spent about a week. Each morning I left in the dinghy to go surfing at points to the south. I’d been craving some good surfing for months. Back in January, after northers came through La Paz I would go out to paddle surf the puny leftover waves, but this was pretty unsatisfying. Now at Los Frailes I found a nice swell and had a great time at the small breaks nearby. The swell gradually petered out as the week went on and towards the end I was getting pretty desperate, but it was still nice to scratch this itch.

Besides the surfing, things at Los Frailes were pretty relaxed. We did some jogging ashore, and a couple dives at Los Frailes proper, with poor visibility. One time we went into the nearby Cabo Pulmo marine park and did a pretty good dive, though I apparently misread the regulations on the park’s website — private diving is not allowed anywhere in the park — and we were chased off afterwards by a ranger.

We left Los Frailes at night and motored sixty miles north to Isla Cerralvo, offshore from La Ventana. Since last season we had wanted to check this island out and now was a great opportunity. We anchored near the south end in a broad, thirty foot deep sandy area. The water was clear and we looked over the side and saw a vast field of thousands of garden eels below. These eels dig burrows in high current areas and spend their time plucking plankton from the water moving by. We went diving with them to get a closer look, but they went into their burrows when we got within ten feet, and stayed put. I got an idea to rig a GoPro and leave it in the water near their burrows. After collecting footage for an hour I dove back down to retrieve it, and we found that the eels quickly accepted the camera and got back to their busy lives. I’m really interested in the idea of planting cameras at suitable places on reefs to get footage of their inhabitants, though I’m still experimenting with good ways of doing this. Lisa’s account of our garden eel encounter is here.

While staying at Cerralvo we did several proper dives. Off the south end of the island is Roca Montana, kind of a broad shallow shoal with lots of great coral and small fish and invertebrate life (no large fish to speak of, though, the rock was being hammered by fishing boats the entire time we were in the area). Inshore of our anchorage was more good diving, mixed coral heads and sand and a nice area for snorkeling and paddleboarding as well.

After a few days we moved on to La Ventana itself, anchoring close to town but away from the shore. After a few days of calm conditions we had several good days of wind for kiting. I started off where I left off in La Paz back in January, working on gybing a directional board — riding without my feet in straps and switching my stance on the board while turning. After a couple sessions of floundering I had a breakthrough and worked out a technique for gybing fairly reliably, though I still needed a lot more time on the water to get it dialed in.

The good wind stopped and for several days there was a gentle sea breeze in the afternoon, usually around 11 or 12 knots. For my kite and board I need 13 knots to ride, and I started going stir crazy. There were a few dozen very skilled riders buzzing around in these winds, all using hydrofoil boards and foil kites — there was some sort of a race series taking place in town — and a few other folks riding hydrofoil boards with inflatable kites. I was very jealous. I’d read before how hydrofoil boards are the best way to enjoy these light wind days, but hadn’t seen it up close and so stark as this. At the end of our time in La Ventana last year I bought a hydrofoil along with the directional board, but wanted to learn the directional board first and after over a year had never even assembled the foil. It now loomed as the next big step to take with the sport.

The long afternoons with light wind left me and Lisa without much to do. We went for a few hikes ashore, spotting a good variety of birds on a great trail south of town, but after a couple weeks in La Ventana it was time to move on. Some friends from Colorado, the Brooks family, were visiting La Ribera, forty miles back towards the cape, for several days. We stopped at Cerralvo for some more diving and then headed south to visit them.

The Brooks family was renting a house on the beach, which we anchored out in front of. We had a great time visiting them, doing a couple excursions to Cabo Pulmo — a nice snorkel/hike at the south end of the bay, and a decent snorkeling trip with a local dive operator — and other activities. I did some kiting as well, and after one session the wind waves had built up pretty big and lumpy, breaking strongly both on the beach and on some bars lying just offshore. We were going to have dinner at the Brooks family’s house that night, which was concerning as we would need to get back to the boat afterwards. I hoped the waves would sit down after the wind died in the late afternoon, but after a great dinner and some drinks and coming down to the beach with a handheld spotlight in pitch darkness, the waves seemed even more intimidating. We decided to try to get out to Magic anyways.

We pushed the dinghy out through the waves, but with their size and without being able to see them well, several broke onto the dinghy and in our faces. We couldn’t get the motor started quickly, so aborted and retreated back to the beach. After a few minutes of resting and pumping water out of the dinghy we tried again, got past the surf zone and back to the boat. I don’t think there was much real danger here, but this was the scariest and most stressful thing we did the entire cruising season, and we won’t be repeating it.

The waves gradually diminished over the next couple days and we got back to having fun. The Brooks family returned to the US and we returned north, stopping again at Cerralvo for a night before leaving in the morning for a delightful sail to Playa Bonanza, at the southeast end of Espiritu Santo. For the first time ever we set up two headsails on spinnaker poles, and with the mainsail up as well had a lot of canvas out, cruising along smoothly in the calm seas.

We spent a couple nights at Playa Bonanza. The first morning a reasonably strong Corumuel wind built which I tried to go kiting in, taking out the hydrofoil board for the first time (well, besides one time in La Ventana when I tried and barely got off the beach before aborting). After some floundering — as soon as I got up on the board it would climb out of the water and I would crash — and dealing with gusts I managed to get the bar and lines tangled and had to self rescue, pulling myself to the kite, lying on top of it and slowly sailing/drifting back to the beach. Not an auspicious start to the foil.

Corumuels usually die mid-morning, and by the afternoon the sea was calm. The main reason we were at Bonanza was that one of the premiere dives in the area, the wreck of the Salvatierra, was just a few miles away. The Salvatierra was a ferry that hit a rock and sank in 1976; I dove there on a trip in 2008 but had not been back. Lisa was feeling sick so I headed to the wreck by myself in the dinghy and went exploring. Diving here was a lot of fun, great fish life all over the wreck, some nice partially enclosed areas to check out, recognizable debris of civilization like overturned tanker trucks and such. The next day Lisa was still feeling sick, so we headed south in Magic, stopping so I could dive again at the wreck before we continued on to La Paz.

Lisa arranged for us to stay at Marina de La Paz for two and a half weeks. We were here for two main reasons. First, we needed to work on our backlog of boat projects to do. Second, after spending two months away from La Paz Lisa wanted to reconnect with friends and decompress from the sailing.

I spent most of my time in La Paz working on the boat. A couple larger projects — building a fiberglass box for the compressor (now affectionately nicknamed ‘Lumpy’), remodeling and installing new shelves in one of the walk-in closets — were mixed in with a variety of smaller repair jobs. Things went alright at first, but as time went by I kept feeling worse and worse. I wasn’t seeing much of Lisa and was getting lonely, and wasn’t getting out to do sports or have much fun (other than a couple great kiting sessions later on, and some snorkeling with the whale sharks). My mind was getting jumbled and I was very sensitive to any perceived slights. We talked about things, deciding to spend more time together when we get into similar situations. I did feel better, but by the end of our stay I was pretty desperate to leave.

Posted in Cruising 2016, Kiteboarding, Sailing, SCUBA Diving, Snorkeling, Surfing | Comments Off

Magic Log #8: Isla San Benedicto

On February 5, Lisa and I, along with our guests, my mom, Sue, and her husband, Tim, left Cabo San Lucas to head for Isla San Benedicto, 220 nautical miles to the south and the northernmost island in the Revillagigedos archipelago. We reached the island two days later, spent seventeen days there, then returned over two days, arriving back in Cabo on February 25. It was an amazing, challenging trip.

Traveling to the Revillagigedos was a dream of mine for a long time. Tracing the origins of this dream, I was a hardcore diver for the first few years of graduate school, and in the mid aughts did a lot of solo rebreather diving off a kayak in advanced areas in California and the northwest (Big Sur, Arena Rock, Deception and Browning passes, Cape Flattery, some others). When I bought Grand Illusion in late 2006, it was in part to have a dive platform that could get me to places out of reach of the kayak — the Farallones, Schmieder bank, offshore seamounts like Cobb and Bowie. Looking back this seems pretty insane to me, especially the latter seamounts, and I never did dive off Grand Illusion at any of these spots (though I did come close at North Farallon, arriving at the rock in prime conditions but backing away from diving). My interest in this sort of diving pretty much died, and for several years I hardly did any diving at all. The dream didn’t quite die, though, and was reborn in an interest in diving at remote volcanic islands in the east pacific. Besides the Revillagigedos, there is Cocos, Malpelo, and the Galapagos. Unlike the areas I considered in the past, all these islands are frequented by diving liveaboards, and are reputed to have some of the best diving in the world, particularly for big pelagic animals like manta rays and sharks. The Revillagigedos are geographically convenient to the areas I spent time at in Mexico, and they have a reasonable hands-off permit system, so they became the destination I was most interested in.

In early 2014, when Lisa and I first came to Mexico together, we became friends with our neighbors at Marina de La Paz, Jack and Leanne. They had sailed to San Benedicto a while back and dove with the mantas there. They raved about their trip, and talking to them gave us a lot of information about staying there, making the island seem more real, the idea of traveling there in our own boat more plausible. As time went on it seemed that we wouldn’t have time to go there before leaving for the South Pacific, but after pushing back that departure to 2017 we suddenly had an entire extra season in Mexico we could structure around a trip to the island.

Before staying at San Benedicto, first we had to get there. We were leaving Cabo close to the end of a norther, and were able to sail the first two thirds of the way down, good sized following seas but very comfortable. The wind slacked as we got away from the peninsula and we motored the rest of the way to the island, overall a nice and relaxed 48 hour passage. Along the way we picked up two vagrant birds, the first times that has ever happened to me. Only a few hours after leaving Cabo a female yellow-rumped warbler showed up on the deck. Cautious and tired at first, the bird quickly lost all fear of us and would hop around next to us, even on us as she moved around the boat. Lisa named her Puff, and after getting some water from the herb garden she made her way into the boat and systematically explored all the rooms. After that night Puff disappeared; her corpse turned up in a spare room after the trip, which was sad but what can you do?

The second vagrant was in worse shape. During the second night a petrel (a small seabird) somehow made its way into our sink, and did not have the strength to get back out. After spending the night there, I moved it to a shallow dish in the cockpit, and after ten minutes it got up, waddled over to the edge of the boat and fell off the side.

The island was in sight now and we approached the north end, then motored down the east side of the island and found our way to the anchorage at the south end. Coming in was like entering a new world; the north half of the island is all cliffs, with many birds flying around including some we never see in Baja, like tropicbirds and masked boobies. In the background was the large cinder cone that comprises the south half of the island, steep volcanic tuff with a low lying lava field protruding to the east.

As we rounded the south end of the island I got a brief jolt back to reality, seeing two large diving liveaboards already in the anchorage. We made our way past them and dropped our hook off a small beach in the northwest part of the anchorage.

I dove down the anchor chain and found the bottom was sandy, with great holding. This was a relief, we had been wondering about how much we would be able to trust the bottom here. A bit later I left with Sue and Tim for our first dive, next to the lava flow framing the east side of the anchorage. We found lots of fish here, with many new species exciting me, some coral, mediocre visibility (30 feet), no big animals besides a small squadron of white tip reef sharks we crossed paths with.

I finished with mixed feelings about the quality of the dive, but these were erased when I got back to Magic. A manta ray was swimming around our boat, and several more were visible a few hundred yards away. This is the first time I had ever seen a manta, and even watching from a boat they are amazing animals. The ray was at least twelve feet across, gently flapping through the water, its dorsal fin and wings breaking the surface. Lisa got ready to snorkel and jumped in the water, spending a few minutes with the ray before retreating when a shark showed up.

Also at Magic was the captain of the Vagabundo, another private boat that had just arrived in the anchorage. A couple and their two children had also sailed down from Cabo, and were also planning to spend a couple weeks at the island. They had been to the island before a while back, and knew a lot about the island and where to go diving. We started making plans to visit dive sites together; having two dinghies and two groups of divers at a site is great for both added safety and easier logistics.

The next day I went diving again with Sue and Tim at a different site, the Canyon. This had been recommended by the Vagabundos and was also where the liveaboards were doing their diving. Just south of the anchorage is a large rocky area, mostly in the 50′-60′ range but dropping off much deeper to the southeast. We found a pinnacle whose top was at 15′ or so and started the dive from there. A big school of bluefin trevally was right on the pinnacle, and after admiring them a few minutes we started off to the south. About ten minutes later we noticed a manta ray cruising in the water column, 10′-20′ off the bottom. This being the first time I had seen one underwater, I stared in awe. The size of the animal and its slow, graceful movements lent it an air of majesty, and yet its overall appearance was almost comical, its mouth nearly a third the width of its body, with eyes on the side of its head and horns (modified pectoral fins) channeling food into its mouth. It was always swimming around, but there was no need to follow it; it would repeatedly swim to the edge of visibility, then circle around and closely pass by us. This went on for twenty minutes or so, with a second manta briefly appearing, and then we returned to the dinghy.

Back at Magic, Lisa was very interested in diving, but was concerned about the sharks we had been seeing. While we hadn’t seen anything except harmless white tip reef sharks while diving, there was another type of shark we weren’t familiar with which we would almost always see near the boat. We thought these were silky sharks, which according to our ID book are usually non threatening but can sometimes be dangerous. Lisa had never been diving with sharks before, and before doing so she wanted to snorkel with them first. We both got in the water, found the shark near the boat and stayed with it a while. It would lazily circle the boat over and over, keeping an eye on us but being pretty wary, keeping its distance and moving away if we approached it. We confirmed the shark was a silky, and Lisa was comfortable being with it, so we went for a nice dive at the Canyon, seeing a lot of lobsters and fish but no mantas.

The weather had been steadily improving since we arrived at the island, and the next day Lisa and I left Magic in the dinghy and headed three miles up the west side of the island. We were going with the Vagabundos to the Boiler, a small pinnacle that reaches up from 120′ of water to within 15′ of the surface. This is the premiere dive site on San Benedicto, and there were already a couple diving liveaboards anchored nearby. We found the top of the pinnacle, anchored, and started down. From beginning to end, this was a mind blowing dive. As we descended I looked down and saw the huge black back of a manta, which looked like a small airplane as it slowly swam around, framed by the bubbles of a dozen divers in the background. We continued down the line to the anchor, checked it was secure, then descended the pinnacle to the same depth as the manta, 60′ or so. The pinnacle was covered with animals. Lobsters in every crack, several free swimming morays, many white tip reef sharks cruising, clouds of big and small fish. A yellowfin tuna swam by, bigger than either of us, eyeing us briefly before taking off like a rocket along the pinnacle. We left the pinnacle and spent most of the dive in the orbit of the manta, watching it cruise around and keep looping back towards us, as the one at the Canyon had done. A second manta came by at a shallower depth, which we watched for a few minutes, but we were running low on air and returned to the dinghy.

Heading to the Boiler had consumed most of the day, and we only had enough time to do another dive at the Canyon in the afternoon. The next morning I headed back to the Boiler with Sue and Tim. For an extra measure of safety we would keep someone in the dinghy at all times, so after anchoring I started down the pinnacle solo. The dive the previous day did not leave me with a good understanding of the pinnacle’s topography, and I did more exploring. I was interested in how feasible it would be to anchor Magic near the pinnacle, and after heading down to the base of the pinnacle at 120′, found a mixed rock and sand bottom that would provide good holding. I slowly came up from there, spotting a galapagos shark (similar to the silky sharks we had been seeing, except larger), and several white tips in a cave. A short ridgeline extended from the east side of the pinnacle, and coming up to this ridge I spotted a few mantas swimming around. There were no other divers in the water, and swimming around among these mantas and watching them was great. After a while I circled the rest of the way around the pinnacle and finished the dive.

In the interim the Vagabundos had arrived in their dinghy, and I waited in our dinghy while everyone else went diving. When they finished we started back towards Magic together, and about half way back the Vagabundos spotted some activity near the island and we all went in to check things out. There were at least a dozen mantas crowded into a small area, feeding at the surface and breaking the water with their wings and short dorsal fins. I went snorkeling, watching them pass under and beside me over and over again, just feet away. It was amazing.

After snorkeling with the mantas we returned to Magic and soon afterwards headed out for a second dive at the Canyon. Almost as soon as we descended we saw a manta swimming around, which made a few passes and then, as I was watching, caught our dinghy’s anchor line between its horns. It reared back, lifting the anchor off the ground and wrapping the line around one of its horns, then took off in a panic, out of sight into the green water. Leaving Tim and Sue, I shot to the surface and saw the dinghy being dragged away. One of the boats off the Rocio del Mar (a diving liveaboard which had just anchored) was already on the way over, and I caught the pilot’s attention and came aboard. I took off my dive gear, we drove over to the dinghy, and I hopped in. The dinghy was flooded with water, and while I struggled to untie the anchor line the manta seemed to be trying to dive deeply, pulling the tubes at the front of the dinghy underwater, completely flooding it and sending its contents floating away. I couldn’t untie the anchor line, and didn’t have a knife to cut it, so after a couple minutes I gave up, got out of the dinghy, and was picked back up by the Rocio del Mar’s boat. The manta stopped trying to dive and came up near the surface; I put my dive gear back on and was dropped off at the dinghy again. I pulled my way down the anchor line to see if I could untangle it from the manta. The line was going down the manta’s back, around a horn, then across its back before trailing down to the anchor suspended in the water. Without a knife and without taking tension off the line there wasn’t any way I could untangle it, and I surfaced and was picked up yet again by the Rocio del Mar’s boat.

At this point I lost all agency in what was going on. We headed to the Rocio del Mar, and waited while the captain and a crew member put dive gear on and prepared to come with us. After fifteen or twenty minutes they were ready, and we headed towards the dinghy. In the meantime the manta had been dragging it away from the island, and was maybe a mile out. Tim and Sue had gone out with one of the Vagabundos in their dinghy, and when we arrived we found they had just cut the anchor line. This was a problem — we didn’t know where the manta was, and if it was still tangled in the rest of the line and the anchor then it could get caught on a reef somewhere and die. The dinghy was just floating there, still full of water, and there was a manta swimming nearby. The captain and crew member got in the water, saw that the manta did not have any line on it, and — thinking this was the wrong manta — looked around a bit more before giving up the search. The gear that had floated off the dinghy was rounded up, and we were dropped off near Magic, returning to the boat with the outboard still (miraculously) working fine.

I headed with Lisa into our bedroom and collapsed. The whole experience had been thoroughly horrible, and now I felt like I was quite possibly responsible for the death of one of these magnificent animals. I spent the rest of the day turning the accident over in my head, and in the night finally managed to piece something together. I believe the manta that was hanging out near the dinghy after the anchor line was cut was the same manta that had been tangled in the line. This manta was much farther from shore than any other manta we saw the entire trip, and it seems like too much of a coincidence that there just happened to be another manta right there, right then. Given the weight of the anchor and how little tangling there was, the line should have slipped off the manta after being cut away from the dinghy, and the manta, exhausted, would stay around to recover.

How could this have happened? I’m supposed to be an experienced diver and should know how to mitigate or prevent this sort of accident. I’d heard of animals getting tangled in fishing gear, but never in a boat’s anchor line. This apparently happens to mantas with some regularity, however. Another private boat we talked to later had a similar accident on a trip to San Benedicto, I’ve heard about it happening to some of the commercial liveaboards, and later in the trip I saw a manta at the Boiler with what looked like fresh injuries from a rope that had been wrapped around its horn (this was a different manta from the one tangled in our anchor). I’ve written a companion piece here that has ideas about preventing mantas from getting tangled in lines. Ultimately, this was not something that my diving in California and the northwest could have prepared me for, and this was a loud warning that the diving here and at the other far flung places we’ll visit is a different game.

The next day I started to feel better but didn’t want to dive. After my experience snorkeling with the mantas, Lisa wanted to see them for herself, so we went out in the dinghy to look around. After a bit of searching we found a large dispersed group, and Lisa and Sue went snorkeling while I drove the dinghy. They had a great time, and even watching them from the dinghy was a captivating experience, such huge animals swimming around, one in particular doing somersaults over and over just under the surface.

We did some more diving at the Canyon, but were mainly interested in getting back to the Boiler. After a day or two we took Magic up and anchored it in the sand near the pinnacle, among a couple liveaboards already there. I had a great first dive with my mom, with two or three mantas at a time circling us almost the entire dive, and two dolphins buzzing us at the very end. Tim and Sue did a second dive together, then I dove with Lisa, though we aborted pretty early due to the current.

A heavy swell started the next day which would close out the Boiler and severely limit our options for several days. We continued to dive at the Canyon, still seeing mantas, and one day we went with the Vagabundos to dive at a new spot far up the island’s east side. There was still a fair amount of swell here, and horrible visiblity, but good life, several turtles and lots of lobsters and sharks and so forth. Staying on the boat started getting dull, and one time I went out on a paddleboard to try surfing the break at the south end of the island, which I had been watching since we first arrived. This was a stupid idea and when I got in close and saw the size and unpredictability of the waves I quickly backed off and returned to Magic to resume waiting.

After a few days the swell started to come back down, accompanied by a long period of light winds. The Vagabundos took the opportunity to head back to Cabo, while we headed to the Boiler with Magic. There were no other boats around, and after anchoring at a spot I felt was sufficiently far from the pinnacle, I went in the dinghy to find the top of it. After searching fruitlessly for 15 minutes I had no idea what was going on; the previous times we’d been to the Boiler I’d gotten and later used a GPS waypoint for its summit, but now, with a different device (the one I used earlier had died) there was no sign of the pinnacle. We went back to Magic and then noticed that the pinnacle was less than one hundred feet away, and our anchor was hooked right to the side of it. What’s more, some waves were peaking and breaking on top of it. After some discussion we pulled the anchor (kind of scary) and retreated.

While far less dramatic than the earlier accident, this again shined a spotlight on my incompetence. When anchoring I had noticed the peaking waves but had ignored them, thinking the pinnacle was several hundred feet away. I was using the GPS as a crutch and was ignoring what was going on around me, a mistake I should have been able to avoid making.

The swell continued to come down and a couple days later we made another attempt at the Boiler. We anchored Magic well away from the pinnacle (for real this time), watched the pinnacle a while without seeing breaking waves, then started diving. I was planning to do the second dive solo, with Lisa waiting to watch conditions and hoping to join me later in the day. As I started to get ready for the dive she noticed the boat had swung quite a bit since we arrived, with a shift in the wind. Given the amount of chain we had out I felt the swing was alright and didn’t indicate the anchor was dragging, but left without really explaining this so that I could get in before the divers from a liveaboard that had just arrived. It was extremely selfish behavior on my part, and after finishing the dive I found that Lisa had been worried about the boat the entire time. We headed back to the south anchorage, things feeling like they were fraying. I had never behaved this way around Lisa before; she had wanted to dive again at the Boiler more than anything, and I had deprived her of that chance.

Rather than leave the island in anger we tried to find a way to repair things. The next morning was calm, and I went out in the dinghy with Lisa to look for mantas. We found several close together near some cliffs a mile west of the anchorage. Lisa had a great time, and a couple hours later Tim took us out so we could try diving with them. We found a few again closer to the boat and we went in, diving about 15′ down and finding the mantas to be very friendly, circling around us as we watched. A few silky sharks got interested in us, with one passing between me and Lisa which I chased after to bop on the tail with my camera. It left, but the others were still hanging around, so we ended the dive pretty quickly. Still, it was a great time and things felt good as we got back to the boat.

The day stayed calm, and in the afternoon I left to kayak around the island, an excursion I’d wanted to do since we first arrived at the island. This went smoothly, letting me get a closer look at the sheer cliffs, several hundred feet high, which run all around the northern half of the island. Lots of tropicbirds here, though they kept their distance from me. On the northwest part of the island I had a chance to explore among the steep sided islets inshore of the Boiler, and checked out the bay to the south of these islets, which seemed a great place to anchor overnight in calm conditions.

We weren’t sure if we would be able to go back to the Boiler. The swell was forecast to start building again, and we were planning to leave before it would come back down. Fortunately, though, the calm conditions continued to hold, and the next morning we decided to give the Boiler another try. A liveaboard was anchored right next to the pinnacle, which was very reassuring, and we anchored nearby. Lisa was keen on diving, and the two of us headed in first, and had an amazing time. There were no other divers in the water, and It was just the two of us on the pinnacle, surrounded by all the incredible life and spending most of the dive with several mantas. It took a while, but spending so much time with these animals over two weeks, seeing them nearly every day, left a deep impression in me. I’d never before been around an animal that had such genuine curiosity about people, even though it clearly had nothing to gain from spending time with them. Mantas are intelligent animals, and it’s a wonderful thing for them to share this island with us.

We all did several more dives in the morning and afternoon, arriving back at the south anchorage near sunset. It was a thoroughly great day. Afterwards the swell and wind both started to build. We had a couple good days diving at the Canyon and some great snorkeling with mantas near the anchorage, but as the wind tapered and the swell continued to build it seemed like the right time to leave the island. We uneventfully motored north for a little over 48 hours to return to Cabo and end the trip.

Posted in Cruising 2016, SCUBA Diving, Sea Kayaking, Snorkeling | Comments Off

Private boat diving at Isla San Benedicto

Isla San Benedicto, in the Revillagigedos group, is an amazing little island that offers some truly unforgettable diving. In February 2016 my wife and I, along with two guests, sailed our boat to the island and spent 2.5 weeks there; here is a detailed writeup of the trip. This was our first time in the Revillagigedos, and this post contains some information for anyone considering a similar trip.

– Benedicto is 220 nm from Cabo, pretty much downwind in the prevailing weather. Socorro is another 30 miles, and several other islands are further afield. We only visited Benedicto, though plan to return next year and see more of the archipelago. Visiting these islands requires a permit from SEMARNAT. We got our permit through Eco Naviera in La Paz, and other agencies can provide them as well. Our permit allowed us to stay at Benedicto for 20 days, and we paid one hundred dollars, in addition to the cost for national park passes (the same ones needed to visit Espiritu Santo).

– The island is three miles long, and the main anchorage is at the south end. The bottom varies across the anchorage, but in the northwestern part we had a sand bottom and good holding. Depending on conditions quite a bit of swell can enter the anchorage, but in our catamaran it was always comfortable. There is an anchorage on the east side of the island, though we never saw anyone there; it is far from the best diving and is exposed to the sometimes substantial wind swell coming from northers in the Sea of Cortez. We also investigated an anchorage halfway up the west side of the island, but never had an opportunity to use it. This is exposed to the pacific swell and has deeper water than the main anchorage, but in calm conditions would provide convenient access to the Boiler dive site.

– Take extreme care anchoring dinghys in areas with mantas. Manta rays are huge animals, up to 25′ across, and have eyes on the sides of their head and can’t see what is between their horns and about to enter their mouths. A few days after we arrived a manta got tangled in our dinghy’s anchor line while we were diving. Dealing with this was a horrible experience. Something similar happened to another boat in the anchorage on a previous trip, and it apparently happens to the commercial liveaboards sometimes — even if the operator is live boating their dinghys, some use buoys to mark dive sites. The best solution to this problem is clearly to not anchor the dinghy but to live boat it instead. We had four people aboard so were able to do this the rest of the trip, but if this isn’t an option I’ve included some thoughts on anchoring among mantas at the end of this post.

– We did almost all our diving at three sites on the island. The best is the Boiler, a pinnacle off the northwest portion of the island with a least depth of 15′ or so, dropping quickly to 120′ on all sides. The top of the Boiler is at 19N 19.800′ 110W 48.834′ (WGS84). Heavier swells break on the Boiler, which could have catastrophic results if it swamped or flipped a dinghy. Such swells were coming in about half the days we were on the island. The second dive site is the Canyon, near the main anchorage. This is a fairly large area which we didn’t explore all that well; we did most of our dives here starting at a small pinnacle with least depth of 15′ or so, whose top is at 19N 17.808′ 110W 48.427′. This pinnacle drops away to 60′ or so on all sides, quickly falling to much deeper water to the southeast. The third dive site is less of a spot and more of an area; we would dinghy around looking for groups of mantas at the surface, and then go diving or snorkeling with them. We would usually find them somewhere either close to the main anchorage or along the southwest coast of the island. We never saw commercial operators doing this, but it led to some of our best encounters with the mantas.

– There are a lot of critters at the island to see, but the stars are the manta rays. We saw rays nearly every day; they were always at the Boiler, often at the Canyon, and could usually be found by looking for them at the surface in the dinghy. They are amazing animals, sometimes playful and genuinely interested in divers, circling around and around to look at us. Besides mantas, there are a lot of white tip sharks on the reefs, which are fearful of divers, and many silky sharks in the top 20′ or so of the water column, which are usually wary of divers but sometimes got interested in us and caused us to abort one of our dives. Otherwise we saw dolphins, tuna, and many smaller fish and lobsters on the healthy reefs. Visibility ranged from 30′ to 60′, generally best at the Boiler.

– Few private boats visit these islands; the first week a family was in the anchorage with us, and for a few days a couple stopped by on their way back from Socorro. On the other hand, there are many liveaboards here. Most of the time there would be one or two liveaboards in the anchorage with us, and on every day where the Boiler was suitable for diving there would be at least one and usually two or three liveaboards anchored there. While this detracts from the island’s wild feeling and makes it tricky to dive the Boiler without running into a horde of other divers, the liveaboards provide an extra layer of safety and security that was quite welcome in this advanced, remote area.

Anchoring with Mantas

When the manta got tangled in our anchor line, I was underwater watching it happen. The line came between the manta’s horns and it reared up instinctively, catching the line, lifting the anchor off the bottom, and twisting the line around one of its horns as it took off in a panic, dragging the dinghy behind it, anchor dangling in the water. While we recovered the dinghy and the manta was alright, I want to do what I can to keep this from happening again to us or to other visitors. So to that end, here are some ideas about how to harden a dinghy anchor against mantas.

We heard later about tying strings to the dinghy’s anchor line every few feet, so that when the dinghy is anchored the strings sink down or float up and make the anchor line more visible to mantas. While doing this could help, this wouldn’t work for all angles of approach and doesn’t address the underlying problem, so I don’t feel this is enough on its own.

One reason the manta got tangled in our line was the lightness of the line — our rode was a typical nylon line with several feet of chain and an anchor at the end. I would be shocked if a manta could get tangled in or dislodge the primary rode on a private boat or liveaboard, especially an all chain rode. The line/chain would be too heavy and the manta, in rearing up, would not catch it and would be able to get away (mantas can only swim forward, but they frequently do cartwheels and other acrobatic maneuvers while feeding and traveling). Using a heavy all chain rode for a small dinghy seems pretty extreme and awkward to handle, but it should prevent tangling.

An alternative to chain that would weigh much less and should be easier to handle would be to run an ordinary nylon line through four foot sections of PVC pipe, with figure eight knots on the line between each pipe section so the pipes could not slide around. The line would still articulate and could be packaged up like a bundle of sticks, but it would be impossible for a manta to get tangled in it.

Tangling, however, is not the only issue. If the manta snags the anchor line it can just take off with the dinghy and anchor, even if it isn’t tangled. If you get back to the dinghy, start it, and motor out in front of the manta then the line will come off, but if you don’t have another dinghy or boat nearby to help you are in for a swim. Securing the anchor to the bottom by tying in to a boulder etc. would prevent this from happening.

I haven’t tried any of these ideas, as for the rest of the trip we used a live boat. The next time we visit these islands we will have an anchor that is ready for the mantas, however.

Posted in Cruising 2016, Sailing, SCUBA Diving | Comments Off

Magic Log #7: Guaymas to Cabo

In mid October Lisa and I drove our van to Guaymas to drop gear and food and so forth off at Magic, and do some recommissioning. We still had commitments in the US, though, and after a few days drove back. On November 10 we left our van in storage in Tucson, took a bus to Guaymas, and began the season. We had flexible plans for the next several months, with one main exception. In February we were planning on sailing to Isla San Benedicto in the Revillagigedos, a volcanic island 250 miles south of Cabo and home to some of the best diving in the world. We wanted to spend a few weeks there, and both ourselves and the boat needed to be ready for the trip.

Things got off to a slightly bumpy start. When we came down in October everything on the boat had looked good, but when we came down in November we found our outboard had been stolen in the interim. The outboard had been locked to the stern, and in October I had installed the blocks used to raise and lower it. Doing this apparently made things just easy enough for the thieves. This wasn’t a huge loss; the outboard was about 15 years old, and while a well cared for motor will last much longer it was still a piece of equipment we had thought about replacing before leaving for the South Pacific. The marina staff found us a Yamaha dealer in town, and a few days later we had a new and more powerful outboard delivered.

A couple of mechanical gremlins presented themselves as we continued recommissioning. The windlass motor was not working, and after putting the boat in the water the starboard engine would not start. We anchored the boat using the port engine and operating the windlass manually. I diagnosed the starboard engine issue as a bad starter solenoid, and figured out how to bypass the solenoid with a screwdriver and start the engine, but didn’t do anything else to fix these problems. We finished recommissioning and waited for our new outboard to be delivered. We were hoping after this point to head to San Carlos and spend some time at the anchorages there we enjoy so much, but the weather was unsettled — rain, lightning, some gale force winds — so we hung out in Guaymas a few more days and relaxed.

After about a week in Guaymas the weather improved and we had a great sail across the sea to Isla Carmen, averaging a steady clip of six knots. We anchored in Puerto Ballandra and spent several very relaxing days. We went for a few dives, did some paddleboarding and kayaking together, and had hunting needlefish and other predators swarm around the boat one night. It was great to be back on the boat and enjoying the water.

While in Ballandra we started getting concerned about a storm forming south of Cabo that was projected to become a hurricane. It was late November at this point, and hurricanes this time of year are extremely rare. The storm did not look like it would pass near us, but we decided to head to Puerto Escondido, a very well protected anchorage sixteen miles to the south. We left Ballandra the day before Thanksgiving, planning to spend a day at Isla Danzante before heading the rest of the way to Escondido.

On the way out of Ballandra, the port engine overheated. All season long (and most of the last season) it hadn’t been making much water, though the flow seemed adequate to keep the engine cooled. Now the engine’s temperature was quickly spiking and we weren’t able to use it. We started the starboard engine and got the rest of the way to Danzante, but I was dealing with a lot of stress over all the broken things on the boat and how things just kept getting worse. Our next major destination was La Paz, and I started referring to it as Shangri-La Paz with its promises of boat parts and mechanics and other resources.

Anyhow, Danzante was a nice place to spend a day. Lisa wanted to relax so I went diving at a rock near the island’s north end which has a nice wall.

The next morning we traveled the few remaining miles to Puerto Escondido and picked up a mooring to wait out the hurricane on. Lisa had been online and found out that two friends of ours from Utah, Carol and Greg, were just a couple miles away. This was a nice surprise; we knew they were in Baja for a kayaking trip from Loreto to La Paz and had been planning to meet them when they arrived in La Paz, but we were not expecting to see them so soon. They kayaked over to the boat a few hours after we got our mooring and spent the night, and the next day — still waiting out the hurricane, which wasn’t expected to affect us so far north — we went for a really neat hike up a flowing canyon a few miles from town.

The next day all threat from the hurricane had passed, but a norther was starting to pipe up in the sea which would generate strong winds for several days. Carol and Greg decided to stay aboard for another day as we sailed south. This started out mellow but later on the wind built and was nearly 20 knots as we rounded Punta San Marte and anchored. Magic was beam to the swell and the rolling was uncomfortable for everyone, so I put a kayak in the water and set a stern anchor. I left the kayak tied to the boat overnight, and the next morning it was gone, after a poorly tied, tail-less bowline (originating from when we purchased the boat, I swear!) unraveled. We launched the dinghy and looked around some nearby beaches, but no sign of it.

Even if it had been sighted on a beach, getting to it would have been a tall order, with large waves from the norther crashing down in all but the most protected spots. Carol and Greg had been thinking earlier about resuming their kayak trip here, but given the conditions and forecast that wasn’t really a viable option, and they stayed on the boat as we sailed all day to Isla San Francisco, arriving an hour or so after dark and shining a spotlight around the anchorage to watch for unlit boats. The next day would be the windiest of the norther, so we stayed put and went hiking and snorkeling.

We sailed a half day to Bahia San Gabriel, one of our favorite anchorages near the south end of Espiritu Santo. We went ashore and hiked, and later on went snorkeling. Before snorkeling we noticed a pelican nearby which was struggling in the water. There wasn’t anything we could do, and we left it there to die. Afterwards Greg paddled over and pulled a huge chub from its mouth. Between this fish and two the next morning which were given to us by some fishermen (their motor broke down, they spent the night in the anchorage, and Lisa gave them coffee in the morning) we were set for a while.

The next afternoon we traveled the rest of the way to La Paz, sailing part of the way. All in all, we sailed nearly 90% of the distance south from Guaymas, an unprecedented degree of sailing for us and a huge amount of fun. Carol and Greg left the next morning to continue their trip, while we would remain in the area for nearly two months, until the end of January. All told, we would spend about five weeks in La Paz and, over the course of three trips, three weeks at Espiritu Santo.

We quickly settled back in to life in La Paz. Lisa spent a lot of time with friends in town, going to her Zumba class most days. I spent most of my time holed up in the boat, working, but did do a few boat projects — getting the starboard engine into good working order, fixing some leaks in the dinghy, some odds and ends.

After a week and a half in La Paz we had a nice window to head to Espiritu Santo, so motored north to Bahia Candeleros. This is a very pretty anchorage which we hadn’t been to since just after purchasing the boat, and we’d been interested in diving here. We did a few dives on the island in the center of the anchorage, finding some nice dense schools of grunts. With strong winds from a norther we didn’t have much else to do, but after a few days the winds slacked and we went to Ensenada Grande, another favorite anchorage, for some paddleboarding and diving. After a day and a half the winds picked back up, and we left for a fast, rowdy sail back to La Paz.

Back in La Paz it was well into December, and after spending Christmas with friends in town we left again for Espiritu Santo, staying out about two weeks and using the rest of our time off work during the holidays to see more remote parts of the group. After a day in Bahia San Gabriel we headed further north, stopping to dive at the Fang Ming, a wreck that was scuttled to make a dive site two decades ago. This was an adventurous dive for us, deep and exposed but with lots of fish around and mellow conditions. With the windlass still broken we hauled the chain up manually from 75′, which went OK but was time consuming and reinforced the need to fix the windlass.

From the Fang Ming we headed to Caleta Partida, one of the most popular anchorages on Espiritu Santo and a spot we had never been to before. This anchorage is sandwiched between the two islands in the group and is sheltered from almost all directions. It seemed a good place to wait out the next norther, whose arrival was imminent.

While entering the anchorage we noticed multiple schools of mobula rays swimming around at the surface. We frequently see these rays jumping in the distance but had never had an opportunity to watch them up close. After anchoring we set out in the dinghy and both went snorkeling, swimming among the rays as they made way for us and cruised around feeding on the plankton. This was a wonderful experience; seeing how gentle and agile the mobula rays were got us excited for our trip to San Benedicto, which is frequented by much larger manta rays.

We stayed at Caleta Partida for four days. Despite the gusty intermittent wind we were able to get out each day to snorkel and dive at a wash rock to the west of the anchorage. To the west of this rock is a ridgeline submerged close to the surface, lots of fish and nooks and crannies to explore.

The norther eventually subsided and we had a few days of very calm weather in the forecast. From Caleta Partida we headed to El Embudo, a pretty and exposed anchorage just a mile from the sea lion colony at Los Islotes. We wanted to get more experience diving with the sea lions here. This started out great; we were in shallow water with lots of fish and good coral and terrain, clearly a cut above the diving we had been doing previously on Espiritu Santo. The sea lions came by a few times but didn’t pester us. Early in the third dive a sea lion started bothering Lisa, while I was twenty feet away in a tunnel photographing another sea lion. Lisa surfaced, I followed and we swam back to the dinghy. We had talked a few days earlier about me heading deep into tunnels; I had gone further in than I should have and she wasn’t able to signal me to come back to her. This was a wakeup call for me to not be so blase around these animals when I’m with Lisa, and we resolved to do better with hand signals and with sticking together.

We motored south to San Gabriel, and were promptly chased out by park rangers — apparently some idiot anchored on one of the coral reefs in the bay, so now anchoring is not allowed anywhere in San Gabriel, including the many sandy portions — so we headed to Ensenada de la Dispensa, a smaller bay just to the south. After a brief stay we went to Ensenada de La Raza to wait out yet another norther, doing some mediocre diving on Isla Gallo and some hiking ashore. I used a closeup lens on my underwater camera for the first time and found that the friendly and ubiquitous Sergeant Majors have creepy, human-like teeth.

We headed back to La Paz, in large part to get the boat’s mechanical problems under control. The port engine was still overheating, and the windlass was still broken. Our trip to the Revillagigedos was only a few weeks away, and the condition of the boat was stressing Lisa out a lot and was causing us to fight. I finally sat down with the windlass and did a couple hours of troubleshooting. The problem seemed to be an internal short in the motor — when removed and attached directly to our battery bank the motor was sluggish and got incredibly hot after just a few seconds, while the brushes looked fine. I ordered a replacement motor to my mom and her husband, who would be flying down to sail with us to the Revillagigedos.

The saga of the port engine’s raw water circuit is more interesting, and was certainly instructive for me. As noted earlier, for much of the last season the engine’s raw water production was pretty low, but the engine’s temperature seemed ok so we ignored the issue. After the engine overheated in Puerto Ballandra we didn’t use it again until La Paz. Trying there, I could get it to make water but it would keep climbing in temperature and get too hot after half an hour. Long ago I had looked over all parts of the raw water circuit I could access, and things seemed good. I thought the problem was with the saildrive leg — there is a long passage between where the water enters intakes on the leg and where it reaches the engine compartment itself, which could potentially get clogged and can’t be accessed without hauling the boat out of the water and taking apart the saildrive. While out at Espiritu Santo we bypassed the saildrive leg by running a hose to a bucket of water in the cockpit, and the engine made a normal amount of water. I thought this confirmed my hypothesis, and since we didn’t want to haul out before our trip we made plans to bypass the saildrive on the trip if the starboard engine failed, and wait until the fall to fix the problem for good.

Lisa wasn’t very satisfied with this plan, so we contacted a mechanic in La Paz, Colin, who we had talked to when we purchased Magic. After talking to Colin for a bit, he removed the raw water pump to bench test it, finding it was not forming a tight seal and was likely underperforming. After having the pump shaved down at a machine shop to improve the seal, he visited the boat again, reinstalled the pump, and flushed the saildrive with a muriatic acid solution to attack any clogs in there. The engine now made water just fine, which was almost a miracle to me. This was the first time we had a mechanic look at the boat since purchasing it, but I clearly need to be less stubborn about talking to them when facing difficult problems. Lisa and I have worked out a protocol for when exactly we should go and consult a mechanic, though we haven’t yet had a chance to try it out.

Meanwhile, we were spending a lot of time in La Paz. In the past I got pretty restless spending much time in the anchorage, but now I found a new outlet: kiteboarding. I’d been curious about kiting in La Paz in the past, but the town’s waterfront is a bad place for it, with a narrow beach, inconsistent wind and lots of people. In December I started taking the dinghy to the Mogote, a quiet sandspit with some mangroves across the bay from La Paz, a mile from the anchorage. On windy days it blows here pretty consistently, and I found it a great spot for kiteboarding; depending on where I was relative to the spit, I could either be in a protected spot with no waves, in the shoals out in front of town, or in bigger, surfable waves breaking on the outside. A much better variety than La Ventana, and almost no other kites or windsurfers out there, though there can be a lot of boat traffic and in the event of a problem you get blown back to town rather than to where you started. With all the northers in December and January I was able to get out about half the days, and towards the end started practicing with my directional board and reversing my stance during gybe turns (still a work in progress).

Late in January a friend from Utah, Everett, came to visit us for several days. The forecast for the trip was good, so we headed to Ensenada de la Dispensa on Espiritu Santo, hoping to see more of this new anchorage than we had earlier. This turned out to be a great little spot, with lots of coral and fish while snorkeling, a large and interesting shoal area, and some mangroves we were able to take paddleboards back in and explore. We also went over to San Gabriel in the dinghy to check out the frigate birds there, do some hiking and (very briefly) kiteboarding. A relaxed trip, lots of fun.

The day after Everett left, we departed La Paz and started towards Cabo. After 24 hours of motoring we reached Los Frailes and spent a night. I hadn’t been here since 2012 when I inadvertently dodged Hurricane Paul, and coming back was a treat. The weather and water were both warmer than around La Paz, and the water was much clearer. We did an amazing dive in a shoal of tens of thousands of Bigeye Trevally, the fish so thick they formed a solid wall and blocked out the sun below them. Afterwards we did some paddleboarding, but the next morning we needed to leave for Cabo and we resolved to return later in the season.

The wind came up not long after leaving Los Frailes and we sailed most of the way to Cabo, seeing several whale breaches and other activity but otherwise uneventful. In the afternoon we arrived, anchored in front of the hotels on the beach and relaxed. I didn’t expect to like Cabo; I’d heard the anchorage was precarious, crowded, and very rolly with the boat traffic and swells. This is in some respects all true, but I still enjoyed the anchorage. We anchored bow and stern to reduce the motion from the wind swells coming off a raging norther in the sea, enjoyed seeing the fish under the boat, even enjoyed taking the dinghy to the town’s marina and walking around the touristy areas. Our guests arrived and we did extensive reprovisioning at the nearby Costco and Walmart, the town’s water taxis making this a breeze compared to doing it in La Paz. We installed the new windlass motor and the boat was now mechanically sound, for the first time in over a year. We left for the Revillagigedos two days after our guests arrived, on February 5.

Posted in Cruising 2015, Cruising 2016, Kiteboarding, Sailing, SCUBA Diving, Snorkeling | Comments Off

Hard Days

After returning from the boat at the end of April, Lisa and I moved into our van, a 2004 Sprinter we bought and converted to a camper back in December. We spent most of May near Cortez and Durango and most of June near Bend, mainly mountain biking. After that we started getting ready for what would be our biggest trip of the summer, a two week, 100 mile backpack on the southern portion of the John Muir Trail in late July.

The JMT is a very popular trail with lots of preparatory information readily available, but we had a couple reasons for caution: this hike would be longer than any backpack either of us had ever done, and we had very little experience backpacking together. So we took a couple of steps to make things go smoother. First, Lisa would be managing the itinerary; we had the time to keep the hiking pace mellow throughout and still take a couple of rest days. Second, we needed a couple of warmup trips.

In late June we were staying at Mount Rainier to avoid a heat wave encompassing most of the western US. We did some really nice day hikes, and for the July 4 weekend secured a permit for the Northern Loop, a popular backpacking route on the northern side of the park. Our hike would be 33 miles with maybe 10000 feet of elevation gain, which we would have 3.5 days to do. The pace and difficulty of this route were both more aggressive than was planned for the JMT, so this seemed a good way to get in shape.

Overall the hike went pretty well. In many places there were wonderful wildflowers, which were blooming earlier than normal due to the dry winter. Much of the hike was still a slog, though, with long climbs and descents through trees with little of interest. The best parts were near Mystic Lake, on the flanks of Rainier shortly below the alpine zone. After two days on the trail the lake itself was warm and wonderful to swim in. Additionally, from here I could leave the trail for easy cross country hiking up Curtis Ridge and magnificent views of the mountain and of Carbon Glacier. This was my favorite part of the hike, but unfortunately Lisa had stayed behind in the tent to rest. I thought that for future trips to Rainier it would be better to focus more on the best terrain and less on logging trail miles, feelings that would continue to develop over the summer.

After leaving Mount Rainier we spent a week and a half or so on the Oregon side of the Columbia river gorge, hiking and canyoneering. Our second warmup trip was a 2.5 day backpack of about 25 miles in the gorge, going up the Eagle Creek trail and then up to Tanner Ridge before looping back to the base of the creek.

This hike was alright. The Eagle Creek section was awash with lush scenery and several great waterfalls, especially Tunnel Falls, where the trail goes through a blasted out tunnel behind the waterfall. After leaving the creek the trail was monotonous trees with some berries and dense bear grass we had to push through. I had similar feelings after this backpack that I did after the northern loop; concentrating our time on the best terrain would have been a better outing. Before leaving the gorge Lisa and I went canyoneering with several other folks in lower Eagle Creek, rappelling Punch Bowl and Multnomah falls and having a great time.

After our two warmup trips we had pretty significant reservations about our JMT plan. On both backpacks there was one day where we pushed past the point of exhaustion for Lisa, and the prospect of hiking for two weeks in such a state was, well, unappealing. So Lisa sat down with our planning materials and mapped out an itinerary where we would never be hiking more than eight miles or gaining more than 2000 feet of elevation in any one day. We could hike more than that if we wanted to, but we would never be forced to. This relaxed schedule would also allow me to do side trips and see areas of the wilderness away from the main trail. With this plan in place, we drove to California, left our van at the hike’s exit point at Whitney Portal, and took a shuttle to our entry point at South Lake, near Bishop.

The hike started off well as we climbed up to Bishop Pass, the first of six major passes we would be traversing. This would be a test for us — our packs were at their heaviest here, and our conditioning at its worst. The climb went well, though it started raining as we reached the pass and we camped soon afterwards. While this put us a bit behind schedule, the next day would be all downhill to the middle fork of the Kings river, allowing us some flexibility. I got up early the next morning for a side trip to the top of nearby Columbine Peak. This was very nice, relatively easy talus and boulder field climbing, with the top offering great views into the nearby basins. I got back to the tent in mid morning and we continued down the trail.

The next night, after a long climb up the golden staircase we reached the first Palisade lake and camped. At first light the next morning I left on another side trip, the one I had been the most keen on doing while planning the hike. Mount Sill is a 14er a few miles from the lake, and was supposed to have great summit views. To get there I needed to climb 1800 feet to a minor pass, drop down to a minor lake, and then climb another 2600 feet to reach the summit. This largely went alright, with interesting route finding along the way and a lot of time spent crossing boulder fields. As I reached the base of a small glacier not far from the top, I started worrying about the time and went a different route than planned the rest of the way up the mountain. The southwest face of the peak was more direct and looked doable. Going up it went fine, with a couple tricky spots along the final ridge to the summit. The summit did indeed have pretty amazing views of the Palisade glacier and the rest of the Palisade mountains.

Getting back to Palisade lake took nearly as long as getting to the summit had taken, and I didn’t reach Lisa until mid afternoon, 10 hours after I had left. It was a few hours past when I said I would return, and she had been getting very worried and didn’t know whether she should look for help or even exactly where I was going. We talked and decided that we both needed to be clear on my plans when going off on these solo trips, both on the rest of the hike and in the future. My hike had also caused us to fall behind schedule, so we left the lake to get in a couple hours of backpacking before the evening.

The next morning we climbed to Mather pass, the second major pass of the trip, and over the next few days went down to the south fork of the Kings river and up and over the third pass, Pinchot. The scenery was very pretty but I was getting kind of bored with it, and the hiking started to wear on me. Fourteen miles after Pinchot pass we reached the Rae Lakes, a popular and beautiful area with refreshing swimming and wonderful camping. After spending a night I did a third side trip, taking a trail to the sixty lakes basin and then going off trail up nearby Mount Cotter. This was nice but was not the same caliber of experience as my earlier side trips, and after getting back to the Rae lakes early in the day we continued down the trail.

We went up and over Glen pass, down to Bubbs creek, and up and over Forester pass. We were most of the way through the hike at this point, but still had 30 miles and several days to go. Emotionally, I was on a downhill slide. I was bored with the hiking, and the weather had deteriorated to the point where it was unsafe to do more side trips. I started feeling trapped, and eventually, eight or nine miles after Forester pass, I snapped.

It’s hard to write about this and I won’t go into details. I had an angry outburst worse than any I’ve had in my life. I was totally out of control. It lasted several minutes, and afterwards I went and brooded, taking apart a pine cone while fearing our marriage was ending. Eventually I went and asked Lisa for forgiveness, and we went on hiking. A couple days later we camped near the trail crest, summitted Whitney early the next morning, and hurried down the last eleven miles to get to Whitney Portal and end the trip.

Several things became clearer in the weeks following the hike. Our relationship was damaged, but we were both determined to repair it. Outbursts like this are totally unacceptable. For as long as I remember I’ve gotten angry; not in a chronic way but in an explosive way, typically due to built up stress. Before meeting Lisa I was almost always alone, and I viewed these explosions as cathartic, screaming into the woods and whatnot. Now I saw anger as toxic; I decided I didn’t want to ever raise my voice, whether I was arguing with Lisa or not. Such a change is easier said than done, but in the five months since the outburst we both feel I’ve made a lot of progress with managing stress and angry feelings, and I hope and believe this change will stick.

Stress still builds, of course, and I needed another outlet to relieve it. The outburst I feel was caused by an amalgam of boredom, frustration, and other emotions that had been building inside me over the hike; Lisa was completely blameless. Part of these feelings was a sadness over something missing from my life. Before meeting Lisa I would sometimes go out for long, hard days; mountain biking, hiking, skiing, whatever. I love the activities I do with Lisa, but together we couldn’t exercise at the same level that I could by myself. I wanted to get this part of my life back.

Before the JMT I had my eye on some hard trips I wanted to do later in the summer and fall; after the JMT I was doubly intent on pursuing them. A couple trips in Colorado had been stymied on previous ventures there. In 2012 I tried to do a two day mountain biking loop from Crested Butte over Pearl, Taylor, and Star passes, but broke my bike’s derailer hanger after Pearl Pass and had to retreat. In 2013 I biked the Colorado Trail but had to bypass two sections due to a nearby forest fire, and I still wanted to see these. Two trips in the desert also fascinated me. Going from rim to rim to rim in the Grand Canyon has become a popular run in the last few years, and I wanted to see what it was like. The Zion traverse — following trails between the northwest and southeast corners of Zion — is backpacked regularly and less often done by runners, and had interested me since I started canyoneering in 2013. I would have been happy if I was able to do two or three of these trips over the summer and fall, but in the end I was able to do all four, each in one day.

Preparation for these trips started earlier in the summer. I had no real running background at all; last fall on the boat I did some jogging but not with any rigor. When we got to Bend back in June I went out several times, working my way up from 3 miles to 13 miles, sometimes alone and sometimes with Lisa biking along and giving encouragement. After the 13 mile run, from top to bottom on the Deschutes River Trail, I was pretty wiped out and couldn’t imagine doing a 26 mile marathon, let alone a nearly 50 mile run like I was planning for the fall.

Time passed, we did our backpacks and after the JMT went to a canyoneering fest in Ouray. We were still decompressing from the JMT and neither of us did much actual canyoneering. Late in the week of the fest, Lisa went to Silverton with friends while I went out for my first run in over a month. Starting from its end on the million dollar highway, I went up the Bear Creek trail towards Engineer Pass, then over the top of Engineer Mountain and back to the highway via jeep roads. 18 miles and 4800 feet of climbing, in maybe 6.5 hours.

This was my first real training run and a few things stood out. First, keeping a mellow pace made the run very enjoyable. I mostly walked on the way to the pass, arrived feeling good and mostly ran the way down. Nutrition helped a lot here. Historically for this type of activity all I would bring was a few Clif bars; that’s all I did here too and I ran out at Engineer Pass, with over 10 miles still to go. By a stroke of luck, just a few minutes later I found an unopened gel shot while hiking off trail, which gave me what felt like a huge burst of energy on the way back down. This lasted until a few miles from the end, where sore joints kept me alternating between walking and a slow jog. Note here that what I call “runs” aren’t spent entirely, or even mostly, running. I don’t know what else to call them though.

After leaving Ouray, Lisa and I went to Crested Butte, where we would spend most of the rest of the summer. Lisa had never been here, and I hadn’t been since 2012, and I was excited to get back to one of my favorite parts of Colorado. We found a nice boondocking area 15 minutes east of town, and went out for some great bike rides. I looked through our maps and pieced together what would be my second training run. From our camp I headed on dirt roads to the Cement Mountain trail, up that and then cross country over Cement Mountain itself to other trails connecting to the Eccher Gulch trail, which I took back to the roads I came in on. 23 miles and maybe 5000 feet of climbing, in 8.5 hours.

This was a much more adventurous route than my first run. The Cement Mountain trail is in good shape, but the other trails I used were more rugged; several times I couldn’t even find the trail and for long stretches worked my way cross country through the aspens and meadows until I picked the trail back up. I had read the Eccher Gulch trail was great for mountain biking and wanted to scout it out, but while the trail has wonderful aspens and some nice smooth sections, much of it was quite overgrown with thorny plants. By the time I made it back to the roads I was pretty ragged, and while the whole run was pretty enjoyable I felt I was getting distracted from my goals. The runs I was training for would be on well established trails, and those are what I needed to focus on.

The climb to Pearl Pass is one of the harder bike rides around Crested Butte. Once we arrived in town I was pretty eager to get back and give it another shot, and a few days after the Cement Mountain run I got up at 4:00 in the morning, drove to the Brush Creek road and started biking up to the pass. Nearly four hours later I reached the top of the pass, then started down the other side, passed the spot where I endo’ed and then retreated three years ago, reached the paved road leading to Aspen and from there climbed again for three hours to Taylor Pass, then on to Star Pass and a long, long downhill back to Crested Butte. 52 miles and more than 7500 feet of climbing, in maybe 12.5 hours.

Finally seeing the rest of this loop was rewarding. The climb to Pearl Pass was, as before, brutal, with lots of hiking in the upper parts. The views from the top were, as before, spectacular, and the downhill to Castle Creek was nice. I really liked the climb to Taylor Pass; the road was steep but with a fairly even grade that I could bike almost all of. Some good views here, not as memorable as Pearl Pass. The route from Taylor to Star Passes is mostly a traverse, but was narrow and chewed up, hard to enjoy this far into the ride. Below Star Pass, though, is one of the best bike descents I’ve done anywhere; over 2000 vertical feet of singletrack down to the road, smooth and well graded riding through meadows and forest.

We continued to stay around Crested Butte and I went looking for another run to do. North of town I saw what looked like a nice loop passing close to several fourteeners. I didn’t realize it at the time but this was the Four Pass loop, a popular route usually done as a backpack from the Aspen side of the Elk Mountains. I started on the other side near Schofield pass at two in the morning and finishing about 11 hours later, 30 miles and 8000 feet of climbing.

This was one of the best runs of the summer. Befitting its name, the loop took me up and over four passes, each of them in the alpine zone at over 12000 feet. The moon was pretty full and I had a lot of light heading up to West Maroon pass and down the other side. As I headed up to the second pass, Buckskin, it started to get light, giving me great views of the Maroon Bells. At the top of Buckskin were more expansive views of Snowmass mountain and nearby terrain. I dropped back into the forest, climbed past Snowmass lake to Trail Rider pass, and then had another long descent and ascent to finally reach Frigid Air Pass. I was about 25 miles in at this time and getting very sore, and made the rest of the way down to the trailhead pretty slowly.

I started seeing a pattern around this time. Each of my runs was five or six miles longer than the previous one, and in each run I would consistently get really worn down five or six miles from the end. After this I tried to limit myself to avoid big jumps in distance between runs, and gradually step up to my target distances. It was really neat to see how well my body responded to this training; this was the first ultramarathon length distance I’d ever done on foot in one day, and after finishing I felt a wave of catharsis as I biked back to Crested Butte (where Lisa had driven the van after my early morning start) and was eager to get out again.

It was also interesting to compare my speed on foot versus on a bike. Before I started running I didn’t think running would be even close, and while that’s true in relatively easy terrain, in harder terrain the two aren’t far off. In such cases I expect to do about 4mph on my bike, and 2.5-3mph on foot; the bike is faster on downhills but slower on uphills, especially uphills which are too steep or technical to ride. This summer I was solely focused on running longer distances, and in the future I’m interested in seeing if I can push my average pace to, well, faster than a fast walk.

The next run I did was on the Monarch Crest, a popular mountain bike route I’ve done several times in the past. Lisa joined me for this one, on her bike; we’d talked about this ride several times over the summer, and after all the biking we had been doing together she felt ready for it. We had a good weather window and were dropped off at the start by the local shuttle company. The other bikers there left us behind pretty quickly while we went through the early sections of the trail, which are above treeline and offer nice views. Eventually the trail drops back into the trees, though it still offers excellent riding and a great descent down Silver Creek. The classic route continues on the pretty difficult Rainbow trail after this; we had already had enough, however, and headed down the neighboring dirt road toward Poncha Springs. Lisa was going far faster than me on the road and left to get the van while I shuffled along, picking me up not long before I reached the highway. 27 miles in 8.5 hours or so, maybe 2000 feet of climbing.

Doing the trail together this way was a great experience. Lisa would go faster than me on the descents, and I would go faster on the steeper climbs, so we were both moderating each others speed, and didn’t wear out as much as we otherwise would have.

We still had enough time in Crested Butte for one more run. I wasn’t feeling very ambitious, and picked out a route that stitched together several trails close to the Butte. I started around 7am and headed around Strand hill, finishing up back at the van around 9:30am. From here Lisa joined me on her bike as we did the Teocalli Ridge loop. After returning to the van yet again I continued alone along the Deer Creek trail to the Gothic road, then south to the outskirts of Mount Crested Butte where Lisa had moved the van and was waiting for me. 34 miles or so, 13 hours and 5000 feet of climbing.

This day had its, well, ups and downs. The first segment around Strand hill went smoothly, and so did the first third of the Teocalli Ridge segment. Then we got into very steep, sustained climbing that went slowly and wore both of us down. We eventually made it onto the ridge and had a great descent, but this took a lot longer than I was expecting and by the time we got back to the van I was pretty sore. I thought about bailing out on the rest of the run, but this seemed like it would shut out the long runs I wanted to do in the fall. It was getting well into September and I didn’t have that much time left to prepare. So, I continued on. I biked the Deer Creek trail a few years before; it has great views but is infested with cows, and is probably more enjoyable as a run than a bike ride. I started feeling better as I headed along the trail, and then downright great on the descent covering the latter two thirds of the trail, a much needed second wind. It was getting dark as I got to the Gothic road, and the last few miles to the van dragged on and on. I didn’t leave much slack time for delays in planning this run, and should have started a couple hours earlier.

A week later we headed west from Crested Butte. We would be meeting friends in Silverton to do some biking, and along the way I wanted to do the final Colorado run I had targeted earlier in the summer. The two highest elevation sections of the Colorado Trail run between Spring Creek and Stony passes. In 2013 I was really interested in seeing these segments when I biked the trail, but when I got to the area I found that they were closed due to the west fork complex fire. The detour over Cinnamon Pass was nice and introduced me to a part of Colorado I now love, but the trip still didn’t feel complete to me without those two missing sections.

So, after driving through Gunnison we headed south past Lake City and camped near Spring Creek Pass. I started from the pass around 5am the next morning, while Lisa backtracked almost all the way to Gunnison and then on to Silverton, so that she could meet me that evening in nearby Howardsville, an old mining ghost town. The shuttle for this trip is a 200 mile drive, and Lisa was very gracious to do this for me.

The first few hours of the run were a steady climb and some rolling terrain in the dark and pre dawn light. Shortly after dawn I made it to the treeline, and would stay above the treeline for over twenty miles. I’ve never seen such a trail before; the many views and variety of scenery was amazing and the trail kept my interest all the way to Stony Pass. From there I had another six miles down a jeep road, reaching the van shortly before dark. 36 miles, 14 hours, and 7500 feet of climbing.

These segments of the trail left me with an almost surprising sense of solitude. All day along the trail I didn’t see more than five or six people, and while I had done quieter runs earlier in the summer (I didn’t see anyone all day at Cement Mountain) the continuous expansive views left me feeling this trail was a hidden gem. Adding to this sense was the wildlife; early and late in the morning I saw two separate groups of three moose each. I had never seen moose in Colorado before, and the morning sighting was the closest I had been to them since 2009 in Alaska.

This would be my last run before the two long ones in the desert I had targeted. As noted before I would consistently get very worn down around five or six miles from the end of each run, but could keep pushing out the total length of the runs I could do in such a condition. The two long runs would be 42 and 48 miles each, and after getting to Stony Pass I felt they were within reach.

I started understanding a couple reasons why this training strategy was working for me. First, it let me slowly strengthen my joints. At the relaxed pace I was maintaining I would never get out of breath or push my legs hard, and at the end of the summer I don’t think I was all that much stronger or faster than at the start. I saw early on that I was developing muscle strength far faster than I was developing joint strength, and that the latter would be the limiting factor on these long runs. That leads to the second reason, which is that doing these long runs gave me practice with pain management. Even at this point I would start feeling joint pain by mile fifteen or so, and had time to practice adjusting my gait to reduce that pain and to tease out limits for how far I could push my joints while being able to recover within a few days. On this and later runs I hardly ever got into a true run at all, instead doing something more like a power shuffle.

After a couple days of biking with friends in Silverton and Ridgway, we left for Utah. At this point I had a pretty firm schedule; I wanted to do the rim to rim to rim on Monday, September 28, and the Zion traverse six days later on Sunday, October 4. The former would avoid weekend crowds of runners I had heard of, and the latter would avoid weekday trail closures the park service was imposing.

First, though, I wanted to do some canyoneering. Heaps canyon is the longest and hardest canyon in Zion that is regularly done. I had been interested in doing it since I started canyoneering in 2013, and this seemed like a good time for it. Lisa was also interested in this canyon, but didn’t want to go on this outing with neither of us having done it before; I was hoping we would be able to do it together a couple weeks later. On September 24, a couple days after getting to Utah, I started hiking at 3am and finished the canyon 12 hours later.

Heaps is done solo from time to time, but there is a risk to it. The canyon has quite a few potholes — bowls in the watercourse where one has to climb up, potentially over smooth slickrock, to continue downcanyon — and I’d seen in the past how escaping from one of these can be simple for two people yet exhausting for one. I was betting that the canyon would be in easy mode; if the potholes are full of water, you can swim across them rather than climbing out of them. Some friends from Idaho had done Heaps a couple weeks earlier and reported it to be full, and a storm just a few days later dumped rain all over Zion. Tragically, this storm killed 20 people in the area, including 7 canyoneers. This storm was in the forecast, and flooding is a risk that can be avoided; when I did Heaps the sky and forecast were clear.

Even so, the risk of difficult pothole escapes was not eliminated. I tried to mitigate this by bringing my good physical conditioning, extra equipment to escape the potholes, and supplies for staying a night or two in the canyon if necessary. It’s still hard to justify my behavior here, though, and I don’t know if I’ll be soloing other long pothole canyons in the future.

In the end, there was nothing very difficult about the canyon. After starting from Lava Point I hiked over level terrain for a few hours, rappelled from the canyon rim into Phantom Valley, hiked some more and then spent several hours working through the canyon’s long narrows. Even full of water it was very physical, getting me and my pack up and over log jams, across pools, through convoluted narrows. Super fun, and a new favorite canyon in Zion. After the narrows the route climbs out of the watercourse to a three stage, 500 foot rappel down to the Upper Emerald pool. An awesome, classic ending to the canyon.

The day after Heaps, Lisa and I drove to Saint George and bought a jeep, something we’d wanted for most of the summer which would give us more flexibility. I was still feeling good and ready for the next run, and two days later left Zion in the evening in the jeep to drive to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. This night had a full moon and a total lunar eclipse, which was cool to see driving out from Kanab. I slept for a few hours outside the park, then started down from the rim at 1am. I reached the south rim via the North and South Kaibab trails eight hours later, turned around and returned to the north rim at 6:30 in the evening. 42 miles, 17.5 hours, around 11000 feet of climbing.

I didn’t go in with many expectations about what the rim to rim to rim would be like, and I found it to be a pretty amazing experience. After several thousand feet of descent to the Bright Angel creek the North Kaibab trail’s steepness mellows and I had another eight miles along the creek in the moonlight, quiet and mesmerizing. After reaching the Colorado river at 6am, I started up the other side. The South Kaibab trail is well graded — steep and sustained the whole way — and climbing in the coolness and the pre dawn light felt great. I hiked this trail before, on a backpack in 2010, and it once again left a strong impression. Vistas in the Grand Canyon are simply breathtaking, and I haven’t spent nearly enough time there.

I stayed cool on the way up and still felt good on arrival at the south rim. After a short rest I started back down, passing all the same people I had passed on the way up earlier. It was starting to get warm and even going downhill I was sweating a lot. I was happy when I finally got down to Phantom Valley and was able to refill my water bottles. Water requires careful planning on this route. There are several water spigots spaced out along the route, and the stretch along Bright Angel creek always has water available, but there are some long stretches without water, mainly the entire South Kaibab trail between the river and the rim (the Bright Angel trail can be used instead, which has water in a few spots, though it is several miles longer). It got to over 90 degrees on the canyon bottom as the day got along, and I began sweating profusely heading up the North Kaibab trail from Phantom Valley. I was feeling miserable and eventually hopped in the creek to cool down, which felt wonderful and kept my spirits up for the rest of the way along the creek. All in all, I drank about three gallons of water over the course of the run.

After the trail leaves the creek it is mostly sheltered from the afternoon sun, and I didn’t have any more problems with the temperature. I did have another 3700 feet of climbing to do, and was getting worn out. I was almost in a trance going up, with the climbing coming in fits and starts and then a sustained 2000 feet push at the top. I reached the north rim not long before dusk, talked to some folks for a few minutes, and drove 2.5 hours back to Zion to get back to Lisa. On several levels — the amount of vertical gained, the distance traveled on foot, the length of the activity, the sheer extent and depth of sustained exertion — this surpassed any day I had ever done before.

Six days later I was planning on my last run, which would be even longer, albeit with less vertical. Four days into this, tragedy struck. A good friend, Louis Johnson, died while canyoneering in Zion with his husband, Everett Boutillet. I met Louis and Everett about two years prior, not long after meeting Lisa, and the four of us had done several canyons and hikes together. Lisa had been canyoneering with Louis and Everett the day before I did the rim to rim to rim; I was saving strength for the run, and didn’t go. Louis was a wonderful person, with an incredible infectious enthusiasm for life, for Zion, for almost everyone and everything. Everett is equally wonderful, and is more reserved but has a clear passion for the outdoors that I deeply admire. Louis’ death hit me harder than any other I’ve experienced as an adult, and the outpouring of grief from the canyoneering community in the following weeks was tremendous.

Lisa and I learned about Louis’ death the morning afterwards. Everett was staying with a friend in Springdale, just outside Zion, and the two of us spent much of the day with him, waiting for his family to arrive. Afterwards, I was torn up over whether to continue with my plans for the Zion traverse. I didn’t feel there was anything more I could do to help, and the combination of the park closures and other commitments meant I had no other chance to do the traverse. Late that evening, we camped near the west entrance of the park, and I started running from Lee Pass a little after 2am. About 19.5 hours later, at nearly 10pm and after 48 miles and 6000 feet of climbing, I reached the east entrance of the park.

The traverse follows several trails as it makes its way across the park. I had never been to the park’s Kolob entrance before, and was hoping to see the mountains and other features in the moonlight as I made my way down to and then along La Verkin Creek. It was a cloudy night, unfortunately, so I just made my way down the trail in the dark before climbing up into Hop valley. From here the trail goes through a grazing area and was hard to follow in the dark. I eventually abandoned the trail and went up the sand and grasses at the valley bottom, repeatedly crossing the ankle deep creek. This was pretty slow, and took an early toll on me, and after exiting the valley the next several miles were also very sandy. I slowed my pace to adjust, and gradually climbed east to Lava Point, the trailhead where I had started the trip to Heaps.

I was halfway done, and had been on the trail for nine hours. I was still feeling OK, and retraced the approach to Heaps for a few hours — going only slightly faster now than I had then, with a 45 pound pack — along the west rim, now in full daylight and with magnificent views on display. I descended to Scouts Lookout, past the crowds of people hiking to Angels Landing, reached the bottom of the Virgin River canyon and then upcanyon along the road for a mile or so. At the Weeping Rock trailhead I met up with Lisa; earlier we had considered doing the remaining 13 miles together, but it was now around 5:30pm and getting stormy so after a couple miles Lisa turned back to the Weeping Rock. Hiking even briefly with her was great, and deeply missed as I continued up the Echo canyon drainage, climbed to the east rim as it was getting dark, and spent a few more hours in the dark, with intermittent rain and distant lightning as I made my way to the east entrance.

A wave of relief washed over me as I reached our jeep, which Lisa and my stepfather, Tim, (him and my mom had arrived in Zion a few days earlier) had spotted at the east entrance for me. This continued as I drove to get back to Lisa; I had now met all the goals I had set for myself early in the summer, an almost crushing weight lifted off me.

In the following weeks we attended two events for Louis and Everett, did some canyoneering and biking, and made our final preparations to head down to Magic and begin the sailing season. The Zion traverse was my last run in the fall, and while I have not done anything since other than some jogs in La Paz, I’m looking forward to starting again in the spring.

Overall, I really enjoyed getting into trail running this summer. It provides a nice combination of benefits of backpacking and mountain biking — any trail which can be backpacked can also be run on, and running provides much of the speed and efficiency that mountain biking does. Mountain biking has other benefits of course; I love the feel of flying down a trail and will continue doing so. I’m less enamored about backpacking. The, uh, wilderness experience of spending several days in the backcountry doesn’t mean as much to me as it used to, and any trail backpacking I do will need to be very carefully considered. I still really like the route finding, exploration and untrammeled nature of backpacking away from trails, and backpacking done to support another sport — canyoneering, climbing — is fine, but there’s always a mixture of feelings in seeing my interest in a sport fall away.

The running also brought out a new aspect of my relationship with Lisa. During the summer we realized we both needed more independence, so I could do more of these hard trips and so Lisa could spend more time with friends. We did a lot of mountain biking and other activities together in the summer, but as fall came the pendulum swung too far in the other direction. Almost all the time I was letting my body either recover from or prepare for another long run, and we didn’t do much at all together. We both missed our shared activities, and we are still figuring out how to strike the right balance with separate activities. I’m confident we will keep improving, though, and that our relationship will be the stronger for it.

Posted in Backpacking, Canyoning, Mountain Biking | Comments Off

Magic Log #6: La Cruz to Guaymas

Leaving La Cruz we didn’t have any schedule we were trying to stick to, but wanted to spend a few more weeks on the mainland before we crossed the sea back to the La Paz area and then made our way north to Guaymas to store the boat for the summer.

We left in the morning and rounded Punta Mita in calm conditions. A few miles north of the point I saw splashing in the distance, and looking through binoculars we saw a couple humpbacks slapping their fins and several splashes from breaches. We moved closer and were able to see a couple breaches, the first I’ve ever seen.

After half an hour we started heading back towards our destination for the day, Sayulita. We sailed part of the remainder, and then motored to the same spot we had been at a couple weeks before. The weather wasn’t great, with thick clouds and spitting rain. We relaxed the rest of the afternoon, hoping for better conditions the next day. Unfortunately, it continued to rain when we got up. We went in to shore and did some surfing and boogie boarding, and did some SUP’ing later in the rain, but it was hard to really enjoy ourselves. I was hoping that conditions would be better at the next spot we wanted to stop at, San Blas, and made plans to leave the second night. When I got up around 2am it was still raining, but the wind was light and we headed out.

Soon after leaving the anchorage the wind started building from on shore, running in the teens the rest of the night. As light came it stopped raining, but the wind built more and was over twenty knots for a while, gusty and reaching 30 knots sustained a few times. This really surprised me, as the forecast had been for light winds; while there were thick clouds inland, the sky over the ocean was clear, so I would expect any winds to be offshore. I still don’t know understand what caused these winds, but the weather had been unsettled when we left, so I guess it’s important to be extra vigilant at such times.

After a pretty unpleasant passage we arrived in Matanchen Bay — a few miles east of San Blas — in the early afternoon. The wind thankfully came down as we approached the bay, and I sat around the rest of the day, not doing much. We didn’t get a cell signal here for internet, and left the anchorage the next morning to look for a spot where we could work. Two miles to the west, as we reached Playa Hermosa outside of San Blas, we got a signal and were able to anchor at a really pretty little spot just outside a surf break on the beach and river mouth. I went in to the beach and did some surfing and had a great time. This spot was just what I had been looking for since arriving on the mainland.

On return to Magic I talked to Lisa and tried to encourage her to go in to the beach and try some boogie boarding. The waves here were much bigger than they had been at Sayulita, though, and did not break consistently on the beach. After looking at the waves for a few minutes through binoculars, Lisa wasn’t interested in going in. I kind of broke down after this, and was unable to really talk for what felt like a while.

This episode was similar to, though less severe than, the episode I had back in the fall after we went through severe weather near San Carlos. A few nights after this one, Lisa and I did some web research and made us suspect I was reacting to the stress of dealing with weather. Now that we’re aware of this I hope I’ll react better in the future, though I guess we’ll see.

In the moment I was feeling very down and eventually went kayaking. I paddled back to Matanchen Bay, where there is a renowned surf break, Las Islitas. As I entered the bay several 2-3 foot waves broke out from the beach, which I was able to catch in the kayak, one after the other. I went a little further and talked to several folks surfing on SUPs, and caught some more really nice, long, mellow rides. This spot seemed like the perfect place for Lisa to learn about and have fun in the surf, and my mood started to lift immediately. I didn’t stay long, and soon paddled back to Magic. When I returned, Lisa was pretty troubled by me trying to pressure her earlier. We decided to head to a new anchorage closer to town, where we could head into town and clear our heads. We left the next morning, motoring past the city’s breakwater and up the river estuary which the town is set aside. We anchored next to a mangrove forecast, dozens of birds around us.

We dinghied to the nearby marina and walked in to town. San Blas was a great place, very mexican, lots of older buildings and squares. We walked around, bought some fresh shrimp and other groceries, and were feeling a lot better as we went back to the boat.

The evening was relaxing, and then the jejenes came out. San Blas is notorious for jejenes, biting no-see-ums that are prolific in the area. We started encountering the jejenes when we first got to Matanchen Bay, and found we could only deter them with deet or a mosquito coil. At the anchorages they had been pretty annoying, but in the estuary they were horrendous, coming at us constantly starting in the evening and continuing through the night. In our bedroom we tried bug netting, but the jejenes came right through it. We closed all the hatches and things got so stuffy and hot I returned to the salon and slept next to a burning mosquito coil. The first thing the next morning we left town and returned to our previous anchorage off the beach break.

The jejenes were nowhere near as bad here. Over the next several days their numbers would continue to decrease, until they seemed gone entirely and all we had to remind ourselves of them were thousands of dessicated corpses on our ceilings. We were able to relax, and did a few more trips into town, with it continuing to grow on us. We also did a tour through the mangroves by panga, seeing a huge amount of wildlife and beautiful scenes.

Mostly, though we went to the surf break in Matanchen Bay. I talked to Lisa and she wanted to see the Las Islitas break I had been to earlier. We dinghied over and landed in the mellowest spot possible. The nearby waves were, indeed, perfect for learning on, gently breaking in knee to waist deep water and continuing for a long distance. Lisa spent the first day here with a boogie board, and then started using a SUP to catch waves. Over several days she progressed a lot and was able to steer the board well and stand up on it. This was awesome to see.

We stayed in the San Blas anchorage another week and a half, and went to Las Islitas every day. The waves weren’t very big when we started, and they continued to sit down, with one day hardly any waves at all. After five or six days, though, a larger swell arrived, with the waves getting bigger and bigger over the rest of our time there. This was good for Lisa, as she could gradually get comfortable with larger waves, and great for me. This is my favorite spot that I’ve ever surfed at. When we first got here I kept getting great, long rides, one over half a mile — by far the longest ride I’ve gotten, and a wonderful feeling. This got harder as the swell dropped, but when it picked back up the riding got amazing. So many consistent, easy to catch waves, usually head high, and so many waves that I could ride for as long as I wanted.

What was especially nice about this break was the lack of crowds. When the swell was low Lisa and I were the only people out, and while the first day of high swell attracted about a dozen other surfers, after that things got pretty quiet again. And even when there were other people around, there were so many good waves and long rides that there was never any competition for waves.

The beach itself could get quite crowded, on weekends at least. Las Islitas was a prime spot for Mexicans out with the family for the weekend, and seeing hundreds of people coming in to play on the sand or in the waves or eat at the restaurants packing the beach was great and something we really haven’t seen anywhere else in Mexico.

After my time at Las Islitas I felt like a competent longboard surfer, able to catch almost anything I wanted and ride it how I wanted. I wasn’t just interested in Las Islitas, though. Closer to where we were anchored was another established break, Stoner’s Point, with larger and steeper waves than at Las Islitas. I started eyeing this once the swell increased, and went over a few times to try things on a smaller board. I did get a fair number of really good rides, but also kind of got my butt kicked. There’s just a point around when waves get a head and a half high that being caught by a breaking wave is really uncomfortable for me, and I pretty quickly get exhausted. I think this is mostly just that I don’t have much experience with this sort of wave, and I’m hoping to become a better surfer and able to handle these. There seems to me a huge contrast comparing the sublime feeling of a long ride on a longboard to the surge of adrenaline when getting up on a steep, powerful wave, and I would love to be able to fully enjoy both.

We didn’t really want to leave San Blas, but eventually it was time to move on. Around the end of March we left in the middle of the night for Isla Isabel, about forty miles away. We had been looking forward to visiting this island for a long time, and it did not disappoint. It is one of the most remarkable, unique places either of us has ever been.

After anchoring on the east side of the island we dinghied to a nearby fish camp and went ashore. There were several fishermen working on the beach, surrounded by hundreds of seabirds — lots of gulls and pelicans, but mostly frigatebirds. As we followed a path leaving the camp there were frigatebirds nesting all around us on the tops of short trees, just feet away from us. Lots of large iguanas and other lizards scampering around on the ground, and one frigatebird chick that was right on the trail (I guess it fell out of its nest, though I don’t know whether it was now doomed.) As we headed further up the trail we reached a light station and hundreds of boobies flying about. Some of them were nesting, which we tried to keep our distance from, but none of the other birds seemed put off by our presence. It’s amazing to spend so much time so close to them.

When we got back to Magic we did some snorkeling, and found good visibility of around 30′ and lots of fish. I checked out some areas where we could dive, and we went the next morning near Las Monas, two rock spires next to the anchorage. This was nice and mellow, about 30′ deep along a wall and with lots of fish and macro life.

We dove again at the Monas in the afternoon. The next morning I got up early and paddled my SUP around the island, looking for good spots for diving. When I got back to the boat we did a third dive at the southeast tip of the island. This was a bit deeper, and had a couple caves and tunnels and lots of fish.

After our last dive we went for another hike on the island, using a trail system that took us on a loop through the interior. We went through a couple more large groups of frigatebirds, saw more nesting boobies on the coast, found a nook with several tropicbirds flying about, which we hadn’t seen before. At one point I came across an adult frigatebird struggling in the grass; such a huge animal, and very awkward on land. I backed away from it, and tried to flatten some grass so it could escape more easily.

We had a good weather forecast at this point for crossing back to Baja, and after returning from this hike left immediately, motoring through the night. In a little over two and a half days we made our way to La Ventana, motoring the entire way, pleasant and uneventful.

It was good to be back in La Ventana. We were past the end of the kiting season at this point and almost everyone had left town. Lisa had been hoping to take more lessons here, and while Baja Joe’s still had a couple instructors, no one could teach from a jet ski as Lisa needed. There was some nice wind, though, and I went out twice over the next few days. This was fun, though on the second day I had a small accident where the kite powered up while drift launching from the boat. This was handled safely and I went kiting for a bit, but seeing this again took Lisa back to all the stress we had while launching from the boat earlier in the year. We decided to stop launching from the boat until Lisa had more experience and comfort with the sport, and left for La Paz the next morning so we could have some time to relax.

We stayed in La Paz for a little over a week. We arrived on the eve of Bayfest, a three day event organized by the city’s cruising community. We went to several seminars here, and it was good to see our friends. Afterwards things were pretty quiet; I did some work and a few boat projects, Lisa went to her exercise class in the morning, we did some jogging and would go and have drinks with friends in the evenings. Eventually we needed to leave, though, so we would have time to see some sights in the sea on our way to Guaymas to haul out.

On April 19 we left La Paz at 2am, motoring out on an ebb tide through the long navigational channel (which was easy to follow, except for one unlit buoy). After leaving the channel the wind picked up, and we were able to sail north another 40 miles to Isla San Francisco. We were here last year for a couple days, and wanted to spend some more time in this beautiful place.

We arrived in the late morning, and found calm conditions and clear water in the anchorage. We went out for a dive, which was one of the best of the season. All through the dive there were thousands of fish in loose shoals around the rocks, mostly smaller grunts but a fair number of bigger fish and one big school of surgeonfish. We also saw a large turtle nearby in the sand, though it left quickly.

We stayed the night and went hiking the next morning, using the same trail we had been on last year that runs along a ridge framing the anchorage. On the way up to the ridge, hundreds of pelicans and other seabirds started feeding on fish in the shallows nearby. I took this video of the intense action:

After a second dive — not as good, with lots of current — we stayed a second night at the island, taking our SUPs out near sunset once the wind was nearly dead. This was super relaxing, paddling in the flat calm and watching fish and other underwater life and all the great colors.

The next spot we wanted to visit after Isla San Francisco was Isla San Diego, 26 miles north, where we were hoping to do some diving (our friends had recommended it.) I wanted to get started in the middle of the night, like we’ve done in the past. Lisa didn’t like the early start when we left La Paz, though, and wanted to try leaving San Francisco at a more reasonable hour. She also wanted to run the boat for a day — doing all the work which I usually do like navigating and managing the engines and sails. It was calm when we got up in the morning and we left around 7am, with Lisa managing everything. This was a lot of fun for both of us, a big confidence booster for Lisa, and something we want to do more often in the future.

As we headed north to Isla San Diego, a wind eventually started filling in from the southeast. The island wouldn’t offer us much protection from the wind and is poorly charted anyhow, so we changed course and headed towards Bahia Agua Verde, 30 miles further on. We were sailing and making good time, but still had a long ways to go and wouldn’t be able to make it to Agua Verde before dark. We found a closer anchorage at Punta San Marte, arriving an hour or two before sunset. After this day, Lisa had a better understanding of why I like to leave anchorages at night. I’d much rather leave at night than risk arriving at night, and it’s more fun if we can actually do something in the afternoon instead of spending all day moving the boat.

San Marte was a pretty spot, though. We never went ashore, but the next morning went diving at a wash rock poking up a mile off the point. This was a really nice dive, with lots of macro life on a series of short walls.

After the dive we left the anchorage, motoring past Agua Verde and doing some sailing along the way. We were hoping to anchor at Bahia Candeleros for a few days, but weren’t able to get cell service here (though we had in the fall, strangely) so sailed north to Honeymoon Cove on Isla Danzante, our favorite anchorage from last spring’s trip north.

This was still a great place to spend time, and we stayed a few nights. We needed to hike ashore to get internet, but otherwise the spot was quiet and beautiful, with lots of activities. We went kayaking, SUP’ing, snorkeling, spearfishing (the first time for me in a month and a half), and did one dive on a rock near the island’s north tip.

I was hoping to spend another week or so in the sea before crossing to Guaymas, which would get us back to the US around a week into May. Lisa wanted to get to Guaymas earlier, in case we had delays storing the boat for the summer like we did last year. She called the marina we would be staying at and scheduled our haulout for the end of April, which would only give us a few more days before we needed to cross. This was fine of course, and to make the most of the time we had left we headed north to Punta Pulpito, a spot we had never been to which makes a convenient point to jump over to the mainland.

After motoring 45 miles in a flat calm the whole way (saw some dolphins, not much else of note) we reached the point, very dramatic with 400′ cliffs rising straight from the ocean. It’s a point unlike anything else we’ve seen in the sea, and we were pretty eager to go diving and see if the cliffs continued underwater. Alas, they didn’t; all around the point the bottom drops off gradually, and when we got in the water we found a big jumble of boulders spreading out from the point.

The topography wasn’t amazing, but the diving was excellent. There was a huge number, variety, and size of fish here, very active in the shallows especially. As we got into deeper water we found a lot of soft corals and macro life on the rocks.

After the dive we went ashore to hike to the top of the point, with a surprisingly nice trail and great views along the way.

We stayed the night, and did a second dive the next morning, with similar conditions to the first. Afterwards we didn’t have much reason to stay, and departed on the 90 mile trip to Guaymas. I was somewhat concerned before we left, as in the anchorage the wind started up just a few hours into the day.

As we left the lee of the point the wind quickly built to the low twenties. We were sailing, but not making good headway towards Guaymas. After a few hours we started motor sailing, which improved things, and late in the afternoon dropped the sails and motored in a calm. In the middle of the night the wind picked up again, though from a more favorable direction, and we sailed most of the rest of the way to Guaymas. The sea never did make up its mind. I was kind of on edge in the early part of the crossing, since conditions didn’t match the forecast and beating to windward wasn’t comfortable. Lisa felt OK about continuing, though, and on we went. After a while beating into the wind my paddleboard slipped off the front of the boat; it was attached to the boat but was not tied down, and by the time I noticed the pressure of the water had folded it in half. We’re still learning how to do this cruising thing, I guess.

Once we got to Guaymas things went smoothly. We spent a few days in the harbor and a slip working hard to get the boat ready for the summer, got hauled out on schedule and without any drama, then spent several more hours preparing the boat before taking a bus to Phoenix. This was April 30; we spent more than four months continuously in Mexico, and are looking forward to returning in the fall.

Posted in Cruising 2015, Kiteboarding, Sailing, SCUBA Diving, Snorkeling, Surfing | Comments Off

Magic Log #5: La Ventana to La Cruz

When we were originally planning our cruising for the winter, we wanted to cross the sea from La Ventana to Mazatlan. From there we would head south along the coast until we got to Puerto Vallarta or Manzanillo. With all the time we spent in La Ventana, though, we only had six days before we needed to be in the Puerto Vallarta area, so we decided to cross straight to Sayulita, an hour long drive north of Puerto Vallarta. On our return to La Paz later in the season we would see the spots further north on the mainland side.

Instead of the 200 mile crossing to Mazatlan, we had about 320 miles to go now. The forecast was for light winds and we expected a mellow passage which would take about three days. We left La Ventana in the morning, and the wind started to come up a few hours later as we motored past Punta Arena de La Ventana. We had enough wind to sail, but never more than 12 knots or so, and had a delightful time sailing at five or six knots through the small waves. This continued through the night, then the wind came down to seven or eight knots the second day. We put up the spinnakers, first the symmetrical and then the asymmetrical. This took some experimentation — I’d never used a spinnaker before, whether on Magic or Grand Illusion — but after playing around with lines and blocks and poles we had the sails behaving well.

I noticed a fish swimming along under the boat. I stuck a GoPro in the water and was able to identify it as a Bonito, a smaller relative of the tuna. For nearly an hour the fish was always under one hull or the other. In my bloodlust I wanted to catch it, and tried a couple lures on a fishing pole before just firing the speargun into the water at it. This didn’t work, predictably, and after that the Bonito was gone.

In the afternoon on the second day the wind died. We were about half way to Sayulita, and started up one of the engines. Relaxed motoring through flat seas the rest of the day and night. Midday on the third day I was looking around and saw what looked like breaking waves in a wind chop about half a mile away. This was surprising since there wasn’t any wind at all where we were, so I looked through binoculars and saw dolphins jumping into the air over and over again. We changed course to head closer to them, a pod of several hundred spinner dolphins. Here is a video from when we first approached the pod:

Dozens of dolphins broke off from the pod to follow along with our boat. Standing at the bow we were surrounded by dolphins swimming through the calm water and jumping into the air constantly. It was magical. After fifteen or twenty minutes or so I started to get the urge to jump in the water with them. With all my diving and snorkeling experience I had still never seen a dolphin from the water. I put the engine in neutral and waited until we slowed down, then tethered myself to the boat and went off the swim step. A couple minutes later Lisa joined me. We saw dozens of dolphins, though they stayed near the edge of visibility. They were comfortable being much closer to Magic itself, when we weren’t in the water. After another ten minutes a couple small sharks accompanying the pod came upon us. One of them bluff charged me (seen at the end of the video above), then we both got back on Magic pretty quickly. We stayed with the pod for some time longer, but eventually they lost interest and went on their way. We turned the boat back towards Sayulita.

We motored through the third night, sailed for a couple hours around dawn, then started motoring again. We arrived in Sayulita in mid-morning, right about three days after we left La Ventana. Despite both being relatively small Mexican beach towns, they couldn’t have been more different. La Ventana was spread out over several miles, surrounded by desert, and laid back. Sayulita was concentrated over less than a mile, surrounded by jungle, and packed with tourists. Not long after arriving I paddled to shore to check out the landing and had a bit of a shock walking among all the people milling about on the beach. This surprised me, as I had the impression that Sayulita was off the beaten tourist track, but we weren’t that put off (and weren’t expecting things to be any better closer to Puerto Vallarta.)

The water here was wonderfully warm, and we did some swimming around the boat. Then we kayaked to shore and walked the beach as it ran east of town. The crowds thinned and we found ourselves on a beach with wonderful soft white sand, the surf pounding nearby. We started to see why so many people were coming here.

While the beach east of town is a steep shore break, in front of Sayulita itself is a really nice surfing break. During most of the day it was pretty crowded. I wanted to get back into surfing, but I hadn’t done it since 2012 and didn’t want to deal with too many people. Before dawn the next morning I paddled in to shore to join the five or six people already there.

I had a great time. I got several rides, and the feeling of being on a wave again was exhilarating. After an hour and a half I was beat, and went back to Magic. Pretty much every day we were in Sayulita afterwards I went in early to repeat this, and always had fun.

Later that afternoon I went into shore with Lisa, and we went boogie boarding. In the past Lisa had never spent much time playing in ocean surf, but here she had a blast. I really like how gradual the learning curve is with surfing when compared to kiteboarding. Surfing well is, I feel, a lot more difficult than kiteboarding well, but it’s always easy to go and have some fun in the waves.

We decided to meet up with our incoming visitor, Brad, in Sayulita, so had a couple more days to spend before then. One day Lisa went snorkeling by the boat and saw a huge school of fish. I jumped in with a speargun and found them, a bunch of golden trevally, so densely packed and fearless that they casually swam around right in front of my spear. The easiest spearfishing I’ve ever done, and in a few minutes I caught two (and badly wounded one that got away, sadly), which were delicious.

The trevally were gone the next day but I went spearfishing again at a nearby point, still able to catch fish. I also went in to shore with Lisa so we could explore more of our surroundings. Earlier we’d seen trails leading into the jungle from the beach, and after doing some internet research went and checked these out. A system of ATV and foot trails headed east, which we followed to the next beach over. The hiking was great, with lots of insect life and lizards to be spotted.

Brad flew in to Puerto Vallarta on February 24, and took a taxi to Sayulita, arriving in the early evening. The next day we all went to the beach for surfing and boogie boarding, having a lot of fun. In the evening, waves from the northwest started to build — there was a late season norther in the Sea of Cortez — and made things uncomfortable. In the morning we left Sayulita and headed south, looking to enter Banderas Bay and get some protection from the chop. This was a great little run of about 13 miles, which we sailed almost all of. Dolphins and a turtle showed up along the way, and near Punta Mita we hooked a fish, the first one we’ve caught by hook and line. I hauled aboard a Bonito. It was bigger than any fish I’ve caught by spear, and we weren’t sure what to do with it at first. Into a bucket it went, then I went to the bathroom and heard Lisa screech as the fish got out and started flopping around on the floor of the cockpit. I took the fish and broke its gills (so it would bleed out quickly) and blood spurted all over my hands, the cockpit floor, some of the canvas. Jeez.

Soon afterwards we arrived at our anchorage in the lee of Punta Mita. It was much calmer here than it had been in Sayulita, and we were able to relax. I cleaned the fish, beautiful ruby red meat, and went surfing in the evening, getting some nice rides at El Faro. Afterwards we ate most of the Bonito. Starting the next day, we all got sick: me first, then Brad, then Lisa. I suspect food poisoning from the fish; it was seared, like Sashimi, and in retrospect I think it needed to be frozen at some point before cooking to ensure the various pathogens were killed. At least we were all better within a day or so.

After the first evening the swell came down too much to do more surfing. I kayaked with Lisa, and we went in to town to find some fortress-like resorts, lots of touts, and some nicer, quieter areas away from the tourist traffic. There wasn’t much to interest us afterwards, though, and after two nights at Punta Mita we left in the morning for the Marietas islands, four miles away.

These are very pretty islands with lots of caves and tunnels along the shore. We anchored on the south side of one and I put on a tank and dove to check the anchor. Soon afterwards, several large boats packed with tourists picked up nearby mooring balls and started making a din, which would continue through much of the day. We kayaked away from the boats and went snorkeling, though, and had a lot of fun. After the boats left in the afternoon things got calm and quiet, and relaxing in the evening was wonderful.

The next morning I went diving with Lisa under the boat. This was the first full dive we had done since November, and it was great to be back in the water. There were a fair number of fish and we saw some critters we’d never seen in the Sea of Cortez, like a flounder and a zebra moray.

After surfacing some guy came by and insisted we raise our anchor, anchoring being against the park rules I guess. We picked up a mooring ball and repeated much the same routine as the first day. After spending a second night I got up early to kayak around the island, then yet another boat came by and insisted we leave the area. I guess staying overnight is also against the park rules (several other sailboats had done so while we were there) and we needed some bracelets or something which can only be obtained in Puerto Vallarta.

This was very different from our dealings with park officials at the islands around La Paz, where folks patrol regularly but are friendly and accommodating. At the Marietas the officials seemed to prefer that sailboats not visit at all; one boat that was just arriving at the islands turned around after talking to the same people that we did. While our time here was nice, I would rather leave the place to the booze cruises and doubt we will return.

After leaving the Marietas we motored 10 miles to a spot west of La Cruz, the next town along the north shore of Banderas Bay. We anchored near some pretty beaches, but there was a lot of boat traffic and the water was turbid, with terrible snorkeling. Some wind came up and I tried to go kiteboarding. I’d never launched off the boat in such light winds before (10-12 knots) and had trouble getting the kite in the right position. At one point I was up on deck with the harness and launched the kite without thinking things through, and was pulled right over the railing and into the water. I was fine, though this was stupid and Lisa was upset. We talked about ways to make sure I wouldn’t be at risk while launching off the boat, then I went kiting for a bit before the wind died and Lisa and Brad came in the dinghy to rescue me.

Soon afterwards we moved the boat to a large anchorage just east of La Cruz, with several dozen boats around. The main feature in La Cruz is a pretty fancy marina, and the rest of the town is pretty quiet and interesting to walk around in. We spent a couple days unwinding, then Brad flew back to the US.

We stayed in the La Cruz anchorage for another week and a half or so. We had provisioning to do and went on several trips to Puerto Vallarta, 30 minutes south, to go to the Costco and other stores and to see the waterfront (packed with tourists and kind of boring). Closer to La Cruz was another city, Bucerias, that we also visited repeatedly. A store here,, stocks standup paddle boards, and we had wanted to get SUPs since trying them in La Ventana. The people at the store were great and we were able to try several boards before buying two and bringing them back to Magic. We also went looking for kite instruction in Bucerias — the city has a long sandy beach and starts getting consistent winds in March. The kiting community is a lot smaller here than La Ventana, though, and we weren’t able to find any instructors who Lisa was comfortable taking lessons from. I went kiting several times from the boat while we were in the anchorage, but without much else to do we got restless and left town to start making our way back north.

Posted in Cruising 2015, Kiteboarding, Sailing, SCUBA Diving, Snorkeling, Surfing | Comments Off

Magic Log #4: La Ventana

We spent about a month in the US, mostly in Phoenix working on converting a Sprinter van we bought into our next campervan (we left Lisa’s first van, Vanifest, in Alaska at the end of last summer so that we could fly up there for a few weeks at a time instead of needing to do the interminable drive there and back.) After Christmas, just a couple days before we were due to fly back to Cabo, Lisa started having a lot of trouble breathing. We went to an urgent care clinic and she found out she was having a reaction to the dust and pollen in the air around Phoenix, and left with a couple inhalers and steroid pills. The steroids instantly relieved her symptoms but had a host of side effects, and we were eager to get to Mexico where her breathing problems would hopefully abate.

After a trying day of flying and bus taking we got to Magic and about collapsed. The next morning we left the marina we’d stored the boat at and returned to the main anchorage in front of town. Lisa was still feeling pretty out of it and stayed on the boat that day, but afterwards she got much better and we started thinking about leaving La Paz. We didn’t want to get too far from civilization in case her symptoms returned, and decided to head to La Ventana, which has a remote feel but is only a 50 minute drive from La Paz.

When we left La Paz a norther was starting, and we decided to stop at Bahia San Gabriel along the way to break the trip up. After sailing and then motoring into the wind for a while we made it to the anchorage, and spent a couple days. We did some snorkeling, and I went jogging on the beach during an extreme low tide, which we repeated together the next day and saw a lot of bird life.

The main reason we wanted to go to La Ventana was to go kiteboarding. I had a lot of fun here on Grand Illusion back in 2012, and this time we would be arriving at the height of the season. We figured we could anchor in the open roadstead anchorage in front of town, and if a major norther came through we could head 15 miles south to Ensenada de Los Muertos to wait it out. So, with this plan we left San Gabriel on the last day of the norther and had a nice sail south to La Paz. As we approached our first anchorage there we caught a cross wind and a bean bag and cockpit pad flew off the boat. We dropped the sails and turned on the engines and 10 minutes later had both items back aboard. There was about 25 knots of wind and attendant waves, and several times kiters and windsurfers came out to have a look. It was quite the introduction back to La Ventana.

Over the first few days we moved around several times to find the most suitable spot. Lisa would be taking lessons from an outfit near the south end of town; we moved close to them, then moved further back after some complaints from people staying in the nearby campground (whatever), and then settled in. We ended up staying in the anchorage for over six weeks, our longest time in any one spot since we met back in 2013.

During our entire time here, there was one other sailboat that came in and stayed for two nights. This is not a spot that is on the beaten track for other boaters. During the winter the frequent strong winds from the north can build pretty big waves, and after dark the wind typically dies completely and boats will turn beam to the seas and roll heavily. Our first night here I got up in the middle of the night to set a stern anchor, and this was a big help; the motion is considerably reduced on Magic compared to a monohull, but we would still have trouble sleeping if we had the wrong orientation to the seas. We were always comfortable on Magic, no matter how bad the waves got, though getting on and off the dinghy could get quite tricky, and riding the dinghy in windy conditions was pretty stressful (though this got better as we rapidly got experience dealing with the waves.) Several days we had winds to 30 knots or so, but we never did need to move the boat to Ensenada de Los Muertos.

Lisa started taking lessons from La Ventana Experience, the same place I went to back in 2012. After several lessons she was able to fly the kite pretty well, but was still stressed out by it and was not comfortable flying it alone in the water. The long dinghy rides in the waves before and, especially, after the lessons weren’t helping.

I wasn’t helping much either. Lisa has wanted to kiteboard for years and was trying really hard to get psyched up for the lessons, and I was giving all the encouragement and support that I could. But I also wanted to go kiteboarding myself, and wanted to work out a system where I could kite off the boat. Previously, whenever I kiteboarded off Magic or Grand Illusion I had to get to shore by kayak or dinghy, do my kiting from the beach, and then return to the boat. It’s not that bad, but it’s a hassle and everything always gets sandy. Launching and landing the kite straight off the boat seemed like it would make things a lot easier. Very few people do this though so I would need to come up with a system myself. I started experimenting and making refinements and gradually was able to launch and land the kite somewhat reliably.

All the while though I kept having accidents, where the kite would fly around unexpectedly, and once where it looped violently and uncontrollably for a minute before stopping. Each time this happened it added to Lisa’s stress — this sport is supposed to be fun, right? Then, one afternoon while launching I tried to move the kite from one side of the boat to the other; I had a line attached to the bar which got away from me, and as I struggled to pull the bar back to the boat I called to Lisa for help. She came out and grabbed the line, then the kite powered up and the line flew out, cutting at the fingers on both of our hands and catching me in the neck, throwing me into the water.

In retrospect, there are a lot of things wrong with my approach to flying the kite from the boat. The kites used in kiteboarding are incredibly powerful, and in the early days of the sport people would be seriously injured from being flung or dragged hundreds of feet by them. Then the technology improved: more lines were added which allowed the kite to spill the wind and depower (like sheeting out a sailboat), and safety releases were added so that the kite could easily be completely depowered or even detached from the rider. Learning these safeties is one of the first things you do when starting the sport, but that was a long time ago for me and together with my general inexperience with the sport I didn’t give the safeties much consideration when thinking about how to launch off the boat. If I’d still had access to the safeties when the bar got away from me, I could have depowered the kite (so it would placidly sit on the water behind the boat) or released it (so it would sit fairly placidly and float away from the boat at a few knots) instead of risking myself and my wife to wrangle with it.

Anyhow, in the intermediate aftermath of the accident we were both OK and I got back on the boat, but without any way to control the kite it just kept looping behind the boat. After what felt like several minutes, the canopy tore and the kite settled down onto the water, then I pulled it in and got it aboard.

This was a big tear, going the full height of the kite near one of the struts and a few feet on either side. We had to do some kite repairs already on this trip though, and in a couple hours I stitched the kite back together; it still flies fine, and has been dubbed Frankenkite.

What I was most worried about though was whether I had ruined this sport for Lisa. Traumatic experiences while learning a new sport are never good. During Lisa’s first lesson some guy on the beach was teaching his girlfriend how to kite, and she ended up getting lifted off the ground and then dragged down the beach. Seeing this wasn’t good for Lisa, and I doubt it was good for the girl. After our accident, both of us had a few fingers we had lost skin from and needed time to heal. Lisa was still enthusiastic about continuing to learn to kite, though. I was never much of a mentor for her, and she wanted to take time off to read and get a better understanding about the sport. She found that her difficulty with the initial lessons is not unusual (as for myself, it had a steeper learning curve than any other sport I’ve done) and she showed amazing perseverance in the face of that difficulty.

Over the next couple weeks we would try to get over to shore pretty much every day and go jogging on the beach or hiking on some nice trails near town. If there was wind in the afternoon I would go kiting, and Lisa had a lot of fun photographing people who kited or windsurfed near the boat.

We started seeing some changes from being in the same anchorage for so long. Pretty much anytime we go to a new anchorage we can expect to see juvenile fish — inch long sargeant majors and so forth — hanging out under the boat. Magic provides them some much needed shelter. In La Ventana the fish started treating our boat like a reef, and we attracted a shoal with tens of thousands of baitfish. Pretty soon the baitfish attracted several dozen needlefish and Pacific Sierra (a type of mackerel), along with a lone pelican we dubbed Peter. Going out in the morning in the calm the predator fish would constantly be feeding, lunging up from the depths to take fish at the surface. After a few days of this I tried fishing for a sierra, unsuccessfully, then jumped in the water and shot one for dinner. After that they were pretty wary and stayed in the depths when I got in the water, but they continued to feed. The school dwindled and after a week or so was gone. Here is a video taken towards the end of needlefish feeding on the shoal:

During this time we also started running low on supplies. La Ventana has a few stores but a limited selection. We needed to get to La Paz for groceries, and decided to combine this with another trip. When we bought Magic, the batteries were in poor condition, and they degraded pretty rapidly in the fall to the point where they were almost non functional when we got to La Ventana. We had to run the generator daily, and decided to order new batteries through a store in La Paz rather than continue to struggle until we got to a bigger city. Three weeks later the batteries finally arrived, and we paid a guy in town to give us a ride to La Paz to pick up the batteries and over two hundred pounds of groceries. When we got back to La Ventana it was the early afternoon and winds were starting to pick up. The batteries themselves weighed over four hundred pounds together, and I had to do several trips to Magic and back, putting the batteries into backpacks and hoisting them aboard the pitching boat with a block and tackle on the dinghy davits.

All our time in town helped me improve my kiting a lot. At the start I could ride upwind and turn semi reliably, but as I got more and more time in the water I was able to turn easily and got more and more comfortable with the kite, to the point where I could relax and fly the kite without thinking much about it. This was a great feeling, and I looked for ways I could push myself further. I started doing small jumps, short toeside rides, and carving turns. I was trying to build skills I could use on a directional board (essentially a surfboard with straps), which are harder to ride but have nice benefits like being able to ride better upwind, in surf, and with a hydrofoil. Late in our time at La Ventana I bought a directional board and a hydrofoil, and tried it a few times without the foil. Getting on the directional board felt very different from the twin tip I was used to; I’ve only been on it a couple times and still have a lot to learn.

Lisa started spending more time in town, especially at Baja Joe’s, a hostel with an attached surf school which we frequently walked by. The guests and folks working there were all very nice and Lisa had a great time hanging out. She talked to them about kiting lessons and liked the gradual approach they had to building up kite skills. She bought a small trainer kite and flew it for several afternoons on the beach, getting used to controlling the kite.

Not long afterwards, Baja Joe’s ran a women-only kiteboarding camp. Lisa joined this, taking lessons over several days which were great for developing her kite skills and comfort in the water. Afterwards she took a couple more lessons with an instructor from the camp who she really liked, and continued to improve.

After a few lessons Lisa started to be able to get up and ride. This was awesome, and she was having a great time, but unfortunately we had to leave — several days later we would be meeting up with Lisa’s friend, Brad, in Puerto Vallarta and had a long ways to go to get there. On February 18 we left La Ventana and set off across the sea.

Posted in Cruising 2015, Kiteboarding, Sailing | Comments Off

Magic Log #3: San Carlos to La Paz

After a couple weeks in the US (mostly spent mountain biking and canyoning in Arizona and Utah) hurricane season seemed to be winding down and Lisa and I headed back south to Magic on October 19. In short order we left the marina the boat had been stored at, returned to the nearby anchorage we had been using in Bahia Algodones, and settled back into our routine.

Temperatures had moderated while we were gone and it was now comfortable sleeping belowdecks. Unfortunately, the water visibility had decreased a lot and was only 20′ or so in most spots. Diving was still good, though, and we did a few around nearby Isla Venados.

Four or five days after we arrived my mom and her husband, Tim, drove south to see us. We had been doing some canyoning with them in Zion before coming down to the boat, and they wanted to visit for a week and do some diving. Overall their visit went really well, but there is a definite learning curve to the whole boat-visitors-arriving-in-a-foreign-country thing. I’d been planning on picking them up at Marina Real, where we had left the boat while we were in the US, and gave them instructions there. On the day of their arrival it looked like there was going to be a strong sea breeze building which could make this dramatic, so we moved the boat to the other anchorage we had used in the area, Caleta Lalo, which was protected from the sea breeze. I wasn’t able to communicate the change in plans very well over the phone, so when they arrived at the marina well after dark I tried to take the dinghy a mile and a half around nearby Punta San Antonio to get to them. This did not work out very well, as the sea breeze had built after all and dinghying into a sizable wind swell at night with no moon is no fun. After getting a quarter of the way there I aborted and returned to Magic. From here I needed to get to my mom’s car so I could guide them to our new location. Rather than walk 2 miles on roads to get to the marina I tried going cross country, and after some thorny desert bushwhacking, friendly flashlight-armed guard encountering, wall scaling, and being-escorted-off-the-premises-ing I finally made it to them. We drove to the beach in Caleta Lalo and after a few dinghy trips had everyone and their stuff aboard the boat, then I drove the car back to the marina to store it and jogged back to Caleta Lalo on the roads. Phew.

Over the next few days we did some diving at the spots we were familiar with around Caleta Lalo and Bahia Algodones. This was nice, but we had our sights set on a new spot. 17 miles west of San Carlos is Isla San Pedro, the main destination for the town’s dive boats. Lisa and I had been interested in this island since we got to San Carlos, and having more people along seemed like it would be more fun and make things go more smoothly. We didn’t know anything about anchoring there and would be figuring it out as we went. Early in the morning on October 25 we left Bahia Algodones for a bouncy motor to the island.

When we arrived we saw cliffs along most of the island. There was one small beach near the southeast tip with some promise for anchoring; we headed over and found it dropping off steeply but were still able to anchor in 50′ of water. I jumped in with a tank and found about 80′ of visibility. I headed down the anchor chain and wrapped it around a boulder to make sure we wouldn’t drift if the wind came up.

The beach was covered with about 50 sea lions. They didn’t seem to care about us and went about their business barking at each other. We were interested in diving with them though, and not long after arriving I went in with my mom and Tim and we swam off towards the wall on the south side of the beach, away from the beach itself, and descended. After a few minutes some sea lions came over and started to play with my mom and Tim. Well, that’s what it looked like to me anyways; they thought the sea lions were being aggressive, and Tim started fending them off with his flashlight. Sometimes it’s hard to read the sea lions’ intents, and I’ve never had a problem diving with them in Mexico, California or BC, but after a few more minutes we aborted and returned to Magic.

We thought we might have been encroaching a little too closely on their beach, and later in the afternoon I went out in the dinghy with my mom and Tim to look for a dive spot further away. We went to the south tip of the island, at a spot we had seen a dive boat at earlier, and which would become our mainstay dive site at the island. This spot had much better topography, with some nice walls and a big cave, and while we had sea lions come along for much of the dive, they were friendlier than at the other spot.

Lisa was concerned about the sea lions and wanted to make sure we found a spot where they wouldn’t be a problem, so she didn’t come along on this first dive. And besides, we only have three tanks on the boat, so we couldn’t all dive at once. After our good time on the first dive, the next day we did two dives with Lisa coming on both. Great diving, with some sea lions, a large variety of fish, an octopus.

We spent three nights at Isla San Pedro, doing seven dives. I went on every dive as the ‘guide’, with Lisa, my mom, and Tim alternating as the the other two. As the days went by visibility steadily decreased, to 30-40′ on the last day. On the second to last day, while I was diving with Lisa and Tim, Lisa didn’t like some sea lions which kept swooping in from the darker water, and we turned around and surfaced early.

To cool off we went kayaking, visiting some sea caves both north and south of our anchorage and watching all the birds and sea lions on the rocks and cliffs. This was a lot of fun, and we went even further out the next day.

Despite her worries about the sea lions, Lisa wanted to dive again, so the next morning we went when there was more light and stayed at shallower depths. This was our last dive at San Pedro, and several sea lions came by which were playful and fun to swim with.

After the dive I was hoping the sea breeze would pick up and we could sail back to San Carlos, but it didn’t and we had a relaxing motor in a dead calm. The day after returning, my mom and Tim drove back to the US, and we were back to our usual routine. We started diving again but found that conditions had gotten worse: the poor visibility we had here previously was due to a plankton bloom, which was in turn causing a bloom of stinging jellyfish. After finishing a dive they would get all over the anchor rode, and if I went out spearfishing they were unbearable in the surface waters.

We pretty much stopped going in the water and started looking for other things to do. One activity we had really wanted to do was go on a nighttime insect safari. When I did the jog to the boat back when our visitors arrived, I came across a walking stick right next to the road and got some crappy photos of it with my phone. Lisa had never seen one, so we went back to Caleta Lalo and went ashore an hour after sunset to wander around in the brush. This was a surprising amount of fun, and there were a lot of insects: spiders, katydids, and so forth. Eventually I found the fabled walking stick, and went back to the boat to get a real camera while Lisa communed with it.

The jellyfish were even worse in Caleta Lalo than they had been at Algodones, so we returned to the Algodones anchorage. We would go ashore to jog and to eat at the Soggy Peso, and I did some more kiteboarding. Very relaxing, and lots of fun.

We started itching to move along, though. The hurricane season seemed to have ended and we felt safe heading further south in the sea. I was hoping to sail, and one evening we left and found pretty rough conditions outside the bay. The autopilot stopped working, and faced with a sleepless night hand steering the boat through chop we quickly turned around and returned to the anchorage. We tried again the next afternoon, when there was a nice but too strong breeze.

We had trouble from the start. The starboard engine wasn’t making water (the engine’s main cooling comes from seawater which is pumped through a heat exchanger and then overboard) and we could only run it a few minutes at a time. We decided to press on anyways since conditions were so nice. Then the autopilot stopped working again. We figured out it was shutting down when battery voltage got too low, so several times in the night we would run the engine for a few minutes to charge the batteries a bit.

Ideally we wouldn’t have to resort to this. The boat has two engines which are almost totally redundant. The port engine wouldn’t start, though, and hadn’t since our San Pedro trip. When Tim was here he played around with it and found that jumping the starter’s solenoid with a screwdriver would start the engine, but recommended against doing this and I forgot to see how he was doing it anyways, and didn’t want to figure this out while we were sailing along at night. We also have a generator, but I couldn’t find the adapter needed to plug it into our battery charger. Poor preparation, I guess.

Anyways, other than the engine drama we had a very nice crossing and sped across the sea, arriving in Loreto bay the next morning. At this point the wind died and we were just kind of bobbing there for a bit. I hopped into the water to see if the starboard engine’s problems were due to the raw water intake being blocked — no luck — and then figured out how to jump the port engine. We motored a few miles east to Puerto Ballandra, to the northwest on Isla Carmen, and anchored.

This was a wonderful anchorage. A small, remote cove with good internet access and great scenery. We anchored in the north lobe of the cove and relaxed from the crossing. Some time later we took the dinghy out to dive at the point marking the southern end of the cove. This was a treat after our recent time in Algodones, with a good 60′ of visibility, no jellyfish, warmer water, and a huge and varied population of fish.

We stayed at Ballandra for a few days, diving at this spot again and at one a couple miles north. I went spearfishing twice; during the second session I shot a couple fish and was done in 5 minutes, as I’d anchored the kayak in a small group of baitfish and the nearby predators were kind of stupid with hunger. We also went hiking on shore, having fun seeing all the life in the area.

We were getting pretty comfortable with the south point dive site, and decided to try a night dive there. I’ve done night dives plenty of times in the past, but Lisa never had, and we wanted to take it easy. The night beforehand, we went to the spot and snorkeled, seeing plenty of cool stuff. With all this preparation, the night dive itself went off smoothly; we stuck to shallow depths and made our way along, poking around. Lots of sea cucumbers and sea hares were out (which we never see during the day), along with many fish lazily swimming in place, several free swimming morays and lobsters.

Before we could leave Ballandra, I had to get the engines working again. I checked the raw water impeller on the starboard engine (which pumps seawater through the heat exchanger) and found it was shredded. I replaced it, picked out some impeller fragments I found downstream of it, then tried the engine again. It seemed to be making water now, so we left the anchorage. As I was watching the raw water flow as we left, it was clear it was still very deficient and the engine was overheating. We turned around and went right back to where we had been anchored. This was pretty deflating; I took the raw water circuit apart again and found another pile of impeller fragments. After removing these we left the anchorage again, and again not long after leaving the engine started overheating. At this point we were determined, though, and switched over to the port engine. I took apart the raw water circuit a third time and found yet more impeller fragments. After removing these, the flow in the starboard engine was finally in good shape and we were able to use it.

We went 20 miles south to Bahia Candeleros, an anchorage we had checked out briefly on the way north back in the spring. We stayed here a few days this time, as we found better internet and could work, and now that we had a compressor we could dive at the nearby Candeleros islets, a well known dive site in this part of the sea. The walls of these islets drop away quickly underwater, which is different from other islands we have seen in the sea, which generally hit sand at 30′ to 40′. We did two dives at the Candeleros, getting down to 60′ or 70′. Deeper isn’t better in diving, but the different nature of these sites was refreshing, especially with some beautiful gardens of soft coral we found in the deeper parts.

After our second dive at the Candeleros we left for a long overnight motor to Isla Partida, 85 miles away, which went smoothly. As we left we started seeing dozens, then thousands of butterflies flying across the water, miles from shore. We had seen some of these while diving at the Candeleros; sometimes they would lay flat on the water, resting, then just take off like nothing had happened. They got all over the boat and would sit in one spot for hours, exhausted from whatever migration they were on.

We were getting close to La Paz and it felt good to be back in familiar waters. We anchored in El Embudo, a small and narrow anchorage near the island’s north end, and went diving at Los Islotes, the sea lion colony a mile away which we’ve been to several times before. I did two long rebreather dives here on a liveaboard trip back in 2008 — the first time I ever went to La Paz — which were great, and I was pretty eager to dive here again.

We anchored the dinghy on the north side of the islets, and during the dive had great visibility and saw a fair number of fish, sea lions and so forth as we swam around a big jumble of boulders. It was nice, though there are some other sections with better topography and corals. After getting back to the boat I went spearfishing and took a dog snapper, one of the largest fish I’ve shot yet. Delicious meat.

We stayed the night, but the next morning found waves from Corumuel winds (a southwest wind frequently seen near La Paz) entering the anchorage and making us uncomfortable about the nearby rocks. We left the anchorage and motor sailed a few miles south to Ensenada Grande, where we found a more open beach to anchor off of. It was still wavy, but such conditions are far more comfortable in a catamaran like Magic than a monohull like Grand Illusion. In the afternoon the wind died and we went diving at Rocas Tintorera, a nearby spot. This was a great dive, with better fish and corals than at Los Islotes, several different species of morays and lots of macro life.

The next morning we went hiking on a trail at the south end of the anchorage. We did this trail back in the winter and wanted to see it again; it goes up an interesting drainage and crosses the island to some nice viewpoints.

In the afternoon we motored south to Bahia San Gabriel, another anchorage which we had been to before on Grand Illusion. We’d snorkeled here several times in the past, and wanted to see how the diving was. Alas, the spot we went to, at the north end of the bay, never got very deep and diving didn’t add a whole lot to the experience compared to snorkeling.

After a couple days we left the anchorage and arrived in La Paz, at last. We had several days here before we would be flying back to the US; we would be north for about a month and needed to arrange storage for the boat while we were gone, but otherwise had time to enjoy the city. I took Lisa in most mornings so she could go to an exercise class with her friends, and we did some jogging. I found some time to finally debug the port engine, and found that a bad electrical connection was keeping the engine from starting. After replacing this with a new wire run the engine started and ran fine.

I also found time for some new engine drama. When we’re in La Paz we stay in the main anchorage in front of town, which is a nice spot and close to the main attractions and all our friends. We would be storing the boat at Marina Fonatur, four miles west of here, which is more isolated but had space for us. The morning after we got in I motored to Fonatur in our dinghy to pay for the slip and so forth. Half way back to Magic the motor flew off the back of the dinghy and into the water. It was tethered to the dinghy so didn’t sink, and I got it back aboard and mounted it. It wouldn’t start, not surprisingly. We had two beat up oars on the dinghy but no oarlocks, and I tried to jerry rig an attachment so I could use them. This went poorly; I was able to paddle a little bit but mostly got carried back towards Magic on the tidal current. I sent Lisa an email to let her know I’d be running late, and she found someone to come and pick me up in his dinghy. We went back to the marina where Lisa had been waiting for me, then I found out she had gotten a separate ride back to Magic, then — still refusing to ask anyone for help myself — I paddled the dinghy back out towards Magic. I was about halfway there when a ferry driver came by and insisted on giving me a tow before I got swept out towards the entrance of the bay. I don’t know if this actually would have happened, but I was getting pretty tired and frustrated and gladly accepted the ride.

Now back at Magic, I had a drowned outboard to deal with. I’d hardly as much as taken the cowling off an outboard before, and after doing some research found I needed to remove and clean the carburetor, remove the spark plug and drain and then add oil to the cylinders. This all went pretty quickly though, then I got the outboard back on the dinghy and it started up after a few pulls. No problems since then with the outboard, thankfully. It’s good to know how to do this, I guess, but also a good lesson about the risks of deferred maintenance. I’d known the screws which attach the outboard to the dinghy needed lubrication, and weren’t as secure as they could have been.

The rest of our time in La Paz went pretty uneventfully, and on November 25 we took a shuttle to Los Cabos and flew to Phoenix.

Posted in Cruising 2014, Kiteboarding, Sailing, SCUBA Diving, Snorkeling | Comments Off