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.

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