The Turning Point
September 13, 2016
We survived Hurricane Newton! Newton decided to take a right turn near Bahia Concepcion, about 150 miles from where we were, and cross over the Sea of Cortez to mainland Mexico letting us dodge the bullet of the fierce winds and rain. We just got the outer bands of mild wind and a little rain overnight. Unfortunately, other sailboats in La Paz, Puerto Escondido and San Carlos were not as lucky, as reports starting coming into us over the radio that boats were lost in the hurricane. We didn’t hear of anyone being injured, but like us, most of these boats were peoples’ homes. So, we feel for them.
The group of boats anchored at Puerto Don Juan decided to have a party on the beach the night after the hurricane to celebrate. It was fun to meet lots of new people. Some people brought snacks, some brought guitars, and some of the kids built a bonfire. Overall, good times.
One of the boats we met, Kenta Anae, another Canadian boat, invited us to go snorkeling with them the next day. Merle and his son Matero from Kenta Anae along with Chris and Liz aboard Espiritu all joined in on the fun. They brought a couple of spear guns which Mike was really excited to try out. Mike has talked about getting a spear gun, but having never tried it he didn’t really know what to look for. So, this was a great way to learn about it.
After Merle shot a nice size grouper, he let Mike have a go of it. The visibility was only about 15 feet or so, and the grouper were definitely hanging out at depths below that. Mike and I have both been working on trying to improve our freediving, but I’ll post about that another time. Anyway, Mike took the spear gun and headed head first down to find some grouper. Because of the poor visibility, at the surface Mike seemed to just disappear into the deep. Merle was watching from the surface and gave a shrug like “where did he go?”. But, a minute later Mike emerged from the depths with a fish! He was ecstatic. He nailed a really nice size grouper on his first shot. We estimated that he was probably about 35 feet down, so that freediving practice has been paying off. Now we really need to find Mike a spear gun.
We decided it was time to move on from Puerto Don Juan and headed over the village at Bahia de los Angeles (also known as BLA). BLA is one of the places that we had read that we might see whale sharks in the late summer. So, we were thrilled when we heard on the VHF from another boat that they had spotted whale sharks swimming around their boat where they were anchored just off the village.
Once we dropped the anchor at BLA our first task was seeing those whale sharks before they moved on. We didn’t want to scare them off with the outboard on the dinghy, so we blew up the paddleboards and splashed them in the water. The boat that saw the whale sharks was anchored about a mile away, so we started paddling as quickly as possible to get over there.
Whale sharks aren’t really a whale or a shark. They are the largest fish on the planet. They can grow to up 46 feet long and 15 tons. That’s huge! They are filter feeders that eat tons of krill and plankton each day. They have a very large, wide mouth that they open to filter the seawater through. So, they aren’t dangerous, other than their size. We knew that people had snorkeled with them, and it doesn’t seem to bother them at all. We were just told to watch out for their very large and powerful tail.
We paddled closer to the boat that told us they saw them swimming nearby. Mike was in front of me and kept asking me if I saw anything. Nothing. Then, suddenly, we saw a large mass on the top of the water closer to the anchored boat. We found the whale shark! We got close to it and saw that it was just hovering in one place not really moving, or moving really slowly. So, we both slowly got off the boards and put on our mask and snorkel.
The visibility wasn’t great, so you only saw the whale shark under water when you were within 5 feet of it. But, wow, this guy was massive. At least 20 feet long his wide mouth would open and close near the surface as he filtered the water through. Aside from the wide head and mouth, the rest of his body looked like a shark. A giant shark! Even though we knew they were not dangerous, it was still a bit intimidating to swim that close to a 20 ft long fish! He (or she, I have no idea) was sitting practically vertical. We were only in about 20 ft of water, so his tail was hitting the sandy bottom of the bay. He completely ignored us and let us get pretty close to him. He was beautiful with a brownish skin and white spots that the sun reflected off of.
Mike dove down to get a better look at the whale shark and because of that poor visibility didn’t see the second one that came from the other direction and startled him in turn startling the poor whale shark. It was pretty funny. So, we followed these two guys around when I saw a smaller fin on the surface coming toward us. I was hoping it was a baby whale shark and not another kind of shark. Sure enough, a baby whale shark about 6-7 feet long swam by us.
We got back on the paddle boards and hung out next to the whale sharks for a while, just observing. They would come up next to the boards and then stop. We watched them for about an hour, but I probably could have stayed there all day. They were awesome!
We got lucky and came into BLA the day that the tiny market (smaller than a 7-Eleven) got some fresh produce, which they only get once a week. So, we were able to pick up some fresh fruits and vegetables. We also filled our dinghy gas can and started making plans to move on. Both Kenta Anae and Adios were also interested in heading up to Puerto Refugio on the northern tip of Isla Angel de la Guarda. Puerto Refugio was out designated turning point, the farthest north we planned to travel into the Sea of Cortez. From there, we plan to turn and head south, hopefully about the time that the winds in the Sea switch around from the north.
So, we made a plan with both Kenta Anae and Adios to travel together. We decided to break up the trip and first stop at Ensenada Alcatraz, about 15 miles north of BLA. From there, we would make the 30 mile journey to Puerto Refugio.
We had a nice sail to Ensenada Alcatraz arriving just before sunset. Mike and I were both pretty hot and sweaty by the time we dropped the anchor, so the first thing we did was put on our swimsuits and jump in. There is nothing more refreshing than jumping in the water when you are hot! We swam to shore and walked along the beach before heading back to the boat before dark.
The next morning we did a little snorkel in the morning and then headed out for Puerto Refugio. The winds were quite a bit more than were forecasted. We were seeing 20-25 knots pretty consistently, and there were pretty large seas with short, steep waves. We put two reefs in the main and just pulled out a piece of the staysail and were still doing 6.5 knots! When we were finally able to turn to sail more downwind, we set the sails wing and wing and were surfing down the swell. It was a fun time!
We navigated the narrow entrance around the reefs and islands to find a beautiful anchorage at Puerto Refugio and settled in for the night. The next day Mike, Merle, Matero and I headed out in the dinghy for some snorkeling and spearfishing for the boys. We found a large rock in the middle of the bay that had lots of sea life. And, we were thrilled with the visibility, which was probably the best we have seen yet at least 40 feet. Merle picked up two nice size grouper with the spear gun, so we decided to have a fish fry party on our boat. Good food and good company made for a fabulous evening.
We’re going to do some more exploring around Puerto Refugio until we see the right weather window to do our turn around and head back south. We’ve been heading up here for so many months that I feel pretty accomplished that we made it this far. But, the journey is not over yet!