Tuesday, December 14, 2010

San Jose del Cabo to Muertos Cove

San Jose to Muertos Cove (23 59.355N, 109 49.352W)
Perhaps it was that we were headed for a place known as "Dead Man's Cove" .... Whatever the reason, we were anxious to arrive before nightfall. At 8:00 a.m. on December 4, we motored to the fuel dock at Puerto San Jose. Alas, a Cayman Island fishing vessel with voluminous tanks had pulled into the fuel dock before us, and there was only room for one! He would be there for another hour. We recalculated the miles left to go and the gallons of diesel aboard our relatively diminutive sloop, and decided to head out.

At 9:00 a.m. we had 8 knots on the nose. At 1:15, 15 knots. At 2:45, 12 knots ... and so it continued. But it wasn't just the wind slowing us down. We had failed to account for two other opposing forces: 1. the outflowing current from the 700-mile long Sea of Cortez, and 2. the pull of a new moon, which one fellow later told us was at peak pulling power for the year. So much for setting anchor before darkness fell.

We made slow progress, and approached Muertos at 10:00 p.m. Our tanks were much lower than we'd anticipated, and the night was as dark as India ink. I have never had so much trouble gauging depth (i.e. distance from the land) and distinguishing the placement of lights (are those anchor lights or lights on land?).

After twenty minutes of careful motoring during which we compared our depth soundings to the chart, we anchored in 40 feet at the coordinates posted above, set the anchor drag alarm for 50 feet and settled in for some sleep. Daylight revealed that we had come far closer to land than we'd hoped to be, and that all those lights I had concluded were land lights were indeed anchor lights. I quietly blessed our conservative choice. Instead of barging in among them, we had bobbed just outside the cove's best shelter ... and ... all's well that ends well, as Shakespeare once argued.

On December 5, we moved Nereid further into the cove and surveyed the shore. To our starboard, a restaurant (reported to be cruiser-friendly); ahead of us a beach; to port, a hotel. Everywhere, the blue, beige, and terra cotta tones of Mexico.

We lowered Galatea over the rail and rowed toward shore, stopping along the way to converse with other cruisers. Some friendly folks from Canada warned us that the wind was forecast to come up hard from the south for the next several days and that it would be best to "stay put" in Muertos until the blow was over. Bobbing alongside their boat, we nodded our heads, probably in rhythm with the swell and having already accepted that mother nature had just reset our agenda.

The day before we had burned through more fuel than budgeted (a sacrifice to current), and heavy headwinds into Cabo would more than deplete our tank. We chatted with them about whether fuel could be gotten ("none known, but someone at the restaurant might know"), refused their kind offer of 5-gallons (the husband had frowned when the wife offered it), then said our goodbyes.

George pulled for shore, where waves broke softly among rows of rocks spaced a panga's width apart. Above the waterline lay a row of pangas, sterns to the cove: these are Mexico's ubiquitous fishing boats, fiberglass work horses about 20-25 feet long, 6 feet wide, and 3-5 feet deep. Here and there among them were men fixing their nets or cleaning a catch, their trucks parked further still upland.

It seemed likely that the section of beach aligned with a panga would be our best bet for a landing without excessive exposure to rocks. I navigated George toward a spot, smiling at the sight of children further down shore who were moving as fast as crabs between the soft foam at the waterline and the shade of their family's beach tent. One of the older women from the tent, elegantly attired in a red dress, walked to the shore and mounted a jet ski. All of the children began jumping and shrieking in glee. She helped one of the children into a life jacket and sat him in front of her, then took off with a roar, her long black hair streaming out behind them. She looked like the coolest grandma ever!

We landed Galatea with aplomb (and a splash) and made our way upland, chatting with a couple of fishermen and patting a black dog who stood in the shade licking the remains of a freshly cleaned dorado. "Do you know where we might find fuel around here?"

"How much do you need?"

"15 gallons."

"Go get your cans. I'll drive you."

God had just shown up in the form of a retired commercial fisherman named Terry.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

San Jose del Cabo

We have traveled a long way in the past week or so, and we're feeling just about every nautical mile! But, we're now tied up at a marina in San Jose del Cabo, soaking in the luxuries of hot showers, a full water tank, and internet access. There's an art walk in town tonight, and we intend to hike a mile to see it.

After leaving Bahia Tortuga we sailed south under genoa and a double-reefed main. Shifting tailwinds made it difficult to avoid an accidental jibe, so we sheeted in the genoa and let out the boom. Unfortunately, we heard a CRACK and saw something go flying. That was the scariest moment I've had on Nereid. Fortunately, it wasn't the mast or the boom: it was the shackle that held our preventer's block to the starboard toerail. George made a trip out to the foredeck, picked up the hardware and tied down the mainsail. He brought back into the cockpit another piece of hardware; one we hadn't realized had come loose. We believe it's a piece that helps keep the mainsail in its track. So that was the last of our using the main sail on this section of travel. We kept on under genoa as long as it was useful, but motored through the night.

In the wee hours we motored past the Isle of Cedros, rocking and rolling in heavy seas. Visibility was limited due to salt spray, and so we rolled up the side panels to look directly out into the night. Orion was laying on his back on the horizon, larger than I have ever seen the constellation. We watched him travel over a third of the dark dome, and switched shifts. I saw what looked like a brightly lit boat not far off our port side beam and called George back up to identify her: it was the half moon, rising behind the clouds, low to the water and orange enough to be a pumpkin. For the next couple of hours, we motored through heavy seas, wind and spray paying friendly visits as we worked around to the backside of the island, where a nice anchorage provides shelter for folks like us. There were about eight other cruisers anchored when we arrived, but plenty of room. We set our hook in forty feet around 2:30 a.m., ready and grateful for bed.

Our next stop was Puerto San Carlos. It's not a recommended stop for cruisers, but we needed fuel (now that we knew we'd be motoring) so we worked our way through the tricky channel and arrived at the fishing pier about an hour before sunset. It's a real working dock, and it took us awhile to find a place we thought we could tie up without subjecting Nereid to rusty shrimp boats and pilings. Fortunately, some fishermen on the dock offered a hand and some oversize bumpers. We fueled up, and practiced our Spanish, and then accepted a ride into town to get fresh fruits, vegetables and tortillas. Puerto San Carlos is a tiny town with unpaved streets, except two, and the same fine dust that we experienced in Bahia Tortuga. Thanks to the kindness of strangers, we were back on the boat freshly provisioned and fully fueled before sunset. We motored a few hundred yards out and dropped anchor. It was a peaceful night.

The next morning we repeated the gauntlet, motoring out through the narrow channel that leads into Puerto San Carlos. We hit open ocean around 9:30 a.m., knowing we had a long stretch before us but wanting to time our trip around Cape Falso for the calmest time of day. Around 11:00 a.m., I saw what I thought might be a dead seal off the port bow. It's not unusual to see seals sunning themselves on the surface, but this one was unusually stationery. I didn't wake George, since I thought it might be a sad sight; but when I got nearer I saw that it was actually a turtle! I woke George, and over the course of the next mile we saw several of them. What a treat! It was invigorating to see them alive and wild.

The remainder of the voyage was simple and required, simply, endurance. We crossed the Tropic of Cancer and enjoyed a grail moon. (In the north we only get it at Easter, but this was indeed a grail moon, looking like a chalice.) Sunrise was welcome, as it always is, and soon enough we saw the Cape ahead and began picking up chatter from the fishing vessels that call Cabo San Lucas their home port. We rounded Cape Falso a little before noon, impressed with the rocks, cliffs and sand and in no way worried about the currents. From then on, it was simply sightseeing - marveling at the developments along the shore, the size of the cruise ships, the number of parasails. Around 2:30 p.m. we radioed Puerto San Jose del Cabo's marina and negotiated a slip for two nights. And so ... here we are. Safe, sound and salty.