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Midriff Area - Part I (Nov 18-Dec 5, 2018)

Our Counter Extension, in down and flipped-up positions We happily report that Hoku Pa’a successfully launched at the end of November. To our relief, there were no bad surprises upon our return to Guaymas in the Mexican state of Sonora. We chalk that up to thorough preparations before departure, diligence of the boatyard staff during stormy weather, and a significant helping of good fortune. We avoided getting too distracted while recommissioning but did attend a large potluck to celebrate American Thanksgiving. One small task completed before launch was installing the counter extension we'd made at home. It's amazing how useful an extra bit of horizontal surface is.

Heading North

approximate route taken on leaving GuaymasShip-shape and well-stocked we motored away from the dock. Everything was clean and shiny, including us! We didn't get far; an hour and half of motoring is enough for a first day and lets us make sure things are in order before we stray too far away from the boatyard (a strategy that perhaps goes with being older and wiser). It is so nice to be back at anchor surrounded by nature instead of a dusty boatyard and postponed dreams. A little later friends showed up unexpectedly. A shared happy hour with Tanya and Ed from Seadra was a good start to the season. As is normal for this nomadic lifestyle, the next day we sailed separate ways, looking forward to the next time our paths cross.

Most folks cross the Sea directly to the Baja Peninsula at this time of year, or make their way south with alacrity, seeking warmer climes. Cooler areas north of Guaymas, including the Midriff Islands, are popular in the oppressively hot summers, not only for relief from heat but because they have a reduced hurricane risk. During fall and winter, which is past hurricane season, sensible cruisers opt for warmth instead. These things all make sense, but since when has that stopped us from doing the opposite? It isn't in our plans to sail in Mexico in the summer so we figured the time was now or never to explore this interesting area. But first we had to get there. Isla Tiburón, the largest island in Mexico and part of the Midriff Islands, is about 100 nautical miles from Guaymas, basically a day (as in 24 hours) away. Breaking that distance into smaller chunks makes for much pleasanter voyaging.

Bahía Algodones

Our first hop was about 20 miles away to Bahía Algadones. We hoisted sails and set about recalling which line adjusts which thing. In the process we noticed some incorrectly rigged reefing lines - an easy fix and good to discover in light winds. Since the bay was huge, the winds cooperative, and no other boats were around, we seized this good opportunity to practice anchoring under sail (i.e. without the engine). With a good part of the afternoon left we then settled down with our books to enjoy the sunshine and the scenery. All was quiet at the resort and long beach off San Carlos, a popular town with gringos, although midafternoon a large motor yacht settled in and disgorged a pair of jet skiis. The large bay (and considerate pilots) ensured that they didn't trouble us. As evening settled, their party music kicked in and we enjoyed singing along to their tunes from the '80s. Having only just gotten away from land, we were disinclined to inflate our dinghy to check out the Soggy Peso bar on shore.

4 Vultures capping the cactus

4 Vultures waiting for something to expire

Sunset at Bahía Algadones

Sunset at Bahía Algadones

Bahía San Pedro

We took advantage of a southerly wind to hop another 11 miles up the coast to Bahía San Pedro. The tailwind meant a different point of sail, and a chance to work out a new arrangement for our spinnaker pole (our replacement mast differs in where bits are mounted). It needs refinement but we rigged up a temporary solution to hold the foresail out to catch more wind from behind. This easy downwind sail had us anchored before noon in an attractive cove, named after a saint as so many other places around here. The guide book warned us it could get rolly so we tucked in close to the west hill in hopes of avoiding some swell. In the process we missed a small note and anchored right in the section that was marked as rocky. You would think that doesn't matter as long as your anchor is holding, but what you end up with is your chain grinding on rocks all night - an unpleasant sound which carries really well up the long chain and into the boat. One other thing we forgot to consider: our tall protective cliff to the west meant we lost the sun two hours early, at 3pm (more appropriate for Whitehorse, say)! Nonetheless, we enjoyed the scenery and continued settling back into life on the boat. We were visited by a large school of fish teeming on the surface, and did our own swimming in the coolish water (19.5 C on top). That was to be the warmest water we'd see for several weeks.

Large loose ball of fish at surface

Fish frenzy

Large hill that was stealing our sun

Tall hill that stole our sun mid-afternoon

The next day we were struck with a case of analysis paralysis, hemming and hawing about when to leave and where to go. Read the guide book again - what does it say about each spot? Check the charts - how far is it? Refer to the forecast from the Sonrisa Net and the GRIBS (wind predictions for several days) - how likely is it we can comfortably sail? If we didn't leave soon, we'd need to stay for several more days behind our giant sunshade. The stop we'd hoped to make was not going to work for the predicted north winds. OK, that means we have to cover 72 miles in one go. Timing a trip to line up with favourable conditions throughout gets trickier the longer the passage is and every option has a drawback. Which is more painful: leaving in the afternoon and staying up all night, or leaving in the middle of the night and travelling through the next day? Aye yi yi! Finally, we make a decision. What a relief! Quick! - into bed by 1900h, in preparation for a middle-of-the-night departure.

Passage to Isla Tiburón

The winds were a light northerly when we got up at 0130. The 2-bit moon was still hidden behind the eastern hill but rose as we motored out of the anchorage 20 minutes later. With a sail to steady us in the waves, we motored through the dark hours. Wanting to make our destination before nightfall the next day, we kept our speed up for a while. Bjarne was in an extra-alert-just-starting-passage state so after an hour I left him on watch. My shift began about an hour before dawn, which gave me a nice balance of star watching, followed by the pleasure of watching the dawn slowly arrive as the stars faded out. Numerous fishing boats were criss-crossing the area, giving the person on watch things to think about (such as: Is that a ship? What colour is the light? Is it heading for us? Did they change course? How likely is it to run into us? Should I alter course? Why don't we have image-stabilizing binoculars?). We checked into the Sonrisa Net, letting them know we were underway and then enjoyed fresh muffins in the morning light. We did get to sail for some of the journey but were disappointed that the predicted southerly wind never did show up. So much for all that analysis - in the end you make your best guess and deal with what you get. We made good time and were anchored on the west side of Isla Tiburón in Bahía de los Perros by 1530h. This time we remembered to avoid big hills so kept the afternoon sun until a respectable 1710h. Even easy passages are tiring - we didn't even make it to 2000h before zonking out.

Midriff Islands

Isla Tiburón

On our first morning at Bahía de los Perros (Bay of Dogs) we arose to a thick layer of dew and cool (mid-teens) air. Wearing our fleecies, we watched dawn progressing to a gorgeous sunrise. Once the sun was up, shorts and t-shirts were fine. Low 20s temperatures, with cooler nights, feel a lot like Victoria in the summer. The north end of the bay hosted a fishing camp with perhaps 20 people. The fishers were working in the bay, although they had some competition from the sea lions and pelicans. There was a large trawler anchored outside the bay as well but no other cruising boats around. Bjarne had lots of energy and set to work puttering with various projects. He got our weather station rigged up so we could tell outdoor temperature and humidity. The wind speed indicator had stopped working and he wasn't hopeful about fixing it but was trying nonetheless. After a frustrating 45 minutes, a Freudian slip resulted in a key part being dropped into the murky water - end of problem! After a delightful dinner of pizza and cinnamon rolls, followed by stargazing, we thought it must be near bedtime. Good grief, it was only 1900h! Time can get a bit weird on a boat. Through a magnificent effort we managed to stay awake another 2 hours. Oh, if our teenage selves could see us now...

Fishingboat at Dawn with Birds circling

The second morning's sunrise was also lovely - I guess that's one advantage of going to bed early. We experienced envy when the smell of bacon wafted our way from the fishing camp, but concluded we were eating quite well. Although the anchorage was picturesque, it was allowing some swell to come in and we expected that to worsen as the north winds strengthened. We decided to try the south side of the island. Our easy 6 mile repositioning sail turned into 11 miles due to fluky winds, a contrary current, and the zigzagging course (aka tacking) we had to do. Upon arrival, we found this anchorage was rollier than the last one, with less interesting scenery - phooey! On the plus side, we did see dolphins!

Next day the north winds remained brisk and the anchorage was still uncomfortable. We felt sympathy for the 2 fellows in an open panga who had anchored nearby for the night. Time to move on, but before leaving we wanted to switch to a smaller foresail. To our dismay, when the larger sail came down, the halyard (the rope that pulls the sail up) remained stuck three-quarters of the way up the forestay (which is quite a bit over our heads if you are wondering). I thought one of us would have to climb the mast but Bjarne managed to retrieve it with a boat hook and a long rope, a task that would have been even trickier under way. Our best guess as to why the pin came out of the shackle is that we forgot to seize it. For want of a nail....


Isla San Esteban

All morning we'd been peering through binoculars to see if the sea was rougher out in the channel. We can now confirm that, yes, it was. We endured/enjoyed a boisterous and exhilarating upwind sail to Isla San Esteban. The waves grew to about 2m and rather rudely started splooching into the cockpit. The helmsperson sported a coating of dried salt on her face by the end of the 2.5 hour trip.

Barb at helm in boisterous sail to Isla Esteban Arriving in the calm waters of Isla Esteban
IslaEstebanRocky beach with Arroyo in background

Once we anchored our tired selves on the west side of Isla San Esteban, we discovered wet corners on some of our books due to a leaky chainplate. Grrr! Water is very sneaky and does its best to weasel its way aboard. Once the books were drying and we completed the usual arrival tasks we could enjoy this ruggedly attractive anchorage. Although not super-sheltered from the NW wind, the waves were much diminished from what we'd just sailed through and not sideways to us (no rolling!). The rocky cliffs to the south had interesting layers and patterns. A reef extended out, providing a platform for pelicans, and there was a sea lion colony on the north end of the rocky beach. Behind the beach, an arroyo was bracketed by cactus-infested hills. The rocky bottom wasn't ideal for anchoring but the water was clear. That night we fell asleep listening to various snorts and grunts from our neighbours on the beach.

Assortment of birds: pelicans, grebes, gulls
Description Description

Finally! - time to inflate the dinghy and see if we remembered how to walk. Paddling to shore, we were followed by 2 curious sea lions. We worried they might want a nap in our dinghy once we left it but they lost interest in us, probably because Bjarne pulled out the camera. The island was clearly home to a lot of wildlife because we found several old bones and skulls on the beach. Although tempted to aproach the sea lions (wouldn't it be interesting to pet one?), we stayed a cautious and respectful distance away. We were surprised by how verdant the arroyo was and by the diversity of its plant life. The rainy season wasn't that long ago and it seemed like it was spring. The flowering bushes were abuzz with bees and butterflies. We kept our eyes peeled for the Painted Iguanas unique to this island but only found a couple of dried carcasses.

Sea lions on north beach

Sea lions had a 24/7 claim on the north beach

Gull with nest material in mouth

Mine! Mine!

Bird skull

This animal had white plumage, and a bird-brain

Sea lion scapula

Shoulder blade, size XXL

Barb's hand with cactus spines

Consequences of approaching a cactus too closely...

Bjarne at roots of tall cactus

dessicated skin from iguana

All we could find of the rare Painted Iguana

Butterfly on yellow flower

Myriad butterflies enjoying the dessert blossoms

We wanted to stay longer at this beautiful and interesting spot but it was some distance to get to an anchorage that could protect us from an impending southerly blow. The winds seem to change a lot at this time of year and have kept us moving. After our hike we hauled up the hook and hoisted sail for Bahía San Francisquito; some dolphins escorted us on the way out.

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