Sailing the Sea of Cortez….

IMG_9104IMG_1201Left under cruiser's tree...IMG_9032

On the morning of May 8th we set sail on the Sea of Cortez.  We buddy boated with Bonnie Lass and Vamanos. The weather was sunny and warm with light variable S.W. winds ranging from 10-18 knotts.

We immediate put up the main and head sails but the wind settled down before we could enjoy it! We ended up motor sailing with just the main up. Jumping stingrays entertained us on this leg of the trip (they jump several feet into the air..amazing!) We made sluggish time and anchored that first night on Islanda Partida at Ensenada el Cordonal.

Isla Partida is a long shallow bay, almost dividing the island. We anchored in 20 feet of water with a view of high cliff walls and tourquise sea.  By 7pm the coromuel winds arrived and it was obvious this anchorage was not well protected from nightly northerly winds. We pulled up anchor in the morning and headed for Island San Francisco (about 5 hours away). The seas once again flattened out and we motored sailed until  afternoon when a unexpected Southerly provided a nice tail wind and lent us to sailing for a few hours!  We anchored on the Southern side of the island where a white, sandy beach accentuated crystal blue waters and burnt-red rocky cliffs! We dove the boat and scraped the knott meter. We took our kayak onto the beach and collected little white shells perfect for bracelets. Once the sun set, the winds once again picked up and rocked us to sleep.

The next morning, we pulled up anchor and headed for the island of Puerto Los Gato only 36 miles away. Again, the wind died and so 36 miles took us about 7 hours!  Yikes!

Puerto Los Gatos has awesome rock formations that are a rainbow of colors! No sooner had we “dropped the hook” than a local fisherman showed up with live lobster. Fifty pesos and a few batteries bought us 3 large lobsters that were delicious! That night, a southeast swell came in and put us on anchor alert all night! We woke late the next day (around 10:00) and headed for Puerto Escondido located south of Loreto on the mainland. We picked up some wind on the way and had fun sailing.

Entering Puerto Escondido was tricky. We nervously entered from the south where our depth meter measured only 10 feet of water (our draft is 5 ft). We stayed mid-channel (between las Islitas and islote Blanco) with Carol standing on the bow sprint looking for rocks. They call this place “Hidden Port” and I can see why… the inner harbor is well disguised and nearly landlocked! There are over a 100 rental mooring balls here but we decided to anchor as most of the balls looked worn and broken. It provides good shelter from the wind which means Craig finally got a good nights sleep!

Once rested, we took the dinghy and headed in to register. There is a haul out yard here and a good restaurant as well. We ate a wonderful meal and found a block of sharp cheddar cheese at the dockside store for only 300 pesos! A deal since we hadn’t seen “real” cheese in weeks and salivated at it’s sight!

At sunset, we headed back to the boat. We hadn’t gone far when suddenly Craig started yelling at me to hold on to the engine. Seems our dingy had sprung a leak and was sinking! We barely made it back to the boat holding the engine (and the cheese) inches above the water! Not having material to repair the ding, we hoisted her up and decided we could get along fine without it since we still had the kayak (you know, the one Craig didn’t want Carol to buy…I had to throw that in! haha) The tandem kayak was a better choice anyway because you can glide right over the stingrays that litter some of the beaches!  (Eventually, the kayak developed a small leak too but Craig was able to keep it repaired the duration of the trip.   But back to Puerto Escondio….)

Puerto Escondido is a good place to rest and re-provision. We decided to spend a few days here as Loreto fest was in full swing. We enjoyed live music, good food and traditional Mexican folk dancing by local students. Our friends from Bonnie Lass (Bill and Lorell) rented a car and we had a fun time exploring Loreto except for that ticket Bill received after he stopped to let Carol and Lorell out to go shopping. A hundred pesos and an hour and a half later, Craig and Bill were on their way to meet Carol and Lorell who had just finished getting a pedi and mani at the beautiful Hotel Posada (it boasts a roof top pool above the lobby with a clear plexi bottom that is visible from below!) If you ever visit Loreto, tour that hotel as well as the first mission of the Californias called Mision Nuestra Senora de Loreto built by Jesuit padre Juan Salvatierra. This is by far the most beautiful mission I have ever seen! There is also an amazing ceramic store in town where you can purchase beautiful ceramic dishes and other items.

After 4 days in Puerto Escondido, we left for Island Carmen and anchored at Bahia Salinas (on the east side of the island). Bahia Salina proved to by my favorite anchorage. Prior to the 1980’s it boasted a salt mine operation. A short walk from the anchorage and you are surrounded by mounds (and I mean mounds) of white crystalized salt. They float on the water and look like giant snowballs! An abandoned mining town nearby was also fun to explore. Some of the rooms still host broken furniture and walls made of seashells. Signs frame old shops, and a one room steepled church brought to my mind scenes from old Western movies (hollywood would love this place)! The local caregiver told us that the lodge is still active and houses tourists who hunt with bows on the island. A big horned sheep can be yours for only 50,000 pesos (that’s the price for this advertised extreme adventure).

But by far, my favorite part of Bahia Salinas was the snorkeling and diving.  Off the white, sandy shoreline in the center of the  aqua colored crescent bay,  lies a sunken wreck laying on it’s port side in only 35 feet of water! Our friend Hans (from Vamanos) was familiar with the wreck and so led the diving adventure!  The ship is littered with windows and the anchor is still attached. But be careful, the warm water can fool you! After around 40 minutes of free diving the wreck (no wet suit), my hands suddenly started to tingle and turned numb. I was not aware of being cold until I got out of the water. Hyperthermia can happen whenever the water is below your body temperature. Because the water was only around 78 degrees, my body temp dropped too low. I had to sit out about 30 minutes before I stopped shaking  (the air temp was well over 90)! I did warm up in time to learn how to dive for chocolate clams (in about 4 feet of water). Also learned that you want to dive on two “little” holes not two “big” holes (that would be a stingray)!

The island also boasts good hiking trials but we decided to save the hiking for our next stop, Island Coronados.

With favorable seas and winds we set sail to the Isla Coronados. We suddenly found ourselves in the middle of hundreds of dolphins!  We have had dolphins swimming at our bow often and I have found if you talk to them, they play with you! But never have I seen so many! It was truly amazing!

We found anchorage off the south side. This island was once an active volcano and the cone still rises to a height of 928 feet. The beach here is beautiful and the turquoise water is crystal clear 30 feet down! This island is composed of steep, rocky cliffs. We had fun snorkeling in the crystal water before the winds changed and we had to pull up  the anchor and sail to the southwest side of the island. The beach on that side was even more spectacular and the water abundant with sea life!

There were several boats in this anchorage, and we eventually squeezed in between our friends. Once anchored,  we dove into the water to make sure the shadows we saw were not rocks (twice they were).

A funny sideline of this story is that while looking for the perfect “rock free” anchor spot, another boat named “Imagine” happened to approach an anchoring position at the same time. We reluctantly yielded and moved to another spot (after muttering a few complaints). We didn’t know it at the time, but (a few months later) this same couple would share our dock and become one of our favorite friends… and instrumental in helping Craig! We would later find out that our radio was off when they tried to call us to clarify our intent of anchorage!

That night, we sat on the deck and watched a spectacular sunset.  Just as the day turned to night, we could hear whales breaching off the stern. We watched stars appear and marveled at the beauty of it all. I decided at that moment that “this was the best thing I had ever done”. As Craig likes to say, “It doesn’t get better …”

The next few days we enjoyed swimming and dining with other cruising friends, fishing, kayaking, snorkeling, and beach combing. It was a wonderful time!

The day we set to leave (and head further North), our friends aboard Bonnie Lass developed generator and battery problems so we decided to escort her back to Loreto to complete the repairs. They also had to pick up friends from the airport. Once back in Loreto, we loaned them our dinghy engine (since our dingy was no longer floatable).  Because the parts they needed would not be in for several days ( and Vamanos was nearby), we decided to head North  to explore the Sea some more and let Bonnie Lass and Vamanos catch up with us later.

With smiles on our faces, Craig and I sailed back to Salinas and stayed a night before heading back to Isla Coranados so that we could hike the volcano! In hindsight, we should have sailed right past  that island! Hiking the volcano proved to be the catalyst that  slowed us down for months and caused Craig a great deal of pain!

At first, the hike appears to be easy. Follow the sandy path that winds through the desert. Gradually it climbs and turns into gravel. But then it suddenly changes and is no longer a trail but  a steep incline covered in shale, basalt and obsidian volcanic rock that crunches under your feet and melts your shoes! Well maybe it wouldn’t melt YOUR shoes because you would wear hiking boots, right?  Lesson learned: NEVER hike a volcano in water sandals  and trivia raptors! The soles of my water shoes melted away (good thing that pedi in Loreto was a bad one…I still had some callisses on the bottom of my feet which saved me!)  But Craig’s soles were flapping below his sandles and made walking difficult! We were within eyesight of the top and then it happened!

Suddenly, Craig fell hard…and landed on a cone shaped rock. It gashed his hand and turned the rock red. We used his sock to wrap it and headed back. Once on the boat, we dumped peroxide on the wound and rewrapped it. We had no way of knowing that a piece of shale lay deep in Craig’s hand, would become infected and  later require surgery to remove it!  We would literally be “grounded” several months while he battled an infection (more on that later…)

Not knowing how serious Craig’s injury was, we pulled up anchor and headed for Caleta San Juanico.  This is a large bay located off the peninsula that offers wind protection from most points.  It is a favorite stop for cruisers because it offers good snorkeling, hiking (not) and bird watching! There is a cruiser shrine tree here that is decorated with shells, poems, boat names and dates.  It was fun to add a shell with our name, picture and favorite scripture: Hebrews 6:19: God is the anchor of our souls…both sure and steadfast.

Beachside campfires were enjoyed at night. We had a great time kayaking around steep rocks that jetted up from the ocean and observed several ospreys nesting. After  several days enjoying Caleta San Juanico we headed back to Coronados to meet up with Bonnie Lass and Vamanos and crew Brent and JoAnne.  By now, Craig’s hand had swollen and we knew his wound was infected.  I suggested we should head back, but Craig  thought he would be okay and wanted to continue..He lanced it, cleaned it  and wrapped it.

The next day, JoAnne and I took the hike  back up the volcano passing “Craig’s bloody rock” along the way! It was a spectacular view from the top! Later that day,  we had dinner with our friends and bid them farewell as we headed back to LaPaz so Carol could catch a flight back to the States to help her mom move.  We stopped at several islands along the way and had a good time sailing and enjoying the sea life around us!  We excitedly made plans to return to the Sea of Cortez and explore some of the islands we missed once Carol got back from the states in two weeks. Carol suggested that maybe Craig should go with her and see a Dr in the states, but Craig said he felt fine and was healing. Carol hopped on a flight to Orange County but Craig’s hand continued to swell and turn a nasty yellow and green.

Two weeks later, Carol returned to  La Paz to find Craig’s entire hand  even more swollen and severly discolored! It was obvious the infection had spread!  Worried, she pleaded with Craig to return to the U.S  immediately  see a doctor but again Craig refused! Thank goodness he did agree to wait for the infection to heal before returning to the Sea of Cortez!  So we waited.  Six weeks later,  tired of nursing a sore hand, Craig finally agreed to see a doctor!  A marina doctor diagnosed the hand infected,  lanced it again ( said he didn’t see anything under the skin), prescribed antibiotics, and told Craig to keep it wrapped and  come back in ten days.

Within a few days, Craig’s hand slightly improved, but the swelling and discomfort remained. Ten days passed and it wasn’t better and still Craig would not see another Dr nor get on a plane back to the U.S!  Finally,  Carol did the only thing she could do…she prayed.

This is when the story gets interesting!  Remember the couple who took our anchorage at sea?  The next day, they pulled up at our dock!  We couldn’t believe it and when Craig awkwardly accepted a dinner invite, I was shocked and went reluntantly!  You can imagine our surprise (especially mine) when we realized we REALLY liked these people! We laughed all evening (especially when we joked about the “miscommunication”  anchoring at sea) and became fast friends!

A few days later, Craig was walking to the store, and passed  our new friends from “Imagine”, (Steve and Tani) who were sharing a drink with their new  friends, Dave and Corinne from “Devotion”. After introductions were made, Dave noticed Craig’s bandaged hand and asked him about it. He immediately suggested Craig have his friend  (who is a retired trama surgeon now cruising the Sea of Cortez) take a look at it!  Dave invited Craig to the golf coarse the next day where he and the Dr would be golfing.

Craig went, and it took Dr M. less than two minutes to diagnose an object embedded in Craig’s hand!  The Doc couldn’t believe Craig walked around  two months with an object in his hand that was  infected and said he  needed to remove it immediately! He told Craig to come to town the next day and he would do it.  We don’t have a car here in LaPaz but Doc took care of that too…

The next day,  our new,new friends, (Dave and Corinne) picked us up in a car Doc LOANED THEM to take Craig to an office Doc borrowed to do the surgery in. He did the surgery in a borrowed dentist office with a borrowed dental hygienist assisting him!  He removed a centimeter long piece of shale (and a whole bunch of green stuff). He  told Craig to return in a week to have the stitches removed and refused to take any money!  I was in tears as I watched this amazing Dr. pull a huge piece of shale deep out of Craig’s hand! He did it with expertise and precision and clearly is a genius!  He is also our new angel (and answer to my prayers)!

This picture shows the size of the object taken out of Craig’s hand (left) compared to a dime! Yikes!

IMG_1749

We will forever be thankful and in dept to this  wonderful man…who didn’t know us, but stepped in to help! We will likewise never forget our new friends who intervened  and helped make this happen! We are even thankful for the boat that took our spot!     It is mind blowing to think  how a boat cutting us off would lead to meeting these wonderful people who would be instrumental in healing Craig’s hand!  Not only is Craig’s hand completely healed but we made some amazing new friends! Steve and Tani and Dave and Corinne share in common a love for the sea and each other ( that too have  have been married 34 years, and  like us, have 3 grown children around the same ages as ours)!

Our God is truly an amazing God!

Some people will call  these events  “6th degrees of separation” …

I  call them, “God in motion”!

As I  reflect on the scripture that I wrote on the shell left under the cruisers tree months ago (on the island of San Juanico), I am truly amazed at it’s prophetic truth : God IS the anchor of our souls…both sure and steadfast! We can count on Him!

I can’t wait to see what happens next!

(To be continued…)

Footnote:  I am making that piece of shale (taken out of Craig’s hand) into an erring for him to wear to remember who really is in control!

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