sailing homepage : trip reports : 3: cabo to pv : espiritu santo
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Nov 25-Dec 1: Passage from La Paz to the Espiritu Santo islands, one week in paradise: snorkeling, swimming, exploring, and hunkering down for our first huge storm - gale force winds!

We didn't get our propane tank back until the sun had long gone down, and the thought of an unnecessary overnight sail wasn't appealing, so we stayed an extra night and snuck out of the marina at first light. We were totally pissed at Walter, and we really weren't interested in paying another $36 for the day we wasted sitting around waiting for him.

Sneaking out of the marina


Freedom! Sweet escape!

The sail north was very enjoyable; we had a nice breeze and made good time. There are a whole collection of little anchorages near La Paz, and they look good, but we really wanted to get a little further away. Thanksgiving was great, but we were all ready to escape the same boats with the same people.

Sara working on tanlines


Will sizzling in the sun

Sean was wracked with guilt for staying without paying. We talked it over and agreed that it was more illegal than immoral, and it wasn't even all that illegal. Rules (like paying for your slip) without enforcement (like someone checking) can't really be respected, can they?

Besides, it wasn't our fault! It was that stupid Walter guy with our propane tank! Don't judge us too harshly. We're not bad, we're just misunderstood.

It's not "illegal", it's "immoral"


Sara searches for dolphins

We unsuccessfully fished most of the way there, but the area is one big nature preserve, so we dutifully pulled in the lines when we got closer. Espiritu Santo is awesome: it's about five miles wide and ten miles long, with bright red cliffs shooting up out of pristine clear water.

Rock formations look like a cookie


So much green from late-season rain

The islands were formed from active volcanoes thousands of years ago. The rocks show it in the thick bands of different colours that probably mean a lot to geologists. They mean a lot to us too: they look like gigantic delicious cookies. Most of the rock near the water is red sandstone, and we were captivated by the pockets and caves and swiss-cheese-like formations.

We selected our first anchorage based on the forecast wind from the north, selecting a shallow spot right behind huge cliffs. The water was so clear and blue, and the perfectly white sandy bottom made the little bay look like an advertisement for the Carribean.

Clear turquoise water


Another gorgeous sunset

We swam, dove on the anchor, and got settled. Sara and I took the dinghy and went skinny-dipping in the perfect sandy shallows. We were blessed with another killer sunset. For the first few hours it was perfect.

The wind picked up in the late afternoon, of course from every direction except the north. It blew pretty hard, first from the east, then the west, and the local winds called 'corumels' started up from the south after dark. It's a good thing we trust our anchor! The night winds turned us around and straightened out our anchor rode, pushing us in the direction of the rocky cliffs - we mariners call this a 'threatening lee shore'.

The winds calmed around 4AM and we all slept well after that. The next morning the anchorage was like paradise again: calm, crystal clear water, no wind or waves. Huh. I spent a solid two hours with the informative but confusing "handbook of knots", building a monster splice for our main anchor rode.

Working on the two-foot splice


Wanderlust at anchor

I don't think there's anything inherently bad about a rope-to-chain splice, and anyway, we don't have other options in the matter until we can find a 200' length of chain! I went through the splicing exercise about three times, trying different techniques and methods. Eventually I figured out what was working went with it.

The splice that failed at Bahia Santa Maria was about six or eight inches long. The book calls for a total of five 'wraps', which is about that length. There's no reason it needs to be so short, and because it works on friction, more can only be better! Two feet of splice seems about right. I blended the splice ends and followed everything up with some industrial-strength zip ties.

Sean drifting out to sea


Sara climbing down the hatch

Sean went exploring with the dinghy and we had a wonderful relaxing morning before deciding to move further north to a more protected spot. We enjoyed being by ourselves, and the spot was gorgeous without any wind, but waking up three or four times a night for anchor watches just sucks.

Sara releases the furling jib


Will enjoys the view

The quick one-hour sail north was refreshing. Every now and then we have to pinch ourselves. This was one of those times. Our only worries are finding a nice anchorage, making a tasty dinner, and wearing enough sunscreen.

We headed for the most protected anchorage in the island - also reknown as the most beautiful - between Espiritu Santo and the smaller island north, Isla Partida. There were about 8 other boats in the anchorage, Ensenada de la Pardita, but even with the company it was just beautiful.

Sara enjoys looking at Will


Sushi for dinner!

We motored around a did a full recon of the anchorage before we picked our spot. I guess somehow we knew we would be here for a while! The water was totally clear, with fish swimming 20 feet below us looking like they were mere inches away. As soon as we had the hook set, we took full advantage of the conditions and all jumped in for a swim. 85F water rules!

We dove on the anchor, we swam with the pelicans near the shore, we had a blast.

Searching for a breakfast recipe


Will's creation: something like a spanish tortilla

I made an epic breakfast the next day before we all hopped in Purpeat to go exploring and snorkeling.

Lets go snorkeling!


Fishing huts on a sand spit

The anchorage is at the end of a west-facing inlet between the two islands; to the east is a sand bar and a small passageway through to the other side of the islands. The whole cove is surrounded with white sandy beaches and steep rocky cliffs.

Yes, this is a real undoctored photo


Sean spots a ray

We dinghied through the shallow passage and dove on the rocks on the eastern edge of the islands. We had the most beautiful conditions Sean had ever seen, and he's a fairly experienced diver/snorkeler.

Sara's ready to go!


Sean too!

It was stunningly gorgeous.

Finally a fish picture


Colourful fishies everywhere

Super-clear water


Underwater sea forest

That's a big fish


That fish looks cold

We dove and swam for hours, returning with pruny skin and sore legs. We had dinner with friends from a neighbouring boat and slept really well.

The next day was more of the same - up late, lazy breakfast, reading/digesting, followed by snorkeling and exploring. This time we took Purpeat to the reef off the western edge of the island. The water wasn't as clear as before, but the reef is a wonderland of different marine life.

Brilliant blue next to a coral head


Coolest looking starfish ever

Strange spiky thing - a plant?


Colourful angelfish (yummy)

We snorkeled until I was tired, Sara was cold, and Sean saw a huge eel. Quick! Back to the dinghy! We weren't ready to go back home yet, so we explored a tiny little cove north of our anchorage.

Small little cove hidden away


Beautiful sandy beach at the end

It was very cool, a nice little spot that would have been perfect for a picnic.

Our trusty dinghy, Purpeat


This is paradise!

Exploring the cliffs


Ready to depart

We went back to the boat and prepared for the big storm that was forecast to start that night. We ditched the sun shade, put away the wind scoop, quadruple-tied Purpeat, hauled up the anchor and moved a little closer in to shore. On the anchor release we let out all 150' of chain in about 20' of water. If we had thought it was going to be worse, we would have increased our scope to 10:1, or 200' of rode, but we didn't want to be on the rocks if the wind shifted to blow from the south.

Wind storms from the north are a regular occurance in the Sea of Cortez, so much so that they're named "Northers". They're generated from the same mechanism that makes the Santa Ana winds blow in Southern California. Strong high pressure systems in Pheonix, Las Vegas, and San Diego often come together at the same time, and when a low is present at the bottom of the Sea, the winds blow hard down the thousand-mile funnel.

Anchor watch: we're good!


Dinghy watch: four lines!

The wind picked up right after sunset started to blow. It blew hard. We kept a close watch on the anchor, on other boats, and on our dinghy. We put chafe protection on the anchor snubbers and made sure everything was tied down. It wasn't long before it was blowing harder than anything we had ever seen before.

The wind was screaming through the spreaders. Anything that was loose flapped like it was going to tear off and fly away. The gusts were so strong: the nose of the boat would be just to one side of the wind, a gust would hit, and the boat would suddenly be sideways and heeled over ten or fifteen degrees.

When a gust like that hits and the boat gets forced backwards, the chain lifts up off the bottom and streches into a straight line. As soon as the gust weakens, the weight of the chain pulls the bow of the boat back into the wind. We sailed back and forth like this for hours. The forces involved are huge! Our 20,000lb home was being pushed around like a toy.

It was a long night. I got maybe two hours of sleep.

Whitecaps, with only 200ft of fetch!


Bungees to keep the lines from slapping

At daylight we assessed the damage: none. We checked our GPS position and were surprised to find we had dragged thirty feet through good-holding sand. That's a pretty big deal! Other boats had dragged too and were busy re-deploying anchors or moving to different spots.

Snubber lines on the chain rode


Second rode leading to the CQR

We used Purpeat to put out our second anchor, the CQR, with 200' of rode at a 30-degree angle to the Bruce. That was a wet and wild experience!

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There were whitecaps in our tiny little anchorage! Crazy, considering the shore was only three or four hundred feet away - that's not a lot of distance for the wind to build waves.

Anchor marker off in the distance


Sara keeping under cover

We went swimming and dove on the Bruce, both to inspect it but also to install an anchor marker. On the off chance it would get worse and we would have to leave the anchorage, if we couldn't get the anchor up we would cast it loose and retrieve it later. Funny to think about it this way, but boats are almost always safer at sea during storms.

Sean likes being cooped up


Sara planning our next leg

Everyone in our anchorage was hanging together - we talked on the VHF and someone reported they had measured 60-knot gusts during the night. That's only a notch or two below 'hurricane force' winds! I was happy that we were ready; if we hadn't had the longer splice, if we hadn't removed the sunshade or windscoop, if we hadn't let out more chain ... well, it might have been a bit more stressful.

Fried chicken and fried tortilla


Dinner is served

We all started to get a little stir crazy as the storm continued. Being outside wasn't all that pleasant, we couldn't go swimming, and the boat was moving around quite a bit. We watched movies, prepared fantastic lunches and dinners, drank, and generally wasted time waiting for the blow to end.

The second night wasn't as bad as the first, but we still didn't sleep much. Because we couldn't back down on the CQR, it never set, and as we sailed around it just slid uselessly over the bottom. The Bruce held like a champ and if we did drag, it was only by a few feet.

The next day, the 1st of December, saw the storm start to calm down. By sundown the wind had calmed considerably. Everyone in the anchorage was fine; we had all made it through the first storm of the season!

Spectacular cloud at sunset


Sundown in our bay

With a wedding to attend in seventeen days, we needed to get moving. We decided to make a run for Ensenada de los Muertos, a full day's sail south, in order to limit the length of the Sea of Cortez crossing.

Chili cookoff


Moon hiding behind the clouds

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