"Do I stay or do I go nowwwww...."
This morning we opted not to linger at San Juanico and made the run up to Bahia Concepcion due to impending hurricane Blanca’s track toward the Baja Peninsula. In case the hurricane forced us to jump to San Carlos, we would be in a good position to do so if we felt we needed to in the next few days. But we still held out hope Blanca would turn west.
Our original 46 mile long course from San Juanico turned into a 55 mile motor. Not due to tacking or current, but because we decided not to stop in our planned spot of Domingo. Our “sail as much as possible” decree went out the window again on day 3 due to no wind the entire day; but we can’t afford to wait for wind. The motor was quite peaceful though… smooth, flat seas but with a current running against us… as usual. I think the current runs at 1 knot against us whether we go north or south and at all times of the day, switching just for us as soon as we want to get somewhere.
During the last portion of our long 10-hour trip, we witnessed hundreds of dolphins stretching about a ¼ mile in a long conga line. We could see the disturbance on the surface from far away and soon realized they were headed right towards us. They didn’t play in our wake, too focused on getting wherever they were headed. But very cool...what a nice way to end a long day! I got one decent video that I added to YouTube.
We were looking forward to being in Bahia Concepcion, a 21-mile long bay surrounded on 3 sides by massive mountain ranges. Its opening is a mere 3 miles wide, and coupled with very shallow waters, the bay seems to create its own weather patterns. Highway 1 runs right alongside this area and numerous vacation homes, RV campers and palapa (grass thatched roof) homes line the various picturesque coves, just south of the small town of Mulege (moo-lah-hay). We originally planned to spend a couple weeks here, floating around the various anchorages that are all a mile from each other in shallow green waters. With cove names like Playa Coyote and El Burro, not to mention several palapa restaurants to choose from, what’s not to love?
As we entered Concepcion Bay, the wind picked up quickly from nothing to 15 kts and after motoring all day, we were finally able to sail for an hour. We skipped our original anchorage of Domingo as we noticed a long line of buoys in the water and could not distinguish what they meant or how to get around them. We didn’t try very hard though, as we thought the place might be uncomfortable with the wind blowing hard right into the cove. We opted to go another 8 miles to a more enclosed cove rather than have another sleepless, rolly night.
Hair Dryer Wind
We arrived at Playa Santispac and anchored in this quiet cove amongst small islands with only 2 other boats. Music played from a palapa restaurant on the beach and we vowed to sample it tomorrow as nobody felt like going ashore after such a long day. While this beach was lovely and serene, just what the doctor ordered after last night… it was HHHOTTT. As soon as we turned the corner towards this cove, we were inundated with heat, like a hair dryer blowing down off the mountain. For Brian, it evoked the super-heated desert winds during his deployments to Iraq. Today the daytime temperature had been 100 degrees in the bay… and it was now 7pm… so it probably had cooled off to 98ish. Summer is here!
Nibbling Fish? Or Biting Fish?
As we arrived, we passed Epic Ship, a trawler who we’d spoken with a few times in other anchorages. He called us on the VHF radio as we were anchoring, warning us of the hot evening wind at that particular beach (thanks a lot-already sweating) and of the biting fish. What?! Apparently, he had tried to go swimming in the cove and was inundated with fish trying to bite his toes. He used the word “bite”. Not just nibble, BITE. Now, maybe he MEANT nibble…. but those words mean two completely different things. As kids in Michigan we’d go lake-swimming where little fish like walleye and bass “nibbled” at your toes, no blood drawn. Nibble=tickle. Bite=Yikes.
The problem was, Brian had to go in the water the next morning in order to change our propeller zinc. He scoffed at the warning of the biting fish and I’m like “But he said BITE. Remember the blog I read to you about the biting fish in La Cruz? Could be here too…” Yeah, yeah, yeah. So he jumps in the water and gets to work.
I’m up on deck, watching. After a minute I start noticing fish swimming near the boat. 5 to 10, then 10 to 20 of them… moving in to warily inspect what’s entered their territory and then flee away, as if to say “Hey don’t pay any attention to me, I’m not scoping you out for a snack or anything…just cruising on by…”
I didn’t bring up their appearance to Brian yet hoping he would just get it done before they became emboldened. Smallish sized, about 18” or so, they were fast movers and it didn’t take long for their cautiousness to turn into unabashed greed: “I want me some o’ that foot”.
Fins to the Left - Fins to the Right
They came in for the “kill” and surrounded Brian’s lower half, swarming like locusts. I tried my best (no really, I did!) to stick my own feet in the water as a distraction, swirling my toes around the surface, which worked for a few lazy ones, but since his entire body was RIGHT THERE they just couldn’t focus on anything else but that big chunk of beef. They did not bother to go for fingers or knees or any other body part, thank goodness. These were first and foremost, foot-fetish-fish. Darting in towards his feet and backing away, trying not to get flipper-whacked, they were fortunately stymied by his long dive fins and unable to get a chunk. Whew. We happily cannot confirm if they are nibblers or biters.
It helped that Brian was moving about and thrashing his feet a lot as he worked: gasping for air, holding his breath and sinking back down under water to fiddle with removing 3 old screws and reinserting 3 new ones into the tiny holes of the new zinc. The process is complicated further by having to grasp the small allen wrench and 1” screw into slippery hands, hoping he doesn’t donate our precious replacement parts to Neptune, all the while contorting his body and flapping his flippers to maintain some semblance of buoyancy to do the job without hitting his head on the hull on the way up for air for the 10th time. It’s a tedious, exhausting job. And I’m glad he does it.
June 3 Playa Santispac
“You better know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run…”
Morning weather report: Overnight Hurricane Blanca became a Category 4 off of Manzanillo, and was headed just off the coast near Cabo San Lucas where it would downgrade into a Cat 1 in a couple days and glide up the western Baja Peninsula. What does this mean for us?
Well, it was definitely not a good idea to be anywhere near Cabo, and even La Paz could see hurricane-force winds. Bahia Concepcion is located much farther north, about half-way up on the eastern side of the peninsula. The hurricane is projected to dissipate near Magdalena Bay on the western shore of the peninsula - opposite of where we are now. While there are a lot of mountains in the way, that doesn’t mean we would not get high winds or some sort of severe weather up that far if we stayed.
Our biggest issue was if the hurricane decided to veer to the right instead of the left and we’d be directly in the path if it funneled up the sea. Hurricanes don’t consult NOAA and can be pretty unpredictable. Odile did just that last year and caught lots of folks by surprise. Even if it didn’t, severe swell marching up the sea from the heavy Cat 4 water circulation could make crossing over to San Carlos (our emergency exit plan) at the least, uncomfortable and worst case, dangerous.
Backed into a Corner
As of Wed. morning, June 3rd, the storm was predicted to be off Cabo by Saturday. If we wanted to cross, today was the best day as the next two days would get windier and the swell and wind waves worse. If we chose to stay another day or two to “wait and see”, we may get really uncomfortable weather trying to cross. And if it really was going to hit off the coast near Cabo on Saturday we wanted to be farther away.
Had the crossing winds to San Carlos been forecasted to be light, we would have stayed another day to see how it played out. However, today was the best window we could expect. So, at 9:30am, after a good breakfast and looking at our options, we felt we had just one. Without even stepping foot in Bahia Concepcion, we jumped. Right then we headed straight for San Carlos, an 80 mile, 22 hr, over-night hike northeast and across the sea, well away from the potential of severe weather (we hoped).
The original plan was to spend 2 months messing around the Sea. We were chased through Isla Coronado way early by Andres and the potential of Blanca to be a major player. We again spent only a couple of days in San Juanico instead of a week, knowing Blanca was milling about closer to land and stronger than typical. We completely skipped Pulpito and Chivato knowing Blanca was headed north toward Cabo, yet hoping we might be able to eke out a few days in Concepcion Bay. Now, as soon as we get to the ONE bay that we really had anticipated spending quality time in, we have to act on our emergency plan, essentially skipping an entire month of cruising.
Healthy Fear of Hurricanes
The one good thing about our fears is that we left way earlier than we wanted after listening to each weather report and by the time we got to our current position were safely prepared to jump. These are not irrational fears like ‘all powerboaters drag’. We had heard first-hand from boaters involved in hurricane Odile last year: stories of lives lost, severe boat damage or total loss, and never underestimate emotional damage due to the terror of the situation.
We talked to one guy who got knocked down 5 times in one night… 5 times. A ‘knock-down’ is when your boat is knocked over 90 degrees by the wind and your mast slams down into the water. Imagine being tossed like a ragdoll around a boat that has been turned sideways 90 degrees or more within a split second. Cabinets open spilling contents, jars breaking, a heavy bag or even a single wayward screwdriver can become a missile… anything not tied down tumbles around inside the boat like a clothes dryer. Internal tanks split and leak water and diesel and propane; saltwater is everywhere inside. Even if you had time to hold onto something and brace for impact, you risk major injury. Barring a knock-down, don’t forget the very high possibility of your anchor dragging or just breaking loose and the boat being swept to shore. After hearing that and other stories, we have a healthy respect for hurricanes and don’t want to be anywhere near one.
While San Carlos is not completely safe from hurricanes, it has historically been a pretty safe place to hole up. Being in a slip is much safer than being out at anchor and you have the option to abandon the boat and walk to land in seconds if it got really bad.
The accurate tracking of hurricanes began in 1971. And it seems as though Blanca is turning out to be quite the witch, already the fourth strongest Northeast Pacific hurricane for so early in the year since recording began. Everybody said June would be a wonderfully benign time to cruise the Sea of Cortez…and then we get record-breaking storms. According to Weather Underground, only six Northeast Pacific major hurricanes have occurred prior to June 5 since 1971, and two of them were this year. Go figure. The good news is those storms have not affected us, and fortunately did very little damage elsewhere.
One thing we have figured out: plans change. We like planning; we're plan fans. But just because we like our plan, doesn't mean we get to keep it, no matter who tells you otherwise. And we also have to be willing to listen to our survival instincts and change them… fast.
There is an oft-quoted saying that “cruiser’s plans are written in the sand at low tide.” The point being that the instant plans are made, 12 hours later, things can change. Other than the broadest of plans, so far NONE have held up. I never liked that saying anyway… so cliché. Ours are written in quicksand at high tide. How do you even DO that??? Exactly…