After our delightful stay at Isla San Francisco, we ventured over to Punta Salinas for a lunch stop at an old salt mining operation. Centered on Isla San Jose, we hoped this new anchor spot was situated far enough away from the dreaded, biting jejenes at this island’s south tip. We strolled along the beach, poked around the decaying buildings and paused for a photo op in front of a rusty, decrepit pickup. I climbed a 10ft high salt pile that had hardened solid, fossilizing into what felt like gripping a heap of sharp ice crystals.
And Today the Weather Dictates…
But the wind was picking up. Here is a great example of how weather dictates everything we do. Anchored on a lee shore with wind driven waves building across the channel towards us, Indigo was bouncing out there a little too much for comfort. Not to mention the notion of a wet and wild ride back to the boat, kayaking directly against the wind and waves. So we unfortunately only spent about an hour on shore and did not venture inland into the miles of checkerboard salt ponds. This salty maze looked like an infinite place to explore and we hope to be back.
On our way across the channel we caught some whale action! As a group made their way south, we saw spouts every few seconds. When you can see the white geysers from 2 miles away… THAT’s big. We’d seen several whale spouts in the last couple days, all in the San Jose Channel area, but were never close enough for good photos. (The only whale shots I’d ever caught were from our Mazatlan to La Paz crossing.) Later on in the week, a small one blew a few hundred yards away as we sailed near Isla Monserrat, but he spouted only once and we never saw it again.
We’d heard stories of countless whale sightings this spring: one had a pair visit their anchorage in the middle of the night, scaring them out of a sound sleep; another accidentally sailed right into the midst of a pod… then again while kayaking, the same couple witnessed several surface only a couple hundred feet away. All instances were way too close for comfort.
Awe and Anxiety
In discussing whales with other cruisers, the general consensus seems to be 1/4 awe & 3/4 anxiety. Seeing dolphins or manta rays is always cool; seeing a whale prompts that same instant “cool!” exuberance, but is quickly tamped down by an underlying sense of “crap”. While you want to see them up close to experience that ‘National Geographic moment’, you really don’t want to see them up close. Period. It’s fine and dandy to go whale-watching… on a tour ship… ‘cause it’s not your house.
Whales are like sleepy-eyed, cud-chewing cows standing on a car-lined road, completely disregarding surrounding anxious drivers. Furiously, yet fruitlessly, the motorist honks his feeble horn, hoping to annoy them enough to reverse their ingrained inertia. Consider your anxiety level increase as a motorist if that cow was now a gigantic bull that had the potential to run full speed right into your slowly moving car like a deer attracted by headlights or maybe even just because he was mad (look at what happened to Captain Ahab)… or maybe said bull decides that your nice, shiny, perfectly-painted BMW looks like THE perfect scratching post (the horror)… maybe even, just because this particular bull species has a propensity for jumping up and down, he accidentally lands on top of your hood, smashing it to smithereens. Bull: “Oops, my bad.”
Whales seem to ignore moving boats; they don’t particularly care if you are in their way. And why should they, we’re probably like cockroaches to them, we’re so small! While relatively rare odds, there are plenty of stories spanning the centuries of these giants scraping alongside ship hulls, nudging boats from underneath, flicking their flukes dangerously close or swimming full bore into vessels… even breaching right on top of them. And unfortunately, a slow sailboat just cannot move fast enough to dodge such a gigantic mass, even if you see them first. Just a small bump could cause a crack and sink a boat. One cruising boat apparently ran into a whale and sunk 30 miles outside of San Carlos just a couple weeks ago! So while it would be great to have cool close-up snapshots, that sunken boat report made us very nervous…we can only hope our whale friends stay far, far away.
After sailing across the San Jose Channel, we landed at San Evaristo. Our second time anchoring in this small bay with a teeny fishing community, it’s a favorite of ours due to the shelter it provides from wind waves. And because of the fish tacos. Lupe and Maggie Mae’s restaurant/home makes the best fish tacos in all of Baja.
That night, we were blasted with an unpredicted 30 knot westerly. While blustery, this was an onshore wind (fortunately for us) so we had no uncomfortable fetch (no wind waves rolling in offshore to generate bounce). But the lack of fetch didn’t mean we slept well. The noise generated by 30 knots of wind is quite something. Plus, we had a banging halyard that could not be fixed in the dark, and then there’s the remnants of our no-see-um bites that still itched like crazy. Despite these minor issues, we were supremely relieved to have left San Francisco’s exposed west anchorage the day before. We later heard accounts of a really rough and rolly night there in those same 30kts winds; so uncomfortable that some boats vacated in the middle of the night, motoring around to the east side of the island for better protection.
By the time we got up in the morning, the westerly wind had decreased to a nice 12 kts. We rounded the corner of the little bay into the San Jose Channel thinking we would get some good sailing; and we did – for literally one mile. Then it stopped. Dead. 12-knots to zero in an instant. Where’d the wind go? We waited a bit but eventually took down the flapping sails and motored on for another couple miles. Then it came whipping up again (17 knots); soooo, we started sailing again. We then noticed another sailboat just ahead of us rolling his sails up. Huh? But it’s plenty windy to sail!? We snickered a bit and kept sailing. Sure enough…our brisk breeze petered out again a mile later, right where the lead boat had given up. No longer snickering, the lightbulb finally went on...
Looking closer at the mountain terrain, the wind was funneling down through the sheer passes and out the valleys like a bobsled chute. On either side of the two valleys – zero wind. It’s also probable we caught more wind passing those “chutes” so close to shore than if we had angled away towards the center channel. Every day, the Sea teaches us a lesson it seems: in sailing or anchoring, in weather phenomena, in ocean water patterns, in nature’s infinite wonders…but mostly, of nature’s unpredictability!