Thursday, December 26, 2013

Bahia Santa Maria


The sail down to Punta Abreojos was beautiful. About midday, our wind began to die, a pretty common occurrence as the morning land breezes fall away before the afternoon westerlies fill in. The other boats pulled in their sails and they must have tricked the wind gods into thinking we’d all given up. We immediately got a boost from a helpful tailwind and we sailed all the way into the anchorage, setting the anchor under sail just at sunset. We flipped on the motor to back down and set the anchor more firmly than we could with the dying breeze and we were glad we did.
A strong easterly wind picked up in the night. The bay, unprotected from that direction, kicked up a wicked chop and set us rolling uncomfortably until morning when we made a unanimous decision to head out for Bahia Santa Maria. I asked the girls, “Are you ready to roll?” And they, in unison, hollered, “We already are!
Boats of different size and design travel a widely different speeds. OK, maybe not widely, but when traveling long distances, even .5 knots of difference can add up fast. So we were surprised that we could see the lights of the other 2 sailboats all night long. We stopped to refuel in the night at one point, and Discovery, the third of our little flotilla, had to adjust course to stay comfortably off our stern.
At some point on the trip, Bryan caught lunch and I cooked up some coconut cilantro rice to go with it. Yum!


The dragging morning hours of the overnight run sped by as the 4 girls played 20 questions over the radio. We found out later several boats in the area were listening in on the entertainment. They asked great questions and homed in on Alice in Wonderland, bubble solution, calamari, Samwise Gamgee, turkey meatballs, riding bridles, and mustard.
Our Half Moon Bay friend, Al, had recommended Bahia Santa Maria to us. There’s no fuel or groceries, only a tiny fishing village tucked into the cliffs. But he’d said there’s a hike to the lighthouse out on the point and at high tide, you can portage a dinghy into the lagoon at the north end of the bay. We pulled into the bay and dropped the anchor, eager to get to shore and explore the beauty of the area. Ok, not too eager. We spent a sunny afternoon lounging on deck and joined friends for sundowners aboard their boat.



The next day, a nearby boat sent a reconnaissance mission to the surfline and came back. Even with all of their surfing experience they couldn’t get their inflatable dinghy through the surf. So that afternoon, when Valus Valeo called over to ask if we wanted to join them in a landing attempt, we knew it could be an exciting ride.

They brought a double kayak and we came in Splitpea. The tide was ebbing and all the water in the lagoon rushing to the sea. They braved a landing near the entrance and we surfed in a little way down the beach and then walked the dinghy through the surf to the lagoon entrance.

We fought the current and dodged the speedy pangas as they sped through the shallows, gunning their engines to stay up on a plane and dodging buoy-marked sandbars. Just inside the entrance, a lazy tributary led off to the right and we turned in.

We rowed (and sloshed, and squelched, depending…) up and around several enticing bends.


The mangroves came down to the water’s edge and little flat fish skittered away from our plodding feet.

The girls played musical chairs with the kayak and the dinghy, sometimes riding, sometimes pushing, sometimes taking side paths and getting stuck in the mud.

We’d mistimed our trip, rowing up against the ebb, and didn’t want to have to row out against the turning tide. So we reluctantly turned around and floated back out. We watched our friends brave their way back through the surf and then counted the waves and rowed like crazy to get ourselves through. They had planned to stick around and photograph our adventure, but broke a paddle on the way through and decided to play it safe and get right back to the boat.
The next morning, several boats left for Bahia Magdelena. But we had decided to stay an extra day for the hike to the lighthouse. Of course, that same morning, we discovered our missing dinghy and a different adventure began.

I stuck my head out the companionway to take in this breathtaking sunrise and didn’t even notice the missing dinghy and dangling line. A few hours later, while the girls were starting to decorate for Christmas, Bryan went out and found the empty rope. After the initial disbelief and our tedious bay search we stopped by the navy boat for help.

The USA would never let us get near a military vessel, but here the navy tied us up before they even knew who we were and what we needed. In an attempt at civility, I introduced myself and the kind officer misheard my “Bethany” as “bathroom” and took me on a mini-tour of their boat to an empty head before we sorted out the misunderstanding. They filled our water tank, took our information and sent a patrol boat around the bay to aid in our search. I couldn’t help but laugh at their name—Aguas Calientes—which means “Hot Waters.”

Our friend, Will, loaned us his dinghy as a retrieval vessel on our unsuccessful search around the bay. Bryan was considering a surf landing to go on a beach search. He thought better of it. There was just too much risk of breaking the paddles or damaging the dinghy in a likely futile search for ours. This is the same dinghy that we lost (and found) at the next night’s dinner party. We’ve since run into Will again along the way. In fact, as I type, Bryan is helping him with some fuel issues and we plan to celebrate Christmas together somehow. (editors note: If you read yesterday's post, you know we did!)

The next day, we spent a frustrating day aboard. Around high tide, we waved down a panga, but we needed to go to shore at low tide to walk the beach. They had to get back to work, but gave us the lobster that prompted the ill-fated dinner party. We tried calling on the radio, a tricky thing in another language. We thought we’d arranged a ride and waited around for a while in our lifejackets. The next day, we started early, calling again on the radio and this time it worked!

So many parts of the search would have been loads of fun if not for the circumstances. We worked hard to appreciate them anyway. And we couldn’t help but enjoy flying back through the surf we’d rowed through just days before. We tried not to get our hopes up as we trudged around through swampy sand and mangrove bushes. We spotted jackrabbits and lizards and tried to avoid the spiders on tripline webs between the branches. After we felt we’d covered all the possible ground, we flagged down another panga and tried to ask if they’d seen anything. One of the fishermen took a look at our picture and seemed to indicate that he’d seen our dinghy on another sailboat in Bahia Magdelena, the next bay down. He lives there, and his story, that they’d found it on the beach, but took it with them when they left, made sense to us. We’d done everything we could in Santa Maria. Time to move on.

After we got back to the boat, we did the math. 30 miles, at 5 mph would put us into our preferred Bahia Magdelena anchorage at 6pm, just after sunset. But 5 miles closer, there was another anchorage option if we didn’t make it in time  And the wind and tide were with us. We called another boater for a weather report, made a quick decision, and, within just a few minutes, were heading south. As we motorsailed the perfect downwind run—hitting 6 and even 7 knots—we agreed that, if nothing else, this bit of news and the great weather helped us leave the bay on a high note, without feeling overwhelmed by regret.

We made it into Man of War Cove and dropped the anchor near a familiar boat. We’d met Purusha  in Bahia Tortugas and had heard on the radio that they’d been stuck here with engine problems. They hadn’t heard of a dinghy being found, but gave us the name of another boat recently in the area. We sent them a note on our InReach and tried to relax. We’d been told the port captain would come out to greet us and we hoped to ask him to spread the word. But it was Saturday, so our only visitors were from Purusha. They brought us chocolate and condolences and offered to loan us a surfboard for the duration. We thought it seemed like a bad way to learn to surf, but were so thankful for their thoughtful care. We rode along on their trip to shore and talked with a local about the possibility of buying an abandoned-looking boat in an empty lot in town. She let us know the owner was away with an ill family member, and we weren’t sure it would fit on the bow of LiLo anyway. Back on the boat, we endured a bit of a rough night, amplified by our frustration of trying to search without transportation or easy communication and our worry about how to find a suitable dinghy once we gave up the search.
Sunday, we decided to move up the bay to San Carlos and get fuel. The tide was with us along the twisty, but well-marked channel. When we got to town, though, there was no place to dock for fuel and the anchorage was unprotected, with opposing wind and current. We weren’t sure it was safe to anchor at all and we called over to Purusha, who had gotten a tow up the night before. They confirmed our suspicions about the danger and offered to pick up a crew member for a town run. Their tow-boat-driver was already aboard and they’d be over in 10 minutes. It seemed to make the most sense to leave Bryan aboard to deal with the boat, so I grabbed our empty fuel and water jugs and hopped from one heaving boat to another.
You can just see the powerboat rafted up to Purusha

The girls from Purusha had a long list of errands, but we needed many of the same things. Our host and his wife (and adorable baby…sorry I didn’t have time to grab the camera!) drove us all around town—to lunch at a great restaurant, to the gas station, to the grocery store—even stopping their truck in the street to ask the son of the water purification plant to open it up especially for us, even though it was Sunday. The other boat had already arranged payment with the driver and wouldn’t let me give them any of our dwindling supply of pesos. I arrived back on LiLo a few hours later, with full tanks and a full heart. Unfortunately, the wait had not been so pleasant for those aboard. Bryan had managed to anchor safely, but the night here wouldn’t be safe. In less than 10 minutes, we were gone with the tide, now turned in our direction, back toward the other anchorage. On the way, we discussed the benefits of staying another day in Bahia Magdelena (resting up before the trip to Cabo) and the benefits of heading on out into the sea (getting on to Cabo in the good wind and good tide.) We decided to head on out and once again, felt the joy of moving on more than the regret of looking back. If we’d known that we’d have an unpredicted blow of 40-45 knots and that we’d sail under storm jib alone for much of the trip to Cabo, we might not have been so excited to leave. But we didn’t know, and the boat (and we) made it through the storm just fine to Cabo.

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