Baba BarAnn Around the Pacific


Chapter 7 - Cabo San Lucas and La Paz

Cabo San Lucas

Baba BarAnn rocks with each ferry boat full of passengers that disembarks from the Princess Sea Liner which is anchored in the outer harbor. Yes, Cabo San Lucas has gone big time in the touristo business. Primarily the town (now up to 14,000 residents[1990]) caters to the marlin fishermen who stay at the hotel, $100-150 per night per room, charter the boat, $100-400, and generally get shuttled from one Mexican hustle to another. Each morning, while staying in the inner harbor, we are awakened at 6:30 to charter boats zipping around on either side of us as they rush to the primo spots on the sport fisherman's wharf. The cacophony of shrill Mexican whistles fills the air along with the smell of oil. That's the early show. When the fishermen return there's much cheering over the day's catch, but it's less intense since it's spread over a couple hours in the early afternoon.

Walking around town, we are continually besieged by clean cut young adults who entreat us to see the Finisterra Hotel, have a free breakfast and a bottle of Kaluha. Since we have plenty of time, we agree. During the nice breakfast we discover that they're really pushing time share condos. We notice some other cruisers who are likewise enjoying the breakfast and enduring the sales pitch. After saying no a dozen different ways, we collect our bottle of Kaluha (a full liter) and are on our way. It sure was different being on the other end of the "time is money" equation. The view was nice and we were in no hurry. Then of course there's the more typical tourist traps of arts and crafts, T-shirts, clothes, etc. The silver jewelry really looks good, and is reasonably priced after negotiating. I'm just not a shopper (except in marine stores).

Despite the above, we're generally impressed with Cabo San Lucas. Unlike Seattle or any other city in the USA, we haven't been panhandled or had to avoid drunks. Despite very few paved roads, the town is fairly clean. We went to a clinic given by a doctor on sanitation in Mexico. As a brief summary, DON'T DRINK THE WATER, unless it's been boiled 20 minutes. Also thoroughly clean lettuce and cabbage with a special solution (it's something like iodine). The big point is to never drink water from a tap, or at a restaurant. Our game plan is to make ALL our water with the desalinator, and never eat lettuce or cabbage. Partially to avoid the inner harbor noise and pollution, we decided to move to the outer harbor. The clean salt water in the outer harbor will allow us to use our water maker to replenish the tanks.

When I stepped on the deck switch to raise the anchor, I saw smoke coming up the chain pipe. Boy did that get my attention! I quickly turned off the electric current and discovered that the wiring for the switch was completely corroded. Another terrible installation job on the windlass. Remember that Marine Servicenter in Seattle forgot to separate the aluminum windlass from the stainless steel backing plate, leading to much electrolysis and a big job for me in Long Beach? This was potentially much more dangerous. If I had tried to raise the anchor at night, I might not have seen the smoke, and the boat might have caught fire. As a partial fix, I disconnected the good "down switch" and connected the "up switch" to it. We now lower the anchor the good old fashion way, with gravity rather than the more controlled way with the windlass. In the outer harbor, we anchored in 55 feet, letting out 225 feet of chain. With 300 pounds of anchor and chain, I sure hope the windlass works when we need it.


About one-half of the "fleet" in Cabo is going to Papi's for dinner on Christmas Eve. We prefer to stay on board and cook our own Mexican food: super picante chili rellenos, beans and tortillas. Getting into the spirit, I scribe the following drivel:

Now they're fighting and killing in Panama City,
In place of pinatas, it's really a pity.
Even though Noriega is trying to nuke us,
I hope he can't find us in Cabo San Lucas!
The Class of '89, as we're sometimes called,
Is pretty darn lucky, we're havin' a ball

P.S. I challenge one and all for a better rhyme with Cabo San Lucas!

Some of the cruisers in Cabo that Christmas:
Allegro, Alpenglow, Altair, Amazing Grace, Baba BarAnn, Beluga, Carina, Chanteuse, Charisma, Cinnamon, Clovelly, Coho II, Courser, Dream Maching, DX, Easy Street, Exit Left, Genesis, Halcyon, Ichiban, Independence, Karefree, Kingston Eagle, Lyo Lyok, Lysette I, Metheus, Moko Jumbi, Our Way, Perihelion, Play Right, Runaway, Shangrila, Southern Cross, Spice Sea, Spira, Theresa, The Todd, Ulysses, White Cloud.

On Christmas day we dinghy over to Lover's Beach, a beautiful beach right at "the Cabo," for sunning, swimming, and an informal party. About 15 dinghies show up, but 4 or 5 get swamped trying to beach them in the surf. The water's OK, about 70-71 degrees, and the sun's really hot. That evening we go over to Carina and join Chuck and Bev, along with their daughter Catherine, for a fantastic, traditional, Christmas turkey dinner with all the fixings. Christmas at Cabo on Carina

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Our Mail Finally Arrives

For several months we've been concerned because our State of Washington boat registration had expired, as of June 30, 1989, and Baba BarAnn wasn't documented with the Coast Guard. It didn't make sense to pay the annual fee of $700 when we were going to be in Washington for just a few weeks, before leaving in August. The answer is Coast Guard documentation which only costs $100, with no annual fee. We had heard from several other boats that it would take about a year or more to obtain Coast Guard documentation. We had started the process in October, but hadn't gotten very far. Being out of the country, and not having rapid mail service, would probably stretch out the process even more. While in San Diego on December 2, I went to a firm that specializes in helping yachts get documented. On December 26 we received our mail, the first since Thanksgiving. Yeah! It included our Coast Guard Documentation. That was amazingly fast service. It was worth the extra fee to have an "expert" move the paperwork along.

As you might have gathered, we've changed many of our eating/drinking habits to be in sync with Mexico. Kellogg's Corn Flakes, made in Mexico, are really cheap. Corn tortilla's are 28 cents per kilo (12 cents a pound!); the grapefruit is juicy and good; bananas and melons are good while apples are poor. I've never seen better tomatoes and we're eating loads of them. Limes are inexpensive, good, and used a lot; peppers and onions are good while carrots are below average. Jicama, green chilies, jalapeno peppers, and cilantro find their way into our diet quite often. The French bread is great. We've eaten lots of fish; scallops were very good; and pork, ground beef, and chicken have been good. Chorizo was tasty but greasy, Steaks have been poor and lamb hard to find. Pasteurized cheese and milk are very good, although the milk in Cabo didn't stay fresh for many days. Jose Cuevro Tequila (Blanco or gold), at $3.75 per liter, is a great buy. I saw a fifth of Stolle vodka for sale at $6.20. At about $2.40 per six pack, beer in cans is not the fantastic buy I had expected. Bottles are cheaper, if you return them. The cheaper, $4.00, wines have been fair while the $5-$6 haven't been.

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Beth and Alex Visit

We moved back to the inner harbor on Dec. 27 for calm but noisy waters. It would also be easier for Beth and Alex to get around. On December 28 we took the bus, only 2000 pesos (80 cents) a piece, to the airport 1.5 hours away, in order to pick up Beth and Alex.

With my frequent flyer mileage on Alaska Airlines, I had gotten them tickets to Cabo for a 10 day visit during their Christmas vacation. I hadn't seen Beth since early August, before she went back to her sophomore year at Washington State University, nor Alex since early September when he left us in San Francisco to return to his sophomore year at Mercer Island High School.

Beth, Alex and Candace
Cabo Christmas

They stayed on the boat, in somewhat tight quarters, but what a nice visit. We went to the beach several times, sunning and snorkeling, walked around town, and shopped at the local Mexican stores. In the evenings we played pictionary, hearts, and boggle. One night we borrowed a VCR movie from another cruiser and another night we watched several "Saturday Night Live" shows that were taped a year ago. Beth caught a nice size sea bass, and two barracudas, while I got skunked.

One night the wind picked up to almost 30 knots in the inner harbor. Because the windmill was "screaming," I turned it off at about 2 AM, and went back to sleep. One half hour later, I was startled awake with a BUMP. A boat upwind of us had dragged anchor, and had barely bumped our bow, just on the other side of the hull were I was sleeping in the vee berth. Inside, perhaps eight inches from my ear, it sounded like an explosion and I jumped up . . . smashing my shin. The bump to the boat was less damage than the typical trip through the locks in Seattle, but my shin took almost four weeks to heal. And Beth slept through the entire episode! January 6 was a sad day as I took Beth and Alex back to the airport. I don't know when I'll be seeing them again.

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Intellectual Exercise

With the minimal number of small projects and maintenance to do on the boat, we finally have lots of time for reading and fun. Both of us were looking for some intellectual exercise so I started learning a new computer language, Pascal, while Candace decided to learn how to play bridge. I had packed three large books and a tutorial program on Pascal. I wanted to learn Pascal because I have a good bridge program, written in Pascal. I thought it would be fun to modify the program to play different bidding systems. To help me with that project, I had also packed at least six books on bridge . . . two on bidding, and one each on declarer play, opening leads, defensive bidding, and opening leads. Unfortunately for Candace, there aren't any beginning bridge books on board. So she's learning bridge with Two Over One/Game Force by Max Hardy, a top flight bridge bidding system used by approximately 50% of the players in duplicate bridge tournaments. Each day we discuss different bids and practice bidding. The computer also provides competition. It bids and plays two hands, and we play the other two. Candace seems to be having fun learning bridge, and I'm enjoying being her tutor.

A few days before leaving Cabo San Lucas, I noticed Micaline. It's a steel boat, sailed by a French couple with their little, 15 month old, daughter that I first met in Mission Bay. Bernard is an expressive and very friendly guy, while Louise is intelligent, interesting, and likeable. Their English is quite understandable, with a heavy French accent. He's from Cameroon, in Africa, and they've sailed east, across the Pacific via Tahiti, Hawaii, and Canada, and are headed through the Panama canal on their way to Europe. Their daughter, Gaella, is expressive like her dad, and lots of fun. The love shared by the three on their small boat is beautiful. Bernard and Louise were quite happy that Gaella was born in Oakland, CA, since that gives her dual citizenship in France and the USA. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting this family, and were sad our paths were diverging. Candace had remarked that Louise was the one of the few really interesting women that we've met while cruising. She's right. We've found that the typical "first mate," at least from the USA, is often boring.

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The Trip To La Paz

On January 11 we left Cabo San Lucas for La Paz, 135 miles to the north. This passage is noted for being a difficult one during the winter, since there are strong prevailing winds from the north. The first day, we motored 46 miles to Cabo Los Frailes, with 20-22 knots winds directly at us. It was such a beautiful anchorage, that we stayed another day. I threw out a line with four small hooks to jig for some dinner. Ten seconds later I pulled in one. Then 2 minutes later I pulled in FOUR, one on each hook. They were Green Jacks, about 9 inches long. Although they tasted fine, they were too bony and we resolved to use them only for bait in the future. That day Candace made banana/walnut bread in the morning, and biscuits for dinner. The sunset, replete with tequila sunset drinks, (tequila, orange juice, grenadine, and lime) was gorgeous. January 12 was a "ten."

The next day we continued north to Ensenada de los Muertos. Leaving at 9:00, we motored for 3 hours into the wind. At noon we changed our course 25 degrees to the northwest, and raised the sails. Beating into the wind is usually a pain, but this turned out to be a great sail. Not a cloud in the sky, 16-18 knots off the starboard bow, and the waves against us weren't too large. The wind vane held our course while we heeled to port and cut through the waves. For five straight hours we beat at 305 degrees, averaging 5.95 knots. Pretty darn respectable for a heavy boat into the wind! Ten minutes before sunset we pulled into the bay. Although we were the only boat anchored, there were about 10 RV's near the beach, obviously filled with gringo fishermen. Many of the RV's even had satellite dishes for their TV's.

For three out of the last four nights we've used the ham radio to make telephone calls back to the USA. The Seafarers Net, on 14.314 between 1900 and 2000 PST, has been most helpful. We make contact with a ham "up north" who has telephone patching equipment. He then makes a collect call to our "party." This is all done for no charge to us, although the "party" has to pay for the collect call from the ham's house. We always chit chat a little with the ham operator and I think he gets some vicarious enjoyment out of our adventures. Sometimes the propagation is poor and we can't get through, but it's been pretty good recently. Ham radio also provides us with news, via the BBC, Voice of America (heavy propaganda included at no charge), and the Christian Science Monitor (with 15 minutes of religion per hour).

The next leg north was directly against the wind, so we had to motor again. This time I dragged a small Krocodile lure about 70 feet behind the boat. It bounced on top of the waves much of the time, but it finally worked. We caught a skipjack tuna, only 15 inches long. In no time we had it filleted. That night, in our own private cove, I barbecued a good chunk. We poached the rest two nights later. It was OK, but not in the salmon league. At 4:30 the next morning, 17 knot winds from the west found the only opening in our cove, and made the rest of the night quite uncomfortable. By noon the next day we were in La Paz.

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La Paz

La Paz, the capital of Baja California South, is the big city, with more than 100,000 residents. Some cruisers spend $350 per month to stay at a dock where they can plug into shore side electricity. We decided to pay $71 for a month's use of a mooring buoy, dinghy dock, security, and nice sandy beach. Since it's been quite windy recently, 14-18 knots, our windmill has topped off our batteries for free. The Mexican paper shuffle was a lot more tiresome in La Paz. We walked, just about non stop, for 6.5 hours, before making the rounds from immigration, to port captain, to port tax. We kept getting the wrong directions from well meaning Mexicans, who never had to go to the port captain. I estimated that we walked 20-24 miles! We also stopped at the bank where they gladly accepted our VISA card. There's a US style super market within walking distance, and that's a real treat.

After a few days in La Paz, the weather turned cold and windy. We had three straight cloudy days of 20-22 knot winds with temperatures in the low 60's. We hadn't seen weather like that since July in Seattle. At least the windmill had a good workout. With the extra power, we topped off our batteries and the water tanks. We've been eating jicama daily in our salads, and have remarked how it has the crunch, and somewhat the taste, of apple. Apples are expensive and of poor quality here, so we had a "great" idea . . . how about jicama pie? (My vote for jicama pan dowdy was ignored). So Candace made a jicama pie! The crust was good. The jicama retained their crunch and the experiment was ruled a complete flop. Anyone for chayote crepes? We're really enjoying eating the local foods. Sautéed with a little parmesan, chayote is really good. We've started using mole sauce, the quintessential condiment in Mexico, on chicken and meat. Not only is it easier to "go with the flow," but it's fun to live closer to the indigenous culture. Rather than complain that the hamburgers and French fries are lousy, we enjoy the enchiladas and other Mexican specialties.

The "La Paz Waltz" has been written about often, but it has to be seen first-hand to really appreciate. Perhaps due to the shallow harbor, the La Paz tide flows in and out at four knots or so. Meanwhile the north wind rushes down the Sea of Cortez and into the harbor, often at 20 knots. A boat at anchor points south into the out rushing tide, flowing north, while the less powerful wind blows at her stern. The result is a boat that dances around its buoy or anchor rode, sometimes quite animatedly. Imagine dropping a wood chip into the water, and watching it flow rapidly INTO a 20 knot wind! That's what happens. Under these conditions, Baba BarAnn sits comfortably, stern to the wind, with the anchor bridle under the boat. In other words, the tidal currents on the keel push from the south, while the strong winds push the spars and rigging from the north. One problem is having your anchor rode wrapped with each tide. Each time the tide changes, the boat makes another turn around the anchor. If a boat is left unattended too long, the anchor rode winds up, gradually shortens, reducing scope, until eventually the anchor starts to drag. About every three days, when the tide was slack, I unwrapped the anchor rode. Because each boat reacts differently, it appears that the boats in the harbor are all dancing in different directions.

On January 21 I got on the VHF net and asked "What time does the Super Bowl start?" The terse response was "About this time next week!" Can you image I'm so much out of touch with football that I was off by a week? When Super Bowl Sunday arrived I went down to the big hotel in town to watch the action. Of course the only "action" was the coin toss. The '49ers creamed the Broncos. I guess I'll be able to survive without a steady diet of pro sports on TV. I can pick up a few local channels on our tube, but Mexican sports seem to be limited to boxing and soccer. At least I don't have to translate the Spanish to enjoy the action.

While in La Paz we redid the brightwork . . . it needed it. That took six days of hard work. We also waxed and polished the fiberglass, to protect it as well as to make it look nice. Only the rookie cruisers work on their boats, so all our efforts are branding us as "rookies." We've met a few cruisers who have been in Mexico for several years. The longer they've been here, the more laid back/lazy they seem to be. Is it the Mexican lifestyle that makes them so lazy, or is it the lazy people who can't get it together to leave for new destinations? What's already happened to us? Most noticeably, I've lost a fair amount of weight. Instead of squeezing into 38 inch trousers, the 36" ones are quite comfortable, if a little loose. Candace hasn't lost any weight, although there's now some noticeable definition in her biceps. This has happened without any conscious effort to reduce calories. In fact, we both are eating a lot more than before. Not having a car, and doing all the walking as well as the physical labor on the boat, burns off lots of calories. Another important factor is our reduced consumption of alcohol. We have wine perhaps once a week, and a second cocktail before dinner is quite rare. Of course we're both tanned. At 7 to 8 hours per night, we're sleeping a little more than during our working days. All in all, we're much healthier. The lack of stress associated with our jobs and the commute is fantastic.

Well, the weather in La Paz has continued to be windy and cool. We're tired of it, so we're heading to Mazatlan on "the mainland." We talked to Chuck on the ham radio, the first contact we've had with him in about a month, and he really liked Mazatlan. He sold us on it. La Paz is really dirty, and a big city without a whole lot going for it. Perhaps Mazatlan will also be dirty, but we hope it has better weather and inviting beaches. So with a day of provisioning and favorable weather, we'll be headed southeast.

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Isla Partida

On Sunday, February 4, the wind had died down enough to leave La Paz, and head north to Isla Partida. This beautiful anchorage, just 26 miles north of La Paz, is inside a volcano that has been eroded to the sea on both the east and west. Only a dinghy can get through the opening on the east, but there's plenty of room to enter from the west. Once inside, we found six other yachts, anchored in the beautiful, emerald colored lagoon.

On the trip up, we noticed that our log/boat speed instruments weren't working again. Maybe the impeller had gotten clogged in La Paz? Once anchored, we had to do one of the most nerve wracking tasks . . . pull the impeller and temporarily replace it with a plug. As soon as the through hull is removed, gallons of water start pouring into the boat, until it's plugged. One, two, three . . . Candace yanks the impeller out of the through hull while I rapidly put in the plug. Even for just that split second, we could see the emerald sea bed, as the water gushed through. The impeller was clogged with growth. It was an easy matter to clean it, and then reinsert it in the through hull. We're getting better at that, but still one to two gallons of salt water gushed through. That's what bilge pumps are for. Now the log/boat speed works perfectly.

The next morning we dinghied over to a shrimp boat that was anchored in the bay, and got about 2 pounds of nice size shrimp, with their heads cut off, for only 15,000 pesos ($5.75). It was a great buy, and good for three meals. On February 6 we left Partida and sailed back to Los Muertos, on the way south to Mazatlan.

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Back to Los Muertos

We really had the tide working with us, and made good time. As we pulled in, we noticed Halcyon, a Seattle boat we'd first met in Cabo. They were heading north to La Paz with another boat that was still slugging it out against the tide. The other boat, Deus Regit II, was sailed by the youngest couple in the "Class of '89". Allen and Cindy, in their middle twenty's, from Newcastle Australia had sailed their little 25 foot, 5,000 pound boat across the Pacific. Their daughter, Anne, was born 5 months ago in Vancouver, and now they're in the Sea of Cortez. Their little outboard couldn't buck the tide, so they had a long trip sailing against the wind and tide, until they arrived just before dinner. Luckily, they had caught a nice size dorado (mahi mahi). So we put together a yummy pot luck dinner, with our shrimp, the dorado BBQed, veggies, cerveza, etc. We really enjoyed both couples quite a bit. But, one of the sad parts of the cruising lifestyle, we were heading in opposite directions. Deus Regit II was heading through the canal, on the way to Europe. Halcyon was staying in the Sea of Cortez for another year to do lots of diving.

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Back to Los Frailes

We stayed another day in Los Muertos, and then left for Los Frailes. The first three hours we motored on a glassy sea, in beautiful warm sunshine, a big change from La Paz. With a freshening breeze, we started sailing and decided it was also a good time to catch a fish for ourselves. This was the time to try out the "heavy artillery" fishing lures we'd purchased in La Paz. We tied the six inch lure, onto 100 feet of 150 pound test line. On the other end we attached the one foot long, rubber snubber, and then looped a line around the winch. No rod. No reel. Just lure, line, and snubber. We weren't fishing for sport. Just a "meat Fisherman" as my father would say. In about an hour, we yanked in a nice size dorado, about 20-24 inches long. It was a beautiful emerald green when hauled from the sea, but it rapidly paled, first to lime green and then to white.

Earlier in the day, I'd heard a cruiser from Los Frailes talking on single side band (SSB). It turned out to be Achates from Juneau. That was the boat we'd first seen in Port Angeles when leaving Seattle, and then again for a few minutes in Sausalito. Until now, almost six months later, we never spent any time with them. Another pot luck dorado dinner! We had several mutual friends from Juneau. Kevin even did much of the programming on the State of Alaska's personnel system, which both Candace and I used in our jobs consulting for the State. The wind in Los Frailes blew up to 30 knots for three straight days. Along with six other boats, we were all pinned in. The weatherfax hinted at a slight break, so we finally left on Sunday morning, February 11, for the 160 mile passage across the Sea of Cortez to Mazatlan. With gusts to 27 knots, we left with a reefed main and just the staysail. The seas were very sloppy for the first four hours, and we both got seasick. Ever so gradually, the wind diminished and we added sail. We averaged a respectable 6 knots for the first 12 hours.

The light northerly winds on our easterly trip gave us difficulties with the Monitor windvane. Taking a suggestion from the Monitor manual, we used the following approach to balance the boat. The staysail. was either sheeted in hard, or even sheeted on the windward side, depending on wind strength, while the main and genoa where sheeted loosely. I'd never heard of such a technique, but it worked fabulously. The Monitor steered the entire way with no problems. We could even make reasonable progress in 5 knot breezes, whereas formerly we needed 7 or more knots to get our heavy boat moving. It's almost like hoving to with the staysail. and main, while driving with the genoa. What a super discovery. By 7 AM, the winds had slowed down, and moved around to the bow, so we motored the last 7 hours into Mazatlan.

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