Neptune’s Cat

This boat log takes us forward, tracking the first part of our trip from Ensenada to La Paz, Baja, Mexico.

We left Ensenada after declaring it our new home.  Over a barbeque of carne asada, quesadillas, and light beer, one of the coaches at the MMA gym, where Rob had been training, suggested that Rob stay to act as the Muay Thai coach—a dream job for Rob.  That night, we conspired to purchase property in the valley just outside of town, where we got married two years ago.  And I created a business plan to sustain us in our new life there.  The next morning, we untied our dock lines and continued our adventure on Mapache.

Our course takes us south down the Pacific coast of Baja, Mexico, around Cabo San Lucas, and up into the Sea of Cortez.  We plan to spend some time in and around La Paz before meandering north along the east coast of Baja, landing in Puerto Peñasco for the summer.  We will wait out the local hurricane season there, visiting family and friends, and taking some land adventures.  

Our first two passages from Ensenada were a dream.  Mapache ran easily through the water, escorted by literally hundreds of leaping dolphins for hours at a time.  The usually lonely ocean suddenly and fully occupied, with every patch from us to the horizon exploding with a dancing silver body.  We stopped several times to help clean up the dolphins’ watery home, netting three balloons, two plastic bags, and a plastic bottle.  

Our first stop was the sleepy little bay of Puerto Santo Tomas.  Fishing huts, a couple of pink stucco houses, and several trailers dotted the green hillside.  A half-dozen pangas bobbed against their mooring balls in the foreground.  Once there, we spent our time as many imagined our trip would be filled: reading and relaxing through the afternoon sun, followed by viewing the sunset as if it were a movie at a float-in theater.  A friend recently sent me a cartoon, portraying, in the first frame, two people stressed and yelling while operating their boat.  The second frame showed the same two people sipping cocktails in their boat’s cockpit and exclaiming, “cheers to the carefree cruising life.”  The Mapache crew has undoubtedly spent more time in the first frame.

After another easy, dolphin-accompanied ride, we arrived at our second anchorage by moonlight.  We anchored in the lee of Isla San Martín.  The island protects the anchorage from westerly weather, and a manmade rock-wall creates a barrier against southerly swell.  We woke the following morning to another beautiful setting.  The island is a green dome skirted by sandy beaches and lava rock—a reminder that the island is a dormant volcano.  A few fishing huts decorated the island, and colorful pangas patiently waited for their owners to take them fishing.  

Rob checked on our beloved engine.  Of course, she had offered another puzzle to solve—she is never one to leave us wanting of something to do.  This time, it was a bolt sitting underneath her.  Rob quickly found the bolt’s rightful home and tuned the engine, checking it over for any additional brainteasers.  We stayed at San Martín for a second night, taking one break from the serenity to jump in, and quickly out of, the 60-degree water.  

On the fourth day, Neptune reminded us that he is boss.  We needed to get to our next destination, because a northerly storm was forecast to bring big wind and bigger waves from the unprotected direction of our San Martín anchorage.  We motor-sailed (sailed with the extra push of the motor to speed our course) in 6-to-9-foot waves, feeling like a new toy for Neptune’s cat.  In order to lessen the batting of the cat’s paw, which hits harder when a wave strikes the side of our boat, we made a zig-zag course (“tacked” in sailor terms), turning into and then away from the waves.  Every time we turned back with the waves and looked toward the rocky promenade that we needed to round, Rob would curse, “those rocks are not moving!”—meaning we were not getting any further south along them.  Of course, that was not true.  We were just moving at the notorious tortoise-pace of a sail boat.  

We made it into Bahía de San Quintín and anchored in the location designated by the maps and guide books.  Rob offered to make lunch, knowing that the task would reverse my progress with seasickness as waves continued to swat against us.  We rocked side to side to side on anchor, and Rob employed every strategy he could to stay on his feet while keeping sandwich parts on their plates.  Another cruiser in Ensenada had told me that it is possible to navigate the changing sandbars to get into the protected areas of the inner bay at San Quintín.  The guide books clearly warn against this, noting “only those with a shallow draft and a sense of adventure should attempt entering the inner bay.”  Our draft is anything but shallow, drawing 6.5 feet.  But we have a strong sense of adventure that grew stronger with each rock of the boat.  

We picked up our anchor, and I stood on Mapache’s bow with polarized sunglasses, while Rob watched for my hand signals directing through the sandbars.  At the entrance to the inner bay, the water was indeed calm.  I saw the sand glimmering through the water ahead, and Rob saw the depth sounder reading four feet below our keel.  My hand signal and his yell simultaneously confirmed that we would not push our adventurous sense further.  We found a 20-foot-deep channel just to our port side and spent the next week anchored at the entrance of the inner bay, waiting for a break in the large waves at sea.

The morning after our arrival at Bahía de San Quintín, we had visions of our time in Ilwaco, Washington, as a parade of sport-fishing boats charged out of the inner bay to sea.  We remained with the local fishermen—the pelicans, terns, and cormorants, who were plucking their breakfast out of the water surrounding us, along with a couple of gray whales, who were feeding off the muddy bottom nearby.  Gray whales feed by scooping up mud and using their baleen to filter out the tiny shrimp, crab eggs, and amphipods that they enjoy.  

We took our dinghy all the way into the inner bay to the town of San Quintín, which sits on a volcanic field, surrounded by a dozen dormant volcanoes.  We docked at the Old Mill Restaurant.  The restaurant name comes from when a group of British tried to set up farms and a flour mill in the late 1800s.  The venture failed because the group was unable to overcome the severe droughts common in the area.  Perhaps an unintended snub of the attempted colonists, San Quintín is now a flourishing agricultural center, shipping its produce all over North America.  

Seeing our empty gas can and backpacks, the local fisherman tying up his boat offered to drive us the five kilometers into the town center.  We jumped at the luck of finding a ride without even trying.  But the success of obtaining groceries, a full can of gas, and a filled propane tank by 11 a.m. was too easy.  The dinghy motor decided to repeat the failure that had haunted us back in Santa Barbara.  We had paid a dinghy “expert” in Santa Barbara to repair it, and our doubts in his diagnosis now came to fruition.  We were seven miles from Mapache with strong wind and current thwarting any rowing attempt.  As Rob removed the motor cover, another local walked up and offered to help.  He did not have the tools Rob needed, but he did have a fishing boat with a powerful motor.  We accepted his offer to tow us back to Mapache.  As we set out, the man retrieved three Tecate beers from a cooler between the boat’s bench seats, joking that it was his lunch and handing us each a can.  Of course, we gave each of our new friends money for their troubles, and I am sure that they expected it, but it remains heartening to meet people who are willing to do something completely unscheduled and beyond their job description to make a stranger’s day easier.

Finally, we saw a gap in the forecasted big waves to let us jump to our next southerly destination.  We set out on what we thought would be a bumpy but reasonable ride to Bahía Tortugas.  We and our new course-mapping program estimated that the journey would take us 27 hours, with the opportunity to stop at Isla de Cedros in 19 hours.  We again found Neptune’s cat in the ocean, and this time, he had grown more aggressive, seeming to forget his toy was play not prey.  The waves were larger than forecasted and coming from a direction that again forced us to tack.  Although Rob was able to hold a course that took the least wave-abuse, we regularly got knocked on our side.  The boat teetered violently and incessantly, putting our rails under the water, flooding the walkways of the boat, and throwing items about the inside that had—even through the turbulent times in the Pacific Northwest seas—been secure.  It took us 30 sleepless hours to get to the planned 19-hour stopping point of Isla de Cedros, during which I repeatedly vowed to quit and to sell the boat.  

The island of Cedros can only be described as majestic.  It is made up of towering red, orange, and purple mountains, with cloud halos circling their peaks and turquoise water lapping their bases.  The town of Cedros is pressed into one side of the island, abutting a harbor created by two breakwater walls.  The harbor is peaceful with calm water, sunshine, and the comforts of a small town, while managing to remain dominated by the area’s natural beauty.  A pudgy seal swam over as we entered the harbor and floated on his back alongside of us, inspecting our boat as we maneuvered to drop anchor.  George (the obvious name for the curious creature) kept us company, softly spraying an occasional snout-full of water, as we napped in the afternoon sun.  I woke with a clear mind and the realization that we were never in any real danger at sea, it just felt like it.  So, I revoked my vows.  A few days later, we headed to Bahía Tortugas, praying that Neptune’s cat was napping. 

Puerto Santo Tomas

Relaxing in Puerto Santo Tomas

Relaxing in Puerto Santo Tomas

Sunset at Puerto Santo Tomas

Company at sea

Hundreds of dolphins

More dolphins

We just can’t have too many dolphin photos

Arriving at Isla San Martín by moonlight

Isla San Martín

Mapache anchored at the entrance to San Quintín’s inner bay

The Old Mill restaurant in San Quintín

We tied the dinghy up to the dock below this sign when coming into the town of San Quintín

Whale mural in San Quintín

One of the gray whales feeding near Mapache in Bahía de San Quintín

Sarah walking a beach in Bahía de San Quintín

Isla de Cedros

George, the curious seal, at Isla de Cedros

Cedros harbor

4 thoughts on “Neptune’s Cat

  1. Love your writing and this magnificent story you are weaving. Can’t wait to see the movie!

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