Some of our posts are out of chronological order. That is because we are catching up on some missed logs from earlier parts of our adventure.
We are proud to announce that we have Mapache merchandise! Check out the Mapache hats and the amazing custom T-shirt design that our friend, Tyler Jeffers, did, by clicking here or on the “Mapache Merch!” page under the menu above.
We hope you like the new gear as much as our nephew does. Stay well!
We spent the Sea of Cortés’s hurricane season in Arizona (with quick trips to the midwest and Oregon), while Mapache took a break, out of the water, in Puerto Peñasco’s boatyard. While in the U.S., we were fortunate to spend the summer with our family and friends. We house- and pet-sat, we crashed in people’s spare-rooms, we camped, we dined at old haunts, we created new favorite spots, and Rob had a well-timed, emergency appendectomy. The summer flew, and we did not get to hang out as much as we wanted with all of the people we had hoped. But there will be next times, whether those be in Arizona or some other corner of the earth. We cannot thank enough all of the people, including my parents, who graciously opened their homes, laundry rooms, and vehicles to us while we visited. THANKS A MILLION!
We are now reunited with Mapache in Puerto Peñasco, and we are wasting no time. We are ready, and set, to go…back to the grindstone. Our goal is to get Mapache back in the water and sailing south along the Pacific Coast of Central America by November. Rob is tearing the boat apart to complete upkeep and updates. The biggest project is the rebuild of our loving engine. Although the engine helped make many memories, we are ready for less (*knock on wood*) time spent on engine adventures (aka “repairs”). Stage one of that is already complete, with Rob having rigged a system and hauled the engine completely out of the boat, alone (see the video below). To allow for space to accomplish the boat projects and to have some reprieve from the heat and humidity, we rented a small apartment in town. That is where I spend my days—on the computer for some paid work, and behind the sewing machine for some boat work.
Keep an eye out for more updates soon. We hope you are all well. Thanks for sticking with us in all of Mapache’s adventures.
Passage: Sea of Cortez (Mar de Cortés), La Paz to Puerto Peñasco
Mapache left La Paz, at the southern end of Baja California, in mid-April and spent six weeks meandering her way north, along the east coast of the Baja peninsula, through the Mar de Cortés, to Puerto Peñasco. Mapache will stay in Puerto Peñasco through the summer, while her crew visits friends and family in Phoenix and wait out the area’s hurricane season.
There is a line in the song, “Human,” by the rock band, The Killers, that is a reference to a comment by Hunter S. Thompson. The lyrics are: “Are we human, or are we dancer.” It received a lot of attention from fans and media as grammatically incorrect and because those, who did not know its origin, read its meaning different from that intended. Thompson’s comment was a criticism of society that people were acting as dancers, afraid to fall out of line, rather than being human. The lyric often pops into my head when I explain our choice to set sail on Mapache.
When people learn about our journey, many assume that we are skilled and experienced sailors. That is incorrect, and when people voice that assumption, we often respond that we are adventurers, not sailors. Certainly, we spent our spare time of two summers sailing a smaller sailboat around the Columbia River; Rob and I took a couple of weekend sailing classes; and we attended many lectures on sailing, weather, boat systems, safety, rigging, and sailboat maintenance and repair. We also spent hundreds of hours reading books on all subjects related to cruising (sailing for extended periods of time and distance). But when it comes down to it, we do not come close to having the time on the water that is required for one to hold themselves out as a “sailor.”
Rather, we have logged time on the tops of mountains, in endurance sports, on a motorcycle in untracked rural Mexico, lost in foreign countries, and overcoming challenges in our jobs. We are MacGyvers, not just in repairing and rigging physical things, but of problem-solving life. We seek the unbeaten path, because we know that the new experiences it holds make its difficulty worth it. In short, we are adventurers. And that is why we feel confident that we possess the skills necessary to take on sailing around the world without being “sailors.”
We recognize that that confidence involves some naivete. But a little naivete might be a good thing. It removes the prejudgment that could have kept us from attempting something like this. It causes us to do things the wrong way. And the wrong way is an efficient and effective teacher. For example, seasickness helped me understand why a sail up, even without wind, is important on a sailboat. A few wild rides on the ocean helped us learn why reading a weather report for the wind gusts and highest wave-heights, as opposed to wind and wave averages, is wise.
Further, not knowing the “correct” sailorly ways has helped us come up with simpler methods for boating tasks. After exploring several islands and bays outside of La Paz in the Mar de Cortés, we entered Puerto Escondido, a natural hurricane hole (protected on all sides) near Loreto, Baja California Sur. There, a boater’s choice to stay is either docked at the posh marina or attached to a mooring ball in the harbor. We opted for the less pricey option—mooring ball. We had never picked up a mooring ball and, failing to recollect the brief explanations we previously encountered, we decided that the best way was to treat it like a person-overboard. When picking up a person-overboard, one brings the boat alongside the bobbing victim, allowing easy access at the deck’s lowest point and gate. It also allows the most room for error, because one may grab the balance-challenged’s life vest or hand at any point of the length of the boat’s side. We applied the person-overboard technique and easily attached our designated mooring line (rope) to our intended mooring ball. Later, I reviewed some sailing books to find that the “correct” way to hook a mooring ball is to stand precariously on the front of the boat, lean over the railing with a boat hook (long pole) to snag the ball’s line, and rush to attach the boat’s line before the boat moves too far away. While in Puerto Escondido, we watched many sailors struggle with attaching to a mooring ball, often requiring several attempts. We smugly agreed to stick to our amateur method.
From Puerto Escondido, we cruised to several more islands and bays in the Mar de Cortés. The east coast of the Baja California peninsula is spectacular with powerful mountains colored with purples, oranges, and pinks. The landscape is dotted with cacti and other scrappy desert plants, showing an occasional bright flower. And the white sand beaches contrast brilliantly with the turquoise shallows, which blend into deep blue water under Mapache’s hull. The small islands are crumbs from the mainland, broken off and scattered around the Sea as samples of Baja’s geology and wildlife. The only residents of most of the islands and bays at which we anchored were coyotes, goats, lizards, seagulls, and pelicans, with the occasional fishing camp or small grouping of simple houses. But the water was filled with life—coral, crabs, starfish, urchins, and octopus; all sizes and colors of fish; leaping dolphins and rays; shy turtles and sealions (“lobos marinos” in Spanish, which means sea wolf); grebes, frigatebirds, and, even, the rare blue-footed boobies. Anchored at these lonely but vibrant spots was like living in a beautiful novel with poetic words of the desert’s wilds and the sea’s riches. We felt far removed from people’s pollution, like the 9-to-5 hustle, politics, rush hour, and hurried schedules. The simplicity of being on a boat anchored in those places meant that our minds were not littered with worry, allowing us to freely enjoy the world around us.
Our days were spent hiking up goat trails, snorkeling through reefs, and snacking on beaches. We found a hidden lagoon on Isla Coronados, inhabited by four giant black rays. I negotiated with a seagull to return my flipflop on a quiet beach. We analyzed pelicans’ strategies as they broke from their perfect flight formations to dive-bomb the water for fish. I learned to accept jellyfish stings as part of my daily swim. We explored mangroves by dinghy. We followed a dirt road from one beach to a lone streetlamp in the middle of nowhere, that was somewhere to the man who sold us vegetables straight out of his garden beds across from that lamp. We were puzzled by something constantly knocking on our boat’s bottom, until we saw large fish eating the marine growth off of our hull. We ate jicama every day, because it was the only consistently available vegetable in the small stores (usually run out of people’s living rooms) in the places we stopped. We watched a lunar eclipse from our boat in an uninhabited bay. The bioluminescence erupted around us with jumping fish as the moon darkened, and a lobo marino howl echoed against the mountains as if the land wolves were howling back. As the moon began to peek back out of the earth’s shadow, the morning sun started its appearance. We watched the sharp black and white lines of the lunar eclipse while smooth pastels of the sunrise washed across the sky and water behind us. The sky was awake.
Our clock was the sun and our only decision was when and which anchorage to head next. Every few days, we would cross our fingers for sufficient wind, weigh anchor, and head out. We always sailed, but the gentle breezes usually required us to incorporate the motor’s assistance. Our time in the Mar de Cortés is likely what many of you imaged we were doing our whole trip. Of course, our ever-needy motor gave us a project, requiring Rob to completely disassemble and reassemble the transmission in our cockpit. The repair to a loose gear-assembly worked, and we recalled the mantra: “Cruising is just working on your boat in exotic places.”
In these spaces, we met people on other boats with similar goals to us. And through those common interests as well as cockpit happy hours, a handful of those people are now good friends, planning to share the ocean road with us again. Many are in their 30s and 40s. They have worked careers, saving money to attain things like a house and vehicles. But when the time came, they traded in the dream of owning a permanent land home for a dream of more movement, exchanging the picket fence for an open horizon. Neither is right nor wrong. The boat life is merely what is right for these vagabonds.
Over the course of six weeks, we made our way from La Paz, up the Mar de Cortés, along the Baja peninsula, to Ensenada Alcatraz, which offers a protected anchorage. Alcatraz was our last stop before crossing the Sea from the Baja peninsula side to the Mexican mainland, ending at Puerto Peñasco for the summer. The crossing was a 24-hour trip. We had planned to stop over for one night at Alcatraz before making that leap, but that changed to two nights when the forecast showed a weather system pushing gale-force winds along our intended path around the tip of the nearby Isla Ángel de la Guarda. Two days later, we headed out with the rising sun and a favorable forecast, but quickly encountered big seas and powerful winds that forced us to retreat to the perhaps aptly-named Alcatraz.
When we are out of cellular signal, we receive the forecast on our computer through the single-sideband radio. The service we use updates at noon every day. At noon after our retreat, the forecast populated our computer screen, showing that we would be unable to make our escape until the following afternoon. That time came, and our third try had charm. We crossed in a calm sea, with sufficient sailing wind, and we watched the purples, oranges, and pinks of the Baja peninsula and its islands fade behind us.
About 22 hours later, and nine months after leaving Portland, Oregon, we arrived in Puerto Peñasco. It felt like coming home. I joked about sailing our boat to Phoenix (where I grew up), and this is as close as we can get. The last nine months have taught us that, although we understood basic sailing concepts, we did not really know how to sail. But we have learned, and we feel ready to continue stepping out of line to follow a nontraditional path in a nontraditional way. We are human.
Mapache, anchored at Isla San Francisco (mountains of the Baja peninsula in the background)
Us, following the trail along the ridge line of Isla San Francisco
Rob, making an angel in the salt flats of Isla San Francisco
Mapache, anchored at Caleta Partida, where two islands almost touch
An elusive turtle, taking a breath next to the boat
Cockpit happy hour on S/V Catspaw with our former Portland, Oregon, neighbors
Rob (in the water to the right), snorkeling off of the boat at Puerto Los Gatos
Pink rocks of Puerto Los Gatos
Red flowers, along the path on one of Sarah’s runs through the desert, off of a beach.
Exploring the mangroves at Bahía Amortajada
Mangroves, desert, and mountains at Bahía Amortajada
Us, enjoying the dinghy adventure at Bahía Amortajada
Local fishermen at Timbabiche
Rob, standing in the abandoned Casa Grande at Timbabiche, built in the 1920s by a local fisherman, who came into wealth when he harvested a large pearl out of the Sea
Mapache on the Mar de Cortés
The end of a goat trail at Bahía Agua Verde
Mapache, moored in Puerto Escondido
Steinbeck Canyon at Puerto Escondido
Typical day, sailing the Mar de Cortés
The dolphins almost always find us.
View from the peak of Isla Coronados
Hidden lagoon at Isla Coronados (Baja peninsula in the background)
Rob at Isla Coronados
New and old friends at beach snacky/happy hour on Isla Coronados
Us, enjoying the sunset from our new friends’ boat (Mapache is behind us)
Mapache, anchored at Caleta San Juanico
Rob and a new friend, buying fresh vegetables from the man who lives next to the lone streetlamp on a dirt road at Caleta San Juanico
Beach snacks at Caleta San Juanico with our new friends
Pelicans diving at Caleta San Juanico
Sunset at Caleta San Juanico
One of Sarah’s jellyfish stings
Blue-footed boobies at Punta Pulpito
A mural of the blue-footed booby (“bobo patas azules” in Spanish) at Bahía de los Angeles
Transmission rebuild in the cockpit at Punta Santo Domingo in Bahía Concepción
We stopped at a small marina in the town of Santa Rosalía.
Santa Rosalía was founded in the 1880s by a French copper mining company, and much of the original mining equipment remains today.
The mining company purchased a steel church, designed by Gustave Eiffel (creator of the Eiffel Tower), which was shipped from Brussels to Santa Rosalía in 1897. It is still in use today.
Mapache, sailing the Mar de Cortés
Lunar eclipse at Bahía San Francisquito
Sunrise, behind us as the lunar eclipse finishes in front of us, at Bahía San Francisquito
Mapache, anchored at Punta Islotes
The beach at Ensenada Alcatraz
Beach treasure at Ensenada Alcatraz: a dead sunflower sea star
Mapache, waiting to leave Ensenada Alcatraz (the white rock is Isla Alcatraz and the mountains in the background are part of Isla Angel de la Guarda)
An example forecast on our computer screen, downloaded through the single-sideband radio
Leaving the Baja peninsula behind us as night sets in and we cross the Mar de Cortés to Puerto Peñasco
Our first clear view of Puerto Peñasco under Mapache’s sail
Approaching Puerto Peñasco
Us, on land, overlooking Puerto Peñasco
Mapache, all sealed up for the summer (hurricane season in the Mar de Cortés)
We are presently in the Sea of Cortez (Mar de Cortés), heading north to Puerto Peñasco, where we will haul the boat out of the water for the summer. We will spend the summer visiting family and friends and maintaining the boat. In the fall, we will set sail south down mainland Mexico and into other Central American countries.
Our feelings about the wind have been a continued flip-flop, hypocrisy, battle of desires, irony, however you want to call us out. We complain tirelessly about our lack of wind when we are at sea and forced to rely on our temperamental engine. Yet we whine incessantly about the excess of wind that keeps us on anchor because it is too strong for us newbies to sail, it creates uncomfortable waves, and it ensures chilly days and nights in ports.
I have never known the wind as I know her now. I have wooed her as we bob along in the ocean, attempting to entice her to whisper a gust, a breeze, or even something more steady. I have learned a healthy fear and respect of her power as I sat in my boat feeling like the wind is tearing through us with only a chain and metal scoop, dug into some sand, preventing her from pushing us onto a reef. That feeling is worth sharing.
The precursor to a strong wind is a background noise, a buzz to which I fail to pay attention but know I should. It sounds like a ghost sucking the air out of the night. Then, it transforms from background into a powerful plane quickly approaching. The roar of the jet engine comes quickly and unavoidably. The halyards start to tap an eerie warning on the mast, which increases in pace and intensity, cementing my understanding that there is no escape. Then, the rigging starts whistling and a hole in the metal piece around the backstay begins to play like a flute performing a lonely dirge. The waves lift the boat up and let it crash down, creating a jarring thud against the hull as if the wind has soldered the water into something solid. The ropes, the wood, and the fiberglass start to creak with an increasing energy that transfers to my gut. When the jet plane arrives, the pressure from its force pushes down then pulls up on me, the boat, and the air as it passes over.
The power maintains like a fleet of jet planes continuing to fly by. The consistency allows my brain to adapt and accept. But then the percussion of the boat begins. A cabinet door, slightly loose on its hinges, taps; a jar slides back and forth in a cabinet; the companionway stairs creak; and halyards continue their knocks on the mast at an allegro pace. The tapping, sliding, creaking, and knocking drill into my head, reminding me of every nagging thing I said I would do, but did not. The incessant performance taunts that one of those things will be our demise. I think of the anchor’s set failing, the gear tied on deck escaping, and the lines and sail cover wearing through. Yet, the wind handicaps me in a way that prohibits any double-checking at that point. The sound deafens me. The rocking steals my sense of balance. The only thing I can look at, while standing on deck, are the white caps of the waves that are the wind’s army.
The wind keeps us in our boat-cell until it decides to release us or to allow us to harness its power with our sails. We were held by the wind in several spots along the Pacific coasts of the U.S. and Baja. It is those experiences that have kept me humble to and in awe of nature’s power. Now, on the east side of Baja, in the Mar de Cortés, we have not been held up by such extreme blows. Rather, we sit in anchorages waiting for the right wind. We are traveling north, so we want the wind to blow from the south to eliminate the possibility of the boat beating into choppy waves and to allow for an easier point of sail. And we want sufficient wind to allow us to sail, rather than motor. The luxury of being picky about the type of wind we want to travel under is not lost on us after our tough ride from Portland, Oregon, to La Paz, Mexico. Our experiences in the Mar de Cortés have been full of peace, beauty, ease, and new friends. More details of the Sea in the next post.
Waiting out the wind in Eureka, California
Watching the anchor through the wind waves in Eureka, California
Waiting out the wind in San Quintín
Catching some wind in the Sea of Cortez with our light-air sail
Motoring in the Sea of Cortez, just after the wind disappeared
This boat log continues with our more recent passages down the west coast of Baja to our initial goal-destination of La Paz.
We made it to Baja Sur (the southern state of the Baja peninsula), landing in Bahía Tortugas after Isla de Cedros. Tortugas is a remote town that marks the halfway point on the desolate west coast of Baja. It thrives on providing supplies and fuel to boats making the trek toward the promised water of the Sea of Cortez. We had heard stories that the floating fuel vendors in Tortugas charge excessive rates and cheat the amount of fuel that they provide. The local gas station is a short walk from the beach into town, and we could easily carry or wheel jerrycans there to avoid the racket. But Rob and I believe that the “excessive rates” of the floating fuel vendors are merely a service fee to enjoy the convenience of them bringing fuel to your boat. And our past experiences taught us that negative stories about people are often misguided or exaggerated.
As soon as we dropped anchor, a fuel boat approached and the vendor offered his service. We planned to buy fuel from him later to support his business but needed to first check our tanks and get settled. So, we politely declined. He had a strange response, telling us that we should avoid taking our dinghy to the beach because “banditos” would steal our outboard motor. We saw through the veiled threat as a way to dissuade us from buying fuel at the town’s gas station.
We went to town several times over the course of our five days in Bahía Tortugas, leaving our dinghy on the beach, locked to a light pole with the outboard locked to the transom. Of course, a savvy thief could easily cut the lock to the dinghy or, even, cut the transom to obtain the outboard. But the most interest directed at us or our boat were friendly waves from a family who lived in a house on the beach and from the children playing in the park across the street. The fuel hustlers persisted, and each time we went to shore, they repeatedly yelled at us about banditos. They offered another service, too, imploring us to tie our dinghy to their dock, where we could pay them to guard it.
Through regulations or lost visitors, the COVID-19 pandemic has closed or severely hampered most businesses in the Baja towns we stopped. The fuel vendors’ desperate attempts to ensure our business were a sign of that struggle. Thankfully, we also witnessed a sign of hope against the pandemic’s destruction. It flew into Tortugas one night. From our boat, we watched a helicopter land in the town’s basketball court for 15 minutes before flying back into the moonless night. The next morning, during a grocery-store run, we saw a line of people outside the local police station and medical clinic. The military was administering COVID-19 vaccines, which the helicopter had delivered!
The other major event for us in Tortugas was baked from a Betty Crocker cake mix. Boxes of it are common shelf items at Baja markets. And, in celebration of reaching Baja Sur, I bought a box. We ate our pieces of cake and decided to deliver two of the extra pieces to a man on a fishing boat anchored next to us. He was thrilled, and immediately handed us a reciprocal gift of fresh clam ceviche. Then, 20 minutes later, he dinghied over to our boat, gifting us four lobster tails. The bartering market in Mexico is clearly skewed toward sugar.
The man’s name is Leonardo and he is the engineer (and security while in port) of a fishing boat that works as a supply vessel to the nearby island of Natividad. A smaller local boat shuttles food, fuel, and various items from shore to Leonardo’s boat. The most impressive of those items was a full-size truck, which precariously balanced on the shuttle boat between the cabin and motor before Leonardo craned it onto his boat’s deck. Leonardo works year-round, living on the boat, with one annual vacation, which he spends visiting his children and girlfriend in Ensenada. We spent several afternoons visiting with him on his boat with him patiently interpreting our often-inadequate Spanish.
The day before setting out to continue our west-coast-Baja passage, we conducted business with the fuel vendors. We told them the quantity of fuel that we wished to purchase, we agreed on a price, and they hauled it in a large tank on their boat to our boat. We asked them to fill our five-gallon jerrycans one at a time so that we could make sure our fuel gauge was properly calibrated. The method provided an additional benefit of allowing us to check that we received the amount of fuel that we had ordered. At jug number 7, one of the two men on the fuel boat said that he was at jug 8. Rob and I protested, and I showed him the written record that I was keeping as Rob emptied each jerrycan into our fuel tanks. The vendors continued to fill until actual jug 10, arguing the entire time that they were giving us 11 jugs. They loudly talked about how we were cheats and “ratos” but accepted payment for 50 gallons as originally agreed. I paid and told them to keep the change (a minimal amount). Then, they screamed about how they had worked hard and deserved a better tip. I was unaware that a tip for the fuel service was customary and had not factored it in. In the end, we gave them an extra 200 pesos (about $10), which they accepted. I was happy to give them the money that we did—they definitely need it and they did provide a service—but their interactions with us only support their reputation as the true “banditos” of Tortugas.
The rest of our journey down Baja Sur’s west coast was unremarkable apart from the sea life, the beautiful desert shoreline, and the wild blue Pacific. We stopped at Bahía Asunción, Abreojos, and Bahía de Magdalena (the latter of which afforded us more time sharing an anchorage with gray whales), before making it to Los Cabos at the tip of Baja.
As we neared Cabo San Lucas, its infamous rock arches in sight, a flotilla of pangas, giant motor cruisers, and a pirate ship rapidly approached us. Tourists! Sunburnt faces and English screams greeted us on their way to search for whales and a morning alcohol-buzz. This was somewhat shocking to us after our acclimation to the small dusty towns of Baja’s west coast. We anchored amongst mega yachts just off the resort-packed beach and promptly found pizza and craft beer at a rooftop brewery overlooking the water. We soon tired of the tourist-packed town and raised anchor to head on to La Paz.
Strong winds and waves in the wrong direction hit us as we attempted to round the tip of Baja’s peninsula. We decided against a stubborn onward fight and, instead, turned around and pulled into the other cabo (San José del Cabo). There, we found an immaculate (and reasonably priced) marina attached to a resort. Unlike Cabo San Lucas, the space was not overcrowded. The streets around the marina were peaceful and offered several quality restaurants (even ones with vegetarian menu items). You might guess which one captured most of our dinner dinero—the one with the friendly dog out front and a sign reading “El Marinero Borracho.” Finding this refuge, we spent a day cleaning the entire boat, ourselves, and our laundry, and then we treated ourselves to a few “vacation days.” For two lazy afternoons, we hung out at the resort’s private beach and its rooftop swimming pool before pushing on in much calmer weather around Baja’s point and into the Sea of Cortez. We made it to La Paz, by way of Bahía Los Frailes and Ensenada de Muertos, three months later than we originally planned . . . it was a piece of cake.
Mapache and Leonardo’s boat in Bahía Tortugas, and our dinghy locked up on the beach
Shuttle boat transporting the full-size truck to Leonardo’s supply boat
Leonardo and his boat (with the truck onboard)
Bahía Asunción — the only other sailboat that we saw there (pictured on the left) is home to a full-time Asunción resident and American expat
Mapache anchored in Bahía de Magdalena (commonly referred to as Mag Bay)
Skulls at Mag Bay, which used to be home to a whaling operation; thankfully, the area’s present-day primary business (whale-watching) requires that the whales stay alive
We became popular with the kids in Mag Bay for our Mapache-sticker handouts
Cabo San Lucas arches
Cabo San Lucas
Mapache rubbing elbows with the rich in Cabo San Lucas
Celebratory beers for making it to the tip of Baja–Cabo San Lucas
Mapache docked at San Jose del Cabo marina
Sunset at San Jose del Cabo
Our favorite restaurant in San Jose del Cabo . . . What would you do with a marinero borracho? We don’t know, but we tried to figure it out.
Private-resort-beach life in San Jose del Cabo
Rooftop-pool time in San Jose del Cabo
The rays in Bahía Los Frailes were trying to fly!
Ensenada de Muertos or Bahía De Los Muertos, which the local businesses are rebranding as Bahía De Los Sueños (Bay of Dreams, rather than Bay of the Dead)
We made it . . . just three months after our planned arrival!
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
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
Passage: Florence, Oregon, to Eureka, California
(including stops in Port Orford, Oregon, Hunter’s Cove, Oregon,
and Crescent City, California)
(Reminder: We are still working to catch up on previous parts of our adventure. This is a description of part of our U.S.-coast passage, which took place this past fall.)
After Florence, Oregon, we sailed overnight to Port Orford. We did not time it well, traveling faster than anticipated with big swells and winds pushing us around Cape Blanco. (You might recall that was where we picked up our first seabird refugee.) We arrived in Port Orford before dawn, and gingerly tucked into the very edge of the bay—just enough to get out of the rocking seas. We anchored and, after the intense night rounding Cape Blanco, enjoyed a deep sleep, knowing we were safe even though our only clues of where we were was a faint marker light, barely visible in the wildfire smoke, and our GPS and radar. We woke up the next morning with not much more visibility, due to the persistent and thick smoke. We took the dinghy to shore in search of a warm breakfast and some extra engine oil, as our engine had started a small leak. The leak was not alarming, just the engine working out some kinks after running more than it had in some-20 years.
The water at Port Orford is beautiful—turquoise and clear, which was a sharp contrast to the gray and opaque air surrounding us. We could see hundreds of bright-orange and red starfish, as well as spiny urchins. Part of the reason for such clear and life-filled water in a busy port is that the marina is completely on land. A huge crane conveys ships up and down the steep cliff that overlooks the bay.
We stretched our legs with a quick walk into town and found oil at the town dollar-store, thanks to a tip from the gas-station attendant, as well as a filling breakfast at a local greasy-spoon. We found our boat again through the smoke (see video of that below), and we got underway to our next destination, a small bay amongst the sea-stack rocks for which Oregon’s coast is known. The anchorage we chose was Hunter’s Cove.
The sea stacks of Oregon’s coast are beautifully ominous. I like to call them “rockbergs,” providing a landscape that is both intriguing and threatening. Much like icebergs, sea stacks are formed from great forces of nature. Many are the result of lava flowing to sea and cooling into hardened basalt, then, as sea levels receded, wind and waves formed them into their current, towering haystack shapes.
We arrived in Hunter’s Cove just before sundown, anchored easily, made and ate dinner, and again fell quickly and deeply into sleep. (This is also where we picked up our second sea-bird refugee.) A big swell rocked us awake early the next morning, and we accepted the wakeup call to move on to Brookings, Oregon. As we approached Brookings, we decided to take advantage of the favorable seas, rerouting to cross the Oregon-California line and dock in Crescent City, California.
Our arrival in Crescent City was well-timed, and we tied up to the transient dock in the late afternoon. The marina there is fairly priced and well-maintained with wide dock-space and decent showers and laundry facilities. Many cruisers had suggested that the town does not have much to offer, but Rob and I found the opposite. With our first dinner at a cute and tasty restaurant, located on the spit between the beach and the marina (Schmidt’s House of Jambalaya), to discovering two craft breweries in town (SeaQuake Brewing and Port O’Pints Brewing Co.), to the grocery and auto supply within walking distance and an Englund Marine store in the marina, we were sold. We also managed to make three new friends at the marina, two of whom were also headed to Mexico, and one with incredible life-stories, including a real message-in-a-bottle connection. We happily waited out a storm in Crescent City, then set out one night, in order to make our next new port in daylight. We shoved off with the help of the two new cruising friends and the expectation of fairly calm seas. But 10-foot seas greeted us just past the protected bay. Mapache bucked like a tortured rodeo bull.
There are several respected sailing weather applications that we use in addition to NOAA’s website. On our way down the Oregon and California coasts, the forecasts from each rarely aligned. Until our departure from Crescent City, we had deferred to the proprietary applications, but our experience on that night pushed us to trusting NOAA in U.S. waters over all others. That night—and for the rest of our trip down California’s coast—NOAA’s predictions were the closest to reality. That is not to say we will stop using the proprietary applications. Those applications have turned out to be very useful in Mexico, where NOAA’s forecasts cover broader, less focused, swaths of the ocean.
I remained calm in the rodeo ride, but after 30 minutes, Rob decided that the constant and intense hand-steering required by that sea was not something he wanted to endure on our 18-plus-hour tour to the next stop of Eureka, California. We agreed to turn around. That required some timing, some skill, and some luck. We waited for a big set of waves to pass, knowing that there would be a small break before another big wave rolled up. Rob then turned the wheel, making sure not to over-shoot the turn, ensuring that the next wave did not broadside us (which has a greater potential to roll boats). We were back at our spot at the Crescent City Harbor District marina within two hours of our initial departure. I am sure that our friends did a double take when they saw that Mapache had reappeared the next morning.
We ended up waiting out another storm system in Crescent City (foreshadowed by the waves that had kept us there). Our second attempt was uneventful. However, we arrived at the entrance channel for Eureka, California, in the dark and at a low tide, but I have already written about that thrilling experience.
They say that people learn best through experience, and it seems that Mapache’s crew is hell-bent on applying that learning technique. Maybe it is because I am happier when overcoming challenges, when things hurt to find the sought success. I am more comfortable and happier when pushing to finish a long run through the mountains, as compared to a relaxed jog around the park. I enjoy a walk that is slightly too far to get to a nice restaurant (we call those “Sarah’s death marches,” with my repeated encouragement of, “just a little further, guys!”). Thus, the getting to the next place is part of the enjoyment of our trip, especially when it is uncomfortable in the moment.
After crossing into Humboldt Bay, our time in Eureka was enjoyable AND easy. A friend and former Eureka resident once remarked to me that “Eureka has a reputation of being a little trashy, but the scenery is beautiful and the people are the best.” I could not agree more with her second and third points. Humboldt County, California, is a beautiful slice of the world. It is bordered by the Redwood Forest on one side, with rivers and bays feeding the ocean on the other. It is picturesque. And the people are just as beautiful.
The first person that I met when we stepped foot on the Eureka Public Marina dock immediately offered to let me use his bathroom key while we waited to get ours from the harbor office. Another day, after moving to anchor, that person, Paul, graciously watched my backpack so that I could go for a run. I came back to get the backpack and, with it, a six-pack of craft beer from a local brewery. Then there was Joe and his dog, Max, who came up to say hello and find out our plans. We soon found out that Joe had sailed our planned course to Mexico a couple decades prior. Joe offered valuable advice and the use of his car while we were in town. Tim wandered up soon enough, inquiring about our solar panels because he planned to install his own for when he takes his boat to Mexico (it seems every sailor in these parts feels the call of Mexico). Then, Tim was offering knowledge to us, including the best spot to anchor for free nearby. Another evening, we came out of the boat to find Steve and Rudy checking out our rig. They immediately invited us for beer at Steve’s 1960s wooden boat. We sat in the beautiful cockpit chatting about Steve’s adventures circumnavigating the world on foot (he hitchhiked around the entire world in the 70s) as well as his sailing adventures and Rudy’s mountaineering path. By the end of it, Steve had given us beer and two of his books, and the two explorer friends had entertained us with some solid real life stories. Rob found more new friends at Humboldt Jiu Jitsu, and I visited old friends, Nate and his dog Indy, who had relocated to the area.
Eureka and Crescent City are yet more examples of places where cruisers’ warnings were wrong. Many had spun warnings of prevalent theft- and trash-filled streets in Eureka. But that simply was not the reality we encountered. The information flow from one cruiser to another, to another, turns one negative comment into a town’s whole story. The telephone game is a dangerous one and often results in missing good spots and good people.
We peeled ourselves away from Eureka with a feeling that we were leaving a piece of our hearts there. And perhaps Poseidon felt that too, because, within two hours of our departure, I heard our engine alarm sounding and we found what our engine had foreshadowed in Port Orford—our bilge was filled with oil. We shut the engine down and, again, returned to our place of departure. That day, we enjoyed the most pleasant and consistent wind of our whole trip along the western U.S. coast. Mapache sailed peacefully back to Eureka. We repaired the engine and enjoyed some bonus time with friends. Double takes have treated us well.
Clear, life-filled water of Port Orford
A view of what would be our boat at anchor in Port Orford, if it was not for the wildfire smoke
Finding Mapache through the wildfire smoke at Port Orford (sped up to decrease boredom)
Oregon’s sea stacks, barely visible through the smoke
More of Oregon’s sea stacks
Welcome to Crescent City, California!
Rob eating at our favorite restaurant in Crescent City, Schmidt’s House of Jambalaya
Conversations with the unruly squatters at Crescent City Harbor District marina
The Eureka Public Marina
Rob cleaning the oil out of the bilge
Mapache on anchor in Eureka
We have been living in Ensenada on Mapache for three months. We really love it here. We feel at home, have made good friends, and have become regulars at our favorite restaurants, coffee shops and breweries. But we have to continue on our journey. Tomorrow, we untie the dock lines and head out on the next leg of our trip—destination: La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico. We will be stopping along the way in uninhabited anchorages and some small-town ports. It should take us three weeks to reach La Paz. You can track us in live time here. And we will post when we can. Thank you for being a part of our journey. We somehow feel safer and happier knowing that friends and family are watching.
Nos encanta Ensenada
(we love Ensenada)
Passage: Newport to Florence, Oregon
Upon arriving at each port, Rob and I plan our next passage. We research possible destinations, their distances from us, and their entrance geography. We estimate how long the passage will take, check weather forecasts, determine the accessibility of their marinas or anchorages, study potential hazards, and review any other information that could help make the passage predictable. We always make plans B and C, knowing that nature or the boat could disrupt our perfect plan A. From Newport, Oregon, we decided on Florence as our next destination, despite some people warning against it.
The seafaring community is decidedly opinionated. In an Internet search of any one place to dock or anchor a boat, you likely will find a half-dozen forums and blogs plus another half-dozen social-media posts carrying-on about how awful AND how wonderful it is. Some opinions are based on personal experience, while others are based on stories told at the local pubs or the virtual pubs (social media, sailing forums, and blogs). For the western U.S. coast, Rob and I considered that diverse “dicta,” but ultimately relied on port descriptions in three books: Charlie’s Charts, the U.S. Coast Pilot, and Cruising the Northwest Coast. The Charlie’s Charts book series is the cruisers’ “bible” when it comes to ports and anchorages. The series is divided by region. It provides detailed descriptions and drawings of approaches, marinas, amenities, and local resources. The U.S. Coast Pilot books provide similar but drier descriptions of major ports with definitions of navigation markers and rules, as might be expected from a government book. Cruising the Northwest Coast is a small book, independently published by sailor George Benson, sharing his first-hand knowledge of little-known, free, and budget anchoring spots on the Pacific Northwest coast. Those three books acted as our guides for our trip from Portland, Oregon, to Ensenada, Mexico. We intend to continue our reliance on books as we circumnavigate. And, of course, we will consider other cruisers’ and fishermen’s advice, but with the grain of sea salt it deserves.
In researching Florence, we heard from sailors who avoid it because of the long, narrow, and ever-changing channel through the Siuslaw River that leads to the town, and because of the bascule bridge that must be opened to access the town and marina. Fishermen warned us to avoid Florence because of the strong and unruly current, which has caused some boats to get pushed off-course, run aground, and, a few, to sink. But every port has its naysayers, and any port could be dangerous for a captain lacking attention to the tide or their boat. The books represent Florence as a beautiful, quaint coastal town with a nice marina and convenient restaurants and shops. The books also warn of the channel, bridge, and current, but describe how they can be managed. So, we set out for Florence, leaving Newport at 6 a.m., which allowed us plenty of time to arrive at the Siuslaw River bar entrance with sunlight and a favorable tide.
Animals often grace our passages, and we view the sightings as good luck. On this passage, we were massively lucky, sighting a pod of humpback whales fishing or playing some 100 feet from the boat. We could smell them before we saw them, because their blowholes spray their fishy burps high into the air. As we watched the whales breach and dive, Rob noticed a large wake crossing close in front of us. He quickly scanned the area for the boat he had missed, then saw the wake’s actual cause: a 40-foot humpback rolling up to the surface about 30 feet ahead of our bow. As its slick, dark back gracefully arched to dive, I knew that its roll down would take much longer than the time it would take our boat to cover the sea between us. I turned and yelled to Rob to TURN. He was already disengaging the autopilot and spinning the wheel hard to the left. His actions came just in time, and our boat paralleled the giant while it continued its dive and we motored on a perpendicular course.
Whales continued to amaze us along our West Coast journey. We saw many humpback pods, some gray whales, and a few Sei whales. Some gracefully powered alongside of us, rolling up for breaths and above-water spies of our boat. Others communicated with each other through leaping belly-flops or repeated slaps of their massive tailfins. Witnessing the sound and power of their tail slaps made us understand what tiny mortals we are in their watery world. Throughout our journey, we recognized whale presence through the smell from their pungent spouts and a fuzzy, disturbed area on the horizon. With those telltales, we would keep a stern eye out for whale wakes just in case we needed to again quickly turn off of a collision course.
Mapache reached the mouth of the Siuslaw River around 2 p.m., it was a 4.5-mile river ride to get to Florence. I contacted the bridge controller as we entered the river’s channel. The closest bridge operator lived in Eugene, which is over an hour drive from Florence. That was no problem for us, because we had expected a wait and already planned a safe anchoring spot just before the bridge. As we motored to that spot and prepared the boat for docking, Rob pointed out that someone was taking photographs of us. Our wait at anchor was long enough to eat lunch before the bridge operator hailed, “Captain Robert Martin,” on our VHF radio. That was the first time Rob had officially been called “Captain.” For him, it was a surreal and proud feeling to be recognized as more than some drifter.
The Siuslaw River Bridge is a historic site, built in 1936 with a distinct Art Deco style. It has a Gothic spirit with a meaty concrete base and chunky embellishments. As a bascule (or draw) bridge, it splits to open, allowing each half of its middle section to swing up to a steep angle. Rob and I are accustomed to much larger drawbridges in Portland, where our almost-60-foot mast (measured from water level) could enjoy a football field’s length to maneuver side-to-side as it passed underneath. However, the open Siuslaw River Bridge left a significantly smaller gap between its two pieces, appearing to us to be a mere 15-feet-apart. That means that a sailboat with a tall mast must precisely shoot the gap, especially with the river current between the cement bridge-legs rocking the boat as it passes through.
Rob lived up to his professional title and captained Mapache neatly through the drawbridge opening. We docked the boat at the marina as a man approached and offered to email us the photographs he had taken as we were coming in. He also encouraged us to start the boat log that we had been planning. So, from a Florence coffee shop, I launched this website, and that photographer became our very first virtual crew.
For the next couple of days, Rob and I enjoyed the beauty and amenities of Florence, including comfortable marina accommodations, accessible stores and restaurants, and Rob’s first proper British high-tea at the local tea house. We also learned about the town. Perhaps appropriate, following our first close-encounter with the great beasts, Florence has a history with whales. In 1970, a whale body washed onto one of Florence’s beaches. The authorities decided that the best way to dispose of the massive carcass was to blow it up. But the 20 cases of dynamite accomplished little more than rocketing chunks of whale flesh like a morbid fireworks display, and covering an over-quarter-mile area in blubber. Still, Oregon’s Florentines have a sense of humor, and during the year we arrived in their town, they renamed that beach Exploding Whale Memorial Park. The video of the explosion reportedly became the world’s first “viral” video, well before the Internet established a marketplace of viral sensations. I suppose that Mapache’s launch into her Internet space could not have been from a more appropriate location.
Two of the guides to our trip from Portland, Oregon, to Ensenada, Mexico (top right is Charlie’s Charts pages on Florence)
Rob planning one of our passages while we wait on laundry
One of our whale encounters (sorry I did not get video of the near-collision with the humpback)
Another whale encounter
Motoring up the Siuslaw River (the orange sky is caused by wildfire smoke, which stuck with us along the entire Oregon and northern California coasts)
Photo by Mike Brotherton
Waiting for the Siuslaw River Bridge to open
Shooting the gap
Success! A look back after we made it through
Sarah, after we docked Mapache at the Florence marina (you can see the bridge through the ever-present wildfire smoke in the background)
A different view of the Siuslaw River Bridge
Rob enjoying his first British high tea at Lovejoy’s Restaurant and Tea Room