Venturing onwards, we officially crossed into the Northern Sea of Cortez on our passage from Santa Rosalia to San Francisquito. On land, this is where the sole artery thru the Baja Peninsula; México Highway 1, cuts from coastal Sea of Cortez over to the Pacific coast, bringing away with it access to amenities, towns and easy transportation. (The local joke is to call it San Francis quito; the place Saint Francis gave up) In its place is left the natural abundance that occurs wherever humans do not interfere. The Northern Sea of Cortez, including the Midriff Islands, is home to teeming sea life like we have never experienced before, the way it must have been all over the world before rampant overfishing and pollution have decimated fish stocks worldwide. Here is where seabirds come to breed on steep island faces, where sperm whales battle Humbolt squid in plummeting underwater trenches, and where dolphins hunt together in super pods. Here too is where the surrounding deserts and mountains have the potential of unleashing a miriad of heavy weather systems; catabatic Elefantes from the west, seasonal Southers flowing up the Sea of Cortez, and most fearsome of all, mainland desert storms called Chubascos that can attain wind speeds of up to 70 knots and strike without warning, accompanied by lightning and driving rain. If that is not enough, a 25 foot tidal range at the extreme northern end of the sea and bottlenecking that occurs around the Midriff Islands result in currents up to 5 knots. Together with steep ocean floors, this condition creates unusually steep waves that make even 20 knots of wind uncomfortable to sail in.
With all these warnings in mind, we knew that our safety aboard Monsoon would depend on prudent weather watching and keeping our boat in optimal conditions at all times. So on this 70 mile passage, we were thankful for a mild weather sail, boosted overnight by a good 20 knot Pacific breeze funneling thru a gap in the mountains, pushing us along a flat sea. Before daybreak, we closed in on our anchorage, but we chose to heave to and wait for more light to navigate thru the coastal rocks. We bobbed in water as flat as a mirror, looking at the stars above us as morning dew settled on our decks. The glow of the sun emerging from the east started to color the world in pastel shades when we heard snorts all around us in the water. All of a sudden, a large pod of dolphins surrounded us, as if they had swam out to say good morning. As we continued our journey into the anchorage, they followed us, jumping out of the water and swimming up close, small and inquisitive beings, their slick bodies adorned with a white stripe along either side. Just as suddenly as they had appeared, the pod decided to continue on with their morning fishing and disappeared. In their place, we were met with sea lions frolicking in the water; friendly faces we remembered from California.
In the anchorage, we were glad to see Boomerang and Manta; two boats that we had been bumping into every so often in the exodus of boats heading north for the hurricane season. Dawn and Terry on Manta, who have lived in this area for the past 30 years, convinced us to snuggle on in to the tiny bay of little San Francisquito, which does not allow and fetch to build due to its shallowness and the protection of hills all around. “ See, it’s not as difficult to get in here as the cruising guides suggest”, said Terry. “I think they do it on purpose so that they can keep this place all to themselves. We have even weathered hurricanes in here and were just fine.” The next morning, another pleasant surprise; clouds to block off the searing sun, and rain that we haven’t seen in months. We stood on deck, enjoying the shower and watching as flocks of small rusty red stingrays swam placidly just under the water all around us, seemingly enjoying the patter of raindrops on the watery roof of their world.
As cruisers are wont to do, we invited Boomerang the catamaran and Manta the trimaran over for dinner. In our tiny cockpit, we nevertheless had a cosy meal, sharing stories about our travels. Barry and Jo on Boomerang were in their first year of cruising, while Dawn and Terry who are now in their 70s have been cruising most of their lives. However, one thing we have come to discover is that everyone has an interesting story to tell, you only have to give them the opportunity to tell them. Terry, a dive guide and expert on the Sea of Cortez, told us of how he had guided scientists in deep water submersibles, looking for the deepest trenches in the Sea. He told us of the times he has guided movie stars and sheikhs on dive expeditions past 200 feet underwater, and of a spear fishing battle with a 6 foot sailfish that cracked his sternum dragging him into the depths, before he hauled it up to the surface and to his horrified fishing buddies. Dawn told us of the time she sailed her own trimaran thru a massive storm system off the coast of Chile, weathering 50 knot winds for weeks by herself. And Jo took the cake by finally elaborating on the story we had been trying to make her tell us for days, about fighting off a crocodile attack on the San Juan Islands a few months ago, escaping with only an impressive set of teeth marked scars on her face and shoulders.
A few days later, the rest of our buddy boat team showed up in the anchorage; Eos, Alegria, Cavu, Totem, Utopia 2, Xpression, Katannu and Avalon. Once again a festive spirit was in the air, and although Utopia and Totem raced on to Puerto Peñasco to address a medical emergency, the rest of us stayed behind for a potluck on Avalon, graced with freshly caught fish from several of the boats. It was quite a sight to see our collection of visiting dinghies strung out around Avalon like so many baubles around a Christmas tree. The concept of potlucks is growing on me; all you need to do is make one dish, but you end up with a nice variety on your plate, plus you get to trade recipes and stories with friends.