Waking up early, but not too early, in a calmish Bahia Santa Maria, as we don’t want calm conditions if we are to be sailing south, further down the typically winy Baja California coast and wind power is a kind of free, unlike diesel. So, well rested as can be, we rig the boat back up for sailing after spending some wonderful days enjoying the natural beauty of a splendid anchorage.
By 9 AM the wind has already built to a solid 15 knot breeze and we raise the mainsail and jib in the semi-lee created by the craggy and desolate mountains which rise from the north shore of Bahia Santa Maria. With full sails up, the LighterBro Boat quickly takes off when her sails fill, and instantly we are cruising on a perfect angle out of the six mile wide bay, with a course set to clear the southern headland of the bay quite closely. Aiming to better investigate the windy side of the bay and what secrets its ruggedness might conceal.
That secret sure wasn’t the surf, I couldn’t see any traces of rideable waves and the wind direction was straight onshore, shredding what ever swell there was into messy pieces. But, we did find the bay’s secret stash of tasty yellow tail and just as we cleared the head land of the bay we hook up, with the reel spinning off at a not too serious pace. By the sound of the reel alone, I know its no monster tuna, but still Paul and I quickly set a course to depower the boat and slow her down, giving us a much better chance of landing the fish under sail. When you’re sailing fast and hook up on a “trophy fish,” unlike a power boat which can quickly stop, throw it in reverse, making the anglers life easy to land that fish, there is no such luck on a powered up sail boat. We have to work hard on slowing the boat down from 9 or 10 knots, to 3 or 4 knots, to give us a fighting chance, assuming the fish isn’t too big. So, we furl in the jib, bear away and get the boat slowed down, best we can in the fresh breeze. This slower speed, results in me rapidly horsing in a nice young sashimi sized yellow tail, on our boats relatively heavy tackle and we never even dropped below 6 knots of boat speed.
Fishing fever grips me and we head out to sea, once again on a starboard tack broad reach, aiming for what look to be the most favorable depth contours on charts. We never do hook up again, but time flies by when its great sunny downwind sailing and before we know it we need to tack, as the angle now looks perfect to sail into Mag Bay on port tack. However, for Courtney, the festive sea state has got her feeling a bit green and the tack couldn’t have come soon enough. We bang her over and the more favorable swell angle is instantly noticeable, not only has the ride become much smoother, we start to surf just a wee bit, hitting boat speeds in the low teens, and Courtney quickly rebounds into her gregarious self.
From 20 miles out we quickly approach the 2.5 mile wide entrance into Magdalena Bay, which might seem quite wide, however in reality, Mag Bay is near the size of San Francisco bay on the inside, meaning it is giant, so currents and sea states can be vicious in and around its entrance. But, as we approach the entrance we see pangas zooming by on the inside and multiple pods of California gray whales blowing their spouts, as well as a couple of treacherous wash rocks that extend into the sea a bit off the northern point of the bay entrance, but are well illuminated by the bright midday Baja sun.
We sail right through the calm entrance, on a perfect beam reach, the tide is obviously flooding at just a knot or two, nothing extreme. Rounding the northern point of the bay, we crank in the sails and head close to true north as possible. We get a little way up the long bay under sail, towards our destination of Punta Belcher, which lies around 3 miles up the bay, but the tall mountains which hold back the sea start to block the wind as well, creating intermittent calms, then overly strong gusts, so we drop the sails and motor for the last few miles to avoid any unnecessary sailing breakage, and since we are going to be firing up the engines to anchor soon enough, might as well warm them up.
In Blue Water sailing, offshore passage making and remote cruising, it is this essential ability to know the capabilities of the systems on your boat and employ them most effectively to get you and your boat to your destination in one piece. There is no prize for being the fastest, using the least amount of fuel, or claiming you sailed the whole way. The most efficient use of your systems will win you the prize of not breaking anything on the passage. Which is the best prize of all! Because, now there is no necessary boat work in an exotic place, no FedEx-ing parts to some remote outpost, only the typical preventative boat maintenance that never ends and you get to enjoy the fruits of your new surroundings to the fullest.
In the vicinity of Punta Belcher, our charts show unknown shoaling is common. The anchorage is a big sand point, with sands that shift around, but the sun is still overhead and the shallows easily seen and as the protecting land has lowered in elevation a bit, the wind is back. Scanning the shoreline with binoculars, it looks like the modest sized point offers some decent protection from the prevailing wind and swell in the bay, because just behind the point the swell is flat.
Down goes the anchor in 25 ft. of water. I drop the hook a bit on the outside of the lee of the point, because downwind of the point there is a lee shore of dangerous rocks and if Natty M were to drag anchor, I would have a good 500 meters more of sea room, than if I had thrown the hook just off the shore. I constantly try to plan ahead for the worst case situation with our boat and never take anything for granted. Especially in a new spot, you have never visited before, with unknown dangers.
Usually, turquoise colored water is a dead giveaway for a sandy bottom, and this time is no exception, as the anchor holds firm even under hard reverse in the strong breeze. I learned my lesson the hard way with dragging anchor, sailing Natty M a decade ago in the BVI and now I always set my anchor hard no matter how calm or windy of an anchorage. I want to know if the anchor is going to hold, but I will admit that sometimes you know a certain bottom is quite foul and then it might not be prudent to set hard, or even at all, forcing a dive to retrieve situation, that needn’t occurred. As they say, there is always the exception to the rule and its the experienced captain which knows when those are.
Upon gazing at the land my initial reaction is, wow! This place looks to be really interesting in terms of learning some the history of our seas. This actual point, Punta Belcher, was the last whaling station that was actively functioning in Californian waters, only being shut down in 1982 by the IWC’s (International Whaling Commission) outright ban on commercial whaling.
Massive rotting remains of humongous concrete and steel piers, of which I can’t discern how they once functioned, now crumble into the ocean and provide a poignant reminder of just how giant these animals were they once slaughtered and how the time of people thinking, the supply of creatures in our oceans was endlessly exploitable is not that distant of a memory. And while whales might have transcended humanities industrial and economic necessity before it was too late for them and for us, as now we know the health of whale populations, directly leads to a healthy ocean ecosystem. However, it seems the lessons humanity learns are selective, as I spy another panga, full of sharks of all kinds and sizes, go zooming by us, destined to be processed by the current, ignorant industry which now makes the point its base.
I cherish these sailing voyages, as opportunities to actually learn what is really happening in our world, unfiltered by TV editors, or biased “journalists” and I can’t wait to learn more and explore on shore and talk with the fishermen of the “campa” which now inhabits the point, 200 meters away, at the top of our new bay inside a bay.
Our boat is secure at anchor, so we set off for the land, which is covered in scrappy semi-green brush just beyond a nice sandy beach. We walk down to the rocks with mark the end of the nice sand of our little bay and scour the whole way for sea glass and other shelly treasures. We comb the sands in our bare feet and avoid exploring deep into the land with its deadly thorns being no match for our tinder gringo feet.
We find just a bit of decent sea glass and are excited by the continuing new colors that are distinctly different from American Glass, but as we make our way towards the Campa, with the orange sun now getting low in the sky, gun shots ring out, then more shots again and I decide it might just be best to head back to the boat and sashimi up that yellow tail we caught earlier. No need to press our luck anymore on what has been a truly great day. Plenty of time to see the ruins and fishing village under an honest, bright sun tomorrow.
Nothing make a sailing adventure worth it like the enjoyment of truly good food. As well as being the captain I also enjoy being the cook and I try my best to treat the entire crew to the finest dinner every night. This is made possible by the LighterBro Boat, having a most capable kitchen, with even a KitchenAid stand mixer, Vitamix blender and also carrying all the specific stores and provisions you need to make scrumptious dinners. On this evening, specifically sushi themed, so sushi rice, rice vinegar, ginger, wasabi, nori paper, sesame seeds, a sushi roll roller, for sure sake, beer too, and we revel into the night enjoying the fruits of another tremendous day, which mother nature and our miraculous blue planet, absoutly smashed out of the park.
To top off a great day, the wind dies to nothing and the nearly full moon rises overhead, completely surrounded by a massive foretelling ring, together casting a most magnificent, magical ocean light over the rest of our evening and the entire gargantuan Mag Bay.