Puerto Balandra and the Islands

December 31st, 2005 by: cheyenne

We escaped from La Paz Christmas day, having planned on leaving the previous day but realizing that we couldn’t actually enter the aft cabin for all the groceries and books and whatnot piled around. It took me three or four hours of intense griping and knee banging to reorganize all the food and put it back away, out of sight, off the floors and counters. Ahhh.

My first dealings with the beasties: bulk brown rice purchased at one of the bulk dry good shops on calle Serdan contained, presumably, weevils. Gah! I can’t see the things actually, but there are webby bits clinging to the sides of the bag. I am sort of unsure as to what I should do with it now, aside from isolate it in a wax-sealed lead-lined box; I will try extensive rinsing in salt water prior to cooking in hopes that weevils float, and actual rice pieces do not. We’ll see. Haven’t been feeling like brown rice lately, it seems. Other bulk items that are a super fat plus = cashews! They aren’t cheap but they taste way better than cashews I’ve bought in the states; they are larger, more irregular in shape, and have a harder/drier consistency (the states’ variety always are on the mushy, not-quite-roasted-enough side for my tastes). I’ve actually had cashews like these once before, bought off some kid on the side of the road in southern Mexico, or maybe Guatemala (hmm), and I’ve been pining after them for 10 years! (“Drop your linen and start your grinnin’!”)

With the boat all tidy and everything in its place, we filled our spare five-gallon jug with water and prepared to depart. Then we managed to accidentally drop the five-gallon jug of water overboard during the dingy docking procedure and it SANK. Fast. Oh well, we pulled anchor and ghosted out of the La Paz anchorage in barely any wind.

It took us a zillion hours to tack up the narrow channel in so light and flukey a wind and so we set our sights on anchoring at Puerto Ballandra, at the entrance of La Paz bay, rather than trying to get out to the islands and anchoring after dark (where our only guide is Charlie’s “Not for Navigational Purposes” Charts). We smugly anchored under sail and dug out the mighty Yellow Tigrelita for some exploring.

The anchorage here is great: lots of white sand and cool rock formations (such as Mushroom Rock), an inner lagoon with mangroves, and zillions of birds and fish, particularly pufferfish. Vast herds of pufferfish swimming all around the boat along the bottom. Pufferfish are insanely cute, by the way; they have big soulful eyes and spikes all over them. When they are freaked out, they puff up and the spikes poke out, and if one happens to be holding a freaked-out pufferfish in one’s hand, they make weird squelchy irritated little noises. Actually, we’re not sure what gets the pufferfish so riled, but there were many of them alive and puffed up and floating on the surface of the water. Frigate birds, which we previously held to be most noble and intelligent sea birds, have since been demoted in IQ status after we repeatedly observed them snagging the puffed-up pufferfish from the surface, fighting over it for a bit with their frigate bird pals, then dropping it after realizing that this fish is pokey and inedible. Then the same bird will hunt around some more, spy the SAME pufferfish pick it up again, only to drop it a few seconds later once it gels in its birdbrain that, well, it’s hard to imagine what goes on in a frigatebird’s brain. Not rocket science.

Mushroom rock puerto balandra, near La Paz, Mexico

Holding puffer fish in hand

We stayed two nights and finally headed off for Islas Espiritu Santa and Partida. Wind was nonexistent so we, cough, motored for a little bit until the glassy water started to riffle, then we killed the noisy thing and put up the gennaker, which is a thin nylon sail for light air, only to watch it hang limply. So we just sat silently in the middle of the channel between the mainland and the islands for a while, wandering around the boat, attempting to fish with the fishing rod, doing some chores, etc. When the wind picked up a tiny bit and we ghosted on towards the island. Curiously we were headed mostly downwind as we approached the islands, yet boats coming toward us, if they had sails up, were also on a downwind. That’s some flukey wind. As we got near our anchorage, the wind picked up considerably and we ended up with it directly on the nose as we headed up the narrow channel to Caleta Partida, which is an old caldera that has eroded and filled with water, thereby separating Espiritu Santa from Partida. It took us a really, really long time to tack up the channel because the wind changed direction and speed constantly as it came gusting down the many canons and arroyos of the island. I imagine the boats already at the anchorage had an amusing time watching us go back and forth, but we finally made it and anchored under sail again. Yay!

Sailing between Isla Ballena and Isla Espiritu Santo, Mexico

We managed to catch a sierra between Espiritu Santa and the tiny island Ballena and so we made fish tacos for dinner. They were mighty tasty too; the sierra resembles the bonito in texture and flavor.

Looking down into Caleta Partida between Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida Mexico

The anchorage at Caleta Partida is basically a gap between the two islands, Espirito Santa to the south and Partida to the north. The western gap is blocked by a sandbar on the inside and rocky breakwater on the outside (appeared to be manmade, but we’re not sure; possibly for the purpose of creating a mellow bay for harvesting pearl oysters way back when?). A narrow channel runs between the sandbar and the breakwater so a dingy or panga can navigate through during high tide. There are fishing shacks on the sandbars and along the cliffs and we saw one or two pangas stop to cook food and camp. On the Partida side is a wide sandy strip and shallow rocky area with lots of critters like octopus (“pulpos,” which the Mexicans were hunting during low tide—we talked to one of the guys who said they like to hide out in rocky crevices and in old conch shells), stingrays—we saw two of these hiding in the sand, crabs, and lots of various shellfish and bivalves. There is a great hike up the canyon on the western side of the sandy beach area on Partida called “El Rincon” that takes you up the wash to the top of the island, where you can wander around on the loose volcanic ground enjoying the amazing view and get poked by a myriad of cacti! Just wear good shoes, watch for loose rock, and expect to get scratched up a lot. Joshua unfortunately managed to step on a loose section and twisted his knee, probably tearing one of those pesky knee tendons. He was able to put weight on it though and we picked our way down the trail and back to the boat where we put wet cloths on it (in lieu of ice). He’s okay and can lurch about the boat, if not with agility. Hopefully he’ll heal quickly or at least get to a more mobile state. He’s suffering now on the deck with a beer and his book lying in the hammock, which we slung between the fore and sidestays. Poor baby!

We ended up staying a couple of days at this anchorage; the last night we flagged down one of the pulpo-hunters and traded some beers for dinner. Having no idea how to prepare pulpo, we tenderized/cleaned it by rubbing the tentacles with salt (recommended by “Sushi, Taste and Technique”), boiled it in spices, and cut it into slices. It was boingy and a bit tough, but good I suppose; maybe next time we’ll try to tenderize it by whaling on it with a hammer in addition to the salt.

Joshua holding an octopus

Again we ghosted off our anchor in almost nonexistent wind and tacked out of the narrow bay (because the wind will never cooperate and blow in one consistent direction). We sailed up to Ensenada Grande, just a few miles north on Partida and anchored. Not only did I get to pull anchor for the first time since Joshua is incapacitated somewhat (and luckily it was dead wind so I didn’t have to embarrass myself by grunting and groaning over a tight anchor line), I dropped the anchor when we arrived at Ensenada Grande as well (first time I did that too), completely making a huge tangle of the line and getting it wrapped around places that are physically impossible to get wrapped around. Joshua prudently kept his mouth shut most of the time while I dashed about the deck swearing and tripping over lines. In the end I managed to get the anchor in the water without falling overboard or having to start the motor, and the event was declared a success.

We chatted a bit with Betsy and Richard from Qayak (a 32-foot Valiant from Seattle), who we have been running into a lot lately, and ended up having dinner with them that evening. Betsy made an excellent Thai shrimp curry stir fry (mmm) and we brought over a bottle of sake, which I believe Angelea accidentally left in our cooler after Burning Man (thanks Angelea!!). They are on a similar schedule as us: “Um, maybe we’ll hang around here for a while, then either go north or go south; we haven’t decided yet.” Also notable at this anchorage was a major pirate ship of 43-foot length (minus bowsprits) and 18-foot width (!!); Betsy said the owner built it himself in Port Orford, WA, of ferro cement and wood; it has two massive varnished Douglas Fir masts.

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Cheyenne Weil, Joshua Coxwell