We hope you are enjoying a very Feliz Navidad and will have quite the Prospero Año Nuevo as well!
While we really miss our beloved family and friends, we’re also enormously grateful we get to spend a very memorable holiday season in a very special place. We arrived in La Paz yesterday after quite a bit of time off the grid, so we have a lot to catch you up on. Overall, we’ve had some challenging sailing, but also the benefits of beautiful, postcard-perfect anchorages nearly to ourselves, so the gifts we received this holiday season didn’t come with wrapping paper or ribbons.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
12 eagles soaring
11 humpbacks breaching
10 mantas leaping
9 dolphins dancing
8 pelicans diving
7 angelfish swimming
6 grays a spouting
5 chameleon wrasse
4 calling whales
3 sea lions
2 turtles: green
And an electric blue fish we couldn’t I.D.
The Land that Time Forgot
During most of our sail from San Francisco, the VHF radio was a source of endless entertainment. It brought amusement: I.e. the Coast Guard hailing Josh and Billy repeatedly to bring their parents’ boat back. Concern: I.e. one vessel dismasted, another drifting toward rocks. And as we got closer to San Diego, annoyance: I.e. we couldn’t get three words into a conversation without being stepped on by the Navy broadcasting live fire coordinates. On plenty of night passages, the off-watch person trying to sleep below threatened to hurl the radio overboard it was so full of interruptions. So the most unexpected thing happened when we crossed the Mexican border: Nothing.
As soon as we passed 32 degrees, 32 minutes North, the radio went silent. As in not a peep. Over the course of 800 miles of the wild and lonely coastline that followed, we could count on fingers alone how many times we heard pangas or other cruisers on the VHF — without resorting to toes. And it turned out, we missed all the noise. We hadn’t realized the comfort that came with knowing other humans were out there until their signals gave way to just Colin, Cheyenne, Pristine and the mighty Pacific.
If there is a Wild West left on our overpopulated, overcrowded and overbuilt planet, may I humbly suggest that the Pacific coast of Baja is it. As far as development goes, between Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas are mostly just remote fish camps. Unlike Alta California, where native coastal flora and fauna have given way to invasive mansions and golf courses, most of Baja California remains gorgeously untouched. What that means to a couple of bleary-eyed sailors is a truly special, almost unseen landscape of rugged and unique beauty — pretty much the exact vistas witnessed by Sebastian Vizcaino in 1602, and for that matter, Indians fishing from cane rafts centuries before that. There can’t be many places left on this earth so unchanged for millennia.
The Tortoise and the Hare
In the midst of the moon-like remoteness of this experience, we pulled into the dusty little community of Bahia Tortugas, which supports around 5,000 residents with an abundance of fish and lobster. Located several hours via dirt road from the highway, it is rare to spot anyone other than a local around town. The one exception to that rule is the seasonal influx of cruising sailors, who see the protected natural harbor on the coast as Mecca to rest bodies and boats, take on fuel and water and give thanks to Almighty for tacos and cervezas consumed on solid ground.
We felt incredibly welcomed by the local community, including a big fiesta the town was having to celebrate the new priest at the church. We went to Padre Christian Dominguez’ first mass (standing room only), and then the banquet held in his honor at the local hall, complete with turkey dinner, locally made wine and an extraordinarily talented six-piece cumbia band that rocked the house so hard not a single 85-year old was left sitting. And yes, of course we joined them.
Making our way back to the beach that same night, we were also welcomed into a very different crowd. The local surfer kids recognized one of their own tribe in Colin and soon we were hanging out around the bonfire, drinking beers and learning about all the local breaks in different seasonal conditions. Taking the time to appreciate such simple wonders such as a plucky fire, starlit sky and a curious little puppy named Rocky — and to savor the interactions with strangers that soon become friends — this was exactly the kind of vital living that our old lives of rushing to and fro never allowed for.
I, in particular, spent most of my life with a prioritized to-do list in hand, forever on the hunt for the system or method or app that introduced a fraction more productivity into my day. But ambition was never at the the top of my goal list. What I always wanted most was the sacred time to think, imagine, hike, surf, dream, sail, write, draw, cook, play music and hang out around a bonfire.
The 20-something surfer kids of Turtle Bay were way ahead of me. While Colin and I worked tirelessly for decades to achieve the point where we could live a simple and free existence, they were already there. They appeared to relish every beer and flame and laugh and didn’t seem to want more. We're they truly that content? Did they miss having greater opportunities for working or learning or experiencing or traveling or buying things? This I could never propose to know. I can only say they seemed perfectly happy. And I was thrilled for every last wave that came their way. As for my pervasive to-do list, mañana is fast becoming my favorite new word.
Stars in the sky, on the sea and in the toilet bowl
Meanwhile, Colin and I are becoming saltier by the day. The two and three-day passages between the very few safe anchorages on this coast have certainly put us to the test, with sustained winds of 25 knots mixed with confused seas of 6 and 8 feet. Exhaustion has been something of a pervasive state, although happily with no more signs of seasickness. And while we have as dry a boat as they come, after taking so much green water over our port, starboard, bow, stern and dodger, we’ve neatly discovered every place below decks whose contents should be double-bagged in ziplocks.
We’re also getting more used to the feeling of being out of sight of land on a night passage, watching the full glory of stars spin slowly around the heavens, marveling at the paintbrush trail of the Milky Way and tracking count of shooting stars per three-hour watch. We’re also becoming comfortable with the blackness of waves that build, roll underneath the boat and diminish in darkness, sight unseen.
Other than a few whitecaps in the moonlight, the ocean at night is visible only when we encounter bioluminescence in the water — those tiny little organisms agitated by the motion of the boat that display their displeasure in the most charming display of sparkles known to man. Please don’t tell the poor, irked creatures that their wrath takes the form of a seven year old girl with a jar of glitter. And it’s definitely better they don’t know they provoke surprised chuckles when they’re sucked up into the seawater-flushed toilet bowl, glowing angrily in the dark.
Finally, Clean Living
We reached Cabo in the wee hours of the morning and while we hove to and waited for the sun to rise, it was so still and quiet on the water that in the darkness I could hear several dozen unseen creatures breathing loudly all around Pristine. The rosy dawn revealed them to be a pod of dolphins, and soon — after so many days of barren coast and empty seas — we were surrounded by a surrealist tapestry that included sea turtles and breaching humpbacks along with cruise ships, parasailers and tourists being tugged at full speed on those inflatable banana thingies. We anchored off the beach and couldn’t quite get the ear plugs in deep enough to block out the spring-break-meets-game-show soundtrack, but the ceviche and micheladas were worth every minute, and this far south, the water was warm enough to make swimming laps around the boat a daily pleasure.
From Cabo, we carefully followed the forecasts to choose a weather window that would avoid bashing to weather in steep chop. Nice try. Instead of 5 knots in flat calm, we got 25 on the nose and waves that stopped our forward progress as surely as someone throwing refrigerators under the bow. When we’d finally had enough of trying to sail through this, we gave up and turned on the engine. We motorsailed for a solid fifteen minutes, caught our breath, started fixing lunch... Then the engine died.
We were pretty sure the primary fuel filter had been clogged by sediment being churned up inside a relatively empty tank, and have the great fortune of having another primary fuel filter that a single lever will engage, but reaching this requires removing the hatch cover on the cockpit floor. Considering we were being doused regularly with waves we could have boogie boarded from bow to stern, it didn’t seem like a very good time to open the hatches. Up again went the stays’l and on we tacked for several more hours until the conditions diminished enough that we could fix our engine issue. After all that, one little valve turn did the trick, but this coastline ain’t for the faint of heart is all I can say.
However, morning found us at Bahia Los Frailes, a picture-perfect bay with a coral reef tucked inside a natural preserve. After cleaning up the boat, resting our bodies, and just possibly doing a little day drinking, we were able to truly live the dream. It was no easy task to get here, but we finally found the promised land. Pristine, named by her original owner in the hopes of reaching pristine waters, did just that — a gorgeously unspoiled bay of white sand beaches, crystal clear water, leaping manta rays and fringing granite peaks.
We swam straight off the boat into. some of the most epic snorkeling grounds I’ve ever seen. We rowed into shore and hiked past a half dozen types of cacti and butterflies to the top of a peak overlooking the sea on one side and an immense flood plain on the other. We sat in sunshine and read books and played music and did crosswords and made lists of dozens of things we may decide to look up one day when we got access to Google again. Most likely, we won’t, and will be happier for our ignorance.
Where are We Now?
We made it to La Paz just in time for Christmas and are finally back on the grid. As for what’s next, Mother Nature now holds all the cards and doles out our itinerary on a needs-to-know basis. But this we are certain of: whatever the new year brings to Pristine and crew will be epic.
In the last few weeks, we’ve had the great pleasure of getting to meet some great new people. Ben, Annie, Emma, John and Denise of SV Bella Vie (Ben — thanks for overseeing our first valve adjustment!), Mike and Heather of SV Nanatuk, Joel and Sarah of SV Reunion, Nate and Missy of SV Yo-shan (Thanks for leading the way into Bahia Santa Maria), Julie and Andy of SV Little Wing (Thanks for the offer of supplies) and Tiffany and Lindon of SV Xanadu. And we happily caught up with some old friends, too. Not only Eric of SV Barchetta Veloce whom we’d met in Ensenada, but we had a happy reunion with a couple I’d raced with in San Francisco, Mike and Katie of SV Allegría (aka the Mudshark crew).
And to everyone out there reading about our adventures and misadventures, we hope all your dreams come true in the New Year!
Fair winds and following seas, dear friends.