Oct 3, 2013

Bahia Sergento, Safe Haven from Stormy Weather

If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and 
Avoid the people, you might better stay at home. 
James Michener 
Small sandbar between Bay and Sea, water and sky
Ten o’clock on this glorious morning and we are savoring homemade chocolate and almond biscottis with juicy oranges and strong Mexican coffee after two miles of kayaking and two miles of walking the beach and exploring the sand dunes of our new anchorage of Bahia Sergento (Sergeant Bay).  We are back on the mainland side of the Sea of Cortez, on our way up to Puerto Peñasco, our final destination on our first two year exploration and sailing in Mexico.

Nearly same place at low tide - 1/4 mile of water gone!
Lagoon at end of bay
This was one more unplanned but welcomed stop, the weather and seas too rough and unyielding to sail where we wanted.  Of our two years aboard, this was probably the roughest winds and waters Déjàlà had to plow through.  We had 6 to 8 foot swells, some going over our head-high solar panels, thoroughly soaking us in the cockpit.  Thankfully the water was warm and we could make light of it but couldn’t imagine doing the same in cold water.  I think we have forever been ruined from handling anything below 80F. 
Lagoon to left, bay to right - Kayaks on beach on bay side

So rough indeed, we nearly lost our precious anchor.  We always tie it three ways (i.e.: at three different points for added safety) but from the extreme motions a pin came loose and only one of the three points, a small 1/4” line at the front of the anchor, still miraculously held it in place.  When we finally, and for the third time, checked on what that odd new noise was at the front of the boat when our bow was splitting through a wave, Mike found the pin and retied the anchor.  We thank our lucky star we trusted our intuition about following up on that new unknown sound and investigated even though it meant getting completely soaked by large waves, facing a pitch of about 30 degrees, and holding on tight with one hand while working with the other.   
Nikki and kayaks at low tide - the two dots way back by the water are the kayaks
The more we sail, the more we trust our ‘feelings’ or ‘intuitions’.

As another example of following our hunches: we had a feeling the wind predictions for the last anchorage we were at, Estanque at the south end of Isla Angel de la Guardia, just didn’t seem to pan out even though three different sources indicated the same general directions for winds.  With accurate predictions, we were in a safe location. We went for our morning walk with the dog and kept feeling uneasy about being there even though everything looked right: little wind, no swells, no waves, no clouds on the horizon indicating an approaching storm, all clear.  

Nonetheless, we started noticing ‘white caps’ about 2-3 miles away to the NE and slowly building swells along the beach.  The area is known for its very strong tidal currents so we chucked it to tidal changes but still did not feel completely ‘comfortable’ with our prognosis.  We had previously experienced what we thought of as waves to being long lines of dolphins playing around the ocean so considered it possibly could be that as well.  Either way we kept watching what we couldn’t clearly explain.   

The landscape is really greening up
Making the termites happy (brown covering on each branch)

Mike decided to start getting the boat ready to sail, just in case, and I am sure glad he interrupted me from my Spanish lesson to quickly help him prepare.  By the time we realized the white caps meant that strong winds were descending into the anchorage making it a dangerous lee shore, we had less than five minutes to pull the anchor up.  The sudden winds fanned ahead of us so quickly we went from 5 knots, to 18 knots and then 22 knots in less than 1/8 of a mile from shore!  Had we waited ANY longer we wouldn’t have been able to make it out and would have had to sit at anchor being tossed around very uncomfortably for who knows how long. 

Listening to people reporting the local weather on one of the marine radio nets over the next two days it looks like we may have been trapped there for a couple of unhappy days.  This despite all the weather forecast and careful watches we do daily.  We always have to be ‘present’ and on our toes.  This is a rare occurrence and only happened three times in our two years; the first being in Bahia Santa Maria on the Pacific side when we were really green (had only sailed for less than a month) and didn’t know any better.  The last two times were set in anchorages that are considered marginal or fair conditions, anchorages that are only safe in good mild weather.  Anchorages we wouldn’t have used a couple years ago but were willing to now explore knowing the uneasy consequences should the weather suddenly change.  

This being our final week of sailing, it feels like someone is saying: ‘Watch this, see how much you have learned in the last two years!  See how well you can handle these new challenges!’  We faced winds of up to 28 knots, bashing into them for 16 hours after which time Mike had the brilliant idea to change direction and aim for mainland Mexico instead of staying on the Baja side.  It never even occurred to me there could be anchorages on the other side for few guidebooks refer to them.  From then on, it became smoother sailing.  So much for the northerly winds not starting until the end of October!  They have been with us for a couple of weeks, making it more difficult to head north. 

The truth is we would’ve been much more worried and scared two years ago if we had encountered these types of conditions.  This time though, we knew what we and Déjàlà could handle.  Even Nikki was a champ. Between our numerous tacks, reefs and extra checks on all the gears and odd sounds, she gave kisses and cuddles every single chance she got, reminding us everything would be alright. 

Were we impatient with this? Yes, Scared? No, Confident? Yes, Arrogant? No, Proud? Yes, Unprepared? No, Challenged? Yes, Defeated? No, Bruised and battered? Yes but just a little…

One thousand two hundred and fifty strokes of my paddles mark the above mentioned one mile to shore.  Nikki needs her time on land.  It has been 48 hours trapped on Déjàlà.  We owe her (and us) that much; stretching of the legs and minds.  The one side of my brain (French side still counts in that language after 30 years of speaking English) is counting the strokes as in a Zen-like trance, the other (English side) noticing the desert colors progressively fading as the sun rises overhead: coppers, greens and pinks turning to mere shades of browns and grays.  The landscape becoming more into focus the closer we get: odd shapes, shadows, and spots turning into cacti, bushes, birds, and various items laying on the sand dunes and the beach.  The joy of being so calm yet alert to the tiniest of details when time is not in the way of just ‘being’. 

Living like this helps me understand how people from centuries ago were able to come up with amazing concepts such as how many days per year, earth revolving around the sun, the number zero, tides, and calendars even though they didn’t have all the computers and equipments we now have – simply by observing and being patient.  It’s amazing what one notices when allowed the time and space.
Our friendly shrimper next to Déjàlà 
Overlooking Isla Tiburon, part of the Seri Indian Reservation
See all the birds - mostly boobies - invading!

Everywhere else, such a beautiful and safe bay with powder like white sands and aquamarine waters would be surrounded by summer homes of the rich, restaurants and other tourist related businesses but since we are on the Seri Indian Reservation, there is nothing for miles around.  It is refreshing yet a little eerie for it is so rare.  Speaking of Indian Reservation, we started hearing a new language on the marine radio.  To us, it sounds a lot like the only other Indian/Native language we are familiar with, namely Navajo, with clicks and guttural sounds throughout.  It’s the first time in Mexico that we hear such a different dialect/language.

The only signs of life are the few shrimp boats that rest in the comfort of the bay during the day and go fishing at night as well as some pangas and their fishermen in a fish camp up in a nearby lagoon about 1.5 miles away.  The shrimp season began on September 19th and will last approximately 6 months.  These fishermen will be away from home and at sea for that long, with pretty dismal working conditions.  We don’t envy the way they have to earn their livelihood.

We love seeing shrimp boats (with their 8' draft) when the waters of a bay are known to change due to shifting sand bars or when they are shallow.  They are good indicators of where to anchor for they know the sea so well.  Information in guidebooks becomes quickly obsolete in places like these.  We arrived just at sundown when it is very difficult to see changes of depths by the matching changes of water colors so they were particularly helpful to us this time around.  What we didn’t know at the time was that they would, all eight of them; depart as soon as we were settled.  We couldn’t have timed it better.  We followed our beacons to safety at our arrival yet got to enjoy the bay completely to ourselves during the night, not having to listen to generators and pumps or being blinded by various lights.  All were extremely friendly with their waves and ‘holas’ while we sailed through.  Extremely few people ever sail this far north on the mainland side of the Sea of Cortez.  We are back to being a peculiarity as we were in Altata or Topolobampo a few months ago.

Dolphins have seemingly come to share their goodbyes on our last week at sea.  For two days we have enjoyed the company of 75-100 of them.  We hear them whistle to one another.  They do great acrobatics, at one point three of them jumping high above the waterline at the same time, seemingly choreographed just for us.  Sea World doesn’t even compare.  Little ones protectively shielded by their mothers each time they, curious as they are, come near the boat.  We never tire of enjoying their ‘joie-de-vivre’.

The marine radio (SSB) daily nets are the only connection we have with the people we met on the Baja side this summer.  It is nice to know where people are coming from, moving to, what they are seeing or experiencing, and whether they are fine.  There is also some fun bantering when things are a little slow.  The other day we heard Déjàlà mentioned so our ears perked up.  It was another boat saying they had just ‘Done an MNM’.  This new expression to mean they tried to leave an anchorage, the wind died and they had to return and wait for better winds, something we experienced a week or two prior.  To do an MNM (Mike, Nikki, Marie) is to be more like us, the sailors without a motor, having to wait for winds to leave.  Somehow it felt like a compliment.  Thank you s/v True Companion (Gravel and Natalie) for mentioning that. 

1 comment:

  1. Awesome pics can't wait to see more of Nikki !


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