Here’s Where Things Get Interesting
Although Chris and I are accustomed to being on the go, constantly, our 3 month “break” in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle truly felt like we had started to settle down. We knew all the places to eat, the bartenders knew our names (for better or worse) and we had made good friends with the town legends. Even Curtis, a realtor, said we gave off the “La Cruz Local Vibe” … which meant we had been in one place for entirely too long, even though we adored (almost) every second. With that in mind, the past few weeks since leaving La Cruz had been nonstop movement, so why would our last 100 miles before our haul out be any different?
Bahía Don Juan: Beauty and Bees
Bahía Don Juan greeted us with its stunning beauty, but it didn’t take long for us to encounter an unexpected obstacle – bees and wasps. As lovely as the bay was, these stinging insects drove us out the very next day. It was a hasty departure, but we were determined to find a more hospitable location for our last sailing adventures of the season. Despite the bee and wasp ordeal, we did manage to enjoy a delicious meal aboard with the Kessel crew – filet mignon, salad, bread, mashed potatoes, and oatmeal cookies. In the evenings, the stinging insects buzzed off (see what I did there?) so we could actually enjoy our cockpit. We stayed up until midnight, playing games and sipping on Tecates, soaking up the precious moments on the water aboard Avocet.
As mentioned, the following day the bees and wasps had essentially turned us into prisoners of our own boat. Avocet, Avocet, Avocet, Kessel Peter hailed from the VHF. He informed us that they were weighing anchor and getting the heck out of there and we were right behind them. Unfortunately, Chris got stung in the process, but we were determined to head somewhere better – La Gringa.
Since Peter left first we were able to rely on him for a real-time weather report which inspired us to double reef before leaving the cove. Things went from 0 to 100 real quick; we were on a lee shore, weaving between islands and cutting through 2 – 3 foot chop every 2 seconds… if that. It was like our sail to Catalina that became a washing machine earlier that same season. We tacked to get away from the islands so we could have a better shot at La Gringa which was only 6 miles north. We were met with stiff 25 knot gusts, sometimes pushing into the low 30s. That’s when things went sideways.
Chris grew up sailing aboard his parents Mason 43, Sea Castle, that likes to stiffen up at around 40 degrees. So it’s not to say that we are not unfamiliar with life at a tilt, but our Avocet has treated us to a very comfortable life afloat – only *really* stiffening up at 20-25 degrees. Anything past that feels way too sporty, and the sound of our belongings shifting below deck makes me a bit nauseous. So when our sail turned into a sustained 35-knot-5-foot-chop-fest we were a bit on edge… or rail, should I say. Luckily, Peter captured us on film coming into the anchorage where we dropped and set our hook while under sail. The wind and wind-chop was reminiscent of our beloved La Cruz anchorage. ah, home sweet home, for now.
La Gringa was our final anchorage in the Sea of Cortez before our haul out in Puerto Peñasco. Located in the northern edge of Bahía de los Ángeles, this anchorage is a common gathering place for the Bahia de Los Angeles summer tribe. According to our research, the biggest cruiser gatherings happen during the full or new moons, as the 9+ foot tides cause the small estuary to flood and then pour out of the small stream, creating a natural sluice ride – how fun! The name La Gringa is a bit of a mystery and dates back at least sixty years. Baja adventurist and author Graham Mackintosh gives a hint in his wonderful 1988 book, Into a Desert Place. The story is that a beautiful American widow once lived there on the beach. local fishermen named the area for her. She was the “gringa” of the bahía.
The first evening we stayed inside and let the wind rage all around us. The shore was lined with camper vans and RVs that looked like they were getting absolutely sandblasted. We are much more comfortable here I thought as I watched the campers ashore. Ironically, the next day when Chris went to shore one of the campers ran up to him shocked that we “survived” the storm and were more or less unbothered by the heavy winds. It’s all about perspective I suppose.
With such a long to-do list, I wasn’t feeling up for any onshore activities until the evening when Peter and Olivia picked us up to watch the sunset. Our last sunset at anchor. The next morning we would truly be Peñasco bound.
Peñasco or Bust
The sail from La Gringa to Peñasco marked the last leg of our season, and it was full of emotions. We waved goodbye to Kessel who would catch up to us a day or two later, then caught the wind around the point and were doing a steady 6.5 knots with double reefs and headsail
As the hours passed, I couldn’t help but think of all the miles we put under our keel this season. We started off the year in cold and rainy Morro Bay after battling our fuel pump and the atmospheric river that brought 70 knot gusts into the harbor, then sailed south and rendezvoused with Kessel who stuck with us until Cabo where we parted ways. Chris and I crossed the Sea of Cortez with the harrowing experience of losing our furler sheet in 30 knot winds, but arrived safely in Chacala, miraculously on the same day as our family – totally unheard of. Then we found our hearts and newfound family in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Banderas Bay, where we spent most of our season… trying to leave once before but “blowing up” our engine again in the process. We rebuilt the Perkins in the anchorage and slip, then finally left for the Sea of Cortez where we once again rendezvoused with the Kessel crew. From there it felt like we went 100 miles per minute to get north to Peñasco for our haul out, and now we were finally in the home stretch.
Our first day of the passage was surprisingly chill, with somewhat consistent winds, small sea state, and favorable temperatures; warm but not hot enough to sweat bullets. I downloaded a new audiobook to pass the time since Starlink had stopped working entirely despite us “opting in” to their new service that was supposed to remedy the issue(s). The silver lining was having an excuse to put my laptop away, and just soak up the final moments. Dinner was scrappy as we were determined to use up everything left in the fridge. From the galley I prepared mashed potatoes topped with veggies, ham and a sherry wine reduction which isn’t bad for being “scrappy”. With a full belly and 29 hours of “reading” queued up, I volunteered for the first watch with Cleo who curled up in the corner of the cockpit, with seemingly no desire to move anytime soon.
It was around 1:00 am when my stargazing was interrupted by our friend, Kris, who texted me his latest EP which wouldn’t be out for months (it’s out now though, go listen!!). I had finally gained service and my phone began to vibrate uncontrollably until I silenced it once more. I returned my attention to the nightsky, watching for falling stars and wishing on every single one. When I got up to check our surroundings I was in awe of mother nature’s performance, admiring the trail of bioluminescence in our wake that connected directly to the stars in the sky. Glitter all around us. Cleo got up to stretch before curling up in the opposite direction across from me in the cockpit, and would undoubtedly follow me below deck for bed soon. Around 1:00 am. The glow of Peñasco was off our bow, and it was time for my off-watch. Good luck Chris.
There was something comforting about the Perkins steady rumble and the new engine room lights leaking through the few floorboards that allowed it. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for our boat, and was grateful for all the places she had brought us.
Chris’s Watch 1:00 – 5:00: Nothing exciting, no wind, Cleo left me.
The Final 15
“Im up, im up” I said as Chris shook my foot a little more aggressively than he had done 5 minutes prior. I grabbed my glasses and water bottle, tossed in my airpod and headed to the cockpit to take my watch. It was way too early to dive back into Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, so I listened to music instead; a medley of Greta Van Fleet, Reggeaton, Shakey Graves and of course Big Sierra – an unconventional mix, but a good vibe to start the new day. In 6 hours we would be sailing through Peñasco’s breakwall. The final countdown.
The cockpit was coated in dew; the teak a dark brown and the varnished combing held beadlets of water that glistened in the morning sun like pearls. The air was wet too, sticking to my skin and making me eager to wash my hair with the hot water. A silver lining of motoring through the dead patch was that the engine would be making plenty of hot water, but of course as badly as I wanted to keep making said hot water a good breeze danced across my face, pushing me to unfurl the headsail and shut off our engine. We were only going 2 knots, but who cared? We were moving under our own power and that is the best feeling (maybe even better than a hot shower).
My watch was uneventful, and when Chris emerged to take over I had no problem falling asleep in the bed he left warm for me. I was only down for an hour and a half, and woke up to the spinnaker painting the sky, framed perfectly by our stateroom hatch. I didn’t realize how tired I was, but after experiencing a fair amount of night passages that season I learned that they put you in a type of limbo – a time warp – where you are never fully awake and never fully asleep. Just alert enough to take action, but tired enough to not hesitate falling fast asleep once your head hits the pillow.
Once I mustered up the strength to come back outside I was shocked by how drastically our scenery had changed. Goodbye remote, unmolested landscapes and hello to civilization. Towering buildings marked the skyline and got bigger with every mile gained. It reminded me of when we sailed into Banderas Bay, but instead of the strong smell of jungle I smelled industry.
The Puerto Peñasco harbor was small and easy to navigate, allowing us to find the marina that Chris had reserved a slip at. It was three days before our haul out, just enough time to cross some items off our list in the water before Avocet would become dry docked. We made it to the slip at 12:00 where a dock hand was waiting to catch lines, but the first slip was way too small – like 15 feet too small. So, Chris did the only logical thing and tossed the paddle board over into the water and paddled to another marina to see if we could fit in their slips. Thankfully, we did, barely, but executed a PERFECT dock landing impressing the charter fleet in front of us. Atta girl Avocet.
Little fish jumped in the water and the sound of industrial work came to life, but I had little to make note of our new surroundings because the work on Avocet began the moment her lines were tied off. I was tasked with washing out all of the neoprene and lazarettes while Chris removed the chain and anchor to wash it off. We also cleaned all of the lines and sheets, removed the sails, stack pack and marcalon dodger windows. Chris pickled our water maker, removed our windex and anemometer, and I began to tackle the beast that was packing. After living aboard for 5 years it was astonishing how much crap we had acquired and never used!! We are already excited to return to Avocet lighter, with more USEFUL items.
As we set foot on solid ground and prepared for the projects ahead, we knew that our love for sailing and exploration would continue to drive us forward. It had also been a season of growth, learning, and unforgettable experiences that I have looked forward to writing about and sharing with you all. Don’t worry, the blog posts aren’t ending here. There is a whole boat yard post coming (yay), homeward bound mission and summer shenanigans to share. So, as always, stay tuned!
Marissa, Chris and Cleocat