Dont Break Rule #1
San Felipe to La Paz
Baja Sea-Kayaking Adventure #8
23 days, 680 miles, Nov 1981 with Ed
Story by Ray Jardine
Storm driven seas were crashing into a breakwater and hurling bursts of spray high into the night. Two people paused beneath a solitary light and gazed out into the ocean darkness. In a moment they turned and walked away, not noticing Ed and me struggling for our lives just a few hundred feet offshore. Paddling our kayaks in the horrific waves, we struggled to keep them upright. Having paddled many hours that day, we were trying to reach the entrance to the little Mexican harbor. But the bashing surf was so tumultuous that yelling was our only means of keeping tabs of each other. Tacitly, we knew that a spill out here could prove fatal."Ed, where are you!?" "Right beside you, Ray!" "Ok, stay close but be careful, we don't want to collide!" * * * * * * *
One morning in San Diego a friend dropped by to borrow some climbing gear for his upcoming trip to Yosemite. Ed Gillet was a professional yacht delivery skipper and salvage diver. and happened to notice my kayaks lying on the nearby dock. I explained that I was using them to condition for an upcoming expedition to the Sea of Cortez. Ed allowed that he had never kayaked before, and wasn't even aware of the sport of long-distance ocean kayaking. He seemed intrigued, so I explained a few details. . . . The Baja Peninsula protects the Sea of Cortez, or Gulf of California as it was formerly known, from the waves rolling in from the open Pacific. So the Cortez's surf isn't nearly as heavy as that on the outer coastline. Even so, the gulf is from 75 to 150 miles wide, and some 800 miles long, so it is large enough to allow for gales and heavy seas which can sometimes make the paddling difficult. Two hours south by paved road from the Mexican-American border, the town of San Felipe lies near the gulf's northern terminus, and makes a convenient starting point. One of the great attractions of this region is its climate, especially during the spring, when the summer's tormenting heat has eased, and also during the fall, before the onset of the cold and windy month of December. October and November are my favorite months there, because the weather is typically warm. My usual paddling attire consists of a pair of shorts, tennis shoes, a t-shirt and sun hat for protection against sunburn, a pair of dark glasses and a sun hat. The Baja coastline was still primarily wilderness, [Back in 1981 when I wrote this story] and except for the for or its five or six towns along the way, the Sea Kayaker will encounter very few people. Instead, one will find countless white sand beaches interspersed with rock escarpments rising abruptly from the sea. At any typical campsite along the way, one gets the profound feeling that the place has seen few visitors, at lest in modern times. In the vicinity of San Felipe the silt washing out of the Colorado River reduces the underwater visibility to near zero. But further south the waters become remarkably clear. With spear gun in hand, the reasonably proficient skin diver will usually have little trouble procuring dinner. This is seldom necessary though, as the fishing with line and hook is so productive [written in 1981]. Depending on the locale, there's always something special to throw into the pot. Lobster, crab, clams, oysters, and so on. The prehistoric Indians of this area depended entirely upon what the sea provided. . . . By now, I could see the Baja kayaking gleam in Ed's eye, and Knowing him to be fit and adventurous, I related that my plans for this upcoming excursion weren't complete. "I've made a trip itinerary, "I related, "but haven't yet settled on a partner. If you're interested, let me know." . . . A few days later Ed returned and said that he'd been talking about the trip to a friend, who's reaction was: "that's the craziest thing I've ever heard of!" Undaunted, Ed had decided to sign on. Meanwhile, he was off to Yosemite on a rock climbing trip, with the understanding that we would rendezvous back in San Diego ten days before our Baja departure. I was living on my sailboat moored in San Diego Bay, so it was a simple matter to hop into the kayak for the daily work-outs. I had spent a month training hard and also had amassed the necessary gear. My new kayak had to be internally reinforced and strengthened for the rigors of extended touring. I designed, fabricated, and installed a rudder system which had fully adjustable foot peddles fitted with cords affixed to the rudder assembly. At the planned date, Ed returned and began preparing his gear and also training to get into paddling shape. . . . We departed San Diego early, before first light. The van was loaded. Sleeping passengers sprawled out in unique positions, having wriggled between haphazard piles of bags of equipment. Further down the road we stopped at the last chance café and our groggy crew stumbled in for breakfast. My Chevy van had been to Mexico so many times that it rather behaved like a Mexican van. The best way to drive it was by sitting on the edge of the seat. Sitting all the way back and relaxing would surely precipitate some emergency or mechanical breakdown. And so it was: as we were making our way along the blistering desert highway toward El Centro, I found it necessary to pull off the highway. Thickening smoke pervading the interior forced a hurried evacuation of the vehicle. It smelled electrical. The best efforts of three semi-experienced mechanics searching through the engine compartment and under the chassis failed to determine the source of trouble. The van just did things like that once in awhile. Admitting that these occurrences enlivened an otherwise boring trip across the desert, and made it more interesting, we reboarded and resumed the journey, driver and shotgun sitting more properly now on the edges of their seats and the four passengers sitting on the edge of theirs - in imagination only, for the van featured only two actual seats. The smoke had cleared but I noticed that now the gas tank indicated "full," except when I applied the brakes whereupon the needle would swing to "empty". Ordinarily this would have provided the astute mechanic a clue that a wire had perhaps shorted somewhere along the fuel tank sending unit. However, we were approaching mañana-land, after all, and beginning to attune to the endemic slower pace. So we found the problem amusing. It is a well-proven law of nature that the time required to complete any given task, such as preparing for a voyage of this caliber, will expand to fill the available time. As such, we needed to make just one more stop at the last store, for the purpose of acquiring a pair of suitable beach shoes, the only item lacking from our seemingly immense inventory of equipment. We rolled to a stop at the El Centro shopping center, radio blaring gaudy Mexican tunes in quadraphonic high fidelity. I organized my retenue into twos for a search of the shoe department. Soon shoes of every shape and description were coming at me from all directions. Unfortunately none were in the category of tromping through water, mud and over rocks. After considering and trying many, I compromised with the least unsuitable of the lot. The shoes were cheaply made and subsequently aggravated my feet all the way down the Baja Peninsula. Without further delay, we proceeded to the border. Most Baja affectionados who have made the border crossing enough times to gain a sense of perspective, suffer, if only subconsciously, the malady borderitis. This is the innate fear of being halted, searched, the vehicle stripped practically to bare metal whereupon the authorities find a small bag of who knows what, unknowingly left by the vehicle's previous owner. As we approached the station the phlegmatic guard merely wrinkled his nose, signifying we were to pass on through.
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San Felipe San Felipe used to be a remote and typically quiet fishing village. Now, with the advent of the paved highway it has been rather overrun by Gringoes. Driving along the main boulevard we were stopped by a young, clean-cut American couple lying in the street. Finally staggering to their feet, and finding themselves something of a public spectacle, the young man hollered out to no one in particular, "Whatsamadder, avencha everseen drunks before!?" Without further incident we pulled up to the beach and searched in vain for a bit of shade. Looking out at the ocean, two factors became immediately apparent; rather three. First, the days were going to be hot, very hot - especially as we paddled south into lower latitudes and approaching the tropic of Cancer. Secondly, the tides were out of whack with our itinerary. Thirdly, the seas were rough. With the tide problem in mind we decided to look for a tide calendar, depicting when the highs and lows occurred. Searching the town, we were consistently met with the remark that this store didn't have one, but so and so down the street does for sure. We eventually found what we were looking for on the wall of the office of a little trailer park on the outskirts of town. We copied a few figures and traced the graphs. Back at the beach once again, Ed resumed work on his kayak and the rest of us went swimming - both to beat the heat and to escape the incredulous onlookers. Now, about those tides: The mean tide here was about 11 feet. The entire Sea of Cortez fills and empties an unimaginable volume of water twice each day. As a result, nasty currents breed and thrive in abundance. This is significant to the kayaker who travels at a mere 4 knots, because these currents can readily double forward progress or cancel it altogether. Another limiting factor - this time of the year - is the available daylight. On the average, the seas are at their best for kayaking in the early hours of the morning. When the sun begins heating the desert to the northwest, a certain percentage of the radiant solar energy is converted to wind. Wind forward of the beam slows progress markedly, and wind from any direction thrashes the seas to a disconcerting chop. During the autumn, the prevalent winds are out of the northwest. They blow along the coastline quite a lot, and when the wind is blowing down the coast and the current is flowing up the coast, the wind against tide can produce violent seas. The headlands venturi and accelerate the wind and current, magnifying the effects manyfold. But when the seas are unmanageable, often one need only land ashore and wait a few hours for the current to slacken. Finished with the preparations, in the darkness we sprawled out around the van and eventually slept despite of the fireworks and drunken gringos driving their souped-up dune buggies at incredible speeds along the beach.
DAY 1The alarm sounded far too soon. The Colorado River had been discharging sand and silt into the Sea of Cortez for eons. Mankind has largely put an end to this undesirable phenomenon by damming the river at various intervals and channeling the water elsewhere for agricultural purposes. Nevertheless, the waters around the head of the gulf are consequently shallow. Here the sand slopes seaward only very gradually, and when the tide recedes it takes the shoreline with it. Our daylight happened to coincide with low tide, and we found a remarkable stretch of ground standing between us and the sea. The six of us lugged the two kayaks and the equipment across the tidal flat to water's edge. Ed commented that in San Diego an "expert kayaker" had told him that to be fit for such a trip one should be able to carry a fully loaded kayak five miles. After several caries, the six of us had the expedition within striking position. This was the moment of truth. Gazing out to the daunting lines of surf, we were each flooded with anxieties. Our friends Jim and Deidrie probably questioned our sanity for even thinking about attempting such an endeavor. Susie and Diane were "sad to see us go." Ed related thinking "what have I gotten myself into?" Must be a common phrase, but admittedly the immensity and magnitude of the endeavor was beginning to dawn on me also. The seas were large for this time of day, and I questioned our abilities to penetrate the line of breakers. Launching a fully loaded kayak through surf is an art. Because of the kayak's mass and decreased buoyancy, it doesn't ride up and over the waves; instead it simply plunges through them. Considering that the paddler's head is about 3 feet above the water line, a 4-foot breaking wave goes over you by a foot. All is well, however, as long as the paddler manages to remain upright, and also to maintain the kayak's bow pointed seaward. Should the boat turn, the power of the surf will overcome the boat. Capsized, it would be a simple matter to swim ashore, but the unrelenting surf likely destroy the kayak. Our boats loaded, I was securing my spray skirt to effectively seal the cockpit, when Jim said, "Hey Ray, what about this water?" I had forgot my precious water supply. Yet the kayak was completely full. I popped loose the spray cover and placed one of the 2-1/2 gallon bottles in my lap. The other I emptied, collapsed, and crammed between my legs. Things felt claustrophobic. Ed joked to Diane that if this didn't work she could run down the beach a few hundred yards and collect the debris. I liked his attitude. On my signal, Jim grabbed the stern loop of my boat and hurled me seaward, and at the same time I started paddling furiously. Straightway I began taking waves smack the face, one after another. Each time the boat would shudder and nearly loose its heading and balance. I paddled furiously and the kayak shook off the combers. Farther out the breakers subsided, but still they required me to continue quite a distance before I could let up. All the way out I was wondering how Ed was doing; I couldn't turn around to see. Ed had never launched into surf before, and I half expected to see him shipwrecked. And the prospects of returning to shore through the surf lacked appeal. So I could only continue paddling full power through the breaking seas. Finally, about 300 yards out I turned, and with great relief saw Ed coming on strong. I thought: "this fellow has potential." (In the years that followed he became a famous kayaker.) We paddled a little farther, and once beyond the breaking waves and into the less threatening ocean swell, we rafted the boats. The conditions were fairly horrendous and I considered a retreat, but we seemed to be doing ok for the moment. But it had happened too suddenly and I was sorry not to have been able to wave good bye to those ashore. They were now barely discernible specks on the beach. Later I asked Ed about his experiences. "My launch was scary because I hadn't ever been out in surf with a kayak and wasn't that confident as a paddler. I really felt the immensity of the trip as we were carrying the gear down to the water line. The distance to La Paz was brought home to me. Whoever pushed me off gave me a bit of a sideways shove, and my rudder wasn't working right, and I spent the whole time trying to stay bow into the waves. I'm used to sailboats going over the waves and when the first wave hit I was really surprised when the kayak went right through it! I'd come up from a wave breaking and just be streaming with water on my face and could barely see. I'd quickly grab a sleeve and wipe the salt out of my eyes and get ready for the next one." Susie later told us, "It didn't look too bad 'til you started and kayaks were disappearing and getting tossed all over the place. It looked horrendous from where we were. We watched you, scared to death, and after awhile we couldn't see you anymore." So began our journey south. . . . Because the water was so shallow, causing big breakers far offshore, we didn't dare get very close to land. But we knew that if either one of us flipped in these heavy seas and couldn't right himself, he would have had about a quarter mile of swimming to do. Soon we grew tired, fighting the heavy seas, trying to stay upright, and also bucking the adverse current. Nevertheless we paddled for five hours, unable to land ashore for a rest because of the surf. Once in, we knew we wouldn't be able to get back out, and then we'd be stuck on the beach for the rest of the day. But finally we found a large bay and paddling into it discovered another side bay. Suddenly we were in perfectly calm waters. We landed on a shore and just stepped out of our boats, no surf whatsoever. It seemed miraculous. We had ended up on the backside of a narrow sandy spit with surf bashing onto the other side. Terra firma was only about three feet above sea level and we were afraid that our dry, protecting ground might be lost to the rising tide. We were quite tired and feeling a bit dazed from it all. Lunch consisted of a bag of home made chocolate chip cookies. We had been there for an hour or so when we suddenly realized that our way out of the lagoon would soon be blocked. The tide had reversed, and as the bay was beginning to empty, the current meeting the wind head-on was producing a nasty set of breakers. We jumped to our feet, loaded the boats and shoved off. Working our way carefully between the heavier areas of breakers, we reached the open sea without mishap. The waves were beginning to settle down, even though we were still overtaken frequently with the occasional breaker. Once in a while a huge wave would sneak up on us. Looming high overhead and on the verge of breaking onto us, we would spin into it, climb the huge, steep face, and be spat out of its backside. The wave would then break, leaving a confused mass of foamy turmoil behind. One miscalculation and our little endeavor would be history. It was exciting, boarding on scary at times. With the tidal current going our way, we seemed to be making better progress. Sore hands, sunburned, salt encrusted, and tired, we pressed on for another three hours. Eventually, though, the body started to raise objections. We now sought a landing but found only endless miles of rocks. At one point, though, we found a tiny patch of sand to give a soft landing. Paddling through the surf is another art which I've yet to master. The difficulty is that the waves travel toward shore faster than one can paddle. One tries hard to paddle in between two waves, but eventually the following wave will overtake the boat. And when it does, the stern is lifted and the boat is accelerated. The bow with its limited buoyancy then begins plowing the calmer water ahead of the wave. Left to itself, the boat would then likely pitch-pole, end over end. The idea, then, is to apply full reverse power to climb back over the wave in order to let it by. This is easy enough if the wave has not yet broken, but extremely difficult if it has. Additionally, in either case the overtaking wave applies an undesired force on the rudder which tends to spin the boat out of control. Our landing was uneventful except for one near pitch-pole of my boat. Caught by a large breaker it accelerated, and the bow began to submarine until the entire bow was buried nearly up to my lap. Straining, I managed to back-paddle through the wave, and when it had passed, to put on the afterburners to race ashore before the onslaught of the next breaker. We hit the beach at full speed, jumped out and drug the heavy boats free of the surge. Unloading everything, we then ferried our gear in four loads, then carried the empty boats up the beach to a fine campsite. It was nearly dark and we struck a fire and cooked a dinner of canned goods and coffee. The lack of off lying islands or major land features made it difficult to ascertain our position, and were later surprised to discover that in those 8-1/2 hours we had traveled over 30 miles. Sitting there studying the great expanse of the Sea of Cortez, we could only hope that our logistics crew had reached home safely; the next telephone was another 450 miles further south.
DAY 2The next morning we were happy to find the seas much calmer. The tide was far out, so we had to carry the gear and boats about 300 yards down to the water. (Plate 1 shows Ed packing his boat.) Most of our gear is contained in heavy vinyl waterproof bags, which are then protected against abrasion inside larger bags. One of the great challenges for comfortable camping is in keeping everything dry, even though lots of water inevitably gets through the spray skirt and into the boat where it puddles and sits throughout day. Paddling rough water for several hours, it's not uncommon to accumulate an inch or more water in the bilge. This water we mop occasionally with a sponge. Our waterproof bags also serve the second function of providing buoyancy for the kayaks in the event of a capsize. One episode that comes to mind is Al's capsize on a previous trip. We had been paddling hours of glass-flat water and had removed the spray covers for better ventilation. We had drifted too close ashore, and suddenly a rogue wave pounced on us from nowhere. Two of us saw it and turned into it. Al wasn't so lucky. The wave was only 1-1/2 feet high but it broke on top of his boat and completely filled it. If it were not for the floatation the kayak would have sunk to the bottom, but as it was, he was able to swim to shore dragging the boat. Back to our beach that morning, we had the boats loaded and were ready to strike out into the unknown. Normally when launching through the surf, even as small as it was today, one carefully studies the cycles. Waves will usually come in sets, several large ones, then a few smaller ones, then large ones again; and the cycles repeat. It greatly behooves the kayaker to launch into the smaller ones. I made it out ok, and turning around saw that Ed was still hanging around inside the line of breakers. Eventually, though, he made it out to safer water. His rudder wasn't working properly and the pivoting blade was stuck in the up position, rendering it useless. These kayaks of ours weren't exactly true ocean touring models, and therefore needed a rudder to keep them going in a reasonably straight line. Ed reported that while launching, as the first large wave hit it spun him around 180 degrees, bow toward the beach. Because of the great mass of the boat and its contents, it was then difficult to get it pointed back seaward, so all in all, Ed took a fair trouncing. We rafted together and I steadied the boats while Ed bailed his boat. Then we resumed the journey south, slowly cranking past what seemed endless beaches. After four hours of the cramped confines of the kayak, the bodies cried out for a shore break, but by then the surf had grown to daunting proportions, again, and we were reluctant to land ashore for fear of being trapped on the beach for the remainder of the day. So on we went... five hours, six hours, and so forth. To make matters worse, our departure that morning had been without breakfast, in the hopes of being able to stop in a few hours. Here we agreed to keep a few munchies readily accessible. Finally I recognized the hills around the village of Puertecitos, so we decided to press on until we reached it. The seas kept increasing, and by the time we approached our destination, quite a large swell was running. The final approach to town involved paddling past a half mile line of cliffs, where the oncoming swell was bashing into solid rock and then rebounding back out onto us. The result was a heavily confused sea. Normally we remain very close together, as a safeguard in the event of a capsize, but in this instance it was every man for himself. If one of us had tipped over it would have been very grave with no shore to swim to, and in seas of this magnitude there would have been little hope of effecting a sea rescue, other than the swimmer grabbing on the other persons boat for a tow. In retrospect, we each resolved to become more proficient at the Eskimo roll, but for now were paddling full speed ahead and relying on our ability to remain upright. Finally we rounded the last corner and entered the strikingly calm, protected waters of Puertecitos Bay, where we made our way casually to the beach in front of the town's cantina. We had been in the boats nearly 7 hours, and in two days had paddled the 55 miles from San Felipe taking but 2 stops: one for lunch and one for dinner yesterday! The small number of rests, though, had not been a matter of choice. (Map of Puertecitos Bay) The town appeared to have been recently evacuated by a bomb scare, there wasn't a living soul in sight. We reasoned that it must have been siesta time. Leaving the boats, we stumbled up the rocks a short distance to the little store, and finding the doorway open we walked inside to find the proprietor sitting expressionless behind the counter. The place looked as if it had been well stocked years ago and hadn't sold much since, and over the years continued to do business, selling the last dregs exponentially until now that remained was undesirable even to a starving dog. "Is the restaurant next door open?" we asked. "No." A Baja kayaking expedition is impelled by the perpetual hope of a scrumptious Mexican meal to be had in the next town. Thus, a catastrophe of the third magnitude would seem trivial compared to the finding of the only restaurant to be closed. We were shattered. "Well, how about a cerveza then?" At that the gentleman opened a cooler hidden beneath the counter and produced two bottles of remarkably cold beer. Back out on the portico we consolingly dug into our gorp bags for sustenance, and after a rather lengthy session of over indulgence our heads began to reel. In accordance with local custom we then fell asleep. Soon the local populace began crawling out of the woodwork and we were becoming something of a spectacle. Ed and I debated: should we pack up and head off into the sunset, wherever that was, or should we remain instead in Puertecitos for the night, and just where do kayakers camp around here anyway? We decided that it would be a disgusting place to try to sleep and it would be better to move on; after all, wasn't this supposed to be a wilderness experience? We both tried to get up, honest. Failing that, we took inventory of all available supplies of energy and or enthusiasm, and found nothing whatsoever. It seemed prudent, therefore, to camp in Puertecitos for the night. With supreme effort we managed to remove our persons and belongings several yards to the backside of an adjacent building where we found a wonderfully flat campsite in the form of an old concrete floor. It was there, or heaven forbid, the jagged rocks. We spread our gear everywhere to dry, a daily routine performed upon the emptying of an ocean-going kayak of its sodden contents. Preparing a proper meal would require us to build a campfire, the thought of which appealed to neither of us. And imagine if the owner returned to his domicile and found the likes of two scruffy vagabundos heating their canned vegetables over an open fire in his backyard! Besides, there wasn't a lick of firewood to be found anywhere.
The sign on the cantina's door read "Open at 5:00" and oh, the gastrointestinal distress we suffered salivating on empty thoughts of big juicy tacos! Five o'clock was slow in coming, as slow as the proverbial Mexican funeral procession with only one set of jumper cables. Finally, at nearly 7:00 we were about to resign ourselves to the gorp bag when at last the senora opened the cantina for business. Gleefully we entered only to be greeted with the look of "what do you want?" "Are you serving dinner tonight?" we asked in Spanish. "No, there is nothing to cook." "Well, how about just making tortillas and refritos?" "Si, I can do that," she said "Fantastic! And how about some coffee?" The evening's entertainment was provided by someone loudly whistling her repertoire of tunes, replete with full vibrato. The same tunes were repeated over and again at the upper limits of the audible decibel range. Curious, I set out to investigate. Around the corner, behind the cantina I found a pretty redhead sitting in its cage, a parrot!
DAY 2We awoke at first light, eager to get moving again, only to make the astute observation that the shallow little bay of Puertecitos had turned into nothing but a vast mud flat, the ebbing tide having virtually emptied it. "Not to worry, Ed, there's a hot springs in those rocks over there. Should be able to get a good hot soak." Unconvinced, Ed volunteered to stand guard over our worldly possessions from the strategic position of his sleeping bag. Meanwhile I went off for a bath. I found the pools where I knew them to be from previous visits, and enjoyed a wonderful respite in the hot sulfur smelling water. Back at camp, Ed, now convinced by my new Mr. Clean appearance, set off to investigate. He returned relating a one-upmanship, hardly believable story. Not only had he found the hot springs, but, he claimed, a beautiful young woman there bathing. The cantina senora, knowing that hungry customers were in the area, opened shop early, enabling us to eat a hearty breakfast. The tide finally rising, the bay was beginning to fill, so we lugged our gear half way out to meet the water. We made our first carry over the rocks and out across the sand to where we estimated the encroaching waterline would be, by the time we would have finished loading and were ready to go. Two more carries of gear and one with the boats, and we suddenly realized we had grossly underestimated the speed of the running tide. We threw everything into the kayaks and finished packing while standing in a foot of water. To get my boat properly packed, I needed to jam my large waterproof bag into the stern with leg power, the fit was so tight. This was impossible with the boat afloat, and yet it was urgent we depart immediately. I made do, but couldn't fit my backrest into place. Now the paddling felt really awkward without a proper seat. After a few hours of good progress the conditions deteriorated. We rounded a prominent point and wham! Heavy squalls hit us, right on the bow. Only 50 feet from shore we paddled full strength directly into the wind, this for an hour. The wind blew so hard it was difficult even to maintain a grip on the paddles. It felt like the wind was trying its best to wrench the paddles from us. The coastline was magnificent along here, though, and the lack of surf enabled us to keep going, even though progress was excruciatingly slow. At one point we were paddling as hard as possible and the cliff just a few feet abreast just remained put. The quote from the Looking Glass seemed pretty appropriate: "This is a very strange place. It takes all the running you can do just to stay in the same place." finally the wind eased and we rounded the next point, having gone only half a mile in two hours, and found a pirate's cove with a quiet beach, protected from the wind. We beached it for lunch and because of the complete lack of wind, and the intense heat, we were driven into a small cave for what little shade it offered. Then the flies discovered us and drove us back out to sea. We swatted the little buggers all along the way, dispatching the last of them not until several hours later. Now the wind was blowing hard offshore, straight over the land and out to sea. The mountains were funneling the wind down the large arroyos, and when the arroyo wind reaches the sea if fans out. So in such conditions one first encounters head winds, then hard offshore winds at the arroyo itself, and then strong tail winds. With a 20-knot tail wind we paddled for 3-1/2 hours whizzing down the coast. We also were going with the tide. Paddling a following sea, our boats would frequently surf down the faces of passing waves, so we enjoyed a wet, wild, and positively exhilarating ride. We decided to beach it for the evening, so I threw out a plug and soon had our catch. Once ashore, the coffee pot was soon perking and fish were sizzling on the grill, as we watched a beautiful full moon rising over the nearby enchanted islands. Later in the night, a small, wiry coyote came close to camp, tempted by the aromas of our cooking. We tossed it a few morsels. Also we were paid a most unprofitable visit by a diminutive kangaroo rat. The little creature was cute, but lightning fast and unafraid of us, and despite our shooing it managed to chew its way into our plastic bags of powdered milk and gorp. Ed suggested dispatching it with a frying pan, but I managed to lure it away with a piece of fish, to which it took a great liking. We recited poetry, each in turn, to pass the evening away. Ed knew an amazing variety of poetry from his educational background. And my head was full of Robert Service: "There's a race of men that don't fit in, a race that can't sit still, So they break the hearts of kith and kin and they roam the world at will. They range the fields and rove the floods and they climb the mountain's crest. Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood and they don't know how to rest."
DAY 3The next morning we rose at 3:00 to find a remarkably quiet ocean, bright moonlight and a running tide. We packed the boats and set off in the dark without delay. The ocean dazzled us with its beauty as we glided silently along, each lost to his own reverie while unaffected with the troubles of the world at large. Paddling fairly close to shore, we were reminded of the schools of fish all around; we could hear them jumping, and occasionally one would go thud into a kayak, or worse into a startled kayaker's lap. The night was dark and the air still and warm, A calm sea lapped gently at our boats as we rhythmically paddled down the miles. Overhead, a canopy of brilliant stars amalgamated the scene into one of ethereal magic. We were intoxicated with the mood, until I broke the silence: "Hey Ed." "Yeah?" "We're lost." "...........huh?" The faint light was diffused, making distance imperceptible. "Do you see the shore?" "Uh...... no." "Let's stop and listen for the surf," I suggested. Silence. Nothing. The sea was calm, so of course there was no surf. Now confused, we didn't know which direction to go, but we paddled on, until eventfully Ed piped up: "It's over there, I think I can hear it over there." "Ok," I replied, "let's paddle that direction and check it out." We finally rescued ourselves back to the shoreline, and in doing so nearly ran aground. It was difficult to judge distances in the inky darkness. We were still confused, but at least now we had a coast to follow. That mountain over there, was that an island? Where are we? Now light, we searched for the entrance to Bahia Willard. Had we passed it already? "Must be here somewhere." We rounded a prominent point and were dismayed at the sight of another ten miles of coastline, and at its far end the lighthouse marking the entrance to the bay. We had another ten miles to paddle before a possible breakfast at Papa Fernandez's, and this jolted us out of our ethereal moods. Paddling ten "extra" miles, working hard for every inch, and sluggardly moving along at a mere four knots required patience. Had either of us possessed any, it would have made things more tolerable. However, we resolved ourselves to this miscalculation and our thoughts were once again recaptured by the magnificence of our surroundings. Rounding the point into Bahia Willard, we stroked quietly through the placid waters fronting the small fishing village. Landing, we wandered up to pay a visit to Papa Fernandez. The local cook happened to be away, but we were offered coffees which we gratefully accepted. Hungry, we retrieved our granola from the boats and brought it into the restaurant, to dine in the shade of the portico while enjoying the company of Papa Fernandez. He thought our plans to make La Paz in 30 days were unrealistic. In 1930 he had made the same journey with five other people in a 20-foot boat without a motor. He said it took them forty days and they had used a sail. Our water bottles filled from barrels trucked in from Huerfonitos, we were now anxious to make the open water passage of Bahia San Luis Gonzaga while its waters were yet calm. So we struck out across the expansive bay. Reaching the far shore of Bahia Gonzaga required negotiating some 7 miles of open water, and at the midpoint we would find ourselves some 7 miles offshore. (map of our Bahia Gonzaga crossing)
The sea was flat calm, the air still and hot, as we paddled quite hard to reach the safety of the far shore. Along the way we saw porpoise, sea turtles, and sea lions. From a distance we would discern a flipper protruding from the placid surface, sometimes several flippers. As we drew near, the snoozing sea lions would awake with a start, slap the water then disappear. Sea lions sometimes venture many miles offshore, and when the seas are flat they presumably are taken with the urge for a snooze after feeding. Their sleeping position is very curious in that they sleep with one flipper raised in the air. We reached the far shore in two hours and landed on steep, basketball sized rocks all lined up and neatly sorted by the natural action of a sometimes violent surf. Here we noticed that the water was beginning to become clear. Being able to view the undersea world adds an unparalleled dimension to the experience, and is one of the great attractions the Sea of Cortez offers the blue water paddler. After a brief respite we shoved off again, hoping to rediscover the hidden lagoon where I had caught all those Jack Cravelles on my 1976 trip. We found the lagoon, but being close to the full moon created larger tides, and due to the high tide itself, we found the normal enclosure awash and the bay completely exposed to seaward. The beach on which I had camped was now completely underwater, leaving only a steep, rocky escarpment. We landed anyway, but after a short nap we decided to continue our sojourn southward. Near day's end we threw out our trolling lines and enjoyed an hour of heavy action. We caught and lost or released 15 fish, lost 3 lures, and in the end we were in possession of only 3 trigger fish, which are pretty much unpalatable, being all mouth and elephant hide. The problem was that the sea was a bit too rough, and when we would get a strike, we couldn't concentrate totally on the fish, with the wind blowing us in toward the breakers which pounded against the cliffs. The cabrilla, the most plentiful in these waters, and also one of the better tasting fish, will strike the lure then sound for the rocks. Once into a hole they will open their gills widely, lodging themselves solidly into the crevice, and their extraction is then nearly impossible. Dinner that night consisted of spinach noodles, canned beans and coffee.
DAY 4During the night the wind came up blew so fiercely that it seemed intent on blowing us off the beach altogether. I put our water bottles and all other miscellaneous gear into the boats to help hold them down. The wind was funneling straight out of the arroyo, blasting the ocean with such a fantastic force as to rip water off its surface, hurling bursts of spray high into the air. By morning the ferocity started to abate, somewhat, and because the wind was straight offshore, we though that once around the corner we would find protection in the lee of the cliffs. If this were the case, we would get an incredible free ride; but if it weren't we could always make it back to here, we hoped. We set off, and sure enough, once around the corner, the wind was blowing hard and going our way. We sped along at an incredible pace. This wonderful free ride lasted 1-1/2 minutes. The wind suddenly stopped, then just as quickly, Bam! we got it in the face. We crept along at a snail's pace, fighting every inch of the way. We would crouch down into a lower profile and work our way into the lee of a boulder for a brief respite before "going for it" again. The thought of being stuck on shore for several days provided the incentive to continue. We made very slow progress, but felt fortunate to be moving at all, considering the conditions. After 1-1/2 hours we reached a more sheltered area. Nearing a prominent point, we were appalled at the heavy chop produced by the adverse current. We decided to pull into the protection of a rocky lagoon to await slack water. We were out for an hour beachcombing for shells, taking the needed rest, then set back out into much calmer water. Later that afternoon, after another "leg stretch" break ashore, we were standing on a steep, rocky shoreline, straddling the boats and waiting for a good moment to launch. Our technique was to wait until the calmest period, take a few quick steps, give the boat a great heave to seaward and jump in. With legs still dangling out of the cockpit and surf breaking right into the boat, we would then paddle furiously through the breakers, and worry about sponging the bilge empty later, once into calmer water. But this afternoon I had a certain mishap while launching back through the surf. My timing was a bit off, and just after shoving the boat and jumping in, I lost balance. Rather than landing in the cockpit, I landed on the foredeck with a resounding crunch! The frail deck bent like a folding jack knife under my weight, but thankfully sprung back into its original shape. The only damage was a pair of six-inch long cracks, both just above the waterline, one on either beam. Perish the thought of loosing a boat in such an remote area! After a quick survey of the damage, I decided that since the boat was still floating we should carry on, and effect the necessary repairs later. We approached a small herd of sea lions lethargically sprawled over a small rocky islet, and steered right for them. On our approach they begrudgingly got up, one by one, made a few laborious waddles toward the sea, and took the plunge. Once in their element the fun would begin. The sea lions would leap out of the water, barking like dogs and in general have a terrific time and putting on quite a show. Quite late in the day we set the trolling lines and quickly landed three nice cabrilla. We landed ashore and while Ed gathered wood and started the campfire, I shot a compass bearing to the tip of Isla Angel de la Guarda before darkness obscured it. With these shots I determined our day's run to be 36 miles. This seemed extraordinary considering the morning's slow progress.
That evening we were treated to an astounding display of phosphorescence. Each wave of incoming surf flashed emerald green with unbelievable intensity. The shoreline was ablaze in cosmic fire. In the dark of night Ed was busy manning the tortilla factory but I was finding the job of frying his fine products over the blaze of our "white man's" fire rather oppressive, so I went for a cooling dip. As I swam in the phosphorescence, my body was enveloped in an ethereal aura of light, tingling in millions of tiny pinpricks of luminescence, an indescribable experience. We prepared an elaborate dinner, then sat back to enjoy a steaming brew. The full moon peeked over the horizon and grew. It was a magical camp that night. We were somewhat concerned that our day's catch might be toxic, having been taken in the proximity of all this bioluminescent plankton. We were very hungry and felt a need for the protein of the fish, and fortunately neither of us suffered any subsequent ill effects. That evening as I lay in my sleeping bag, I penned the following words into my journal by flashlight: "These past several miles south of Willard have been superb. The coastline is rugged and generally steep-to, with high cliffs and higher mountains rising directly out of the sea. No longer does the road parallel the coast. Access is denied for the ravages of the 4WD and we find instead perfect wilderness. The beaches are pristine, abundant in driftwood and void of trash. "The seas have been kindly and we have been able to follow the shoreline very closely, and so have inspected every inch of every mile along the way. Our only regret is not availing the opportunity to stop and explore each of the hundreds of interesting places we pass by. And so we get but a glimpse of it all. "We are truly humbled by the magnitude of this place. Here we lie, 50 miles from the nearest automobile, and we lament the awful destiny which will ultimately come here as the hand of man inexorably reaches out in the name of progress and recreation. This land is a fragile paradox indeed, and we are privileged to experience its inscrutable mysteries now, before it is too late."
DAY 5Up at three and paddling half an hour later. The water is fairly quiet and there's a good moon. We traveled three hours and beached it for a leg stretch just in time to watch the sunrise. My right hand has been steadily blistering since the beginning of the trip (or was my handwriting always like this?) The paddle has a rubber grip on the right side, and I figured I would callous and adapt to it. Apparently not so, as by now I have to hold the paddle using only two fingers. Enough of that, I finally cut off that blasted rubber grip. The left hand never had one, and it is fine; but the damage has been done to the right side, and I'm stuck with a heavily taped and bandaged hand for a while. We paddled on, looking for the final point, Punta Remedios, which we must be nearing. But with the rounding of each distant point, we saw only another distant point. Finally in dismay it occurred to me that last night I subtracted declination rather than adding it, and our computed position turned out to be 13 miles north of where I thought we were. Yesterday's travel was rather only 23 miles. We paddled for seven hours and finally neared Punta Remedios and beached it. Breakfast of granola, then we took a short nap in the hot sun then I put a couple of fiberglass patches on my boat. And then off again, rounding the point in fairly hefty seas with the wind dead abeam at 15 knots. Here we made an error in judgment that could have gotten us into a nasty situation. We decided to cut the bay in poor conditions. Five miles across, and the waves catching the boats and throwing them this way and that, we bounced and pounded our way unsteadily. We have paddled plenty of seas that rough, but here the sudden squall and very heavy seas had caught us so far from shore. Reaching the far coast and feeling well chastised, we rounded the point into a fine little calm bay and immediately declared it a campsite for the night. Overall we had paddled 8-1/2 hours for 33 miles. Ed went diving and reappeared triumphantly with three poisonous fish. I built the fire and started coffee and dinner: spaghetti noodles with a small can of chicken. The weather is calming and it's a beautiful evening. We are sleeping on a bed of rocks, but when one is exhausted, one doesn't much care what he's sleeping on. (Map of Bahia de los Angeles)
Bahia de los Angeles
DAY 6Up early. Calm water, good moonlight, bright phosphorescence and small fish jumping about and knocking into the boats. We cut across a series of bays, going point-to-point with Punta Gringa somewhere up ahead and always in our minds the entrance to Bahia de los Angeles. Finally reaching Gringa, we beached it for a short break. The headwinds were whipping up a short chop and sending spray off our bows, making the paddling much more difficult. We paddled pretty hard through it and pulled into Bahia at 9:30. Five hours and 22 miles. Cerveza! Hot showers! Cookies from the panaderia, lunch at the Casa Dias, and nice long nap sprawled out right in public. We then bought a few canned goods and some pan, and filled the water jugs. Then back to the Casa for turtle steaks. We hit the sack at 7:30, but ended up much to close to a small party - yack, yack, yack. Finally we had to move camp. Then the Mexicans started driving their cars all around our new camp. So we didn't get much sleep until midnight.
DAY 8We were up at our usual time of three a.m. and found the seas fairly calm. We paddled out across the bay while a steady wind picked up a short chop. However, hour later we had reached the lee of a cliff and the water mellowed out. We paddled another hour in good moonlight to the outer point of Bahia LA, rounded the corner, and beached it for a coffee break. Unorganized this morning, I had to completely unpack my boat to procure the coffee, pot, matches in another bag, water, and so on. An hour later we were back in the water again and headed for Animas. Rounding the corner leading to the bay, we encountered swells from astern; and paddling hard we were able to surf some 1-1/2 miles at breakneck speed. Spray was flying and we were hollering and having fun! (Map of Bahia Animas)
Bahia Animas We beached it again and I showed Ed up to the shrine on the hill near the back of Bahia Animas. Looking out over the bay, the view was stunning. Very windy, the ocean was covered with whitecaps, awesome and very beautiful with all the cliffs and islands. Back on the water we paddled around the back of the bay and now, directly into swells and head winds and strong currents. Eventually we landed ashore on a lovely beach complete with a palapa type shade structure built apparently by a vagabundo. We gathered a small bucket of rock clams and took an half hour nap. Setting out again, we encountered the roughest water of the trip thus far. The seas were slamming into the nearby cliffs, rebounding back and breaking into the next oncoming wave and setting everything into a frenzy. This though our kayaks about every which way, making for a wild and exhilarating ride. Twice my boat was engulfed by breaking seas. Shuddering briefly, the boat bounced back to life, but in the process I became completely sodden. This went on for about half an hour until we rounded the outside of Animas. Once we turned the point and headed down the coast, the sea began to moderate. Eventually we decided to throw out the lures. Almost immediately I caught two nice cabrilla, so we beached it for the day on an inviting sandy stretch. Dry out the gear, build a fire to boil our clams which occupied the coffee pot, then coffee, canned corn and wonderfully delicious broiled fish with lime, cumin and garlic. Total today was 7-1/2 hours paddling and 31 miles.
DAY 9We paddled in perfectly quiet seas which amazingly enough lasted the entire day. However, this morning was rough going for lack of sleep. Drowsiness was setting in, and the first two hours before light were definitely a mental battle for want of going back to bed. But we kept on, and paddled for four hours, took a half hour break and another two hours. The diving looked good so we pulled in, and I swam around a bit. We took a short nap and set off again. Paddling into the back of Bahia de San Rafael, we observed a very strange, well-built rock wall extending from nearly water's edge to near the top of the mountain...? The vestige of a very proficient and tenacious, but rather insane wall builder. We beached it again for want of shade. Finding an old palapa comprising palm branches tied together into a frame, we draped our tarps over it and had a wonderful lunch of marias, a can of fruit cocktail, and granola. Then we napped for a couple of hours. Off again, but this time the heat was nearly unbearable. We went for 1-1/2 hours, caught five fish in rapid succession, and beached it just in time for sunset. The dew is very heavy tonight and we are on a sand beach. The sea is very, very still. Total today: 9 hours for 34 miles.
DAY 10Up at 3:30, we quickly set off in perfectly calm conditions, yet with lightning flashing and vicious storm heads threatening on all sides. Paddling in subdued light, we studied every inch of coastline along the way, with the intent of pulling in - in the event of a sudden onslaught of storm. The black clouds passed on either side for a time, and we dubiously reel off five miles to the point. With every flash of lightning, the landscape in the immediate proximity becomes etched into our eyeballs. We round the point in the dark, and suddenly there are only cliffs and many offshore rocks strewn about the calm water. And then, a storm is upon us. We turn in, and discover a landing spot using flashlights. KER-WHAM!! A thunderbolt strikes nearby and momentarily deafens us. We have the boats out of the water and I am beginning to set up a poncho when suddenly the heavens open, and rain begins to pour. We huddle under our ponchos in a small rock alcove for 10 minutes, then the storm passes. We emerge to find clearer skies, so we set off at a very quick pace once again. Dawn brings the first true light, and with the storms all about, the sunrise is magnificent. Its the most grandiose sight I have seen. Colors everywhere, crimson, orange, reds, the entire vista is a kaleidoscope replete with a rainbow. (Map of Bahia San Fransisquito)
Bahia San Fransisquito Reaching Bahia San Fransisquito, we paddle six knots towards the beach, trying and just succeeding to outrun yet another storm. We cross the bay at breakneck speed, and round the point to find the resort at Bahia San Fran. Landing, we find the senora and yes, she would be glad to make us breakfast. It is 7:30. We wander about, truly awed by the little oasis - and then, breakfast comes out on a tray: omelets, and beans with cheese, toast, and coffee! We fill our water jugs, five gallons for each person. Loading the kayaks, we debate leaving. The sky to the west is coal black and threatening a heavy storm. Ed is for staying it seems, and fires out every argument against departing right into the imminent storm. Yet, it seems to me that we might be able to paddle through it, because the water is so flat. So we set off, and paddled with one eye to the black cloud and the other to a small thread of hope of rolling off a few more miles. The further we go, the gradually clearer the sky, and it never does rain. Taking two more breaks in the course of the day, we paddle nine hours and travel a total of 35 miles. Just before pulling in, I manage two cabrilla, one a very large creature of more than sufficient size for dinner. We get coffee going and have a long dinner of fish, home-made tortillas, canned vegetables and coffee. The sky is everywhere thick with storm clouds replete with lightning and thunder in the distance. Behind camp there is an astonishing lagoon. Contrasting with the bland colors of the desert, the lagoon is rich in green virescence.
DAY 11And the rains came. It was too hot to wrap up in our ponchos entirely, so for want of air, we both got fairly saturated. 3:00 came, and then 4:00 and more rain, so we didn't get going until nearly 7:00. With all our gear in waterproof bags, the only things to get wet were the sleeping bags, ponchos, and us. The sky was clearing as we departed, but a headwind had developed and we went for about an hour in a bit of oncoming chop. We beached it at the two hours point, and spread things out to dry. A quick fire and breakfast of chicken, beans and half of the last bread roll. Such a difference to dank spirits a good breakfast can make! We set off again and paddled calm seas for another two hours, then stopped again for more drying, a spot of diving, and more food: the last of the granola and a small tin of chicken. Lots of pretty little sea shells on our beach. All through the day we paddled at a reduced speed, perhaps for lack of energy, or - just one of those days. But even with lots of little stops and a very late start, we still got in eight hours of honest working the blades. Tonight's position is uncertain due to a lack of definite coastal landmarks or offshore islands to shoot a bearing to. But probably somewhere around 30 miles. The red tide was thick for miles all around, and prevented us from fishing or clamming tonight. But lather tonight we are richly compensated by the fantastic phosphorescence. I went swimming in the dark; quite an experience with thousands of little bits of blue-green light clinging to one's body. Also today we saw our first whales. Two very large ones, and fairly close, maybe 200-300 yards away. I finally discovered what's happening to my right hand. My paddle by Seda has an unsymmetric cut to the blades, for some unknown reason. With each stroke it imparts a torque which must be resisted by the right hand. This I discovered when accidentally using it right side to left. Suddenly the torque was opposite and I felt the difference immediately. Hopefully, if I use it upside down like this, the torque will be reversed and my hand will start feeling better. As it is, my right hand is taking a beating, the main problem is that it frequently "goes to sleep." We are getting low on grub. We have only one or two more dinners left of beans and tortillas. Tonight we had spaghetti and tortillas. Santa Rosalia is 1-1/2 days from here in good conditions, so we shall be very happy to arrive and replenish our provisions. Tomorrow morning sometime, if all goes well, we will reach the half way point of our trip. So far we are doing very well. We are putting a great deal of effort in maximizing our daily mileage. So much so, in fact, that we have little free time; every wakeful hour is utilized to the max. But such is the way we choose to do this particular trip.
DAY 12During the night the seas grow quiet and the sky clears. At 4:00 we get up, load the boats and set off under a very thin moon giving but little light. Once in a while a school of fish will stir below, and the phosphorescence makes it look like someone has switched on the flood lights. Eerie. And along the way a whale surfaced a couple of times fairly nearby, sounding like a locomotive as it inhaled and exhaled. Also eerie in the dark. We are staying fairly far offshore because of the numerous rocks strewn about. These are difficult to detect, especially the ones lying just under the surface. So we are relieved when the streak of dawn faintly lights up the way ahead. And as the sun begins to rise, my camera fires away many shots. Usually I have it stowed in the waterproof bag in the stern, but that is not a useful location back there. So today I will experiment. I tried using the paddle reversed - but with the same problems. I thoroughly disliked this paddle and its design. The sea were coming up a bit, so we beached it in the lee of a punta and I stowed the camera. We ate a couple of sticks of beef jerky, and set off again. Crossing a small bay, we found a strange phenomena: a Mexican fishing boat every couple hundred yards, all along the bay. There must have 15 or 20 altogether. The occupants were standing up, looking intently out over the water. My guess is it may have been some kind of a turtle ambush. As we paddled along a lengthy stretch of serious cliffs, the seas began to rise, and we found ourselves battling once again. The calm seas of the past few days had spoiled us. Heavy swell is easy to contend with, one simply rises with the passing of each crest and dips into the next trough. But when these swells bash into a cliff face, they come bounding right back, and with what is called "constructive and destructive interference" the results are a very chaotic and confused sea. The kayaks are bounced, tossed and thrown, as the paddlers continuously fight to maintain balance. The seas break into froth, and sometimes a large volume of water - which was the peak of a wave - is thrown straight up into the air. When the boat is sitting on top of that water, the results are difficult to describe. The seas increased as the cliffs continue along the coastline. Finally we rounded a point and paddled into a lee shore, and beached it for an equilibrium break. We made a fire for coffee, tortillas and beans.
We set back out, but with one small delay when I catch the surf wrong while departing and my boat swamps. Hmmm... not good! The second try was successful, and we paddled off in "moderate" conditions. Still no wind, and for a while no cliffs to ricochet the swell back onto us. It was good that we felt like doing a lot of paddling, because with fairly heavy surf, we didn't find many feasible places to beach. We went for hours, and finally, rounding one of the many points, we saw Santa Rosalia in the distance. So on we paddled. We were getting close, and just before sundown we made a judgmental error by deciding to go for it. Crossing a large bay, the swells increased as daylight faded away. Rounding the bay, and now on a lee shore in heavy and confused seas, we paddled hard - very hard. There was nowhere to land; we must reach the quay south of town. Then it got very dark. We rounded the radial point in the light of two floodlights of a factory. The situation became serious - the seas were horrendous, and with the old kayak rule "the objective is always further than one thinks" the quay was nowhere to be found. A six foot wave-face appeared suddenly, and just started to break. My kayak climbed the face and reached the top just before it went. I caught just a bit of froth and to my right was total chaos. Whew! Close one. Ed was somewhere close behind me to my left. And now we paddled a lee shore in complete and absolute darkness. Guided only by the sound of crashing surf, our balance depended on pure instinct. A capsize now would be grave. And to add to the confusion, flying fish kept whacking into the boats. Then, to our utter dismay we found another point to be negotiated. Should we call to someone on shore for help? Should we abandon the kayaks and try to swim for it? Swim for what? Not to sound overly dramatic, but we were in a dire situation. Somehow we kept upright amidst the thrashing turmoil and made our way cautiously around the point. Calling to one another in the darkness, "stay close Ed, CLOSE!" If one person would have eaten it, the other would have never known about it. And suddenly rounding the final portion there were lights. We paddled into the lee of the quay and found perfectly calm waters. We hollered and whooped! We had made it! (Map of Santa Rosalia)
Santa Rosalia We landed in flat waters on a sandy beach, and drug the boats up onto the shore. Quickly changing clothes, we stepped into the nearby restaurant. We must have looked like death stumbling in from Hades, for all conversation stopped. After what seemed like a long silence, a gringo said, "what'ch ya got goin?" "Dinner?" we asked. We had a great meal but I broke a tooth on nothing; must have been rotten. We wandered into town looking for a phone, and finding one at the Farmacia California I tried to call Susie, but finally got her mother to relay the message that we had arrived in Santa Rosalia. Time to make "camp," but the only available spot was directly behind the restaurant. And wouldn't you know it, we had a live and very electrically loud band tonight. So here was the picture: The swank joint in town, live band, fancy customers, the whole scene - and here was Ed and I crashed right alongside the place. We're way too tired, and the seas way too rough, and it's way too dark to find another place to sleep. But the music is way too loud and too close for us to get much sleep. I must have been 20 feet away from the electric guitar and drums, and the only thing between us was an open window. So people came by and stared at us in disbelief. Somebody trips over Ed. Pretty soon four or five guys came over and just raise Cain. We pretended to sleep. Ed later translated the conversation: "Maybe if we shine some bright lights on them it'll scare them away." Finally at three in the morning the music stopped, the people went away, and we got some sleep. Whew!! 10 hours, 42 miles.
DAY 13Up at 6:30 bleary eyed, we stumble off to find breakfast, then hit the bank and grocery store. We return arms laden with a huge load of provisions for the next two days to Mulege.
With all chores done, we pack up and set out into rough seas at ten. Paddling unenthusiastically, not so much from yesterday's 42 miles, but last night's rock and roll, we proceed slowly. Two hours later we round a point in radical seas, and in the lee beach it for lunch. We thought the coastline looked strange the past mile, and beaching it we found that it was only 30 feet wide and on the other side of the spit was a giant lagoon of quiet, shallow water! We set off again, paddling down-swell and downwind and eventually reached San Lucas, which is in the wrong place, by the way. Our map has it eight miles to the north. Typical Mexican city planning, to put your town in the wrong place. Anyway, we took a brief respite, a half hour nap in the local garbage dump. While on the smelly subject, the entire coastline around here is slowly (?) turning into a Mexican dump. These people think nothing about proper disposal and down here in this dry climate, the trash is neatly preserved. The worst offenders are the shark, fish, and turtle carcasses left on the beach to slowly and powerfully rot. Next we have the proliferating tin can and plastic containers. Honestly and seriously I doubt if there is one 30-foot stretch along the entire coastline from San Felipe to La Paz which doesn't contain some piece of debris. Back to our nap site, it smelled so bad we decided to load up and move down a few miles. Here we had to be very careful. In the next 20 miles there were very few good pull-outs, and the coast was taking the brunt of a northerly swell. Studying the map carefully, we determined our objective. The idea was to avoid having to make a through-the-surf landing, and accordingly to get ourselves trapped, unable to get back out through the surf in the morning. This has happened to me several times in the past, and I have learned to beach it only at a "pull-in" behind a point, or in the lee of something which will spread the swell and reduce the surf. Eventually we reached a small bay, and landed. Here again, garbage everywhere. So we decided to carry all our things up a knoll and camp away from the sight but not the smell of it all. Here the locals dredged up scallops and the beaches everywhere were covered with thousands of beautiful scallop shells. We had to carry firewood, etc up to our spot, but this evening we had a beautiful little camp. Fresh from town, we had a wonderful dinner of eggs and tortillas and canned vegetables and coffee. 4-1/3 hours, 20 miles. (Map of Punta Chivato)
DAY 14Up at 5:00 and paddling by dawn in perfectly calm water! We paddled out to Punta Chivato, and on around it with spray skirts off. It felt pretty amazing because this point has a notorious reputation for really foul conditions. We lucked out this time. Around a few more small points and we enjoyed a nice stop for lunch. Here the water was emerald blue and very quiet, fronted by white sand beaches. For future reference: good spot to car camp. After cutting my right hand accidentally on a can, we set off again. In the distance we could see a great sandy coastline going on forever, heading toward Mulege. To our left, across from Bahia Conception was the land mass of Punta Conception itself. A magnificent scene. Suddenly the wind picked up and started throwing spume across the seas. Crossing a bay, we paddled full steam with the wind abeam, and reaching the other side and now paddling directly downwind, we decided to get out the ponchos. Tying one corner to the end of a paddle and holding that upright with one hand, and the clew out with the other, we found ourselves whisking along at quite a good speed. A half hour of this cavorting and the wind slackened, the arms grew tired of holding up the rigs, we paddled on down the endless coastline. Finally... after what seemed like one of the longest afternoons of my life, we beached it. "Where is that town??" From a high point I spotted a lighthouse peeking over the next point. We were sitting about half a mile from town. We paddled around the Sombrerito Dock and landed. Mulege! (Map of Mulege)
Mulege: View Larger Map Quickly we changed clothes, grabbed our only empty water bottle, and headed for town on foot. The walk was hot and dusty, and we barely made it to first store where we gratefully stumbled in for cold cervezas. We found the phone for long distance but it was not working. What?! Supposed to call Susie tonight so she doesn't think we've drowned before reaching Mulege. Also the post office was closed. So we bought a post card and for want of a stamp, glued a 5-peso piece on it. (funny). It said "Yes, we did in fact pass through Mulege." We bought some more groceries from an equally grumpy lady (must be sisters of the one running the first store - but come to think of it, our appearance was not so sterling, having just come off the sea, so who could blame them?) Nevertheless, we wandered off to find a restaurant. The best we could do was a little hole in the wall joint which turned out to be superb. Inside we could see a batch of chickens roasting on the spit. Outside was a six-place table. We were invited to sit down, but first we had to go get our drinks because they only serve food here, we were told. So here we sit - breakfast in Santa Rosalia yesterday, dinner in Mulege today - quite a trip. The conversation throughout town tonight was today's baseball game between the Yankees and the Dodgers. It was a good game, it was said, 6 to 7 and everyone was very pleased. They all watched it on their color tv's. Baseball and football are done with a Spanish announcer on the scene and beamed down to the local populace. One of the gentlemen at the table turned out to be the town lawyer. Hadn't had a drink of water in 40 years, he proudly remarked, eyeing his beer can. We filled our water bottle and hired a cheap taxi for the long ride out to the boats, arriving after dark. Today's running: 30 miles, 7 hours. At camp I write in my journal: --Laws of Kayaking-- #1 Don't tip over! #2 Don't break rule #1. #3 Take full advantage of favorable conditions. You have to paddle it eventually, don't kick back in good weather. #4 In Baja, the weather usually comes from the north. Don't stop short of a point; get into the lee and then when the storm comes up you can get out. #5 It's always further than it looks, and estimated distances paddled always are greater than actual. Fudged miles have to be made up the last day into town! #6 When you get into the boat, you do not know when you can get back out. Seas come up quickly, and when they do, you need a lee shore to beach it. When starting out, have food and water handy for an extended session. #7 Bad seas are at their very worst at the points, where strong currents bring the swells to dangerous breakers.
DAY 15(Map of our Bahia Conception crossing)
Our Bahia Conception crossing: View Larger Map Up and paddling just before first light. Quiet water, no clouds, very slight breeze. Rather than paddle down the coast five miles and then make the crossing of Bahia Conception at the narrowest place, we decided to make a straight shot across. The sea was absolutely flat, beautiful conditions. We held a moderate pace for two hours and reached the opposite side without incident. Paddling around the corner a ways, we took a breakfast stop. Two more hours working the oars, we saw lots of manta rays leaping out of the water, sometimes doing a couple of back flips and then huge belly flops - whack! Splash!! And later I nearly met my doom when a pelican, doing the ol' ground skimmer routine and not paying any attention to where it was headed - nearly ran into me broadside. It veered at the absolute last second, did a sort of quick wing-over and flopped into the water nearby, just grazing my bow. Then the thing just sat there while we paddled by, with the look of stupid incredulity on its face. We howled with laughter. We beached it again, this time with the intent of doing some diving. Each day the water has been getting clearer. Visibility to 30 feet at this point. We donned our diving gear and poked around the reefs for an hour, then took a short nap on the warm rocks - breaking aforementioned rule #3. Then the wind began to build from the south. And did it build! We paddled another two hours into unfavorable seas, with a short, steep chop hammering directly into the bow. With each wave, the bow would dig in, slow the boat considerably, and then it's buoyancy would lift the craft smartly, flinging a bucket of water into the face. This while the wind made headway even more difficult. But we kept at it, making slow but steady progress. We beached it again at Punta Coloradito. Here the wind was really cranking, and the adverse current (adverse to the swells) was really creating havoc. Huge, white capped swells were covering the sea. The last half hour we were virtually crawling tooth and nail - very intense. We waited ashore an hour for the current to ease - "rest and recalibration." Even though the wind did not abate - at all - the sea quieted considerably. So we set off again. Now the wind had sufficient time to work the swells, giving them a longer period. Even though the waves were oncoming, and were much larger, the boats had time to climb the waves, rather than plowing into them. We paddled into this for a while, then as the wind increased slightly, we decided to switch the blades to "full kilter" power on, and we flew out the backside of the waves. With that we really started getting wet! We paddled at close to full steam ahead for 1-1/2 hours then it began to get dusk and we beached in a nice little alcove. My boat had taken on a lot of water, about 1-1/2 to 2 inches in the bilge, all coming through the leaky spray skirt. We had a wonderful evening, a good campfire, great dinner, and good conversation. Body and mind are getting tuned. We are slowly getting into shape. We're paddling hard nearly all day. Aches and pains, mostly for me in the right hand. Callouses in the palms which are white in stark contrast to the back of the hands which are darkly tan. The essence of this trip is in reaching La Paz with minimal delays, an objective that I conjured up somewhere along the way. Now, everything we do is directed toward that objective. We take the shortest possible breaks, start as early as possible, and quit as late as possible. We also paddle hard (a carryover from my climbing days when I thrived on the endorphins). Anyway, I am enjoying the trip immensely, and I surly hope Ed is also. Today's totals: 8-1/2 hours, 31 miles.
DAY 16Up at five and off at first light. Very slight breeze and swell. Beautiful conditions, spectacular sunrise. We paddled four hours in absolute perfect conditions. Too good actually - without a hint of wind the day became sweltering hot. We beached it in the middle of a typical Baja endless sandy beach, in front of only bush. The bush had just enough shade to allow crouching out of the sun. We had a bite to eat, then set off again. The highlight of the day was paddling around Punta Pulpito. One can see the punta some 20 miles away. Rising from the low flatland, Pulpito is a rocky buttress - who knows how high. It is Baja's answer to Shiprock in New Mexico, standing all alone - vertical cliffs rising straight out of the sea. We were very fortunate to have quiet water that enabled us to paddle through two tunnels. The water was crystal clear, the sea lions cavorting around our boats and barking like excited dogs. Then in the absence of any wind the day became excruciatingly hot. Every two or three minutes I poured sea water on top of my head, and this helped a great deal. We took a couple of short breaks just to get out of the sun for a few minutes. We both became very tired due to the heat of the day. We paddled around Bahia San Basilio exploring the nifty rocky alcoves and searching for a suitable camping place. We found only woodless sandy beaches with stagnant mosquito infested estuaries. Getting late, we beached it anyway. There was lots of firewood at hand, but also sand and scads of mosquitoes. Had a swim and great dinner of eggs and pancakes. Too hot to cover up with the sleeping bag or even the poncho. Didn't get to sleep for the swatting until 12:30. Not such a great place to camp. Today's total 32 miles in 8+ hours.
DAY 17Up at 5 again. We would dearly love to start a few hours earlier each day, but for two problems: No moonlight, meaning very dark before twilight, and many offshore rocks and reefs to bump into in the night. We set off in calm windless seas, but a headwind developed and we had to battle that for 2-1/2 hours. The coastline along this stretch is absolutely beautiful; rugged, fascinating. Rocky outcroppings dropping vertically into the emerald seas. The Baja desert is verdant, supposedly due to a previous rain storm. Things are green, with lots of red and yellow flowers popping out on delicate little vines with soft green leaves. A quick breakfast stop after four hours at the blades. The wind subsides, mostly, and once again the day becomes HOT. We pour handfuls of sea water over our heads and keep our shirts wet for the air conditioning effect. In two more hours we reach Punta Mangles, the location of the Outward Bound disaster where three students drowned in a kayaking mishap. Looking at the shoreline, it was difficult to imagine such dire circumstances. I expected miles of high, rugged cliffs that would have prevented the people from landing. But we found only a very short section of 4-foot high cliffs right at the point, and elsewhere sandy beaches. Nevertheless, we knew how dangerous the seas can become. As we padded along that coast, my heart was filled with remorse that I personally wasn't there to help them. I might have kept them out of trouble. We paddled around the next point and got our first glimpse of Loreto in the distance. As we were crossing the next bay, a Mexican in a motor boat pulled alongside and paced us for several minutes. Finally stopping, we inquired as to what he wanted. He offered us and our small crafts a lift into town! No, thanks. (Map of Loreto)
Loreto: View Larger Map Soon we reached Loreto itself and dragged onto the beach in front of the Hotel Presidente. Changing into "goin' to town clothes" we set off in search of a cerveza. After getting a few strange reactions from a people we encountered, we reached the Laundromat and to our surprise two young girls evacuated the building. By that, we came to realize that we smelled like a garbage dump. The problem was caused by the sea water that we had been pouring onto ourselves to cool off. In the hot sun it had soured our shirts and shorts something fierce. Laundry done, we hoofed it for what seemed like miles out to the government trailer park, and each had a shower that lasted nearly an hour. Then I went back to town and called Susie. She was supposed to meet us here in Loreto tomorrow. I had left the message with her mother when I called from Santa Rosalia. Somehow she never got it, and said she was planning to arrive here on the 29th or 30th. Proceeding to the grocery store, I bought food for the next leg, while Ed got the bakery goods at the panaderia. All cleaned up, we hit Don Luis' for a Mexican combo dinner which was superb. Then back to camp. Quickly write in the journal and organize food, and to bed. Today's totals 6-1/2 hours and 28 miles. We had arrived here in Loreto at 1:30 pm.
DAY 18Up at 4:30 and paddling by 5. Seas very flat, no wind. Going in near total darkness and being paranoid about getting run down by one of the Mexican fishing boats buzzing in an out of the Loreto "harbor", we made our way cautiously along. We paddled past a Mexican picking oranges close to shore. "Where you going?" "La Paz." we replied. "La Paz!!?....Dumb gringos!" He didn't seem to think we knew where La Paz was. Nowhere around here, that's for sure. (funny) Conditions were excellent so we decided to "cut the bay" and head for some lights in the distance. Everything is always further than it appears, and the lights turned out to be Nopolo and the new Hotel Presidente there, so we had quite a lengthy paddle across the "bay". The day became light and we arrived at the outside gravel bar at Bahia Escondito and took a break for breakfast. Lots of sailboats anchored inside the calm waters of the bahia. The next few hours were difficult mentally. The skies were cloudy, so the day wasn't overly hot, but the seas were so calm that the padding was rather boring. The minutes seemed to tick by ever so slowly. A mental battle just to stay with it. The head was drowsy, like the feeling one gets while driving cross-country and wanting to pull into a rest stop for a bit of shut eye. We finally did beach it and threw together a fire for coffee and also to eat a can of fruit cocktail. Next I took an half hour nap that left me feeling wonderfully refreshed. But when departing I also left my spoon on the beach. That meant that we now have one spoon and one fork between us, Ed having lost his fork several days ago, and also his flashlight. We paddled another 4 hour stretch, then called it a day. 10 hours paddling, for 39 miles.
DAY 19Up at 3:15. We embarked in near blackness, with only the stars reflecting faintly from the sea and little bits of phosphorescence to guide our way. Half-way across the first bay, the wind and seas picked up somewhat. We couldn't tell the distance to the opposite side, with only dark forms visible of cliffs ahead. Along the way we were each struck very hard by fish in the dark. One and a half hours later we found a little beach on a lee shore. With the prospects of a another dark bay of unknown dimensions, we decide to plant it. Guided safely to shore by my flashlight, we make a safe landing. In lieu of making a proper camp, we pull out our sleeping bags and pile in - wet clothes and all. Watching a satellite overhead, we launch into an extended conversation of the space program for 45 minutes until first light. We set off across what turned out to be a very large bay, thence around Punta San Marcial and on to points south. As we paddled the endless hours, we were often alone, each with our own thoughts for hours at a stretch. At other times we converse at length about all sorts of topics. Education, religion, philosophy, theater and films, space, sci-fi novels, good books and literature, and past experiences. And of course the trip itself. Sometimes when the pace seems to bog down in silence, one will launch on an extended discourse of any given topic, very good to pass the time and share ideas. Today was one of those days when it all seems to blend together. We came a long ways, took many breaks, even had a fire at one shore stop to make a pot of coffee and cook pancakes. The day was fairly hot. We swam and went diving in the clearest water I have ever seen. Lots of very beautiful reef and other fish: Cabrilla, bass, wrasse, angle fish, blue damsel, sergeant majors, parrot fish, yellowtail, etc. The coastline on this stretch is spectacular, with high rocky cliffs dropping down into blue crystal waters, interspersed with beautiful sandy beaches. My right hand is sore and doesn't write well at the moment, but I am enjoying the scenery and the trip immensely. At 5:30 we started looking for camp, but had to keep going for want of a good landing. It was quite dark when eventually we drug the kayak up onto the beach. Dinner tonight was spaghetti with canned meat and two cans of tomato sauce. We had a can of corn earlier. Even though the fishing would be superb, we are not fishing because we are amply provisioned with quick to fix meals. Today's totals 11 hours and 42 miles.
DAY 20Up at 4:15 and a quick start as usual. Very dark, but the sea conditions were pretty good as we made our way along the unseen coastline, guided only by the sound of surf. Too loud, head left; too quiet, head right. Works fairly well. Paddled 3-1/4 hours and stopped in the lee of a point for breakfast of coffee, pancakes, and eggs. To avoid the sun I scrunched behind a large rock for its shade. The wind and sea picked up from the north to northwest, so we had interesting downwind conditions which lasted all day. Not much to write about today, except a great deal of fascinating and beautiful coastline. The day was hot. A pelican with a small green flag tied to its foot nearly landed on my boat. I scared it off at the last moment, and it flew close and made two more approaches, as though it had been tame at one time. The day's funniest thing - for me: a school of good sized fish of undetermined species launched out of the water. This happens frequently and usually just in front of the boats. But this time it happened all around Ed. He got blasted as fish everywhere slammed into his boat and him. The wind blew pretty strong all day, and for the last hour we had quite a wild ride in the turbulent seas. Whitecaps and breaking seas all about with our frail boats bobbing around in the chaos. The sun went down and we couldn't quite make the next point, which was still a ways off. Hesitant to be involved with such conditions after dark, we reluctantly decided to try to go through the surf and land on the beach. We had a wild ride but arrived safely. However, we knew that if the seas and wind didn't subside, we would be stuck here. In strong winds we found a large bush in the sand dunes to camp behind. Dinner tonight of coffee con kahlua, spaghetti with sauces and mixed vegetables, and a desert of cookies. Today's totals, 11 hours almost and 44 miles.
DAY 21Wind and seas up all night. We arose at first light to find things had "calmed" to about half full bore. We had coffee and previously hard boiled eggs, then we quickly packed the boats. Ed was first to go. At the very edge of the thrashing waves, he got into his boat, secured the rudder straps onto the feet and tightened the spray skirt into place around the cowling. Waiting for just the right moment when the waves were minimum, he gave the "GO!" and I gave him a sling-shot push. Paddling hard, he rocketed through the breakers and into calmer water beyond. Now me. Suddenly for some reason the waves grew flat, there weren't any to speak of, so I rammed my boat into the water, jumped in, with legs still out and cockpit still completely open, paddled full steam ahead. I took a couple small breakers and a reasonable amount of water, but made it safely also. A quick round of sponging out the bilge and we were on our way. But not for long. The wind piped up, and very soon we were paddling very rough breaking seas. We went on for an hour to an obvious point, but the going was quite harrowing and getting worse by the minute. Suddenly a huge wave rose overhead and we barely missed getting inundated. "What do you think Ed?" "Pretty wild, huh?" "Think we'd better go in." I said. "Right behind you Ray." Getting to the sandy beach - through the lines of breakers was another story. My legs were shaking so hard I could hardly peddle the rudder, as I fought for control. Always looking behind, and trying to turn in the appropriate directions to avoid being overcome; and then, full speed right into the beach - quickly jump out and pull the boat free, and run to help Ed. Ed came in completely soaked and white faced. "Nearly ate it on that one. Caught by a wave and nearly flipped, just managed to regain control." Looking back out at the seas, it was hard to imagine our being out there. So this is it, we're stuck here for awhile. We found some shade behind a small cliff and built a fire to make coffee and pancakes. The irony of the situation was overwhelming. After coming all this way, here we sit, one day out of La Paz, unable for the moment to continue.
As the sun rose, we lost our shade so relocated a few hundred yards into the scant shade of a tree. A short nap, then we each went off in separate directions, exploring the beach and looking for sea shells. Back at the tree, we relaxed and discussed our eventual extrication from the scene should the wind continue. The tide went down, so we explored the tide pools and found oysters, pearl oysters, scallops, mussels, and one pink murex. And then, after sundown, the wind stopped suddenly. We were exuberant. Supplies are getting low, water included. We need to get outta here.
Rock oysters baked on a grill were absolutely superb!! Today's totals, 1 hours, 4 miles.
DAY 22Up at first light, we portage a short distance along the beach where the surf is significantly less. I pull my boat into the water, turn to watch if Ed makes it out ok. Turn back and .. no boat! The waves caught it and I had to make a mad dash down the shore to get it. A few moments of panic. So after this rather dubious start we were off. The seas were rough, and we encountered headwinds that increased as the day wore on. The waters around Punta Coyote were really rough. The huge swell remaining from the previous blow was bashing into the cliffs at the point and rebounding back. Waves were also coming from the south. Rough going, rough, and more rough! Three hours of paddling and we reached a mining concern which had a quay we could duck behind. We paddled right beneath a freighter loader belt. Two Mexicans were sitting there, and we went right by and they never saw us. We landed and had a quick cup of granola while the federales or soldiers marched by, rifle over shoulders, carefully guarding the installation but somehow not noticing the two rasty kayakers and our boats. I made the comment: "somehow Ed, I have the feeling it's a good thing we stopped here for a rest. Not too many pull-outs from here on in." Famous last words. So on we went. The wind began to blow from northwest. Wrong direction!! With the huge swell, the wind going in the same direction was the worst thing that could have happened. The swell was generating an enormous surf, way too radical to even attempt to penetrate, which meant that if the wind increased too much more and forced us to evacuate, going in to the beach through the surf would mean a swim for your life and pick up whatever pieces of the boat make it to shore. So we kept on, the wind blew 10-15 but never quite blew out - Thank heavens! We paddled along the endless coastline backed by mountains, and at mountain's end, along the mile after mile of flats. The seas were rough, Eight to ten-foot swells. We would go over the crest of one, and between us and the next, a valley of incredible deepness. We couldn't believe the size of this swell. And the wind was blowing just enough to make it really rough. Hour after endless hour. We were feeling fatigued, and worse, seasick. We couldn't beach it and ever hope to see our boats in one piece again. So we had to continue. On we went, exhausted, nauseous, and wanting to quit. Five hours, six, seven, ... eight. Eventually we reached the entrance to La Paz harbor. Unfortunately with the swell coming in, and the tide going out, the way ahead was blocked by huge breaking seas. We deliberated the choices. We might have paddled out to sea, and then hopefully around the chaos. But not with the sun going down. It would be dark soon. "What do you think Ed? We go to the beach, eh?" "I don't think that's survivable out there." With the decision made, we turned toward shore and I reminded Ed to "paddle HARD!" The swells were much diminished but the surf still very formidable. We paddled into the inferno, waves breaking all around and then came the eventuality: surf breaking onto the stern. My boat accelerated. The bow buried itself completely and I braced the blade of the paddle as hard as I could, 'til I thought the shaft might snap. Somehow the boat resurfaced and allowed the wave to pass. Immediately I resumed paddling full tilt in a vain attempt to outrun the next wave. The shore was still a long ways off, when POW! Another wave slams into me. The boat shudders and buries its bow, accelerates, and then veers sharply to the right. Furiously I fight back, back-paddling. The boat nearly flips, but pops back out - and as the big wave passes underneath I feel almost weightless for a moment. More furious paddling towards shore, when finally at break-neck velocity the hull slides to a grinding halt in the sand. I jump out, grab the bow cord and run the boat safely up onto the beach. I turn and see that Ed is upright, but still far out. I turn again Ed's boat has pitch-poled and he is in the water. I run into the waves to help. He's dragging the swamped kayak towards shore. The waves are trying to tear his boat away. I grab a few pieces of flotsam and help him drag the leaden vessel to higher ground. We bail like madmen, trying to lighten the boat so we can drag it up to dry ground, as the waves are trying to grab it back. And at last - at long last, we are both safe on the beach with all our gear safe and intact. Tired? No, make that comatose. Eight and a half hours ROUGH seas with no stopping, no getting out of the boats. A half can of vegetables and to bed. No, Ed volunteers to make a fire and cook dinner. Ok, we gather firewood in the darkness, manage to get a blaze going in spite of the wind, and soon Ed's cooking pancakes. And surprise, we have two cans of veggies! Our water supply is - to say the least - in short supply. We make a pot of hot Nido (powdered milk). Total supply now: 1 quart. Ed adds milk and shortening to our one remaining egg, and fries it up. Ed says, "the sack will feel good tonight." I reply, "I'm not even going to feel it, one way or the other." So here we were, half a mile from the edge of the La Paz harbor. Today's totals 11-1/2 hours, 40 miles. (Map of La Paz)
La Paz: View Larger Map
DAY 23Up at first light, we hike along the beach to determine just how far the corner of the spit is. The surf is still fairly high. The wind has been blowing all night. Not horrendous, just impossible. We pack up camp and start a portage. Carrying gear and boats, in half an hour we get far enough around the corner to make a shaky exit. Yesterday, had we stopped far short of the harbor, we would be stuck again. But not today. We set off from the beach paddling hard, and both take on water but who cares? We are out, and the way ahead is clear. We paddle around the point, taking an occasional wave over the decks, and at long, long last, we are inside the La Paz harbor. Twenty minutes paddling calm waters, wind and current from behind, and I spot my van at the Posada Hotel. Beaching it for the final time, we walk over and wake up Joe and Susie. The trip is over. Today's total: 1/2 hour, 2 miles.
. . . We grab a set of clean clothes and go for a quick beach shower in front of the Gran Hotel Baja. Then the four of us enjoy brunch at the Hotel's meranda, outside seating. Susie presents a bottle of champagne. Breakfast is huge. With the gentle breeze wafting in, we remark that what was only yesterday the controlling factor in our lives, is today only a cooling breeze. 680 miles by my crude map, 21 days paddling yields an average 32.3 miles per day. From Loreto to La Paz, a distance of 170 miles, we did 42 miles per day with one storm stay-put day. Total hours paddling: 167-1/2, for an average of 4.1 miles per hour cruising speed. . . . On the drive back home from La Paz, the engine in my old van blew up while I was trying to pass a truck. The engine was one I had rebuilt myself, but apparently the machine shop had taken too much out of the cylinder walls. Ed and our driver friend Joe K. hitchhiked back to San Diego and drove Ed's old dilapidated truck back to the rescue. As we were towing my van back into the states, the border guard looked at our rigs and remarked whimsically "This kinda stuff usually goes only one direction across this border, folks."
Ed's article in the San Diego Log
1977 Baja4 John Al