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Exploring the Sea of Cortez (part two): Shoes, ships & Shakira singing

December 5, 2018, San Francisco Island,Baja California Sur.  This island is notable for its high, barren, rocky walls “with a trail going up to the top.” We had arrived yesterday through a very choppy sea, but this morning the surface is as smooth as glass and I get what I hope will be a magnificent picture of sunrise – dawn, actually – through my porthole.

pg7aAfter breakfast, we find our boat totally surrounded by sardines. The schools swirl like clouds of underwater starlings. Among them we can occasionally see needlefish, which are truly long, thin and pointy, at least a foot long. “They are only dangerous if you happen to get in their way,” I am told. Richard and Chris go snorkeling and once again see an astounding variety of exotic fish.

We raise anchor and glide across the mirror-smooth water a couple of kilometers to Bahía Amortajada (Chopped-up Bay). Now and again a manta ray leaps into the air alongside the boat. We anchor off a shore covered with a forest of Giant Cardon cacti, said to be the tallest in the world. Here there is a river filled with mangroves leading to a small lake. Chris spots a turkey vulture, kingfisher, white ibis, night heron, snowy egret and gulls. “In the mangroves all we saw were crabs,” he reports later, “but these mangrove plants were all making a popping sound. We felt like we were inside a corn popper.”

pg7bAnd now the time has come to speak of many things: wearing shoes on ships, for example.

Shoes, I discover, are anathema on sailboats. “But I brought along boat shoes, Captain!” I complain.

“Unless they have white soles, don’t use ‘em.”

Yes, the way you get around a sailboat is in bare feet and since the deck is always wet, this adds up to one very slippery combination – but worry not, mate! A steel cable serves as a sort of railing all around the deck. Unfortunately, instead of being at waist level where you might be able to grab it when falling, it is set only about 2.5 feet high, just perfect to flip you over when you are off balance and plunge you into the brine.

Ah, the brine! Yes, Colderidge was right. There is water, water, everywhere, but the first time I turned on the faucet of the kitchen sink (a bit forcefully, I must admit), all the rest of the crew gasped in horror: 


“John what are you doing?” You’re wasting water!”

I turned the spigot back so only a dribble came out and heard no more complaints – I had been inducted into the regime: sweet water is precious on a ship. If you have to pee, pee over the stern; if you want to bathe, jump into the ocean.

December 6. We are on our way to San José. This is part of the mainland connected by a long rough road to La Paz. We drop anchor at a place called Nopaló, where there is a very rocky beach and an isolated house … from which the wind wafts music to us over the waves. It’s Shakira singing!  Binoculars reveal a little girl doing cartwheels to the music, on the porch.

By now I realize I will miss a lot if I don’t join my crewmates on their shore visits. I put on my swimsuit, stuff my shore clothing into a dry bag, carefully slide onto the “popsickle stick kayak” and paddle ashore with

Rodrigohanging on behind and acting as my motor. We stroll down the beach to the home of Señora León, a jolly lady who immediately says, “sí sí” when we ask whether she might be able to fry us some fish for which we would be happy to pay her. While waiting for our dinner, we wander along a path paralleling a rough wall of pg8bvolcanic rock dotted with shelter caves. The trail takes us to the local cemetery where we find only the graves of people named León, some with very large and impressive tombstones. It seems amazing that generations of the same family have lived in this isolated place.

Setting foot on land reveals that we are no longer landlubbers. The salt cedars along the trail all seem to be swaying – but there’s no wind! And later, when we sit down in Señora León’s kitchen we all remark how curiously the walls are dancing and how amazing it is that nothing is rolling across the table.


Our ebullient hostess serves us a delicious meal of rice, broccoli and truly exquisite fried dorado (mahi mahi). We return to the boat stuffed and happy and spend the night anchored in the same bay.

The next morning Señora León shouts from shore asking us if we’d like her to cook us breakfast, but getting ashore is too complicated a process and, besides, it’s raining.

Rain! I thought this boat had a lot of leaks when it’s under full throttle, with everything being hit by spray, but a light rain resulted in water dripping in new and unexpected places. We must have had ten pots, pans and dishes spread all across the floor: Plink plink plink!

But, undaunted, we continue on our way. Our way, after all, is God’s Way. How could anything go wrong?

Coming up: the third and final chapter of the Saga of the Sea of Cortez.

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