Archive for December, 2009

La Mordida de la Morena: The Bite of the Moray

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

The mysterious sea becomes even more mysterious at night. 

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We set off in the dinghy right after dinner to explore the small beach in the middle cove of the three at Ensenada Grande. We sat on the soft sand as the sun went down, and the starry sky, shooting stars, and mild evening breeze enticed us to stay until well after dark.


When it was time to head back to the boat, we waded into the shallow warm water and pulled in the dinghy that floated nearby. We were standing in about a foot of water when K reached in and took out the flashlight. As soon as he turned it on, the water at the far end of the cove erupted in a frenzy of creatures jumping out of the sea, as if maddened by the light. Everyone in the bay was astonished, we on the beach, and the inhabitants of the deep.

We think we had unwittingly illuminated a number of predator/prey relationships who were peacefully coexisting in the dark (the lion shall lay down with the lamb, as long as it’s too dark to see).  K saw a big moray jump out of the water about halfway down the beach, heading toward shore like a bolt of lightning. Then in its panic, the creature launched itself out of the water at the shoreline, as if it were going to beach itself. In the next second we saw the dark wriggling form make a hard starboard turn, rocketing down the wash zone towards us.

With no time to react, it slammed into S’s leg. She screamed, and the force of the impact knocked her over. She could still feel the impact deep in her leg as she scrambled out of the water on all fours, significantly slower than the spooked moray. “That hurt!” S complained. K shined the light on her leg and we were shocked to see a deep gash where the creature had hit. The blood from the wound was already making a pink stain in the white sand at her feet.

We wrapped the leg in the sandy towel we’d been sitting on and hurried back to the boat. After cleaning and bandaging the wound, we decided our best option would be to head back to La Paz, since it was obviously going to need stitches and neither of us really wanted it to be a home job.

We’d been anchored in Ensenada Grande for four days, and the boat was nowhere near ready to go. The sinks were full of our dinner’s unwashed dishes, and sewing paraphernalia from S’s ongoing slip-cover project was scattered all over the salon. Snorkel and fishing gear was deployed everywhere. K went to work stowing everything away. It’s hard to describe the state of un-readiness we were in. It would be similar to deciding in the middle of opening presents on Christmas morning that you should load up the family in a Conestoga wagon and leave for California in an hour.

Since it was already 9 PM we decided to wait until early morning to make the 25 mile trip back to town, but when we found ourselves both awake at 2 AM K decided to get ready to go. This meant he had to pull in the secondary anchor, hoist the outboard motor (aka, “Joey Tohatsu”) off the dinghy and bring it below to its perch in the quarter berth, and hoist and tie the dinghy on deck, primarily by himself. And although we’d come to Ensenada Grande to hide out from the forecasted norther, by 3:30 AM we motored out of the bay and turned our tail to the howling north wind, southbound toward La Paz.

We arrived in the La Paz channel around 8 AM, just in time for the local cruiser’s net on VHF Channel 22. After calling in for a recommendation for where we could get stitches, a woman called for us on the radio. Her name was Susan, she and her husband Dennis were from the boat Two Can Play. She asked where we were, if S was bleeding, or if we needed a doctor to come out to the boat. If we wanted she would call her doctor, who speaks English, and she and her husband would come pick us up in her car and take us to him. We were astonished, and gratefully accepted her generous offer.

When we arrived at the Marina de La Paz dinghy dock, Susan spotted S hopping up the ramp on one leg. True to their word, she and Dennis drove us right to the office of Dr. Enrique Tuchmann. On the way, she called her friends at Club Cruceros and arranged to have some crutches made available to ease S’s hobbling. Dennis dropped us off at the door of Dr. Tuchmann’s office, and Susan waited while S got stitched up.


The wound, it turns out, was 3-5 cm deep, but luckily had missed any tendons or major blood vessels. The doctor put everything back together with only seven stitches (three on the inside) and sent us on our way.


After swinging us by a pharmacy to get the antibiotics and pain meds, Susan and Dennis dropped us off, along with the crutches, right back at the dinghy dock. Thank you so much, Susan and Dennis, you couldn’t have made this easier for us!

The whole thing took less than an hour and cost about $1900 less than K’s stitches at Ballard Swedish last spring.

And so it will be Christmas in La Paz with S in the role of Tiny Tim, wishing for turkey but crutching around to the taco shop instead.  “God bless us, every one!”

24°33.90’N 110°24.05’W 16-Dec-09 14:00 PST

Sea Lions of Los Islotes

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

Though we’re not usually in favor of harassing inedible wildlife, particularly if they have sharp pointy teeth and half their name is “Lion”, the opportunity to snorkel among sea lions who have supposedly become accustomed to humans invading their territory seemed too rare to pass up.

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We took advantage of an unusually calm morning and opened up the throttle on the outboard to zip over to Los Islotes at the north end of Isla Partida. 

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Although we would have been happier if they were called Sea Beagles, we hadn’t heard of any sea lion attacks being reported, so we slipped into the water.  The first thing that we noticed was that the fish seemed unafraid, even if they were in disagreement as to which way to go (we’ve all worked on project teams like this one).

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It didn’t take long for the first sea lions to show up to inspect us. 

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Their grace and speed under water was breathtaking (check out these clips: video 1 and video 2).  But did we mention they have sharp teeth?

Most of the sea lions appeared to be youngsters.  They swooped around us and each other, and some of them got curious about what S’s blue fins tasted like.  After being a little freaked, she mustered the courage to let them have a taste.

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It wasn’t until they started coming straight at her face with wide open mouths and blowing bubbles at her that she started to question whether they were really playing.

There was one unnervingly large somber male in the vicinity who looked nothing if not sleepy.  He swam quite slowly with his eyes half closed.  To our relief took little interest in us.

Above water, sea lions are able to make what you’d think were the most uncomfortable surfaces look like feather beds. In the dog world these are known as Comfort Hounds.

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We have no idea how they get on top of these slippery guano covered rocks but they are less likely to get pooped on up there.

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The islands themselves were worth the trip with their crazy rock chimneys and arches. There were boobies (birds) clinging to every nook and cranny, pooping freely and without concern for their sea lion neighbors below (always call the top bunk!).

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24°36.00’N 110°24.00’W 14-Dec-09 14:00 PST

Tenuous Technology

Monday, December 14th, 2009

We operate at the pleasure of several oxymoronic systems upon which we are painfully dependent:

Outboard Motor (who came up with this?)

Inflatable Boat (you gotta be kidding!)

Marine Electronics (zzzzzt!)

Electric Windlass (the motor gets soaked in muddy seawater every time you use it!)

Air Cooled Marine Refrigeration (its 90 F in the cabin, we just need to add a few more btu’s from this ice box so the drinks will be at 40 F)

Although we’ve been fortunate to avoid failures beyond our skills in this category of the ridiculous we had a fright with the fridge last week. One of the refrigerant lines had a wee leak.

EnsenadaGrande 001This triggered an avalanche of questions about what the correct refrigerant charge should be. After blowing most of a can of R134a into it with a drilled out tire pressure chuck I realized it had only leaked a couple of PSI.

These little units have no sight glass, one gauge tap and no manuals. How does one optimize the liquid expansion process for minimum battery consumption you ask?

The expansion plate speaks to K (would you leave the country in a small boat with this man?). Is it liquid or is it gas? (and they say I know nothing about babies).

At the end of the day you add refrigerant until the evaporator plate just freezes but the lines aren’t frosty. Phew, beer’s still chilly, fish isn’t stinking, solar panels are keeping up.

And the angels sang.

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24°30.70’N 110°24.10’W 13-Dec-09 14:00 PST

A Place in the Food Chain

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

It is possible to eat fish every day in this part of the world, but it’s a heck of a lot of work, as any seagull will tell you. K is spending 4-6 hours a day in the water, at least half of this in pursuit of fish and the seagulls who have helped themselves to the fish bucket in the dinghy while he is off on the hunt. Yesterday we lost a nice rock grouper to a seagull. K stole it back from the gull and two vultures (the vultures had not yet stolen it from the gull, but they had that look in their eye). The seagull stole it a second time from the bucket (they always take the big one) and somehow carried it to a more secure location than the adjacent rocks where K repo’ed it the first time.

There has been similar trouble with morays. These rocks are rotten with bossy green moray eels. We unwittingly fed them two bags of cut bait which they enjoyed without troubling themselves over the hooks. K is now fishing with a mask to see if the morays are molesting his best prime grouper bait. It doesn’t stop with the hook and line. These morays have a nose for blood and have been showing up at the scene of any remarkable polespear drama. At one point K shot a rock grouper that was immediately attacked by a moray who’d been in the same hole, while two more popped out to watch with envy. We won that round but it makes us hesitant to press our faces into the rocks crevices in search of fillet.

For the moment we are at the seagull level on the food chain. This may change, full disclosure requires K to admit hallucinating fried chicken drumsticks in place of seagulls and when he closes his eyes he sees a huge rock grouper slipping into a crack in the rocks.

24°33.96’N 110°24.52’W 13-Dec-09 15:42 UTC

A Walk On the Rock

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

After a week of floating in the Puerto Ballena we made an amphibious landing on the cliffy peninsula in search of unusual life and geology.

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It was all unusual and its uniqueness was due to the unusual heat. Outside the mangroves its hard to find shade even for a slip of a girl with a big hat.

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This desert chameleon was hanging on the shady side of a rock.

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He was probably looking for a delicious purple striped cricket

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Or a big honkin’ desert berry

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There has to be a trick here. This wretched little plant is a desiccated and forlorn specimen and yet it pops out a huge delicious looking berry. Awfully suspicious.

And another thing, why bother with the vicious mini-cactus message if you are going to provide little succulent red morsels.

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Finally from the worst sticker bush ever, the no-nonsense desert behavior we expect, sending a clear message to anyone craving salad

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24°28.64’N 110°22.63’W 08-Dec-09 22:00 PST

After Midnight

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Many of you must have wondered what it’s like to spend the night on a boat in a new and unusual anchorage.


It turns out that not only can you read a newspaper in the light of a desert full moon, you can also take weird pictures.


Its nice to look out a port and see all the rocks around as the wind and tide swing the boat through a disorienting nighttime waltz.


While we did not identify any lunacy effects (admittedly difficult with a normally high baseline), it was light enough to go for a stroll on deck without losing a toe to the fixtures, and perhaps carry out some light maintenance and cleaning.


In fact the moon was so bright it stayed up all day, lighting up the dark side of every cactus in the land.

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24°28.00’N 110°22.50’W 08-Dec-09 14:00 PST

Back in Action

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

The wedding was grand. Lots of incense, icons and smoochin.116

We were sad to leave the big family gathering and a little disoriented crossing the border in Tijuana to catch our flight and “go home” to La Paz.

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But La Paz has been a great town to operate out of. We admit to treating Mexico as a zoo of natural wonders, a grocery store and fuel station. At some point we will slow down and observe this ancient nation as it should be observed, but probably not in La Paz.

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After a day or two of errands we headed for Isla Espiritu Santo, a national park with excellent anchorages and spectacular desert scenery and lots of gringo boats.

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SundayAM 021 We anchored between some islands next to a cliff with cactus sentries guarding a thriving coral reef below.


We took a hike up the back side for the view from the top.

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For several days we had the place to ourselves with occasional visits from skiffs setting seines and gill nets.

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Its hard to beat this spot anchored a few hundred feet off a reef full of snapper with an unnatural interest in the business end of the pole spear (yes, the parts came from the Shilshole dumpster).  Curiosity has killed some snappers and fed the crew.

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24°28.40’N 110°22.85’W 08-Dec-09 14:00 PST

Birds of the Mangrove

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

The birds of Baja gather in Mangrove stands to relax in the shade and amuse visitors.

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We held the constant attention of at least one buzzard every minute of the day. Happily they were all disappointed by our good health and safety conscious mortality avoidance procedures.

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We call this one Darth Vulture.

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The birds that actually sit in Mangrove trees are pretty skittish.

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We take their pictures.

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And they fly away.

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Eventually we learned how to sneak on them.

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This guy had a serious cowlick.

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He might have taken some grooming tips from this guy:

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who was elegant from every direction but the rear

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24°28.60’N 110°22.10’W 08-Dec-09 14:00 PST