Flexibility and cool make cruise to Baja a breeze


POSTED: Monday, May 25, 2009

SEA OF CORTEZ, MEXICO » When I left Hawaii three weeks ago, the plan was to pick up the boat in San Carlos on the Mexican mainland, sail across the Sea of Cortez to Baja and there go south to meet Craig, who would be riding his bicycle north from La Paz. We would communicate our locations by iPhone.

It was a simple scheme, we thought, an adventure easy to execute. But when you travel in Mexico by plane, car, boat and bicycle, don't speak Spanish and cell service is iffy, well, it's best to be flexible.

When I arrived at the boat, I found the steering system broken and replacement parts unavailable in Mexico.

“;We can send the cable overnight to Arizona,”; the worker told me. “;But you'll have drive there to pick it up.”;

“;How long is the drive?”;

“;About six hours,”; he said. “;One way.”;

So I rented a car and spent two days driving through the Sonoran desert.

I enjoyed the arid scenery, and crossing the border was its own adventure, especially when pantomiming the purpose of the gear I was bringing into Mexico.

Boat workers were installing the new system when a text message came from Craig. He'd missed a flight and was in Guadalajara. His bike, however, had gone to La Paz. All he could do was hope for the best.

Finally, 10 days later than planned, it was time for me to make my crossing.

“;You're going alone?”; people in the marina said over and over.

Wondering if I was making a big mistake, I turned down offers for crew and set off at 3 a.m. for the 75-mile crossing, about the same distance as Oahu to Kauai. And that's when all the heat, hassle and headaches fell away.

Single-handing my 37-foot sailboat, Honu, across the Sea of Cortez is one of the best things I've ever done for myself. The wind was perfect, the seas were flat and I scooted across in excellent time. As I entered my destination, Bahia Concepcion, a group of about 100 bottlenose dolphins arrived to congratulate me, as did three large whales. They were too far away to identify, but I didn't care. They were the pat on my back.

I got anchored in time to go snorkeling and nearly cried out with fear, and then joy, as about 75 golden cow-nosed rays swam in formation beneath me like a fleet of yellow kites. There are no coral reefs here, but I discovered forests of tall seaweed that shelter swarms of fish and invertebrates.

In the meantime, Craig was cycling north. Since my calls to him failed, I could only sail to our previously arranged meeting place and wait until he showed up.

Before I could pull up the anchor, in rolled a fog bank so thick I couldn't see the shoreline or even the boats anchored next to me. Fog is common here this time of year when the desert is hot and the water is still cool.

Hours later, still enshrouded in fog, I left anyway, again wondering if I was heading for trouble. But the fog ended in an abrupt line as I headed south, and a few hours later, as I finished securing my anchor, I heard a familiar voice. “;Susan! Hello!”; And there stood Craig with his bicycle, waving from a hilltop. He'd arrived only an hour earlier.

We're exploring new islands, enjoying abundant marine life and still congratulating each other on pulling this off.

We have one more week of sailing together. Of course, we remain flexible.


Susan Scott can be reached at www.susanscott.net.