Saturday, November 17, 2007

FUBAR: A most memorable birthday

Date: November 14, 2007
Time: 08:00
Position: North 24 45.87, West 112 14.85, Bahia Santa Maria
Visibility: Unlimited under blue skies and scattered cumulus clouds
Temperature 69 degrees Fahrenheit

08:00—Today is my 60th birthday. Sitting in Pacific Escort’s saloon, I open birthday cards from my wife, Joyce, and sister Kathy. If they were here, everything would be perfect. Well, hopefully next time ... Otherwise, I would have to say this is one of the most memorable birthdays I have ever had.

We are still anchored in pristine Bahia Santa Maria, three-quarters of the way down the Baja Peninsula. However, there is little time to contemplate the picturesque beauty of this place. It’s high tide, and James, Eric, Jay and Jeff are anxious to explore the Canal San Carlos—a series of estuaries and channels that meander for miles parallel to the coast. We jump in the tender and are off—skimming the surface of the bay, headed for the sand bar and surf break that marks the mouth of the estuary.

The estuary and channels are a completely different world: An oasis of life in this desolate land, its banks are thick with Mangrove trees that several species of birds call home. A hawk circles overhead and fish jump as we approach. Ever the angler, James trolls a line behind us. About a half-mile in, we pass one of several fish camps. These tiny, little settlements are the homes of the local fishermen and their families. They look ramshackle and temporary, but always neat and orderly. Their inhabitants wave as we pass—the coast of Baja is still largely wild and uninhabited, but the isolated groups of native Mexicans who live here are always welcoming and friendly.

We explore several channels, following each one until it ends in an overgrowth of mangroves and we can go no further. At one point Jeff shouts, “Look out!” and Eric, at the helm, quickly turns to tender to avoid a sunken sailboat, its mast gone and the deck barely visible below the surface. How did it get here? Why did it sink? This is not a dangerous environment—there are no rocks or pounding surf to sink it. One can only speculate.

Back on board Pacific Escort we weigh anchor and move the boat to a dive spot near the entrance to the bay. But first, Eric and Jeff take advantage of the calm seas and take turns being towed on a surfboard. When we reach the dive spot, James, Jay and Jeff load the tender with spear guns, wet suits, snorkels and fins and head off to do some spear fishing. A half hour later they return triumphant. James, who seems to be half marine mammal, has speared a 60-pound grouper, which is quickly cleaned in preparation for the FUBAR potluck dinner later tonight.

12:00—We are heading south along Isla Santa Maria, the volcanic island that separates Bahia Santa Maria from the larger Bahia Magdalena—tonight’s destination. At 12:30 we enter Bahia Magdalena. Roughly 15 miles wide, it, and the adjoining Bahia Almejas, run for about 50 miles along the coast, sheltered by hilly, islands of ancient lava—another perfect bay. We make our way to the North-West corner of the bay, where most of the FUBAR fleet has anchored, just off the little fishing village of Bahia Magdalena—195 adults and 56 children, the welcome sign at the local restaurant proudly proclaims.

13:16—The local panga fishing boats have deposited us, and the members of the rest of the fleet, here for a potluck dinner. James’ grouper—fried in butter and garlic—is a big hit, as are the other delicacies the feet’s fishermen have brought. These dinners are a great way for the members of the fleet, who otherwise are restricted to communicating by VHF radio, to get caught up on all the news and gossip. The skippers I talk to, who were novice cruisers at the beginning of the rally, now exhibit a growing confidence in their abilities.

Before we head back to the Pacific Escort, I take a walk along the beach that fronts the village—past the stacked lobster pots, piles of netting and beached fishing boats. This town is small and poor, but it does have electricity. When the author John Steinbeck came this way in 1941, traveling aboard the fishing trawler Western Flyer, on an expedition to collect and catalog flora and fauna, he wondered if electrification would bring the benefits and the evils of modern civilization to these people. From the look of things, they have not suffered too much from either. However, Larry Lu Core, skipper of Brown Eyed Girl, who has a house in upper Baja, on the Sea of Cortez, notes that development has taken hold all up and down the coast in that area, and he believes the growing tourism is a good thing for the people of the region.

The party breaks up around sunset and we head back to our waiting boats, anchored just offshore; however, Jim and Eric still have work to do. One of the boats has generator problems, so they take the tender and go over to it to see what they can do. It turns out to be relatively simple. Air got in the fuel line, when the skipper switched filters. A quick bleeding of the system and everything is fine.

James Kirby, left, and Jim Leishman celebrate birthdays aboard Pacific Escort.

Back on board Pacific Escort, we have a little party in celebration of Jim Leishman’s birthday, a few days ago, and my own, today. The younger members of our crew—James, Eric, Jeff and Jay—stay up to party, but we put to sea again tomorrow and I’m on the 06:00 watch, so I turn in early.

--James Kirby, aboard Pacific Escort in Bahia Santa Maria, and loving it

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