Monday, November 19, 2007

FUBAR: Exploring Magdalena Bay

Date: November 15, 2007
Time: 08:00
Position: North 24 32.76, West 112 05.76
Location: Magdalena Bay, Baja Sur, Mexico

08:00—It’s beautiful day: Sunny and bright, low humidity, clear, still air, the temperature about 70 degrees. Magdalena Bay, where we are anchored, is glass smooth, with a barely perceptible swell. I’m having a cup of coffee in the pilothouse of Pacific Escort. Already, most of the FUBAR fleet has sailed, beginning the 185-nautical mile passage to our next destination, Cabo San Jose in the Sea of Cortez. At eight knots, it should take them about 22 hours. As always we will be just about the last to leave, ready to help any stragglers along the way who may have problems. Thus far, our job has been pretty easy. Other than one boat that had hydraulic steering problems, our work has been restricted to helping fix the odd generator or plumbing problem.

With some time on our hands and the water and weather so perfect, Jim Leishman, skipper of Pacific Escort, his wife, Sue, and I decide to go explore the estuaries and canals at the north end of the bay. So we pile into the tender and are off, skimming across the bay at around 15 knots. Our only companions this morning are the ever-present pelicans. A flock of about 10 birds is gliding along next to us—wing tips just inches above the calm water. Like many sea birds, they take advantage of a phenomenon know as ground effect—riding the cushion of air trapped between their wings and the water—and can go for hundreds of feet without flapping.

We cross the bar at the mouth of the estuary and quickly realize that we have entered a completely different environment. Anchored in the bay, we can see for miles in every direction—the distant tan and dark gray lava hills the only discernable feature visible between the ocean and sky. However, the estuary is lined with towering mangroves trees that form an impenetrable green wall on each side. Silent and somewhat imposing, it reminds me of the jungle river ride at Disneyland, or a scene from the movie Apocalypse Now. Is Colonel Kurtz waiting for us up river? I find myself repeating one of the lines from the movie: “Never get off the boat.”

In the arid desert, just on the other side of the mangroves, life is sparse; here in the estuary, it is everywhere you look: Fish jump as we approach, Spanish moss hangs from branches and spider webs fill the space between them. Flocks of pelicans sleep on the bigger limbs, while sandpipers work the shore.

We spend about an hour exploring the various channels—Jim occasionally cutting the engine and letting the tender drift, so we can listen to the birds. Then we head back across the bay to Pacific Escort, first stopping by Que Será to get a weather update from FUBAR chairman and chief wrangler, Bruce Kessler. He tells us that no change is predicted—just more of the same: blue skies and calm seas under the Pacific High.

09:30—The anchor is weighed (a task made ridiculously easy thanks to Pacific Escort’s Maxwell windlass) and we are headed out of Magdalena Bay. On the way, we motor through a huge school of Mexican Crabs. Measuring about two to three inches across and red in color, they float just below the surface as far as we can see in every direction. Again, I marvel the contrast between the teaming life of the ocean and the barreness of the land. We cross the wide mouth of the Bay and head out into the calm, blue Pacific—185 miles to go to Cabo San Jose and the Sea of Cortez.

“The coastline of the Peninsula slid along, brown and desolate and dry with strange flat mountains and rocks torn by dryness, and the heat shimmer hung over the land . . .”
John Steinbeck

11:35—We arrive at the wreck of the Aurora—a Nordhavn 62 washed up on a small rocky, inaccessible beach beneath towering lava headland. Eric, Jeff and I take the tender over for a closer look, while Pacific Escort circles a half-mile offshore. It is a strange thing to see a boat—almost a ship—lying on its side, abandoned and forlorn. Apparently, she was heading north at night, with a competent skipper and crew of three aboard, when she ran into uncharted, submerged rocks off the small point just north of our position. With her propeller and rudder disabled, she drifted south for about a mile and fetched up on the shore. Unfortunately, the one crewmember died, but rest of the crew were eventually rescued.

In this age of GPS, chart plotters and radar, one wonders how such a thing can happen, but there are few landmarks or aids to navigation (or anything else for that matter) along this stretch of coast. It can be so dark that you can’t distinguish anything 100 feet in front of you and if conditions are stormy, or the water is rough, the radar may not distinguish the shore from sea clutter. Also, if the vessel is being steered by an autopilot on a magnetic heading, the current can set your vessel in toward the shore and you may never know it until it is too late.

We circle in the tender just offshore—Jeff and Eric serious and silent—no doubt contemplating the untimely destruction of something they so lovingly created. Finally, they make a few observations about how tough she is. Remarkably, despite several years of pounding surf working her against the rocks, Aurora’s superstructure and hull are still completely intact, with only a few gouges visible below the waterline. She looks like she could be re-floated and live again; however, James, who is an excellent swimmer and has been on her, says that despite the inaccessibility of her location, she is pretty well stripped. We snap a few pictures, head back to Pacific Escort and continue our voyage south—thankful for the fair winds, gentle, following sea and unlimited visibility under blue skies.

15:30—On the afternoon watch. We are about 20 miles off the coast, doing 8.7 knots. There’s a sailboat four miles off our port bow. With a 15-knot wind off her starboard quarter, sailing conditions are ideal and she is easily keeping up with us. But the wind speed drops and we eventually catch up to her. As we pass her, she unexpectedly turns into the wind (in irons)—something is wrong with her headsail-furling unit and somebody has to gone forward and fix it. I realize, maybe I don’t want to be sailing after all. Here on Pacific Escort, we make 8 knots, regardless of the wind and there is practically no need to venture out on the foredeck unless you want to. If you choose to do so you are about ten feet above the water and protected by 30-inch railings. As my watch ends, I go out on the Portuguese bridge forward of the pilothouse to watch the last rays of the sun—still no green flash. The smell of fresh grilled fish drifts forward from the cooker on the cockpit railing. I love coming off watch to a home-cooked meal.

--James Kirby, eating well aboard Pacific Escort


Anonymous said...

Hi i am interested in find the owners of the Nordhavn 62 in magdalena bay , and read about your trip to the boat can i ask you if have more photos to evaluate and prepare a trip to it? thanks

Anonymous said...

Hi i am interested in find the owners of the Nordhavn 62 in magdalena bay , and read about your trip to the boat can i ask you if have more photos to evaluate and prepare a trip to it? thanks

MLMBlogs said...

My Friend Ed Eudis is building a resort there just on the other side of the Estuaries. My wife and I will be moving down there toward the end of the year.

I just came from there and cannot wait to go back. I have been to Cabo many times but have not felt the peace like I do at Mag Bay.

We have 8 more lots to sell to investors and estimate the building will start in August. It's going to be beautiful!