Vol 2, Iss 5: Are we really going to do this?
December 28, 2022 | El Mezteño, Isla Espíritu Santo, Baja California Sur, Mexico | 24º30’56” N , 110º23’27” W | Wind: 18 kts N | Weather: 70ºF, partly cloudy
El Mezteño, Isla Espíritu Santo, Baja California Sur, Mexico
Happy New Year! If in the holiday hustle and bustle you missed the story of our sleigh ride down the sea, you can find it here. Happy reading!
“Do you see anything?”
I try to detangle myself from the thorny bush I thought might be hiding the trail before yelling back, “Nope! Trail’s not over here.”
We’re here looking for the trailhead we’ve heard leads to the best lookout in all of Isla Espíritu Santo. “The view…if you can find the trail…is worth the long and strenuous climb,” read the review that inspired today’s adventure.
Most of the hiking we’ve done together has been on the well-maintained trails in Washington. Yes, you may climb 3,000 ft in 3 miles, but all you have to do is continue to put one foot in front of the other all the way to the top. On this ‘trail’, it looks like we’re in for a long afternoon of navigating, following a loose series of markers left by the kind hikers who’ve blazed the trail for us.
Finally we see a cairn, a manmade pile of rocks marking a route up the canyon. Lifting our feet over cacti, we make it to the first cairn and immediately begin scanning the canyon for the next. The cairns camouflage themselves in the surrounding rocks of the same shade. Only its unnatural shape reveals its role as a trail marker.
Andrés Jacobo spots the next cairn about 20 ft in front of us and 5 ft above us. He climbs toward it, me following a couple feet behind.
A rhythm emerges as he navigates the trail. “Cairn!” He yells every couple of minutes, indicating we’re on the right general path. Climb. Climb. Climb. Look. Look. Look. There! Another cairn!
Climb. Climb. Climb.
Look. Look. Look.
I fall in step behind him and my mind begins to wander to last night’s discussion. We’ve been poring over Jimmy Cornell’s Ocean Pilot Charts to prepare to cross the Pacific Ocean this winter.
In typical boating fashion, crossing an ocean is less than straightforward. There is no Google Maps app where we can enter “Current Location” as our starting point and “French Polynesia” as our destination. Instead we have the pilot charts with some general directions on how to get across the biggest ocean in the world.
Do we leave Mexico in February and risk not giving the famous Trade Winds enough time to fill in?
Do we leave in March and risk battling an additional 300 miles of the infamous doldrums before we make landfall?
Do we cross the equator at 120º W as recommended in “World Cruising Routes”? Or at 125ºW mentioned in the pilot charts? Or at 130º like our friends did last year?
“Cairn,” my thoughts interrupted by Andrés Jacobo’s confirmation we’re on the right path.
Climb. Climb. Climb. Look. Look. Look. Cairn! Up, up, and up we go, one cairn at a time.
We loved hosting our sisters, Paula from NYC and Anne Marie from Philly, and our friend Annie from Bellingham and showing them around La Paz.
We were pretty proud ‘tour guides’ when on our sail with Anne Marie and Annie we found ourselves surrounded by a pod of big bottlenose dolphins. “Dolphins! Dolphins!” We shouted. Unfortunately, trying to be good tour guides, we had given our guests Dramamine to fight seasickness. They were barely able to rouse from their Dramamine-induced slumber to catch a glimpse, murmur, ‘…yeah dolphins….’, before falling right back asleep.
We spent a month in La Paz so we (read: Andrés Jacobo) could watch the World Cup. We loved joining the local fans at the bars on the Malecón to watch Mexico play the early games and to watch Messi finally clinch a World Cup victory.
We’ve been at it for an hour, bouldering more than hiking. The rocks in the arroyo have gotten bigger and bigger as we climb.
Right hand reaches up, feeling for a strong handhold. Left foot finds a toe hold. Left arm up to hoist my body up through the crevice. Step up, reach, pull, hoist, rinse, repeat.
The smell of our own sweat is thankfully overpowered by the whiffs of eucalyptus plants tucked into the rocks.
We get much needed refreshment as the northern winds spill over the tops of the island, whistling through the nooks and crannies of the canyon, rustling the branches of the few tees that can survive here from one rainy season to the next. The winds tickle our faces, imparting a bit of motivation to continue the climb.
“How much of the trail have we done?” I inquire of my navigator, Andrés Jacobo. He pulls out the photo of the ‘trail map’ we snapped from our cruising guide. “I’d guess…maybe a quarter of the trail?”
Long and strenuous…the trail reviewer was right!
Abruptly, our rhythm is disrupted:
Climb. Climb. Climb. Look. Look. Look…..Look. Look. Look. …Climb. Climb. Climb. Look. Look. Look.
No cairns in sight.
We look left….pretty shrubby. We look right…pretty hefty boulders.
We’ve lost the trail, having seen the last cairn a full 15 minutes ago. “Let’s split up. I’ll go left and climb up for a better view,” Andrés Jacobo proposes. I continue in our general direction. Dead end. Move to the right. Another dead end.
I am doubling back to our last known cairn when I hear Andrés Jacobo a couple hundred feet above me. “Cairns! I see them up ahead of you. Can you get to where I’m pointing?”
All I see are large boulders. But if I cross this rock to the right and heave my body over that rock, I think I can make progress. “I’ll try,” I shout back to him.
Climbing boulder after boulder, I consider one of the most pressing challenges of an upcoming ocean crossing. Our current ocean crossing plan hinges on getting a 6-month visa from the French government. The visa has been a headache, a problem we’ve not been able to solve.
What if we can’t get the 6-month visa?
Should we still try to sail to French Polynesia even if we only have 90 days to explore it?
Should we stay only 90 days then sail for Hawaii?
Should we rush through the islands in the 3 months and hope one of the more Western island groups will give us an extended visa?
We prefer linear decision-making processes, but our discussions this week have been circular. We consider, discuss, decide…then double back to reconsider, re-discuss, re-decide. Back and forth, round and round we go.
If a 6-month stay in French Polynesia isn’t an option, where’s our sign indicating we’re on the right path? We’re desperate for something we can point to one day and say, “We followed the path laid out before us.”
Thankfully, I lift my body up over a boulder to find myself standing next to cairn. We’re back in business, but we’re making progress at a snail’s pace.
No wonder when we look again at the map 20 minutes later, we’re still….a quarter of the way through the trail. Have we made any actual progress? Are we ever going to make it to the top?
The French truly take bureaucracy to a whole new level. We’ve been battling it for 3 months, trying to get an extended visa, but no luck. Merde!
We spent a non-traditional Christmas in El Mezteño so we went for a non-traditional holiday meal: homemade pizza and boccadillo. Andrés Jacobo made this Colombian dessert for me on our second date, baking a very ripe plantain in the oven before topping it with guayaba paste and queso fresco.
¡Ven a nuestras almas! ¡Ven no tardes tanto!
Colombians celebrate Advent with nightly readings, prayers, and songs called La Novena. We celebrate with fewer tambourines and maracas than is traditional, but it’s still nice to keep the tradition alive on our travels.
The boulders have thinned out and we’re trekking along on a flatter path. The smaller rocks mean less crawling up and over mammoth boulders, but also mean we travel on less stable foundation.
The ground shifts below our feet. That rock is not as stable as it looks.
The sound of rocks sliding reaches your ears and your entire body braces itself before you realize it was the rocks under his feet.
“You okay?” I check on Andrés Jacobo up ahead. “Yeah,” he replies, regaining his footing.
It’s been an hour since we last looked at the trail map. The trail has to end soon and we’re pretty sure it ends on top of a ridge. The reviews warned us it’s hard to find the crossover between this arroyo we’ve been climbing and the ridge with the final viewpoint.
The trail map indicates we should keep going on the arroyo…but is that a cairn on the ridge to our left? A cairn or a coincidence?
Do we stay on the ’trail’ or trust our gut and go for the ridge?
Andrés Jacobo finds a relatively clear path and climbs to the top to scout it out.
I continue on in the slippery arroyo, careful not to twist an ankle, and I start to consider our options for an ocean crossing. We’re in a La Niña year now which they forecast to transition into ‘neutral conditions’ in March and then into El Niño at the end of 2023. Conventional wisdom says La Niña conditions make for a much more pleasant experience in French Polynesia, though it also makes the ocean counter currents stronger. Do we rush our departure and shoot for a La Niña arrival in French Polynesia or do we wait and avoid an epic battle against the currents?
It’s always a balancing act, weighing the advice of trusted sources with common sense consideration of our personal situation and the actual weather we encounter. If we rush, we’ll set off on the passage exhausted from all the preparations. If we linger, we may close the door on the option to sail to Hawaii afterwards.
A couple minutes later Andrés Jacobo interrupts my rumination, “This is the ridge! I can see those reefs we tried to snorkel last year. It’s WAAAAY easier to hike up here.”
I climb up to the ridge through the brambles, careful to avoid the worst of the thorns. Up top, he’s right. We clearly made the right decision to leave the trail and traverse the ridge given the solid ground and little vegetation under our hiking boots.
And then there it is.
We’re at the top of Isla Espíritu Santo with a 360º view of the island and a bird’s eye view of Calleta Partida cradling 9 boats in the anchorage below.
The view is breathtaking. We’re standing on the southern rim of what was once a volcano whose crater on the east and west sides has eroded into the sea. We marvel at the rippled sandbanks caused by the alternating waves and daily tide changes. Vultures effortlessly ride the thermals around us, perhaps waiting for less fit hikers to attempt the trek. The mountains of the Sierra de la Giganta stand guard over the peninsula to the West.
This has got to be the best hike with the best view we’ve done in Mexico.
Reluctantly we turn our backs to the view so we can scurry back to Ana María before it’s dark.
“You know, I almost gave up,” Andrés Jacobo calls back to me as we pick our path back down the arroyo.
“Oh yeah? When?”
“When we checked and we were a quarter of the way to the lookout and then we lost the cairns then found them again and checked 20 minutes later and we were still only a quarter of the way.”
In my mind, I start to catalog all of the days we’ve come *this close* to quitting sailing: The day the epoxy caught on fire and we realized boat work was harder than we ever dreamed it would be. The day I sailed into Bodega Bay with a broken leg. The day after we rolled all night in the Los Gatos anchorage. The day we found out about Dad’s lymphoma. The day just last week when the stress of just the idea of an ocean passage overwhelmed us both.
“That was worth it,” he calls back again, still thinking of the view from the top.
“Yes,” I agree. “So worth it.”
We’re gonna go for it. We’re gonna try to cross the Pacific Ocean this winter. Lots can happen between now and then (and during the actual crossing), but for now, here’s the plan:
We’ll look for a weather window between mid-February and early April to sail from La Paz, B.C.S., Mexico to Hiva Oa, Marquesas, French Polynesia.
We’ll sail the 2,700 nautical mile trans-equatorial route on our 34 ft Pacific Seacraft.
Given our 100-mile-a-day average and the windless doldrums mid-way, we expect the passage to take 30 days of non-stop sailing.
We also expect this to be the hardest thing we’ve ever done. As a double-handed crew with one of us always needing to be on watch, it will be quite the challenge of endurance and sailing strategy.
We have it on good authority, though, that when it comes to the magnificent cruising grounds of French Polynesia, the view is worth the climb.
French Polynesia will give us 90 days to explore the islands. After that, well, we’ll balance conventional wisdom with weather conditions and our personal circumstances to make the next decision.
I’ve formulated a plan to bring you along with us on the passage with update emails every 5-ish days. If you know someone who wants to join in the adventure, tell them to subscribe at www.CoCaptainsLog.com before January 21.
Subscribe before January 21 to join us for the adventure across the Pacific Ocean.
Fair winds and following seas in 2023!
S/v Ana María
P.S. Click here to see our view from El Mezteño.
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See photos: Instagram @CoCaptainsLog
That was easily one of the best hikes we found in Baja California. Being from Medellín, would Andrés advise us for or against sailing to Colombia? I've only spent a couple weeks there backpacking and it felt very safe, but I wasn't on a sailboat...
That is a great recap of your hike and the trials and tribulations of planning your crossing. Aña (of sv Robusta) and I hiked the north canyon to the top (read bouldered up and down the ravine for six hours). Wow, so beautiful! And, I agree... it too was the best hike I've done in Mex so far. I hope all comes together favorably with your long-term visa. I can't wait to follow along.