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~ Chapter Twenty One ~
Bahia de los Angeles to Bahia de Gonzaga
Up at the break of dawn I peeked over the rail of the Vaka Viti and noticed Rosa sweeping her front porch in the bright morning sun. Tex was still sleeping. I thought it would be a nice gesture to thank Rosa again for dinner and her hospitality from the night before, so I shuffled across the moist sand to give her a hug say good-bye. I handed her a few dollars for the dinner and a fly swatter for a gift. She graciously accepted both and I waved adios and smiled at her as I headed back to the boat.
I pulled up the anchors and tried unsuccessfully several times to start the small outboard motor. It sounded tired and I was sympathetic to the cause. The 1993 motor was almost 10 years old. She had served me well during my long trek and had performed admirably under the trying circumstances. But my journey was not yet over and I needed her to come to life a few more times before putting her out to pasture. She finally sputtered then started and we slipped out to sea with the hopes of calm waters and Bahia de Gonzaga as my afternoon destination.
The scary thing about today's leg was the lack of ports to tuck into in the event of high winds. I remember reading about the feedback the local fishermen gave Graham Mackintosh when he inquired about walking along this desolate 100 mile stretch of coastline a few years back. The local vote was unanimous...don't do it. The cliffs rise from the sea almost vertically most of the way and there are no beaches or coves to provide shelter. But since Graham was one of the few people who had encouraged me to take on this coastal adventure, I knew that somehow I could complete this leg successfully if luck was running with me. Unfortunately the wind picked up even more before I was even 10 miles north of Bahia de los Angeles.
But the winds were just part of the problem. Another annoying feature was the occasional "wash machine" churnings of the sea in various areas. In the past I had heard that the Sea of Cortez ran deep in this location and that the upwellings of water from lower depths often came up to the surface with turbulent effects. But hearing about these sections of choppy water during a conversation over a cold beer verses the reality of actually plowing through them in a small boat was two different things. Throwing a strong wind in the mix made crossing these cauldrons a tricky test of wit and muscle.
As if it wasn't enough that I had winds, cross-waves and no place to hole up in an emergency, I developed a new problem. The motor started to run rough and then it finally died right in front of one particularly nasty section of cliff. I had to think fast because the current and the winds were pushing me quickly towards the rocky shore. I had to make a decision to either drop the anchors or keep floating and push hard to trouble shoot the engine. Thinking I had a minute or two before I got too close to the cliffs, I decided to see if I could get the motor running again. It didn't take long to figure out the problem...I was out of gas!
Fighting the wind, waves and choppy waters that morning had caused me to burn off much more fuel than I normally would have. I quickly grabbed a 5 gallon tank from the front of the boat and poured it into the main 15 gallon tank. I added a container of oil to the gas, and then pulled the starter rope. The Yamaha came to life with the first pull and I moved forward with very little time to spare. After getting far enough away from the cliffs to feel comfortable I stopped and put two additional cans of gasoline in the main tank. I could only hope that the remaining gas on board would be enough to get me to Bahia de Gonzaga. There were no other fuel stops or fish camps along the way to bail me out.
I grew optimistic in the afternoon as I neared the southern end of Gonzaga Bay at Punta Final. I knew once I rounded the point I could always hug the coast of the large protected bay and work my way over the six miles to Gonzaga. To my delight the winds diminished as I headed west around Punta Final and the water actually became glassy. My worries melted like a cup of yogurt on a hot summer day and I began to put on my fun cap again. I had always wanted to explore the various pristine coves just east of the Punta Final sandspit, and this seemed like the perfect time to do it. This collection of small emerald bays was known to the locals as Snoopy Cove because it resembles a beagle from a skyward vantage point. I slowly motored into the protected bay and discovered cove after cove just begging for snorkeling or a picnic.
After I explored every square yard of the Snoopster I headed across the calm bay to the center of attention in Gonzaga Bay, Alphonsina's Resort. 'Resort' is a term used loosely to describe this outpost, but seems almost appropriate considering the remote location. Alphonsina was spending less time running the show each year, but her son Juaqine was a very conscientious young man with a lovely bride and a new son, and he was doing well filling in his mother's zapatas.
I knew the tide was going out so I dropped anchor in 6 feet of water and swam to shore with my gas cans. I was offered a ride to get gas at nearby Rancho Grande by a worker named Miguel, so we drove one mile to the main road to fill 'er up. It was always nice to get the gasoline routine out of the way, knowing I was ready to motor at the drop of a sombrero. Back at Alphonsina's I started talking with a couple of guys who had just driven in from Dana Point, California. They had heard about the spectacular kayaking in and around Bahia de Gonzaga and immediately started to provision for a late afternoon paddle. I headed to the Margarita Deck above Alphonsina's and decided to drink in the spectacular view while capturing my thoughts in my journal. With 2 shrimp boats sitting at anchor in the harbor and the water glistening like a mirror, it was one of the best views in Baja.
I noticed Juaqine talking downstairs with several gentlemen from the Mexico Tourism Office. I had seen these same men talking to Guillermo in Bahia de los Angeles the day before about the proposed "Nautical Ladder" along Baja's coast. The idea was to set up a series of ports on both coasts of Baja for boaters to obtain services, and input from the resort owners along the coast was a very important part of the planning process. Later in the afternoon, after the meeting was over, I told Jaquine that it might help encourage boating tourism if visitors didn't have to stop in every port and go through the Immigration/Customs/Bank routine. I explained that I started off an honest sailor on my trip, but soon started ducking the system because of the time and money involved in doing the process properly. He was very sympathetic to my feedback and said he would bring the issue up with the authorities at his next meeting.
Soon the sun was setting and the sky turned bright yellow. The kayakers had returned as the last slice of daylight melted from the sky, and we all sat down to a meal of shrimp, rice, beans, tortillas and baked potatoes. Full and tired, I swam back to the boat and played a little music on the C.D. player. I hoped to make it to San Felipe tomorrow, my last stop before heading to the top of the Sea of Cortez and entering the Colorado River.