Thursday, May 4, 2017

Bahia San Francisquito: Clams, Friends, Mirages

It's been more difficult for me to keep up on my blog posts lately. For one, we're "off the grid" and only able to communicate via satellite, which requires a few more steps write and post to the blog. For the most part, we've also been in very isolated anchorages and I've felt quite disconnected from the rest of the world in my little "boat bubble". But the biggest factor I think is that the end of the voyage is looming large and contemplating an uncertain future with many possibilities is eclipsing interest in my simple, lazy day-to-day life on the sea. Naturally, I feel some apprehension about not knowing what will come next, but mostly I'm excited about my next voyage, on land and among people this time, and what I might learn and discover from it. Yet, I try mightily to stay in the present and not let my thoughts of the future distract me too far away from what is, now. Nonetheless, the content and timeliness of this blog suffers.

The highlights since I posted last Saturday were clams and friends (stated in chronological order, not necessarily in order of importance).

On Sunday morning, back in Puerto Don Juan, Renee wanted to head back to shore at low tide to collect some large sand dollars she had seen when we went ashore to go hiking. I decided to sit in the dinghy while she did her collecting and just enjoy the scenery. I couldn't help but notice that there were a lot of clam shells on the bottom of the shallow water. I was an accomplished clam "treader" in my youth on the Great South Bay of Long Island and decided to see if there were any live clams in the sand, so hopped out of the dinghy and started wiggling my feet through the sand feeling for anything clam-like.

I hit pay dirt! Within a few seconds I had my first clam and a couple of seconds later, another one. They were nice, fat, white clams with striated shells. The next clam I dug up was what the call here a "chocolate" clam, a large, smooth, shiny tan-brown species. I called Renee over and asked her if she wanted to get some clams for dinner. Her killer-fisherman instincts kicked in and she leered, greedily, answering, "Of course!" She learned to tread for clams quickly with the prospect of free fresh seafood just twelve inches below the surface. In a little over an hour we had dug up six dozen lovely clams, about a dozen chocolates, their rest white ones.

We put the clams in a bucket of fresh saltwater to let any sand rinse out of them and then headed to Bahia de los Angeles, referred to by gringos as "L.A. Bay", to meet Renee's friends Teresa and Jason. Jason's family has a long history of visiting L.A. Bay dating back to the late 1950's and he and Teresa know the place well. They had driven down from where they live north of the city of L.A. with their two dogs for a mini vacation and to visit Intermezzo. The last time they were on the boat was on October 18, 2015 at the Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard. We were 11 days into the beginning of our voyage. Now they were visiting us again, with only 14 days left to go. A lot has happened between then and now!

We spent Sunday afternoon roaming around the little L.A. Bay Village and then headed back to where Intermezzo was anchored just off the shore to enjoy a clam feast. I steamed the clams just enough to get them to pop open and then sautéed them quickly in a sauce of their own juice, butter, lemon and garlic. I wished for some white wine to add to the sauce but, alas, that had been consumed some time ago. i served the clams and sauce over spaghetti and they tasted great. Both varieties of clams had a delicate meaty flavor, with the chocolates being a tad sweeter tasting. The clams ranged in size from large cherrystones to small chowders, in Long Island clamspeak, and I worried that they might be a bit tough, but they weren't at all. Even the biggest chocolates, around four inches long, were nice and tender.

After ferrying Teresa and Jason back to shore, I hit the sack feeling very full of clams and and fell into a food coma sleep, like from eating too much turkey at Thanksgiving.

The next day we moved Intermezzo to anchor in front of the beach house Jason and Teresa were camping at. The house belongs to one of Jason's cousins and was shuttered. It takes a lot to open up and shut the house down for visitors, so they just camped on a porch which provided shade, shelter from the wind and kept them out of the sand.

We took a short drive, bumpy drive in Jason's souped-up desert truck into town to visit the nice little community museum there. it is really well done, with a nice collection of artifacts including a large collection of shells, a complete whale skeleton, Indian spears, harpoons, pots and tools, old ranching items like lassos and riding jackets, and mining artifacts. Outside is a small desert botanical garden, a couple more whale skeletons and the remains of an overhead tramway used to transport silver ore down from a mine near the top of a nearby mountain. The museum is really nicely curated and laid out, a very impressive effort by its local, all-volunteer staff.

After a light taco lunch at a nearby stand, we returned to the beachhouse-camp and went for a walk to Gecko Beach at the southwest end of L.A. Bay. We enjoyed walking by all the gringo houses built along the beach, some nicely designed and constructed, others haphazard works-in-progress, others decaying dreams that ended or never came true.

L.A. Bay is ten hour drive from the U.S. border, far enough for it to be a Mexican town, close enough for it to attract a community of part-time American residents. It has a frontier-town feel to it. Not like a border town, where the difference between Mexican and American is lit brightly. Rather a frontier where differences exist, but are recognized comfortably and lightheartedly by both sides, with few laws and rules and more trust and friendship to govern conduct.

The next morning (Tuesday), Teresa and Jason swam out from the beach to Intermezzo to say goodbye. We made sure they made it back to shore and then weighed anchor and sailed to Punta el Pescador, about 11 nautical miles south. We were turning around and heading back south on the final leg of our voyage.

Punta el Pescador is a nice little anchorage with a small island inhabited by many birds. We kayaked around the island then landed the kayaks on the main shore to walk along the beach. There is an interesting little resort in an unknown stage of development on the beach, with a half dozen guesthouses, two of which looked complete and habitable, the other four still under construction. The houses are quite attractive with palm thatched roofs, native stone walls and columns of vine-wrapped tree trunks. it looked like another example of a tenuous business proposition that ran out of money. We've seen quite a few of these along the Mexican coast, particularly in the Sea of Cortez.

Yesterday we continued another 9 nm south to Punta Islotes. Another pretty anchorage that we had all to ourselves. In fact, we have been the only boat in all of the anchorages we visited since leaving Santa Rosalia. And until today, when we saw one small sailboat, we havn't seen a single cruising boat on the water, either. We've literally had hundreds of square miles of sea and land to ourselves, save for for the occasional fishermen in their pangas.

Today we had a longer passage, about 40 mm further south to Bahia San Francisquito. This is the bay we skipped when we were heading north because so much wind was blowing from the north. Weather conditions were much different today. Virtually no wind at all and what wind did blow came from the south. (Figures...we were heading that direction!)

On the way hear, we saw mirages, shimmering, wavering air distorting the appearance of the land and sea. One mirage made an island look like it was floating a dozen feet above the water. Another turned an island into a squashed hour-glass with an inverted image of itself sitting on top of its real self. Another mirage looked like a strip of sea was floating above itself, like a streaming liquid cloud.

Steinbeck writes about these mirages in The Log from the Sea of Cortez:

"...the mirage we had heard about began to distort the is sufficiently interesting on the Peninsula to produce a heady, crazy feeling in the observer. As you pass a headland, it suddenly splits of and becomes an island and then the water seems to stretch inward an pinch it to a mushroom-shaped cliff, and finally to liberate it from the earth entirely so that it hangs in the air over the water."

Now I know what he was writing about. Amazing.

Tomorrow we leave here in the afternoon for our last overnight passage. I'll continue this and post again before we leave.