Bahia de Tortugas to Los Cabo

Anchored in Bahia de Tortugas The morning after we arrived in Bahia de Tortugas we slept in, enjoying our newfound freedom from the watch schedule. Shortly after we got up we were surprised to find that Mexican Navy making rounds through the anchorage. I was immediately glad I had done our entry paperwork in Ensenada, and felt somewhat vindicated in ignoring the suggestions that we check in at Cabo. Thankfully the visit from the navy was brief and painless. Later that day Bill and I went spear fishing and brought back a Garibaldi and an Opal Eye for dinner. Before the day was out we put the outboard on the dinghy and took a tour of the bay in the dinghy, on the way we stopped by Jatimo, the small sloop that had pulled into the bay earlier in the day. The vessel was sailed by Jan and Ramona, also from the San Francisco Area. I had been looking forward to actually meeting other cruisers and becoming a part of the community so I invited them over for dinner. The next day, my birthday, we went to town and were shown around by Pedro from the fuel dock. He awkwardly sat around while we ate our lunch, and after showing us the way to internet cafe, I realized why and gave him a few dollars to leave us in peace. Truthfully he was pretty helpful and it was nice that he didn’t outright demand money for his services. We grabbed some groceries and headed back to the boat. Jen made a delicious meal of risotto and squash, and Ramona brought over some homemade hummus and a salad of fresh veggies, always a treat when you’ve been at sea for a bit. We had a great time sharing stories of our travels. They had a lot more than we did, having been doing this for over 20 years, and it was a pleasure to listen them and gain some wisdom. Friday we returned to the village for lunch with a view at La Palapa. This quaint little cantina came highly recommended, and it lived up to the expectations. For those who might be visiting, just walk east along the beach from the pier, go up the small hill to the right just past where the fishing boats launch. It’s a small white open air building. Bring your Spanish-English dictionary as there are no menus. Afterward we went for a long walk out to Punta de Kelp.

Bill & His Calico Bass Cooking Lobster

After four nights we left Tortugas in the afternoon for an overnight sail to Bahia Asuncion. The trip was another fast, double reefed sail down the coast, and we had to heave to overnight to delay our arrival until morning. For the last few miles the wind clocked around and we were forced to motor into a strong headwind and current, approaching the anchorage at a crawl. We spent a day and a half in Asuncion. After a long upwind row we did some more diving and fishing. This time scoring a large Calico Bass on the rod (nice work Bill) and two lobsters. The lobsters are relatively easy to catch if you have a quick hand and a tight grip. Happily they have no claws with which to defend themselves. Unfortunately the kelp beds were so thick that stalking fish with the spear proved untenable.

The following evening we departed for Bahia Santa Maria. The trip was again uneventful. We sailed the whole way, only running the motor for the first few hours to charge the batteries. Our autopilot steered faithfully for the entire trip. We continue to have no luck trolling the hand line. I taught Bill to put a reef in the mainsail. We sailed upwind into Bahia Santa Maria to within a half mile of the anchorage. I wish I had some more poetical things to say about the trip, by suffice to say it was idyllic sailing.

Hiking to the Break As soon as we had anchored in Bahia Santa Maria and had breakfast I was rallying the troops for a trip to shore to hike out to the point on the north side of the bay entrance. I had spied the telltale white spray of offshore winds on breaking waves and felt a burning desire to get some surf. To be honest my hopes were not all that high. We hadn’t been seeing much in the way of the south swell that would be required to make this spot break. Jen and Bill were both eager to get off the boat and hike around, so when breakfast was done we got the dinghy ready, packed up, and made the arduous paddle to shore in moderate winds. It was still nothing compared to the headwind Bill and I had fought to go fishing in Bahia Asuncion, where we only made it because I jumped overboard with fins to help propel us. Once on shore we discovered a convenient trail that took us the 1.5 miles out to the point. My excitement increased when View From AboveI found evidence of a surf camp, which although it was vacant at the moment was clearly still seeing active duty during the peak season. Just then I started running. I was driven forward from within as I watched a set of waves wrap beautifully around a point into a small cove. I couldn’t believe it, after months without surfing I was finally going to catch some waves. The session was great. The sets were infrequent, but the waves were waist to chest high with smooth curling faces. The break had alternating steep and gentle sections, and the rides were long, making it a great wave to mess around on with cutbacks and sweeping turns. I couldn’t help but smile at the fact I had sailed over 1300 miles to ride these waves.

In the Curl Takeoff
A Long Ride

The following day Bill and I took it easy on the boat while Jen explored the “village.” It ended up being completely abandoned, although not apparently disused. We theorized that it was used in peak season by the fishermen. Jen was then stranded on shore for two hours while she tried vainly to hail us on the radio. What she didn’t realize is that our portable’s transmit function had died. Wondering where she was I scanned the shore with the binoculars, but couldn’t see a thing for the light of the setting sun bouncing off the water. Finally the wind let up enough for us to here here faint shouts over its steady roar, and I pulled to shore to pick her up. Sorry Jen.

Our last day at Santa Maria we made a second attempt at the surf. This time we were all armed with boards and we set out in the dinghy with the outboard. We zipped up the coast and put in at the panga landing beneath the surf camp. Unfortunately we made two critical errors. 1) I hadn’t properly relayed the plan to bill so he had no shoes for the quarter mile walk we had to make to the spot. 2) The tide was much lower now, so getting out meant walking over 50 yards of barnacle encrusted rocks with urchins lurking in the cracks. Bill, who already had massive blisters on each foot from the walk to the spot decided it was hopeless and waited on the beach. Jen, struggling with a nine foot board which had a mind of its own in the strong offshore wind was having trouble making it past the fields of urchins. After paddling around in the break for a few minutes watching the others struggle I realized we need a new approach. So with Bill wearing my too small sandals we headed back to the dinghy and simply motored out and dropped anchor. I felt like an idiot for not doing this in the first place with the swell so light. The break I had surfed two days earlier wasn’t showing at all, so we paddled around the corner to a totally hair-brained spot over shin deep boulders that jacked up steeply, and held up only for about 30 yards before smashing into the rocks on shore. After catching a few waves I shouted to Jen that you’d have to be crazy to try to surf this spot, as I paddled for another wave. It was a short but exciting ride in which you made a steep takeoff, doing everything you could to keep the nose from digging in and vaulting you bodily into the air, made a hard right and flew threw the hollow section over the shallow boulders, and then rode it out for a few seconds before bailing off to avoid the rocks. Fun!

Sailing Near Cabo San Lucas

Paul Securing the AnchorBack at the boat that evening we spent a few hours getting everything ready to go and then we were off to San Jose del Cabo. Ironically, after spending the last two days complaining about the constant, strong NNW wind that kept us rocking in the anchorage and fretting about our ground tackle (which held beautifully), the minute we got outside the cove the wind suddenly died. We had played it close with our schedule and had to been in Cabo in 48 hours to pick up my friend Steve there. So on went the motor and we proceeded in light and variable winds toward San Jose. But the gods of the sea and the wind smiled on us for a bit because after lunch the wind picked up. Having hoisted the staysail we were able to make 5+ knots close on the wind with Serenity steering herself dead on our best course for the Cabo Falso, the point at the south western tip of Baja.  The sea was calm the wind was perfect and the weather warm. And just when it seemed things couldn’t get better we were surrounded by a massive pod of dolphins porpoising and breaching on all sides. They must have been feeding because moments later we got a strike on the hand line we’d been trolling on and off since San Diego with no luck. I watched as the line swung from side to side as the fish tried to fight.  “Fish on” I shouted excitedly as I started hauling the line in. I’d been waiting to say that since I’d gotten the fishing gear in the first place. Making SashimiBill came on deck to assist and deftly gaffed the fish and brought it on deck. It was a small but beautiful yellow fin tuna (I say small, but that’s because they get up to 400lbs, this one would feed us for several days). Blood poured all over the place as we tried various techniques to disable the fish (alcohol on the gills, bashing with the winch handle, and finally decapitation). Once it was finally subdued I quickly fell to filleting, knowing that the tuna’s meat would be degraded by the post mortem nervous system activity and I wanted to get some good sashimi out of it.

Bill and Paul Boating a Yellow Fin Tuna Yellow Fin Aftermath Cleaning Up the Mess

The wind failed at dusk, so after a dinner of tuna steaks and curry we motored on to San Jose del Cabo. We decided to stay at the Puerto Los Cabos rather than deal with the glitz and hubbub of Cabo San Lucas. The marina is nice enough, and a slip sans electricity was only $44 USD per night (50ft slip), but the place is a sort of half finished feel, with a lot of incompletely construction and vacant trash filled lots right next to manicured lawns. After checking in at the marina office we were off to the nearest American restaurant to get what had become for us the yardstick of civilization: cheeseburgers. Conveniently, the cheap slips are on the side of the marina where Tommy’s Barefoot Cantina is located. They have great food, including American fare, cold beer, a pool table, and free wifi. We had officially made it to Los Cabos.

Rocks Off the Point Approaching Cabo San Lucas

Bahia Santa Maria Surf

The Break at Bahia Santa Maria For those who may be interested, there are multiple spots along this patch of coast. Bahia Santa Maria is a large deepwater bay with ample space for boats. It is just WNW of Bahia Magdalena (Mag Bay). Check the cruising guides for more details on Bahia Santa Maria, but I will say this: there is nothing here. No diesel, no water, no mercado, and nobody selling fish. So come well supplied. The surf we saw is located on the inside of the northwest point that makes the entrance to Bahia Santa Maria (aka Santa Maria Cove). These spots all require a decent south swell, and high tide seems best. There were consistent off shore winds the whole time we were there (April 13-15 2011). I recommend a short board or fish, but you could make a longboard work. This isn’t a good beginner spot because if you don’t stay out on the shoulder you end up on the rocks and a small day means no day at all, not to mention you need to dodge the occasional rock in the lineup. Urchins and barnacles are an issue, so bring boots. There is a small protected landing spot just beneath the surf camp where the fishermen tie up. There are also trails further out the point and north toward the fishing camp/village where there are more landing spots. We were anchored at 24°46.276N 112°15.488W, 300 yards off the coast about three quarters of a mile south of the inlet to Santa Maria Lagoon. We went ashore on a patch of sand right where we were anchored. In any case, be careful where you leave your dinghy because of the tide. The hike out wasn’t too bad, but motoring out definitely saves time and arm strength. The second time out we just dropped the dinghy anchor just outside the break in 15 feet of water because the swell was small.

Sawarna

A Surfer at Sawarna Sawarna is about as close as you could hope to get to a hidden, tropical surfing paradise these days, without a boat and a lot of time on your hands. We’ve been here seven days, and the longer I stay the more I fall in love with the peeling left hand reef/point break, the expansive sandy beach, and the lush jungle  cliffs with families of monkeys swinging from the tree tops. There’s nothing quite like sliding quickly down the face of a gently curling head high wave, watching the coral stream by beneath clear blue water. The long beach is a great place for walks, offering much to explore including a bat cave, monkeys, and fascinating rock formations. And the ever changing sky is constantly beautiful from sun up to sun down.

Admittedly it isn’t all wine and roses. The wind picks up mid to late morning which blows out the surf. There is also a bit of trash lying around, which the villagers sometimes burn, but the beach is substantially cleaner than Cimaja, where paddling through garbage to get to the lineup is fairly common. And the break here is good, although it’s not the barreling world class waves of Bali. The wave tends to section or close out in spots. We’ve mainly surfed the inside section of the reef. There is a good rip current just in front of the boat launch (pictured below), which is handy for paddling out to the inside spot. For the outside spot you walk farther out the point to the southeast. Additionally there is a beach break to the west. It was only surfable two of the days we were there, but it can be fun on smaller days, otherwise it’s just shore pound.

Fishing Boats

A Local Shepherd The village gets by on rice cultivation, fishing, and income from homestays, of which there are at least three. Apparently the kepala desa (village leader) used to make and sell electric guitars and was somewhat renown, but we haven’t met him or seen his trade save for a few old pictures and some derelict, half finished guitars, so I assume he has retired or passed away. The people here are exceedingly friendly for the most part, and we haven’t had any of the problems with theft or localism that were mentioned online. The food is also delicious, although one can get tired of rice and fish twice a day. We’ve also had no trouble with illness despite the primitive facilities (the only toilet/bath is a traditional kamar mandi consisting of a basin of river water and what amounts to a hole in the floor).

Local Fishermen

On the fifth day of our stay here we were visited by a local school teacher who was interested in practicing his English and he invited us to visit his school. So the next day we rode ojek with him and his son to the nearby town of Bayah where we met with a group of giddy high schoolers. We talked about our trip and our home and asked the students about their lives and hobbies. At one point we were entreated to sing for them, so Jen sang “Alpha Beta Parking Lot” and “Adventures in Solitude” while I played along on a very out of tune guitar.

Homestay Batara Illuminated by a Lightning Storm

The Swinging Bridge The pace of life is slow here. We only keep time by the singing from the local mosque. Our ten day stay has been, by far, the most relaxing part of our travels. However, we’ve plowed through all of our books, and with only three hours a day spent in the surf, there is only so much sketching, writing, and Settlers of Catan a person can take. So in the end, despite being in love with Sawarna, we’re looking forward to our return to Cimaja.

Sawarna

In case some of you found this page while searching for information on traveling to Sawarna, here are some more details for you. Sawarna is in the Banten Province on the Island of Java. If you’re looking on Google Maps search for Ciantir. It is probably about a 6 hour drive from Jakarta to Sawarna. There are roads approaching from both the east (Cimaja/Cisolok area), and the west (Bayah). The roads from the west are better, but you have to get to Bayah first. Transport can be arranged by speaking to the resorts/hotels/hostels/losmen in the Cimaja/Cisolok region. Prices will be between 400K and 600K rp.

The trail to the surf spot is conspicuously marked by the swinging bridge pictured above. The hike out to the surf spot is about 1 kilometer to the inside break, or 1.5 kilometers to the point. The locals will be happy to take you out there with your boards by ojek for the usual rate (20K rp), although the ride over the swinging bridge is a bit harrowing. The bottom is coral/rock at both the inside break and the point. The inside was mostly waist deep in the wipeout zone, and so we never had any cuts or scrapes. However I heard people describe the the point as being a bit more dangerous, and I never surfed it so I can’t say. The beach break has a sandy bottom and has potential as a beginner spot, however it was hollow closed out and unsurfable most of the time, so don’t count on it. Sawarna tends to be bigger than Cimaja on the same swell, so keep that in mind too.

I stayed at Homestay Batara which is the big house across the street (incquire at the cafe right next to the bridge). The rooms there are upstairs, have locks, and are quite secure. The family is very kind and hospitable, although their English was limited, so be sure to learn some Indonesian before you go, or bring a phrase book. Meals are include and the daily rate there (and, I think, at all the homestays) is 120K rp. per person per day. As I said, the facilities are primitive. Limited drinking water is provide, but I recommend bringing a few gallons as a reserve, or having a filter, and bring your own toilet paper. The bat cave & monkeys are a 2 kilometer hike to the west along the beach, and include wading across the river mouth. You can also have the locals take you via the road by ojek. If you have any more questions don’t hesitate to use the Contact page, or go to Pondok Kencana/Ombak Tujuh in Cimaja and ask Leo. Tell him the crazy American with the longboards sent you.

Expectations (2010-04-28)

When I envisioned being in Indonesia, I saw scenes of line after line of surf wrapping around a beautiful point break. I saw clear blue water, sandy beaches, and palm trees swaying on the horizon. I saw myself surfing every morning, and some afternoons, I saw quiet, rustic villages populated by a mix of surfers and local rice farmers or fishermen. Things haven’t exactly turned out the way I expected.Cimaja Point on a Small Day For starters, the waves have been far less consistent than I thought they would be. Even on the good days the swells are often mixed up or confused, and break inconsistently. We’ve gone, at times, for days without any waves at all. The prime spot in Cimaja is a point break that is truly epic on larger swells, but the ride is short, and when it’s big, it’s scary big. On small days, on the other hand, it tends to be unsurfable, especially at low tide when there are boulders sticking out of the break. Other spots in the area are mostly beach breaks, and are usually either closed out or too weak to surf. And that’s not to mention the dirty river water washing out to sea near the break, The Creek That Drains Near Cimaja Pointor all the trash littering the beach. Indonesia doesn’t exactly have the kind of garbage collection or sewage treatment infrastructure that the United States has, in fact they seem to have none outside of large cities. Our best surf so far was in Sawarna, which actually is a quiet rustic village, where the left hand coral reef break seemed to fire perfectly every morning. Staying there has been the highlight of the trip, and it was an excellent opportunity to practice surfing a super consistent leftward breaking wave. But now we’re staying at Ocean Queen, a very pleasant resort west of Cimaja, and after a week in Cimaja not paddling out because the waves were too big and the break too crowded, we’ve been greeted every morning to total calm. Unfulfilled expectations can be frustrating, and it would be easy to hang my head and say “why did I ever come half way around the world for this?” But if I did that I would be totally missing the point of all the experiences that this trip has been about. A trip like this isn’t really about the things you expect to happen, but the unexpected things that do. Sure the surf hasn’t been perfect, and the town wasn’t what I thought it would be, but we’ve met interesting people, eaten in a food stall with goat meat hanging from Some Typical Walled Up Shore Poundthe ceiling, we’ve learned a bit of the local language, we’ve helped students practice their English, we’ve seen every imaginable stage of rice production, we’ve seen wild monkeys and discovered bat caves, we’ve watched beautiful sunsets, and taken long walks on empty beaches. Even our dealings with customs will be an experience I won’t soon forget, and I value it as a learning experience. Who knows, maybe there will be good surf tomorrow.

•••

About 4 hours after I wrote this post a new swell filled in. I had my best session since Sawarna surfing Karang Haji, the right hand point/reef break that is 50 feet from my front door. Pictures are worth a thousand words, so I’ll leave it at that.

2010-04-28 Karang Haji (1 of 7) 2010-04-28 Karang Haji (4 of 7)
2010-04-28 Karang Haji (2 of 7) 2010-04-28 Karang Haji (5 of 7)
2010-04-28 Karang Haji (3 of 7) 2010-04-28 Karang Haji (6 of 7)
2010-04-28 Karang Haji (7 of 7)

The Land of Oz (2010-03-21)

The Sydney Skyline Seen From the Rose Bay Ferry

Australia is a far more beautiful than I ever gave it credit for, or at least the coastal area of New South Whales is (but I’m told the rest is equally gorgeous). There are clear blue waters, white sandy beaches, striking sand stone formations, and the lush forests of the Blue Mountains framed by the massive cliffs of the Australian Grand Canyon. On top of this the summer weather is idyllic. I always thought Australia would be more like the United States: expansive stretches of blasé landscape and marshy or rocky coastline, punctuated occasionally by magnificent features, like our Grand Canyon, the Sierras, or the white sand beaches of western Florida. But if there is an area in Australia with nothing to see, we haven’t been there.

The Steps Down to 'The Three Sisters' in Katoomba Thanks to our gracious hosts and friends here, we’ve been able to survey a wide variety of the landscape. Simon drove us to the Blue Mountains about 2 hours drive west of Sydney.  We visited the town of Katoomba which sits perched atop a significant cliff, below which lush green foliage, reminiscent of that of the Olympic Peninsula, stretches to the foothills of distant ridges and mountain ranges. If one were to venture beyond the visitors center, massive staircases cut into the cliff, and well marked trails, to which we confined ourselves, they would find miles of pristine wilderness. After riding the breathtakingly steep cable car back to the top, we made our way to the North, just short of the town of Blackheath. There, at the end of a long, rough dirt road, we enjoyed a view of the expansive Australian Grand Canyon. The canyon is 600 meters from rim to floor, with a sheer cliff at its rim reaching 250 meters at its most extreme. It not a little resembles the American canyon of the same name, with it’s colorful sand stone faces, just save the arid slopes that line the base. We’ve resolved to return the region fully equipped for a multiday backcountry hike the next time we make our way to Sydney.

The Australian Grand Canyon, Taken From the South Rim

The following week, our "cousins" Shaun and Deborah drove us north of Sydney to do some beach driving and surfing at a remote beach called Birubi. The beach was nearly deserted, and the break completely devoid of other surfers. Jen, Heading Out to the Waves at Birubi The waves were okay at best, but we definitely got some good rides. I saw Jen get one of the best rides of the day on a seemingly endless left hander, which she deftly caught backside. Unfortunately we missed the photo op. After an hour or two of surfing we continued North to Nelson’s Bay, a pristine boating spot, lined with beautiful beaches sporting warm clear blue water, but little in terms of surfing waves, although apparently on big swells the region features some of the better spots thanks to its sheltered nature. We had BBQ for lunch before making our way to one of the ocean side beaches where I did some body surfing while Jen took a long walk looking for shells.

Paul Catches a Wave at Birubi

Shaun Lets Some More Air Out of the Tires For the Drive Back Down the Beach And lest my meager descriptions here fail to persuade, let me say that throughout all of our drives through the skipped over and unexplored landscape we have been repeatedly stunned by its beauty. What we’ve seen is merely a smattering of places within a short distance from Sydney. There is so much to see here, that surely one could spend a lifetime exploring this continent and not begin to scratch the surface, nor cease to be in awe of it. If you don’t believe me, I guess you just have to visit yourself. Just remember, you can’t allot too much time to explore and experience Oz.