Friday, January 23, 2009

Baja Kayak Trip

I know I already posted some photos of animals from this Baja trip, but here is the info on the trip itself.

The trip came about at the last moment. An email was sent to all participants of the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium offering a discount on a Sea Trek trip where the goal was to circumnavigate Carmen Island, off of the town of Loreto. 6 days to cover the 60+ miles, and required a decent level of kayaking skills. I had been to Baja before and knew about how beautiful it was, so knew another trip down would be fun. My personal goal was to see as many whales as possible during this time, as this area of the Sea of Cortez has a lot.

We arrived on Tuesday to find a lot of white caps and heavy winds out of the north. The area was experiencing a Norte, the term they use for these strong north winds. This is not good for kayaking. Nortes can last for days, so it was not clear how this would affect us.

Day 1:
Wednesday was our first day on the water. We launched from Puerto Escondito, which is a protected harbor a half hour south of Loreto. Paddled out past the mouth and found the Nortes still going. Jim Kennedy, of Atlantic Sea Kayaking, then put us through some drills to get us used to the wind and waves. We did things like spinning around in the waves, passing our paddles below our boats, etc. This was all quite useful at helping us become more comfortable in the waves.

After that, we paddled across to the first island, and then surfed down to the south end of the island, where we made camp on a beach. Paddled about 6.7 miles in total. Did see a whale spout in the distance, but could not identify it.

Day 2:
Day 2 was a slow start - we didn't get on the water until after 10. We rounded the island, and had the most fortuitous conversation:
Sara (guide) - "Keeps your eyes open, as this is a good place to see whales"
Michael - "Like that one" (as he points to a whale a few hundred yards away). I think it was a humpback, but we weren't 100% sure. Definitely not a blue or fin whale - not big enough for one of them.

We then crossed to Carmen and started along the south side, where we made camp. Completed only 10.6 miles, which made me wonder if we would be able to circumnavigate the island (as we would need to do about a 12 mile daily average to do so). But the winds were still around, so that was slowing us down (though an earlier start would have allowed us some paddling time before the winds got bad).

Day 3:
We paddled on this day to the old salt mine (now a hunting lodge) in the large bay you can see on the map. We got an early start, and had the goal of getting there for lunch. Visited a large cave along the way. Winds came up again as the day progressed, and were very strong headwinds as we made the final (slow) push to the beach. Jim had us do a pace line for part of this, which was a good way to keep our minds off the winds. 12 miles paddled. No whale sightings.

The paddling so far had been on the leeward side of the island, and after this we would be even more exposed. So with the winds we had seen, I think everyone came to the conclusion that we would be better off not trying to circumnavigate the island.

Trip got a bit interesting here. We had been watching a ship out in the ocean that we couldn't identify. Didn't look like a fishing boat, plus the area is a marine reserve (so fishing boats shouldn't be there). After looking at it with binoculars, I thought it might be military, but couldn't think of a reason why the navy would be here. Turns out it was military on drug interdiction duties. They had chased a drug runners' panga to the same beach we had landed at. The drug runners abandoned their boat. One was captured, but they were still searching for the other. We found this all out when the navy searched our panga (twice).

After we had dinner (and after dark), a "local" came to pay us a visit. We thought it was someone from the hunting villa at the far end of the beach. Next thing I know, our guide was quietly telling us to walk away from our campsite for a while. Then we find out the person was the second drug runner looking for food, water, info, etc. He thought he was on the mainland, so was surprised to hear that he was on an island. We did not give him what he was after, and feared he may come back at night to take the boat, so we changed plans and got permission from the folks at the hunting camp to stay there. We tried to contact the navy on the channel they gave us, but they seem to have gone home for the night.

Day 4:
We had a late start, as we needed to get ourselves together after the unexpected change of camp. But now that we decided not to make the circumnavigation, this wasn't a problem.

Just before we launched, a Humbolt Squid beached itself just next to our boats. Unbelievable. We had fresh squid for dinner! Picture of the squid, along with of other animals, can be seen in a separate blog post.

We decided to shoot for a beach on the channel between the two islands, as this should give us excellent whale viewing opportunities. Winds changed directions such that we had (another) head wind to deal with. But by afternoon, the winds were gone (for pretty much the rest of the trip), making for some pleasant paddling. Completed just over 17 miles, though we were towed for about a third of a mile (the section marked in pink on the map above). Saw some very large whales in the distance as we paddled, which we later determined to be blue whales. Very cool - never seen those before. Also came across a pod of dolphins just as we were getting to the campsite.

Day 5:
Day 5 was a play day. We were now close enough to Puerto Escondito to be able to easily make it in a day, so we decided to relax. Morning (late morning) was a nature hike. Afternoon was some skills exercises in the kayaks. I forced everyone to come out on to the water faster than they probably wanted by going out alone to practice rolls, then blowing a roll and having to swim. Turns out the paddle float I had wasn't one I knew how to use, so I had trouble getting back in (I could inflate it, but didn't figure out how to seal it - so had to do the recovery quickly to finish it before the paddle float was deflated). I did make it back in, but not before Jim was in his boat and working his way out to me (not even having zipped up his PFD, so he was obviously rushing - sorry Jim). Worked on various strokes after that. The pod of dolphins returned, so we took a break from from our exercises to watch them.

Also took a break to watch Juve, the local guide, catch trigger fish by hand (no nets, hooks, or spear guns) while skin diving. Having him around definitely made for some fresh seafood every day! Video below was a "Chinese fire drill" (kayakers switched boats while on the water) so that the boat loaded with his fish could be brought back in.

Good thing we did make this a play day, as the panga had motor problems. 2 of the guides paddled back to town to arrange for another panga to come out and get our gear and tow our panga back.

Saw 2 whales from the beach in the morning before we got ourselves going. 1 set were sperm whales, and we didn't identify the other set.

I didn't track how many miles we did while doing the exercises - probably a few miles.

Day 6:
Last day is always depressing, as you don't want to leave. We paddled across the channel and poked around the cliffs on the smaller island. Then looped around to a beach for lunch. Made the final crossing to Puerto Escondito to find a cooler full of cold beer waiting for us. Then back to the hotel and a much need shower. 10.4 miles for the day, and about 60 miles for the trip.

Didn't see any whales while padding, but on the drive back Mike saw something in the water. We pulled over just in time to see a humpback breaching. Amazing! The whale kept breaching for 10 minutes or so as we watched. He was slowly heading further away from us as he did this, so after a while we decided to continue on to town.

Overall, an awesome trip. Great people to paddle with, great fresh seafood caught on the trip, and a great location. This post (and the post on animals) just covers some of the basics of what we saw and experienced - lots more I didn't mention.

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At 6:35 PM, Blogger Nobue Masuda said...

I think that you guys had a great tour! I didn't have much time now so I had a brief look. But I will come back late and will have a better look.

At 8:00 PM, Blogger Nobue Masuda said...

Catch the fish bay hands sounded amazing! I wonder how come he could make it.
Anyeay, it seemed like you guys had lots of "sashimi" everyday. Did you have "wasabi" also?

At 9:58 PM, Blogger California Kayaker Magazine said...

No wasabi. The fish was cooked or served as ceviche each day.


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