SAILING ON THE EDGE: Chapter 2
In 2006, the Baja Ha-Ha cruiser’s rally to Mexico was our launch to my dream of sailing around the world… Our sloop, Seventh Heaven, departed San Diego in the middle of the fleet as a hundred and eighty billowing spinnakers scattered a flock of dreams and nightmares on the sea. Ten days later, we sailed away from Cabo San Lucas on our own for the first time on the Sea of Cortez…
The trip up the inside coast of Baja was like drifting on a quiet river in a dream. We stopped the first night at Cabo Los Frailes, an uninhabited cove with a long rocky beach. Escrow eyed the land longingly, so I launched our kayak off the bow and headed for shore with the anxious little puppy in my lap.
The surf was bigger than it appeared from the boat. I did my best to time it, but when I made a run at paddling through the break a wave caught us from behind, turned the kayak sideways, and rolled us onto the shore. I’ll never forget the look of abject fear and surprise – what the @#$%! are you doing? her little fury face seemed to scream – as we tumbled into the surf. We washed up on the beach, wet and embarrassed, Escrow shaking herself and barking accusingly. She got over it quickly though, did her business in the bushes, and then we ran and played on the sand dunes. The crew on SEVENTH HEAVEN got a good laugh. I swam the kayak back through the surf and the rest of the way to the boat with Escrow in the cockpit eyeing me suspiciously. Ledean put on her mother persona when we returned, fussing over the wet and happy puppy, and chiding me for my failed landing. Everyone else had a drink already, and I poured myself a beer over ice, the way we were all learning to drink it in Mexico. It was a good laugh, a good time, a good way to be christened by the new sea.
We left Los Frailes early the next day and sailed on a south wind to Bahia de los Muertos, relishing the warmth and wonder of the new world we had entered. Cortez discovered the little bay in 1535, and named it in honor of a graveyard that occupied a hill overlooking the sea. Knowing Cortez, the graveyard and the Bay of the Dead, was probably his creation. A new resort developer was trying to rename it the Bay of Dreams, but the locals weren’t buying it. The dead didn’t bother them, and they weren’t particularly enamored with the prospects of more tourists. We had a good dinner at the big beach-front palapa, three or four margaritas, and slept like the dead in the calm of the bay.
The next day the wind still blew from the south and we made good time toward La Paz. We rounded Coyote Point (if you ever wonder what a certain point of land might be called, it’s probably safe to assume “coyote”, since there are numerous Coyote Points and Bays in the Sea of Cortez), and then maneuvered through the narrow and shallow San Lorenzo Channel. The wind disappeared as we passed Pichilingue so we dropped the sails and started the engine. We arrived at the Marina Costa Baja, north of the city in late afternoon. It was November, two weeks since we had sailed from San Diego, and the weather felt like the middle of summer in Newport Beach. I had reserved a slip in the marina before we left home, and checked-in at the marina office while the crew and boat waited at the fuel dock. Then we motored to the upper harbor, parked SEVENTH HEAVEN in her berth, and reconnected ourselves to the rest of the world for the first time since we had left.
Jim and Terry had flight reservations to confirm. Ledean had left the sale of our house in the hands of a colleague, and we needed to check on that progress. We all unpacked our cellphones and started maneuvering through the international-call process. The news wasn’t good. There had not even been an offer on the house. The real estate market appeared to be backing-up.
It felt good to be back in a marina, at least on the fringe of normal society. Escrow loved running up and down the docks, and having dirt to pee on. The hot showers, shops, and restaurants were very welcomed amenities. I washed SEVENTH HEAVEN, from bow to stern with fresh water, and then started doing all of the basic boat maintenance tasks that had been ignored for the past weeks, while Ledean cleaned and reorganized below. Jim caught a flight back to Los Angeles the day after we arrived. Terry moved into a hotel and went shopping for real estate. La Paz was a wonderful city.
The declining real estate market, and lack of interest in our house in Newport Beach, was a concern. We had a couple hundred thousand dollars in other investments and cash, but this whole journey we were on was contingent on the sale of our house, which had always seemed a sure thing. Ledean and I sailed SEVENTH HEAVEN out to Espiritu Santo Island for a couple of days to discuss the situation. We anchored in Mezteno Bay, which would become our favorite little cove in the Sea of Cortez. This was the dream and the life I had envisioned, but I could see my wife starting to falter.
We had always planned to return when we got a firm offer on the house, to close the deal and store our personal items. With the market not cooperating we decided to go back early and try to push the effort along. I wanted to lower the price on the house, but Ledean disagreed. She was confident that the market was still strong. We returned to the marina after a couple of days out at the island, and prepared the boat for our return to the States. Terry dropped by before he flew home to tell us about the two lots he had bought at Marevia, a new development near Coyote Point. He was an astute investor, so I felt a little better about things if he was still buying real estate.
We had no reservations, but were able to book a flight back to LAX before Thanksgiving. Escrow had to ride in her pet crate in the dark baggage compartment of the plane. She was none the worse for wear though, and very happy to see us after we landed, and perhaps even happier to be back home on land.
It was apparent after our return that the real estate market had changed dramatically in a very short period of time. Ledean and I argued about it, and then lowered our asking price a hundred thousand dollars. We had other cash and investments, but the cost of maintaining our home was not something we could handle for long with no other source of income. There was no choice but to put our cruising plans on hold for a time.
Thanksgiving was difficult, but we began to settle in by Christmas, enjoying the holiday season and glad to see all our friends. Ledean was happy to be back and I could see for the first time that perhaps she didn’t totally share my dreams. I was anxious to get back to the boat and on with our cruise. The day after Christmas we left Newport Beach again, driving this time, a thousand miles down Mexico’s Highway 1, through the heart of Baja California. We made the trip in three days, stopping the first night in the high rocky desert at Catavina, and then in Loreto for a night. Escrow was much happier riding with us in the car than locked away in the pit of an airplane even though the days were long. The desert was green and abloom from winter rains, and despite all of the premonitions and warnings from friends, the drive was easy, beautiful, and uneventful, except for the seven Mexican army check-points and inspections that popped-up along the way.
We celebrated New Year’s Eve in La Paz with friends who had flown down from the States. We stayed a month, sailing around Espiritu Santo and Partido islands in cool winter weather, still hoping the house would sell while we were gone, and then we drove back up the long winding highway, taking our time over four days to enjoy the stark and changing landscape of the Baja peninsula. We stopped in Guerrero Negro, explored the salt flats, and went whale watching on a Mexican panga in Sabastian Viszcaino Bay, though I don’t know why since we had sailed through there and seen the whales from our own boat just months before. The drive had been an adventure of its own, and we accepted that “commuter cruising” was probably our lot, at least for a while, until we could sell our house, and that didn’t look too promising.
Upon our return I landed a couple of small consulting jobs. The real estate market was still declining, but at least we had some income and our position didn’t look too dire. I was beginning to wish that I hadn’t quit my job though. In March, I rode down to La Paz, driving on Highway 1 with my friend Terry and two others. Ledean stayed behind, still trying to sell the house, or maybe just losing interest in Mexico and the boat. When we arrived, Terry went off buying more real estate and planning a new home on one of the lots he had bought at Marevia, and the others met more friends and settled into a rental condo. I spent most of several weeks sailing alone around the islands off the coast of La Paz before closing up the boat again and returning home.
By June 2007 the real estate market had collapsed. Our property value had declined more than twenty percent from the heady days of the previous year. Ledean lost interest in our cruising plans, and we decided to take the house off the market and go back to work. Going back to work was easier said than done. The real estate market was dead and Ledean started looking for another job. My consulting jobs were finished and no one was hiring in the marina business.
I flew to La Paz later that month and single-handed the boat to Loreto to pick up Terry and another friend, Wayne. It was my first real single-handed voyage, traveling more than a hundred miles along the coast. I sailed during the day and stopped for the night in Balandra Bay and then in Agua Verde, and would have stayed longer in both places if I hadn’t been on a schedule. Terry missed his plane, but Wayne was there and we sailed back down to La Paz together, while Terry waited a couple of days for another flight.
I had counted on picking up fuel in Puerto Escondido, just south of Loreto and the only fuel station in the area, but their fuel dock was under repair and closed. The wind blew against us the whole way, and so we had a long trip, tacking against the weather, conserving what little fuel the boat had left. It was warm and comfortable though, and we enjoyed navigating night and day through the various islands before finally motoring into the Marina Costa Baja four days later sucking the last fumes of diesel. Terry arrived and we spent a couple more days in La Paz before they left. I stripped the boat down removing the sails, solar panels, and other outside gear, and buttoned her up for the coming hurricane season, then headed home to focus on work and the normal life again.
Published Articles, Essays, and Stories by James "J" Mills
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Published articles, essays, and stories by James "J" Mills (aka: James McV)