Isla Coronado Sur

Anchored just south of the Mexican Navy station
Anchored just south of the Mexican Navy station

Jan and I celebrated Memorial Day with an incredibly relaxing visit, just across the border in Mexico at one of our favorite anchorages on the east side of South Coronado Island. It is always surprising to us that more boaters don’t take advantage this nearby treat. The islands are a nature preserve so it’s true that you can’t land but there is a feast for the eyes. Over sixty species of birds are reported to call the islands their home and there are several varieties of seals and sea lions. The water is incredibly clear and from the number of commercial fishing boats visiting for the day, there must be something for them to catch.

We left our mooring beside the Coronado Bridge at noon on Monday and motor-sailed out of the bay before catching a fair wind south. The seas were very calm and we made about five knots to the anchorage. We anchor on good sand bottom in thirty-six feet of water. I made a dumb mistake and let the anchor chain get away from me with the handle still attached to the windlass. Fortunately I had the good sense to stop it with my left wrist — shattering my watch and seriously bruising my arm. Fortunately the pain dropped me onto the anchor line arresting the run away chain with my rear end. Fortunately my howling sounded very much like a bull seal looking for a date which brought two harbor seals out of the water onto the rocks beside us for Jan to photograph. Then she got the first aid kit to splint my arm. We went to bed early and I got out of doing the dishes!

Watching the Wildlife
Watching the Wildlife

Tuesday was a long leisurely day filled with snacks and barbecue. I managed to reel in an amazing piece of seaweed after “fighting it” for nearly an hour. I was sure it was a record breaking halibut, but fortunately no fish were harmed during our vacation.

The anchor came up on Wednesday much easier than it went down on Monday and the winds had shifted fair for another downwind run back to San Diego.

I suppose what keeps most sailors out of Mexico is the paperwork. Yes, you need your passports. We also have our Mexican import permit, fishing licenses, our VHF marine radio station license, and our annual U.S. Customs inspection tag, but it is well worth the trouble in our estimation. We have never felt in danger, nor have we had any bad experiences in Mexico. In fact, it has always been just the opposite. Of course my arm is in a sling and I need a new watch, but the only real damage was to my pride.

Sailing Lessons: The Kayaker

It felt like the perfect anchorage. Jan slowly motored into the shallow cove and I stood in the bow “swinging the lead.” (The old sailors would cast a lead weight and line into the water to find out how deep it was. As they coiled up the line, they would count the coils. Since an average man’s arm span is about six feet wide, each coil of the line measured about six feet of depth: a fathom.). At six fathoms deep, I let go the anchor. The water was so clear I could see it dig into the sandy bottom. Jan slowly motored backwards while I played out the anchor chain. It was beautiful and soon we were relaxed on deck enjoying the last of our cheese and crackers, sausages and fruit. The songs of a thousand birds echoed in the cove and the sun slowly sank behind the island. Seals were barking and we went to bed early, sorry our voyage was coming to an end but also looking forward to long, hot showers and the comforts of home.

It was a dark night (the moon wouldn’t come up until after midnight) but the light of a thousand, thousand stars, gently lulled us to sleep. Then someone was shouting! Lights were shining into our windows. I sprang on deck and a sixty-foot American sport fisher with half a dozen men was trying to get our attention.

“We’re on our way south but we found a lost kayaker at sunset. He’s an American from Rosarito Beach and got washed out to sea. We’ve contacted the Coast Guard. Can you take him?” They motored along side and a dozen hands passed a kayak, paddle and 30-year old man across.

We took him below. Perry was very muscular, had a shaved head that glowed red with blisters from the sun, a goatee and wore a grey sweat suit one of the fishermen gave him. Jan gave Perry a couple of bottles of water and began making soup. He had rented a little kayak in Rosarito Beach, eleven miles away on the coast. Then he had decided to paddle out into the Pacific for a look. The wind and the waves caught him and he couldn’t get back to shore. For eleven hours he fought for his life without food or water or even a hat. Wearing just a red shirt and shorts, his thighs were fried and he despaired of life but as the sun was going down, the Americans found him. They found us and now he was safe.

Perry said he was suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder from his childhood and after talking, eating and drinking for a while, we bedded him down, and contacted the Coast Guard. Since he was in no immediate physical danger, they asked if we could bring him to San Diego with us in the morning.

Dawn was grey and overcast. As we motored back to the States I asked him, “You’ve had an amazing experience. What did you learn from it?”

“I’ve made some bad decisions in my life. Trouble always seems to find me.”

“It’s been my experience that we find what we go looking for. We all make mistakes Perry but the important thing is what we learn from them. You’ve been given a second chance at life. What are you going to do with it?”

Perry’s answer at least was honest. “John, I don’t believe in God. The Bible is just a bunch of myths written by a bunch of old guys. I’m going to buy a hybrid car and never go kayaking again.”

“That’s sad. God has given you a second chance at life. By all rights, you should have died last night. You have an opportunity to do it right this time. Why do you want to make the same mistakes you made before?”

“Can I smoke? One of the fishermen gave me a couple of cigarettes. I’ll hang real far over the back.”

He seemed very nervous as we pulled up to the police docks for our customs inspection. “Do you think they’ll do a background check? I have two outstanding warrants including one for assaulting a police officer in New Jersey…”

I shook my head and thought, Perry that is the least of your troubles. So what would you do if you had a second chance at life? You know you do. Our God is a God of Second chances. What are you doing with it?

We’re Back!

Thanks for all the prayers and kind wishes for us while Jan and I were away sailing. It was the most refreshing vacation we’ve enjoyed together in many, many years. It was just the two of us on our beloved sailboat, Santa Teresa. After stopping at the Municipal Docks (known as the “Cop Docks” because of the Harbor Police office there) where we were able to load our food, supplies, water and a thousand and one other “don’t forget the _____” items, we had a delightful, fast sail south to the Coronado Islands just across the border in Mexico.

The Coronados are a wildlife refuge and while you can’t go ashore, you can watch over 60 species of birds and 3 types of seals and sea lions. They say the fishing is great but we were too busy doing nothing to fish. (Now that is saying alot!) On the third day, we hoisted our anchor and had another wonderful sail to Ensenada, Mexico. While it is only 70 miles from San Diego, if felt like a million. We stayed at the Baja Naval marina where we were hosted in a most delightful way. The food, shopping and especially the people were truly wonderful. What surprised us was how uncrowded it was. Every three days a cruise ship would pull in but they stayed in a very small district and gave us the rest of the city.

Besides sea food, we enjoyed sidewalk cafes and coffee and nothing tastes better than hand-dipped ice cream on a hot August afternoon. We had time to sleep, read books, meet interesting people and do a whole lot of nothing. It was delightfully decatent!

From Ensenada, we sailed south between Punta Banda and Isla Todos Santos and on another fifty miles to Santo Tomas where we discovered guidebooks don’t always give good advice. The picture of the anchorage on the internet looked great but we we arrived it was open to the weather and choked full of kelp. We tried vainly to anchor three times but eventually gave up. We did collect an amazing harvest of kelp on our anchor and sailed north through the night back to Ensenada drawn on by visions of garlic shrimp and Cerveche.

Finally we had to come home so we slowly did the “Baja Bash.” (The wind and the currents run north-south so a sailboat has it’s work cut out for it going north!) Even though we started north at midnight when the winds were calm, we still fought corkscrew seas. On the other hand we met a curious “little” blue whale Jan dubbed “Sally” who swam with us a way. She was longer than our boat and was very curious. Sally would roll up on her side and look us over before crossing our bow and swimming down the other side. Her spout was enormous and when she finally sounded, she left a hole in the ocean. We also saw two different species of dolphins and a couple more varieties of whales but by the time we anchored by at Isla Coronado, we were truly spent.

Thursday night, after we had been in our bunks for a couple of hours, a large American sportfishing boat pulled up alongside and hailed us. A 30 year old American tourist had rented a small, sit-on-top, kayak at Rosarito Beach and had gone for a paddle into the big blue ocean. Unfortunately the wind and the waves that we had fought all day north, caught him and carried him out to sea. Perry was in shock and blistered by the sun. Can you imagine what it would feel like to paddle against the Pacific, alone, for eleven hours? Just as the sun went down, he was spotted by the fishermen and brought to our sailboat. Jan filled him with soup and drinks and we tucked him in bed while stowing his kayak and paddle on board. We contacted the Coast Guard and they asked us to bring him along with us to San Diego the next day. We thought he might have a problem clearing Customs without a passport or ID (those were left as a deposit for the kayak in Mexico) but the blisters on his shaved head and the glowing red burns on his legs apparently convinced Homeland Security his story was true.

All in all, it was a most wonderful vacation and I’ll be sharing some more of my meditations on the Holy Spirit from the book of Acts tomorrow. Thank you for your prayers and patience!