Tag Archives: kayaking

…And what did you do today?

8 Nov

One of the things we get asked a lot when we get home is, “What do you do all day?” We usually get cute and respond with, “Well, we’re not really sure but it takes all day to do it!” Actually we find our days are full of things to do.

 

Our day generally starts at 6:30 AM. That’s when the sky starts to lighten in the morning and since it’s been so warm we’ve not bothered to cover any of the windows to allow as much breeze as possible to flow through the van, so we get up as morning twilight breaks. It’s my favourite time of day ever since I worked as a fishing guide. I loved getting to work early enough to enjoy my morning coffee while watching the sun come up. So we sit with our coffee and our Kindles and watch the sun rise over Danzante Island. Every day it comes up just a tiny bit further south.

 

One of the views from the top of Hart's Trail

Once coffee is over, I put on running shoes and head up Hart’s Trail, just a little to the north of us on the beach. It’s a ½ mile trail that meanders up the side of the hill up to 800 feet from sea level. Sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? Trust me this is a cardiac killer and I do it as fast as my feet can carry me. Nothing like sweating so hard it feels like I just stepped out of the shower. Then it’s back down without slipping on the rocks and into the van for breakfast, a quick wash and then we sit and listen to the daily VHF net. A program that fills everyone in on the weather, comings and goings of friends, local announcements, jokes and various other information that helps all of us with the daily grind here. I’m still Sandy Beach on the radio and rather famous for my jokes, so I’m told. There are some friends on the beach who won’t go out fishing until they’ve heard my latest offering. So I’m finally famous! Who knew?

Richard's Dorado

On other days we head out kayaking or fishing as early as possible. The kayaking because we travel long distances and the fishing because most of the fish we’re after don’t bite once the sun is up. I’m proud to tell you, both Richard and I caught a Dorado this past week. Him in our our kayak, by himself, and me with one of the campers on the beach, while piloting a little 15 foot tin boat that she and her husband have put at our disposal. This really is quite the friendly, loving community and we all look after one another. A day doesn’t go by that someone isn’t offering us a piece of fish, fresh or smoked, or inviting us to a beach dinner or restaurant special. Yesterday, for example, we went for lunch with some friends from Victoria. They’re here helping her brother with the grand opening of a new restaurant. Best damn burger I’ve had down here! Then for dinner we headed to the south end of the beach where another couple we’ve become very close to, fed us Elk steaks and smoked Dorado.  Our life is just one great big social whirl!

My Dorado. I should mention that both these fish were caught on very light tackle. What a great fight!

 

As the day advances, and the temperature rises, we find ourselves relaxing for a while in the shade, with me in my hammock, Kindle in hand. By 2 or 3 it’s time for a swim or maybe a bit of snorkeling, to cool off, then back on shore for a warm shower and an ice cold Dos Equis.

 

Oh, and I should mention the birds. We’ve become as our British friends call us, Twitters. It’s hard not to watch the birds when the variety’s are so many and so varied. They are everywhere and you just can’t help yourself, eventually you have to know what they are. All of us have at least 1, if not 2 or 3 bird identification books and we talk about rare sightings as if we were all Ornithologists. It even gets announced on the net, once in a while.

 

Male and female Hooded Orioles. A very common bird here.

Depending on the night we might find ourselves, like last night, at a beach dinner with a few of the other campers, or a full beach party, or simply at home having a quiet dinner together. The sun sets at about 6:30 PM and many nights we take our coffees and sit out on the beach to watch the stars or the full moon. The sky here is so dark when the moon is not up, that shooting stars are seen every night, and the Milky Way is always visible Then it’s a couple of hours of reading or maybe a movie, then bed around 10

 

Yeah I know, you hate me, but hey, you too could be doing this. All it takes is giving up everything you’ve got. Quit your job, sell everything you own and move into a 26 ft, motorhome. You could be living right here beside me on the beach. All it takes is being a little crazy and not afraid to take big risks.

 

 A week doesn’t go by that’s not filled with something exciting, the whales are starting to arrive, pods of hundreds of dolphins are moving around, the waters are full of more green turtles than anyone has seen in 30 years and the Dorado are running.

 

Life is hard, but hey, someone has to do it!

 

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You always have to pay the Piper!

8 Feb

We come here every winter obviously because it’s warmer than anywhere in British Columbia. The sun shines virtually every day, the temperature sits at a balmy 22c, on average, and if it clouds up and rains, well maybe 20 rain drops will fall from the sky. Ok, once every winter we do get a downpour and it can last an hour or so, but for the most part the weather is pretty awesome. It might not be the tropics, but it’s pretty close and it’s good enough for the folks I hang with.

There is however, a price that must be paid for this…..El Grande Norte, The Big North. This is a wind that blows pretty much every winter, down from the north. It can start anywhere after the end of November and blows on and off until April.

You can go from this......

...to this, in less than 1 hour!

Some years it’s like living with a raging gale that just never seems to let up, and then you get a year like this one, were the winds have for the most part, been fairly gentle. All this winter we’ve had winds that have averaged between 5 and 15 knots, with lots of days with little or no wind at all. At least until last Tuesday! The Grande Norte came for a visit last week and hasn’t really left, he’s just taking a momentary rest.

The view for 5 days. Cold and very windy!

February is the month when the winds are at their worst and this is the time most of the Kayak companies have the bulk of their trips out to the islands. Imagine paying $1200.00 to come to Baja for a week of kayaking beautiful Carman Island only to be trapped on a beach by winds exceeding 50 knots (That’s 57 miles per hour or 92 kilometres per hour for those of you who are not nautically minded), not even knowing if you’ll be able to get back in time to fly home! We’re talking 8 and 9 foot waves here folks, and most of the folks who come for these paid excursions have absolutely no kayaking experience!. Not only that but it can come up so fast that it’s easy to be fooled and over the years some folks have died, either because they didn’t realize how fast the weather was deteriorating, or because they figured they had to take the chance to get back for their flight home.

Now I must interject here and tell you that the Guided Kayak adventures have NEVER lost anyone, so you’re safe with them, but it can still be a miserable trip, hunkered down in your tent for days on end, unable to even go hiking because the wind is so strong it can knock you off your feet and do damage to exposed eyes and skin. To add insult to injury, the sky generally remains clear and beautiful during these major wind events!
Some 7 years ago, 3 Canadians, one of whom was a Kayak instructor, were caught because they assumed they knew what they were doing and had a flight to catch. They left Carmen Island in the middle of one of the worst storms seen in years, and they ended up tossed out of their kayaks. The water here is definitely warmer than at home but you can still die from Hypothermia in 18c water, it just takes longer and that’s what happened to the Instructor. The other 2 managed to get back into their kayaks and were eventually found alive, but the instructor stayed under her kayak trying to keep out of the weather. She had a VHF radio with her and called and pleaded, but no one could get a boat out to her and there is no Coast Guard here. She eventually succumbed to Hypothermia and died. Those who had listened, were so shaken by the experience that they got together and created the Puerto Escondido Hidden Harbour Yacht Club Radio Net.

It broadcasts every morning at 8:15 AM and it is specifically designed for emergencies of any sort and to make sure that all who use the water know what the weather is going to be for at least 3 days in advance. The Kayak companies, sailors, anglers and those of us who just kayak for fun make sure we all listen every morning and organize our trips around that information. Since it’s inception, no one has been lost, injured or died. That’s quite an accomplishment!

Standing out in this can cause severe sand burn, if you can stand at all!

Now, back to last week.
We were warned it was coming and come it did! It blew for 5 full days.

Sometimes it sounded like the moaning and shrieking of an insane person, other times like the intake of a jet engine! The worst 2 days were so nasty and cold that we never ventured outside except to take the pictures you see here and for Richard to help the Fisherman next to us. His boat had broken it’s lines and was pounding ashore, so they tied it to our Suzuki and pulled it up the beach, out of the water.

A useless effort to stop the boat from pounding on the shore!

Aren't Suzuki's wonderful vehicles?

 

Carmen and Danzante disappearing!

You’ll notice that Carmen, and Danzante disappeared, except that wasn’t fog or clouds covering them, it was sand and dust in the air. Grummy rocked, shook and swayed in the wind, and even though every window and vent was shut tight, we still had to sweep and dust constantly as microscopic particles pushed their way through the very walls it seemed. Generally, when the wind is too high for water activities, the folks around here will head into town or venture out behind the beach for walks in the desert. Not this time! No one budged from their warm hidey holes until Friday when the worst was past, human, animal, bird or bat! Not a one was seen until the wind dipped below 25 knots(46 kph), then gradually life came back to the beach.
By the time the bulk of the storm had passed, our beach had completely changed. All of our lovely sand had been totally blown off the beach and was now up the road behind us. The rocks Richard had so carefully removed from our Kayak landing zone were now back, and there were twice as many than we started with. At one point, just below the locomotive sound of the wind, you could here the rumbling of rocks rolling under the waves. Broken branches from Mequite and palm trees littered the ground, and anything left outside needed to be rescued or dug out. The folks in the harbour are still trying to find and/or return all the lost articles blown off their boats. The locals say that this last blow was one of the coldest and windiest ones ever.
We not finished either. We’ve had a bit of a respite, with Sunday and Monday calm enough to get out and clean up, even to sit outside and enjoy the warmth of the sun, but it’s coming back! Tomorrow it’s supposed to start again and blow for another 4 or 5 days. Then after that, who knows? It could continue for weeks, gradually fade away or simply just stop and go back to the weather we’ve enjoyed up till now. There’s always a price to pay for everything, and for us El Grande Norte is the price we pay for the warmth, serenity and beauty we get to enjoy down here on the Baja.

You just never know when the piper will come calling.

A Sea in crisis

19 Jan

Richard and I set out yesterday for a couple of hours of random kayaking, with no specific destination in mind. We had only covered a mile or so when we were witness to a most marvelous spectacle, 2 adult Humpbacks feeding vigorously, with a very young calf in attendance. There was only 1 other kayaker who noticed them and we were given a private showing for over 40 minutes of a sight most have seen only on nature shows. We sat still as they moved around us, feeding on the massive amounts of krill in the water. A couple of times they were within 30 to 40 feet of us. We watched them until they had moved a long ways away before we continued on our journey. Regardless as to how many times I am privileged to witness whales in their natural habitat, even after all these years of being on the water; it still takes my breath away!

Humpback feeding on her side

We’ve seen Blues, Fins, Seis, Greys, Humpbacks and Brydes, many dolphins, Basking Sharks, Whale Sharks, and Turtles and have always considered just a glimpse of these great creatures to be very special, yet there are some down here who could care less. They see not the beauty of the Sea and the creatures within it, only what they can take from it…

Up until the 1950’s, the Baja and Sea of Cortez was a virtual unknown to the rest of North America. Then Ernest Hemingway discovered the fabulous sport fishing that was available here. Extremely large Sailfish, Swordfish, Wahoo, Yellowtail, Grouper, and Rooster Fish swam in the waters here and were completely undisturbed by any fishing pressure, until then. It became a wealthy mans play ground, with large World Record adult fish extremely common.

Foreign commercial fishing fleets introduced change beginning in the late 1970’s with monofilament gillnets. A new road was built down the peninsula during those years, creating much easier access and with it came a dramatic increase in sport fishing activities, spearfishing, as well as a large population increase, producing for the first time ever a flow of pollution into the Sea.

A decrease in size and number of fish species was very noticeable by the late 1980’s. Fortunately by that time the Mexican Government had started to introduce regulations and set aside areas that became Marine sanctuaries and parks.

Not only do fish live here but a great many of the worlds whale populations come into the Sea every year as part of their southern migrations. Greys and Humpbacks both use the lagoons and bays of the Pacific side to give birth and mate, as well as the warm salty waters of the Sea of Cortez. Minke, Sei, Bryde, Blue, Fin, Humpback, Right, Grey, Beaked Whales, Pygmy and Dwarf Sperm Whales, as well as their full sized relative, and Orcas, not to mention at least 11 species of Dolphins and 1 Porpoise, are all here at some time during the winter months, and some live here year round.

On a calm day, whales can be found just by their blow sound!

These mammals come here to mate, give birth or simply to feed in the rich waters of the Sea, and therein lays the problem.

For those Rorquals or baleen feeders, life is pretty good here because the massive amounts of krill hasn’t been affected much over the years, though it has decreased somewhat due to pollution runoff. There is still enough of it out there to look like a Red Tide and has been mistaken for it, from time to time. When out kayaking it looks like the surface of the water is alive. It is this banquet that brings in the massive Whale Sharks over the winter and there is more than enough to share around.

Humpback feeding on krill

The toothed whales are the ones having the problems here. They are fish eaters and the fish they eat are quickly disappearing.

Sport fishing is still one of the biggest tourist draws here and it brings in a big chunk of change to the local economy. It contributes to the decline in baitfish and there is also a correlation between losses of feed fish with those that predate on them. Without something to eat, the bigger fish and whales either move to new feeding grounds or die out!

My father used to say, “Any idiot can catch a fish using bait, it takes a fisherman to catch a fish on a lure!” and he was right. It is much easier to catch a fish using bait and over the years the number of anglers has increased dramatically, putting huge pressure on the various bait fishing stocks. Anything small enough to constitute bait has been fished almost completely out. Some folks down here have complained bitterly that they can’t find any bait this year, and the fishing is very bad!

These are the same folks who have fished out their own waters and since they can’t catch anything there, see nothing wrong with moving somewhere else and using the same methods that devastated their own fisheries.

Day after day, all winter long they are out there taking anything and everything they can catch. They can hundreds of pounds to take home with them, so they can have cheap fish all summer until they return next winter. They are so fanatic about it that they can’t bring themselves to release anything. Many have been known to bring fish that are inedible back to the beach simply to give to their friends to use as dog food! Catch and release is not in their repertoire and it doesn’t occur to any of them to use lures. If asked why not they’ll tell you that lures cost too much and bait is free!

And so the toothed whales find themselves having to compete for their very existence with arrogant, greedy, unthinking humans, who also complain that there sure isn’t much whale activity this year. I guess that old saying really is true, that we see only what we want to see and we hear only what we want to hear.

Sorry for the rant, but after having spent most of my adult life in the fishing industry at home in the so-called “Salmon Capital of the World” and seen it’s demise; it’s hard to watch the same thing happening here in “Paradise”.

What’s that line from the old Eagles song? “Call someplace Paradise, kiss it goodbye!”

Yes, I made a living from the Ocean, but I was always aware of the impact I was having and tried constantly to compensate for it. When we do go fishing, which doesn’t happen very often anymore, we take only what we can eat in the next couple of days and are very careful to release anything we don’t intend to kill.

The Mexican government is trying; fishing licenses are required and there are strict regulations, including limits and number of rods allowed, but there is no money for enforcement and a great many of the gringos here simply ignore them. They get incensed when they are expected to follow the rules and seem to believe that laws in foreign countries don’t apply to them. The Government has also stopped all foreign commercial fishing and has taken control of what commercial fishing there is, but it may be too little, too late. The locals are very poor and the last financial crisis made it even harder here to earn a living, so they fish illegally. They take any fish or shellfish they can find and it’s hard to blame them when all they’re trying to do is eat and feed their kids. We are talking a Third World Country here, and they do have much bigger infrastructure problems, but it would be nice if those visitors who are big users of the resource would step up to the bat and help, instead of simply helpingthemselves to everything they can lay their hands on while whining about lost fishing opportunities.

The big adult fish are few and far between now and only occasionally are really large fish brought to shore. The big Dorado tournament held in Loreto every summer was won this year by a 16-pound fish. Dorado used to run up to 90 pounds. Not many of any species are seen in that range anymore. Sure, once in a while a fish over 60 pounds is landed but before Baja was “discovered” 60 pounders were the norm, and they were plentiful. Now anything over 10 pounds is considered a good catch, if you can find anything to take your hook.

All, however, is not lost, as the expert consensus seems to be that though the Sea is in crisis, it’s still salvageable. Keep your fingers crossed because otherwise we can add the Sea of Cortez to the list of seas, oceans, rivers and lakes that we, as humans, have managed to destroy based on nothing more than our own greed!