More Than a Shakedown

A season-opening cruise doesn't have to be all about the boat and its many systems.

After a few days of organizing the boat, a Nordhavn 50 named Northern Ranger II — six months away from it, there’s always work to be done — it was time for our shakedown cruise. Our crewmembers, son Andrew and his girlfriend, Adrienne, flew in and made it from Cabo to La Paz on the Baja Ecco bus with no problems. They even had time for a “welcome to Mexico” margarita at one of the bars outside the airport.

We spent the next day getting ready, and the following day we cast off and headed out to Isla San Francisco, because we had all been there before and loved it. It’s one of those places that makes you think you are somewhere in paradise: long, white, sandy beaches and aquamarine water. The weather was great and, hallelujah, we caught two fish within 30 minutes of leaving the dock. One was a smaller male dorado that we decided to let go, and the other was a skipjack that we also released. Our early good luck made us excited about the prospect of catching something we could keep before we got to San Francisco, but it was not to be.

We spent a lovely day hanging around in the bay, walking, snorkeling, fishing and eating. The newest addition to our crew, a thermometer shaped like a shark that we immediately christened Bruce, told us the water temperature was 25 degrees Celsius, or around 77 degrees Fahrenheit. That’ll do! I swam over to the reef and found lots of exotic fish, and Andrew and Adrienne took the little dinghy out with the electric Torqeedo motor to try to catch some dinner. They caught something with lots of teeth, but unfortunately they couldn’t bring it in. They lost the fish and the lure. And then the Torqeedo ran out of battery power, so they had to row the little rubber dink back against the wind. All that work for no fish.

The next morning [two days later, actually] dawned clear at Agua Verde. We woke early to watch the sunrise and make coffee, and then the kids organized breakfast. A benefit of having them on board is they cook.

We brought Bruce out and discovered the water was 25/77 degrees. Perfect. We threw all the toys in the water — paddleboard and kayak and dinghy — with the hope that later we could go to the beach for lunch. I took off in the kayak and went to talk to our neighbor — most of the other boats had left. I was interested in a satellite dish we spotted set up on the beach, so I asked our neighbor about it, and it was his. He and his wife had spent a month in the same spot and set up the satellite for themselves … and anyone who asks politely. I didn’t ask but he offered, with the proviso that it’s for mail only. No Facebook or movie streaming. (So much for posting a blog entry.) But that was nice of him.

We all checked our mail for important news and that was it.

Lunchtime rolled around and we deemed it a good idea to try out the cantina on the beach, although it was Sunday and I wasn’t sure the proprietor would be there. Unfortunately, when Lawrence went to start the big dinghy, after we dropped it into the water, the engine started pumping gas into the water. After much deliberation, and discovering the steering was frozen, we realized we wouldn’t be going on any adventures in the big dinghy this trip. Something else to fix when we got back to the dock. First trips are always a crapshoot, although now I am thinking maybe we need to conduct a systems check on everything before we go. Just a thought!

A trip to the beach in the little dinghy — all four of us — didn’t seem possible, so I took off in the kayak. The closer I got, the more I realized fish tacos were not to be. The beach was deserted, probably not unusual for a Sunday. We opted for a walk through town to the tienda, where we picked up avocados, limes, beers and fresh goat cheese. Agua Verde is known for its goats, and we have read extensively about the cheese but never had a chance to buy any. The young woman at the store asked if I wanted queso de cabra. At least I think that’s what she said. She took me to the cooler outside and showed me two large blocks of fresh cheese. Heaven!

Back at the boat I broke off a corner. Amazing stuff. Almost made up for not having fish tacos.

We spent the afternoon in and on and around the water. I did some walking as I tried to get the best pictures of the bay from way up high. No drones for us. New rules require licenses for operators, and down in Mexico, only Mexicans can get a license, so we had already sent the drone home. We know the chances of getting caught droning are slim, but the price for getting busted makes taking that chance not so attractive. Besides, every time we flew our drone last year it got chased by seagulls and osprey.

The kids opted to take the little dinghy out fishing again, after getting the scoop from our neighbor about which lures to use where and for what fish. They were only gone for a little while, so we were surprised to see them coming around the reef with the line in the water and the rod bent double.

When they were close, Andrew waved at us and yelled “start the car, start the car,” so I knew something was up.

They got to the boat and whatever was on the other end of the line was still fighting. After some hard work we could see what it was: a big beautiful rooster fish. Totally took us by surprise. Not something we would keep, but it was certainly a memorable catch. We did the trophy fish photo and then released it. After some gentle persuasion the fish came to its senses and hurried off, a little sore but otherwise fine.

It was big enough that it actually towed the little dinghy around the bay.

Monday morning we headed back south, with a plan to hit San Everisto and the beach tacos at Lupes, but the weather, as usual, had other ideas. Welcome to winter in the Sea of Cortez. After an hour or two of rocking and rolling, we decided to head into Tembabichi and give the wind a chance to die down. Andrew and Adrienne threw the little dinghy into the water and went to fish the rocks. Some fierce needlefish took their lure, after giving them a good fight, and they brought nothing back for dinner to show for three lures lost.

I took the kayak to the beach to conduct some exploring. I was going to paddle all the way but the wind was strong, so I opted to land and walk to the pink palace, or Casa Grande. The building has an interesting history. Built in 1910 and, for most of that time, abandoned, someone inherited it in the 1970s, but the locals weren’t keen to have a hotel in their town. Mostly the place is where fishermen drive their pangas to the beach and head out for a day of fishing. Even they were hesitant to head into the north wind this day.

One panga crew came to ask us if we knew what the wind was going to do. As usual my Spanish gets tongue-tied when I am called upon to use it. “Frio” had me running to the refrigerator and offering them ice. Doh! The kids wouldn’t let me forget it the rest of the trip. At least that is one word I will remember. Never let it be said I don’t learn from my mistakes.

We continued the run down to San Everisto the next day and arrived in time for a late taco lunch at Lupes. I performed a reconnaissance run with the kayak, checking to make sure it was open before I called the mothership, so they could come over in the little dinghy.

Lunch was superb. Cold beers, crispy fish and prawns, delicious tortillas. Finally! And Lupes offered us more and more. What a wonderful host. We arrived back at the boat in time to watch the other boaters around us all climb into their dinghies and head to Lupes for dinner. He was having a good day, I think.


Next day we retraced our track to Isla San Francisco. The wind was going to blow up, but we figured it was the best place to hunker down, and it was not so far that we couldn’t get back to La Paz by noon the next day. We did some serious fishing for a few hours — no luck — and headed into the bay, which looked mostly empty and very inviting. We deployed Bruce and found the water was, once again, around 75 degrees, so the kids and I headed to the north rocks for some snorkeling. It was amazing.


We saw lots of the same fish, but there were more guinea puffers and one big puffer in mid-change from black to yellow. Pretty cool. We also saw a number of moray eels — big, long, green ones. I swam down to shoot video, but I have to confess those toothy mouths were a bit frightening! I had never seen such big eels, though, so I was determined to get down there and have a look.

Our last night out on the hook we ate another great meal, Lawrence finally made a pitcher of his famous margaritas and we all played a rousing game of cards. This trip we didn’t really have Wi-Fi and the satellite TV wasn’t working. We could use the DVD player but it only played on the TV in the bedroom, so one night we all sat on our bed to watch “Galaxy Quest” — it’s a tradition on our boat — but that was it. Mostly we read and played cards. Quite a different holiday for all of us. Refreshing, actually.

Next morning we left before the sun rose, and we had our lines back in the water as soon as we cleared the bay. The wind had totally shifted to the south, which was odd, but it meant we only had a bit of a swell coming at us, and the sky was a clear blue.

And we managed to go right through a school of fish, with a doubleheader: big skipjacks that made for some initial excitement and a nice dorado that was not quite big enough to keep. We kept one of the skipjacks, cleaned it and threw it in some soy sauce and pineapple, on the off chance that it might taste good later.

So we ended on a high note! We made it back to the dock before noon and had lots of time to clear up and clean up, and then go to the hotel pool to spend the last afternoon with the kids, enjoying someone else’s margaritas and mojitos.

After that, we changed, cleaned up and headed to Azul for our last dinner together, courtesy of Andrew and Adrienne. Before we left for dinner, we tried the marinated skipjack, paired with pineapple and wrapped in bacon. The marinade and the pineapple and the bacon were lovely. The fish … well … there’s a reason people throw them back. Everyone actually enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to catch and prepare another one. Next time, tuna or dorado or … anything else.

A new coffee shop at the marina offers fancy coffee, western-style pastries and some very cool branded gear and, as we noticed during an unscheduled walkthrough, cinnamon buns. Adrienne was out the door as soon as she woke up the next morning — she and Andrew were going to be picked up at 0930 for their trip to the airport — and came back with a couple of the buns, which were huge. It felt just like the old days, when we used to hunt down the best cinnamon buns in the Pacific Northwest. Most anchorages in Desolation Sound and the Broughtons have someone who makes quality baked goods.

Another of our traditions is cinny-bun runs first thing in the morning; we deposit them hot and yummy on our friends’ back deck, so when they get out of bed, breakfast is waiting for them. Up in Alaska I found the tradition of boating and cinnamon buns was also well represented. Nice to find we have a supply down here.

And that was the week. We didn’t get as far north as we would have liked, but that is winter cruising on the Sea of Cortez. The northers will have their way with boaters and there’s nothing we can do about it, except plan for an alternate anchorage. For us, the water was warm, there were (a few) fish to catch and tacos to eat, and great memories to be made.

Now it’s all about carrying on with chores. A freezer needs to be replaced; we ordered a new one today and actually managed to get the old one out from behind the settee in the pilothouse with no lasting damage to us or the boat! When we come back down in January, we will be out and about for several months and will need everything to work. Shower pumps need to be replaced; Honda outboards need to be fixed; water-makers need maintenance; and oil changes need to be done. And for sure there will be other things that need attending to.

I would love to have turned around and gone back out to the islands right away, but in hindsight, it was a much better plan to just get ’er done. And be ready for our next adventure!