Early one August morning, an old wooden boat named Libertatia started down the 4 mile channel into the main harbor of La Paz. Due to a broken propeller, she had to make 47 tacks before, a few hours after sunrise, she dropped anchor just in front of Marina Don Jose.

Her slow progress under sail created a stir. Libertatia is not your assembly line, Marconi rigged, fiberglass racer/cruiser, she is a grand old lady of a boat, and her entrance could not have been grander. Her hull was yellow/gold capped by a thick black toerail, with a stylized ‘Libertatia’ written close to the bow. She had both a bowsprit and a boomkin, so she looked menacing, ready to joust from either the back or the front. Her two masts were almost equal in height and she boasted an impressive array of canvas to fill the spaces in between. Think of a ketch rig, but instead of a big mainsail, she had a puzzle piece combination of upside down mainsail and mizzen staysail, which was cool and tetras-y. And, like the cherry on top, she had a huge yardarm aloft, from which hung a beautiful square sail.

Since all her sails are tan bark (reddish/brown), everyone thought it was Doug, the sailmaker, on his boat, Charity, who also flies a square sail. Doug’s sail, however, has the sigil of Eric the Red sewn in the center, which, I think, looks remarkably like the Tecate beer logo. After being hailed out of bed by quite a few people asking if he was out for a morning sail, he made a grumpy announcement on the radio verifying that, indeed, this boat was not his.

Such a janky boat logically meant an insanely interesting crew, and Libertatia did not disappoint. The principle owners were Emmett (sailor/banjo player/organic farmer), Lowell (engineer/voracious boat cleaner), and Vincent (I think he’s going into refrigeration), and they had turned the boat from a forlorn, empty hull into the she beast she is today. Along the way they picked up Vincent’s girlfriend, Crystal (no joke, she has a degree in robotics), in San Francisco and, later, Emmett’s girlfriend, Brooke (organic farm owner),  in Los Angeles, and together the five of them sailed Libertatia down the Baja.

It was Crystal, in the infinite wisdom of an open mind, who told us that on each fishing ‘trip’ you have to kiss the first fish you catch and toss it back for good luck. ‘Trip’ can mean anything from a day out sport fishing to a month long cruise from Cabo to Guaymas, therefore, we gently kissed the first little Mackerel that we snagged off the beach in Frailes and tossed him back into the surf. And, well, I don’t want to whistle, but fishing has been… happening… ever since.

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We caught another Mackerel pretty quickly after tossing the first one back and then Michael speared a meaty little Wrasse (small parrotfish) which absolutely made our day. We ate about a third of that little dude completely raw with just some salt and pepper seasoning, soy sauce and wasabi, then we grilled the rest. Delicious, delicious, delicious.

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After three days of bumpy southeast weather we turned and flew from Frailes up to Muertos, where we got to see, once again, our very favorite stretch of the Baja coast. At least this time we were with the wind and, once again, we marveled at what a 180 degree turn means for a sailboat. No fish, and no fish to shoot on the empty reef in Muertos; within a couple of days we were on our way up to Isla San Francisco.

Delightfully, it was a southeast wind again as we bobbed north, and since the funnel created by the Cerralvo Channel amplified the breeze, we screamed along at 6-7 knots in the magnificently rare combination of fresh, steady winds and smooth seas. Delicious, delicious, delicious.

Then the fishing line sang and chaos erupted. Turns out we had snagged not one, but two fish, one on the main fishing pole and one on the shock cord protected line we had attached to a stern cleat. I pulled in the tired Bonito that we’d obviously been dragging for some time, bashed it twice on the head with a mallet and set about gutting and bleeding it while Michael battled away against the bigger fish which, after a spectacular, shimmering leap through the air, was identified as a giant bull Dorado.

We hove to and Michael began pulling him in. He fought and fought, up through the air and then down into the blue, but with every turn of the reel we were more and more ecstatic to land what must have been a 40-50 pound Dorado. You know how I know he was 40-50 pounds? Because, at the very last minute, gaff in hand, I watched him pull away, the third Hail Mary escape attempt that somehow broke the 50 pound test line. Devastating.

Spirits broken, we slipped into El Embudo, the most northern cove on Isla Partida, for the night, then on to Isla San Francisco the next morning. About 40 miles north of La Paz, Isla San Francisco is a small, crumbly remain of an ancient volcano with a spectacular little hook of land coming out the southern end that is perfect for boats to snuggle into. Because of its clear, turquoise water and it’s sweeping, shell-strewn white sand beach, the anchorage is usually packed and this time was no different.

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The positive side of this popularity is that you are more likely to run into your buddies, and, a day later, our friends Alex and Naomi pulled in behind us on their birthday cake beautiful boat, Lunasea. Alex, an avid fisherman, wasted no time in getting a line out, and, the very same night they sailed in, hooked a beefy Pargo (17lbs) that gave him a hell of a fight. Since they were already fully stocked they gave us an entire fillet to fill our bellies, immediately promoting themselves to our best friends forever.

The next few days were luxurious; we snorkeled, fished, played on the beach and hiked all over the little island. We caught tough Trigger Fish, which make great ceviche, feisty Skipjacks and little Grasbies, which we threw back because we were spoiled and they don’t carry too much meat. One evening a panguero and his sons came to the boat and, in exchange for a can of beans and some fresh water, gave us some giant chocolate clams which we steamed, diced, then mixed with bacon, onion and garlic to make delicious delicious delicious clams casino.

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Amazingly we watched this panga go from boat to boat in the anchorage obviously looking to trade and having no success.  On our way to Azul we passed a charter boat who even warned us of these guys as if they posed a threat, not understanding that all they wanted was to trade their fresh catch for fresh water and any type of food that is not from the ocean.  As we made it to our boat, the panga pulled up and it was immediately obvious that it was a father and two sons that were camping in the fish camp in the next cove.  They asked for any amount of water and any amount of food that we could spare and then gave us as many chocolates as we wanted,  each one as big as your fist.  They were extremely nice and polite.  Proof that some Spanish and a little bit of understanding on our part as cruisers will often open the door to a really good experience.

Unfortunately, the daytime tranquility on Isla San Francisco was almost negated by the frustrating nights; the vicious Corumel winds blow all the way up from La Paz and jumble all the boats just enough to make you really regret not securing all the noisy crap on your boat. One night we both snapped, and Michael had to climb the mast at 5 in the morning to tear down our loose radar reflector which had been jangling with Chinese water torture-like irregularity for hours.

So we moved and anchored on the north side of Isla San Francisco, out of the bumpy nighttime weather and closer to Isla Pardito (Isla Coyote), the smallest permanently inhabited island in the Sea of Cortez. We took the dinghy over to Pardito, where we met the matriarch of the family who lives there and her son, Guyo, a fisherman. Since we had all the fish we needed, Naomi asked after lobster. Guyo said he’d go looking, and, sure enough, at 9 o’clock the following morning he pulled alongside Azul with these monstrous clawless sea bugs, the biggest probably weighing in at about 2kgs (4lbs). Michael, unable to resist, bought three and Lunasea bought two, so that night, further up the coast in San Evaristo, we all had an awesome lobster feast quickly followed by awesome lobster comas.

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San Evaristo is a sweet little fishing village with no internet and spotty cell service. There is a little restaurant, a tienda and a small desalination plant, but since we had already been to Evaristo with Debbie and John the previous year, we decided to leave the following morning and sail on to Puerto Los Gatos.

Los Gatos is also a popular anchorage, partly because of its remote location and mostly because of the beautiful, but crumbly, reddish/pink rock that frames the northern part of the little bay. In between relaxing and blowing the conch shell at Lunasea we fished, hiked, snorkeled and just generally had a damn good time. We caught a few Triggers and Michael speared a thick little Burrito Grunt (whose meat makes the cat go crazy), but the water was a little murky and green because of an algae bloom, so visibility was down and fishing was tough. A day or so after we arrived Manuel, a local panguero, knocked on our boat asking after a few liters of gasoline. We obliged (who hasn’t run out of gas?) and later, as a thank you, he brought us another Trigger and a Stone Scorpion fish.

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It was mostly southeast weather; the waves wrapped around the southern point and made the anchorage pretty bumpy. Alex and Naomi set a stern hook to keep their bow into the waves and we soon did the same, but even so it was bouncy. So we eventually decided to take advantage of the southern breeze to head to Agua Verde; Lunasea decided to turn around and had back to La Paz. They are blessed with unlimited time, and want to wait until warmer weather. I will miss them and their giant cat Luka, the visual reminder of the cat-beast Tigre will become if we keep feeding him raw fish every day. We’ll have some Tequila together when we meet again.

The slow drift north continues…

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