The vernal equinox, aka spring, arrived reluctantly in Annapolis Friday, accompanied by another wintry mix. The sloppy snow on the first day of official spring seemed a perfect metaphor for the winter that won’t quit.
Even the capital’s hardy-if-demented frostbite sailors were iced indoors for five weeks of their 2015 schedule, according to Bobby Frey, the frostbite chairman at the Annapolis Yacht Club. “We lost half the season,” he told me, “first time in 20 years.” Somehow, Annapolis is not Annapolis without these crazies charging around the harbor on Sunday afternoons in bitter conditions.
Two Annapolis sailors, Bob Gallagher, the former West/Rhode Riverkeeper, and I, found an offbeat solution to the cabin fever that has afflicted so many of our watery brethren this year. Oblivious to the hardship, we drove through snow and ice to BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport and escaped to Baja California.
In a selfless spirit of sacrifice and diligent research, thinking constantly of our friends shivering back in Annapolis, we joined four others aboard a chartered 44-foot catamaran to test the deep-blue waters of the Sea of Cortez. We braved abundant sunshine, temperatures in the 70s and 80s and fine breezes that came up in the late morning and eased off in the evening. The risk of sunburn was high. The tequila was strong.
My wife, Susy, made the contrast all the more vivid by texting a photo of Spa Creek shimmering in bright sun under shoreline-to-shoreline ice and a few inches of fresh snow. The wintry State House never looked prettier than viewed with a margarita in hand at a beachside restaurant in La Paz, Mexico, our jumping-off point.
Our crew included Ian, a hand surgeon from London, and three Californians: Tobe, a financial adviser from Santa Barbara; Wayne, a yacht broker from Newport Beach; and another Bob, a videographer from Orange County. They all clucked sympathetically when we described the Annapolis winter we had just escaped. “I didn’t think you Marylanders had much snow or ice,” said Ian, adding wickedly that London has enjoyed its mildest winter in years.
Now, I recognize that generations of Annapolis sailors have escaped our winter in the Caribbean, favoring the British Virgins, the Leeward and Windward islands. Our group has enjoyed most of them all over the past 15-plus years.
But consider the merits of the Sea of Cortez, or Gulf of California: It is 775 miles long, from the U.S.-Mexican border down to the chic resort of Cabo San Lucas on the southern tip of Baja, or lower, California.
It is stark and remote, essentially a sea surrounded by desert, but brimming with marine life. It is home to 31 species of whales and dolphins, one-third of the world’s total, and is a vast breeding ground for sea lions and marine turtles. It is a migratory corridor for 210 bird species and the playground for 500 varieties of fish. We sailed past sea lions and through schools of dolphins beyond number.
The Sea of Cortez is way, way off the grid; with the exception of a handful of coastal towns, there is no cell service, no Internet, no cable TV, and yet it exerts its own special lure, as the author John Steinbeck noted in his “Log of The Sea of Cortez,” written after he cruised these waters in 1940.
“If it were lush and rich,” he wrote, “one could understand the pull, but it is fierce and hostile and sullen. The stone mountains pile up to the sky and there is little fresh water. But we know we must go back.”
The sea didn’t seem sullen or hostile or fierce to us as we sailed from one breathtaking anchorage to another, smiled at spectacular sunsets, grilled fresh fish bought for pennies from local fishermen, strolled white sand beaches and swam in translucent water. But the pull was unmistakable.
Wintry Annapolis seemed a long way off, and the Chesapeake sailing season that much closer thanks to our escape to paradise. Hard duty, this research.