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Saturday, June 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

The Sea

We were always headed for the sea. After days of dusty driving, the sight of the blue patch in the distance meant we were getting close to where we wanted to go.

The desert along the coast was sandy, sun-blasted, windy, dusty, but the ocean was clean and cold. Jumping in the water after two days on the road was both a shock and a heavenly relief.

Mostly we fished in the Pacific along the Baja coast. There were plenty of sterile spots where we never got bites. But there were corners of a beach, next to the rocks, or a rocky point or just a low, yellow dirt promontory a few feet into the ocean where the fish would hit the bait hard and quick.

The place we went most of the time, Santa Catarina, was a beach on an enormous sweeping bay that we had all to ourselves. On day trips out from the camp, we would either hike or drive to another spot for fishing and swimming.

At different times, we took an inflatable boat, a surfboard, bogey boards and diving gear. What they had in common was that we used them in the ocean, for a good part of the day.

I learned never to take the ocean for granted. The currents could be powerful and you were on your own if you got caught. No lifeguards down here. And the water under you could hold big animals most of whom were friendly enough.

One time I was diving in a bay in Baja and looked up to see a set of dorsal fins between me and the shore, not a good feeling. I decided they were probably attached to dolphins but got into shore quickly.

Another time, we had taken the Zodiac, our inflatable boat, out to a kelp bed down the coast, and while we were free diving for lobster, those still on the boat saw a grouper slowly pass beneath with his head visible on one side of the boat and, at the same time, his tail on the other.

Seals were frequent passers by, craning their heads out of the water to watch the strange upright creatures on the beach. And we often saw whales crossing the bay, visible as an occasional black patch on the wave-ruffled surface with a spout of spray just above it.

A very few times we saw whales in a high fettle, leaping almost clear of the sea to fall back in a great crash.

The weather also came in from the sea. The standard sundown was a small set of clouds close to the surface of the ocean out right about where the sun was going down, with thin fingers of cloud streaming out on either side of the setting sun, like some enormous crab at the edge of the sea. And that meant that tomorrow was likely to be normal day.

Sunny and quiet in the morning, with the wind building as the day went along until, oftentimes, it was blowing sand late in the afternoon. But as soon as the soon dipped down into the ocean, the wind dropped, while we had a glass of red wine.

The fire we would then start for cooking and for heat also came, in a sense , from the ocean. We would sort through banks of driftwood and build a pile of good sized chunks that could carry us well into the night.

The meal was generally made up of fish corbina, perch, croaker and the occasional sting ray. But other times we ate from a common bowl of mussels or, a treat that we learned about from a Basque guest, barnacles that grew on the rocks alongside the mussels.

Abalone was a rare delicacy. They had been fished out by local fishermen coming down the coast, and finding abalone required extraordinary contortions under the rocks. And we caught lobster once in a while, depending on the clarity of the water.

We slept on moving mats that we spread out on the sand. It was a simple matter to fall asleep after a day exposed to the elements, with the firmament above and the sound of the waves close by. Upon waking in the night, I would watch for shooting stars for a while, and drift back into slumber.

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