Full moon sailing is one of the reasons I love recreational boating in the Sea of Cortez. The full moon illuminates even the most secluded coves for navigation. After a few minute away from the light pollution of the cities you become amazed at what you see. In the waters I sailed off the coast of California you need to don a jacket as soon as the sun sets, even in the summer and sometimes even during the day. In the Sea the night air also quickly drops to equal the sea temps. But the Sea being warmer than the Pacific, jackets are only required in the depths of winter.
In the summer months night sailing is the preferred time of day to sail for two reasons. First, the best winds to blow you out from La Paz come from the southwest. The Coromuel Winds begin in late spring and continue through mid summer. These winds can often reach 15 to 20kts, providing an express ride from La Paz to Espiritu Santos and points north. Several times this summer we have sailed the 24miles from port to Ensenada Grande in just under 4 hours.
Second, it is just so darn hot in the gaze of the Baja summer sun night time is the only time you want to be on deck.
Some of the full moons were just used to sail with no particular destination in mind other full moon sails were used to propel us toward a cruising adventure. Photographs don’t do justice to the beauty, tranquility and nighttime wonders you encounter. There isn’t a lot of ship traffic in the Sea at night; a few freighters and the ferry to the mainland have been our only encounters. One night a Mexican navy boat altered course to pass within a quarter mile of us to check out our intentions. We always operate the radar at night on short range and high gain to pickup any unlit pangas that might be cruising about. But the white of the breaking bow wave makes vessels in the distance pretty easy to spot.
We have enjoyed some spectacular surprises in the night Sea as well. At least one nearly brought us to the point of coronary. As we made respectable progress several hours after sunset and the moon was already high in the sky a blue whale surfaced to check us out within a few dozen meters of the boat. That first breath sounds more like a commercial compressor tank exploding and between the start we received and the excitement of seeing the planets largest species close up dozing off wasn’t a problem for another hour or so,
On a winter trip we encountered a large pod of dolphins, also enjoying moonlight fishing. In the cold water the luminescence was excited by not only the passage of the boat through the water, but the winding myriad of trails the hunting dolphins cut through the water. As these intelligent creatures lolled up along side to inspect us the eerie blue/green glow illuminated their entire sleek form underwater.
In July as we sailed north along the coast off Isla San Jose we could see a coyote running along the beach parallel to us. Darting in and out of the small surf he seemed to play, oblivious to our passage a few hundred years away. But in the moon light we could see him clearly.
Several of our full moon adventures found is blowing out of port in La Paz for a weekend or longer at the islands. From June through October we visited the friendly sea lions at Los Islotes more than a dozen times. Full and new moons are not the easiest time to swim with the sea lions. Although the rock outcroppings are located well off shore tidal currents can make “staying put” a little more challenging when snorkeling. From August to October our adventures seemed to have us passing the sea lion colony every Sunday. It got to the point where the yearlings remembered us and would take opportunity to ‘mug’ for the camera, virtually every time we tried to shoot.
The La Paz sailing club, Veleros de Baja, will be incorporating a Moonlight sail in the regatta itinerary for 2011. On January 19th participants will take a short tour around the Bay of La Paz, including stops in Balandra and the islands.
So next time you are sailing in the Sea come out and join us in the slivery light of the moon. Full Moon sailing isn’t just for lunatics you know!