Having sailed from San Diego last fall, he has sailed and surfed his way through Baja. This is Stefan's second story for the Insider and this time he takes us up sailing into the Sea of Cortez in the early days of summer. The weather is warmer and there are fewer cruisers in the anchorages and the water is an unforgettable shade of blue-green...
I left Marina CostaBaja late in the afternoon. Too many last minute boat projects, provisioning and washing down the boat and sails, I didn't get to the fuel dock in time to fill another 5 gal gasoline container, in case the winds wouldn't blow.
My first stop was the beautiful bay of Puerto Balandra 8 nm away. I arrived there just before darkness, thanks to a little help from my outboard motor. It's an old and wasteful 15hp Chrysler that left me with 11 gallons for the rest of the trip. (1 hour motoring gets me about 5 nm and burns 1 gallon). I anchored close to a couple named Blanca and Steve on "Aloha", a 38 ft Downeaster cutter. We met at the marina and decided to do some buddy boating while exploring the Lower Gulf.
Let me write one paragraph of praise about La Paz before we forget all about the city life. I really liked that European flair and the feel of this old city. You know, some cities have a kind of negative vibe (like Cabo San Lucas to me) but here I felt very welcome and immediately at ease. All the people I met were super friendly, you saw a lot of smiles and the city offered everything I was looking for. John Steinbeck wrote 1941 in his log of the Sea of Cortez: "...there is the genuine fascination of the city of La Paz.
Everyone in the area knows the greatness of La Paz...The Indians paddle hundreds of miles to be at La Paz on a feast day. It is a proud thing to have been born in La Paz, and a cloud of delight hangs over the distant city from the time when it was the great pearl center of the world."
That night the Coromuel winds blew hard and I didn't sleep too well, with gusts of 30 knots. The cliffs east from Punta Diablo protect the anchorage from any wind chop but the winds still come down hard. Steve didn't get much sleep either and said: "Oh boy, I sure don't like those Coromuels."
After breakfast on "Aloha" we took the dinghy to get the mandatory picture of the famous "resurrected" mushroom rock and snorkeled along the southern rocks of the bay. Great visibility, the water was warm and lots of fish. The water actually felt so good and inviting, I cleaned both boats hulls and I was rewarded with a fantastic dinner of scallops, linguini and white wine aboard "Aloha" and slept like a log the second night.
Next stop: Caleta Partida. It's about 14 nm NNW and an early start let me make good use of the Coromuel winds. This is a local southerly wind that usually comes up in the evening and blows into the early morning. The anchorage lies between Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida. It is the largest anchorage of the two islands, offers good protection and therefore can get crowded.
We took "Aloha's" dinghy through the shoal draft passage and found an excellent snorkeling spot on the east side of Isla Espiritu Santo. There was a little pebble beach to keep the dinghy and to rest in the shade between dives. The visibility was at least 30 feet and I speared us three fish for dinner. A little further south is a pretty big sea cave we drove inside. It is right under the profile of Alfred Hitchcock!
The archipelago of Espiritu Santo is part of a natural protected area known as the "Islands of the Gulf of California". This area, which includes more than 900 islands and islets is approximately 50% of the Mexican insular territory. The National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (conanp) started this year to define national parks, biosphere reserves, flora and fauna protection areas, national forest reserve and fauna shelters and national monuments. You might come across some rangers and be asked for a daily entrance fee of 20 or 40 pesos if you go ashore. A one year conservation passport costs 250 pesos.
Our next anchorage was Ensenada Grande only 5 nm away on Isla Partida. There was little and variable wind and I sailed for 2 1/2 hours to get there. Before entering the bay I saw 2 whales on my port side and took lots of pictures.
We anchored in the south bight to get the most protection from the Coromuel winds that were blowing each night in the 15-20 knot range. I have made it a routine now to dive on the anchor after arrivals and it is always relieving to see my Bruce anchor dug in the sand. Buying an additional 40 feet of chain in La Paz also helps for a good night's rest. The rock formations on the north side of this bight looked really spectacular and colorful in the soft light just before sunset. "Timoneer" a 140something feet yawl was anchored further out. We talked to the crew and she is on her way to La Paz and the only marina deep enough for her draft is Marina CostaBaja.
Another nice routine that developed is having breakfast on "Aloha" with Blanca and Steve and listening to the Amigo Net with Don's highly appreciated weather forecast. After French toast and fruit salad I tried spear fishing along the rocky shore. Great visibility in turquoise water. A 4 ft green, nasty looking, moray eel scared me a little and I swam swiftly in the opposite direction
After watching another guy hunting for the "fruits of the sea" I swam over to their boat. Roy is using a spear gun and he showed and explained it to me. When I get back to La Paz I will be looking for one to upgrade from my Hawaiin slingshot. He and his wife were chartering a catamaran with two other couples. They all have their own boats in San Diego and Canada but chose this option to be in this unique location for one week. (Jacques Cousteau called the Sea of Cortez "Aquarium to the World"). They seemed to enjoy themselves very much, with Jimmy Buffet playing over the stereo and sipping margaritas on 38 ft. "Jam". \
I departed Ensenada Grande in the dark at 5:30 in the morning to have the Coromuel winds behind me on my way to Isla San Francisco. I woke up excited and quite awake to set sail. Got the boat ready while having a cup of tea, hoisted the jib and pulled up the anchor. While the autopilot took care of the steering I had a big bowl of cereal with fresh fruits and nuts. Smooth sailing and I arrived at 9:00 with an average of a little over 5 knots/hour under jib alone. "The Hook" is a comma-shaped cove on the south side of Isla San Francisco where I anchored in 8 feet of water. There was no need to dive on the anchor, you could clearly see the chain and anchor on the bottom. Nevertheless I went for a swim to the beach and did some yoga, enjoying this spot with its white sandy beach. In the evening I went snorkeling with Blanca and we saw lots of fish around the reef by the lighthouse. I speared a clown hawkfish for dinner, that thought to be safe hiding under a rock but instead provided us with tasty white fillets.
Next morning I made hot cakes (integrales!) for our breakfast on "Aloha" and departed in light southerly winds at 10:30 for Punta Evaristo. I think this is about where the Coromuel winds come to an end. While I was getting slowly closer to Evaristo, Blanca and Steve stopped at Bahia Amortajada on Isla San Jose to check out the lagoon and mangroves. They took their dinghy through the narrow river-like channel. None of us wanted to stay there overnight because of potential mosquitos and no-see-ums.
It took me "only" 3 hours to cover those 10 nm, thanks to the effects of a flood tide; the currents gave me a good push towards the land. I was trawling two lures through the Canal de San Jose but I guess my speed was too slow to attract any fish. The bay of Evaristo is a popular anchorage with different spots to get the right protection. About a 1/4 mile south of Punta Romualdo (the southern point of the bay) you can see an arc in the cliffs. All the guidebooks mention how friendly the people are, the excellent diving, the good holding ground and an easy landing on the beach.
They even have a desalination plant if you need any water. There is a little store (that was closed while we were there because the owner went to La Paz to stock up) and a woman who sells fresh tortillas and cold beers. What else could you ask for? Well, it got pretty hot during the days and Steve was saying: "oh boy, those Coromuels would sure be nice."
The woman's name is Elizabeth and she also sold us some red clams and fruits. From the fishermen we bought a dog snapper. What a fine dinner we had!
After 2 enjoyable nights we headed for Los Gatos, 26 nm to the northwest, also on Baja's eastern coast. This was my longest leg and it took me 7 hours, including 4 hours with the spinnaker in light southerly winds and about an hour of motoring. The red colored cliffs make a beautiful setting and the underwater scenery is as colorful as the surrounding terrain. Welcome to marine wonderland! The water is so clear, you can see the fish pooping in the water and trailing a cloud behind them. Watch out for the long submerged reef off the southern entrance. Once you are anchored you might order some fish or lobster from Manuel, the local entrepreneur with his panga. Kick back, relax and enjoy some seafood and cocktails.
On our second day "Trick" with Patricia and John (who also stayed at Marina CostaBaja) sailed in and we all met for drinks in "Aloha's" well shaded cockpit. Our nice gathering was interrupted with glasses starting to slide on the table. Some wind chop out of the east rolled in and the boats were turned into the light south wind. Blanca and Steve had the rolliest night, I set my stern anchor and slept as well as Patricia and John aboard their trimaran.
"Pegasus" (a Norseman 447) with Al and Sandy was another boat at anchor. Steve has met them before and introduced me to Al. He helped me to identify some fish through his great book selection and even gave me a copy of "The Baja Catch" by Neil Kelly and Gene Kira. They say: "The Sea of Cortez itself is a body of water about 700 miles long, 100 to 150 miles wide and over 4000 feet deep. Although it is subject to seasonal storms and sudden severe winds, it usually has no big surf or swell and no really cold water. At different seasons it teems with big, medium and small game fish. In places, pods of marlin, sailfish, dorado and wahoo are within one to five miles of shore." Al caught a delicious dorado south of Isla San Francisco and I only caught 2 small black skipjacks off Punta San Marcial. "When starving on a deserted island it may taste good."
"Aloha" left for Bahia Agua Verde just after sunrise to put an end to their uncomfortable rolling. "Trick" and "Ky-Mani" left at 11:00 with a 10 knot east wind and the anchorage was empty. After an hour of smooth sailing the wind got lighter and variable and finally blew mildly out of the south. Around Punta San Marcial the wind came from the east again and the last 3 miles were an easy downwind run. We all took the inside passage between Rocas San Marcial (with a light tower on it) and the point but stayed outside the other reef southeast of Punta San Marcial. Use caution.
The distance between Los Gatos and Agua Verde is about 16nm and you are about 90 miles away from La Paz. You can choose between three anchorages, all surrounded by astonishing landscapes. The most greenish water we found in the south bight. "Trick" didn't trust the bottom and moved over in front of the town's beach. (In town you will find a well stocked store and a basic palapa restaurant). John dove down and his anchor wouldn't dig in far enough. There was a layer of about 1inch of sand and below it was really hard. "Aloha" and me stayed there for two peaceful nights before Don forecasted winds from the north, up to 25 knots. In that case you would find better shelter in the northern cove.
The night before we moved to the north we had a pot luck dinner on the south beach. Darlin and Roy "Scrimshaw" announced it over the VHF. Besides "Aloha", "Trick" and "Ky-Mani" there was Tom "Cosmic Wind", Dave and Mike "Ni Modo Oho" and Shelly and Jody "Eros". One common question is, if I don't get lonely sailing single-handed. No, because I like my own company and you can always meet people if you want to. And I am pleasantly surprised how nice and friendly all those cruisers are. There really is this floating community out there with great people and positive attitudes; good times. I also find a lot of encouragement, cruisers telling me: "it's good that you do this while you are still young" or "man, sometimes we wish we would have a smaller boat like yours". That's right and I can always go back to work if I have to....
Be aware of the submerged rock in the northwest cove. A 30 ft. sailboat sank right next to it during hurricane “Marty”, its mast resting on that pinnacle rock. The boat lays on the side in depth of about 20 feet, so you can easily snorkel around it. Lots of fish made the wreck their home. Even if you stay on your boat you can enjoy this turquoise water, the surrounding mountains and the tranquility of this picturesque place.
Our last evening in Agua Verde we had another get together on "Aloha". Larry "Viking Son" and Alice, Steven and Jens "Veleda". Our group was very international and we represented the countries of the USA, Mexico, Canada, Denmark and Germany. We ate sashimi, tostados with guacamole, beef tacos and flan for dessert. Next morning we had to say good bye and they sailed north to Puerto Escondido and I got on my way south, back to La Paz.
Another enjoyable day we spent on “Aloha” watching the DVD “Lonesome Dove”, capturing the American pioneer spirit. It´s a 6 hour movie but well worth watching. There is great acting by Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, Danny Glover and other stars. They are on a 2500 mile cattle drive to Montana. You can call that movie a masterpiece, a magnificent drama and romance of the American west. Steve said: “it´s the best western ever made.” Right on!
I made one night stops at Los Gatos, Nopolo Cove (strong headwinds and the tide turning against me didn't let me make it to Evaristo; nice anchorage there with a small lagoon and high mountains close), Isla San Francisco, Ensenada Grande and Caleta Lobos. It was nice to have the Coromuel winds behind me, going north. Sailing back meant beating into short, steep little wind waves with a reefed main until the usual afternoon north west breeze came up. Well, therefore I returned with 7 gallons of gas and spent most of the days doing what I like!
Now I am back at Marina CostaBaja with lots of great memories and pictures from those 3 weeks. Let me finish with another quote from John Steinbeck's log: "Trying to remember the Gulf is like trying to re-create a dream. This is by no means a sentimental thing, it has little to do with beauty or even conscious liking. But the Gulf does draw one, and we have talked to rich men who own boats, who can go where they will. Regularly they find themselves sucked into the Gulf. And since we have returned, there is always in the backs of our minds the positive drive to go back again."
Stefan Paul Ries