A Peek at the Sea of Cortez

Sailing saga chapter six is coming to you from La Paz.  It’s been more than a month since my “magic fingers” danced over the laptop keyboard and provided you with the last saga.  Needless to say, a lot has happened, and I’m finally going to chronicle the high points to indulge the “armchair traveler” in all of you.  So get comfy and be ready to “ooh and aah” over the beautiful watercolors of the anchorages in the Sea of Cortez.

In the fifth saga, Our Hero (aka “The Captain”) gallantly fought his way north from Nuevo Vallarta to Mazatlan.  Actually, it wasn’t all that bad, but still involved the usual challenges:  fighting off boredom from droning along under power, and maintaining one’s sanity when assaulted by the incessant rolling in some anchorages.  These two constant companions were overshadowed only by the attack of the bees in the anchorage at San Blas (Matanchen Bay).

This saga chapter will fill you in on The Captain’s adventures on the “high seas” as he takes a deep breath and plunges headlong into crossing the Sea of Cortez from Mazatlan to (eventually) La Paz.  With long sea passages being inherently boring, I have taken the liberty to add the adventures in the Sea of Cortez.  So, read on my friends and enjoy the trials and tribulations of cruising north from La Paz to Bahia Agua Verde and back.

The closing paragraph in the last saga chapter rhetorically asked if The Captain would get his butt kicked during the Sea of Cortez crossing from Mazatlan to Bahia de Los Muertos.  In short, the answer is no.  In fact, the winds and seas were almost the opposite of the first crossing.  At no time during the entire 40 hours did the winds exceed eight knots; the waves were no more than one to two feet.  The downside was that the engine ran non-stop the entire time and resulted in the longest engine run Our Hero has ever experienced.

Picture61Of course, like any adventure on the sea, this one was not without its nuances.  This is a good thing; otherwise, the boredom would become overwhelming.  There is a ferry service that runs regularly between Mazatlan and La Paz.  The ferry must follow a route similar to mine since we crossed paths in the middle of “nowhere.”  Fortunately, it was daylight and when overtaking No Moss the ferry kept a safe and respectful distance.

Picture62Mother Nature was kind enough to grace this passage with light winds, but on one evening she went nutso and provided a very impressive sunset.  It’s experiences such as this that “make the bad go away” when one remembers all the crappy weather and sea conditions experienced on a cruise in a small boat.

At long last about midday (day three), The Captain and stalwart No Moss arrived safely and none-the-worse for wear in the anchorage at Bahia de Los Muertos (translated:  Bay of the Dead).  As you might guess, there were no bodies floating in the water; in fact, it was a very pretty anchorage but not nearly as visually impressive as ones to come later.

Picture63There was only one other cruising sailboat in the anchorage upon my arrival, but by nightfall, at least seven others had dropped anchor as well.  Here’s the other sailboat with the cruiser-friendly beachfront restaurant on shore.

To make up for the prior beautiful sunset, Mother Nature and King Neptune combined forces to slap us around a little and instill some humility among those of us in the anchorage.  From about ten that night until four the next morning, the wind came up and blew in the low 20-knot range with gusts to the mid or upper 20s.  About two in the morning, Our Hero dragged himself out of a nice warm (but somewhat “storm-tossed”) bunk to go on deck and let out another 25 feet of anchor chain.  Obviously, sleep was in short supply until the winds died down.

The next day’s leg to Puerto Balandra (an anchorage ten miles north of La Paz) was about a ten-hour motor-sail, so the anchor came up shortly after sunrise and No Moss joined the exodus from the anchorage.  Trying to make it all the way to La Paz could have resulted in arriving after dark and that is never a good thing to do.  Now, I ask your indulgence here.  There was more than one visit to this anchorage over the following weeks, thus I’m saving the pictures of Puerto Balandra for later in the saga.

Marina Palmira in La Paz proved to be a good choice due to its location, services, and the quality of its facilities.  There is nothing visually remarkable about this marina so I will abstain from including pictures.  If you have a burning desire to see the marina pictures, send me an email request.  Trust me.  The pictures of the anchorages are much more enthralling.

Our Hero spent a week here to get the best daily slip rate and complete various projects before wandering north into the Sea of Cortez.  Doing laundry and buying groceries were only some of the exciting pastimes engaged in during the week.  Once most things were in order, it was time to leave “civilization” and head north.

This is the part of the cruise that was the driving force behind the concept of doing another “Mexico cruise.”  In my prior two cruises, I had never gone north of La Paz.  Now was the time to remedy that.  I allowed myself 11 days to go as far north of La Paz as possible and return.  The 11 days was based primarily on the need to return in time to meet Paula and then head out again and share the best anchorages with her during the 10 days she had for her visit.

Picture64On my first day, I left Marina Palmira and motor-sailed to Espiritu Santo – more specifically the best anchorage on the west side, Caleta Partida.  This proved to be a fairly well-protected anchorage and hinted at the turquoise-blue waters that were yet to come.  Its popularity as an anchorage was in evidence as I joined a “crowd” of about nine other boats sharing the wide, cliff-edged passage to anchor in the cove at the east end.

FYI and speaking of turquoise-blue waters, the lighter the watercolor, the less the depth.  Thus, it may look like a spacious anchorage, but in actuality, only a limited portion of the area is deep enough to anchor safely.

Picture65The following day was a seven-hour run to the anchorage at San Evaristo.  This anchorage proved to be even smaller when considering usable anchoring space/depth.  The cruising guide write-up and my assessment were not in agreement.  Fortunately, I set the anchor in an appropriate depth and location on the second try.  The first try put No Moss in shallow water even though I was a comfortable distance from the nearest anchored boat.  I definitely got my workout for the day as hauling in 75-100 feet of 5/16thinch chain is no easy matter.  Once that was done, a look around the anchorage proved that there just wasn’t much here.

I left the next morning for Bahia Timbabiche (pronounced:  tim-ba-beech-ay).  This proved to be a less well-protected anchorage, but had the favorable characteristics of being remote (no one around on the beach), pretty, and shortened this day’s run to five hours; the same run the next day would get me to Bahia Agua Verde.

The next day was bad news times two.  First, I was headed north, and guess where the wind was coming from after an hour or so underway.  You guessed it.  There was enough wind (10-12 knots if I remember correctly) to create waves in the 2-3 foot range, and these would seriously slow the boat when plowing straight into them.  To alleviate that problem somewhat, I increased the engine rpm setting and made long tacks left and right of my course line with help from the jib.

Now for the second bad news:  the anchorage at Bahia Agua Verde also was not up to my expectations based on the write-up in the cruising guide.  What the cruising guide didn’t tell you was the following:  there is only one good location to anchor (and it’s very small in size); plus the rest of the bay is open to the prevailing northerly winds and waves making the anchorage a rolling nightmare.

Picture68The anchorage was visually appealing, but that was it.  The best part of the anchorage was already “taken,” and there was no room for another boat.  I had to drop anchor off the beach in the picture and say that “misery loves company” since there was one other boat anchored nearby and suffering the same discomfort.

Of course the light breeze that night was from the west and just enough to swing No Moss to lie beam to the waves that were coming from the north.  It was a very uncomfortable night.  The only way I could sleep and stay in a bunk was to rig the “lee cloth” for the couch in the main cabin.  It worked well, but sleep was hard to come by even then.

I was well-motivated (even though drag-ass tired) to pull up the anchor at sunrise and head south. I had planned to stay an extra day, but no way after that kind of night.  Bahia Agua Verde was the farthest north I could go with the time I had available.  Essentially I fulfilled my cruise goal of “going north of La Paz.”  There may have been better anchorages to the north, but I don’t know and that’s okay.  I still had yet to anchor in Isla San Francisco.

Picture610Next stop was back to Bahia Timbabiche.  This time I was going with the wind and it was a great sail for the entire five-plus hours.  The only downside was the north wind had a slight easterly component and the anchorage was protected from the wind and waves but not to the extent I would have liked.  Still, it was not a rolly anchorage and No Moss had the wind and waves on the bow while anchored, so all was reasonably well.  Two huts on the beach were occupied this time.  One of the fishermen had his kids with him.  They stopped by after a day of fishing and asked if I wanted any fish – “no hoy, gracias” (not today, thanks).

Picture611The next day was the antithesis of the day before it.  No wind.  I left Bahia Timbabiche and headed for the anchorage at Isla San Francisco.  That meant by-passing San Evaristo, but that was fine with me.  I was hoping that Isla San Francisco would prove to be a better anchorage.  And, it did.  But, I’ll get to that in a minute.

The water was flat calm and very clear.  For a brief time before passing San Evaristo, there were three dolphins that swam beside the bow of the boat.  I was able to get a really good picture of one of them and their visit was the highlight of the day.  It was only exceeded by the anchorage at Isla San Francisco.

The anchorage was the epitome of the tourism brochures’ “beautiful anchorage” pictures.  I took photos while I was there, but knew I would come back with Paula. So, to keep continuity to this saga (while feebly attempting to keep from being long-winded), let me say that I spent an extra day there and then headed to Puerto Balandra and eventually back to Marina Palmira to pick up Paula.

Picture612Now, fast-forward to a week later and leaving Marina Palmira with Paula aboard to head out to the “islands.”  Our first day was to Caleta Partida for an overnight there.  It was an uneventful motor-sail with the usual more motoring than sailing.  However, Paula enjoyed the time on the water and found the anchorage to be very pretty and worth the visit.  Here she is on a deck while anchored in Caleta Partida.

Obviously, we were short on time and wanted to spend as little of it in-transit as possible.  The next day we were off on the five-hour run to Isla San Francisco.  The day was windy and not from a great direction, but we made reasonable progress.  The only snafu was arriving too far along the east side of the island and having to make a u-turn to get to the anchorage.

Picture613The northeast wind and two big motor yachts forced us to anchor in a less-than-ideal spot, but we were there.  The wind eventually died as the day passed and the motor yachts left:  one that evening and the other the next morning.  After the second motor yacht left, we decided it was worth the effort to haul up the anchor and chain and move to a better spot since we were planning to spend the entire day and that night.

Picture614We went ashore in our dinghy late in the morning and enjoyed some shoreside exploration before the wind came back.  The beach is semi-circular and lines virtually the entire cove/anchorage.  The water colors are most impressive.

Here’s No Moss anchored in about 15 feet of water and that’s our dinghy pulled up on the beach.  There is a sand dune that is centered on the semi-circle and cliffs (like bookends) at either end of the beach.

Picture615Paula is at the top of the dune (with her back to the anchorage) and looking across the island to the other shore.  She’s in the process of taking pictures with her phone camera and may come up with potential artwork as a result if she gets something she likes.

It was a quiet night at anchor and we left early (just after sunrise) to by-pass Caleta Partida and eventually anchor in Puerto Balandra.  This would allow us an extra day in Puerto Balandra – something I knew she would like since she enjoyed Isla San Francisco.  The seven-hour motor-sail was uneventful with light winds until crossing the San Lorenzo Channel from the end of Espiritu Santo to Puerto Balandra.  The breeze stiffened and the jib provided a lot of drive so I could back off on the engine rpm for the last hour and a half (might as well save fuel when one can).

Puerto Balandra proved to be as pleasing to Paula as Isla San Francisco (maybe more so).  There were more people (there is road access to the beaches) and boats, but not to the point of spoiling the experience.  We went ashore again in the dinghy and walked the beach; I photographed while Paula took photos but spent more time collecting shells.

Picture617Picture616The “trademark” feature of Puerto Balandra is its mushroom rock.  We particularly enjoyed the water colors and the fact that the water was so clear.

The wind came up that night and blew in the high teens and low twenties (knots) from about two in the morning until four.  Then it was as if someone flipped a switch and the wind died.  There was plenty of anchor chain out, so I got up once or twice to check that we weren’t dragging anchor, then went back to bed.

The two-hour run back to Marina Palmira was ho-hum wind-wise and otherwise.  We were back in the slip just before noon and decided to treat ourselves (actually The Captain paid for the crew’s lunch as a “thank-you for coming”) at one of the two restaurants in the marina complex.

BUT, before sitting down to lunch, we stopped by dock five and reconnected with our sailing friends, Lynne and Steve, whom we had last seen in Marina La Cruz on Banderas Bay (Puerto Vallarta area).  They had made it across the Sea of Cortez about three days prior and were now happy to be in La Paz.

Paula had an extra day here in La Paz.  We went out to dinner with Steve and Lynne plus Dave and Nikki whom we also know from our time in Marina La Cruz.  It was a good time with special people who share the unique bond of cruising under sail in small boats.

That brings you up to date on the wanderings of Our Hero . . .

Stay tuned for the gory details as Our Hero and intrepid crew, Nathalie, endeavor to sail against prevailing winds and currents as they do the infamous “Baja Bash.”  Will they sail and motor with benign conditions or will Mother Nature and King Neptune test their mettle with contrary winds and seas?  Will they get their butts kicked during the 750+ nautical miles from Cabo San Lucas to San Diego?  Who knows . . .

Signing off for now,

Neal

Ed: Neal Doten is a member of The Club at Westpoint and an active boater. In addition to these delightful travelogs, Neal provides advice and guidance to boaters undertaking coastal cruising especially those looking for adventure on the Mexican and Central American shorelines. Read about his educational program here. You can contact Neal by completing the contact form below.

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