Isla Coronado on a calm day.
Bahía San Juanico at dusk.
Beach at San Juanico.
Desert hills stretch to the interior of Baja.
San Juanico anchorage.
Desert cactus meets the sea.
A diving duck fished under our
boat for hours.
Fog layer at Bahía San Juanico drifts out to sea.
Gringo beach homes line the shores at Playa El Burro.
The source of the SSB radio
Sonrisa Net's weather
Looking down at Playa El Burro from
the mountain hike.
Playa El Burro.
Playa El Burro is fringed with ex-pat beach houses.
The Ancients saw the same striped fish we have.
A sand ray?
Scarlet cardón cactus flowers
have started to open.
Mark tries the pole at
the infamous Estrella
del Mar pub.
Pretty homes between tall palms on Playa Coyote.
Bays within bays: Playa El Burro within Bahía Coyote within Bahía Concepcion.
Easy living at Playa Santa Barbara.
Fancy beach palapa in
Playa Santa Barbara.
"Tents" for eco-tourists at Santa Barbara.
"Boondocking" on Playa Santa
Peace and tranquility at Isla Requesón in Bahía Concepción.
George greets us when we stop
for the world's best burger at
Nature's mosaic: rock patterns on the mountain at
Isla Requesón. Bahía Concepción's beaches and bays make the world slip away.
Bahía Concepción, Sea of Cortez, Mexico
June, 2011 - Two days before we left the Loreto area, at the very
end of May, we enjoyed a perfect evening in Isla Coronado,
drinking sundowners with a group of cruisers in a friend's cockpit on
flat calm water. The air was still as the sun slipped from the sky.
We chatted about the north winds due to arrive the next morning,
because we were all anchored in a cove that was totally exposed to
the north. Everyone agreed it was way too late in the season for a
real Norther where the wind would howl for several days, but no
one could make sense out of the forecasts which had ranged from
15 knots of breeze to 35 knots of wind, and from 12 hours to 24
hours duration, depending on the forecaster. We all decided to wait
until morning and see what happened. This anchorage was way
too pretty to leave, if we could avoid it.
On the opening pages of The Log of the Sea of Cortez John
Steinbeck writes: "The Sea of Cortez...is a long, narrow, highly
dangerous body of water. It is subject to sudden and vicious storms of great intensity." His description is right on target. After
a perfectly calm night, at 4:00 a.m. the boat turned and began to rock gently. At 5:00 a.m. a breeze began to blow. At 6:00
a.m. the rigging began to make noise and the wind was up to about 18 knots. We took a peak around the anchorage and all
but three of the boats had left for safety on the south side of the island, two miles away.
How much more would it blow? The weather sites we had relied on for 7 months both predicted nothing over 20 knots. No
problem. We stayed and began our customary wobble dance as Groovy began to roll and bounce. By 10:00 am the wind was
up to 28 knots and our gyrations were like the death throes of a rabid animal. Groovy pitched violently from side to side and
from front to back, and the waves poured into the anchorage relentlessly.
We were backed up to a lee shore whose white sand beach looked like a soft landing but whose crashing surf looked like it
could pummel anything to dust in minutes. We were confident that our ground tackle would hold us firm, but it was unnerving
to watch the fierce action on our the bow as Groovy yanked the anchor chain this way and that like a wild beast.
Finally we could take it no more, and at about noon we decided to make the two mile trek around to the south side of the
island where life might be equally blowy but a lot less jumpy. We hadn't traveled a half mile when the waves suddenly became
vertical walls of water. I have never seen such steep waves so close together. Groovy valiantly climbed and fell over each
one, alternately pointing her nose at the sky and then nearly burying it into the troughs of the waves. All around us the waves
curled over and broke like the tunnel waves you see on TV surfing shows.
A spray - not a wave - caught the kayak and bent the stainless steel racks supporting it like they were made of thin wire. That
was all it took to send us back into the anchorage. Bumping around for a while longer was better than risking life and limb to
get to smoother water. Once settled back on the hook we resumed our windy carnival ride under the mocking, blazing sun.
Who would ever guess this usually gorgeous anchorage could have such a mean streak? Such is the Sea of Cortez. As one
cruiser told us: "For every two days of paradise you get in the Sea of Cortez you have to pay with a third day of hell."
A fishing panga had crept ashore in the early hours as the wind was
coming up, and we watched two people huddle under a beach palapa all
day. They had overnight gear with them, and as the day ended and the
wind showed no signs of simmering down, they set up camp and spent
the night. By first light the next morning the wind had blown itself out
and the sea had flattened to a lilting roll with barely a ripple scuffing the
surface. Life was easy again and the little fishing panga disappeared
around the bend.
In the early days of June one online weather forecasting website wryly
noted: "Winter just refuses to let go of Baja." The winds which usually
turn south in the spring/summer continued to come out of the north until
mid-June. However, they were mostly light breezes that made for
pleasant sailing, and every night the wind and waves stopped all
together, letting us sleep in peace.
Except for its unpredictable bad temper, the Sea of Cortez is a dreamy place, and
as we settled into the pretty bay of San Juanico 20 miles or so north of Loreto, we
fell out of contact with civilization and the internet once again, and nature
Steinbeck noted in his Log, "One thing had impressed us deeply on this little
voyage: the great world dropped away very quickly... The matters of great
importance we had left were not important." And such were our days in the first
few weeks of June. Out of touch with everything but our immediate surroundings,
our world shrank to just the coves around us. Bahía San Juanico is a small bay
outlined by short beaches and punctuated by craggy rock towers. Osprey were
nesting in the peaks of several rock pinnacles, and their cries filled the air
mornings and evenings.
We took a hike up one of the mountains and were
rewarded with sweeping views. The anchorage lay
peacefully on one side of us and waves of brown,
scrubby, cactus covered mountains lay on the other
side. When not hiking or kayaking or snorkeling, we
rested, losing all track of time and days. Was it
Thursday or Monday? Was it noon or 4:00 pm?
Darkness didn't come until well after 9:00 pm, and we
woke only when the sun came in the windows and
forced our eyes open. Naps came easily.
Steinbeck also fell under this area's spell some 71 years before us, saying after a morning's snooze: "Sleeping late... has its
genuine therapeutic value," noting that with good rest he could work more effectively. Like us, however, he seemed to feel a
little bit of guilt as he melted into delicious lethargy: "We wish we could build as good a rationalization every time we are lazy."
Sailing another 35 miles or so north, we entered Bahía Concepción whose many charming anchorages swallowed us up for
the next ten days. This long slender bay runs along the Baja coast for 25 miles, and embraces several smaller bays along the
mainland shore. The region is cherished by nature loving gringos who drive down from the north to camp on its calm shores.
Palm thatched palapas offer shade for campers, RV parks offer hookups, and beach homes lie cheek-by-jowl along the sand.
Playa El Burro is the most popular among cruisers, and it is also home to Geary of
Single Side Band radio weather forecasting fame among sailors. His beachfront
home is the one covered with antennas. We later met Geary in October, 2011.
We enjoyed a terrific hike up a zig-zag route
that gave us stunning views of these
beaches. At the base of the hike is a large
collection of petroglyphs, cryptic notes from the
Ancients carved into the rocks. It seems they saw
many of the same things we've seen in this area:
striped fish, stingrays and sea turtles. A little
lizard kept a close eye on us as we passed.
A stop at the Estrella del Mar beach bar in Playa
Coyote saw Mark testing out their stripper's pole.
This is actually a very tame bar with a great group of
locals that we got to know over the ensuing days.
The community here is tightly knit, and we were
welcomed in as "los veleros," the sailboat people.
Playa Coyote boasts many lovely gringo homes
peaking out from beneath a canopy of tall palm trees, and we were
invited to a terrific chicken barbecue at one home. All our new friends
from the Estrella del Mar bar were there, and we felt like one of the bunch.
We enjoyed listening to them talk about the challenges of living and
running businesses on the beach without electricity, as we have lived
without electricity in the fifth wheel and boat for four years now. There is
electricity "in town" in Mulege 15 miles away, but the beach homes and
bars of Bahía Concepción operate on solar power and generators.
After a few days we slipped away from the crowd to see some of the less
visited places where the languor of Bahía Concepción overtook us
completely. Nature became our entertainment.
Five whale sharks, docile 25 foot long plankton eating fish that are neither
as imposing as a whale nor as fearsome as a shark, had taken up
residence in Bahía Concepción over the last few months. Cruisers and
shore visitors alike had enjoyed dinghying and snorkeling among them,
although we had not seen any yet.
As we pulled into the small, scenic cove of Playa Santa Barbara I kept seeing
radar returns on our chartplotter like that of a small boat in the middle of the bay.
Mark was on the bow and reassured me there was nothing there -- until he
spotted a whale shark. It must have surfaced a few times just high enough for
our radar to pick him up. We dropped the anchor and the whale shark reversed
direction and came over to check us out. What a thrill to see this enormous
spotted creature so close to the boat. Unfortunately he didn't stay long enough
for me to get a photo, and we never saw him again.
For several days there was just us, the desert and the sea in the tiny cove of
Playa Santa Barbara. Each morning we were awoken by the haunting calls of
quails and the shrill revving engine noise of cactus wrens in the thick grove of
cardón cactus on shore. The caws of crows and sing-song trills of cardinals
rounded out the sounds of the desert and brought a little bit of Arizona into our
cockpit. Mixed among these desert noises were the piercing cries of ospreys the
splashing water -- like kids at a pool -- from pelicans diving all around us.
We watched groups of creatures traveling together. Huge schools of tiny fish
swarmed Groovy, and when I jumped in to snorkel with them they were like a
thick dark cloud around me. Small jumping schools of fish pranced across the
water in leaps and bounds like steeplechase horses or skipping stones. Birds
commuted in well-formed lines, and for the first time I saw mixed flocks. A line
of boobies drafted off a pelican, like cyclists drafting off the lead rider, and
another time a single gull got an easy ride trailing at the end of a line of
pelicans. The days slowed down so much we noticed these things.
There was a single travel trailer parked
down by the beach and we kayaked
ashore to talk to the fellow living there.
His life was as simple as ours but more
permanently anchored to the beach. He was
bolstered by a huge cistern full of water and an
enormous propane tank. He turned out to be a
watchman for the owners of a resort that is being
built on the beach, and every Saturday he and
another fellow switch off spending a week in the
trailer overseeing the grounds.
The resort is currently comprised of several tent
houses that look like an ideal getaway place for
an eco-tourist vacation. There is a beautiful,
upscale beach palapa with an ornate thatched
roof, well crafted chairs on a large wooden deck,
and an enormous barbecue. Under a tree you
can pull a chain and get a fantastic fresh water shower. The resort's construction
supervisor arrived in a pickup and told us of plans to put a hotel on the hill and an 18 hole
golf course in place of the large stand of cardón cactus. So Baja California slowly
transforms, trading its wildness for gentrified beauty, one beach at a time.
A few miles south lies
Playa Buenaventura and Isla Requesón, a tiny island
hanging off the mainland on a sand spit. We tried to anchor
in this area twice but were blown out each time by
unexpectedly high afternoon winds. Sailing there at 2 knots
in a whisper of breeze the first time, Mark thought he saw
pelicans diving in the distance. It turned out to be a swatch
of whitecaps, and in a few minutes we were engulfed in 20
knot winds. The anchorages here are not protected, so we
ran back to hide at Playa Santa Barbara. We repeated this
exercise again two days later.
Finally the third time was
a charm, and we got the
hook down at Isla Requesón for
several days near its pretty, remote
beach. Giant angel fish outlined in
neon blue with brilliant yellow stripes
across their bodies came up to us as
we snorkeled, and the reef fish were
Camped on the white sand we found
a wonderfully friendly family from
Arizona who had set up their rugged
tent trailer just steps from the warm turquoise water. It was refreshing to
be with a family again, kids, parents and grandpa, and we shared a
pleasant afternoon together. But it also made us a bit homesick. All this
immersion in Arizona type desert and family campers made us long for
our trailer and family and friends back home.
Our days on the Groovy boat in the Sea of Cortez were drawing to a close, but our thoughts lay ahead of us in the crazy
logistics of transferring from 18 consecutive months on a sailboat to a brief summertime land-based life, while trying to tackle
the immense list of boat-related and living-related tasks that had mounted over the past few months. It wasn't until many
weeks later in our trailer at Bonito Campground / Wupatki National Monument in Flagstaff, Arizona, that we were finally
able to take a deep breath and ponder the impact on our lives of four years of traveling by RV and sailboat and the shock of
going home again.
Find Bahía Concepción, Playa El Burro, Playa Coyote, Playa Santa Barbara and Isla Requesón on Mexico Maps.