Bahía Concepción: the islands, mountains and peninsulas blend together.
Leaving Bahía Concepción the orange islands are inaccurately
charted. The purple radar image shows the correct locations.
The red triangles identify accurate GPS locations of the islands.
Our boat is the size of a city block.
Dangerous pinnacle rocks.
Pinnacles dot the Sea of Cortez landscape.
La Ramada Cove.
Strolling the beach at La Ramada.
Perfectly clear water.
Caleta San Juanico.
Groovy catches the wind and
Dolphin swims underwater next to Groovy.
Brightly colored cliffs near Loreto.
Hidden beach at Isla Coronado.
Vivid colors at our private beach.
It's just us and the
Private islando oasis at Isla Coronado.
Waterfront civilization just outside of Loreto.
Walking towards Loreto's town square.
Inside the Hotel Posada
Hotel Posada de las Flores.
Loreto's "Misión de Nuestra Señora."
Inside the cathedral.
Capturing the antique cathedral on
Puerto Escondido's marina docks.
Groovy waits at the fuel dock.
A boat is lost on a pinnacle rock.
Mark catches a Skip Jack Tuna.
La Ramada, Isla Coronado, Puerto Escondido, & Loreto
Late October, 2011 - It was hard to leave Bahía Concepción, but the time finally came and we headed out of the bay to
continue our trek south. Looking back over our shoulders we were reminded once again what a miracle GPS and electronic
marine navigation systems are for sailors today. In his Log of the Sea of Cortez, John Steinbeck talks about how hard it was to
navigate these waters in 1940 when the only tools the captain had were some sketchy charts and a coastal pilot book. The
islands are often indistinguishable from the mainland mountains and peninsulas, and the rugged coast often becomes a
A glance at our chartplotter shows just how confusing this
landscape can be even today, but for different reasons.
Unlike navigating in the US where electronic charts are
accurate down to individual slips within marinas, the
survey data used in Mexico's modern electronic charts
was collected not long after Steinbeck's voyage. Although
it gives a general idea of the layout and depths, it is often
inaccurate by a half mile, mile, or more. Islands that don't
exist feature prominently on the charts, and islands that
are a true threat in the water are nowhere to be found on
the charts. Fortunately the boat's radar tells the story as it
really is, and the electronic chartplotter overlays the radar
image onto the chart. You get used to sailing through
charted obstacles that aren't actually there.
The thing about the Sea of Cortez is that there are lots of pinnacle rocks
that stick up out of nowhere. Most are fifty feet or more in height, making
them easy to spot with radar and with bare eyes. But you still have to stay
on your toes, as many of them don't appear on the charts and can loom
Fortunately, the guidebook Sea of Cortez by Bansmer/
Breeding lists the GPS coordinates of every danger and
destination in the Sea, so for a boat equipped with a GPS
chartplotter, navigation is actually an easy paint-by-
The prevailing winds in the Sea of Cortez generally blow either from the north
or the south, and in autumn you get a few days of one direction alternating
with a few days from the other as the summer's predominant south winds give
way to winter's predominant north winds. We caught a ride with a big north
wind that swept us south to our next destination, La Ramada Cove.
spot is protected
only on its southern
side, but we got
lucky and the winds
shifted to the south
for the next few
So we were able to enjoy the isolation, peace and quiet of this idyllic
anchorage while staying just out of reach of the south wind that howled
outside the cove.
The water was beautifully clear and warm,
and sitting on the edge of the cockpit we
could see fish of all kinds swimming under
our boat, flashing in the sun as they zipped
this way and that.
One night we came on deck to see the most unusual bioluminescence. Brilliant little sparkling "eyes"
seemed to be looking up at us from the black depths all around the boat. One at a time they would
wink a few times and then suddenly burst and fade away into the black depths. As each light
exploded and dispersed it seemed to take on the shape of a jellyfish, but our flashlights revealed
nothing but ordinary fish around the boat. After a while the glittering stars disappeared. We still don't
know what they were.
One afternoon we hiked the
short distance from our beach
at La Ramada Cove to the
scenic cove of San Juanico on
the other side of a small hill.
We had spent several
languorous days at Caleta San
Juanico last spring, but now the
anchorage was deserted
because its mouth opens to the
south, which would have made
it very uncomfortable in the
current south wind.
However, the osprey were still
there, perfectly content with nature's unpredictability,
not worried in the least whether the wind was from
the north or south.
We caught the next north blow to carry us a little
further south to Isla Coronado outside of Loreto.
A pod of dolphins spotted us underway and came
leaping over to greet us. The water was so clear we
could see them perfectly as they swam under the
water alongside the boat.
Our route followed the contour of the mountains that make up Baja's
shoreline, and in places they were dramatically striated in shades of
red, black, brown and grey.
This is the magic of the Sea of Cortez. It is a rugged, remote, barren,
harsh land, but if you look beyond the surface it reveals a dramatic
beauty and is teeming with life.
Last spring Isla Coronado had been the scene of some of the
worst conditions we had experienced in seven months of cruising
Mexico when an unexpected post-season Norther blasted the little
north-facing anchorage. Fortunately, when we arrived this time
the bay was tranquil and inviting. We shared our island oasis with
just one other boat, Valkyrie, a small sloop captained by a friendly
There is a
away from the
and we took the
dinghy over to
out in sharp relief
rocks in the
We felt like we were standing on our own
private island, a world away from reality.
Our footprints joined those of
the herons that had been
walking on the sand earlier.
But there were hints of
civilization. After several
days without contact, we
were now able to get internet
access via the cell phone
tower at Loreto just a few
miles away from our island.
Soon we were lured across
the water to visit the town in
person, and we anchored outside
Loreto's tiny harbor.
It was a great feeling to
return to a town we had
come to know and love
last spring. We saw it
now with fresh eyes.
The town was celebrating
its 314th anniversary
when we arrived, and a
portion of the town
square was decked out
for the weekend's festivities.
We returned on the big night,
and the place was hopping
with music, fun, food, and stage events. If that
is how Loreto celebrates turning 314, imagine
what will happen when they hit a round
The ornate Hotel Posada de las Flores and the Mission
of Our Lady Church dominate the town square.
In a wonderful juxtaposition of the modern and the
antique, I watched a man lining up a photo of the
historic cathedral on his iPad. After he got his shot, a
group of us all stood around and admired his wonderfully backlit 8x10
photo. It was beautifully accented by the iPad's white frame and
made me realize what a long way we've come since the days of
A few days of big north winds and accompanying steep waves sent
us into hiding nearby at Puerto Ballandra, one of the few truly
protected anchorages in the Sea. Last spring it had been nicknamed
"Bee Landra" because of the abundance of fresh water seeking bees
that harassed all the boats. We decided a few bees in a peaceful
anchorage would be better than rolling around in big seas and winds somewhere else. As
it turned out, the bees were few and manageable, due, in part, to the really good fly
swatters we brought down with us this season! With the Sea of Cortez bees we have
found that the best defense is an aggressive offense. None of that pansy "leave the bee
alone and it won't bother you" stuff. We go all out in our attacks, swatting the air, the boat
and each other to kill the scout bees. They are slow moving and must be a bit delicate, as
they are easy (and very satisfying) to kill with a swatter. (I tried asking them nicely to
leave, but they refused).
While in Puerto Ballandra one
afternoon we were idly watching
a boat sailing towards the entrance when we noticed that by dusk it
still hadn't made it into the anchorage. Mark hopped in a friend's
dinghy and they motored out to see if the boat needed help. It turned
out that along with a broken engine and a sail that was stuck partially
raised, the fellow sailing the boat could not find the entrance to the bay
and had been drifting back and forth looking for it all afternoon. He
was confused by the mirage of rocky peaks, and didn't have any
electronic navigation gear on board. Darkness fell, and Mark and his
buddy guided the boat into the anchorage, nudging it forward with the
dink, and helped him find a place to drop the hook.
When the north wind diminished to a manageable scale we
continued moving south, making a quick fuel stop at Puerto
Escondido, the only place with fuel for a hundred miles or so
in either direction.
As we sailed towards Puerto Escondido there was a lot of
commotion on the radio about a boat that had gone up on the
rocks nearby. There were no injuries, but the singlehanding
captain was rapidly unloading all his belongings onto the
rocks and examining a six inch wide hole in the bottom of the
boat to see if there was any way to salvage it. We listened as
a group assembled to lend assistance and bring out sheets of
plywood, bilge pumps and moral support.
The next morning as we left Puerto Escondido we could
see something glinting in the sun on the horizon ahead of
us. Soon it morphed into a sailboat on its side in front of
a towering pinnacle rock, and we realized this was the
boat we had heard about the day before. This pinnacle
rock was one of several in the area called "Los
Candeleros" ("The Candlesticks"). We later sadly
discovered the boat was Valkyrie, the one we had
anchored with at Isla Coronado a few days earlier.
Tragically, the captain had driven straight into the
pinnacle rock and nailed it head on. Ouch. Thank
goodness the only loss was material.
Taking a deep breath and forging ahead, we made our way south
towards Agua Verde. With no wind and nothing to do on board as
we motored along (just one pinnacle rock for 40 miles), Mark threw
out a fishing line. Last year all the cruisers complained of bad fishing
up and down the entire west coast of Mexico. So we were stunned
when within half an hour Mark had landed a fish. Wow! Yikes!! What to do? We were totally unprepared for a fish actually
biting the lure. I ran around excitedly, trying to be helpful, "Are you going to stun it by pouring alcohol in its mouth like our
friends suggested? What kind - rubbing alcohol? Where do we keep that stuff? Are you going to slit the gills to kills it? Do you
need a knife? A cutting board? Gosh, you gotta do something with that flopping fish, and quick!" I must have run up and down
the companionway stairs six times. At least I didn't cry this time.
Mark was much more level headed. He calmly threw some ice in a bucket and put the bucket and
the fish in the dinghy off the back while we continued on to Agua Verde.
One of the weird things about
fishing is figuring out what you
caught. Fish don't come with
labels and a lot of species don't
taste good and need to be
thrown back. Mark looked up his
catch in a book, and it was a Skip
Jack Tuna, rated as "good
eating." Sure enough, once we
were anchored he filleted it like a
pro and barbecued it. We
enjoyed it for three absolutely
yummy meals over the next few
days as we made our way south
towards the beauitful island anchorages near La Paz.
Find La Ramada Cove, San Juanico, Isla Coronado, Loreto, Puerto Escondido and Agua Verde on Mexico Maps.
**While in Acapulco we read an article in their yacht club magazine about the salvage and recovery of the yacht Valkyrie!