Pacific Baja – Exploring Mag Bay

sv Groovy - Twizzle Rig (

Our Twizzle Rig takes us


Approaching Magdalena Bay

An elegant power yacht preceeds us into Magdalena Bay.

Pangas in Magdalena Bay

Pangas filled the bay.

Panga at Magdalena Bay Fish Camp at Punta Belcher, Magdalena Bay

It is simple living at the fish camp.

Fish Camp at Punta Belcher, Magdalena Bay

Just steps from the water, life is lived close to nature.

Pelican roost at Punta Belcher, Magdalena Bay

Pelicans roost on wooden pilons from

a bygone age.

Pelican roost at Punta Belcher, Magdalena Bay Whaling ruins at Punta Belcher, Magdalena Bay

Concrete pilons from an ancient jetty.

Kayak at Punta Belcher, Magdalena Bay

This could almost be Roosevelt

Lake outside Phoenix.

Gulls line the shore at Belcher Point.

Gulls line the shore at Belcher Point.

All kinds of sea shells at Punta Belcher, Bahia Magdalena, Baja California

We found shells of all shapes and sizes on the beach.

All kinds of sea shells at Punta Belcher, Bahia Magdalena, Baja California Views from Belcher Point, Bahia Magdalena.

Friends come to join us ashore.

Views from Belcher Point, Bahia Magdalena.

A peaceful view out into Magdalena Bay.

All kinds of sea shells at Punta Belcher, Bahia Magdalena, Baja California

Lots of round vertebral disks were

scattered among the shells.

All kinds of sea shells at Punta Belcher, Bahia Magdalena, Baja California

Someone's head.

Dolphin? Pelican?

Shrimp at Punta Belcher, Bahia Magdalena, Baja California

Shrimp-like creatures lay in thick

waves along the beach.

A crab at Punta Belcher, Bahia Magdalena, Baja California

Closed up on the defensive, a rock.

A crab at Punta Belcher, Bahia Magdalena, Baja California

Opened in offense, watch out!

Pangas raft up for lunch at Punta Belcher, Bahia Magdalena, Baja California

Several pangas rafted up along the beach for a lunch break.

A loved one's shrine or memorial at Punta Belcher, Bahia Magdalena, Baja California

A loved one's memorial overlooked the

beach and bay.

Views from Punta Belcher, Bahia Magdalena, Baja California

Virgin sand stretched before us further down the beach

at Belcher Point.

Fog encloses the entrance to Bahia Magdalena, Baja California

A thick bank of fog surrounded us as we crept out of the bay.

Fog encloses the entrance to Bahia Magdalena, Baja California

Fog along the Pacific shoreline of the bay

resembled glaciers in the distance.

The last lighthouse of Magdalena Bay. Next: 150 miles of open

water as the shoreline slipped away to the east.

A frigatebird


Two frigatebirds took turns trying to land on our swaying mast.

Two frigatebirds took turns trying to land on

our swaying mast.

A cruise ship heading north passes us at sunset.

Leaving Cabo behind, a cruise ship returns north while our

Cabo adventures still lie ahead on the southern horizon.

Pacific Baja California Coast, Mexico (2)

Mid-November, 2010 - Continuing our sail down the 750 miles of the Baja California Pacific

coast, we left Bahía Santa Maria and made our way 20 miles further to Belcher Cove in

Magdalena Bay.  We were now about 80% of the way down the coast on our way to Cabo

San Lucas. As we sailed, we experimented with our twin headsail setup.  With two jibs hoisted

on the twin grooves of the single forestay, this is a powerful downwind rig.  We had run it

without using any whisker poles on previous days, finding that it worked very well as long as

there was little swell and we were faced directly downwind.  On the short leg to Bahía Santa

Maria we sailed it exactly as it is designed to be sailed, using twin whisker poles joined

together by a multiply looped line.

A faster way to go, of course,

is by large motor yacht.  As we

lumped along making 4 to 5

knots in less than 10 knots of

wind, a sleek power yacht

slipped along the shoreline

ahead of us.

Magdalena Bay ("Bahía Magdalena") is as large as San

Francisco Bay, and it is teeming with fish and fishermen.

Watching and listening to the pangas (open boats used for

fishing) motoring around the bay us reminded me of my

childhood days on Boston's north shore where lobstermen

plied the waters every morning, setting and retrieving their

traps.  The fishermen were friendly and would wave every

time they passed us.

We anchored at Punta Belcher (Belcher Point), a small anchorage just

three miles from the entrance to the bay.  The main town, perched

along the shores of Magdalena Bay, is Puerto San Carlos, about 10

miles further on at the north end of the bay.  It sits on the inland shore,

tucked behind a long, twisting channel.  Out here in this outer part of

the bay there was just a small fishing camp on the beach.  The living is

very simple here, with lean-to shacks, Coleman tents, and clothes

hanging out on clothes lines.

The fishing must be excellent.

The horizon was littered with fishing

pangas in the early morning, and the

pelicans seemed well fed and content.

From the mid-1800's to the 1920's

Magdalena Bay was a major Pacific

coast base for whaling, and it is still an

important area for grey whale calving.

Now all that remains of those early

days is some concrete pilons and

other ruins along the beach.

Looking back towards the hillsides it

seemed we could have easily been at

Roosevelt Lake in Arizona, where we enjoyed

many kayak rides in the

Sonoran desert a little

over a year ago.

We walked along the

beach, where seagull and

pelican flocks huddled by

the edge of the water.

At our feet we found

endless shells and other

remnants of sea life.  The

debris was so vast and

varied we found ourselves

continually stopping amd

trying to guess what

creature's skulls and

vertebrae we were looking at

in the sand.

We realized as we walked along,

feeling the sand sneaking up

between our toes while the world

swayed oddly around us

(although we knew it wasn't), that

this was our first time off the boat

in 12 days.  We had been so comfortable aboard,

and so tired from sailing, that during our other stops

we hadn't ventured ashore.

The views into the bay were lovely, but we couldn't

help but stop and gape over the shark carcass, the

dolphin (pelican?) skull, the perfect puffer fish

remains and the many backbones we found, both

intact and separated into vertebral discs.

The thick wave of red shrimp-like creatures got our

attention too, both from the huge spread of their

bodies across the sand and the powerful odor.

The animals seemed grouped on the beach, with

piles of clam shells followed by shrimp and then

oysters and later a bunch of crabs.  These crabs

could close themselves up tightly to look like a rock

and then open themselves to reveal their claws.

Meanwhile the fishing pangas started to gather for their

lunch break.  First one panga dropped an anchor and the

fisherman raised a beach umbrella over his boat.  Then

another one came up and rafted alongside, raising

another umbrella.  Soon a group of five or six pangas

was tied together, while pelicans and seagulls eagerly

circled the group looking for scraps.

Further down on the beach we found a shrine for a deceased loved one.

Built on a slight rise, there was a little blue building with an open door

and a cross on the roof.  Surrounded by small Christian votive candles

and icons planted in the sand, this humble but meaningful memorial

overlooked the bay and the beach.

We had seen footprints, both human and lizard-like at the

beginning of our walk, but as we neared the end of the beach the

sand was virgin, and at the farthest end the tidepools were


The next morning we set out for our last overnight trip along

the Baja peninsula, a 25 hour 170 mile sail from Magdalena

Bay to Cabo San Lucas.

We had managed to avoid fog for our entire trip so far,

and had been told you don't encounter fog once you get

this far south.  So it was a surprise as we lifted the

anchor in the pre-dawn light to see a thick bank of fog

rolling in through the bay's entrance right into our


For an hour we tiptoed out of the bay, watching the

pangas on the radar but unable to see anything beyond

a boat length or two around us.  Mark blasted the horn

periodically, and I watched the radar as my hair became

soaked from foggy moisture, and a trickle of water ran

in steady drips down my glasses.  But eventually we

cleared the bay's entrance and emerged from the fog

bank into warm dry sunshine and limitless visibility.

The sailing was perfect for a while, with a brisk breeze

and ever warmer air around us.  I noticed a flat patch of

water with some bubbles in it up ahead, and I peered

over the side as we went through it.  Suddenly I saw two

sea turtles almost within arm's reach.  They were

munching a floating clump of grass.  A little further on

was a third turtle doing the same.  We were moving so

quickly it was just a brief encounter, but what magic.

Up in the sky we watched two frigatebirds circling our boat.  They are

prehistoric looking, with crooked wings and forked tails.  Male frigatebirds

sport a bright red pouch on their necks that they puff up to impress the

gals.  We didn't see any of that flirtation going on, but these two frigatebirds

that came to visit were totally intent on landing on our mast.

Taking turns, each bird flew to the masthead, spread his tail and flapped his

wings to slow down, stretching his toes towards the mast.  But getting a foothold

proved challenging, as the mast was swaying quite a bit in the swell.  After each

failed attempt, the bird would circle away and let his buddy have a go at it.  After

a few tries they both gave up and flew off.

On the radio we heard people talking about seeing humpback whales, which we

never saw.  But a friendly pod of dolphins came to play along the bow of our

boat, swimming just inches ahead of us and rolling on their sides to look up at us

as we hung over the rail.  One by one they left, but the last one stayed quite a

while.  When he was done playing he suddenly doubled his speed and shot

ahead of the boat, and then rocketed into the air in an enormous leap.  I couldn't

help but scream with delight.  He slipped back along the hull of the boat and then

jumped one more time near where Mark was standing in the cockpit.  Then he


As the day ended we watched a cruise ship zip past us in the

opposite direction.  It was moving fast, probably en route to San

Diego or Los Angeles for a "day at sea" after visits to Cabo, La

Paz, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta down south.  The brilliant

sunset behind it must have thrilled the passengers that were on

deck as much as it thrilled us.

We enjoyed a peaceful night at sea, with little wind and little swell

but lots of warmer air.  Just a sweatshirt or jacket was enough to

keep out the chill when we ventured into the cockpit every 15

minutes for a look around.  We had basked in the tranquility and

remoteness of the last few days, but just ahead lay the mega

party town of Cabo San Lucas.

Find Magdalena Bay on Mexico Maps.